Cleaning Out My Cupboard

20140408_061737I am beginning to wonder if I am a food hoarder. I am an admitted supermarket tourist, scouring foreign Supermarket shelves for hard-to-find and unique grocery products. A recent trip to the Netherlands meant that I purchased six jars of Speculoos spread and ginger jam.

With my pantry exploding to the gills, I’ve decided to make a more conscious choice in cooking using ingredients I already have in stock. That, and the decision to spend no more than 20 euros a week on groceries–mostly on staples like meat and fish–will hopefully reduce the volume. To note, I have two bags of black rice, two red, one sack of wild rice, and half a bag each of basmati and parboiled rice. In the spirit of spring cleaning, I made biko and had a halo-halo party with friends last Saturday. I hope that helps some!

Darth Vader Cake



I was asked to make a Darth Vader cake two weekends ago, and the mere thought of it make me laugh so hard that I thought, “why not?” The recepient is a four-year old boy, who is probably not super-critical of the cake’s imperfections. And hooo boy, they were many!

This is a cake of firsts. Not only is this my first Darth Vader cake, this was my first-ever cake iced entirely with fondant, and the first ever cake I have ever molded freestyle, without a template to follow.

And I so thank the Lord that Xenos has ready-made fondant! No more making my own and worrying about how to get the color! I bought two bricks, for 3 euros each. With fondant this cheap, it was perfect for experimentation. This cake was very instructional for me on how to work with fondant. As you see, things didn’t patch up quite nicely. Lesson number 1: Do not break up fondant to flatten, as the seams will show. Maybe it is better to roll, then flatten?

Under that fondant is my standard Chocolate Buttermilk cake, although any kind of cake will do. I baked two cakes, one in a lined, buttered and greased  round springform and another in a square pan. Make the cake the night before and freeze to dry out. In my case I just left it outside, since temperatures were hovering just above zero (40°F).

The next day, I liberated the cakes from the forms, cut the round one across in half and placed the dome-shaped top at the bottom of the glass plate. Spread some icing (I used Magnolia’s choco buttercream) to even the surface, then placed the other half over it, bottom-side up. I did the same thing to the square pan, but instead I cut the cake again in half, then in triangles. The proportions were just estimated to suit the size of the round cake, so I couldn’t give any exact measurement. All I can say is that I cut a right triangle, slathered it with cream, then put another triangle on top of it. Then slather the whole thing with frosting, locking in all the crumbs.

After that, I rolled the fondant on a marble surface dusted with starch, and draped it over the cake. I cut the excess in some places and it tucked in the cake, but there were places that came up short and I had to add a few more fondant strips to the sides.

The details were made using white and gray fondants, based on this Darth Vader cake. Despite the imperfections, the birthday kid was happy, the parents were happy, and the children happily ate Darth Vader. So I guess I’m happy, too!


Pinoy-style Empanadas with Puff Pastry Shells

I love empanadas! The Spanish version of the sandwich is a shared culinary legacy among all Hispanic countries, and this quick recipe is even made easier because ready-made puff pastry (Blätterteig)  is available in German supermarkets. No more making my own dough! I would, however, not recommend re-rolling to re-use the rest of the pastry because then they puff up too much.

I was under pressure to make these empanadas and clocked myself making them in 1 hour and 30 minutes total, from start to finish including waiting time. It also helped that cubed chicken bits are available pre-packaged in supermarkets here.

I normally use 4 rolls of puff pastry from the supermarket. 3 garlic cloves and 1 small onion, finely chopped, 1 (about 420 g) pound cubed (maybe 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch?) chicken breast,100 g frozen green peas, 100 g raisins (could be less, or optional), 1 small potato and 1 small carrot, diced

Pre-heat oven to 200° C and bring out the green peas to defrost. Sauté the garlic and onions in about 2 tablespoons of oil, then add the chicken, and fry until no longer pink. Add two to three dashes of salt to bring out the juices from the chicken. Add the potatoes and carrots, letting them absorb the liquid from the chicken. Stir fry for about five minutes, add the green peas and then the raisins, and season with salt and pepper. The raisins should absorb the rest of the liquid from the chicken, and maybe the remaining ice/water from the peas. When the potatoes and peas are done, put the mix in a collander and let the excess liquid drip off. Wait for the filling to cool! Puff pastry is mostly butter, and the heat could weaken the dough.

empanadasMeanwhile, I got to work on the shells. I used a small bowl about 7 inches across to cut out circles into the unfurled puff pastry. A Tablespoon of the filling in the middle, fold the dough in half, then crimp and seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Pierce the shell three times, and bake for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until golden. The filling is enough to make 35 empanadas, or you can only buy two puff pastry rolls, set aside half of the filling, then add tomato sauce and a bay leaf to make Philippine-style chicken menudo from the leftovers. I am getting better at this waste not thing.

Puto Bungbong

Puto Bumbong is one of the things I miss the most about the Philippines. I guess it also has something to do with the fact that I miss Filipino Christmastime, and Puto Bumbong is the thing that reminds me the most of it. It is made of coconut milk, rice flour, and purple yam, called Ube in the Philippines, and steamed in the hollow of a bamboo reed (hence the name Bumbong, the word for bamboo reed.)

So imagine my delight when my friend prepared some puto bumbong for me, with enough left over to take home! She made it in her rice cooker, which has left me contemplating whether I should get one. As I said, I must be the only Filipino on the planet who is rice cooker-less.

East and Southeast Asian desserts, in general, are an acquired taste for Europeans because many are made of rice. The gooey, chewy texture is very weird for them. I completely understand! I guess it is one of those things you have to grow up with to love. My friend’s husband gave me the side-eye as I enjoyed my Puto Bumbong with grated coconut and muscovado sugar.

With my puto bumbong craving satisfied for the meantime, I think I’ll make more of these in the future!


Lasagne Bolognese

This recipe from The Silver Spoon cookbook is a recipe that I could very well get behind. It is very easy to make, the ingredients are not hard to find, even in the Philippines. It also emphasizes the simplicity of Italian cooking.

The recipe serves 4.

3 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped onion, 300 g ground meat. 100 ml dry white wine, 250 g tomato sauce, 25 g butter, plus extra for greasing, and Bechamel sauce. 

Make the noodles beforehand. While waiting for it to rest, make the sauce by sauteeing the carrots and onions in low heat, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add the meat and stir until browned, then pour the wine and cook until evaporated. Season the salt, add the tomato sauce, and simmer for 30 minutes. Then season with pepper. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease a small baking dish (9×11 inches approximately) with butter.

Meanwhile, roll out the pasta to appropriate thinness, and into 4 inch squares (10 cm). Let dry for 2-3 minutes and then cook in a pot of salted water in a rolling boil, a few at a time. Take out with a slotted spoon and place on a damp tea towel.  Arrange a layer of lasagne, meat sauce, and bechamel sauce on top. Sprinkle with parmesan sauce and dot with butter flakes. Repeat the layers until the dish is full, ending with a layer of bechamel sauce. Bake for 30 minutes.


Noodles Toodles

The summer of my 11thyear was spent poring over my aunt’s cookbooks and made my own noodles. I think I even had noodles as an afternoon snack, since I made so many noodles,  with the obsessiveness that only an 11-year old kid can muster.

So I find it surprising that it took me over twenty(!) years to make my own noodles again using the recipe in the book “The Silver Spoon,” which I got as a present last Christmas.

So basically it’s just two eggs, 250 grams of flour, and a bit more to dust the surface. Create a depression in the middle, crack one egg in the middle, add a pinch of salt, mix. Crack the next egg, and mix. The dough should turn shiny and elastic. If it is too dry, wet your hands and knead. If too wet, add a bit more flour on your mixing surface. Form into a ball, then let it rest for fifteen minutes to an hour in the fridge, or use it the next day after covering the ball with plastic wrap.

I don’t have a pasta machine. People are surprised that I don’t have one, nor a rice cooker. I have tiny kitchen syndrome, so I am trying to avoid buying something that is so specialized. Rolling the dough manually was much easier with a plastic pastry rolling pin rather than a wooden one. I first rolled the ball as flat as I could, then halved it, rolling it as flat as I could, then halving it…you get the pattern.

As you see, the results are indeed quite thin. We made Farfalle, my son’s favorite. And since the noodles are fresh, they only need to be cooked in boiling water for one to two minutes. Unfortunately, the dough does not keep well for over a day or after it has been rolled, so it has to be eaten almost immediately.  Serves four.

La Petite France/ Erfurt

For one of my favorite establishments in Erfurt, it is quite surprising that I have never taken a picture of the restaurant La Petite France.

La Petite France in its old and new location has always been a small bistro where you could get French specialties like wine, olive oil, and cheese. It is an ideal place for a romantic evening for two, where quiet music, low lights, amazing cheese, and wine can get the mood going.

Whenever I am in the area, go there and try great cheese that I would not know of otherwise without blowing the bank. Last week I decided to try out Mimolette,  a hard, yellow cheese with cheese mites on the crust. The last time I was there, I tried a Sainte Maure, a lovely goat cheese covered in ash with a piece of hollow straw (as in hay) inserted in the middle. The owner said that this facilitates the aeration of the cheese.

This is a place that I willingly patronize despite the distance from my home, because they really do have amazing cheese. I swallow a few lactose-intolerant tablets, try their goat cheese in honey and lavender flower, and for a few moments I am in France.

la petite France e.K.

Straße des Friedens 8 99094 Erfurt

Tuesdays to Fridays 12-10 pm

Saturdays 5 to 10 pm

Closed Mondays, Sundays and holidays.

The Mouth is Willing, But The Stomach Is Weak

Photo by TQE

A side trip to Berlin for TQE’s belated 30th birthday party was one of the more satisfying and jam-packed 24- hour whirlwind trips I have ever taken in my lifetime.

I decided to ignore my body and my subconscious’ signal to SLOW DOWN (if a dream about being almost sucked into a tornado is a sign for someone to slow down, I don’t know what is) just for this one weekend and headed over to Berlin, where Adam and I finally went satisfy my years-long Ethiopian food munchies at Betje Ethiopia, which a former colleague of his recommended.

First of all, I would like to praise TQE’s unbelievable Panasonic Lumix camera (I think it is a GF 6?), which took still life photos with amazing picture quality in low-light conditions. Really, if I have ever envied one of Adam’s toys, it was this one.

So we had this great lentil soup as a starter, which tasted like munggo guisado without rice. We ate it with injira, the traditional unleavened bread that Ethiopians eat with everything.  And we downed it with tej, traditional honey wine. I got pleasantly buzzed but not drunk, and I know now after reading Cooked that fermented sweet things with an over 2% alcohol content does not occur in nature. But I digress.

I came to regret even ordering appetizers. For 22 euros, we shared a huge platter about a foot and a half across that had this massive injira pancake on it, dotted with several vegetarian and non-vegetarian dips. We tore that injira bit by bit with our smelly, greasy Ethiopian-food stained hands hands until we said i no mas! with half a plate of dips still left over. Seriously though, I would have eaten the whole thing, especially since I especially didn’t eat lunch in anticipation. However, since we didn’t reserve a table, we had to leave by 7:30, and miss the traditional Ethiopian coffee roasting ceremony the restaurant has at 8. Seriously, guys, if you want to eat here, reserve a table, and come with an empty stomach.

After hitting the Berlinale Film Festival for a movie and coming home to a fitful night’s sleep at around 1:30 am, I woke up to be fashionably late at Adam’s brunch party, which was held at a restaurant called 12 Apostel. You take the S-bahn to Savigny Platz, take the exit to Bleibtreu Strasse, and you’re right there.

If there is any German city that takes brunch to another level, it is Berlin. 12 Apostel is a growing Italian chain restaurant in Berlin, and for 18 euros, you have the brunch experience, bar none. They have bread. They have scrambled eggs. They have fruit, deviled eggs, bacon, and did I mention the panna cotta? And the crepe station? And the juice and water station? They really had everything, and an amazing cheese selection to boot. A warm drink, a glass of Prosecco, and the juice and water bar is included with the meal. Really, I just wanted to have one little bit… more, but sorry, I was so full. I even took a walk in between courses just to pace myself.

pannaI swear by the panna cotta. How they are able to mass-produce such an awesome panna cotta is beyond me. TQE credits Snooker in Berlin for the amazing restaurant find.

It was the perfect party. Great company, good food, what more can you ask for? Thank you Adam, for hosting such a great weekend!


Betje Ethiopia

Zietenstraße 8, 10783 Berlin

S-bahn and U-bahn Nollendorf Platz

030 2625933


12 Apostel

Bleibtreustraße 49
10623 Berlin Charlottenburg

Brunch only Sundays from 10 am-3 pm, 18 €


What is there not to love about melted cheese? Melted cheese gives me warm, fuzzy feelings, makes everything tastes better, makes Everything! better. Like butter, my love affair with cheese, especially melted cheese will hopefully never die.

With this adoration in mind, I was quite pleased with this past holiday season, because it turned me on to Raclette BIG TIME. I was invited to a big, wooly holiday raclette pow-wow with friends, while the children buzzed around us. Everything about raclette screams to me as fancy-schmancy comfort food. Raclette is a Swiss specialty.  Basically, it’s a teppanyaki grill, but there is space under the heater to melt the cheese in these tiny pans, which you transfer on your plate to eat with bacon, cooked on top of the grill, boiled potatoes, and an assortment of veggies like corn, peas, carrots, and herbs. I was so in love with the idea of melted cheese on meat and vegetables, I just had to get one for myself.

Since New Year is the season of the Raclette, I bought a grill for 20 euros, which I hopefully will get to use soon!

Gingko Sushi/Erfurt

I eat at several places to get my Japanese food fix in Erfurt, and one of the places is Gingko Sushi. It is owned and run by an elderly Japanese couple in what must be their 80s. The husband comes from Yokohama, and speaks excellent German, and his wife barely speaks the language, so my anime Japanese comes in quite handy.

This is the place to go to to experience authentic Japanese food. The food is excellent, and this is the only place I could get Takoyaki. The ambiance is also quite nice, and the location is very central. Now it should actually be more profitable, but why isn’t it? There are several reasons why it isn’t.

The husband-and-wife team are getting on in age, and they sometimes don’t open when they should be. I have encountered closed doors when they should have been open several times. I think it is poor health, really. The food business is really for the young. This is also the reason for bad service. The poor woman can barely keep up.

Japanese food is still quite exotic in these parts, and Germans in Erfurt still think all of Japanese food is just sushi. It makes me want to smack people in the head, but I think that is not happening here in Erfurt. And because of that, they are not willing to spend a lot of money on strange food. Admittedly, Gingko is expensive, with a meal for one person would set you back at least 30 euros.

While I fear that Gingko sushi will disappear in a puff of smoke anytime soon, I try to eat there when I can. That is, when they are open.

Gingko Sushi

Pergamentergasse 6, 99084 Erfurt
Tel No. 0361 6015415

Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 2-8 pm.