Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s Pinipig Cookies

I was so delighted to attend the other weekend the cooking demo conducted by Amy Besa at the Maya Kitchen Culinary Center in Makati.  One of the dishes she demonstrated was pinipig cookies, which she has been baking since she was a teenager.  It’s one of the recipes in the book Memories of Philippine Kitchens, written by Amy and her husband Romy Dorotan.
IMG_1292: Pinipig Cookies with Avocado Ice Cream from Amy Besa at Maya Kitchen
Here’s my article on Amy’s cooking demo and on the pinipig cookies, published in my DIY column last Thursday in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

IN 2006, AMY BESA AND ROMY DOROTAN CAME UP WITH  an in-depth book on Philippine cuisine titled Memories of Philippine Kitchens.  Hardbound, with photographs by Neal Oshima and published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang (an imprint of Harry N. Abrams Inc.), IMG_1715: Memories of Philippine Kitchensthe book is 232 pages of recipes, photographs, cooking tips, reminiscences and culinary wisdom.  It covers nearly everything one needs to know about a cuisine that’s both loved (by many) yet unknown (to others)—from traditions to topography, from foreign influences to the regional variations that make Filipino cuisine so rich and diverse.

IMG_1286: Amy Besa

Amy Besa at the Maya Kitchen

I can just imagine the amount of research that went into the making of this book.  To collect and compile its contents, Amy and Romy travelled the length and breadth of the Philippines. Their interviews with home cooks were interspersed with cooking demonstrations and eating sessions that lasted well into the afternoon. Most touching are Amy’s own memories of family meals and her grandmother’s cooking.  The reader can sense, in her every word, the affection that surrounded every dish that was served and eaten, and how this later on led her to a journey of rediscovery.

Deservedly, the book won the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) 2007  Jane Grigson Award for scholarship in the quality of its research and writing. It was also a finalist for the Julia Child First Book Award.

But perhaps one should not be surprised that a book of this magnitude should come from Amy and Romy.  After all they’ve been trail blazers for years; it was they who opened Cendrillon Restaurant in New York City back in 1995, when Filipino food was struggling to win its own recognition in a world that seemed suddenly focused on cuisine.   The restaurant was a huge success, so much so that on most nights all the tables would be occupied.  It was a wonderful place not only for Filipinos to recapture the tastes of their homeland but also for them to introduce their foreign friends to their culinary heritage.

A few years ago, after the couple closed Cendrillon, they opened Purple Yam in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, serving more of the beloved cuisine rooted in their country.  To the joy of our own local food aficionados, Purple Yam recently opened a branch in Malate.

A few weeks ago, Amy shared some favorite recipes at the Maya Kitchen Culinary Arts Center.  The crowd of cooking enthusiasts watched in awe as she demonstrated how to cook kulawong talong (grilled eggplants with coconut cream), PHOTO BELOW
IMG_1269: : Kulawaong Talong from Amy Besa at Maya Kitchen

beef short ribs adobo, (PHOTO BELOW)
,IMG_1293: Beef Short Ribs Adobo from Amy Besa at Maya Kitchen

kinagang (coconut with crabmeat, wrapped in banana leaves), ukoy (shrimp fritters)  and pinipig cookies. The dishes were quite a revelation.  Imagine grilled eggplant that’s been cooked with burnt coconut cream, or adobo made not with pork but with gently tenderized beef ribs.

IMG_1298: Ukoy from Amy Besa at Maya Kitchen

Ukoy

And as Amy said during the cooking demonstration, although ukoy is very common, no two of them are ever alike.

IMG_1292: Pinipig Cookies with Avocado Ice Cream from Amy Besa at Maya Kitchen

Pinipig cookies with avocado ice cream

Here, Amy’s recipe for pinipig cookies, which was served at the Maya Kitchen with creamy avocado ice cream. I tried cooking them at home and found them to be so crunchy and addicting—what a delicious way to make cookies using a homegrown Filipino ingredient.

Pinipig Cookies

(Recipe of Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, from the book “Memories of Philippine Kitchens”)

1 ½                  c pinipig

½                     c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

¾                     c sugar

2                      large eggs

½                     tsp finely grated lemon zest

1                      c Maya all-purpose flour

1                      tsp baking powder

¼                     tsp salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 350ºF and set rack in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Grease 2 baking sheets.

2.  Warm a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the pinipig and toast, stirring, until lightly browned and aromatic, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.

3.  Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated.  Beat in the lemon rind.

4.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine.  Stir in the pinipig.

5.  Drop the dough by heaping teaspoons onto the baking sheets 2 inches apart and press down with the tines of a fork.  Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, rotating the pans and switching the position of the baking sheets halfway through baking, until lightly browned around the edges, about 12 minutes.  Let cool on the sheets for a couple of minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely and bake the second batch on the cooled sheets.

Serve with ice cream, if desired.

Tips from Amy Besa:

  • Use only good quality pinipig. (For the Maya cooking demonstration, she used pinipig from Cavite.)
  • Do only small circles of batter because it spreads out a lot.
  • Likewise space the batter wide apart (at least two inches) on the cookie sheets.
  • Instead of greasing the pans, you can line them with nonstick baking paper.

The Maya Kitchen Culinary Center is located on the 8F Liberty Building, 835 A. Arnaiz Avenue, Makati City with numbers 8921185 / 892-5011 local 108 / Mobile No. +63947 835 2290. For more information on other courses, log on to www.themayakitchen.com or e-mail contactus@themayakitchen.com.

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My Last Dinner in Paseo Uno: Farewell to All That

My story in last Thursday’s (September 11) issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer was all about a last dinner at Paseo Uno, the restaurant of Mandarin Oriental Manila, which closed early this week.

Here’s the story, plus additional photos that weren’t published in the papers:

Paseo Uno (photo from Mandarin)

Paseo Uno in its heyday

THERE WAS A TIME,  after it opened in 2003, when trying to get a table at Paseo Uno was like attempting to gain entrance to eternal bliss.  A gatekeeper at the door would check if your name was on the list of the day’s customers.  Tough luck if it wasn’t.  No name, no entrance.

The fortunate ones who did get in could count on feasts made to order.  Aside from the buffet of piping hot food served in chafing dishes, there were kitchen stations manned by chefs eager to cook on demand.  Large prawns were battered and deep fried into tempura, al dente pasta deftly stirred into sauces gently simmering in a skillet, succulent roast beef carved and grilled to desired doneness (photo below), dewy fresh lettuce leaves tossed with grated cheese, croutons, nuts and your choice of dressing.
Roast Beef at Paseo Uno (photo from Mandarin)

When the idea seemed to reach its peak, Paseo upped the ante by serving a luxury buffet on weekends, luxury here meaning slabs of foie gras and exotic seafood such as lobsters, yellow fin tuna and Alaskan king crabs.

Despite its hefty price (P1950+ for the regular buffet; P2200+ for the luxury one), there was no shortage of people lining up for this dining extravaganza.  Nooks tucked amid the ponds and waterfalls would be filled with jubilant groups celebrating one occasion or another, not to mention the couples spicing up their romantic rendezvous with a heady mix of sweets and wine.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  With the closing this week of Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Paseo Uno has become a casualty of the corporate world, never more to proffer its dainty dim sum in bamboo steamers, never more to tuck a slice of crispy duck skin slathered with hoisin sauce in Mandarin pancakes.
Eastern Section: Paseo Uno Last Dinner (photo sent by Mandarin)

IMG_1309: Paseo Uno Last Dinner

Paseo Uno at dinner time, on one of the last few nights before it closed.

On a humid Friday night, instead of crowds of celebrators, there was dignified silence at Paseo.  Occupied tables were interspersed with empty ones.  The gatekeeper still stood by the entrance but this time there was no need to turn anyone away.

At our table a waiter graciously offered complimentary fruit juices, iced tea and white wine (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc).  I checked the cooking stations:  a rib eye roast stood proudly under the blazing lights, waiting to be carved.  Beside it were fixings of baked potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and red wine sauce.

Farther away there were sea bass and snapper, sautéed pork loin and adobo, ratatouille and pizza, chicken inasal (photo below) and,

IMG_1366

IMG_1314

Lechon

in one corner, chunks of lechon surrounding the pig’s head.

Congee and tempura were tucked in an Asian corner, and the salad bar still had the wholesome lettuce leaves to be tossed with standard dressings of Thousand Island, French, Italian and Caesar (alas, no blue cheese dressing).
IMG_1330: Paseo Uno Last Dinner
Hidden at the back were morsels of foie gras, which the attending chef would sauté and parcel out only to those sneaky enough to spot it.

Meanwhile a humongous whole tuna, slit open from head to tail, lay on a stand above a mountain of ice (photo below), a silent testimony to the freshness of the sashimi that was being sliced by a chef.
IMG_1313

IMG_1401

Sushi and maki at the seafood station

Beside it were rolls of sushi and maki and their accompanying condiments of wasabi and soy sauce as well as cracked crabs and a few scattered shells of mussels. Cold cuts, three kinds of cheeses, dried figs and nuts filled in the rest of the appetizer station.

There was ample choice of dessert as well: fresh fruits, assorted ice cream flavors, chocolate cake, banana cake, cheesecake, French crepes prepared a la minute, halo halo fixings, palitao, sapin sapin, and a fountain of melted chocolate in which to dip skewers of marshmallows and cookies.

Dessert Section_Paseo Uno; (photo from Mandarin)

Dessert Station

All in all, the spread was a few notches above the standard, enough to be satisfying as well as celebratory. The ambience was tranquil and soothing and the wait staff attentive.  At one point a group materialized in front of a table and sang a spirited rendition of Happy Birthday, just as they’ve probably done a hundred times before within Paseo Uno’s 11-year lifespan.

And yet, there was a hint of sadness in the air.   The smiles and valiant efforts of the crew to make everything seem normal could not dispel the feeling of melancholy, the sense of foreboding.  In a few days it will all be gone—the restaurant, all the appurtenances and luxuries that had pampered the guests, the whole hotel.  Employees will scatter to wherever their fates will take them, leaving behind bittersweet memories and friendships. How disheartening it all felt.

IMG_1416: Paseo Uno Last Dinner: Farewell Tree at the Lounge

The farewell and gratitude tree

At the lounge area, a tree of many branches bore letters of goodbye that had been placed there by appreciative guests.  My friend Goldie and I wrote our own notes of farewell and gratitude for all the years that Mandarin Oriental had been a part of our lives.

At dinner Mandarin’s director of communications Charisse Chuidian had given me a souvenir fan, the hotel’s emblem of Oriental fans printed all over it. I hung the note, clutched the fan and with one last glance, walked away.

(Some photos for this post were taken by Gold Quetulio.  Others were provided by Mandarin Oriental.)

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Teddy’s Bigger Burgers Now in Manila

Last week, instead of writing my DIY column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I wrote about Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, the newest burger joint to open in Manila.  The story was published on the front page of Inquirer’s Lifestyle section (page C1, September 4).

Here’s the story.

IMG_1179: Teddy's Bigger Burgers

Teddy's Original Burger

There’s no such thing as a small burger in the land of Teddy’s Bigger Burgers.  As its name implies, this place serves only big, bigger and biggest. The big being the smallest is a hefty five-ounce patty, or about one third of a pound.  From there the sizes increase incrementally to seven ounces (bigger) then to nine ounces (biggest).

Monster Double Burger (Teddy's Bigger Burgers)

Monster Double Burger

This is not to mention the Monster Double Burger, two patties in a bun that range in a combined size of 10 ounces (big) to 14 ounces (bigger) to a colossal 18 ounces (biggest). Apparently when it comes to serving burgers, this joint is far from being timid.

But size is just one of the crowd drawers for the Hawaiian-based restaurant, which recently opened its first franchise in Manila. There’s also the beef patty.

Made from corn-fed U.S. Black Angus, the patties are 100 per cent ground chuck, with no binders and no fillers, says Kirsten Habawel, executive chef and head of the Philippine team that trained in Teddy’s flagship restaurant in Hawaii. “We use a formula of 80 per cent lean meat and 20 per cent fat.  This is ideal for burgers because it does not need extenders but retains its shape.  Most of all, it makes for a juicy patty.”

In addition, the meat undergoes a proprietary grind.  It’s a special kind of grind wherein the meat is sliced first then passed through a special plate and equipment, making it more tender.  “It’s not just pushed through a hole,” says Habawel.

Rich Stula, Ted Tsakiris of Teddy's Bigger Burgers

Cofounders and co-CEOs Rich Stula and Ted Tsakiris

Because the burgers are flame broiled, the grease falls into the flame, giving the patties more of an outdoor barbecue taste, says cofounder Rich Stula.  In fact it’s that love for the taste of a backyard burger cookout that prompted Stula and fellow cofounder Ted Tsakiris to open their first burger restaurant in Hawaii in 1998.

“They decided to ‘reinvent the burger joint’ with a menu that focuses on high quality burgers,” says Habawel.

Today Teddy’s Bigger Burgers has been awarded multiple times as the best burger in Hawaii. It has 11 locations in Hawaii, as well as branches in Washington, Iowa and Japan.  The restaurant in Greenbelt, Makati, is their first in Southeast Asia.

Since the burgers are cooked to order, customers can choose their own add-ons, from grilled onions to mushrooms, from bacon to jalapeños to cheese, of which there are four choices: cheddar, American, Swiss and pepperjack.  Standard inclusions in every order include fresh ripe tomatoes, green lettuce, Clausen dill pickles and thinly shaved onions.

“Because the onions are sliced very thinly, they release more flavors,” says Stula.

Then there’s also the sauce, of which Stula and Tsakiris are justifiably proud.  While the sauce is incorporated in standard orders, customers can also order it on the side.  Or order extra tubs of it to take home or to pour on a green salad, which is what customers in their Hawaii stores have been doing, says Stula.

I can understand why.  The sauce has an indefinable flavor, not quite Thousand Island dressing, not quite Caesar, not quite anything one has tasted before.  Piquant, tangy yet sweet and savory, it’s addicting.  I found myself dipping French fries into it while plotting how to order, on my next visit, dozens of small tubs of the sauce to take home, without appearing to be weird or obsessed.

Having put so much effort into making the perfect patties, Tsakiris and Stula didn’t want to settle for just any ordinary bun.  All Teddy’s hamburgers are enclosed in a soft, delicate potato bun, with its fluffy texture and vaguely sweet note complementing every meaty bite.

It took the Philippine team several trials to get the buns right, recalls Habawel.  They kept  sending boxes of each batch by air to the US, each time waiting anxiously for the approval of Tsakiris and Stula.  The team finally got it right after 30 tries. And true to their policy of letting customers build their own burgers, the restaurant can also serve the burgers, upon request, enfolded in a leaf of fresh lettuce instead of enclosed in a bun.

Hawaiian Burger of Teddy's Bigger Burgrs

Hawaiian Burger

Choice, in fact, is one thing customers will find plenty of in Teddy’s Bigger Burgers. Aside from the variety of burgers available (Western burger, Hawaiian, Kalua and Cajun), options include chicken tenders, fish and chips, and tiki wings (chicken wings in a sweet tangy Hawaiian sauce). The place is also known for its thick milk shakes, which are made from 90 per cent ice cream and 10 per cent milk.  “We do not aerate the milk shake,” says Habawel.

Moreover the ice cream (made by a local supplier) contains 15 per cent butterfat (the average ice cream has only 10 to 12 per cent butterfat), making the shake really rich and thick.

Admittedly food of such quality doesn’t come cheap.  Teddy’s original big burger (five ounces) costs P265, while the biggest (nine ounces) is P395.
IMG_1172: Teddy's Bigger Burgers

Sides cost anywhere from P60 (for the fries) to P149 (for the onion rings).
IMG_1174: Teddy's Bigger Burgers
But Stula and Tsakiris are confident that customers will be more than willing to pay the price for the quality they’ll get.

Teddy’s Philippine franchise is held by the SumoBurger Global Inc., owned by the trio of actor-businessman Marvin Agustin, Raymond Magdaluyo and Ricky Laudico, who also own a few other restaurants in Metro Manila (Sumo Sam, Akira, John and Yoko, Marciano and Balboa, among others).  Teddy’s is their first international franchise.

IMG_1189: Teddy's Bigger Burgers

Interiors of Teddy's Bigger Burgers in Greenbelt 3, Makati

At the VIP night, just before the restaurant opened to the public, Tsakiris and Stula watched proudly as guests filled the place and enjoyed their burgers while listening to a ukulele band playing Hawaiian songs.  “We are so happy with this place,” says Stula.  “We’ve never experienced better staff and service than in the Philippines.”

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers is located on the third floor of Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Today’s DIY: Spicy Tomato Marmalade

Today’s DIY: My DIY recipe in today’s  (August 21) issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer is for Spicy Tomato Marmalade.

Where I Got It: The recipe was one of those demonstrated at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel by Chefs Harum Imre and Ramazan Erdem, who were in Manila recently to supervise the preparation of the food for the Turkish Food Festival in Shangri-la Makati’s Circles restaurant.  The chefs both hail from the Shangri-la Hotel Bosphorus.

How It Turned Out: To make the marmalade the chefs processed the ingredients through a food mill.  This resulted in a marmalade with the texture of a coarse purée—which was perfect for using as a dip for pita bread.  In Turkey this dish is usually served as part of a platter of appetizers called mezze.

However, since I didn’t have a food mill at home, I couldn’t achieve the texture of a purée.  Instead the recipe turned out to be more of a relish, or a salad.  Nevertheless it turned out delicious.  It was similar to tabouleh salad except this one didn’t have bulgur. I served the relish with some tapa and rice.  Yum.

Grab the Recipe: To read my entire DIY column, see today’s Inquirer, Lifestyle section, page C4.  Or log on to lifestyle.inquirer.net.

For more on the Turkish cooking class, see the post on Turkish Stuffed Eggplants below.

Here’s the recipe for Tomato Marmalade/Relish

Spicy Tomato Marmalade

2                      onions

2 – 3                 c water

2                      tbsp salt

6                      medium tomatoes, finely chopped

2                      medium cucumbers, finely chopped

1                      c finely chopped parsley

2                      stalks spring onions, finely chopped

¼                     c  tomato paste

1                      dried red chili pepper, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

3                      tbsp olive oil

1                      lemon

Chopped walnuts (optional)

Peel the onions.  Combine water and salt in a bowl and soak the onions in the water for one hour.  Rinse the onions then chop them finely.  Mix the onions with the tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and spring onions.  Pass the mixture through a food mill (see note). The mixture should come out like a coarse purée.

Add the tomato paste and the chopped red chili pepper.  Season with salt and pepper then drizzle with olive oil and the juice of one lemon.  Blend well.  Top with the chopped walnuts.

Note: A food mill is a rotary device used in professional kitchens for grinding and puréeing fruits and vegetables.  If you don’t have a food mill, you can purée the mixture in a food processor.  Or, just serve the mixture as is (without puréeing).  It will be more of a relish or a salad rather than a marmalade and will still be delicious.  You can serve it with roasted meat and fish or as a dip for pita bread.

Cook’s tips:

  • Dried red chili peppers are available in the spices section of large supermarkets and in some Indian groceries.
  • If you can’t find dried red chili pepper, you can use red pepper flakes.
  • For a non-spicy version, omit the chili pepper.

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