Tag Archives: expat cooking in prague

How I Got My Garlic Back

At the start of my pregnancy, the one ingredient that I found repelling was garlic. Prior to the hormone invasion and the development of this new keen sense of smell, garlic and I had a pretty pleasant relationship. I wasn’t in love with it, but it also didn’t make me gag. However, after these last months of being pregnant, I thought garlic and I would need to go our separate ways.

My husband wasn’t allowed to cook with it. Oh my, the smell of garlic frying in the pan would trigger nausea and unattractive barfing motions. In fact, I even asked him to watch what he ate for lunch when at work. As soon as he entered our apartment, I could tell if garlic was in his meal or not. I couldn’t bear it. I was worse than a vampire.

Some of my girlfriends who passed the thresholds of pregnancy told me that many of the foods they had grown to dislike during that time, never reversed itself after wards. And so I wondered if that would happen with garlic. Was roasted garlic going to be out of my life forever? This all important ingredient that often appears in recipes to boost flavor? Would I be able to find a substitute?

Well, those hormones have calmed down and instead of being turned off by food, lately I am just tired and in need of sleep. I put myself to the test and tried to see if good ol’garlic and I still had a chance. Could this relationship be saved? Instead of omitting it from a recipe, with this one, I pushed myself to include it by first frying it in a pan. To my surprise, my olfactory nerve was able to tolerate it. That old familiar scent of garlic frying in oil didn’t cause a stir or send me away. Not only could I stand it, but after adding the rest of the recipe’s ingredients, I was able to sit down and enjoy eating it in my food again. Here’s a story with a happy ending: garlic and I are back together.

Shrimp with Garlic, Zucchini and Tomatoes

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 zucchini, diced
1 medium tomato or 12 cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
200-300 grams of shrimp, unpeeled
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large frying pan.
Add the garlic and chili flakes.
Cook until slightly golden.
Then add the zucchini, tomatoes and dried oregano.
Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Then add the shrimp and basil.
Cook for another 2 minutes.
Season to taste.


1 small onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup orzo
3-4 cups water or broth

Heat oil and butter in frying pan.
Add onion and cook until transparent.
Add orzo, stir and be sure pasta is evenly coated with oil.
Then add a cup of water to the pasta.
Let it come to a boil.
When the liquid begins to evaporate,
continue to add another cup of water.
Cook until al dente, about 15- 20 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.

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Becoming One with my Blender

Of all my kitchen appliances, the one I am the least fond of is the blender. I love cooking, but I detest the clean up part. My issue with the blender is that is just isn’t an easy object to clean. Thankfully, it fits in my dishwasher, so I should work on developing a better relationship with it.

It’s still warm in Prague, which I won’t complain about, especially after living through some of her winters. We did, recently, have some spectacular thunderstorms that helped cool down the temperatures. But the heat definitely decreases my appetite and enthusiasm for cooking. So, salads still continue to dominate the table. Normally, we dress our salads with just a simple combination of flavorful Spanish olive oil and salt, but today I want something a little more to go with my leafy greens.

I miss going out for Japanese. When I lived in NYC, there were plenty of great meal deals and I was used to going out several times a month to a Japanese restaurant with friends or family. I often ordered a side salad served with carrot-ginger-miso dressing to accompany my meal. Love that stuff, miss those days! Since moving to Prague, I now considered it a special treat when my husband and I occasionally splurge for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. It’s incredibly pricier out here compared with what I grew up with. There are a few Asian grocery stores spread throughout Prague where I can buy ingredients to prepare a Japanese meal at home, but even that can burn a big hole in our wallet.

Today’s salad is a combination of baby spinach leaves, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, scallions and dices of fried tofu with carrot-ginger miso dressing on top. I made the dressing myself, hence the whining bit about the blender. I really should refrain from whining. That’s bad role modeling for my daughters. I should be thankful and embrace my blender with an open heart. I’ll start now: Thank you blender for helping me make carrot-ginger miso dressing.

Carrot-Ginger Miso Dressing

2 tablespoons peanut, corn or vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons white miso
2 medium carrots, grated
1 inch ginger root, diced into small pieces
1-2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
a few tablespoons of cold water

Put all the ingredients in your beloved blender, except the water.
After running it for a few minutes, slowly add a few tablespoons of water
until you get the right consistency.
I will leave that up to you, as some people prefer a creamier dressing and some a
thinner, liquid like type.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Veggie Salad with Fried Tofu

1 block firm tofu
Cornstarch to coat tofu
1 -2 tsp. salt
Baby spinach leaves
Mixed lettuce leaves
1 tomato, sliced
1 scallion, diced
Neutral oil for frying

Drain and slice tofu into thin blocks.
Cover all sides in cornstarch and salt mixture.
Heat oil in shallow frying pan.
When ready, add the coated pieces of tofu.
It should take about 3-4 minutes for each side,
until it begins to turn golden.
Remove and drain excess oil.

Toss all the vegetables in a bowl.
Cut up the tofu into small square pieces.
Add to the salad.
Serve with carrot-ginger miso dressing.

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I’m in the Mood for…

… a strawberry custard like tart. Why? Because when I left my house this morning to meet a friend and turned the corner, I walked into a farmer’s market that popped out of nowhere! Surprises like this, usually result with some spontaneous unintended purchase. On this particular day, it was a basket of luscious red strawberries.

I guess I am a sucker for good packaging. I left home with a plan to stop at the supermarket on my return home. Strawberries, however, was not on my shopping list. Raspberries were.

But alas, there was not a raspberry stand at the farmer’s market and this basket of crimson berries was calling my name. I knew I could just adapt the Brown Butter Raspberry Tart I was reading about in Bon Appetit the night before.

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, I love my berries. When I see them packed in their baskets, I know that summer is near. And when summer is here, my second favorite dessert after a cup of ice cream is anything made with fruit. With such a huge number of strawberries on hand, this might just be a 1 in 3 part series about strawberries.

Brown Butter Strawberry Tart
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Crust: (for a 9-inch tart pan)
7 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus a tablespoon
pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut in cubes
1 1/2 cups of sliced strawberries

Preheat oven to 375/190 degrees and place the rack in center of oven.
It is recommended to use a rubber spatula to mix the melted butter, sugar and vanilla
in a medium bowl.
Toss a pinch of salt into your flour and add it to the butter mixture.
Stir until well combined.
It will look like breadcrumbs.

Using your fingertips, begin to press the dough evenly around the sides of the pan.
When all the sides are covered, begin to work your way towards the bottom,
pressing it down evenly and smoothly from the sides.
Bake crust for 18 minutes, then set aside to cool.


Whisk the sugar, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl.
Add the flour and vanilla.
Put the diced butter in a heavy sauce pan.
Cook over medium heat, until the butter has a copper tone to it.
Be careful not to burn it!
Transfer the butter to a heat-resistant glass, best if it is a measuring cup to be sure you melted half a cup.
Gradually pour the browned butter to the other mixture and whisk until well-blended.

Place 1 cup of sliced strawberries in a circle around the cooled crust.
Pour the browned butter mixture over the berries.
Add the remaining strawberries to the top of the mixture.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the center comes out clean.
Enjoy and think of the sunny summer days ahead!


Filed under Prague Inspires!

Random Musings: Love your Lentils

Lentils were an absent staple in my childhood and it wasn’t until late into my adult years that I did come to appreciate them. Today, I am a happy convert and no longer shy away from these mini discs of protein. I dug this recipe out of my notebook of loose clippings and handwritten recipes from friends and family. This one is from an American friend named Courtney, originally from Portland, Oregon. Our paths happened to cross in Prague.

I love lentils!

Some of the exciting parts about living abroad are the interesting people you meet from all corners of the world and sharing the experience of living in an unfamiliar land where you must learn and adapt to a new set of customs and rules. The most difficult aspects of these ex-pat friendships is never knowing when those friends might move, dealing with the pain of having to say good-bye and then mustering the effort to start all over again and find a new set of friends. The bittersweet cycle repeats itself: make new friends, but somehow manage to keep the old. I notice that the development of these overseas friendships are more intense in comparison to the ones that were steadily nurtured in the stable streets of my childhood.

Moving to a new city and then meeting others in the same situation, one instantly forms a bond with others who share the experiences of these major life adjustments. Those experiences quickly help shape your relationships and there are so many ups and downs that come with acclimatizing to a new culture that you bare all your insecurities with the circle of people who suddenly become your support group away from home.

After knowing Courtney for three years, she left and moved to Cairo, Egypt. As a farewell, she gathered her girlfriends (and one guy, my husband, who went home with a batman costume) for a clothes swap with some wine and nibbles for us to enjoy. She served this hot lentil spread and I couldn’t stop breaking a piece of ciabatta bread to scoop up the lentil purée. It’s absolutely delicious and I don’t know why I don’t make it more often. Courtney left plenty of fun memories behind, but this recipe is her legacy…

Hot Lentil Spread

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 red chilis (sliced thinly and with seeds removed) or 1/2 tsp of chili flakes
6-8 basil leaves, washed and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 juice of a lemon
1/4 teaspoon honey
salt to taste

Rinse lentils.
Put lentils, garlic, and 2 cups of water in a saucepan.
When the water start to boil, reduce the heat.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
When done, set aside to cool.
Using a hand blender, purée the lentils.
Add the red pepper, chilis and finely chopped basil.
Then stir in the lemon juice, honey, oil and salt to taste.

Reheat the mixture.
Serve with fine bread, sliced carrots, cucumbers or tomatoes on the side.

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Grown-up Mac n’ Cheese

In the film “Somewhere,” director Sophia Coppola’s latest work, there is a scene in which the 11-year old daughter of the movie’s protagonist is making macaroni and cheese from scratch. Her father is a Hollywood actor who resides in a hotel suite in LA. Just before we see her cooking, she is on the phone with the hotel receptionist, ordering in the ingredients. I was dazzled by the depiction of this girl’s sophisticated talents in the kitchen.

The Three Cheeses

When I was her age, my only encounter with macaroni and cheese came from the blue Kraft Macaroni and Cheese box. Granted, my parents are Filipino and although we were living in the States, this was not a popular dish in our household. I only learned about it from visits to some of my classmates’ homes. When my family and I went grocery shopping, I would beg them to add a few boxes to our cart. My parents thought it was the unhealthiest meal I could ask for, especially since it came straight out of a box. However, they gave in and I remember how much fun I had following the simple directions and the feelings of independence it gave me.

Naked macaroni

I’ve come a long way from cooking out of that navy blue carton. Fortunately, I have also eaten better versions of this rich cheesy pasta in some of NYC’s delicious soul food restaurants and enjoyed it even more in the southern parts of the US. The scene from the movie sparked a craving for mac n’ cheese, so before we swap the heavy casserole dishes of winter and trade them in for the lighter meals of spring and summer, I’ll take this last opportunity to indulge my waistline. Wait? What am I talking about here? I’m pregnant and I need the calories! Here’s to grown up macaroni and cheese!

All dressed and ready to get baked!

Macaroni and Three Cheeses
(adapted from Vegetarian Times)

1 1/2 cups medium-sized elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Emmenthal cheese
1/4 teaspoon of dried sage
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 350/180 degrees.

Lightly grease a ovenproof baking dish.

Boil pasta in salted water.

After draining it, set it aside in the baking dish.

Melt butter in a saucepan and add the sage.

Then quickly whisk in the flour.

Cook until mixture thickens, about 2 minutes.

Then add the milk, constantly whisking, again until the sauce thickens.

This may take 6-7 minutes.

Remove from heat, set aside.

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl and add a tablespoon of each cheese in the bowl.

Set aside.

Add the remaining cheese to the sauce and stir until smooth.

Reheat over very low heat to melt completely.

Season with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over the macaroni and gently combine sauce and pasta.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese mixture on top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Serve with a side of spinach to lessen the guilt.

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A Canton Celebration!

Pancit Canton

I’m celebrating. I’m celebrating that I am half-way there. I am celebrating that I am in week 20 of my pregnancy and things are going very well. I am celebrating that the doctor just said that we’ll be the parents of two little girls. And I am going to celebrate the best Filipino way I know how, with a plate of Pancit Canton (Pahn-seet Cahn-ton.) These 16-ounce packets of wheat noodles have yet to appear on the shelves of Prague’s grocery stores, therefore I usually reserve them for special occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas dinner. (Back in NYC, a package costs about $1.99 and I have been known to buy some to take back, and have asked family members to stuff a few bags into their suitcases when coming to visit) But, these are special times and that means the pancit must come out.

I miss Asian grocery stores!

Pans of pancit regularly appear on the tables of a Filipino celebration: birthday, christening, Christmas or Easter. Those long, thin strands mixed with vegetables, meat, shrimp or tofu sits waiting to be devoured by the multitude of guests. Growing up, my family had me believe that if I ate a plate of these sautéed noodles every year on my birthday, I would live a long and prosperous life. My grandmother just turned 89 in March and still exhibits the same sharp wit I have known since childhood. Obviously, Grandma ate her share of pancit too. It’s impossible for me to take this family superstition lightly.

When I introduced this dish to my husband’s side of the family, my Spanish father in-law thought it was a very complete meal. You have your carbohydrates, protein and vegetables all in one. Lately, some friends who recently became parents have been sharing stories about the kinds of foods that appeal most to their children. Many of the flavors that the mothers had exposed their little ones to while in utero, are ones that the babies favor and seek out. I think it is time to introduce my twin girls to the taste of pancit and get them ready for this birthday tradition.

Pancit Canton with Tofu (Grandma’s recipe)

14- 16 oz package of Pancit Canton
2 cloves of garlic
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced thinly
2 celery sticks, sliced thinly
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced thinly (I used napa)
1 block of tofu, diced and fried lightly in vegetable oil
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 cups of vegetable broth
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
salt and pepper for extra seasoning
sliced lemon wedges

Heat a large, deep non-stick pan and place two tablespoons of oil.
When ready, add the tofu.
Fry until crispy and pale yellow.
Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the garlic.
When it turns slightly golden, add the onions.
When the onions become transparent, add the carrots and celery.
Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the cabbage.
After adding the cabbage, also add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, salt and pepper and stir fry.
The vegetables should maintain a crisp tenderness to them.

It should probably take another 3-4 minutes to cook.
When done, remove and set aside.

In the same pan, add the broth, remaining tablespoon of soy sauce and a little bit of salt.
When the liquid comes to a boil, gently add the noodles.

Evenly mix the noodles with the sauce and allow the liquid to get absorbed.
After a few minutes, add the vegetables and tofu.
Continue to carefully mix the ingredients all together.
Serve warm with lemon wedges on the side.


Filed under Pinay at Heart

Babes’ Cake

My dad has four sisters. When I was 5, one of them came to live with us. She came straight from The Philippines and moved into our tiny NYC apartment. Her name is Eloisa, however, in our family and with other Filipino friends, we never called people by their officially documented names. Everyone in our Filipino-American world had a nickname and it would be a long time until you found out a person’s “real” name.

My aunt was the second to the youngest in her family, but for some reason they called her “Baby,” just like in the movie Dirty Dancing. Out of respect for our elders, we always addressed our aunts by first using the word Tita which is aunt in Filipino and then by their nickname. Somehow, my brothers and I started calling Tita Baby, “Tita Babe” and eventually she became “Tita Babes”.For the three of us, Tita Babes was like a third parent. She moved to the States to be closer to her family and to help my parents out. Much of the immediate family had emigrated earlier to Toronto, Canada or NY. She was the last to relocate. The year she came to live with us, was also the year my mother started a full time job. Tita Babes became our own Mrs. Garrett (see TV show Facts of Life , if you don’t know Mrs. G.) She brought us to and from school, took us to the library, spent hours with us at the park, walked us to the local Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Shop and cooked a lot of tasty meals for us. Tita Babes is one of our family’s finest in the kitchen. When we got to our teens, Tita Babes left and moved into another apartment with two other sisters. We are still very close to her and she holds a very special place in our hearts.

Found this photo of the three of us with Tita Babe, the youngest one is hiding behind the stroller

Over the years, I have collected many recipes from my special Tita. Just a few years ago, she started experimenting with baking and last summer I got this recipe from her. We typically celebrate birthdays in our family with an ice cream cake or a mocha cake from our local Filipino bakery. I was surprised to find a recipe for mocha roll stuck to her refrigerator door. The combination of a mocha sponge cake and mocha buttercream frosting often graced the tables of many Filipino celebrations and was served in different ways, such as a roll, sheet cake or layered cake. This one is for the mocha roll.

The recipe I scribbled down

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Tita Babes and missing her. I am also thinking about my babies, still in my womb and this ex-pat life that my husband and I live. Separated by borders, an ocean and a time zone, we live kilometers away from our families. I can’t help but wonder if they will be lucky enough to have a Tita Babes in their lives too.

Tita Babe’s Mocha Roll


1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. hot water
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mocha Buttercream Filling & Frosting:
1/2 cup butter or a stick
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. coffee (dissolve granules in a drop of hot water)
1/4 cup cream or evaporated milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees or 180 celsius

Line a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper or grease it with butter and sprinkle with flour.

Dissolve coffee granules with hot water, from the tap is fine.
In a bowl, beat egg whites on high for about 3 minutes, until they are stiff.
In another large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar.
Beat on high for 3 minutes.
Then add flour and stir.
Fold in the egg whites and carefully blend all the ingredients.
(I use a spatula)
Finally, add the vanilla and dissolved coffee granules.
Gently mix all the ingredients together.
Then pour into pan and spread the mixture evenly.
Bake for 15 minutes.

Filling/Frosting: (You can start the filling while the cake is baking or cooling off)

Dissolve granules in a drop of hot water
and then stir into the cream.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter.
Then add sugar and continue mixing.
With the mixture running, slowly add the coffee
and cream mixture, tablespoon by tablespoon.
Otherwise, it may curdle and you will have to start
all over again.

When the cake is done, run a knife along the edges to loosen it up from the pan.
(You will have to invert the cake onto a clean kitchen towel,
so have that ready on your counter.)

Place the towel over the pan.
To ensure a good catch, I also place my cooling rack on top of of the towel.

Then hold the pan on the short end and flip it over.
Remove pan and then peel off the parchment paper.

Starting with the long side, begin to roll the cake up.

Let the cake sit in this position for at least 20 minutes or until completely cool.

When ready, carefully unroll the cake. Don’t worry about cracks, you can cover it up with the frosting.

Then spread a thin layer of cream in the middle and sides of the cake.

When it is all covered with cream, roll it up again and cut the ends off.

With the seam of the cake facing downwards, use the rest of the frosting to cover the cake.

Before serving, refrigerate cake for 30 minutes to let the frosting firm up.
You can run a fork along the cake to add some fancy ridges.
Leftover slices can be refrigerated or kept in the freezer for up to a month.


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Love at first bite: Torta di Lucca

Once upon a time I lived in Italy. Once upon a time I fell in love in Italy. And once upon a time I had a relationship that went devastatingly sour in Italy. Luckily, I had two of the dearest friends that helped me get through that sudden shift in life.

Bitterly, we split and moved on. After three years, I also chose to move on in the physical sense. At the same moment, a job opportunity came along and it was back in the States. It wasn’t easy to give up Italy, but it seemed like the most rational thing to do then. I was going to follow my head.

Weeks later, I was still heartbroken and saddened by the thought of leaving my Italian life behind. To brighten up my spirits, my friends and I thought that it would help to explore more of Italy and make the best of my time left. A month before my designated date of departure, we boarded the train and ended up in Lucca. The station was right outside the old town and as we exited, we quickly spotted the famous walls that surround the town.

It was Spring. The sun was golden. The air was warm. And despite the 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) of walls, Lucca was inviting. We settled into the Ostello San Frediano, formerly a convent turned into a 140 room hostel. The building had a classical charm and the location and price made it perfect.

We toured the city of Lucca, mostly by foot, doing more laps than a Formula 1 race. We followed the path along the antique walls of the city and ducked into the corners of the town’s historic pockets. Besides enjoying the picturesque beauty of the town, we also indulged in their local cuisine.

Our primi and secondi piatti of Luccanese food were buonissimi, but the memory cemented in my mind, was the dolce we sampled at the end of one of our dinners. I didn’t think my stomach could possibly manage dessert after such an abundant meal, but my curious palate found a way to carve out more room. Walking around town, a round cake with green specks gracing the display cases of cafes and pastry shops continued to catch my eye. When I asked about it, I was told that it was a tart made with verdure. Vegetables. I couldn’t quite get the name right, because it was advertised differently from place to place. I discovered that this pastry had several different names around town: Torta di Verde Lucca, Torta coi becchi, Torta di Lucca, Torta di verdure and Torta d’ erbe.

Torta in Italian can mean cake or tart. At first glance, I didn’t find the pastry very appetizing. It resembled a spinach quiche more than a sweet conclusion to a meal. I continued to ask around about the ingredients. What type of verdure were we talking about here? A friendly waiter finally offered a few more details and told me it was made of bietole. I had no idea what that was, it wasn’t one of the words I remember coming across in my Italian lessons. My friends didn’t have any idea either. We didn’t carry a dictionary and this was way before the iphone came along.

Soon after a bite or two, I instantly fell in love with its flavors. Torta di Lucca had hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, pine nuts and raisins. Suddenly, the feeling of autumn had come upon me. Its texture was soft like bread pudding and the hard crust had a tasty contrast to its center. I made one more attempt to uncover the mystery of the green leaves, but at the end of the meal, I was still unsuccessful.

I returned to Milano with enough Torta di Lucca to feed 24 people. I became obsessed with its flavors, ingredients and recipe. As soon as I got home, I found my dictionary and looked up bietole. Translation: Chard. When I told my friends we were all surprised. We hadn’t come across this vegetable in the markets and had no idea that it was popularly used in Italian cuisine. I became increasingly more curious about Torta di Lucca and continued to seek out information about its history, ingredients and steps to make it. During that weekend I developed a new passion and a new favorite Italian dolce. Luckily, I knew there wasn’t going to be any future heartaches with this new affair, just plenty of guaranteed sweet moments.

(per Kat e Claud, grazie mille per l’amicizia)

(also dedicated to the Papes, because Steve loves pie and had I found chard sooner in Prague, I would have baked it and you would have loved it!)

Torta di Lucca (adapted from many conversations from local residents of Lucca)

Heat oven to 180/350 degrees.
You will need a 9 inch pie plate.


1 bunch of chard (snip off hard stems and chop into fine pieces)
(note: if living in Prague, chard is sold as mangold and can be bought at stall 11 at Pražská tržnice)
1 1/2 cups of stale bread, diced
1/3 cup of milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup of raisins (soaked in hot water)
1/4 cup of pine nuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon liquer of your preference
3 eggs
1 square of butter

Heat a frying pan and add the butter.
When the butter starts to melt, add the chard.
Cook chard until the leaves are tender.
When done, let it cool to the side.

In a bowl, soak the bread in the milk.
The bread should crumble and begin to resemble porridge.
When the chard has cooled add it to the bread mixture.
Beat the eggs and then add with the rest of the ingredients.
Mix well.

Pour into the pie crust.
Bake for 30- 40 minutes, until the center comes out clean.

Pastry (adapted from Cesare Casella’s Diary of a Tuscan Chef)

1/2 cup sugar
1 stick of butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
Add the egg and then the vanilla.
Beat until creamy.

In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
Make a well in the center and add the wet mixture to the center.
Mix together with a wooden spoon.
At first it will resemble bread crumbs, but should work itself into a smooth ball.
After shaping it into a bowl, wrap in plastic and let it sit in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour.

When ready to use, let it sit out for 5 minutes.
Then lightly sprinkle the surface with flour.
Roll out the dough into a 10 inch circle.
Transfer it to a 9 inch pie plate and shape.
Pierce the bottom with a fork.

Cover the dough with foil and pie weights.
Let it bake for 25 minutes.
Remove and add the filling.
Continue with the rest of the baking time.

Buon Appetito!


Filed under Flavors Abroad!

Thanks be to Matzo Ball!

I went to a public school in NYC. I went to a school with children whose families came from all corners of the world. Yet throughout my educational experiences and settings, I noticed that certain groups clearly made up the majority in my world. In my childhood, I went through waves of wishing I could be more like “them.” I secretly wanted to be Jewish.

There were a small number of Filipino families in my local neighborhood. And when one is Filipino, it typically means that you might be Roman Catholic too. I had a number of Jewish classmates, and as a result I learned plenty about their culture. The New York City Board of Education also observed a few of the Jewish holidays. I remember how great it was to begin school just after Labor Day, and about a week later, we got two days off for Rosh Hashanah. My parents, who knew little about the Jewish customs and holidays before moving to NY from Manila, and I, were quickly educated by my elementary classmates and their parents.

I also learned about Yom Kippur, Purim and Passover. During my years in middle school, I attended many lavish bar/bat mitzvahs. My Catholic confirmation wasn’t as eventful as the catered affairs of my peers. I met this rite of passage along with 11 other boys and girls. Collectively, we recited our parts and then filed one after the other with our sponsors, to accept this sacrament. My Jewish friends, as I witnessed, celebrated individually, holding the stage completely on their own. As a result of attending so many, I ended up with a great collection of personalized party favors. Unlike the friends I grew up with, I didn’t have any Filipino National holidays, that were publicly acknowledged by the U.S., to brag about. Even Christmas didn’t seem as spectacular when my friends and I would compare this one-day event to their 7 day Hanukkah feast.

Besides learning so much about Jewish culture and religion, I was also introduced to plenty of Jewish food. Looking back, I am very thankful for the exposure and experience. As a student in college, these dishes concluded the evenings of our “girls nite out,” as we regularly ended up at one of the many diners opened 24/7. In fact, some of these foods sit on the top of my personal list of “Favorite Comfort Foods.” Hamentashen cookies, bagels, challah french toast style and blintzes come to mind. Even my mother developed a sore spot for matzo. I can easily picture my mom breaking this unleavened cracker in two, then spreading peanut butter and grape jelly on one. Then she would take the other piece and stick it on top and have her thin PB & J sandwich with a cup of coffee. My ultimate favorite is Matzo Ball Soup. When the weather is grim and it’s bitter cold outside, nothing soothes my chills better than a bowl of matzo ball soup.

I no longer carry the desire to be Jewish. I am not even much of a Catholic. Instead, I have turned into a worshiper of earthly delights. I am a devout foodie.

Chicken Vegetable Matzo Ball Soup (as adapted by a Filipino girl from Queens, NY)

Chicken Vegetable Broth

2-3 Tablespoons oil
1lb Chicken parts
1 onion peeled and diced
2 carrots peeled and sliced
2 celery peeled and sliced
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons salt (season according to your taste)
Pepper to taste
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
6 cups water

Heat oil.
When hot, add onions and fry until soft.
Add carrots and celery and cook for another 5 minutes, stir to prevent vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add water.
Add chicken(including bones), salt and herbs.
Boil for half hour.
When chicken is cooked, remove and strip away the meat from the bones.
Discard the bones and add the meat back to the pot.
Continue to let the broth boil and add the matzoh ball dumplings.

Matzoh Ball
(should be prepared before the broth, needs to be refrigerated for a half hour)
1 cup of Matzo meal
4 large eggs
1/4 cup of oil
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper

In a bowl:

Beat eggs.
Add oil, water, salt and pepper.
Mix well.
Then add matzo meal.
Refrigerate for up to 1/2 to an hour.

When ready to add to the soup, moisten hands and begin forming the meal into balls about 1″ in diameter.
Then drop balls into the broth and allow it to simmer for another 20-30 minutes.

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Breakfast is My Turkish Delight (Teşekkürler K & T)

During our trips to Turkey, we happily took part in a daily delightful morning ritual… going out for breakfast! This first meal of the day happens to be my favorite. Besides waking up hungry and wanting to nourish my belly, breakfast has such comforting memories for me. Certain dishes can draw me back to the kitchen of my childhood. I can picture my Mama hovered over the stove with her frying pan in one hand and the spatula in another, dishing out fried eggs to her three impatient children seated around the table. (Suddenly, a picture of baby birds chirping in a nest with Mama bird standing above them with a worm clasped between her beak, enters my mind. Yeah… we kinda looked like that. Peep, peep, peep.)

My "Turkish delight" photo courtesy of Kathryn Tomasetti

For me, dining out for breakfast in Istanbul was like waking up on Christmas morning and heading for the stockings. I just knew there would be something exciting waiting for me. In Turkey, it seems that breakfast is so popular, that many establishments specialize in it and only serve dishes around this morning meal.  A hearty plate of various cheeses, olives, cured meats, tomatoes, cucumbers, slices of hard-boiled eggs, jams, bee hive honey and creamy butter were the typical ingredients that decorated this platter, along with a cozy basket of bread. If that was not enough, you could also add an omelette, boreki (stuffed spinach/cheese pastry) or a bowl of spiced red lentil soup. This breakfast cornucopia came with such an abundance of food that it invited everyone to partake in a mid-morning communal feast.

On my latest visit to Istanbul, I was completely knocked out by a restaurant that concentrates solely on breakfast food. The Van Cafe kahvalti, located in the Cihandir neighborhood (photo above was taken there) provided all the delicious edible material I just listed and more! It was there that I became acquainted with “Tahini Peznak,” a tasty spread that stirred my curious palate. A combination of tahini paste and grape molasses which, in this part of the world, has been enjoyed for centuries. The creamy texture of the sesame mixed with the sweetness of the grapes and then spread across a slice of freshly baked bread was divine! Just imagine good old peanut butter and grape jelly, but a thousand and one nights better (and healthier for you too!)

Day after day, I indulged in this sweet pairing. On my final morning in town, I visited the Van Cafe and shared one last Turkish breakfast with a dear friend. We sat outside on tables that lined the sidewalks surrounded by other breakfast goers. Moments after the waiter took our orders, a huge storm appeared and buckets of rain came thrashing all around us. Luckily, we were sitting under a huge and sturdy canvas umbrella which managed to keep us dry. The rain remained throughout our insouciant breakfast. We believed the ill weather would cease by the end of our meal, but instead it continued to pour. We had no other choice, but to face the rain and get drenched. However, I couldn’t return to Prague without a container of my new-found sweetness. With two hours left in the city, a new fixation for grape molasses, and despite the heavy rainfall, I trekked my way to the nearest supermarket. Soaked, I traveled up and down the aisles of the Carrefour grocery store until I found my jar of uzem pekmezi. It was stacked right next to its familiar partner- tahini.

Lately, this sweet and nutty duo has made many regular morning and mid-afternoon appearances on our table. And since discovering it, I have also been obsessed with finding a way to use it in other baked goods. Cookies, shortbread, cakes? How about a snack bar with an oatmeal base that could hold the creamy syrupy tahini peznak and allow its flavors to penetrate through to your taste buds?

Tahini Peznak Pistachio Cranberry Oatmeal Bars– let me know what you think!

Tahini Peznak Pistachio Cranberry Oatmeal Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Bottom Layer Base:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup oats
1/4 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt

In a medium bowl:
Beat butter and sugar until creamy.
Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. It will look a bit crumbly.
Grease a 8×8 square pan.
Bake the base for 10-12 minutes.

Tahini Peznak Top Layer

1/3 cup tahini
1/2 cup grape molasses a.k.a. Uzem Pekmezi
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. flour

In a medium bowl:

Combine all the ingredients together.
Then pour over the oatmeal base.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.

When cool, sprinkle some powdered sugar on top.


Filed under Flavors Abroad!