30 June 2007

Frozen Banana-Peanut Butter Bonbons

When I ended up with so much extra glaze from the Chocolate Éclairs, I thought of this old article about frozen fruit bonbons. I bought a bunch of bananas, layered it with Good Shepherd Peanut Butter, froze them, dropped them in the room-temperature glaze, then froze them again. The result isn't too pretty till you look inside at the layers, but the rich and decadent taste is undeniable.
Frozen Banana-Peanut Butter Bonbons
This isn't the most original of flavor combinations-- add a marhsmallow and it's Elvis's favorite sandwich filling. Anyway, these are great for popping in your mouth when you need a quick snack.

29 June 2007

PGH: Design by the People, For Nobody

During my entire stay at the Philippine General Hospital, many frustrating experiences have arisen from the simple act of getting around. And once you get the hang of things, you'll be even more frustrated trying to explain to the poor patients and watchers how to get from point A to B. I've said it before and here it is again, for the record in my blog:

Philippine General Hospital design sucks.

Consider the following:

Exhibit A is a new wall treatment the administration chose to cover up the soiled walls of the first floor (it's as close to an approximation as I can get with my memory and my trying to suppress the painful imagery). I used to call it the "Schizont/Plasmodium" wall. Yes, the first floor is painted with these not-quite-arabesque peach and mint green spermatozoa. Why? Is it supposed to make people forget their frustrations in the hospital? Is it supposed to make it a pleasant place? Bitter experience has shown me that it does not. All it succeeds in is making the hospital a hideous place. It does not feel like a respectable hospital as much as it does the outside of a second-rate kindergarten building.

Exhibit B is a sample of the few signs that they have put up on a few posts. One of the elements of environmental design is "Wayfinding." This is PGH's sorry attempt to make it easier for patients to find particular places. It's a failsafe to the Information Desk in front. First of all, given the way PGH is built, those arrows mean shit. Second, it doesn't work. I still get questions all the time as to where is what.

What's worse is that PGH doesn't even bother to make it easy for people to care for their patients. Take, for example, the Arterial Blood Gas (ABG) Laboratory. It's actually located in the laboratory wing but since you can get the results in a few minutes, you have to access it through a separate door. What's worse is that the door leading to the laboratory and the door leading to the ABG room, which are both on the 2nd floor, are not accessible on the same floor-- that is, if you have a bunch of specimens you want to give to the lab and one of them is an ABG, you have to go to the main lab window, give the specimens, go down to the 1st floor, then go back up again on another staircase and give it to the ABG room. This is the type of shit we let the poor watchers go through on a daily basis. SOLUTION: make the rooms all accessible to each other. Simple as that.

The wards have a notoriously unintuitive arrangement. When you enter the main door, you have Wards 1 and 3 on the right, and Wards 9 and 11 (what?) on the left. On the second floor to these wards are 2 and 4 on the right, and 10 and 12 on the left. There is a "central block" further along where the elevators are located, then further than that is Ward 5 and 7 on the right, Ward 14a and 15 on the left, with Ward 6 and 8 on the right on the second floor, and 14b and 16 on the left on the second floor. All you have to assist you if you are a new patient are those piss-poor signs above, there isn't even a schematic map for any of this anywhere. SOLUTION: A map. People can read this better than they can figure out the numbering scheme. There are so many other ways: one is color-coding the wings with a single strip of color running throughout the walls on white. Much classier than the sperm. Then, on the signs, use the colors with the floor number, like Ward 14a: 1(red). Ward 14b: 2(red). There's probably an even better way to do this, I'm just to mad to think about it.

By the way, Ward 14a and Ward 14b? Are we TOO superstitious? Why not just call it Ward 17 and at least we'd be consistent?

Problem: many (in fact all but 2) elevators' call buttons don't work. That is just shameful and I'm pretty sure you have to have elevators checked by a technician EVERY GODDAMN YEAR. Fixing the elevators will ensure that when the patients need to go up ASAP, they are UP ASAP. Before you get television sets for the suites or whatever, you need to make sure that NOBODY USES A FUCKING COIN TO KNOCK ON THE DOORS OF THE ELEVATORS.

Dr. Alfiler said that he'll be installing a pneumatic tube system that will allow us to send samples to the lab remotely. Who's willing to bet that it will soon be filled with cobwebs? How about a hole in one of the tubes where a big pile of blood will accumulate? Also, what will this do to the citrate tubes?

Another nitpick: next to the elevators, there should be a list of what each floor contains. Next to none of the patients know that floor 2=more wards, 3=operating rooms, 4=nursery, 5=pulmonology offices (? see, even I'm doubtful), 6=dialysis and cardiovascular offices. It's just stupid not to include those.

Design is more than just the way something looks. It pertains also to the function, the efficiency, the usefulness of that object. It results in a bright light in your head that makes a simple color scheme turn a chaotic mess into a well-oiled machine. Take a look of this design of a staircase from the Rem Koolhass bulding in Chicago designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It seamlessly incorporates a ramp into a staircase, so without inconveniencing a subset of users, a beautiful design results in cost-efficiency, space-efficiency, and just looks absolutely cool.

(Credit: Ben of Noisy Decent Graphics)

26 June 2007

Éclairs au Chocolat (with how-to)

(Chocolate Éclairs) Unless you are building a skill, there's no reason to bake something that you can buy for cheap and is excellent. I remember the éclairs of Dulcinea are good, but they are not cheap. So I was excited to make this recipe by Pierre Hermé (again) for éclairs. However, there is a bonus and a unique touch: the crème pâtissière is also chocolate-flavored, so it isn't quite like anything else out there. There is a problem, though: the pastry shell (pâte à choux) is incredibly difficult to make. So many places to fail.
Chocolate Éclair
Chocolate Éclairs
To begin, have all the ingredients at hand. Again.

Bring the milk, water, a stick of butter, and a pinch each of sugar and salt to a rapid boil:

Then dump all the flour in. Of course, there are no photos of this, since once you do, you have to stir like mad for 2 or so minutes, and I can't take a picture while doing that. In my zeal, I dumped the flour too forcefully and the boiling mixture splattered on my left index finger. OUCH. Couldn't soothe it, had to stir like mad. The flour gelatinizes in the liquid, and stirring it for 2 minutes until a crust forms on the bottom dries out all the moisture, so you can add as many eggs as you can without thinning the batter.

It will come to a ball like the one above. Move it to a bowl where you can beat in the eggs with a hand mixer.

After the first egg, the dough will look separated and ugly. But after the 4th egg, it will come back together again. Place in a pastry bag.

Pipe out 4-inch shapes onto your baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Of course, I sucked at this.

Bake for 7 minutes, then open the door a little, bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans top to bottom, back to front, left to right, and bake for 8 more minutes. It's supposed to rise to 3 times its size. The heat creates steam, hollowing out the inside, while a crust forms on the outside. Unfortunately, I don't think my oven was hot enough, so it only rose to twice its size and it was not completely hollow. Time to buy an oven thermometer? (Those are P500/$10. Ouch.)

Slice in half, then spread the glaze on each top half and fill with chocolate pastry cream, then sandwich together.

What is the lesson to be learned? CHECK YOUR OVEN TEMPERATURE!!!! Don't trust its internal thermostat.

Minestrone (with how-to)

I came across this recipe in Simply Recipes. This is another case of my mom really wanting something and asking me to make it. However, to have the skill to make Minestrone is not bad (vegetables are good for you), it's just... The long hour or so of boiling. I think of the fossil fuels. Anyway, it can't be that bad, and after all that time, you can feed a LOT of people. As you can see, those are halves of pan de sal, toasted, just for humor.
The process isn't hard, but if you don't have a system for chopping/ slicing/ dicing vegetables, you have no business trying to make soup. Practice, practice, practice.
Mise en place 2
So, as usual, get all your ingredients at hand for preparation. You can see I have a bag of powdered chicken broth. Nowhere near as good as the real thing, but you already know I don't like cooking for long hours. Think of the environment! I've washed the beans (minimize the toot-toot), opened cans, washed vegetables.
I thought of making a demo on how to chop vegetables but I guess it'll have to be another day. This is the chopped zucchini, carrot, potato, and minced garlic (onion not yet done), ready to go.
Oh, yeah, while I'm chopping, the beans are already on the heat. Multitasking. There's chicken broth and bacon also in there.
before boiling
So, after cooking the garlic, onion, carrots, potatoes, and zucchini for 5 minutes, I dump the rest of the chicken stock and diced tomatoes in. And then I begin to study...
But I'm interrupted as the beans are done. I puree half of them in a blender, then put it back in the bean pot. I also fish out the boiled bacon and dice it.
Once the vegetables are tender (oh, about 40 minutes), I add the contents of the bean pot and the bacon, then cook for a few more minutes. Done! Finally.

21 June 2007

Pond's Age "Miracle"

August 28, 2007 EDIT: I've now concluded my experiment on Pond's Age Miracle. See my report here.

August 2, 2007 EDIT: I realize this page pops up a lot when you look for resources on Pond's Age Miracle. The folks at Pond's don't even put up a lot of helpful information on their website regarding their products, just a lot of fluff you've already seen in their ad. I'll conduct an independent experiment soon and post the results on this website. I'll first have to BUY the stuff and I'll update you.

I just saw Rissa Mananquil's (beauty and fashion columnist for some newspaper) new ad for Pond's Age Miracle. She claims she and 2 friends applied it to halves their faces to test its effects. In less than 7 days (the promised time to effect), they saw results IN HALF OF THEIR FACES. I tried looking for a picture or a screenshot or video, but looks like I'll have to follow it up. Anyway, on TV it showed their "old" face, still intact, with unsightly spots (looked like liver spots from where I was looking) and noticeably darker skin.

Okay. they have to show a disclaimer that the effect is SIMULATED. Because there is no way these girls walk around Manila's hotspots looking like fucking harlequins. Truth in advertising, folks. Don't be so obvious.

Galette Ananas (with how-to)

Pineapple Galette
Galette Ananas
I got the idea from Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, but I used a different recipe for pâte brisée, one that I already used before. This dessert has no added sugar; in fact it would have no sugar if Del Monte would not add heavy syrup to every living thing. I understand they need it to preserve the pineapple, but I guess that's my fault for not wanting to use a fresh pineapple. Braker also wanted the slices in concentric circles; I used a spoke design because it looked prettier in my head.
Galette Ananas whole
Pâte Brisée means broken pastry in French. It's supposed to be tender and flaky. Here in the Philippines, temperature is close to body temp, so making pastry is hard but not impossible. All you need to remember is to work quick and not to overdo it.
mise en place
frozen butter
The first thing to do is to prepare everything (in cooking, always use the principle of mise en place-- everything in its place. It will save you the scurrying later). Cut the butter into cubes and place in the freezer. Everything has to be cold when making pastry, and some even put the flour in the freezer but I find that excessive. While waiting for it to get stone-hard, place the dry ingredients (flour and salt) in a strainer. Don't sift until just before you start so the particles are well-aerated and won't form lumps (thus harder to work in).
When ready, take a small bowl of ice water and keep on the side. Sift like mad. I use a pastry blender with rigid tines (flexible tines are useless).
cut in butter
Cut in the butter with the pastry blender (force the flour in between the cut flakes of cold butter) until the particles are the size of small peas and coarse crumbs. It's better to have large pieces of butter than to overdo it. The idea is to form lamellations of butter and flour to create a flaky pastry, not to make it homogenous like a cookie. If at any time the butter becomes too soft, put it back in the fridge until it's firmer. Also, that means you've been taking too long. It shouldn't be more than a few minutes. Use your forearm muscle!
Add ice water a tablespoon at a time until it just comes together. Any more and it will be soggy. In our humid climate it only takes about 3 tablespoons. As you can see, I've pinched a small mass there-- good enough to roll out.
Lay it out in a mound on the counter.
This technique is called fraisage, or milling. Basically it means squishing your dough across the counter in a few strokes to spread the lamellations, making it more stable. It's not a "must" but if you have a juicy filling, it helps so the juice doesn't seep out through tiny cracks. I used my left hand because I'm taking pictures. I got some of the dough on my watch.
After two cycles of mounding and fraisage, I formed it into a 4-inch disc, wrapped in plastic wrap, and...
... wrapped in foil and dated. I did this about 2 weeks ago. It will be fine for a month so the date on the front is important! It's great for making ahead of time.

For the pineapple, I cut each slice into 2 through its width, so I had double the quantity of thinner slices. After draining, I put it back in the can with its top still mostly on and put it in the fridge upside-down in a bowl overnight. When it comes to making pineapple pastries, you want to get rid of excess juice so you don't steam or boil your creation. However, draining on paper towels overnight would just rob it completely of its juice. In the morning, I just roll out my thawed dough, arrange the slices, then bake.

Easy as pie, isn't it? Well, IT IS!

Stylish Chip

I'm not a regular chip-eater; in fact I try to avoid it, because, duh. I did buy a few singles to keep myself awake during duty nights (and to ward off the hunger). Some of my favorites were Jack n' Jill's V-Cut (original is best, but Sweet Chili is not bad) and Oishi Natural Potato Chips. The nutrition information claimed that Oishi didn't have any saturated fat. I think for some reason it now does.
Kettle Chips Honey Dijon and Salt and Ground Pepper
On a whim, I bought Kettle Brand potato chips because the packaging was beautiful (hey, a designer has to judge a book by its cover), and it came in Honey Dijon-- one of my favorite flavor combinations. Never mind it cost P70 ($1.40) for 2oz. It toppled all the pedestals (?) I put my previous chips on. And I was brainwashed-- I always say now that it's not worth it to spend your money on any other chip.

I had to tell my family about my discovery-- at the same time, selling that it had no trans fats, blah blah blah. Eventually we bought other flavors: Thai Spice (fiery hot with a hint of ginger and lime, yum yum), Cheddar Beer (reminds me of why I hate beer), Yogurt and Green Onion (tastes too much like other brands' combinations), Lightly Salted, Classic Barbecue (one of the best barbecue chips I've tried), Sea Salt and Vinegar (addictive), Buffalo Bleu (not bad but I prefer classic barbecue), and Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper.

Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper is just a step above Honey Dijon for me. Many posters on the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters forums actually say that it's one of the best chips they've tasted (some other imported brands and Terra Blue also were mentioned).

So, I learned something. Pepper is everything. I experimented on a bag of Ruffles (bleagh, too salty) by adding Cayenne Pepper and Fresh Ground Pepper from my mill. The third pepper in the spice mix of Kettle Chips is ground Jalapeno, but I don't know where to get that. Anyway, I added it to a small batch, shook to distribute, and behold:

Instant improvement in flavor. Not as great as Kettle, but at least I got rid of the boring taste of salt and oil. As you can see, it's not mixed well enough (some spots of red there), but working in small batches should help. TRY IT with your next plain chips. I don't think you'd want to eat your chips any other way afterwards.

Unless you are a vinegar fan, which I am not.

18 June 2007

Carrot Cupcakes

I made some carrot cupcakes for Genie's study group, also because I had extra cream cheese frosting tucked away. I once said the only thing I need an assistant for is to wash dishes-- I also need them to grate carrots! I was manually grating them so there was a lot of slippage. This is Ina Garten's recipe. I omitted the walnuts because I don't like them that much (read: if I bake it, no nuts, if others bake it, it's fine). I omitted the raisins because Genie hates raisins (unless it's in Baguio Country Club raisin bread, I told her, "that's kinda specific!"). I didn't add crushed pineapple because it's risky (not a popular addition), even if I like pineapple. They were very moist despite this.
Carrot Cupcakes packed
Carrot Cupcakes
That is NOT the photographed color of the carrots, I had to manipulate it on the computer. I wonder what I was thinking when I bought a bottle of creamy peach. Duh. It came out a creamy peach, not orange. Also, it's warm as usual so the leaves I piped with a leaf tip might as well have been spooned on. SIGH! I should have taken a rest and chilled everything.

Where's The Music?

In case you were wondering, I hadn't quit trying to play the piano yet. I just haven't posted videos of me playing because synchronizing the music and video is a pain, plus every now and then a freaking circular saw operates in the garage and ruins the sound. Also, I've been baking and my fingers are a little tired from doing all the mixing, and are a little shaky (apparently not tired enough to type).

What I won't be doing is singing in the video. I realize that all this time of talking very little and not practicing my singing has taken a toll on my voice. It sounds like crap on a microphone. Oh well, again.

Just please keep on coming to the site regularly and I'll warn you if the time comes that I won't be updating regularly. Or I'll warn you if I'm about to assault you with my amateurish piano playing. Either way, I want to keep you interested, so please check this blog every now and then, I'm very frequently updating and finding ways to jester my way into your hearts. Ha ha ha.

17 June 2007

TRP 32: From Concept to Final Work Series 1

From among the publications committee in the Medical Students Society, we had to come up with a poster for the 32nd TRP variety show, which had a theme of "Movie Night." I knew immediately I wanted a glamorous image of an theater, with the marquee, and the red-carpet feeling. So I made a concept sketch:

However, working directly on computer wasn't a great idea. First of all, it looked like shit. No red carpet feeling. This might as well have been a depressing unpopulated discotheque. So we start from scratch, this time on paper:

I showed it over the mailing list and Winlove loved it, asking the rest if we could pursue the design. I was flattered and immediately got to work. I had obviously been greatly influenced by the work of Bert Monroy, so I bought his book to fully grasp the concepts behind photrealistic computer art. Again, I made the same mistake of working directly on the computer first, but it was a good exercise to get the techniques just right and to get a feel for the colors.

Working in a traditional manner, I made the perspective skeleton in Adobe Illustrator:

The proceeded to fill in the details.

Unfortunately, the giant TRP 32 sign was too much work and it was incredibly ugly, so I decided to change it to an easier (cheating, really) method and at the same time, make it look glamorous. So, my favorite method. Winlove made a few more suggestions about adding views of Manila in the background, hence the final product:

I hope this feature has cleared up the creative process to you guys, and shown that good design takes a lot of thought, and hard work really shows. It's not a matter of plopping down all the elements you can in Photoshop and adding a cool Filter. I hope you also had fun reading this, by the way.

15 June 2007

Basil Panna Cotta and Green Tea Gelée

I had some extra cream lying around after my Chocolate Sauce, so when life hands you, er, cream, make Panna Cotta! I could have made Pavlova with my frozen egg whites, but that serves twelve and I didn't want another dessert overload. I improvised this recipe and thought, let's go with a cool white-green combo. So Green Tea Gelée it was.
Basil Panna Cotta and Green Tea Gelée
I was afraid the green tea would taste bad because after I'd infused it, it smelled like RUBBER. I wanted to vomit. I smelled the tea bag to check if it was really supposed to be that way, or if I'd burned the tea (with boiling water?) or the green food coloring (can that happen with 90°C water?). Thankfully, it had no super-bitter taste. After it cooled down, though, it wasn't clear anymore, that was disappointing. I wanted a clear green jelly. The Panna Cotta overpowered the jelly; the green tea was undetectable. Oh well!

14 June 2007

Lasagna Spinaci (with how-to)

There are times when my mom thinks I can do anything culinary-wise when I really, really can't. All I am is adventurous. Sometimes she'd just buy a whole bunch of ingredients and say something tantamount to, "turn this into that." And that is the story behind my Spinach Lasagna:
Lasagna Spinaci
One day she bought a whole bunch of spinach and, being a fan of spinach lasagna from restaurants, she told me to turn it into lasagna. But wha--!? I've never cooked spinach before! So I quickly got on the internet and found the most reasonable method of cooking spinach-- the microwave.
Steamed Spinach
What you do is put the cleaned and spun-dry spinach in a microwaveable bowl, put a microwave-safe plate on top, and nuke it for a few minutes until wilted. In my case it only takes about 2 minutes on HIGH.
Wrung Spinach
When the spinach is tolerably hot on your hands, wring all the water out of it. The last time I did this I made the mistake of cooking something else during the whole process, and it cooled down too much. The water re-equilibrated and the spinach was mushier and harder to wring to very compact bundles. I also once made the mistake of thinking that the water was a big waste since it probably had a lot of vitamins and minerals, so I drank it unseasoned. BIG mistake. It tasted like feet. I gagged immediately and threw the rest into the sink.
Chopped Spinach
Chop the bundles of spinach. That is, by the way, my favorite Chef's knife. It does everything. At this point you can cool it then freeze for a few months in a ziploc bag. This you can do ahead if you want to save time.
Cheese for Lasagna
The original recipe calls for ricotta and parmesan. A cup of Ricotta cheese is P233 ($4.60). Yeah, I wasn't going to buy that. I buy 2 tubs of cottage cheese (2 cups) for P180 ($3.60). Then I add two types of really cheap cheese-- processed cheese food. Specifically, Kraft Eden and Magnolia Quickmelt. They have the salty properties you'd want from Parmesan and the chewy properties of Mozarella. They don't have much depth of flavor, but if it tastes good, go with it. Plus, I save a lot.
Spinach Filling
This is after I've mixed everything together. I place it in the fridge because I did this in advance. When I wake up, I just add 2 eggs. My tomato sauce is made from canned diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili flakes, white wine, spaghetti sauce, and chopped flat-leaf parsley. Not too complex but it tastes good.

12 June 2007

On Shyness

Some people might be wondering if I've lost my mind posting my face on the internet. I know-- it's not me, right? But I took a cue from The Amateur Gourmet and decided that there's nothing to be shy about (somehow, his big goofy eyes and glasses reminded me of myself) if it helps to communicate my thoughts better. And make whatever I'm saying more interesting, anyway. I know I'm not the best looking apple in the bunch, but I don't care! To be ashamed of your own face is a step back from being yourself.

I saw this at Nike at Baguio:

"Shyness is no excuse. I used to think I was too shy to dance-- but then I felt so happy doing it I could never go back. Am still a shy person, but one who will do whatever she wants." In addition to being light years better than that impossible is nothing nonsense, this is a beautiful message that I think everyone can learn from.