Dessert Comes First 2017-05-29T03:38:26Z WordPress Spanky Enriquez <![CDATA[My Goose Is Cooked!]]> 2017-05-29T03:38:26Z 2017-05-29T03:38:26Z
Before you tuck into this piece, ensure that you have a full stomach. Spanky Enriquez describes the lush lubrication and savory intensity of roast goose with such fervor that it will incite vicious cravings. – Lori

Man Ho Roast Goose
I grew up loving roast goose. Although my first trip to Hong Kong, the mother lode of the succulent bird, wasn’t until 1997, I was quite familiar, and very enamored with the delicacy since the ‘80s. You see, my mom was an executive at Philippine Airlines, and whenever she’d fly to Hong Kong for work, she’d always come home with one whole goose. It was, of course, at the behest of my dad, Atty. Enriquez, an unabashed gourmet. Mrs. Enriquez would have no choice but to handcarry the magnificent, massive goose; too fragile, and too precious, to risk damage or loss if it was checked in as baggage.

It’s not a tiny beast: in terms of size, it’s second only to a butterball turkey. And the average weight of a whole goose? Three kilograms. Imagine lugging that unwieldy package – the elongated bony neck and the bulbous bottom heavy body – through the long and winding Hong Kong airport terminal, lifting it up to the overhead compartment of the plane, and finally, through the long last stretch of the NAIA arrival area. Not a walk in the park, definitely. I have to belatedly credit and thank my mom for the effort and sacrifice for her family’s table.

The goose was purchased fully cooked, wrapped in foil, encased in double layers of heavy plastic. At home, mom would pop it into the oven to reheat, and in seconds, the aromas would waft through our kitchen. The succulent meat’s natural juices would pool with the luscious layer of fat at the bottom of the pan; these drippings, set aside to be enjoyed during the meal, spooned over steaming hot white rice.

Man Ho Roast Goose

In the oven, the goose’s soft and wrinkled skin would once again tighten and crisp up to a golden brown. It was always magical to behold. My siblings and I would tear open the packs of sweet plum sauce that came with the goose, and dad would produce a bottle of thick, pungent hoisin. Apo Cion, our family cook, would chop up leeks into two inch strips. With their mild onion flavor and crunchy freshness, they were the perfect side dish to avoid umay (cloy), and offset the absolute richness of the roast goose. Those were some of my most memorable family meals ever. Exotic, sumptuous, epic. We’d all be stuffed silly, and best of all, since there was so much ceremony involved in the preparation and presentation, it was always an extended, unrushed dinner with the whole family. Good times.

On my first trip to Hong Kong, exactly 20 years ago, I had one major itch I had to scratch. Obviously, it was to have the best roast goose in the territories. And that’s how, at the dawn of the internet era in the Philippines, I HotBot-ted, and found out about Yung Kee, considered then, as now, one of the best roast goose restaurants in the world. Fred Aguilar, my gallant host during my trip, made sure that it was ticked off my bucket list. There’s always a bit of trepidation when I dine at a restaurant whose reputation precedes it, a restaurant I’ve dreamed of for a long time: will it live up to the anticipation, or will it burst my bubble? For example, Les Halles in New York, famous for a certain Anthony Bourdain: it wasn’t bad at all, but it didn’t blow my mind. But Yung Kee sure did. It was everything I’d imagined. I was not disappointed. To this day, I still remember the thrill of that evening. The taxi ride to Central, walking through the elaborate doors to the halls of Yung Kee, and me, smiling through the whole meal, and profusely thanking Mr. Aguilar afterwards. I was hooked. I spent the rest of that trip entering every restaurant with a roast goose displayed in the window. I had it for lunch and dinner for three more days. I was young, and I was in love.


That love has withstood the test of time, and maintenance meds. On my most recent visit to Hong Kong, in December of 2015, I snuck out of my hotel room in Wan Chai for a late night San Miguel Blue Ice Beer run, and upon exiting the 7-Eleven, I turned left instead of turning right, and found myself in front of Keung Kee, a “roasted meat” restaurant. One that just happened to be listed in the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong. I was confronted with a line of fine defeathered fowl, glowing golden, as if lit from within. I believe I fairly trembled, with desire, and with gratitude to the generous gods of geese, for serendipitously leading me to one of the city’s best roast goose restaurants, literally just seconds away from my hotel. And so I went in, and reacquainted myself with the Best. Rice. Topping. Meal. Ever.

KEUNG KEE HKG_Roast Goose Rice Toppings
You can guess what happened over the next couple of days. Yes, as I did eighteen years earlier, I went back to Keung Kee again and again, and just as my mother used to do three decades prior, I handcarried a whole goose home for the family. And our roast goose dinner then was as grand as it has always been. And always, extra special, because roast goose is a rare treat. It was still not available in any restaurant in the Philippines, as far as I knew.

In November of 2016, Marriott Manila’s Man Ho Chinese restaurant quietly opened. A few weeks later, a friend e-mailed this photo:

MAN HO_Roast Goose 1

That gleaming, lacquered skin. That unmistakable “bump” on the head. That proud, puffed breast.

Thanks to the vision and ambition of Chef Law Wui Wing, for the very first time, authentic roast goose, imported from Hong Kong, was finally available in Manila. I made my way to Marriott in early December, and I’ve been back to Man Ho twice since.

MAN HO_Roast Goose

Memories come rushing back to me, wave after wave of them, every time I’m there: carefully removing the foil from a goose my mom’s brought home from Hong Kong; the silly grin on my face as a whole roast goose was placed on our table at Yung Kee; a lost foreign diner, yours truly, pointing to a picture of a roast goose rice topping in a local haunt in Kowloon side; the charming curmudgeon at Keung Kee who chatted away merrily as he wrapped up my goose for safe transit on my flight back.

So I sit at Man Ho, look out the picture windows, and see the planes come and go, and I smile a quiet smile. Content, pleased, that I don’t have to get on one anymore and fly out, just to sate my cravings.

Love’s come home, baby. And it’s here to stay.

MAN HO_Interiors

Man Ho Chinese Restaurant
Marriott West Wing, Marriott Hotel Manila
2 Resorts Drive, Pasay City
02 988 9999 (reservations are recommended)
Open daily: 11.30am – 2.30pm; 6pm – 10.30pm

Lori Baltazar <![CDATA[Unboxing Dessert: Rainbow Crepe Cake (video)]]> 2017-05-26T06:03:47Z 2017-05-26T04:25:25Z

I’m so excited to bring you my debut video: unboxing dessert! Video is another way for me to share my food stories with you along with my words and photos. Honestly, I can’t believe that I’m doing video again after abandoning it a few years ago, but together with Bong, my friend and videographer, we decided to start it up again.

Enjoy our first dessert unboxing: rainbow crepe cakes! Very unique and very different in their own ways.

If you’d like us to unbox and feature your dessert and/or savory food on our channel, please get in touch! We champion home cooks and home bakers and we’d love to hear from you. Please also SUBSCRIBE to the Dessert Comes First channel and send some love our way. I really appreciate your support.

You an see my other videos here.

Ordering information
Le Miel Cafe et Patisserie

Dessert du Jour by Mara de la Rama Poblete


Lori Baltazar <![CDATA[Dessert Comes First On Video!]]> 2017-05-24T06:28:34Z 2017-05-24T06:23:56Z

Telling my food and dessert stories through words, photos, and now, video again. Just a little taste of what’s to come.

Click here to see my previous videos.

*Clapboard image on Home page via

Lori Baltazar <![CDATA[Meet The #DCFCreativeTeam]]> 2017-05-22T03:37:51Z 2017-05-22T03:34:03Z

Dessert Comes First team
L-R back row: Edward Bugia (Dude Food columnist); Kirt Uy de Baron (coffee guru); Aldwin Aspillera (photo instructor for the day); Anson Yu (features); Anna Gamboa (head editor); Erika Aquino, Kris Alcantara, Spanky Enriquez, Faith Santiago-Paz, Lee Ibarra, Serena Estrella (features).
front row: Bernard San Juan (business manager); Lori Baltazar (DCF founder). Photo by Trixie Esguerra

After working together for about two months, it was time that most of us finally met. So it was last Saturday that the DCF Creative Team descended upon Nikko’s Baking Studio for a food and photography workshop.

Dessert Comes First team
Photos here by Bindoy Baltazar
Dessert Comes First team
Listening intently to DCF business manager, Bernard, discuss numbers and stats.

It was exciting to finally match byline and (article) to a face, and for a little over three hours, we got to know one another, discussed writing style and business matters, and learned how to take better food photos.

Dessert Comes First team
And of course we ate and ate and ate some more. We enjoyed the savories immensely: unsweetened banana chips with garlic dip, chori burgers, cheese pimiento sandwiches, lasagna, and Caesar salad.

desserts at Nikko's Baking Studio
Nikko’s Baking Studio is that restaurant you’ve probably seen and been curious about while stuck in traffic along Paseo de Roxas. It’s deceivingly larger than we all thought it would be and we were all taken by how charming the place was. The food was satisfying and all of us went back for seconds.

Just Pie at Nikko's Baking Studio
L-R Banoffee Pie, Calamansi-Walnut Torte, Cookie Dough Cheesecake
photos here from @nikkosbakingstudio on Instagram

It figures that I’d only have photos of the desserts – FOUR of them since I couldn’t decide! These are some of the best desserts I’ve had this year. I will sufficiently describe them to you in a future feature but for now, I can’t recommend this place enough if you need an intimate venue for an event or just want a simple cafe that really delivers.

It was wonderful meeting my team, although we missed two writers, Monica Savellano and Richie Ramos. We’re all sufficiently pumped now to create even more engaging content for you so we hope that you can keep on coming back to see what we’ve got. I’m also going to take this time to invite you to join my team. We’re always open to new people to work with so just hit the Write/Contribute tab on top and let me hear from you!

On DCF’s 12th year, it’s going to get better than ever!

DCF page on Facebook

Nikko’s Baking Studio
59-A Paseo de Roxas, Makati
02 887 1711
Open Monday – Saturday.

Monica Savellano <![CDATA[Take Your Best Food Photos, Here’s How]]> 2017-05-17T07:14:53Z 2017-05-17T07:13:23Z
Writer and professional photographer Monica Savellano gets industry experts to spill their go-to tips and tricks on photographing food, and we’re not just talking flat lays. -Lori

Did you know there are 217,239,791 Instagram posts with the hashtag food? Incidentally, that number is increasing exponentially as you read this. Yes, that means millions of food-crazed folk are busy taking pictures of, well, food. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them. I am. For home cooks, prep-cook-and-eat has now evolved into prep-shoot-cook-shoot-shoot-and-eat (complete with props!). You’ll notice, even when dining in restaurants, it’s become the norm to whip out a phone or camera and start snapping away. And doing whatever it takes to get that perfect shot, even if it means–to the dismay of the people in the next booth–getting up on a chair or at times, a table.

Food has taken center stage and has never looked this delicious. How many of us have bought food magazines or cookbooks because of their cover photo? Even a simple runny egg yolk, when photographed well, transforms into a sensual delight that looks sexy as hell and evokes all senses and emotions. Suddenly, you’re craving for eggs…and other things!

Whether you’re thinking of a career in food photography, are an amateur eater or a restaurateur who needs to take photos for marketing purposes, or are even an Instagram-obsessed foodie, these tips will surely take your food shots to the next level. We asked some of the industry’s best to share their most useful tips.

Image by Pat Martires

Freshly cooked food and a few props make a big difference.
“Shoot the food as soon as it comes off the stove. The food is the star of your setup, and nothing beats the look of freshly cooked dishes—think glistening sauce, perky lettuce leaves, super crunchy breading, steaming hot rice, sizzling sisig. Feel free to move ingredients around (e.g. let the tomatoes peek out of your burger) so that you can see each component of the dish. The dish you’re shooting doesn’t always need to be presented perfectly—a little smudge, a little drop, a little crack make the photo more interesting. A little imperfection goes a long way. Don’t forget to make use of incidentals: cutlery, glassware, china, linen, and interesting surfaces. Although you shouldn’t take too much time shooting your food before eating it, you can spare a couple of minutes to take the winning photo! Compose the shot by using whatever is on the tabletop: salt and pepper shakers, a pretty vase, patterned napkins, a stack of plates—you want to capture the ambience of the restaurant or the feel of the meal through the accessories that they use. I also like to layer textures: hard marble with crumpled linen runner, a worn wooden surface with a fuzzy napkin. If you spy a beautifully tiled countertop, don’t be afraid to shoot your dish on that surface. That being said, you should remember that the food is the star, so your incidentals should only complement the dish, not overpower it.”
-Paulynn Chang Afable, editor-in-chief, Yummy Magazine

Aldwin Aspillera
Aldwin Aspillera
Images by Aldwin Aspillera

Don’t be afraid of your food.
Use natural light, always. Try to get a seat near the window when you’re shooting in a restaurant. If there are no windows or it’s nighttime, avoid using flash. Don’t be afraid of your food. Go in close and shoot those textures and details that make food so delectable. Make use of what’s already in the restaurant like a white table napkin which makes a great reflector.”
-Aldwin Aspillera, photographer and home baker

Pat Martires
Image by Pat Martires

Think small and experiment with angles.
“Use small plates. A big plate with just a bit of food can make the whole image look too loose. Rotate the plate a few times to look for the nicest side of the dish. Shooting at a 45-degree angle can make all the difference in a world of flat lays. When shooting in restaurants, be discreet, shoot quick. Don’t be that annoying customer that attracts so much attention by taking a million shots and standing up on chairs and tables.”
-Zee Castro-Talampas, food stylist and former food editor

Pat Martires
Image by Pat Martires

Pick a focal point.
“Take the lead in composing the shots to lead the viewer to what you want them to see, whether you are doing it via lighting, complimenting contrasting colors, composition or props, all eyes should lead to where you want the viewer to look. Keeping things simple can work just as effectively as having a lot going on in the frame. Shooting in a restaurant? Do not mix different lighting sources, especially if they are different colors. Personally, I like showing the texture of food, so having a reflector is great but not using one can give a different effect.”
-Pat Martires, photographer
Fascinating food fact: Pat has shot more than 50 covers for Yummy Magazine.

Image by Pat Martires, Styled byShar Tan

Tell a story and pick a pretty background.
“The photo should tell a story, especially when posting on social media. Put the food in a particular setting, against a nice background, or set it with props around it. Highlight the ingredients that make up the dish. Look for an area with a good source of natural light. A pretty surface, whether a nice wooden table or a brick wall, makes a big difference.”
-Sharlene Tan, commercial and editorial food stylist, restaurateur, and food columnist.

Miguel Nacianceno
Image by Miguel Nacianceno

Natural light is best.
“Experiment with macro shots or shots with a lot of negative space as long as the subject is clearly defined. Shoot with natural light coming from a huge window. Harsh, artificial yellow or blue lighting is a no-no. Never use on-camera or direct flash.”
-Miguel Nacianceno, photographer

Pat Martires
Image by Pat Martires

Action shots are fun.
“Action makes the shot more interesting. Make the ice cream melt a little, take a cheesy spoonful out of your dip, and add human elements to the photo but always make sure your props make sense and feel organic to your main subject. Lastly, try different angles. A top shot won’t always cut it when there are interesting layers and textures in the dish.”
Trixie Zabal-Mendoza, digital managing editor,

Images by Toto Labrador

Composition is key.
“Mind your composition. Remember the Rule of Thirds, though sometimes, it looks best to put the dish in the middle of the frame. Make sure the dish you’re shooting is the star of the shot, surround it with ingredients that make up the dish or props that are related to it. A tripod also comes in handy especially if you’ve got shaky hands.”
-Toto Labrador, photographer

Image by Marti Bartolome

Make a mess!
“Perfection is boring. Food looks good and makes the most impact when it looks the way it’s supposed to look. Let the ice cream melt, let the crumbs fall, let there be mess! The real challenge in food styling is making food look good in its natural state. Go for action shots like lifting a pizza. By adding context, the photo becomes more than just about the food, it becomes about the whole eating experience.”
-Trinka Gonzales, commercial and editorial prop stylist and former food editor

Kris Alcantara <![CDATA[Dimpy Camara’s Frozen Brazo: A Decade Strong and Still A Delight]]> 2017-05-15T04:54:33Z 2017-05-15T04:54:33Z
Just because it’s hot doesn’t mean we forego dessert. But the weather demands something cooling, which is what Dimpy’s Frozen Brazo offers up along with so much more. Here, Kris remembers and recounts her story of this decade-old dessert that is now firmly a classic. – Lori

There are days when Manila feels like one big sauna. When the short walk from the grocery store to the parking lot becomes an excruciating trek if you happen to be outdoors around noon, and you have a bag or two in hand. What’s even more excruciating is those first few minutes inside the car, when the air conditioning hasn’t kicked in, and the steering wheel is piping hot. In a word, ugh.

Photo by Kris Alcantara

It’s on incredibly hot days like this that I think of Dimpy Camara and her Frozen Brazo. The first time I hear of the Dasma treasure that is Dimpy’s Kitchen, I was on the hunt for the best chocolate cake in Manila. Dimpy’s, I find out after some requisite crowd-sourcing, is among the favorites from the homebaking front. Fellow food-obsessed friends vouch for her chocolate cake, and often in the same breath would say, “You have to try her Frozen Brazo!”

Dimpy's frozen brazo
Photo by Lori Baltazar

And so I order one, one Christmas. In that party, the Frozen Brazo is the dessert that’s wiped out and subsequently talked about. “Where is it from?” “Who makes it?” “Where is Dimpy’s Kitchen?” I’m asked. To this day, when I give Dimpy’s Frozen Brazo as a gift or bring it to parties, it’s met with a lot of excitement. Sometimes it even ends up being secretly stashed in the freezer because the host or the celebrant doesn’t want to share!

There’s nothing complicated about the way it tastes; the flavors are true to the original rolled cake. Now I’m not the biggest Brazo de Mercedes fan around, but what wins me over about this frozen version is how a few upgrades make all the difference. The ice cream and meringue pairing is simple but genius; the subtle crunch from the pie crust enhancing the experience without being an overkill.

Photo by Lori Baltazar

Dimpy’s Frozen Brazo marries four very different textures so seamlessly, from the swathes of whipped meringue draped on top that cushions the custard, down to the slathering of vanilla ice cream on a buttery crust that cradles everything together. The meringue is what I imagine clouds would taste like—unbelievably light that it dissolves on the tongue. Every forkful is a medley, and on sweltering summer days it becomes even more irresistible.

It’s been seven years since my first encounter with Dimpy’s Frozen Brazo, and three since my last slice prior to this story. Over a family dinner, I hear the familiar ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ when the cake is served for dessert, both to those who have enjoyed it once before and those about to discover it for the first time. It’s nice to know that in the decade that it has been around, nothing has changed.


Faith Santiago Paz <![CDATA[Halo-Halo In The City of Good Luck]]> 2017-05-10T23:06:06Z 2017-05-10T21:00:10Z

Sometimes an unexpected detour leads to some memorable food finds, as Faith proves in this short summer piece. – Lori

Planned trips are great, but spontaneous ones are even better.

Recently, my mom and I headed to Cagayan de Oro (CDO) for a business meeting and a family gathering. The former was to take place on the first day of our trip, while the latter was set for later on in the week. That business meeting didn’t materialize—so what were we to do?

The answer? Go someplace new.

Although my mom and I had just arrived in CDO, with our luggage in tow, we immediately set out for Gingoog City, a place we both had never been to but had only heard about from my cousin who drove us the entire way. It didn’t matter that it was lunch time and we hadn’t eaten yet (a stopover at a gasoline mart for water and Skyflakes solved that); we were determined to get to our destination in the soonest possible time.

You might ask, “What’s so important in Gingoog that you would skip dropping off your stuff at your lodging and forego what could have been a sumptuous sit-down lunch?”

Well, giant fruit statues and delicious halo-halo. (At least that’s what our short visit could afford us.)

Gingoog City

Gingoog (pronounced ‘hi-ngo-og’), a two-and-a-half-hour drive from CDO, is said to be the oldest city in Misamis Oriental. Its original settlers were the Manobo, from who the city got its name. In their language, it means “good fortune,“ which is why Gingoog is christened “The City of Good Luck.”

Gingoog City Plaza

How lucky it is indeed to be blessed with an abundance of natural wonders and fresh produce. The City Plaza even has gargantuan representations of staple fruits from the area. (Oversized coconut, mango, pineapple, marang, bananas, and lanzones, anyone?) The locals may have gotten used to them, but visitors can’t resist their massive charm. (Pun intended.)

After a quick and fruitful (sorry, I can’t help it!) photo session at the City Plaza, it was finally time to cool off with Gingoog’s famed halo-halo.

Riet's Halo-Halo

Mariet’s Halo-Halo has a long, celebrated history of serving up the best halo-halo in the city for almost 40 years. If practice makes perfect, then they’ve had 40 years of practice in perfecting their version of this ubiquitous summer treat. You can order the halo-halo three different ways: Regular (P35), Classic (P50), and Special (P55).

Since we had traveled all the way from CDO for this, it was only right that we each got our own Special Halo-Halo—and it was scrumptious. No wonder people trooped to this place to get their halo-halo fix.

Riet's Halo-Halo

At first, it seemed like that paper cup only contained ube and vanilla ice cream, crunchy corn flakes, and leche flan, but a quick dig exposed the fine, shaved ice beneath it. And under that layer, we discovered the rest of the ingredients such as kaong, corn kernels, minatamis na saba, and ube, waiting for their turn to be revealed. As we continued to scoop up spoonfuls of that sweet symphony into our mouths, we noticed that even though the frozen bits melted, the halo-halo didn’t get watered down. That led us to speculate that the shaved ice was actually made from frozen milk. (If true, what a smart idea!) But the biggest surprise ingredient in the halo-halo was the ginger-infused suman. Who knew suman would make such a delicious addition to halo-halo (and a ginger-flavored one at that)?

Besides halo-halo, Mariet’s also serves simple snacks. Although, during our visit, it seemed like a whole lot of menu items weren’t available. We settled for some Asado Siopao (P25) and Egg Pie (P20).

Riet's Asado Siopao
The pillowy soft siopao tasted like standard fare, containing a generous filling of pork and chopped-up hard-boiled egg. Unlike some other asado siopao, though, the meat wasn’t shredded and it wasn’t sauce-laden inside. Nevertheless, it made for a good, sweet-salty snack to tide us through the afternoon.

Riet's Egg Pie

As for the egg pie, it’s thankfully not too sweet and not too eggy either, exhibiting a balance of flavors in that smooth, silky, and creamy custard filling. The only complaint we had was the slightly hard crust encasing the pie.

Next time, we’ll try the cassava cake, Mariet’s other best seller.

Mariet’s Halo Halo
R. Baol St. corner National Highway,
Barangay 20, Gingoog City,
Misamis Oriental

Lori Baltazar <![CDATA[For Mom: A Basque-style Burnt Cheesecake]]> 2017-05-09T05:09:36Z 2017-05-09T05:09:36Z

In the pintxos paradise that is San Sebastian, Spain, La Viña is probably the only tapas bar that’s more famous for its dessert. To be clear, there are other things on the menu but everyone comes here for the cheesecake, the first generally acknowledged sweet pintxo in Basque cuisine that’s fast becoming a classic.

I can’t tell you how distraught I was when I saw that La Viña was closed while I was in San Sebastian. I literally saw my dreams of their creamy cheesecake with characteristic crisp-like-crème-brulee crust dissolving into the ether.

Basque burnt cheesecake

So I’m beside myself with joy when my friend and popular pastry chef, Miko Aspiras, sends me his version of what he describes as “my favorite cheesecake from San Sebastian.” The latest conception to emerge from his workshop at Le Petit Soufflé in Megamall, Miko calls it his Basque Burnt Cheesecake.

It’s a departure from the norm, there aren’t many desserts that are called “burnt” and are also, deliberately burnt. But burnt it is with a scorched surface and crinkled curves. Its remarkable appearance is attributed to a unique technique as Chef Miko affirms, “For me, the most interesting thing about this cheesecake is its baking process – high temperature, short baking time. It’s the total opposite of how I would normally bake cheesecake!”

Basque burnt cheesecake

The secret to this technique, I believe, is that the cake must be baked in a very hot oven just until it’s “burnt,” while keeping the inside moist and creamy. Its tooth-sinking texture is heavier than a Japanese-style cheesecake but much lighter than its New York-style counterpart. A dessert that encapsulates a confluence of contrasts, there’s the brittle, brown top crust protecting a pillow-soft interior bound only by eggs, cream and cream cheese, and enough sugar to suffuse it with sweetness. It’s the seemingly odd combination of burnt and creaminess that makes this dessert a marvel.

Basque burnt cheesecake

A caveat: if you prefer light and fluffy cheesecakes, you will enjoy this Basque-style version. But you may be taken aback by this if your preference is for the heartier and heavier New York cheesecakes. Chef Miko serves toasted pecans lacquered in dulce de leche as an accompaniment but I think the cheesecake is complete in and of itself, no nuts required.

Basque Burnt Cheesecake by Chef Miko Aspiras
Order in advance at 02 944 6541.

Serena Estrella <![CDATA[A Feast of Ice and Fire: Reviewing the Game of Thrones Cookbook]]> 2017-05-09T03:12:33Z 2017-05-08T12:05:19Z
We love books here at DCF, and food-themed novels are some of the best. Game of Thrones is one such example, boasting ardent fans of the medieval fantasy epic. Serena Estrella is obviously a fan, as seen from her detailed and well-written review of the series’ accompanying cookbook. You can read more of our book reviews here. -Lori

“Game of Thrones” is brutal. The show doesn’t hold back on gory murder scenes that all too often feature your favorite character biting the dust (“Hold the door!!!”), and neither does it shy away from equally graphic nude scenes that, again, all too often feature your favorite character — okay, I’ll stop now. However, it does feature an intensely compelling plot and if you read the books, quite a few glorious delicacies. For what food/fantasy nerd could forget George R.R. Martin’s captivating descriptions of Winterfell breakfasts (“…hot bread, butter and honey and blackberry preserves, a rasher of bacon and a soft-boiled egg, a wedge of cheese, a pot of mint tea.” –“A Game of Thrones”); grilled Dornish snakes (“A short man stood in an arched doorway, grilling chunks of snake over a brazier, turning them with wooden tongs as they crisped…and of course, the ominous “bowl of brown” from the sketchier parts of King’s Landing?

Game of Thrones Cookbook

Given how “Game of Thrones” was published in 1996, it’s quite mind-blowing that a companion cookbook for the series only came out in 2012. And that’s precisely what “A Feast of Ice and Fire” is. Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, the book’s authors, initially started with a food blog based on “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It’s called Inn at the Crossroads, as per a namesake inn in the novels where, surprise, surprise, lots of awful events happen, including the innkeeper getting strung up outside her fine establishment. (Tsk, typical.)

A handful of the recipes in the book were first published on the blog, but they do appear to have been improved further and there are new additions too. They’re even organized by region. The chapter on cuisine in The Wall, for instance, showcases dried goods like prunes, raisins, and pine nuts and a recipe for strong mulled wine, menu items that would understandably sustain a sentry on duty in a place that never gets warm, say, a member of the Night’s Watch? Content-wise, the book is a great read. There’s even a chapter on what a medieval kitchen would be like and medieval versions of nearly each recipe. As G.R.R. Martin drew heavily from this time period while dreaming up the world of Westeros, this sort of information provided both novelty and context. I’m especially intrigued by the recipe for Medieval Cream of Mushroom and Snail Soup, which includes almond milk, canned snails, and the surprising addition of ground ginger, cloves, and mace. Then again, this was supposed to be the first course out of seventy-seven at Joffrey and Margaery’s ill-fated royal wedding in “A Storm of Swords,” and it was de rigueur for medieval cooks to spike their employer’s feasts with spices as a display of wealth.

The accompanying photographs are also breathtaking. Many of the shots were styled so well that the food not only looks scrumptious, but also fit for a Westerosi ruler’s lavish table or the Lord Commander’s rustic hearth.

lemon cake ingredients

But of course, the true test of any cookbook lies in how well its recipes hold up. For my personal litmus test, I went with the recipe for Sansa Stark’s beloved lemon cakes.

Based on an Elizabethan version of the delicacy, the recipe was fairly simple and required ingredients that I already had in my pantry, namely eggs, flour, sugar, and lemons. Putting it together was quite tricky as the dough was so sticky and I had to add a lot of flour to make it workable. I also made a slight modification and added lemon juice instead of milk to confectioner’s sugar so that the icing would have a fresh, lemony kick.

The lemon cakes turned out to be more like cookies than cakes. They had a dry, crumbly texture that was reminiscent of shortbread and the citrus flavor was a little too subtle for my taste, though this was improved by a generous smear of the icing. They did go very well with a cup of tea, so it wasn’t hard to imagine Ned Stark’s beautiful, graceful, redheaded daughter enjoying them in this way before her life was turned on its head.

So, would I recommend purchasing “A Feast of Ice and Fire?” Yes, but not without reservations. I found the Lemon Cakes to be rather mediocre, but some of the other recipes do look promising. Do note that a few of them call for ingredients that would be hard for the average cook to find (Forget Dornish fire peppers, where on Earth do I get rabbits or rattlesnakes?), even if you opt to make the modern versions of the dishes instead of their medieval counterparts. It’s also pretty hard to track this book down; I had to order mine from the Book Depository since it was unavailable in local bookstores. Plus, you can simply access Chelsea and Sariann’s blog and try out several of their recipes for free if you simply want to try dining in the same fashion as the Tyrells of Highgarden or the Greyjoys of the Iron Islands.

The book, however, would make a wonderful addition to your library if you collect unique cookbooks and/or “A Song of Ice and Fire” literature. If nothing else, having it on your shelf also boosts your street cred and gives you major bragging rights, and what passionate fantasy fan would say no to that, eh?

lemon cakes-Game of Thrones

Lemon Cakes
Adapted from “A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Companion Cookbook” by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer
Yield: About 3 dozen
Time: 40 mins. (Prep: 25 mins., Baking: 15 mins.)

2 ½ cups flour, plus more as needed
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Grated zest from 2 lemons
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ teaspoons milk (use lemon juice if you want a more pronounced lemon flavor)

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a large baking sheet.
In a large bowl, combine the flour and granulated sugar. Cut in the butter, then add the zest and the whole egg and yolks. Mix thoroughly, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky and can be easily shaped by hand. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little water or lemon juice until the dough comes together.
Roll the dough into balls about 1-inch across and place them on the prepared baking sheet at least 2 inches apart, giving them room to spread as they bake.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops are just slightly golden. Allow the cakes to cool for a minute before moving them to a cooling rack.
Mix the confectioner’s sugar and milk (or lemon juice) to a smooth consistency. Once the cakes have cooled, use a spoon to drizzle the icing over the cookies.

Anson Yu <![CDATA[Picture-Perfect Dining At Megutama]]> 2017-05-08T12:18:34Z 2017-05-05T00:45:08Z
Traveling for food is something we do a lot here at DCF, as evidenced by the entire category we have on Food Travels. If you adore the trinity of books, food, and photography, then you’ll enjoy this delightfully written piece. Anson takes us through the vigorous pulse of Tokyo into a more sedate space where appetite and ardor merge. ~ Lori

I don’t normally go out of my way for a good meal, but on a recent trip to Tokyo, I became aware of the photobook diner Megutama. Located in the Tokyo district of Ebisu, it was opened three years ago by a Japanese author and photo critic, Iizawa Kotaro. The restaurant showcases his collection of 5,000 photobooks which you’re free to browse. It also serves up drinks and home-style Japanese cooking.

Thanks to Japan’s largest broadcaster, NHK, I felt compelled to check it out because I saw it has a trifecta of things I love: books, food and photography. So how do I locate a small diner in a city with 160,000 restaurants? I figured I’d manage with pocket wi-fi, a smartphone, a Tokyo metro pass and a few key Japanese words learned online. It was also possible to hire an Uber, but in a city like Tokyo this would mean spending around Php5000 – 8000.

Compared to some of the cities I’ve visited, Tokyo’s rail and metro system’s map resembles a plate of fried yakisoba–a tangle of lines and stops that requires time and patience to master. Setting off just before sunset, I take two subway lines and manage to arrive at Ebisu Station within 20 minutes. Afterwards, my smartphone’s map app chose a picturesque route with an estimated walking time of eleven minutes. Despite taking longer than that and almost losing my faith in Japanese technology, I was led to the back of a shed, where I spied a small sign and realized that it was actually the back of the diner.

Photobook Diner Megutama
In that chilly early spring evening, Megutama seemed to glow with warmth. Pushing aside the glass sliding door, I entered its cozy wooden interiors. Directly across the door, a large wooden counter provided the staff’s cooking area, and just behind that was the dining space. More chairs and tables were situated in a small outdoor area, easily seen through the glass wall at the back of the room. The place was chock-full of books and magazines, and while the staff were slightly taken aback that a stranger had shown up in their midst, their cashier, a middle aged lady named Megumiko, fortunately could speak some English–and between us, despite my few basic Japanese phrases, we pretty much understood each other.

Seating myself at the kitchen/counter, another staffer, Natsko, presented me the menu. It wasn’t a very wide selection. The menu claimed that the recipes for some of the dishes were found in novels and short stories like an Edo-style fluffy egg omelet and a steamed rice bran cake. Prices seemed very reasonable with menu items not exceeding Y 3000.

Photobook Diner Megutama
I decided to splurge and go for a five course dinner menu that cost Y 2000. Aside from the rice (white or brown), miso soup and pickles, it would include five side dishes determined by seasonal ingredients. After getting my order, Natsko handed me a big green plastic card and began describing how the book collection was divided. There were works by Japanese photographers from the period before and after World War 2. More recent works were grouped together along one wall, while the opposite wall featured oversized photography books and a few photobooks by photographers from outside of Japan. If I was interested in a particular book, I just needed to place the plastic card next to the book, and it would be brought to me.

Photobook Diner Megutama
When Natsko served my meal, it included boiled spinach, slices of sashimi and a potato salad. There were two main courses. Since it was a cold day, one of the entrées was oden, a boiled dish of tofu and radishes. The other entrée was thinly-sliced fried pork in garlic. Uttering the Japanese phrase for thanksgiving before a meal, Itadekimasu, I had dinner, trying the spinach first, surprised that its bitterness was balanced by something that tasted like peanut butter. From that initial surprise, I worked my way through my meal, assuring a nervous-looking Natsko that it was Oishii (delicious)!

The depth of flavor and texture of the various dishes really worked well with each other. The sourness of the pickles cleansed the creaminess of the potato salad, making way for the sweet/bitterness of the spinach. The softness of the tofu yielded to the firmness of the fried pork slices, while the coarseness of the brown rice complimented the salty firm flesh of the tuna sashimi slices, seasoned just right that it didn’t require additional soy sauce and wasabi. Normally we associate Japanese cuisine with the traditional kaiseki meal, where various courses are served in an elegant fashion. But for me this was the real deal–a Japanese meal that came straight from the heart of the one who prepared it. The better Japanese adjective to describe this meal would be sugoi (great)!

Throughout the meal, I kept up a conversation with both Megumiko and Natsko, and for me it was like a scene from NHK’s shows, where tavern or izakaya owners would treat customers like friends or family members. As I finished my meal, I pondered over dessert choices: soft serve ice cream (with or without powdered matcha), cheesecake, and rice bran cake.

After paying the bill, Megumiko offered to show me the quickest way back to Ebisu station, despite an influx of customers filling up the diner. We traded thank yous and Sorede wa mata (see you again). The last phrase I really meant as I hope to visit Megutama again. And next time, I’d get there faster.

It felt like I’d found a home in the big metropolis that is Tokyo.

Photobook Diner Megutama

Photobook Diner Megutama
150-0011 3-2-7 Higashi Shibuya-ku Tokyo
Telephone/ fax: 03-6805-1838
090 4662 6303

When you exit the mall where Ebisu Station is located turn right at the exit. Walk pass the Koban or police box into Komazawa-dori Avenue. Keep walking straight past four corners. You know you are in the right direction when you walked past two pedestrian overpasses. The restaurant is located one corner after the second overpass.