Why Soup is good for you

Soup. Zuppe. Sopa. Potage. Wherever around the world this wondeful course has satisfied and elated billions through the centuries. Steaming bowls. Cold concoctions. Fresh ingredients. Frozen. Instant. Curling up to a bowl at night. Poised at the table during formal occassions. Slurping at the local diner. Breathing in the aromatic steam at the campsite. Recuperatinig with chicken. Feed a cold.

Soup as we know it is a result of millions of years of development. Countless vats, stockpots and bowls were created and destroyed. Puree. Clear. Creamed. Veloute. Asian. Latino. Mexican. American. Chowders. European. German. The permutations are endless. Why is soup good for you? Let me count the ways....

Soups are healthy - Broths are good remedies for the cold and flu. Chicken soup has ant-inflammatory properties. The steam help decongest the respiratory system. It stimulates digestion. Cures hangovers. Slows aging. Relaxes. Detoxifies.

Convenience - Soup can be an entire meal in itself. It's portable. It's hot. It's ready when you need it to be. It can be packed in one container. In some cases, you don't even need a spoon. You can have it any time of the day. Can save you money. Can make you spend good money. It applies to all seasons.

Soul Food - It encourages bonding. It comforts the hopeless, the desparate. It keeps loneliness at bay. Cures heartbreaks. Celebrates unions. Feeds the ego. Inspires creation. Inspires ideas. It brings together lost lost friends. Compassion is created. Love is shared. Mom comes into the picture more often. Makes you laugh. Brings back memories. Creates new ones. Encourages harmony. Harbors controversies. Unites religions. Have I mentioned it relaxes?

It can jump through hoops - Versatile. Flexible. Myriad. Soup can be anything you want it to be. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Snack. Midnight snack. Dessert. Craving. Aphrodisiac. Millions of recipes available in books, magazines and the internet. Fits every mood. To a T. You would be hard pressed to find a soup recipe that does not apply to you. Soup is highly adaptable.

Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite. - Auguste Escoffier, "the king of chefs and the chef of kings" (1847-1935)

What is your favorite soup?


European Peasant Bread

I got this recipe from a beautiful blog recently. And since I was looking for this bread recipe for years, they were a godsend! And this would be great to sop up the soup bowl with!

European Peasant Bread (adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day)

3 c lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast (2 packets)
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 c rye flour
1 c whole wheat flour
4 1/2 c unbleached all purpose flour
cornmeal for the pizza peel

1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 5 quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon. You may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.  No need for a mixer here.  Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top) approximately 2 hrs.

3. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold.  Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 14 days.

4. When ready to bake, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit sized) piece.  Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.  Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal covered pizza peel for 40 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a baking stone placed on the middle rack.  The original recipe calls for 20 minute preheat, but I really like to get the oven as hot as possible.  Place an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.

6. Sprinkle the loaf liberally with flour and slash a cross, scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife.  Leave the flour in place for baking, but tap off before slicing.  Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door.  bake for about 35 minutes until the top crust is deeply browned and very firm. Let cool before slicing or eating.


Smoked ham, cheddar cheese...soup!

Another comfort soup. Can't really say what the origin is, but works for me. This recipe can be a springboard for other dishes. But keeping it simple, have this while watching 'The Amazing Race'. And then just veg out. The recipe makes for 10 servings. Scale it up or down if you like. the units of measurement were placed in for easy recipe costing.

50 ml olive oil

1 kg Potatoes, peeled and diced

90 g celery, diced

90 g white onion, chopped

300 g smoked ham, diced

1 L Chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

90 g butter 

90 g flour

500 ml fresh milk

400 g cheddar cheese, shredded

In a heavy stock pot, heat olive oil. Toss in the onion and celery. Cook until tender, stirring to prevent coloring.

Add the ham, stir it around to distribute, then add the potatoes. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Pour in the chicken stock. It has to be chicken stock. Good chicken stock. Not Chicken cubes. Not instant chicken soup. Not Campbells chicken soup. Good home made chicken stock. This soup is worth it.

bring to boil. Lower heat to simmer.

In a separate pan, melt butter slowly over medium heat. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook until the mixture a sandy white texture. This is the making of a good roux.

Pour in the milk. Continue stirring to distribute evenly, then lower heat to simer for 5 minutes. Stir occassionally to prevent burning.

Then pour in the shredded cheddar cheese. Stir occassionally until thickened.

Remove from heat. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Pour milk cheese mixture into simmering soup. Stir slowly. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper.

Let simmer until potatoes are tender. Stir occassionally.

Ladle into bowls and serve immediately

The Recipe cost sheet easily calculated for me how much per serving this would cost. Great! This goes into the 'Souped Up' Restaurant menu repertoire.


Le Cirque Chocolate Soup with caramelized bananas

Yes! Chocolate. Luscious chocolate. Soup. Chocolate, that wonderful ingredient that realeases endorphins, worshipped by the gods, treasured, timeless. And did I mention soup?


To make the carmelized bananas

4 bananas, peeled and diced

1/4 cup Bacardi Rum

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon softened butter, unsalted

Toss bananas in a bowl with rum

Heat pan, add sugar. Slowly heat until sugar starts to melt. Swirl to melt evenly. Do not let it burn. A spoon would not help. The idea is to keep the sugar on an even level. Slowly cook until it attains a light golden color.

Add the butter. This smoothens out the caramel. Here you can use a wooden spoon.

Add the rum soaked bananas. Spread evenly on the pan. Cook until alcohol has evaporated, and the bananas are tender, not mushy.

Remove from heat. Transfer to a plate to set aside and cool.


To make the Chocolate Soup

4 cups fresh milk

10 1/2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Bring milk to a boil over medium heat

Add the chopped chocolate. Stir until chocolate has melted

Stir occassionally to prevent sticking. let simmer for another 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. 


Distribute caramelized bananas among 4 soup bowls

Pour the chocolate soup into the bowls until three fourths full

Let cool.

Chill the bowls further by placing in the fridge for about 2 hours. The chocolate then should set.


For the finishing touch

7 egg whites

1 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Whip the eggwhites in a mixing bowl until foamy

Add the confectioner's sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form.

Place the meringue into a piping bag with a star tip


Preheat oven 450F/232C

Remove chilled chocolate soup bowls from fridge

Pipe meringue decoratively on top of the chocolate soup

Place bowls in deep roasting pan.

Place in oven and bake until meringue turns a nice golden brown, between 3-5 minutes

Remove from oven. Serve immediately.



Lentil and tomato soup...slurp!

This middle eastern soup recipe caught my eye, as all middle eastern recipes usually do. The ingredients are perfect for a cold night, hearty, filling, and great to curl up with a good book next to the fire.

1 cup lentils, washed and rinsed

7 cups water

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 white onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 450g peeled tomatoes

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 cup long grain rice, uncooked

1/4 cup lemon juice

Place lentils in water and bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes

In a frying pan or sauteuse, heat oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until tender and transluscent. Allow to caramelize a little to get the flavor out.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients except for lemon juice. Saute for another 5 minutes. Savor the aroma that will come out. It will be heavenly.

Remove pan from heat, and let cool for about 2-3 minutes. Then transfer contents into the simmering lentils gently. Stir to distribute evenly. Let cook for another 20 minutes until lentils and rice are tender.

Before serving, ladle into bowls. Spritz some lemon juice and serve while hot.


Ask me this before Valentine's

Hiring a personal chef is not restricted to the cream of the crop, the elite, the moneyed, and celebrities. As many personal chefs can validate, even us common folk down in the trenches can avail of such services because of the convenience, the necessitiy, and the prestige with having a professional chef cook for you for a change. And Valentine's is fast approaching. I have had inquiries on cooking up the perfect evening for couples for the past few weeks. Some are just curious, some are fastidious with details, others want it to be special. I love cooking for these kinds of clients, because it is one occassion out of the year that they can celebrate love in addition to the prerquisite flowers and a box of chocolates. Here are the top reasons why a personal chef would complete a couple's perfect evening:

Menus are customized - each dish is selected specific to the clients' preferences and indulgences. Not mass produced, but given that extra touch of exclusivity. Professionally done, the menus can be great contribution to a memorable evening.

Less stress - reservations at top restaurants can be a hairy ordeal around Valentine's. Some of which you have to book in advance. And when you get to the table, the waiter keeps hovering around, waiting for the opportunity to turn the tables. Are we being hurried? A personal chef also can do all the shopping, preparation and clean up, giving the client a lot of quality time.

Privacy - No more rubbing elbows with other diners in a noisy restaurant. Sweet nothings can be whispered over the table without having to worry about being overheard, naughty or not. Done in the clients' own home, it can be very exclusive, encouraging clients to be in their own world. The chef works in the background. The only evidence of his presence is the succulent oyster rockefeller teasing from the plate.

Gourmet cooking, gourmet tastes - a professionally prepared menu brings the highest level of dining the privacy of the clients' homes. Fresh high quality ingredients, expertly prepared, the aroma made to permeate throughout the kitchen.

The service is wallet-friendly - Much more affordable than eating out. Not necessarily a cheap alternative, but the client gets a more personalized service, customized menus, and a memorable experience. Gas money is saved. Parking and valet fees are non-existent. Tips are optional (hehehehe)




I am not loving it

Over the weekend I spent the afternoon at Enchanted kingdom to celebrate my daughter's 6th birthday. She was looking forward to it since Christmas morning. And she especially woke up at 4AM to meet the day head on. More updates on that trip wil be posted. But first, I must really put on record on what I detest most about how the service industry is like in Manila.  product of a long line of patronage, the final straw came in the form of a local branch on the South Super Highway.

Let us lay thr groundwork for this rant. My first job as a wee lad in high school was at the local McDonald's on Quezon Avenue. Store 008 was what it was designated as my workplace. I took the job because back then McDonalds was new. And it helped augment my allowance. It was my first taste at independence, as I was earning my own money for the first time in my life. It was also at McDonalds where my hands dove straight into the frigid waters of potato peels and rehydrated onions and enter into the hospitality business. During the Orientation, we were briefed on company policies, the survival skills, and given our brand new uniforms. it was a maroon number, with a headband with visor. It didn't matter how itchy the polyester material was riding up my ass, or how the visor gave me headaches, but I felt proud. I felt good to be a part of something bigger. A part of a precision machine that flew all the way from the U.S. to make their magic here.

The training was handled by a young woman by the name of Michelle, who led us on a three month training program covering all aspects of the McDonald's restaurant. Counter service. Lobby service. Drive-Thru. And eventually, kitchen production. Everything was systematic. Everything was mapped out. Little was left to chance. All policies and procedures were precise. Deliberate. 1 minute to service each customer, 30 seconds for drive-thru. What stuck to me was the service sequence, and it served as my foundation for getting into the service industry:

  1. Greet the guest
  2. Take the order
  3. Suggestive and upselling
  4. Serve the guest
  5. Present the bill
  6. Thank the guest

This has served as a basis or foundation for every service related transaction I have experienced in my professional life. Certain variations apply, adapted to diffrerent situations, but all lead to the same  goal: guest satisfaction.

Unfortunately, years later it does not seem to be the case. Going to several McDonald's over the years, I have the noticed the downward spiral of the once mighty QSCV philosophy of which the great fastfood chain was known for. Inconsistency reigns supreme. With the average check matching those of some full service restaurants, you would expect the service quality to still be at an acceptable level. It is not the case recently. The service sequence is not followed to the letter, for example. Getting to the different branches allowed me to develop a consensus. Different locations, different sets of employees, throughout the year. And they all have the same common flaws which have widened the gap between guest satisfaction and mediocrity:

Suggestive and upselling is not de rigeur anymore - the counter staff do not read customers anymore, and therefore do not make an effort of matching the right product. Guests just order up what they want, but not knowing any better that there is something more. It seems that staff are now just going through every transaction mechanically. If an item is not available, they just say 'Sorry, not available.' and that's it. Would not take the initiative to suggest something else, adding to the wait time. Just stare t the gueast, willing him to move away.

Service time - the average time a guest spends to get an order in is about 3.4 minutes average. That is a lot of time to stand in line for a measly burger that does not look anything like the photographs plastered all over the menu board. they don't use back up staff to assemble the orders anymore. The people who handle the money are the same people reaching their grubby hands into the warming bin and the french fry station. I do not know how an order taker outside on the lobby by the lines would speed up service. Evidently it is not working. Thank God they got rid of the screeching greetings.

Cleanliness - the bathroom is the one benchmark guests can gauge the sanitation practices of the restaurant. And McDonald's has been consistent about this, but in the wrong way. It is usually wet inside. No basic amenities. Facilities are in a state of repair. In another face of the restaurant, the lobby is always littered with trays, paper, cups, spills and whatnot. Not very attractive. And this is during down time.

Kid friendliness - Or the lack of it. My kid's favorite haunts had the playplaces removed. This is disappointing, since the restaurant thrives on family patronage. The playplaces give another sense of wonderment for kids. And removing them just loses some of the magic. No more paper mats for kids to color and doodle on. No LSMs attending to their distractions. The Birthday parties have a host who thinks that screaming the events makes it more lively. The Mascot costumes are filthy.

Product line up - The Bigmac is not as good as it used to be. They have removed the shakes. The apple pie is half the size and quality than what it used to be.They expect the guest to make full use of tablespoon of gravy for their chicken order. Condiments are sold separately. The Butter isn't whipped anymore. Happy meal boxes that allow construction by young minds are replaced with non-biodegradable plastic.

Identity - Is it stilll a place to have fun, both young and old alike? Do we associate the golden arches with a good meal? Isn't there anything better? Maybe the Bee has something on them.

Most guests do not know these things or the differences. They do not know any better. Ironically, more restaurants are popping up everyday around the metro, yet McDonald's still holds true to what they think is best. It is starting to be not the restaurant it used to be, but as an empty commercial shell that wants to sell cheap looking burgers and useless toys. I am not  loving it anymore.


Consultant? Things not to do while acting as a consultant

I have done some work as a consultant for a few companies. The first few dives into the foray had a steep learning curve. And luck is your best friend during these times. But most of the time you crash and burn. And you crash and burn mostly because of the following reasons:

Take the path of least resistance

To make things easier, it is human nature to  find the path of least resistance. In other words, taking shortcuts to get what needs to be done. Shortcuts make you look bad, because most of the time, they are temporary fixes. In the long run, you end up plugging holes for free.

Be a Cassanova

Engaging in flirtatious actvities with employees is very unprofessional. It gets in the way.

Politics and religion

Do not participate in these discussions. They bring bad juju to your project.

Acting high and mighty

A consultant was hired to do a specific job. Like any other employee. But still considered an outsider. No matter what. Puffing up one's breast feathers just ruffles other's feathers. You are not a god. you may end up not listening to the employees, which are the most important link to gettting the job done. They are the frontliners.

Cutting down other consultant's work

Very unprofessional. Makes you look like a schmuck. To clients and other consultants

Have I made myself clear? A consultant's competition will be thankful after you fall into any of these pitfalls.


Valentine's day approaching...

This morning as the sun came up I reflected on the first week of 2010. It is during these moments that images, memories and dejavus are most vivid. The past has come around during this reminiscing, and it is really intriguing that Valentin'e day is just arounf the corner. As a personal chef, I have had the privilege to see couples in varying stages of love and total abandonment. Such is infatuation, love, affection, the kind of stuff that inspires, induces uncontrollable giggles, warm hugs and kisses.

So for this specific reason, I wrote up a menu that most couples would enjoy. In other words, I have decided to offer my services as a personal chef to the lovelorn, to the couples, to the people who value each other. It would be a great event to have to nuzzle into each other in the privacy of their own homes instead of wrestling for a reservation at a busy restaurant or hotel. Quiet. Secluded. Private. Personal. And me me silently in the background nudging the magic along as the evening progresses.

Perhaps in one of those evenings I would lay witness to a rare proposal, or the unique declaration of love. Sigh.


Morning peace, tranquility and a good heavy waffle iron

Fresh coffee and a a golden sunrise. By the window watching the delicate light illuminate each dew on each blade of grass, slowly bringing life to the darkest before dawn. The distant crow of an overzealous rooster. Reminiscing. Absorbing the tranquility. The calm before the chaos of today's activities. Savoring the isolation from the world. 'Everything but the girl' crooning softly in the background, like in a dream. Fresh strawberries were delivered yesterday. And the cranberries were made into delicious sweet savory jam spiced with cinnamon.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 egg whites

1. In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center.
2. In another bowl beat egg yolks slightly. Stir in milk and oil.
3. Add egg yolk mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir just till moistened (should be lumpy).
4. In a small bowl beat egg whites until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight up).
5. Gently fold egg whites into flour and egg yolk mixture, leaving a few fluffs of egg white, Do not overmix.
6. Spoon waffle batter into your waffle iron, making sure not to overfill it.
7. Serve with real maple syrup and unsalted butter.
Would it be too much to aks to just have this on the couch?