Chicken Sopas, revisited

9 years ago, I once wrote about mums and chicken sopas (and how a bowl of this chicken soup elixir is like a mother’s hug). What I forgot to mention is the extent of the impact of this bowl of chicken soup in me, and in my memory. You see, every summer in the Philippines, we would go to my dad’s provincial town of Nueva Ecija, about 3 hours north of Manila. It would be the highlight of our summer holidays: waking up early on a Saturday morning; packing the car with books, games and enough junk food only a kid’s metabolism can burn for the 3 hour road trip; stopping by the petrol station at NLEX (known at that time as North Superhighway!) for a wee and Jollibee break, before heading to the San Fernando exit as we pass by the corn and quail eggs sellers along the road.

And then you get a glimpse of Mt Arayat in the distance, and you know you’re in provincial territory. You slowly start to relax, turn off the air conditioning, open the car windows, and start to inhale the fresh air laced with that distinctive fire wood smoke smell from houses cooking their lunch of the day. The road gets narrower, as the car slows down to avoid the rice grains being dried on the road. You pass by centuries-old cemeteries next to centuries-old churches, and little huts in the middle of large, rice fields. The houses get smaller, the streets reduced to one-car lanes usually occupied by a carabao lazily walking around, sleepy stray dogs, or chickens busily eating leftover rice grains. The people get friendlier – strangers who give your car a friendly wave, quickly recognising my dad who grew up in this small, small town since he was a kid. We round a corner, and you recognise this small street: the local halo halo seller on the right side, the little huts on the left, and that wooden house at the far right with the yellow timber walls and yellow gates. It’s Lolo and Lola’s house (grandpa and grandma). It’s almost 1pm, you’re hungry (again), and yet you know that there’s a reward at the end of this trip.

You get out of the car to a mix smell of fire wood burning (a promise of lunch cooking in the back kitchen!) and that distinct probinsya air, and you greet Lolo and Lola with a mano po (a respectful gesture to your elders: you take their hand, and place it on your forehead as a sign of respect) as you inhale Lolo’s distinctive tobacco smell. Their way of telling you that they’re so happy to see you is to comment on how much taller you are compared to last year, and how much weight you’ve gained (thanks Lolo!). They quickly usher you to the dining table, never mind that you only ate an hour ago, where a delectable spread awaits. Grilled native chicken, pork bbq, pakbet (mixed vegetables), green mangoes with bagoong, and that distinctive white soup with pasta and chicken – chicken sopas. 

My Lola Nena cooked her chicken sopas with her own special twist. She used native chickens who grew free range in her farm. These skinny (and happy) but oh so tasty chickens bring out so much flavour to the broth. She used the whole chicken, including the off cuts such as liver and gizzards, to add depth to the soup. She also cooked this in a palayok (a traditional Filipino clay pot) over fire wood chopped from the backyard. But the crowning glory of it all is this: she finishes the soup with melted margarine. It adds richness, creaminess and an amazing finish to the soup.

Every time I make chicken sopas, I always revisit these trips to the province. And I always cook mine the way Lola Nena cooked hers: finish with margarine. I always imagine my 10 year old self, sweating in the humidity but cooled by the lovely river breeze, serenaded by the chickens in the backyard, sleepily listening to the adults gossip and catch up, with a belly full of beautiful, home cooked food and of course, Lola Nena’s chicken sopas.

Lola Nena’s Chicken Sopas

Makes approximately 4 servings

500g chicken breast*

3 cloves garlic

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded

1/4 head of cabbage, chopped coarsely but finely

1/4 celery, chopped finely

1 tbsp fish sauce

250g rigatoni or elbow macaroni pasta

Salt and freshly ground pepper

200ml Carnation evaporated milk

1 tbsp butter or margarine

  1. Cook the chicken in plain water until tender (about 20 minutes).
  2. Once chicken is cooked, remove from the broth. Shred the chicken once cooled.
  3. Using the chicken broth, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta but save the chicken broth.
  4. Meanwhile, in a deep pot, saute garlic, onion and olive oil. Add the shredded chicken, fish sauce, salt and pepper.
  5. Add the chicken broth and carrots and put on lid. Cook carrots for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the cabbage and celery and put on lid. Your pot might look full, however the greens will wilt down during the cooking process. Cook greens for a further 2-3 minutes.
  7. Once everything is cooked, add pasta, evaporated milk, and butter or margarine. Stir everything gently.
  8. Serve warm and enjoy!

*For convenience, I use chicken breast. However feel free to use other parts of the chicken including bones and off cuts – this will give the broth a richer, deeper flavour.

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Gender Reveal | Blueberry cake with mascarpone & cream cheese frosting

When we first found out we were pregnant, Mr J and I both agreed that our preference is to find out the sex of the baby. I must admit: I have serious control issues, so being in control of what colour and style of clothes to buy, what to expect, even down to knowing what to call the baby (he or she) – gave me relief and comfort.

Every ultrasound appointment made me so excited… and extremely anxious. I was always thinking, did the baby grow? I wonder how big it is? Is there a heartbeat? The 12 week Nuchal Translucency scan made me the most anxious, especially when finding out about the risk of different chromosomal abnormalities and pre-eclampsia. Plus it’s been 5 weeks since we last saw the baby, and it was still the size of a blueberry then. And then there was the morphology scan: how do the different organs look, does the baby have 4 heart chambers, 2 hands and 2 feet, nasal bones, and again, does it have a strong heartbeat? I would always arrive at the radiology centre anxious, and leave extremely beaming with happiness and relief. Regardless of the outcome of the scans, we knew we would love this baby with all our hearts – but hearing how the progress has been going so well (and laughing at how active this little one is that the technician had to chase it around my tummy to look for its aorta) just filled my heart with so much gratitude for this little blessing.

And then we asked if it’s a boy or girl.

The technician smiled and said she’ll try and look. She placed the transducer on my tummy, and started looking for its legs. The little rascal had other plans though – it kept moving around, kicking its legs like it was swimming and confusing the technician. At first she said, “Oh I can see it!” and then a second later said “Oh wait, I’m not so sure”. I was beyond excited… and then she took a still image and said “There it is!”. I had NO IDEA what I was looking at. Mr J, on the other hand, exclaimed “I can see two balls!”.

And that’s how we found out that you, my dear little one, is a healthy, bouncing, Jiminy Cricket of a little boy.

That weekend, we invited both our families over for a little lunch. We also planned to announce the sex of the baby – and since I love baking, I thought it would be a fun way to surprise them by making a gender reveal cake. I didn’t want anything fancy, or to make a fuss, however I wanted to do something a little bit special since this little one is the first grandchild for both our parents. They’ve also never been to a gender reveal party, much more didn’t even know the concept of a gender reveal! 🙂

It was a treat to have my mum, both sisters, cousin, and my dad who surprised us by flying all the way from Manila to Sydney, and my parents-in-law and sis-in-law at our place. It was a day filled with so much laughter, love, hopes and dreams for our little boy. Having them all at our home comforted me and gave me peace, because I knew then that this boy’s life will be filled to the brim with all the love in the world.

 

Berry Vanilla Cake with Mascarpone and Cream Cheese Frosting

Vanilla cake

150g unsalted butter, softened
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Food colouring of your choice
Blueberry jam* (optional)

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Line your baking pan with baking paper.
  2. In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Slowly add the flour and milk intermittently.
  5. Add the food colouring of your choice.
  6. Pour in the prepared pan, and bake for approximately 40 – 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. See Assembly instructions below.

*I used the St Dalfour blueberry spread, but you can use any berry jam or spread to your liking

Mascarpone and Cream Cheese Frosting
Frosting recipe from Life, Love and Sugar

You will need quite a lot of frosting for this cake, as it is a 3 layer cake with lots of frosting for the layers. You will also need to apply a crumbing coat first, and top it up with more frosting.

900ml thickened cream (look for one perfect for whipping – I used one 600ml and 300ml bottles of cream)
250g mascarpone cheese, chilled
250g cream cheese, chilled
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Whip on high the cream, vanilla and sugar together until you reach soft peaks.
  2. Add both cheeses and mix slowly.
  3. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours to set and harden before frosting the cake.

Assembly

  1. Put one cake layer on the cake board. Pipe the cream cheese frosting on the edges, and place the blueberry spread in the middle.
  2. Add a layer of frosting, and place another layer of cake on top.
  3. Repeat this process until the third cake layer is on.
  4. Apply a crumb coat first. Place in the fridge to set the crumb coat.
  5. Apply the rest of the frosting, and place in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
  6. Take a slice and enjoy as everyone gets the gender reveal surprise!

 

In the middle of all the craziness after our gender reveal, I forgot to take photos of the inside of the cake. So please bear with me as I use some grainy, super filtered mobile phone photos to mark the occasion (which explains why the blue cake turned out green – sorry, my sister loves phone filters). 🙂


 

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Holy Duck! Sydney

Chippendale is totally buzzing, and anyone can see why. Thanks to the shiny, glitzy lights of new structures in the area such as Central Park, UTS, The Old Clare Hotel, and the Kensington Street dining precinct, this once dark and somewhat shady part of Sydney has been resuscitated back to life.

Signature crispy duck

Last Tuesday, we were privileged to sample the relaunched menu of Holy Duck!, one of Kensington St’s newest kid on the block. Thanks to the team behind Chefs Gallery (hello cute buns!), Holy Duck! is a modern Chinese diner-slash-restaurant that offers both traditional and fusion dishes, with the menu boasting east meets west flavours. We sampled dishes from the relaunched menu and I must say, their signature roast meats (duck, chicken, pork, and beef ribs) did not disappoint. Apart from the uber delicious signature roast Holy Duck! (with a thin crispy skin and very minimal fat), the menu also offers winner dishes such as the crispy crackling roast pork belly, lightly battered king prawns on ee-fu noodles cooked in lobster bisque, and the old time favourite roast duck pancakes. The white chocolate cheesecake stack with salted duck egg caramel and matcha crepe & banana fritters with vanilla ice cream and Adzuki beans capped off an amazing feast.

Holy Duck!’s relaunched menu is available now.

Thanks to Holy Duck! and Cardinal Spin for the ‘ducking’ amazing feast. Trish dined as a guest of Holy Duck!

Signature crispy duck served with 8 steamed pancakes, orange hoisin sauce, cucumber & shallots

Crispy rice balls with roast Holy Duck! & seasonal salad

Spanner crab with salmon roe, wild rocket, granny smith apple & seasoned seaweed salad

Double cooked pork belly flash fried with black beans & chilli, served with mustard sauce

Roast beef short ribs with jalapeño puree, green shallot kimchi, soy glaze

BBQ & roast platter Roast Holy Duck!, char siu & pork belly

King Prawn on ee-fu noodles cooked in lobster bisque garnished with butter, ginger shallot and asparagus

White chocolate cheesecake stack with salted duck egg caramel

Matcha crepe & banana fritters with vanilla ice cream and Adzuki beans

Holy Duck!
The Old Rum Store
2-10 Kensington St Chippendale
Open daily 11am-3pm and 5.30pm-10pm

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