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Backyard (Mis)Adventures

video

A happy woodpecker pecking the tree in our backyard. These birds actually "live" in the oak tree in our front yard where they drilled several holes at it. We usually see them popping their heads in and out of those holes.

This was the first time I saw them venture to the backyard, though. Well, as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side. Haha.

The woodpecker was not the only creature we saw on the trees. We also saw this hapless raccoon. Our dog might have scared it up the tree. There were actually two raccoons, but the other one was so high up the tree that I couldn't get a good shot of it.

Every creature is a blessing to thank God for.

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Peruvian Apple

This curious-looking oddity is a Pithaya, a fruit from several cactus species, and is more commonly known as a dragon fruit. Contrary to popular belief, this fruit is NOT from Southeast Asia, although they are also widely cultivated there. They are native to South America. The particular cactus we have, the same plant that gave us the Queen of the Night flower, bears the Peruvian Apple variety.

While I was doing research about the Queen of the Night flower, I learned that this certain type of cactus produces fruit, but I didn't think it was possible for our unsightly plant to get pollinated and produce fruits. But God works in mysterious ways, and I saw a red bump on the cactus one morning.



Before I ate it, I did A TON of research and picture comparison to see if it was indeed pithaya. But when I cut open the red fruit, I was certain - this was very similar to the dragon fruit that I used to eat, and so I gobbled
it up. Son had a taste too, much to my amusement. He liked it. I couldn't blame him - the fruit was so sweet and juicy.

It has crunchy seeds that give it a somewhat weird texture, and yet the juiciness of the white flesh makes it so... fruity. In terms of taste, it seems to be a cross between a melon and a kiwi.


I am excited to pick the rest of the fruits from the plant, but I have to wait till they are ripe. Passe but true - nothing beats fresh, pesticide-free fruits grown from your own backyard.


Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. -Luke 2:14

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Macapuno Ice Cream

Macapuno Ice Cream served with (more) macapuno and jelly

I had a jar of Macapuno (Shredded Sweet Coc
onut) sitting in my pantry and it took me a while before I could decide what to do with it. I would have wanted to make Ube-Macapuno Cake, but I didn't have the other ingredients needed, so I made ice cream instead. It was also a good excuse to clean my ice cream maker and put it to use after its long hiatus.


What you need:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup Macapuno
  • 6 egg yolks
  • pinch of salt


What to do
:

Scald (heat below boiling point) the evaporated milk by putting it in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the coconut milk, heavy cream, and salt. Stir continuously until it begins to simmer. Remove immediately from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Add the coconut cream. Pour in the hot custard mixture in a thin stream while whisking. Then return the entire mixture to heat (low setting) and cook until thick or it reaches the nappe stage. To test this, coat the back of the spoon with the mixture and run a finger across it. The mixture should hold, and produce a clean line.


Cool for about 5 minutes, strain and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.

Pour the cold custard mix into an ice cream maker and process according to unit's instructions. The time should depend on how smoot
h you want your ice cream to be. Generally, the longer the better. I set mine to churn for an hour. Add the macapuno about 10 minutes before the set time ends.

Ice cream maker (with Guy Fieri and Ina Garten in the background)

Transfer to an air-tight container and freeze overnight. Top with more macapuno and jelly before serving.


Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Coconut cream is sweet and is used in drinks and desserts. Coconut milk is white and is usually used in dishes (like curry).
2. Patience is key in making this dessert. You have to do a lot of hard work and wait for days before even tasting it. But the payba
ck is awesome. Definitely worth the wait.
3. Don't worry if your custard mixture seems puny. A few minutes in the ice cream machine and it will double in volume. Mine actually quadrupled and almost went over when I added the macapuno.
4. If the ice cream is too sweet for your taste, cut back on macapuno or coconut cream.

5. DO NOT burn the custard. Keep an eye on it and keep stirring/whisking.


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Product Review: Godiva Dark Chocolate Raspberry


Being a member of the Godiva Chocolate Rewards Club has a lot of perks - one free chocolate every month, free shipping on orders, free gift when you spend $10 or more... the list goes on and on. I could probably think of a hundred excuses to go to their store (my favorite is - "I have to get my free chocolate!"). The downside - you get tempted to buy more chocolates when you see the scrumptious displays in their shop *sigh*.

I finally gave in and bought the Dark Chocolate Raspberry bar. I thought of it as a "healthier option" because it is dark chocolate, and has raspberries. It's really a win-win situation - I satisfy my cravings for chocolate and I get the health benefits of the dark chocolate and raspberries. ;-)


What I liked:
  • It is the perfect balance of bitter and sweet.
  • The chocolate is very smooth.
  • The raspberries provide a bit of tang and sweetness that goes well with the bitter dark chocolate.
  • The texture of the raspberries is quite unique - it is similar to the "crunch" in a Nestle Crunch bar.
  • 2 big blocks (portions) of the bar are just 100 calories. Hurray!

What I didn't like:
  • Like real raspberries, the crunch gets stuck in your teeth.
  • Quite pricey. $4 for a 3.5oz bar. Although you probably won't eat it in one sitting.

The Verdict:

The Godiva Dark Chocolate Raspberry is really very good. It is the perfect bar to finish dinner off, paired with an espresso or dark roast coffee (ah, chocolate and coffee - my two favorite things). The 50% cacao content is perfect for this variety, as the fruit lends its sweetness to balance the bitter dark chocolate. Would I recommend this to a friend? Absolutely. Would I buy this product again? Yes. But maybe I'll wait for it to go on sale. ;-)

P.S. Hubby ate most of it. I couldn't fend him off.

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Bear Paws

I got this Bear Paws recipe from the Duncan Hines website, and I thought it looked fairly easy and fun to make. An interesting thing is that it uses brownie mix instead of cookie dough. It is fast and delicious, a perfect treat to make with your kids on a lazy summer day.


What you need:
  • 1 box Duncan Hines Milk Chocolate Brownie Mix
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 60 peanuts split into halves
  • 30 chocolate candy Kisses (I used dark)

What to do:


Preheat oven to 350
°
F.

In a large bowl combine brownie mix, butter and egg; stir with a fork to combine into a stiff dough. Or better yet, use your (clean) hands and knead gently.

Working with 1 even tablespoon of dough at a time, roll dough into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets.

Even and uneven tablespoons

Press candy pieces, points down so that the flat surface is up, into the center of the uncooked cookies. Press four peanut halves, split sides down, into the edge of each cookie to form claws.

Yes, I painstakingly picked the peanuts from the rest of the other nuts in the can.

Bake at 350°F for 11 minutes or just until the edges are set. The cookies may appear slightly undercooked, but do not over bake. Cool 1 minute on pans. Transfer to wire racks with a thin metal spatula and cool completely.


Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. For those with peanut allergy (or those who just d
oesn't like the taste of it), use white chocolate for the claws.
2. I used the dark chocolate variety of Kisses, but you can use any kind that you like!
3. Cover the remaining dough in between batches to prevent drying.
4. You can use unsalted nuts instead of salted.


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Watch out!


Watch out... rhinos crossing!

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Product Review: Ben & Jerry's S'mores

This was probably one of the (very few) flavors of Ben & Jerry's that missed the mark for me. Not that it wasn't good, but I just couldn't taste S'mores in the flavor. It was also very similar to the "Marsha Marsha Marshmallows" flavor, but the latter was already pulled out and is probably resting right now at the Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard.

Ben & Jerry's S'mores is chocolate ice cream with fudge chunks, toasted marshmallow and graham cracker swirls. Sounds good if you're reading it from the label, but the taste failed to deliver.

Anyway, when you say "S'mores," a campfire pops into mind, and that gooey hot marshmallow sandwiched between two graham crackers and chocolate squares. I just didn't have those happy thoughts while devouring this flavor from B
en & Jerry's.

Me making S'mores. This is probably the most you'll ever see of me. ;-)

What I liked:
  • It has a very profound (for lack of a better word to use) chocolate flavor.
  • I like the crunchy grainy texture of the "graham crackers."

What I didn't like:
  • The marshmallows were not as prominent in this flavor. I couldn't even tell that they were "toasted." (I like the marshmallow swirl in Phish Food better)
  • The graham crackers were lost in the hodge-podge of ingredients. I can only surmise that they were the grainy texture that I felt in my mouth.
  • Half a cup is a staggering 260 calories. That's probably 4 licks if you eat ice cream like I do.

The Verdict:

I wouldn't say that this flavor was a failure, but it just didn't taste like S'mores to me. The chocolate taste was very rich, but I felt that the ice cream flavor as a whole lacked the charm of the campfire. Would I recommend this to a friend? Hmmm... I'd recommend other flavors before S'mores. Would I buy it again? I think I'm open to giving it another shot.

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Orange Ginger Pork Chops

This dish was inspired by my friend Peach's post. Generally, hubby doesn't like chops because it is too dry for his taste, but he makes exceptions every now and then. This was one of those exceptions, probably because he loves the flavor of ginger (and I made sure I put plenty in this dish!)


What you need:

  • 6 pieces pork chops
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • zest of half an orange
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • cooking spray

What to do:


Preheat broiler. Since you are broiling (hence us
ing just the top grills of your oven), make sure that your oven rack is about 6 inches from the top.

Line a baking tray with foil and spritz with non-stick cooking spray. Place the chops on the tray, spacing them about an inch apart. Meanwhile, whisk together the orange juice, ginger, sugar, salt, and orange zest in a small bowl. Using a brush, spread about half of the orange juice mixture on the top side of the chops. Stick it in the oven and broil for about 5 - 7 minutes.

Remove from the oven, flip the pork chops, and spread the remaining orange juice mixture on top of the meat. Return to the oven and broil for another 5 to 7 minutes. Enjoy!


Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Instead of pork chops, try chicken!
2. Be generous with the cooking spray. Otherwise, the chops would stick to the foil and would make it harder for you to flip the meat.
3. Slice your orange peels into small pieces and ru
n it through your garbage disposal. The peels would freshen your disposal and make it smell nice.


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Kielbasa with Angel Hair Pasta

Twas one of those days when we haven't gone grocery-shopping yet, so I tried to make-do with whatever was in the fridge. Luckily, I spied some kielbasa sausage so I scoured the net for a recipe that would make a good meal.


This dish was a combination of the recipes I read online. I just kinda' took some bits and pieces of what I thought would taste good, and what was available in our pantry. It turned out to be a hit. I will definitely make this again in the future.


What you need:
  • 1 pound smoked kielbasa, sliced
  • 8 oz Angel Hair pasta
  • 1/4 Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 2 cans Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1 soup can of milk
  • 1 can (14 oz) green beans, drained
  • 1/2 tablespoon Canola oil
  • dash of pepper

What to do:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the angel hair pasta and cook until al dente, about 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

Put a large-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and add 1/2 tablespoon of Canola oil. Saute the onion for about a minute, then add the kielbasa sausage. Cook until browned. Pour in the cans of soup and stir until smooth. Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously. Add the beans and the pepper, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid forming lumps in the mixture.

Remove from heat and serve with the angel hair pasta. Enjoy!


Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. If using fresh green beans, use about 1 to 1 1/2 cups.
2. Try evaporated milk! It will make the dish creamier.
3. Egg noodles or other types of pasta can be used in this dish.
4. Add in some garlic for more flavor.

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Ginger Garlic Chicken Wings


Hubby likes anything with ginger, so I am always on the lookout for dishes with ginger on the ingredients list. This recipe is from the Summer Edition of the Betty Crocker recipe book. As usual, I tweaked it a bit to suit our preference.

Send me your favorite "ginger" recipe and I will do my best to feature it here in this blog!

What you need:

GLAZE

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon Sriracha
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

CHICKEN
  • 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon Canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 pounds chicken wings
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 stalks green onion, sliced
  • non-stick cooking spray (optional)

What to do:


In a saucepan, combine all glaze ingredients. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Mix the red pepper flakes, milk, oil, salt, pepper and chicken in a gallon resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and shake to coat. A
dd the flour, seal the bag again, and shake until the chicken is coated with flour.

Heat oven (convection) to 375
°
F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spritz with non-stick cooking spray. Place the chicken wings on the baking sheet. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, then remove from the heat and turn the wings over to cook the other side. Bake 20 to 30 minutes longer or until golden brown.
Remove from the oven, place the wings in a large bowl and toss with the glaze. Top with green onions before serving.


Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. When handling chicken, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
2. Don't worry if the flour doesn't coat all your chicken wings completely. They will taste just as good.
3. If you don't have non-stick spray, just brush the baking pan with a bit of oil so the wings won't stick.
4. NEVER undercook your chicken - better safe than sorry. Stick a thermometer to make sure. It should read at least 165
°
F.

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Product Review: Bailey's Non-Alcoholic Creamer


We were watching TV one evening when an advertisement for Bailey's Non-Alcoholic Coffee Creamer went on. They repeated the words "non-alcoholic" so many times that son asked, "so some people put alcohol in their coffee?"

I didn't really plan on buying this product, but it was BOGO ($2.50 for 2) at our local grocery store, and I had a dollar-off coupon. So since it is only $0.75 apiece due to the promotion and the coupon, I thought it was a good deal and got two bottles.

I got the Caramel and the Irish Cream variety. I am doing a review for the latter, but watch out for my Caramel review sometime this week month.


What I liked:
  • Tastes very rich and creamy.
  • Only 40 calories per tablespoon.
  • Very, very good taste. So Irish Cream-ish. ;-)
  • The flavor is not overpowering - just the perfect addition to your coffee.

What I didn't like:
  • Number one ingredient is sugar. Then water, cream, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavor, sodium caseinate, mono and diglycerides, and others that I can't even pronounce. No wonder it tastes so good - it is loaded with sugar and other sweeteners.
  • I did say that it is 40 calories a tablespoon. But who can use just one? It tastes so good, I want to pour half the bottle on my coffee. Multiply the calories... ugh.

The Verdict:


Bailey's Non-Alcoholic Coffee Creamer (Irish Cream flavor) is really very good, and would make your morning joe a delicious coffee experience. However, I am not really a big fan of all the sugar and chemical ingredients that make it taste very good. I think I will pass up on this one, and go back to good ole fashioned milk. Would I recommend this product to a friend? Sure, if my friend is after good Irish Cream taste. Would I buy this product again? Probably not.

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Bric-a-Bracs for Foodies!

I found these earrings at the mall today and I just had to buy them... they are so cute!

Sushi Set



Fast Food set

Closer shots:

Toro


Salmon Nigiri (complete with nori!) This is my favorite of all the earrings I got.
And NOT because Salmon is my favorite fish. (Ok, maybe a little!)



I am guessing that this is California Maki because of the avocado!



Strawberry Milkshakes



Fries



Cheeseburger



Value Meal Combo #2


I couldn't resist these lippies, too!


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Humba


Humba, like adobo, is a delicious and quick dish that I love making when we have nothing in the fridge but pork and eggs. It has been one of my favorite dishes since I was a kid, and I used to love sipping a big bowl of the Humba sauce that my aunt made. I can't make it as good as she does, there's just no replacing Aunt's recipe.

Humba actually tastes a lot like adobo, only sweeter. The secret to the deliciousness of this dish is the star anise. It has a "cinnamony" flavor, in fact, in some dishes you can substitute cinnamon bark for star anise if you can't find it in your local store. The boiled egg is an additional bonus, it balances out the slight sweetness of this savory meal.

star anise

What you need:

  • 1 pound pork loins, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2-3 star anise
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs, hard boiled

What to do:

In a pot over medium-high heat, combine the water and soy sauce. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the hard boiled eggs) and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, drop the heat to low and let simmer until the meat is tender. If it seems too dry after a few minutes, add more water to it (about 1/4 cup at a time).

Once the meat is tender, remove from heat and add the eggs. Serve with hot rice. Yummy!


Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. I don't like dry humba so I make sure there is plenty of juice in the pot. But feel free to make it the consistency you want.
2. I have never tried humba using cinnamon. Let me know the results if you try it.

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Nilla Banana Pudding


Mother-in-law surprised me one afternoon by saying that she wanted to make Banana Pudding. So we quickly went to work and got the recipe from the Nabisco website. The end product was delicious! The top tasted like meringue, and I liked the way the wafers got all mushy and sweet like it was pudding (duh!).


What you need:

  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 45 Nilla wafers, divided
  • 5 medium ripe bananas, sliced (we used only 3)
  • dash of salt

What to do:

Preheat oven to 350
°
F. Mix 1/2 cup of the sugar, flour and salt in the top part of a double boiler. Blend in 3 egg yolks and milk (save the egg whites). Cook, uncovered, over boiling water for 10 to 12 minutes, or until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat then stir in vanilla.

Reserve 12 of the wafers for garnish. Spread a small amount of custard onto the bottom of a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Cover with layers of 1/3 each of the remaining wafers and sliced bananas. Pour about 1/3 of the remaining custard over bananas. Continue to layer wafers, bananas and custard to make a total of 3 layers of each, ending with custard.

Beat egg whites on high speed of electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Spoon over custard; spread evenly to cover the entire surface with it, and seal the edges well.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool slightly. Top with reserved 12 wafers and bananas just before serving.


Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. It is important to keep stirring the custard - else it will form glops. You wouldn't like that. :-(
2. Soft peak is when the peaks of the egg whites droop slightly when you lift the fork or beater. Stiff peak is when egg whites are very stiff and glossy, and stands when you lift the fork.
3. To keep your bananas from turning brown after you cut them, add a bit of acid to it - lemon, orange or pineapple juice will work!

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Nameless stuff - Part I

We have lots of flowers/critters in our garden, but I just can't identify all of them. Please feel free to help me name these creatures, or correct me if I labeled them incorrectly. You can click the image to enlarge.

Lilies (4):




These come in different colors - red, yellow, white


Forget-me-nots?


Mimosa (if I am not mistaken)




I find these interesting as it has pink and yellow flowers in a single bunch.



Crepe Myrtles - we also have them in light pink and white




Pink Birds of Paradise or another variant of Crepe Myrtle


Azaleas - come in different colors too.


The Critters:

Jumping Spider


Centipede


Green Anole Lizard (notice the red throat)


Grey Squirrel


Agriope Spider


Brown Anole Lizard


unidentified moth


Broad-necked root borer beetle


A snail happily living on my Red Gerbera


Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed‑bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. - Genesis 1: 11 ‑ 12

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