A Tropical Install at Kulinarya Coquitlam

Kulinarya Filipino Eatery did the catering for my wedding this October. It was a veritable hit; most of our wedding guests never had authentic Filipino food up until that point, and Kulinarya more than delivered a grazing table filled with the most amazing feast for both our eyes and stomachs. More on our wedding in a future blog post after we get all of our photographs back; I want to do a post worthy of all of our friends/vendors who helped make that day that much more memorable and meaningful.

When my husband and I came to pay our catering invoice, Rose Sarminiego - owner of Kulinarya - approached me about a project she had been thinking about for a while. She loved the compote floral arrangements I made for my wedding and asked if I would consider doing a floral install in both her restaurants, beginning first with the Coquitlam location and then her Commercial Drive location. I had wanted to do a floral install for as long as I started working with flowers two years ago, and viewed this as my chance to do something really weird and wonderful - and as an homage to my heritage too! But I needed a partner for something like this and I immediately thought of Calida. I had met Calida during my summer as a super beginner trainee florist at The Wild Bunch. Calida is a freelance florist, is super talented and super knowledgeable when it came to all things flowers, foliage, and gardening. Calida was in!

When I started imagining floral ingredients for this project, I knew I wanted to use sago palms as a base. Rose had wanted a floral install that would dry as time goes by, and so I started to make a list of ingredients that represented the Filipino culinary landscape. Calida suggested we add bismarkia leaves for contrast, and she cut them to look like fans (pamaypay in Tagalog). The rest relied on a trip to the wholesale flower market, where we looked for foliage and some floral elements that we both felt would contrast nicely with our tropical foliage base. In the end, we ended up doing a contemporary take on the Philippine flag, with the addition of some sun palms, yellow-dyed ruscus, and red-dyed wild sage leaves for gestural flourishes and effects. Calida and I were both admittedly influenced by what we had seen at the wholesale floral market at that time. When I saw fresh bay leaves, I insisted we use those too; bay features heavily in our cooking. The pepper berries were a LOVELY surprise find; we use pepper quite liberally in our cuisine too. The only thing we were missing in this installation was garlic! Oh well - we cannot win them all (plus, they probably would not dry too well, I imagine?)

Rose also mentioned wanting to do a garland along the wall of her restaurant. She sent us a very unorthodox-looking garland as her mood board image and we recognized the foliage used in that inspo photograph: the plumosa fern. Fresh plumosa ferns tend to shed leaves as they dry, so we were brainstorming alternatives in the flower market when we came across these burgundy-dyed plums ferns. Dyed ferns preserve the leaves almost indefinitely and won’t shed too much even when rustled - plus - it was the very fern Rose had envisioned for her garland when she first came across that inspo photograph, so… why not just run with it? The burgundy plumosa adds a lovely contrast to her aqua-green walls.

Kulinarya Coquitlam opened ten years ago. It had been a Coquitlam community staple for all that time - bringing quality Filipino food made with quality ingredients to the Filipino community (and beyond) who have been craving a taste of their homeland. This tropical-meets-PNW install was made as a celebratory gesture for their ten-year anniversary. With a successful second location at Vancouver’s trendy and multicultural Commercial Drive, it looks and feels like there is a desire out there for a generation of Filipinos to be seen and heard and have our culture expressed in ways beyond what we have previously imagined, and it is our honour to be a part of that in our own small way.

Thank you, Rose, for bringing me in for this, and to Calida for being a brilliant collaborator and the best co-conspirator this “trainee florist” can ask for.

I asked Calida to pose underneath our floral install, and she happily yielded. ;-)

Calida and a side view perspective of the other tropical poof-ball we built and designed.

Lemon Verbena Pears and Cardamom Frangipane

Another day, another tart. I must be on a tart-making bender because it’s all I can think of baking these days. I don’t bake - not really. I buy 2-kilo bags of flour and sugar maybe twice a year, at most. Seriously. And I have been, until this point, a self-proclaimed horrible baker, only because I lack the patience to measure or weigh things and adhere to the science and chemistry of it all. Making tarts - for me, anyway - is for the baking-averse… PLUS the end result is sooo impressive, people will probably deem you a veritable culinary deity.

On to this tart. I have worked my fair share of hours as a barista in several quality cafes over the course of my life, and love a good, house-made almond croissant. I was scheduled for a few kitchen shifts during my 9-month stint at Matchstick Coffee where I was tasked to assemble their double-baked almond croissants, among many other tasks. It was the first time I’ve ever worked with homemade frangipane! It’s so thick and sticky and it smells so heavenly; it took every bit of my self-control not to eat them off a spoon. Up until now, it never occurred to me to make my own; I just liked eating the damn thing. It’s my favourite part of an almond croissant!

I read a lot of recipes. Over the past decade, I have probably read a tonne of cookbooks cover-to-cover (yes, I do that) and an innumerable amount of recipes floating around in the food-blogosphere. So when I was saddled with one too many pears in danger of getting too ripe for my liking, I knew I wanted to make a frangipane tart with pears and so off I went - reading far too many frangipane recipes well into the evening. I made notes on my favourite methods and kinda frankensteined all of my favourite bits and ended up with this!

I posted a recipe for my lemon verbena poached pears in my [now-defunct] food blog back in 2013, so I did exactly that with these pears. I used a combination of bartlett and those knobbly d’anjou pears I got from the farmers’ market. I regret not getting more of those knobbly pears; I think they look really stunning. Their skins are so ugly-beautiful, and they kinda look like potatoes - they’re so hilarious and adorable-looking. I could wax poetic over those ugly things. The bartlett pears I got from Whole Foods; bartletts are my husband’s favourite variety, so come pear season, we stock up. Sigh. I wish those grocery store pears did not look so damn perfect, hahaha!

A note on lemon verbena: I grow these on my patio and am currently swimming in it! I have so much. They dry so well and I cannot keep up with the harvest from my two plants. I was fortunate enough to find the little saplings at my local farmers’ market; it is one of my favourite herbs. It can, however, be a difficult herb to find. Lemon balm could work as a suitable replacement, if you can find that, but add another lemon into the poaching liquid if using lemon balm. I personally prefer the flavour profile of lemon verbena; it’s a lot more airy, whereas I find lemon balm to far too earthy for me.

This recipe comes in three parts: the poaching of the pears, the making of the tart dough, and the making of the frangipane. It looks like a lot of work (it kinda is, not gonna lie), but OMG. It’s honestly worth it.

And yes, I am aware I have now posted two cardamom-flavoured desserts in a row. I wasn’t lying when I said cardamom is my favourite spice. I had a cardamom (and earl grey) cake for my wedding. It’s kinda my thing. The amount of cardamom I use on an annual basis is frightening (for my wallet). I always have cardamom and cardamom bitters (from three different brands) in my pantry. Blah blah cardamom cardamom cardamom - (hashtag OBSESSED).

Lemon Verbena Pears and Cardamom Frangipane Tart

Poached Pears:

  • 4 cups water
  • 2/3 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon verbena leaves
  • 1 to 2 pieces star anise pods
  • 5 pieces cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, cut into slivers
  • 1 lemon, zested into strips, and juiced
  • 4 to 5 semi-ripe bartlett and/or d’anjou pears (depending on size)

Tart Shell:

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached organic AP flour
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 2 tbsp organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds, ground with a mortar and pestle
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 oz freezing cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup freezing cold vodka
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup freezing cold water

Cardamom Frangipane:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp cardamom bitters (I used Ms Betters Bitters’ Black Pepper Cardamom)
  • 1 tbsp slivered almonds
  • powdered sugar, for dusting

Poach the pears:

1) Steep the lemon verbena, sugar, and all the spices in a saucepan filled with the 4 cups of water and bring to a slow simmer.

2) Skin, halve, and core the pears. If I were serving the poached pears on its own, I would keep the stems, but since these are going into a pie, remove the stems.

3) When the liquid comes to a simmer, gently immerse the pears in the poaching liquid. Poach for 20 minutes, turning over the pears gently mid-way through cooking. Pears should be soft enough that a knife can easily pierce through the flesh but not so soft they are in danger of turning into mush. Turn off heat and let the pears cool inside the poaching liquid.

Make the tart shell:

4) Follow my instructions for making my tart shell here. :-) The dough will be a little more crumbly because of the almond meal - but not by much. 

5) Roll out and shape the dough inside the tart shell and let it firm up in the fridge while you make the frangipane.

6) Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Make the frangipane:

7) Using the paddle attachment of your mixer, cream the butter, sugar, the extracts, and the bitters on medium speed until nice and fluffy. Set aside the slivered almonds; these will be used for sprinkling on top of the tart.

8) On low speed, add 1/3 of the almond meal, then one egg. Alternate with another third of the almond meal, then the egg, until all has been poured into the mixer. Continue on low speed until the frangipane looks well-mixed. Set aside.

Assemble and bake:

9) Blind-bake the tart shell for 20 minutes using foil and baking weights. Take out and let cool completely.

10) Pour the frangipane mixture into the cooled tart shell.

11) Gently take out the pears from its poaching liquid and slice each half of the pear, lengthwise, into thin-ish strips. Arrange these strips artfully on top of the frangipane mixture. Sprinkle the top with the slivered almonds.

12) Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until the frangipane has risen and completely set. I start checking on the tart around the 45-minute mark.

13) Cool the tart on a wire rack. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar and serve with lightly-sweetened whipped cream. Amp up the cream with a dash of cardamom bitters… because… cardamom!



Krampus Market

Grace Lee of Eikcam Ceramics and Object Handmade Studio has asked me to collaborate with her on this year’s Krampus Market at Strangefellows Brewing! I will be arranging dryable stems inside her hand-built vessels. I have chosen some unusual flowers and foliage in the spirit of this strange and wonderful holiday market, so come and support your local artists and this trainee florist and shop small this holiday season!

You can find the complete details of the event here, but here’s a handy dandy summary of the event:

2019 Krampus Market Dates

Strangefellows Brewing

1345 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC

Friday, December 6, 6 - 10 pm
Opening Reception: Tickets - $15 (includes a beer and canapés)

Saturday, December 7, 12 - 8 pm

Sunday, December 8, 12 - 4 pm

General Admission: $2 (online) OR $3 (at the door)

Hope to see your friendly faces there!!!

xo, Issha

Hidden Rose Apple and Cardamom Custard Tart

I thought it fitting to celebrate the re-design and relocation of my website by posting a recipe! I let my site expire a while back, thereby rendering it inactive and stagnant for most of this year - but it’s back, and boy am I ever inspired! I am hoping this fresh look will inspire me to post more; let’s see how long I can keep up this momentum, shall we? I tried for over several years to keep a food blog going, but instead of aiming for an active food blog, what I will aim to do is post more of my culinary experiments here, and make more of a point to photograph my food.

People know me for my photography - not my cooking. It’s about time I change that! Food was, and is, a huge part of my life - not just my livelihood. Growing up in the Philippines, I hardly ever saw my father; he, like many other adults in the Philippines, worked as an overseas worker cooking in commercial liners that sailed all over the world. My mom, on the other hand, obtained a degree as a nutritionist and dietician in the Philippines, but spent most of her career post-university learning how to cook classic Italian dishes at a super formal, super old-school Italian bistro in Manila. I grew up not only eating the classic Filipino dishes; I also grew up eating classic Italian dishes and getting an education in Japanese cuisine; when my dad wasn’t sailing the world, he was mostly stationed in Japan.

Fast forward to this tart! My wonderful and supportive friend, Vy Tran of Beyond Sweet and Savoury, brought me some hidden rose apples from San Diego after I had expressed interest in trying some! She snuck them into her suitcase when she visited Vancouver about a month ago and surprised me with them along with some beautiful ceramics from Earthen Shop she gave me as a wedding present (I got married in early October). How sweet is she?! But then during her visit here, she posted an Instagram story of when she was visiting Granville Island and she happened upon this very same apple varietal! I am so happy I caught her story when I did! Hidden rose apples in Vancouver? Of course, I had to go to that same stall in Granville Island to grab a few more!

I shot a fairy tale-inspired still life with the hidden rose apples I got while I was trying to decide what to cook with them.

I had wanted to try the apple first before I decided what to do with them. The texture is a bit more mealy compared to my favourite varieties - namely the pink lady and honey crisp. It has a pleasant balance of sweet and tart, not unlike the flavour profile of a pink lady apple. My husband, after regarding its pink flesh with suspicion, personally loves its texture, but after trying a few, I feel like I would rather cook with these than eat them as is because I tend to like my apples crisp and snappy for eating.

Once I got familiar with its texture and its flavour, I knew right away that I wanted to make some sort of apple pie or apple tart. I thought I would keep it simple and do a lazy galette, but I really loved the idea of a tart. My creative wheels got rolling… maybe a hidden rose apple and cardamom tart? I thought of doing a custard tart when I was making myself a frittata one morning, so I thought, why not combine an idea for a galette and a custard tart together? Cardamom is my husband’s and my absolute favourite spice and features quite heavily in my cooking… et voila! This tart was born!

I picked up a bag of Sifted Red Fife Flour from Flourist one weekend and decided to make the tart shell out of this flour. I have been meaning to work with Canadian-grown, freshly-milled grains ever since the existence of such a thing entered my awareness a few years ago. Fresh milled flour is not your typical, grocery store flour. Because they are milled fresh from the grain, their oils are very much present in the final product, and should be stored - ideally - in your freezer for a year, or at the very least, your fridge for half a year. If you neglect to store fresh flour in a chilled place, the oils in the flour could get rancid over a period of three months. 

Buying bulk freshly-milled flour makes sense for the average fancy cook, I suppose, when you go through flour on a fairly quick basis. A 2 kg bag is at least double, if not more, than the price of a 2 kg bag of Bob’s Red Mill Organic AP Unbleached White Flour, but it is well worth it. I am not about to stop buying Bob’s Red Mill AP flour anytime soon, but I am definitely going to keep Flourist’s Sifted Red Fife in my culinary arsenal, because the flavour CANNOT BE BEAT. You can really taste the difference when making this tart; it is nuttier - sort of like toasted rice puffs. It reminded me of the traditional Filipino sweet - pinipig polvoron. Think of it like a softer, more crumbly version of a Scottish shortbread. YUM.

The staff over at Flourist told me to use their Sifted Red Fife the same way I use AP flour, so I did. I pulsed the tart dough like I would had I been using grocery store AP flour, though I did notice I had to use a little more liquid to bring the dough to a more malleable, more workable state for rolling. Easy peasy. You just go by feel at this point, especially if you have made pie/tart doughs before.

This tart is a cross between a traditional custard pie and a tarte normande. I opted to make the tart dough a little thicker - resulting in almost a shortbread-like snap. I think I will roll it a little thinner next time - closer to 1/16 of an inch instead of my 1/8 of an inch. I went the French country way and did not bother to blind bake the shell before filling the tart with the apples and the custard mixture; the hour or so cooking time cooked the tart dough enough for me.

Hidden Rose Apple and Cardamom Custard Tart

Tart Shell

  • 2 cups Flourist Sifted Red Fife Flour (or 2 cups AP flour)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup) cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup freezing cold vodka
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup freezing cold water (adjust volume depending on how the dough comes together)
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom


  • 4 hidden rose apples
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp cardamom bitters (I used Scrappy’s)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • a pinch of salt

Make the tart shell:

1) In your food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, baking power, salt, and ground cardamom to fully incorporate the dry ingredients together.

2) Add in the cold cubes of butter and pulse until the you see tiny, cold pieces of butter scattered all over the dry mixture.

3) Combine vinegar, vodka, and water in a measuring cup and stir. With one finger pressing the pulse button intermittently, pour a slow and steady stream of liquid and continue to pulse until the mixture starts to come together. You should start looking for something that first resembles wet sand before it starts to form into a malleable dough.

4) Turn your dough onto a pastry slab and gently knead into a circular disk roughly 6 to 8 inches in diameter before wrapping the dough and letting it rest in the fridge for at least half an hour. If leaving overnight, make sure to let the dough soften in room temperature, just enough to roll easily.

5) Roll out your dough so that it is wider than the top of your 9-inch tart shell (with removable bottom) - about 10 to 11 inches in diameter. Carefully, with the help of your rolling pin, lay your rolled-out pastry over top of your tart shell and gently press and shape the dough into the shell. Any excess dough to spill out of the sides of the tart shell should be trimmed off with a knife. Place in the fridge to firm up while you prep the apples and the custard.

Make the filling:

6) Cut the hidden rose apples in half, and, using a mandolin or a knife, make slices lengthwise that are about 1/8 of an inch in thickness. The pieces should look like little half circles. Prep a bowl of cold water with one whole lemon squeezed into it and immerse your apples in this lemon bath to prevent them from oxidizing while you cut the rest of the apples. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).

7) Take your tart shell out of the fridge. Starting from the outermost part of the shell, lay your apple slices in concentric spiral pattern, starting with bigger pieces first and eventually reaching the center of the tart with the smallest slices. The shell should look like it’s been overfilled with apples.

8) Make the custard! Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, cream, sugar, salt, and cardamom bitters until mixture looks fully incorporated.

9) Place the apple-filled tart shell on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to contain any leaking that may result over the baking and setting process. Once the oven has been preheated, pour the custard over the apples and gently place the tart in the middle rack and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check the tart after 50 minutes to check on the status of the custard. Don’t over-bake! The custard should look set but should also jiggle a little bit.

10) Cool on a wire rack before serving.

This tart is really spectacular. The hidden rose apple juices seep out during the baking time to balance out the sugar and the cardamom bitters. Everyone I have asked to taste-test this tart were all instant fans, so this is DEFINITELY making it to my small but mighty roster of desserts, and, considering how I don’t usually bake… this, my friends, is a win for me!

How’s this for an inaugural blog post on the new space, hey? Not bad, if I may say so myself. ;-)

Until next time!

xo, Issha

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