Christmas is not just the merriest time of the year. It is also the busiest. Between finishing your work load before the year’s end, entertaining visiting relatives and friends, shopping for your growing list of inaanaks, you still have to make time to buy groceries and prepare the most grueling dinner menu ever: the Noche Buena menu.
As a particular commercial goes, ham is the star of the Christmas noche buena. In reality, you would have to put the processed ham packages you received from your company, your friends or from your friendly neighbors to good use, which are not really that delicious.
Hack: You can make an easy glaze out of brown sugar, honey, mustard and pineapple juice to bring out its flavor.
2. Queso de Bola
Queso de Bola might not get too much love from people’s tastebuds because of its salty, nutty flavor, but it is a perfect compliment to a ham pandesal sandwich. Queso de Bola, or Edam cheese, is another favorite holiday gift aside from processed ham because it does not spoil immediately and travels well due to its hard, red paraffin wax outer layer.
Hack: Instead of preparing slices of queso de bola during Noche Buena, why not make a spread instead? Using a blender, add butter and mayonnaise to make a smooth spread. You can also add peppers or chili flakes if you like your spread spicy.
3. Puto Bumbong/Bibingka
The first thing my mom and almost every other churchgoer seek after Simbang Gabi would be the stall where puto bumbong is being sold. But do you know that you can make puto bumbong now without the makeshift bamboo steam cooker?
Hack: Making an alternative puto bumbong can be done with the help of your rice cooker, violet food coloring, and a little bit of muscle work.
Bibingka is another traditional holiday dessert that is also tedious to make. But if you like to keep tradition and have a portable mini-oven, here’s a simple recipe to help you out.
Hack: Most of the ingredients for bibingka can be found in a grocery store. Don’t have an oven? You can either ask your friendly neighbor or your local bakery to do the baking for you. You can also use a rice cooker to bake the rice cake, but make sure to do a test batch while referring to the manual beforehand to get to know your cooker’s settings.
If you’re not convinced with your rice cooker, you can check out other surprising things it can make that you can add to your noche buena menu.
Even food expert Anthony Bourdain loves this pork dish. The process of cooking this popular pork dish is so time and labor-intensive that lechon is only present in large, significant gatherings like the family’s noche buena.
Hack: Make your own lechon with the help of a turbo broiler. If you do not have a slab of pork ham in your fridge, you can make do with pork belly. Rub the pork with salt and roast it until it turns golden brown and the skin looks crisp.
5. Macaroni Salad
Who doesn’t love a good macaroni salad? This holiday staple is a hit among reunion parties simply because you can produce this food favorite easily in large quantities.
Hack: If you do not have mayonnaise in your pantry, you can make one with egg yolks, mustard, pepper, vinegar and vegetable oil.
Spaghetti may be Italian in origin, but it has long been embraced by Filipinos that we even have a signature, sweet version that is langhap sarap across all ages.
Hack: You only need ONE pot to cook spaghetti. If you ran out of tomato sauce from your pantry, you can use pasta water, ketchup and worcestershire sauce. Mama June of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fame swore that anyone can make “Sketti” by using lots of butter and ketchup.
Who doesn’t love a good barbecue? For Filipinos, the barbecue experience is enhanced when the cooked meat is dipped into a concoction of soy sauce, calamansi, and sometimes, lots of crushed red sili.
Hack: A grill pan or oven toaster would make this food favorite a possibility in your noche buena menu. You can prep the night before by marinating the chicken in soy sauce, calamansi, brown sugar, black pepper, soda and bay leaves.
Know any pantry food hacks that you will use to prepare for your Noche Buena? Share them with us by leaving a comment below.