Cover Photo: Pexels / Faizan

Robby and Aliza Apostol-Goco share top tips on how to turn mundane meals into something much more special

It’s easy to take meals at home for granted. As the pandemic has banned virtually all social gatherings, families are left to enjoy most of their meals alone—without the usual bevvy of friends and relatives.

Special china and dinnerware have been left to gather dust on top-shelf cabinets and parents stressed from work are often hard-pressed to find a reason to take them down again. Yet, that’s not the case with the Goco family.

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Robby and Aliza Apostol-Goco have found comfort right in their very own dining room. This comes as no surprise considering Robby’s penchant for food. He is a chef, after all, and helms multiple restaurant concepts—all successful.

His wife, Aliza, has attested to the fact that food has always been an important part of their lives. As such, they’ve turned mealtimes into quite the family affair. “While he cooks, I enjoy setting the table. I ask my seven-year-old daughter to help me out,” she shares. “[My daughter has] done it so often that she can place everything properly by herself.”

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Husband and wife Aliza Apostol-Goco and Robby Goco
Above Husband and wife Aliza Apostol-Goco and Robby Goco

The Gocos take no shortcuts when it comes to their food, or their mealtimes. “Family meals are mandatory in our home,” Aliza says. “Robby once said that sharing a meal is a basic social activity. When we have something to celebrate, we eat together. Triumphs—both big and small—call for a ‘blowout’. Even when we are upset, we want to eat with someone."

Pre-pandemic, visitors have been warmly welcomed to take part in family mealtimes. “Visitors are asked if they’ve eaten, and at the end of parties, it’s customary for us to send food home with them. There is nothing quite as nurturing for the body and soul than be sharing a meal with people you love,” Aliza states matter-of-factly.

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Vivid colours of green, blue and yellow strike a contrast with tropical placemats and vintage-style gold cutlery
Above Vivid colours of green, blue and yellow strike a contrast with tropical placemats and vintage-style gold cutlery

Though there are less visitors coming over nowadays, Aliza continues to make the best of their home set-up. Every meal is special, and all the food is served on beautiful dinnerware. “Before I would usually wait for a special occasion to do a nice table setting,” she shares. “But since March last year, I started using my ‘special’ dishes every day. No need to wait for a special occasion because every mealtime with the family is special.”

Now, it’s not uncommon for the family to make use of Aliza’s special plates and serving ware. Even gravy and adobo sauce have their own unique space on the table. “[I like to] serve the food in a manner that’s pleasing to the eye. Sometimes I put the bulk of the sauce in a gravy server so that the dish is more visually exciting. I just observe how beautifully Filipino food is plated in other homes and restaurants and I recreate [that],” she shares.

There’s obviously a lot of creativity that comes with setting the table—something, Aliza shares, she does in order to give justice to her husband’s delicious food. “Rob tirelessly cooks our meals and does so with so much love,” she states. “The least I could do is set the table and do [him] justice.”

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As an avid collector of plates, platters and serving ware, the lady of the house has plenty of options. Though she’s amassed an impressive collection over the years, it seems as if, these days, she’s been pivoting towards more local-inspired designs. “I’ve been purchasing a lot from local brands like Dos Casas, Casa Juan Manila,” she reveals. “I like how they design their plates and how they add a Filipino twist to it.”

See also: Rajo Laurel Unveils His Dinnerware Collection, And Yes, This Is Not A Typo

Beef Stifado

Grape molasses is an integral Greek ingredient for this dish. You may substitute it with balsamic syrup.

MARINADE

  • 1 kg beef short rib, 1.5-in cubes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 piece bay leaf
  • 1 piece cinnamon stick
  • 2 pieces clove
  • 1 piece star anise
  • 1/3 cup red onion, 1-in cubes
  • 1/3 cup celery, 1-in cubes
  • 1/2 kg carrot, 1.5-in x 1.5-in x 2-in sticks
  • 1 big pinch black pepper

BRAISE

  • Flour, as needed
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp grape molasses (or balsamic syrup)
  • 1/3 cup shallots, whole peeled

Combine all marinade ingredients and marinate overnight. The next day, separate the marinade into the following: meat, liquid, vegetables and spices. Coat the meat in flour. In a pot, brown the meat in oil, then set the meat aside. In the same pot, add the vegetables, spices and tomato paste and brown as well. Deglaze the pan with the liquid marinade. Return the meat to the pot. Then add the stock and grape molasses (or balsamic syrup). Season with salt and pepper. Braise the meat in a 170 degrees Celsius oven or over low heat for two and a half to three hours, until the meat is tender. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the shallots to cook. Serve with your side dish of choice. Stifado tastes even better the next day.

See also: Where To Buy Home-Cooked Callos This 2021

Spanakopita Spring Rolls

The Greeks traditionally use phyllo pastry and make a big pie or small triangles out of them. Here’s our version using lumpia wrapper.

MIXTURE

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white onion, small dice
  • 1/2 cup scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup spring onion, cut into 1/2 cm
  • 250 g spinach, cooked, purged and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 piece egg
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp cooked rice, cold

LUMPIA

  • 12 pieces lumpia wrapper
  • Butter, melted, to seal the lumpia
  • Oil, for frying, as needed

Sauté the white onion and scallions in extra virgin olive oil until translucent. Add spring onion and sauté briefly. Transfer to a mixing bowl and cool completely. Combine the spinach, feta, dill, egg, milk and rice to the cooled onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Do not mix it too much, as you want the feta to retain its crumbly texture. To make the spring rolls, spoon a heaping tablespoon or 40 grams of the spinach mixture on a lumpia wrapper. Start by folding the left and ride sides towards the middle, then make a tight roll. Use melted butter to seal. Deep fry the spring rolls until golden brown. Serve with Greek yoghurt.

See also: 5 Ways To Incorporate More Spinach Into Your Diet

Marouli Salata

This is a Greek spring salad and pairs well with seafood.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups romaine lettuce, in 1/2 cm shreds
  • 1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp feta cheese, crumbled

Combine lemon juice and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Dress the lettuce, scallions and dill. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with crumbled feta on top.

See also: Vincenzo Fans Unite: 5 Corn Salad Recipes You Need To Try Now

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Marouli salata
Above Marouli salata

Taramosalata

We use cured fish roe from Greece called tarama. Since this is not readily available, we suggest using smoked salmon instead. You can also use fish roe, or, for a Filipino twist, tinapa.

INGREDIENTS

  • 200 g baguette or sourdough, crust removed
  • 1/3 cup white onion, medium dice
  • 50 g smoked salmon (or fish roe or tinapa)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp fresh dill, chopped
  • Pita, rustic-style bread or crudites, for serving

Soak the bread in water. Then squeeze out the water and reserve the bread. In a food processor, blend the onion and smoked salmon until smooth. Then add the bread and blend again until smooth. With the food processor still running, slowly add in the EVOO until incorporated. Add the dill and lemon juice. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with more dill, lemon wedge and fish roe (optional, like ikkura or tobiko). Serve with pita, rustic-style bread and crudites.

Horiatiki Salata

This is a Greek summer salad. Allow the salad to sit in the dressing for a bit until the vegetables start to release their liquid; then use some bread to soak it all up.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup salad tomato, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/3 cup cucumber, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 4 to 5 pieces olives, preferably Kalamata
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 big pinch dried oregano
  • Feta cheese – as much as you like, can be slices, cubes or crumbled
  • Rustic-style bread, for serving

Combine all ingredients except the feta in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a platter. Garnish with feta on top, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with rustic-style bread.


Originally published in Tatler Homes Philippines.

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