Back again up in the highlands

28 06 2010

Tender and juicy U.S. Rib Eye Steak from the kitchens of The Highlander Steakhouse at Tagaytay Highlands.

NOTHING COMES between me and my meat.  Good steak, that is.  So even with the alarm that had to be raised due to Taal Volcano’s heightened activity, I had to be at Mama Hen’s lunch treat in Tagaytay Highlands.  It has become a tradition with her.  And traditions are nothing if not to be kept and observed.  The simmering wrath from the innermost core of the earth be damned.

A panoramic shot of Taal Volcano

The meal started with the complimentary house bread, which, I surmise to be a French baguette and a Tuscan round served on a wooden cutting board.  It was like having a taste of France and Italy, just a cut of the bread knife away.  Unless there would be focaccia, I would always gravitate towards the Tuscan round.  And as a force of habit, I smothered each piece with mounds of fresh butter that I would first allow to come to room temperature – which, suprisingly, was easily achieved in the cool Highlands air.

Complimentary bread – a smallish French baguette and a Tuscan round.


The bread comes on a huge chopping block.


A close shot of my fave Tuscan round.

We did away with the salad course and opted for soup instead.  What came to the table was a dish so pretty I initially felt I didn’t have the heart to disturb it.  I’m used to French onion soup having a beautiful finish of a bread “crust” and melted Gruyère cheese on top.  But I’ve never expected much of Cream of Mushroom Soup.  The Highlands Steakhouse’s rendition came in a heavy mug lidded with perfectly puffed puff pastry.  With one careful swift motion the wait staff made, my nose unconsciously followed an invisible trail of buttery goodness that could only come from pastry hot and fresh out of the oven.  And the moment it hit the table, the domed crust that glistened under the light conjured up images of chicken pot pie made with organic Dorset puff pastry.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

I punched through the protruding fullness – undeniably bearing luscious smears of golden butter – and saw steam quickly escaping from the inside, clearing to reveal the creamy goodness of a melange of fresh wild mushrooms, most likely white button, swiss brown, cremini and baby bellos.  I loved how the soup was generously seasoned with plentiful crackings of the pepper mill.  I first tasted a piece of the puff pastry on its own before pushing the rest down into the soup.  What resulted was one of the most comforting, heartwarming, and really chunky good soups of recent memory.  In deference to our hostess with the “mostest”, Mama Hen, I kept myself from licking the last remaining drop from my mug.

Punching through the puff pastry dome.

Good thing the pièce de résistance finally arrived, lest I ended up committing a gastronomic faux pas.

The steak was actually a hefty portion of U.S. Rib Eye – easily anywhere from 10 oz. to 14 oz. – well-done this time.  It bore perfect grill marks that proved the meat was turned only once, making sure that the natural and flavorful juices were preserved inside the meat and not dried out.  Mama Hen chimed in that the true test of a chef is not when he makes rare steak when all the blood oozing out onto the plate could belie how well (or not) the cooking was done; but when he is asked to make well-done steak when there is always the risk to cook it to the point of being rubbery tough.  I’m not complaining about my steak!  It was flavorful, quite tender, and had perfect marbling and really tender, juicy fat.  It was so good I felt like committing a sin with each piece I cut and stained with just the right amount of the mushroom gravy.

Now that's lunch! My steak and choice of sides.


Side number one was buttered steamed asparagus spears. The corn on the cob comes with.


A look at side number two – the very yummy mushroom ragout!

The plate came with the requisite corn on the cob (really sweet!) and a choice of two sides.  I asked for buttered steam asparagus spears and the mushroom ragout.  I chose the stew of shiitake and oyster mushrooms to help tie all the flavor experiences together – from the soup, to the main course, to the sides.

As always, thanks for the wonderful, fabulous lunch, Mama Hen!

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

A gift that keeps on giving

28 06 2010

FRIENDSHIP DOES give me really great gifts.  And by Friendship, I mean Cecille.

One of the things that she has given me that I’m wearing out with use is this Healthy Shabu-Shabu Privilege Card.  I get 10% discount every single time I dine there, which has proven to be quite often.  The last time was last Saturday night, hours before seeing Toy Story 3.

Privilege in cards!

So when it was time to get coffee at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and I got sweet-talked by the lovely barista to avail of their “Swirl” rewards card, I gladly snapped it up.  My Italian friend said that I was easy.  I chuckled and said that after all that the barista said, I thought it was just polite to get one.  Hahaha!  Besides, with the all the coffee and tea I get, I’m bound to get eligible for something.

The Healthy Shabu-Shabu Privilege Card was a gift from Friendship. The CBTL Rewards Card, I got the other night at Town.


The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf!


Ice-Blended Ultimate Vanilla with Whipped Cream, Ice-Blended Ultimate Mocha (whipped cream blended in), and a Blueberry Cheesecake!


That's my coffee name!


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Cookie monster is I

28 06 2010

WHILE WAITING for the 9:10 PM last full feature screening of Toy Story 3, I holed up in one of my favorite places at TownPowerbooks.  With the doorstopper that is The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook:  The New Classics on my lap, I devoured Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, slumped on the black square couch with the worlds of classical and art deco architecture closing in on me from either side.

I know I’m falling in love with a book when I come across one passage that makes me pause, lift my head up, look somewhere distant and see a scene from my past that breathes life into the passage.  I get goosebumps and the hair on my arms and on my nape stand on ends.

I haven’t gone past the preface when I came across a succinct description of how wonderful cooking for someone is – something that I have attempted to describe in length here.  I paraphrase, “cooking (for someone) is the purest and most unselfish expression of love.”  As to what Anthony Bourdain calls the close second to that, I shall leave it on the pages of his book.

Having read this brought to mind the most wonderful batch – and I mean huge batch – of cookies that one of my most generous friends, Mama Hen, gifted me with last week.  The cookies’ arrival on Wednesday was actually heralded by a text message that came a day before, something that was quite successful in sending my heart off in frenzied palpitations: “I will be there Wednesday.  I will bring cookies for you,” followed by, “I will bring what I baked this morning:  peanut butter, oatmeal (two kinds), molasses, choco chip.  All cookies.

Wednesday came.  And as the wax paper linings were being unfolded, I immediately caught whiffs that couldn’t belie the fact that only the highest quality ingredients would do for Mama Hen’s cookies – a fitting homage to the cookbook author whose masterpiece was on my lap as I recalled the experience.  I later learned that Mama Hen not only has been baking since as far back as she could remember, but also, and more importantly, that she has been doing this for some time now for her children’s lunch box.

I shared these cookies with some of my and Mama Hen’s other friends.  But while it was tempting to ration these out in portions – doling out for dramatic effect – I surprised even myself for finishing mine in one sitting.  I guess something so good just couldn’t be helped but enjoyed.  By the time I licked off the last tasty and buttery good crumb off my fingers, I realized that the peanut butter, oatmeal and choco chip had found a special place in my heart.

I checked my wristwatch and realized that I still had to hit The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to get drinks and cheesecake before the movie had to start.  I hesitantly put Kitchen Confidential back on the shelves – having gone halfway through.

Just like Mama Hen’s cookies, I wanted just one more bite.

Chocolate Chip




Molasses Spice


Oatmeal (again!)


Peanut Butter


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

The Man of Steel in cotton

28 06 2010

I KNOW exactly who to give this T-shirt to.  Quite inexpensive but upon inspection, proved to be quite well-made.

The Man of Steel in cotton! Nice!!!


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Tinapa fried rice

28 06 2010

I’VE BEEN making tinapa fried rice long before I first came across it on the menu at Kanin Club.  On Christmas morning 2008, I made lots of it, as if penance for all the grease and the indulgence of the night before.

Meat from tinapa (smoked fish), the key ingredient to this fried rice!

The key to making really good tinapa fried rice is – of course! – the tinapa.  “Tinapa” translates to smoked fish, usually some type of herring.  And as I was told by the friendly talipapa (wet market) vendor, the male fish is more flavorful.  The 250 grams I bought the last time was enough to flavor a really huge batch that I was able to both leave behind enough for my family’s breakfast and bring a portion good for five people at the office.

For my recipe, I use steamed white rice from five cups of uncooked rice; one whole head of garlic, finely minced; one large white onion, finely chopped; four large whole eggs, scrambled and then sliced into strips; and the meat from eight to ten whole tinapa.

I take pride in my knife skills so when I say “finely,” I do mean as fine as you can go.  I do scramble the eggs and they’re what I cook first.  But sometimes, I’d opt to make a well in the middle of the fried rice and let the eggs slightly cook before giving everything a quick toss.  And as for the tinapa, I’m quite finicky about ensuring that all the bones and scales are picked out.  Nothing puts a meal to a screeching halt other than a stray piece of fish bone.

Over low heat, coat the bottom of a heavy bottom pan with a thin film of vegetable oil like canola.  Start with the garlic, allowing it to sauté slowly.  The goal is to really infuse the oil with its flavor, just until about the time the garlic starts to get brown on the edges.  That’s when the onions are added.  Make sure the fire is really kept low as the onions need time to sweat and become translucent without any browning.

Garlic and onion sauteing over really low fire. Notice that the garlic are brown... but not TOO brown.


The star of the dish is finally added!


Scrambled eggs cut into strips!


All this needs at this point is one more quick toss and breakfast – or any meal – is ready!

Once the onions have become really soft, add the tinapa.  Stir the mixture and let everything settle into one layer on the pan.  Give it a few more minutes until the minced fish meat breaks down and becomes a nutty hint in the background.  Then add the rice – little by little, mixing well after each addition.  Season with a little salt.  It is key to sprinkle the salt all over the pan and not just on one spot.  Especially when using iodized salt, start with just a little amount, mix well and taste.  One can always add more salt – but never take it out from a dish like this.  Once the seasoning is to your liking and the rice has been allowed to really saute, add the scrambled eggs.

Really good tinapa fried rice is now ready to hit the table.

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.