Food is the kindness from friends

29 09 2009
Mabelle's Banana Choco Muffin

Holding Mabelle's Banana Choco Muffin in my hand. I loved this!

THERE’S NO shaking off the cataclysmic devastation the ferocious storm brought since the last weekend.  After the unprecedented precipitation and the floodwaters that rose in minutes, the city was reduced to a modern-day Atlantis, threatened to be obliterated from the face of this earth.

In the face of helplessness splashed all over the papers and in the evening news, it seems hard to pull one’s self from out of this emotional and psychological rut.  And I wasn’t even one of those who waded through murky water clinging for dear life.

But just when we least expect it – notwithstanding surrendering to the gloom – we find ourselves in the receiving end of other people’s kindness.  I was reminded of this today when one of my close friends at work, Mabelle, handed me yet another one of her yummy confections – the Banana Choco Muffin.  In past days, she had shared with me generous portions of her pasta creations – Spaghetti Aglio-Oglio and Fetuccini with Tuna and Mushroom.  Her generosity never fails to make me feel good.  It all started last year with her Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies I went nuts for.

For some reason, doing something good for others always bring to my mind the 1929 Lloyd C. Douglas novel, “Magnificent Obssession.”

Thanks, Mabelle.  Happy birthday too!

Mabelle's Fetuccini Tuna Mushroom

Mabelle makes really good pasta too. This is her Fetuccini with Tuna and Mushroom





From Bacolod City – Bob’s Bakery Café’s Pavlova

9 04 2009

 

ONE THING I have always been thankful for is being on the receiving end of other people’s kindness.  In mid-March, one of our engineers (John Francis) kept telling me to be on stand by for something he wanted me to try.  I think it took about a week of almost constant reminders from him.  And I have to say, with every mention, my mouth watered and my curiosity got piqued all the more.

 

And I didn’t even know what I was in for!

 bobs-pavlova-00

 

On a lunch break from a day-long training, he approached me and handed me a box that finally revealed to me – almost revealed! – what my palate was in for.  The box said, “BOB’S BAKERY CAFE.”  And even before I could tug at the ends of the environmentally sound biodegrable ribbon, the giver told me that it was (lovingly) hand-carried by his girlfriend on a flight back from one of the queen cities of the south – Bacolod City!

 

Now, how could one not feel thankful about that?!

 bobs-pavlova-01

 

Opening the box, the object of curiosity finally really revealed itself to be a classic – the Pavlova.  I opined to the giver that beyond being a dessert consisting of a meringue base slathered with whipped cream and filled with some kind of fruit, the Pavlova is actually a dessert named after the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova!  He was kind of surprised that I knew that bit of trivia.  Oh well, I guess it pays to be a voracious reader.  Just some tricks I could pull from my magician’s hat when the moment was right for it.

 bobs-pavlova-04

 

I learned that Bob’s Bakery Café is an institution in Bacolod City.  I’ve only been to that city once, for a couple of days when I spoke to the ECE graduating class and conducted interviews at the University of St. La Salle.  The only local delicacy stop we made was to a hole-in-the-wall place that specialized on something called “inipit” (layers of sponge with a cream filling).  Clearly not to Bob’s Bakery Café.  So I was so glad I would finally get to try one of their specialties.

 

Before anything else, I have to say that this Pavlova was quite sturdy, having been able to withstand air travel and come out of it, not only alive, but really “standing tall.”  It was a proud stack of four meringue layers, sandwiching in between a stain of mango puree, thick slather of whipped cream, and really generous layers of sliced ripe mangoes.  The top was beautifully finished with crushed meringue and slivers of almonds.  It looked so much more like a work of art that I couldn’t get to slice through it.  But then again, the flesh was weak – and Spider-man was waiting too!  Hahaha!

bobs-pavlova-03

Spider-man beams at the sight of Bob's Bakery Café's Pavlova!

 

The one best thing about Bob’s Pavlova was that it wasn’t sweet at all.  I mean, in an annoying way it wasn’t.  The sweetness was actually playfully shy – teasing even – that I found myself just taking forkfuls.  The mangoes were really fresh, bursting with the actual sweet component that blended well with the “creaminess” of the whipped cream.  The texture of the meringue was at first a little fluffy, then it became more chewy.  But it was never like taffy at all.  That would’ve been disaster to me.  Bob’s Pavlova was unlike that.  The texture of the meringue allowed for the four layers to stand firm without crushing the one at the bottom.  A part of me was actually half-expecting to open the box and see a dessert or a cake that suffered from all the handling.

bobs-pavlova-05

The slice standing went to Stave Michael.

 

But Bob’s Pavlova was a testament to pastry skills that give forth a dessert that was truly an achievement in form and in substance.  How I wish I could easily get it from here on a whim!  I would’ve wanted to keep the pavlova to myself.  But I guess, I’d rather earn brownie points (from Spider-man!) for sharing.  Hahaha!

 

 

 





Red Velvet Vixen for RED CROSS

17 02 2009

cupcakes-red-velvet-vixen-03

CUPCAKES BY Sonja is giving back!

 

Have your cupcake.  Eat it.  And help too!

 

For a limited period, CUPCAKES BY SONJA, through their customers, is donating Php 5.00 to the Philippine National Red Cross (Rizal Chapter) for every purchase of their signature Red Velvet Vixen cupcake.  Now, doesn’t that sound like the perfect deal?!  On my visit to their store last night, this was the first thing that captured my attention.  Strategically positioned on top of the display counter and right on the dividing glass to the kitchen are the posters that announce this worthy cause.  I was told it just started this week.

 cupcakes-red-velvet-vixen-04

 

So apart from this cupcake being one of my all-time favorites (already), this signage made my choice for last night’s cupcake all the easier!  Make that choice for last night’s cupcakes.  I don’t know what it was, but I managed to down a couple of these moist, flavorful, cream cheese-frosted confections!  And for the first time, I tried their brewed coffee (extra cream and sugar, please!).  Funny that it has been a couple of years already since I first started frequenting this store and it was only last night that I finally noticed they have their own coffee machine!  See, even with those you’ve been so used to, there’s always something new to discover or learn in an otherwise usual day.

cupcakes-red-velvet-vixen-00

The first Red Velvet Vixen Cupcake I devoured in the store premises. And that's the brewed coffee you see.

cupcakes-red-velvet-vixen-02

That's the second red velvet I devoured!... Just couldn't get enough!

cupcakes-brewed-coffee-00

Loved their brewed coffee!

Yes, I again had that comforted and satisfied feeling in my tummy.  But knowing I somehow helped out a worthy cause (no matter how little), makes the feeling more profound.

As it turns out, this tie-up between Ms. Ocampo’s signature Red Velvet Vixen cupcake and the RED CROSS has been in the works for a while.  It is just so nice to see it into fruition.  And as I have said in my “recessionista” post a short while back, if there is anything that these trying times have room for – it is generosity.

 

cupcakes-nutter-butter-cookie-00

Next on my must-try list - the NUTTER BUTTER COOKIE!

 

 

**  And of course, I got a few boxes for special people.  I had a box of four Choco Cream Cheese Swirl cupcakes put together for four new friends.  Another two boxes of four Red Velvet Vixen cupcakes (I finished a couple more at home!).  And I had two sets of boxes of four – two Bunny Huggers Carrot Cake cupcakes and two Red Velvet Vixen cupcakes – one each for Spider-man and Superman.  Ms. Ocampo graciously threw in for free an “Elvis,” though I would insist on paying (I never mind paying for good food or service).  The Reese’s peanut butter chocolate pieces on top of the whipped cream were portents of the yummy-ness underneath – cookie crust, peanut butter mousse… caramelized bananas!  Now that’s a specialty cupcake!…  The “Nutter Butter Cookie” sandwich is next on my list of must-try goodies!





What exactly are the secrets?

16 02 2009

I ACTUALLY don’t have the time to be writing this right now (on a Sunday!).  You see, I am working on a number of presentations for the coming work week.  And putting together concise comments in call out boxes on graphs has put me on a standstill.  I’ve hit a blank wall so bad, I could hear Jewel singing “Standing Still,” on heavy rotation in the music player in my head.

 

But I’ve decided to write this one because I’m building strong opinions about this show I’m watching.  I thought I would be using that term loosely – watching – as I just turned the TV on, for ambient sound in the background as I work.  It was supposed to be nothing but a collage of chiaroscuros that would play as I get busy on my laptop.  But this show I’m watching – the premier telecast of QTV-11’s “Secrets of the Masters” – has demanded my attention.

 

“Secrets of the Masters” has been touted as a showcase of the country’s culinary masters.  They played out names in their teaser and I actually saw some that got me excited – Ariel Manuel, Ed Quimson, and Jill Sandique.  For this premier telecast, they have Chef Gene Gonzalez of Café Ysabel fame (and yes, that corned beef ad).  I do remember watching him on his cooking show on TV before.  And I do know that he has had an illustrious career, owns a culinary school, and has had the opportunity to cook for visiting royalty.  Some of the dishes he made before for Princess Anne (I think…  could be somebody else…) were even featured on the major broadsheets.  I have the newspaper clippings somewhere.

 

The show’s set reminds me of the show “Emeril Live!” on the FoodNetwork.  I’m actually just waiting for Chef Gonzalez to interject “Bam!” everytime he seasons or garnishes his dishes and I swear, it will be “Emeril Live!” all over again.  Fortunately though, he doesn’t have a signature expression or catch phrase – or “Bam!” – so all that I’m left with, as an audience, is contending with his speaking voice that seems to always be at the top of his lungs.  Kind of annoying at times.  Especially since he is in a studio setting, with sufficient voice amplification provided for by microphones.  He doesn’t have to speak so loud as if he were in a Broadway theater trying to reach the audience who bought the cheapest seats in the house.

 

SURPRISINGLY, I like the choice for the show’s host – Issa Litton.  I say surprisingly because I didn’t like her in that lifestyle show.  But here in “Secrets of the Masters,” her vocal modulation and facial expressions do come to good use.  And I have to say that she is one of the few TV personalities with almost impeccable enunciation.  Having said that, I was prepared to sense from her feign affection or appreciation for the dishes she is being served.  But know what?  I could tell that she has been reacting to them genuinely.  I feel her palpable joy over the icre cream, as well as over the oxtail stew with saffron rice (more on the dishes later).  She comes across as someone who could very well be your friend, out to lunch or dinner with you.  She does speak good English and may very well stick to it 100% of the time.  But for good measure – and I guess to reach a wider demographic – she throws in some Filipino words, attempting even to simplify the chef’s highfalutin “chef speak.”

 

But definitely, the stars of the show are the creations of Chef Gene Gonzalez.  While I don’t see myself bowing down in his presence just yet, I have to give him mad props for the creativity with which he concocts “new” dishes and the “innovation” he introduces to time-tested recipes.  He started the show by getting the ice cream churner working on his Chocolate-Tomato Ice Cream (names not accurate), which is being served last.  The salad course is called Silk Road Salad, a tribute to the “silk road” that extends all the way from China to Russia, passing through a number of countries along the way.  And truthful to this name, Chef Gonzalez puts together a melange of, among many other things, delicate lettuces, Philippine mango, Persian apricots, Indian papadoms, and slivers of smoked salmon in a dressing made of extra virgin olive oil and the pulp of ripe Philippine tamarind.  The salad looks good to me.  Seriously.  I feel like the dressing is Chef Gonzalez’s version of a raspberry vinaigrette that I love!  He also makes this Pork Belly with Chocolate Demiglace.  Issa puts it succinctly as “lechon kawali (pan-roasted pork belly) with chocolate!”  For fowl, he makes something called Pato Al Caparas (Braised Wild Duck with Three Kinds of Rice).  This one looks really yummy, especially the close-up shots of the meat and the sauce.  The meat is so tender it was literally falling off the bone.  And having tried various kinds of rice myself, I can tell how delicious the three varying rice textures are, soaking the sauce in.  And then there is the Menudo Sulipena (old-fashioned Pampanga Oxtail Stew) which also looks so sumptuously, sinfully rich.  The oxtail was boiled to perfect tenderness and the ingredients on their own sound temptingly good – the roasted peppers, specifically.  And the Saffron Rice he serves this stew with couldn’t look any better.  It is almost risotto-like, glistening with the golden yellow color the saffron infused each grain of rice with.

 

But unfortunately, as the show comes to an end, I am being left here wondering what the secrets really are.  I didn’t see anything I don’t already know or somehow have an idea about.  Unless of course if it is all about Chef Gene Gonzalez’s creativity and innovation.  Then, I will agree – those are his secrets.  And he is a whiz too in plating his dishes!  We eat with our eyes first, after all.  And watching this show, all I can do is eat with my eyes.  And I have to say that Ms. Litton did a great job giving me the vicarious thrill of savoring the night’s masterpieces.  As this is a new show – unless they have all the episodes in the can already – I hope they will do away with the heavy editing that cuts a lot from the actual cooking process.  The dishes were almost instantaneously dished out.  I would’ve loved to have seen the chef’s technical skills and techniques.  But I think it is because of their desire to pack in as many dishes in just one hour.  They had to compromise.

 

And yes, Chef Gene Gonzalez has to hawk his cookbook series as the show does come to an end.  Which is a good thing actually.  I guess I will check it out on my next visit to the bookstore.

 

The next show is HIRED, the search for Cravings’ next Chef de Partie.  I turned the TV off.

 

 





Sweets for my “sweets”

13 02 2009

sweets-cupcakes-by-sonja-cards

NO, I am not about to burst into song as I write this one.  What the heck!…  All together now: “Sweets for my sweet / Sugar for my honey / …”  Hahaha!

 

For a while, my team in the office has been making “lambing,” asking me to bring them cupcakes.  They’re all swamped with a lot of work way beyond “punch-out” time – mostly stuff I actually need (ask) them to do! – but from time to time, they do read my blog.  Aside from the surprise they would get in seeing another side of me – the realization that I am not so much a “monster” – one thing that has happened for sure is that they have absolutely fallen in love with CUPCAKES BY SONJA.  Now that’s a FALL I’m so glad they have taken.

sweets-spider-mans-box-with-len

The very lovely Len with Spider-man's box of four Bunny Huggers Carrot Cake cupcakes!

 

So in the very good mood that my THAI AT SILK dinner with Batman had put me into, I went to Cupcakes By Sonja to pick up boxes for my engineers.  There’s only so much that a couple of hands can handle, so I could only get one for each.  Though everybody knows that Spider-man (one of my best friends) would always get his own box.  He is after all, in a league all his own.  Hehehe.

sweets-spider-mans-box

Spider-man's box of four Bunny Huggers Carrot Cake cupcakes!

 

When they got their cupcakes – one Red Velvet Vixen each – I could see and feel their appreciation.  And they did love the cupcakes!  Which for me, is such a small gesture for people who have always made me look good, so to speak.  I just thought about this expression – “…have always made me look good” – after seeing an episode of the hit ABC series Ugly Betty the other day.  Wilhelmina Slater (played with biting sarcasm by the Vanessa Williams), giving a major dressing down to her assistant Mark St. James (played by Michael Urie) declared something like:  Being thrown under the bus is part of your job to make me look good!”

 

Of course, I definitely do not see any throwing-under-the-bus happening within my team ever, but that snippet is just a glimpse of the hardwork and the sacrifice that the people who work “for” and with us have to do or endure sometimes.

 

So a cupcake is but a small gesture.

sweets-cupcake-treats-00

That's Albert, K-Anne and Roy Patrick!

sweets-cupcake-treats-02

All in a row - Edu, Adam, K-Anne, Paulo, and Roy Patrick! All smiles with their red velvet vixen cupcakes!

sweets-cupcakes-by-sonja-store-00

This is where the best cupcakes come from! (Find the store in the picture. Hehehe..).

sweets-cupcakes-by-sonja-counter-022

A lovely cupcake tower! I just learned from Sonja that she makes this to order.

sweets-cupcakes-by-sonja-counter-00

sweets-cupcakes-by-sonja-counter-01





“THAI AT SILK” lives up to its name

12 02 2009

[This dinner has been a long time coming.  And this post, even more so.  You see, I’ve loved this place since my first visit in 2007.  I’m just so glad that I’ve finally gotten around to writing this piece.]

 

 thai-at-silk-place-setting-00

thai-at-silk-solo-001

I’VE BEEN feeling so under the weather since late last week that up to about a couple days back, I’ve been literally snacking on antibiotics and what text messages had told me to be concoctions being recalled by the U.S. FDA.  I thought nothing could pick me up from such my sorry state – not until Batman texted me when we could meet up, specifically for me to be able to pick up all that pasalubong he brought me back from Gotham City.  Now that’s a good enough excuse!

 

The opportune time turned out to be Wednesday night.  And I got to pick the place where we’d have dinner.  Finally, I found the perfect opportunity to visit (yet again) one of my favorite places in the Serendra Piazza – tHAI AT SILK.  I can still remember how in 2007, after the arduous task of emceeing a major company event (and singing with the jazz band afterwards!), I got to dine here for the first time.  My finding this gem of a place proved to be quite serendipitous.  I was resigned to the fact that I could satiate my hunger with just about anything – Brothers Burgers was actually appealing already – until I saw this posh Thai restaurant!

 thai-at-silk-chandeliers-00

 

thai-at-silk-chandeliers-01

 

thai-at-silk-place-setting-01

 

I never realized then just how much I’ve missed Thai cuisine, especially since Sukothai had closed shop.  I hadn’t been able to go back too to Malai Thai in the Magallanes commercial complex after they had moved to the new building.  Dusit Thani in Glorietta doesn’t quite make the grade (but their food is good nonetheless).  Oody’s and Oody’s Express, while able to serve good food, haven’t quite appealed to me completely.  And The Banana Leaf Curry House on the restaurant strip in Alabang Town Center (their only branch that I loved) had already morphed to what appears to me as either an “under-the-sea” or a “pirates-of-the-caribbean” thing-y.  As for Penang Hill (which serves Thai dishes), I’m reserving my comments for now.  Haha!

 

tHAI AT SILK was, and still is, such a welcome sight – literally too as the interiors are in the calming, relaxing hues of green and white.

 

So right after the requisite stop at CUPCAKES BY SONJA – just to say “Hi!” to the friendly staff and to introduce them to Batman – off we went to tHAI AT SILK.  As I was the one insisting on this place, Batman gave me the free hand to choose the dishes.

 

We started with the Tom Yum Goong (Hot & Sour Shrimp Soup, Php 310.00), which we asked to be made mildly spicy (in deference to Batman…  Hehe…).  If there is any one dish that can transport you back to Thailand, or introduce you to the place, it is this dish.  And after having had this soup in its many possible incarnations – here and abroad (including the one I made to rousing reception by an international crowd) – I still maintain that the best version of Tom Yum Goong is made by  tHAI AT SILK!  Their version perfectly showcases just how Thai cuisine has achieved the balance of the basic tastes, while allowing each component to explode into its own momentary highlight – layer by layer – from the very instant the very hot soup tempts my olfactory nerve, touches my puckering lips, and swishes into the wall of my mouth.  The soup is faithful to its name.  It is HOT.  It is SOUR.  And it is chockful with really large, plump, juicy, and fresh white freshwater shrimps.

 thai-at-silk-tom-yum-goong-00

 

It is HOT from the chilies, which could very well be at least three kinds (as what my personal recipe requires).  Like freckles on a pretty lady, crushed red pepper flakes beautifully dot the broth.  Under the restaurant’s subdued lighting, the soup glows in its appetizing orange hue, that can only come from the roasted chilies in oil (on its own a separate recipe!) that Bangkokians added to the original recipe from the Southern coastal villages of their country.  And that is how I prefer this soup – with the roasted chilies in oil.  It is SOUR (and a bit cloudy) from the undeniable bursts of fresh lime juice, that really  do give the dish its “characteristic” sourness.  And rounding off the robust flavors are the freshest ingredients that form a background symphony for the senses – the galangal for the floral hints; lemongrass for the mildly floral-and-citrusy notes; and cilantro for the very mild pungent undertones.  And as I said above, I’ve had this soup in its many versions and even the ones I’ve had in a number of layovers in Bangkok, seem to pale in comparison.  That’s just me.  And I think now, Batman too!  It was so good that I couldn’t wait for our main entrée and I had to already ask for steaming hot long grain Thai jasmine rice.  As you see, this restaurant doesn’t scrimp on the quality of grain and ingredients they use.

 thai-at-silk-tom-yum-goong-01

 

For our second dish, I was actually considering the Massaman Chicken Curry I’ve loved from when I first tried it.  I have fond memories of that dish.  Besides falling in love with it during a trip to Bangalore, Goa and Mumbai in India, I will never forget how  tHAI AT SILK chef and owner Cecille Ysmael graciously served me the dish.  She even recommended to me a pickled concoction she just made in the kitchen which she said would perfectly complement the curry.  She even went the extra mile by keeping me company during my dinner, talking me through the dining experience that was the curry and that side dish (thrown in free of charge!).  I was so bowled over by the charm and demeanor of this lady!  I thought I was just going to share my table with the many boxes of cupcakes, the Barack Obama book, and the two Alessi wristwatches I had just bought.  I thought she would just pass by my table as she surveyed the dining room – only to stop and ask why I was alone and where my friend (from the previous dinners) was.  Clearly, she pays attention to her clientele!

 

Unfortunately last night, I couldn’t find that curry on the menu.  I asked for the “small” menu they used to have, which contained the new dishes and where the massaman curry was listed before.  But our polite server told me that everything had already been incorporated in the “big” menu I had on my hands.  As I failed to fully articulate what I was looking for, I settled for the Thai Chicken Basil (Php 310.00).  This choice turned out pleasantly… even surprisingly great!  Served on a green cake-pedestal-like platter, it was a festive medley of minced chicken meat, chopped green beans, and thai sweet basil, crowned with three thin rings of orange chili.  This dish was superb!  The basil perfumed the dish beautifully.  I loved it that the saltiness was kept to the bare minimum, allowing the natural sweetness of the moist chicken meat and the crispness of the beans to shine through.  I will definitely order this dish again.  And again!

 thai-at-silk-thai-chicken-basil-00

 

 

And going back to the usual Thai “route,” we asked for the Pad Thai (Php 400.00) as our final dish.  This is where  tHAI AT SILK’s visual presentation skills are taken – not only to the “next” – but really to the “highest” level.  The farthest I’ve gone to Thailand would be the times I waited for connecting flights at their international airport in Bangkok.  But as I understand it, this technique in presenting pad thai in a mesh or net of scrambled egg is exactly how it is traditionally done there.  And tHAI AT SILK surely didn’t want to cut corners and went for the entire nine yards with this one.  Beautifully ensconced and nestled in the egg net is the pad thai, surrounded by traditional condiments that include crushed peanuts, a wedge of lime, scallions and mung bean sprouts.  I felt that it was almost a sin to disturb the presentation.  But Batman wouldn’t let me to just stare at it endlessly…  I had to do the honors to mix everything together.  And in seconds, Batman had a taste of what could be the best pad thai he has ever had.  I love it too!  The sauce has an authentic tempered sweetness, allowing for the tamarind pulp to shine.  The noodles were cooked with the perfect give to it, and the smokiness in the dish was just right.  Even with the piles of Thai jasmine rice already on my plate (and in my stomach), I easily finished half of this dish!

 thai-at-silk-pad-thai-00

 

thai-at-silk-pad-thai-01

 

Batman and I washed everything down with tall glasses of this restaurant’s signature Lemongrass Juice (Php 115.00).  This drink was just perfect as it soothed my throat (which towards the end of dinner was all the more strained from all the “kwento”) with its citrusy goodness, punctuated with the hint of ginger-like essence.

 thai-at-silk-lemongrass-00

 

By the time I was taking my last spoonful of the rice, Batman had been heaping praises on my dinner choices.  He actually said that he had never been “that” full in recent memory.  Hehehe.  Either he really meant it or it was just the jetlag talking.  Hahaha!  But I guess he meant it.  I too, after a while of missing out on tHAI AT SILK, had to stop and acknowledge the fact that I haven’t had that great a dinner too.  All the food were literally wiped out from the plates and I couldn’t think of any better compliment to pay the chef.  tHAI AT SILK lives up to its name – it is THAI, and it is smooth as SILK – simply one of the finest in the world.

 

Oops…  I actually did, as I wrote a short note on the back of our check just to say how fabulous the dinner was.  And how attentive, prompt and warm the service was.

 thai-at-silk-the-bill-00

 

After dinner, we took a leisurely walk to CUPCAKES BY SONJA.  I got a box for Spider-man and a couple more for my engineers (I’ll post this later!).  I didn’t get a box for Superman as he won’t be onsite tomorrow.

 

 





Happiness is a box of six

10 02 2009

 krispy-kreme-supermans-box-00

ONLY A few things do manage to stop me on my tracks.  Some of them, they just stop me and then I would carry on.  Some of them, they stop me, demand for my second look…  and then a scream.  Hahaha!

 

And still, there are others that stop me, demand for my second look…  and deserve my appreciation and say, a few minutes to even hours of my time.  I can enumerate at least three of these.

 

The CUPCAKES BY SONJA signage (especially when lit at night).

 

Big bold red letters that spell SALE (there’s a recession, sleepy head!).

 

And wherever a lit neon sign says, “HOT KRISPY KREME ORIGINAL GLAZED NOW.”

 krispy-kreme-spidermans-box-02

 

Which is only at – wherelse?! – Krispy Kreme!  I can still vividly recall the first time I saw that sign.  It was right across one mall in Sacramento.  I think it was Sunrise Mall.  You may very well know that everytime that sign would be lit, it only meant that Krispy Kreme’s famous Original Glazed yeast-raised doughnuts were coming out the dougnut-making line right that very moment.  And I have never been disappointed with Krispy Kreme.  Even after all the hoopla has died down from when it first opened in the Philippines, I will remain forever enchanted by these doughnuts and excited with even just the thought of getting my hands on one.  Krispy Kreme still stands unperturbed as the ultimate doughnut experience.

 

An Original Glazed never fails to remind me that some of the strongest and longest-lasting friendships I have made were forged over a box of these doughnuts.    Obviously, munching on one always brings back happy memories.  Lately, these doughnuts and Sonja’s cupcakes have had that effect on me.

 

Won’t you also be happy when you get your hands on doughnuts that taste so good, they could surely only be made in batches within the store’s premises?  You can tell with one bite that they are cut, yeast-raised, fried, flipped…  and then glazed right there and then.  And of course, if you’ve been to a store – right in front of your very eyes.  Without question, the anticipation of this doughnut experience is something that will make your eyes beam wide and your mouth water.

 

Arguably, happiness is a box of six Kripy Kreme doughnuts.  But since I was not up to making the whole trip to Bonifacio High Street last night (which also explains my absence at Cupcakes), I depended on the kindness of one of my new friends.  He thoughtfully texted me last night to ask if I’d like to have some boxes brought to the office today.

 

Of course I said yes!  Sometimes – I can’t say this enough – you will get surprised with the kindness and thoughtfulness of people.  It’s like wishing upon a star…  and seeing your wishes come true.  Hahaha!

krispy-kreme-spidermans-box-00

Spider-man's box of six - three original glzed, 2 cookies n' cream, 1 chocolate something.

krispy-kreme-supermans-box-01

Superman's box of six - three original glazed, one cookies n' cream, one chocolate something, one new york cheesecake (luv this one, my fave!).





Buttered Shrimp fom Ate Choi

1 02 2009
enteng_buttered-shrimp1

Buttered Shrimp from Ate Choi. Photo taken by Spider-man, using his iPhone.

FRIDAY IS actually one of the days in the week when I shun rice totally.  I’ve incorporated rice back into my diet, but still, I’ve been keeping it at bay – about two to three times in a week, tops.

 

But last Friday’s lunch turned out to be extra special.  I felt that to not have my meal with rice would do the whole thing an unjustice.  You see, Ate Choi, one of the people I’ve known at work for over a decade now, had brought me Buttered Shrimp – her own recipe.  She and her team mates have been very kind to me, always bringing me food whenever they would have small gatherings at work.  They’ve counted me as their own.  And I can’t help but feel very appreciative of that.

 

I’ve actually tasted this dish of hers (buttered shrimp) long before – using either shrimps or black tiger prawns, depending on the catch of the day.  But this was the first time that she brought it exclusively for me!  It was a huge batch, easily over a kilo or even two kilos!

 

I wasn’t into running the risk of letting my blood pressure and cholesterol levels run into overdrive, so I opted to share these with some of my engineers and even friends from our Design Engineering Center.  Besides, there were really a lot.  Spider-man and I divided the whole thing into three huge bowls that we popped in to the microwave for a quick reheat.

 

The shrimps were really fresh.  And were perfectly cooked.  Not a single one had the shells clinging to the flesh, which to me is a sure indication of overcooking.  Each shrimp was a good medium size, with a really, naturally sweet goodness.  My engineers, even my other friends Jet and Ems, loved the shrimps.

 

I could surmise how Ate Choi must have made her buttered shrimp.  But realizing just how good she does make it, I couldn’t help but ask for the recipe.  I hope she got my e-Mail and that she would respond to it with the recipe attached!  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.





Easy Entertaining with Darryl & Brenda Aragon-Gallo

29 01 2009

 

[Written on 27 January 2009, Tuesday, 5:32 P.M.]

 

One of my most favorite FoodNetwork TV shows is “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello.”  It espouses the idea of making your dinner guests – family or close friends, or both – to be part of the cooking process.  At one point, I watched that show for a full year-and-a-half, non-stop.  And sometimes, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Are his guests really – genuinely – enjoying the experience of having to be part of the preparation and all that cooking?  Or is it just because the cameras are rolling and they have to put on a face?!”

 

I finally get my answer just right here, right now!

dinner-darryl-brenda-002

My good good friends, newlyweds of two months - Mr. & Mrs. Darryl Xerxes & Brenda Aragon-Gallo - our gracious dinner hosts!

 

I’m here at Hazel, Buls and Judy’s place where my good friends – the newlyweds Darryl & Brenda Aragon-Gallo – are whipping up what to me is dinner that is as Italian as Italian could get (I mean, on this far side of the metro)!  And I have helped.  Hahaha!!!  I give myself props for all the five cans I opened.  And all the tasting I get to do in the process.

dinner-enteng-judy-001

The very lovely Judy Conti, checking out the progress of my blog entry so far!

 

I had to drop everything at 4:00 P.M. sharp at work as I, the perennial commuter, was at the mercy of those who brought wheels.  I shared a ride with the gracious hosts, together with Hazel and Allan.  One quick stop was at the grocery to pick up drinks and some more fresh chicken.

dinner-group-051

The housemates (clockwise from left) - Buls, Judy, the TJ, and Hazel.

 

Once here at Hazel’s place, Brenda made a quick dash to the kitchen, and like clockwork, launched to unleash her culinary prowess.  I’ve been friends with her for quite some time but seeing how adept she is at the kitchen, I feel like I’m being ushered into a whole new world about my friend that is so beyond all the numbers and all the spreadsheets she analyzes (like it’s nobody’s business) in her capacity as one of our Senior Finance Analysts – and an “Employee Of The Year” at that.

 

You know that I too have patted my own back quite a number of times already here on my blog.  But being here in Brenda’s presence, I feel I didn’t have any business to even fuss about with the ingredients, the knives, the pots and the pans.  So I’ve just been sitting here, taking the experience in.  And obviously, I couldn’t help but write about it.

 

The first thing Brenda pulled out of the refrigerator was a huge Tupperware dish that contained a whole chicken that she has been marinating since last night.  She took off the container’s lid and instantly, I got a whiff of fragrance so good I could’ve almost asked for it in a bottle.  It was robust, warm, almost woodsy… but at the same time rounded with hints of citrus.  I just had to ask Brenda or otherwise, much like a restless kid, I wouldn’t be able to contain myself the whole night.  I think I’m actually going to end up asking Brenda almost everything about the night’s menu!

dinner-chicken-001

Ready for her close up... The marinated chicken that later became Brenda's glorious roasted chicken, oozing with the goodness of fresh oranges, garlic, onion, and cumin!

 

As it defnitely would take longer to cook, the chicken is first to get going.  Brenda put it in the broiler and as she told me (and as I saw as I took a peek), it was first marinated in her own recipe – a mixture of oranges (juice and rind), quartered white onions, whole cloves of garlic, some other seasonings (I suppose) and…  cumin!  How I wish you could smell the concoction as my words are seeming to fail me.  It is that good.  I knew the broiler has started a good job with the chicken when its savory aroma started to fill the kitchen.

 

Brenda has now turned her attention to the stove top where she turned both burners on and put the pasta pot on one (where the linguine is now cooking), and the large non-stick skillet on the other.  She melted some butter on the skillet and sauteed coarsely chopped white onions.  Then she added chopped chicken breast and continued the sauteing.  One thing I notice about Brenda is that she seasons her dish every step of the way (ever so carefully).  I’m not complaining – it is exactly how I do it!  After a while, she pulled out one ingredient I didn’t expect – white wine – a Paul Masson California Chablis, to be specific!  It is the kind Darryl drinks straight out of the bottle.  Now that’s an instant tip right there.  Use wine that you will actually drink from the glass.  Because once it heats up in the cooking process, the alcohol evaporates and the flavors concentrate.  So, start with good wine!  After a few more minutes and quick stirs, Brenda added in the sliced button mushrooms, and all purpose cream.  Once the lingune was done, she tossed it in to the sauce.  She adjusted the seasonings and with the sprinkling of really good parmesan cheese, the pasta is done!

dinner-pasta-00-cream-sauce1

Simmering to perfection... Brenda's pasta cream sauce!

dinner-pasta-011 

 

While all the pasta cooking was happening, Hazel and Darryl started work on the bruschetta, using a contraption that I was so tempted to play with!  I was actually so amused that finally, I was in the presence of this food processor thing-y that I’ve only seen on home TV shopping.  Darryl proudly shared that it was a gift of his to Brenda, bought in the States.  Back to the bruschetta, I noticed that Brenda’s recipe (as executed by the Hazel) is made of sliced bread (she got a French baguette) which she tops with grated cheese (local cheese this time, not her usual mozzarella) and a special tomato “tapenade” of fresh plum tomatoes, onions, and lemon juice.  She popped the bruschetta in the toaster oven and in a few minutes, put on the table the perfect dish to whet our appetites and lure us to devour the rest of the dinner spread (ahead!).

dinner-hazel-00

The bruschetta-making machine. And I'm referring to the lovely Hazel. Hehehe.

 

I’m checking my wristwatch now and I realize that Brenda has been cooking for only about an hour.  And as I write, the dinner table is already being set.  Taking its rightful place in the center of the table is the pasta dish.  Brenda hesitated earlier when I asked if this is her version of the classic “Fettuccine Alfredo.”  She quipped, “Wala lang, recipe ko lang. (Not really.  I just put this recipe together.)”  As I have discovered in the course of this past hour, all that my friend is lovingly putting together are dishes she whips up in the comfort of her own home – from when she was still living with her family, to now that she is barely into her second month as a married woman (the Mrs. Gallo, no less!).  Right after the broiled (or roasted?) chicken was plated and put next to the plates of lovely bruschetta, everybody was called to the table.  And right on time, all of the guests – colleagues and friends – came pouring in, keeping the appointed time of 6:00 P.M.

 

I am the outsider in this gathering, earning my ticket thru my friendship with Brenda & Darryl, and Hazel.  And rightfully so, I’m quite contented staying here in my little corner as I observe just how beautifully food brings people close together.  As you can see, no matter how bad things are happening out there, so long as you still find the time to make a good meal, sit down, and share it with the people you really care about, all can be well in the world.

 

And I’m seeing that come to life right here, right now!  I don’t know who all these people are (except that they are Finance professionals from either Intel or Numonyx) but the way they relate to each other, and the way they even mention each other’s names (real or given by someone  / who the hell is Zelda?!  Hahaha!) – stressing the consonants and caressing the vowels – tell me these people genuinely care about each other.

dinner-group-011
Darryl & Brenda, Hazel, Dennis & Cindy (birthday girl, 28th of January), the TJ, the ladies of Intel Finance, and eNTeNG.

I’m already famished at this point.  But my hunger pangs are a bit abated by the celebration of friendship in front of me.  As Hazel sort of treats me like one of their own, we did away with the formal “this is eNTeNG, this is…” introductions and instead rattled off one another’s names.  I do remember some though (but I won’t spell them out here lest I commit mistakes!).

 dinner-group-021

 

 

But reality has set in and the grumblings in my stomach can no longer be ignored.  As a matter of fact, I just got a plate full of the pasta.  It is so good.  And if you know me, I’m not crazy about cream-based sauces.  But this one is so good.  I love the hint of white wine in the background.  It sort of gives Brenda’s dish a depth of character once the richness of the cream subsides and the next layers of flavors explode.  Just one thing I wonder though is how nutmeg would fit into her dish.  Probably I will try at home or she may try it too.  See Brenda, I am going to make your dish at home!

dinner-roasted-chicken-00

Front and center - the masterpiece that is Brenda's Roasted (Mediterranean Orange) Chicken.

 dinner-roasted-chicken-01

dinner-roasted-chicken-02

Now, something has to be said about the chicken.  I actually have been fearing nothing would be saved for me after the attack of the lovely Finance ladies (hehehe) but fortunately, I managed to slice a portion of the breast.  Right before I pierce the very tender meat with my fork, I’m playing in my head the high hopes I have for this roasted chicken, especially after I gobbled up all the caramelized onions that were left with the drippings.  And I’m not disappointed at all!  The meat is very tender, easily giving in to my fork.  It is so moist, oozing with its natural sweetness that only got further accentuated and heightened by the cumin.  Brenda, please do me the honor of sharing with me your recipe!  Please.  Pretty please!

 

I downed this lovely dinner with a couple of glasses of Sprite.  And with the last bites of the dessert (a very nice refrigerator cake), I felt a satisfaction in my tummy that extended all the way to my heart.  A very warm, friendly embrace on a chilly night (outside it is chilly!).

 

And with a tummy pleased to no end, I’m ready to take part in this board game they brought along.  If only I could figure out what it is called and what the rules are!  Hahaha!

 

Thanks Brenda!  Dinner was fabulous!

dinner-group-06

dinner-group-07

dinner-group-board-game-00

This was the board game we played. It was fun!





Lost in a swirl… and eNTeNG loved it!

27 01 2009
cupcakes-choco-cream-cheese-swirl-002

Cupcakes By Sonja's Choco Cream Cheese Swirl (served here without frosting... you may ask for frosting if you like it that way!)

 

As I promised myself last Sunday night, I went back to Cupcakes By Sonja on Monday evening – not only for my regular fix – but also to try one of their new offerings.  I trained my eyes on the lovingly handwritten cupcakes menu on the wall, and as my sights reached the end of the list, I felt as if a jolt hit my synapses, shaking me out my dreamy expectations for the feel of perfectly melding chocolate and cream cheese partying in my mouth.

 cupcakes-choco-cream-cheese-swirl-00a

 

With the look of desperation, I asked Sonja and her staff, “You’ve run out of the Choco Cream Cheese Swirl already?  I saw it on your list last night.”

 

Sonja, carefully puckering her lips, motioned to her staff to check the other end of their display.  And then I saw it!  The sight of nine cupcakes in the variant I was so lusting after, instantly put me out of my temporal misery.

 

I asked for one and, for yet another change in my routine, I requested for their Chocolate Madness Milkshake!  Clearly, I was ready for a chocolate overload!

cupcakes-choco-cream-cheese-swirl-01

The perfect accompaniment - the Chocolate Madness Milkshake!

 

Before I dug my dessert fork into the cupcake, I told Sonja that I was really excited to see how this cupcake looked (and tasted) like, especially since one of my most favorite desserts is the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory, at their store on the top floor of Macy’s Department Store in San Francisco.  With the Sonja’s creation right in front of me, I noticed the most striking difference that also quickly reminded me how stupid I could be sometimes!  Sonja’s is a cupcake, not a cheesecake!  But don’t get me wrong, I never felt even an iota of disappointment.  As a matter of fact, holding the cupcake in my hand, what I felt all the more was how my appetite had been whetted.

cupcakes-choco-cream-cheese-swirl-02

Only the highest quality ingredients will do for a Sonja Ocampo cupcake! Don't you just want to devour this confection?!

 

Cupcakes By Sonja’s Choco Cream Cheese Swirl tempts with a crackly, marbled top that’s a throwback to the chocolate marble ice cream of my youth.  And this is not food color I’m talking about.  What it is is actual cream cheese, chunks of which were dotted on the cake and as these melt with the heat, they are swirled to create that perfect mabled effect.  Like puffy clouds I could just touch at more than 30,000 feet up in the sky, the cream cheese swirls work their way all over the top, bound clearly with the deep dark brown chocolate cake, at the same time bound with blurs of what appear to me as froths from a hot cup of cappuccino.

 cupcakes-choco-cream-cheese-swirl-03

 

I worked my fork all the way thru the cupcake and I instantly got how it somewhat resembled a brownie – the perfect brownie.  But what I wasn’t prepared for was how my palate was arrested by the distinct and married textures and flavors from this swirl cupcake.  The cake itself has a packed, perfect crumb, boasting of melted cream cheese that made it (the cupcake) ooze with more creamy goodness.  I kept chewing and realized that the cream cheese not only accentuated just how good the chocolate cake is, but how perfectly it is kept moist.  Another quick piercing with my fork revealed another layer of surprise from this cupcake – it has a gooey center, generous with molten chocolate!  It is just so good.  Kim told me that I could request for cream cheese frosting on top.  And had I asked for it, that would’ve made my cupcake cross over to decadent – still, in a good way!

 

While I selfishly confine myself to my world of me, my cupcake and I, I didn’t forget to have some boxes put together for special people.  As usual, I made two identical 4-cupcake boxes – one each for Spider-man and Superman.  Each has a Melt-In-Your-Mouth Flourless Chocolate Cupcake, and three Choco Cream Cheese Swirl cupcakes – two with cream cheese frosting, and one without.

cupcakes-superman-box

I asked for two sets of this box of 4 special cupcakes - one box goes to Spider-man, and another to Superman! It contains 3 choco cream cheese swirl (2 with cream cheese frosting) and 1 melt-in-your-mouth valrhona flourless chocolate cake. Superman likes chocolates a lot!

 

I could imagine serving this cupcake after a fabulous dinner.  And for sure, the moment it comes out of the kitchen, a hush would fall in the room, as its presence is acknowledged.  And with bated breath, each would grab his own cupcake, admire it for a short moment, and with the very first bite get transported all the way to dessert heaven… or la-la-la land.  With Sonja’s Choco Cream Cheese cupcake in my hand, I don’t need The Godiva Cheesecake at all (not just yet!).  I even totally forgot Giada’s chocolate cake!

 

Cupcakes By Sonja started offering the Chocolate Cream Cheese Swirl this January 2009.  I think it is still a limited edition cupcake.  Their store is at 1 C03 Serendra Piazza, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.  Tel. No. 856-0308.  e-Mail cupcakesbysonja@gmail.com.