In Which There are Pick-Me-Ups Against Holiday Stress…

Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding
Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding

There are big events to handle at the office, gifts to buy and gifts to bake, people to coordinate with, meet-ups to schedule or cancel depending on the situation.  The last few days before the Holidays are a mad, mad time – especially for those of us in the advertising industry.  There are numerous events to handle for clients: end-of-year sales runs/mini-concerts, ads to place before the country shuts down for two weeks of Yuletide cheer, last-minute arrangements and contract renewals.  Believe me when I say that it would be so very easy to buckle under the pressure and burn out.

Thank goodness, therefore, for both coffee and tea breaks.  Sometimes, all you need is a wee cuppa tea or joe to stiffen up your spine for just a little longer; other times, only something massive, iced, and calorific will do.  For that, Serenitea is a good stand-by.  The mango jasmine milk tea with its rather floral flavour is one such sipper.  The blossomy notes of the jasmine black tea are played up beautifully by the addition of lightly sweetened mango compote.  Add generous dollops of custard pudding and you, dear reader, are all set for a slurp-filled break.

Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner
Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner

If you’re hankering for something more substantial with a slightly savoury edge, Hollys Coffee offers its sea-salt mocha.  You get a distinctively chocolatey drink made with good espresso and a shot of Belgian chocolate ganachecreamy-rich, duskily bittersweet, and so moreish.  The sprinkle of sea salt makes the flavours of both chocolate and coffee pop.  Order it hot to enjoy the full benefit of its invigorating smoothness.

So, what do you readers sip or nosh on to stave off the stress?  ;)

In Which There is Lunch for the Weary Shopper…

Orange juice for staying perky...
Orange juice for staying perky…

This is what happens when the Christmas rush kicks in: you find yourself scrambling from one mall to another trying to find appropriate presents (or, if you’re like me, the appropriate ingredients for whatever it is you’re planning to give away as presents), you hop aboard public transport, get stuck in two hours of standstill traffic, scramble like a madwoman from store to store, hoist several bulky packages on your person, get stuck in an additional two hours of traffic, manage to get home, and slump to the floor in exhaustion.

Fortunately, in between rushing to and fro, one can fuel up and rest those flagging feet and spirits for a while.  In this case, I was off to my old standby: Tokyo Cafe.

Namban chicken set
Namban chicken set

TC offers a selection of set meal menus that feature a bowl of soup, a small salad, a saucer of pickles, hiyayakko-doufu (cold tofu salad), rice, and a main course.  Throwing in P 60.00 gets you a drink and you can opt for iced or hot coffee or an iced orange juice.  Shown here is the Namban chicken set which features torikatsu (breaded chicken fillets) and ebi furai (deep-fried breaded prawns).  Seriously, it may not be at the top of the class given that the breading was heavy and the soup tepid at best, but it was enough to add a bit of spring back into my step and get my Holiday shopping done.


In Which One’s Hot Chocolate has a Hint of Spice…

Hot chocolate and cinnamon
Hot chocolate and cinnamon

As I am writing today’s post, Typhoon Ruby (International Code Name: Hagupit) is raging throughout the Visayas and even we in Manila have not been spared.  Public storm signal #1 was raised over the National Capital Region last night at 11 PM – and stronger signals remain hoisted over much of the Central Philippines, including the provinces of Samar and Leyte, both of which were ravaged by the devastating Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan last year.

The best course of action is to stay indoors at this point in time and keep one’s self posted with regard to news updates on the radio or on television (if, of course, the power holds out).

Hot chocolate, in my personal opinion, is one of the best ways by which bad news can be made a little easier to deal with.  If you’ve the time to spare or if you’re calmer than most people, you’d make it from scratch: whisking together milk, dark chocolate, and spices over medium heat till that subtle alchemy transforms those ingredients into a soothing drink.  But, if you’re too wired to do any work in the kitchen at the risk of burning yourself – or your house! – then instant mixes are fine.

Goya, that old local stalwart, has the Everyday brand of hot chocolate mixes.  There’s plain hot chocolate, chocolate with marshmallows, and the double chocolate with cinnamon.

If this doesn't hit the spot, nothing will.
If this doesn’t hit the spot, nothing will.

It’s surprisingly rich for an instant mix: dark, smoky, a slightly bitter edge softened somewhat by the nip of cinnamon added to it.  Cold weather comfort, indeed.

In the meantime, we huddle before our televisions or tablets, radios or laptops, and pray that the storm gives up and finally lets our people go.

In Which Supper is a Singaporean Throwback…

Nonya laksa and a ginger-lime soda
Nonya laksa and a ginger-lime soda

The last time I was in Singapore was a little over a decade ago when I was there for an aviation industry event.  (At the time, I was handling PR and marketing work for a small Philippine aerospace company.)  Because our boss left us to our own devices in the evenings, I opted to roam the streets in search of Singapore-specific nosh and fell utterly in love with spicy, creamy Nonya-style laksa.

Years later, I still love a good laksa and, fortunately, ToastBox does a properly spiffy one: rich with coconut milk, deliciously spicy with a faint tinge of the sea, loaded to the gills with laksa leaf, purple basil, and poached prawns.  Sheer bliss.

Throw in a peppy ginger and fresh lime soda and my weekend is off to a great – albeit stormy – start.

In Which Curry Becomes Part of an Office Potluck…

It's not quite a barta, but it was pretty good...
It’s not quite a barta, but it was pretty good…

The first time I participated at Office Potluck Friday at work, I was totally askance as to what to bring along.  The basic criteria: enough food to feed a crowd and it has to taste good.

From my experience, curry is always a good bet for feeding crowds.  You can whip it ASAP, it feeds a ton of people, tastes pretty damn good, and is nigh on portable.  Well, that’s Japanese curry, at any rate; the kind you make with roux cubes out of a box.  As it happened, however – oh, catastrophe! – no supermarket within my immediate vicinity  – even the Oriental ones – had any curry roux in stock!  So, let me ask you: what’s a harried cook to do?

Can't make it fresh?  Make it instant.
Can’t make it fresh? Make it instant.

The alternative would be to use spice mixes and instant coconut milk / seasoned coconut cream to start cooking.  Fortunately, McCormick is a regular old standby for such things and one only needs to choose from its range of curry recipe mixes: scathing red, mild green, and gingery yellow.  Knorr, on the other hand, has its ginataang gulay mix – a pre-seasoned coconut milk compound which adds savour and richness to dishes that require coconut milk or cream.

Pack it up, take it out.
Pack it up, take it out.

Throw in some okra, potatoes, eggplant, and cooked chicken, and you’ve got a fairly delicious meal for a hungry crowd.  The end-result is similar to the vegetable curry known as a barta (a combination of okra and eggplant): creamy, spicy, a slightly herbaceous taste showing just how fresh the vegetables are.  Bring on the rice and you, dear reader, are good to go.


In Which Lunch was a Tray of Korean Nibbles…

Kimbap and nori noodle soup for lunch
Kimbap and nori noodle soup for lunch

Ever have days when you’re feeling peckish and antsy, days when you’re hungry but are just too tired to go out more than a few steps to grab a bite?  These days have happened to me often enough, but thank goodness for the Korean grocery/convenience stores that seem to pop up just about everywhere in my side of the BGC.

You can get trays of kimbap – the maki-like seaweed and rice roll – for P 100.00 and these are great for nibbling over lunch.  Each roll is stuffed to the gills with lightly seasoned rice, sesame seeds, fresh carrot and cucumber, takuan (sweet-pickled daikon radish), rolled egg omelet, and a snippet of ham.  Every bite features an interplay of flavours, colours, and textures that keeps the dish interesting right down to the last morsel.

And to round out your meal: grab a small tub of the instant noodle soup – there is a bunch of variants available, so may as well go mad and take your pick.

In Which One Brings Pasta to a Potluck…

With dishes like these, who WOULDN'T love Potluck Friday?
With dishes like these, who WOULDN’T love Potluck Friday?

Where I work nowadays, we have a tradition known simply as Potluck Friday.  This means that lunch on the last Friday of the month is a communal thing as opposed to the individual lunches we usually grab everyday.  On Potluck Friday, there is food to share and there is a certain level of one-up-manship among those of us who cook.

My contribution for this month is a dinky little number that involves a few things you can hunt down at your local grocery and a few pantry staples.  It’s a pasta dish that plays up the classic flavours of bangus ala pobre (milkfish cooked with butter, garlic, and pepper) and adds them to standard-issue spaghetti, turning it into a regular feast to be shared among friends.  This dish has a bit of eggplant for a soft smokiness and a bit of spicy chorizo de Bilbao for warmth and zing.

For all of you kitchen habitues or even you kitchen-phobes, it’s a spot-on easy dish to make.  All it takes is a little effort: chopping, sautéing, and boiling up the pasta.  Try it for yourself; I’m pretty sure you and those you cook it for will be quite pleased.  ;)

Pasta ala Pobre

  • 250 grams spaghetti prepared according to package instructions, reserving 2 tablespoons of cooking water
  • 150 grams bangus sisig or Spanish-style sardines
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 fish bouillon cube
  • chorizo de Bilbao, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger vodka or white wine
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or aged Edam cheese
  • wakame or nori furikake to garnish

Boil up the spaghetti till just al dente; drain, reserving two tablespoons of the cooking water.

Over medium heat, warm up the oil and butter till the butter has melted and begun to brown at the edges.  Add the onion and cook till softened.  Add the garlic and cook just till the edges begin to brown and crisp up.  Add the chorizo, diced eggplant, herbs, and bouillon cube; cook for about two minutes or till the bouillon cube has dissolved.

Add the sisig or sardines and cook for a few minutes.  Pour in the reserved pasta cooking water and vodka or white wine.  Stir and allow to boil for about two minutes.  Remove from the heat and toss in the cooked pasta.

Transfer to a serving plate and top with the cheese and the furikake.

Serves 6.