In Which the Blogger FINALLY Gets Her Hands on the Elusive Adriano Zumbo Tim Tams…

Toothsome, sugary, and totally moreish!

Toothsome, sugary, and totally moreish!

This is the packet that sent shrieks of excited delight echoing throughout the bullpen at work one afternoon when one of the girls from Sales opened it and shared it with the rest of us lesser beings.

High school classmates who now live Down Under have tortured me by posting pictures of the limited edition Adriano Zumbo Tim Tams on Facebook.  I’ve been all, “Girls, anyone coming home to the Philippines any time soon?  Hey, I’ll chip in for the TimTams – just gimme some!”  Alas, no one’s flying in earlier than Christmas, so I pretty much reduced myself to a regular sulky snit over these elusive snacks.

So you can just imagine how totally blissed out I was to get an Adriano Zumbo TimTam: specifically, the au courant salted caramel variant.  It was a particularly toothsome bit: not too sweet, the milk chocolate coating of a slightly better quality than that of the standard Tim Tam biccie and also a bit thicker; the caramel rich, buttery, with that pop of salt towards the end.  Yum.

We’re all trying to find a way to order more of these treats; heck, we’re all craving the chocolate brownie and raspberry-white choc versions, too.  Until then, we’ll make do with what we can put our grubby little paws on – but, hey: regular Tim Tams are nothing to sneer at and are amazing enough treats on their own.   So, anyone up for a Tim Tam Slam? ;)

In Which Wee Bites of Chocolate Hold a Seriously Nutty Punch…

Hazelnutffle...

Hazelnutffle…

It is said that big things come in small packages.  It’s an adage that applies to Nutffles, wee nibbles of chocolate that hold a whole nut in the centre and are covered by chopped nuts on the outside.  I found these at Rustan’s Supermarket a few weeks ago whilst on a regular grocery run.  I was actually hunting down a quick, nutty snack – honey-roasted and sesame-covered macadamia nuts, to be exact – when I found a whole stand of these by the nuts-and-dried fruit aisle.

In substance and appearance, these will remind you of Ferrero Rocher, those gold foil-wrapped bonbons stuffed with gianduia and a whole hazelnut: whole nuts tucked into a thick, Belgian chocolate centre, cased in a thin cocoa wafer, dipped in milk chocolate and rolled in chopped nuts.  But given how these are made with chocolate ganache rather than gianduia, there is less of a Nutella-esque taste and more of a rich, chocolate flavour with hints of caramel – and it’s a taste that goes well with the nicely roasted nuts.

There are three variants currently available at Rustan’s: the hazelnut one shown here, the roasted almond, and the red velvet which features an almond in red-tinted white chocolate ganache and coated with a tangy white-choc coating reminiscent of cream cheese frosting.  They go for P 20.00 for individual truffles, but there are also packs of three if you have a serious craving and boxed assortments for those inclined to share.

In Which One Makes the Most of a MASSIVE Loaf of Bread…

That is a HUGE loaf of bread!

That is a HUGE loaf of bread!

Following the feast of St. Anthony of Padua in June, my family received what had to be the biggest loaf of bread I’d seen in ages: easily twice as wide as my forearm and just a wee bit shorter.  It had a rather dark, bitter-tasting crust that was scattered over with toasted sesame seeds; the inside was more spongy than fluffy, evidence that this was a hard-dough loaf (similar in stodgy substance to sweet breads such as monay, pan de limon, putok buns and the turtle-shaped pinagong buns of Quezon province).

It was the perfect bread for sandwiches – and, oh!  Such sandwiches!

Grilled cheese goes big!

Grilled cheese goes big!

The savoury bitter crust and the sweetish inner crumb went perfectly with mild Cheddar for a massive grilled cheese sarnie that barely fit on my plate until I cut it in half.

Cooked in butter till golden, this sandwich was given a bit of Italian flair by the addition of basil, oregano, and rosemary to the sliced cheese within.  Frying the sandwich in butter tempered the bitterness of the crust and made it crunchier.  The sweet crumb was just perfect with the saltiness of the cheese and the fresh flavour of the herbs.

It was just the right thing to eat with an ice-cold soda on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.

Curried chicken foldover for breakfast

Curried chicken foldover for breakfast

(Just so we’re clear, the picture above shows just how huge individual slices of the loaf were.  Huge, eh?)

Another time, there was some chicken curry left over from dinner.  I just shredded the meat off the bones, whisked it and some leftover coconut gravy into a bit of mayonnaise with some pickle relish and pimenton dulce,  lumped on a few slices of cheese, let the whole thing come together for a few minutes in a toaster-oven – et voila!  I had a curried chicken foldover that went magnificently with my morning latte.  :D

I recently found out which bakery actually sells these glorious giant loaves.  Needless to say, one of them will be making its way into the family breadbox soon.  :D

 

In Which We Talk About a Classic Street Snack: Fish Balls…

Fish balls are a nocturnal treat on the commute home...

Fish balls are a nocturnal treat on the commute home…

I apologize for the rather dark and fuzzy way the picture looks, but this is because the street food carts here in Manila are only out and about after dark.  Street food here in the Philippines has become more than just a way of satisfying one’s hunger on the road; it’s become an intrinsic part of urban culture in this part of the world.

Street food carts offer everything from quick snacks for those on the go, bar chow for the drinking crowd, pick-up meals for those too tired (or lazy) to cook dinner, to the sort of soups and savoury porridges that serve as hangover cures for the seriously smashed.  Really, the carts have something for everyone.

Fish balls - the name is also spelled as ‘fishballs’, a compound word – are, arguably, the most popular treats.  Back when I was a kid, mothers used to go crazy whenever their kids bought these deep-fried, odoriferous treats, seeing how the sanitary standards weren’t at all that high.  But anyone who grew up in the Philippines between the 1970s and the early noughties (right up to the present day, as a matter of fact), has gobbled scads upon scads of these fishy bites with a relish.  For one thing, they’re cheap; for another, they taste good.  Most of all, though, eating them despite maternal prohibition was a form of acceptable rebellion; a right of passage, so to speak.

The name is something of a misnomer because these don’t fry up into puffy spheres but, instead, fry into flattish discs; think oden, only deep-fried in a wok rather than boiled up in a cauldron.  To correct a number of Westerners who presumed quite erroneously that these are fish gonads, these are actually made of minced cod or pollock.  Some urban legend spouters claim that fish balls are made with shark meat, but no one’s actually had any solid proof to support such a claim.  These are deep-fried till either floppy and toothsome or brown and crunchy and diners get to spear these treats out of the wok with a bamboo skewer.  You then dip the skewered fish balls into your choice of sauce from a set of jars sitting on a shelf on one side of the cart: sinamak vinegar (vinegar infused with onions, garlic, peppercorns, and green chilies), a cornstarch-thickened sweet sauce, and a soy-based hot sauce that gets its fire from plenty of siling labuyo (bird’s-eye chili).

At the fish ball cart that plies its trade near the market that marks the entrance to the village where I live, you can get eight fish balls for the niminy-piminy price of  P 5.00 (about US$ 0.11) or, as above, a stick of sixteen pieces for P 10.00 (US$ 0.23).  Also available are the bigger, more spherical squid balls made with either real squid or – more commonly – cuttlefish puree and little brown logs called orlian or kikiam (a more highly seasoned fish paste pressed like forcemeat into a soy-flour dough skin) which go for P 1.00 per piece; the former goes well with the sweet sauce while the latter tastes best with the soy-and-chili blend.

For me, though, the real pleasure remains with the fish balls – the undisputed king of street food in my book.

In Which Oysters are Transformed Into Pure, Decadent Indulgence…

Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters are a food with one hell of a reputation.  Since ancient times, they have been considered an aphrodisiac, a means of boosting human ardour and prowess in bedroom gymnastics.  While there has been no true scientific information with which to back this up, it is a belief that remains with us in the 21st Century.  Oysters, nevertheless, are highly nutritious bivalves, seeing how they are rich in such essential nutrients as zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, and Vitamins A and B12.  Ideally, to get the most out of the nutritive value, oysters should be eaten raw in a manner that has not changed since the days of the Roman Empire: shucked straight out of their gnarly shells, a squeeze of fresh lemon drizzled over, and eaten with abandon with bread and beer.

Over the centuries, of course, the notion of eating oysters has changed with various culinary trends and local customs.  That said, I personally find that the most appealing way of devouring oysters has to be if and when they’re prepared as oysters Rockefeller.

The name of the dish comes from the delighted exclamation of a diner who tried the dish at Antoine’s in New Orleans where it was first prepared by the proprietor’s son in 1899.  A patron was so taken by how the oysters were smothered with spinach puree, sauce bechamel, and crispy breadcrumbs that he declared, “These oysters are as rich as Rockefeller”, alluding to legendary magnate John D. Rockefeller.  As a result, the name stuck.

The best place, in my opinion, to have oysters Rockefeller in this part of the world is at any of the Via Mare chain of restaurants.  Here, fresh oysters are smothered in a magnificently decadent sauce bechamel.  The classic white sauce is further enriched by the addition of grated Cheddar cheese, crisp bacon bits, and finely-chopped spinach.  It is a divine blend of flavours that does not drown out the minerally taste of the shellfish; indeed, it amps it up and you get a well-balanced mouthful of salty creaminess with the pleasantly ferrous tang of the oysters.  An eight-piece serving of this classic dish will set you back just P 345.00 and they show up on an almost volcanically platter, resting on a bed of sea salt.  It is perfect for sharing and, as above, is a fitting side dish or appetizer to a meal featuring such Filipino classics as beef tripe kare-kare and arroz ala Cubana, but I prefer to have these as an entree following Via Mare’s equally delectable Caesar Salad.

Cafe Via Mare: 2nd Floor – The Landmark Department Store, Ayala Center, Makati City

Via Mare Oyster Bar: Ground Floor – Greenbelt III, Ayala Center, Makati City

In Which One Has Tea with Lemon in a More Enjoyable Frozen Form…

Gelatoooooooo!

Gelatoooooooo!

The combination of tea and lemon is a classic mix of tastes, a refreshing pair of flavours that tastes as good cold (as in iced tea or Southern sweet tea) as it does hot.  I was thinking of this combo when I found myself standing before the gelato counter at Caffe Bene, dithering over whether I was going to get coffee, tea, or something more indulgent for a post-lunch treat.  Among the tubs freezing in the display case were blueberry, yogurt, chocolate, espresso, green tea, and lemon.  One look was all it took and a doppio featuring a scoop of green tea topped with a scoop of lemon was soon in my hands.

The lemon gelato was like a cross between a granita made with sweetened lemon juice and a gelato (that said, I daresay it would be best described as a sorbetto al limone) in the sense that you get a bright lemony flavour with a pleasant tang in a soft ice that is more milky than creamy.  It was like eating a light, frozen scoop of proper lemon curd – so much so, in fact, that I wanted to buy a pint of the stuff to serve in puff pastry shells; it’d be like a summery version of a tarte au citron.  But, I digress…

A deep, rich, green below

A deep, rich, green below

The green tea gelato (gelato di tè verde) was just as dreamy: a deep green ice cream heady with Korean matcha (Caffe Bene is, despite its molto Italiano name, a Korean franchise) with its herby, nutty aroma.  It was perfectly bittersweet: the tannic bitterness of the tea was balanced by sweet cream.  The melty parts were lush and creamy, while the more solid parts had a bit of a chew to them that was most pleasant.

Eaten individually, these ice creams were delicious.  Eaten together, on the other hand, and they were sublime.  The sweet-tart lemon was an excellent counterpoint to the bittersweet green tea.  It was also a play on textures with the lighter, milkier lemon balancing the creamy lushness of the green tea below.  It’s like a classic cup of afternoon tea, only in a more indulgent form.

Caffe Bene: Ground Floor – SM BF, Sucat Road, Paranaque City (with branches in other parts of the NCR)

In Which the Iced Belgian Chocolate was Just Bloody Magnificent…

Something hot...

Something hot…

Interesting sign, eh?  Blenz Coffee recently opened a branch on the ground floor of the BDO North Tower in Makati which is on my daily route from the office to the bus stop – and it was a rather timely opening, seeing how I seriously needed a good cuppa comfort on the way home one evening.

I love Blenz for its matcha lattes, but the sign on one of the walls when I entered the cafe grabbed me in a major way because that Belgian Hot Chocolate looked so utterly tempting!  Plus, I saw someone else order a hot choc while waiting my turn at the counter – oh, and such a hot chocolate!  Almost as thick as molten ganache (hell, I could have sworn it was ganache!), a spoon-coating richness that no powdered mix or artificially-flavoured syrup could ever match.  I wanted one…except it was an incredibly warm evening and I was wilting in the heat!

Fortunately, Blenz has an equally nefarious, so too wicked alternative: the iced Belgian chocolate.

Believe me, it's bigger than it looks and delivers a serious chocolate hit...

Believe me, it’s bigger than it looks and delivers a serious chocolate hit…

If you’ve heard of the frozen hot chocolate over at New York’s Serendipity 3, this is as close as you’ll get to it in the tropics.  It is, essentially, the Belgian hot chocolate poured over ice and topped with a billowy cloud of whipped cream and dusted over with crushed milk chocolate.  (I’m thinking at this point that it’s the sort of description that doesn’t seem to do the drink justice…)

When you order an iced Belgian chocolate (P 180.00 for a whopping large tumbler), the barista will ask you if you would prefer dark, milk, or white chocolate in your drink.  I don’t know about all the rest of you – Laird known that I know a lot of tender-tongued pansies who would prefer the milk chocolate – but I told the barista to make mine “as dark as possible”, as decadently, deliciously dark as they could make it.  Most baristas would probably blink at this, but the one who served me that evening threw me a knowing smirk.

I was asked to wait for a bit while they made my drink – about five to six minutes, tops.  It was well worth the wait; I was not disappointed.

More like: 'This beverage is EXTREMELY delicious'

More like: ‘This beverage is EXTREMELY delicious’

If you love hot chocolate, chocolate milkshakes, or just plain chocolate milk, this is definitely the gold standard for it.  The people at Blenz stir a Belgian dark chocolate ganache into warmed whole milk and pour it over just enough ice to cool it to the wonted side of cold and delightfully frosty.

It is a rich bastard, if you’ll excuse my French, of a milkshake: the milk and the ice do little to take the edge off the dusky, smoky bittersweetness of the chocolate melted into the drink.  You get a proper chocolatey hit with each sip, no questions asked.  You have to keep stirring it from time to time to make sure that the chocolate doesn’t settle and go all stodgy and sludgy at the bottom of the cup, but this extra bit of effort makes it worth it.

With the rains pouring again, I might succumb to the temptation of the hot version.  But, while the hot weather still holds sway, keeping it iced is the only way to go.  :D