Posted in Drinkables, Uncategorized

In Which We Have an Evening with a Mixologist…

Swiss mixologist Tasha Lu and three signature cocktails

“Do you drink gin?” my colleague asked on a Tuesday afternoon just as things were winding down for the day.

“Sure I do,” I replied.  Truth be told: gin is something like a personal introduction to alcohol for me.  I remember stealing sips of my dad’s or my paternal grandfather’s gin and tonic when I was very young.  But there’s a family joke that, to quieten my kicking in my mother’s womb, my mom had to down a G&T to shut me up…so I guess you could say gin and I go a way back – a long way back, actually.

When I was in college, I’d volunteer to sample gin cocktails whipped up by the HRM upperclassmen who were like big brothers to me.  Whenever they were prepping for an exam in bartending (yes, there is a university class for bartending!), the way they muttered the names of each cocktail was like listening to a litany of sublime – and somewhat forbidden – delights: gimlets, martinis, Singapore slings, lime rickeys, Negronis…  Unfortunately, by the time all my on-campus big brothers graduated, their successors – my batchmates and those a year or so behind me – were mad about mixing gin with instant grapefruit drink powder to make the infamous pseudo-cocktail gin pomelo.  Needless to say that I washed my hands of the lot.

But back to the present: aforementioned colleague invited me to come along for a mixology event for Hendrick’s Gin at the Makati Shangri-La featuring mixologist Tasha Lu, the product’s brand ambassador for the Asian region.  This fun, fabulous femme regaled us and everyone at the bar with three amazing cocktails.

Hendrick’s, before I go on, is a gin with a twist.  Aside from the traditional mix of juniper and other botanicals, this particular distillate features Bulgarian roses and English cucumber to add a deliciously floral nuance with a fresh bite.  As a result, this is a gin that lends itself to getting mixed with both strong and subtle flavours to add an innovative punch to traditional cocktails.

Gin Garden

First up: the fresh-tasting gin garden.  This cocktail features Hendrick’s gin shaken with fresh pineapple juice, torn cilantro [green coriander], lime juice, egg white, and a dash of cracked black pepper.  It is a bright, refreshing drink: sweet but not cloyingly so, sharp without ripping a hole down your throat.  The addition of black pepper at the end brings out the floral character of the base alcohol and adds a spicy, exotic aroma.

Fairy Tale

The fairy tale is a very girly concoction that will probably go well with ladies who sip Cosmopolitans.  It’s a bright pink drink that combines the gin with a roasted juniper infusion and a poached rhubarb shrub; a dash of simple syrup adds a tad more sweetness and a rose petal is used as a garnish.

It’s a touch too sweet for me; personally, the simple syrup is overkill on my tastebuds.  But I can see this cocktail’s appeal for those who don’t care much for the taste of gin.  Nevertheless, it’s quite tasty and dangerously easy to drink…if you have a killer sweet tooth.

Ultimate Negroni #2

But Lu’s ultimate Negroni #2 was, hands-down, my favourite drink of the night.  This bittersweet sipper features Hendrick’s gin and a host of bitter and sweet mix-ins.  Along with the bitter Campari and sweet red vermouth that make up the traditional Negroni with the gin, Lu tossed in splashes of Aperol, an Italian aperitif made with bitter orange and rhubarb, as well as that infamous amaro Fernet-Branca.  Served over ice, this spin on the Negroni gives drinkers an additional dash of drama by appearing with a torched and glowing stick of cinnamon lightly resting on the rim of the glass as a stirrer.

Perfectly balanced, I consider this a great drink with which to unwind with friends at the end of the day.

I guess, for all intents and purposes, I’ll always be a gin girl.

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, Uncategorized

In Which We Talk About Tenderloin…

USDA Beef Tenderloin…with all the trimmings

It goes without saying that a good steak is one of the finest dining pleasures in the world.  And by “steak” I mean a prime piece of beef: not pork, not chicken, not fish, and definitely not that horrendous slab of plant-based detritus the vegan terrorists are trying to talk us into eating.  No, a proper, bloody steak.

When cooking at home, the cut of choice is a proper rib-eye: gorgeously marbled, preferably bone-in, meltingly tender, and cooks to a wonted medium in minutes on a very hot grill pan.  When dining out, however, a filet mignon is just the thing to suit beefy cravings when one is feeling indulgent.  And, once in a blue moon when nice dinner invites are accepted, there’s proper tenderloin.

Come to momma…

A tenderloin is found on the lower back of the animal, usually the portion closest to the kidneys.  In traditional butchering, the cut is further divided into three: the butt end which is shaved for carpaccio, the tail end which is minced fine for steak tartare and beef Stroganoff, and the eye from which the actual steaks are cut.

A tenderloin steak is at its best if cooked rare to medium rare: that way, you get the full impact of the ferrous tang of the meat tempered by the rich, buttery fat.  Any more and you’ve needlessly toughened up the meat.  Also: real gourmets know that a lean tenderloin is a curse against both God and humanity – what the hell is wrong with all those lean meat junkies?!  You need that fat for flavour, for the love of everything holy!

Truth be told, a good tenderloin needs but a good sprinkling of salt, a faint dusting of pepper, and a small knob of butter melting upon its still-steaming, nicely charred surface.  Mashed potatoes are a must, buttered veg is de rigueur.  Truffle butter – or any other flavoured butter – is a matter of personal taste.  But I say: bring it on, et laissez les bon temps rouler.

Oh, and a proper red is just the thing to wash it down.

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia

In Which a Yankee Classic Gets a Korean Upgrade…

Yankee lunch – Korean-style

hotdog and fries would have to be a classic combination for many of us.  There is just something about a sausage-in-a-bun paired with deep-fried spuds that seems to satisfy some sort of primal craving we have.

The standard version of this is good enough for most, but for those of us who want something more substantial – and certainly more spectacular – Bon Chon has something that’s right up our alley.

Bacon-Kimchi Ko-dog

Bon Chon’s Ko-dog is a game-changer in the sense that it’s a chicken sausage rather than one made with beef.  It makes for a lighter yet equally savoury flavour and a firm texture.

But what really sets it apart is that, like the bulk of Bon Chon’s fish and fowl menu, the spiral-cut ‘dog is dunked in batter and fried till incredibly crunchy before being drizzled over with bulgogi sauce and topped with your choice of either cheese sauce and crushed shoestring potatoes or crumbled bacon and finely shredded kimchi.

I say: go for the latter as it calls to mind budae jjigae, the anything-goes Korean stew that features sausages and Spam cooked with noodles in a kimchi-laced broth.  It’s all spicy and sweet and crunchy; definitely moreish in my book.


I suggest you also pay a little extra to further embellish your meal with the glorious bowl of carbo-loaded fun that is Bon Chon’s Bibimfries.

This dish takes the concept of bibimbap and turns it on its head.  Thick-cut, skin-on spuds are deep-fried before getting doused with ranch and cheese sauces and scattered all over with crispy fried-chicken-skin crumbs and shredded kimchi.  Not something for everyday, but it works as an indulgence with an Oriental spin.


Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

In Which the Blogger Comes Back…

Butter Corn Ramen

I’ve been busy.

That’s the only excuse I can give my dear readers: I’ve been busy.  Very much so, as a matter of fact.  So much, in fact, that I totally didn’t post anything in September, birthday post included.  I think I needed time to get back in sync, find myself, and start over.  The bulk of 2016 from February to mid-August had to be one of the most traumatic times – if not the most traumatic time – in my life.  Suffice it to say that I am breathing easier now…plus, a surprise opportunity pretty much hauled me out of freelancing and right into a field I’ve always hankered to get into: lifestyle journalism.

But, now: for some food – and serious comfort food at that: ramen, specifically.

A recent grocery shopping trip led me to River Park, the most recent addition to the currently expanding Festival Supermall in Alabang.  There are a number of interesting new restaurants, but the one I specifically wanted to try was Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi.

Fill up my bowl, o-negai shimasu!

 A branch of a Tokyo-based chain, Bangaichi’s local franchise is held by the same group that runs the Vietnamese chain Pho Hoa.  Keeping this in mind, one should not be surprised that the back of the large menu card offers Vietnamese dishes.  But, while I’ve become a phobun cha, and banh mi fan, I’m not here for Indochinese flavours: I’m here for the ramen!

And a rather large and satisfying bowl of ramen, as a matter of fact.  Bangaichi’s butter corn shoyu ramen (Php 340.00) is loaded up with al dente wheat noodles in a rich, slightly porky, wonderfully umami soy-based broth.  A knob of butter melting in the hot soup adds a subtle richness that goes beautifully with bright yellow sweetcorn kernels, slivers of slightly tart menma (salt-pickled bamboo shoots), and fresh-tasting wakame seaweed.  The bowl also comes with two generous slices of chashu pork: prettily charred around the edges with the char adding a welcome and somewhat nutty bitterness to the sweet, fatty meat.

Soup’s all gone; now for the good stuff…

Call me silly, but my way of eating ramen involves sipping down all the broth before getting down to the noodles et les accoutrements.  Once the broth is gone, I sprinkle in some shichimi togarashi for a fiery accent and grind in toasted sesame for some nutty oomph.  Toss everything together, and I am a happy camper.

How does this compare to the Sapporo Corn Ramen at, say, Shinjuku Ramen?  Not bad, really; while it does not have the almost electric funk of the Shinjuku version (which has a touch of garlic to throw things for a loop), Bangaichi’s corn ramen holds its own very well and definitely is something to come back for on a rainy afternoon.

Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi – River Park, Festival Supermall, Alabang, Muntinlupa

Posted in Home Cooking, The Flavors of Asia, The Well-read Foodie

In Which the Blogger takes on a Chinese Eggplant Dish…

So fiddly to make, but definitely worth it

It’s one of those days: the newly-minted freelance writer has just a bare minimum of professional writing to do, the help has gone on her annual fortnight-long vacation out of town; it’s been raining buckets, and one is in a quandary as to what to cook for dinner tonight.

And so…

“I’m heading out to do a cake delivery,” I told my sister yesterday.  “Might head to the supermarket to get some ingredients.  Three-cups chicken okay with you?”

My sister considered this for a bit and said, “No, but could you try cooking stuffed eggplant instead?”

Stuffed eggplant in this case is not the fabled imam bayildi of Arabic cuisine or the melitzanes papoutsakia of Greek cuisine.  No: it’s actually jiān niàng qiézi [煎釀茄子], a type of dimsum served at many restaurants specializing in Cantonese cuisine.

In this case, the slimmer purple Asian eggplants are cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks that are partly split through the middle and filled with a prawn forcemeat.  The stuffed chunks are first fried, then steamed and served with a sauce compounded from garlic, sesame oil, and oyster sauce.  In some recipes, the process is reversed: the stuffed eggplant is first steamed and then fried.  However, the fry-then-steam process works for me, so I stuck to that.

Whichever method you choose, though, the end result is a rich-tasting dish that works better as a main course rather than a dimsum tidbit.  Serve this with a large bowl of steaming hot rice to add scrumptious comfort to cold, stormy evenings.

The recipe I used was adapted from the one featured on The Woks of Life.  But because several family members are allergic to crustaceans, mine features an all-pork filling and uses the more pungent black rather than white pepper; the filling also featured a tablespoon of rendered lard.  Believe me when I say it adds the right amount of punch, loads of flavor, and a much-appreciated richness.

The authors of the original recipe say you can skip stuffing the eggplant all together and use veg stock to make this vegan-friendly.  But, given my general aversion towards vegans, – who, I’m sorry to say, are the biggest hypocrites in both a political and a culinary sense – why mess with a good thing if you don’t have to?  Oh, but feel free to replace the pork with minced white fish or ground chicken; I don’t recommend doing this with beef or lamb, though.

(Oh, and according to my sister, this dish tastes every bit as good cold and eaten for breakfast the day after.)

Stuffed Eggplant

For the Stuffed Eggplant:

  • 4 medium-sized Asian eggplants, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
  • 1/4 kilo ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon rendered lard or bacon fat or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped + additional 2 spring onions, also finely chopped
  • generous dash of black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine or mirin
  • Additional 2 tablespoons lard for frying

For the Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 chicken or pork bouillon cube
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • ground black pepper to taste

Slit the eggplant chunks lengthwise through the middle, but do not cut all the way through.  Just leave enough to form a hinge on one side.  Set aside.

Combine all the remaining ingredients for the stuffing until a rough paste is formed.  Stuff the prepared eggplant with about 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons of filling per piece.  Chill for at least 10 minutes.

Heat the additional lard in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Fry the chilled eggplant until browned on both sides; place the pieces in a heat-proof bowl that can fit comfortably in a steamer.  Place three cups of water into the lower chamber of a steamer and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Lower heat to a simmer and place the bowl of eggplant chunks in the upper chamber.  Cover and steam for 10-15 minutes.

While the eggplant is cooking, make the sauce.  In a pan over medium heat, saute the minced garlic in 1 tablespoon of lard and the sesame oil until fragrant.  Add the bouillon cube, oyster sauce, and soy sauce.  Cook until the cube has dissolved.  Add the water, stir, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and add the cornstarch slurry; cook until slightly thickened.

Remove the cooked eggplant from the steamer and pour any juices in the bowl into the sauce; stir well.  Put the eggplant in a serving dish, drizzle with the sauce; scatter over the remaining spring onions.

Serves 6.

Posted in Home Baking, Sweets for the Sweet, The Well-read Foodie

In Which One Bakes a Proper Red Velvet Cake…

In the tin

Red velvet cake is something of a pseudo-tradition in my family because my sister always asks for something similar to it for her birthday.

The first time she asked for one resulted in a deep purple dessert dubbed the Sky at Dusk because it was the color of a night sky and decorated with stars cut out of cake trimmings on top of a lemon cheesecake frosting.  This would eventually be followed by the much-darker imperial velvet cake and other similar treats.

And finally, this: a real red velvet cake.

Ready to serve

And not just any red velvet cake, mind you: this monster is a chocolate red velvet cake.

The average red velvet cake is, pretty much, a butter cake loaded with red food coloring.  However, the original red velvet is a cocoa-flavored butter cake that took its characteristic maroon hue from the chemical reaction between acidic buttermilk and the more alkaline cocoa powder.  Unfortunately, many modern red velvet cake recipes add just a smidgen (two tablespoons or less) of cocoa and load up on food coloring; not cool, if you ask me.

Mine is adapted from the one from the Hershey’s Kitchen – but has the added advantage of a quarter-cup of chocolate chips tossed into the deep red batter before baking.  Thus, this one has ample chocolate flavor and is considerably richer and more satisfying than the red velvet cake you’d pick up from some commercial bakery.  Add the fact that the icing on this particular cake is a caramel cream cheese frosting, it was a cake that definitely put a smile on my sister’s face on her special day.

And, believe me when I say this is guaranteed to make you smile, too.

Sheer and absolute delight in every bite

Chocolate Red Velvet Cake

For the Cake:

  • 1/2 cup vanilla-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup buttermilk or 1 tablespoon vinegar + enough milk to yield 1 cup total liquid
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the Frosting:

  • 1 bar (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup caramel-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup icing or confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Grease and flour a standard-sized regular Bundt or fluted Bundt pan.

Cream together the vanilla margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, cocoa powder, and vanilla; mix well.  Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Tip half the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.  Mix well and pour in half the buttermilk; mix until well combined.  Tip in the rest of the flour mixture and blend well with the rest of the buttermilk until a smooth batter is achieved.  Stir in the food coloring and mix until well-incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake 55 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting.  Using a hand-held mixture at medium speed, whip together all the ingredients until soft peaks form.  Chill for at least 15 minutes.

Remove the baked cake from the pan and set onto a serving plate, reserving any crumbs.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.  Top the frosted cake with any reserved crumbs.

Serves 12…just.  ;)



Posted in Sweets for the Sweet

In Which There is DIY Ice Cream for Milo-holics…

Cream, condensed milk, Milo…

I grew up drinking Milo, Nestle’s malted chocolate milk drink.  Well, to be exact, I grew up eating Milo – scooping up the powder with a tablespoon and scoffing the lot with impunity.

As I grew older, though, Milo became a running gag in my life on account of the infamous Milo biscuit episode of my years in college.  Fortunately, that incident has mellowed into a funny memory and I have moved on to using Milo for better desserts that are a lot gentler on teeth.

Yes, there’s a Milo packet there.

Case in point, this nifty malted chocolate ice cream.

This no-churn wonder is flavored with Milo for a gloriously dreamy cream ice that is richly chocolaty despite its rather pale beige appearance.  I threw in another childhood treat – Kit Kats – to make it even more decadent.

I like to think of this recipe as all your guilty childhood pleasures all grown up and skirting just the very edge of divine decadence.

Mind you: this is going to be a lot richer than your usual ice cream, so keep servings modest.

Have a scoop…or two.

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy or all-purpose cream
  • 1 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup Milo
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 four-finger Kit Kat bars, diced

Whisk together the cream, condensed milk, vanilla, and Milo.  Pour into a covered container and freeze for 1 – 2 hours.

Remove the semi-frozen mixture from its container and place in a large mixing bowl.  Using a hand-mixer, whisk at highest speed until at least double in volume or until soft peaks form.  Fold in the diced Kit Kats and scrape into a covered container.  Freeze at least six hours or overnight.

Serves 12.