In Which Corn Snacks Take on the Flavour of Honey Butter…

It says salted butter and honey on the label; sign me up!
It says honey butter on the label; sign me up!

The combination of butter and honey is something I find irresistibly appealing.  It’s the sort of flavour combination I enjoy when it soaks into fluffy golden breakfast pancakes, when it melts within a hot, split pan de sal or a toasted English muffin.  I’ll even go out on a limb and say it also works on a hot croissant.  (Butter on butter?  Yes, please!)  So when I saw these honey-butter flavoured Kko Kkal Corn snacks from Korea’s Lotte, I just had to grab a bag.

The honey butter Kko KKal Corn is actually just one of a number of snacks introduced to the Korean market earlier this year, hot on the heels of the honey butter craze that swept that part of the world.  I mean, really: everything in the SoKor snack market seemed to smack of honey butter: potato crisps, French fries, crackers, puff pastry leaf pies – name it and it came in golden yellow packaging that released a puff of a honey-ish aroma once opened.

Not much to look at, but these are delish...
Not much to look at, but these are delish…

If you love the taste of salted butter caramel, you’ll love these.  These aren’t much to look at, but they are deliciously addictive.  Not too sweet, just enough salt to grab your palate; crunchy and totally noshable.  If you’re a popcorn junkie like I am, this will remind you of sweet-salty kettle-popped corn.  Definitely a snack to consider the next time you go to the movies – or just about anytime.  :)

In Which There is Chocolate Milk – for Grownups…

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Anyone up for chocolate milk?

A few months ago, a friend who relocated to New Zealand made the whole boiling lot of us green with envy when she posted pictures of herself drinking Whittaker’s Chocolate Milk.  “The nectar of the gods,” she called it.  “Pure, glorious gluttony in a bottle.”

“We need to get our grubby little paws on that stuff,” I declared to another chocoholic friend.

“But how?” she exclaimed back.  “I don’t think anyone imports the stuff to the Philippines!”

Well, there you go.  But, hey: all good things come to those who wait.  Sure enough, even if the folks at Whittaker’s still haven’t caught on to the massive craving for chocolate milk in this part of the world, someone else managed to beat them to the punch: Cocio.

Cocio is a Danish dairy brand that does chocolate milk in two ways: classic and dark.  A company that believes in the purity and quality of their ingredients, they make it a point to state rather succinctly that all you get in the bottle is cocoa, milk, and sugar – and believe me when I say that is is never as sweet as the more popular commercial brands here in the Philippines.

This is anything but your average, garden variety “chocolate” milk.  Think of a just-made ganache, only thinner, drinkable but every bit as rich as the kind you use for fondue or for frosting decadent chocolate cakes.  The dark variant, in particular, has the wonted bittersweetness of very good chocolate; a 60% or 65% cocoa solids mix, I daresay.  Frankly speaking, it tastes like proper chocolate truffles: a hint of smokiness overlaying the interplay of bitter and sweet.  Oh, so good…

At P 75.00 per bottle, though, it isn’t exactly something you’d drink everyday even for the sake of all that calcium in the fresh Danish milk.  (And, oh,  the calories; goodbye, waistline!)  But it’s the sort of thing you need for cheering up and indulging yourself: a taste of childhood all grown up.  ;)

In Which the Blogger Celebrates Her Birthday by Launching a Long-delayed Book…

And so it begins...
And so it begins…

“Just don’t forget to give more time to the things you love doing most,” the person whom I consider my best friend said on the day I started my advertising job in the BGC.  And by “the things you love doing the most”, he was specifically referring to my writing.

A lot of things have happened since that September morning.  Campaigns and advertorials were planned and implemented at the office; promotional and sales activations were done and dealt with.  The person who told me to give more time to the things I love most released his album and is currently on tour.  In between, there have been Monday night gigs in Makati; kitchen experiments that have run the gamut from homemade granola to choux pastry; and there have been scraps of stories drafted along with the poems that made their way into my first volume of published poetry.

Have coffee, will write.
Have coffee, will write.

A Jar of Starlight is something of an impulse project.  Following all the rejection notices I received for my novel The Rebirth of Meras: Exodus, I kind of lost my faith in myself as a storyteller.  While this cast something of a serious damper over all those story drafts I had in mind, it prompted me into doing something I’ve totally balked at for an extremely long time: poetry.  I found myself scribbling and posting verses; some accompanied by pictures, seeing how I’d gotten into the habit of snapping photos whenever something caught my fancy.  (Have camera, will write.)

One thing led to another: getting accounts for Booktango and Scribd; actually running off to the National Library to file for a copyright.  There was the process of writing and rewriting; editing and proofreading; selecting which photographs were best suited to the work.  Ask my family and they will tell you that I chose to spend Sunday afternoons at home wrestling with a manuscript instead of having fun.  Ask my friends and they will tell you about how I would spend the time prior to a Monday night gig scribbling into one notebook or another with a bottle of Cerveza Negra close at hand.  Otherwise, I would spend Saturdays alone – again with a notebook – and write between sips of a flat white, maybe a bite or two of a chocolate chip cookie.

I don’t quite remember what prompted me to compile my favourite poems into a book and I probably never will.  Indeed, I’m still hankering to publish a full novel or even a cookbook.  But I think there is always a reason behind the things that happen to us; we may not see those reasons at once, but they become clear with the passage of time – and fears are assuaged, confidence rises; one finds the strength within to keep moving forward.

I am thirty-nine today; a bit long in tooth and claw to be starting out, but it is, I hope, as good a beginning as any.  And I hope, dear readers, you’ll stick around for more adventures – culinary and literary – as the years go by.  As my best friend says, perhaps – yes – I am better off devoting more time to the things, to the work that I love.

And so:

A Jar of Starlight: A Glimpse into Visions and Verses, the preview to the full 70-poem compilation, is now online via Scribd.  Note that this features ten poems from the collection and is currently free to download.  The full version – an ebook – goes on sale online beginning next Thursday, 01st October 2015.

That said, do take a peek, dear readers.  Bash on.  ;)

In Which There is a Bourbon-infused Pork Chop…

A Jack Daniels Chop with all the trimmings
A Jack Daniels Chop with all the trimmings

I haven’t been to ChopStop since I moved workplaces from Makati to the BGC.  There is a branch closer to where I live, of course, but I haven’t been inclined to go there for some reason.  So, when I finally decided to head there for a meal, I was pleasantly surprised to see new additions to its menu: bacon cracklings, nachos with all the trimmings, a burger slathered with a sweetly savoury bacon jam, pulled pork, Salisbury steaks, and pork or chicken chops slathered with a Jack Daniels-laced barbecue sauce.  After seeing that, I knew I just had to try it out.

You are given the option of getting a single chop plate (PhP 119.00) or a two-chop (PhP 169.00), a choice between nachos and buttered veg, and the option to grab an iced tea for an additional ten bucks.  I went with the single pork chop option as shown here with nachos.

While ChopStop’s chops are consistently good with properly seasoned, properly cooked, and tender meat, my sole issue has always been the thickness of the breading that coats it.  Not this time, though: here the coating was thin and crispy, enveloping a tender, nicely seasoned pork chop.  The Jack Daniels sauce was a good balance of sweet and fiery which complemented the peppery pork quite well without getting too sticky or overwhelming.  The nachos were pretty average, but they were hot and crunchy and the salsa added a sharp, piquant contrast.

I daresay I’m hankering for this as I write this particular entry; next time, I think I’d better get two chops and a frozen margarita for good measure.  ;)

ChopStop McKinley Exchange: Ground Floor – McKinley Exchange, corner of EDSA and McKinley Road, Makati


In Which the Blogger Attempts a Coffee Chiffon Cake…

Batter in the tin...
Batter in the tin…

It never feels nice to be compared to others.  It makes you feel so inadequate, so inept, and so worthless.  In my case, it is something I’ve had to live with for almost my entire life.  While I was growing up, I would be compared to one of my cousins who could play the piano and went to the University of the Philippines; said cousin also got called upon to be a sagala for the traditional Maytime Flores de Mayo (flower festivals in honour of the Blessed Virgin).  I was always made to feel ugly and stupid; never intelligent enough…never good enough for anything.

But, if there is anything that I can do that my cousin probably can’t in order to save her life, it would have to be writing, cooking, and baking.  And, of late, I’ve become more daring with regard to the latter.

Bite of cake?
Bite of cake?

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis are aware of that the projects I have been doing lately are starting to get a little more elaborate.  There was the Japanese cheesecake.  And then there were cream puffs – a feat I intend to follow up with gougeres soon enough, or probably a batch of crispy, deep-fried churros.  And, of course, chiffon cakes.

My mother’s orange chiffon is the standard against I judge my own and, according to her, mine is every bit as good.  However, the toughest act to follow along these lines is my grandmother’s recipe for coffee chiffon cake.

The way my grandmother used to describe it when she was alive was mouth-watering enough: a  light chiffon sponge flavoured with instant coffee (Nescafe was the brand of choice in those days) and slathered on top with condensed milk flavoured with more instant coffee before serving.  It was a treat she would serve more as an afternoon snack rather than a dessert.  (Hopefully not with any more coffee; I don’t think anyone would’ve slept after all that caffeine!)

Since my grandmother died in early 1998, no one in the family has dared to bake a coffee chiffon.  Well, until now.

Slice up and serve
Slice up and serve

I cannot, as yet, disclose my recipe for a coffee chiffon.  Truth be told, mine was rather dense (moist, though) rather than properly fluffy.  It was, nevertheless, richly flavoured and satisfying.  Probably not as good – as yet – as my grandmother’s, but it’s getting there.

And, at least, it only proves that I am good for something.  And, in this case, I am – for once – incomparable to anyone else in the family.

In Which One Bakes a Bit of Sunshine…

It all starts with dried mangoes.
It all starts with dried mangoes.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like dried mangoes.  There is just something irresistible about the taste, aroma, and texture that has made them a popular snack imported straight out of Cebu in the southern part of the country.  While dried mangoes are great for noshing on their own, they can also add a little oomph to desserts and can also throw in some extra nutrition for the benefit of those who are more fitness-inclined.

That said, I hit upon the idea of tweaking one of my blondie-bar recipes, giving it a healthy twist through the addition of dried mangoes, nuts, and some honey-roasted sunflower seeds..  The end result was a brightly-flavoured, snackable bar-cookie that was definitely on the wholesome side.

Note that these are flavoured with lemon extract and spiced up with ginger and cardamom, two spices traditionally used in mango-centric desserts in Indian cookery.  If spices aren’t your thing, feel free not to use them.  Nevertheless, spices or no spices at all, these are great for toting along on hikes and picnics, as well as nibbling alongside your afternoon cup of tea.

Healthier than most bar cookies...and that's not a bad thing at all.
Healthier than most bar cookies…and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Sunshine Blondies

  • 1 – 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 – 1/2 cups rolled or quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed nuts
  • 1 packet honey-roasted sunflower kernels
  • 200 grams dried mango, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon flavouring
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 2 eggs

Cream together the butter, margarine, and sugars  Add the eggs, lemon flavouring, spices (if you’re using them), and baking soda; mix till well blended.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well-combined.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.  Grease and line a large rectangular cake tin and evenly press in the dough.

Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes approximately 64 bars.

In Which There is a French Pastry for One…

La Gourmandise
La Gourmandise

I have a confession to make: puff pastry is one of my guilty pleasures.  I am absolutely mad about the texture – so crisp and flaky on the outside, so moreishly tender within; the rich, buttery flavour is something I crave for from time to time.  There is just something about pastries made with luscious dough laminated all throughout with the richness of pure butter.  Sure, they’re absolutely calorific; sure, they wreak havoc upon your waistline – but, sod it: give me puff pastry or suffer the consequences!

That said, one particular indulgence I love every once in a while is a gourmandise from the local franchise of popular Parisian patisserie/boulangerie Paul.  The gourmandise is a pastry standard, I think, to all branches of the patisserie throughout the world.  In substance, it is a sheet of puff pastry folded over or sandwiched around a filling of rich, custardy, vanilla-infused creme patisserie and a more than generous scattering of dark chocolate morsels throughout that custard-bellied middle.

This is the sort of pastry that sends shivers down my spine, I kid you not.  You bite through the buttery crispness of the surface and sink your teeth into the custardy centre, the vanilla middle rich, creamy, and subtly sweet.  The dark chocolate seems to punctuate it, spots of a rich bittersweetness against the silky creme.

It’s not the sort of thing you’d nosh on everyday, but it’s just the thing you need when you want something rich and indulgent to get you through the afternoon.