In Which Soda Turns a Patriotic Shade of Blue…

It's BLUE!

Pepsi Blue is one of the most intriguing beverages ever to make it in the Philippine market for the simple reason that it looks so darned unusual.

Its first incarnation was as part of the limited edition Pepsi Fire and Ice set offered during the Christmas Season about a decade ago.  The Fire variant was a scarlet-tinged, cinnamon-flavored cola; the Ice was a vivid blue soda whose appearance was somewhat at odds with its flavors of cola and peppermint.  Still, Pepsi Ice proved to be more popular than its warmer-colored counterpart – and it was almost always sold out wherever I went to look for it.

Over the years, Pepsi Ice and its non-peppermint successor Pepsi Blue have made periodic appearances on supermarket and convenience store shelves.  Its most recent incarnation is currently available exclusively at local 7-11 stores in time for Independence Day on June 12th – this time as Pepsi Pinas.

The drink gets its name from the Filipino translation of the country’s name: Pilipinas.  In keeping with the nationalistic theme, the label sports several Philippine icons: the monkey-eating eagle, a jeepney, a map of the Philippines, the three stars and the eight-rayed sun of the flag, and even a sorbetes cart (the ornately decorated vendor’s carts for hand-made ice creams).

Taste-wise, it’s nothing to write about; I mean, it is cola-flavored, after all.  But, for a patriotic novelty, it actually works.

In Which Dad’s Recipe is Featured…

Sliced sausage, tomato sauce...

I’ve mentioned several times that my father would sometimes do the cooking whenever he feels like it.  (Which is, of course, rarely)  Most of the time, this would result in some tasty breakfasts.  Even rarely, his Kapampangan-inspired pinakbet made deliciously fragrant with lashings of bagoong alamang.  And then there’s this dish which is almost deceptive in its simplicity.

For lack of a better name, he just called it hotdogs in tomato sauce – which pretty much sums up the bulk of the dish’s parts.  It’s simply sliced-up supermarket hotdogs (the red ones) sauteed with red onions, a bit of garlic, and given color and character by a generous helping of tomato sauce.

A throwback to my childhood…

I couldn’t help but think that, if Dad left the sausages unsliced, the dish would be similar to the one on the cover of my mother’s really old cookbook Better Homes and Gardens’ Jiffy Cooking (it’s really old; Mom had it before she got married!) which features a skillet of sausages cooked in a tomato sauce.  However, I double checked the recipe from the book and saw that it used tomato soup and powdered beef bouillon to add flavor and color to the sausages.

 Strangely enough, it became a fairly popular dish at our house.  Seriously, it’s quite versatile.  Left alone and served with cocktail picks on small plates, the dish becomes tapas for a round of drinks.  You can serve it over rice or over pasta.  You can even use it instead of conventional Sloppy Joe sauce for some incredibly hefty sandwiches.  Heck, I suppose you could also slather the stuff over leftover focaccia, top it with shredded cheese, and pop it into the toaster oven for some impromptu pizzas.

It’s the sort of dish that appeals to both kids and grown-ups, so it makes an excellent family meal.  And it’s also quite flexible: if you don’t have red hotdogs, then by all means use beef franks, cheesedogs, kosher franks, wienerli, schublig, and even cervelat.  Plus, the amounts stated below can be changed according to the number of people you’re serving.

Dad’s Saucy Franks

  • 6 medium hotdogs, sliced on the bias
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced finely
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 200g tomato sauce (the small retort pack or use a small can)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a skillet.  Add the sliced onion and cook till slightly softened.  Add the garlic and cook till brown.  Add the sliced hotdogs and cook for about a minute and a half.  Add the tomato sauce; stir and bring to a boil.  Add the sugar and season to taste.  Serve immediately.
Serves 6.

In Which We Kiss Summer Goodbye…

Halo-halo, anyone?

The sky outside looks gray and threatening, seeing how tropical storm Chedeng (International Name: Songda) has entered the country and is presently gaining strength.  However, the temp still continues hot and humid as the Victorians were wont to say, and this has caused no end of grief and annoyance to us city slickers.  Fortunately, there are ways by which to deal with the damned heat, ways by which we can kiss the hot season goodbye – and good riddance till next year!  (Ain’t it obvious how much I can’t stand the summer?)

Halo-halo has to be the best solution of all.  This classic Philippine cooler is pretty much a cross between a milkshake and a parfait in the sense that it involves layers of sweetened fruit and seeds enriched with a generous helping of either fresh or evaporated milk.  The whole concoction is chilled with generous scoops of shaved ice.  In which case, it is a “relative” of such Southeast Asian delights as ais kacang and ais cendol, the Vietnamese sinh tố, Japan’s kakigouri, and Korea’s pat bing su.

From a fast-food chain, yes, but certainly refreshing...

Halo-halo can be as simple or as elaborate as one may wish.  At Razon’s, that bastion of Kapampangan snacks and specialties, it is a simple mix of sweetened starchy [saba] bananas, shreds of young coconut meat, shaved ice, rich milk, and slices of leche flan (steamed creme caramel).  At other places, such as the Chowking chain, it can be a baroque confection made with layers of the following ingredients:

  • sweetened starchy bananas
  • jackfruit cooked in syrup
  • sweetened beans (red mung [adzuki] beans, white beans, chickpeas)
  • halayang ube (sweetened purple yam puree)
  • syrup-cooked sweet potato cubes (minatamis na kamote)
  • colored gelatin cubes
  • nata de coco
  • kaong (sweetened palm seeds)
  • leche flan
The whole thing is topped with a mound of shaved ice.  Milk is drizzled over and, to gild the lily, scoops of macapuno (rich coconut) and/or ube (purple yam) ice cream may be added on top.
Whichever way you may choose to enjoy this iced delight, it is most refreshing – and it’s definitely the best thing for saying goodbye to the summer.  😉

In Which My Brother and I Have an Exotic Lunch…

Colorful, flavorful biryanis

My sister and I go out together on an average of twice a month and it’s usually for Japanese food (lots of it) or gourmet burgers and bespoke fries (more about that in the next entry) and ice blended coffees.  My brother and I, on the other hand, hang out on an average of once in a blue moon due to his busy schedule (and yes, the Big Move is coming up this month).  But whenever we do manage to find the time to hang out, we usually find something exotic to eat.

Now, most of you regular readers know that I’ve blogged about the New Bombay Canteen several times already, but apparently my brother’s never been there – not even to its food court stall over at the Glorietta.  Seeing how our Singaporean stall of choice was closed (Whatever happened to Red Dot?!?) and we weren’t exactly in the mood for Mongolian bowls, Indian food was definitely the cuisine of choice.

Given the heat, however, we balked at ordering dishes based on either dairy products or coconut milk: so the mixed vegetable curry with its lentils and cauliflower was out along with the disturbingly green palak paneer (cheese cubes cooked in a spicy spinach puree).  Instead, we picked out two biryani plates as shown at the top of this post, the eggplant barta, my favorite vegetable samosas, a pair of chicken samosas, and a couple of large iced teas.

I’ve had NBC’s shrimp biryani before and was startled by the bright, savory, spicy flavors of the dish and the surprising amount of small prawns stirred into the fragrant rice, but we weren’t prepared for the surprises we dug out of the mutton and chicken biryanis.

The mutton was a shocking vermilion shade and was made a bit sweet by the addition of tomato sauce to the cooking broth.  Generous chunks of mutton were buried beneath the rice and each piece was spoon-tender – more like lamb than mutton – and seasoned so well that there was none of the gaminess usually associated with either lamb or mutton.

The chicken, on the other hand, was spiced with generous amounts of bright yellow turmeric, ginger, and sweet white onions.  A whole drumstick and a thigh were hidden beneath the rice and both were very tender and moreish.  Both rice dishes went well with the vivid green coriander sambal that was actually meant for the samosas.

Samosas!

As always, the vegetable samosas were excellent: the stodgy potato filling was spiced with crushed coriander seeds and given a nutty-twist with the addition of green peas and chickpeas.  The reddish brown tamarind ketchup was a must here.

I cannot, however, say the same for the chicken samosas.  These reminded me too much of deep-fried chicken empanadas as the ground chicken was dry and underspiced.  Plus, the flavor of the raisins overpowered just about everything else.

Roasted eggplant and okra barta

The eggplant barta was a new experience for both me and my brother.  We’ve had eggplant and okra in pinakbet.  We’ve grilled eggplant with lashings of bagoong and fried eggplant slices dribbled with a bit of patis.  We’ve even had steamed okra with bagoong or crushed and salted duck eggs.  But never in this manner:  both vegetable-fruits were roasted till good, charred, and smoky-tasting.  These were then stir-fried in a spicy gravy and topped with chopped spring onions.  It was very good and was excellent with the biryanis.

Food? WHAT food?!

My brother and I were afraid that we’d over-ordered, given how we didn’t expect to end up with so much food and drink for just P 475.00 (US$ 10.93).  As things went, however, we devoured everything happily – because it was all so good.  😀

In Which We Have One of My Mother’s Favorite Meals…

Hummus and flatbread

My mother is celebrating her birthday today and, in her honor, I’m posting snapshots of one of her favorite meals from California Pizza Kitchen: a simple spread of mezze, gorgeously mushroom-y pizzas, and hearty salads all washed down with lemon or raspberry iced tea.

Thai Crunch and Caesar Salads

The best way to start the meal is with CPK’s Tuscan Hummus.  Here, the classic Mediterranean legume puree is flavored with the tastes of Tuscany: a touch of lemon, some garlic, white beans instead of chickpeas, and a scattering of chopped fresh tomatoes and basil on top.  The resulting dip is less nutty than the usual version, less spicy, but nevertheless excellent for opening the appetite at the start of the meal.  If you’re dining solo, I actually recommend the hummus as a light meal on its own, seeing how it comes with wedges of chewy flatbread.

As for the salads, you can never go wrong with the Caesar; at CPK, this standard is made with a crunchy combination of romaine, iceberg, and yellowish butterhead lettuces.  What makes this version of Caesar salad stand out is the fact that they use really good anchovies for the dressing: along with the addition of garlic and sharp-tasting Parmesan, it is deliciously pungent and fresh-tasting.

Another must-order item is the Thai Crunch Salad.  It is described on the menu as:

Shredded Napa cabbage, chilled grilled chicken breast, julienne cucumbers, edamame, crispy wontons, peanuts, cilantro, julienne carrots, red cabbage and green onions tossed with a lime-cilantro dressing. Topped with crispy rice sticks and Thai peanut dressing.

Considering how my mother can’t stand cilantro, she actually likes the way the herb balances the flavors of this richly peanutty salad.  So do I, actually, but I’m more of a fan of the creamy-tasting, crunchy-textured edamame (green soybeans) as they go so well with the grilled chicken.  Incidentally, considering how breast meat was used, the chicken is quite moist and juicy.

Wild Mushroom Pizza

But Mom’s biggest favorite at CPK is the Wild Mushroom Pizza because it’s so flavorful and so satisfying.  Here, a wild mushroom (portobellos, porcini, and black truffles, I would surmise) pesto is spread over pizza dough.  The pesto is then topped with white button mushies, meaty-tasting shiitake mushrooms, and plump abalone mushrooms.  A generous helping of shredded fontina and mozzarella cheeses is scattered on top along with some chopped flat-leaf [Italian] parsley.

The flavors are amazingly meaty and rich despite the fact that this dish is practically just veg and dairy.  The aromas are rich and funky, certainly more exotic than the smell of more conventional pizza-parlor pies.

White Pizza

And then, there is the White Pizza which is baked with a whopping five cheeses and is flecked most temptingly with bits of spinach and parsley.  It seems so simple, but it’s quite rich and utterly decadent.

Ironically, my mother isn’t really as big an eater as all the rest of us.  But we adore her and her appetite because of her emphasis on quality – certainly the very best! – over quantity.

My wonderful parents!

Happy birthday, Mom!  Here’s to many more to come!  😀