In Which the Blogger Samples the Ice Cream Bar Everyone’s Talking About…

Here's the Magnum...

It’s the ice cream bar that’s had just about everyone talking for the past couple of weeks: an allegedly decadent confection involving a stick of premium ice cream dipped in dark Belgian chocolate.  Unless you’ve been on spiritual retreat or have gone to the Himalayas for the past few weeks, you know damned well I’m talking about the Magnum.

Depending on who you talk to the word magnum itself has various meanings.  For the military enthusiast, it will bring guns to mind.  For J-rock fans, it has a more salacious meaning related to the musician Gackt.  For oenophiles, it refers to a measure of champagne.  All that said, one wonders how this particular frozen delight got its name, but it is relatively easy to assume that it was so titled because of its innate richness which sets it apart from all other readily-available frozen desserts.

A Unilever product, the Magnum has been readily available in various countries the world over for several years now but has only recently made an appearance in the Philippines.  Currently, there are three variants available: the vanilla-under-chocolate classic, the almond with its vanilla center and nut-studded surface, and the one I opted for, the chocolate truffle (labeled as Double Chocolate or Magnum Intense abroad).

Bar out of the wrapper...

It looks a tad disappointing at first: a solid chocolate shell encasing some ice cream.  But the shell shatters audibly as one takes a bite and it melts almost immediately in your mouth.  Like all proper Belgian chocolates, the coating for this particular dessert has that rich, cocoa-strong, slightly caramelized taste – definitely proof that real chocolate was used as opposed to just tinted and artificially-flavored confectioner’s coating.

However, I felt somewhat shortchanged when it came to the ice cream under the shell.  Sure it was as rich as the package said it would be, plus there were generous ribbons of ganache swirled into it, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing.  Oh, well. When all’s said and done, though, I daresay this was a pretty good ice cream.  Perhaps not the best (and at that price, I was hankering for something more), but it was certainly a cut above most.

In Which Ingenuity and Fatigue Come Into Play at Lunchtime…

A lunch dish made of assorted odds and ends...

Have you ever had one of those days when you feel like you have absolutely no energy at all.  Days when you feel like your body just got run over by a steam-roller and all you want to do is sleep?  And you know it gets kind of worse because you find yourself hungry, as well!

The simple solution to that is to work with what you have and, as Tim Gunn has told every single contestant who’s appeared on Project Runway, “make it work.”  In this case, I managed to cobble together something tasty and satisfying using the stuff I had in the fridge.

This Enchilada Ranchero I whipped up was the end result of my foraging in the fridge.  Leftover roast pork was tucked into a spinach tortilla (French Baker has these Mexican flatbreads in plain flour, whole wheat, spinach, country herb, and tomato-basil; talk about spoilt for choice!), along with some slices of quick-melt cheese (all I had in the fridge, alas) and a fried egg (the kind with the oozy yolk!).  I warmed up the whole fold-over till it was toasty on the outside and the cheese inside melted till just gooey enough to stretch.  Since I was out of proper salsa, some ready-made antipasto (an Italianate mix of pickled veg in tomato sauce) got spooned over the resulting enchilada (of sorts because there’s no actual chile in there!) before serving.

It was great: the tangy, crunchy pickled veg gave a great contrast to the creamy egg, mild cheese, and smoky pork.  The best thing to go with it: a tall tumbler of ginger-infused lemonade.

Unfortunately, as I was eating, it occurred to me that – alas! – tomorrow’s another Monday.  Jeez…

In Which We Head to Grams Diner…

Iced tea in a Ball jar...

It was my dad’s birthday the other day, but – for much of the morning, anyway – food was the last thing on my mind.  The bulk of the morning focused on a meaningful Lenten recollection handled by the Most Reverend Ruperto “Stud” Santos, Bishop of Balanga, Bataan.  After the recollection and Mass, however, we were all famished and hied off to Gram’s Diner for a seriously hefty, satisfying lunch.

You have to understand this about Gram’s: it’s been around for ages, my family has eaten there several times already, but I myself have never actually gone there.  (Ironic, aye?)  Some of my friends have placed it high on their list of go-to restaurants; some have also panned it rather dismally.  But you all know how I am about restaurants: best to go and try it and then – and only then – decide if it’s as good as everyone says it is – which is precisely what I did when I tagged along with the rest of the clan for lunch.

Since the day was a typical early summer one (You know the sort: distressingly hot and humid.), we all opted for the bottomless iced tea.  Now, while other restaurants serve their iced tea in glasses, this rule only applies to single-serve iced tea over at Gram’s.  For the unlimited serve, one’s tea shows up in a frosty Ball jar with a rather fetching Quattro Stagione motif on the sides featuring fruit, flowers, and flowing calligraphy.

The tea itself is well-iced, lighter in color than the usual restaurant iced teas which are a rather dark brown (similar to the color of Newcastle Brown Ale, actually), with a rather floral aroma.  Taste-wise, it’s even more surprising: the tea tastes deliciously of apple; gloriously tart, slightly earthy, and very refreshing to throats parched by the heat.

The Breakfast of Champions

The Diner’s stock in trade pretty much involves American comfort food: steaks, chops, mac-and-cheese, Buffalo wings, milkshakes, and seriously heavy breakfasts.

My dad went for Gram’s all-day breakfast, specifically a platter bearing toast, bacon, ham, sausages, two sunny-side-up eggs with nicely runny yolks, and tubs of butter and jelly alongside.  Oh, and – though not shown here – there was a generous plate of cottage-fried potatoes on the side, too.  The bacon, according to Dad and my brother, was nice, crisp, with a good hit of saline smokiness.  The sausages were average and the ham was a bit chewy, but the rest of the platter was pretty good.

Fish and Chips!

My brother, on the other hand, went for the fish and chips.  While the idea of an American-style diner serving a British standard is a ludicrous notion, these were actually pretty good.  The chips – enormous salted-and-peppered potato sticks – sported crisp exteriors and properly steamy, fluffed and mealy insides.  The fish, delicately seasoned cream dory, was meltingly tender beneath the crisp coating of batter.  Something was missing though: proper malt vinegar!  (All they had was ketchup, but that’s understandable.  Still…)

Slider Triplets

My mother is quite a light eater and opted for the Slider Triplets, three sliders with a side of fries, thinking that it would be a manageable thing.  She ended up sharing her plate with the rest of us because those sliders were huge!  Roughly the same weight as a standard-issue fast-food burger, each slider was dressed simply with a bit of mayo and fresh lettuce and sported a thick, juicy patty that was deliciously, properly beefy, and cooked medium well.

Anyone up for porkchops?

As for me, I was craving pork so I went for the grilled pork chops with garlic rice and buttered veg.  The chops were just thick enough and were seasoned with sage, salt, and fresh-cracked black pepper.  Unlike many restaurant pork chops, these were moist and succulent, very tender and full-flavored.  The rice was pretty good, but with the way the veg was cooked (al dente, but with plenty of butter) it felt a bit much.

Happy birthday, Dad!

All in all, it was a great lunch to celebrate what a great man my father is.  😀

In Which We Have a Braised Pork Leg…

A platter-ful of Pata Tim

Comida China – Chinese cuisine customized for local palates – is one of those things best eaten in company as opposed to being eaten by one’s lonesome self.  For the most part, most comida China dishes are served by the platter – obviously designed to be shared by a crowd sitting at a table where the spin of a Lazy Susan lets everyone pick at the platters at will.

One of the most popular dishes under the classic comida China menu is the braised pork leg known more commonly as pata tim.  The name pretty much says it all: a whole leg of pork – most likely the hind leg rather than the foreleg, same part used for making ham – is braised in a highly savory sauce compounded from soy, pork broth, star anise, and possibly cinnamon.

Like other comida China dishes such as pancit and dimsum, there are numerous ways of preparing this dish depending on the person running the kitchen.  Some cooks choose to give it a bit of sweetness by adding shaoxing – Chinese rice wine – to the sauce; some, however, prefer the addition of either honey or muscovado sugar to add rich, caramel undertones to bring out the innate sweetness of the pork.  Other cooks choose to keep things savory by adding mushrooms and shredded leeks to the sauce as it reduces, thereby concentrating the flavors; any sweetness is put on after braising in the form of a dish of hoisin sauce on the side.

Hap Chan, one of my family’s favorite Chinese restaurants serves up pata tim in a grand style: on a large oval platter with splashes of that good brown sauce and decorated with flower-cut carrots, shredded leeks, and shiitake mushrooms.  On the side, a platter of mantou (actually cuapao on the menu, but I’ll get into the fundamental difference between the two in another post) is served – much better than cupfuls of rice, in my personal opinion, and it makes the pork more fun to eat.

Pata tim is best eaten with buns, not rice

The pork is braised in such a way that it literally falls off the bone and the skin and fat just melt in one’s mouth.  The taste is rich: meaty and savory with an earthiness from the mushrooms, a hint of sweetness from the carrots and leeks.  Lumped into a split bun, it is gorgeous, sublime, and satisfying.

In Which Sweetcorn Ice Cream Ushers in the Hot Days…

Sweetcorn Ice Cream

Considering how corn is classified as either a grain or a vegetable, the idea of making ice cream with it is rather mindblowing but is also incredibly delicious.

Sweetcorn ice cream – it’s one of those things whose mere taste is completely, uniquely Southeast Asian. I remember how we’d go to either Singapore or Malaysia and find tubs of the stuff in the freezer section of our local Cold Storage; it would be there, sitting with other equally regional, equally unique flavors – durian, jackfruit, and even mangosteen.

There is just something wonderful about this vividly yellow frozen treat that screams “Summer!” like no other.  When I was a wee kid, during those happy halcyon days before life at school pretty much ruined everything for me, we’d have a half-gallon of Magnolia sweetcorn ice in the freezer during the summer.

There was just something about the rich, buttery-tasting cream – a taste akin most closely to present-day kettle corn with its sweet-salty character – studded with whole corn kernels that made this particular frozen dessert stand out against more common flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and that overly-sweet, weak-in-the-wrist dross that is what passes for mocha-flavored ice cream in this part of the world.  Your local sorbetero (ice cream vendor, the man with the pushcart and bell) could either heap the stuff in a plain waffle cone, a smooth-surfaced sugar cone, or even – and this remains one of the best ways to eat in in my personal opinion – chuck scoops of it into a split sweet bun.

Today, Magnolia is still the brand of choice in our household, though Arce Dairy also makes quite a tasty version.  (Not enough corn kernels, though.)  I don’t need a bun with which to enjoy my sweetcorn ice.  All I need to do is lump a couple scoops into a small bowl, curl up on the living room couch with David Nicholls’s Starter for Ten (my current reading material of choice, though I’ve seen the flick), and taste that golden, slightly vegetal, buttery sweetness whilst listening to the hum of cicadas just outside the house – and then I’d know that summer’s arrived, at last.