In Which Cobo Adds Cuteness to the Whole Milk-Tea Craze…

Black-sugar Milk Tea

Hidden away in Times Square over at the Pacific Star on the corner of Sen. Gil Puyat and Makati Avenue is a tiny milk-tea kiosk that adds a whole lot of cute to the craze.

Cobo Milk Tea and Snow Ice is a Taiwanese franchise that first hit the scene in Quezon City’s Tomas Morato area, known for being a Mecca of sorts for local foodies.  As the name suggests, it specializes in both hot and chilled milk teas, cold tea infusions, and those snowflake-textured sorbets that have become popular in many Chinese communities.

Unlike the more staid and bespoke Gong Cha or the somewhat homespun Chatime, Cobo gives a more playful twist to the milk tea biz, putting its eponymous, bespectacled mascot everywhere from cups to cup-lids.  The packaging, decor, and presentation are just as quirky: menu items are played up with perky fonts while surfaces are emblazoned with bright, colorful shapes and patterns.

While the visuals are appealing enough on their own, the real proof of the pudding is still in the eating (or, in this case, drinking).  Cobo, thankfully, is no slouch where its products are concerned.

It is relatively easy to be yanked into buying the same thing over and over again, as seen in the many customers buying such milk-teashop no-brainers as taro milk tea, green tea with a salt- or cheese-infused whipped cream on top, wintermelon tea (whose appeal I cannot understand; I can’t stand the stuff!), or even iced coffee smoothies.  But the thing about trying out new shops is to see what sets them apart from the competition: and, in this case, Cobo pretty much scored with its black sugar milk tea.

If you’re a fan of either caramel or butterscotch, you’ll love this.  Sweetened with a dark sugar syrup (almost like molasses, I should think), this has a deeper, smokier taste than most commercial milk teas.  Plus, it doesn’t leave you with a serious sugar jag, the sort of energy crash you end up with whenever you consumer white sugar.  The waitstaff will recommend that you pair this with either coffee jelly (!) or egg pudding (always a nice choice), but tell them you’ll amp up your caramel vibe with the caramel chewdle (caramel-infused konyakku [conjac] jelly); it really makes it more interesting.

Royale (sic) Milk Tea

Another treat is Cobo’s take on royal milk tea (labeled in the menu as royale milk tea) which is perfectly rich, creamy, and goes strangely well with coffee jelly.  If you’re more of a milk tea purist, this one’s got your number.

In Which We Have Some Totally Intense-tasting Brownies…

Black Sugar Brownies

Brownies are a regular crowd-pleaser: they’re easy to bake, fun to eat, and are totally portable.

Plus, if you’re in the habit of pushing the culinary envelope like me, they’re like a blank canvas that can be embellished in any way you want.

I am not speaking, of course, of those illicitly-laced brownies made by more degenerate individuals who have fallen into the habit of indulging in some rather iffy substances normally frowned upon by the bulk of civilized society.  You can actually give your wee cakies a kick without breaking the law.

You can swap the normal vanilla for brandy, framboise, and even cassis.  (Creme de menthe and Cointreau work wonders, too.)  You can swank things up by using macadamia nuts or toasted pistachios in the place of the usually wonted walnuts or peanuts.  If you’re so inclined, you can soak raisins or other dried fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, and cherries in rum or some other liqueur for the sort of treat that is gorgeously grown-up, particularly when served with a large scoop of proper vanilla ice cream.  You know how these things go: the only thing limiting you is your own imagination.

Since I was taking a batch of brownies to the company outing and there was a rule totally banning the consumption of anything alcoholic, I decided to gussy up a batch without liqueur and concentrated on giving these moreish bars intensity through the use of other ingredients that, while not inebriating, would give a totally different flavor profile.

Black sugar ended up being my go-to ingredient for this particular recipe.  This was an accidental find in our regular supermarket: a granulated sugar that was much, much darker than the more finely-textured muscovado and the taste was totally intense: a deep, rich sweetness with all the duskiness and the ferrous tang of molasses.  When used instead of regular white sugar for baking, the taste becomes like caramel: a toasty, tangy sweetness that also adds a touch of smokiness to the aroma.  Paired with unsweetened cocoa, the black sugar seems to make the bittersweet taste of the chocolate more intense and the aroma is headier, stronger.  The further addition of coffee and cinnamon to the batter also help to put these bars a cut above more juvenile examples of their ilk.

Black Sugar Brownies

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (get the darkest you can find)
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 50-gram dark chocolate bar, finely chopped

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (preferably an enamel one) over medium heat, melt together the sugars, cocoa, butter, shortening, and vanilla.  Cook whilst stirring constantly until the fats have all melted and the mixture starts to boil.  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a couple of minutes.  In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4; grease a rectangular baking tin.

Whisk the eggs into the cocoa mixture until well-combined.  Stir in the milk and espresso powder and mix.  Sift in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda; mix until well-combined.  Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the chopped chocolate.  Bake for 18 minutes; remove immediately from the oven and leave to cool for ten minutes before cutting.

Makes approximately 36 squares.

In Which Grilled Cheese Gets a Bit of Seafood Tossed In…

Bread, cheeses, and a crabstick...

Crab Delights in my grilled cheese sandwich?!”

I remember seeing that particular line in an ad for Crab Delights I read in a really old (circa late 1980s) issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  The idea of putting seafood in a grilled cheese sandwich (another treat I found exotic at the time; I was eleven and my mom made a go of making those gooey, cheesy treats at home) was a regular eyebrow-raiser.  But it was a notion I didn’t try to do on my own until recently.

Crab Delights – formally known as Louis Kemp Crab Delights – are a product of the American company Trident Seafood.  These are, essentially surimi (seasoned and processed fish-paste, commonly made with Alaskan pollock ) made to look like shelled crab claws, legs, or just plain flaked crabmeat.  With real crab meat fetching exorbitant prices these days, it’s not surprising that Crab Delights and their Asian counterpart (the crabstick) are used even by really good restaurants instead.  Not that anyone’s complaining, really, but I digress…

The thing about adding crabsticks to a grilled cheese sarnie is to give the sandwich a pleasant sweetness that goes beautifully with the salty sharpness of whichever cheese you’re using.  In a classic grilled cheese, orange-hued American processed cheese slices are used, so the surimi plays sweet and keeps the sandwich from becoming overwhelmingly salty.

Truth be told, however, I’ve never been that big a fan of American processed cheese.  My cheeses of choice for grilling tend to be more exotic: smoked Cheddar if I’m fixing it as a tartine, kesong puti (fresh carabao’s milk cheese) or goat’s chevre if I want a slightly funky sharpness and an almost fluidly creamy texture, Edam if it’s just after Christmas and I’m stuffing in a few slices of Yuletide ham along with it.  For this particular culinary experiment, I opted for a locally produced sharp Cheddar (I got mine from Pan de Manila.) and a generous sprinkle of bottled Parmesan.

As for the bread, any good commercial sliced loaf will do.  In this case, though, I cut slices from a sesame loaf (we get ours from Shopwise) – because it was what was in the fridge at the time.

It won't cook into a stretchy mess, but the cheese melts gorgeously in your mouth...

Fried in butter, the assembled sandwich looks beautifully golden and gets all nice and crisp around the edges, making a beautiful crunch with each bite taken.  The cheese does not cook into a gooey mess, but goes all soft and creamy.  The flavors are well-balanced: the nutty taste of the bread playing off the sharpness of the Cheddar, the sweet-savory taste of the crabstick balanced harmoniously by the salty Parmesan.

On its own, it makes for quite an eye-popping breakfast.  Paired with a good bowl of proper tomato soup for lunch, however, it becomes a rather sublime meal.

This breakfast set pairs the sandwich with a honeyed fruit smoothie

Midge’s Special Double Grilled Cheese

  • 2 slices bread
  • thin slices sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 crabstick, sliced into thirds lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons butter

Place half the Cheddar slices on one slice of bread.  Lay the crabstick strips over the cheese and sprinkle with the Parmesan; cover with the remaining cheese.  Top with the remaining slice of bread.

In a medium-sized frying pan, melt the butter and cook over medium heat till bubbly.  Add the sandwich; fry on one side, pressing to flatten it and for it to crisp up, about a minute.  Flip the sandwich over and cook for an additional 30 seconds or till the other side has crisped up, as well.  Immediately transfer to a serving plate.

Serves 1.

In Which the There is a Feast at Passion…

Check out all the meats in the window!

Unlike many Filipino bloggers, I haven’t gotten into the habit of hanging out at Resorts World.

Seriously, the shops in its mall are way over my budget and I find the attractions somewhat contrived, over-the-top, and wholly off-putting for the basic reason that it looks and feels like a playground for the [presumably filthy] rich and [well, barring the presence of society whores and social climbers] famous.  It’s a posh place; but, alas, I also find it a soulless, even depressing place.  I can’t really explain why; I just do.  (Besides, I was never lucky at gambling – so, why bother hanging out someplace where the casino’s a major draw?)

One thing I do like about RW is its extensive array of restaurants.  There’s John and Yoko for Japanese moderne, Beurre Blanc for French Mediterranean (the pissaladiere on puff pastry is seriously phenomenal), Old Penang for Peninsular Asian (Malaysia / Singapore / Indonesia) cuisine, and Tao Yuan which is rumored to give Wee Nam Kee a run for its money in the Hainanese Chicken Rice department.

And then, there’s Passion.

FYI, the complementary jasmine tea is heavenly!

Despite a name that may seemingly be more suitable for a restaurant specializing in Wester cuisine, Passion is a Chinese restaurant – but it’s not one that apes the homespun, hole-in-the-wall, echt-Binondo/Taiwan street-style schlock common to many new Chinese eateries.  This one is more bespoke and elegant, hence the elegant table-settings that greet diners soon as they’re ushered to a table.

All things considered, Passion is no greasy-spoon.  This is fine dining the way Chinese Imperialists would have had it: immaculate linens, lacquerware chopsticks, fragrant and steamy-hot o-shibori (those wet towels given to diners to freshen up with before the meal), and cups of headily aromatic jasmine tea that are constantly refilled by vigilant waitstaff.  Once you’ve settled in, the waiter or waitress assigned to your table will bring dishes of boiled peanuts and other sauces to enhance your meal.

A bit of an appetizer and several sauces...

Unlike most conventional peanuts served as precursors to a meal, these aren’t salted, fried, and mixed with flakes of crisp-fried garlic.  Instead, these legumes are boiled in sweetened soy sauce with (I presume) a bit of cinnamon and some star anise.  They’re quite moreish: richly-flavored, subtly sweet, the nuttiness of the taste rounded out well by the spices.

A mixed platter of meats

Dishes at Passion can be ordered in sizes that would suit everyone from a pair of diners having a romantic meal to families out for a treat to a full dozen bacchanalians demanding a full lauriat of epic proportions.  If, like my family, you’re dining out with a group of four to six people, the medium-sized platters are bound to satisfy.

I recommend starting the meal with a platter of mixed meats – a combination of cold cuts and sliced roasts.  Passion’s plate contains a sesame-infused jellyfish salad, char siu, soy chicken, cold slices of cured beef, old-school pata hamon (“It tastes like the kind you used to get us from Kowloon House years ago!” I enthused to my dad.), suckling pig, and tea-smoked duck.

The smoky-sweet pata hamon is delectable: good leg meat (ham, obviously), properly seasoned, with an al dente and somewhat gelatinous rind.  The suckling pig was also excellent: not too fatty with crackling that shattered audibly whenever a bite was taken; the meat was tooth-tender and had a rich, balanced flavor that was both sweet and savory.

But the real standout here was the tea-smoked duck – I swear that I actually have moments when I crave for it!  Unlike other smoked duck dishes where the taste is mostly in the skin, you could tell that Passion actually smoked the bird in such a way that the smoke penetrated deep into it, permeating skin, sinew, and tender flesh.  I am seriously wondering if it’s possible to order that duck – and the duck alone! – to take away.  It would be perfect in sandwiches, on top of rice, over pasta…

Steamed pink grouper in soy

The steamed pink grouper fillets were just as excellent.  Not fishy-tasting at all, the creamy-mild flavor of the meat was complemented by the lightly salty soy that pooled beneath it and the sharp-tasting garlic and pickled greens that served as a flavorful garnish.

Braised New Zealand beef short ribs

hotpot of braised New Zealand beef ribs was next up.  The incredibly tender, flavorful, and hearty beef was simmered in a delectable sweet yet umami sauce and lightly spiced with black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and anise.  This was the dish that seriously demanded to be eaten with plain white rice.

E-fu Noodles with assorted seafood

Noodles are always a serious crowd-pleaser and the braised E-fu noodles with assorted seafood was no exception.  This sauce-drenched dish featured soft, flavorful noodles topped with bits of fish, shrimp, squid, cuttlefish, mushrooms, bok choy, and deep-fried quail eggs.  It was a hearty, satisfying dish that would make a great meal on its own – but was so much better as part of an even bigger feast.

Again, let me just say that Resorts World tends to rub me the wrong way.  However, I wouldn’t mind making a return trip – just to be able to eat at Passion again.

Passion – 2nd Floor – Maxims Tower, Resorts World – Manila, Newport Blvd., Newport City, Pasay

In Which a Plate of Puttanesca was Done Right…

Pasta Puttanesca

I take issue with the way many local restaurants prepare pasta puttanesca.  More often than not, it’s an insipid dish that is usually served up with far too much in the way of tomatoes and hardly anything in the way of the stuff that gives the dish its characteristic fire and zing.

As the name so blatantly says, the puttanesca is a dish born in the seamier districts of Southern Italy, puttana being the Italian word for “whore.”  Like ladies-of-the-night in that particular part of the world, the sauce – il sugo alla puttanesca – is supposed to be just as zesty, spicy, and lusty.  It should be richly flavored and robust – not something along the lines of a plain-Jane tomato sauce!

Sbarro, surprisingly enough, actually does this particular dish right.  A tart, fragrant sugo is made with tomatoes and white onions.  This is given extra power with the heady addition of garlic, anchovies, and plenty of dried red pepper flakes – thus giving it pungency, saltiness, and some welcome heat to round things out.  The dish is finished with a generous scattering of both black and green olives, sharp-tasting capers, and a generous handful of chopped parsley.  The resulting dish is appealingly robust: tart, spicy, with a fresh flavor coming from the tomatoes and parsley.  Molto delizioso!