In Which the Blogger Finds Some Lovely Turkish Delight…

And what do we have here…?

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.

– from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Turkish delight – known in its native Turkey as lokoum or loukoumi – is another of those sweets that is virtually unknown to many Filipinos.

If you like gummi bears or most sweets of that ilk, it may appeal to you.  Wikipedia defines it as:

…is a family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar. Premium varieties consist largely of chopped dates, pistachios and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel; the cheapest are mostly gel, generally flavored with rosewatermastic, or lemon. The confection is often packaged and eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugarcopra, or powdered cream of Tartar, to prevent clinging. Other common types include such flavors as cinnamon and mint.

The first time I tried the stuff was when it came as a small surprise in a Cadbury Milk Tray – a tiny, milk-chocolate-covered square of what appeared to be orange-flavored jelly.  It was a bit firmer than the gelatin desserts I knew at the time, but not as chewy as, say, English toffee (mostly of the Quality Street sort), those fruity Sugus sweets that were popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, or even chewing gum.  I confess that I didn’t like it at all that much; it was a touch too sweet for me – considering that I was a four-year-old with a raging sweet tooth.  Later on in life, when I read C.S. Lewis’s Narnia novels, I wondered why Edmund Pevensie sold out his siblings for something so horrible.  It was a maddening notion!

It was only many years later, around the time I was in college, when a Muslim schoolmate whose mother was Egyptian, came home from making the Hajj with her  family and offered the contents of a mammoth box of Middle Eastern sweets to me and a number of other girls.  The box contained what appeared to be tiny logs rolled in crushed nuts and there was an appetizing mix of aromas: lemon, almond, rose, and cinnamon – an exotic, heady confluence that confounded most of the other girls but made my mouth water in anticipation.

“What are these?” I asked our newly-arrived-from-Mecca schoolmate.

“Turkish delights,” she said, grinning.  “Well, everyone calls them that.  But I got these from my uncle’s shop in Cairo; he sells homemade sweets – it’s been the family business for ages.  Have one; they’re really good.”

And they were: gummy as they were to the bite, each lokoum virtually melted in my mouth with a creamy, rich texture and tasted deliciously of either lemon or rose – both flavors going beautifully with the toasted and crushed almonds and pistachios each had been rolled around in.  It was a totally different experience from the vile little chocolate-coated bit I ate as a child.

As the years passed I’ve not had much of an opportunity to have Turkish delight, since it so obviously isn’t that widely available in this part of the world.  And then, about a month ago, I found small packets of chocolate-coated Turkish delight in the refrigerated cases over at Marks and Spencer.

These bad boys come two per packet and are totally delicious!

I sort of balked at first when I saw these because of another nasty little experience I had with chocolate-coated Turkish delight.  Fry’s Turkish Delight was a bit of a nightmare for my tonsils; horrendously sweet and throat-catching as it was.  But, thank goodness, I took the chance and was blissfully rewarded for it.

These particular loukoumi come two to a packet.  The chocolate they’re encased in is crackly-crisp; not surprising as these are refrigerated whilst on sale.  But the chocolate doesn’t seem to be the cheap sort as it is less sweet than most commercial milk chocolates.  Plus, there is a rich, deep cocoa flavor – rather intense, as a matter of fact.

The Turkish delight within is soft to the bite and melts rather voluptuously, quite richly in one’s mouth.  The flavors are strongly those of damask rose – intensely floral and more spicy than sweet – and toasted almond: a champion combination of flavors if there ever was one.

I would not recommend these for giving away this Hallowe’en.  They’re a touch pricey at P 60.00 (₤ 0.90) to be bought in bulk.  Most Filipino children – even those from what I like to refer to as gastronomically elitist households – probably won’t like the taste (Turkish delight being something of a taste that’s supposed to grow on you).  And, given how these are refrigerated, they won’t stand a chance in the humidity.  But, then again, who cares?

I’d buy these again; they’re just plain lovely to me.

In Which Breakfast was a Simple, Tasty Thing with Only Five Ingredients…

Fresh tomatoes

Much as I love those immense, rib-sticking breakfasts featuring two or more mains and such sides as diced tomatoes with salted eggs or achara or even cucumbers in sweet vinegar, the idea of a simple, five-ingredient toastie appeals to me greatly on days when the weather is beautifully dark and stormy.  It warms and fills the belly, its simple flavors most pleasing to the palate without need for any further embellishment.  In fact, all you need is a good hot mug of milky coffee (or hot chocolate from scratch; ah, yes, hot chocolate from scratch…) or maybe a good, strong, sweet, and creamy mug of builders’ tea.

One toastie I particularly like – and you can most likely refer to it as a savory tartine if you’re feeling a bit posh – is a very simple one made with fresh tomatoes and mild Cheddar.

Mustard and lightly buttered bread = nice

The key to making this dish successfully is to use the best ingredients possible: whole wheat or rye bread spread lightly with some salted butter, a dollop of Dijon mustard, ripe tomatoes, and roughly torn slices of mild Cheddar.

Pop all that into your toaster oven for four to five minutes – just enough to melt the cheese, toast the bread till crisp, and soften the tomatoes, caramelizing the sugars in them for a bit of sweetness.

And here you go…

The resulting toasties are deliciously sweet and savory all at the same time.  I daresay you could swank these up: add some ham or bacon, swap the Dijon for a bit of pesto, use a different cheese.  But, really: why fix what works beautifully?

In Which REAL Shortbread Helps Cast Off the Blues…

Janet had a marvelous tuck hamper sent to her for her birthday, and she and Hilary and the twins unpacked it with glee. “All the things I love!” said Janet. “A big chocolate cake! Shortbread biscuits! Sardines in tomato sauce! Nestle’s milk. And look at these peppermint creams! They’ll melt in our mouths!”

– from “The Twins at St. Clare’s” by Enid Blyton

Shortbread is one of those foods that I actually equate with happiness, something to be shared with friends and family at times of great fun.

As a kid, the Enid Blyton school-stories passed down to me by my doting aunts all mentioned it as part of one of those exciting midnight feasts held at one point or another during the school term.  I also remember my grandfather coming home from one of his many trips overseas, tartan-patterned packets of Walker’s Shortbread among the many bits and bobs in his luggage.  These were either round or squarish, rather crumbly and sugary, and so much richer-tasting than the Danish butter cookies that came in round tins printed with pictures of either the Danish royal palace or some garden or other in Copenhagen.  I can distinctly remember that I was allowed just one cookie at any given time, shortbread being allegedly “too rich for little girls’ palates.”

As I grew older and learned how to bake, shortbread became one of the first things I managed to master in the kitchen.  My original go-to recipe was the one in the New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook; later, I would tweak with another I found in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess – the lemon-and-cardamom-spiked one that has always served me well for Holiday presents for the past few years.

My aunts are, alas, all in the United States now; and, though I was able to download both Blyton’s St. Clare’s and Malory Towers series, reading my favorite stories always seems to make me sad and wish for the days when life was free of care, when I felt safe, surrounded I was by people who loved me.  My grandfather has also passed on – it’s been nearly a quarter of a century since he died – and chances to travel have been few and far between.  That said, I’ve not had shortbread as a gift in ages.

As luck would have it, I passed by Marks and Spencer, ostensibly to get a treat for my sister.  (Lemon sherbets, actually; I ended up getting her a packet of assorted fruit sherbets.  They were pretty nice, but that’s a story for another day.)  Finding the sherbets, I actually stopped dead in my tracks on the way to the cashier when I saw red, plaid-patterned packets of All-butter Scottish Shortbread Fingers stacked neatly in one of the biscuit racks.  Holy moly, I definitely had to grab one.

Ooh, shortbread! Scots shortbread – and even the packet’s sporting a nice, red tartan!

The thing about proper Scots shortbread (defined as: made in Scotland [check the packet] with proper butter [dairy butter as opposed to those sticks of margarine that try to pass themselves off as the real thing], and a three-flour mix [wheat, rice, and corn]) is that it is so damned moreish.  

It looks like a simple affair: thickly cut, narrow-ish slabs of buttery dough pricked over with holes and sprinkled with a dusting of granulated white sugar.  But what it lacks in the looks department it more than makes up for in terms of taste and texture.

It crumbles as you bite and practically melts in your mouth; proper shortbread should do so, not break off in flaky layers that you need to crunch through a bit more before swallowing.  It should taste rich and buttery, not chalky at all.  Plus, it should not be too sweet; the sugar-crystal topping should add just the faintest whisper of sweetness as opposed to shouting arrogantly, catching in the throat and making the eater cough.  (Though, aye: scarfing these babies too fast will make you choke if you’re none too careful.)

Properly crumbly, sandy, sugar-dusted, and moreish

It was a good thing I bought the packet when I did; the week I bought it had been a distressingly hectic one that left me reeling.  I bought another one a couple of weeks hence, and munching through those biscuits with a cup of tea close at hand helped me forget that there are such things as deadlines, traffic, shoddy public transportation, false friends, unappreciative relatives, and days when nothing goes right even for a wee, blissful moment.

Seriously though, I know too damned well that I need to buck up and face things like any adult.  In which case, I’ll take a cue from another of my favorite Scotsmen – singer Paolo Nutini – and think that nothing ought to get me down.

In Which the New Food Court Stall Offers Some Massively Substantial Meals…

This was a case of being totally unprepared for what came my way…

Much as I love the food at the Galleon, things got to the point that I was donkaesu-tuckered out, sisig-sated, and bored out of my mind by dumplings and rice.  Fortunately, the newest stall on the block helped relieve me of palate-fatigue.

However, I was totally unprepared by how this particular stall delivered on its promise of tasty, rib-sticking meals.

Wok Republic brings a satisfying array of localized Chinese dishes paired with one’s choice of either plain rice or Yang Chow-style fried rice (the vivid yellow kind studded with peas, minced ham, and diced carrots).  P 80.00 gets you one main course and rice, P 85.00 gets you a main course with either a veggie side dish or noodles and rice, and P 90.00 gets you two mains and rice; throw in an extra P 5.00 to swap plain rice for Yang Chow.  That’s a fair enough deal in this part of the world.  However, given how miserly many food court stalls tend to be with portions, I totally assumed that the food at Wok Republic would be no different.

The first lunch I got from that stall proved me wrong – seriously wrong, as a matter of fact!

The helpings were massive: you could feed two people out of a single lunch-pack as shown above.  You definitely do get a lot of bang for your bucks and, even more surprising, Wok Republic also delivers on flavor.

If this boat were on water, it would sink – no surprises there.

I honestly thought that the “humongous helpings” rule only applied to the two-mains combo, but apparently it also applies to the one-main and one-main+veg/noodles sets.  This is one fast food stall that makes sure its customers don’t leave hungry – nope, not by a long shot.

Wok Republic’s offerings change everyday and I’ve found several items that have been stonking good, the flavors and quality consistent every time I’ve ordered them off the menu:

  • Hoisin chicken – battered chicken chunks doused with a sweet hoisin and star anise sauce; I’d like to think of it as a Chinese-Filipino riff on Korean-style fried chicken;
  • Pork spare ribs with tausi – this spin on a dimsum classic involves meaty pork spare ribs stewed with fermented soy beans and Oriental herbs, making for a most savory version of the dish;
  • Seafood lomi – squid, battered fish chunks, prawns, and cuttlefish balls with green beans and carrots in a savory sauce; and
  • Lomi special – thick, fresh egg noodles stewed with pork and veg.

It’s definitely not for light eaters, but I assure you that you won’t leave hungry – far from it, as a matter of fact!

In Which There are Two Smooth and Icy New Sippers…

Le frappe avec durian

Considering how we’re nearing the end of October, it depresses me to no end that the weather in my neck of the woods continues to be scorching hot – as bad as summer, really – leaving smoking tempers in its wake, a covey of throats parched beyond endurance.  Which is why, thank goodness, some of my favorite nosh-stops have new sippers to help beat the unseasonable heat.

Cafe France, in particular, pays homage to the durian – that controversial Roi des Fruits [King of Fruits] this season through its simply named Durian Frappe.

Now, seriously: durian is one of those things that you either love to death or loathe worse than the Plague.  Its distinctly pungent aroma in its raw state turns off even some of the bravest gourmets and gourmands, but it rewards those who brave the smell with rich-tasting flesh that tastes like a heavenly amalgam of roasted almonds, custard, and cream cheese.

At Cafe France, you don’t have to deal with the smell as the fruit is processed down into a puree, then blended with milk and ice into a smooth, refreshing, distinctly-flavored beverage.  It’s quite thick and, consequently, is rather rich – but, strangely enough, it actually gives you an energy boost when you feel that the damned heat has pretty much sapped you dry.

It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it sure has my vote.

The salted caramel mocha frappucino

In contrast, there’s Starbucks‘ new salted caramel mocha which appears as a straight-up espresso-based drink and as an ice-blended frappe.

Considering how I’m something of a fan of salted caramel, I regret to admit the truth: I was brutally disappointed.

This is how Starbucks describes its salted caramel mocha frap:

Mocha sauce and toffee nut syrup blended with coffee, milk and ice. Topped with sweetened whipped cream, caramel sauce and a mixture of turbinado sugar and sea salt.

The grim reality?  I could barely taste the coffee; heck, I couldn’t even discern the individual nuances of coffee and chocolate that so characterize any good mocha!  It was all drowned under – completely and utterly awash – in the taste of caramel.  Now, if Starbucks had stayed true to its blurb, there should also have been a hint of saltiness – an almost buttery one, as a matter of fact – to provide sharp contrast and some relief from the throat-catching sweetness of the syrup.  Sadly, though, I couldn’t taste any salt at all!

I am not sure if the whole salted caramel schlock would work better in a hot drink, but one taste of it is enough; it’s not worth repeating in any form.

So, the rest of you can cool down with that vile tumblerful of cloying sweetness that tries to pass itself off as coffee.  If I wanted a caramel-enriched Starbucks drink, I’d stick to the classic caramel macchiato and not mess with this new monstrosity.

What’s keeping your throats cool these days?