In Which There Are Cold, Milky, Delicious Coffees…

Cheap. delicious, refreshing...

Cheap. delicious, refreshing…

Considering that we’re now experiencing chilly weather here in Manila, iced coffee – especially a large tumbler of milky coffee poured over ice – definitely hits the spot when needed the most.  In this part of the world, it’s pretty easy to get a milky iced coffee.  Even fast-food joints have turned them into an all-day indulgence as opposed to an AM-only alternative to a steaming cuppa Joe.

Jollibee, in particular, has made iced coffee something of a real treat.  Its Coffee Float is something of a cross between a coffee milkshake and a coffee float in the sense that they first drizzle chocolate syrup on the inside of the plastic tumbler before pouring in the chilled, milked-up coffee.  Rather than a splodge of whipped cream, a generous helping of vanilla soft-serve is swirled on top and drizzled with more chocolate syrup.

It’s not as smooth or as richly flavorful as a drink from an upmarket coffee bar – indeed, it errs on the sweet side – it’s a good way to chill out on a lazy weekend afternoon.

It's baaaack!

It’s baaaack!

At the other end of the spectrum is something that I’ve been hankering for three years straight.  Yes, for this year’s barrage of sticker-collecting for a 2014 planner, Starbucks has brought back – finally! – its gingerbread latte.  (About bloody time, sod it!  Please remember that not all Filipinos have a sweet tooth; some of us prefer darker, spicier flavors!)

This year’s gingerbread latte is an improved version, I think: there is a correct balance between the sweetness and the natural bitterness of the coffee.  The spices are more pronounced this time around: you can actually discern notes of ginger, nutmeg, clove, and a touch of cinnamon in the mix.  While this is ideally served hot, an iced version is actually more than a little appealing.  The sharpness of the spice mix is muted somewhat, but blends more easily with the other flavors in the drink.  Happy drink, happy me, and a happy day all around.

If you’re craving for a chilled coffee, I daresay you can actually get a fix at home with this nifty little recipe:

Brown Coffee Refresher

  • 1 single-serve sachet brown coffee (for choice, I’d recommend Kopiko if you like it more bitter than sweet; Owl White Coffee sweetened with gula melaka [palm sugar] if you’re into something more exotic)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 scoop vanilla or coffee ice cream
  • a few ice cubes
  • a pinch of cinnamon, to serve

Place all the ingredients except for the cinnamon in a blender.  Process at the highest speed for about 45 seconds; reduce speed and blend for 30 seconds more.

Pour into a glass and sprinkle over the cinnamon.  If desired, you could also swirl on some whipped cream.

Serves 1.

In Which There is a Sunday Supper at Daniele’s…

E 'molto accogliente e rustico

E ‘molto accogliente e rustico

One of the most treasured “hidden” restaurants in Quezon City is a tiny Italian restaurant at the very heart of Cubao X (the space formerly known as the Cubao Shoe Expo): Bellini’s.

Often described as out of place amongst the thrift shops, shoe stores, and bookstalls that populate Cubao X, it has been one of the few places in the National Capital Region (and the whole country, for that matter) that serves autentica cucina casalinga Italiana – good, old-fashioned home-style cooking.  Since 1999, people have waxed poetic over Signor Roberto Bellini’s crisp-crusted pizzas, al dente pasta dishes, and a host of other sweet and savory delights.

Quite recently Signor Bellini’s son, Daniele, set up shop in the middle of Sucat Road in Paranaque – a most unlikely place to put a restaurant in, considering that it’s virtually in an industrial suburb and flanked by hardware stores and, worse, gravestone carvers!  (The Manila Memorial Park and Loyola Memorial park – both cemeteries of repute – are but a stone’s throw away.)  But thanks to the word-of-mouth of die-hard foodies – some of whom are fans of Bellini’s – Daniele’s Casa Mia has become quite a dining destination for those in the southern suburbs.

Pane, fresco di forno, servita con olio extra vergine di oliva, erbe aromatiche e aceto balsamico

Pane, fresco di forno, servita con olio extra vergine di oliva, erbe aromatiche e aceto balsamico

Much like his papa’s restaurant in Quezon City, Signor Daniele’s casa is rustic and homey, decorated with pictures taken during his and his father’s careers as professional paparazzi (the broadsheet kind, not the trashy tabloid kind) covering world affairs, pictures of la famiglia Bellini, and assorted knick-knacks and objets d’art showing off the beauty of Italy’s most scenic venues.  (Check out the model of Pisa’s famous Leaning Tower!)

The air is fragrant with the smell of baking bread and you’ll see why when you peer into one corner of the restaurant and see the massive brick oven in which they bake the breads and pizzas.  And speaking of bread, as soon as you’re seated, the friendly waitstaff bring in a fresh, still-steaming loaf of rosemary and sea-salt foccacia together with a small dish of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil in which to dip the bread.  It is properly rustic bread: crisp-crusted on the outside, soft and fluffy within, and made even better with the herby flavor of rosemary and the saline crunch of the coarse salt sprinkled over the top.

Tè freddo aromatizzato con sciroppo di pesca: dolce e rinfrescante

Tè freddo aromatizzato con sciroppo di pesca: dolce e rinfrescante

Ideally, the best thing to drink would be a proper Italian vino, but my family decided to have a pitcher of the house iced tea – which, really, was quite an excellent choice.  If you love peaches, you’ll like the tè freddo at Daniele’s: the drink is infused with the flavor of peaches – a rather honeyed sweetness that, when paired with ice, is most refreshing.

Semplice ma delizioso

Semplice ma delizioso

Not quite hungry for antipasti – though Daniele’s continues the Bellini tradition of offering a rather impressive array of these richly flavored tidbits – the pizza menu was quickly perused and the family decided on two variations on a theme.

The Quatrizza (shown above) is a spin on the popular Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) in the sense that it features four specific ingredients on top of a tomato and mozzarella base: ham, mushrooms, black olives, and crisp-tender artichoke hearts.  It’s a good choice for those used to more conventional toppings (save for the artichokes) and aren’t really into surprising tastes.  The ham is smoky and goes well with the flavors of the tomato and cheese.  The veg on the pie provided an excellent, slightly salty and mildly tart counterpoint.

Quattro Stagioni - e bellissimo!

Quattro Stagioni – e bellissimo!

 

Daniele’s Quattro Stagioni, on the other hand, features the traditional four quadrants with different toppings:

  • ham and sausage;
  • thinly-sliced zucchini, sweet onions, and black olives;
  • tomato and Gorgonzola; and
  • anchovies and capers.

The tender-tongued will like the first two quadrants mentioned; but those of us who prefer richer, stronger, more robust flavors will certainly appreciate the latter.  The Gorgonzola on this pie, incidentally, is magnificently flavored: pungently aromatic, strong, salty, with the slightly wine-like flavor that comes from properly aged blue cheese – and, really: this is not the garden-variety blue you use for dipping chicken wings in!  It’s much better than that!

By the way, the crusts for Daniele’s pizzas are the almost paper-thin, crispy, crunchy kind with proper char-marks on the bottom that lend a pleasantly smoky taste to these brick-oven-baked discs.

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Fettucine bianco con vongole

For our secondo piatti (second plates), we opted for pasta.  But don’t expect your typical Italo-American or Filipino sweet-style (ick!) spaghetti here.  At Daniele’s, as with any proper self-respecting Italian ristorante, the pasta never comes to your table soft or soggy; it is al dente, regardless of whichever shape you’ve ordered, firm to the bite and chewy.  You can really taste the wheaty character of the pasta that way and it provides contrast with the sauce and toppings you choose to have.

We had two white pastas for this particular meal.  The fetticine bianco con vongole is heady with the tastes of the sea: fresh, briny clams with a hint of their natural sweetness, their flavors amplified by the judicious addition of garlic and parsley.

Fusilli bianco con salsiccia

Fusilli bianco con salsiccia

While it may not look too impressive, the fusilli bianco con salsiccia delivers on flavor: robust, meaty, slightly herby Italian bulk sausage tossed into buttery-rich pasta spirals.

Gelatiiiii!

Gelatiiiii!

Of course, a proper Italian meal would not be complete without a proper helping or two of dolci (sweets/dessert).  Thank goodness, then, that there’s house-made gelati for afters!  These creamy ices are all amazing, but not all of the flavors are available at any given time.  When we were at Daniele’s the popular nocciola (hazelnut – think Nutella in ice cream form) wasn’t in stock.  But we weren’t disappointed with the straciatella which features finely-chopped dark chocolate folded into a creamy vanilla base, the bittersweet little bits going well with the buttery sweetness.  The fragole – strawberry – wasn’t shabby, either: a sweet-tart pink ice cream that bore all the flavor of fruit at the peak of ripeness.

The menu is extensive, by the way, and prices are quite reasonable.  If you’re craving for pizza and pasta or want to experience proper Italian food as it’s done by generations of mammas and nonnas throughout la bella Italia, Daniele’s should certainly be on your map.

Daniele’s Casa Mia: 8351 Dr A Santos Ave. (Sucat Road), Bgy. San Antonio, Parañaque – (02) 826-5163

In Which Seasonal Flavors Make Their Way Into Candy…

These things are like poppable bits of pumpkin pie (spice)...

These things are like poppable bits of pumpkin pie (spice)…

Considering how the Philippines was under American rule for nearly half a century prior to the Second World War, Thanksgiving has never really caught on as a holiday in this part of the world.

Not for us the turkey and stuffing, the cranberry sauce and hot, spiced cider; I am not sure why this is so, but turkey has never really been that popular a meat for us here in the Philippines.  We tend to find it dry, tough, and stringy.  Pumpkin, on the other hand, is reasonably popular – but more for its use in savory dishes as opposed to sweet.  Pumpkin – actually kabocha squash – is used for the traditional pinakbet of the north: a ratatouille-like stew featuring pumpkin, eggplants, snake beans (sitaw), okra, and bitter melon.  Pumpkins are also cooked with salted fish and coconut milk to make ginataang kalabasa which makes a nifty side for robust and tangy pork adobo.

That said, most Filipinos have never reveled in such things as pumpkin pie or pumpkin custard.  Even international chains such as Starbucks and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf don’t offer pumpkin spice lattes  nor does Dunkin’ Donuts serve up pumpkin doughnuts when November and December roll around.  In fact, if it weren’t for some sweets from a colleague who just flew in from the United States, the bulk of us would never have been able to sample pumpkin-spiced anything!

Now, to be fair, neither of the sweets we were given has any actual trace of pumpkin.  They are, however, flavored with the sort of spices normally used for compounding the filling of pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves – five spices whose combined aromas make anyone who smells them think that the Holidays and great feasts and family gatherings are drawing near.

First up: the Pumpkin Spice M&Ms at the top of this post.  Each bag contains bright orange and green milk chocolate M&Ms in different sizes as opposed to being uniformly sized.  (They’re all filled with spiced milk chocolate, though, and nothing else.)  I couldn’t help but feel that there was something lacking in these particular morsels: sure you’ve got the crunchy candy shell, and the chocolate within – but I think these would have been better with dark chocolate which would hold up well to the spices.

A sweetly spicy kiss

A sweetly spicy kiss

Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses, on the other hand, fared better in my book.  These orange-and-white colored candies are compounded with white chocolate and pumpkin spice mix.  It’s a combo that works because each tempers the other: the spices keep the white choc from getting too sweet while the sugary taste of the choc balances the flavor of each spice.  Rather nice; in fact, I’d keep these to drop and melt into hot cafe au lait to make sweetly spicy white chocolate mochas.  🙂

I ended up getting the lion’s share of these treats, by the way.  One colleague found the combo too strange for her liking (end result of never leaving the country, I suppose, or just being ornery?  I don’t really know!), so I took her share and most definitely enjoyed it on her behalf.

In Which We Appeal for Special Aid for Infants and Children…

After the storm, what future will these wee ones have?  (Photo credit: The Official Twitter Page of the Philippine Red Cross)

After the storm, what future will these wee ones have? (Photo credit: The Official Twitter Page of the Philippine Red Cross)

A college classmate of mine, a lovely mother of three, sent me this message last night via Facebook (some parts translated from Filipino):

I have a suggestion: please circulate my suggestion to anyone you know who will be donating things, to everyone in your network’s who’s helping.  Please concentrate on infant formula for babies 0 to 2 years of age, jarred baby food or infant porridge mixes, and diapers.  The bulk of things being asked for are mostly for grown-ups – what about relief for babies and their survival?

She has a very valid point: in our rush to help older folks, it’s the kids who end up getting the shorter end of the stick.  Fortunately, a number of organizations have started programs aimed specifically at meeting the needs of infants and young children.

Babies Need Milk!

The Human Milk Bank at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila is calling for donations of breastmilk to feed hungry infants in Samar and Leyte.  Donors in the Greater Manila Area (National Capital Region) can drop off chilled and properly stored milk at the following venues:

UP-PGH Human Milk Bank
UP-PGH, Taft Avenue, Manila
02-5548400 local 3418.

Alay Gatas Headquarters Human Milk Bank
Philippine Children’s Medical Center, Quezon Avenue, Quezon City
02-9246601 to 25 local 288.

Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital
Lope de Vega, Sta. Cruz, Manila
02-7345561 local 156.

The Medical City Lactation Unit
The Medical City, Ortigas Avenue
02-6356789 local 6720.

St. Luke’s Medical Center Lactation Unit
St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City, 8th floor North Wing, Bonifacio Global
02-7897700 local 7118.

Medela Moms
Medela House, 29 1st St., New Manila, Quezon City
02-7253723.

In the Visayas Region, milk donations can be dropped off at the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit of the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) on B. Rodriguez St in Cebu City.  You can call them at 032-2539898.

ChildFund and Then Some…

Those abroad can donate via ChildFund which has already brought in supplies for children’s relief as of 12th November 2013.  ChildFund is also trying to establish child-centered spaces where they can give psycho-social support for kids suffering trauma from the devastation.

For those of you who are still gathering supplies for aid kits, why don’t you take a shot at making child-specific supply kits featuring any of the following items:

  • Baby food in jars or ready-to-eat baby cereal;
  • Ready-to-drink infant formula in disposable bottles (The water supply in many areas is still sketchy so sterilization may become an issue; RTD formula and disposable bottles will be a great help);
  • Pediatric medicines for coughs, colds, diarrhea, and allergies;
  • Pediatric vitamin supplements (Those in chewable tablet or pastille form are best, I think);
  • Warm clothing and footwear (shoes or rubber flip-flops);
  • Towels and blankets;
  • Diapers; and
  • Plush toys (These actually help kids get over trauma.)

Likewise, please get in touch with local colleges and universities as there is a great need for child psychologists, play-therapists, and qualified guidance counselors to further assist the recovery of traumatized children.

Any form of relief you can send their way will play a key role in bringing health and happiness back to these poor children who have gone through one of the world’s worst disasters.

In Which Local Restaurateurs & Artisan Purveyors Join Up for Typhoon Relief…

Everything from soup to nuts

Everything from soup to nuts

If you’re still looking for ways by which you could help with the Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan relief operations, there’s actually a delicious way by which you can donate to the cause.

Some of Manila’s top restaurateurs and gourmet artisans have teamed up for the Yolanda Action Weekend wherein a portion of their respective earnings from 16 to 17 November will be donated to the relief drive.

According to ClicktheCity.com, the following establishments will be participating: