In Which the [Sweet] Rock Rocks…

This batch of rock candy is pretty dandy

This batch of rock candy is pretty dandy

When I was a kid, the words “a stick of rock” seen in a British school-story was one of the many fascinating things that may have been instrumental in building up my long-running infatuation with all things British (and, by extension, many things from the British Commonwealth [Australia and Canada, in particular]).  At first, I assumed that a stick of rock was rock candy, a very basic confection made by dipping a string or a wooden skewer into a supersaturated sugar syrup.  Here, sugar crystals are formed as the liquid in the syrup evaporates and dries.  The resulting sweet is then used to sweeten tea (literally, a sugar stirrer) or as an ingredient in many Chinese braises and soups.

Rock – better known as Blackpool rock – is a totally different thing all together.

Rock is made with a mixture of glucose and granulated sugar boiled together to make a malleable paste.  Coloring agents are added during the hard-crack stage of production and carefully measured amounts of flavoring are added as the confection is pulled and kneaded numerous times before it’s formed into varicolored sticks not unlike Yuletide candy canes.  These are then sold as thick or thin sticks (hence the “stick of rock”) or, as above at Made in Candy, chopped up into tiny pieces and packed in assortment bags or jars.

A recent addition to the Filipino mall scene, Made in Candy is a Singaporean franchise where the candy is always made fresh on the premises, giving passers-by a dual treat of eating hand-pulled sweets while watching the staff actually make those aforementioned sweets.  Throw in the fact that the air within a five-foot radius of the shops smells deliciously irresistible, and you can pretty much start pulling in regulars.

The smallest assortment shown above is P 50.00 and is chock-filled with a whole lot of interesting flavors.  Stand-outs on my palate include:

  • Grapefruit  These are pink and white sweeties with a chubby pig’s face on the surface; quite true-to-flavor, tangy and mildly sweet, refreshing, even.
  • Lychee  This is a bright pink rock with the image of a Cosmopolitan cocktail on its surface and the lychee taste really pops.
  • Any of the three citrus slice flavors  Lemon, lime, and orange – yum.
  • Watermelon  You can’t miss this one: it looks like a watermelon slice and has a more natural taste than most artificially-flavored watermelon sweets.

As I write this blog post, the department’s communal jar of rock is just an arm’s length away.  They’re actually quite a bit better than coffee for a quick afternoon pick-me-up.  I just hope neither my boss nor our artist has chomped down all the grapefruit piggies…

In Which the Salads Were Uniquely Japanese…

Seaweed and octopus salads

Seaweed and octopus salads

I love a good salad, either as a light meal or a savory prelude to a grand repast.  That said, however, salads do have a tendency to become boring: the same mix of greens, the same dressings, even the toppings can get more than a little tedious when they’re the same things over and over again.

Fortunately, giving salads a flavorful twist keeps them from becoming bland and uninteresting.  Case in point are the appetizer salads over at Yabu: House of Katsu: they are anything but boring and throw both spice and excitement into your meal.

I’ve written about the wakame salad in a previous review: that nutty, crisp-chewy tangle of seaweed with a heady nuttiness from sesame oil and seeds, the flavors of the sea amped up by the sprinkle of tobiko [cod roe] on top which gives it a pleasant saltiness.  But what really got my attention on this visit was the vividly red stuff in the bowl on the right: Yabu’s new iidako salad.

Iidako features baby octopus in a uniquely piquant dressing that gets much of its sprightly character from togarashi and a hint of shiso leaf.  The dressing is sweet yet tangy with a nicely peppery finish that tickles the back of your throat a little as you swallow, but it’s not by any means an unpleasant sensation.  The octopus itself is remarkably soft, tender, and its naturally sweet flavor goes beautifully with the dressing and the thin slices of crisp cucumber that go with it.  Certainly something I’d order again.  🙂

In Which One Has a Creamy Double Pudding for Dessert…

Hazelnut and vanilla pudding, anyone?

Hazelnut and vanilla pudding, anyone?

This has to be one of the more unusual things I’ve seen in the refrigerator in our kitchen: a four-pack of wee, yellow and white tubs with labels written in German and English.

These are Zott Monte puddings, creamy and rich dairy desserts featuring two flavors swirled together.  Judging from the official Zott website, these little things are rich combinations of milk, hazelnuts and such ingredients as vanilla, chocolate, caramel, and cappuccino sauce.

The ones I found in the fridge are the hazelnut-vanilla kind, a gold and cream swirl that tastes gorgeous fresh out of the chill-zone.

So creamy!

So creamy!

You get the nutty taste of hazelnuts in the white portion of the pudding: a toasty, sweet flavor enriched by real cream.  The yellow part is something you have to dig deep into the cup for, but you’ll be rewarded by the faintly floral taste of sweet vanilla.

These are the sort of puddings that would not come amiss after a dinner of spicy things such as curries or roasts marinated in a fiery rub: soothing, cooling, utterly delicious.


In Which We Have Happy Potatoes…

Here's lunch...

Here’s lunch…

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like potatoes only to be caught gobbling French fries or mashed potatoes with gleeful abandon.  And I totally understand the attraction: they’re very satisfying wee things, properly stodgy and filling when done well.

And potatoes are healthy.  Spuds are full of Vitamins C and B6, potassium, calcium, and magnesium and, unless you deep-fry them or slather them with butter or sour cream or some other fatty dressing, they are virtually fat-free.  Moreover, if you dig what nutrition guru Katherine Des Maisons preaches about in her book Potatoes Not Prozac, eating potatoes helps elevate the level of serotonin in one’s brain, thereby staving off mild cases of depression.

Happy Potatoes!

Happy Potatoes!

Which is why the name of one of the newer side dishes at Kenny Rogers Roasters is quite appropriate: happy potato.

Happy Potatoes are new potatoes boiled with their skins on (always a nice, healthy, and tasty thing to do) and are tossed with grated carrots and sesame seeds in a sweet yet peppery sauce inspired by Chinese kung pao dishes.  They are quite toothsome, not too sweet with a bit of a red-peppery edge that keeps them from being your usual garden variety spuds.

These are perfect with KRR’s Sesame Joy roast chicken (which is basted in pretty much the same sauce the spuds were tossed in), but would not likewise be out of place with KRR’s spin on Salisbury steak (as shown above) or the grilled sausage.  You could also order these with a sandwich in lieu of fries or mash and you would be quite happy with your choice.

In Which One Finds a Spam Musubi in an Unlikely Place…

No, I didn't find it in Hawaii...

No, I didn’t find it in Hawaii…

The Spam musubi is one of those treats I only used to read about in blogs written by the food-lovin’ kama’aina (natives) of Hawaii: a massive cross between nigiri zushi (sushi with a topping) and musubi (also known as o-nigiri, rice balls) topped with a thickish slice of Spam and bound with a strip of nori.

These things are usually available at okazu-ya, a Japanese-style deli that serves such things as furikake chicken, stewed kimpira gobo (burdock root), oden in broth, and fried fish cakes of all sorts.  They’re also available at convenience stores where, interestingly enough I found the little rice and Spam beastie you see at the top of this post.  Not in Hawaii, though, but right here in Manila!

MiniStop Philippines recently brought back its Samurice selections – o-nigiri-style rice balls stuffed or topped with any one of four proteins: tuna in mayo, chicken in mayo, chili con carne, and Spam.  Each of these costs P 29.00 and is perfect for a light lunch (or a heavy sort of snack).

Served chilled (though you can opt to have it warmed) with just a faint drizzle of sweet teriyaki-style sauce between the rice and Spam to offset the salinity of the processed meat, it is definitely a tasty little treat.