Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Midge on the Road, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Well-read Foodie

On Food and Words: 12 Years of Midge in the Kitchen

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From the time I made pumpkin buns

It’s been five months since I last posted in this blog. This is not to say that I’ve scrapped it entirely; indeed, my current line of work has made me even more enthusiastic about food, cooking, and dining out.

It has been, to be perfectly honest, a roller-coaster year.  There have been some serious downs and equally serious ups: triumph and tragedy all on a single plate.  My paternal grandmother, the last of my grandparents, died at the end of November. Paired-off friends broke up, single friends found partners, and – alas – I found myself estranged from the person whom I still consider one of my very best friends.  Too many words said and left unsaid, again. But I’ve made new friends, met lots of new people, gone to numerous places, and eaten my fill of amazing dishes cooked by some of the best chefs.

Manchego con Tempranillo y Frutas from Tapas Night 2017

I’ve learned a great deal about food over this past year thanks to interviews I’ve done for work and also because of a number of chance meetings that came about because I love traipsing through the city for new gastronomic treats.  I daresay there is still so much for me to learn.

In the meantime, bear with me.  I’ve hardly had time to write for the blog, but if you follow me on Instagram, I daresay the photos and the tempting descriptions of my latest culinary projects and restaurant jaunts will be worth the visit.

Twelve years of food writing; still here, still hungry, still writing.

 

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

And I’m Back…With a Recipe, Too

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Kangkong and bacon salad

It’s been a very busy three or four months since my last post.

I’ve settled in nicely at my current workplace and have managed well through my first five issues with the magazine.  While there was a rather depressing incident involving the misspelling of someone’s name, it’s been a rather fulfilling and satisfying time.

However, that’s also meant that I haven’t had at all that much time with which to update the blog.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve been too busy to cook.  On the contrary, that’s something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

And so, this salad.  This takes inspiration from the horensou-bacon (sauteed spinach with bacon) I love from Tori Ichi, a yakitori joint over at the new wing of the Festival Supermall. The sublime salty, smoky flavour of the bacon goes down a treat with the spinach; just that and a mound of hot rice is just heavenly.

But since spinach isn’t exactly available all the time here, I’ve used kangkong (swamp cabbage / water spinach) to pretty much make the dish at home.  I must say that it is rather savoury and, yes: it also goes well with hot rice.

Easy Warm Kangkong and Bacon Salad

  • 1 bundle kangkong, stems finely chopped and leaves set aside
  • 6 strips fatty bacon (trust me; you do not want to use the lean kind here), diced
  • 1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and the meat has browned a little. Remove the meat from the pan; set aside.

Saute the onion in the drippings until softened; add the garlic and cook till browned a little around the edges.  Add the chopped kangkong stems and cook till crisp-tender, about five minutes.  Add the bacon and cook an additional three minutes or till the bacon is crisp around the edges.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the reserved leaves.  Cover and leave to cook for about two minutes, just enough to wilt the leaves.  Add the balsamic vinegar and toss the kangkong and bacon till well-coated.  Remove from the heat and season to taste.

Serves 4.

 (Oh, and by the way: I’m back and blogging…if a trifle sporadically.)

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which One Encounters the Halal Guys…

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Don’t judge me; I was hungry

Long time readers know this about me: if there’s a new place to nosh, I’m on it; I’m there.  More so if it’s a franchise of some foreign place I’ve only read about, say, on Serious Eats, Food 52, BuzzFeed, or Lucky Peach.  In this case, I had to head for the Halal Guys to see what all the hubbub was about.

The Halal Guys started out as a dinky wee food cart in Manhattan in 1990 when its founders ran a hot dog cart on the southeast corner of 53rd St. and Sixth Avenue.  Having been raised in the Middle Eastern / Mediterranean tradition of big, substantial meals, they figured that the lunch crowd probably found hot dogs unsatisfying for a midday meal.  They ended up serving grilled chicken over rice with Mid-eastern sauces; the rest, as they say, is history.

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Falafels

I decided to start the meal with a classic: falafels.  Php 99.00 gets you a four-piece serve that, if you’re peckish, can stand in as a light meal.  These are hefty chickpea nuggets that are absolutely moreish: properly seasoned with just the right hint of earthy cumin to go with the nutty lentils that make up the mash.  A splodge of white sauce – their spin on classic tzatziki – adds a tangy, garlicky touch.

Most people who have reviewed HG in this part of the world complained that the falafels they got were cold and stodgy.  I think I was one of the lucky few who got a batch fresh out of the fryer as mine were hot, crisp on the outside, and creamy-chunky within.

I followed this up with a regular gyro platter (Php 299.00) – and found that I’d probably bitten off more than I could chew, so to speak, as the portion was massive.  Here, gyro meat is shaved off the chunk revolving on a kitchen spit and scattered on top of a tasty, orange-hued rice pilaf along with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced pita.

I confess: I was disappointed.  I wasn’t sure what meat had been used in the gyro; I mean, I wasn’t sure if it was lamb, beef, veal, or a combination thereof.  While it was grilled nicely with a proper char that crisped the outside, the texture reminded me of commercial lunch meats or cold cuts.  Also, one could only have one sauce on top; you’d have to pay extra for an additional dollop – not cool in light of the fact that the original HG carts let you have extra sauce for free.  Still, the rice and fresh veg were very good and just needed sauce to make it a meat-free meal.

I am not going to let this misstep stop me from going back, though.  I am seriously intrigued by the chicken on fries and the basbousa (semolina and almond cake) on the dessert menu.  Likewise, maybe I’ll just opt for chicken or falafel on my platter next time.

The Halal Guys @ SM Fashion Hall: 5th Floor – SM Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Ortigas Centre, Mandaluyong

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping

In Which a Bad Bird was Actually Pretty Damn Good…

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Bad Bird’s Dirty Rice Plate

I daresay I’m pretty lucky to be working with people who love food as much as – or possibly even more than – I do.  It usually results in plans to head out of the office on a Friday evening to grab dinner and [occasionally] a few drinks.  In doing so, we find ourselves trying new restaurants or discovering new dishes and treats from old favourites.  There are many ways of enjoying a Friday night out, – some better, some worse – but, really: this is the one I’m sticking to.

One particular Friday night outing found us snaffling up an Uber ride to Century City Mall where the Hole in the Wall food hall features an amazing selection of cuisines to tempt even the pickiest tastebuds.  Once there, we made a beeline towards Bad Bird.

This ain't the Colonel's fried chicken, y'all.
This ain’t the Colonel’s fried chicken, y’all.

Bad Bird’s piece de resistance is its umami fried chicken: chicken that is steeped in a flavourful marinade before being rolled in seasoned flour and panko.  These deep-fried beauties are gorgeously crunchy on the outside (yes, the skin crackles loudly whenever you take a bite), deliciously succulent within, and – sans exaggeration – have a definitely moreish flavour.

The chicken comes in three levels of spiciness: normal which has a rather miso and nori sort of flavour profile, spicy which has the somewhat citrus and capsicum heat of shichimi togarashi, and the totally worrying chemical.  I don’t have the gall to sample the chemical level which I hear really sends zings up and down one’s esophagus, so I just stuck with the spicy and was not disappointed.

Considering that I got a breast portion (you know very well I’m more of a dark meat sort of person), I found it very good: juicy and not at all dry, the meat having soaked up the pleasantly piquant marinade to the smallest fibres.  Hefty and just this side of fiery, it was a delicious way to kick-start the weekend.

Dirty rice and kimchi for the win
Dirty rice and kimchi for the win

And it isn’t just the chicken that wins prizes at Bad Bird as the sides are anything but shabby.  The stall adds an Asian twist to a classic from the American Deep South: their chicken and waffles plate (Php 320.00) plates up the umami fowl with sweet potato waffles slathered with nutty-tasting miso butter and a generous drizzle of real maple syrup.  Definitely a go-to dish for people who crave for something sweet but not so sweet as to be considered dessert.

Savoury-cravers like myself, on the other hand, would do well to grab the dirty rice plate (Php 350.00).  Here, the chicken is accompanied by a generous bowl of fried rice made absolutely flavourful and divine by the addition of bacon, chicken liver (!), and katsuoboshi shavings that give it a distinctive surf-and-turf vibe (well, coop and coast to be more accurate.)  The plate is rounded off with an equally generous portion of house-made kimchi.  The tang and almost fruity taste of the chili-pickled cabbage is just the thing to cut through the rich flavours of the chicken and rice.  Definitely something to return to some other weekend.

Bad Bird: Hole in the Wall Food Hall, 4th Floor – Century City Mall, Poblacion, Makati

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, Uncategorized

In Which We Talk About Tenderloin…

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USDA Beef Tenderloin…with all the trimmings

It goes without saying that a good steak is one of the finest dining pleasures in the world.  And by “steak” I mean a prime piece of beef: not pork, not chicken, not fish, and definitely not that horrendous slab of plant-based detritus the vegan terrorists are trying to talk us into eating.  No, a proper, bloody steak.

When cooking at home, the cut of choice is a proper rib-eye: gorgeously marbled, preferably bone-in, meltingly tender, and cooks to a wonted medium in minutes on a very hot grill pan.  When dining out, however, a filet mignon is just the thing to suit beefy cravings when one is feeling indulgent.  And, once in a blue moon when nice dinner invites are accepted, there’s proper tenderloin.

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Come to momma…

A tenderloin is found on the lower back of the animal, usually the portion closest to the kidneys.  In traditional butchering, the cut is further divided into three: the butt end which is shaved for carpaccio, the tail end which is minced fine for steak tartare and beef Stroganoff, and the eye from which the actual steaks are cut.

A tenderloin steak is at its best if cooked rare to medium rare: that way, you get the full impact of the ferrous tang of the meat tempered by the rich, buttery fat.  Any more and you’ve needlessly toughened up the meat.  Also: real gourmets know that a lean tenderloin is a curse against both God and humanity – what the hell is wrong with all those lean meat junkies?!  You need that fat for flavour, for the love of everything holy!

Truth be told, a good tenderloin needs but a good sprinkling of salt, a faint dusting of pepper, and a small knob of butter melting upon its still-steaming, nicely charred surface.  Mashed potatoes are a must, buttered veg is de rigueur.  Truffle butter – or any other flavoured butter – is a matter of personal taste.  But I say: bring it on, et laissez les bon temps rouler.

Oh, and a proper red is just the thing to wash it down.

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia

In Which a Yankee Classic Gets a Korean Upgrade…

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Yankee lunch – Korean-style

hotdog and fries would have to be a classic combination for many of us.  There is just something about a sausage-in-a-bun paired with deep-fried spuds that seems to satisfy some sort of primal craving we have.

The standard version of this is good enough for most, but for those of us who want something more substantial – and certainly more spectacular – Bon Chon has something that’s right up our alley.

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Bacon-Kimchi Ko-dog

Bon Chon’s Ko-dog is a game-changer in the sense that it’s a chicken sausage rather than one made with beef.  It makes for a lighter yet equally savoury flavour and a firm texture.

But what really sets it apart is that, like the bulk of Bon Chon’s fish and fowl menu, the spiral-cut ‘dog is dunked in batter and fried till incredibly crunchy before being drizzled over with bulgogi sauce and topped with your choice of either cheese sauce and crushed shoestring potatoes or crumbled bacon and finely shredded kimchi.

I say: go for the latter as it calls to mind budae jjigae, the anything-goes Korean stew that features sausages and Spam cooked with noodles in a kimchi-laced broth.  It’s all spicy and sweet and crunchy; definitely moreish in my book.

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Bibimfries

I suggest you also pay a little extra to further embellish your meal with the glorious bowl of carbo-loaded fun that is Bon Chon’s Bibimfries.

This dish takes the concept of bibimbap and turns it on its head.  Thick-cut, skin-on spuds are deep-fried before getting doused with ranch and cheese sauces and scattered all over with crispy fried-chicken-skin crumbs and shredded kimchi.  Not something for everyday, but it works as an indulgence with an Oriental spin.

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

In Which the Blogger Comes Back…

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Butter Corn Ramen

I’ve been busy.

That’s the only excuse I can give my dear readers: I’ve been busy.  Very much so, as a matter of fact.  So much, in fact, that I totally didn’t post anything in September, birthday post included.  I think I needed time to get back in sync, find myself, and start over.  The bulk of 2016 from February to mid-August had to be one of the most traumatic times – if not the most traumatic time – in my life.  Suffice it to say that I am breathing easier now…plus, a surprise opportunity pretty much hauled me out of freelancing and right into a field I’ve always hankered to get into: lifestyle journalism.

But, now: for some food – and serious comfort food at that: ramen, specifically.

A recent grocery shopping trip led me to River Park, the most recent addition to the currently expanding Festival Supermall in Alabang.  There are a number of interesting new restaurants, but the one I specifically wanted to try was Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi.

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Fill up my bowl, o-negai shimasu!

 A branch of a Tokyo-based chain, Bangaichi’s local franchise is held by the same group that runs the Vietnamese chain Pho Hoa.  Keeping this in mind, one should not be surprised that the back of the large menu card offers Vietnamese dishes.  But, while I’ve become a phobun cha, and banh mi fan, I’m not here for Indochinese flavours: I’m here for the ramen!

And a rather large and satisfying bowl of ramen, as a matter of fact.  Bangaichi’s butter corn shoyu ramen (Php 340.00) is loaded up with al dente wheat noodles in a rich, slightly porky, wonderfully umami soy-based broth.  A knob of butter melting in the hot soup adds a subtle richness that goes beautifully with bright yellow sweetcorn kernels, slivers of slightly tart menma (salt-pickled bamboo shoots), and fresh-tasting wakame seaweed.  The bowl also comes with two generous slices of chashu pork: prettily charred around the edges with the char adding a welcome and somewhat nutty bitterness to the sweet, fatty meat.

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Soup’s all gone; now for the good stuff…

Call me silly, but my way of eating ramen involves sipping down all the broth before getting down to the noodles et les accoutrements.  Once the broth is gone, I sprinkle in some shichimi togarashi for a fiery accent and grind in toasted sesame for some nutty oomph.  Toss everything together, and I am a happy camper.

How does this compare to the Sapporo Corn Ramen at, say, Shinjuku Ramen?  Not bad, really; while it does not have the almost electric funk of the Shinjuku version (which has a touch of garlic to throw things for a loop), Bangaichi’s corn ramen holds its own very well and definitely is something to come back for on a rainy afternoon.

Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi – River Park, Festival Supermall, Alabang, Muntinlupa