Saturday, April 28, 2012

Red Velvety Goodness

I have never really figured out how Red Velvet came to be or why it was named as such. Why it's so strikingly red, when it can be brown or peach colored and renamed as Caramel Velvet? It does have a nice ring to it though, wouldn't you say?

How about Maroon Mayhem? Indulging!

However Red Velvet has become quite a universal madness, from cupcakes to ice cream to lipstick shades. While I've never been that fond of red food, having associated it the Neolithic medium rare steak, I did fancy the Red Velvet Cake from Christina's Kitchen.

Bought from Parvati (Trinoma), it was 100% red and with no hint of pink. For certain, Revlon would have a hard time replicating such a gorgeous and seamless shade of red. Muy rojo!

As for the "velvet" side of it, the cake was pure smooth and spongy goodness. While not bordering on the heavy cake consistency, it was greatly complemented by its cream cheese frosting. Not too buttery and by no means my-dentist-will-kill-me sweet, the light frosting and soft, light cake create that seamless Red Velvet cake, whose name or color I will never question again.

I've never described a cake as seamless, so I suppose this is one makes it to my books.

But I still think that someone ought to consider Maroon Mayhem. You do that, all right?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Starving at Sambokojin

Sambo Kojin (Eastwood), the smokeless grill, provides quite an appeal to those who want to grill their own meal, eat, eat some more, and leave the place smelling all fresh and dainty. Even those who have the aversion to cooking will find an interest at this proposition, this lazy cat included.

Why, my menu even included grilling the salmon, searing the tuna sashimi and bathing them with teriyaki sauce - sweet seafood fantasy!

All those plans flew out of the window when, upon being seated, the waiter dropped this chunk of butter on the grill.  Closer scrutiny revealed that it was not butter but something more horrid, as if butter was not bad enough: beef fat! Being part vegetarian and a firm believer that Japanese cooking favored less animalistic elements, this new information astounded me to the point where it can't be helped.

Sayonara, grill!

I had to forego the grilling element and enjoy my sashimi raw. It was time to hang out at the cooked food station and deem the raw foods nothing but the beefy offshoot of that sinful grill.

This abstinence rather paid off, having enjoyed the cooked bounties of the seafood offerings. Tuna teppanyaki and the seafood with creamy egg sauce topped my list, while the fried salmon was a bit of a disappointment.

I spied tofu steak as well and had the audacity to pick out the tofu from the meaty mayhem. No one ought to complain since I got the part that people never really like. Poor tofu.

The chap chae glistened and beckoned my plate, but beef strips heralded themselves and I had to move elsewhere.

Other fishy viands were scattered around the place, breaded, steamed - you name it - but since they yielded the similar flavor, best to stay loyal to my tuna teppanyaki.

Wondering about the tempura? Well it's got its own fried battered station with kani, ebi and the whole lot of vegetables. As always it was hailed the most populous spot in the buffet, which is why I had to steer clear of it for fear of getting my new open toed sandals sprinkled with tempura sauce. That, and I enjoyed my kani raw.

Sushi and maki rolls are also provided for in abundance, alongside the volume of human traffic concentrated in that dangerous region. Once again, I steered clear of the "rice" path and concentrated the tongs on the protein bearers, the the sashimi.

The dessert station was nothing exorbitant or ravishing - the usual fares you'd expect from Saisaki. There's the ubiquitous ice cream and the line that stretches to the kitchen, the mini pastries with skyrocketing icing and fruits in season. No cheesecake, mousse or anything with green tea. In short, no dessert for me - but I had to make do with the fruit cup, as necessitated by my "complete meal" mantra.

This beef bias may be dissuading and most likely, discouraging for most, since 99% of the people I know wouldn't care about beef fat, butter or whatever animal they are ingesting. If you are part of the 99% then good for you, grill to your heart's content and savor your "moo-tiful" meal.

As for the minority, the cooked foods are quite a bountiful lot and yes, if you are as lazy as me, no need to don that invisible chef's hat!

No more cooking - now that's a catch!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mochiko = My Mochi

Whoever invented Mochiko named it perfectly. That fist-sized ice cream-filled mochi is great for a one-time snack, unfit for sharing and definitely meant to be finished single-handedly. Mochiko roughly translates to "my mochi" in Filipino. My Mochi, not ours, certainly not yours -  just mine.

Let us not lie to ourselves with that delusional thinking that we are selfless and giving. With the sight of this ball of mochi goodness, all those hopes of world peace and brotherhood are sure to dissipate, to be replaced by that inevitable gluttony that we've been harboring all this time.

Best to give in though, as it's rather cheap at about P70 per serving. With an assortment of flavors (chocolate, vanilla, red bean, cookie dough, etc.) you can have a different flavor each day, or until your blood sugar spikes - then you might have to take a break from these sinful balls. Mindless choice for me was, of course, green tea - an unfounded hope for a lower calorie serving.

Surrounded by a thin layer of mildly sweet mochi, the label strongly advises us to let the ball thaw for a few minutes before we get those incisors working. Ever devious, I forced a bite, failed and ended up leaving teeth marks on that still-hardened ball. At least I can't say I didn't try.

Upon reaching the desired thawed state, another attempt was made on this unyielding green fellow and finally, success! I was getting impatient from walking around Eastwood Mall with this plastic ball in my hand, and it didn't help that it was in this horrid shade of apple green.

The thin mochi layer uncovered the creamy goodness of still a perfect ball of green tea if cream. Each bite was a mixture of smooth ice cream with that slight tinge of sweetness and chewy bits from the mochi.

Best way to end any meal is by this ball of indulgence. Best way to burn the calories is to just walk it off as I did.

While I'm no follower of Mochiko, just in case someone asks, I've encountered these little balls of toothy mishap in Mercato Centrale, the Eastwood Weekend Market (at the Eastwood Mall) and Parvati (Trinoma, by the bulk).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Panera Bread and The Cheesecake Factory

If for some unforeseeable and inexplicable reason two places were to spring in Manila overnight, I would want these to be The Cheesecake Factory and Panera Bread. That's right, cheesecake and bread. Just those two and I'd find myself gastronomically sound for the next decade or two.

The Cheesecake Factory has topped my place-to-eat list ever since the diary was invented. Seriously though, from articles in Eat This, Not That and those hard-to-resist chiller merchandise at S&R, just a slice of the real cheesecake was my irreparable wish, but then again, I’d be mental if I refused a meal.

[caption id="attachment_1663" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Veggie Burger"][/caption]

So prior to the dessert, a proper meal was obligatory but nonetheless very appetizing.

I decided on a strange course that Manila has yet to offer: Veggie burger and side salad with Bleu cheese dressing. The veggie burger was a massive patty made with brown rice and grains and seasoned with what seemed like cumin. Sweet and curry-like, the garlic mayonnaise blended well with the burger, while the bleu cheese provided the saltiness needed for that overall vegan experience. While many might find the exotic flavor of this vegetarian fare a bit off putting, I enjoyed every bite and yearned for the Archer Farms Hummus Chips that I had stashed back home. What a wonderful pairing that would’ve been!

[caption id="attachment_1662" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake"][/caption]

The Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake was a mindless choice: chocolate in all layers for the dark chocolate lover. Even Willy Wonka would be greatly interested in this godly creation. The cheesecake was fused with chocolate, firm, no overwhelming flavor—just smooth cheesecake heaven. The sweet revelry will certainly be missed. Forget the calories and sugar, it’s cheesecake excellence that I would certainly crave for despite being halfway across the world.

As for bread lovers, Panera Bread is the way to go. Going on another "goat mode", I decided on the salad path, but still with lovely bread on the side. Lovely indeed.

Panera Bread serves freshly baked bread everyday; well loved by neighboring folks, the line stretches and peaks during meal hours as well, so best to be an early diner.

[caption id="attachment_1658" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Chicken Salad"][/caption]

My BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad was gigantic and luxuriously spread with tortilla chips, black beans and corn for that Mexican touch. The flavor is not restrained, yet carefully prepared—making comfort food its other name. Good for two and accompanied with Panera Bread's signature bread, I will be forever apologetic for passing off on that wonderful piece of bread. 

[caption id="attachment_1661" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Chicken Tortilla Soup"][/caption]

The Chicken Tortilla Soup manages the same kind of flavor and toppings, good enough for a meal on its own with bread on the side.

The sight of the pastries and bread is enough to get people crowding in the place, but the wafting aroma will certainly get you hooked. As for me, another craving that will linger in my dreams.

So yes, I keep my fingers crossed that one day Panera Bread and The Cheesecake Factory will suddenly open in Manila. Oh please do, and make that soon, as I sense another cheesecake craving coming up!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Three pointer at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

Anything that suggests a cluster reaching the number three is normally dismissed as trouble: triplets, 3-in-1, triumvirate, three’s a crowd. Oh, and there’s the Triple Decker Cheesecake at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (CBTL).

[caption id="attachment_1717" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Three's so not a crowd with this one."][/caption]

No need to sense troublesome presence of calories and saturated fat, not to mention sugar - three whole layers of it - as they smack you right in the face with their creamy temptation! However it’s best to disregard these upsetting numbers especially when a slice is loaded with layers of fabulous cheesecake, guaranteed to kill any craving. The topmost dark cookie portion is a wonderful find and best kept as "the last bite." The coffee layer may be a nuisance for insomniacs (like me) but this issue was easily addressed with good ‘ol water. Lots of it. Or decaffeinated tea, of course.

I wouldn’t recommend sharing this with anyone, as a bite less and you’re sure to scowl. Compared to Starbucks, Conti’s and some Parvati miniature bestsellers, this one’s a hefty serving—all fun, all cheesecake, all yours.

Or mine.

Then there’s this Chicken Chipotle Sandwich on the side, which took forever to prepare. I spied cucumber and one big chunk of panini—a kid’s jaw can’t get through that threshold. Since there was nothing special about the sandwich, except that it was sprawling with greens, we’re better off splurging on sweets when in CBTL.

CBTL in Trinoma provides a park-like venue for the bored or hungry—wide and overlooking Mindanao Avenue. Beside Peking Garden and Kimpura which are rarely filled—more space for everyone’s enjoyment and a breather compared to the top floor Starbucks which is forever congested in human haze. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bathroom Buddy: Fiber Plus

A sucker for anything Fiber - without any hint of hesitation - Kellogg’s Fiber Plus Antioxidants (Dark Chocolate Almond) found itself in my shopping cart and straight to my office drawer. Without even having the time to acquaint itself with my stapler, it became morning snack #1.

Chewy and studded with chocolate and almonds in every bite, Fiber Plus is a delightful diet snack with 130 calories, 5g saturated fat and, 9g fiber and 7g sugar per bar. I must have eaten mine in 4 bites - quite a record for someone who prefers tiny, slow nibbling over the ravenous mastication. Promising 35% of our daily fiber, it also makes the pledge to make us full longer.

Promise fulfilled. Plus it tasted more like a dessert bar.

In my haste to gobble it down before Willy Wonka could snatch it from me, I forgot to check the ingredient list, which I managed to do only post meal. Ingredient number 1 is Chicory Root Fiber, to be followed by Rolled Oats and Crisp Rice - the carby bunch.

Does Chicory Root Fiber ring a bell? It does to me, being a proponent of teas, and this one makes it to the “diet” tea bunch. You know, where diet is synonymous to digestive.

How funny it was to learn about this relevant piece of dietary information after finishing a bar in the office. Googling it further, I uncovered numerous bathroom jokes on Fiber Plus and Chicory Root. You do know where I’m getting at - well certainly not the bathroom. While Fiber Plus may have spawned quite a bathroom population in certain gluttonous regions - no, I’m not part of it - this should be met with good news as to its fiber-rific claim. At least here’s one granola bar doing its job on promoting health and cleansing our system.

As to the bathroom jokes, best to snack on this when you’re at your fiber low. One bar at a time. Nice and easy.

Tissues might come in handy as well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Monday, April 9, 2012

West Coast Series: The Real Meals

Forget the greens, salsa and vinaigrette which were so last post (West Coast Series: Salads and Sweets), you’d think I’ve gone all Bugs Bunny on you. Truth is, it’s time to cast off the pretension and start focusing on the “real” food—the full courses, carbs and that thing we call a proper meal.

"I'll pass" is something unheard of in the sight of these almighty meals, while starvation, a word only concocted by activists - an institution that will never accept me for my lack of shouting intensity.

Once in the West Coast, the best thing to do is take a seat, eat and forget all about it. After all, what happens in the West, stays in the West!

Not to be left behind though are the photos (and proof) of those outlandish and sizzling moments that always ended with that blissful burp. The burgers were not mine, but were just as irresistible to shoot!

Bon appetit! Or should I say, more appropriately: DIG IN!

[caption id="attachment_1649" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Fish Tacos, Tacos Mexico"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1647" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Philly Cheesesteak, Charley's"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1650" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Tuna Salad Sandwich with Pickled Red Onions, International Cafe, Universal Studios"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1651" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Pad Thai, Thai Kitchen"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1645" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Pizza, Bonnano's, MGM Hotel"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1652" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Spinach and Broccoli Stuffed Pizza, Sbarro"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1654" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="My Mexican Salad Platter, Spice Market Buffet"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1655" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Seafood Selection, Spice Market Buffet"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1653" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="My Dainty Dessert Portion, Spice Market Buffet"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1646" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Buckwheat Noodles, Asian Grocery"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1644" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Spinach and Artichoke Dip, Applebee's"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1643" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Blackened Chicken Penne, Applebee's"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1648" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Cheeseburgers, In-and-Out Burger"][/caption]

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sprinkles Cupcakes

If there’s a sweet creation that I question the most, it’s that “Why were rainbow sprinkles ever made?” Who institutionalized these nasty little dots? And why can’t they just melt and leave our teeth alone?

Why children love this colorful pestilence will be a mystery to me, my dentist and the Easter Bunny.

[caption id="attachment_1689" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Sprinkles Cupcakes"][/caption]

When I first heard of an impending trip to Sprinkles Cupcakes (Beverly Hills), I nearly fell off my seat, for fear of finally coming in close contact with those dreaded rainbow sprinkles. It came as great news though that the name Sprinkles is a misnomer—accompanying one of those rare moments when I welcomed being wrong and misinformed.

Sprinkles does serve cupcakes - make it gourmet with vegan variants on the side - topped with dazzling frosting (some with edible sprinkles) that can mesmerize even the most dispassionate passerby.

The cupcakes are freshly baked, organic as far as baked goods go and are highly demanded in the neighboring areas—with a line that stretches to the outer sidewalk. People would not even display that kind of patience for a Big Mac or a Frap, but for Sprinkles, the waiting time is welcomed with a certain anticipation we can only expect from Santa Claus.

[caption id="attachment_1686" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Sprinkles To Go"][/caption]

The cupcake flavors range from the ordinary to the charming combos that could drive the indecisive to just buy them all. There’s the everyday favorite Red Velvet, Vanilla and Chocolate. Banana, Dark Chocolate, Chai Latte and Cinnamon Sugar are likewise offered to confuse the hungry and adventure seekers.

However I am glad that for once my conviction did not leave me hanging on a sprinkle, and I settled for my favorite, Carrot.

[caption id="attachment_1688" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Sprinkles Carrot Cupcake"][/caption]

The Carrot cupcake was a decadent little bunny whose cream cheese frosting I wouldn’t mind finishing on my own. Carrot strips and walnuts filled the soft cupcake, and the frosting mixed with cinnamon can certainly compete with the crumpets and scones for the Queen’s tea-time. For once, I had forgiven the long queue that welcomed our arrival and yes, the name Sprinkles is given pardon as well.

An overwhelming cupcake paradise Spinkles is, and one which would be hard to forget. It was good while it lasted, but if you’re in the area, wouldn’t hurt to bring me back home a Pumpkin cupcake for Easter. Pretty please, with carrot on top!

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

West Coast Series: Salads and Sweets

[caption id="attachment_1635" align="aligncenter" width="415" caption="Get the message?"][/caption]

Being a part-vegetarian tourist in the land of organic, Trader Joe’s and cereal, there was only one established mission:  To partake in 10 Salads. The possibilities and choices are endless, but also come with the sweet and sinful competition—where Ben & Jerry’s can come in close battle with Arugula.

Ending with a tally of 6 for the greens, leaving out the side salads and toppings which came in almighty abundance, I let the desserts fill the rest of the list. Not to be dismissed as the anti-thesis of salad, I deem them just as healthy in my overly biased eyes.

[caption id="attachment_1638" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Caesar Salad, Bonnano's @ MGM Hotel"]Caesar Salad Siding, Bonnano's @ MGM Hotel[/caption]

Mexican and Greek salads, my heavenly fares, made quite an impact on my palate that I will never view salad eating as a mere dieting scheme again. Chipotle on its own combines a zesty, sour-punch yet fresh flavor that is greatly enhanced by its colorful condiments: guacamole, jack cheese or even sour cream. Pico de gallo is plebeian knowledge and feta cheese is a fierce commodity. For me, these Mediterranean and Mexican fiestas combine gastronomic splendor and my ultimate enjoyment, as I return home tearful that such a brief exchange was too short lived.

[caption id="attachment_1639" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Greek Salad, Wraps @ Caesars Palace"]Greek Salad, Wraps @ Caesars Palace[/caption]

Salads from Chipotle Mexican Grill and even the simple Chick Pita Mediterranean at the food court provided such organic and savory excellence, their tastes are forever carved in my mental palate and will serve as a lasting benchmark for future sampling. There is something very authentic and fantastic in the way they served their salad—not to mention the leviathan serving all for myself—that should I not find the same quality back home, it’s time I learned to prepare homemade guacamole!

[caption id="attachment_1640" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Salad Bowl, Chipotle Mexican Grill"]Salad Bowl, Chipotle Mexican Grill[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1636" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Greek Salad with Chicken Shawarma, Chick Pita Mediterranean"]Greek Salad with Chicken Shawarma, Chick Pita Mediterranean[/caption]

Credits too for El Pollo Loco, which dished out a Grilled Chicken Salad that was flaming with Mexican goodness. If our local franchise served salads and condiments in that size and flavor, I’d be loca for Pollo Loco as well!

[caption id="attachment_1637" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Grilled Chicken Salad with Creamy Cilantro Dressing, El Pollo Loco"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1672" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad, Panera Bread"][/caption]

While the ice cream and yogurt did not present the same mixture of merriment and glee as the salads—or I just failed to visit the right places—they were just as amusing to eat and provided the necessary sugar high.

[caption id="attachment_1633" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Cookies and Cream Yogurt, Mrs. Fields"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1631" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Sugar Free Chocolate Gelato, The Venetian"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1632" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Yogurt Parfait and Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies, McDonald's"][/caption]

The cakes and cupcakes though, well, that’s a different story and in another post. Best to stay tuned then.