Sunday, April 26, 2015

TRAVEL YOUR CITY: Intramuros Pasyal


I randomly saw an event for "Intramuros Pasyal" on my Facebook last week and I clicked on it out of curiosity. I am so sick of the usual events and places to go around Makati and have been desperate for something off the beaten track, so to speak. Maybe that's why I travel so much, because I need new experiences, need to see new things, learn and get away from the same-ness of every day life.

I saw that they close down General Luna street once a month for some sort of street fair. There's food and stalls of people selling everything from used books to handmade soaps and stamps. I got to try this Red Velvet popsicle from Liq my Stick (haha love the cheeky name) made of dark cacao, cold pressed beets and coconut cream and fresh hibiscus flower. So good and healthy, as are all their other popsicles made from locally sourced fruits and veggies. If you are feeling a little naughty, you can go for their alcohol infused concoctions instead.

I've always liked Intramuros. It's one of the few areas in our city that has not been bastardized or destroyed by either the government or private companies. I love the beautiful architecture that almost makes me feel like I'm in Europe, the big cathedrals, even if I don't go to church, and during these once a month events, Barbara's sets up tables outside on the cobble stone streets where you can enjoy merienda- so Parisian, I love it!

It starts at 3 PM but if you stick around, entertainment starts at around 6 PM, with an open mic for people to sing. There's a different theme every month and this time it was (Re) Cover the City, so entertainment was all OPM covers.

Buskers are welcome- Check out Viva Manila's page on FB to keep track of when the next one will be and what activities to look forward to. As much as I love to travel abroad or out of town, there's still a lot of interesting things to see and events to attend w/n our city, and it's days like that one that reminds me that Manila ain't too bad after all :)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

SWEET TREAT: Dark Dulce de Leche


One of my favorite things to eat is also one of the easiest things to make. It has very few ingredients and is basically a no brainer. The only thing you need is a bit of extra time on your hands because you will need about an hour and half to two hours to complete this recipe.

If that is a bit of a turn off, just imagine this sweet treat on top of ice cream, as frosting on cake, as a dipping sauce for fruits, or even licked off directly from a spoon. Yep, it's worth it! And this version is a dark brown color with a more caramel flavor because I used all dark brown sugar instead of regular granulated sugar. Here's how:

Ingredients:

6 cups of whole milk
2 cups of brown sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 tsp. rock salt
3/4 tsp baking soda

How to:

  • Combine Sugar, salt and milk and bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat and add baking soda (It will froth up!)
  • Put back on low heat and simmer for an hour and a half, mixing every so often.
  • When milk begins to thicken, add vanilla and stir more often.
  • For a more sauce-like Dulce de leche, remove from heat when mixture coats the back of a spoon. For a thicker version, keep on heat and whisk until you get to desired consistency. 
Grab a spoon and enjoy!


FOOD TRAVEL: SOM TAM; Thai papaya salad



The big traveller that I am, I have recently had to curb down on my appetite for all things local on my last trip to Thailand. Considering I was there for two weeks, and Thai food is some of my favorite - this was something I regretted infinitely on my way home. The good thing is, I will be back there soon.. and will indulge fully in the most excessive fashion. So, with this food post, comes a travel tip you should all consider:

Never travel with someone who is picky with food.

Now, a great papaya salad can be found at pretty much every corner in Thailand - this one I had at a cozy little restaurant on Khao San road. The Thais like things uber-spicy so if you can't even, always ask them for a mild version. Medium spicy is still spicy, just a warning.

I'm gonna attempt my own version soon, so hang on for that - if successful, I will share it. If not..... hahaha. Let's never mention that again.

Friday, April 24, 2015

WHAT I ATE TODAY: A very hipster avocado toast



Sorry for the delayed absence - like a total delinquent workaholic, I plunged myself into Calyxta.com without any room to spare for my other babies. Alas, I have figured out a manageable work-life balance, and stopped eating junk to dedicate myself to more home-made food.

This one's a total no-brainer, and I'm obviously not the first one to have this for brunch. But, adding a touch of rebellion, I topped mine with a little mild cheddar cheese shower. I used almost an entire avocado on one piece of toast, in an attempt to dodge unnecessary sugars - something that probably is contradictory - my piece of toast contains raisins. But hey, you gotta live a little!

Yum.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

QUICK FIX: Garlic Chicken Wraps


There are days I come home starving from  ridiculous rush hour traffic and I realize that I had not prepared anything the day before or that morning. I finally learned to keep things like individually wrapped chicken breasts in my freezer for quick defrosting and cooking during starvation emergencies.

This recipe is super easy, tasty and healthy. It also does not take very long to make, which is perfect if you are super hungry. The garlic sauce is the perfect condiment for these wraps! Here's how-

Ingredients:

4 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 tsp brown sugar
splash of balsamic vinegar
1 small red onion
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup plain yogurt
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 clove garlic
2 small tortilla wraps
lettuce

How to:

  • Make the sauce first by combining the yogurt, garlic, lemon and some salt and pepper in a food processor. Adjust to your taste and set aside.
  • Saute onion until it softens, add chicken and cook halfway.
  • Add balsamic and sugar and cook down until reduced and a bit sticky. Remove from heat.
  • Heat tortillas on a pan for a about 10 seconds to soften.
  • Place lettuce and chicken on the tortillas and top with the garlic sauce.
  • Roll into a wrap and enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

WHAT I ATE TODAY: Sweet Ecstasy


Heeeeyyyyy. I finally got to meet what people have been calling the best burger in town, and it did not disappoint- except for the fact that they only had sweet potato fries available when what I really wanted was the Ecstasy Fries! Anyway, This burger is all kinds of YES in my book. The bun is perfectly pillowy but can hold the burger and it's juiciness perfectly. It does not get soggy or fall apart which and the meat itself is full of flavor. I hate when burgers actually don't taste like anything and they use toppings and sauces to give it flavor. The beef should speak for itself, and this one definitely does.

It's a bit hot to eat there since it's summer and there's flies, but honestly, ask for a candle and enjoy your meal. I usually can't finish an entire sandwich but I ate the entire thing, and the kamote fries too! Next time I come back, I want a milkshake!

Sweet Ecstasy is located along Jupiter street, Makati

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Restaurant Review: Your Local



It took awhile for me to finally go to Your Local to try out the food. I really had no excuse because it's literally a 5 minute walk from my office, but since joining the company, I have been eating most of my lunches at my desk and only recently have started to venture out into the world of proper meals where one gets to sit for an hour and enjoy her food.

I've been to Your Local about 5 times from the first time a few months ago, and every single time I end up ordering the same thing. Don't get me wrong, everything on the menu sounds delicious and I don't doubt they are, but I'm a creature of habit and I go to certain places to eat certain things. Once in awhile I may deviate and try something new but I always go back to my favorites- The Chilli Crab Buns, Pomelo Salad and Feel Good Chicken.






I love Pomelo Salad in general, but their version takes the cake. It's ingredients? Shrimp, peanuts, winged beans, pickled quail eggs, wild rocket, shallots, yuzu, cilantro, thai coconut ice cream. I love the citrusy flavor the yuzu lends, I love cilantro and I most especially love fried shallots. The thai coconut ice cream is a fun and refreshing twist to the usual. None of the flavors overpower and yet it surprises your palate with different bursts of flavor. 





The chilli crab buns I like mostly because of the cilantro and the fried mantou buns. I usually get this to share because I just like having a taste of it. I really need to try the beef rendang version soon, which I hear is absolutely amazing. 





And last but not least, the Feel Good Chicken. I have no words for this chicken. I LOVE Fried Chicken. It's probably in my top 5 favorite things to eat in the world, and this one is marinated in prawn paste, fried and served with maple cream cheese. I mean what kind of mad genius would put those flavors together but it absolutely works. Like, I go to Your Local just to eat this. Everything else is secondary. Once my friend and I went to dinner, ordered a pomelo salad to share, a glass of wine and one order of feel good chicken each. We were in and out in about 30 minutes. I want some right now because I'm talking about it! Ask for extra cream cheese and I swear, don't share it with anyone.


Your Local is located at Ground Floor, Universal LMS Building, 106 Esteban Street,Legaspi Village, Makati City. Telephone: +63 9176543355

Friday, April 10, 2015

Travel Diaries: Marriott Manila Staycation


So, after a visit to the doctor, I learned I needed to start taking medication for something that required me to stop drinking. A travesty, I know, so to prep myself for my new life of sobriety, I checked into the Marriott on a late Friday night and planned to stay until Sunday afternoon to do nothing but relax, tan and drink copious amounts of alcohol as a last hurrah.

I know there are people who don't understand the logic in staycations, but there's just something about a king sized bed, crisp white sheets, a bathtub, a rain shower and room service that just makes you feel like life is good sometimes. Plus, buffet breakfasts and Happy Hour at the Executive Lounge ain't too shabby either.



I didn't even mind the fact that I had to work a little bit on a Saturday afternoon because hey, I had about three glasses of Chardonnay while doing so, and before that, I was tanning by the pool for a few hours, mojito in hand. The thing about staycations is that that you don't need to go far- in fact, Marriott is only 20 minutes form my house, but you get to relax and not worry about a thing, even for a night or two- AKA no need to wash dirty dishes or pick up after yourself-YAY!


Everyone knows how much I love to eat so a big highlight for me was having dinner at CRU, the steak house at the Marriott. If you are with a bunch of people, order a side each to share- I like the truffle risotto and the mac n' cheese. There's other thing son the menu but unless you are a vegetarian, you would be crazy not to order a steak. Remember: anything more than MEDIUM is a waste of a good piece of meat. The rarer the better ;p Needless to say, I rolled back into my room and fell into oblivion just minutes after getting into bed.




As if that was not enough, Marriott has champagne brunches every Sunday, so about 12 hours later, I was back downstairs with plates of food in front of me. Cru is part of the buffet, so you can get yummy prime rib as part of the package, plus unlimited amounts of champagne! I seriously don't know how I eat so much sometimes, as I get full really quickly but I had sushi, prime rib, pasta, bagnet plus tons of dessert and bubbly.

I had a great weekend, mostly by myself except for a couple of meals, and honestly, a weekend of solitude is the best thing you can give yourself especially if you are constantly busy and don't know how to relax (like me!) The one thing I am trying to learn is to do NOTHING and be ok with it and I think that a staycation every other month is in order! :)

Marriot Manila-No 10 Newport Boulevard, Newport City Complex, Pasay City, Manila, 1309 (Beside Resorts World)
Tel # (02) 988 9999

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Travel Diaries: D.I.Y. Europe

My article published in the Philippine Daily Inquire after my 9 week European sabbatical with my siblings. This is for people who want to D.I.Y. their Euro trip!

My siblings and I had been planning a long Euro trip together for years before we finally did it this year. With all of us grown up and with jobs and other responsibilities, even finding common schedules was a nightmare, and to make it even more complicated, we wanted to go to 13 cities in 6 weeks in different parts of the Europe without having to step into an airport a single time. Yes, we decided to go the Eurail way and take trains from city to city. Furthermore, we wanted a more local experience of places we were going to visit so instead of booking hotels, we booked apartments everywhere we went. I was in charge of planning everything, and with no travel agent involved, it took lots of time and research to figure out a route, how the train system works and what areas to stay in the different cities we visited. At the end of it all, it was worth all the effort as we got to personalize our trip to our tastes, needs and budget!

Travel by Train: Pros and Cons
Eurail.com is pretty easy to navigate and selecting the right pass really depends on how long you will be traveling, how many countries you plan on visiting and how many times you think you will use your pass. Since we were going to be there for 7 weeks, we decided to get the Global Pass, which allows unlimited travel days to any of the Schengen countries for two months from the first day of travel. You can get less travel days if you are staying long in most places and won't be using the train too much. This does not include city trains such as the Metro, but can be used on local and regional trains. Your Eurail pass is not your ticket, and you will still need to reserve your seats for where you want to go, but it gives you the luxury of traveling for a way lower price than a full-fare ticket, so you can go to more places. For instance, I was able to get a round trip ticket from Paris to Strasbourg for only €18 as opposed to the €40-70 range for a one way ticket if you buy without one. Another good thing about traveling via train is you can actually book a spot on a night train, sleep through the trip and wake up in your next destination, also saving a little money by not booking an extra night at a hotel. Traveling by train also gives you the opportunity to see places and spectacular views that you would not be able to during air travel. Remember that you must book your Eurail pass before you arrive in Europe!



Berlin Central Station
At Gare du Nord in Paris, on the way to Amsterdam!

There are, of course, a few disadvantages to everything, but none so bad that I would never travel via train again. First of all, you must know exactly what time your train leaves, what platform it is on and be there at least 15 minutes before it departs. Unlike air travel, where your name is called over a loudspeaker that you are the only person missing from the plane, the train will leave when it is scheduled to leave, regardless if you have a reserved seat or not. If you aren't on it when it departs, well, sorry! In Prague, we almost missed our train to Vienna because we were so confused by the platforms at their central station and literally ran and jumped into the train a minute before it took off-lugging our heavy bags while doing so. Also, if you enjoy the comfort of checking in your luggage and not worrying about it until you disembark, then forget train traveling. You have to carry all your own stuff in and out and make sure you watch it constantly to make sure nobody accidentally or purposely takes your bag. There's also talk of a lot of theft in Europe nowadays so watch your stuff like a hawk! Another thing is that you need to make reservations in advance because there is a limited number of seats reserved for Eurail pass holders, so if you try to get one on the day you plan to leave, you might not be able to. What we did was book at least five cities in advance so it wasn't such an inconvenience to have to line up every time we arrived somewhere to book seats for the next destination. Lastly, in certain locations, you may have to take local trains, which are free for pass holders, but have no reserved seating and sometimes are not as nice as others. Also, if it's packed, chances are you won't get much rest or space during your travel. Thankfully, we only encountered this problem traveling from Florence to Nice, where you have to take the Italian train line until Ventimiglia on the Italian-French border, then switch to a local train to Nice which was packed with people and full of stops, and also from San Sebastian to Bordeaux. You get of at Irun/Hendaye on the Spanish-French border and take a local train to Bordeaux. Other than that, it was smooth sailing for all our rides. Lastly, if you aren't into long haul traveling, maybe train rides aren't for you. We would average about 5 hours per trip, but our longest was from Vienna to Venice at 11 hours on a night train. I have to be honest, we cheated once and flew from Nice to Barcelona, but only because we would have to take a local train with no reserved seats and travel for over 13 hours with a few switches!


The dreadful train from Ventimiglia to Nice. Dreadful because it was the summer and there were so many tourists coming in and out in every stop, and we had our luggage and other crap.
On an 11 hour overnight train from Vienna to Venice. It wasn't SO bad but I wouldn't wanna do it again unless absolutely necessary!


Staying in apartments: Ups and Downs

I was in charge of booking our Eurail passes and our accommodations and one thing I recommend is to plan months in advance to get the best rates for apartments, and so you have time to really look for a place that suits your taste and needs. Airbnb.com has a wide selection of apartments for rent all over the world and there is something for every budget. Consider this- some of the cheaper hotels I looked up in Paris were about €80 and good for two people, but we were able to get an apartment for the three of us plus two friends for €120, in Le Marais, no less, just a block away from Place des Vosges. In Florence, we rented an apartment just a 7 minute walk to the Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo, which was also close to a lot of shopping, the San Lorenzo Market and the Uffizi Gallery for less than €100 per night for three people. Aside from spending less, it also allows for a more “local” experience I feel because you are able to go to the markets and cook your own food and live in neighborhoods that are a bit off the tourist center, but close enough for you to get to where you need to go. It's a great way to really feel at home because you are in someone's house or apartment, usually complete with everything you will need for a comfortable stay. Furthermore, you can shop for a new place to “live” in every city and actually stay in a really cute apartment for as long as you need.

Outside our Amsterdam apartment just a block away from Albert Cuypmarkt. Hello fresh stroopwafels!

Our Le Marais apartment in Paris. Down the street from a boulangerie with my fave tarte tatin and close to everything for only 20 euros per head per night (5 people)

Now the downside-booking an apartment can be a little tricky, especially if you have never been to the city you are visiting. You want to know that you are central enough, but also want to feel like you are part of the local community. It's best to do your research on the city before booking a place so that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. If you don't do your own research and decide what it is you want to do or see in the city, then you may end up booking a place that is too far or in a dodgy area (which might explain why it's really cheap) Another downside to booking an apartment is that photos can lie and you might not be getting exactly what you expect. 95% of the time, we were satisfied with the places we chose but there was that odd apartment that was not what we bargained for. Another thing is that you need to be responsible for finding a place that is secure because unlike hotels, you will not have a doorman and a front desk that prohibits random people from coming in and out. Most place online will advertise that they have a security lock on the front door of the building plus more in the actual unit, but we had one experience in Paris wherein we opened the apartment for the first time and saw that it seemed to have been broken into! Needless to say, we booked another place ASAP and worked out a refund from the owner.

At the end of the day, I feel that traveling this way made me closer to my siblings because we had to figure things out together, instead of relying on someone to plan our trip for us. Since we felt a bit too old to actually “Backpack” in the literal sense, but wanted the same sort of adventure, slight unpredictability and freedom as backpackers do, we opted for this. It may not be for everyone. But it's definitely the best choice for people who want to feel less like a tourist and more like a local in their travels and even with some of the mishaps and misadventures, I would not have done it any other way!

Photos by Mio Paredes
Published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2013

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Slow Cooking: Lamb Stew


I love slow cooking. It's therapeutic, makes the house smell good and makes meat so fall-off-the-bone tender. I also love anything with sauce because I'm super Pinoy and love rice swimming in sauce. I had some lamb so I decided to make a simple stew. This takes a few hours to cook but it's not difficult and you really just need to check on it every 45 minutes or so for about 3 or 4 hours, so if you have a free day or have time on a weekend, I urge you to try it.

Ingredients:
1/2 kilo lamb shoulder or chops
Flour, for dusting
1 TBS tomato paste
2 TBS yellow mustard
1 400 g can crushed tomatoes
1 cup red wine (no sweet wine please!)
3 cups beef stock
1 large carrot, chopped into large pieces
3 potatoes, cut into quarters
2 red onions, cut in halves
1 head garlic, chopped in half
1 sprig rosemary
salt and pepper, to taste
1TBS olive oil

How to:

  • Dust lamb with flour and sear on high heat to seal the meat. Set aside.
  • In the same pan, add some oil then add carrots, onions, garlic and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper and cook until onions and garlic caramelize and leave a sticky residue on the pan. Deglaze with a little beef stock and add lamb back into the pan.
  • Add mustard and tomato paste and cook for a minute before adding crushed tomatoes, beef stock and red wine. 
  • Bring to the boil and then bring down to a low heat and simmer for 3-4 hours, or until lamb is falling off the bone. Make sure you check on it and stir every 45 minutes. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Manic Monday: Asian-style baked chicken and cauli-rice


So, I decided that I would no longer use the excuse "I'm too busy" to find myself at my work desk at lunch eating a bag of Piattos or something equally horrible. Don't get me wrong, I love Piattos ( and most chips actually lol) but I don't only know how to cook, I actually love preparing my own meals. Now that I have more time on my hands because I have shorter hours at the office, I promised myself I would start cooking my baon again. But even with this extra time, I still don't have hours to spend in the kitchen except on weekends, so I still prefer to make things that are easy to prep, easy to cook and can be stored for a few days. My all time favorite is chicken. Whether whole, thighs, drumsticks, boneless and skinless breasts, it does not matter, I love it all.

I actually made 3 kinds of marinade for the chicken I bought for the next week or so, but here's the first one, served with garlic cauli-rice.

Ingredients: (adjust to your liking- these are just guestimates hehe)

1/2 cup Hoisin Sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 thumb ginger, grated
4 cloves garlic, chopped
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 kilo chicken thighs and drumsticks
coriander, to garnish
1 head cauliflower

How to:


  • Mix all ingredients except cauliflower, chicken,coriander and 1 tsp. of garlic.
  • Pour marinade over chicken and allow to sit for at least 1 hour, but overnight is better.
  • Bake chicken at 350 for 45 minutes covered and then an extra 5 minutes uncovered.
  • While chicken is baking, boil cauliflower until cooked, but not soft.
  • Break the head of cauliflower into smaller pieces and put in a food processor. Pulse until cauliflower breaks down into the size and shape of rice.
  • Cook cauli-rice in garlic and onions. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve chicken on top of cauli-rice and garnish with coriander.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Glazed Baby Carrots #KindaHealthy


I hate carrots! I never liked them, even as a kid and my whole life I have been forcing myself to eat them, but every time I do, I'm just like, BLEH, dislike.

Until I tried them glazed as a side to my veggie meatloaf at a Vegetarian restaurant I can't recall. I surprised myself and everyone at the table by devouring every single carrot. I decided that I would end this war against these little orange vegetables and eat them from time to time, and only if cooked this way. It's is almost brainlessly easy to make this, and it goes great as a side to roast chicken or pork. I used organic baby carrots I found at the weekend market, but any baby carrots will do. If you are using the big ones, split them in half or even quarters lengthwise for faster cook time.

Ingredients:

Baby carrots, no exact weight or measurement
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs honey
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbs butter

How to:

  • Put carrots in a pan and fill with water. Bring to the boil and cook for about 6 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Melt butter in the pan, add brown sugar and honey and met down into a syrup.
  • Add carrots and toss to coat evenly.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve with your favorite roast.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Orzo with chicken and broccoli and creamy yogurt sauce #KindaHealthy




 I just came home from a trip, my daughter is not in town and I work way too much and never have time to do anything- including groceries! Thankfully, I had a few things in my fridge and pantry and was able to whip up a quick and easy- and quite tasty meal in less than 15 minutes! You can use any pasta for this but if you can find orzo (aka risoni) I think it works quite well.

Ingredients:

250 grams orzo, cooked
3 cups broccoli, blanched and quartered
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 sprigs tarragon, chopped
200 grams of speck, diced (you can replace with regular crunchy bacon or pancetta)
1.5 tbs yellow mustard
1.5 cups greek or natural yogurt
salt and pepper, to taste
60 grams grated grana padano or parmesan cheese
2 tbs butter

How to:

  • Saute the onions, garlic and speck until fragrant and onions are translucent.
  • Add chicken and cook until sealed.
  • Add broccoli and mix.
  • Add mustard and yogurt and coat evenly.
  • Add orzo, combine and remove from heat
  • While still hot, add butter and cheese and mix well.
  • Sprinkle with tarragon and season as needed (go easy on the salt because it has cheese)
  • Enjoy!