Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cozying up to Larcy's Cupcakery

Valrhona Triple Chocolate Cupcake
Larcy's Cupcakery is a cozy hangout place in BF that specializes in- you guessed it- cupcakes. Aside from cupcakes though, Larcy's also serve cafe drinks and savory meals.

Parking is usually full whenever I pass by and I am not too crazy about going through the hassle of waiting for a spot to free up so I cannot say that I frequent the place. One very late Saturday night though, when I was with some friends and we were hankering for dessert after our dinner at Songkran, there was one parking space that seemed to have been waiting for us. So there we parked and set off to this wonderland of sweets.

I love these pretty lightbulbs!
The interiors of Larcy's bear all the hallmarks of a cupcake shop. Pastel colors (think pink!), whimsical furniture, cutesy light fixtures and decorative items, it's a place that a "manly man" would not be caught dead hanging out in, except, maybe, when he is with his girlfriend or his little daughter.

Even on a late night, Larcy's counter is full of customers waiting in line to place their orders, and the turnover rate of customers per table is impressively high. We stayed there for about an hour and we'd seen the table beside us seat three different sets of customers.

On top of that, the place isn't small, even having an outdoor terrace on the second floor accommodating several more tables. Although, the terrace is where the air conditioning units are so it can get pretty warm up there.

Larcy's staff urged us to try the Pink Velvet (Php65), their signature cupcake, so that made its way to our table. Other cupcakes we've tried are the Banana Cream Cheese (Php70) and Valrhona Triple Chocolate. As for drinks, we've had the Hot Mocha, Larcy's Freeze in Vanilla (Php150), and Hot Frozen Choco Velvet.

Hot Frozen Choco Velvet
I liked the Hot Frozen Choco Velvet the first time I tried it. On this visit though, the drink seemed it could use a longer whir in the blender, there were too many ice crystals in it and hardly felt like velvet in my mouth. But I'm chalking it up to a busted blender or perhaps a too-tired crew, something that can be fixed, and would still order it the next time. (I really enjoy drinking from that cute mason jar mug, too.)

Larcy's Cupcakery is located at 178 Aguirre Street, B.F. Homes, Paranaque City. Contact Larcy's at (02)799-4174.

Monday, September 23, 2013

This Weather Calls for Hot Tea and Pastry

CBTL Lemon Square
It is monsoon season and it is raining buckets again where I live. Through the bedroom window, I watch pedestrians wade and vehicles carefully wheel through gutter deep flood water. I would see the occasional car make an abrupt stop at one section of the highway, perhaps deciding the water is too high, and make a U-turn. It's been like that since yesterday and I have not been able to get out of the house since then.

Genmaicha Green Tea
On days like this, my thoughts wander off to a quiet cafe cozying up with the latest book I've been putting off reading. Today it's Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf - ATC that beckons me. As I am wont to do in CBTL, I would order a scalding hot mug of Genmaicha Green tea and a lemon square to nibble on. Also called "popcorn tea," genmaicha is a combination of green tea leaves and roasted brown rice. Some of the brown rice pop in the process of roasting, resembling little popcorn, hence the alias. I find this blend satisfying on its own, I don't even see the need to add sugar or honey, and the aroma is soothing. It's perfect for cold and wet weather like the one we're having right now.

And that lemon square... I've only recently tried it because the creature of habit that I am, I constantly order the supremely indulgent Triple Decker Cheesecake whenever I am in the mood for sweets in CBTL. Sufficiently sweet, lemony, and lip-smackingly tangy, the Lemon Square is my favorite CBTL pastry of the moment. Now, if only the weather permits...

But the monsoon does not permit. The weather bureau has delivered a precarious forecast just two hours ago, lowering the rainfall alert but warns of moderate to at times heavy rainfall with a chance of flooding. Whatever that means, I think I am staying indoors a while longer. Stay safe everyone.

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf - ATC is located at Outdoor Activity Center, Alabang Town Center, Alabang-Zapote Road, Alabang, Muntinlupa.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three Red Velvet Cupcakes to Love

Marta's Cakes' Red Velvet Cupcake
This candy heart-topped red velvet cupcake is by Marta's Cakes. It's a no-frills red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting. No spins on the original formula, no over-imaginative frosting, no cheeky cupcake names. Just pure unadulterated red velvet cupcake. Sometimes, you just want simple, you know?

The red velvet cupcake base does not look much, a bit deflated even, but one bite and it kind of explains itself. It is a very moist red velvet cupcake, like a cross between a pudding and a sponge cake. In fact, if you take a good look at it, you will see the red cake glisten underneath that beehive of a frosting.

Speaking of frosting-- that swirl is wicked delicious. It's creamy and not cloyingly sweet. Unlike most cream cheese frosting, which tend to either be too sweet or too tangy (worse, both), I could eat this one with a spoon. And lots of it. So it's a wonderful thing that Marta's Cakes decided to level up this red velvet cupcake with a good measure of its cream cheese frosting.

Interestingly, the frosting did not use to be this high. Before this incarnation, it was just a single layer of cream cheese frosting. I love this fluffier almost mousse-like frosting though. Never mind it probably added ten bucks more to the original price. Not cheap at Php80, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

This one came from Marta's Cakes' branch in Alabang Town Center. Unlike the bigger store it has in Serendra, the one in ATC is just a stall offering carry-home cakes and other baked sweets. 

Marta's Cakes-Alabang is located at Ground Floor Activity Center, Alabang Town Center, Muntinlupa City. Visit the website at www.ilovemartascakes.com.

Red Velvet Cupcake by Slice
The Red Velvet Cupcake by Slice is another one of my favorites. Much raved about for quite some time now since Slice opened its doors in 2012, I have not tasted this Red Velvet Cupcake until yesterday, actually, when I was in SM Aura. Slice opened up a microcosm of their famous Bonifacio High Street cafe in the food court area of the swanky new mall, serving up pastries and paper-cup versions of their coffee concoctions.

Slice's Red Velvet Cupcake has a moist cake but it is denser than that of Marta's Cakes. It is fairly evident from the showing of a nice, intensely red, puffed-up dome of cake underneath that cream cheese frosting. The beautiful rosette of frosting is also something I really liked. It had just the right balance of sweetness and tang, and that airy-light yet creamy texture that I appreciate in a cream cheese frosting.

Slice-SM Aura is located at Food on Four, 4th Level, SM Aura Premier, McKinley Parkway, McKinley Hill, Taguig City.

Red Velvet Cupcake by The Dessert Factory
Last, is the Red Velvet Cupcake by The Dessert Factory Restaurant & Bakery in Cebu City. This cupcake has a shabby chic charm that I found impossible to resist from the minute I stepped inside the restaurant. If the first thing that you noticed from this picture is the gorgeous frosting on this cupcake, then you will have an idea why I felt that way.

The detail on that frosting is impressive. It looks like a replica of the Philippine Rosal flower on top of a red velveteen throw pillow. Beautiful as it was, I just knew I had to bite into it even if it meant messing up a work of art. I loved how this frosting melted like whipped butter in my mouth. Like the two before this, it is not a super sweet frosting that inspires cloy. It has just right amount of sugar and cream cheese to enhance the flavor of the red velvet cupcake base.

It is the biggest cupcake of the three, and ironically, the cheapest at only Php55. As if a contradiction to its the delicate-looking frosting, the big, rustic cupcake underneath has a robust texture to it. See how it rises high and mighty over its paper cup? It is almost like a muffin, but still surprisingly soft and moist. Girls, I think The Dessert Factory's Red Velvet Cupcake is the answer to your man's question, "What is so great about the Red Velvet Cupcake?"

The Dessert Factory-Ayala Mall Cebu is located at The Terraces, 3rd Level, Ayala Center Cebu,  Cebu Business Park, Cebu City.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting My Pad Thai Fix at Songkran

Pad Thai (Shrimp/Chicken)
flat rice noodles, shrimp or chicken, crushed peanuts

When I am too lazy to make my own Pad Thai at home, I go to my favorite Thai restaurant in BF Paranaque, Songkran. I love the Pad Thai here. The serving is quite generous and your server will tell you that it could feed two people. But when hungry and alone, I normally finish a plate all by myself.

Jasmine Rice
Songkran also refers to a festival in Thailand which is celebrated as the country's traditional New Year's Day (in April). In Thailand, the Songkran Festival is commemorated by people throwing water at each other, which is considered as a sign of respect. The name not connoting anything related to food, a friend of mine familiar with the Thai festival understandably got a bit confused, suspicious even, when I invited her for dinner at Songkran.

I was told that food in Songkran is authentic Thai, owing to their Thai chef. Perhaps an homage to authenticity is Songkran's use of traditional Thai patterned aluminum rice bowls for their single serve jasmine rice. But having never been to Thailand myself to sample Thai cuisine at the source, I have zero credibility to judge on the matter. But give me good Pad Thai with a healthy mound of crushed peanuts and a lime wedge on the side and I'm happy as a clam.

Songkran always serve a slice of lime together with the Pad Thai, which I appreciate so much. I have been to a couple of restaurants that don't even bother to give one. Maybe some overlook this simple little ritual, but I never do: a squeeze of lime to Pad Thai makes a world of difference.

While the prices of the food in Songkran are relatively pocket-friendly, the most economical way of eating here is to share a meal with at least one buddy. Most of the dishes here are good for sharing. Also, you get more variety that way.

Bagoong Rice (Kao Kruk Gapi)
Special Thai bagoong, shallots, sweetened pork, green mango

Chicken Pandan (Gai Hor Bai Toey)
Tom Yum Goong
hot sour soup, shrimp, lemongrass

When I am with friends, the table gets populated with more than just Pad Thai. When that happens, chicken pandan, bagoong rice, and Tom Yum Goong makes an appearance. 

Songkran's fresh spring rolls (Php125) is a good appetizer and delivers what is expected of a good appetizer: wakes up the palate with its fresh and vibrant flavors and leaves enough room for the main course. For those looking for a bit more meat, the Pork Spare Ribs (tender pork spare ribs, Thai bbq sauce, Php225) is always a popular choice.

Songkran-BF is located at 249 Aguirre Ave. BF Homes, Paranaque City. Contact Songkran-BF at +632 829-2963

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Make Pad Thai at Home

"No-Tamarind Paste" Pad Thai
Pad Thai is without a doubt my favorite when it comes to Thai Cuisine. Always on the table when I am in a Thai restaurant, I can not recall a time when I haven't ordered it. I suppose it was only a matter of time that I would want to eat Pad Thai even at home, so it was such a treat when I found ready-made Pad Thai sauce in my favorite supermarket.

Yes, a Pad Thai sauce mix. So I may be cheating a bit. What stopped me from making the sauce from scratch was tamarind paste. I am from an Asian country, and we do have tamarind trees here. But apart from Sinigang, I do not know any other Filipino dish that uses tamarind, let alone tamarind paste. This explains the utter lack of tamarind paste in our local grocery.

Unfortunately, all of the recipes of authentic Pad Thai online has tamarind paste on its ingredients list. That is, until recently, I discovered a recipe that did not require it. Interestingly, the author of the recipe explains that traditional Pad Thai did not have tamarind at all. Skeptical at first, I decided to give it a go. And I am so glad I did. My Pad Thai tasted a whole lot better than what I used to make using the pre-made mix. Now I can say I can cook real homemade Pad Thai without feeling a wee bit guilty for using a mix.

Easy Pad Thai Noodles Recipe

9 oz./250 g. pad Thai rice noodles
10-12 medium raw shrimp, shells removed
1 boneless chicken breast or 1-2 thighs, chopped up into small pieces
1.5 Tbsp. soy sauce
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 fresh red or green chilies (to taste), finely sliced
1 tsp. grated galangal OR ginger
4 green onions, sliced (keep white separate from green)
1 egg
2-3 cups bean sprouts
1/3 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
2-3 Tbsp. vegetable oil for stir-frying
lime wedges for serving

1/3 cup good-tasting chicken stock
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar OR white vinegar
1 Tbsp. lime juice
3-4 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. white pepper

Place chopped chicken in a bowl and toss with soy sauce (1.5 Tbsp). Set aside. Combine 'Pad Thai Sauce' ingredients together in a cup, stirring to dissolve sugar. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Dunk in rice noodles and switch off heat. Allow noodles to soak approximately 6 minutes, OR until soft enough to bend easily, but still firm and 'undercooked' by regular standards. Drain and rinse noodles briefly with cold water to keep from sticking. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the oil and swirl around, then add the garlic, chili, galangal/ginger, and the white parts of the green onion (reserve green tops for later). Stir-fry 1 minute.

Add marinated chicken and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the shrimp, continuing to stir-fry until they turn pink and chicken is opaque (2-3 minutes). When pan becomes dry, add 1-2 Tbsp. of the pad Thai sauce - just enough to keep ingredients frying nicely.

Using your spatula or cooking utensil, push ingredients to the side of the pan (if pan is dry, drizzle in a little oil). Crack egg into center and stir-fry quickly to scramble. Then add noodles plus 3-4 Tbsp. of the pad Thai sauce. Using two utensils, lift and turn noodles with other ingredients. Continue in this way, adding more sauce every minute or two, until all has been added and the noodles are chewy-delicious and a little bit sticky (8-10 minutes).

Fold in bean sprouts. Remove from heat and taste-test, adding more fish sauce until desired taste is achieved (I usually end up adding 1 Tbsp). Portion out onto individual plates and add a lime wedge on the side. Top with remaining green onion and a small heap of chopped/ground nuts.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Oven Toaster Love: Lemon Butter Poached Tanigue

A little incident with our oven made me discover whole new ways to abuse the toaster oven. One of them involves tanigue steaks and foil. See, before the oven went haywire, I found a fish recipe online that became my latest favorite quick meal, Lemon Butter Poached Tanigue. (Of course, the original recipe called for trout. But in these parts, we do not get trout. We have tanigue.)

While the freshness of the fish is of paramount importance, I make sure to use only good quality butter and freshly cracked black pepper for this dish. The ingredients are so few and so basic that there is simply no room for a flavor to go off-key. This rewards me with a delicately-flavored fish that simply melts in the mouth, every single time.

The author dubbed it The Easiest Way to Cook Fish. I love easy.

When I could not use the oven, my fondness for this dish did not stop. And that's where I learned that I could cook it the same way using the toaster oven. See what I did there? I made the easiest way to cook fish even easier.

Lemon Butter Poached Tanigue

1 tanigue steak
2 slices of lemon
1-2 tablespoon of unsalted butter, divided

Lay tanigue steak on a sheet of foil big enough to enclose the fish.

Season fish with salt and pepper. Arrange butter evenly across top of fish. Then lay the lemon slices on top.

Fold foil into a pouch, and place the pouch in the toaster oven tray. 

Bake in the toaster oven for 15 minutes.

If you are using a conventional oven, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the foil-enclosed fish on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Also, you can replace butter with extra virgin olive oil.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Memorable (Croissant-Doughnut) Demo

Pistachio Croissant-Doughnuts
This is the best croissant-doughnut that I've ever had so far, and it was made right in front of my own eyes. A pistachio croissant-doughnut, it's filled with a pistachio white chocolate ganache and chopped pistachios in the middle and frosted with pastel green-tinded royal icing. 

The pistachio filling was divine, and it took every ounce of my willpower not to ask for a dollop more when seconds of the creamy filling were offered.

I did, however, lick every trace of it off my fingers despite my better judgment, because, because... my heart ached at the thought of any ounce of it going to waste.

The croissant-doughnut base was a story in itself. I had seen it bob about in hot oil as it cooked but not a drop of excess oil stained my lips when I bit into it. It was light, flaky-crisp (just as I had dreamed it to be), and sinfully buttery. Forget the hype that surrounds this pastry. This is seriously good food, pure and simple.

The bad part about this is that these sweet babies aren't commercially available.

This outrageously delicious pastry was the product of a demo conducted by Chef Marc Chalopin at Enderun Colleges. Armed with an expertly developed recipe and the culinary precision characteristic of a seasoned French chef, Chef Marc led us through the intricacies of recreating the wildly popular brainchild of chef Dominique Ansel, the Cronut™.

Asked whether any croissant recipe would do, Chef Marc vehemently says no. He's tried, he says, and the thing that came out of the deep-fryer, whatever it was, looked like an accordion. Needless to say, cutting an ordinary croissant dough into a doughnut shape and deep frying it does not make a croissant-doughnut.

Now, my friends know that I am not a morning person. Definitely not on a weekend. The demo was held on a Saturday, from 9am to 12nn, in a venue located 21 kilometers away from where I live. 

When asked whether it was worth breaking my own quirky conventions, I answer: Are you kidding me? I had the chance to taste a doughnut-croissant made by the executive chef of Ducasse Institute Philippines with the added bonus of watching him actually make it. Of course it was worth it.

I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

To catch more informative and fulfilling short courses and learn more about Enderun, visit http://www.enderuncolleges.com/ and http://www.enderunextension.com/

Photo credits: All of the photographs in this post save for the last three are courtesy of Enderun Extension. (I was too preoccupied to take decent pictures. For obvious reasons.)

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