SpeedRegalo Product of the Week: Confection’s Coffee Love Cupcakes

It’s been a few months since my taste buds first experienced Catrina Tan’s coffee flavored cupcake, but my brain still remembers the moment clearly.  I distinctly remember opening the plastic Tupperware container filled with mini coffee treats, and immediately being hit by the unmistakable smell of coffee beans. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cupcake that affected my senses even before the first bite. After my teeth sunk into the moist cupcake, tongue enveloped in luscious coffee flavored buttercream, I knew it was love.

coffee cupcake reg_2

Catrina Tan, the creator of the home-based pastry business, Confection, is known for making cupcakes, brownies, and cookies that are to die for. A little trivia: it was actually while she was bedridden in the hospital, suffering from dengue fever, that a light bulb went off in her head, and she decided to pursue her passion; to seriously start baking. It was baking that truly gave her peace in the midst of personal storms that were brewing in her life at the time, and it was one of the only things that could soothe her despite life taking an emotional toll.

Confection’s story is the result of light being found in the midst of darkness. At a time in Catrina’s life when she was broken, lost, sad, and surrounded by overwhelming pressure, it was through her fervor for baking that she became whole once again. It was also through the support of friends—who genuinely loved her addicting creations—that she was eventually encouraged to take her passion to the next level. Everything finally fell into place.

You can definitely taste the love put into her baking. Every time I bite into a coffee cupcake, a chewy chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, or an exquisite vanilla buttercream cupcake, I get all tingly inside, and I can’t help but smile from ear to ear. This is what Confection does to me, and I just can’t help but share my adoration for Catrina’s sweet delicacies.

What makes me even happier is that you can order Confection products at your own convenience, and have them delivered straight to your doorstep—via Speed Regalo, of course. Pick and choose depending on your mood; whether it’s mini cupcake baskets of 36 or 12 pieces or regular cupcake boxes of 16 or 6 pieces, you’re bound to feel absolutely content afterwards.

coffee cupcake reg_4

Much Love,
Reg — regine.rafael@speedregalo.ph

Meal of the Moment: Ukokkei Ramen Ron’s Tan Tan Men

It’s no secret that noodles have slowly started to surpass rice as my carb of choice. While there are definitely some meals that require rice, there’s just something about noodles—it’s been repeatedly winning me over and over, without fail.

While I’ve been going noodle crazy, Manila has been going bonkers for it as well—particularly for Japanese ramen. This popular Japanese noodle dish actually originated in China, believe it or not, and consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles swimming in meat or fish-based broth, typically flavored with soy sauce or miso, and crowned with an array of toppings such as chasu (sliced pork), nori (dried seaweed) and corn.

Ramen is certainly one of my ultimate comfort foods; I love that warm, fuzzy feeling I get while slurping up my noodles, my tummy filled to the brim with soup, pork slices tantalizing my taste buds. Yup, you definitely can’t go wrong with a gargantuan bowl of ramen. I enjoy getting my fix at Ukokkei Ramen Ron, fondly known as one of Manila’s best ramen spots. Ukokkei has been around for quite a while, and besides being known for its authentically delicious ramen and its spine-chilling chef, it is also well known for its tantanmen.

One of the most coveted dishes in Ukokkei--a bowl of tantanmen.

One of the most coveted dishes in Ukokkei–a bowl of tantanmen.

Oh, the tan tan men. It is heaven in a steaming bowl. This dish is meant to be the Japanese version of Chinese dan dan noodles, and it is basically ramen in a spicy chili and sesame broth with minced pork, garnished with scallions. Ukokkei definitely does tan tan men right, the subtle nutty flavor and the kick of chili perfectly balancing each other out. The noodles are perfectly al dente, and there is more than enough minced meat to go around. One thing to remember whenever you’re craving for Ukokkei’s renowned tan tan men is that they only serve about 30 bowls per evening (so I’ve been told). Trust me, these bowls go FAST. So if you’re able to grab one on a busy night, consider yourself fortunate. I think I might have to go back this week just to feed my tantanmen addiction even more.

Nothing made me sadder than realizing that my meal has come to an end.

Nothing made me sadder than realizing that my meal has come to an end.

Travel Tidbits: Exploring Taipei’s Bakeries & Cafés

Taipei City—in one of the most food-driven countries in Asia, Taiwan—is an actual food mecca that is just waiting to explode. I spent a few days shamelessly eating my way through the city during the latter part of September 2012, and despite the fact that this trip wasn’t a first, my mind was gastronomically blown even more the second time around. Let’s just it put this way—most of my time was spent either putting food into my mouth, or thinking of what to gobble up next. All for the love of market research, I say.

My quick trip to Taipei stemmed from market research for a little bakery café that my mother just opened up a couple of months ago. We spent our days exploring bakeries of all kinds; French inspired, Asian inspired, you name it we were there. Visiting the endless variety of bakeries not typically seen in Manila was eye-opening. Who would have thought that you’d find rose and cranberry bread, red wine and chocolate toast, lychee bread or chocolate bread chock full of ooey gooey cheese? It was incredible! The Taiwanese definitely take their bread seriously. A little tip—when you see a bakery on a street corner in Taipei, go in. Arm yourself with those plastic tongs and an empty tray, and you won’t regret it.

Taipei’s cafes have their own twists as well, with a big focus on quaint European traditions such as afternoon high tea. I absolutely adore the afternoon high tea concept, and if I could, I’d have it everyday. Who wouldn’t love a foamy cappuccino or a cup of English grey, paired with a tower of pastries and h’orderves? Scones, cream puffs, cheese bites, quiches, macarons, fruit tarts; gorgeous little pieces of art on a glistening silver tower platter. In my eyes, that is just the perfect way to unwind during the middle of the day.

High Tea at Villa 32, a hot springs getaway near Taipei City.

Another popular thing found in Taipei cafés are the ever-so-famous honey toast breads. The particular ones I was able to try are found in the hip spot, Dazzling Café, where a table proves quite difficult to book. The toasts of choice for my party were the Supreme Strawberry Lover Honey Toast and the Banana Chocolate Honey Toast. The strawberry was the main attraction, looking regal in its own gorgeous splendor. Golden toast topped with bright pink strawberries, surrounded by custard, and topped with cream, it was surely a sight to behold. After being sliced open, strawberry ice creams begins to ooze out, and it’s once I take that first sweet, crisp bite that I know I’ve found a winner.

Supreme Strawberry Lover Honey Toast

The chocolate banana toast arrives next, looking elegant in its own right—three thick pieces of toast on top of each other, a mound of deliciously rich chocolate ice cream adorning the peak, but it’s when it is taken apart that it begins to shine. Rows of sliced bananas slathered in chocolate sauce greet me, and the first bite of chocolate and banana, with that toasty crunch, immediately brings me back to first grade recess.

Banana Chocolate Honey Toast, already melting! You have to eat this one quickly!

Surprise, the row of bananas and chocolate, ready to be eaten.

I’m sure Taipei has even more to offer than what I’ve actually seen, and only continues to add more to its growing list of food must-haves. From my adventures inside numerous bakeries, cafes, xiao long bao joints, dim sum houses, and shabu sabu hole-in-the-walls, I will undoubtedly be back again and again.

Meal of the Moment (Taipei Edition): Nonzero’s Dinner Set

Taipei is a food lover’s haven. This was my second trip to the wonderfully vibrant, food-centered city, and both times I always end up feeling like I’m racing in a food marathon. The eating never ends! More on that in my next post.

I wanted to focus on this delicious—and organic—find, a restaurant called Nonzero. Very straight to the point, Nonzero focuses on food being one’s primary source towards health and well-being. Go figure, the owner of this restaurant, Mr. Chu Ping, also heads Taiwan’s franchise of Aveda Cosmetics. As soon as you enter Nonzero, you can’t help but notice its cozy, homey vibe. Wooden ceiling panels, aluminum countertops that remind you of American home kitchens, family style seating, plus shelves stocked with kitchen supplies, books, and wine bottles; you are immediately transported to a world where nothing else but the food matters.

I loved Nonzero’s open kitchen vibe. Everything about it made me feel at home.

You can opt for Nonzero’s a la carte menu or its set menu; my group and I decided on the latter. Starting us off on this organic food journey was a pumpkin soup with raw mushrooms. Very simple, yet filled with flavor, the pumpkin was slightly sweet, and I loved munching on the mushrooms. The two made a perfect combination, and how adorable is that ornate pot they served the soup in?

Pumpkin & mushroom soup.

After making sure every single drop of soup was gone, I was eager to see what the next course would be. A huge plate of greens arrived, and what caught my attention most were two things: figs and ice plants.

Absolutely gorgeous– A fig and an ice plant

The figs in my salad were juicy, and I loved the sound of crunching seeds filling my ears as I chewed. Figs truly are one of my favorite fruits. The ice plants—which are vegetables that hail from South Africa—were completely new to me. As if encrusted with miniscule crystals, this vegetable glistened under the restaurant’s warm glow, and I couldn’t wait to taste this mysterious ingredient. Upon first bite, it’s like the vegetable explodes a little bit in your mouth, as if all the crystals are water molecules waiting to be released. I enjoyed having these two different textures in my salad, and one thing I love about traveling to different countries is experiencing different ingredients I wouldn’t normally come across at home!

The next course was incredibly refreshing; we were presented with scallops atop a Parmesan crisp and diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and pears. Talk about a play in textures and flavors! With a hint of sweet, and a touch of salty, this was a good transition dish for what was to come.

The most refreshing course of the night– Scallops atop a Parmesan crisp & diced cucumbers, pears, and tomatoes.

Next up was grilled squid, flavored with some salt and pepper, and a splash of lime. This is the beauty of Nonzero; what I love about them is the fact that they serve dishes so simple, yet because of their fresh ingredients and straightforward approach, you can count on it tasting delicious sans the fancy sauces or marinades.

Grilled squid.

Our next dish arrived, another no frills entrée, which was sea bass over some grilled vegetables. This was my least favorite out of everything that arrived, but again, I can’t stress enough how fresh, quality ingredients really made a difference with every dish served.

Sea bass & grilled vegetables.

The main attraction finally arrived–in all its pink, glowing perfection—herbed lamb over sweet potato fries! When I saw this dish, I couldn’t help but gasp a little bit. It was beautiful, and it tasted even better than it looked! Nice and pink, just the way I like my meat, the juices surged out with every bite. The crisp sweet potato fries were a perfect companion, slightly balancing out the gaminess of the lamb. No need for sauces, my friends! It tasted perfect.

Capping off our gluttonous, yet healthy (how ironic!) evening was a fruit and pastry platter. Out came a round wooden plate adorned with fresh kiwi, apples, pears, and melons. To add even more to the selection of sweets were pieces of almond biscotti, a sliver of blueberry cheesecake, chocolate cake, apple crumble, and mounds of lemon chiffon.

Post-dessert, armed with my after-dinner cappuccino, I sat back and marveled at how a restaurant serving such simple, wholesome dishes could still remain interesting. It all boils down to my beliefs that dining out should be an experience, and Nonzero truly was. With its take on organic food, coupled with the welcoming ambiance, I thoroughly enjoyed my last meal in Taipei City, Taiwan. So Nonzero, thank you for the eventful good bye, I couldn’t have asked for a better last supper. :)

Thank you for a wonderful evening, Nonzero.

Travel Tidbits: Tourist Mode in Bohol

Bohol island, in the Visayan region of the Philippines, is known for its many tourist hotspots, like those legendary Chocolate Hills, peculiar bug-eyed mammals called Tarsiers, and velvety white sandy beaches. I’ve visited Bohol several times in the past, but I have to admit, this was my first time to truly plunge into full on tourist mode. And yes, I actually enjoyed every bit of it.

With three 11-year-old kids in tow, we engaged ourselves in each tourist attraction laid out for us–beginning with climbing those grueling 214 steps to get the finest view of the Chocolate Hills–and it was worth it.

These hills made from limestone are brown during the summer. Since I was there towards the end of August, which is rainy season, they’re a lovely shade of green in this photo.

Next up was a trip to see the famous endangered Tarsiers. Creepy things, actually, with their huge bulging eyes, and their long, bony fingers wrapped tightly around a tree branch. It’s only when you’re standing a few meters away from them that you realize Tarsiers only look cute from afar. But don’t let that discourage you, these creatures are worth seeing, at least to be able to say you’ve seen an endangered critter once in your life.  Make sure you take that quick Tarsier stopover, and make the most out of its affordability and tourist appeal, especially if its your first time in Bohol.

This particular Tarsier reminded me a lot of Yoda, for some reason. Haha!

A couple more tourist spots that aren’t as typical as the Chocolate Hills or the Tarsier Conservatory are Mag-Aso Falls and the Bohol Bee Farm.

Let’s begin with Mag-Aso Falls, also known as one of Bohol’s natural treasures, and for good reason! It is absolutely breathtaking. We were lucky to be visiting during off-peak season; it was completely isolated. Having the entire place to ourselves, we were able to take it all in, truly appreciating nature’s perfection. While listening to the tranquil sound of the falls crashing, I was reminded once again how beautiful the Philippines is. What a gem. My kids had the time of their lives floating through the current, perched on their rubber tires, and even attempted to swim behind the 25-foot twin falls. Being immersed in nature like that was enough to clear my mind, making me feel at peace with the world.

Breathtaking Mag-Aso Falls. Taken with Instagram.

Our last tourist stop was the Bohol Bee Farm. When I found out we were visiting a bee farm, I didn’t expect much at all. Bees, honey, what more was there to see, right? Upon arriving at the Bohol Bee Farm, I knew my expectations were about to be exceeded. Picturesque and quaint, it was the coziest little haven. Complete with an organic souvenir shop called Buzzz (corny, yet fitting), several swimming pools, restaurants in different locations, a sunbathing area overlooking the sparkling ocean, and a relaxing spa, you are all set. My favorite part–of course–was the ice cream shop! Creamy, homemade ice cream with uniquely local flavors such as malunggay (moringa leaf), langka (jackfruit), ube (purple yam), buko (coconut), avocado, durian, tablea tsokalate (cacao chocolate), pandan, mango, spicy ginger, tomato, and camote (sweet potato) scooped on top of a light-as-air cone made out of cabcab, or dried cassava. My flavor of choice was the tablea tsokolate, rich and thick chocolate in its finest ice cream form, my taste buds were doing little happy dances with every lick.

(Clockwise L-R) Delicious ice cream flavors to choose from, my kids & I happily licking away, the relaxing feel of Bohol Bee Farm.

The province of Bohol is remarkable, and is worth visiting if you ever find yourself in the Visayan islands. With an array of activities, you’re bound to find something worth your while; whether you’re there with family, friends, or your significant other. Known as the heart of the Philippines for a reason, Bohol brings life and vibrancy to its visitors. I know it brought some vigor in mine throughout the four days I spent there! :)

Enlightenment: Blogworthy Workshop // Day One

Blogging has always been somewhat of a disputable moniker for me. While I know that anyone on this Earth with access to a computer can easily string a few sentences together, and post it online, I’ve always felt that there are just some blogs out there that are better left hidden in cyberspace. While I love writing, and I’m on a constant pursuit to improve, it has always been something I’ve been shy about. I’ve gotten published a few times while interning at a local Southern California magazine, but I have yet to emerge from my shell, to really be able to call myself a true writer.

The first step is acknowledging this fear. The second step is to embrace that desire to sharpen my writing skills, and to actually DO. So here’s to actually doing– I jumped at the opportunity to participate in Arriane Serafico’s Blogworthy Workshop. (Big shout out to Kc Coling for sharing this with me, I love that we’re on the same wavelength!)

We’ve all got to start somewhere, don’t we?

I found myself driving to Katipolyo, Pasig on an early Saturday morning, chasing that desire to improve. As soon as I stepped into co.lab, I immediately felt at peace. I loved the turquoise walls, and makeshift whiteboards that were a bright, citrus-y orange. I thought it was such a conducive space to let the creative juices flow. And look, participant perks! We were spoiled silly with pretty loot bags! Mine was a pink tin pail from Celebrations Party Central, filled with the cutest trinkets from Hey Kessy (washi tape & craft stickers!), BC Fragrance (pillow mist & perfume!), and Hodge Podge (adorable bottle cap accessories!), plus the most handy-dandy notepad from Designs of Artisan, which I see becoming a mainstay on my office desk. Not to mention the icing on the cake, my all-time favorite ice cream queen, Alexandra Rocha, stopped by to feed us delectable Pinkerton!

My awesome goodies! Thank you, thank you!

The day was filled with words of wisdom from Arriane, as she shared her own blogging journey with the rest of us. Personal branding was a huge theme for the entire day, and what really stood out to me was this: Who you are + Who you aspire to be + What makes you stand out ^ Consistency. As long as you get this formula right, and stick with it constantly, then you’re golden.

I feel confident knowing what I truly enjoy writing about, and that is food, with travel being an extremely close second. Food has always been my passion, and is something I will forever find myself being drawn to. I believe in genuine enthusiasm being seen and conveyed through a creative art form, and in my case, it’s through writing. So here’s to striving for our dreams, and that relentless chase to be the greatest you could possibly be.

The #Blogworthy group, led by Arriane Serafico herself. :)
Photo Credit: Wanderrgirl Facebook Page

Meal of the Moment: Impressions’ Brunch Buffet

One of my most favorite things in the world is brunch. Yes, that meal that isn’t quite breakfast, and not quite lunch. Completely unnecessary, and totally indulgent, brunch is a meal where you can take your sweet, delicious time. It’s positively glorious.

I used to indulge in weekend brunches all the time while I was still living in New York, and I’ve missed lounging around languidly, without a care in the world. Now, those weekend luxuries are just memories. Ever since I’ve moved back to Manila, it’s been one commitment after another, and sadly, I’ve never really gotten the time to just sit back over a good brunch session. Imagine how ecstatic I was when a few friends decided to set up a Sunday brunch date at Impressions! I jumped at the idea!

Impressions is located on the third floor of Maxims Hotel, Newport City in Pasay. Hidden above the bustle of Resorts World, and drowning out the sounds of the excitable casino-goers below, your first step into this haven instantly puts you at ease. The restaurant is inviting, with aesthetically pleasing wine coolers lining the walls, and its three main stations calling out from each corner of the room. My friends and I were looking forward to the lavish Sunday brunch buffet that awaited us, and we couldn’t wait to get started.

The appetizer station was first, and it did not disappoint. Filled with luxe gourmet food items such as Avruga caviar, pan-seared foie gras, rich cheeses, jamónes, French baguettes, fresh uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), and exotic jams, I would have to say that this station was my favorite one. It is impossible to find a buffet that offers quality, luxe items such as these, and my friends and I lost count of exactly how many foie gras platters we’d already had by the end of our meal.

A little bit of what we mostly focused on at brunch.
Photo by: Jae Pickrell

Station two had all the meats laid out, of course. Glistening on their respective cutting boards, you had your choice of grilled lamb, prime rib, veal shank, and duck breast. An egg station was here as well, giving you an option between omelets or eggs benedict. And how can I forget the seafood? You can have your fill of lip-smacking grilled prawns, too. The variety of protein alone is enough to keep you satisfied.

And last but not least, the station to put a sweet end to an already sweet meal, is the dessert station. There are heaps of desserts to choose from, including the typical chocolate fountain, creamy tiramisu, tarts, macarons, cookies– The sugary choices are endless! I chose to stick with two basics though. Not wanting to overdo it, I chose two items that I knew I’d be happy with. I decided to end this superb 3-hour buffet with scoops of green tea gelato, and a plateful of hot feathery-light sugared churros. It was absolutely perfect.

Spending hours over a spectacular meal with great company is my perfect way to relax on the last day of the weekend, and I’m grateful that I was able to do just that. Accompanied with a little bubbly, great conversation, a lot of foie, and even a little chat from Impressions’ hospitable head chef, Cyrille Soenen, this was a meal that just proves how true quality can go a long way. Impressions, I will be back in your arms very, very soon.

Four very satisfied eaters.
(Taken with Instagram)