Last month, I announced via this blog a call for submission of entries for Electrolux Philippines' cooking challenge that searches for the next Wok-a-holic Kitchen Star. This highly anticipated cooking competition is back on its 3rd year and presented the 14 finalists who underwent a Culinary Boot Camp yesterday and today. They are very fortunate because they learned from celebrity chef mentors Bruce Lim, Rosebud Benitez, and Jonathan Bautista.

The top 14 contenders were taught various preparation, cooking, and plating techniques during the 2-day Wok-a-holic Boot Camp held in Waltermart North Edsa. Lessons ranged from handling appliances and cookware to food preparation and presentation. Before the day ended, the finalists (who were divided into two groups) had to complete challenges to test their knowledge on the things they learned during the lecture and demo sessions.

Forming the top 14 are Catherine Blas, Tara Cagadoc, Maria Cristina Castro, Maria Chelo Sobremisana, Belinda Custodio, John Mark Dalucio, Roland Jonas Ferrer, Richard Lucenada, Rommel Marcos, Rigette Osoteo, Rosarie Penaflor, Mariela Salcedo, Lorenza Nerissa Sarza-Quintos, and Georgia Shirar. To make the competition more exciting, Electrolux invited 14 bloggers to become each of the contestants official Wok-a-holic online partners to help them campaign for the People's Choice Award.

I was paired with fellow mom Catherine Blas who turned out to also have four kids like me. We do make a good match! :) Please watch her video and do vote for her here. Just look for the name Katherine Blas (somebody made the mistake of changing her C to K). I would really, really appreciate it dear readers. Plus, you'll also get a chance to win cool prizes from Electrolux!

The top six and then top three winners will be announced during the Grand Cook Off at Cash and Carry Makati on July 7 and 8. At the end of the battle, only one will get the privilege to be crowned Wok-a-holic Kitchen Star. He/she will take home the grand prize composed of a culinary scholarship from CCA Manila, an Electrolux kitchen showcase, and gifts from the event's partners.

The Electrolux Wok-a-holic Cooking Competition is made possible through the help of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA), Meyer, Lee KumKee, BioKips, GastroChef, Solane LPG, Pyrex, Corelle, Cif, and Surf Dishwashing Liquid. Media partners include 96.3 Easy Rock, Yummy magazine, and Good Housekeeping magazine.

Be updated with what's happening about this event. Visit, follow, and vote for my partner cook Catherine Blas via The Little White Book's Wok-a-holic Kitchen Star tab on Facebook. Thank you very much!

* For more photos on the Boot Camp's Days 1 and 2, and to see photos of the other contestants and their blogger partners, please visit the Electrolux Wok-a-holic album in this blog's Facebook page.

It's very seldom that I get to meet people who don't like French fries, potato chips, mashed potato, or potato salad. Personally, I'm a big fan of baked potatoes especially when it's got lots of bacon bits and melted cheese on top :D

Aside from rice, I'd say another type of carb Filipinos like to eat would have to be potatoes. We love them mashed, fried, or included in salads and soups. And since snacking on potatoes seem to be the past time of many, a company brought in one of Netherland's favorite snacks to the Philippines. Kroketten, a unique variety of potato snacks, means a little round ball in Dutch.

According to Kroketten president/owner Maribel Bosch, Kroketten is one of the best ways to enjoy potatoes. "[They are] crunchy, filled with cheese and meat, [and] deep fried in healthy corn oil." Kroketten, which now has 12 branches, has been reported to garner positive responses from customers since they started operations in the fourth quarter of last year.

Bosch, a former hotelier boasting a vast exposure to the best cuisines of the world, is an expert in the kitchen and has discerning taste buds.  Having been based overseas with her husband and kids, she discovered that croquettes deserve to be in the Philippines for its simple and delicious taste which she thought will appeal to all levels of people. True enough, her intuition paid off as Kroketten is growing and is now trending in Manila.

For P35 per order, Kroketten offers three varieties: Original Kroket, the original oblong shape with ground beef, chicken, and cheese; Kroketballen, by far Filipinos’ most favorite and has three pieces of crunchy potato balls which come with dips; and the Miniballen, the bite sized potato balls considered best for sharing.

The miniballen’s assorted flavors made them very popular.  They come in cheese, chicken, beef, bacon, hotdog, longganisa, pork adobo, mango, and tuyo flakes which offer exciting tastes especially when paired with one of the tasty dips. Customers can order five pieces of miniballen for P20 or four pieces with a 6.5 oz fresh fruit drink for P35.

These healthy snacks are said to last for days if stored properly and will have the same great taste when properly reheated. Thus, it's possible bring home Kroketten to be eaten a few days' later.

The fruit juices served at Kroketten are made of natural fruit juices minus the white sugar with no preservatives, branded exclusively by Vers En Snel, a Dutch word that means fresh and fast. It has two signature thirst quenchers -- One is a certified health booster made of mango and guyabano, the Nutri 10 while the other one is made of succulent combo of strawberry and passion fruit called Revita 10. "If one needs an immediate vitamin boost, we recommend the Nutri 10. But if you’re feeling tired and heavy, our Revita 10 gives an instant uplift," suggests Bosch.

Confident about the potential of the product, the company is also open for franchise for a total investment price of P195,000 (vat exclusive).

Kroketten is located in the following venues: Mall of Asia, Festival Mall Alabang, Albang Town Center, GT Tower Makati, Market! Market!, Starmall Edsa Shaw, Robinsons Galleria, Robinsons Metro East, SM North Edsa, and SM Lipa Batangas. For inquiries on franchising, please call (632) 822-5711 or 09178596623.

If you happened to pass by any of The Body Shop branches in recent weeks, it's very likely that you've seen this display:

Does the girl in the poster look familiar? If you watched The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the more recent Snow White and The Huntsman movie, you'll remember her as the girl whose youth got sucked out of her by the evil queen. But more than being an actress, I found out that Lily Cole is also a model and ... get this ... an activist!

She is currently The Body Shop's first ever global brand advocate who is described as refreshingly honest, human, and upfront about how she thinks the world could be a better place. Here's sharing a short interview from a press release I received where Lily offers a glimpse into what makes her tick and why has chosen to endorse The Body Shop's cruelty-free make-up. I'm posting the Q and A here because her answers are really inspiring.

Why did you decide to become a global advocate for The Body Shop? I have long been an advocate of the potential of using business and consumer power to cause positive change. The Body Shop takes a responsible attitude to people and the environment, and it feels amazing to be supporting a brand who are pioneers in that way of working.

How do you feel that the current generation's views of beauty are changing?I feel like people are questioning superficial values and looking for real value instead. True beauty comes from within, and I feel that more and more people are beginning to realise that.

What does beauty with heart mean to you? There is nothing more attractive than someone with a beautiful heart - it just shines out. It is so contradictory to seek external beauty through products at the cost of other living beings. To me, beauty with heart means trying to achieve beauty in a way that is harmonious with your inner values.

How has The Body Shop inspired you to think differently about beauty? The fact that The Body Shop was selling Henna when I was growing up definitely suggested that red hair was cool - before I was wise enough to recognise that myself! There is a natural quality to The Body Shop approach which places its emphasis on enhancing – rather than masking people’s faces!

How do your personal values compare with the five core values of The Body Shop? The Body Shop has five distinct Values which have defined and shaped it from its very beginning, and which I also identify with. I am still learning and growing, and discovering what is important to me is an educational and very personal process. I’m involved with the humanitarian and environmental causes that are important to me because I believe that our planet and the people who live on it are incredibly special. If I can help inspire people in some small way to think about the world they live in and how they can make it a better
place through their own personal actions and choices, then that makes me happy. This is just one of the reasons why I am working alongside The Body Shop.

How do you live your values on a daily level? My personal values boil down to my intention: the intention to be aware, to be kind, to be honest, to make informed choices. The intention is everything, though the reality will inevitably sometimes fall short. No one is perfect!

What inspired your interest in activism?All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” - Edmund Burke. I used to have that quote on my bedroom door growing up! I’m not saying I’m a good man, but I think as soon as you are aware of injustices you have a responsibility to try and address them... so I guess some of it is inspired by some sort of guilt complex!

How can other people get involved? I am still constantly trying to find and know my own truth, to be fearless. I’m not sure there is ever an end to this. Being strong enough to stand within that position of difference and honoring your voice is the first step towards activism. I believe it’s the small steps that matter.

What else are you currently working on?I have three films coming out this year, and am working on a very exciting, fairly radical, project in the social media space.

I love browsing all the nice stuff at The Body Shop. They have some of the loveliest displays in the malls. Recently, my friends and I dropped by the Mall of Asia branch and found it really spacious. Check out more of the colorful photos I took there in this album

If you need good quality beauty and skin care products, do check out the offerings at The Body Shop. I like their body sprays, body butters, mineral makeup, and liquid bath soaps among others. Here's one of my reviews featuring The Body Shop's Strawberry body care range. All products come in a wide range of colors and scents that will tickle your senses and may even entice you to buy more than what you originally planned to purchase :)

The Jamba Juice Company is a leading restaurant retailer founded in 1990. It serves better-for-you, specialty beverage and food offerings which include whole fruit smoothies, fresh squeezed juices and juice blends, hot oatmeal, breakfast wraps, sandwiches and mini-wraps, and California Flatbreads.

As of April 3 this year, there were already 769 Jamba Juice stores all over the world. Last week, the popular establishment opened a new store in SM Mall of Asia to further expand their presence in the Philippines and serve customers perfectly ripened and sun-sweetened premium fruits blended to perfection.

At the moment, there are two other Jamba Juice branches located in Bonifacio High Street (BHS) in Taguig and in Alabang Town Center (ATC) in Muntinlupa. According to Sharon T. Fuentebella, Managing Director of Jamba Juice's Master Franchisee in the country, "Choosing strategic locations, that are convenient to our consumers, has always been one of the integral facets that we consider when choosing the best locations for expansion."

Apart from the store's growth, there's another story why Jamba Juice in the Philippines wants to reach more people. The company has a campaign called Gimme' Me Five which encourages customers to ride Jamba's in-store Blender Bike for five minutes and get to donate one mango seedling to be planted in the Guimaras Mango Park.

The campaign was first introduced when the flagship store in BHS opened. It is made possible through a partnership with the Bureau of Plant Industry-Guimaras National Mango Research and Development Center (BPI-GNMRDC). In a recent visit, Jamba Juice President and Chief Executive Office, Mr. James D. White, was reported to embrace the campaign as a meaningful way to raise awareness of local sustainability initiatives.

"Our hope is that locally grown Guimaras Mangoes will one day play a larger role in Jamba's smoothie menu," expressed Mark Gamboa, Marketing Director of Jamba Juice in the Philippines. "In the meantime, promoting the planting of trees with a ride on the Blender Bike is our fun way of engaging our customers in this campaign to support the local mango industry."

Fuentebella added that the local team is excited about raising awareness about the Guimaras Mango because this also highlights the area as a tourist destination where some of the best mangoes in the world are grown. "The Philippines is already known for growing some of the best tropical fruits the world has ever tasted, and Jamba Juice uses the highest quality of fruits from different countries, including bananas sources from the Philippines. We are hoping to extend this commitment to quality and freshness by promoting and using our very own Guimaras mangoes in the blending of our delectable smoothies."

My very first Jamba Juice a few months back -- a treat from my friends :)
Expect to see more Jamba stores in the country as the company is set to expand to 37 more locations within the next 10 years. For more details and to keep updated with specific offerings and promos, visit, follow @JambaJuicePH on Twitter, and Like Jamba Juice Philippines on Facebook.

Ever since I saw the movie Only You starring Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei many years ago, Italy has become a dream destination for me. But while I wait for the perfect timing as to when I'd be able to travel to that beautiful place, I'd happily settle for Italian food served in some of the nicest restaurants in Metro Manila.

Last weekend, I discovered a new place called Tuscano Italian Wood Oven Pizza and Restaurant. It serves Italian cuisine and, according to its owner Mr. Reagan Tan, they prepare food the Italian way. "The Italians have only one cooking secret -- freshness of ingredients. Here at Tuscano ... pastas are handmade and always fresh, sauces are made everyday, the pizza dough is also handmade and cooked in a wood oven."

Mr. Tan turned out to hold a Diploma in Professional Culinary Arts from Dubrulle Culinary School, Vancouver and worked in hotels in Canada. So, it wasn't surprising that he was very much involved in developing Tuscano's recipes together with his team of chefs who have experienced working in Italy.

Wild Mushroom and Mozzarella Risotto Ball - P360

Caprese Salad - P275

Tuscano Signature Salad - P280

I love the place's ambiance. It is very cozy and accommodates groups of friends comfortably. Seating capacity is 60 inside and 12 outside. The interior design is contemporary Italian, a mix of traditional and modern. It has a touch of Tuscany's typical home-garden which represents fresh ingredients that are being grown by families. Guests can also view the wood oven to see how their pizza is being cooked.

Clockwise from upper left: Gamberreto - P 480, Asparagus and Egg - P495,
Pepperoni and Cheese - P480, Sweet Pear and Gorgonzola - P425

Tuscano opened just last December 2011 and its name came from the word Tuscany (pronounced as Toscana), a region in Italy with Florence as its regional capital. (Trivia: one of my favorite pianists, Suzanne Ciani, has a piece called Tuscany which I love listening to whenever I want to unwind. Thus, the mere mention of the word evokes a warm feeling of contentment for me).

Fisherman's Seafood with Black Ink Pasta - P425
Truffled Wild Mushrooms Cream Linguini - P395
Italian Sausage and Bolognese - P365

My friends and I got to try some of Tuscano's best sellers including the Aranci (Risotto Ball), Wild Mushrooms Cream Linguini, Crisp Baked Norwegian Salmon and Risotto, and the Beef Stew Casserole with Chocolate.

Grilled Balsamic Glazed Bone-In Porkchop - P450
Beef Stew Casserole with Chocolate - P585
Crisp-Baked Norwegian Salmon and Risotto - P675

Among the dishes served to us, my favorites would have to be the Fisherman's Seafood with Black Ink Pasta, the Mushrooms Cream Linguini, Gamberetto Pizza, and Sweet Canoli. The serving portions are generous so you have to bring a friend or two when you visit Tuscano. According to Mr. Tan, Tuscano will be offering specials on a quarterly basis but they also prepare special menus on special occasions like Valentine's Lent, Mother's Day, etc.

Sweet Cannoli - P115

In case you want to book the restaurant for exclusive use, just give them two weeks notice. Furthermore, Tuscano provides valet parking and delivery within the BGC area. They are open from 11AM to 1AM daily. Visit them at Unit 3 G/F Fort Residences Bldg. 30th St. cor. 2nd Ave. and Padre Burgos Circle, BGC.

For more info, visit, call 478-7503, and Like TuscanoPhilippines on Facebook.

Even before Sharon Cuneta and her daughter Frankie sang Nido Fortified's jingle "You're My Number One," I remember seeing an older commercial years ago where the lyrics went, "Look at me, son, you are number one" and then the kid answers back, "Look at me, mom, you are number one."

Indeed, more often than not, it's the mothers who take the top spot in children's affections. After all, we do play a big role in their lives and it's very important that we fulfill our responsibilities to the best of our abilities. Nido recognizes this and gifted several ladies (including me) to a pampering afternoon with a Mom's Day Out surprise last Friday.

We were first treated to lunch at the very cozy Cafe Juanita located in BGC's Burgos Circle. I love, love the homey and eclectic decor! The chairs and lamps are draped with uniquely designed fabrics while various knickknacks are displayed in strategic parts of the interior.

The food they served us were also really good. I don't know the name of the appetizer that has mangoes with crispy mahu on top but it is delicious! I am definitely going back to Cafe Juanita specifically for that dish! We also had kare-kare with cute knotted pieces of sitaw, caldereta, a very artisticaly presented adobo, and Pinoy ratatouille.

For dessert, I shared creamy and delicious leche flan plus delectable sansrival with fellow moms Kaye and Des. Lunch was a lively affair because we all seem not to run out of stories to share! After all, just put two women or more at a table and you'll have chat sessions flying around in no time!

To my delight, I learned recipe secrets and tips from Dr. Lilian Juadiong, a child psychologist from UP Diliman, plus exchanged parenting stuff from representatives of EON and of Nestle Philippines including Ms. Au Alipao, whose name I instantly recognized because I regularly receive newsletters signed by this lady from The Nestle Club. It was nice to have finally met her.

We left Cafe Juanita to transfer to another building just a hop and skip away where Manos Nail Lounge is located. We were greeted by friendly staff who led us inside a beautifully-decorated room with very inviting chairs and foot rests. Up there on one wall (see topmost photo) was another nice touch to an already awesome day.

Long story short, all the ladies had relaxing foot spas before having the nails on our hands and feet done coupled with light massages from the attendants. All the while, my friend Kaye and I were able to catch up on each other's lives after not seeing each other for quite a while. We moreover enjoyed a glass of iced tea (for Kaye) and a mug of warm ginger tea (for me) as we sat back and relaxed while our nails got some lovin'.

If you need some pampering done, go to Manos with a friend or two. I'm sure you will enjoy your time there as we did. For moms with small daughters, the establishment offers what it calls Las Manitas or manicure for kids aged 13 and below. Plan to have some bonding time with your little girl there! You will both love it!

For more information about Nido Fortified and other Nestle products, please visit the Nestle website. For the complete list of services and products offered at Manos, check out their website, Like their Facebook page, and Follow them on Twitter.

* To see more photos of Cafe Juanita's food and decor as well as Manos' interiors, please visit the Mom's Day Out by Nido album in this blog's Facebook fan page.

I can't believe it has already been a year since the first Yahoo! OMG! Awards! It seems just weeks ago when I first wrote about it in this blog.

This coming July 6, 2012, the purple carpet will be laid down once again to honor the most-searched and top-trending celebrities who continue to remain stars offline and online thanks to their fans who keep on searching for updates on their idols via the Internet.

Are your favorite celebs in the running? Find out from the complete list at the Yahoo! OMG! website and support your choices. Here are some of the nominees:

Yahoo! OMG! Awards 2012 promises an out-of-this-world experience as it warps guests in a sea of magnetic purple. According to the organizers, this year's event will go above and beyond as it fuses the awards night with a one-of-a-kind show full of the brightest stars, sought-after performances, and loyal fans.

From Resorts World last year, Yahoo! OMG! Awards will now be held at a much bigger venue -- the Mall of Asia Arena! Join this star-studded event! The invite says to come in your most dazzling and stylish outfit and conquer the Arena with a big bang! I was told tickets are given for free. You just have to go to SM ticket counters and present a valid ID. Gates will open at 6PM at the Coral Way Entrance.

Voting is ongoing until June 28. Log on to or text OMG[letter category][space][number of nominee] and Send to 2222. Sample OMGA 1. Text voting is open to all Sun postpaid and prepaid subscribers. For daily updates, follow @yahooPH on Twitter or search  the #omgawards hashtag.

It's not often I get to interview celebrity couples so I'm glad to have had the chance to chat with Doug and Chesca Kramer about money matters and their family. Our interview and photo shoot happened at their townhouse somewhere in the Ortigas area. They are a handsome couple who are blessed with two lovely daughters.

I was impressed at Doug's and Chesca's answers to my questions. They gave very sensible replies which showed how determined they are in raising their family the best way they know how.

Read how they handle their finances and plan for the future. Please grab a copy of MoneySense magazine's Family issue and turn to their story on pages 37-41.

You can also find the following articles I wrote in this issue:
  • Planning for Your Wedding - page 6
  • Business Opportunities in Franchising - pages 13-14
  • Annie Medina: In the Business of Promoting Filipino Music - pages 22-23
  • Raising Financially-Smart Children - pages 42-45
If you were not able to have a copy of our March-April Travel issue where I featured Department of Tourism (DoT) Secretary Ramon Jimenez on pages 42-46, you can now read the online version at MoneySense Magazine's website.

Secretary Jimenez said a lot of quotable quotes that I included in the article like, "Boracay is just a pile of sand without the Filipinos. You take the Filipinos out of Boracay and it wouldn’t be very much different from other places. It still will be very pretty, but it won’t be as memorable." Makes a lot of sense, right?

He also illustrated how successful the slogan "It's More Fun in the Philippines" has become and what his department is further doing to make our country the top tourist destination in Asia.

I urge you to get a printed copy of this issue because there are a lot of other articles there that will help you improve the way you handle your personal finances. Rest assured we tailor articles for the Filipino reader. My other write ups in the Travel issue include:
MoneySense, the Philippines' first publication on personal finance, is available in major bookstores and magazine stands. For more personal finance articles, tips, and information, please LIKE MoneySense mag's Facebook page and visit our website. If you want to buy back issues, please call 310-3361 or email

The biggest celebrity search is on and all for P20M! Last Tuesday, the Smart Araneta Coliseum became filled to the rafters with showbiz aspirants aged 16 to 22 years old who came with their companions / parents / chaperons / managers. It was like a scene lifted straight from the American Idol auditions we see on TV. I was told that the event, which was supposed to end at 9PM, wrapped up at around 4AM the next day! 

TV5 kicked-off this much-awaited search for the network's next big stars with the Artista Academy's one-day-only auditions. This celebrity search is currently the biggest and most intensive of its kind that's ever mounted on Philippine television. Who wouldn't want to win when there's over P20M in total prizes to be given away?!

The young people who flocked to The Big Dome took the first step to the glamorous artista life armed with their birth certificates, valid IDs and best glam photos. Many are dressed to the hilt and completely made up; some having more colors on their faces than needed. It was impressive to see a lot of those young people confidently posing on stage and smiling at the cameras while judges decide who will go through to the next level.

My friends and I spotted several cuties and took photos of those we thought would make it. It's funny how different our tastes are. I totally disagree with some of their choices LOL! Anyhow, we spotted a couple of young men who are related to celebrities. Find who they are in this blog's Facebook page's photo album of the Artista Academy auditions. 

Spotted Marvin Agustin taping a footage with some of the applicants
The grand auditions proved to be a memorable and fun-filled (well, at least to those who got in) experience to applicants who patiently waited in line for their turn at a few seconds of fame up on the stage. I didn't get to see them but I heard there were various booths where participants can have a makeover and have their photos taken which instantly appeared as magazine cover photos. There was also a VTR/acting booth with on-site editing where hopefuls acted out scenes from teleseryes and commercials as well as freebies and an electronic raffle for special prizes.

Two of my bets :) Forgot to get their names though
On top of the P20M total prizes -- which happens to be the biggest amount to be given by any talent show in the history of Philippine TV -- Artista Academy will grant contestants full scholarship to the Asian Academy of Television Arts (AATA) where they would undergo the most intensive training with the best professionals in the industry.

If you were there at the auditions, check out this photo album on Facebook and see if I was able to capture you in my camera :) Good luck to all those who received a golden blue ticket! 

Tune in to TV5 for the premier of the show this July. 

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