Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Quesadillas



Mexican cuisine has always been a family favorite, and yesterday I realized we hadn't done Mexican in a long time. I didn't want to do anything elaborate so I went with the old favorites but as Emeril Lagasse would say, "kicked up a notch!" hehe.


Killer Quesadillas
Chop a bunch of cilantro, and a bunch of chives. Caramelize two large white onions. De-seed and julienne a few green chillies. Toss with lots of grated cheddar and season. Sandwich this filling between two flour tortillas and toss onto a hot pan. Scrunch the quesadilla down while in the pan & the cheese is melting to get it real thin. Toast both sides well--you want this crunchy. Cut into quarters.


Salsa
Bash up some coriander root and sauté in oil. Toss the root out before proceeding. In the same oil saute chopped tomatoes in chopped red onions and garlic. Add lime juice and plenty of chopped cilantro. Season with salt & pepper, and some cumin to give it a little anghit factor haha!. Add chopped chili or just blast it with Tabasco.

Serve quesadillas with salsa, avocado slices (or make some guacamole if you like), sour cream, and lime wedges.


Also on the menu last night:
Chicken Fajitas, Pepper+Corn Muffins (corn muffin batter baked in halved red bell peppers)
Yakon & Fruit Salad.


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Fillet of Sole with Citrus-Amandine Sauce



Nothing tremendously original here; the pairing of fish and citrus is classic, and so is the the garnish of almonds -- amandine (aka almondine) -- but there was some novelty in it for me as I had just learned the technique of mounting with butter. To mount a sauce with butter is a technique where small pieces of cold, unsalted butter are whisked into a pan of sauce just before serving. The butter gives the pan sauce a velvety texture, extra flavor, a glossy sheen and best of all, extra calories hehehe.


On Seafood Day2 in school last week each of us had to prepare a mounted butter sauce, to be graded as a quiz. Our choice of fish, and our choice of sauce. At first I wanted to get really original with the sauce but in the end I played it safe with a simple citrus-amandine. Didn't have much choice in the fish department as I was one of the last to present and stores were low by then. I prepared some norweigan salmon á la meuniere, adding a little crushed almond to the flour. Made a gastrique of shallots, orange juice & zest, and almond extract, and mounted it with butter. Garnished with slivered almonds and zest of orange, lemon, and lime. Served this to Chef Gene: I rated ok.


At home I improved on the dish by going from á la meuniere to full-on almond crusted, using fillets of sole, and serving them with wedges of orange and grapefruit. Other stuff I served that night: blackened tuna, and steamed sole fillets with dill cream sauce. Served this to my family: I rated excellent hehehe.


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Monday, August 20, 2007

Tasso

Three weeks ago during our charcuterie sessions Chef Gino gave us some homework: cure some meat at home and submit three weeks hence. This was to be done in the manner of tasso, but unlike traditional tasso, we were not to smoke it. Flavoring and choice of meat was freestyle.

Our group decided to use pork loin (inexpensive) and to each make our own flavor mixes. I did a bit of research and found recipes for traditional tasso spice mixes.


That's mine on the left. The others are my classmates'

Here is my recipe for (unsmoked) Tasso-style cured meat.
Read the rest of this post...


Three weeks ago during our charcuterie sessions Chef Gino gave us some homework: cure some meat at home and submit three weeks hence. This was to be done in the manner of tasso, but unlike traditional tasso, we were not to smoke it. Flavoring and choice of meat was freestyle.

Now curing meat is pretty tricky because the raw meat can go real bad real fast. Here's a funny article from a website I found.

Because smoking meats takes place at a pretty low temperature, the meat can turn sickly and bad while this is happening. To prevent this, you cure the meat first, either by brining in a salt solution, or by rubbing a salt mixture on the meat. In either case, the cure has to sit on the meat for as long as several days. After this, the meat can be safely smoked without anyone dying. Except.

In order to make the meat turn a nice red color, and also to help keep botulism or other sicknesses out of the meat, TCM is added. TCM stands for Tinted Curing Mixture, and is 94% salt, 6% Potassium Nitrite, and some red food coloring to turn it pink. This is so that you don't think that it's salt and add it to food. Why would that be bad?

Well, Potassium Nitrite binds with the myoglobin/hemoglobin in meat/blood, preventing it from binding (later) with oxygen. In meat, this keeps the meat from reacting and turning gray/brown. In your body, it can cause a lack of oxygen in the blood. You can pass out, or even die, if you get too much. In lesser amounts, it can cause "performance problems" in males of the species. Moral of the story? Measure twice.

In the bad old days, Saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate) was used. The problem with using either pure Potassium Nitrite or Potassium Nitrate is that it's very difficult to measure accurately, and you can get too little (and get a bad cure) or too much (and get dead). Because of this, the cure mixes are now cut down with salt, making it much easier to measure for small batches of meat.


Saltpeter is locally known as salitre. I think tocino and longganisa makers still use it. Like the guy mentioned, TCM (a.k.a. praque powder, brand name Ultra Cure) is far safer, and this is what we used. Still, only 1/2teaspoon of TCM maximum should be used per kilo of meat.

So. On to the school project. Our group decided to use pork loin (inexpensive) and to each make our own flavor mixes. I did a bit of research and found recipes for traditional tasso spice mixes.



Here is my recipe for (unsmoked) Tasso-style cured meat (adapted from this website). We used a whole pork loin (local name: lomo) cut into about 4-5 inch long, 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices (about 200grams each). This is seasoning for about 2.5kg of pork:

Homemade Unsmoked Tasso Curing Mix


3 Tbsp salt

2 tsp Cayenne or to to taste

4 Tbsp Paprika

1/4 tsp Garlic powder

2 Tbsp Coarsely Ground Black Pepper

1 tsp Cinnamon

1 Tbsp White Pepper

1 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 1/4 tsp maximum Tinted Curing Mix


Mix the seasoning together well. Rub the seasoning into the meat, you want a lot on there, use it all. Place on a plate or tray, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate 5 days.


Hang the meat to air dry for 2 days. Alternatively you can put the meat on an elevated rack (a cooling rack or a trivet works great) so that air can circulate around it, then put a fan on it for a few hours to dry it out. This is crucial, as moisture is your enemy here. You also need to protect it from flies and other bugs. In this tropical country and in the typhoon season it was especially tricky. I actually had the fan on it for the full 48hours. I also kept a light on it constantly to inhibit mold growth.


Refrigerate. When completely cold portion and store the Tasso in vacuum sealed packages. Freeze.


Makes 2.5kg of Tasso-style cured meat

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tools of the trade

"To a chef, there is nothing more important than his knife. It is not only an extension of his hands, it is an extension of his very personality. The knife is a chef’s paintbrush."


Everyone knows knives are dangerous things, but knives need protecting, too. Blades can go dull from getting knocked around in storage. I wanted to get edge guards: available anywhere - and el cheapo! - in the States, but they weren't available here. I wasn't very happy with the protection my knives were getting from our standard-school-issue chef's kit. If the kit happened to tip the wrong way while slung by its shoulder strap, the knives would slip out of their pockets and knock against each other. On one occasion, walking in the mall, Steph frantically pointed out that my knife's blade was sticking out of the kit! It could've sliced somebody's thigh open! I had to do something about it.

Cue MacGyver music... Read the rest of this post...

"To a chef, there is nothing more important than his knife. It is not only an extension of his hands, it is an extension of his very personality. The knife is a chef’s paintbrush."


Everyone knows knives are dangerous things, but knives need protecting, too. Blades can go dull from getting knocked around in storage. I wanted to get edge guards: available anywhere - and el cheapo! - in the States, but they weren't available here. I wasn't very happy with the protection my knives were getting from our standard-school-issue chef's kit. If the kit happened to tip the wrong way while slung by its shoulder strap, the knives would slip out of their pockets and knock against each other. On one occassion, walking in the mall, Steph frantically pointed out that my knife's balde was sticking out of the kit! It could've sliced somebody's thigh open!

Solution: makeshift edge guards made from inexpensive plastic folder spines (or whatever you call those things you slide onto file folders to secure the contents). I don't have to describe how I did this. You get the picture. My makeshift edge guards worked ok; they protected both blade and person from damage. They couldn't stay on the blade all that well though, and the curved edge of the 8" chef's knife posed a problem. I attempted to curve a long piece of the plastic folder thing by heating it on the stove but it wasn't the right kind of plastic, and wouldn't shape well. I had to use two segments. Wasn't crazy about the looks but it served its purpose.

Next, I had to customize my kit. All the solutions I came up with involved sewing (not my strong suit hehehe). I considered individual retaining straps for each knife handle sewn onto the kit's body. I considered retaining elastic loops sewn onto each pocket's edge. Finally Mama suggested one long loop that I could wind around each knife handle. I went for this idea because it involved the least amount of sewing hehehe. In the end though it worked beautifully!









And then a friend gave me a couple of edge guards. Oh yeah!



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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Turning Japanese


maki
Wanting to refresh our palates, and because we had some nice tuna in the fridge we decided to prepare a Japanese dinner.

So. Tuna sashimi. Some simple maki would be nice, I thought. I wanted to make some gunkan-maki (battleship rolls), maybe topped with that tobiko (salmon roe) I still had in the freezer. I was all out of kikkoman though, and nori (dried and pressed sheets of seaweed). Wasabi, too.

Off to the supermarket...


Read the rest of this post...Got up early this morning (early for a Sunday anyway) to cook a batch of pasta to deliver to the music team at VCF. Again drawing only on existing stock I came up with a Tomato & Eggplant Agrodolce. Grilled the veg: tomato to provide the agro (sour), and onion for the dolce (sweet). Poached garlic chips in olive oil, tossed it all together with some spaghetti and a little balsamic vinegar, and topped it all with Parmesan and Romano.

While serving that up I was already discussing dinner with Sarah, and with Mama (via text). Wanting to refresh our palates, and because we had some nice tuna in the fridge we decided to prepare a Japanese dinner.

So. Tuna sashimi. Some simple maki would be nice, I thought. I wanted to make some gunkan-maki (battleship rolls), maybe topped with that tobiko (salmon roe) I still had in the freezer. I was all out of kikkoman though, and nori (dried and pressed sheets of seaweed). Wasabi, too.

Off to Circle-C, our friendly neighborhood mini-mall which houses a Robinson's Supermarket. Smaller & not as well-stocked as nearby Cherry Foodarama, Robinson's nevertheless carries a few items Cherry does not, like dried konbu, (edible kelp for making sushi rice). Also on the menu was kani salad, and vegetable tempura. I had a mind to serve crêpes samurai (sweet crêpes with mango, custard & meringue filling) for dessert, almost as a culinary pun but it's past mango season, and prices are prohibitive (P65-P85 per kg!!). Stubbornly bought some anyway, but they were too sour for dessert. Other stuff on my grocery list: shoyu (kikkoman); imitation-wasabi-in-a-tube; lettuce & cucumbers for the kani salad; veggies for the tempura--okra, onions, green bell pepper (still had carrots in the fridge); fresh ginger root; spinach; oyster mushrooms (still had dried shiitakes in the pantry).

Prep was a quickie: cooked rice, washed, chopped & steamed veggies, reconstituted shiitakes, almost forgot to remove konbu from the rice at the boil (would've made the rice slimy), had Sarah shred the cucumber (she's getting pretty handy with my chef's knife), made the tempura batter, fried the tempura (crusted the mushrooms with sesame seeds for interest), assembled kani salad, sliced the tuna (wished I had a santoku instead of the un-chilled boning knife I was using hehehe!). Ran out of time for the gunkan-maki, rolled regular maki at the table instead. Dinner served!

Half an hour later we were rubbing our full, happy bellies. No space for the nonexistent crepes samurai hehe.

maki

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Comfort Food: Arroz Caldo & Tokwa't Tokwa



To me this is the epitome of comfort food: Arroz Caldo (chicken porridge), and Tokwa't Tokwa (tofu fried til crisp, topped with onions and served with a sauce of sweet soy, a little vinegar & sugar, and minced onions) Traditionally this would have been Tokwa't Baboy (tofu & pork in a lighter version of the sauce) but we're trying to limit pork consumption in this house...yeah right, see my last post hahaha! Coming home on a stormy night, nothing warms the soul like this pair right here. As a special treat, my sister Sarah had the dishes well underway when I arrived at 6pm. Dinner was ready at 6:30. My sister is a relative novice in the kitchen, but she's coming along fine. The steaming bowl of arroz caldo was really good, with just the right amount of ginger. I went wild with the traditional toppings: garlic chips and spring onions. And a few drops of kalamansi juice, and it was perfect. Oooh not quite: Papa & I, had to have siling labuyo (spur chili). I considered tossing on a few saffron strands but dismissed the thought because I was already hungry.




Fried tofu can go soggy, or tough (parang gomang tsinelas) if not done properly. Sarah managed to get it just perfectly crunchy, and the sauce she made was balanced just right. Way to go, Sarah! :-)

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Poached Pompano with Dill Sauce, and Pork Stew alla Milanese



I didn't start thinking about dinner tonight until pretty late and so it was another round of "let's see what we can whip up with what's in the ref & pantry." So like MacGyver trapped in a garage with six armed terrorists waiting outside, I cracked my knuckles and got to work.


Found:
» matchbox-sized Stewing cuts of pork (pang sigang), still frozen
» leftover crudités (carrot & celery)
» various fresh herbs: rosemary,thyme, dill, tarragon
» the tail half of a pompano
» a week-old, half-zested lemon

I started with the pork....

Read the rest of this post...


I didn't start thinking about dinner tonight until pretty late and so it was another round of "let's see what we can whip up with what's in the ref & pantry." So like MacGyver trapped in a garage with six armed terrorists waiting outside, I cracked my knuckles and got to work.


Found:
» matchbox-sized Stewing cuts of pork (pang sigang), still frozen
» leftover crudités (carrot & celery)
» various fresh herbs: rosemary,thyme, dill, tarragon
» the tail half of a pompano
» a week-old, half-zested lemon


I started with the pork. I decided I'd cook it the way I would some osso buco. Thawing the pork out was no mean feat. I'm leery about thawing in the microwave and so I did it the hard way under running water. That done I seasoned and the pork pieces and dredged them in flour before searing in butter. When well browned I plunked them along with a handful of celery leaves into a pot of water to start tenderizing. Next, the mirepoix (1 large onion, an equal amount of carrot, a couple of celery ribs, all minced). Softened the vegetables in the same pan I'd seared the pork in, deglazed with about half a cup of white wine, reduced. By this time the pork stock was boiling furiously. Tossed in six big ripe tomatoes, and that brought it down to a simmer. Took the tomatoes out, and had Sarah peel, deseed and chop them up. The tomatoes joined the mirepoix, and (after I removed the celery leaves) so did the pork and the stock. Tossed in a sprig of thyme, a couple of strips of lemon peel, a bay leaf, and more wine. Boiled off the wine, and throttled down to a simmer for a couple of hours. Finished the dish with a little butter, and some incomplete gremolata (minced garlic and lemon zest...I'd run out of parsley)


While all that was going on I'd been making some simple court-bouillon (water, white wine, celery, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf, some carrot, a quartered onion), and in a tiny saucepan I'd been reducing some white wine & lemon juice with the chopped dill leaves. Strained off the court-bouillon and poached the fish in it just until flaking. Tossed in the rest of the carrot and some cabbage. Finished the dill sauce with a cream reduction, and that was dinner. A pilaf or some risotto would've been nice but the rice was already happily steaming away before I even started thinking about dinner so that was that.


Everybody loved both dishes..Papa was particularly taken with the pork, but wished it was just a tiny bit more lemony. I admitted I'd scrimped a little on the gremolata hehehe.


During dinner I was thinking about dessert but nobody had any space left for it ;-)

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Yummy Movies

Have you seen these food movies? Thanks to Chef JJ for this link. It's a great list! I have Spanglish, and Eat Drink Man Woman but haven't seen the latter. I saw Big Night on TV a long time ago & dreamed of making a timballo myself. Am eagerly awaiting No Reservations. You've all seen Ratatouille of course? Di kasama Chocolat dito sa list? I really liked that :-) The Mistress of Spices didn't have any cooking but I loved the spices. Know any more food movies?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Yacón: Peruvian "Ground Apple"

Today Steph's neighbors gave her dad some tubers they said had come from Cebu. They said they were called "Yakon," and that they could be eaten raw. The tubers were alien to me, though they looked a bit like kamote (sweet potato). Tito Boy gave me one to bring home and sample...so I could tell him if it was nasty hahaha! As soon as I got home I texted Chef Junjun about it and in response to my questions he said that yes, pared Yakon (or Yacón) could indeed be eaten fresh, that they were sweet and nutritious, and that they would keep in a cool dry corner. Googled and Wiki'd it too, and turned up plenty of links but here are a couple of favorites:

Yacón info at GreenHarvest.com
Yummy Yacón at Mother Earth News

The tuber's still in the pantry. I'll make something of it this weekend and add to this post then :-)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ratatouille Part 2

Anticipating that it would pique people's curiosity I made some ratatouille & put it on last Sunday's Dine&Jam menu

In the film Ratatouille Remy prepares the humble peasant dish in a special way: whereas traditional ratatouille is a stew, Remy layers and bakes sliced vegetables & finishes it with a sauce. I decided it would be fun to prepare it that way too, and so I did a bit of research. It turns out celebrity chef Thomas Keller had created the recipe especially for the film, and that he called it Confit Biyaldi. His recipe is no secret, and you can find it here.

Being me I couldn't resist tweaking it: I gave the piperade a bit more kick, and opened up the flavor profile a bit with some secret herbs (ok, ok, I used Herbes de Provençe!) I found the cooking time a bit excessive; in just about half an hour I had the vegetables nice and tender. I put everything in the ref overnight for the flavor to bloom, and caramelized a bit under the broiler at serving time. (ratatouille is traditionally served either at room temp or just warm). I stuck with the name ratatouille to reference the film, and for fun I served it with linguine. No, I didn't serve it with alfredo sauce (would've been terrible with the vinaigrette, I think!)

For this recipe fresh herbs are key, and fresh vegetables. Speed is key, too because eggplant oxidizes fast. When Remy was slicing up the vegetables the slices fell neatly into his baking dish. My vegetables weren't cartoons so they didn't cooperate like that. I showed my sister Sarah how to arrange the slices in the dish, and then we proceeded with me slicing, and she arranging. Had her try slicing but I think she found my chef's knife a little overwhelming hehe. The dish turned out well, I think, and it was generally well received by the Diner-Jammers. Too bad the photo didn't turn out well. Just now I saw a spot on TV about how Cibo is now serving ratatouille...hmp! ;-)

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Gourmet Mutt

This is Coffee, our family mutt, now a gourmet dog. Oh he only really eats table scraps but ever since I started chef school his diet has included wild rice, osso buco, grilled lamb chops, pigeon pastel, duck confit, even liver pate with truffle oil!



Coffee: "Hey got any more of that yummy brown stuff?"



JB: "What is that, baboy-reflex, or have you got indigestion from all that expensive food?!"

Crepes

For Pastry Day-2 at school today we made crepes. I've always been in love with crepes. Steph & I have always sampled crepes whenever we found them on the menu, even if the place we happened to be wasn't really a "crepe place." I find the crepes at the wildly popular Crazy Crepes so-so. There are far better places. I remember the fantastic seafood crepe we had for breakfast at Crepes St. Michel at the Boracay Mall. My favorite at Café Breton is the Galette Paysanne (a hefty "guy's-crepe" with hungarian sausage, tomatoes and fried egg), and Steph's is the Poseidon (smoked salmon, velouté sauce, and capers). Obviously, we both really have a thing for seafood. We both have a bit of a sweet tooth, too, so the first time we made our own crepes, they were dessert crepes. I found a creperie book at Book Sale and got it for Steph. She got me a couple of crepe pans, and a spatula. I had a rabot bought in the U.S. for her by a friend (thanks, Margie!) This was way before chef school. I've been serving crepes at every Dine&Jam, though the three simple kinds I serve (apple, banana, and mango, flambéed and topped with ice cream) are getting a little tired. Now I have a few more tools, and a whole lot of new skills learned, and today in school I learned to make Crepes Fourrees Frangipane (Crepes with Almond Cream) and they were so good they made my eyes roll back in my head!

Oops I was going to post the recipe but it's copyrighted. Sorry! Well ok here's a simple recipe for frangipane and here's basic crepe batter.


Some crepe pictures from the ole what-I-cooked-for-dinner archives:

Provencal Chicken Crepe with Tarragon: dinner, Feb 2007



Crepes with variety fillings: creamed beef, Spanish chorizos, parmesan potatoes, garlic mushrooms, Provençal tomatoes): dinner, Nov 2006