Pizza alla ‘Greenwich’

I’m off today, and today’s my Friday. Despite longing for this much awaited break, I still woke up very early this morning after having a long and tiring week before me.  I also didn’t eat so well last night. I wanted something a bit heavier, but just ate some Rice and Chinese Broccoli so that I could hit the sack immediately and could grab some much needed shut-eye. For a long day like yesterday, a  frozen pizza would have been a good treat.  It’s very filling and it really doesn’t take long to cook in the oven.  I should have had one in my freezer for something or some night like this one.

Anyway, there are countless pizza joints here in Toronto.  Almost everybody has joined the bandwagon to have a slice of the big and growing market in the city with the burgeoning population in the city and the suburbs brought about by emigration. Even convenience stores  jumped in; preparing their own pizza slice and pop combination for some change to cater to two Junior High schools located in my area and to students who really do not have money to spare for lunch. There are about five to six pizza joints in and around my block, and they are open late and sometimes round the clock.  Abundant as they may seem, I still don’t trust the cooks who prepare them nor the kitchen from which these pies were baked. Call it being cautious and knowledgeable about kitchen back door operations.  I would, however, eat a frozen pizza bought from the grocery shelves as made by a fully sanitized factory with ISO standards and the like.

A pizza is pizza. It mainly consists of the dough (handmade or frozen), the pizza sauce (fresh or canned), choice of cheese (cheap or expensive types), the toppings, herbs and the chosen seasonings. Pizza ‘Chefs,’ as they call them here, play around on these ingredients, and they know how to make it dirt cheap and affordable to the young crowd it caters to.

I had a try making pizzas a couple of years ago when I worked in a cafeteria. It was easy to assemble for as long as the ingredients were prepared beforehand. Unfortunately, the ‘Chef’ who I had worked with at that time was a total jerk and after six months in that kitchen, I left. Employee treatment was dissatisfying and the place was highly politicized with backstabbing staff who didn’t seem to care about anything else but themselves.  And they were just about five of them in that kitchen!  I worked as a temp despite a promise of being offered a regular job thereafter. I didn’t last.   There was also no point moving on with them. I couldn’t deal directly with my boss, and in my case, the chef, who was surprisingly scared of being burned or cut at work.  However, he had his clout working for him. Can’t do anything with that.

Besides Shakey’s, which I know most of those living in the Northern American part of world miss, there’s also the very popular Greenwich Pizza. Before it grew in leaps and bounds, it was a hole in the wall pizza joint like many of those I see here in Toronto. It served the best Personal Pizza at a very affordable price and very appropriate for a HS student like me. My ‘barkada’ or close friends would usually visit one of the very few branches at the Greenbelt Mall and grabbed a Personal Pizza for only a few pesos.  The ambience was very country style and it was dark and quite unimpressive as it is now. Menu list was basic, but the dough was amazingly crunchy when served hot and well-d0ne. When combined with the chosen toppings and the sweet and peppery sauce it was made with, the pie is elevated to the next level.   It stood out above all else when hot sauce was drizzled from the tip of the slice up to the other end of the crust. I did that. I saw a friend of mine and copied his ways. It was extremely hot, but I ate it anyway. And, I enjoyed each bite at a time.  That was definitely the finest pinoy pizza for you. Back then, olive oil and herbs were not in my dictionary yet. I was young and fastfood was food.

Based on a request by a very good friend of mine living in Houston, I’ve tried to recreate the flavour and the aroma of that sweet and peppery tasting pizza.  The pizza sauce and the crunchy and crispy dough stood out on the first bite. Add to that the unique pinoy hot sauce and what you have is an overload of  pizza goodness; and at a very good price at that.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Thin Slice Pizza Dough
  • 1 Can Pizza Sauce
  • 140g Grated Monterey Jack Cheese
  • 2-3 Slices of  Black Forest Ham, diced
  • 1/4 of Green Pepper, diced
  • 2-3 Tbsp. Dried Oregano
  • 1/2 Chopped Red Onion, diced
  • 3 Cloves finely chopped crushed Garlic
  • 2 tsps. Ground Black Pepper
  • 3 Tbsps. Brown Sugar

Saute Onion until it caramalizes, and add the finely chopped garlic, ground black pepper, brown sugar and the pizza sauce.

Add the Oregano and a little water to help adjust the consistency of the sauce. Continue stirring and season to taste.

Let the sauce cool down and puree using a blender or an  immersion blender.

Ladle the sauce on the dough, beginning from the centre and spreading it through close to the edge. Add more sauce if necessary. Do the same with the cheese.

Add the diced Black Forest Ham and Green Pepper, and shove the pie in a 350’C preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the dough turns  crunchy and crispy.

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Goto Menudo

My first ever taste of real work was at my cousins’ workshop in San Pedro, Laguna. They owned and operated a ‘talyer,’ or a ‘casa’ started by my uncle about twenty years ago before they themselves took over the business.  For a few days in one of those hot and sticky summers, I had the opportunity to work with them.  They taught me the ropes of their business, but since I really didn’t have the liking for grease, tires, batteries and car parts and cars in general, I didn’t catch-up.  Of course, it was a trial for something I may like as a teenager growing up and experiencing life. I was not paid cash, but, at least, my summer became more occupied than usual. After that stint, I decided to stick to reading pocket books and training in the martial arts instead. That was more my character. I enjoyed the peace of being secluded in my own sanctuary; away from the noise and the traffic that’s usually associated with living and driving in the suburbs.

My cousins were car lovers. They would dress-up their wheels with seventeen inch tires and wiped them clean at almost every hour of their stay in the shop. Cars were their babies and they showed them with utmost care and love more than their dogs who had also roamed around their shop. The car I drove was dismal to theirs.   Somehow, I had missed them. My aunt was very generous and whenever I was there, she would treat me to ‘Lechon Manok’ and ‘Goto’ for lunch or dinner just before closing the shop for the day. There shop also had a small make shift cafeteria serving snacks and traditional Filipino food as so common in many provinces where snack shops were located and scattered at every corner of the highway.  My aunt would usually instruct one of their helpers to prepare some really Filipino greasy meals for us to chowdown after.  That, itself, already made my day.

Anyway, what I had really missed and still fondly remember to this day was the Goto Mami House where my cousins took me for snacks. It was extremely peppery and oily, and if I had recalled correctly, it had the makings of the entire inner parts of the pig:  ears, intestines, tripe and skin. It had no lean meat inside whatsoever.  It was the most delicious noodles I had tasted at that part of town.  I finished the entire bowl with gusto and loved every drop of the stock it was cooked with. Whatever other meals that snack shop served could have been a ‘star’ on my list. I am definitely sure that the preparation of the Goto was at least two days given how the meat parts were all tender.  Goto became a part of the quick meals I would buy on Vito Cruz when I was still in university; especially when I had big gaps in-between courses.

While I was browsing and searching for a noodle dish, I chanced upon Goto Menudo. It had the makings of the Goto Mami I tasted a very long time ago. It also contained garbanzos, tomato sauce and chorizo besides the common Goto Mami ingredients.  I felt Goto Menudo would really taste as good as or even better than Goto Mami with all the other ingredients added into the dish.  This is my take on Goto and Goto Menudo, itself.  I must warn you though. This dish is potent and perfect for hangover cures; as it should.  It is not nearly close to as the Menudo I was familiar with growing up and actually, disliking.  I made a big batch of pig’s ears and pork belly skin for future use.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pcs. Pig’s Ears
  • Half of a Pork Belly Skin
  • 1 pc. Chinese Style Pork Sausage
  • 1/2 a cup of Tomato Sauce
  • 4 Tbsp. Fish Sauce (Patis)
  • 1/2 a cup of Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 a can Chick peas (Garbanzos)
  • 2 Slices Ginger
  • 1/4 of a Red Onion
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1 stalk Green Onion
  • 1/2 and 1/4 Red & Green Bell Peppers
  • Ground Black Pepper (to taste)
  • Mexican Oregano

Aromatics: For Boiling

  • Green Onions
  • Ginger
  • Celery
  • Parsley
  • Orange-Peel
  • Leeks
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Coarse Salt
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine

Place the ear and the belly in warm water together with the aromatics required for boiling. Let it boil to simmer for at least an hour or so or until all the parts are tender.

Strain the pot and allow the ear and the pork belly skin to dry at room temperature, and place them in the fridge overnight.

Chop the pig’s ears in bite size pieces. Heavily season the pork belly skin with coarse salt and shove it in a preheated 325’C oven, skin side down first.

Heat a pan and sauté the sausage, red onions, ginger and garlic followed by the pig’s ears.   Start adding the chicken stock, tomato sauce, chick peas and the red and green bell peppers. Let it boil to simmer and season with Patis, Ground Black Pepper, Mexican Oregano and salt.

When done, garnish with the pork belly skin and some slivers of green onions.

Steamed Fish Head with Ginger, Leeks & Green Onion

It took me and my dad a total of about three hours to reach the piggery farm my dad owned and managed in Plaridel, Bulacan.  My dad’s work was just beginning, and my journey to hunt for bull frogs from the depths of the fish pond was in full force. I had an air gun I’d bring every time whenever me and my father visited the farm and just for the fun of it, shoot bull frogs peeping from the ledges of the pond.  That made my morning. After about another hour or so, lunch was ready. It was almost always prepared by the family entrusted by my dad to manage the farm, and they surely knew how to make something out of nothing. I really didn’t expect much from lunch, but the tilapia that was raised from the fishpond was amazingly tastier and fresher than the usual fried tilapia served by the household help for dinner.  It was grilled at either close charcoal or cooked by firewood, and that I guess brought more taste into the fish itself.  It just came out amazingly succulent and divine.

I would usually devour a whole fish just for myself. I really didn’t mind if there were ten thousand flies hovering and pestering us over lunch. They made the meal even more memorable, so to speak.  I enjoyed the simplicity of seating down on a wooden bench and table, munching the grilled fish and sucking the soul out of the poor thing. I ate every part of the fish as taught to me by my dad.  I do the same for tuyo and tinapa.

I still can’t muster to eat the eyes, but the head of the fish, for me, is the best and juiciest portion of the entire fish. I love sucking the nitty-gritty parts of the fish head and bones down to its tail. That’s how juicy it was. There was something which made the taste of the fish flutter and fly as against those sold and cooked in Manila.

I don’t normally cook nor eat fish. There’s that unusual wet market smell that clings to clothes which totally turns me off whenever I decide to buy one in Chinatown. I would usually go for frozen fish for safety and hygienic reasons. I’d really prefer pork, meat for that matter, to satisfy my hunger after a long and tiring day at work.  However, after some quick research, I discovered some ways of preparing the fish head. Moreover, I really missed sucking the fish head itself.

I really wouldn’t have the chance to grill nor roast fish on open charcoal. It’s just impossible to do so living in a room in an apartment building. The oven is also out of the question.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Fish Head (Carp)
  • A Stalk of Green Onion & Leek (Julienned)
  • Ginger (Julienned)
  • ½-1 tsp. Hoisin Sauce
  • 1 – 2 tbsps. Light Soy Sauce
  • ½ tsp. Brown Sugar
  • ½-1 tbsp. Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Ground Black Pepper

Wash and pat dry the Fish Head & season with salt and pepper.

Dredge with cornstarch and pan-fry and/or deep-fry.

Place the julienned ginger, green onion, and leek on the plate first before resting the fish. Drizzle with Shaoxing Cooking Wine, Light Soy Sauce, Hoisin Sauce and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Steam the plate in a bamboo steamer for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Garnish with ginger, green onion and leek and pour or drizzle with hot peanut oil before serving.

Beef Tripe

I am an avid martial arts fan; traditional martial arts that is. I began training Tai Chi back in 2000 after training in the external martial arts almost all my life. I love Tai Chi.  It was at the start of the millennium that my training metamorphosed into a gentler and more relaxed approached. I was not as temperamental as I was ten years before that just because of  Tai Chi.  I grew as a martial artist and so did the art I learned to love anew. My perspective towards external arts diminished and I was opened to a new form of training so much different from what I used to train. The concept circled around breathing, relaxation and enjoyment of training. It never dealt with angst, anger, struggle, and fear; of being always ahead of the game.  That was a whole new concept interpreted into a fighting form and art, and it was a very refreshing approach for someone who has been stuck in the same, old training as traditionally taught by teachers to students.

Anyway, what I really enjoyed after a hard’s day training that lasted for three hours was the close proximity of many dimsum and noodle houses in Manila’s Chinatown. That was the treat I had always wanted and waited after training. I would usually eat ‘Chicken Feet’ and ‘Fried Taro,’ however, I wouldn’t let the Beef Tripe escape my weekly cravings. I would order one alongside my regulars. Rice was off the list. It was dimsum and, to enjoy the small treats, eating rice, in my book, was prohibited.

I had never learned how to cook nor distinguish Beef Tripe up until I discovered the grocery shelves in Toronto’s Chinatown. The groceries had a massive line-up of delectable and sometimes unrecognizable inner parts of the beef and the pig, and everything was raw, cured and or pickled and supposedly edible. I saw the Towel and Honeycomb Beef Tripe sitting at one of the shelves and grabbed hold of a portion of the smoother, more edible looking Towel Tripe.

Cooking the Beef Tripe is easy, but quite time consuming. Nevertheless, the finished product came out exactly like those I have tasted in Manila and Toronto’s Chinatowns; actually even better with the more seasoning I added in the pot.

Ingredients:

  • 1 portion Beef Tripe (Towel)
  • 3-4 Slices of Ginger
  • 2-3 Stalks Green Onions
  • 1 small White Onion
  • Black Peppercorns
  • 2-3 cups of Chicken Stock

Wash and rinse the Beef Tripe.

Start boiling a small pot of Chicken Stock, add some pieces of ginger and green onion stalks and black peppercorns together with the Beef Tripe.Let the pot boil to simmer for an hour or so; checking the doneness of the Beef Tripe every now and then. Cooking times would vary depending on how much Tripe is in the pot.  Add more stock or water if necessary when the stock level reduces.  Let the Beef Tripe cool down and chop into bite size pieces.

In a small bowl, scoop some stock from the pot, followed by the Beef Tripe and top with thinly sliced ginger and green onions.

Lamon Sa Kusina

When I left the Philippines for Toronto in 2003, I expected a major shift in my lifestyle. I left the Philippines for political, and socio-economic reasons; the latter being the more important. I wanted to re-adjust my life to something more meaningful or, at least, to a more acceptable standard of living whereby I would be proud to call my new life in my new adopted country my own. I was too attached to family back in Manila and at that  age, I was supposedly should be living independently on my own. The move had had to happen somehow, and, surely it did. It was a major sigh of relief.

When I had begun my journey to a new life in Toronto, I had had to adapt to a whole new set of life challenges. My first so-called ‘home’ was in a basement. I lived quietly in a basement of a house in the suburbs in the eastern part of town for three months before moving higher to a room;  sharing a three-bedroom apartment with two other couples.  I occupied the master’s bedroom located at the far end of the hallway.  It was a challenge and a struggle to keep up with frenetic pace the city had offered, but fortunately, I managed to survive; maintaining at least two part-time jobs at a time to pay the bills. That was the norm for many.  Due to work related circumstances, I moved to the downtown core area and settled to a bachelor’s pad which I could finally call my own. It took me almost two years to find this quiet, secluded abode. It was a run-down apartment building, but it gave me peace and quiet after a long day at work. I badly needed that, and the commute to and from the city to the suburbs was taxing.

DSCF6456 (640x480)When I was sharing the kitchen with two other couples, there was usually no time to eat nor relax on the dining table. Everybody was up and about coming from work; doing their thing in the small kitchen.  One of the two couples was also occupying the table. I really had no place or space to savour and enjoy the meal I cooked.  Since I was alone and single, I was nudged to the side.  I was quite exhausted too from work, and just to finish my meal, I would stand at the kitchen counter top just beside the stovetop and eat my dinner right then and there.  I learned to eat fast from work and it was pretty much the same thing in the apartment.  I also ate fast just to catch-up more on sleep and rest, which were truly precious to me. I needed them badly before starting another grueling work in the retail outlet store where I had worked as a maintenance clerk. It was one of the worst jobs I had, by the way.  Anyway, the thought of scurriedly eating  in the kitchen when it shouldn’t be case brought this blog into life.

‘Lamon sa Kusina’ summarizes the food I cooked, ate and tried before I started my ‘life’ in the kitchen. I could still clearly recall what I made in that small, overcrowded kitchen. ‘Lamon sa Kusina’ would also feature some comfort food which I had longed for being away from the Philippines. I strongly feel I really didn’t miss much of the actual Filipino food I ate in Manila; given the abundance and wealth of other ingredients in this side of the world and after a short stint in Culinary School. However, I could safely say I made some vicious ‘comfort’ meals back then just to satisfy my cravings. I’m still making them now with an additional twist to punctuate and enliven the dish and have it called my creation.  That  train of thought of eating, preparing, and cooking something comfortable and nourishing is ‘Lamon sa Kusina;’  ideas and thoughts that sometimes wouldn’t scram and go away until they have been written down and tested.   I also learned some cooking techniques from my former roommates which up to now I still keep in my files. That was nearly ten years ago.  They too made some wonderful dishes.