Pasta in Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce

The grocery I usually visit just started renovations to catch-up to the ever increasing and growing supermarket competition. It was about time. The aisles were adjusted to accommodate more shoppers and additional shelves, freezers, and fridge displays were installed in the premises. Now, that’s a plus for a choosy (cheap) shopper like me! The store’s overall shopping experience has been stuck in the 80’s, 70’s even; dark, narrow aisles with nearly empty shelves and very limited choices. There’s another grocer just across my apartment; selling just the necessary and basic stuff, but with the quality and kind of food I look for, it definitely doesn’t make the grade. I go there just for emergencies; things I might have left out during my dedicated afternoon in the grocery, and for bottled water. Moreover, service at the front moves at snail’s pace. I don’t have that luxury nor the patience to wait on long queues. I’ll take my business somewhere else if that’s the case.

The vegetable and fruit counters were replenished with fresher and more vibrant looking colours of the sun and the rainbow which just makes you want to buy more just for nothing else. The grocery also carries a variety of fresh mushrooms which I really love to have whenever I come there. They are also sold by the pound which is more favourable for me knowing that I can’t finish a package of just one kind in a couple of days or so. I can pick-up several of each and cook each one differently from the other. Anyway I took three kinds and while proceeding home, thought of a recipe I do miss.

I’ve always wanted to cook a Spaghetti & Mushroom combination dish without using heavy cream, milk and eggs or making a more potent Bechamel Sauce as commonly practiced and used in many Italian-American recipes. If it were Carbonara, I would indeed load it up since there’s already bacon and bacon fat pan-fried prior to cooking, which by themselves already pack a punch to the belly. I’ve also seen many pouring heavy cream directly into the sauté pan when making this one. I feel that would be too heavy to the bite for just pasta and mushrooms. I came up with this one as a result.

Ingredients:

• Olive Oil
• 1/3 of a box of Spaghetti
• Assorted Mushrooms (White Button, Cremini, Oyster)
• 2% Evaporated Milk (Condensed)
• 2 Cloves of Garlic, minced
• Cheese: Parmesan/Mozzarella/Cheddar
• Compound Butter (Garlic, Wine, Onion Powder)
• Salt & Ground Black Pepper
• A Squeeze of Lemon

Optional: Fresh Chopped Italian Parsley/White Wine

Start a pot of heavily salted water and drop the Spaghetti. Follow the instructions indicated on the package for the required time.

Start chopping the mushrooms and mincing the garlic while waiting for the Spaghetti to reach desired doneness.

Heat the sauté pan with Olive oil and butter and stir-fry the garlic until aromatic. Slowly add the mushrooms and toss until cooked. Add some of the pasta water followed by the Spaghetti when done. Stir some more until everything comes together, and pour in the condensed milk until the desired creaminess is reached. Start adding the Mozzarella or Parmesan Cheese, and squeeze some lemon juice to give it a final shine.

Plate and garnish with chopped Italian Parsley and drizzle with Olive oil before serving.

I used chopped green onions as garnish. White wine can be added after sauteing the onion and garlic.

 

 

 

 

<a href=”http://pictureclusters.blogspot.com/“>Food Friday</a>

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Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Capers & Basil

Busy days are here again. When a heat wave strikes the city, rest-assured, ‘beer gardens’ as what many Filipinos coin them; begin to open the patio sections of their restaurants to accommodate awaiting patrons seeking for the sun outside. Drinking and conversing are the way to go on a hot, summer day here in the city.

Summer here is extremely short, and I’m not sure if I had mentioned before; each weekend or extra weekend thereafter is precious and rigorously planned. In my case, it’s the season I work days and nights and pretty much nothing else. By fall or winter, my schedule becomes less stressful and more manageable. Summer is just crazy; no matter how short or long my shifts would be.

Anyway, work is relatively easy, but with volume that’s about three times as much as the usual, the whole story of the ballgame changes. Moreover, operating hours are longer, following the longer day shorter night pattern, and of course, work demand rises along with it. With almost the same man hours, workload for each one in the line becomes tremendously stressful. This is the basic reason why I really look forward to fall. Kids are back to school and everything becomes normal for those involved in operations.

Since my time has been stretched until late in the evening, my time in my own kitchen diminishes as well. For this basic reason, cooking for myself becomes more of a chore than an enjoyment. And, I really don’t want that to happen. I’d like to sit down, relax and enjoy my food. I avoid fastfood as much as possible. I’d eat a Shawarma every now and then, but that’s about it. I don’t consider fastfood as real food. I don’t understand how North Americans can eat those almost everyday.

To make this happen, I’d be starting a series of easy-to-cook pasta dishes. I just love pasta! It’s simple, straightforward, healthy, and satisfying. I have somehow cut down on my rice intake too, and have switched to a higher protein, more vegetables diet lately. Leaning towards this kind of diet led me to re-think my daily food requirements for the week. This brought me back to Italian Pasta dishes which, somehow, I am re-discovering lately.

Ingredients:
1/3 of a box of Spaghetti
2-3 Pcs. of Ripe Roma Tomatoes, Diced
2-3 Cloves of Garlic, Diced
Capers
Lemon Juice
Dried Basil
Assorted Cheese (Parmesan, Mozzarella & Cheddar)
Salt & Ground Black Pepper
Olive Oil

Optional: Fresh Basil/Anchovies

Start a pot of heavily salted water, and cook the Spaghetti based on the required time indicated in the package. Strain, and set aside about a cup of pasta water.

In a hot pan, start sautéing the garlic in olive oil until aromatic. Add in the Roma Tomatoes, followed by the dried herbs. Continue seasoning while sautéing. Add some pasta water followed by the Spaghetti. Squeeze some lemon juice thereafter

Toss and stir and add the cheese. Set it on a plate. Drizzle with Olive Oil and garnish with fresh basil.

Fresh anchovies can be sautéed with the garlic. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any in the grocery, and I forgot to buy some Fresh Basil.

Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Drumsticks

It was about 25 years ago when Japanese food was still considered “nouveau” cuisine. Sushi  and sashimi were relatively new and they weren’t really being picked-up by the public up until probably Karate Kid showed in theatres and Sanrio started flooding the market. Daniel San’s Crane Stance, however, was frowned upon by many martial artist, but the Japanese dojo where he trained and the Japanese culture the movie imparted gave the viewers an idea of Japan itself.  After that, maybe, anything Japanese became popular.

Growing up, my family and I would usually have lunch at the old Kimpura in Makati after hearing mass at Magallanes.  I still vividly remember their teppanyaki grill and the sweet ‘dilis’ they served before every meal. It was, at that time, an experience in fine dining. Competition was nil to limited.

I really have no idea how Japanese food grew leaps and bounds, but it has definitely made some headway in the last three decades or so.  When Saisaki opened its doors introducing another Japanese food concept in the mid to late ‘80s, the love for Japanese food exploded like wildfire.  Anyway, Japanese food has become so mainstream nowadays that some of its dishes have been infused by other cultures or into other cooking techniques to achieve a more or less the same taste without sacrificing the Japanese essence; so to speak.

Besides Oyakudon. Gyudon and Sukiyaki, I consider Teriyaki as one of my faves.  Its sweet, soya taste leaves a lingering taste in my tongue and the sauce punctuates its already perfectly caramelized meat from the grill. Moreover, it perfectly matches Sake. That’s all that matters; perhaps only for me.  Japanese grilling is as efficient and streamlined as their manufacturing and electronic capabilities. It’s really not as rough or rustic like many I have seen. Ramen is another story that’s yet to be told.

I also wanted this dish to be as accessible to many as possible. I was again requested by a friend to create a simple and affordable recipe using local ingredients and ingredients that were also available in Southeast Asia. The only option I had at hand was Chicken drumsticks.  I’m not sure if this is ‘as simple’ enough but if a charcoal grill is available, I think it would definitely make a big difference.  I had to use the oven to achieve the colour and flavour I envisioned in creating this meal.

Ingredients: to taste

  • 4-5 Chicken Drumsticks
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Chicken Stock
  • Brown Sugar
  • Mirin (optional)

Season the drumsticks with salt & pepper. In a sauté pan, heat oil and pan-fry the drumsticks until golden.

Remove from the pan and set the drumsticks in an oven tray and shove it in a 300’C- 350’C preheated oven.

Discard some of the oil from the pan, and sauté the garlic and ginger. Don’t let the garlic turn brown. Add the Light Soy Sauce, Chicken Stock, and Brown Sugar. Turn the stovetop to low and wait until the sauce caramelizes. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Baste the chicken with this glaze repeatedly until the drumsticks caramelize.

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Pork with Bittermelon

The most annoying vegetable I had while I growing up was Ampalaya. Yes, it was annoying. It was one those vegetables I would, at all cost, avoid. I’d rather feed myself with kangkong or any other green leafy vegetable with soup than eat that bitter tasting and inedible looking thing. I’ve never eaten one growing up, and have never appreciated its ‘healthy’ qualities as insisted by my parents and by many. Many just love Ampalaya though.  It would have been probably the bitter tasting medicines I took as a child growing up with asthma, and that life threatening sickness triggered my brain, and my tongue to dislike any other bitter tasting food.

I haven’t had any serious attack lately because of good, clean weather here in North America and thus far, haven’t returned to my medicines since I arriving here. I’m totally grateful for that and for enjoying the much healthier atmosphere here. There’s just a big difference from Asia.

I’ve been trying to release myself from this syndrome though, and it’s not really easy. I’ve seen so many kinds of vegetable in the market place, classified between East and West; as against those found in Southeast Asia.  And, if I had known how to pair each one with something else, I’d buy a couple and properly match them with either chicken, fish, pork or beef.  That discovery is only happening now. It’s not too late yet, but I have been encouraging myself to do so. Same stigma has hit me with fruits.  I work with fruits almost everyday, too and seeing, touching, looking and still having them at home would be somehow catastrophic.  It’s not easy as much as I want to include fruits into my diet.  I’ve promised myself countless times during the off-season to include fruits in my basket, but thus far, that has never happened.

To jumpstart this new food journey, I bought a portion of fresh lean pork  a few weeks back and left it in the freezer since I couldn’t decide what to do with it.  I wanted to stretch my  lean pork and the only way to do this is to pair it with a vegetable. I’ve paired it with red and green bell peppers and with onions  a long time ago and I didn’t want to do the same anymore. I really wanted something else. I’ve checked on-line a saw this recipe. I knew it would be a personal challenge given that  the bittermelon is truly ‘bitter,’  and for sure I wouldn’t like it; bringing back my past.  However, after going through the cooking process, I discovered that blanching reduces the bitterness of the bittermelon ; and so I did.  I tried it and surprisigly liked it. This is my take on that dish:

Ingredients:

  • 1 Bittermelon
  • 1/3 of a lb. lean pork
  • Garlic, minced
  • Chicken Stock
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Cut the bittermelon into half and deseed using a spoon. Cut into bite size pieces and blanch in hot boiling water.

Julienne the lean pork, season with light soy sauce, salt & pepper, Shaoxing Cooking Wine and sprinkle with cornstarch.

Remove the bittermelon from the hot pot and run through cold water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.

In a wok, heat some canola or peanut oil, sauté the garlic followed by the marinated lean pork.  Keep sautéing until the pork is almost done, dump the chopped bittermelon,  and finish off with a cornstarch slurry with oyster sauce. Add the brown sugar and a dash of light soy sauce, and season to taste.

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Spring Rolls

I probably haven’t had spring rolls in nearly a decade now. For one, I am allergic to shrimps and most spring rolls have dried shrimps mixed in them. My nose can smell it from a mile away. For this basic reason, I make my own pork mixture and roll it in a spring roll crepe to my desire. Spring rolls have become so mainstream that sometimes it’s not really as enjoyable having one outside anymore. I still have some cravings though, once in a while, and like now, I had the urge to make a batch. The ground pork can be substituted with chicken or beef based on what’s available or not available; really depending on geographic location.  Likewise, the dipping sauce is as versatile as the ingredients mixed in the marinade. That’s the fun of making homemade spring rolls. It’s very labour intensive, but when the entire clan is involved in rolling the ‘rolls’ and frying the dish thereafter, the fun begins. It’s a simple recipe, and I’m sure many have their own special marinade as passed on from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, I don’t have that food lineage to boot. All I have is a very hungry and empty stomach after a long day at work and all I want is something truly satisfying to put me down to sleep. It has to be fast, delicious and most of all, at least, a bit special to my eyes.  I’d survive eating a sausage and several slices of Rye Bread for dinner for as long as it’s fresh and it’s different from the grocery shelves.

The ground pork marinade I used for this Spring Roll was inspired by a TV  show. I had some Soft Tofu left from a soup dish and I had had to use it.  I’ve always wanted to try it  after seeing that show and with the leftover tofu, I began my quest of making my own personal spring roll.  Indeed, it’s a lot of hardwork for one person so I decided to do it in steps from preparation to actual cooking; taking me about three nights to reach the final product.

I have twisted the ingredients a bit, but it’s still the usual Spring Roll. I’ve also noticed that some if not many and usually the Filipino Lumpiang  Shanghai is served dry; sometimes too dry. The soft tofu I mixed in the pork mixture prevents this from happening. It was likewise marinated overnight to a day to let all the ingredients come together.  Marinating for hours end makes a huge difference.

Marinade: To taste

  • 1 lb. Ground Pork
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Green Onions
  • Soft Tofu
  • Lime Juice
  • Brown Sugar
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Dark Soy Sauce
  • Oyster Flavoured Sauce
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Sesame Oil
  • Cornstarch
  • Salt & Pepper

Remove the crepe wrapper from the freezer to thaw and set one or two on the cutting board.Scoop about two tablespoons of the pork mixture and place it at the center of the wrapper.

Roll, fold and seal with an egg wash. Pan-fry or deep-fry.

Dipping Sauce:  To taste

    • Mirin
    • Light Soy Sauce
    • Salt & Pepper
    • Minced Garlic
    • Sesame Oil

Pan-Fried Porkchops

Whenever Filipinos hold a party here, they would usually order and buy a tray or two of Fried Porkchops and Calamares  in one those many small Chinese food courts located in the many plazas in the suburbs.  Each tray I think is about $15 or less, depending on the size, and it’s usually overflowing.   How can you beat that? It’s definitely a bargain as against going through the buying and the deep-frying of loads of thinly sliced chops to serve hungry and awaiting guests.

I also noticed that these chops are perfect beer partners. That’s the bottom-line, and I’m guessing that’s one of the many reasons why many Filipinos buy them.  I’ve only encountered these trays here. I’ve never seen them growing up in Manila or maybe I was just too naïve to know what was happening outside of my village. I only saw noodles served in trays and that was about it. Nevertheless, they are practical, delicious and gargantuan enough to serve a hundred.  Filipinos also expect their guests to drink. That’s the ‘fun’ part of the party alongside the greasy, fried morsels of meat, fish and crackers and the no nonsense conversations which make you laugh your belly out until drunk.

Honestly, these get-togethers and gatherings are totally new concept for me.  I learned late how to deal and somehow socialize with other individuals; growing up in a quite secluded and guarded atmosphere almost a third of my life. When I started handling people fifteen years ago, I learned how to deal with other people properly and it was indeed a learning experience.  I treasure those learning moments. Today, I am wondering what had happened to the staff I’ve worked with for so many years before moving to this side of the world.

Anyway, I’ve tried several times how to recreate these chops. They are just too addicting like chicharon and I can’t seem to stop munching on the first bite.  That’s how good they are.  When I eat something as good as that, I would usually proceed to the Chinese Meat Market and find the source.  I know they’re just there sitting somewhere.  True enough, I saw the chops and had them ‘cut’ as thinly as possible. Vendors ask their customers for ‘cut’ or ‘no cut’ everytime. Same goes for hocks.  I’m a happy man.  This is my version of those chops. I avoid deep-frying as much as possible for personal reasons and opted to pan-fry them instead without actually losing the essence or texture of those I have tasted.  I also omitted MSG, but included it otherwise in the ingredients; knowing that it’s a major taste factor in many Asian Fried dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Pork chops (Very thinly sliced)
  • Cornstarch
  • 1 Bird’s Eye Chili
  • 2-3 Cloves Garlic
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Five-Spice Powder
  • Szechuan Pepper & Salt

Optional: MSG

FRIED GARLIC AND CHILI:

Pat dry the chops with paper towel or let the moisture out as much as possible by letting them hang on a strainer before dredging.

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and dredge in cornstarch. Set aside.

Heat a wok or a pan and pan-fry the chops until golden.  Remove from the pan, and let the chops drip dry on a paper towel or oven tray, and season generously with salt and ground black Pepper. Discard the oil and wipe the wok clean with a paper towel.

Heat some oil on the same pan and sauté the garlic and chili. Pour onto the chops while hot.

SALT & PEPPER: Stop at step 2.

FIVE FRAGRANCE:  Follow the first two steps and season with five-spice powder.  Adjust the seasonings to taste

SALT & SZECHUAN PEPPER:  Instead of salt and ground black, season with Ground Szechuan Pepper and Salt.  I’ve used this seasoning for deep-fried fish.

Garnish with finely chopped green onions.

Steamed Spareribs with Bean Paste

When I feel down and out, I always head out to my cave. That cave is in Chinatown where it seems that every time I do my weekly grocery, I discover a small store that sells something very unique from all other stores that are usually selling one and the same thing. That’s Chinatown and actually East Asia for you in a small two to three block radius at the downtown core. I’d go to Chinatown to unwind and to eat either dimsum or noodles. A Chinese feast is reserved for the Chinese New Year or a small gathering with friends whom I don’t normally see as often.  I’m almost always either alone doing my thing or everybody is else is busy doing their thing. At any rate, Chinatown is my hiding place; away from the noise, the people and the food of the place where I work. That’s one thing I want to be away from on the eve of my day-off, which rarely happens over the summer.

Just recently, I posted a Beef Tripe Dimsum which I would order at my favourite hide away on my weekly visit. And to pair the tripe with is a Steamed Pork Ribs with Black Bean Sauce.  I just love this Steamed Pork Rib by itself or with Rice. The sauce that’s poured on the meat with rice makes it stand out and shine.  I love it both ways, and it totally depends on the time I arrive at the restaurant to order my regular fares. If I come in early, I would usually just enjoy my tea for ten to fifteen minutes until the carts start rolling out from the kitchen and the dimsum ladies begin their shouting sell-off. Many of these women don’t speak or speak little English and the only way to have your way is to stand up and check the carts themselves or ask the servers to be on the safe side. I do that and have been lucky lately of choosing the most delectable and sometimes unrecognizable dimsum. I stay safe, and stick to my regulars. If there are new ones, I consider myself lucky. I gun for meat, nothing else. Everything else is more or less the same.  I’m sure to sleep soundly after that.

I like my dimsum savoury. I noticed that the dimsum in other carts are also available outside except maybe for the congee and the wraps which have to be served as fresh as possible. Otherwise, many are accessible to the public in the market itself.

I’ve seen the ribs at the grocery shelves and envisioned how it’s cooked and prepared. I was lucky enough to recapture the taste to my liking. I know that Fermented Black Beans or Black Bean Paste is commonly and traditionally used by many .  However, I decided to use the Bean Paste I had in fridge, and it didn’t frustrate me.

Ingredients:

  • Package of Pork Ribs
  • Bean Paste
  • Ginger, Julienned
  • Green Onion, Julienned
  • Garlic, minced
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Cornstarch
  • Ground Black Pepper

Cut the ribs in bite size pieces and marinate with Light Soy Sauce and Shaoxing Cooking Wine.

Dust with cornstarch, and season with salt and pepper.

Mince some garlic and chop a stalk of green onion and sauté in a wok followed by the pork ribs.

Dowse with Shaoxing Cooking Wine and continue stirring. Let it boil to simmer once and transfer to ramekins.

Add about ½ teaspoon of bean paste in the ramekin bowl and let it steam until tender.

Garnish with finely julienned Green Onion and Ginger.