Picadillo (Giniling)

My very first trip to the United States was way back in 1985. A couple of my Aunts and Uncles migrated to the USA back in the 1970s, and my family and I have been constantly invited to visit them. That monumental trip led us to Los Angeles, and every trip thereafter was almost always in the West Coast where most of my Mom’s friends and family members resided. Only a few of them immigrated to the East Coast, and that trip only came late in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Honestly, I was a bit envious of my cousins who had grown and lived in the USA almost all their lives. I felt they were more fortunate than I was in terms of growth and job opportunities, education, quality of life and the general point of view of living life itself in a more open society. It was not a secluded society, and as cliché as it may sound, some kind or some form of ‘freedom’ for individuals and new settlers alike indeed was felt. I also never expected to be an immigrant myself 20 years later.

Anyway, what drew me more into this utopia of sorts was the abundance and affordability of food. Grocery food was definitely for the masses, and the middle class, and anyone in the street can afford to purchase what’s needed, what’s wanted, and what’s required on a day-to-day basis. That was a relatively new concept back then and having been brought up by South Supermarket in Paranaque where my family and I had lived, that was totally an exuberating experience for a growing teenager with strong ideals and dreams. South Supermarket was in no way close to these huge market places where everything and anything can be had for cheap at bulk prices.

Besides these discount supermarkets, I was also drawn by the growing and expanding Mexican food over at the West Coast for obvious reasons.  Taco Bell was my fastfood of choice and Denny’s was a major treat. I’ve never had an American breakfast set in Diner style before, and Denny’s, as a teenager, fascinated me like no other for recreating that atmosphere.  Nevertheless, I still searched for the real deal, Mexican food besides Taco Bell, and I found authentic Mexican restaurants along the way.  Mexican food for me was a complex mixture of flavours, but after being exposed to it just last year through a myriad of cooking shows, I discovered that many Mexican recipes were Spanish based; only infused by Mexican chilis and beans which were abundant in the area or any other local ingredients that was locally grown or harvested like cacti. Furthermore, recipes were very easy to prepare and almost all ingredients were readily available in market shelves.

Like Afritada, the Filipino Picadillo or Giniling can be totally boring. I’ve had tasted Giniling countless times; from cafeterias, in plastic bags for lunch delivered by Makati Gilid ‘Caterers,’  to side street vendors, and didn’t feel any gusto eating ground meat with potatoes and peas dowsed in diluted and greasy tomato sauce. It was as plain and as morbid as my ex-wife’s lame excuses and shameless upheavals. I have decided to twist this Giniling by adding some Mexican flavour into it, and adding Zucchini which is originally is not mixed  with the traditional Giniling.  I knew Zucchini would work well with tomatoes, limes and Oregano. The chilis definitely stood out in the sauce. It took a little more time to prepare, but by the next day, the sauce became even better.

Ingredients:

  • Ground Chicken (Pork or Beef)
  • Italian Sausages or Chorizo
  • Red Onions
  • Guajillo Peppers (dried)
  • Plum Tomatoes
  • Red & Green Bell Peppers
  • Garlic (for roasting and sautéing)
  • Zucchini
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • Green Onion
  • Mexican Oregano
  • Mexican Chili Powder (Optional)

Red Chili Tomato Sauce:

Roast the Garlic, Green & Red Bell Peppers, and Tomatoes on the stovetop or in the oven. Let the tomatoes cool at room temperature and peel the skin.  Meanwhile, roast the Guajillo Chilis on a skillet or Grill pan until the essential oil is released. Soak them in warm water for half an hour or so and de-seed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pan-fry some sausages (Chorizo) in a sauce pan and set aside.

Blend the Chilis, Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic and Bell Peppers, and strain  back into the sauce pan where the Sausages were pan-fried. Add some of the water from the soaked Chilis to adjust the consistency. Adjust further the seasoning with  Mexican Oregano and salt & ground black pepper to taste.

 

 

 

 

 

Sides:

Boil the potatoes until tender, peel and let it cool at room temperature. When manageable, dice.

Peel and dice the Zucchini. Add salt and draw out the moisture using a strainer.

Pan-fry the potatoes and Zucchini until golden and set aside.

Ground Meat:

Season the meat and dust with flour. Set the stovetop to medium-high and pan-fry the ground meat until brown. When brown, set it at one side of the pan and add in the red onions and garlic.  Continue sautéing and when the meat is nearly done, slowly incorporate the Red Chili Tomato Sauce into the pan. Stir continuously.

 

 

 

 

Set the meat at one side of the plate and the sides on the other. Garnish with finely chopped green onion (or cilantro) and finely diced, de-seeded tomatoes.

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Spanish Escabeche

Probably every pub in the city serves some kind of Fish & Chips.  It’s a very popular and profitable dish. If the fish fillet came as frozen, it would have been either portioned accordingly and coated in an house batter, deep-fried half-way, and finished off before service started. It  could also have been shipped as individual fillets in a box and  deep-fried with a batter to order.  I’ve seen pubs working with or around this pretense as a way of lowering food cost and increasing dish recovery or turnover.

I was once a fan of Fish & Chips, up until I encountered some realy nasty deep-frying experiences at work. My first taste of an authentic Fish & Chips was in London nearly thirty years ago. I was about 13, and never realized I was having a major treat at my hands. At that age, I only wanted two things: toys and any books related to the martial arts; anything other than that was insignificant.  Academics was also off the radar, but I managed to pass my courses just to please my strict parents.  Of course, pretty and highly adorable ‘girls’ remained in my list and they still mesmerized me to this day, even though they weren’t exactly ladies yet at that time.  Phoebe Cates was my dream prom date as was with my peers.  It was part of growing up in a co-ed school whereby terribly attractive ‘girls’ constantly roamed around the four-story HS building with open corridors set for me and my barkada to enjoy and to discuss nonsense during recess. It was like watching a pageant set for adolescents who were studying in a very inhibitive and outdated educational curricula. We had our classes at the fourth floor on our senior year and, it felt like heaven!  I still often recall those moments, and as an adult, wouldn’t have had it in any other way.

Anyway, fish, particularly Filipino fried fish (Tilapia) with vinegar is just so plain and so boring. Filipinos seem to have it in no other way.Well, actually, with another way: Fish Escabeche.  I’ve checked out several Filipino Escabeche recipes and all played around with this combination of ingredients:  vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, catsup and bell peppers. I tasted this mixture growing-up and the house helpers did a fantastic a job of removing the dry and plain characteristics of the Fried Tilapia by turning it into Escabeche. I ate the Tilapia with gusto. It had the feeling of eating Sweet & Sour Pork without the crunch and the heavy, gingery thick sauce so common to many Sweet & Sour dishes.

My goal for this blog was to make the fish as crunchy as a Sweet and Sour Pork and  the sauce as addicting as any dimsum (particularly chicken feet). This is my take on Escabeche. I didn’t follow the usual Filipino ingredients and used fillets instead of a whole Tilapia. I just don’t like picking through a whole fish when fillets are readily available in the market.  This is a sort of a follow through to Iska’s Sinigang ng Isda; taking the fuzz out of eating something delicious without the hassles of deep-frying or picking through fish bones which can somehow ruin the enjoyment of the meal itself.

Ingredients:

  • Wild Cod Fillets
  • Sweet Rice Flour
  • Olive Oil
  • White Balsamic Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar
  • White Wine (Chardonnay)
  • Red & Green Bell Peppers, finely diced
  • White Onions, finely diced
  • Garlic, minced
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Rind
  • Lemon Juice
  • Dried Oregano: Optional

Season the fillets with salt and pepper and roll the fillets with a slice of lemon inside. Secure the fillets with a skewer or a toothpick.

Coat the fillets with sweet rice flour inside out and leave them in the fridge for about half an hour.

Heat a pan with oil and pan-fry or deep-fry the fillets until golden. Start dicing the bell peppers, onions and garlic while frying. Pat dry the fillets with a towel or let them sit on strainer while finishing off the sauce.

Saute the bell peppers, onions, and garlic in another pan. Add the herbs and the lemon rind and season to taste. Pour the White Balsamic Vinegar  into the pan followed by the White Wine. Let it boil to simmer and squeeze lemon juice at the final stages of cooking.

Set the fillet at the center of the plate and pour the sauce on top of the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, and garnish with finely diced green onions.

The White Balsamic Vinegar and the White Wine combination were the killer ingredients. Indeed, quality products can make food stand out.

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Chicken in Tomato Sauce (Afritada)

I probably have had the chance to work as a cook with three different old women who, as managers and grandmothers, also owned and operated their restaurants. All three were ethnic, and unfortunately, all were horrible experiences. My first ever experience with these owner ‘types’ was with a Filipino family in the suburbs seven years ago. I was new in the food service industry and in the country, and had no idea how restaurant operations spun.  I jumped in at every opportunity that was available just to earn the much needed experience.  I also felt that I had to know more Filipinos after living in my new adopted country for the last two years and the only way was to join a Filipino restaurant.

That experience expanded my network and for that short stint in that Filipino restaurant, life-long friends were developed. I needed that boost given that working dual jobs was isolating me from reality and universal existence.  It was not healthy and very, very stifling.   The Filipino restaurant I worked with served typical ‘turo-turo’ dishes as so with many other Filipino restaurants in the city.  ‘Kare-kare,’ ‘Kalderata,’ and ‘Adobo,’ were the typical fare; nothing really fancy and a bit overpriced.  That eventually led to its downfall and before that even happened, I was out.  It was a ‘fine dining’ restaurant; supposedly, but all I saw were usual Filipino food which, during my shifts, I completely avoided after seeing how it was prepared. Everything came from the package or packet and sauces were diluted to cut corners and save money.

Once in a while, the head cook will make some ‘Chicken Afritada,’ which I also didn’t touch nor try. It was drowning with oil and the tomato sauce from which it was braised in was very pale and looked extremely inedible. Moreover, ‘Chicken Afritada’ was a mainstay in my family dinner table as much as adobo and sinigang. It’s definitely an easy go-to-meal and easy meals as such can sometimes turn out bland as only enhanced by condiments like salt, chilis, fish sauce and ground black pepper.

This is my version of ‘Chicken Afritada.’ I didn’t exactly braise the chicken, which unlike beef, can be pan-fried and be finished off in the oven.  It didn’t come out as oily as I was introduced to and  Rosemary  and red wine were included for that extra bold flavour missing or lacking in many typical Filipino tomato sauce based dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Chicken Breast (cut with wing bone-in)
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Green Bell Pepper
  • White Onions
  • Garlic
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Fish Sauce
  • San Marzano type canned Tomatoes (blended or pureed)
  • Red Wine
  • Rosemary

Pan-fry the chicken breast, skin side down first, until golden brown and shove in a 350’C preheated oven.

Boil some potatoes and carrots until tender. Set aside to cool.  Cut into rings and pan-fry.

Dice some white onions, green and red bell peppers and mince a clove of garlic. Sauté the vegetables and Rosemary in olive oil and set aside.

Check the doneness of the chicken, and remove from the pan.  Using the same pan, sauté some finely diced onions, and deglaze the pan with red wine before adding some tomato sauce, ground black pepper and fish sauce  into the pan. Adjust the sauce with some water and strain.  Finish off with ground black pepper, a little more salt and fish sauce. Add more tomato sauce to attain the desired consistency; adjusting it with stock or water along the way.

Drizzle the sauce around the chicken breast alongside the vegetables. Sprinkle with olive oil and fish sauce before serving.

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Braised Pork in Soy Sauce (Pata Tim)

The sun is out again, and outside is muggy. I have been contemplating for days  on how to start this article, but it never came. Well, after a trip to the liquor store, I had a kickstart from my good old friend, the beer, and finally found something to begin with.

The week that went felt like a long weekend with the celebration of the annual Toronto Jazz  Festival at the east side of the city, for which I have promised myself to experience and enjoy for years now, but never have. Work interfered.  The actual long weekend is scheduled the week after, and from my observation, everybody seemed tired and exhausted from working each weekend after another for this long month of July.

Thinking about it just makes me wonder what on earth is going on, and why things are just moving so quickly and at lightning fast speed.   With so many whirlwind of activities going on in the city, the concept of time and place seem gray and unmistakably strange. I have that feeling now.  With the onset of the Olympics, which I am sure every pub in this city is showing on their huge flat screen televisions, is and should  be an additional burden,  of course, for those in the service industry.

Anyway, I thought about writing and cooking ‘Pata Tim’ about two weeks ago.  It was one of the first comfort food I managed to cook and to capture the taste way back in 2005.  It was at that time I discovered a massive Asian grocery in the suburbs and wanted to try each and every spice and condiment on display. It was nirvana! The aisles were long and tall and packed with mythical concoctions of jars and cans of preserves from every country on earth and probably from every town in China.  Now, that was a circus ride for a budding foodie like me. As a newly landed immigrant, Philippine groceries were pathetic to the size, price, quantity, and freshness of the produce I just discovered.

When I first arrived here in Canada, Pork Hocks were only priced at 49c a lb. I think it’s up to about 79c a lb.now, but it’s still considerably cheap given how they are marketed, and which I know, every Filipino in the city would love to indulge into for their versions of Crispy Patas and Pata Tims.  I fell to the trap, of course.  I bought countless numbers of Pork Hocks and have tried means and ways of doing a ‘Crispy’ without actually deep-frying the meat, but always ended up roasting and pan-frying each thereafter; and my blood pressure went up and had to back down a bit.

This is a braising dish and with the huge portions of hocks the Asian groceries offered on their displays, no one can really resist but to buy a bunch and do some miracle with them.  I did my ‘Pata Tim’ a very long time ago and my roommates were mesmerized with what I had done.  I just left it on the stovetop for three hours and that was it.  I consider Pata Tim deadly given all the heavenly goodness the hock can produce on every bite.  I, myself, have been trying to control my cholesterol level; watching my sugar and fat intake for the last couple of months. It’s just so enticing and tempting to buy cheap cuts of meat if they can last for days. They are just perfect for a very busy person like me.   Just to stay on the healthier side, I used a cut of a Pork Butt .

Ingredients:

  • ½ a lb. of Pork Butt
  • Flour
  • Cornstarch Slurry as a Thickening Agent
  • Brown Sugar
  • Chicken Stock

Sauces:

  • Hoisin Sauce
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Filipino Soy Sauce

Spices:

  • Star Anise
  • Cinnamon Stick
  • Coriander
  • Lily Buds
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Szechuan Peppercorns

Aromatics:

  • Leeks or Green Onions
  • White Onions
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Orange Peel
  • Thyme Sprigs
  • Parsley Stems

Garnishes:

  • Baby Bok Choy
  • Dried Shitake Mushrooms

Tie a butcher’s twine around the Pork Butt and dredge with seasoned flour. Pan-fry until golden brown and set aside. On the same pan, start sweating the onions and garlic. Return the Pork Butt and add the chicken stock, the sauces, the spices and the aromatics. Let it boil to simmer and shove it in a 200’C preheated oven (low & slow), covered, for approximately two hours; depending on how much meat has to be tenderized and cooked.

In a bowl, soak the Dried Shitake Mushrooms. Blanch the Baby Bok Choys.

Poke the meat using a fork and when it’s soft and tender, remove the butt from the pot and let it rest.  Strain the stock, and adjust to desired taste.  Add some of the water from the soaked mushrooms for additional taste.  Let the meat cool down and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours or so.

Cut the butcher’s twine and slice about two slices, against the grain, from the meat.  Take a portion of the braising broth  in another sauce pan, and thicken with cornstarch solution. Add in the mushrooms and the meat while doing this step or warm the butt using a microwave.   Surround the plate with the vegetables and mushrooms, and place the meat at the center. Pour the sauce as a final shine.

The cooking method done is similar to Iska’s Beef Pares and Braised Beef (Tendons) Noodle Soup.

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