Arroz a la Cubana

Between college and the start of my professional life, short-order meals were almost always the ready answer to hunger. I was struggling on my own and still living with my parents and these short-order dishes that were available at almost every street corner of Paranaque and Makati would tide me up after a night of partying.  I enjoyed eating egg with rice and with one of the many greasy processed meats only available in the city such as Tapa, Longganisa, Sinangag and in some cases even hotdogs.  At work, about the same kinds of meals were offered to the staff by the cafeterias and street vendors. These were the only meals I could really afford and at that time. I was already trying to build-up my savings; and it was not easy.

In the afternoon, just before proceeding home, a stick of sweet, deep-fried saba and even, maybe, a couple of pork BBQ filled me up before travelling for almost two hours from work to home ( because of traffic).  Traffic at the South Super Highway was immense to impossible and getting stuck in the jeepney or in the bus was mortifying. I even experienced a four-hour traffic jam in the highway at the peak of brownouts and flash floods, and I cursed being stuck on the road standing-up and being tortured by unforeseen weather conditions when these could have been readily avoided if proper city planning was made. It was a dreadful to treacherous voyage;  being soaked under the rain, looking for some light in the pitch black, flooded roads in the middle of a very busy intersection at Bicutan (where there were about twelve directions in the interchange); waiting for a jeepney at the service road to drop me off at the village gate. It was too far to walk.  In some point in time, a jetliner would overshoot the airport runway and hit the main artery of the highway aggravating an already chaotic atmosphere and adding more suffering for those living in the vicinity.

I was hungry by the time I reached home and all I really craved was warm, cooked meals with rice. I was frustrated of course, being served time-and-time again Adobo or Sinigang. Out of my frustration, I would drive to the nearest carinderia found at the village gate and eat a very, very, comforting Arroz a la Cubana.  This is a very classic dish which I do miss eating back in Manila. Saba isn’t available here in North America and having that with rice, fried egg and cooked ground pork was earth shaking.  It calmed my nerves down and knocked me out to sleep thereafter; only to repeat the same cycle the following day (if supper was boring or there was another oncoming typhoon).

This blog is dedicated to the Picadillo’s cousin; the Arroz a la Cubana.  I’ve always wanted to cook this one, but never had the chance to gather up the ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • Ground Lamb
  • Olive oil
  • Smoked Bacon, diced
  • Spanish Onion, minced
  • Garlic, minced
  • Red Bell Pepper, diced
  • Plantain
  • Pimenton Dulce
  • Brown Sugar
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Sweet Rice flour, for dredging
  • Egg

Cut the plantain into four and pan-fry both ends without cooking it thoroughly. Remove from the pan and smash each one using a potato masher. Dredge with rice flour and pan-fry the second time.  Set aside.

In a sauté pan, crisp the smoke bacon and brown the ground lamb. Set both at one side of the pan, and sauté the onion, garlic and red bell pepper. Add more oil if necessary. Season with Pimenton Dulce, brown sugar, ground black pepper and let it boil to simmer.  Season to taste.

Fry an egg according to doneness. I like mine sunny so that the yoke will ooze all over the meat and the rice.

I also omitted the raisins and peas for personal preference. Ground lamb was on sale.

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Pork Pochero

I thought that 2012 was a very lucky and auspicious year. By the end of Winter of 2012 and as Spring stepped in, I knew the year wouldn’t be different as the two other previous years. I was, of course, still in the kitchen doing the line, but my boss-owner was a menace. I was strangled at work for something simple and easy to do and my pay was delayed for about a week or so. I took everything with a grain of salt; understanding her tight situation and hoping the pay will come sooner or later, but when it became extremely unbearable, I just disappeared at the middle of service on a weekend.

Summer was more or less the same, working in another seasonal line job together with my more regular part-time job, but with better hourly rate. However, the drawback and trouble with this seasonal work was the intolerable clients it deals with on a daily basis. I was able to manage my work properly, but with clients as pesky and as rude as cockroaches, I would have been better off not having the job at all and stayed with my more regular work.

These jobs were difficult, hot and dirty, and by the end of year, I was left with unknown scars which I am dealing with now.  These are signs that I should have slowed down early during the year and I totally ignored it. I went on working my ass off as I did the previous summers, and thus I suffered in the end.  The signs of the Dragon of 2012 reappeared only at the end of the year. My hardwork, through all the years working the line; actually working two simultaneous lines in a day, paid-off with a more stable, full-time job with more offerings and with better co-workers and a more appreciative staff and clients.  That was the big bonus. Despite the distance to and from work from my apartment and the still difficult job involved, my work was still being fully recognized and they are actually saying it.  I can finally leave the tough job in the line where stress can overflow and erupt at any time during service and speed is an absolute requirement.  I lost that second essential requirement when I hit 40.

I’m still adjusting to this new environment, but I am taking care of myself now than I did a couple of years ago. My eating and sleeping habits have changed dramatically. I’m badly looking for sleep though with the longer travel time and workhours involved, but I know in time I’ll be able to finally adjust.

I’ve narrowed down my meals to the following: quick-grilling, braising (on my days-off) and stir-fry. I lost more than half of the time I used to have creating imaginative meals during those slow, easy afternoon, and in one point during this week, had vaguely no idea what to prepare for myself.

This stew is a classic: Pochero. I had this growing up and loved the root vegetables and the ‘saba’ that was braised with the stew. Beef is the usual main ingredient in Pochero, but I replaced it with Pork. I have this motto of using what I don’t have and apply it with whatever comes in my head. I believe the creativity of the cook comes in play with not having everything as required by the recipe and being able to recycle leftovers into another meal.

The ingredients of this Pochero is similar to the ingredients I used with a Vietnamese Curry I cooked around two years ago; enhancing the Southeast Asian flavours involved and preparing a Pork Broth (Nilaga) ahead of time for easier and faster cooking.

Ingredients:

  • Yellow Fingerling Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Plantain (as substitute)
  • Yard long beans
  • Bay Leaves
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Chicken Stock
  • Crushed Tomatoes
  • Tamarind Paste
  • Brown Sugar
  • Patis
  • Filipino Soy Sauce

Pork Broth (Nilaga):

  • Pork Butt
  • Bay leaves
  • Black peppercorns
  • Ginger
  • Onion

Prepare a pot of water and pre- boil the pork butt. Throw the first boil, clean the pot, and return the pork butt back into the pot. Re-start the pot with warm water together with the other ingredients included under the ‘Pork Broth.’

Saute onion and garlic in another pan.  Add the crushed tomatoes followed by the tamarind paste, patis, and Filipino Soy Sauce. Pour some of the pork broth and some chicken stock and incorporate the pre-boiled pork butt into the pan. Let it boil to simmer. Add the root vegetables until tender followed by the yard long beans. Season to taste.

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Lengua

I feel like cooking for another group of fifty while preparing my food for the next several days.  I missed home cooked meals; eating quick pasta recipes for the last couple of weeks after committing myself to a more challenging kitchen just about three weeks ago. This kitchen is about three times as large as my previous kitchen escapades and there are about 25 people to feed lunch and supper on a daily basis, twice that on a Tuesday. Tuesday has become my new Friday and this has totally knocked-off my internal clock. I feel so jetlagged and miserable every Wednesday and the weekends have become extremely long; working on my own and feeling so detached from the outside world. Unfortunately, I also lost my holidays as so common in the industry.

What’s challenging about this work is the ability of the cook to recycle or reinterpret everything on the menu and make something out of the ordinary.  Some recipes don’t make sense at all and of course, ingredients are quite limited. The kitchen does not carry so much in its inventory and almost everything is inexpensive. The Chef is also as relatively new as I am and he was assigned to clear-up and rejuvenate the kitchen which has been neglected for the last few years. I’ve been tasked to assist him while he focuses on a more supervisorial duty as instructed by management: in short, his bitch. There’s a third person also involved during the week, but his area of concern is salads and desserts and the overall maintenance and cleanliness of the entire kitchen.

I would usually be in my hideaway on a Wednesday morning and fast asleep in the afternoon thereafter. I’m quite exhausted throughout my ‘weekend’ and a good, satisfying and heavy home-cooked meal apt for this and for the season alleviate this very unusual switch. Weekends on weekdays just feel strange and queer after having a regular weekend for almost a year.  I would have wanted it to last longer. As Fall enters, many braised dishes help warm a very tired soul. This is my favourite season as well given that there is more food choices in the supermarkets as much as there are in retail outlets.

About two weeks ago, I bought a pack of pork tongue hoping to make a very Filipino popular dish, Lengua. I tasted a tomato based Lengua from a friend’s house a few months ago and was thrown aback on how soft it tasted to the bite.  I just had to have a hand on making this one. I never knew the preparation of the tongue would be as labour intensive as scrubbing a toilet inside out (a public toilet). Anyway, this almost half a day preparation pushed me back another day just to release myself from the smell and the torture of removing the top skin which, according to many, taste bitter and rancid.  That extra day cleared my own tongue from what a pork tongue would have actually tasted if I had proceeded on cooking it the same day.

This Lengua is a hybrid version of the recipes I read. It has been years since I’ve tried one and I wouldn’t have any idea how it was really prepared if I hadn’t had the chance to try it again.

Ingredients:

  • Pork Tongue, boiled & cleaned
  • Smoked Bacon
  • Olive Oil
  • Spanish Onions, minced
  • Garlic minced
  • Flour, for dusting
  • Beef Stock
  • White wine
  • Tomato Puree
  • Yellow Petite Potatoes, peeled
  • Mushrooms, thinly chopped
  • Chickpeas, canned
  • Bayleaves

Garnish:

  • Garlic, Roasted & peeled
  • Shallots, Roasted

Dust the boiled and cleaned pork tongue with seasoned flour.  Pan-fry until golden and set aside. On the same, pan-fry the smoked bacon until crunchy. Add more olive oil if necessary.  Move on one side of the pan and add the minced garlic & onion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start adding the white wine, tomato puree, bayleaves, potatoes, mushrooms, and beef stock and return the tongue back into the pan. Boil to simmer and cover. Shove in a 325’C oven until the tongue becomes fork tender.  Add the chickpeas at the last minute and discard the bayleaves before serving.


 

 

Garnish with roasted garlic and shallots.

 

 

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Osso Bucco alla Milanese

Working in the kitchen means doing one-million things all at the same time. And all that hardwork will vanish in a span of just about an hour of service; in my case, in just about twenty minutes. Afterwards, expect another surge of grueling and agonizing prep work; doing the same process again and timing everything  for another round of sweltering match.

The kitchen is a brotherhood of hardworking souls whereby the forthcoming menu is executed through questions; ‘how’s this?’, and ‘what’s next?, and in many cases, where? if a certain ingredient is unavailable or is lost in translation while an already barrage of pots are already churning on the stovetop and are seeking immediate attention and care. Substitutions are almost always welcomed. Managing time and ingredients combined with kitchen’s limited resources is where the skill of the cook comes in play, and it’s truly a crazy balancing act; hoping even that the oven won’t die down on you.  A bottle of beer does help calm the nerves down after such brutal beating and that could be the best part of the day for anyone doing several thousand things, and all done under the gun.

When I reach home after encountering a miserable day as such, I look for a meal that’s very, very sedating. I search for something which I didn’t touch nor tasted in the professional kitchen where I was bludgeoned and as much as possible, very easy to prepare. A very delicately prepared sandwich works, but most often, I look for either a typical meat and rice partnership or just plain pasta. In some cases, I prepare breakfast for dinner which I think I will eventually do very soon.

The only way to prepare meat and satisfy my tired and worn out soul is to prepare days ahead; in my own turf. This has worked wonders for me; marinating meat days ahead or defrosting a particular cut several days before cooking. Just lately, I have been searching for a shank appropriate for an Osso Bucco. I could have bought a readily available beef shank, however, I had an appetite for veal, and when it was on the supermarket shelf, I took one and gave the Osso Bucco a test. It does not appear as regularly as the other beef or pork cuts. Moreover, I haven’t really cooked an Osso Bucco and after seeing several recipes on-line, I had an urge to give it a try. I just couldn’t resist.

This is an Osso Bucco alla Milanese in White Wine; a more traditional approach to the more modern one where crushed tomatoes are an integral part of the recipe. This is a simpler recipe with a natural intention of bringing forth the essence of the Shank itself.  I made a simple Gremolata to finish and top it off and had added roasted green bell pepper and shallots as garnishes. I discarded the pine nuts in the Gremolata, and instead made it more tangy and garlicky (Pinoy essence).

Ingredients:

  • Veal Shank
  • Spanish Onions, minced
  • Garlic, minced
  • Bayleaves
  • Italian Herbs/Seasoning
  • Pepperoncino
  • Cinnamon
  • White wine
  • Chicken Stock (or a demi)
  • Green Bell Pepper, roasted & diced

Gremolata:

  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Parsley, finely minced
  • Garlic, Roasted and minced to a paste
  • Lemon Juice
  • Lemon Rind, finely minced

Season the shank and coat with flour.   Brown the shank in both sides and set aside.

Saute the onion, garlic, herbs, bayleaves and pepperoncino using the same pan. Add the wine, chicken stock and cinnamon and stir constantly. Return the shank back into the pan, cover and shove everything in a preheated 300’C oven (low & slow).

Combine all the ingredients for the Gremolata using a mortar & pestle or in my case, mince everything using a knife.

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