Sliced Cold Beef in Chili Oil

DSCF7426 (640x492)Thursdays are reserved for Tai Chi Chuan and Szechwan Food.  These two are my personal goals for the day.  Before leaving for Madrid, I discovered a hole-in-the wall, mom & pop restaurant in the suburbs serving what they call down-to-earth Northern Chinese and Szechwan Cuisines. The restaurant only has a seating capacity of forty, but the volume and number of people coming in and out (without take-out) is non-stop as its doors open for lunch. It became my new stopover for snacks before awaiting a grueling Tai Chi practice ahead.  I needed to be stuffed; just enough to last me until midnight.

This discovery led me to the oriental store for sauces and grocery ‘items’ I saw on the menu (I asked for an English copy).  Through this guide, and through an old Szechwan cookbook, I was able to decipher some of the dishes I’d usually order. Everything happens to be in Chinatown, except for the Dried Orange Peel, which I searched everywhere and unfortunately, couldn’t find anymore. I vividly remember and know it was available about ten years ago in some store in Chinatown.  Tough luck.

Szechwan cooking is tattered with spices, and all parts of either the pig, chicken or beef are served stir-fried, braised or BBQ, by themselves or with vegetables. Fish is an expensive item and Ma Po To fu is one of the many popular dishes.  Lamb is also a common item, and Beijing Pancakes are abundantly served. Soy Sauce and Chinese Vinegar are condiments to all. But, I won’t deal with them for this one.  Later.

This dish caught my attention besides the extremely spicy BBQ line-up they offer. I enjoyed the sauce (I did it once a long time ago) and the beef itself provided several more meals after. It’s cheap, but the taste is lingering and unforgettable .  This is the start of my quest for something off-tangent.

Ingredients:

  • Beef Shank or Beef Tendon
  • Star Anise
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Szechuan Peppercorns
  • Green Onion
  • Ginger
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Chinese Vinegar
  • Spicy Sesame Oil
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sugar
  • Sea Salt

Start by tying the Beef Shank into one solid piece. Heat a pot of oil and sear oil sides. Add water and boil to simmer together with the aromatics: green onion, ginger, white onion, and garlic for about an hour. Remove the shank from the pot and strain the broth.

Return the shank back into the pot, add the wine, soy sauce, star anise, peppercorns and vinegar.  Boil to simmer for another hour or so or until the shank is tender.  This is one way.

I used some cut Beef Tendons (just so many kinds of tendons) for this dish.

My procedure was:

Place the tendons in a pot of water and let it boil. Discard the first boil, and start with fresh water. Add the aromatics as with the Beef Shank. Let it boil to simmer until just tender. Add the spices, wine, soy sauce and vinegar and let boil further.  Strain and adjust the broth according to taste.

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Remove the tendons from the pot and place in the fridge. Save the broth for stir-fry and noodle soup.

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Cut the shank or the beef tendons as thin as possible and spread it on the plate.  Drizzle the vinaigrette all over or make it as a dipping sauce (on the side; as it was served to me) and garnish with finely chopped green onion.

Vinaigrette:

  • Soy Sauce
  • Chinese Vinegar
  • Spicy Sesame Oil
  • Sugar
  • Sea Salt
  • Garlic, minced

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Thai Hot Beef Basil

DSCF7415 (640x493)Did you ever wonder how ‘Pad Thai’ became a household name?  I don’t. That dish has become so mainstream that pubs here in Toronto have included them into their  dinner menu specials. It has gained popularity sometimes even surpassing Butter Chicken. I don’t know how authentic these cloned ‘Pad Thais’ are, but when I noticed the cook missed the Tamarind, I knew it was just one of those tainted dishes that was not given due justice. ‘Pad Thai’ has just been so misused and misinterpreted that seeing one on a menu, specially in a pub, drives down a nail into the soul of a classic cook.

Anyway, I’ve never in my life touched on Thai food.  This is the first (actually, second, I have successfully cracked the making of the Pho. That’s coming soon.) and like many, I haven’t the slightest of ideas how this dish came about, its origins or if my cooking process is as ‘authentic’ or as ‘classic’ as Mozart.  It’s a very simple dish (based on-line), but, again, I really can’t fully rely on them nor verify its authenticity. Moreover, I can’t deal with Shrimp Paste which is a major ingredient in many Thai dishes and curries. This one doesn’t include some of that pungent delicacy, and that made me enjoy  eating this one.

This, by the way, is another response to a request and I made some tweaks to bump up the heat and the spice. I really enjoy hot and spicy dishes.

Ingredients:

  • Beef Shoulder (Same cut used in my Mongolian BBQ)
  • Canola Oil
  • Onions
  • Thai Red Chili
  • Garlic
  • Thai Basil
  • Brown Sugar
  • Sea Salt
  • Fish Sauce (Patis)
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Egg (cooked as desired)
  • Green Onion (Optional)

Roughly chop the onions, garlic and Thai Red Chili and using a mortar & pestle or mincer, finely mince all three into a paste. Add some salt and a little oil to achieve proper consistency and texture.

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Heat the wok with oil and start stir-frying the paste until aromatic. Add the brown sugar and continue stirring until the sugar caramelizes. Add the beef and Oyster Sauce. Drizzle generously with Fish Sauce.  Add more onions and chilis as desired.

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Chop the Thai Basil and garnish when the beef has become soft and tender.  Sprinkle more Fish Sauce before serving, garnish with finely chopped green onion.

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Mongolian Beef BBQ

DSCF7330 (640x495)It was way back in high school when Mongolian BBQ gained popularity.  The Makati Business District (MBD) during that era was subdivided into small commercial areas and the Makati Cinema Square, where the Mongolian BBQ restaurant was located, became a destination for many high school students after their quarterly periodical exams. The MBD was barren to desolate up until maybe the early ’90s when everything exploded into high gear, and the restaurant vanished in the commercial boom.

I was astonished with the array of sauces to choose from and the many combinations of vegetables and meats displayed upfront for the all to see.  It was cooked on a very, very hot flat iron grill just in front of the guest and served directly on a tray. That show became its attraction and selling point.  The sauces, of course, was nouveau and extremely flavourful and spicy. Those were the invitation to rich, innocent HS bastards.  I only tasted this stir-fry a couple of times during my HS life. It was too expensive for a teen with Php 10.00 daily allowance.

Anyway, moving fast forward, Mongolian BBQ reached buffet restaurants and became mainstream as sushi. It also became a part of the fast food phenomenon, and sadly had lost its colour and brilliance from there.  I had never realized I was cooking an actual Mongolian BBQ when I checked on-line and found that the combination I had used every night as an easy dinner stir-fry was considered one.

I cook this particular stir-fry as quick dinner , and I use a Beef cut specifically for hot pot or grilling (Korean) since they have been machine sliced. It remains soft to the bite no matter how long it has been cooked and it shreds on high heat.  Fresh Beef Tenderloin from oriental stores can sometimes become rubbery when overcooked (before discovering how the Chinese made their meats tender to the bite), and slicing them into thin strips can be flustering. This is full-proof, portioned properly, easy to handle, and doesn’t spoil for a week or so in the fridge.

Ingredients:

  • Beef Shoulder Blade
  • Canola Oil
  • White Onions, julienned
  • Red and/or Green Bell Peppers, julienned
  • Green Onions, roughly chopped
  • Garlic, finely minced
  • Ginger (Optional)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Hoisin Sauce
  • Beef Stock
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Cornstarch Solution as thickening agent
  • Sesame oil (Optional)

Heat the wok on high heat with oil. Add the onions, bell peppers, and garlic and stir continuously.

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Drop the beef when everything becomes aromatic. Stir vigorously and pour the sauces and the stock and seasonings as the beef cooks through.  Add the green onions, and stir one or so more times.

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Thicken with cornstarch solution and serve with steamed rice.  Garnish with finely chopped green onions.

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Grilled Chicken with Honey & Cumin

DSCF7389 (640x480)This should be the last dish on my on-going quest and love affair with ‘Tapas’.  Although, I would skip this entire topic for the meantime,  I may still blog topics related to it later on. It’s sort of my testing ground before I launch it out there, so to speak.

I’m still clearly hung-over by my vacation, and recently have been caught daydreaming about the next one. I always do. That short week is my only breather to a likewise routine and somewhat dull lifestyle. It’s all work, generally, and my form of play is only set once a week. Moreover, with things slowly gearing-up for Fall, I strongly feel that the next vacation won’t occur until late next year.  It’s all business from here on end as kids head back to school next month and parties begin to pop here and there.

Despite this setback, I feel my mind has been renewed and my taste buds have been awashed in newer and more delicate approach to food with recent trips abroad. Indeed, travel does change a cook’s perspective. I’m no exception.  I need this annual vacation to re-introduce myself to what’s already out there into, at least, something quite obvious, but also called ‘new’ in some respects. I believe it’s all perception, but it’s a  very deceiving one. This dish fits the description. The ingredients are available almost anywhere, but the intelligent and flavourful combination of spices made the long wait worthwhile. The quality of the olive oil and sherry vinegar would really make  this dish stand out.  My olive oil was less of an ordinary. I bumped up the spices to wake my senses more.

The flavours, after having it the second time around,  hinted Inasal or some form of Adobo without the Soy Sauce and onions.  It’s a a melee of sweet and sour taste with a touch of pungency; making it more inviting to the senses.

The breast can also be seared on a pan (which I did the first time) and the pan deglazed with the Sherry Vinegar (or wine) before proceeding.  This procedure had more impact, but the smoke from the charcoal from grilling (if I had used one) would also create something extraordinary.

Ingedients:

  • Chicken Breast
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt & Ground Black Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Honey
  • Ground Cumin
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Garlic, minced to a paste
  • Chicken Stock

Season the chicken breast with salt, ground black pepper, olive oil and Paprika and set aside.

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Heat a pan at low heat with olive oil and sauté the garlic until aromatic.  Add the Sherry Vinegar, Cumin, Honey, and Chicken Stock and simmer until all  flavours blend together. Adjust the consistency and taste of the sauce by adding said ingredients as necessary, and prepare enough for the baste and the sauce.  Set aside to cool.

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Pour some of the sauce over the chicken breast and marinate overnight.

Season the grill or grill pan with oil and cross the chicken breast on all sides. Baste the breast while grilling  to prevent from drying. Transfer in a roasting pan and finish it off in the oven.  Tent with a tin foil to rest when done.

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Chop the breast in bite size pieces, and transfer in a ‘Cazuela’. Drizzle with the leftover sauce.  Sprinkle more salt and pepper and/or with Pimenton Dulce (Optional).

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Tortilla Espanola (Potato & Onion Omelette)

DSCF7360 (640x494)Eggs and rice are a perfect combination as to eggs and potatoes. I didn’t particularly enjoy eating fresh potatoes as a child, but when a fastfood chain burst into the scene in the now very modern Makati Business District back in the ’80’s serving up french fries, I, together with my sister and brother, joined the bandwagon. If I’d remember correctly, my classmates (from Grade 6) and I would walk out of the very trendy Dasmarinas Village just to catch these deep-fried deliciousness. That chain was the first of many and it was thronged by people from all walks of life. Sachets of catsup was still overflowing from the condiment stand, unlike these days when it’s only given when asked. From then on, potatoes almost always connote to fries and basically to nothing else.

I further learned to appreciate ‘the potato’ when I had to turn it around (recycle) three to four times just to save on food cost.  It is that versatile and a little twist here and there would make a spectacular meal in itself.  I can’t cook a complete meal  without having them in-stock, whether processed or fresh.  It’s done in less than an hour and frozen fries work as a quick side, although it can be unhealthy when eaten everyday.

I became more aware of the potato’s versatility when I did eggs and crepes for a living for five years.  I discovered the booming breakfast and brunch scene and to keep up with the line of experienced cooks (cooking all their lives and I was just starting). I had to buy a sack of taters and a case of eggs to test my skill level at home.  I made them from scratch together with the many other omelettes the restaurant had served. It was that competitive. I stopped and paused from eating eggs and potatoes for several years after that on and off line experience.

I rediscovered eggs and potatoes in my recent trip to Madrid. These omelette  and potato combination make it all the more filling and satisfying.  They made them double the amount in comparison to what I made here, making it look fluffier and bigger upfront. I made this one with just three eggs on a small non-grease pan, and it fed me twice.

Ingredients:

  • Eggs
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • Spanish Onion, minced
  • Oregano
  • Pimenton Picante
  • Sea Salt & Ground Black Pepper

Slice the potatoes into thin rings and boil until tender, but not breaking apart. Set aside to cool and place it in the fridge.

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Crack three eggs (or as desired) and combine the spices, herbs and minced onions. Gently fold the potatoes into the eggs and season further.

Heat a non-stick pan at low-medium heat and pour the mixture in; adjusting the ends to form a perfect circle. Flip and wait until the aside is cooked (@low heat).  Flipped once more and transfer into a plate. Cut into serving sizes.

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Garlic Chicken (Pollo Al Ajillo)

DSCF7338 (640x480)Sherry Vinegar does wonders. I can’t fully describe the taste, but it’s somewhere between a strong, semi-sweet and tangy Filipino Vinegar from the north and a light balsamic vinegar from Europe.  Just like a Filipino vinegar, it matches perfectly well with garlic and olive oil (or regular oil) . Finding a fine, aged Sherry vinegar was one of my goals while I was in Madrid. I went to their supermarkets and surprisingly didn’t find one either,  but I was fortunate enough to find one in a small fruit and vegetable stand just beside my hotel which really sold for cheap. I grabbed it immediately thereafter. I also searched the aisles of supermarkets here in Toronto and couldn’t really spot one. All there were was Italian or Greek. I haven’t really gone to the Latin side of town and ask due to time constraints. There was always something coming up that turned this agenda from weeks to months and maybe to even never. I really couldn’t tell and have scratched it altogether.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, my eating habits for the last week or so have been altered.  Small, light meals have become norm, well, lately, and the search for classic ‘Tapas’ still beckons. This one is of no exception. I was so eager to try my Sherry Vinegar for this particular recipe and was not disappointed.  I bought a couple of chicken breast, seasoned and marinated them and proceeded based on the recipe (having a ‘Tapas’ cookbook at hand, as guide).  I changed the procedure, of course, according to my liking.

Ingredients:

  • Boneless Chicken Breast
  • Olive oil
  • Chicken Stock
  • Paprika
  • Garlic, minced to a paste
  • Fresh Thyme, chopped
  • Bay Leaves
  • Sea salt & pepper
  • Pimenton Picante

Marinate the chicken breast with paprika, olive oil and salt & pepper overnight.

Leave the breast at room temperature and pre-heat the sauté pan.  Sear the breasts on both sides until golden brown, transfer into a roasting pan, and finish them off in a pre-heated 350’C oven.  Let them rest when done.

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Meanwhile, remove the pan from the heat. Add the garlic (preventing it from burning and turning brown, as Filipinos love them), deglaze with the Sherry Vinegar, followed by the stock, Bay leaves and fresh Thyme. Reduce to simmer or until all the flavours incorporate.  Sprinkle with Pimenton Picante and/or add more garlic, olive oil, stock, vinegar and herbs if necessary and repeat the process, at a very low heat. Discard the Bay Leaves when the appropriate consistency is achieved

Chop the breast into bite size pieces. Transfer into a ‘Cazuela’ and pour the sauce over. Garnish with fresh Thyme.

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Huevos Rotos Con Chorizo

DSCF7320 (640x494)I’ve finally returned to the somewhat unpleasant fact of reality called life.  Honestly, I’m so glad I’m back. Nothing replaces the norms of life called work despite some of the setbacks and unforeseen problems encountered everyday. That’s a true sense of being alive and attached to a welcoming society I know and I’ve grown to live with. Although I wouldn’t mind staying a few more weeks in Europe, it isn’t home and there’s that almost uncomfortable feeling of detachment as the days of my vacation dragged on.  My boss felt the same when he had his vacay last Spring, and I’m sure many travellers who have grown to live and work in a modern, fast-pace, first-world society would understand what I am referring to. Everything is nearly the same everywhere, except maybe for the sights, the culture, and the food for which travel was created for man to savour.  That’s the biggest FUN of travel, and basically, that’s what I’m after every time I venture out to the unknown. Discover, learn, and interact with the locals.  It makes me stronger and more independent in the process.

The taste of the ‘Tapas’ I tasted through the course of the week I was gone still lingers in my tongue. My eating habits have changed subconsciously; eating smaller meals during the day (specially on my days-off), and adding more potatoes and eggs into my diet.  Rice is still a staple, of course, and steamed rice and Pork Sinigang were my first meal upon my return.  After that, I reverted to eating small portions of either noodles or snack size meals about five times a day, and nothing really as heavy as before. A bowl of steamed rice is still included in one of those portions. A potent mixture of cheap red wine, orange juice and Cointure is also missed specially during the hot summer months there. That has been included as well.

Anyway, I had this particular ‘Tapas’ on my first afternoon in Madrid. It’s a simple dish of potatoes, chorizo and egg. I had it with Iberico Ham and a glass of white and fell asleep thereafter. It was set on the cold display case and was just warmed upon order.  I was tired after a long trip across the Atlantic. I did mine differently.

This dish has the similarities of a hash in North America without the cheese, bacon, and the heavy sauces usually seen in American cooking. The grill plays an integral part in preparing this dish, although a couple of non-stick sauté pans would work. Cheese is or was, in my case, served beforehand (in my fave Tapas Bar, free of charge)  or as a separate order if the particular cheese is an expensive type.

Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil
  • White Potatoes, diced
  • Chorizo, used Portuguese, diced
  • An egg, cooked sunny side or as desired
  • Sliced Crusty Bread
  • Pimenton Picante

Dice the potatoes and blanch in rapid, salted boiling water until cooked through ( but not mashed or falling apart).  Set aside in the fridge overnight.

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Drizzle some olive oil in the sauté pan and pan-fry the Chorizos. Set aside. Add a little more oil and pan-fry the diced potatoes. Sprinkle generously with Pimenton Picante.

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Set the potatoes on a ‘Cazuela’ followed by the cooked Chorizos. Fry an egg as desired and set it atop. Season with salt and pepper, olive oil or with Oregano (optional).

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