Deep-Fried Smelts

DSCF7738 (640x427)Alright. I’m seeing fish in a different light. I turned my back to pork and beef and discovered a variety of fish I have never knew even existed in the oriental store.  I don’t buy those expensive steak cuts and salmon fillets as many Filipinos do (usually with salmon for Sinigang). I just can’t finish a steak cut or  an entire fillet in one sitting, and I’d prefer them sushi.  I’d buy a whole variety of fish with heads attached and have them cleaned and eviscerated for extra and rinse them again when I reach home.  They stay in my freezer up until I start my workweek on a Saturday when I start defrosting pulling out one package at a time.  Many Canadian supermarkets only display fillets in either fresh or frozen packages. They never sell them with the head on and with as much assortment as those found in Chinatown or in any oriental store for that matter.

The smelt really intrigued me. They are tiny and just perfect for snacking. I know they are also perfect for deep-frying, but cooking them to a crunchy and juicy bite is the challenge. Before the inception of this article, I’ve tried frying the same by dipping the fish in beaten egg first and into a cornstarch/flour dredging mix similar to what I did with the Curried Fried Chicken. However,  it didn’t turn out as crunchy as expected. That led me to try other kinds of batter mixture, and the tempura batter came to mind. The other ready-made Asian style batter mixes looked even more complicated than this one. I would have used a can of beer as replacement for water, but alcohol is off limits until the next holiday.  Butterflying the smelt was also an ingenious way of keeping the form and shape intact. Seeing them on the plate fried and butterflied was just so inviting.

Ingredients:

  • Smelts, butterflied
  • Whole Wheat Flour (or White Flour)
  • Cornstarch
  • Cold Carbonated Water
  • Canola oil for deep-frying
  • Salt & Pepper

Mix a one to four ratio of cornstarch and flour in a bowl. Slowly pour the carbonated water and stir gently until smooth. Season with salt & pepper.

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Dip the smelts into the batter and deep-fry one or two at a time. Pat dry with a paper towel and season with more salt & pepper before serving

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Curried Fried Chicken

DSCF7670 (640x495)I was away from blogging for more than a month.  Things went by so quickly that by the time I knew it, the dreaded holidays was already knocking on my doorstep.  I fear the holidays. I  hate the holidays.  It’s that period of the year when I miss sleep and my shift stretches to an average of 11 hours; and sometimes, work is non-stop.  I feel work as soon as I wake-up, up until I reach home late at night. It has been like that lately, thus I had to step-back for several weeks and clear my mind towards more productive and fun activities. Now is the time to tick-off those much longed and wanted ‘things-to-do’ which I postponed time and time again for so many years!  I have a short-list that’s all dedicated  for the years 2014 to 2016. I haven’t looked beyond that, but the thought of retirement has also been included.

Anyway, I was also on a week holiday in Singapore to feast on spectacular Asian delights. I never knew Singapore can be that far! Took me 20 plus hours to reach my destination (as soon as I stepped-out of my apartment and arrived at my hotel). The in-flight movies kept me wide awake. There were three major Bruce Lee films to celebrate and commemorate  his 40th death anniversary and that even made me want to leave my tight and compact seat and stretch my legs and practice my tai chi.  I was totally bored with lame storyline from the movie ‘Man of Steal’, but opted to stay fully awake for the movie just to see Amy Adams’ alluring and charming red head features. She remains to be most adorable and mesmerizing actress I’ve seen and watched.

Singapore is a food mecca. It’s an expensive city much like Toronto, but the street food the city offers is infinite. Toronto doesn’t offer as much Asian Gourmet Vendor Food and can be quite expensive if done daily.  Singapore doesn’t. It’s affordable to the ordinary employee. That experience alone took me to nirvana.  One of the most memorable morsel of food ‘combo’ I ate every morning was the Curried Fried Chicken with either Bee-Hon or Steamed Rice and a side of fried egg.  I  discovered the stall just down-by the metro which was also close to my hotel.  It also came as a Fried Chicken Wings ‘combo’ and it’s definitely perfect for snacking (as much as a meal).

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Drumsticks (or wings)
  • Eggs
  • Condensed Milk ( or evaporated)
  • Curry Powder
  • Sea Salt
  • Crispy Fry Batter-Mix Brand (easiest batter-mix concoction available in the market, and I think it’s Pinoy made). Follow packet instructions.

Beat the eggs thoroughly with condensed milk. Season with curry powder and sea salt and mix further.  Soak the chicken drumsticks into the beaten, seasoned eggs.

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Open a packet of Crispy Mix and pour the contents in a bowl.  Season with Curry Powder until the curry powder is fully incorporated into the mixture.

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Roll the drumsticks into the breadcrumbs, and pan-fry (or deep-fry) in oil until golden brown (I finished them off in the oven for easy cleaning).

Fry an egg or two to desired doneness and serve on the side. The stall served their fried eggs dry under a warmer as typical of many Asian fried eggs.

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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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Batchoy

DSCF7012 (640x493)I fondly remember eating batchoy over a small, wooden, make-shift ‘cafeteria’ along the north expressway about twenty to twenty-five years ago.  My dad, uncle, cousin and I were heading on a road trip to Batac, my dad and uncle’s birthplace. These eateries cum sari-sari stores were scattered all over the highway and travelling with relatives who had strong traditional ties and background to the provincial landscape only beckons us to stopover, sit down and eat traditional Ilocano fare. They were badly missed by my dad and uncle; by the look at their faces and gusto in their meals. My cousin and I, on the other hand, went for the more familiar Tagalog noodle soup, and bagnet.  I loved both, and both came out really cheap.

The Filipino noodle soup is an electrifying and eclectic mixture of pork offal, chicken, maybe some vegetables, and several types or kinds of noodles.  These, I believe, are the main characteristics of most pinoy noodle soup.  It looks messy, greasy and uninviting, but the taste is to match.  Moreover, many noodle soup dishes have been pre-dressed, displayed at the window display case, and are ready to be served at moments notice by simply pouring the very, very, and extremely hot broth.  I don’t know how many versions have been made with this dish, but the most common factor amongst all is the fried garlic. Filipinos just can’t eat without garlic; from start to finish. And, of course, Ilocos Norte, as I discovered was laced with garlic at every streetcorner of the city.

Anyway, I was in the process of cleaning and clearing up my fridge when I came up with the idea of doing a Batchoy; if it’s at all a Batchoy. What I had were the following: Pork Broth (Nilaga), Chicken Stock, Rib-eye fillets, pre-cooked noodles, beansprouts, and a heap of peeled garlic. I was on my way.

I won’t go in the process on how a ‘Nilaga’ or a chicken stock is prepared. Each one has his or her way, but for this noodle soup, I combined both and added a touch of bouillon cube for that extra kick.

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  • Pork (from Pork Nilaga)
  • Rib-eye fillets (use for pho or hot pot)
  • White Onions
  • Garlic, minced and fried to golden
  • Ginger
  • Chicharon, crushed
  • Beansprouts
  • Dried Egg noodles, pre-cooked
  • Lemon Juice or Lime Juice
  • Thai Basil, julienned
  • Thai Chili (optional)
  • Patis
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Hardboiled egg (your choice)

Heat a wok with oil and pan-fry the garlic.  Set aside the fried garlic, and using the same oil, start sauteing the ginger. Quickly add the chopped onions and stir vigorously. Pour a portion of the pork broth, bouillon cube, and another equal portion of the chicken stock. Tossed in the pork from the nilaga, some rib-eye fillets and let it simmer for a few minutes or until the fillets have been cooked to doneness.

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Pour everything in a bowl with the pre-cooked noodles and beansprouts. Dress with the crushed chicharon and fried garlic and finish it off with the Thai Basil, Thai Chili and raw beansprouts. Drizzle with patis and squeeze some lemon juice before serving.

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