Ma-Po Dou Fu (Ma Po Tofu)

DSCF7677 (640x360)This is a quick assessment. I’ve noticed recently that Filipinos have superbly overshadowed ‘a vast majority of the working population’ in the industry I work in.  It’s definitely a huge industry covering fastfood restaurants, pizza places, hotel kitchens, stand-alone restaurants, senior homes (where I belong), coffee shops and maybe, just maybe, temporary hotdog stands scattered in and around town.  It’s a definitely ‘yes’ for the Filipino in terms of loyalty, dedication, positive social interaction and impact to clients, strict work ethics, and many other obvious identifiable characteristics related to work.

I’ve noticed this change about two years ago when the coffee-shop’s crew members where I regularly visit before work became an all-Filipino team.  It was a refreshing change for the coffee shop. It turned around from something critically unhygienic to some place where some ‘coffee’ downtime can be had and appreciated.  Service, which was the most important factor in the industry,  also vastly improved.  I guess many don’t understand the meaning of ‘service’ in this industry. Filipinos are very disciplined and service-driven, and one factor, one definite major factor which keeps Filipinos ahead is the SMILE. The smile, despite all the hardwork, the hardships and sometimes the challenges, keeps them ‘going’ like the commercial implies. That’s the plus factor.

This dish is not Filipino, but it reminded me of my university days in the early nineties.  My friends re-introduced me to this dish, but I was hesitant to try it not knowing the ingredients and sauces used in the preparation.  I came across this dish again in my antiquated Szechwan Cookbook and began re-thinking it my way. And, surprisingly, it turned out as I’ve imagined it to be with all the spices and sauces that went into the final preparation. All ingredients are available in the oriental store.   It has that ‘Tokwa’t Baboy’ feel, but went beyond Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Ground Black Pepper, and Onions syndrome.  It’s perfect with steamed rice, and for the New Year’s as a solo dish with booze (the spice has that kick).

Ingredients:

  • Tofu (used Dry Firm and chopped in cubes)
  • Pork Belly Slab, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Wood Ear or ‘Tenga ng Daga’, soaked in water overnight and sliced in slivers
  • Mushrooms, chopped
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Green Onion
  • Szechwan Peppercorns
  • Dried Chilis (Chinese, Optional)
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Spicy Bean Paste
  • Ground Black Bean Sauce (or Fermented Black Beans)
  • Chicken Stock
  • Cornstarch solution as a thickening agent

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Heat the wok with a small amount of oil. When the wok hits smoking point, render the fat from the pork belly and set aside.  Stir-fry the ginger, garlic, green onion, chilis and mushrooms into the wok (Discard some of the oil if there was too much rendered).

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Slowly add the tofu and continue stir-frying.  Scoop some of the spicy bean paste into the wok until the tofu has been completely covered (or to the desired spice level).  Add the ‘Tenga ng Daga’ and continue stirring.

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Pour the light soy sauce and some fermented black bean sauce and stir further. Add a little water or chicken stock to create some sauce like mixture. Sprinkle with ground Szechwan Peppercorn/Salt and return the pork belly back into the wok.  Set the fire to low-medium and cover for a few minutes. Thicken with cornstarch solution and garnish with chopped green onions.

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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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Braised Beef Short Ribs in Blueberry Sauce

DSCF7531 (640x497)October felt like eternity. The month was busy and never seemed to wane as autumn began creeping in.  The highlight in October was the much awaited Canadian Thanksgiving.  It’s celebrated earlier in North America and as much as most were gearing up towards Halloween, there was still the Turkey to be had prior to costume make-overs and Halloween parties and balls celebrated around town. Of course, I never participated in either. As usual, I was behind-the-scenes and out of the social limelight.  I was never ‘social’ as much as I wanted; not in a city where everybody’s doing something somewhere all the time.  ‘Socials’ on my part can be a futile and strenuous exercise.  I’ve tried. I have a small, intimate set of friends I visit and they themselves are as busy as I am.

I took a much needed week off as soon as November came knocking. It was a short break which I  haven’t fully recovered from until today. Stress and strains from work are beginning to show and that week off made it worse. Sitting down and basically doing literally nothing was impossible during that short stint away from work.

I had missed so much from the month before and those came rushing at me at breakneck speed on the first day I was ‘supposedly’ be on break.  I tried, but I realized I won’t actually rest unless I was away from the city.

Throughout those irritatingly long days, I managed to discover a meat shop where everything was fresh, bred and butchered in Ontario.  It became my ‘social’ hotspot since. I saw a cut of Cote de Beouf (I call it the ‘Flinstone’ cut)  and I knew, soon, that will be on my dinner table. I opted for a high grade Beef Short Ribs after reading a recipe from a Canadian food writer who have toured and tried Canada’s abundant food glories and spectacles; Alberta beef being one of them.

This recipe isn’t the ‘best’ looking, but the sauce compensated for that. I couldn’t stop eating and wished I had bought and cooked more. The cooking process is long and tedious and time  is an essential ingredient in creating the sauce.

Ingredients:

  • Beef Short Ribs
  • Bayleaves
  • Onions
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Sea Salt & Ground Black Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Dried or Fresh Rosemary  (used dried)
  • Crushed Chilis
  • Beef Stock
  • Red wine
  • Crushed Tomatoes
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Blueberries (used leftover frozen)
  • Butter
  • Lemon Juice
  • Flour (for dredging)

Cut the Beef Short Ribs in half and marinate them in red wine, bayleaves, peppercorns and onions overnight.  Strain the wine in a sauce pan and reduce to simmer.

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Coat the beef short ribs with flour and pan-fry to golden on both sides.  Set aside.

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Sauté the shallots, bayleaves and garlic on the same pan. Deglaze with red wine, add the beef stock, crushed tomatoes, sherry vinegar and boil to simmer. Return the ribs back to the pan. Throw in the bayleaves and peppercorns. Cover and place in the oven until the ribs are almost fork tender.

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Blueberry Sauce:

Fish the ribs out of the pan and set aside. Strain the broth into the same sauce pan where the marinade was reduced and reduce further. Season to taste.

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Add the blueberries and let it simmer for a few more minutes. Finish off with honey, butter and lemon juice. Pour over the ribs and sprinkle with dried rosemary and other herbs before serving.

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Pan-Seared Veal Chop in Oregano and White Wine Sauce

DSCF7505 (640x494)And the Canadian Thanksgiving is finally over, and I never had the chance to celebrate it. I was up in my neck preparing three Turkeys with all the fixings at work and by the time the celebration was upcoming, the day just went by so quickly that when I woke-up the following day, the week was nearly over.  I felt the exhaustion two days later. I did everything in break-neck speed when I had not supposed to.

Anyway, I really didn’t bother, but I looked for something special at the grocery a week before to celebrate Thanksgiving by myself without really going to the Turkeys. I contemplated on doing a Turkey Breast, initially, but when I saw the thick veal chops on display again, I took two immediately and froze them until I was ready for my own celebration.

I’m still exhausted until today and I think this would go on until the holidays. I really don’t have any recollection of Thanksgiving with family and friends. Manila doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in these modern, digital times;  moreso when I was growing up. Here’s one thing though. When I last visited Manila between 2008 and 2010, a neighbour baked a whole Turkey as his main for Christmas Eve. It was definitely nouveau to Filipinos who has not had a Thanksgiving Turkey, and I’m sure it was an expensive bird. I was surprised it even existed there.  I didn’t touch it. I went for the steamed rice and Pork BBQ. That was my Christmas dinner to match the wine that was served, of course.  I’m sure they were staring at me for some reason. Didn’t care less. I was a happy man with the BBQ.

Ingredients:

  • Veal Chops
  • Olive Oil
  • Onions
  • Garlic, minced to paste
  • Tomatoes (as garnish)
  • Honey
  • White Wine
  • Beef Stock (Veal Stock or demi)
  • Oregano (Italian & Spanish)
  • Lemon juice
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Flour
  • Sea Salt & Ground Black Pepper
  • Cornstarch Solution

Eggplant Marinade:

  • Olive Oil
  • Rosemary
  • Crushed Chili Peppers
  • Salt & Pepper

Marinate the veal chops  in Olive oil, Lemon, Oregano and Salt & Pepper overnight.  Coat the chops in seasoned flour and sear both sides until golden brown. Transfer in a baking pan and finish off in a pre-heated 350’C oven.

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Saute the onions and garlic on the same pan and deglaze with white wine.  Add the beef stock and boil to simmer. Strain in a sauce pan. Reduce to a third and add some honey. Adjust the sauce consistency with the cornstarch solution.

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Slice the eggplant as thinly as possible. Marinade and grill in the seasoned grill pan. Set aside.

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Set the eggplants on the plate before placing the veal chop. Drizzle the sauce before serving and sprinkle with diced tomatoes and oregano.

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Pan-Fried Chicken in Mustard Cream Sauce

DSCF7491 (640x509)It’s that time of the year again when Turkeys are flooding the supermarket shelves selling for cheap.  I don’t have anything against Turkeys per se, but when I see them out for sale, I know the weekend ahead will be brutally painful and stressful. I’m already feeling the heat as early as last week and that, coupled with other factors affecting my already tattered lifestyle, I have no complaints at all. I enjoy having a busy and productive career (if you can even call it at that) and it makes me all the more challenged to improve myself in whatever targets I may have set by year’s end. I just wished I had more stamina and strength to do other things. Things that were dislodged between 2008- 2010 which I have lined-up several years before that. Surprisingly, 2013 is coming to a sudden, halting close, and another  new year beckons, hopefully and probably into straight, constant and undisturbed 52 weeks ahead.

This recipe came out of scrimmaging whatever I could find in my fridge.  It isn’t exactly my Thanksgiving Dinner, but I think it’s worth noting. It’s applicable to any kinds of cut, including a Turkey Breast.  It has a French Bistro Style  flair into it ,  which I myself, was immensely surprised after tasting it.  The pork broth I used was from my ‘Sliced Cold Pork’ dish  which I added for that extra interesting and intriguing flavour.  I haven’t posted this dish after abruptly ending my Szechuan Series, but I would a little later.  ‘Tis a season of celebration and the upcoming series would present such.  The Soy Sauces made the flavour taste into something unusual.

The broth was a substitute for a demi, which many French Bistros use for their sauces. I didn’t bother. I wanted to clear-up my fridge and I was craving for some sort of gravy-looking sauce that would match my rice (ala Fried Chicken).

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Thigh
  • Olive Oil
  • Oregano
  • Maple Syrup
  • French Brandy
  • Honey Dijon Mustard
  • Lemon Juice
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Butter (Optional)
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Truffle Salt (Optional)
  • Green Onion
  • Garlic
  • Flour & Cornstarch (for Dredging)

Pork Broth (Sliced Cold Pork Dish):

  • Porkloin, coated & marinated in Sweet Bean Sauce
  • Star Anise
  • Szechuan Pepper
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Dark Soy Sauce
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine

Season the Chicken thigh with olive oil, sea salt and oregano, and dredge in a cornstarch and flour combination.

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Heat enough oil in a saute pan until smoking point and pan-fry the chicken until golden on both sides. Transfer into a baking pan and finish off in a pre-heated 350’C oven. Tent with a tin foil when done.

Remove the sauté pan from heat, deglaze with brandy, add the garlic, maple syrup, honey-Dijon mustard, sea salt and ground black. Sprinkle with flour and add the pork broth. Continue stirring until a smooth roux is formed. Adjust the consistency with more broth or water. Pour the evaporated milk and finish off with lemon juice to shine. When an appropriate consistency has been achieved, sprinkle with Truffle Salt.

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Garnish with slivered green onions. Sprinkle with more oregano and pimenton (or paprika) before serving.

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Szechwan Meatballs

DSCF7482 (640x492)Meatballs are probably the most abused ground meat I’ve ever worked with. They can be rolled into enormous Italian size balls fresh with pasta or for industrial kitchen operations, be bought frozen, sauced (also in packages) and served by themselves. Ground meat, more often than not, are also turned into meatloaves.  I deal with all of them almost on a weekly basis; turning leftovers into patties served with a different sauce or some other dish with a twist before finally killing it to a Bolognese with all the other leftovers. I love working with ground meat given its versatility and affordability, and for whatever final dish it will mutate into after Bolognese, it is never thrown away.  That’s part of my goal. Drive the overall food cost down to the ‘ground.’

Anyway, I became seemingly curious when I saw this recipe.  It’s made with ground pork as most Asian dishes are and it’s infused with the holy trinity of Chinese cooking: Green Onions, Ginger and Garlic. I had foregone making meatballs seeing them everyday, but this recipe was a true classic masterpiece. I enjoyed every bite and the preparation is very different from what is common specially to Filipino style meatballs.  Moreover, the unique blend of spices woke my senses up, and if it does, I know firsthand I was onto something extraordinary.  It was as powerful and as stinging the way I wanted it to be and interestingly delicious and simple to prepare after a long, long day at work (with prep work done ahead of time).

Ingredients:

  • Ground Pork
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Green Onion
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Spicy Sesame Oil
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cornstarch

Mince the ginger, garlic and green onion and add them to the ground pork. Drizzle with Shaoxing cooking wine and sprinkle with cornstarch, a pinch of salt and pepper and a dash of light soy sauce.  Knead the meat thoroughly and form into desired meatballs.

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In a small bowl, combine  some cornstarch, light soy sauce and spicy sesame oil to make a thick slurry.  Adjust the consistency by adding more or less of each and roll the ball into the paste-like mixture. Fry each meatball in hot oil, preventing each one from sticking into the pan (I placed them in a 375’C oven for an easier and less fuzzy approach).

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Wipe the wok clean (if pan-frying) and drizzle some oil into the pan or discard some oil (if deep frying). Add some brown sugar, light soy sauce, and Shaoxing cooking wine. Season to taste.

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This is should be the last episode on Szechwan food as it was on Tapas. Thanksgiving is forthcoming and the start of celebrations is about to begin in a couple of weeks.  That means trouble in the kitchen, and of course  an entirely new set of holiday dishes to ponder upon and enjoy.  I will, once in a while, revisit this episode if and when there’s an urge or if I bump into something suited to my liking.

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Cold Chicken with Szechwan Pepper

DSCF7455 (640x480)Luca won Master Chef this season, and it was no surprise. He works in the industry. He’s Italian and he’s food depicts his background and character and they were all evident in all his dishes.  I believe that was the main ingredient that brought him the crown. His opponent, although technically more capable, just didn’t have that inner so-called ‘inspirational passion and soul’  so needed and required to be in a real, professional kitchen. I guess that’s just my personal opinion. The other home cook challengers should probably keep their day jobs and stay where they belong.  I was thinking while watching how they’d survive the heat of a fast-pace, brutally hot, and extremely impersonal approach in the line.  Again, this is just my personal opinion. It’s a TV show meant to be entertaining, and it’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ reborn.  Honestly, I was hooked and I was extremely entertained by the play-by-play drama orchestrated by the three host.

Anyway, I was able to pick-up some dishes from watching the weekly series. Many were just glamourized home-cooked dishes and nothing else. I’d enjoyed the classics as usual and hated the fancy plates they presented (Luca’s wasn’t). I enjoy doing simple, smooth ‘comforting’ dishes with bold and lingering flavours to the palate. I discovered this by biting my nails into Szechuan Food, and this has been continuing for three weeks now. It’s an entirely new horizon for me and the taste just wakes up my senses.  Moreover, Szechwan cooking serves cold dishes that can be eaten anytime of the day. That’s just so appetizing and this dish is with no exception. It’s so easy to prepare, but the varied dipping sauces are phenomenal.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Breast or Leg
  • Green Beans as garnish

Dipping Sauce:

  • Szechwan Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Green onion, minced
  • Garlic, mined to a paste
  • Soy Sauce
  • Shaoxing cooking wine
  • Chinese Vinegar
  • Spicy Sesame oil
  • Brown Sugar

Boil the chicken until tender. Set aside at room temperature and shred or slice into small pieces. Keep it in the fridge to cool.

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In the meantime, roast the Szechuan Pepper and Sea salt in a pan.  When the spice starts to become aromatic, transfer into a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder and grind into a fine or coarsely grounded seasoning.

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Blanch the green beans in boiling water, and let it run in cold to stop the cooking process. Lightly sauté in oil, garlic, and Shaoxing Cooking wine.

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Set the green beans on the plate followed by the shredded chicken. Sprinkle with the Szechwan & Salt Seasoning and minced garlic. Serve with the Chinese Dipping Sauce on the side.

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