Home Sweet Home

There’s something to be said about not being home for nearly two years. I never missed the bitter cold of winter, but I always missed the snow. More importantly, I missed the kitchen adventures with my mom – the only person I know who owns a complete set of knives that would rival any decent chef’s knives. Her kitchen is not for amateurs.

There’s always a fully stocked spice rack that sometimes overflow into multiple cabinets. She’s got a dutch oven, a few well-seasoned woks, and a plethora of stainless steel pots and pans that make me feel completely at home.

And reliving the memories of all the hours spent preparing wonderful and simple dishes in the kitchen will always be the highlight of every trip home.

There’s sinigang na isda. A tamarind based soup that can be cooked with whole fish or shrimp. It had me since I was little because I always loved seafood. It wasn’t until later that I learned to appreciate the different flavors and textures of everything else that goes into the dish – the okra, the eggplant, tomatoes, sitaw, and kangkong.

sinigang

There’s also escabeche. Sometimes the fish is poached in the oven, other times, it’s fried. I like it because it’s such a novelty to have sweet and sour fish. Of course, the ginger cuts through the sweetness and, it always surprises me how well bell peppers and carrots go together with fish. Who’d have thought?

escabeche

There’s kare-kare – an oxtail stew with eggplants, sitaw, pechay, and peanut butter in it. It’s one of those things you have to try at some point in your life. It’s an acquired taste, especially, once you add the fermented shrimp paste. You just have to trust me. It’s a win.

Kare-Kare

And then there’s pancit palabok. There’s a richer version that’s prepared a bit differently called, pancit malabon, and I like both of them. The rice noodles go perfectly with the intensity of the seafood flavor and it’s got just enough starchiness to balance out the amount of stuff that goes into it: sauteed shrimp, cabbages, toasted garlic, scallions, pork cracklings, pork belly, smoked oysters (sometimes), and an egg! Nommmmmm.

Pancit Palabok

And, of course, no trip home is complete without cornsilog (corned beef hash with garlic fried rice and eggs) because I might have five years of colorful cooking and lots of experimental dishes under my belt but, I can never perfect garlic fried rice like my dad can. Frankly, no one can. In case you’re not familiar with Filipino breakfast dishes, lots of them end with “silog” which is comprised of sinangag (garlic fried rice) and itlog (fried eggs). There’s lots of variations! Tapsilog (with cured beef), Longsilog (cured sausage), Tocilog (cured pork), Dasilog (daing or fried fish) – we’ve got breakfast down.

Cornsilog

Now tell me you’re not noshing for some home-cooked meals.

Fourth stop: France (Provençal Bouillabaisse)

Someone should have warned me how long it takes to clean mussels and clams. It’s actually the most time consuming part about making a Provençal bouillabaisse. It makes me wonder how much time restaurant kitchens spend cleaning shellfish. I imagine, they don’t brush every single mussel or clam to make sure it’s clean (and cooks probably don’t apologize to mussels every time they yanked off a beard).

Choosing the white wine was kind of fun, only because I know almost absolutely nothing about wine pairings. I had to frantically google “dry white wine mussels and clams” to save myself from just grabbing something organic with a nice label. And look at what I found.

Courtesy of winefolly.com

Courtesy of winefolly.com

A wine infographic! Why the hell not. So I proceeded to look at every variation of “light, herbal, grassy” and “light, citrus, lemon” since neither “floral” nor “nutty” sounded fun for the mussels or clams. I went for a total grab bag, a 2011 Pinot Grigio by Quail Creek that was selling for $6.99 at Whole Foods. And it turned out pretty good! Well… says the girl who’s really a hardcore craft beer drinker.

The bouillabaisse is super quick to cook. You basically sauté the fennel with the tomatoes, toss in the garlic, add the white wine, clam juice, boil for a few minutes and then throw in all of the shellfish. I think once the shellfish made it into the pot, it was another 5 minutes before we sat down to eat. Very summery dish!

provencal-bouillabaisse

Next stop: Germany.

Third stop: Morocco (lamb tagine)

A tagine is an earthenware pot which, if you tried to purchase one made by Le Creuset, you’d think you could never own one and maybe even mistakenly think that you could never prepare a dish like Lamb Tagine. You’re lucky you don’t actually need one.

Will it turn out differently? Absolutely. Although, that doesn’t mean it won’t be close “enough” to the real thing. It might require a little more patience (I’d put money on the line that tagine always involves a lot of waiting) and a little more attention (because the heat will not distribute as evenly in a standard pot or pan), but it’s well-worth the effort.

The above link to BonAppetit is the actual recipe I followed. It’s incredibly easy. Just remember that you have to start the day before and soak the dried chickpeas overnight. I used lamb shoulder chops, because I’m a strong believer that bones impart more flavor in a dish. Besides, it’ll sit in the pot long enough for the meat to fall off, so it’s really win-win!

Also, if you’ve got good tomatoes, don’t skimp on it and used canned – fresh is always better – and add more than one cup. It’ll reduce beautifully. If your stock isn’t enough, adding water is not a sacrilege. It’s probably just a little better for you, anyway.

I’d say it turned out quite nicely for a first in this kitchen.

IMG_0472

Second stop: Mali (a very different Maffe)

Peanut sauce is not uncommon in the Philippines. I grew up eating oxtail peanut stew, Kare-Kare, and one of our more traditional eggrolls topped with peanut sauce, Lumpiang Sariwa, so when I took on the challenge of cooking Malinese food, I didn’t think twice about Maffe.

Much like most other dishes I make, I read a few recipes (this one made me laugh) to get a feel for the usual ingredients and then I make a few changes to make it my own. The key to Maffe seems to be the thickening of the sauce so accidentally “puréeing” the vegetables because they cooked for a little longer than expected is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s also preferred that you use ground peanuts so if you can find some, all the better.

My ingredients were garlic, yellow onions, lots of tomatoes, carrots, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, bay leaf, cayenne, natural (unsweetened) peanut butter, tomato paste, beef stock, salt and pepper, and beef for stewing.

Maffe Ingredients

Cooking Maffe is pretty similar to most other stews you might make at home. All the ingredients sort of just sit in the same pot for a long time (at least until the beef is tender). The only difference is when the peanuts or (2 tbsp) peanut butter goes in – I’d suggest waiting until the last 15 minutes of cooking!

Serve it with a side of couscous (or bread) and some Alicha for din din. No sweat.

Third stop: Morocco.

A Culinary Trip Around the World

I’ve always been lucky with planning other people’s birthdays. Making a party happen isn’t magic, it’s just logistics. Friends are in town, a mid-week Happy Hour is approved, there’s transportation, live music, good food and great beer. A few of those components may present a small challenge every once in a while but, it’s never impossible. Until this year.

So, to mitigate my inability to make crazy ridiculous endless party plans for Chris’ birthday this year, I instead asked him for a challenge. A trip around the world, seven stops, one dish for every country over the course of a week. You ready for this? Here’s our itinerary: Brazil, Mali, Morocco, France, Germany, Turkey, and the Philippines. Chris initially threw in Sweden and Vietnam, but I guess German Schnitzels and Chicken Adobo beats Swedish meatballs and pho.

For our first stop, I defaulted to a dish I first had at Esperanto Cafe on Avenue C in Manhattan called Moqueca de Peixe. It was my last meal in NYC before I moved to Sydney for work and it obviously made an impression. I’ve only had it once again at a small Brazilian restaurant in Buenos Aires and, while that preparation was dramatically different from Esperanto, it left me in an equally great mood. It’s pretty mind blowing if you’ve never had it before (assuming, of course, that you like seafood). The coconut milk sits well with the lime juice and cilantro and, adding a spicy kick to it is always a good call.

I think I cross-referenced four different recipes, because it seemed too simple to be true. I even made a sad attempt at trying to translate a portuguese recipe, because I figured… it had to be authentic. Sort of.

In the end, my ingredients came down to green peppers, red peppers, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, ginger, thai chile peppers (for the heat), clam broth, stock, coconut milk, lime juice, sea salt, crushed black peppercorns, mahi mahi, and shrimp.

Moqueca Ingredients

Prepping the seafood required half an hour of sitting in lime juice, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. Everything else started reducing in a pot (it’s a time like this I wish I had a dutch oven).

Moqueca Soup Base

Then you put all of the half cooked vegetables into a blender (which sounds a little bit like sacrilege to me) before putting everything back into the pot and adding the coconut milk and cooking the seafood. Look how tasty!

Moqueca de Peixe

Brazil: check. Next stop: Mali.