Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Comsat Cooking: Sinampalukang Manok and the strength of culinary roots

People will always have a special connection to the food of their childhood. Be it a favorite summer snack to break the sweltering summer heat filled with fun and adventures, or the hot soup you were always served when you were sick and had to be doted on. That is the power of food, it stays is with you and accents, if not defines, a lot of important memories. Much like music, once you taste an old favorite, you are taken back to the comforts of childhood or a fond memory.

For cooks and passionate foodies, this connection becomes even more intense.

Sinampalukang Manok: cure for both hangovers and fevers

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comsat Cooking + Gracie Diet: Lex's Tinapa Cream of Pumpkin soup

I auditioned for Pinoy Master Chef and failed. I blame no one but myself and would like to keep my scathing comments from bubbling out of my oft-uncontrollable mouth. Let's just say that I over reached and was found lacking a back story. But I liked how a friend of mine who accompanied me to the auditions got in with a very simple dish. One that, upon initial tasting, fell flat for my taste buds, but after the long hours we spent waiting for our dishes' turn to be judged, developed deeper notes and thus became richer.

That just shows how simple food can be elevated and how some dishes are best reheated. It's healthy and simple, so I'm including it in my Gracie Diet line and because it aint mine entirely, it's also Comsat Cooking. So here is a soup from Lex's concept and a few tweaks from yours truly.

Lex's Tinapa Cream of Pumpkin soup

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Six Dishes and a Musing: Cooking for a crowd + Heartbreaker Porkchops + Pinoy Pesto + Tomato Cream Pasta + Mike's Pinaputok na Tilapia + Bulalo Steak au Poivre

I could never cook for myself or for two. There's just something about me that makes me cook a lot more than I intend to. This means I'm always more comfortable cooking for a crowd. 10 people? Easy. 20? Sure. But when you get to 30 people or more, that is when it becomes challenging. I've never had a great experience with catering, I have yet to remember one dish I've had in a wedding or a birthday party or any other catered event. Aren't you tired of the same roast beef in mushroom gravy? Of mixed buttered veg that are just "meh"? Of dry fish fillets with an overpowering and overcompensating sauce?

But man, is it easy to understand why caterers fall back on these dishes when you try to cater to more than 30 people.

I am always in awe of Bravo's Top Chef episodes where the contestants have to cater to hundreds of people, with exacting judges expecting excellent quality while putting contestants in the most challenging circumstances. The flops and miscues in these episodes are often memorable and enlightening (remember this Betty Crocker faux pas in season 1?). The moments of triumph, often glorious and magnanimous (see the season 6 tearjerker Thunderbirds episode, where Michael Voltaggio touched on his difficulty in cooking for a buffet line). But if there's one thing I've noticed in the ten plus years I've been watching the show, it's that the one difference between the caterers whose food I've had the dismay of eating and the top ranked chefs in the show is the way they attack the service.

When serving a considerable number of people, there are so many things you have to consider that one mistake can ruin the entire service. The most important part, I think, is timing. You can have the best dishes planned out, the freshest ingredients and the skills to tie them all together, but botch the timing and everything would be wasted. Let's look at catering an event from the vantage point of a town fiesta: when you cater, the goal is to cook everything in advance and be able to keep it warm enough so that your guests can enjoy it without having to wait for it. That, cabron, limits your options so much that you think up your menu considering the pre-cooking as the most important part.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bastardo Nachos

When we think nachos, we think American. Because the dish was brought over by the Americans during their short occupation of the country, along with the hamburger, macaroni and cheese and an addiction to chips. And really, we should. As Anthony Bourdain said in his visit to Mexico City with Les Halle main man Carlos, Nachos is an alien concept to Mexicans, even if all major Mexican-themed fast food joints offer them. Sure, there's the easily found version of the Piedras Negras, Coahuila restaurant where a guy named Nacho served American GIs the best thing he could slap together (a tale much like the origins of the famous New York invention, the Buffalo wings). But in reality, Nachos are as American as the hamburger is as far from the original meat sandwich from Hamburg.

I touched on the idea of the bastardo concept I love to do at the end of my last post. Let me expound on that. Even with the expanding choices of ingredients we have in the country, most people still cannot afford the imported ingredients that would be inconsequential to First World cooks. Most Westerners would not think twice about grabbing a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano in their weekly grocery shopping. But man, not many Pinoys can spare the 250 peso price tag of real good cheese. Much like how my relatives and friends in the US pine for simple things for me like chili and tamarind leaves and lemongrass, it would take some real effort for me to find and buy authentic arborio rice for a paella. But I like to cook and try my hand at dishes not traditionally Filipino. I have respect for authenticity and will aim for it as much as I can, but I have many limits. There comes a point where I just say to hell with it and make the closest version I can of a dish using ingredients available to me. As long as one understands the flavors of ingredients, I believe one can replicate or even improve upon it.

So here is an Americanized dish with Mexican roots bastardized by yours truly.

Bastardo Nachos


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pulutan Tayo Diyan: Vinaigrette marinated chicken liver wrapped in bacon

Pulutan: a Filipino term often misunderstood by foreign food show hosts (Bizarre Food's Andrew Zimmern erroneously understood it as a generic term for finger food/snacks in his 2008 visit). Here's the thing, man, pulutan, a word that, which like most Filipino words, is directly descriptive of the object or action being stated, literally means "stuff you can pick up with your hands", and this direct translation is what I presume to be the source of the misunderstanding. The closest Western word to it is Bar Chow, because pulutan is basically food consumed while drinking. A soup becomes a pulutan when served in an inuman. A bowl of friggin' spaghetti becomes pulutan when consumed with alcohol.

Which brings us to another Pinoy quirk that will clarify the term further: We. Don't. Do. Social. Drinking. When most parts of the world get together and use alcohol as a social lubricant, a tool to wash away inhibitions and not the end goal, the Pinoy inuman (inom = to drink, suffix -an = added to words to connote an action or event to complete the act it is attached to, see upuan [chair], where upo means to sit and suntukan [fight], where suntok means punch) or drinking session, is an event on its own. Drinking here, as many foreigners I've shared a table with have noticed, is not a tool, it's an end on its own. Most Filipinos drink to celebrate, wash away sorrows or discuss important stuff, like most people do, but one thing you can expect is that 80% of the people around a table in an inuman will drink until they are drunk, because not doing so would be an utter waste of a perfectly good chance to get hammered. Is this healthy? Who the heck can judge that? It's a culture thing, much like how we like to put ice in beer.

Much can be said about pulutan, and much will be said about it in this blog, but for now, here's my take on a classic hors d' oeuvres which makes for a great pulutan you can surprise your friends with. I have two takes on this, more a variation in cooking methods, because many Pinoy households do not have ovens.

Vinaigrette marinated Chicken Liver wrapped in Bacon

Cooking method number one: Baked and topped with vinaigrette and drippings

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shifting gears + Gracie Diet + Local Flair: Pork and Corn soup

This blog was a personal blog. Written as a public (the irony is not lost to me, trust me) diary of random thoughts, it contained nothing but personal musings. Sometimes, the posts I put up were read, recently, I've had an upsurge in hits with a reactionary post and a travel-related posts.

But then, I thought: I write, I cook, I'm learning photography, I am passionate about food, so why the heck am I not writing a food blog?

Well, there are many reasons. Firstly, I just don't think I could hack the Huessaff, Marketman or Our Awesome Planet take on food blogs. I don't have that much money to spend and I don't like paying homage to new trendy restos. Secondly, I hate trendy stuff, with a gusto. Thirdly, I was refining my craft in different ways. I never went to culinary school so I lack many of the basics.The list goes on and on, really. Time, effort, blah blah blah.

But now, I want to write more about food and give a focus to this blog. But let me first explain why and how aPISOforyourthoughts is going to go about this whole food blog thing.

A friend and fellow chaser of the Muse asked me to write recipes for the website he's curating. He has a very specific list of ingredients and what can go with what. He says he's tried the diet he wants me to write for, the Gracie Diet and that it worked wonders for him. But that's also because he's resumed his MMA training. I got into a discussion with him as to how what I have in my pantry and what is available to me in the supermarkets and wet markets that I frequent will limit the appeal of the recipes I create, especially for his North American-dominated audience. Which got me thinking. Really, why over extend myself or even be intimidated by the limiting access I have to Western ingredients? Why not do what I always do and adapt recipes to the average Pinoy? Further, why even think about that when I rarely attempt classic Italian or French-inspired dishes?

So here's how I'm going to go about this. This blog will not be your usual Foodie Blog about new restaurants or about new food finds. Though I will write about restos when I feel like it, I'll be focusing more on food I make and food that I grew up with. I plan to do a "Juandering" series, featuring eateries and hole in the wall places that minimum wage earners can enjoy. I will be writing the Grace Diet pieces for my friend, but with a very local flair. But mostly, I'll be sharing recipes and thoughts about the Filipino food and dining culture.

Let's get a few things straight. I have a very healthy amount of knowledge on food and think about it a lot, some even say I obsess about it, over analyzing it, thinking about the science behind it (damn you House M.D and your the sulfur compounds in star anise will enhance the meat flavor shenanigans)... But I am no expert. I did not study it, but I am very much into food history, science and experimentation. I will also try, as much as possible, to only pictures that I take or make myself. But I realize that that is really an impossibility, so I will give due credit when I do cop a picture or get inspiration from a recipe/commercially available dish.

Lastly, let's talk about ingredients. We all know that sourcing Parmigiano Reggiano or good lamb in this country requires money. But if you're anything like me, finding relatively cheap, essential ingredients, or really, even buying a few premium ones, for special dishes, is always something you should consider. One of my first posts will be about basics. Pantry essentials like herbs and spices and my take on them. Basics like how to make a good bagoong alamang or pureeing squash without a ricer or a blender. Skills that one needs to learn, things like that. Also, I don't measure, so parts per and approximations will be the norm here.

So I'll stop rambling now and share my first dish inspired by the Gracie Diet, and one that holds a special place in my heart. I seriously do not know from whom I learned this, but I could never forget the calming and filling feeling this soup gives me.

Ground Pork and Corn soup