Monday, November 21, 2016

Adobo Confit in a Palayok

Confit is a cooking method that preserves meat by cooking it slowly in its own fat.  
In Paris,  duck confit is a normal item in bistros and brasseries but one that my arteries and I 
try not to order too often as it is a delectable but sinful dish. 
I learned from a friend that a Filipina lady who lives in Lourdes (yes, where miracles happen) runs
an Asian deli and sells adobo confit, packed in small glass bottles.  
That of course set off a lightbulb in my head -- of course adobo is confit!
In the pre-refrigeration era of our great grandmothers, when meat had to be prevented from spoiling, one way to do it would be to make adobo --  freshly slaughtered pork would be salted, vinegar-ed
and slowly cooked to preserve the meat for days and weeks on end.

Confit preserves meat by cooking it in its own fat.  For this adobo,  instead of using a leaner cut like kasim (shoulder) or pigue (butt), I chose the fattier liempo or pork belly.  To make sure I would have plenty of lard to preserve the adobo, I even added half a kilo of back fat.
You're all familiar with the other ingredients of adobo -- good vinegar, lots of garlic, peppercorns, dried bay leaves and in this case, plain coarse sea salt instead of toyo or soy sauce.

Since the adobo would be cooked very slowly, I used my trusty unglazed palayok.   The palayok 
imparts a certain flavour to the adobo that you cannot get from an ordinary metal pot.  
Line the bottom of the palayok with the strips of back fat which will render as the adobo cooks.

Layer the chopped liempo in the palayok with salt, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves so the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout.   In subsequent tries though, I found that rubbing the pork pieces with salt worked even better. 

Three kilos of liempo just about fills the palayok almost to the brim. I have cooked almost 4 kilos of pork in this palayok but it was certainly a tight squeeze.  Put about 3/4 to a cup of water, cover the palayok and bring to a slow boil.

Once the pork is cooked, put in the vinegar.  You can experiment with the ratio but I find that a 
1:1.5 ratio of water to vinegar is just about right.  You can always add a bit more vinegar at the end 
if you wish. 
Please ...  don't use supermarket brands but try and source an authentic coco or palm vinegar.   
Bring the adobo to a boil again,  then lower the flame so that it will continue to cook at a low simmer.

I keep the palayok covered, after the vinegar has thoroughly boiled and the "sour" smell has evaporated.   I don't mix the contents but give it a good shake once in a while, to keep the meat 
from sticking to the pot.   Let the adobo cook until the meat is very tender -- about 3 to 3.5 hours.  That's how long it takes to make adobo confit. 

Here's the adobo confit, after more than 3 hours of cooking.  Even without soy sauce, the adobo 
has taken on  a natural light brown colour, so you will not miss the toyo at all.  
Before I remove the palayok from the stove, I give the adobo a final taste and stir in a tablespoon or two of patis.   The patis adds that last umami note.  And for someone who grew up in Malabon
patis is also my seasoning of choice.  

I have jars ready for storing my adobo confit, letting it cool completely before I cover them.
I normally just keep the jars on the kitchen counter,  adobo confit needs no refrigeration. 

Cooked for more than three hours, the pork is tender and just falls apart in your mouth.  
And, the longer it keeps, the better it tastes.   
A few choice chunks of adobo confit on top of some rosemary fried rice is perfect for a simple 
but tasty lunch!  


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My plate runneth over -- a Pinoy "schnitzel" at Tasty Dumplings in Binondo

Have you tried schnitzel?  You can enjoy the best schnitzel in Austria where the dish originated from.
Or you can try  a Pinoy version.  My favourite local "schnitzel" is a low-cost yet high-taste option  but you'll have to travel all the way to Binondo to enjoy it.

 Norberto Ty Street flanks one side of San Lorenzo Ruiz Basilica, aka Binondo Church. 
There are small stores along the sidewalk -- I passed by a stationary store where I was briefly tempted to buy reams of bond paper,  sold at wholesale prices and a dry goods store with Hello Kitty items.
But my main target was the yellow and blue sign that read "Tasty Dumplings" where the dumplings are great but the Pork Chop is the main event.

Compared to the "senior citizens" of Binondo dining (Sincerity, Masuki, Sa Lido, etc) Tasty Dumplings can be considered precocious -- I don't think it's been around for more than 15 years.
I first noticed it when it was still located on the other side of the church,  beside La Resureccion,
the venerable tsokolate tablea  factory (which has since moved to another location too).  The menu has not changed a lot since the first time I ate there.

I have not been to the other branch of Tasty Dumplings but this one is a bit cramped.  It's long and narrow with tables on each side of the room.  It's not yet lunchtime but the place is full and we get the last table -- the one right beside the door.  We have to squeeze in towards the wall to avoid being constantly bumped by diners entering and leaving. 

An order of steamed dumplings costs P90 for 8 substantial pieces.  If you're eating light or watching your weight, this would be a good lunch option.  They also have fried dumplings which are more flavourful --  as anything deep fried is.

I also ordered their mushroom meatball soup.  The broth is clear, not too salty and the meatballs are quite heavy so this soup would be good for sharing.

The piece de resistance, the star of the show, the bestseller that regulars come to Tasty Dumplings 
for is the Pork Chop rice.  If I were the owner, I would change the name of the restaurant to 
"Tasty Pork Chop".
The price has since gone up to P125 (it used to be well below that a few years ago) but it is money well spent.  
The pork is rubbed with a blend of seasonings and spices (I am guessing there is some 5 spice 
powder there),  pounded very thin then dredged in a batter and fried to a crisp, honey golden brown.  
It's so big it actually runs over the side of the plate.  As a concession to nutrition and good health, a  spoonful of sautéed vegetables is included.  
Because the chop is boneless, you can eat every last bit.  Yes, even the strip of fat -- it's been smashed to oblivion so it just melts in a puddle of goodness in your mouth (and may I add, in your arteries). 
If one piece of fried pork is not enough for you or you're on the Atkins' Diet, you can order another chop without the rice for just P99.  Better have a beta blocker on hand! Or a defibrillator.  
Happy Porky Eating!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and caldron bubble! Home beer brewing 101 by Santiago Brewery and Malthouse

My late mother, God bless her curious inquisitive soul, never believed in the old adage that 
"you can't teach an old dog new tricks".  She took up golf in her 50s, joined a feminist NGO 
in her 60s,  learned tai chi in her 70s and started ballroom dancing in her 80s.  I certainly subscribe 
to her point of view -- after all, isn't life just a continuous cycle of learning something new? 

It must have been the Universe sending me a message when I accidentally stumbled on an article
about a Home Beer Brewing workshop to be held at the Crescent Moon in Antipolo.  For an enthusiastic  beer drinker such as myself, it was serendipitous to say the least.  Now instead of
just drinking beer,  I could actually learn how to brew a bottle or two myself.

This is James Gatlabayan of Santiago Brewery and Malthouse who was our beer master for this afternoon's session.  Santiago Brewery is the first local company that takes imported barley and 
converts it to malt, one of the four main ingredients of beer.  

James brought samples of the different types of malt that he makes in Santiago Malthouse -- 
plus some bottles of beer that he had brewed.   

For beginners in home brewing James showed us how with relatively inexpensive materials, 
one can DIY the various components of basic beer brewing equipment.  No need to jump right 
in  and purchase the near-pro expensive stuff, at least not until you're sure you want to go into
brewing on a more serious and sustained level.  This was perfect for Jay who is my DIY expert 
at home.

As you can see,  a start-up home brewer needs relatively simple paraphernalia -- a cooler, a 
5 gallon water jug with an Airlock, a stainless steel cooking vat and a stove.

The first step in beer brewing is called "mashing" where the malt is combined with water that 
has boiled to a certain temperature and allowed to steep for one hour.  James did mention that beer brewing takes time and patience.  During these one-hour breaks, he continued to share tips with 
us and answer questions about the brewing process.

After an hour, we get to the second step which is called "lauthering".  A DIY spigot bored into 
the cooler releases the liquid from the mash.  This liquid is called the wort,  a clearer liquid strained of any particles of malt and which will be used in the next step of the beer brewing process.  
What do you do with the residual grain that is left in the cooler -- James mentioned that it can 
used as compost or even as animal feed.
Hmm -- since it is not fermented and non-alcoholic you need not  worry about your pigs or chickens running around half-drunk.

The collected wort is then transferred to a cooking vat and brought to a boil.   More waiting time --
patience is a virtue in beer brewing.

It is at this stage that hops, the other main ingredient of beer, is added to the boiled wort.  
Hops are very expensive,  costing up to P3,000 + for a kilo.  Unlike malt though, you just use a 
few grams at a time so one kilo should last for several batches.  

The process of beer brewing is quite exact -- while you can vary and experiment with your beer recipe,  there are specific time frames that you need to follow with regard to the various steps in brewing.  After the wort has boiled and after the hops have been added,  your initial brew is now
ready for its primary fermentation.  
The boiled wort must be quickly cooled and transferred to your fermentation container.  
This is also the step where the yeast, the third main ingredient of beer  is added and the cooling 
vessel locked tight and kept cool for two weeks.  

James told us that the fermentation vessel should ideally be a 5 gallon sanitised jug made airtight 
with an Airlock that will allow carbon dioxide to escape during the process and keep your brew 
from exploding all over your kitchen.  The fermenting brew should be kept in a cool place 
(James suggests the "wet t-shirt" method -- no, you don't wear it, you wrap it around the jug to 
keep the temperature constant and cool).
Fermentation takes two weeks for ale (which is what James showed us today) and up to 3 months 
if you're brewing lager.  This probably explains why most craft beers are of the ale variety.
After the fermentation process,  all that is left to do is to add some sugars for carbonation and you're ready to bottle and chill that beer!

Santiago Brewery and Malthouse does not really brew beers on a regular and commercial basis.  Their primary business is converting grains to malt.  But today, James did bring bottles of his own brew for us to try.  
We had different types of ale to choose from including an  IPA (India Pale Ale) and a 
"medieval" ale that James said was brought about by his research into what types of herbs and flavouring were used in 12th century beer.  
He called it his "Game of Thrones" beer.  Something perhaps to drink at the wedding of Daenerys and Jon Snow?

Our  Beer Brewing Workshop was limited to just 15 participants -- a perfectly manageable size.  
We were able to see the demonstrations up close and our questions were answered thoroughly and 
in detail.  
James was more than generous with his  knowledge and enthusiastic about encouraging us to go 
into beer brewing -- whether for personal,  at-home enjoyment or as a start-up, artisanal business.  
Thanks to Crescent Moon for hosting and setting up this very interesting and unique workshop 
(and for the filling and delicious merienda served)  but most of all a huge thank you to
James Gatlabayan of Santiago Brewery and Malthouse -- Pinoy master brewer and staunch proponent of local beer!  
Cheers!  Mabuhay!


Monday, October 24, 2016

From Paella Gris to Paella Negra aka Paella Nero

They say practice makes perfect -- well in the case of paella, I would  never claim perfection,
let's just say ... practice has led to consistency.   Since my good friend the Kastila 
dictated his family recipe to me, I have enjoyed making  this surprisingly easy dish.
I normally make a variation of paella valenciana, without the rabbit meat and snails,  and
have also made a seafood paella (during Good Friday).  It was time  to try something new --
how about an arroz  negra, commonly called paella negra?

Arroz negra, made with squid or cuttlefish is a Catalan and Valencian dish.  The Kastila
had never made it but surmised that it would cook the same as a regular paella, without the meats, and with the squid ink poured into the rice at some point in time during the cooking process.
My first attempt turned out grey -- my mistake was to mix in the squid ink with the broth which 
led to a weaker colour.  It was very tasty though -- but the appearance was more of a paella gris
(grey) than a true paella negra.

My mother in law celebrated her 96th birthday a week ago and I was in Lucena for the occasion. 
I wanted to cook something special for dinner that she could enjoy so I had another go at
paella negra.  This time, learning from my mistake, I mixed in the squid ink with the rice and 
sofrito, before I even poured in the broth.  When I saw it simmering in the paellera, I knew I 
had a winner.

Viva el calamares!  Success on my second try.  The rice was black as it should be and made a nice backdrop for the bright orange prawns.  We did not have calamansi but Jay picked some dayap 
(native limes) from their tree outside and it made a nice counterpoint to the paella.  Next time, 
I will make aioli to go with it.

It was a delicious one dish meal -- tender squid rings, fresh prawns from the Lucena market and the unmistakeable umami richness of squid ink.  Only Jay was brave enough to give a wide toothy grin at the dinner table.  


My black labrador retriever Nero passed away due to age and illness just a day after.  He was 
nearly thirteen years old.  Nero was joyful, sometimes rowdy and until he started to feel his age 
about a year ago, acted and thought as if he was an eternally large puppy.  But he was always loving and loyal.  He was also the last of our three big labradors.   I  couldn't have asked for a better best friend. 
In his memory and honour, I will call this dish paella Nero.  We'll enjoy it together Nero, when I see you at the Rainbow Bridge.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Experience of Pinto Art Museum

Antipolo, where the Pinto Art Museum is, is a mere 16 kilometres away from my home in
Paranaque.  However, traffic along the route makes it seem like it is in a galaxy far, far away.
But I assure you, whether you are into art or not, the museum is an experience that is well worth
the long (and slow) drive,

More than a museum, more than a gallery -- shall I call it the Pinto Inter-active Experience?
For that is exactly what it provides  -- allowing the visitor to immerse oneself in an ongoing project,
a work-in-progress, an unending dream by one man to provide the best venue to encounter and appreciate art in all its forms.
This is the building that you see when you enter the unprepossessing gate.  It houses
individual galleries where temporary exhibits are held, one of four on-premise coffee shops (that
incidentally serves very good food) and a small but well curated museum shop.

At the time we visited, one of the exhibits featured a long stretch of snake skin on the floor --
not anaconda long but long enough.  As a confirmed ophiophilist (one who loves serpents), I
was fascinated -- was this skin the snake had shed or did he give up his life to be part of art?

From snake skin to discarded vintage machines. Both call to mind temporal states.  A whole room was devoted to (now) oddities like an ancient typewriter (bringing to mind fond memories of the one I used 40 years ago), an old phonograph, video monitor, telephone and even an unexploded
mortar from perhaps WWII.

Another installation asked the visitor to "Remember" and  after having read the words on the floor ... 
I would add "... and be grateful".

Across the way is a small chapel like structure -- most of the buildings in the museum follow what 
to my mind is a Mexican-Mission style architecture with walls of white stucco finish and complete with a small belfry.  

Inside the chapel is a beautiful carving of the crucified Christ, taken down from the cross.  On the side are more examples of religious statues and ecclesiastical art.  

I walked out of the chapel and headed a few steps away to this charming enclosure ...

A bas relief of Jose Rizal and Leonor Rivera is prominently mounted on a concrete wall. 

This is easily one of my favourite pieces from Pinto --this life sized statue of Leonor Rivera.
She is widely acknowledged as the real life model for Maria Clara-- the beautiful, virtuous 
but ultimately tragic heroine of Rizal's Noli Me Tangere

Towards the back of the garden is an open air clearing with some structural pieces.  I think more
pieces are to be added as the space can definitely take in a few more works of art.

There is an open air coffee shop called Cafe Rizal where on a good day you can sit and enjoy a drink or a snack.  It was raining on the day we visited otherwise I would have loved to sit at this corner table and have a tete-a-tete with Rizal.

From Cafe Rizal, steps lead down to the main part of the complex, the Pinto Museum which is composed of several galleries with work from contemporary Filipino artists.

Antipolo is naturally hilly and the architect and landscape artist who designed Pinto certainly made wonderful use of the uneven terrain.  You go up and down steps to make your way around, amidst trees and greenery, small pools and ponds of water.  On sunny days, you can relax on beds and sofas scattered around the property that are usually piled high with cushions and pillows.

The founder and moving spirit behind Pinto, Dr. Joven Cuanang is Ilocano to the core.  Thus there 
is a separate museum store that sells Ilocano abel -- you can buy fabrics, bags, blankets, and other accessories made from this native Ilocano weave.

I am never one to pass up a store, specially one that sells Ilocano abel.  The day we visited, the man minding the store was softly strumming a guitar -- that and the sound of raindrops outside made for a  delightful interlude.

Next door to the Ilocano store is an L-shaped building that houses Dr. Cuanang's impressive collection of indigenous art.  His heartfelt and impassioned letter explains his vision both as a collector and as an arts philanthropist. 

The collection is amazing made up of different types of functional and decorative pieces.  
It makes one proud to walk through the gallery.

I singled out this wood carving of a snarling beast -- is it a wild boar? It looks as if the artist caught him in the last moments before he was caught -- and perhaps killed and later eaten.

Aside from snakes, I am also fond of lizards -- geckos, salamanders, iguanas ... This is another of 
my favourite pieces from Pinto.  A wooden bench in the form of half-lizard, half man.  I certainly wish  I had one for myself!

On one secluded portion of the property is a gazebo, set in between the Museum for Islamic Art 
and a duckweed covered pond.  

We took refuge from the now steady rain under the shade of the gazebo -- comfortably seated on a pair of vintage botaca chairs.  A dog, a resident on the premises chose to share the space and time with us.  This moment was for me a gift of grace.  Food for the senses and the soul.
   Isn't this little tableau reminiscent of a work of art itself?

It was a nice surprise to run into ex-colleague and friend Cris Villanueva who had been looking for us while we were holed up in the gazebo.
 Cris is a multi awarded and well known painter who lives in Antipolo, just a few meters away from the museum.  His wife Jenny is Executive Director of Pinto and she had apparently told him we were lurking around the premises.  
While we could not stay long enough to take advantage of his offer to take us on a guided tour of the Museum itself, we did have a happy though brief reunion over lunch.  I will certainly ask you to take me around again next time, Cris!

I'd like to end this post with another one of my favourite pieces from the Museum.  
This is a portrait of Dr. Joven Cuanang done by the artist Winner Jumalon.   I love how it captures 
a  thoughtful and unguarded moment of this inspiring and generous patron of the arts.  
Dr. Cuanang,  agyamanak.  Dios ti agngina!