What Is Minestrone?

These days, with my wife under all sorts of pressure from outside and in to complete her production for two upcoming gallery shows, with rooms appropriated to production, the dining room table covered, and even my kitchen islands more or less unavailable from time to time, cooking at home here for the past couple of months has been challenging.

Oh, we eat out a lot, of course. And frankly, I’m not a saint or ready for canonization. I’m about 95% patient and understanding about the entire state of affairs, even if coming home and finding the shower area replete with tables, wet canvases, and blue spots on the wall (don’t ask). But cooking for me has often been a balm of sorts; a way of relaxing, and eating out as much as we’ve ‘had to’, well…the relaxing comes more from one too many margaritas at times admittedly.

Wife admitted that if we did go out to eat this evening, it would have to be quick and to the point, so as I had gathered up enough ingredients for a solid state, basic minestrone soup (vegetarian all the way), I briefly considered a few recipes until I realized that, for the purposes of a simple enough dinner, I had enough of the basics and memories of having made it before to pull a simple soup together.

Carrots, onion, garlic, celery; all chopped to varying sizes, and also fresh oregano herbs from the garden, all chopped and sauteed with those aromatic vegetables. A dash of salt and pepper. After browning a few minutes, I added a half-dozen roma (like) tomatoes chopped indiscriminately, a big handful of snow peas, and a rinsed can of kidney beans. I waited for it to reach a boil, turned down the heat, covered it, and now am letting it simmer. I’ll taste for seasoning around about 30 minutes or so, then adjust. Later I’ll toast some bread, and in the last minutes of cooking, will add a handful/half a cup or so of orzo pasta to the pot and give it another several minutes to finish. Then…taste for seasoning. Perhaps add a handful of crushed and roughly chopped basil, as well for a final flavor/scent garnish.

And it could be time for me to crack open that bottle of red I brought home from Iloilo a couple of weeks ago. While my wife will refrain from any, fearing too much of a relaxing result when she still has hours of production to go, I will not, and will happily break into that bottle.

Stay tuned to see how it tastes. No, no need to wait. Came out very flavorful; thick. Never added any basil.

Doing Mexican In The Visayas

Cooking and trying to capture the…essence of Mexican cuisine is a trick when you’re over 6000 miles away from both the country and any decent source of ingredients readily associated with said cuisine. I’m fortunate to family friends who brought me a whole pile of particular dried Mexican chiles which can indeed lend a verisimilitude to my efforts. Masa harina isn’t particularly difficult to locate, but then…sometimes it is. Dried Mexican chiles? Problematic most of the time. But…most of the basic materials like beef, pork, vegetables aren’t overly tricky.

Except my wife isn’t a big fan of Mexican food, so the occasion to use it is restricted. Not that this has stopped me…but it does put a dent in regular efforts, admittedly. But it would be a shame to see those chiles just oxidize into an unsuitably dried, nasty molded mess through lack of use. Fortunate I was to have some measure of foresight to vacuum seal many of them to allow for a much longer shelf life.

There are a couple of restaurants here in Bacolod that make ‘Mexican’…after a fashion. One is ‘Mexican-inspired’ which…ok, fair enough. It allows for an adjustment to local tastes, and even the other, much closer to the score, still while pretty good, somehow falls short of the mark for me.

My own Mexican cooking? It is primarily reviewed by my wife, the last time of which I cooked Mexican she said it didn’t ‘taste Mexican’. She could well have been right; it’s been nearly five years since I sat down at a taqueria anywhere that deserves the name. For what it’s worth, my tortillas are pretty competent if either made with flour or masa harina, thankfully; a small tribute to my long love affair with most world’s flatbreads.

Tonight I took out some not-regularly identifiable (originally) chunks of beef which I sliced into smaller pieces, marinated in some cumin, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt and god knows what other particulars of Mexican flavors. I prepared a salsa fresca, sliced up a bit of nearly-ripe avocado into a brunoise and salted it, and laid out the freshly baked flour tortillas.

The meat seemed tough to me but wifey found it adequately seasoned, the tortillas were soft and fluffy, and overall, not a bad Mexican meal. A good number of tortillas left over which might serve on some chilaquiles one fine morning, or frozen for much later in a culinary takedown.


New Year’s In Negros|Duck Confit Prep|Vietnamese Cuisine…all today?

I like to cook, admittedly. But this is like our first (second, actually) New Year’s In Negros and it’s a new experience for the two of us. Do people ‘party’? Go out and celebrate at clubs or restaurants and get down and limpio? (sorry) Or…do like this older set of us…do we just stay calm, stay yawning till midnight, eat our twelve damned grapes and jingle money and rush to bed…or what?

Wife has invited two good friends over for a New Year’s Eve dinner, so I went out and did a bit of shopping today only to (no surprise) find the shops and the grocery stores crowded to the max and slow all around. Bob’s Cafe was a meter deep in customers at the counter, most ordering holiday platters and trays. Metro Gaisano was out of chicken breasts (chicken macaroni salad?) so I had to go natural and buy them on the bone (considering I kinda know my way around most poultry, it wasn’t a problem, saved me a bit on the kilo price, etc.)…and well…our little soiree for four tomorrow is starting to fill my time.

Whoa. It’s not a complaint, mind you. I decided to make duck confit…excuse me…it was ‘decided’ that I should make duck confit (confit du canard) but I had no objection. But…time was the enemy. Last night I began the minimum of 24 hours of marination of the duck parts (legs and breasts) in their blend of salt, sugar, thyme, parsley, red onion, garlic, and bay leaf) and tomorrow morning I’ll do the actual confit. At this point I’m turning duck skin and fat into rendered duckfat, on a low flame on the stovetop, as well as a bit of chicken fat I threw in for good measure. As usual, the silly ducks here (as in the States to be fair) don’t render enough fat on their own but at least in the States, I could order a tub of duckfat to make up for  it. Here in the Archipelago, I’ll have to supplement with a neutral oil to complete the task. Ah, well.

And here’s chicken poaching for the chicken macaroni salad which ‘someone’ requested…and with all that going about on the stove, I still have to make dinner tonight: Bánh cuõn tôm thįt (soft crepe spring rolls with shrimp and pork filling) as well as Cà tìm nuóng (broiled Chinese eggplants with coconut sauce). Now…do I have to do this?

Of course not. Last night I just bailed and we went out for noodles. But…I’ve put off the making of these two dishes for a coupla days now, so tonight’s the night.

Sourdough Update!

Sourdough Update!

While someone I know is not a big fan of sourdough (more the pity), I still wanted to try my hand at making sourdough bread and if I am the primary recipient of its hopeful joys, so be it.

As reported earlier, I started with half a cup of flour mixed with a quarter cup of water, that same amount added each morning to its container and mixed each morning. After five days, the plastic container held a bubbly, air-popping white sludge of floury paste that seemed to be effectively gathering up the ambient yeasts to be found in the local air and environs. A tropical sourdough!

Basically, a fermenting floury glop. Sourdough starter!

Today I ladled in 750 ml of room temperature water, then about 7 cups of flour, which resulted in a huge mass of long, stringy, sticky threads of gluten. Per the instructions, I harvested about 500 g of the sticky mass into the original container, closed it off and this…this, my friends, is my starter for the next loaf!

Advised I was to use it out of the ref within three days or freeze it for up to a month, this latter option being my choice. Next time I will simply use that starter for my next loaf. Patricia Wells, my author cook-advisor says she has been making bread like this often with the same starter for the past 20+ years.

Once I saved my starter, I dumped the rest of the dough into a makeshift ‘banneton’ or cloth-lined basket to proof (rise) for another six hours. The banneton is dusted with flour such that it won’t prove too sticky when transferred to its final resting place of a pizza peel lined with parchment paper for easy transfer into a 400F oven, there to bake for perhaps 45 minutes.

Ideally after baking, it rests for 4 hours or so before being cut, which means I won’t get to taste it until tomorrow morning. Agh! Again, I was cautioned to expect that one’s first sourdough loaves might not be the best in the world, but that eventually they will ‘come into themselves’ in the future. Well, one hopes.

In the meantime, this bread lover will continue to play with other breadmaking. In part I want to thank Pancaderya Toyo, a local Manila baker for inspiring me with his own successful tropical loaves that tasted so damn good.

Wish me luck.38E571CF-3A33-4E9B-B29E-F7F8FA38F468

Productivity In The Kitchen

Thinking about another small dinner party, so considering cuisines in the background of my mind. Today the yogurt comes out in a few minutes (looks fine and is draining in the ref), I wanted to try out some Crunchy Jasmine Rice which includes roasted, salted peanuts and flax seeds (thanks to Patricia Wells) so…I needed to roast some peanuts, obviously.

Meanwhile, I put together some Three Bean Salad to munch on for lunch over the next couple of days (it never lasts long) and…I still haven’t really had my own lunch yet. Sheesh.

Draining the whey, I add as much as I like to give it less of a Greekstyle of thickness
Roasted peanuts. 350F, 25-30minutes.
The sourdough starter still chugging away
Pita pockets

What Would Joël Robechon Do? (Tackling His Roast Chicken)


Apparently, he knows a bit more about anything to do with cooking than I do, so when Patricia Wells name drops him with his advice for ‘how to roast a chicken’, something I have done more than a few times and more than a few variations, well.

Chickens here in Negros are all a bit smaller than you might expect. Most birds don’t tap out anything close to a five pound Bresse chicken from France, much less even a chicken from the States. The recipe calls for a 2k+ chicken and the best I could score was this 1.6k beastie, so…adjustments.

First on its side, then the other, then breast side up.

Dry the bird’s skin, rub a couple of chunks of butter over it, stuff with lemon rind, lemon juice, thyme, and salt and pepper the interior liberally. I stuffed mine with the organic lemon but also some Japanese oregano and rosemary, additionally. I then trussed the bird as tightly as possible to keep the moisture in and every 20minutes or so will move the bird from its one side, to its other side, till finally its breast side up. An hour, maybe. It’s smaller than the usual.

Beneath the roasting rack a splash of a cup of water, a few onions sitting there, and the drippings from the bird will settle in to make a fragrant sauce it is hoped.

But hey! It’s Joël Robechon. How can I go wrong? See the next installment…

Culinary Plans For The New Year

Now that family has gone home to their lives, and feeling so much more connected to both son and daughter, I feel with the new year that it’s time to begin the next phase of retirement…particularly now that the house is virtually finished. A lot of intended cooking ventures I put off are now calling to me.

While in Manila last week, my wife and I agreed to, on a monthly renewable basis, to eschew the Internet sources of our passions and simply stick with the available sources we have in the house. My wife is a printmaker, and she has said she will not distract herself with other methods and techniques but focus on her work based on what she has in her large printmaking library.

For me…I’ve got enough cookbooks to start half a dozen restaurants, so I’ve decided on a course of culinary action to pursue in the coming weeks.

Sausage Making– I’ve met a swell retired guy named Bebs here who supplies his sister’s three restaurants with bacon and sausages and varied cured charcuterie. He has generously agreed to help me do my own. I want to age some of my sausages, though, and will need additional advice but this is a good start.

Grilling- One of the healthiest ways to cook. I’ve got the outdoor grill and dirty kitchen. I may not become a pitmaster but hope to hold my own.

Smoking– Junior built me a makeshift cold smoker unit out of an old, recycled refrigerator, built a box to put wood chips and sawdust into, and a fan to draw the smoke up into the smoker. Time to try it with some veggies, bacon, and maybe even some cheese.

Dinner Parties As Income– With our beautiful home, a fantastic table for up to twelve people, and my own unnatural skill at preparing foods in cuisines that they rarely experience, I hope to sponsor and present some delightful meals soon.

Pancetta– I’ve always wanted to make the Italian bacon so it’s on the list of charcuterie just by itself.

Of course, I will continue with my regular bacon preparation, yogurt every couple of weeks, and maybe a small business of scone production for home consumption or for restaurants. A couple of people like my paella and have requested information on having it made to order for them; there are many possibilities for culinary success here.

In the meantime, I will work on my baba ghanoush, create some ‘secret weapon’ powder flavorings, work on making simple dessert meringues, playing with mushroom powders to add surprising complexities to many dishes, and…well, just have some fun.

Simple Roasted Vegetables

My in-laws who have lived here in the Philippines have never been much for baking or roasting when choosing a method to cook. The reason is obvious; it’s frickin’ hot and sticky here, an oven heats up the kitchen, etc. and I get it, of course.

Still, they have kitchen helpers as needed at times, or could choose to simply vacate the kitchen area while such cooking is being done. I guess that I’m fortunate to not only enjoy baking but in our new kitchen, with two ovens even, the ‘long hall’ at which the kitchen sets dead in the middle of, easily allows an escape from the heat generated to dining or sala areas.

And, for the purposes of dinner tonight, it’s raining like hayull outside, it’s winter now and the wind and coolness makes roasting veggies perfectly natural for a tropical winter night.

Seasoning is as simple as the ingredients themselves. Kamote, kamatis, green beans, marble potatoes, sibuya, squash, broccoli, and a head of so of garlic. Swathed in olive oil, teased with fresh rosemary and Japanese oregano from the garden, kosher salt and pepper, with all the veggies cut to similarly small bite sized chunks, they all should cook at roughly the same rate. In at about 220C, I’ll check them out at 30 minutes and see where we are. Hmm. Already at only 10 minutes or so into the process, the fragrance of the herbs fills the area.

To fill it out, I’ll serve a bit of recently bought charcuterie like olive lyoner, Spanish chorizo, manchego and gruyere, and even a bit of old fashioned pastrami. Wine as well.3AE5F461-6AAA-4971-B15A-F8A4A87CE5F0

And chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Except…maybe not: we all had our fill a coupla hours ago mid afternoon.

Choclit Chip Cookies With Pecans And Cashews Cuz Dats All I Got

Oh, hell. It’s Christmas in the Philippines, a storm has brought steady rains all day, and after half a day at the mall, it’s just an afternoon for Chocolate Chip Cookies. Now, I’m not a cookie maker at all, but I had to trust in this recipe which came from Maida Heatter’s Book Of Great Chocolate Desserts (1980), one of the few surviving coopted books taken out of my then girlfriend Angela’s cookbook library.

Not sure why Cookies never grabbed me. Maybe it was the time I doubled the amount of butter and I ended up with a huge, baked chocolate chip soup in the oven? Even then, some 30 years ago I had fairly instantly realized my error from their appearance. Has it been that long since my last foray into these children’s treats? Not that adults don’t enjoy Cookies, but…

Thank god for the standmixer that made short work of creaming the sugar and butter, along with all the rest of the ingredients. They came out pretty well, even by my utilitarian standards.

Dinner will be a bunch of roasted vegetables, select cold cuts, a bit of cheese and olives, and wine. The nuclear family…only short it’s youngest member, Jake.

Minestrone and Stephanie

I do all the cooking.

No, not most of it…all of it. Now, though, with Stephanie our daughter the first of the two kids to join us, she has been helping in the kitchen (unnecessary but appreciated, regardless) as well as making gin and tonics for us. So…even Angela has been diving in to do the dishes (understand—I do the dishes without resentment because I find it relaxing), so…it’s been nice.

Tonight because of a few days of heavy eating, rich foods and all, I thought a simple vegetable soup with Italian flavors would go well. I sautéed onion, garlic, carrot, and celery in a dutch oven, seasoned it, added a can of tomatoes, cut green beans, and a can of borlotti beans. Finally, a pile of small Italian meatballs and some thin vermicelli pasta and let it simmer for awhile.

Very delicious, maybe the best minestrone I’ve ever made…as if all the previous soup batches were simply rehearsals. Very happy. And Stephanie is here. Jake next week.