(Found this lost in the archives of my drafts from a few months ago…seeing as the weather’s getting colder anyway, this is the perfect time to make this warm, comforting dish!)
It was Sunday morning and I was in a bit of a dilemma: cook a cost-efficient meal of pasta but risk overloading on carbs…or make yet another stew. Ever since I’ve restricted my carb intake to a quarter of my total daily values, everything from ramen to *gasp* white rice looks like a gigantic carb bomb. If you’re curious as to just how carb-loaded a half cup of rice is…actually…forget I mentioned it. After all, ignorance is bliss as they say (you totally Googl-ed it didn’t you?)!
But I digress…faced with the impossible decision between comfort or breaking my diet…I said “Screw it! I’ll have both!”. Rather than the usual boxed fettucine, I opted to hand-make gnocchi with sweet potato (the de facto – and what seems like the solo – carb option to the health conscious) and pair with with a kale and beef ragout.
Making gnocchi is far easier than I thought it would be (though you most certainly can use the store-bought variety if you’re not as carb-conscious as I am this week). The trick is getting just the right amount of flour so that the dough is moldable without the end result having an overly mealy taste and texture. Pair that with a hearty ragout and you’ve got comfort…without overdosing on those carbs. Get cookin’!
Menu-writing for multi-course dinner sucks. There…I said it. Until recently, I never really enjoyed it and when I asked professionals how they compose/curate/conjure one up, I was met with two parts mysticism (“I just write what the Universe says through me…it’s all about connecting with the Divine”), a heaping of cryptic shade-throwing (“Well, you have to first study and really understand the seasonality of the local terroir after which you compose layers of sometimes contradictory but simultaneously harmonious flavors”), and a pinch of astringency (“Actually…I don’t know. I make what I want OK?”).
“Artful” menu-writing seemed so mysterious, shrouded in veils of secrecy to prevent us uninitiated commoners from discovering just how the Stewards of Sauce-ry know to follow a biting Mizuna-Shiso salad with lightly roasted cod under a citrus foam. Without much insight into their cabalistic procedures, I often resorted to cobbling together pieces of different menus/recipes into some Frankenstein-esque monstrosity where beef curry was somehow followed by roast chicken on biscuits & gravy with bok choy (true story!). For a data geek like me whose Accounting degree had no business being in the kitchen, it was infuriating!
With a month away from my third pop-up dinner, a collaboration with the Filipino Kitchen and Pilipino-American Unity for Progress, and the bad taste of gravy-soaked bok choy in my mouth, I attempted to apply some unartistic nerdery to come up with a menu centered around our chosen theme of Philippine Independence Day. Unorthodox? Perhaps. Time-consuming? Oh yes indeed! But did it work? Read on…
In this lookback of the first #FKEDUP live collaboration in Boston this past February, Paolo Espanola and Sarahlynn Pablo reflect on the team’s brunch pop-up and participation in a regional conference for Asian-American students.
It takes a certain kind of muted masochism to pull off a pop-up: embracing the uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and heightened stress that comes with these one-off engagements that lack the full commitment of owning your own space. In our case, masochism took the form of a crew that’s never met in person, a venue smack dab in the middle of Winterfellian Boston, and a cuisine that hasn’t quite broken into the local populace’s psyche quite yet. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like we were in the throes of despair as we peeled over 60 lobster tails during prep night…but we definitely preferred the raucous music playing on the kitchen speakers to what must have been bubbling anxiety underneath; courageous denial, so to speak.
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The menu – a far cry from Filipino dishes of long ago – seemed more fitting for a sun-soaked Californian patio, not the gloomy slush that covered the streets: Longganisa Scotch Eggs? Chicken Inasal and Atsara na Mangga? No one asked whether the steady snowfall would mean we soft-boiled too many eggs. No one asked whether the unsuspecting populace would “accept” our version of Filipino food. And when a tita – the venerable judge of Filipino food – called and said she would rather eat in Chinatown where it’s cheaper since we weren’t offering some sort of “show” along with brunch service, we hardly had the time to panic.
And so we waited breathlessly during those first few hours; waiting for signs that they’ll like our food. That’s the paradox of how we were cooking Filipino food: reckless abandon by a people so concerned about what “they” will think of our food. “Baka ‘di magustuhan ng mga Kano!” [“Maybe the Americans won’t like it!”] The feeling that perhaps our cuisine isn’t good enough…not refined enough…not pretty enough to warrant a proper brunch service; food that belongs in the dimly lit turo-turos and not the airy pub-cum-brunch hall we found ourselves in.
Then again, we weren’t really cooking Filipino food, were we?
A few weeks ago, #FKEDUP collaborator UniPro posed the question:
“What Filipino food/dish do you identify with the most and why?”
I cringed when I saw the response by contributor Cris Mercado: Bangus (aka the Milkfish), that rich, fatty fish that’s got the soft creaminess of its namesake. I’m still traumatized by the one time I accidentally swallowed one of its tiny bones and was rushed to the hospital, too scared to breathe. I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me from seeking out its crisp skin and salty flavors again as I would have led the rest of my life deprived of this truly unique and flavorful fish!
Here’s Cris’s piece, a veritable ode to a fish that makes you work for it!
If we truly are what we eat, then I’m Bangus – otherwise known as Milkfish. But I’m not that sanitized, boneless small version you see at restaurants. I’m grown. I’m full-flavored and I’m prickly as hell. See that’s the thing with me and Bangús: It will take some patience and effort to enjoy the unique taste we bring.
Every year, a group of tastemakers and trenderati pontificate on what they believe are going to be the top food trends for this year. Whether or not these trends are actually just self-fulfilling prophecies is beyond us. However, one particular “trend” that’s consistently made it in recent years, from Andrew Zimmern proclaiming it the “next big thing” in 2012 all the way up to this year’s list, is “Filipino Food. It’s supposedly going to gain a huge following, an increased appreciation outside of the iconic adobos and halo-halos, and ever more restaurants pushing our heady flavors to the hungry masses. But what exactly does saying Pinoy food is a 2015 trend mean? Filipino cuisine is such a rich topic, full of historical context and ripe with stories that to say it’s a “trend” this year is quite an oversimplification and implies we’re being given a limited time on the proverbial stage to strut our stuff! What does “trendiness” look like? Prolific to the point of cheap Pinoy takeout via Seamless? A Filipino Michelin-starred restaurant on Park Avenue? Whatever your opinion is, we’re just as excited as you for the opportunities Filipino cuisine faces this year!
Elected by a not-as-secret sect of foodies (us….duhhh), we’ve tasked ourself on compiling the next stages in the evolution of the Filipino cuisine and why we believe this is one “trend” that’s going to be around for a while.
To say it was humid that day was an understatement. Having to walk 15 blocks to the supermarket in a polo and jeans, walk back with several bottles of patis and coconut oil, and then proceed to cook in a sweltering kitchen with an industrial size oven and gas range on full blast? Yeah…humid my ass. It was in these conditions that I first met Sarahlynn of Filipino Kitchen (and a few months later, her co-conspirator Natalia) as I sous chef’d (is that even a verb?) for my friend Yana Gilbuena of the SALO Series (covered said dinner here and a previous one here). We didn’t speak much. Just a few pleasantries and some polite commentary on the bangus that was dripping its guts onto my arms.
It wasn’t until several semi-chance encounters here in NYC and in Chicago when the thought of collaborating came up. I’m an automatic supporter of food bloggers and side hustlers and when we got into a conversation around Filipino food culture in the middle of a loud beercade in Lakeview, Chicago, I had a feeling we were going to be working together soon. Well that soon is right now and without further ado, I’d like to introduce our first post in this #FKEDUP series care-of the Filipino Kitchen gals featuring the best Pinoy eats of 2014. (Disclaimer: this list is neither comprehensive nor definitive…that’s where you come in! Think anything’s missing from this list? Let us know!) Let’s get to it!
Oh wow…it’s been a good minute since my last post and boy let me tell you…it feels like I’m starting over again!
For those who’ve been asking me what ever happened to the blog and what culinary adventures I’m been throwing myself into, suffice it to say that it’s been a wild ride and perhaps I’ll write about it some other time.
For now, just know that the Errant Diner is back and has some straight up delisyoso news! I’ll now be posting on the regular and the blog is back in business!
(Note: for pictures and more info on our co-conspirators, check the links below!)
You mind can really fuck with you while washing dishes. When you’re elbow-deep in soap, your fingers caked in coagulated fat, and your shoes are unrecognizable in a thin coating of rice flour and flecks of slimy basil puree, your mind has no other option but to transcend the cramped dish room in order to escape the combined smell of burnt cookies and leftover shrimp. Once again, I had forgotten to eat anything today save for the occasional taste test and in my hunger-induced dizziness, I glanced over my shoulder to the remaining hardcore friends who formed a dishwashing brigade in the now empty loft. “What the hell are we doing?” One of us just missed two days of work and a much needed paycheck, another had a flight in a mere few hours, one was a dinner guest conscripted into cleaning duties. Just a few minutes ago, we were surrounded by supporters praising us for the wonderful dinner but here I was trying to feel the elation I thought I would be experiencing and finding it oddly missing. Yep…washing dishes can definitely put you in a rather pensive state.
One-man service (c/o Abdul “DJ Douly” Abdirahman).
But I’ve skipped forward quite a bit. It all started months ago when the iron grip of my day job slowly loosened and after months of scheming, I was itching to finally throw a dinner that didn’t involve my apartment’s poor lighting and mismatched plates. And so with a bit of youthful recklessness and some unresolved bitterness to regain my rightful place in the kitchen, I booked a date at Suite ThreeOhSix’s classy loft in Tribeca to host Hidden Apron’s inaugural pop-up dinner. It took mere days before thoughts of dishes took over the last remaining brain space I had.
Guest Chef Yana Gilbuena of the SALO Series.
I dreamed of breads during breakfast, compotes during commutes, offal at the office, jellies at the gym, and sauces in my sleep. I caught myself staring at blank walls imagining multi-course menus and flavor profiles and soon enough, the scribbles made their way onto life-size post-it notes that covered my bed room wall. I went to work an hour earlier and slept an hour later agonizing over every last detail: Can a hollow croquette keep its form? What if people don’t like raw fish? Will diners eat with their hands? Every last detail was pored over that I knew nothing could possibly go wrong…
Kitchen crew. S/O to Bertha for the last minute assist!
(All references to people are made in jest. They don’t pertain to any specific person so don’t even try playing the guessing game on this one.)
So it’s a new week and there’s plenty to celebrate: it’s Tuesday (yeah my coworkers hate me for actually enjoying Mondays and Tuesdays), it’s almost August (fewer sweaty days on the subway), and it’s Eid (Eid Mubarak to everyone who’s celebrating…esp my roommate who can finally eat out again)! I haven’t had a good rant in a while so since I’m feeling particularly energetic, do indulge me as I get something off my chest real quick.
It really irks me when someone tells me they’re “too busy to eat breakfast”. Really dude? So you don’t have 10 minutes to get some much needed nutrition for the day but somehow have enough time to dick around Facebook for 20 mins. when you wake up? Oh that’s precious. I’m not even talking about a full continental breakfast complete with artisanal jams and breads baked in some hipster outpost in Greenpoint, a simple piece of toast perhaps? Boiled eggs? A goddamn protein shake?! But noooooo….you’re such a busy person whom the world so depends on that global catastrophes would befall us should you choose a bagel over saving the world.
Coz if Spidey can cook…
I call bullshit. There’s absolutely no way you’re too busy. In fact, you’re probably lying in bed right now hating Monday and it’s twisted sibling Tuesday. But I believe in you…you’ve got some semblance of humanity in that coffee-addled brain of yours so I’m going to be nice and teach you a quick and easy way to bang out a couple of breakfasts so quick you’d put the local deli guy to shame. The real trick here, oh Busy One, is to cook in advance, in large batches, and in hearty styles….but you knew that already since I saw you stuffing your face with that 2nd donut you claim is the only quick thing you can buy around here. So lemme drop some breakfast wisdom on how you can pull off a bomb meal in record time and still have time to pine for the dream job you always said you’d find one day.
Sure you do!
Enter the Frittata. Now most of us have seen the frittata on brunch menus or the generic Italian lunch spots and it looks like a cross between an omelette and a quiche (it does stand for “egg cake” after all). Sometimes warm or cold, it’s filling and can be made with anything from ham, vegetables, or some payday-worthy stuff like quinoa and kale. I kid you not this whole thing will only take 10 minutes of active work on a normal night to produce and the only limit is how fast your mouth can devour it. Hell…it’s so easy I won’t even bother numbering the steps!
(Talenti Gelato e Sorbetto is located in Bryant Park on 40th bet. 5th & 6th, open from 11:30 AM – 8 PM, only open through summer)
Fellow desk rats! Short update since New York weather has been blessedly gorgeous as of late (not hot enough to plaster you in sweat, enough of a breeze to blow the smell of Wall Street back). The stand previously occupied by Magnum Ice Cream Bars last summer has been replaced by Talenti Gelato e Sorbetto (bonus points: they’re from Minneapolis!). I was initially disappointed seeing as the decadent and guilt-inducing Magnum bars were a solid pick-me-up on days I stared longingly outside between marathon Excel runs. However, a quick look-see on the brand (which doesn’t seem to have a backstory on their website leading me to think they’re secretly owned by Nestle or some other conglomerate) shows plenty of ecstatic customers, enticing flavors, and a focus on proper ingredients and methods.
The server said they rotate flavors every week and a half or so. Great! Since the flavors currently on sale skewed more towards the “warm” and “hearty” (think caramel, dark chocolate, peanut butter) vs. light, summery ones (the Alphonso Mango on their website sounds bomb!), I bookmarked the place for a 2nd or 3rd try. Yes…I’m unabashedly using an excuse to go back multiple times.
A single scoop goes for $4.5 and a double goes for $6 (I think…the sight of frozen desserts usually short-circuits my capacity to remember important details). The scoops are generous, they’re open till 8 PM, and they’re an official sponsor of the movie nights in the park! The only downside is that some of the flavors had visible ice crystals on it, causing a slightly unpleasant “freezer-burn” feel to the Southern Butter Pecan scoop I got.
A second try perhaps? Anyone in the New York area want to test all their flavors with me?!