Kale/Beef Ragout + Sweet Potato Gnocchi

(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’!

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Mom’s Lazy Dinners: Fish En Papillote (kinda)

My Mom, like every other mother out there, is a hardworking woman.  Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I’d remember how she’d get up every morning to sweep the entire house, she’d cook all 3 meals 6 day’s a week, do everyone’s laundry, and scrub the stove like it was going out of style.  As a child, I would look in fear and awe at how this diminutive woman could possess this unnatural energy to do the same thing day in and day out for more than a decade with only the occasional pocket book or cooking show to amuse her.  Of course that unnatural energy I later found out (yeah…I’m not exactly the brightest light bulb in the bunch), was pure unadulterated Love.

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But she had her moments.  Looking back, I knew which days she wasn’t in the zone; when the energy just wasn’t quite there.  Looking back at her dinners, I could tell which days she wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest her tired bones.  Those days were the ones where her dinners had less than 6 ingredients and minimal prep.  Those days were not the ones where she pressure cooked ox tail for 2 hours to make her rib-sticking soup, or the ones where she baked multi-layer Shepherd’s Pie against the protests of my Filipino-to-the-core father’s taste buds that craved rice and soup.  Those were the days when she stuck a fish in foil, threw it in the oven, and simply called it “Baked Fish”.

The more bougie of us know this as “Poisson En Papillote” or “Fish in Parchment”.  Of course our version utilized a Filipino sentiment, swapping the parchment for foil and favoring the cheaper milkfish.  A truly bare bones recipe, this one is perfect for the end of a tiresome week when all you want is some peace and quiet.  Less than 30 minutes to cook and because of the perfect balance of acidity and fat, you get comfort without all the effort.  It was a dish that said: “I’m dead tired, and yet I will feed you the very best”.

Let’s keep this short and simple…

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The Power Pre-game: Spicy Sausage Gravy, Eggs, and Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits

To the few readers I have in the States (and that one random one from Myanmar): I’m currently vacay-ing in the Philippines.  WiFi sucks.  This blog post is long overdue!  Hopefully I can write a little more frequently once we transfer from our hotel to our actual house.  Till then….

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(DISCLAIMER: The author’s views are simply his own.  All opinions regarding the consumption of alcohol are merely anecdotal, have absolutely no scientific basis, and if you’re the type who would turn your nose up to such opinions and think “Hmph!  Kids these days”, then you good sir/madam, are in need of a very stiff drink.)

Homemade Cheesy Bacon Buttermilk Biscuits w/ Sausage Gravy and Eggs.

Homemade Cheesy Bacon Buttermilk Biscuits w/ Sausage Gravy and Eggs.

 Pre-gaming.  It’s an art.  Or at least it should be.  One cannot simply take an indiscriminate number of shots a la college frat party and there are various other factors to take into account.  Do you start with dark liquors?  Beer?  Does it matter?  Should you consume as much as you can now and sober up slowly throughout the day?  Or should you slowly increase your rate of consumption to ensure you make it to the afterparty before knocking out in a blaze of glory (or shame)?

To be honest…I don’t know.  As long as the everyone’s happy (not sloppy), I guess it doesn’t really matter does it?  BUT…us gastronomes and food lovers know that the food at the pregame is just as important!  Such was our focus last weekend at the annual sh*tshow   slopfest   drunken revelry  Festival known as SantaCon.  An all-day pub crawl where hipster Brooklynites link arms with bro-tastic bankers, don red suits, and attempt to get their faces to match colors with said apparel.

It was going to be a good pre-game (our friend Tia even brought quiche…who do you know eats quiche at a pregame?).  What with this being my last day cooking in NYC before flying back to the Philppines, the first time I cooked with my friend Ricky in a long time, and Chelsey of baking blog Little Paula Deen fame (and collaborator on a previous post on Filipino-style pork belly sliders) coming back for a second collaboration.

Beats beer-soaked Doritos any day.

The quiche: beats beer-soaked Doritos any day.

On the menu: homemade cheesy bacon biscuits topped with spicy jalapeno sausage gravy and Mediterranean-style eggs.  This was a strategic and carefully thought out plan: absorbent carbohydrates from the biscuit and gravy, sausage fat to line the stomach, filling protein, and dehydration-preventing sodium.  Elements to ensure that every mimosa, beer, and questionable liquid intake was enjoyed and not squandered on a dingy dive bar bathroom.  The recipe is simple, quick to make, even quicker to consume, and wards off the New York cold (term used loosely) like no other.  Let’s get started.

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The Errant Diner x Little Paula Deen: “The Manny” (Pork Belly Adobo Slider)

I’ll admit it.  I’m one of those guys who loves office potlucks.  In the age of Seamless deliveries, it’s very rare to taste home-cooked food at the office (or at least for those who take the effort of bringing something home-cooked).  It used to be that people brought casseroles or roasts to the office or made large platters for office functions.  Even worse, with 2 of our 3 meals being takeout during Busy Season, a departure from the mass produced is a welcome break.  And yes, I’ll also admit to loving the opportunity to show off a bit and attempt to feed people other than the roomies.

The Canvas

The Canvas

 “+”

The Filling

The Filling

Our department just held its Annual “Best Ethnic Recipe” cookoff and I couldn’t pass up the excuse to throw down in the kitchen.  Problem was, Filipino food isn’t exactly the prettiest food out there.  Plus, how to introduce people to concepts beyond the usual Lumpia and Pansit (more Chinese than Filipino…but I digress)?  To put my own spin on “Fusion Food”, I decided to make a Pork Belly Adobo Slider topped with some home-made Achara and sandwiched in a fresh-baked Pan de Sal.  And since boxing legend Manny Pacquiao was about to fight Brandon Rios (I know we all wanna see Mayweather but again…I digress) a few days later, I dedicated this flavor powerhouse to the Pac-man.  

What better way to get the powerful flavors of Pinoy cooking into the mainstream than through the popular slider?  The pork belly was braised in a soy sauce-vinegar adobo sauce and then broiled to crisp the skin.  To help cut the buttery fat, I pickled carrots and daikon radishes to make Achara, the Filipino take on the usual slaw…except sweeter. But the real kicker was the bread, the blank canvas, the foundation of this epic meal-to-be.  I wanted a fresh baked Pan de Sal, the ubiquitous Filipino roll.  Soft, simple, goddamned comforting.  Problem was…I hated baking. I just can’t bake (probably stemming from some deep-seated trust issue but that’s another story).  So I called up my friend Chelsey who happens to work some real baking magic and asked if she can bake a batch.  Not only did she agree, she insisted on baking it the morning of.  If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

The Errant Diner x Little Paula Deen

The Errant Diner x Little Paula Deen

Check her recipe (and her amazing baking blog!) out here.

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Just Hold On We’re Going Home: Soul Food @ Kountry Kitchen

“You ain’t from these parts are ya?”. My admittedly stereotype-prone mind imagines this is what most folks would be thinking when a car full of my brown brethren roll into a Midwestern town. I imagined old farmers in denim suspenders and a Southern drawl (see? Stereotype). As a child I imagined their stares of mild curiosity and borderline suspicion. I remember family friends recounting how the patrons of a local bar would stare at them for being the only colored people around. I remember once walking into a small-town diner in northern Minnesota and having locals not-so-discreetly take pictures of us with wide eyes. All these small, local eateries that people spoke so highly of felt intimidating. Like somehow Guy Fieri forgot to tell me that I’d have to be either a local or well…at least look like them to truly enjoy these diners, drive-ins, and dives.

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These thoughts flashed into my mind as we drove around a roundabout in downtown Indianapolis for the umpteenth time in search of a restaurant that would both feed us some happy food whilst being OK with a bunch of bedraggled, sleep-deprived, mildly hungover, vagrant, colored youth breaking bread. It took several minutes of Yelping (and taking yet another turn around the roundabout) before we finally found a spot. It had us sold the minute we saw the name. Kountry Kitchen. I mean, first of all, who replaces “C” with “K” besides the makers of the ridikulously epik Mortal Kombat? This place must be a temple of badassery. Second, Yelp classified it as “Soul Food”. Third, Obama licked his plate clean there. That’s all it took for us to forgo our 20th go around the roundabout and head straight for this dig for some soul-feedin’.

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