Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Something 'bout Spicy.

IN my favorite scene in the movie SIGNS, the camera cuts to Mel Gibson sitting at the head of the table presiding over his family at what he fears is their last meal together before being attacked by aliens. Double bacon cheeseburgers, greasy french fries, heaps of meaty spaghetti, stacks of buttery, syrupy pancakes and milkshakes all around clutter the family table...their hollywood faces stricken with impending doom. Met with the end-- What would you chew?

(a few of my) Last Meals on Earth: No Subsitutions Please!!@**

Mexicali Repast with bubbly and a late night trip to spain

- to some LOUD mariachi with accordions, omalara portuondo & andrés segovia.

  • Veuve Clicquot, Wild Strawberries and Blackberries.
  • Quesadilla con gambas ala parilla, carne asada, cilantro y queso fresco and mango-papaya salsa 'a mano' by someone’s loving abuela.
  • Whole red snapper grilled (deboned tableside), cilantro rice, heirloom black turtle beans, avocado crema.
  • red wine sangria (con banana, peaches and blackberries), rosado.
  • More strawberries, blackberries and french Champagne.
  • all night dancing in the island heat (to renew appetite).
  • churros y chocolate from café san gines, madrid, spain.

Memories of my Italian neighborhood
- to the arias of la Bohéme & madonna’s “borderline.”

Half a New York “Italian” on a roll with pepperocini, o&v, s&p. Side of eggplant parmesan, hot, garlic bread, limonata pellegrino.
3 slices of thin crust cheese pizza (from a wood-fired oven): one regular, one with black olives, garlic and extra tomato slices, the other with escarole, onion and anchovy.
A ½ litre of chianti classico, barolo or brunello di montalcino.
pistachio, chocolate hazelnut italian ice & a florentine cookie.

La Serra Moscato di asti or Bonny Doon vin di glaciere.

An American Melting pot feast with a final nod to Scotland & canada
- to “be bop,” billie holiday and mozart’s adagios, al fresco.

  • Grey goose poire and santa cruz cranberry juice, shaken, a few pomegranate seeds.
  • A litre of sparkling calistoga water.
  • Salad of arugula, friseé, roasted beets, tsatsuma supremes and chevre with meyer lemon vinaigraitte (made from northern and central valley california produce).
  • A few more glasses of sparkling calistoga water, cabernet franc (Rhone valley)
  • Linguine alla vongole, parsely, chili flake and lemon handmade by someone's loving Nonna.
  • Whole Steamed maine lobster, Steak Frites (ribeye and yukon shoestrings preferred)
  • Grilled artichokes, asparagus and fingerling potatoes, meyer lemon aioli
  • Scharffenberger Chocolate pudding, mint whipped cream and/or pistachio and chocolate hazelnut gelato with crushed almond biscotti.
  • Double shot espresso.
  • rest period.
  • Balvenie, double wood, single malt, with gentle massage.
  • A cigarette (export A – extra light silver), with a view. If it really is my last meal...
  • In the end, why not feast... with decadence and abandon!?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to Drink an Avocado: (and other uses for SCM and Avos)

An American friend confided that her Italian host family had served morning toast spread with lard. I’ve heard a similar story about German's and their toast. And, in England they reportedly defile their daily bread with Marmite! How many finicky American teens--privileged enough to study abroad-- come-of-age as they meekly accept the unheard of culinary customs of their foreign host families? Raised as a first generation Filipina in New York, I didn't have to venture far for a different take on toast and jam...

In 1980's New York, faraway culinary traditions were introduced right at my kitchen table where my mom--wielding an old school can-n-bottle opener--punched small, triangular spouts on opposite sides of a can of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. Then, as naturally as breathing, she poured a sweet, creamy ribbon straight onto my lightly browned Home Pride wheat toast. With the thickened sheen of cane sugar cooked with milk, sweetened condensed milk induced a natural high that could turn on a room full of four-year-olds.

A staple of the Filipino pantry, condensed milk-as-condiment is not its only benefit. I realized this while rooting around the cabinets for the first ingredient for my “keepin’ it real with thrifty ingredients” project (see Anew, 2.26). This is my mother’s condensed milk, Eagle Brand (see pic).

And, for the slightly-boho-somewhat-bougie-San Fran-dwelling-girl, there's 'Santini Organic Condensed Milk' (discovered at Rainbow Grocery).

So, what can we do with Organic Condensed Milk?

In the Philippines, avocados do not belong in salad. There’s no guacamole recipe passed down from mother to daughter, deviled crab or shrimp stuffed in avocado halves spritzed with lemon for luncheons or adding a few ripe green slices to your BLTA. Avocado as a savory ingredient is not its primary function in the Philippines as far as I know.

When ripe avocados came to call at our house, mom got out the blender. And, of course, a handy can of condensed milk. You can buy it by the case, you know.

I’m positive avocado mashed with whole milk and brown sugar was part of my infant diet, but it wasn’t until age six or seven that mom taught me how to DRINK an avocado. You should try it!

Avocado Smoothie or Abokado con Hielo

- 2 or 3 small ripe avocados, pitted, flesh scooped out

- 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk, or more to taste

- Granulated sugar, optional

- Crushed ice, optional

- Whole or soy milk or, can be used to thin the mixture

Place ingredients in blender and frappé. Pour mixture into a container and chill. Consistency and sweetness is a preference. It can be a creamy pudding with chunks of avo or it can be an icy treat, blended to a liquid, served with a scoop of crushed ice. Use milk only for a drink that's subtly sweet staying true to avocado's origins. Or, it can be sweeter than Sunday kisses with a full can of s-c-m and only a little ice to cool it down.

Like most of mom’s recipes, I find them more doable once I “organic-ize” them. Santini makes a delicious organic condensed milk. Still has all the fat and sugar you want, but now it’s certified natural and unadulterated sugar and fat. The greener, the better. Yum, yum.

Avocados are a California institution. And, the San Francisco Bay Area takes full advantage of its avocado bounty. Savory and sweet. Raw cubed or blended. There’s avocado ice cream (mom simulated this by pouring her avocado cream mixture into ice cube trays and inserting toothpicks mid-way through freezing to make 'Avo Pops'). And, there's plenty of fresh, flavorful avocado in the Bay Area's sushi rolls and sandwich creations (the ubiquitous 'BLTA').

Then, there’s my favorite Avocado Boba (or bubble) shake, a cold Chinese drink packed with real chunks of sweet avocado and a generous scoop of chewy tapioca balls that sink straight to the bottom, served with a double-wide straw. In the finest sweet and tea shops they replace condensed milk with real cream and cane juice syrup. Tasty.


I decide to cook everything in my cabinets. Not all at once though—

Step by step, jar by jar. Brooding over every paper box and plastic packet, creativity and history will weigh-in against anonymous dry goods. Hunger and imagination will dictate—they always do.

In my college dorm, I was the whiz who could build a dish around anything in your pantry. And, cook it up in a 12-cup hot-pot! Between Stairmaster rituals and devoted hours re-reading Joyce or deciphering Eisenstein, I lifted the hot-pot’s dented, stubborn lid to prepare our humblest feasts:

Oglio e Aglio bathed in a cheap Cab and scented with bay leaves… Chicken and rice with frozen peas, flavored with a precious knob of real butter and reggiano shavings. And, my Special stir-fry: Veggies pinched from the dining hall’s salad bar (bottomless carrots, bean sprouts, snow peas, water chestnuts and more), to the muffled sizzling behind closed doors and the gooey brown dribble of a secret ingredient that swooned my Midwest peers… Asian Oyster Sauce, a staple condiment nestled in my mother’s care packages, that when sautéed had the most inviting aroma.

Today, for some reason: impending recession, food rut, a kind of generic denial of life’s other challenges and concerns approaching me like a wave, I’m compelled to reclaim my thrifty cooking skills—minus the hot-pot, of course.

Maybe this food blog would never be if it depended solely on clever adventures with haute ingrédients. Whatever the reason, I’ll fritter my time meandering the world’s high-end food scene—gaggles of micro-groceries and fine dining beacons, purse ready and emptied to my bittersweet delight--on another occasion.

So, let’s begin. Vamos. Andiamo. C’est parti! And, all that good stuff to come!