Pennete and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce

Pennete

My school has just opened it’s new and improved canteen last week. I have taken advantage of the faculty discount and enjoyed the daily lunches.  This has made it a bit easier for me to prepare my home meals. Moreover, I am not easily bored now by what I cook because I only eat it for dinner versus twice a day.  Living on my own has taught me quite a bit about managing weekly menus. It was challenging in the beginning because I was accustomed to prepping family-style meals back home in the States. Vegetables here also go bad quicker - thanks to the lack of preservatives, etc. in the food. Nevertheless, I’ve trained myself to shop for most produce that will be eaten within few days.

This weekend my taste buds fancied a cream sauce dish. Quick, fresh and very easy to prepare. This is quite similar to a penne ala vodka - but I didn’t feel like trekking to the liquor store to get a cheap bottle of Uzbek moonshine so I left it out and it still came out quite good.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box pennete (mini penne) or regular penne
  • 1 tomato - diced
  • 1 13oz bottled tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves for garnish (the basil used in this recipe was fresh from my own plants)
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano
  • 1-2 cups button mushrooms sliced (depending on how chunky you like it)
  • salt
  • cracked pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Recipe:

  • In a stock pot, bring salted water to boil and cook pasta until it’s al dente (8-10 minutes). Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water. When cooked, drain pasta and set aside.
  • Heat a skillet on medium heat and add olive oil.
  • Saute garlic until it becomes aromatic.
  • Add mushrooms and coat them evenly in the oil and garlic. Throw in a couple pinches of salt.
  • When mushrooms are browned, add the tomato sauce. Throw in a few more pinches of salt and cracked pepper.
  • Once the tomato sauce reaches a simmer, add the cream and parmigiano. Stir to blend the cheese and cream into the sauce evenly. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the fresh diced tomato and reserved pasta water, lower the heat, and allow it to simmer for a 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will also allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.
  • In a large bowl mix pasta and sauce together. Roughly cut or tear basil into pieces in the mix as a garnish. Salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy with fresh grated parmigiano reggiano on top, a crusty slice of bread and/or salad. Makes 6 servings. This also goes well with any protein - sauteed italian sausage, bacon, or chicken breast.

Coconut leche flan

Coconut leche flan

These days, aside from red velvet or a dense chocolate cake, I am not a huge cake fan. I do love my custards and pies.  I started making my own leche flan aka crème caramel a few Thanksgivings ago for the annual dinners at my cousin’s place or to take to a friend’s potluck. I wasn’t too sure of how my family made it, so I just tried one on the internet. It came out just “okay” and I soon realized that it is a bit harder than it looks.  One of the faults of earlier versions of my leche flan was the caramel. I tried a few recipes that called for water, and despite using extremely high heat, it would always crystalize and never caramelize properly.  This would then create problems when it was steamed together w/ the custard. It always came out crusty tasting. Gross.

Last Christmas, I asked my Auntie Ester for the trick w/ hers. When I told her what I did before she chuckled and simply said - forget the water. Just use all sugar. It was smooth sailing from then. I then moved away from the standard condensed milk/evaporated milk combo and into using coconut milk. It results in a creamy flan w/ a hint of coconut. A winner at parties I’ve brought it to and completely gone within minutes when I took it to work a few months ago (pictured above before the attack). 

Ingredients:

  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1.5 cups regular milk. (Regular milk can be omitted for a denser flan) 
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Grated rind of lemon or lime (optional)
  • 1 cup of sugar 

Custard:
Beat eggs then add milks, rind, and vanilla until properly mixed together and smooth.

Caramel:

  • Spread sugar in a Pyrex or aluminum pan and place directly on low heat on stove. 
  • Melt sugar and swirl container as it browns so it doesnt burn and stick to bottom. 
  • When it is a nice amber color, take it off the heat and swirl it so it gets onto the sides of container. 

Steaming:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Pour custard through a strainer in caramel container and cover with foil.
  • Place container in large baking tray that can hold water
  • Put this in oven then pour 1.25 inches of warm water into tray to make a Baine Marie (water bath)
  • Steam for an 1 hour or until fork stuck into middle of flan comes out clear
Remove the flan and cool to room temperature or refrigerate. Run a dinner knife around the edges to loosen it and flip it over a flat serving dish. Enjoy!


Adobo - The National Dish

Chicken adobo

For all extents and purposes, adobo, is the national dish in the Philippines. You will see this on every menu in a Filipino restaurant and made in different ways, using various proteins.  Certain regions like it very tart or stew it in vinegar/soy sauce, while others prefer it with hardly any tang at all.  The key to this dish is the base - garlic, vinegar, and cracked pepper. This is used in many Filipino stews. When I quizzed my grandmother and other family members about the prevalence of vinegar in our stews - the answer was quite simple. In the days without refrigeration in a hot, humid climate, preparing food with vinegar as a base helped keep it from spoiling too quickly. To me, adobo is an everyday dish and the leftovers always seem to taste better than the first batch due to sitting in the juices. One of my favorite breakfasts since I was a kid - is leftover adobo reheated on the pan and served w/ scrambled eggs over rice.

The key to any Filipino dish - is cooking by sight/taste/smell - which is the way I learned to cook. The recipe below is just a guide - so adjust according to your taste.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1kg chicken thighs (or protein of choice - pork is usually my favorite, but not easy to find in Tashkent)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 kg potatoes - peeled and quartered.
  • 2 bunches of spinach
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  1. Peel garlic and mash it w/ the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle.
  2. Heat a heavy-bottomed casserole or skillet to medium heat and add vegetable oil.
  3. Add half of onion and garlic/peppercorns until they start to sweat.
  4. Add half of the vinegar to the pan.
  5. When vinegar becomes aromatic, add the chicken.
  6. Make sure chicken is coated in the onions/garlic/peppercorns and cover the pot.
  7. Turn down heat to low and let the chicken simmer until cooked.
  8. While the chicken is cooking, heat a small skillet w/ 1 tbsp oil.
  9. Cook the remaining garlic/onion/peppercorn and vinegar w/ the soy sauce. Add this to the pot once it is cooked.
  10. Fry the potatoes (or bake them at 375 for 10 minutes) ‘til they are crispy. Drain the excess fat and add them to the cooking adobo. Some people just add the potatoes in w/o frying, but my family has always preferred the extra crunch.
  11. Prepare the spinach as a side dish - I just cook it down in the same small skillet so it can pick up some adobo juices and serve it as a separate side to add some greens as a meal. If I can find it at the markets, I also like to use bok choy for this.
  12. Serve your adobo w/ steamed white rice and as an added bonus, a little atchara to enhance the bite.