Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My version of Chorizos al Vinagre -- Longganisang Lucban in Coco Cider Vinegar

There were some dishes that I enjoyed in Spain that I instantly knew could be adapted using very  Pinoy ingredients.

One of the best things I ate along the Camino was Chorizos al Vinagre -- served in a charming albergue in the tiny village of Mercadoiro.  The tartness of the sauce, the plump and juicy chorizos plus the large chunks of fresh crusty bread made for a light and refreshing lunch.  
I was still munching on my  Chorizos al Vinagre when I knew that a local longganisa could be used in the exact same way.  I have always thought that among all our local sausages, longganisang lucban is the closest to  Spanish chorizo.  Aside from that red colour -- which comes from paprika for chorizos and (sadly) red food colouring  for longganisang lucban, these sausages share some flavour profiles -- both are garlicky, spicy and also slightly tart.

Because Jay is in Lucban every week, I have a steady supply of longganisa in my freezer.  I also had a bottle of Coco Cider Vinegar.   Longganisa from Lucban and coco cider vinegar make this a truly "Quezonian" dish!

The one thing that bothers me about longganisang lucban is the intense red food colouring which leaches out when cooking. For this dish though, it gave the sauce the same shade that the chorizos al vinagre had.   I'm glad I used the "jumbo" sized longganisa,  the regular ones would have been too "bite-sized" and would probably have disintegrated.
Longganisang lucban in coco cider vinegar is a tasty addition to your breakfast table and a new and delicious way to enjoy this uniquely Lucban specialty.  The longganisa absorbs the appetising taste
of the coco vinegar sauce  and yes, tastes great spooned on your fried garlic rice!

Here's how I made Longganisang Lucban in Coco Cider Vinegar!


One dozen jumbo sized longganisa
About one cup of coco cider vinegar or to taste (I would not use commercial white vinegar as this would give you a very sour and acidic taste)
Garlic and some fresh rosemary leaves
Salt and pepper
One tsp of sugar

How to Cook

Snip off the ends of the longganisa, you don't want to eat those tiny pieces of string!
Pour the coco cider vinegar into pan and let boil over medium heat;
Lower heat to simmer and put longganisa in pan.  Let simmer and prick with fork to
ensure longganisa  absorbs the sauce and cooks evenly.
Add salt and pepper to taste plus 1 tsp sugar;
Remove vinegar sauce and set aside.  Remove longganisa from pan.
In the same pan,  add a little oil and sauté garlic.  Add the longganisa and fry till well done.
Pour as much of the reserved vinegar sauce as you like, simmer for a while and it's done!
Serve hot with fried rice.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Spanish Beef Stew al Vino Tinto

Traipsing and eating my way through Spain  inspired me to try and re-create some of the more memorable dishes that I enjoyed.  Thanks to generous cooks sharing their recipes online, wonderful cooking apps like Epicurious, Cooking by the New York Times and of course the good old reliable Spanish cookbooks long lingering on my bookshelves, I have now been spending more time in the kitchen.

In popular Restaurante Ojeda in Burgos I tasted a very tender and hearty beef stew called Carrilleras de Vaca al Vino Tinto or Beef Cheeks in Red Wine.  The beef cheeks were sliced and cooked in a robust and lusty red wine sauce.  

I ordered the same dish in  Barcelo Hotel in Bilbao where they served the beef cheeks whole and not sliced with a thick rich  sauce that had been much reduced  -- both versions were equally delicious and seemed easy enough to re-create.

Once I got home, I looked up the recipe for Carrilleras de Vaca al Vino Tinto.  At my local Monterey store I was told they did not carry beef cheeks and if I wanted any, I would have to place an order -- and they were still not sure if they could get me any.  Next time, I'll try the wet market where a butcher may have some beef cheeks.
Just for this first time, I settled for a cut frequently used in stews like beef shank or kalitiran.
Shank is nicely marbled with tendons and beef fat and works best in slow cooked  dishes where the tendons melt and break down and thus add to the overall appetising taste.

To help cut some of the "heaviness" of beef,  I used fresh rosemary.  You also need whole garlic cloves, onions and good extra virgin olive oil.

Sauté the garlic and sliced onions and add the sliced beef.  Cook till browned.

Add one whole bottle of red wine, the rosemary sprigs and one bay leaf.  Cover and let simmer until
meat is fork tender -- my one kilo of beef took about 3 hours to cook to my desired doneness.

At the very last minute, I added olives to my stew.  Fried potato wedges go well on the side.
I used Spanish wine but some of the recipes I read also called for some brandy or sherry in addition to the wine.  My version of Beef Stew in Red Wine sauce was much appreciated at the dinner table.
We enjoyed it with slices of a crusty baguette but it also tastes just as yummy eaten with hot rice!

Here's how I made my Pinoy version of this Spanish Beef Stew:


1 kilo beef kalitiran or any other cut good for stewing
1 bottle of red wine
Garlic, onions, bay leaf, rosemary
Extra virgin olive oil
Stuffed olives

How to cook

Slice beef into thick cuts.
Saute garlic and onions till translucent.
Add beef and fry till golden brown.  Season with salt and pepper.
Add one bottle of red wine and let simmer until slightly reduced.
Midway into cooking, add beef broth, one cup at the start and more as needed,  depending on how
thin or thick you want your sauce to be.
Just before you take the stew off the stove, add some olives if desired.
Serve warm with a baguette or sourdough bread.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ham and Bean Stew

One of the dishes I enjoyed a lot in Spain was a bean stew -- which was surprising to me since beans are not exactly high up on my favourite food list.  

But this dish called Judiones de la Granja that I had at El Soportal in Pedraza de la Sierra was an eye opener and totally made me look at beans in a new light.  
This savoury stew is made with large white beans called judiones that originally come from Segovia.  Nowadays I suppose they're grown everywhere in Spain.  Since Pedraza de la Sierra is part of Segovia, it was understandable that this dish was offered as a primero plato or appetiser.
It was such a simple dish but oh so rich and scrumptious --  the judiones were tender and creamy, 
the sauce  had a deep smoky and meaty flavour  -- I was sure it was made with drippings from the cochinillo that El Soportal is famous for.

 I had hoped to bring home a pound or two of judiones but did not get around to it.  So when I wanted to try and make my own bean stew at home, I had to use what is readily available -- dried white kidney beans.

Since I did not have any lavish pork drippings to flavour my stew, I resorted to salty-sweetish Majestic Ham.  I was worried that it would transform my attempt at a Spanish bean stew to a chinese bean dish but I needn't have worried.  It added that smoky ham taste that livened up the kidney beans. I would have wanted a more saucy dish but this was not at all bad for a first try.  Served with toasted melba rounds, it was a delicious one dish meal.

Here's how to make this ham and bean stew:

Dried white kidney beans
Majestic Ham,  chopped -- get the scraps or bits, cheaper and just as much flavour
Garlic,  onions, tomatoes
Chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Bay leaf

How to cook
Soak the beans in cold water for at least 8 hours.  Drain and set aside.
Saute garlic, onions and tomatoes.
Add the ham bits and render whatever ham fat there is, for richer flavour.
Add beans and cook together.
Then, add the stock, enough to cover the beans.  Add one bay leaf.
Simmer on low heat for about 2.5 to 3 hours or until beans are tender and stock is reduced
and slightly thickened.

Serve hot with rice or melba toast, for a lighter meal.

This keeps well and tastes even better when reheated.

Friday, July 31, 2015

#FindIggy -- A visit to the Sanctuary of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Azpeitia, Basque Country

Today July 31 is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.  Just a few weeks ago, we were in his birthplace in Azpeitia in the Basque country.  It was on our "must-go-to" list of places on this last trip to Spain.  

Loyola is a small town near Azpeitia in Gipuzkoa, a province in the Basque Country.  It's less than 
an hour by car from San Sebastian.  For this trip to Loyola, we asked Tours by Locals guide Iker 
to bring us there.

The main attraction in this quiet little town is the Sanctuary and Basilica of St. Ignatius.  

The Basilica, constructed in 1738  is done in the baroque style and surrounded by the rest 
of the complex.  The cupola rises above the facade and is the first thing that I noticed.  
Stone steps lead up to the massive doors.  It is a graceful church but honestly,  I had imagined something a bit grander.

The view from the Basilica is hilly, lush and green.  Plane trees line the front of the churchyard forming that natural green canopy that is so restful to walk under.  There are flower beds and gardens where one can walk in quiet contemplation.

Iker recommended that we visit  the Sanctuary first which stands on the ancestral home of
Iñigo de Loyola who would later become St. Ignatius.

In the courtyard is this sculpture of Iñigo as a young soldier, wounded in battle.  It was because 
of  his injuries that he was carried off  the battlefield and brought back home to Loyola.  This would 
be the  turning point in his life.

These walls are part of the actual house where Iñigo, along with his twelve siblings, was born
into a wealthy and noble family.  The house was built along the lines of a fortress, ready to be
defended against attack.

Inside the house, Iker points out this small hole built into a corner.  This where an arrow can be shot through,  aimed at any would-be attackers.

 This map shows the alignments between the two major families in the region.  The castle  of
Loyola belonged to the Oñaz side.  It was in this setting that Iñigo developed his military interests
and he became a soldier at a very young age.

Jay, who studied in a Jesuit school from kindergarten to university told me that this coat of arms of the castle of Loyola was so familiar -- their grade school uniforms had a patch that showed certain features of the coat of arms, namely  the red stripes and the foxes and kettle.

On the wall above a framed painting of the Madonna and child are the words,  "Aqui nacio" -- 
this is the room where St. Ignatius was born.

And this is the room where as a young soldier, he recuperated from his wounds in battle.
While convalescing,  he realised that his life was meant to be offered to God.  Today, this room 
has been converted to a small chapel where visitors can sit and pray and spend some time with 
St. Ignatius.

The Virgin of Montserrat was very special to St. Ignatius.  After he had dedicated his life
to God,  he made a pilgrimage to Montserrat where he offered up his sword as a symbol of
leaving his previous life. On the left side of the Virgin is a replica of St. Ignatius' sword and
on the right is a typical pilgrim's staff, symbol of the pilgrimage that he would undertake all
his life.

There is a small gallery of stained glass windows that depict the milestones in St. Ignatius' journey.

And here is the  mark of the Society of Jesus, currently more recognisable and familiar thanks to
 Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.

As I walk through the sanctuary, Iker calls my attention to the wooden floors which he said were 
all original, belonging to the castle of Loyola.  I cannot imagine I am walking where St. Ignatius
used to walk.  

 After the visit to the Sanctuary, we headed next door to the Basilica.

Inside the Basilica is circular in shape and is bigger than what the exterior prepares you for.
There is a highly ornamented marble altar and arches on the sides where some of the smaller 
chapels are.

We were lucky that the organ was being played when we visited,  glorious music soared throughout
the church.  Thank you St Ignatius for the musical welcome.

The most impressive part of the Basilica is this dazzling dome right over the centre of the 
church.  An exquisite, intricate chandelier floats above our heads, bringing light and a sense 
of fragility.  A mirror on a rolling stand is useful for taking that perfect shot of the dome. 

These three Ateneans had a wonderful time in Loyola.    It was both spiritually satisfying and
edifying -- thank you St. Ignatius for allowing this to happen!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

18 hours in Bilbao -- My last bites in Spain

After travelling for more than two weeks,  I usually start to feel the tug of home.  But on 
this recent trip to Spain, I lost track of time and didn't even realise I had  been away for a month. 
So much for homesickness!

Before I could say holler another "Hola!" it was time to leave.  We had to travel to Bilbao where we would take our flight home.  There are PESA and ALSA express buses from San Sebastian to Bilbao that take the trip in just one hour.

We arrived mid-day in Bilbao and wasted no time in trying to see as much as we could of our last destination in Spain.  Looking back, I  should have  arranged to stay another night or two but you know what they say --  hindsight is always 20/20.

Our hotel was right along the banks of the Rio Nervion.  A very convenient place for exploring the city.  Care for a river cruise?  Bilboats offer quick tours for visitors.

There's also the ever reliable hop-on-hop-off  Turistikoa bus,  perfect for those with little time
to spare.

We rushed off to Gran Via where all the shops are.  The restaurants are located on the side streets behind the main avenue.  We found Restaurante Nicolas right in the centre of town.   An outdoor table gave us a good view of the week-end lunch time crowd.  Relaxing and people watching are 
best enjoyed with a glass of  txakoli -- salud!

And of course, I just had to have another glass of txakoli to accompany the scrumptious appetisers -- spicy and juicy chistorras,  small cured sausages popular in the Basque country and a plate of golden crisp - creamy croquetas.

Jay enjoyed his solomillo which came with a side of mushrooms, pequillo peppers and 
thick cut fries.  

We had put off shopping for any delicacies until Bilbao. A trip to El Corte Ingles' Club de Gourmet satisfied all my pasalubong needs. 

Late afternoon, we took on the recommendation of the hotel concierge to visit the Basilica de
Begoña, high up in the hills above the city.  He recommended that we walk up, assuring us that 
it was just 2 kilometres but of course, lazy tourists that we were, we took the bus.

I was glad we visited the Basilica. Mainly Gothic in style, this beautiful church overlooking the 
city is dedicated to the Virgen de Begoña, patron of the province of Biscay.  The Basilica sits on 
a site where the Virgin appeared in a vision and is highly venerated by the people of this region.

The interiors are lovely and simple.  There is a wooden floor that follows a slight but perceptible 
and visible incline.  We were lucky to have attended evening mass at the Basilica - a wonderful blessing on our last night in Spain.

For dinner, we decided to stay in our hotel and sample the restaurant.  Barcelo Bilbao has a 
modern and sleek dining room,  functional but not without charm and cheer.

Txakoli, one for the road -- with ensalada mixta.

The hotel menu offered carrilleras de vaca so I had a chance to enjoy it one last time.
Three pieces of beef cheeks in a very pleasing gravy with grilled aubergines on the side,
it was tender, tasty and bursting with umami flavour.

We also ordered chipirones en su tinta or small squid cooked in its own ink.  It's too dark to
see from this photo but the taste was as intense as the black sauce.

I had a wonderful time in Spain -- the Camino, travelling through Madrid and the northern
part of the country was a marvellous and memorable experience.   Finally, after all the tapas,
pintxos, cervezas and txakolis I had indulged in,  this little piggie was ready to go whee! 
whee! whee! all the way home!
Muchas gracias, (ex) Mother Spain!  Until we meet again ... hasta la vista!