Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Color of My Summer

Yesterday, it was a beautiful day. I was attending to my garden and I couldn't help myself but take pictures of the Asian veggies growing in my tiny garden space. I just a few took shots with Kodak Easy Share C613, I bet my shots would be better if it was taken on a DSLR camera - another wish list.

Then later on my son and I explored the compound for other picture worthy scenes. There was plenty of things to see and I enjoyed that I was sharing this with my 3 year old. I told him the story of how bees cook up nectar from flowers into honey. He loves honey so it was fascinating for him.

Some of the pictures that I took were from my Bok-choy ( pechay ) - they had tiny yellow flowers but I was not expecting to see them this early since they looked small. I also had shots of thistle flowers, the plant wasn't much to look at when it was growing from my space. I had to pull it out too since it was too prickly, but the ones growing in the pond had nice flowers. And there were those tiny lavender wild flowers, they were lovely too. Even the bees agree with me, my son spotted a busy group collecting nectar and that was when I shared the honey story to him.I also took pictures of my son's hand, he found two blossoms of Dandelions and he wanted me to take pictures of them too. I find them really cute.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Baked and Easy Crispy Pata

My Crispy Pata Gallery

Whenever I think of Crispy Pata, my memory would take me back to my mom's kitchen. My mom was a great cook, and she loved it. She is also a great influence in terms of my love food and cooking itself. Crispy Pata whenever it was prepared it would always mean that there's a special occasion. When I was still single I never tried to make it since my mom was always there to whip it up for us.

But when I dated my husband, I later found out how he loves Crispy pata. I myself am a big fan of it. So its always present when there's a special occassion since we moved here. And it can be recycled into other dishes. My definition of Crispy Pata is seasoned whole pork leg ( pata is leg in Spanish ), boiled and deep fried to perfection until the skin is crispy. I have seen my mom make it a couple of times back home in the Philippines but I never realized how challenging it was until I made one myself.

Mommy's Style
My mom said there is a specific sign that you have to look for before you fry the leg. When boiling, you shouldn't overdo it. The skin has to be tender and so is the meat but it shouldn't fall off the bone. When the meat is ready, you can season it again with rock salt. But she always used seasoned water (salt and pepper ) when she boils the leg. And then you can finally deep fry the meat. So this was how she prepares her crispy pata.

First Time
One thing that I try to avoid in my kitchen is deep frying. I find it too messy in the kitchen and too unhealthy. Crispy Pata is comfort food to some but it is very sinful as well. My first Crispy Pata experience was not very good. I don't have a deep-fryer so I had to resort a small deep pan for frying. The results was very impressive, my husband enjoyed it so much. But the preparation left a mess in my kitchen, and I didn't enjoy the oil splattering in my stove.

Bagged and Baked
A few months after that experience I found out from Connie Verneracion's recipe that you can bake Crispy Pata. My second one was baked knowing that it could be done. Though it takes a lot time to achieve the crispy stage of the leg I couldn't complain since I just had to let my oven do the work. So now the deep-frying part which I really dislike can be eliminated. And by accident, I found out that I can eliminate the boiling process too. This happened when I prepared my first turkey for Thanksgiving last year. My friend suggested oven bags for a fool-proof Thanksgiving turkey prep. Oven bags keep the moisture in the meat and it make it tender as well. So there I had my "eureka" moment. And it definitely saved me from the hassles of finding a big pot so it can fit my huge Pork Shoulder Picnic for boiling.

The Recipe

1 Pork Shoulder Picnic not less than 8lbs.
1 Reynold's Oven Bags for 8lbs and up
salt and freshly cracked pepper ( you can add other dry seasonings as well )
meat thermometer
large cookie sheet or baking pan

Preheat your oven to 375 F

Wash the meat and rub desired dried seasonings, place the meat in the oven bag and follow instructions on the bag (varies with the weight of the meat ) (Please Read the Instructions in the Bag, ITS IMPORTANT!)

1st Part
I usually cook mine at least 2 hours @ 375 F until the juices are clear and the skin & meat of the pork is tender, and the internal temperature ( insert meat thermometer at the meatiest part, its okay to puncture the bag) is at least 165F.

2nd Part
Once the meat is cooked, remove bag then put it back on the pan for the second part of baking - skin side up. Sometimes there's a generous amount of meat juice in the oven bag, I keep in my fridge in the container to solidify the pork fat then I remove it. This meat juice is concentrated pork stock that I save for future use. You can adjust the temperature from 350F - 400F (not more than that, as per bag instructions). If you start with 400F, it will brown your meat in a short period of time. Then once golden brown you can lower the temperature to 350F or 375F. This will allow it cook evenly without burning the meat. Check for the internal temp (at least 165F) and if the skin makes a hollow sound when tapped your Crispy Pata is ready*. Remove from oven wait at least 5mins. before serving. Garnish as desired.

If you want a slow and low cooking ( that is if you have enough time ) you can start @ 350F or 375F. It will still yield the same result but only its a longer cooking time. For me, I choose the cooking time that fits me.

*Based on my experience it usually takes at least 4hours to make Crispy Pata. The cooking time varies on the weight of your meat ( based on a Pork Shoulder Picnic cut )so it is important to check the internal temperature with your meat thermometer to avoid under cooking it.

You can do the 1st part the day before or in advance then do the second part on your desired date or occasion. And by the way, about the meat I use Pork Shoulder Picnic cut since its the closest thing I could find that's good for Crispy Pata and the price per pound is a good bargain. Always choose the one with skin. I buy this part at WalMart or Save-a-Lot but if you have a butcher you can ask for the usually Crispy Pata part. And remember to specify with skin since I had a bad experience with that last December. I went to a local meat shop and ordered the part - whole pork leg with the hocks and I specifically asked and noted on the order slip "with skin". The following day they gave me a skinless leg! I said nicely I cant take it since I was specific with my order, the lady said the butcher doesn't want to do anything with it anymore. He said he's fed up of how specific my order was and didn't even apologize. They were so rude and good thing they gave me back my deposit. I never came back to that shop and get my meat elsewhere.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Recycling Food

100_6769 - Share on Ovi

One habit that has been helpful to me back home is shopping for groceries that's good for a week. And I still practice that here. But there are also some few disadvantages that can go with that practice. Since you buy more there's always a risk of having your fruit or veggies to go bad. So I always try to find ways to recycle a fruit or a veggies including cooked dishes.

These cookies are the result of an almost funky 3 small bananas in my kitchen that my family wont eat anymore. I am not a big fan of banana, hubby thinks bananas that have spots are too sweet to eat and my son is not in the mood for bananas lately.

The bananas still look good to me for baking but not for muffins. So I searched for a good recipe online for cookies. At least when they're turned into cookies, I am positive that they will be consumed without hesitation.

The cookies were soft and cakey but was nice, and I really enjoyed making it with my son. He sprinkled the chopped walnuts and mini - morsels. When he proudly mentioned to his dad how helped me in the kitchen, it was so amusing. I made some adjustments with the recipe :

1/4 cup of each - raw wheat germ & rolled oats to replace the 1/2 cup of flour  
(recipe calls for 2 cups of all - purpose flour
1/2 cup of each - chopped walnuts and mini -morsels.
1/2 cup of each brown sugar and white for the 1 cup of sugar

At least now, I have an alternative to banana cake, banana muffins and banana bread. And with cookies, you can be confident they will be gone soon. 

Shown here are dishes that I have made and recycled into something else:

Click the slide to view the album with full picture and descriptions