November seemed like a very long month this year and I am glad that we have moved on to December because it gives a promise of good cheers. All the months of the year are usually the same for me really. It's just that the month had passed by with too many things happening all at once. What left us very sore is when our 11-year old dog was diagnosed with cancer and died within a week. We took turns sitting with him and consoling him from his obvious pains. All the while, I was hoping to see him stand up and shake away this sadness that overtook his eyes and body. I found it much more difficult to sit down and explain to Riccardo, the best friend who was to be left behind, about letting go when we ourselves had to face the reality that our long time companion was slipping away.
Two weeks have already passed and we are all getting used to Gober's absence. I can't miss the forlorn glances we all give to the empty doghouse where a big, white fluffy face and front paws used to stick out. Even if we take away that house, I don't think I would ever stop looking that way where a big white dog would always welcome us with a wagging tail and barks of hello. Tonight, we all went home and "Ciao Gober" came out from my mouth before I could stop myself. Everyone chimed in. Riccardo reminded me that Gober is already gone. I told him that it felt good to say hello to him again.
When I take pictures of the food outside the house, I usually have an audience composed of an ever pesky bee (yes you read right), a couple of kids who develop eight arms each and a big white fluffy dog with a very active nose and a hopeful pair of eyes. This was the last picture I took outside with a full attendance of my usual audience. I thought it was annoying to keep on flapping my arms to send away that single bee, catching innumerable arms reaching out to the food and props and a hopeful dog on the sideline. I took some shots the other day outside and I missed the little chaos I usually encounter. Strange, even the bee was nowhere around me. I was alone for once.... but I didn't like it. I moved indoors and have not taken pictures outside since then.
This dish is a top-ranking savory meat dish at home. It is actually an adaptation of the Spanish-influenced traditional braised beef in the Philippines called caldereta that I almost never ate but had been always been dying to eat. The traditional recipe uses liver pate' that for the life of me, can never touch. I grew up knowing that it is very good but the liver pate' just repelled me. When I moved to Italy, I replaced the liver with ham pate' and for the first time, after so many years, I was finally able to enjoy it. Over the years, I kept on changing the recipe until I arrived to this one that we love the most. I replaced the vinegar with port and the fresh capsicum with the a jar of good grilled ones. The difference is incomparable.
This is my conclusive version of the recipe. I am not changing it anymore. I can hardly call it caldereta anymore because I had almost completely changed everything from its original context. In my kitchen, it had been reborn as Braised Beef with Port and Ham Pate'.
Braised Beef with Port & Ham Pate'
- 1 cup port
- 1/2 kilo beef shanks, cubed
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 150 g. bottled grilled capsicum, strips
- 80 g. green olives, halved or left whole
- 325 g. canned tomatoes
- a handful of parsley, chopped finely
- 500 ml. water
- salt & pepper
- 1 tsp. black peppercorns
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic, halved
- 2 big potatoes, diced
- 80 g. ham pate'
- 4 bay leaves
- Marinate the cubed beef in port, salt & peppercorns for an hour. Drain. Set aside used marinade.
- Brown meat in a saucepan with hot extra virgin olive oil on medium-high heat. Set aside browned meat.
- Saute' garlic in remaining oil in the saucepan. When it turns golden, add onion. Cook for about 5 minutes.
- Pour the port marinade to deglaze the pan. Cook on high heat until liquid is reduced.
- Put back the cooked beef in the saucepan. Toss for about 3 minutes together.
- Add canned tomatoes, water, bay leaves, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer with the cover on for 2 hours or until beef is tender. Add hot water if the sauce is drying up.
- Add potatoes and carrots. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add grilled capsicum, olives and ham pate'. Cook for another 15 minutes.
- Serve hot with white rice.