Xáncho: The lazy cook’s best friend
FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi (The Philippine Star) - January 30, 2014 - 12:00am

Even the most proficient cook, diehard foodie and super homemaker have their off days. There are just those moments when you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed or downright lazy and can’t be bothered to whip up a decent meal. Sometimes even opening a can of beans is a chore!

I normally stock my pantry with all sorts of heavy, legume-based soups, which I improve with sad leftover vegetables from the ref and bits of ground beef or chicken, some spices and fresh herbs to make sort of hearty chili con carne. I’ve become an expert at analyzing whatever odds and ends I have to come up with something easy. But I have to admit that there are times when you want something with a little more consistency and, well, couldn’t be bothered to think.

Rather than order takeout or eat straight from sad, processed microwaveable fare, my dear cousin Marco Rodriguez has given us lazy bums a delicious, home-cooked way out — the culinary “get-out-of-jail” card in the Monopoly of life.

Inspired by his travels and driven by a delirious passion for food, this corporate executive exchanges his snazzy tie and crisp shirts for chef’s whites as soon as he gets home to toil away over a large bubbling pot of stewed, hearty goodness. His very first food venture — Xáncho — is comprised of three recipe seasonal menus, 100-percent-homemade with love, portioned good for two and frozen with care, ready to be reheated when the necessity arises.

“My dishes are based on traditional recipes inspired by my travels,” Marco says. “And while I put my own signature spin on them, I don’t try to modernize the dishes but honor its integrity. A lot of thought and research has to go into making each dish. The ingredients, the composition … they all have to hold up to being frozen and reheated, and in fact, some of them taste better as the flavor intensifies.”

Xáncho was originally intended to be his son Alejandro’s nickname, but upon birth, apparently he just didn’t look like a Xáncho. Now the name of his new baby, it also reflects the Mediterranean-driven flavors and his love for Spanish-Basque cuisine. 

His current menu, however, features rustic Italian recipes like Braciole di pollo in salsa pomodoro or Stuffed Rolled Chicken in a slow-cooked homemade tomato sauce and Stracotto di Manzo Peposo or Peppery Italian Beef Stew, a recipe dating back to the 15th century from the town of L’Impruneta.  He also ventures further east with a Turkish meatball dish — Kofte and Hunkar Begendi. The tender meatballs are flavored with dill and cooked in a smoky tomato-eggplant purée sauce.

“Every seasonal menu will have a beef dish, and I only use Kitayama beef, and a chicken dish, plus one more playful and inventive one. I’m currently developing something for Valentine’s Day with a secret ingredient that everyone loves. My wife, Rosanna and I would never go out on Valentine’s Day, opting to enjoy a good meal at home instead. This is a great alternative for everyone out there.”

Gentlemen! It’s time to “cook” for your ladies. Order some Xáncho and make a few easy sides — romance without the stress. Full disclosure is not obligatory, you sneaky ones could even pass it off as your own.

What I love the most about Xáncho’s dishes is that the flavors and dishes aren’t run-of-the-mill. There’s always a sense of travel and exoticism, and they are sophisticated enough to serve to guests for an easy dinner party. They are also reasonably priced and well portioned, which makes everything easy to calculate. This season’s chicken dish is at P530, the Turkish meatballs at P550 and the beef short ribs at P580 — all good for two if served with a side. In the following recipes I’m going to show you how to take one of these dishes and make it your own with three easy sides that are impressive enough to wow any last-minute guests.

* * *

The ‘fast’ mediterranean feast

When composing a menu around a pre-ordered item, always look at the flavor profiles and the type of cuisine. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a haphazard table with a Sicilian chicken stew, lumpia, kare-kare, Caesar’s salad and chocolate mousse. It doesn’t make sense and the flavors will clash. Always try to build around one or two main dishes and take your inspiration from there. You want things to be harmonious and not confusing.

For example, you could take the Italian Peppery Beef Stew and the Stuffed Chicken, serve it with a simple pasta agli e olio, a fresh Caprese salad and prosciutto with melon, finishing off with a store-bought tiramisu or lemon sorbet topped with limoncello and fresh strawberries so you can complete the Italian theme. I took the Turkish meatballs and paired it with a roasted bell pepper and feta salad, tabbouleh, some citrusy dilled couscous with toasted pine nuts and for an easy dessert, plain yogurt with honey, pistachios and dried cranberries. For a super-easy weekday meal, I would nix everything else and just serve it with the couscous. Prepped and ready in five minutes.

As a rule, when serving pre-prepared and ordered food, never just reheat and serve straight out of the box; always try to add some fresh herb garnishes to brighten the dish. Also, it will taste infinitely better if you reheat it slowly over the stove rather than in the microwave.

 

CITRUSY HERBED COUSCOUS WITH TOASTED PINE NUTS

Serves 2

1 1/2 cups couscous

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tsp. fresh chopped dill

1 tsp. fresh thyme (you can use dried but fresh is much nicer in this recipe)

1 tbsp. pine nuts

Some paprika for garnish

Water

 

 Cook the couscous according to the package; however, I have a foolproof method. I place couscous in a bowl, sprinkle some salt and drizzle some olive oil. Then I pour in some boiling water to a level that is almost the same as the couscous, just 1-2 millimeters above the couscous. Then I cover the bowl with a plate and let the couscous cook and steam for about 5-7 minutes. Then use a fork to fluff it up, adding more olive oil and salt if necessary. Season with the lemon juice and the dill. In a dry pan, toast pine nuts till golden brown and mix with the couscous. Serve garnished with some paprika.

 

Roasted bell pepper with feta

Serves 2

3-4 red and yellow bell peppers depending on size

Olive oil

2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

2-3 tbsp. crumbled feta

A pinch of dried thyme

Fresh parsley for garnish

Fresh cracked black pepper

 

In a roasting pan, place bell peppers lying down and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven, set on broil on high heat (you could use a toaster oven). Roast the bell peppers till soft and slightly charred. Flip them over to roast the other side as well, approximately 10 minutes per side depending on the strength of the oven. Allow to cool. Peel and remove seeds and stems. Slice into large strips and toss in a bowl with some black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Arrange on a platter and crumble feta on top. Garnish with the thyme and parsley plus drizzle a little more olive oil. (Note: I don’t salt the bell peppers because the feta is salty enough. I love the contrast between the sweetness of the roasted peppers, the acidity of the balsamic and the creamy saltiness of the feta.)

 

Quick and easy tabbouleh

Serves 2 as a condiment

Tabbouleh is usually made with some cracked and cooked bulgur, which can take a little long to make. A cheat version is to nix it completely or replace with a teensy bit of your cooked couscous.

 

1 1/2 cups chopped parsley (I use a mix of flat-leaf and curly parsley, flat-leaf for flavor and curly to lower cost and add volume)

1 large salad tomato or 2-3 native tomatoes cut into small cubes (concassé)

1/2 small red onion, minced

Juice of one lemon

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp. cooked bulgur wheat or plain cooked couscous

 

 In a bowl mix all the ingredients together and allow them to sit for around 10 minutes to let the flavors marinate and blend together.

* * *

To learn about Xáncho’s latest menus please follow Marco on Instagram @marcorodriguez12 and Xáncho’s Facebook page: Xáncho (please note the accent). You can also call or text 0917-505-4572 and 0906-255-0138 for menus, orders and pickup address.

 

 

COUSCOUS EASY FRESH IEXCL NCHO OIL THEN I
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