Kitchen Duties

My (mis)adventures in the kitchen

The Spaghetti Incident

More than twenty years ago, I was in high school at that time, I told my mom that the spaghetti with meat sauce at our home was not as good as the one over at my classmate’s house.  It’s not everyday that a kid can say that about the cooking at home.  I am not too sure if I hurt my mom’s feelings that day.  Hey, I was just a dumb kid at that time.

***

Looking back, I didn’t realize that I had always been brutally honest since I was a kid.  I always thought that it was a quality that evolved after high school and college.   A “concerned citizen” once recommended that I should try to shut up from time to time because I tend to get too hurtful once I get carried away.

Dissonance, that was how Mr. Kong called it in his article today at the Philippine Star.  I might love to think that I am honest and will speak my mind freely but some might think that I’m just being a major asshole.  That’s dissonance for you.

***

My mom told me to tell our cook/maid about the spaghetti.  An obedient kid I was, I did what my mom told me.  So what did I get out of it?  Well, I can sum up how the cook reacted in series.   She was shocked, probably angry, and ended up giving me a blank stare.  Hey, I was just a dumb kid following orders.

***

Giving and following orders.  Today as a slightly less dumb adult, I can just say that we should be careful in giving out instructions.  Sometimes, that delightful smile and nod of approval you get out of someone after talking to them can also mean “WTF are you asking me to do again?”  In extreme cases, one will have to do something the subordinate was supposed to do.  You’ll end up doing that task instead.

***

So, I explained to our household staff what I wanted.  I guess she wasn’t prepared for all the suggestions.  I can’t say she didn’t try hard.  She just didn’t understand what I wanted at that time.  From then on, I decided that I should learn to cook.  I also embarked on my series of experiments to duplicate the experience but I couldn’t really get it exactly right.

Honestly, twenty years after, I think I’ve already forgotten how the spaghetti at my friend’s house tasted.  The important takeaway from that is that it fueled my desire to learn a new skill — cooking.  At least today, my wallet does not have to suffer much trauma from paying for too much takeaway food.  Even eating out today is more of an educational experience rather than just for the sole purpose of tummy filling.

***

We shouldn’t be just content to copy the experience or duplicate something.  We can always try to go for improvement.

***

I cooked spaghetti for the family last night.  I used crumbled Vigan longanisa, peppers, black olives and diced tomatoes.

An Ignoramus’ Guide on How to Name Your Recipes

Beef Stew

If only I can prepare food that can look this good

I’ve been cooking from towards the end of my high school life till now — a good XX years later.  I got most of my practical experience while I was in college and balanced out my limited skills when I started cooking for my family.  I mainly cook not only to fill the tummy but also to relax myself.  Funny thing, though, I hardly ever consulted recipe books or cookbooks.  All I know is, whenever my family and I ate at a restaurant, we analyzed the taste and tried duplicating the recipe after we get home.  We’ve come up with our own versions of our favorites.  These dishes, you just copy the name of the recipe and pass it off as your version.

Most often that it should be, I usually end up clueless on what to prepare for our regular meals at home.  What I do is just take a quick glance at what’s inside the freezer and pantry.  I try to cook whatever I saw and thought of in under an hour — with my nose and taste buds guiding me — with the limited unschooled cooking skills I have.  It’s kind of a family version of Iron Chef without the assistants, lights and TV cameras.  Now here’s where the tricky part comes in.  What on earth should I call this dish?

Honestly, I’ve graduated from playfully referring to my stews as “Mystery Stew.”   Basically, you can just name it with what the main ingredient is.  If it’s beef, then it’s beef stew.  Simple, isn’t it?  Now if it tastes (and looks) like anything I’ve had before in a restaurant, I adopt the name and tell folks that it’s my version of the dish.

I also have friends who regularly post pictures of their dishes on Facebook.  Although the food looks like it came from a recipe book — the pictures and food look perfect — the naming style is perfectly adaptable.  If you don’t read cookbooks and know a bit of your cooking styles, you can just name your dish in the manner of how you prepared it.  This is the same way that some restaurants do it — pan-fried something or slow-roasted this and that.  So, with this naming convention, the unassuming pork chop prepared in the traditional Pinoy way becomes “Deep-fried Crispy Crackling Pork Chop.”

Another way to do it was how my friend suggested I call my mince meat dish served for lunch yesterday.  I tweeted/ updated my Facebook status as “Cooking with Van Halen playing in the background.”  As she found out what I was preparing, she aptly called my dish “Picadillo Van Halen;”  nice ring to it, agree?  The kids and the wife didn’t Jump out of their seats to escape the meal.

Bottom-line is, even if you’re not a professional chef, you should try to come up with appetizing names for your meals.  It’s certainly better than calling something “Mystery Stew” or “Burned Dead Cow on a Plate.” 😛

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Craving for a Great Empanada

Craving – Merriam-Webster defines it as “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing.”

We all have these bouts of unexplained urges to experience or get a taste of something that may not even be readily available.  In my case, I get these urges almost every week.  From the insane desire to do something totally improbable for anyone deeply tied up in logical & linear thoughts, like feasting on mussels – or its human anatomical lookalike – to an incredible drive to bite into something that is so simple but so flavorful — just like the Ilocos empanada (Vigan and Batac versions). (more…)