Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Anyone can cook


Overnight oats for breakfast, Vietnamese porridge for lunch and prawn pasta for dinner. It was indeed a gastronomical experience in my house today. Something worthy to be proud of because cooking was never my forte and yet here I am proving to you Gusteau's motto "Anyone can cook". It's real, the motto, not character though. Gusteau is a fictional character form Ratatouille an animated movie by Disney/Pixar.
Vietnamese Spinach porridge (for recipe click here) 

This is a big deal for me because I was never successful in all my attempts at cooking in the past. I believe it was because there was no need for me to cook. There was always someone else in charge of cooking whenever my mom was away.

Even when I left home and attended boarding school,  I was not enticed to join other girls from my dormitory in their cook-off sessions because unlike me, who could stomach whatever awful and funny looking food that was served in the school cafeteria, they had a skill they could rely on and not get food poisoning at the same time.

Things changed once I was living in a foreign land with meagre allowances. In the beginning I was doing pretty well with my new meal plan which included cereal for breakfast, cereal for lunch and unsurprisingly cereal for dinner! For many months I was surviving on Cheerios and full fat milk because these were dirt cheap and the boxes of Cheerios were huge! And if you buy near-to-expire-date, that's another huge savings!

Although I was pretty happy and contended with my meals, I knew there was no sustainability in them. That's when I decided to join my housemates and chip in my time and effort for home cooked meals. There was a huge duty roster and each of us were tasked to cook dinner for the day.

Since it was quite clear that I had no basics in cooking, I was given one week to watch and learn tricks of the trade from my housemates, who by the way were seasoned cooks by then! "Hmm, this isn't so hard" I thought out loud and requested to start as soon as possible because frankly, it was dead boring watching them cook and I just wanted my evenings back to myself.

First attempt

After 4 long evening watching and learning, I felt very excited and rather equipped to prepare dinner for 6 people. I was even given a recipe and step-by-step instructions by one of my roommates, so nothing could go wrong. Everything was going according to plan, my rice was perfect and fluffy and the vegetable were cooking just right in the wok. But when I read that I had to add cooked rice to the vegetables, I panicked because it was quite impossible to mix 3 cups of cooked rice with the vegetables in my tiny wok. So it was white rice with mushy vegetables for dinner!
That was the first and last time I had to cook for my housemates. Instead of kicking me out, I was assigned with dirty dishes duty everyday and I happily took it because it was a much better option than having cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner again.

The new bride

Traditionally in my culture a new bride is suppose to cook a sweet dish and present it to her new family but luckily for me it was just my husband and I in our new home. Although the house had an equipped kitchen, we ate out a lot. So another learning opportunity forgone and it didn't matter to me at all. But all that changed the day some friends came over for a late night football match and these fellows insisted I made them tea as they are so used to having mamak tea while watching a match.

To my surprise there were tea leaves in my pantry so there was no excuse for not serving tea. After half hour I managed to come up with a decent looking jug of aromatic tea or so I thought. Until today I am not spared the agony of my tea blunder and am constantly reminded how awfully strong and bitter my tea was. They will humour me with their tongue scrapping actions saying that the tea I made has permanently coated their tongues.

Never say never

It's hard to believe I had such a bleak start in my cooking journey but I am glad it did not demoralise or made me fear cooking. I think it was simple because I did not see  need for me to cook back then.
I will not consider myself a seasoned cook until the day I am able to whip up a glorious and nutritional meal by simply rummaging my pantry like my mom does. But I have come a long way and have raised three wonderful mini-me's who are fit and strong, and my husband who still has his taste buds intact despite my tea blunder.

Baby steps

Daily cooked meal has become a possibility in my house thanks to advance planning. It is an activity I do with my whole family. At the start of each week, I go through some recipes and select those which I can cook with minimal effort and ingredients. Then I get my kids to help me decide which recipes they would like to have for lunch and dinner. They help me list out ingredients needed for our bi-weekly shopping list based on the recipes. This is a good tool to teach them planning and avoid unnecessary purchases or shopping meltdowns. It allows me to shop more efficiently and eliminates the instances when in the middle of cooking you realised you don't have the necessary ingredients.

Some may say that planning a meal takes out the spontaneity that makes life enjoyable but I rather have a reliable and predictable meal than try to "wing it" with hopes that the meal served is worthy to be the centrepiece on my dining table.

By planning, I am able to take advantage of a wide variety of healthy meals and select ingredients which are easily available, reasonably priced and full of goodness.  It also makes cooking a lot quicker because I don't waste time standing in front of my fridge gawking at it and tying to make up a recipe as I grab the vegetables stored in it. The biggest benefit to me personally is the ability to answer the annoyingly nagging question "Mom, what's for dinner?" and putting an end to my numerous "I don't know what to cook" calls to my husband.

Planning is time consuming and you might have to dedicate a couple of hours on your first attempt, I kid you not and it's worth it. Once you have your initial layout or table, it's just a matter of changing it's content and it will become second nature once you get hang of it.

Every night before dozing off to bed, I would do a mental check and run through my recipes. This has helped tremendously and I know exactly what to do, be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

This is me, the person who used to spend hours watching Jamie Oliver and Nigella on The Asian Food Network.
So next time if you see someone watching the Food Network religiously but is not able to even fry an egg, let them because you never know when they will turn over to new leaf and start cooking up a storm for you to feast on.

Spinach prawn pasta (for recipe, click here)

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