Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's cooking?

I am an imaginative cook. I like to IMAGINE cooking. That’s why I have this thing for recipes and recipe books. They trigger my imagination.

I have a HUGE collection of recipes. Some date back to my Home Economics days in high school, and some to my bachelorette days when I started thinking about marriage, but the bulk were collected when I was finally a homemaker.

Today I have several recipe books, a recipe box with my handwritten recipes copied from everywhere, recipe cards from food manufacturers, recipes at the back of can labels, recipes from newspaper and magazine clippings, recipes from friends and relatives, and recipes I had written on various pieces of paper while eavesdropping on other people’s conversation or after stumbling on a cooking show on TV. When I started using the Internet in the mid-90s back in the Philippines, I went crazy over cooking websites and email lists. I printed off page after page of recipes. I still keep these in a binder now gathering dust in my bedroom.

I am a recipe nut.

Unfortunately, my passion for recipe collecting way exceeds my love for cooking. If I were as passionate about cooking, I'd be a great cook. I believe I’m a fairly good cook, but I can do better.

The problem is, or was, after reading all those recipes and cooking them in my mind, I fail to actually follow through. I resort back to adobo, tinola and sinigang and some other familiar dishes which do not require me to do a lot of thinking.

It was only recently when I really challenged my brain to think variety and go out of my default cooking mode. Yes, I have tried and added several new dishes to my culinary portfolio ever since landing in Canada. But it was only in the past, say, two years when I gained and sustained the momentum to cook more and cook better.

As a result, I re-discovered my recipe books. What I’ve been doing is going through each book for a period of time and cooking several recipes in it. Then I move on to another one. I see to it that I cook familiar foods alongside or in between new ones.

I am currently using a cookbook that has been with me from the Philippines. I know I have read it through in the past as shown by my pen markings, but it’s only now that I’m actually cooking recipes from it. It has good packed lunch ideas. So far I have done menudo roll, puto cake, pan de sal, siopao… I can easily buy these things from a Filipino or Chinese store around here and spare me the trouble of kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise. But after doing these myself, I think I prefer them homemade—like I have all the time and energy in the world! Last night, I stayed up till 1 am steaming siopao. This morning, they were gone so fast. Tonight I am doing another batch.

One thing I like with my boys is that they love to eat, which is very rewarding to any cook. They give me instant feedback too. Often they say it with words, but mostly they show it by their mouthfuls. When they like something, they are very vocal about it. But they also give comments like, “Mom, add more salt and sugar in the pan de sal.” “Mom, add more cheese topping on the puto.” “Mom, Make the the siopao bigger!” I have heard a lot more unflattering remarks. I take them all in stride—good or bad.. From these feedback, I make a mental note of which recipes are wonderful, so-so, or never-again.

I still do a lot of imagined cooking, but I am also cooking more real food. Yummm…

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