Monday, September 07, 2009

Kitchen victories

I'm sure you have at least one person among your friends who's a genius in the kitchen. She would look at the pantry or the ref, grab something and chop away, heat the pan or turn up the oven, then out would come something delicious in a matter of minutes. Without ever looking at a recipe.

Well I'm definitely not like that. Once in a while, I would look at the pantry or the ref, debate on whether to get this or that, dust off my collection of food magazines and cookbooks, look for a recipe that would use the ingredients I debated on getting, and before I know it, it would almost be lunch time and we don't have anything to eat. So I would just ask the helper to please fry something quick.

Sometimes, though, I would get to find a recipe early enough, and with a magazine or recipe in hand, I'd walk over to the kitchen, get this or that from the pantry or ref, chop away, heat the pan, then produce something edible and delicious. Of course, looking at the recipe every step of the way.

"You can do this, Karen," I would prep myself. "You finished college and ran a magazine; you can follow a recipe." OK. Rah rah rah.

Today was such a day. Our helper said she'll make fried chicken. Again? I groaned silently. Wait, I told her. I'll make pasta but not the usual bolognese type. I'll look for a recipe.

Alas there was no bacon in the ref for carbonara, nor was there pesto sauce or sun-dried tomatoes in the pantry. Thumbing through an old notebook containing handwritten recipes I managed to collect over the years (from friends, mostly), I saw a recipe for Garlic Chicken, Chinese Style. It says I wrote down the recipe on January 24, 1993. Did I ever cook this? Maybe not because I can't remember how to do it.

The ingredients were all available in the house: perfect! And it seemed more interesting than fried chicken.

So there, in an hour, my mom, my son and I had a delicious lunch. (See recipe below.)

Growing up, I didn't spend much time in the kitchen because my mom didn't either. We always had a helper who would do everything, although once in a while, my sisters would make Italian spaghetti, macaroni salad, brownies and polvoron. I remember my mom making chicken mami one time and it was so good. But she didn't do it again.

When my brother and sisters got married and had kids, my parents would cook something special whenever they would come over for a visit. My dad's a good cook--he knows how food should taste like and can cook without looking at a recipe. He does a mean adobo, nilagang baka with chorizo and baked fish in black bean sauce. My mom can cook, too, but my dad would always point out something wrong in her cooking. Maybe that's why my mom didn't spend much time in the kitchen when I was growing up. My nephews and nieces love her halabos na hipon and beef steak, though. My siblings love her monggo guisado. I love her simple tomato-and-onion omelet and corned beef soup.

Over the years, I'd cook once in a while. Lately I've been trying to cook more often than before for my son. My target is at least once a week. You can do it, Karen. Rah rah rah.


salt and pepper
chicken pieces
6 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 heaping teaspoon cornstarch, dissolve in 3 tablespoons cold water.

Mix cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Roll chicken pieces in the mixture. Deep-fry. Set aside.

Fry garlic until golden brown. Add soy sauce, water, sugar, and sesame oil. Add cornstarch dissolved in water. Mix.

When sauce is thick, put chicken pieces back in. Toss. Turn off heat. Transfer to platter and serve.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Nora Ephron has endeared herself to many women (including me) for her witty screenplays for You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally. So when my friend Ruth said she's selling her copy of Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, I reserved it right away. Warning, Ruth said. Mababaw siya. OK lang, I said. It will be for those wala lang days. Just a few pages into the book, I was already wondering how Ephron was able to pull it off--to get such a book published. There's nothing much to it; just fluff. Ruth agreed. I finished the book, still. Nothing much to it. There are other better books to read.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:12-14