Ironic chef

Friday, 18 May, 2007

So (somewhat foolishly) I volunteered to do staff lunch this week. I thought, “There's only 12, maybe 13 people. I can handle this.” I've done church dinner before for 45 and Bible study dinner for 25 plus children, and MM is far less complicated (not so many allergies!) So I said I'd make ginger poached chicken plus a vegie stir fry (with tofu!) and spent a fair chunk of time this week planning for it.

I think I should explain about the cooking thing. I can cook. People tell me I'm not a bad cook (in fact, they keep trying to convince me I am a good one). But unlike other brilliant friends of mine, I know I don't speak the language of food. I wouldn't be able to create recipes or improvise or just throw things together. I have to work off tried and true formulations—doing the same things the same way with the same ingredients, perhaps a little differently to the way the original writers of the recipe envisaged (e.g. I don't stand there and stir the stock into risotto—I cheat and make it in a rice cooker) but nevertheless, it's the same just about every time. I do not enjoy cooking—I do not cook to relax or as a hobby, and though I very much like eating food, I cannot say that preparing it gives me much happiness.

Furthermore, the ego thing always gets in the way when it comes to cooking. I'm already quite insecure about my cooking abilities, given what I said above about not really speaking the language of food (I suppose I'd have the language level of a toddler when it comes to preparing food). I had a very potted cooking education. My mother tried to teach me bits and pieces but I resisted because it was during the HSC, I was already doing the dishes and the laundry and taking out the garbage and watering the plants and making my mum coffee in the morning; I really didn't want to add cooking to my list of chores. I thought if she taught me, she'd make me cook. If we had negotiated my release from some of my other responsibilities, maybe it could have happened, but at 16/17, I was definitely not very interested.

But when I finally moved out of home and residential college, I had no choice but to learn. The first dish I ever learnt how to make was quiche. In a way, that's quite surprising because everyone tells me quiche is hard (it so isn't). I don't even remember why it was quiche. I love quiche—I have very fond memories of eating quiche in Toronto (and vanilla ice cream and croissants ... that's another thing Australia is hopeless at)—but anyway, there you go: I know how to make quiche, and people tell me I make good quiche. The rest of the recipes I know—well, the tried and true ones—were picked up through various things—Australian Women's Weekly cookbooks, Maggi cookbook, Ayam cookbook, the occasional recipe from a friend that I have been game enough to try. I have tried other things but I've tried them and spectacularly messed them up, or Ben hasn't liked them, or they required some weird ingredient that I didn't know what to do with. The things I have tried but can't do include: cakes (the one cake I made tasted terrible and sank in the middle), roasts (I aimed for well done and got medium rare the one time I tried. Yes, I know, it depends on your oven, yada yada yada), scrambled eggs (I only figured out recently how to do soft boiled eggs for Ben and even those are a little on the hardboiled side) and rogan josh (much to my despair; it turns out woeful every time).

Like I said, the ego always gets in the way. If I cook for others, it's hard not to take it personally when they don't eat it or when they pick out bits of it and leave them on the sides of their plate. It's even worse when it turns out to be a complete failure (like the time my risotto was crunchy) or when you accidentally poison someone (I haven't yet but the thought of accidentally poisoning all my work colleagues made me want to renege on my promise). I know it's foolish to have your culinary activities so intrinsically tied to your self-esteem, but there you have it: this is why I rarely give out dinner invitations, why I usually don't have much of an appetite after cooking a big meal, and why I'm so cagey about the whole thing.

But anyway, after much chopping and slicing and dicing and frying—most of which was accomplished the day before and Ben helped out by carrying stuff to the car for me, and then John helped me get it into the office, and everyone who walked by commented, “Something smells really good!” when all I was doing was frying sliced onions and garlic in olive oil—it all came together very well. I didn't stuff up the order of the poached ginger chicken, everything was ready at around about the same time, everyone said how much they enjoyed it (even the tofu) and, most gratifying of all, people went back for seconds.

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That sounds great!

I can give you a “foolproof” recipe for rogan josh if you like! You make it like a casserole, and put it on slow in the oven for about 5 hours. I was told that the whole idea of Rogan Josh is that the fat enhances the flavour through slow cooking. It certainly tastes great!

Posted by bron on 18 May, 2007 1:27 PM

hehe after preparing food last night for about 20 kids tonight… hehe I can agree to that foolish statement!!! smile

Posted by Fuzzi on 18 May, 2007 5:12 PM

That’s so cool! Glad to hear it all turned out so well.

In Malaysia we have this soft-boiled egg thingamajig—it comes in two parts. The first part is where you put the eggs in. Then you place it over the bottom container, and pour boiling water in, then close it. The water drips into the bottom container. When all the water has drained out, it means your egg is cooked. They even have level markers so you can figure out how much water you should put in to control how cooked your egg will be. The downside: it does take pretty long for the water to finish dripping…

You can also place an egg in a mug of boiling water, cover the mug, and set a timer. After a few tries you’d figure out the ideal time limit in which to cook the egg. (I love soft-boiled eggs)

I rarely cook despite having a gas stove and microwave oven. I don’t want to cook just for myself, and I figure I’ll learn later if I have to (if I marry!). After all, how hard can it be to follow a recipe? wink

Cooking…heh heh…I love it. My thoughts on it:

I cannot rave enough about http://www.taste.com.au. Australian Womens Weekly Cookbooks are generally quite good - they claim to be triple tested. I find Donna Hay quite good as well: her ingredients usually aren’t too exotic, her recipes generally are easy to make and her food usually tastes good. I have a selection of Super Food Idea magazines as well.

I also like the Whip It Up! section in the Sunday magazine in the SunHerald.

As for making cakes, if you open the oven while the cake is in it before its half-way done, then it will sink. I’ve had cake disasters as well, but go packet-mix if you have to bake a cake! They’re always tasty and not too much fuss.

And go garlic and onions - my housemates often think I’m cooking up a storm when its only garlic and onions frying in the wok.


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