Magic in the kitchen

I love cookbooks! The ones that are thick and heavy with scrumptious pictures of divine-looking foods, with dozens of simple, quick-to-do recipes and recipe names that make you feel like an accomplished chef. I collect them. Not many, but at the moment, still a handful for someone who hardly cooks. I do cook once or twice a week, when I’m back early from work and not too tired to prepare dinner at home. But my recipes are hardly adventurous.  

I would love to be able to cook up a perfect storm, and still leave the kitchen spotless, and the table laden with delicious looking dishes enough to constitute a small palatable feast. Like the cooking sessions you see on tv with the Jamies and Nigellas and Rachel Rays. Its almost unrealistic how fluidly they move around to cook and prepare food in a relaxed carefree manner with the kitchen still looking so clean afterward and the foods so mouthwateringly inviting. I imagine it’s like there are little Cinderella slave mice working in the background out of the camera’s view finder picking on crumbs and spills to help keep the place immaculate so when the camera finally shows the place at the end, its ‘squeaky’clean.

How nice to be able to do that. Oh one can really fantasize these things.

I imagine calling my mum up one day and inviting her over for a lunch course meal of broccoli-cheddar soup with sourdough dips, ciabatta provolone cheese steaks with burrata meatballs, and  for dessert, frozen banana ice cream sandwiches. Top that with raspberry cube lemonade for drinks to tone down the cheeses.

I have these simple, quick recipes that have names that make me look good, except I don’t know how accessible are the provolones and the burratas. Even cubed cottage cheeses are highly elusive. I’d probably have to hike some hills to access some ciabatta loaves too, I mean these are not common breads like the Gardenias and High5s. (I’m pessimistic because I haven’t scoured the land for these items yet and are presumptious because at this stage, there’s no planning, just dreaming). Of course I can always substitute everything cheese to Mozarella, parmesan combo, they’re more easily accessible, but they won’t be provolone cheese steak and burrata meatballs now will they? (excuses, excuses)

You see. Cookbooks bring me joy, much more so than cooking.  And they promise you quick-fix meals that literally means it takes you minutes (not hours) to have them all hot and served on a plate, and the pictures are oh-so-delectable, you have your tongue soaking in saliva just watching them. And if they take longer, they will tell you how long it takes.

They make me dream and fantasize about cooking and making stuffs happen in the kitchen, making magic happens – before reality kicks me in the butt and tells me “dream on sister, you don’t have the flair, or even enough passion to get down and dirty with oil and chicken grease”. Like I said, at this point, its all dreaming stage.

The Husband likes traditional recipes, like rendang asam, pindang tumis, masak cabai and the likes. Things that require whole onions, chillis, oil, sometimes lemongrass, and other traditional seasoning weeds, ginger and generous seasoning in the ‘right amount’; and let me tell you, the ‘right amount’ isn’t always easy to achieve.  He’s a rice eater. A true one, one who needs to have rice to have his system agree he’s had a proper meal. KFC’s colonel chicken rice is the only reason he’s considered dinner or lunch there. Otherwise, its just snack until he has had rice. (I have a strong feeling of certainty that Adam is closely following his Ayah’s footsteps. That little little munchkin is a big big rice eater too).

Me I can go a few days without rice – no problem. Chicken stew and bread, can qualify as lunch. Spaghetti bolognaise (with generous cheese serving) can be dinner. I don’t have an exclusively traditional palate you see, I’m more universal like that. I eat Eastern, Western, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Mediterranian recipes that may or may not always include rice.

One time when I asked The Husband what he wanted for dinner and he said ‘surprise me’, I didn’t go looking for Masak lemak cili api, or ayam paprik recipes. I went straight to preparing stuffs for a complete three- course of non-traditional dishes starting from appetizer (plain potato chips with mango salsa dip), main course (angel hair aglio olio with mozzarella topped herbed chicken parmesan) and dessert (fruit cream with ground pistachio and mini marshmallow). An entirely Italian-Western theme that he cleaned off his plate nonetheless despite the non-existential rice. He even asked to “tapau” the extra for work the next day. That must mean they’re not bad. I’ll be honest, if I can say so myself, for first time, they’re pretty great. Mostly because, Italian-Western food variations are much easier to season in the “right amount”. Much easier to complete with high satisfactory rating.


Had he said “surprise me with with a traditional recipe”, I’d have made a call to my mum or his mum and come up with only one extravagant dish or maybe two simple ones with rice that is probably not going to taste up to expectation , as I imagine (he’s probably going to say) “ only almost as good as the one your mum usually makes”. Almost means, try again, harder, next time, and maybe after the 120th time you might get it just right. It is my feeling that traditional recipes are more challenging as they’re slightly more flavourful  and in need of the right amount of blending of different seasoning sources to make them ‘just right’.

So whenever I dream of magic in the kitchen (of food, and not anything kinky ok), I dream of the less challenging stuffs. The grilled chickens and mashed potatoes, the asparagus soups and nectarine crumbles. Fancy named stuffs that don’t require more science to the seasoning and recipes with absolute measurements.

We’re having a barbeque at my house this weekend, our friends coming over for a partial house warming, gathering and catching up overnight at the new Casa. I won’t be cooking because we have a small lunch kenduri right before that for a separate group, and I anticipate to have my hands full with that and won’t be able to prepare the heavier works of marinating chickens and stuffs for the evening. But I do have a new oven that is begging to be heated up and cooking, and was wondering if I ever have the time to prepare one dish, would beef lasagna go well with barbeque..?? Hmm..

Here I go again, dreaming of magic. Well, let me go dream for a bit more and see whether it can go into planning and actual execution.


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