I have just put some quinoa on to cook. Quinoa, which I pronounced phonetically for ages to the snorting delight of many a sophisticated foodie no doubt.
In an effort to branch out culinary horizons and pursue healthy eating habits, my kitchen cupboard includes said keenoir, bulgar wheat, brown rice, wild rice, spelt flour, pomegranate molasses, fish sauce, tamarind paste, spicy belacan sauce, dashi stock powder, mirin, coriander seeds, mustard seeds among a plethora of equally tastebud tingling delights.
Admittedly the contents of some jars have had more of an airing than others but just in case I fancy whipping up a homemade laksa or oven roasted chicken with sumac for that unexpected last minute dinner party then you know, there’s a deconstructed version available in my kitchen.
Coming from a family who mostly cook for a living, albeit one type of cuisine, and with a number of friends who have a keen interest in good quality food, (and by good quality, I don’t necessarily mean expensive) I have enjoyed a lot of good meals. Whether home cooked, from hawker centres or high end Michelin starred restaurants.
As a student, some (ahem) twenty something years ago, I never imagined how food would evolve in my life to what it is now. Armed with one saucepan, a frying pan, I began my life independently cooking for myself with not much ambition. I had a luxury toaster and what else is more satisfying and nourishing to a student than hot buttered toast, especially after late Student Nights out. It wasn’t like I had no cooking skills at all, I had picked up some handy basics growing up in the food service industry. I can peel and chop an onion at speed, peel off the shell and devein prawns in bulk and strip a cooked chicken carcass to its bare bones with ease in less than five minutes.
Spaghetti bolognaise makes a regular appearance on the family menu, it’s a favourite with my children on a par with Hainanese chicken rice. It’s also one of my comfort go to meals, who could not feel replenished after a hearty bowl. These days I can whip up a pot of bolognaise sauce without having to think about it and leave it to slowly simmer on the hob for a few hours. Sometimes with the added confidence of adding a few extra vegetables not listed in the original recipe, extra splash of red wine or grated nutmeg as per Jamie Oliver.
And yet, in those early days with one saucepan and a frying pan, spaghetti bolognaise was a pack of minced beef and jar of Dolmio. Sometimes Ragu if you felt like going upmarket. And that was a luxury meal. I still recall clearly the first time my friend cooked bolognaise FROM SCRATCH! It was a complete revelation. To my mind, the idea was just impossible! It’s always come from Dolmio or Ragu. What is this? It looks to me to be just a tin of chopped tomatoes. What mysterious magic can transform this into something so delectable?
And that was perhaps the beginning of it all. The transition from Dolmio and Chicken Tonight to something more sophisticated and complex in flavours created from one of the many cookery books in my kitchen, artfully arranged by colour block. Again, some of which have had more of an airing than others.
A meal that has been thoughtfully prepared and put together with care, is one of the best experiences you can have. Good food appeals to all the senses and should be viewed as a great adventure. Savour each moment. Pay attention to the quality of the ingredients. The depth of flavour. The appearance and presentation of how it lands in front of you. Watch, where you can, the chef at work. And take time to appreciate all this effort before you tuck in. It would be rude to do otherwise.
The rice cooker has just finished playing the end of cooking melody. The quinoa is ready for a mash up with some roasted butternut squash, spinach, feta and pumpkin seeds with some form of intensely infused olive oil dressing. It’s obviously going to be delicious. And that’s because I also believe when cooking, confidence plays a key role. Even if you’re not so sure on a new creation, or perhaps something hasn’t turned out as well as you thought, just breeze through it.
As I leave you here, I think there’s time for a slice of hot buttered toast. I’m not even talking ciabatta here, just your regular bread. Thick, sliced white bread off the shelf with lashings of real salted butter. For as much as I am a fully fledged grown up that cooks nutritious home cooked meals FROM SCRATCH nearly every day for my family and doesn’t flinch at a menu containing alternative words for soup, there is a part of me that always remembers to enjoy the true deliciousness of simple flavours and not to get hung up on too much fad and fuss.