Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rediscovering the joys of cooking, and remembering a dinner in Paris


In Tokyo for a very short visit before possibly flying off to Europe next weekend, I've rediscovered the joys of cooking.

never cook enough in Manila as my life there is just one event after another, although I do try to cook when good friends come over.

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HOME-COOKED FOOD 
FOR CHRISTMAS COCKTAILS

My friend Mr. Millionaire, who joined our Travelife to Sri Lanka a few weeks ago, for instance, refreshed my memory while we were in Sri Lanka, about how I'd surprised everyone and served home-cooked food for my Christmas cocktails at home once. 

Apparently, my beef stew was a modest hit, and lots of people enjoyed the food.



NEVER WITH A RECIPE

Here's the catch, though. I almost never cook with a recipe in hand because I simply don't have the patience to follow instructions on how many cups goes into a sauce, or how many minutes a pot should simmer.

That's not exactly a good thing, but so far I've been lucky and it's worked.

So basically, I just wing it everytime, although I might look up a recipe just to see what the basic ingredients for a dish are. And then I concoct my own version from there.



I feel that if someone eats out as much as I do, they'll get a feel of what goes into a dish or what gives it depth and flavor.

COOKING "LESSONS" 
ALL OVER THE WORLD

And of course I do attend some cooking courses around the world -- but just the fun half-day or one-day kinds given by famous chefs, or at least very good ones.

These are the kinds of lessons given in fantastic surroundings, everything is pre-cut, you have a delicious lunch, and there's no washing up afterwards.



Last year, for example, I "learned" how to cook Malaysian noodles, taught by the executive chef right on the beach of the Shangri-la Rasa Ria in Kota Kinabalu at sunset. And two weeks ago, I was again "learning" how to cook green curry right by the Chao Praya in Bangkok.

Talk about fun.

But if you must know, I hardly ever listen to what's being said as I'm more a visual person than a listening person.

So I'll sign up for a class as a cultural experience, watch the demonstration enough to get the basic hang of it, and then eat the food. I've done this lots of times including in Rome, Paris, Thailand, and Malaysia, among others.

ALL ABOUT CREATIVITY



But IMHO cooking is really about creativity and a love for food. If you basically know what flavors will work together, that's half the battle.

For instance, in Paris a few years ago, I was sitting at the breakfast table of our apartment on the morning that I was supposed to host dinner for 18 people.



I still remember how I'd bought a nice piece of roast pork at the open-air market the day before and it was marinating in spices in the fridge.

For breakfast, I was having a croissant and some fruits from a very large fruit assortment that the housekeeper had so thoughtfully prepared for our arrival.

SOLO AT BREAKFAST



It was only me at the breakfast table that morning, even if I had a full house of guests spread out over five bedrooms, because the only other girl in the group staying with me was sorting out her luggage.

Meanwhile, three of the guys had decided to jog all the way to the Parc Monceau and back, so they were MIA. The fourth guy -- he'd taken the train from Surrey to join us for the weekend -- had decided to make himself useful by going out and buying a fresh batch of croissants.

I was still eating croissants from the day before, you see.

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ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS
AND DAY-OLD CROISSANTS

Anyway, with everyone done or not eating breakfast, I was stuck in the breakfast room alone with my thoughts and thinking about how all this fruit was going to waste since no one was really eating it.

This was when I got the idea to use all the over-ripe fruits somehow with the pork and stick everything in the oven.

I crushed all the fruits over the pork and smeared the leftovers over it, and let it marinate the whole day. In the evening, I stuck it in the oven still covered with fruits. No one told me how to do this but I figured it would somehow work.

A HORRIFIED LOOK
ON A PRO'S FACE



That night in Paris, with 18 people in the formal dining room, the daughter of one of my Parisian friends decided to give me a hand in the kitchen.

When I'm cooking, I actually don't like my friends coming into the kitchen if I can't order them about, as I enter a sort of Zen zone when I'm cooking dinner for company. There's too much to think about and do, to make any kind of social conversation. But as she was there and so nice about it, I let her stay.



This girl trained at La Pergola, by the way, which is just about one of Rome's best restaurants since time immemorial, and a great favorite of mine. When she opened the oven, she was horrified to see a blackened roast and a bit of smoke coming out.

So was I, by the way, especially with 18 people finishing up cocktails in the foyer, expecting dinner soon.

VOILA. C'ETAIT PARFAIT.

But when I recovered my wits enough to dust off the charred fruit, guess what?

What remained was an incredibly tender roast with a certain sweetness that went so well with the wines the guys brought.



One of the guys probably has the best nose in the Philippines for wine, and he'd generously gone over to Fauchon or Hediard -- I can't remember which one now, although both were around the corner -- and came back with enough wine for everyone and our neighbors to boot; so we were certainly well stocked in that department.

And that was certainly a nice end to another day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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