Food and friends. Is there a better combination? Louise and I had lunch several weeks ago and discovered we both have a love for food, cooking and regular events. Convinced that there were many others like us in Geneva, we decided to start an informal foodie club. Our first dinner was last night, and our theme was Tapas.
There was so much food – paella, patatas bravas, caramelised onion and feta tarts, a frittata and beautiful salads. My contribution was a pot of chorizo meatballs. We laughed together, ate a good quantity of food and got to know each other better. Hopefully there will be many more of these meal meetings in the future.
As for the meatballs, the recipe is easy enough to follow, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There was so much work involved in assembling and frying each one, and chopping the chorizo alone drove me crazy. If I’m going to spend a few hours on a recipe, it needs to be something spectacular, and this wasn’t.
A small cooking note for those who choose to try it – fry a small meatball before making the whole lot just to check for salt. I found that this definitely needed more salt (the recipe didn’t call for any – I thought the chorizo would add salt, so I didn’t add much more of my own, but the chorizo wasn’t enough).
Alora is a filler word in Italian. Our waitresses came to the table, and usually the first word out of their mouth was, “Alora…” It sounds like a magical faraway place or the most radiant of princesses, but it means well, anyway or so. The word rings in my head now, and I want to use it as part of my conversations. Or give it to my first daughter as a name.
Husband and I took a four-day road trip through parts of Italy and Switzerland. We ate out a lot, which should mean lots of yummy food photos. However.
We are not into photographing our food in restaurants. Even though we have never had a conversation about this – although we might now – my sense is that we both enjoy sitting down to eat our meals in peace and harmony. Food is enjoyable to see, but even more enjoyable to…enjoy.
Alora, there are no food photographs to accompany this short note. I only have one piece of advice that will seem so glaringly obvious to most except for me. But here it is.
When in Italy, eat pasta.
I’m not a pasta person and try to avoid it for many reasons unless I need to make something for a large group of people (in which case spaghetti is the only answer). I told myself, though, that I’m in Italy. Pasta must go on the “Try” list. From my first mushroom tagliatelle to the last seafood spaghetti, it was amazing, amazing, amazing. I could have eaten pasta forever. Cooked to firm perfection, salted beautifully and popping with taste, it was probably some of my favourite European eating to date.
Kitchen-related items were dangerous, unknown territory for me until a few years ago. Cooking didn’t come naturally to me, and my lack of co-ordination led to several kitchen disasters in the past. I tended to avoid it for easy meals of ramen with frozen veggies when I was a college student. Or lots and lots of hard-boiled eggs. Two years ago I decided to conquer my fear of the kitchen. I started cooking one meal a week for my family. Thai meatballs, watermelon and feta salad, moroccan lamb soup and others were hits not just with my family but with my self confidence.
My culinary friends told me that it gets easier, and it’s true. I still love a good recipe, but now I know that certain kinds of fish sauce, lime and coriander are all you need to spice up a Thai dish. Cinnamon, honey and cumin make Moroccan.
I love Moroccan food, and one day I want to visit this exotic, colourful country. I made this recipe last week and loved it. Like most of my favourite meals, it didn’t take a long time to prepare. A moist roast chicken is always welcome in my home, but the real star of this meal is the cous cous.
This grain should be every cooks delight. A cup of it to a cup of boiling water plus five minutes – you are finished. If you want to spice it up, add whatever textures or flavours you want. The dates and the pistachios makes the cous cous salty and sweet, crunchy and soft. I would make this dish with any Middle Eastern or Moroccan main course. I could even eat it on its own.
Moroccan Roast Chicken roast the chicken for at least an hour. Mine took about an hour-and-a-half before it was fully cooked. Salt it thoroughly and put more spices than the recipe requires so that the whole chicken is well flavoured.
Cooking serves multiple purposes for me – a creative outlet, an injection of variety into my life and a self-esteem booster, but it’s most surprisingly enjoyable purpose at the moment is putting a big smile on Husband’s face. It helps that he enjoys eating and meal time; he also has a love for new dishes, flavours and foods. The dishes I create are as much a result of his love for me as they are my own handiwork.
The following statements sound dramatic, but they are true. My journey in the kitchen represents the core issues I struggled (and struggle) with for most of my life. Acute doubts about my capabilities, fear of what others think of me, paralysis from the previous two that lead to inaction (and chocolate chip pancakes for dinner). Anyone who has a history of debilitating fears know that there is no magic bullet, but there is always a way forward. Being loved through it and out of it both by God and by people – my husband being the main one now – is the the deepest way I found of dealing with the painful places in the heart and mind.
My daily offerings in the kitchen are a small picture of that process. With every tomato sliced, salad made, chicken cooked through and seasoned well, I tell myself that I’m going to make it even as I hear in my heart God telling me that I can do all things because of Jesus. Love changes us in a way that nothing else does because true love shows us the truth about who God is, who we are and what our lives can be.
A long preamble to say that I am generally confident in the kitchen now except for one kind of food – Sri Lankan. This is also the only kind of food special requested by Husband in the past eight weeks of marriage. Most meals I make stand alone in my mind. Not Sri Lankan food. In my mind, it is compared to my grandmothers, my mothers, aunties, cousins, second cousins, etc. I forget that Husband compares it to no one else’s curry. One day I will do the same.
This is one of the few recipes so far that contains more specialized ingredients, so it is a tiny bit trickier. Cooking it is not complicated, but the right ingredients are important.
Chicken curry sautee in oil onions, garlic, curry leaves*, pandan**, ground cumin and mustard seeds. Add the chicken pieces (I used drumsticks and thighs – I prefer chicken with bones in a curry than chopped up chicken breast). Mix together thoroughly. Add curry powder***. Add coconut milk and a bit of water. Squeeze a bit of lime juice in as well. Let it simmer on a low to medium flame for a little while for the flavour to soak through and for the chicken to cook. I kept an eye on it and kept adding water or coconut milk as the liquid dried up. Check the taste periodically to see if it needs more curry powder and also salt.
* I bought the curry leaves in a local Asian store.
** I have no idea what this is in English – Pandan is the Filipino word for it (we had a plant growing in our yard when we lived there). In Tamil – or Sinhala, really, I have no idea – it’s rampe.
*** I bought a Jaffna curry powder at the Asian store, and there was plenty of spice in it that I didn’t put any chili powder in. The curry powder you use will significantly influence the kind of curry flavour the dish has. Curry powder is NOT the yellow stuff you can buy in most grocery stores. That’s not a real curry – not to me anyway. If you want to make your own, roast cumin and coriander seeds together and then grind it in a food processor.
During my university days, the following foods filled my cupboards: pancake mix, frozen vegetables (rarely), ramen noodles, ham, chocolate chips (for the pancakes), frozen chicken (every few months) and eggs. I still indulge in the breakfast-for-dinner idea, but it’s no longer chocolate chip pancakes smothered in syrup. Usually it’s muesli and yogurt.
Eggs are still a staple in my refrigerator. I love them. Any time of day, cooked any way. Eggs are also one of the ingredients with which I do a lot of experimenting, which is what happened with this asian scrambled egg. It’s a basic scrambled egg but cooked with typically South Asian spices and a bit of coconut milk – smooth, full of spices, the coriander adds a bit of bite at the finish. I love eating avocado with eggs for breakfast; it’s like a bland, silky and creamy complement to the flavourful eggs.
Asian eggs beat four eggs with some coconut milk (the more you put, it will make it quite sweet, so start with only a bit). In a pan with butter, sautee some onions and garlic, add ground coriander and cumin seeds. Once there there is a fragrant, spicy aroma coming out of the pan, add the egg. Cook it slowly on a low flame – this is the key to a good consistency – and don’t push it too much. Use a wooden spatula to gently move it around every now and then. After you’ve cooked it to your preferred consistency – I don’t like mine well done – turn off the flame. Add salt and pepper and a few coriander leaves. Cut avocado and put salt and pepper on that as well.