A comforting bowl of Soup

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There are times when only a bowl of soup works the magic. For me, it was one of those days. We have had a bit of a traumatic few days, hence the absence of food blog posts recently.  I recently had Carpol Tunnel Surgery and during the process a rare tumour was discovered in my finger tip. It led to a few additional things and the big C scare, which is still not eliminated as yet. The first surgery is a couple of months away now, so instead of letting this bring us down I made a comforting bowl of Soup. Unfortunately, that means living on strong painkillers for a while, but at least it doesn’t stop me from doing anything I set my mind to!


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This kind of started out as a ‘cleaning out the fridge’ kind of soup, hence making it uniquely comforting and more of a stew than a soup.

I started off by sauteing off some celery and onions in a little Grapeseed oil and whilst they were cooking, I started adding other things into the pot. I found half of a Chorizo sausage in the fridge that needed some attention, so roughly chopped that up and added to the pot, along with some baby carrots that I found. My freezer is usually stocked up with chopped up vegetables, so chopped green beans, frozen corn and peas joined the pot. Added a carton of chicken stock along with some Vegeta seasoning and let the stew simmer on low for half an hour. Halfway through, I added a handful of pasta into the pot.

It was a quick and easy stew or soup, that we enjoyed with some fresh crusty bread and butter that was desperately needed to calm our insides.

Leaving the health scare behind, I am now reverting my attention back to the more important things in life that somehow seem a lot more important now, if that makes any sense. I have a Cooking School opening in a couple of weeks and I am in the midst of the decorating and planning. So much to do, in very little time.

 

Owning the recipe and playing with food

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When my interest in cooking started, I would follow recipe instructions meticulously, whether they made any sense or not. I blindly followed the cooking instructions and was too afraid to change anything from the ingredients list, even if it took me hours to find one silly ingredient that in reality, I could have easily omitted. I read cookbooks from cover to cover and unfortunately, treated them more like legal practice directions than cooking instructions. I was more comfortable challenging words written in the practice directions than I was in making any changes to the recipe that I was following.

As a result, many cooking disasters ensued to say the least. It was frustrating at times when the recipes never produced what they were supposed to! I began doubting my own cooking skills at times and was close to packing up all the books and jars of spices, when R helped out. He taught me how I needed to create my own style of cooking from these recipes and instructions and not blindly follow them. But I had serious reservations about my cooking skills!

I’d organised a Summer BBQ at my new house and slowly, the list of invitees grew a little out of my comfort zone. This was the first time I was attempting to cook everything myself from scratch so it was a little daunting. I pulled out my trusted recipe books but R closed the books and put them above the cabinets where I couldn’t reach them. We were going to cook ‘freestyle’! Oh my dear God. He wanted me to do all the seasoning but he did offer to mix the meat and knead it into kebabs for me. How am I supposed to do this without my book? I was all prepared with a calculator to tell me how much each ingredient was going to be for this large batch.

So, I learnt. I learnt how to smell the spice and taste each one individually. Some were painful to taste, yes, but a glass of milk did wonders to clean the palette. Then I had to close my eyes and try to visualise the kebab I wanted to create and what it would taste like. I wanted freshness in my kebab, so let’s add more fresh coriander. For spice, I don’t want it too spicy for everyone, so we reduced the heat. Seasoning with salt and black pepper was going to take a while to practice and perfect, so definitely needed some guidance on that one.

What did I learn? That as long as I have the key ingredients for a recipe, I could make it. In fact, I could create a mishmash of recipes by mixing a couple of recipes into one or even 3 into one. I learnt to play with food.

I smelt and tasted everything raw ingredient, except for the meats and raw fish of course. I taught myself how to make sauces and chutneys. They seemed the easiest at first, before I realised how complicated the balancing of flavours could be if it wasn’t done right. I had amazing fun making these but since I didn’t recognise any of the fresh herbs properly yet, it created a few little accidents along the way. The best one I remember was making a Mint Chutney with leaves that my sister picked out from my mum’s garden, and not realising that the leaves that went into the blender were infact the overgrown weeds from the back of the garden instead of the fresh mint I was expecting. Let’s just say, the taste of weed chutney is not one that could be easily washed out with a little bit of milk!

Why is my cooking style and technique so different even today?

I didn’t learn cooking from an early age. I had no interest in cooking at an early age. I have had the luxury of experiencing a lot of cuisines and have eaten at a lot of different places in different parts of the world. I appreciate cooking. I cook with my heart in the right place towards the cooking experience and for producing the best I can, but I also use the logical side of my brain. I need to know why, how and what for?!

My need to understand the role and purpose of each ingredient in putting together a dish, drives me towards creating different flavours and dishes all the time. Its not just a case of, ‘a little bit of this, and a little bit of that’. For me, I need to understand why I am adding that ingredient into my dish and what will it do to the food that I am trying to create?

As a result, I continue to read cookbooks as if they are stories. I wish more cookbooks had more background and historical information or creative direction behind the instructions in creating dishes. For now, I visualise imaginary dishes and places as I read these cookbooks and they get locked in a part of my brain somewhere. Whenever I am cooking, one of these recipe ingredients or directions will pop out of nowhere and change the course of what I am cooking by taking me into a new direction. This is how I ‘own’ my own recipe.

I cannot follow recipes very well. I follow practice directions well, and make sure all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed. I have made trillions of checklists to make sure I follow procedure and directions properly and have taken pride in being able to follow complicated legal directions. However, when it comes to cooking, all that goes out of the window. Completely!

I own my recipes by transforming them and creating them as part of my own experience. I share that experience with everyone that I cook for and teach. Anyone who has attended any of my classes will affirm that even though I hand out a list of ingredients that I am using, I encourage people to write their own instructions as to how to create the dish. It’s not about following a recipe, and I am so grateful to my friends who directed me and sent me down this path. I don’t think even they envisaged I would keep on going down this path though.

I would encourage everyone to read recipes, follow them to a point but use your own direction to create your own dish. I would love to see more stories behind recipes from cookbook authors and more than accurate recipes, their reasoning behind using particular ingredients would stick in people’s minds for a lot longer.

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Playing with ingredients is fun. It is mesmerizing to watch kids play and experiment with food. They pick up the piece of food very carefully, examine it for a few seconds in their hands before popping it straight into their mouth. One little nibble and the expression on their face says it all. Following the same technique, play with real food. Explore their taste and texture and try to incorporate it into everyday foods. Play with herbs and spices the same way. I learnt to love vegetables this way, appreciate the aromatic herbs that transform our food and the balancing of spices.

I am seriously considering to stop writing recipes, and just post photos of what I make with brief descriptions of what is being created, how and with what objective. What do you think? Or am I the only one in this playground at the moment?

Chicken Kebab Meatloaf

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I recently had Carpol Tunnel release surgery on my hands, so making kebabs and meatballs have been a little difficult to handle. I like making kebabs and meatballs in big batches and just freezing them for whenever we need them. This way, I can whip up meatball spaghetti at any time or even a Meatball curry with rice which is a favourite in our family. The kebabs are fantastic in wraps and sometimes just crumbled up on a caesar salad.

The story behind this meatloaf started off with a Kebab mix. The meat was marinated for kebabs but since I didn’t get time to make them before the surgery, I had no choice but to turn it into a meatloaf. I now have to start making these meatloaves more often as these made amazing sandwiches the next day, were fantastic with salad and even with some garlicky roasted potatoes on a bed of rice.

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Unfortunately, this a recipe without measurements. It’s not difficult to make, just flavour it to suit your taste.

First, to make the chicken kebab marinade. I added some ready made kebab mix powder that is readily available at most grocery stores. You can make the mix at home, but some of the ready made ones are just as good. Since some are spicier than others, be a little conservative when adding the kebab mix.

Then, add some salt, pepper, ground green chillies (Thai chillies), fresh cilantro, ground onion paste, ginger and garlic paste, a little tomato paste, an egg and and a handful of breadcrumbs. Knead the mixture using some oil in your hands, and make sure everything is combined really well. The best way to check the flavour of the meat is to take a tsp of this mixture and cook it in a small frying pan. Once the chicken is cooked through, taste the seasoning and add more kebab mix if you need to.

I let the meat marinate in the fridge at least overnight. I took a foil tray and shaped the meatloaf into a huge oval shape.

Make a dressing to top the meatloaf by mixing some ketchup, mint coriander chutney, sriracha sauce, a little barbeque sauce and some garlic paste. Rub this liberally on top of the meatloaf and I surrounded mine with baby potatoes that had been prepared to make garlic roast potatoes.

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Since I was using a foil pie plate for the meatloaf, I fitted it into a cake pan filled with water before placing it on a baking sheet. I had to minimise dish-washing as the bandage couldn’t be soaked, so disposable trays have been very handy. The water at the base of the meatloaf helped keep it all nice and moist.

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