A pat on the back for my cooking talent, at times elusive

I ask myself why I don’t engage in cooking my favorites often anymore. For one, my children are grown and married and living away from home. I would have loved to cook for my grandson, but he, my son and his wife are an hour’s drive away. My husband had gone to the beyond two years ago. He loved the few cuisines that I mastered, though he really was the master chef at home. He had such talent, creative skill and speed in cooking, he never failed to amaze me. Cooking was not his profession; it was a hobby and a passion.  The man of the house often was the toast of the party, and I was very proud of him. Adding here, that I always cleaned up plenty after him. Small pay for the gourmet dishes laid out on the table. So, cook for myself? Hmmm … not much motivation there. Unless there’s a party to prepare for at home … or a potluck to contribute to … or, I’m craving my own favorites, like now.

But what are those that I “privately” and “modestly” boast about? What dishes do I make best and which I thoroughly enjoy preparing? Immediately, I think of lumpia (egg rolls), adobo (marinated chicken with pork), turon (fried banana wrapped in lumpia wrapper), and suman (sticky rice sweetened and cooked in coconut milk). Add to that my own version of the Italian chicken/sausage cacciatore. I learned from the get-go, so to speak. To be honest with some chagrin — I wasn’t much of a cook in my younger years. Didn’t mind washing the dishes or cleaning up after someone else in the kitchen. However, over the years, with kids growing up, and by necessity, I cooked. To my surprise, cooking ceased to be just a chore. I had gotten to enjoy it. And when my husband started his dialysis, I found myself more and more the regular in the kitchen. I didn’t mind it at all. The best part is, he appreciated what I cooked. That’s how I got the hang of it, liking cooking I mean. Appreciation served as both motivation and reward.

So, back to the dishes that I particularly enjoy making and which I take pride in. They’re not exactly out-of-the-ordinary or uniquely mine, but they certainly carry my own creative add-ons and style in technique, appearance or taste. Let’s start with lumpia, the Filipino version of the egg roll. The wrappers come in very thin pieces of dough that stick together when sold in the supermarket. The key about separating these wrappers is to wait for the package to thaw a bit, not when it’s straight from the freezer or from the store. Very time consuming, I say. Slow and gentle when separating the pieces, so they will come off clean and without holes. I then sauté in hot oil with garlic and diced onions the ground beef and/or ground pork, thin string beans sliced in very tiny pieces and diced carrots. When the mixture is nearly cooked, I stir in the bean sprouts and allow another two minutes of cooking in moderate heat.

The cooked filling is drained of excess grease before the folding begins. Folding the wrapper over the filling requires some gentle fingers to prevent the thin and fragile dough from tearing. Put a heaping spoon of filling into the wrapper, fold from the top and sides, and roll the lump towards the edge of the wrapper that’s dampened with a bit of water. The slightly dampened part of the dough will allow the edge to stick to the body of the roll and close tight. Fry the roll in hot oil and drain or let stand for a minute or two before eating. That’s Lola’s golden brown, crispy lumpia. Slap away the hand that tries to grab a roll while it’s draining because it surely will be super hot, and you wouldn’t want any mouth to burn. Writing about this makes me drool.

Now, I’ll share my way of cooking suman, a dessert. I boil sticky rice (also known as malagkit) till the water runs dry. After pouring in two or three cans of coconut milk into a deep pan or pot over moderate heat, I wait for the simmer and then put in brown sugar and anise seeds. Occasionally I stir. When the sugar is melted, the boiled sticky rice is put in, frequently (though not continuously) mixing the white sauce with the glutinous rice. When the coconut milk is completely absorbed in the rice, the rice becomes very sticky. I then place the mixture in a pyrex plate with sides, and flatten the top. In a separate small pot, some coconut milk is simmered with brown sugar to make light syrup. The syrup is poured on top of the sticky rice. The dish is placed in the oven in 350-degree temperature for around 20 minutes or until the syrup creates small bubbles. Take the dish out of the oven and let stand for around 10-15 minutes before eating. This is suman, which also can be eaten cold. And what about the ratio of malagkit to water – around 2 cups of water to a cup of rice, or more water for softness. That depends on how you want your grain cooked – “aldente” (a bit hard or firm) or gooey soft.

But for the water mentioned above, notice how I didn’t specify measures? What’s strange about my cooking techniques is that the measures are calculations in my head – or putting it simply – to taste. Isn’t that how Lolas cook? The recipes are all in their head.

Adobo, turon and cacciatore will be in my later blog. Oh, I didn’t tell you — I can whip up a good breakfast anytime.  Enough drooling and boasting for now.

Linda P. Jacob