My husband, Erik, and I share an interest in cooking. Oftentimes, itâ€™s a â€œbattle of wills.â€ Erik enjoys meat and potatoes and I prefer Asian food, especially mung bean (silver) noodles. European-raised Erik, when asked to draw â€œsnacksâ€ during a â€œPictionaryâ€ game, would sketch a wedge of cheese, grapes, and crackers for his Filipino teammates. I, Philippine-raised Lorna, would interpret â€œsnacksâ€ as gustatory sensations of â€œbanana-cue,â€ Spanish-style fried peanuts, and soda.
We finally emerged, after a lot of arguments, with a basic pantry list that reflected our busy lifestyle, included our preferences, and delivered a compromise: Mediterranean, Italian, and bistro-style fusion cuisine.
The preliminaries: The key to a healthy and efficient cooking experience is to use fresh ingredients and mixes. Once every two weeks, I pre-cut or pre-cook, and then freeze certain ingredients. This activity also becomes a one-day meditation exercise as well as my â€œpatienceâ€ practice.
Whatâ€™s destined for the freezer? Spring onions would be chopped and transferred to Ziploc containers, one bag for â€œwhiteâ€ and one bag for â€œgreen.â€ We prefer red onions, so they go into the food processor — and are then saran-wrapped in small portions, and tucked into the inevitable Ziploc bag. The chicken pieces are boiled, and then shredded for my prized â€œBam-i,â€ a classic Cebuano noodle dish. In fact, the rest of the ingredients for this dish — minus the silver and canton noodles — are simmered, cooled, and transferred to Ziploc bags. The cooled chicken broth is also refrigerated and skimmed off of its surface fat, then packed in Ziploc containers prior to freezing. All Ziploc bags are dated, to be used as â€œfirst in, first out.â€
Organic, fresh produce from the farmerâ€™s market and supermarket are limited to favorites such as zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, mung bean sprouts, basil, and cilantro. Before prepping, I wash â€œsolidâ€ vegetables like zucchini with â€œEnvironne,â€ a fruit and vegetable wash that removes pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and waxes. Then, these are dried, wrapped individually in paper towels, and transferred to Ziploc bags bound for the refrigerator. Parsley, basil, and cilantro are washed and dried in the salad spinner. Yes, each huge Ziploc bag is lined with paper towels for our fragile herbs. Every time we use these vegetables and herbs, we donâ€™t have to worry about washing them.
The staples: Frozen green peas, cut corn, and pre-chopped mixed vegetables from the supermarket are regulars in our freezer. I like to use plastic squeezers of concentrated lemon and lime juices. Prepared vegetable salads in plastic wrap — no more washing! — are so convenient. Then, thereâ€™s the trip to Costco for pine nuts and flash-frozen vegetable pot stickers and shrimps. Costco carries inexpensive bottles of pre-chopped garlic and McCormickâ€™s Montreal Steak Seasoning, the latter being our favorite condiment for our culinary concoctions. Thereâ€™s frozen edamame beans, too, which are green vegetable soybeans, harvested at the peak of ripening just right before it reaches the hardened stage.
Cost Plus is for hard-to-find spices and salad dressings. Trader Joeâ€™s, on the other hand, is our ultimate shopping paradise. We love its couscous, cheese, and wine selections. Couscous replaces rice since it cooks in seven minutes. A large bottle of julienne-cut sundried tomatoes and smaller bottles of organic dried tomato and basil pesto and regular pesto sauce are our standard mixers to enhance the taste of omelettes and pasta dishes. Extra virgin olive oil and Modenaâ€™s balsamic vinegar transform my versions of â€œBeef Tapaâ€ and â€œChicken Adoboâ€ to an Italian experience for Erik.
Together: We typically cook once a day. For an evening meal, I would fricassÃ©e chicken breasts in Mama Sitaâ€™s â€œkare-kareâ€ sauce, interspersed with sundried tomatoes and soy sauce. I would serve this dish over couscous that had been infused with extra virgin olive oil and interwoven with a handful of pine nuts, green onions, and zucchini slices. Or, â€œAdoboâ€ is served over buttered fusilli pasta that has been sprinkled with poppy seed. â€œLumpiaâ€ wrappers or phyllo dough provide elegant pouches for spiced beef chunks. Sometimes, garlic bread or focaccia bread, fresh from the bakery, completes a menu.
Erik and I, strong-willed about our comfort food preferences, believe that our kitchen is one of the unifying elements in our marriage. Inter-cultural cooking adventures can provide sacred space for peace and harmony. We highly recommend it!
(This is dedicated to the memory of my departed mothers, Sally Lardizabal and Sandra Dietz, my eternal heroes in the kitchen.)
Lorna Dietz is the Executive Secretary of the Philippine American Press Club, USA and Executive Coordinator of the 3rd Global Filipino Networking Convention on January 20 to 22, 2005 at Waterfront Cebu City Hotel, Philippines. She specializes in public relations, marketing, event management, and intuitive life skills coaching. Lorna can be contacted at [email protected]
Â© September 2004 by Lorna L. Dietz. Originally published in Manila Bulletin USA.