I know I’m not the best cook, but I try to do my best anyway. And because we’ve been staying home since last year, I have started cooking more. I’m glad I have!
I love finding and following recipes, giving them my own twist and coming up with fun food presentations to make my limited repertoire exciting to the most exacting critics I know: my twin preschoolers.
My first dish was adobo, because nobody can mess up such an easy, iconic dish, right? Think again. Mine came out too soupy and sour. More like a sad, brown sinigang without vegetables. And speaking of sinigang, when I tried my hand at it, the dish came out looking like a typhoon-devastated site: overcooked salmon floating alongside mangled pechay and deformed okra.
But I did not give up. After all, as my mom, a superb cook, always says, “If you eat and you can read, then you can cook.”
After several other kitchen disasters, I struck gold with chicken afritada. It came out with a savory tomato-red sauce, succulent chicken and tender potatoes, bright yellow against glistening green bell peppers. The twins loved it so much that they named it Mommy’s Yummy Chicken.
That was motivation enough for me to keep on cooking. More than a year later, I still have some hits and misses, but thankfully, the hits now outnumber the misses. I can now whip up adobo with a thick sauce that has the right blend of saltiness and acidity, perked up by mild heat from garlic and black pepper. With newfound confidence, I have even tried baking.
The twins and my husband, who is an intuitive cook, swear that their favorite dish is my version of char siu chicken. I don’t barbecue it the traditional way, but grill it in a turbo-broiler or oven for ease in cooking.
Even better than my newfound confidence in the kitchen, cooking has given rise to a warm bonding experience with the twins. This goes beyond mere gustatory delights. They are so eager and happy to “help” in the kitchen.
Admittedly, this slows down the cooking process. Just imagine two pairs of little hands touching, shaking and tasting everything all at once. It also makes the whole activity a whole lot messier. But the joy in their eyes at being able to contribute to the preparation of the family’s food is priceless. If only for that, I’m willing to wipe up their spills. And yes, they eat more when they “cook” the meal.
As a bonus, child development specialists say that cooking is a valuable practical life activity that contributes to kindergarten readiness. All that pouring, mixing and cutting build hand-eye coordination. Kneading and shaping dough hone fine motor skills necessary for writing. And, of course, reading recipes and box labels contribute to literacy.
The twins have grown to love baking. Their chocolate chip cookie video was featured on Jamie Oliver’s Cooking Buddies Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/tv/CHhqYSZn3ce/). They also enjoy making pancakes. In fact, they flip pancakes better than I do. Check out their ube pancake video: https://www.instagram.com/p/CLVuvtmBN7Q/.I’m still a long way from being the best cook. But I wanted to tell my story to encourage other newbie home cooks. If I can do it, and if my preschoolers can do it, then anyone can do it.
Now, I am sharing my recipe for homemade char siu chicken. Happy cooking!
Char Siu Chicken
½ kg chicken wings
For the sauce/marinade:
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp rice wine
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
Dash of pepper
3 Tbsp brown sugar
Small bunch spring onions, chopped (set aside some for garnish)
Mix sauce/marinade ingredients.
Put chicken in a resealable bag and pour in the sauce/marinade. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Transfer the chicken and marinade into a pot. Add about 2 Tbsp water. Starting at low to medium heat, boil the chicken, then simmer for 20 minutes or till tender (I do this to make sure the inside of the chicken is cooked through).
While the chicken is simmering, preheat oven to 200ºC. (If using turbo broiler, no need to preheat.)
Drain the chicken and reduce the sauce for glazing.
Place chicken on a parchment-lined baking pan, brush with glaze and roast for a few minutes under broiler function (or in turbo) until the skin is brown and very slightly charred.
Remove from oven, top with remaining spring onion and serve with steamed rice.
The author is a banker-turnedstay- at-home mom to energetic twins. She is a reading advocate and believer in learning through play. For more of her cooking and noncooking adventures with the twins, particularly book snacktivities, follow @startermama on Instagram.
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