A friend, who is a young working mother of two, asked: “How do you think I should start? Should I just cook on and off to gain confidence, or should I actually start by planning proper meals for a whole week?”
That is a hard question to answer, given that she is a working mum and one of her children is a baby. She certainly has her hands full. I am truly impressed that she wants to cook and that she is asking for advice.
What to cook and how to cook vary very much with circumstances and who you are cooking for. Of late, I have had to think about dietary restrictions: low salt diet, low cholesterol diet, seafood allergy, dairy-free diet, no-fish diet, no-pork diet and non-spicy diets. It is a challenge when I have to cook a meal that everyone can eat. Often I would cook a main dish which most people can eat and make a separate dish/dishes for those who have dietary restrictions.
Going back to my friend’s question, I would encourage her to cook, starting off with what she can manage. She will be in control of what her children eat, she can ensure that they get the nutrition that they need. She can also teach them healthy eating habits. She will not only be cooking, she will be educating them her children through the food that she serves them. Some children refuse to eat vegetables, but a smart mother will find a way to make vegetables so interesting that children will start to like them. She will teach them to “eat smart” from young. Healthy food can be delicious! You just need to know how to make it delicious. A young adventurous mother will find a way to come up with healthy recipes for her children.
It’s good to have some sort of plan when you cook. The minimum you need to have is a basic plan of what meats or fish and vegetable or soup to serve on each day of the week. It will make grocery shopping easier. Cooking will require less time when you are organised and have all the ingredients you need.
It is best to avoid panic-cooking. But more often than not, it is unavoidable, so I would recommend that everyone acquire this essential life-skill.
Two Sundays ago, I found myself with the challenge of cooking a special meal for six persons for lunch in an hour and a half, with 500 grams of pork collar (defrosted, fortunately) and some vegetables.
I found the magic ingredient that saved the day: plum sauce! When in a panic, use whatever you have in the fridge. When you have little time, planning the workflow is crucial to success.
1. Almond Jelly and lychees
I started by making dessert. I had some almond jelly powder which just needed to be put in boiling water and stirred. It needed time to set, so it had to be made first. The can of lychees had to be chilled in the freezer. I would add the lychees to the almond jelly just before serving the dessert.
2. Plum sauce pork: Preparation
I cut the pork into thin slices. Added one tablespoon of light soya sauce* and pepper. Then I added four tablespoons of plum sauce and mixed the pork slices well. I left it to marinate. (* I tend to use very little soya sauce for marinating. I usually add more salt, soya sauce or fish sauce once the meat is cooked. Sometimes I need to separate some meat with low salt content for low salt diets before I add more salt/soya sauce/fish sauce for more taste.)
I boiled some white rice as it took at least 15 minutes to cook.
3. Mixed vegetable soup
I chopped one onion, one carrot, a small packet of French beans, an apple and quartered four tomatoes.
I put some butter into a pot and added the onions. When the onions were cooked, I added the chopped carrots, French beans, apples and tomatoes and continued to stir fry the mixed vegetables and chopped apples. Then I added eight cups of water, 2 beef cubes and some pepper corns and left the soup to cook while I went back to the pork.
4. Plum sauce pork: cooking
I put some cooking oil (about 10 tablespoons) in a wok. When the oil was hot (at high heat) I put the pork in, a few slices at a time, then lowered the heat to medium, I stirred the pork and waited until all of it turned brown, then I added minced garlic and allowed it to cook before removing the pork from the wok for serving.
Garnishing is the finishing touch. A chili and a few slices of tangerine were perfect for this dish.
I served the soup, the plum sauce* pork and white rice. If I had had more time, I would have stir-fried some green vegetables or fried an omelet to add to the meal. It was a successful panic-cooking meal, so I thought it was worth sharing.
(*plum sauce is made of salted Chinese plums, ginger and chili. It is slightly sweet, salty, and sour. )
The cold almond jelly and lychees went well with this meal. When there is hot soup, it is nice to have a cold dessert.
By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 10 March 2021