The Most Successful Main Dishes I've Ever Cooked

Thursday, 31 August 2017

I only took the kitchen seriously over two years ago when J invited me to his flat and said, " I would like to show you my mad cooking skills". For a while, he did all the cooking until I finally felt challenged and took over the kitchen indefinitely. I am very much enjoying the art of cooking at the moment. I never realised how rewarding it is to be able to cook for your loved ones. No wonder Kris Aquino claims that cooking is her language of love. 

Anyway, from breakfast and brunch meals, here are the most successful main dishes I've ever cooked: 

1. Duck
-  There is no doubt that (anything) duck is one of my favourite dishes. But until a few months ago, I was reluctant to cook duck because apparently it needs to be cooked precisely (as suggested on recipes by cooking experts), otherwise it would be dry and chewy. Then one evening, I was up for a kitchen challenge and decided to give duck a try.

The first duck dish I've ever cooked was Duck in Orange Sauce, inspired by Gressingham(sans the chilli, flour and parsley). As a substitute, I garnished the duck with raisins and chopped almonds, and served it with steamed spinach.

I also tried the roast duck legs and it was a success indeed considering it was also my first time to cook roast duck. The only seasonings I used were salt, pepper, Chinese five spice and a dash of extra virgin olive oil. I served this with stir-fried baby kale and roasted vegetables.

2. Lamb Shanks
- I never used to like lamb, but when I was in New Zealand, it became my favourite. So now, it has become a regular meal at home. 

The most successful lamb shank I cooked was meant to be slow cooked in beer, however, we don't drink alcohol anymore so I used chicken stock on its own instead. I used Jamie Oliver's recipe as a guide, but tweaked it as usual. I grilled the lamb shank first (instead of frying) before I cooked it slow in a mixture of ketchup, strawberry jam and raisins. Because I was hungry and impatient, I only cooked the lamb shank for over an hour instead of the recommended 3 hours. So perhaps it wasn't slow-cooked after all. The meat was still soft to be fair, but it was meant to pull away from the bone easily. Next time, I'll make sure that I have more time to cook this. I thought that the perfect partner for this dish was my home-made mashed potato and some blanched string beans. 

3. Kare-kare (Oxtail  in peanut butter sauce)
-  Kare-kare is the only Filipino dish that I can proudly say I can cook without doubting myself. I have cooked this dish multiple times and everyone who has had it loved it so far (even J). Unfortunately, I still use peanut butter from a jar. :)

Basically, I season the oxtail with salt and pepper then slow cook it for at least two hours. After that, I stir in two tablespoonfuls(or more) of peanut butter until it dissolves. I let it simmer until the oxtail is coated in peanut butter, and then add the vegetables (pak choi, string beans and aubergine). 

4. Naked Burger
-  Simply because I took out the bun. It was my first time to make burger from scratch and I was very pleased with the result. However, it's one thing that I probably won't cook often. I didn't follow any recipe for this. I essentially mixed ground beef, salt and pepper, minced garlic, chopped onions and a beaten egg, and then shaped the mixture into balls. After which, I rolled the balls on bread crumbs and fried them until they were golden brown. I used lettuce gems and large vine tomatoes to garnish, and served it with grilled sweet potato fries.

5. Chicken Tikka Masala
-  J loves Indian food and it would be a real shame if I couldn't cook at least one of the many Indian dishes.  It took me about five tries before I was able to successfully cook one dish- the chicken tikka masala. The first four attempts, I followed recipes but I ended up making a mess in frying the paste first. So, I decided to do it my way by sauteing the chicken in garlic and onion first, then adding the paste and (fat-free) yoghurt. This time I only used a small amount of coconut milk and it surprisingly tasted better. I served it with grilled mixed baby bell peppers and brown rice and quinoa. 

6.  Nilagang Baka (Filipino Beef Stew)
-  "Wow, it looks better than the food in that Filipino restaurant", was the comment I received when I cooked Nilagang Baka for the first time in a very long time. But what would Nilagang Baka be without the clear soup, right? Unfortunately, my loyal patron is not very keen on watery dishes so I served my Nilagang Baka with very little soup. I used oxtail and chuck(steak) because I love a little bit of fat (I know). I boiled the meat for over two hours or until soft, then added the baby potatoes first followed by the corn and then lastly, the spring beans and the gem lettuce. We don't have white rice in the house, so I used mixed quinoa instead.

7. Adobo
- You have no idea how happy I was when I finally managed to cook adobo that tasted like adobo. This was way back in New Zealand when I cooked for my friend Ei. Then about two weeks ago, I thought I'd give it another try and see if I could do it again and I did! I really don't know what the proper way of cooking adobo is, but I now have my own style. :) I actually asked my brother how to cook adobo but disregarded his instructions anyway. Sorry Manong. Hehe.

I found that frying the pork first works better than boiling it in marinade. I sauteed onion first in low heat until it turned soft and glossy, and then added the garlic. Once I could smell the garlic, I added the meat seasoned in salt and pepper. When the pork turned slightly brown, I added dark soy sauce, vinegar and my "secret" ingredient. I let it boil until I could smell the vinegar. That was the only time I added the dried bay leaves. I left it to simmer until the sauce or broth (whatever you want to call it)became thick and almost completely evaporated. And then voila! 

I was so proud of my pork adobo that I cooked the chicken adobo a few days later. :)

8.  Grilled Salmon
-  Salmon has been an integral part of our weekly menu. For me, it's the easiest fish to cook. I usually just season it with salt and pepper and then brush it with chopped ginger mixed in oyster sauce. I prefer grilled salmon over fried. I normally serve it with either salad or roast vegetables. As simple as that.

9. Beef Steak
-  Steak has always been a challenge. I hate frying first of all. Secondly, I wouldn't be able to know when it's rare, medium rare or well done. After J told me off for burning his steak, I promised myself to try harder. And with his guidance, I was able to finally cook steak  just the way we both wanted it to be cooked- well done! Well, at home it's well done but when we're eating out, it's medium rare. 

10.  Scallops
-  I wasn't intending to cook scallops because I thought it was tricky, but thanks to one of my cooking inspirations (Farrah) for encouraging me to try. Apparently when frying scallops, you have to ensure they're dry so I patted them dry with kitchen towels first before frying them. I initially fried them in extra virgin olive oil, then when I flipped them over, I added butter. 

The scallops were served with stuffed pepper (I used mashed potato as stuffing) and grilled baby topped carrots. 

11. Pinakbet (Steamed Mixed Vegetables with pork)
-  I think pinakbet is the only dish that I was interested in cooking when I was growing up - mainly because of "bagnet" (deep fried crispy pork belly). I know that you can also use fish or even shrimp with pinakbet, but I only like it with pork - fatty pork actually. As an alternative to "bagnet", I have been using "Mr Porky".

Cooking pinakbet is quite easy, I have done it a few times. What I normally do is sauté the pork in garlic and onion, then I set it aside. Then I layer the vegetables in a pot, starting with the one that cooks the hardest first. Essentially, squash at the bottom, then the aubergine, followed by the bitter gourd and lastly, the beans. I often season it with salt, pepper and fish sauce (because I don't have anchovies). After that, I put the pork on top and let it steam on low heat for almost an hour or until the vegetables are tender-crisp.

12. Sautéed Chicken Liver
- I cook chicken liver at least twice a month, and I always cook it the same way. I usually sauté the chicken liver in garlic and onion then add shiitake mushrooms a few minutes before the liver is cooked. When both liver and shiitake mushrooms are cooked, I add a bit of teriyaki sauce, let it simmer for a bit and that's it. We normally eat it on its own, or sometimes I serve it with baby kale and mixed quinoa.

So far, I've only cooked a dozen successful dishes but I am still learning. I am quite lazy and I know I am not trying hard enough to learn how to cook. But to be quite honest, I have gone a long way since those days when I used to cry because I couldn't even cook for myself. So, no matter how little effort I have put into my cooking, I think it's still fair to say that (at least) I have achieved something. Besides, I don't follow recipes step by step. I seldom buy the exact ingredients on the recipe. I often just use whatever I have in the pantry. I don't even measure. My cooking is all about following my instincts -as it is in my life generally. :)


TIN x

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