Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's what I do.

(and what is it, you ask, that I do?)

Well recently, it's cooking.

Now, it's been a long time coming, and it didn't happen overnight, but over the last three years, I have developed a passion for cooking. I don't know where it came from (ok, actually, I do), but it is serving me well lately, and I have never eaten so deliciously.

I've always loved to bake. To me, it was simple - a random set of 15 or so ingredients mixed and re-mixed in different proportions. Flour, butter, salt, sugar, the occasional sprinkle of cinnamon, and voila - a delicious batch of cookies, or a cake, or muffins of some sort. But cooking always frightened me, with it's infinite number of ingredients and more challenging directions (slice, mince, blanche, sauté...). Plus, everyone around me was eating so well, and so healthily, and I wasn't even sure what to do with a head of garlic.

But all of that has changed. Many of the people around me (mostly my married friends) me have inspired me to become a great chef, which is a skill (whether great or not) that everyone should have. I'm not going to lie, I'm slightly embarrassed for my nearing- or past-30 friends who have completely empty pantries and one meal they can cook properly (whilst living on take-aways for the other 28 days of the month). And although that was me not so long ago (when I was closer to 25, really), I've vowed it not to be any more.

Becoming a cook doesn't come easy, or quickly. One has to slowly ease their way into ingredients. And when living in Japan, one has to be willing to improvise, try things a bit differently, and be prepared to make mistakes. But through those processes, the skill level rises, and pretty soon you've got a fridge full of fruits and veges that you know how to slice, mince, blanche, and sauté, a freezer full of spices to flavor it all up, and a pantry full of dried and canned goods that play great supporting roles.

So there - before I even knew what had happened, I was a great cook (with the fridge and pantry to boot).

Over the last four months, I've collected more than 6 different kinds of flours, four different kinds of sugars, nuts of every varietal, more canned tomatoes and garbanzo beans than you can shake a stick at, and so many colors of grains that my pantry looks like a rainbow. Also, since the purchase of my juicer, I have a freezer full of frozen fruits and pulps that go great in morning smoothies or cakes, as well as a couple of casseroles that have been frozen for quick and easy on-the-go meals.

But, what else do I do? Well, everything efficiently, of course, as most of you know, and cooking is no exception. So, the inspiration for this blog post came after a Sunday evening of cooking, which was so high-speed and maniacal, that I felt I had to share (probably because many of you aren't actually going to believe that yes, Wendy does, indeed, cook, but that yes, she does do it fast and efficiently).

I've gotten into this habit of trying to make my week as easy as possible by cooking up a heap of stuff on Sunday nights, or planning out my week from what's in the fridge. I don't like to be wasteful with food or time, so this suits me well. Sometimes I look up recipes and buy the foods, and other time I have the foods on hand and try to find a recipe that sorts it out. For this particular Sunday night, with a fridge full of food (Sundays are my grocery day), here's what happened...

I started off with a pot of homemade marinara. Only five ingredients, but a double batch will serve me for two nights of homemade pizza (from scratch - crust and all - that will be Tuesday and Friday night's dishes!) as well as extra for a pot of seafood linguini (next Sunday?).

While this was cooking on the stove, I cubed and baked up some croutons from two loaves of cinnamon raisin bread that I had purchased at a local ma and pa bakery. The croutons go great not only on salads, but as the base of a quiche I love to make (just blend until fine in the food processor, add a 1/3 cup of butter, and voila - insta-crust).

Of course, I love the sweet, so I put together a quick loaf of creamy jello for the week's dessert.

Seeing half of a jar of Old English Cheese in the fridge, I decided to whip up a mini-batch of crab canopes, and although Japan's version of canned crab isn't nearly as crabby (or delicious) as it is from the good old U of A, I made due. Into the freezer those went for a night when I'm feeling up to a quick and light meal (which is why they went in next to the frozen casserole).

To go with a tofu scramble I was just getting ready to make, I grated some cheese and threw together some quick gluten-free cheese biscuits, Red Lobster style, minus all the butter, garlic, and wheat flour. They turned out a bit doughy, but delicious nonetheless. I had made a half batch only, but it still yielded 12 biscuits, so I cooked 6 off and put the other 6 in the freezer. (Luckily, the crab canopes were frozen enough by then, as I was running room for all the pans in there!).

Lastly came the tofu scramble. I'm starting to learn to cook with tofu, and have erred on this many times (I dare you to try to come over and read the kanji for 'firm' tofu!). But, after about 6 attempts, and through a bit of help from a friend, I found some that was satisfactory enough to use as an egg substitute. And by egg substitute, I mean I made scrambled eggs without eggs, using tofu instead, and added curry, spinach, and onion. Really simple, and very delicious with drop cheese biscuits.

Then I sat down to write this. Whew. Tiring, but very satisfactory indeed.