Daily Recipe Dairy No. 3 - Oct 4, 2020

Knowing how to think about food and how to approach cooking will beat any recipe. Learn the fundamentals and you can cook anywhere with anything for as many people as you need. Because fundamentals will bring you good cooking. Guaranteed.

The best cooks I know, namely my mom and grandmother, never cooked from a recipe. Never is a long time, make that HARDLY ever cooked from a recipe. It’s not because they were extraordinarily talented but instead, they knew what do to with salt, heat, acid and fat. Good food stands on this foundation.

They’d head into the wet market in the morning, in the Philippines it’s called “Dampa”(and it looks like THIS ), there they’d pick out a whole Red Snapper or some Tiger Prawns, or a fresh slab of pork belly and always a ton of vegetables. They’d pick them out because it looked good, it smelled good, it was fresh.

No constricting recipe.
Zero anxiety over when to cook.
Easy good cooking that brought good food.

Sure, we can say those were simpler times. Not a lot of distractions. The internet was not invented yet. Zero social media. There wasn’t a pandemic. People respected “working hours”. Life was less complicated. The thought might have even crossed your mind, were these women stay-at-home wives and mothers?

They were not.

My Lola (grandmom in Tagalog) was a restaurateur. Carmen was her name and she owned the restaurant inside the House of the Senate called Filipiniana. Woman did not only cook. She was a deal-maker. She set the table. Rumor had it, if a Senator wanted a bill passed, he / she did not build consensus amongst the other House Members. No. They lobbied Carmen. She was married to a complicated challenger of a man, my grandfather, who was a prominent labor lawyer. We’ll talk about him on another day, but my gosh, he had to right every wrong that came his way. I have one word for that: exhausting. Then to top it all off, my Lola raised 3 kids. Life was full. But she fed her family. She found self-care in cooking. There wasn’t a recipe to cook from.

For the first 9 years of my life my mom was an international flight stewardess with Philippine Airlines. While flying to Europe and the Mid-East twice a month she was raising me and my two brothers. My mom is married to a complicated dreamer of a man, my dad, who owned an import-export furniture manufacturing business. When she finally retired her wings, she joined my dad in the business as his CFO. Crazy busy never ended. But still, dinner was on the table. There wasn’t a recipe in slight. My mom came out of the kitchen calmer than when she entered. And, dinner was good.

Life is busy but we still have to eat. Cooking, if we allow it can make us calmer, happier individuals. Great cooking is based on the fundamentals of salt, fat, acid and heat, and it’s always within reach. We simply have to think about cooking and feeding inside the boundaries of our schedules.

In other words, we build our weekly menus based on our busy lives and cooking should come out of the fundamentals. Here’s how we do it:

  • Get a calendar and mark what nights you’ll be home.
  • Decide on what you feel like eating.
  • When you cook, plan to do so for one and a half times the number of people. If there are 4 people in your house, cook for 6. If you are solo, cook for 2 or 3. This way you’ll always have leftovers.
  • Cook with these flavor fundamentals: 30% salt plus 40% fat plus 15% acid plus 15% heat equals great cooking. For example, take ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, add 2 tsp salt, then 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 tsp Cayenne pepper to a stir-fry. When you cook with this formula for every protein, all vegetables and starches good food happens.
  • Realize there are only really 5 methods, so cooking isn’t so daunting. They are roasting, grilling, sauteing, slow-cooker and tossing a salad.

Pick one of these cooking methods, use the fundamentals formula. Add protein or vegetable. Repeat. Great cooking is universal. Great cooking is within reach.

Our Daily Recipe Dairy is below and is full of ideas. 6 savory recipes, 1 cocktail recipe (which we both know is necessary) and 1 dessert recipe (because the research shows that baking is therapeutic). If you took the Sheet-Plan Garlic Ginger Chicken on Fennel and Leeks and paired that with the Coconut Cashew Rice you could have good food for 3 meals. Or take the InstaPot Beef Hash and Braised Cabbage and apples, this combo could be 4 meals, and one of those meals could be tacos (you’re welcome). One last thing, we added Tangerines to this recipe diary because they are rich and sweet and divine right now. Even if you don’t cook with Tangerines, keep them in the fridge, this citrus is perfect this time of year.

We are going to dive deeper into how we should think about cooking and what our approach should be to feeding ourselves and our families in the coming weeks. I can give you recipe after recipe, but this isn’t the way you become the gourmet chef you are meant to be. Recipes are simply the answer to that harassing question “Hey, what are we eating?”

Stephen Covey said “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” You will continue to get the recipes. But more than just recipes, together we are going to cook from the fundamentals. So, great cooking will never feel so daunting but instead great cooking is something you get to do every day.

Here to cook and gather with you,