For quite some time I used to tell people that I don’t cook like it’s a badge of honor. What’s funny is, I came from a family that cooks. My late grandfather was known for his amazing pancit, my mother cooked every single day, which he passed on to my elder sister, skipped me, then onto my next sister. And then there comes my brother, who clearly has the gift for it. But even as I lived alone, I didn’t really feel compelled to make my own food. Sure, I cooked now and then but I only did the basics, e.g., frying food, cooking rice. Then recently, a friend gave me the challenge to cook a meal for one whole week. I was like, for an entire week? Can I actually do it? I guess I wouldn’t know until I give it a try.
Day 1: Homemade tapa
I started with the dish that I learned from a friend, Cai. He shared with me this homemade tapa recipe of a chef and ever since I learned how to do it, I stopped buying ready-made tapa from the grocery. It involved marinating the beef with a special mixture overnight.
The next day I fried the tapa mixture, an egg, as well as the rice to make tapsilog. I also cut tomatoes and cucumber for the side dish. The bowl version is for my brother because, for some reason, he prefers eating from a bowl than on a regular plate.
Day 2: Beef quesadilla
I didn’t have enough time to cook on this day because I was meeting a friend over lunch. Hence, I got up early and prepared an easy breakfast. For this recipe, I used whole wheat tortilla and for the filling, the remaining tapa mixture from yesterday, then added cheese, and lettuce. I had Greek yogurt on the side then voila.
Day 3: Deep-fried chicken hearts
I bought chicken hearts from the grocery because I like adding them to the chicken adobo. Today though, I had an idea of deep-frying them like chicken pops. I watched some YouTube tutorials, but they used so many spices for the flour mixture that I opted to just use a store-bought deep-fry mixture. And guys, it was surprisingly good, promise. Instead of gravy, I used chili and vinegar for the sauce, and this makes it even more delicious.
Day 4: Beef kaldereta
On the fourth day, I got a little ambitious and decided to cook a dish that takes a while to make. Beef kaldereta is my favorite Filipino dish next to adobo and while the latter is easy, the former takes more time and more ingredients to make, thus I never attempted it, well, until this challenge. I watched a few YouTube recipes then incorporated them into my cooking.
I started prepping as early as 9 in the morning to tenderize the meat through boiling. This alone took me almost four hours. My friends told me that a turbo broiler will significantly reduce the time to only 30 minutes, but I don’t have a turbo broiler, what else can I do. I had to watch it closely and ensure that the pot doesn’t dry up by continuously adding water.
Never have I cooked this long, so I had to keep reminding myself to be patient. I attempted to do steaks and other dishes that used chunks of beef before, but they were always a failure. The meat ended up being so tough, they were almost inedible. So, I had to do it right this time.
When at last the meat has been tenderized to my liking, I proceeded with cooking it with the rest of the ingredients. After 4 hours of hard work, my beef kaldereta was finished. Given this is my first kaldereta attempt, I didn’t expect much but it turned out so good I surprised myself.
Day 5: Tofu sisig
Realizing I had been eating meat in the last four days, I decided to cook a non-meat dish on the fifth day of the challenge. And because I spent so much time cooking the day before, I whipped up something easy with tofu sisig. By this time, I’d been cooking a lot it felt like it has always been part of my daily routine. This dish garnered the most reactions from my vegan/vegetarian friends (obviously) on Instagram when I posted a story.
Day 6: Tilapia in coconut milk
Another first for me is cooking something with coconut milk, which I did on the 6th day of this challenge. I opted to use fresh coco milk versus the powdered one as I believe it tastes better. Some people do this without frying the fish, but I wanted to make it tastier and a little bit crunchy, thus I began with deep frying the tilapia. The end result is a delicious, spicy, tilapia dish.
Day 7: Chicken tinola
It was day 7, the end of this challenge and I decided to cook with my favorite meat, chicken. I used the chicken tinola recipe of a friend. The secret to making this dish more savory is the ginger, lots and lots of ginger. Just like the other dishes that I made, it turned out to be fantastic; I know it sounds like I’m bragging but I’m really not. I’m all about honestly, I’d be the first to admit if the food is less than satisfactory.
I know some people who are consistent with measuring ingredients (like my friend, Cai); a teaspoon of this, half a cup of that, but I didn’t bother with any of those rules because this is not baking. I learned that cooking requires a good amount of instinct, but I know this may take practice and a deep familiarity with food and ingredients. Sometimes I watch my brother cook and he does away with measurements. Me, being ambitious (or delusional), thought I should do the same. I find that garlic does wonders to almost all kinds of dishes so I tend to be generous with it and I also like adding red chili as I love spicy food.
I learned that cooking requires a good amount of patience and I guess love. You gotta love what you’re doing or it will be reflected on what you do, in this case, your dish. It also made me realize that I’m not so bad at it, contrary to what I used to believe.
The best thing about taking this challenge is that now, I can confidently tell people that I can cook. I used to be so afraid of oil splatters I couldn’t even make a decent sunny side up egg, but now, things are a lot easier. I found that I like the whole ritual of slicing up ingredients, mixing it all in the pan/pot, and watching it all come together to make one delectable dish. Cooking is therapeutic and fun; I don’t understand now why I had been delaying learning this life skill for so long. But I’m glad that I took on this challenge (thanks to my friend, Michy), otherwise, I’d probably still be telling people that I don’t cook.