My love for cooking translates to my love for food. In my blog post before, I elaborated on how I started to develop my passion for cooking and the reasons why I love this hobby. In our current pandemic situation, I am happy to have more time to level up my cooking skills. I enjoy learning new recipes, techniques, styles, and expanding my knowledge of different cuisines. That learning process also interferes with the challenge of juggling responsibilities with my work from home, occasionally making mistakes in the kitchen, and keeping the balance of budgeting. However, the joy of overcoming these while making your loved ones happy is priceless.

My blog post Reasons Why I Love Cooking (And How Can you Learn it Too)” is getting daily traffic with readers from around the globe. With the present set-up where most of us are confined to our homes, I guess people are curious and eager to discover a new productive passion. I thought of writing an updated post that shares my newly discovered cooking tips, preferences for ingredients, and other practical techniques related to cooking. Hope you learn a thing or two.

What Motivates Me

Before lockdown, I loved dining at restaurants. I liked attending foodie events and dining out with my loved ones regardless if there’s an occasion or not. During quarantine when options became limited, I was inspired to imitate the restaurant specialties I love and recreate them at home. Instead of spending for online deliveries, I just study the recipe and share them with my family. Lesser expenses, but safer and healthier. Of course, it was not that easy. But I like taking new challenges and the reward is fulfilling.

Sweet and Sour Fish Fillet
Homemade Shabu Shabu

Preparing Ahead

No task comes easy, but planning is always the key. Cooking is tedious if it interferes with other household or office tasks. I sometimes get stressed doing this in between my lunch breaks because I am pressed for time. Unlike in my previous work set-up where I can just buy my food outside or prepare my packed lunch ahead, this time I cook not only for myself but for my entire family. Although cooking meals is rotational at home, I sometimes volunteer to do it because my siblings are busy too with their work. And of course, I get to eat the food that I like! Haha!

Before going to the grocery, I already have in mind a list of the dishes I am planning to make so I also create a list of the complete ingredients that I might be needing. This also saves time and effort of going out to buy just a single item that is missing on your list.

Organizing my ingredients

What I normally do is I plan if I will be in charge of the kitchen. I check if there are missing ingredients and either buy them during my free time, or just make use of the available food supplies in the pantry. Sometimes I cut the ingredients before I go to bed if my dish requires complicated preparation the next day. I marinate the meat overnight, or peel the vegetables in advance. I thaw the frozen meat or boil it hours before my break. In short, I divide my tasks in small batches so the preparation won’t be too dragging.

My Must-Have Ingredients

Because I’ve been cooking frequently, I already have a list of must-have ingredients in the pantry that I always include in my grocery shopping. I won’t enumerate everything, just the “special” items which we don’t normally consider as basic staples, but I deem important in enhancing food taste and quality.

  1. Butter/ Olive oil – Butter and olive oil provide another level of taste to the food than using plain cooking oil. If I don’t have the enough budget for olive oil, I just use butter or margarine. I use it for sautéing and frying.

2. Pasta – This is a versatile food that is a favorite in the family. The “Pastabilities” are endless, as they would say. You can serve this while entertaining guests at home or if you have a random family celebration. It’s a universal food in every household. There are over a hundred recipes online which you can learn depending on your sauce preference.

Linguine with Meatballs

3. Cheese– I love cheese.  I often use this for my pasta, baked dishes, or for adding a layer of creamy and cheesy flavor to my stews or sauce-based dishes. This secret ingredient makes fried food like Lumpiang Shanghai, meatballs, and Dynamite tastier. It actually goes well with anything! I always buy Cheddar cheese, Quickmelt cheese, and Parmesan cheese.

4. All Purpose Cream- The all purpose cream makes any dish richer and creamier in taste. You can mix it with pasta sauces, tomato-based dishes, meat, and desserts. There are different brands of all purpose cream, but I always go for Nestlé cream.

5. Seasonings and Spices– Unlike other health-conscious people, I don’t rely on salt and pepper or soy sauce and vinegar. I have a list of seasonings which can be used as marinades or enhancing the taste of my dishes. They are Knorr liquid seasoning, Oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and Kikkoman Soy Sauce. I also use Knorr cubes and sometimes, Magic Sarap. For spices, I recommend McCormick.

Chefs and Cooking Moms I Look up to

I like Chef JP Anglo’s innovativeness on using local ingredients. I admire Judy Ann Santos’ expansive knowledge of local and international cuisines. I like Erwan’s straightforward take on simple and complex dishes. I look up to Danica Sotto’s basic tips on home cooking and her grace while explaining the procedures. I consider Vanjo Merano’s cooking as practical and relatable. I am enticed to Marjorie Barretto’s grace and love for her family while doing her recipes. I love Marion Grasby’s profound experience on Asian dishes. The way she describes an ingredient or dish is truly inviting. I watch them in YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

Erwan Heusaff and Chef JP Anglo

Although I have high respect for international chefs, I am more inclined to watching Filipino chefs because the ingredients they recommend can be found in local stores. The terms they use are also easy to understand.

Learning the Recipe and Finding Alternatives

If it’s a new recipe, I usually watch 3-4 different versions of the cooking demo on YouTube. I also ask my parents and friends if they have tried cooking that dish. I also search for the recipes in Pinterest to gather more ideas. I follow the recipe with doable procedures and cheap ingredients. By watching different versions, I carefully note the consistent elements in those videos and incorporate them in my version.

I’ve also learned to find alternatives if the ingredient mentioned is not available. For example, if it requires chicken stock and I don’t have it, I just dissolve the chicken cubes in hot water. Instead of using tomato sauce, I use fresh tomatoes. Instead of using garlic powder, minced garlic would do the trick. Just replace the seemingly-expensive ingredients with other items available at home. Be resourceful and creative.

Budget Tips

I’m not an expert on this, but with my experience in handling the groceries for the past 6 months, here are my tips:

  1. List down all the ingredients you need before heading the grocery. Make an inventory of the available supplies to avoid buying extra stocks.
  2. Set a budget based on your income.
  3. Separate the frozen meat in smaller portions and store them in plastic containers.
  4. Buy vegetables in the wet market for cheaper prices.
  5. Buy in large quantities or packages. Buy 1 sack of rice instead of per kilo.
  6. Don’t overcook. Estimate the eating capacity of your family members to avoid food waste.
  7. Learn to recycle leftover food.
Fresh vegetables from the market in Quiapo

Note: We prefer going to the supermarket because everything you need is there. We buy vegetables and fish at the wet market for fresh supplies.

My Advice for Beginners

Don’t feel too frustrated if you encounter failures and mistakes in your cooking. We learn from mistakes. Learn to accept constructive criticism from peers or family members. Keep your hunger for learning and keep improving your craft. Watch tutorials in several social media platforms and nurture your curiosity. Don’t forget to take photos and be proud of your work! And lastly, do everything with passion and love.