It’s funny how things change. When we first learn how to do something, especially when we’re children, whatever way we learnt to do it is the exact and only way to do it. Consequently, the way we learnt also becomes the best way to do whatever it is we were taught. As we get older, that particular way becomes further ingrained in us and more than a means to an end. It becomes a part of our lives. In fact, it often becomes sacrosanct. It’s not so bad – meaning we don’t hold on to things do tightly – when we learn new things as adults. At that point in our lives, we tend to see and understand the value of doing things differently; especially if it means it takes less time and effort and costs less money.
Just a quick side bar. I can hear the voices already. The voices of the people who are adamant that quicker isn’t better. To them, I say fair enough. Quicker isn’t always better. In fact, quicker may not be better. What quicker is is, well, quicker. And, as a multi-job husband and parent, whose spouse also has multiple jobs, quicker is often a valuable necessity.
When I started to cook, I did so from scratch. Everything was made from fresh ingredients. When I was a kid in Hong Kong, I always ordered the Coq Au Vin whenever we ate at Landau’s. When I came to America, missing a taste from home, I duplicated the dish in my head and then in the kitchen. I’d make the cream sauce with cornstarch and water. Then, I’d add the milk and mushrooms to the cubed chicken. Today, I still make it that way sometimes but usually, instead of cornstarch and water, I put in a tin of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Everything else is the same. The Campbell’s makes things easier, quicker and guarantees a desired consistency. God forbid you slip up and the cornstarch thickener is a tad too thin or a touch too clumpy. (Well, just clumpy. Is there really ever an acceptable amount of clump?) And that’s all the cornstarch is, a thickening agent. Additionally, with the soup, I don’t have to salt the dish and I can use milk instead of cream and I can add less (whether milk or cream) because the soup is already creamy.
When I learnt to make the Filipino dish Afritada, my mother taught me how to do it with achuete. She also showed me how to make Kare Kare with peanut butter. That is already a bit of a cheat. In the purer and more traditional method, peanuts are actually pounded and grounded before being put into the pot for Kare Kare. Today, while I still add a little peanut butter to give it a creamier texture, I use the pouches of ready-mix made by Mama Sita’s. I use the ready-mix now for Afritada also and my wife uses the brand’s Sinigang and Nilaga pouches also.
The cheat methods are probably less healthy, though, but they get the job done. The ready mix of Kare Kare surely has preservatives and excess MSG, for instance. The Campbell’s soup has likely way more sodium than I would use when I season my Coq Au Vin from scratch, especially since I typically don’t use salt when I cook any dish. But, while those are legitimate things to consider when cooking, for the purpose of this post, I am focusing on efficiency and taste. Ultimately, that’s what food is about.
With regard to the health concerns, I firmly believe that if you get enough rest, balance the naughty things you eat with the not so naughty, drink your water and get your exercise, a touch too much sodium here and a bit of sugar there isn’t going to do much in the end.
So, if you aren’t afraid to stray from the purist inside you, give the quick and easy a go. You might find it to be another useful skill in the kitchen.
Coming soon in the Recipes section, I will post the recipes for both Coq Au Vin and Kare Kare. I’ll also try to remember some of my other cooking cheats and post them as they come to me. In the meantime, do share yours.