The Year of Challenges Continues…With Cooking!

In my last post, I wrote about my reading challenge for 2020, which is coming along pretty well. I’ve fallen a little behind (6/52 so far) so I’ll need to pick up the pace, but overall I’m loving it. Finished Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely (this year’s Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster—a very well-deserved honor based on this book) and am slowly making my way through Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron. The writing moves quickly but the worldbuilding is amazing, so I try to slow down and take it all in as I’m reading.

Love this cover

But reading isn’t my only challenge for this year. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a cook; I love baking and enjoy making festive meals for friends and family, but the daily drudgery of cooking for sustenance is just not for me. However, eating out and getting frozen meals and other processed food gets expensive, unhealthy, and just tiresome really. So one of my goals is to cook a complete meal (no, eggs and rice don’t count, Mia!) once a week, and a savory Filipino dish at least once a month.

I’ve made a bunch of Filipino desserts, but the savory dishes were my father’s domain. He reigned supreme in the kitchen and I had no desire to even attempt to unseat him. Unfortunately, he’s gone now, taking with him his delicious recipes (as well as his quiet humor and knowledge on so many different subjects). Without him, there’s no one to prepare my favorite meals and one of the few connections I have to my heritage (my mom is NOT a cook). So I figured it was time I learned.

I eased into the challenge last month by making one of the easiest dishes possible—longanisa with a fried egg and white rice. It’s a popular dish for breakfast and one of my favorite dishes, period.

This month, I continued with the easy yet well-loved dish of Bistek Tagalog—thinly sliced beef marinated in soy sauce, onions, and citrus juice. Calamansi, a small citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between a lemon and a lime, is traditional but can easily be substituted for lemon juice, which is what I did. This was my absolute favorite dish as a child. Anytime I saw my dad tenderizing the meat with a cleaver, slicing up a huge pile of onions, and frying sliced potatoes to accompany the meat and rice (my mom hates vegetables, hence the double carbs), I would get so excited.

The hiss of the meat hitting the hot wok brought back a rush of memories and eating the finished meal was like a taste of childhood, but with a twist. The recipe I used was from the book I Am A Filipino: And This Is How We Cook by Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad, which takes traditional Filipino recipes and soups them up a bit. For example, this recipe has you reduce the marinade for the sauce and then finishes it off with a generous pat of butter. An absolute baller move, as this adds a lovely richness to the dish that matches well with the sharp acidic bite of the citrus, rounding things out.

I didn’t use rib-eye ’cause your girl ain’t got that kind of money, but if you tenderize the meat before marinating it, cheap cuts of beef are just as delicious

As we near the end of the February and head into March, I wonder what recipe to tackle next. Considering the cold snap that’s hit Chicago, maybe a soup or stew-y dish? Only time and the contents of my fridge will tell.

What about you, Dear Readers? Anyone here love to cook? Hate it? Have a treasure trove of family recipes that helps connect you to your roots? Let me know in the comments!

Author: Mia P. Manansala

Mia P. Manansala is the author of Love, Loss, and Lumpia (Berkley 2021) and the winner of the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, 2017 William F. Deeck - Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship. She's also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and 2018-2019 mentor.

16 thoughts on “The Year of Challenges Continues…With Cooking!”

  1. Mia, you are cruel! It’s 4 AM here and now I’m craving this dish. Yum.

    I love to cook, actually find it relaxing, although I think it’s the chopping that cathartic. Hey, I write mysteries and kill people in my spare time, what can I say. My mom was a gourmet cook, but 99% of her cooking was from recipes, and she followed them to the letter. Her heritage recipes were special, but she refused to teach me – or have anyone in the kitchen when she cooked. I’m only now learning them from my cousin who was lucky enough to grow up not only with her mother, but her grandmother, who was my great-aunt and they shared all the great word of mouth recipes with her.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha I’m the opposite. I hate the prep work aspect of cooking (my knife skills are shameful) but don’t mind the actual act of sauteing, simmer, stirring, tasting, etc. Sometimes I’ll spend a little more money and buy the pre-cut veggies. Hate doing it, but it ensures I’ll actually cook with it instead of letting it rot in my fridge, unloved and unchopped.

      My dad didn’t use recipes (and didn’t want us in the kitchen with him because it was so small and we got in the way), which is why I’m just now learning how to make these things.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. First, that picture looks scrumptious.

    I didn’t love the process of “making dinner” although I loved making holiday or big meals. But since we got an Instant Pot, dinner is getting more exciting – mostly because it’s opened up a new realm of recipes and things to try. On my own, I tended to go for “same old, same old.”

    My grandmother had some dessert recipes, but she never wrote them down and I fear they are lost. I tried to recreate her Croatian nut roll (she wasn’t Croatian, but her husband was) one Christmas. Close, but not quite.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. My in-laws were up this weekend and I was really touched that my MIL gave me a cookbook that belonged to her and had a bunch of recipes from her mother and grandmother. It’s so fun to look at these “vintage” recipes and tell my husband I’m going to put meat and veggies in a Jell-O mold. 😉 But all joking aside, I really enjoy cooking and feeling a connection with family members long gone.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Since I work at home as a full time novelist now, I’m also the principal cook for my family. One of my duties is to come up with interesting, nutritious and economical meals each night for my working wife and son in high school. Sometimes I’ll use a recipe from a cook book, but most often, I shake the fridge and see what falls out. It’s a priority to use up leftovers. Incidentally, one of my all time fave TV shows is Chopped on Food Network – it helps me greatly with the transformation of leftovers into something completely different. For example, last night I had leftover cabbage (fresh and cooked both), one turnip, a leftover baked potato, a leftover boiled potato and two slices of ham in the fridge. With the addition of some bacon grease, vegetable stock and half a block of cream cheese, that became a creamy potage with chunks of ham, and I made a canned bean salad with onions parsley and cilantro as a go with. Sliced pumpernickel and butter completed the feast.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. We were just talking about this yesterday at my mahjong game! One woman’s daughter said she doesn’t need the family recipes and cookbooks because she has Pinterest. I immediately thought of how I treasure my mom’s old cookbooks and 3×5 notecards that have her handwritten recipes on them. Her recipe box is in the same mess it was when she died. I might or might not organize it at some point. (Prolly not.)

    While I love to cook and experiment, like you, Mia, the daily need to get something made for dinner can be a drudge. Congratulations on your new culinary commitment, and I too love the cover of that book!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have some of those notecards as well. I can remember my mom trying to get specific recipes from my grandmother and great grandmother and trying to decipher the amounts of ingredients illustrated by my great grandmother holding out her hand and saying “about this much” or “three little pinches.”

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Mia, this all looks and sounds amazing!!

    I’m not a cook. I can make seven recipes with relative success, which means if you stay at my house for a week, you’ll experience the entire repertoire.

    I don’t have recipes that connect me to my roots, but last Christmas, I gave my father a book of traditional Armenian recipes that brought a tear to his eye. I’m not sure he’ll ever prepare any of the dishes, but I know it brought back happy memories of meals with his grandparents.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LOL my mom had maybe three dishes she kept on a heavy rotation in my childhood. My dad would make the feasts on the weekend and my grandmother (my family all lived in my maternal grandparents’ house) did most of the day to day cooking, but once in a while my mom would pull out one of the three meat and rice dishes she knew how to make.

      And what a lovely present for your father!

      Liked by 2 people

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