Pandemic Cooking: Tips and tricks for born-again cooks.
Just change some of your verbs, not herbs.
To a lot of us, the pandemic meant a new-found relationship with cooking. And the lockdowns around the world in 2020 produced more new cooks than the number of Donald Trump memes online.
Suddenly, my aunt Janaki Mami’s Iyer-Kitchen on YouTube registered bigger hits than the famous British chef Jamie Oliver’s (but I advise you never to try out Janaki’s version of vegetarian Yam-burger, as the yam gets stuck to the roof of your mouth on your very first bite).
Also, please do give Sharmila Aunty’s food channel another chance. Granted that many disappointed viewers unsubscribed when they discovered no real action at all, after an unfortunate typing error replaced the ‘C’ with ‘P’ in Sharmila’s Corn Special, notwithstanding that her Indian versions of bakes are pretty appetizing.
It’s amazing how one can always find better and more posh ways to whip up the same dull dishes you’ve been cooking for years. Merely by changing some verbs, not herbs. For instance, you must julienne the tomatoes, not slice. Sauté the onions, not fry. Marinate the paneer, not coat it. Infuse the brinjal, not salt. Do a reduction of the milk, not simmer. These lovely new verbs will make everything you make feel fancier. And when the whole thing burns to cinders, remember to edit the description to say you must char the elements to lend a smoky, earthy flavour.
Nowadays, everyone knows that food must not only taste good, but must also win beauty pageants. Plating is everything! Social media has taught us that it’s not enough that you made Spanish Herbed Asparagus Supreme; you must also find it on Pinterest, and copy-paste a fine professional visual of this dish into your Instagram— with the caption ‘Tried something new today!’ before you eat your own overcooked, soggy, collapsed version of the same.
Learn the impressive French phrase mise en place (pronounced ‘meez ahn plahs’) which means ‘preparatory steps before cooking a dish’. It’s what every cooking channel genius does to show that any dish in the world takes only about 65 seconds to make. For this, you need 30 small glass bowls in which you fill spices 2 to 3 days before you start cooking. Keep adequate time to figure out some exotic ingredients like ‘fennel’ before rushing to order it online, as this is simply ‘saunf’ sitting right on your shelf. You will also be amazed at the ease and speed at which you cook, once you’ve pre-chopped, pre-soaked, semi-broiled, pre-seasoned, half-roasted, advance-poached, previously-blanched several ingredients a day before you actually begin.
For all you novices who get extremely excited seeing hack videos like “30 ways to break an egg!” which you forget exactly 30 seconds after seeing the demo, I have some handy tips and tricks to make you enjoy your new found passion for cooking, eating and entertaining.
1.If you are starting your own food channel, first get your arms elaborately tattooed. This will make any gourmet food you demonstrate appear more authentic.
2.Before making complicated dishes with hard, dry Mexican beans, soak for an hour in hot water. When you get out of the tub, simply order the dish from a restaurant. It’s faster and tastier.
3.If some recipe demands generous use of cream and cheese, and you are worried about gaining weight, then keep the dish in the oven for an hour longer. You would burn 1000 calories easily that day.
4.Chopping onions can make you cry. Always keep the cutting board a little away to prevent the chopped onions mixed in with your tears, as their salt content will affect the taste of your final dish.
5.Always keep pre-boiled eggs ready in your fridge. A real fuel-saver is to let your chickens swim around in a tub of hot water the previous day.
Some day, I shall give you the perfect recipe for Boiled Water. Till then enjoy these free tips to make you not just a home-cook but a nouvelle cuisine chef (you need to be addressed with some respect from now on) and remember this fundamental truth about cooking: You can never make the same mistake twice. Plenty of new ones are always available!