Creative cooking at home

Three people showcase their culinary skills which they have honed during the MCO period

02 Apr 2020 / 12:41 H.

Many of us may have discovered our inner chef after being forced to cook creative meals with limited resources since being advised to reduce our trips to the market due to the movement control order (MCO).

Here we present the stories of three people – a mum of one who whips up comfort food for her son and husband, a loving uncle who is baking a cake a day, and a man cooking primarily for himself.

A mother’s touch

Events manager Padma Zachariah, 52, who is now housebound with her 12-year-old son Sean, drums up interesting daily meals for the family.

“I did bulk cooking for curries on Sundays before the MCO. We eat all our dinners at home. Two curries are permanent features on our weekly menu: chicken curry and sambhar (a vegetable-based curry) . I usually have one or two occasional curries weekly. I would cook side dishes on a daily basis.”

After the MCO was declared, cooking became a daily affair.

“I have added chicken soup or stew in our daily diet – these are easy to cook. I use the slow cooker. I pop meats and veg in and cook for four hours (on high) or six hours (on low). I do this before going to sleep. Soups and stews are nutritious because they’re loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals. I like adding sweet potatoes into stews because the sauce is thickened and flavourful.”

“My son prefers Chinese or Western foods. I cook pasta at least three or four times a week (before and after MCO). The pasta base is usually the ratatouille I make in the slow cooker.

“I often share what I cook on Instagram because my friends and I swap recipes and I have learned so much from them.”

A bowl of fish curry cooked by Padma. – Courtesy of Padma Zachariah
A bowl of fish curry cooked by Padma. – Courtesy of Padma Zachariah

Padma pointed out that after the MCO many people started cooking more, even those who had never done so before.

“Sharing photos on social media is fun, and takes the stress and worry away. My newsfeed on Facebook is full of food pictures from friends and relatives. Just yesterday I saw a good friend post a picture of the Maggi mee goreng she made, and it looked so good. It was her first time making the dish.”

Due to a bread ‘shortage’, Padma’s husband took the bread maker she bought last year out of its box, and after watching a video showing how to make bread on YouTube, she has now started making bread for the family.

“Our grocery run remains the same. We didn’t panic buy. I was going to the wet market every two days until someone on social media took me to task for being out so much, when we should be making every effort to stay in. She’s right. I’m more careful now. I’ll be making a good list so that I don’t have to go again for a week.”

The baker man

An associate director at a public relations company, Arvin Reuben Yuvaraj has been baking cakes for a long time, but the MCO has managed to spark his creative side.

“I’ve been baking for close to 17 years already, and I usually bake about four to five cakes a month.”

When the MCO was announced, Arvin declared he was going to bake a cake a day.

“Over the last year or so, I’ve gotten really busy at work, and to be honest, I’ve just been feeling really drained – which essentially led me to lose inspiration. It’s been quite upsetting because if there’s one thing I think I do well, it’s baking. More than that, I’d like to think that I come up with some rad flavour combinations.

Arvin Reuben Yuvaraj with one of the many cakes he has concocted during the MCO. – Courtesy of Arvin Reuben Yuvaraj
Arvin Reuben Yuvaraj with one of the many cakes he has concocted during the MCO. – Courtesy of Arvin Reuben Yuvaraj

“I bake mainly at my parents’ place because it’s where I learned how to bake, and they have a fantastic oven, and we have a helper to clean up after me.”

“When the lockdown was announced, I was already there along with my two nephews and two nieces (all under 11), and I’d like at least one of them to take after me, so I decided to make this a little project.

“Unfortunately, they have short attention spans, which I realised after the very first day. However, being at home rekindled my passion for pairing flavours and I simply decided to make a cake every day. My friends on Facebook were really into it as well, many were giving me really good suggestions.”

When asked where he sources his ingredients, Arvin said: “This was the most fun part for me. I wanted to use ingredients that I already had at home! As a baker, I already have the essentials – tonnes of butter, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, lemons and cooking chocolate. My mum makes plenty of Indian food so we always have turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and star anise. My mum also has a garden with many things I can use, such as pandan leaves, lemongrass, a limau purut tree, curry leaf tree and a rose bush.”

There is also a sundry shop near his house that sends him a tray of eggs every two days.

“To be perfectly honest, and I really don’t want to sound like one of ‘those’ people, but I just go to the kitchen, look at the ingredients and see what I feel like having. I don’t force myself to think of flavours that are unique.

“If it’s chocolate cake that speaks to me, that’s what I’ll make. The one thing I make sure of is that I add a little twist to it – for instance, if I’m going to make a lemon cake, I will just add a popular ingredient that goes with lemons, but not necessarily in a cake.

“I made a lemon cake with a dash of cracked black peppercorns the other day. It’s a flavour that works in savoury food, so I figured it would be fine in sweet – and it was.”

So far all his cakes have turned out well, but the children, who are his biggest critics, are not keen on the more ‘unique’ flavours like kaffir lime leaf cake or the lemon-pepper combo that Arvin himself personally loves.

So who is enjoying them other than himself, his parents, nephews and nieces?

“Cakes need to be shared so I also give them to my aunt and a couple of friends who live [nearby]. I clean the container with a wet wipe, place it on the wall and let them take it. I am trying to abide by the law as much as I can, and want them to be safe as well.”

Xavier Mah showing off a plate of claypot chicken rice he created. – Courtesy of Xavier Mah
Xavier Mah showing off a plate of claypot chicken rice he created. – Courtesy of Xavier Mah

Fabulous food

The founder of an online label catering to a bespoke footwear, Xavier Mah used to cook two to three times a week prior to the MCO due to his very busy schedule.

“As much as I wish to cook my meals, I was pretty tied up with early morning gym sessions, yoga and work on weekdays.”

The pictures of food that he posted on social media certainly looked spectacular.

Mah explained that he has, in fact, been cooking for a long time now.

“When I was young, I loved to watch how my mum prepared meals in the kitchen.

“When my dad was hospitalised because of cancer (I was nine years old), my mum had to take care of him in the hospital.

“My siblings and I would take turns doing household chores. At that time, I started to learn to cook simple dishes myself, and came up with my own ‘agak-agak’ recipes.”

A plate of stir fried glass noodles with prawns, mussels and button mushrooms by Mah. – Courtesy of Xavier Mah
A plate of stir fried glass noodles with prawns, mussels and button mushrooms by Mah. – Courtesy of Xavier Mah

Mah usually goes out grocery shopping once or twice a week.

“Frankly speaking, because of this MCO I have more time to check my social media. For the first time, I bid for fresh seafood through a few platforms,” he said.

Since he stays alone, Mah is cooking for one during the MCO period. But that has not stopped him from sharpening his culinary skills.

“I now have more time to prepare the ingredients and explore different cooking methods.”

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