Food & cooking at CASA Veneracion
In 2003, a time when I hadn’t heard of the term “blog”, I started a recipe website at cooking.houseonahill.net using a now defunct content management system that ran on ASP. Ok, never mind the geek talk, I’m sure you’re not interested in that. The contents easily multiplied and, in 2004, I moved the food site to pinoycook.net. Always unhappy with the fact that the dot com versions of houseonahill and pinoycook weren’t mine, I moved the food site to homecookingrocks.com and the rest of my blogs to casaveneracion.com (making sure, this time, that the dot net versions of both domains were also mine).
That was last year. Maintaining six blogs had become too much work. Besides, I figured that readers would benefit from, and appreciate, variety — related but still varied subjects. Most of everything I’ve written had always been related to my home and family — from parenting experiences to the meals we eat to our occasional travels to our hobbies and passions. And I just integrated everything together in one blog here at CASAVeneracion.com.
This page is about the food section.
I used to do all the cooking and photography around here but, recently, there has been a lot of contributions from my husband, Speedy, and our firstborn, Sam, who is taking up Photography in college. Speedy does the risotto, the cocktail drinks and very meaty dishes, I do the rest, although I dream of the day when he will cook just as often as I do. I commissioned Sam to take photos of the ingredients for the cocktail drinks. With pay, of course.
No, I am not a chef. I’m a mommy, wife, lawyer (retired) and writer (retired newspaper columnist and magazine writer) although the order varies depending on the occasion.
Speedy is an engineer by profession. We have two girls, Sam and Alex, who are both in college and who are the our most brutal critics when it comes to the dishes that we cook. Speedy did not start cooking seriously until recently; I’ve been cooking most of my life.
I learned to cook by hanging out in the kitchen with my grandfather, grandmother and father. The Chinese influence is from my grandfather (no, he was not Chinese but he was really good with Chinese cooking). The Filipino influence I got from my grandmother. The adventurous spirit with the use of new combinations and techniques I got from my father. Growing up, I developed my own style and techniques with a lot of help from cookbooks and the television. Then, I started creating my own recipes.
Long before I was born, so I’ve been told, my grandfather and grandmother owned a grocery store along Echague Street in Quiapo, Manila. It was called Consuelo’s Grocery, named after my grandmother. Those were the postwar years and with that grocery store, they made good money. The grocery’s specialties were cold meat. They cured their own ham, made their own tocino, tapa and longganisa. My father, a young boy at the time, learned his first lessons on how to choose “good meat” at that grocery store.
All throughout my childhood, my grandparents’ house, which was next to ours, was the scene of countless family reunions. Both my grandparents came from large families. During preparations for Christmas and birthday parties (which were always major events), my younger brother and I would run all over the grounds watching everyone cook, picking and tasting meat and sweets even before the dishes were completed. I distinctly remember how they made Pancit Luglog during those days. No ready made sauces. The shrimp heads were pounded and squeezed. My grandfather had a heavy-duty meat grinder (from the grocery days) and they ground fresh tinapa (smoked fish) and chicharon (pork cracklings) for the pancit. Ox tail and tripe for Kare-kare were simmered overnight at the backyard over burning wood. Paella was cooked in a large carajay. Siomai (steamed Chinese dumplings) were cooked in large bamboo steamers, the size you find in restaurants these days.
It was also during those early years when I listened to my father explain which kind of meat went well with each dish, the correct way of cutting meat, why sauces as accompaniments made certain dishes special… When the mood hit him (which was often), we would go driving through provinces north or south of Manila in search of special ingredients, cooking supplies, fruits or delicacies. We would go to Laguna for lanzones, wooden chopping boards, fresh coconuts and buko (coconut) pie; to Bulacan for pastillas and puto (rice cakes); to Cavite for señorita (small bananas that are very sweet), watermelons and chayote; to Batangas for freshly-dug ube (purple yam) with the soil still clinging to the skin, and barako (native coffee beans); or to good old Chinatown in Binondo for freshly-slaughtered duck, herbal tea and those premature chicken eggs that had yet to form shells and which tasted so good with his arroz caldo. He was a real land rover, and the vehicle he drove suited him to a T. And he was especially fond of stalls along barrio roads, far from the towns and highways where prices were always higher. It was also from my father that I learned to roast duck and quail, and how to cook eel.
I cooked my first complete dish when I was in the 4th grade. It was spaghetti. I brought it to the class field trip.
As a young adult, there were two major influences in my cooking: cookbooks and television. I bought whatever cookbooks and cooking magazines I could afford with my allowance, along with the inevitable James Clavell and James Michener paperbacks. The television influence came in three stages: Stephen Yan, Nora Daza and Biba (Biba’s Italian Kitchen on Discovery Channel), in that order.
Many other lessons and influences came after all that and I have reached a point when I can confidently whip up a good meal with whatever is available in the kitchen. I am now mom to two girls, aged
15 and 13 16 and 15 18 and 16 19 and 18 21 and 20, both in college but who still prefer to bring home-cooked meals to the rented condo near the university where they stay during weekdays. See, I am not the kind of cook who will refuse to do a dish because I lack one ingredient or another specified in the cookbook. I love substituting and I love even more to discover how dishes can be improved, or variations of it created, simply by substituting, omitting or adding one or more ingredients. My family loves that because, except for real favorites, I don’t often cook the same dishes over and over.
Cooking is an adventure, it’s been a wild ride so far and I know I’m still learning. This blog has been online since 2003, a spin-off newspaper column called Feast Asia has come and gone, and the blog is still here, stronger and better (I hope!) than ever.
*This article was last updated on February 9, 2014.