My name is Connie Veneracion. I am the wife of an engineer who was nicknamed Speedy by his mother for reasons I may never comprehend. We have two daughters, Sam and Alex. We’re a family that’s three quarters meat lover (Speedy, Alex and me) and one part vegetarian and occasional pescatarian (Sam). That should explain the strange mix of recipes in this blog.
No, I am not a chef. I’m a mother, wife, lawyer (retired) and writer (retired newspaper columnist and magazine writer).
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. My mother did not cook.
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.
I descended from a family of serious foodies
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 specialty was cold meat. My grandparents 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, loose tea leaves 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. 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 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.
Am I the only one who cooks all the dishes featured in the blog? No, my husband and daughters cook too.