Above: Just some of our meals from the last couple of months from Instagram
If you follow my Instagram feed then you know that I like to cook. It's my thing. I simply love the process of conceptualising, planning and bringing to life not just a meal but a shared experience for my family and close friends. I consider homemaking an art and I try everyday to become better at it and being able to feed my family nutritious meals that are interesting and delicious is a challenge I accept wholeheartedly as part of it. I'm not really sure where my passion came from exactly but there was a point in my early 20's when I discovered Martha Stewart magazines, started reading cookbooks like novels and following food bloggers (fun fact: my very first blog was a vegetarian food blog!) and tried to replicate it for myself in my kitchen. I still have cookbooks on my bedside table to read at night and I still read Martha Stewart monthly (Thank God for digital magazines!) but cooking has evolved from a daily chore to another creative outlet for me and to be honest it can be a little therapeutic. I can wind down from the day by pulling together a meal that is as delicious as it is beautiful and doesn't take hours to do.
My style of cooking is best described as au pif which is a French expression meaning "by the nose". Using fresh and economical ingredients I cook by touching, tasting and smelling as I go, rather than going word for word from a recipe -- although the concept my have been as a result of a recipe I tried months earlier. I will try a couple of new recipes each week (usually for Sunday dinner) and if they are well received I will put a copy in my recipe box for future use. Generally though, I try not to spend more than 30-45 minutes actually cooking our main meal of the day and I don't usually work from a recipe. Instead I choose meals that have little preparation and don't need much attention which they cook.
The focus of summer in the kitchen is usually about keeping cool and letting people choose how much they want to eat themselves rather than loading up plates so I put everything on the table and let people choose what they want. Lately I am planning meals about 2 days in advance and my go-to meals during summer are fajitas and tacos, burgers, anything on the BBQ with an easy salad or tapas, paella and pizza (since we bought this I haven't cooked in my oven since Christmas!) and all of these meals are made from scratch using whatever I have in the kitchen. The chips to go with the burgers are homemade and oven baked. The pizza dough and sauce is homemade. The marinates and dry rubs for BBQ meats and seafoods are homemade. It might sound labour intensive but it has been my process for at least the past 10 years where I cook with real ingredients rather than packets and it not only tastes better but its more economical. For example, the pizza sauce I make in 15 seconds costs about $1 for 8 pizzas compared to using a pre-made pasta sauce costing $4 and I know exactly what ingredients are in it. Of course there are times when I spend a little more time and money in the kitchen creating something special, but cooking for my family and friends is my way of giving them a big hug and letting them know how much they mean to me. It is my love language.
Last summer I gifted my clients one of my go to recipes for any time of the year customising our large family paella to a 2 person meal. It does get more traction in summer being a one-dish meal with little effort that looks like you took hours to make it. Placing a large paella pan in the middle of the table always gets a few oohs and aahs and it is definitely a meal to be shared on a large scale.
What is my secret to a good paella? Time. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on your favourite summer playlist and take your time to develop all the flavours. Don't rush a paella with a high heat in the browning stages but rather go slowly and enjoy the process. I promise it makes it taste so much better. Make it a complete meal by throwing a couple of handfuls of frozen peas on the top of the paella for the last few minutes of cooking and serve with balsamic vinegar and lemon wedges. Our large Paella pan is a large 46cm non-stick version similar to this which doesn't heat up as much as an aluminium version which may need less time on the heat.
If you'd like my recipe for Paella you can download it for free from here. Happy cooking!