The bucket list: Whip up your signature dish

(Fifth of a series)

“Food is a way of making a connection with others and making memories.”

[Select a handful of those things on your bucket list that have the highest chance of coming to fruition given your time frame. In tech speak, this means before your life’s energy goes into ‘low batt mode’ and life has run out of sockets to plug into.]

EVER wonder how the Peach Melba dessert got its name?

It was said that the celebrated French chef Auguste Escoffier named the confection after his friend, the soprano Nellie Melba of Melbourne, Australia. She would dine in the restaurant where he was chef and would give him tickets to the opera where she was the main draw. Nellie Melba was the late 19th century equivalent of a celebrity these days that could pack opera houses for the elite in London, Paris and New York. On a historical note, Escoffier partnered with Cesar Ritz  (from whose name the term “ritzy” is derived, to mean elegant and first class, and pricey as well) to establish the Ritz-Carlton Hotels chain.

From the book, “Memories of My Life” by Auguste Escoffier, here’s the original recipe good for 6 that he created for Peach Melba.

“Choose 6 tender and perfectly ripe peaches. The Montreuil peach, for example, is perfect for this dessert. Blanch the peaches for 2 seconds in boiling water, remove them immediately with a slotted spoon, and place them in iced water for a few seconds. Peel them and place them on a plate, sprinkle them with a little sugar, and refrigerate them. Prepare a liter of very creamy vanilla ice cream and a purée of 250 grams of very fresh ripe raspberries crushed through a fine sieve and mixed with 150 grams of powdered sugar. Refrigerate.

To serve: Fill a silver timbale with the vanilla ice cream. Delicately place the peaches on top of the ice cream and cover with the raspberry purée. Optionally, during the almond season, one can add a few slivers of fresh almonds on top, but never use dried almonds.”

Signature dishes are not just for the rich and famous. They are for you and me, as well.

Choose just one dish. Just one from many possibilities… Choose a scrumptiously delicious one. Work on it many times until you can do it from scratch without looking at your cheat sheet and it becomes a masterpiece.

Cook it for family gatherings or potluck events. Cook it until they clamor for you to bring it because your dish is memorable. You notice that people come for seconds until it’s all gone. Clean plate and happy faces —the mark of a culinary success…

Congratulations! You’ve created your signature dish. You have placed your name on it. Best of all, you’ve created gastronomic memories, quite hard to forget because, believe you me, the gut remembers.

I have met many who have done this and it is a source of joy specially when shared with many. My friend Angel cooked Spanish Paella with original ingredients from Spain and with great flourish wearing a chef’s hat and risqué apron of washboard abs, in a class reunion held in their mountain view home. It was delicious and memorable.

Two of my sisters, Olga and Evelyn, bake Sans Rival and indeed, nothing rivals their concoction. Fresh lumpiang sariwa, with many hours of chopping, slicing and dicing of the ingredients is my mother’s and eldest sister, Olga’s signature dish. There is Agnes Jovellana’s delightful original espasol which she prepares for her parties. My sister Mitch of San Antonio, Texas prepared Buttered Mochi and her baked dish was a hit. I do a simple potato soup with bacon that is popular in the winter time. The millenials in our family love it. My daughter-in-law Elia, prepares her special recipe for Turkey with bacon on Thanksgiving and draws rave reviews from the family. My son, Rene, prepares delightful chocolate ice cream, from scratch and there is never enough. A colleague, Malou Halili-Case who hails from Pampanga (famous for women who cook heavenly dishes) prepared Dinuguan, on slow cooker and it was special and memorable. Team it up with puto and, Voila, you have a wonderful meal.

If you don’t have any signature dish, get cracking and work on one, just one dish you can enjoy preparing and put your mark on. With time and practice,  you will get better at it. Choose one that is popular with most taste buds. Don’t let your ego rule trying to reinvent the wheel and try an exotic dish, like alligator soup, for instance.

Nix the labels low calorie, low fat, gluten free, low carb. It is a bit of a downer when you have to work within limiting parameters. It doesn’t have to be original but it must be pleasing to most taste buds within your orbit of friends and family. Oftentimes, it could be just a tweak on an existing, tested recipe with a secret ingredient or a different technique of doing. Make it simple, easy and fun.

Food is a way of making a connection with others and making memories. Remember that Jesus Christ in his time ate bread, fish and drank wine with his disciples on many occasions. Those were the staples of his time and salt was the flavoring. He multiplied the bread and fish as He fed thousands who followed him to hear his teachings. Jesus knew how important it was to make a connection. He still connects with us two thousand years later in the Holy Eucharist at Mass when bread and wine are consecrated and become His body and blood. It is a daily reminder of how God loves us — so much He sent His only son to redeem us from sin and death so we may live forever.

We use food to feed our bodies and make a connection with others. Partaking of the Eucharist to feed our souls in order to make a connection with the divine is the other aspect worth pursuing as part of our bucket list.

Food is a blessing, a visual and visceral aid, that makes our life here on earth so wonderfully engaging.

Make your signature dish and the joys they have caused to yourself and others part of the wonderful memories etched in your soul forever.

Next week:  Another idea to consider for The Bucket List …

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Nota Bene: Monette Adeva Maglaya is SVP of Asian Journal Publications, Inc. To send comments, e-mail monette.maglaya@asianjournalinc.com

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