Why I Write About Food 022: Marvellina Goh of What To Cook Today

After moving from Indonesia to the US, Marvellina was regularly faced with the question "What to cook today?" What began as an effort to learn her mom's recipes has turned into a passion for cooking and a new-found love for food photography. If you find yourself asking the same question, give Marvellina's tasty Indonesian recipes a go! 

Tell us about What To Cook Today.
More than six years ago, I moved to Minnesota, USA as a brand-new housewife who didn't know how to cook and missing mom's cooking and Indonesian food very much. I called and emailed my mom so often to ask her how to cook this and that. As I was cooking more and more, my husband suggested I start a blog about cooking. I bought into that idea and I decided I would name it What To Cook Today because that was the question I asked myself almost every day. It started out with lots of Southeast Asian food and then we tried lots of food from other countries as well. At the same time, my love for food photography was growing enormously. It teaches me to look at things from different perspectives and find beauty in little things I would've never paid attention to before. So What To Cook Today is: cook, eat, photograph, repeat.

Why do you write about food?
It started out as my way of documenting my exploration of the culinary world. Now that I have kids, I feel that it's even more important for me to write about food that I grew up eating because it's one of the ways for them to learn about Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. With me cooking and writing about food, hopefully, they will grow up more open-minded and have adventurous palates. Besides, who knows one day they might want to cook mom's recipes and they can easily access them from the blog.

When you first moved from Indonesia to the US, what were some of the challenges you faced in trying to cook Southeast Asian food at home and how did you overcome them? 
I got most of my Southeast Asian food recipes from mom. There were pretty much no measurements provided and so the challenge for me was trying to set the quantities. But as I was cooking more, I think I started to get the hang of it. Practice sure is the mother of skill.
Another challenge I'm still facing is finding some of the ingredients like spices and herbs used in Indonesian cooking. Some of them are almost impossible to find at the local grocers here and so I just have to omit and, in certain cases, substitute.

Candlenuts (kemiri in Indonesian) for example are impossible to find (at least in Minnesota) and so I have to either omit or substitute them with macadamia nuts, which are not very similar, but probably the closest I can get. Kencur, although loosely translated as aromatic ginger or sand ginger is nowhere close to ginger. This root has its own aroma I can find no substitution for. Some have said I could use a combination of ginger and galangal, but it's not even close, so I just have to omit it.

Which Indonesian dish reminds you the most of your home country and is important for you to be able to cook no matter where you are in the world? 
Lontong Sayur is particularly dear to me and reminds me so much of home. My mom made this very often whenever there were celebrations like birthdays, Chinese New Year, or just because. I helped my mom a lot with the preparation and those were my favorite times with her in the kitchen. I'm so glad I know how to prepare this dish because my family absolutely loves it and there's no better way to introduce my kids to our cultural background than to feed them the food I grew up eating.

You share recipes from all over the world! Where do you learn to cook them?
Some recipes are from my mom and friends. For recipes that are outside of Southeast Asia, I mostly learned how to cook them from cookbooks and magazines. I love getting inspiration from blogs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson too because I think they have wonderful recipes for traditional and modern (fusion) cuisines. They also infuse a lot of Asian spices and herbs in their cooking, which I really like. 

What are you currently reading? 
I'm not reading anything in particular at the moment. I wish I had more time to read fiction or something like that. I used to do that when I was still in college. For now though, I love flipping through magazines such as Bon Appetit, Food Network, etc. I love looking at cookbooks with beautiful food photography too.

What's your favorite recipe on What To Cook Today?
Gado gado reminds me so much of home. It is probably almost every Indonesians' favorite. Lots of vegetables, boiled potatoes (I have a weakness for potatoes), and hard-boiled eggs drizzled in creamy coconut peanut sauce. I love to make this when I don't have much time to cook and it can be a complete meal on its own.

Question from Kat of Hurry the Food Up: If you're finding a recipe particularly tricky to perfect, how many attempts do you try before giving up on it? (Click here to read Kat's interview)
It depends on how desperately I want it to happen. For example, when I attempted to make chiffon cake for the first time (I'm a horrible baker to begin with), I failed probably three times! But the fourth time was a charm! I'm going to attempt French Macarons and we'll see how many times I'm willing to work on that one. 

Visit Marvellina's website at www.whattocooktoday.com
Recommended Recipes:
Crispy Peanut Fritters (Rempeyek Kacang)
Lontong Sayur Medan (Medanese Rice Cakes with Savory Dishes)
Gado Gado (Indonesian Vegetable Salad with Peanut and Coconut Dressing)