Homemade red pesto dressing

Having over-indulged over the summer, I decided to go raw for the next few days.  There were lots of greens in my fridge, but I was bored with conventional dressing, so I decided to make red pesto dressing.  It’s strong and goes very well with olives:

You will need:

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I used this for a more intense flavour)

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1/2 cup olive oil

3 cups fresh basil

3 cloves garlic

pinch of salt.

I blended the above to a chunky-smooth consistency.  It will store in a sterilised jar in the fridge for a few days – if it lasts that long 🙂

The Simple Steamed Vegetables

Dining table battles have been fought over the generations between exasperated parents and mutinous children about eating veggies.  What is it about veggies that some children absolutely loathe? Parents often resort to innovative methods such as ‘hiding’ veggies in meat or disguising the taste with lots of sauces or adding them to smoothies. Hmmm.

Here’s the thing: there is nothing like the goodness of lightly steamed vegetables.

Steaming vegetables preserves its nutrients, especially the water-soluble ones. Just steam lightly, to preserve the enzymes, too. Indulge yourself by adding a large dollop of butter to your steamed veggies.

Yes it is plain, yes it is bland, yes it is boring,  when pitted against kiddies’ favourites such as bolognaise or the ubiquitous shop-bought tomato ketchup. But I think it is good to teach children to enjoy the simple things, to be conscious of the subtle, and it starts with the tastebuds. Food does affect consciousness and behaviour. All part of awakened living ❤

Creamy Chicken & Capers

Food is cultural and has very deep roots.  I am into Soul Food because my mother brought me up on Soul Food (otherwise known as boring British food) and even now, at 47, whenever I feel battered and bruised by the world, I would curl up with some comfort food and hark back to those safe childhood days.

In my teens and twenties, my cooking evolved to embrace French (I went to a finishing school) and Italian (I am quarter italian) influences.  My twenties and thirties were largely dominated by nursery food as I struggled to feed my growing family on a shoestring and time-deficits. Lately, I have been exploring German food. This was taught to me by my German neighbour in Jakarta, and here it is, with some adaptation.

How to:

Boil organic chicken in water until par cooked (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and shred the meat.  Reserve the stock. Saute some onions, button mushrooms and carrot chunks.  Add in the shredded meat. Pour cream into the mixture, add the reserved chicken stock until the liquid resembles a soup. Add a small jar of capers and its water.  Simmer until the liquid is reduced to think creamy consistency. Season to taste.

Served with potatoes and steamed vegetables, with a good dollop of butter. The ultimate comfort food ❤

Soul Food: Chicken Chasseur

Continuing from my previous week’s post on so-called Soul Food, here’s my adaptation of the french classic, Chicken Chasseur.  As a working mother when my kids were young, I have always been a fan of one-pot meals, especially those that I can put on in a slow-cooker before I leave for work, and et voila, all ready when we come home, tired and hungry.  As you can see from the photograph, my recipe here uses store-cupboard staples, such as passata, borlotti beans and sweet corn – and of course, frozen  homemade chicken stock that I always keep in the freezer.  If you can, use fresh ingredients, but this ’emergency’ food tastes yummy too.  It’s in the sauce and slow-cooking, I think, and of course, the love ❤

How to:

Brown chicken thighs in olive oil until golden on both sides.  Remove from pan, drain excess fat but leave about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Saute one large onion until transparent. Add 2 cloves of roughly chipped garlic and sauté until slightly softened.  Add button mushrooms and sauté.  Add whatever vegetables you are using.  Add passata or tomato puree, wine and chicken stock.  Bring to boil.  Add browned chicken thighs and black peppercorns. Simmer on the lowest heat for as long as you can (minimum 2 hours).  Keep adding stock to adjust the consistency.  Season to taste.

So You Want To Be A Parent?

My mother is a ‘ground-up’ type of person. She is like an iceberg. What you see is merely the tip, a lot goes on beneath the waterline to solidify the top that you see. She is a firm believer of substance, not form.

Thus, my mother had always taught me that I had to learn to love cooking before becoming a mum. Not merely to learn to cook, but to learn to love cooking. Her rationale is learning to love cooking is not merely about putting food on the table, but cultivating a mindset where there is a genuine desire to nurture and care for another human being.

“Saying ‘I love you’ is easy. We can say it without too much effort, without any sacrifice,” she would say. “But at the most basic level, feeding someone with the food that you have prepared with your hands and heart speaks more meaningfully.”

My mother made a lot of comfort food, especially in the winter months. I complained about her tendency to over-cook. I chided her for using too much cream, too much cheese and too much butter. But I fly home like a homing pigeon to her sunny kitchen in Portsmouth, Hampshire, lured by sweet memories of sitting here in her kitchen, doing my homework, waiting for her simple food to be served.

My mother’s food healed me, and slowly, as I grew into a young woman, I grew to love cooking, though it was not an intuitive thing for me to do. I was a physical, outdoorsy person, impatient and driven. Spending time in the kitchen was definitely not on my agenda. In my youth, I have always felt I had more important things to do in life than the menial task of cooking.

But slowly, there was a shift in my paradigm as I understood my mum’s philosophy. It doesn’t have to be cordon bleu. It doesn’t have to be show-off food. It can simply be a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes; it can be a piping hot bowl of spaghetti. It can be hearty soup made from leftovers. It is just something that you have dedicated your time to giving someone; it is the embodiment of your intention to care for another person’s wellbeing. It is like giving your energy to nurture someone else without the grand gestures or easy words.

When I lived in Jakarta, a man called Antonio Castellano cooked for me. He wasn’t a professional cook, but a management consultant working for McKinsey & Company. His specialisation is the global energy industry, but he has an Uncle Sal who sends him Sicilian recipes from home. Unusual food that you couldn’t get in an Italian restaurant in Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or probably anywhere in Europe for that matter, except perhaps in Sicily. Spaghetti coated in anchovy oil and breadcrumbs, sprinkled with capers. I watched him cook for me, this diminutive blue-eyed Italian, and I finally understood the power of my mother’s philosophy. I rather think I fell in love a little, just a little, for this is the first time a man has ever cooked for me.

I saw the beauty of food cooked with love through Antonio’s giving. I morphed into someone who genuinely loves cooking. I began to smile and hum whenever I cooked. And in my late thirties, I went back to my mother to tell her that I finally understood what she meant about a love for cooking. I had met someone who showed me his love in this deep, honourable and beautiful way.

But my mother, she said, “You have to love gardening, if you want to genuinely love cooking.”

I disliked gardening, though I have put in the hours as a teenager.

“Gardening is like raising children, Jack,” she said to me. “You nurture a plant, watch it grow, and be pleasantly surprised by it each day. There is something to love about your plant each day. And most of all, it teaches you patience and acceptance.”

“I don’t see what it has to do with cooking,” I said sulkily.

And my mother told me. Cooking is not about what you put on the table. The process starts long before coming to the stove. It is about feeling Nature, and being thankful for what we have been so abundantly blessed with. It is not a science, but a primal emotion. If we can translate that thankfulness into the food we cook, we create family consciousness.

“I don’t know why cooking schools start with the fancy stuff,” my mother mused. “It should all be about going to the garden, smelling the herbs, tasting the fruits, being familiar with the earth first. Not knives and pots and pans.”

“Ma, I buy organic food,” I sulked, as I dug the earth this summer at the vegetable patch. “It’s good enough.”

“Oh, Jack, put more energy into your digging!” She laughed gaily at me, watching me with love in her eyes. “We need good soil for the new plant we bought.”

I frowned and sulked. She came to stand by me. “You need to get to the soil on the lower layers. “

With some difficulty, she knelt on the flowerbed beside me, and took the small spade from my hand. She began digging energetically, scooping the earth from the lower layers into the flowerpot.

“Jack, this is like parenting and grandparenting. We, the parents and grandparents, are the top layer. We have had our time. But the layers beneath, that’s where all the top layer’s nutrients have leached down to. We want that layer, because that’s the best of us. See?”

I looked at her in amazement. Yes! That is the true gist of parenting – we pass our goodness down to the next layer, protecting it, nurturing it, for it is our continuity, our immortality. From here to the kitchen table, the circle of life. It’s all related, in a magical way. Thank you, Ma, thank you.

“And Jack, no short cuts,” my mother said with a small smile that carried the warmth of the whole sun in it. “Learn to enjoy gardening, love.”