Thursday, January 29, 2015

Roasted Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

I love butternut squash. I really miss them. I was able to use it once in Manila but I've never seen it again. Living abroad has the perks of  having a variety of produce that I cannot find here. But I have to stop daydreaming and just use what we have locally.

Whenever I roast pumpkin for the lunch delivery, there's always extra, sometimes way too much. It's either I save it for a grain bowl or I make soup. Soup is my fallback when I'm in desperate measures most especially when my hands are full. I have stocks of soup in the freezer and it's easier to reheat than making a full meal. And this pumpkin and black bean soup keeps me full and satisfied. Canned black beans are great but cooking beans from scratch is even better. While stock is recommended for this soup whether chicken or vegetable; water, which I use, is good enough.

When making soups, I usually sweat the onions, carrots or celery first but what I did is I roasted the onions and the garlic along with the pumpkin. Then, I just dump everything in a pot with black beans with stock or water. This makes my life easier. And you can adjust if you want or less of the roasted pumpkin or the black beans. The recipe below is just a guide.

Roasted Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup 

1.5 lbs Pumpkin
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups cooked black beans
4 to 6 cups stock or water
1/2 tablespoon paprika
Sea salt, to taste
juice of 1/2 a lemon or to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut the pumpkin into 4 6 pieces. Remove the core and root of the onions and cut it in half. Toss with olive oil. Place the them cut side down along with unpeeled garlic on a baking sheet and roast until tender about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the garlic after 15 minutes.

When the pumpkin is soft and cooled, scrape out and discard the seeds and stringy fiber. Scoop out the pulp from the skin.

In a blender, puree in batches the squash, onion, broth, paprika and 2 cups of the black beans. Return the puree to pot with the remaining cup of black beans. If necessary, add stock to thin the soup to a desired consistency. Bring to a simmer. Season with salt to taste.

Warm soup on medium-low heat for 10 minutes to blend flavors. Add the lemon juice and ladle into soup bowls and finish a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and chili flakes.

If you happen to have extra pumpkin, you can also make this Roasted Pumpkin Chickpea Soup. It has almost the same procedure.

Print Recipe

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Appreciating Food and Life

I am off doing the lunch delivery for the whole week but it also means that there are no revenues as well. I wanted to relax in the morning but I don't want to put off until tomorrow what can be done today. I am making more of Nate's food for the whole week. Like I've mentioned previously, it's easier to roast them than to steam. I can roast different vegetables at the same time taking them out from the oven as they cook. I don't need to blanch them. I take them out when they're almost done and just leave them as they continue to cook and become tender in the pan.

A few people asked me if I have given congee or porridge. I know it's the least allergenic food and it is easy to digest and maybe keeps the baby fuller longer. It's bland and it can be used as a template for other first foods. Yes, I have given congee but not everyday. There are other grains to try such as brown rice or quinoa, and steel-cut oats for breakfast.

Backup food

As a cook and a holistic nutritionist, I want them to try different foods with different flavors and textures, even if they are pureed. I want variety and I believe they need it too. It is easy for them to adapt to eat congee and eventually rice in the future. I plan to give meat in the next few days but not as much as vegetables. I don't want to convert my baby into a first-class carnivore. They need the iron from the meat but just like rice, it is easy for them to love it once they've tasted it. 

Brown Rice Cereal, Banana, Mango

When I took pictures of Nate holding a tomato, a green bean, a kale leaf or measuring spoons, it doesn't mean that I'm training him to become a chef. It may look like it but I have something different in mind. Totally different from what people are thinking. I'm not training him to become a chef but I want to teach him how to become a good cook instead. When I let him hold those ingredients at four months of age, I gave it for the purpose of playing because I know that if I give him toys he will not appreciate it. When you teach your child how to cook, you are teaching him life skills that he will use in his lifetime. (And I'm also learning everyday).  Here are just a few.

Math. They will learn a lot of about numbers from counting to calculating, portioning food and weighing things both at the grocery store and at home from start to finish.

Science and Chemistry. They will learn why certain ingredients act the way they do. From why do cakes rise to glossy white peaks from egg whites.

History and Culture. Food and cooking itself is rich in history and culture. There are many classic recipes from ancient times that are still being used today and it has been passed on from one generation to another. The ingredients that we are using right now and the practices that were done before are still evident at the present times. Just think about salt, chocolate and pasta, for instance. Each has its own origin and it has shaped civilization. The might also understand why certain ingredients are expensive.

Agriculture. Although farm to table projects are not incorporated in the elementary curriculum here in the Philippines, a visit to the farm will be a great exposure for the kids to appreciate where food comes from and how are they grown. Just like Rome wasn't build in a day, it takes time to grow food. They will learn a lot in the field. There's respect, responsibility and patience towards food. respect for the people who are growing our food. We don't pay much attention that someone has to harvest before we could get hold of those ingredients, or someone has to butcher the chicken before we could buy them already dressed. They will be more responsible towards their environment most especially if you allow them to be involved in growing. Healthy food takes time to grow with a lot of effort and it doesn't come in a form of fast food. Everything comes in an instant most especially today where almost is just touch screen away. We need to learn to slow down.

Nutrition. Health and cooking are inseparable. When you teach them how to cook, you are also teaching them about whole food ingredients that are healthy for their body. When they understand the different food groups and their function, they will choose healthier choices in the future.

Responsibility and Patience. When you give them a task to help out in the family meal most especially when they request for a dish that they like, it teaches them to be more responsible. They will learn that not all food comes out hot and ready in less than 5 minutes.

Respect. Respect not only for the food they're preparing but also to the farmers who are growing their food, the dishwashers who are washing the dirty pots and pans at the restaurant, and to every person that he will meet in the future.

Thankfulness. Not everyone is blessed to have three meals a day. The work that has been put on to have food on the table is something that we should all be thankful for. The toast might be burned or the pasta may be too salty but at the end of the day, even if the dish doesn't turn out the way we want it, we are still one of the people in this world who are truly blessed just because we have something to eat.

There are still many benefits and lessons when you teach your kids how to cook. What else can you add to the list?

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Clean and Fresh January

Up-close and personal with mommy 

When we came back to Cebu from Manila on the first week of January, the house was dirty and dusty. I have to change the bed sheets for Nate's crib and our bed. The following days, I started cleaning one room at a time. It was like moving to a new house again and cleaning everything for the first time. And the house gets dirty every day. And being away for 10 days requires a complete clean up from top to bottom. I've been wanting to use the vacuum cleaner every week but since it was quite heavy and we need to get it from the other house, I didn't even bother. But this time, I told J that we have to vacuum the house. Do you see the spider web on this corner and that corner of the wall? After vacuum cleaning the house and mopping it, J was happy with the floor and wants the floors vacuumed very week. However, I want it vacuumed every day. I love the feeling of clean floor but it gets dirty very quickly. As I stay organized everyday, I realized that we buy so many things that we don't need. When I was at home in Manila, I always wondered why I've collected things but never used them. It's time to simplify and enjoy a minimalist lifestyle. 

Mine and his. Patiently waiting for his food.
I appreciate leftovers these days for as long as they are still good to eat. But sometimes they are sitting at the back of the fridge that I forget all about it. John has been eating vegetables at home because of the lunch delivery but whenever we eat out, that's the time we order non-veg items. I tried to be organized at home as much as possible and it does makes a huge difference. Even with a small house, it helps to be neat and tidy all the time. While I can get away with the other stuffs that I hide in the closet and drawers saving it for later organization project, I can't hide the kitchen. It's the first thing that people see whenever they enter the door. Their eyes automatically look to the right being quite surprise that the kitchen is quite huge for a small house. I was actually hoping that they would notice my office table which was mistaken for a vanity table. And sometimes they would even ask if they can take a peek into my fridge. With no household helps these days, I have applied what becomes second nature from our kitchen work: planning, multi-tasking, staying organized, clean as you go and mise en place. The only difference is that I have a baby to take care of. 

My toes, my knees, my .......

I miss my job sometimes but my friend reminded me that motherhood is seasonal. Being a wife, a mother, and a homemaker is a real job except you don't get paid for it. It's not about the status or your position anymore. But a role that was given at the change of a season of your life. It's hard and challenging but at the end of the day, it's also rewarding and fulfilling.  Do I regret it? No I didn't regret it although I was a bit envious of other people having their career full-blast and can still take care of the family. I have no idea what's behind closed doors. And the only answer is to stop comparing and do what God has given me at the moment. Nate will not be a baby forever. And now, I am able to grasp that he is 7 months old. The ironic thing is when started working at home is that I do have the most oven burns compared to working in the professional kitchen where the job is definitely intense and stressful. Sometimes I wonder if I should just wear my chef's coat and endure the heat and sweat instead of the kitchen burns and scars

Roasting fruits and vegetables for Nate
Nate's schedule is more consistent since he turned 6 months last December except when we went to Manila for vacation and when we came back. I can predict if he's sleepy or hungry more or less. And I am certain that he's not hungry whenever he eats his hands. And for the past few nights, instead of crying himself to sleep, he would just play in his crib. He is also enjoying his solid foods three times a day. Well, that depends on his mood. As much as I want to do the baby led weaning approach, I'll just go for the puree method for now. At least he get to taste the intense flavor of each ingredient. He started with carrots, but I can't remember what's next. But I gave him broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, green peas, banana and apple. Everything was steamed and pureed individually. I did the same thing when we went to Manila. I also gave him some French green beans which he didn't like. I didn't puree it as much as the others. J wouldn't eat it either so why would Nate eat it. Later on, I realized that roasting is much easier because I can cook many ingredients on the same baking pan and the flavor is better too. Although I can have stocks of food for Nate from all of these pureed food, it gets tiring to do process all over again. So, one day, I was having pasta with tomato sauce and you know what, I let him try it, later did I realized that it was made with whole canned tomatoes and with Parmesan cheese. But then again, when he grows up, he would want what other people are eating. 

Fast food lunch

I did follow giving new food every 2 to 3 days but before he turned 7 months, I just started combining different fruits and vegetables. Pumpkin and apple; carrots, mango and apple; corn and broccoli. But I kept them separate instead of mixing them together. I didn't give rice cereal as his first food although I gave them on the third week. I also added a bit of lemon juice and butter for flavor. He does get excited whenever he sees us eat but we have to give him food different from ours. I also make sure that we together even when John is not around. I believe that is a healthy start. As January ends, I keep reminding myself that a clean and fresh scented home and clean and fresh food for everyone is  not optional, it is essential.