I write recipes a lot when I’m cooking. And by write, I really mean, I just make it up. Sometimes, this involves intense Pinterest research or doctoring a worn passed down super-loved recipe to our favorites. Or sometimes, it’s just going to the store and getting seduced by the colors and textures of what’s fresh and in season and screaming ME SO YUMMY! Or maybe it’s my fridge, guilting me, because I have eaten out all week and there is produce going to waste and that just makes me sad.
I’ll tell you a secret though, 95% of the time, I wing it. I’m a big believer of winging a recipe, why put nuts if you hate nuts? Why not add more garlic if you love garlic? Of course you can add bacon, bacon is almost always good. Sometimes it works, and sometimes, it’s affectionately known as a “Kayu” night which means, take your no thank you bite and we’re grabbing supper at Kayu! 🙂
One of my favorite memories is when I was six or seven, I would pull up a chair to our stove, and with my grandma behind me keeping watch, I would cook my little heart out. She would teach me how to carefully hold a spatula and stir, how to patiently pound the pestle and mortar, or to be gentle with the pastry crust, making me laugh and feel better when it was an epic disaster. I remember this one time I was trying to make some sort of cookie, and they turned out so hard my grandma grabbed my crestfallen self and said, “Want to throw it across the street and see if it will break?” and we laughed and laughed and laughed. I love my grandmas!
She taught me humor and humility and a life-long skill of not sweating the small stuff. But mostly, with her a pinch of this, and a dash of that, go with your gut bravery, she cultivated a safe fun place for me to explore in the kitchen and it is still my favorite “me” time.
Some afternoons, I would get permission and walk over to the daily neighborhood caravan (grocery-store-on-wheels). It was a gathering spot for the neighbors and as I overheard the latest gossip and what everyone else was making that day, I learned by observing how to tell if the fish was fresh or smelling a mango to tell if it had ripened. At first, I had no idea what I was doing. I just wanted to be cool like the “grown-ups” so I just copied the way they would hold a tomato, but someone would explain it to me or the butcher would look at my “groceries” in the basket and be able to figure out what I was trying to make and tell me, no sweet child, this is absolutely and totally the wrong kind of bean paste.
These nice neighbor aunties, most of them freaking ninja housewives, would impart their wisdom on this curious kid. They would amuse me, inviting me into their homes to watch them cook and taste test.
I learned how to make classic dishes in their kitchens, holding my post over their hot woks, eyes ablaze and excited to test out new theories on my poor family. And whenever the aunties tried a new recipe, they would call that kid that lived in house 33, the loud smiley enthusiastic one, to come over and experiment with them. I brought home many many plates of yummy wrapped with love and care and saran wrap that the neighbors would pass over the wall, or the fence, or down the street. I may have been raised in a brick house in the suburbs but really, I was raised by a village and a community.
I cook comfort food. My friend Nick lovingly calls it “Racheal’s rustic feed-an-army cooking”. It is not glamorous, and it more than likely involves buttaaaaahhhhh (that’s how you should always say butter) and bacon, and there is always, always, enough. My friends know that if they want to be fed and loved on, they just call and come over or sometimes, they just show up. 🙂
I think nothing tastes better than sharing a meal with a table full of laughter and love. It might stress me out as a host when we don’t have enough chairs (or the table setting doesn’t match!) but I have to shush my OCD brain up with my heart and remember what a privilege it is to have too many friends and not enough seats.
When my husband moved to Malaysia, I started a ritual of making him something from “home” once every fortnight for “homesick prevention”. We have a live-in maid that takes care of most of our meals and we eat out most weekends so this is special for us. He is the sweetest, kindest, man to cook for and trust me when I say, I’ve cooked up some disasters. But it doesn’t matter if it’s a sandwich or a fancy meal, his eyes light up and he always gives me a big appreciative thank you which of course makes me want to do it all again and again. I really really do love that boy.
This is one of his favorites and it is a recipe that has morphed and been tweaked over the years. I get bribed to make it a lot and it is a crowd pleaser. One year, for J’s birthday, I set up a pasta bar based entirely on his love for noodles in red sauce!
It has a personality and packs a robust meaty punch. I may or may not have eaten the sauce cold, straight out of the fridge, for a late night snack a time or two. Or spread it out on a piece of baguette and topped it with some shredded cheese to caramelize in the broiler. My husband however, likes to eat it like a normal human being with lots and lots of buttery noodles, garlic bread, and a side salad.
It is a lazy Sunday afternoon (or like in this case, mid-week Public Holiday) recipe. It is a dish that you can cook while reading a book, enjoying a glass of wine, lazing around the house. It will take a couple of hours to make, but it is the kind you can cheat on and just check every once in a while.
It intensifies and really comes together after a day or two in the fridge as the ingredients really get to know each other and start dancing. So so so good. I make a ridiculously huge batch and freeze it up for a rainy day, whether it is cold outside and dreary or we need a little pick me up of sunshine and love in bottle.
I hope you like it and I hope you try it. Play with it, switch out the proteins, add more of what you like, take out what you don’t like, just have fun with it and share it with someone you love. That’s really the secret. 😉
8 cans whole Italian tomatoes, blended and drained if necessary
1 package of Johnsonville Italian Sausage, browned
1 box of mushrooms (button, swiss brown, etc), sliced
4 carrots, cubed or chopped finely
4 large chillies, deseeded and minced
4 – 6 bird’s eye chillies (cili padi), deseeded and minced
3 medium yellow onions, cubed or chopped finely
1 head garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 bunch basil, chopped
1 tsp dry mixed Italian herbs
1 tbsp brown sugar
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup pecorino romano, freshly grated
1/4 cup SriRacha (optional)
1/2 cup of white/pink/sweet wine (whatever you prefer)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Open up the bottle of wine you selected (my choice was sweet happy moscato), pour yourself a glass, turn on some music, and start prepping your vegetables. Wipe your mushrooms clean with a wet cloth and slice, peel your carrots, chop up your basil, etc. Your aromatics (garlic, onions,chillies) and carrots can be minced separately in a mini chopper if available, if you don’t have picky eaters in your house, cubed is fine. 🙂
2. Blend tomatoes in a Vitamix or food processor, if you prefer it chunky, you can just crush it up or if you don’t like seeds, you can strain it too. I normally buy the whole Italian plum tomatoes (Pelati) because they are cheaper and I can get more out of them, but you can also skip this step and just buy the sieved kind (Passata) if you don’t feel like messing with it.
3. Remove casing from sausages and break it up. I believe passionately in the Johnsonville brand. It is YUM and is available at Village Grocer, Jaya Grocer, Ben’s, and Cold Storage (sometimes Jason’s but not always) in Malaysia. If I don’t have help, I use a disposable glove because as much as I love cooking, touching raw meat gives me the heebie-jeebies. Brown in a pan and drain. Set aside.
4. Get the biggest pot you have. I actually use a stock pot, because it helps with not getting everything everywhere and I can make enough to feed everyone and bring over to someone I love or have leftovers which is possibly my favorite part.
5. On a medium heat, combine the olive oil and butter and start sweating the onions. When they are almost translucent, add your mushrooms and carrots. Halfway through, add your garlic, bay leaf, dry Italian mix. Salt and pepper between each step. You are building layers of yumminess so go easy, don’t salt it all at once because you want to add depth to your dish. Stir, stir, stir, and let it do it’s thing. This step will take a while, entertain yourself and try really hard not to rush through this step.
6. When the vegetables are tender and it has turned a darker richer color, add the blended tomato sauce and tomato paste to the pot. Mix well and bring to a simmer.
7. After about an hour, you will notice the sauce gradually getting thicker and thicker. Halfway through, add the drained browned Italian sausage, brown sugar and wine. Salt and pepper keeping in mind that the Pecorino Romano you are adding later is a delicious crumbly salty cheese. If you want it a little more spicy, an easy fix is to add a bunch of SriRacha happiness. My brother always tries it at this point and says, SPICIER, so this is a very tried and true method. Let it simmer for another hour or so more before adding the grated cheese, fresh basil and you are essentially DONE! Let it simmer for as long as you can possibly hold off dinner. NEVER COVER THE POT! so it thickens into yummy deliciousness.
8. Half an hour before you’re ready to start serving it up, cook your noodles in salted, oiled, rapidly boiling water. Most people like their noodles al dente, I lovingly refer to mine as cooked to shit, it’s just how I like them. I’m so so so sorry. And then I slather and toss them in butter after I drain it really well. Really sorry again.
BUT. Here’s how I have them when I’m being a good girl. Noodle/bread substitute!
It’s not low fat by any means, but it’s less carbs. We don’t get spaghetti squash here, or at least I’ve yet to find any. Sometimes I blanch the finely grated (lengthwise) cucumbers to warm them up before serving the sauce on top, if not, I just eat them raw.
Slurpy freaking satisfaction.
In unrelated but related news, I have some pretty exciting news! I have an official fancy dedicated fb page now. WHAT?!
A friend messaged me last night and offered a really awesome opportunity for my silly blog but she challenged me by saying I first needed to build an FB Page for it.
People, I had to look up where to even find that button.
It was hilarious and there may or may not have been some cuss words involved but I figured it out and am pretty damn proud. Please check it out and join our community there, I would be honored! 🙂
When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the heck …. leap! ~ Cynthia Heimel