Saturday, July 25, 2009

And what does Big T eat with Mac and Cheese?

That's right, y'all: Stewed Tomatoes. Big T is a former colleague of mine who was always ribbed over the loudspeaker about his "favorite vegetable" when my pal Hoedje read the day's lunch menu to the school. Me, I'm not so much a fan of stewed tomatoes, but the WCM has been clamoring for them ever since the tomato plants began to yield. S, I went out to the garden yesterday morning and plucked some green peppers and some tomatoes - Roma tomatoes and some grape tomatoes, too, since they were ripe.

First, I filled my saucepan with water and started it boiling. Then, I cut a shallow X on the bottom of each tomato, because who wants stewed tomatoes with peels in them? Ew! I gave each tomato a quick bath in the boiling water - about 30 seconds each, really - then plopped them into an ice bath.

While I was letting them chill, I started cutting up my peppers and onions. I needed about a third of a cup of each.

I had way more green pepper than I needed, so I slid the rest into a freezer bag and let them chill with their previously frozen brethren. I always overestimate the amount of green pepper I'm going to need, and I hate to see it go to waste. So I stick it in the freezer for when the price goes up over the winter and I'm going to want some for my tomato sauce.

Thrifty, eh?

So I dumped this into my saucepan with some olive oil, salt, and pepper to get it all softened and flavorful while I went about peeling the tomatoes. The hot bath followed by the ice water shock allowed them to slip their skins easily, and I was left with a bowlful of plump rosy naked 'maters.

I cut the Roma tomatoes in cross sections and halved the grape tomatoes. I dumped them into the pot with the softened pepper and onion, and added some dried basil and oregano. If I'd had any fresh herbs, I'd have added them instead, but alas, I was without.

Aren't they pretty? I let them stew for another 5-10 minutes, and they got nice and soupy. The WCM was exceedingly complimentary, so I think this recipe's a winner.


Friday, July 24, 2009


One of my mother's best Sunday dinners came from cans and boxes - it was better for all of us that way, as there were clear instructions, times and temperatures given, and very little room for improvisation allowed. She'd make a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, dump a can of stewed tomatoes into it, and boil a few hot dogs. Voila! Dinner!

Quite frankly, I learned how to cook because I have a strong survival instinct and refined tastebuds. Thankfully, I was only subjected to my mother's "cooking" two weekends every month, since I lived with the General and my stepmother. Not-quite-feigning an interest in all things culinary, I pored over my mother's cookbooks and gently took those reins out of her hands. Sometimes, I'll still find myself cooking dinner if I'm invited over to her house. She's a piss-poor cook, but she's quite clever, huh?

Anyhow, I make my macaroni and cheese from scratch, since it just tastes so much better that way and isn't loaded with mono-whatever and hydrolyzed-whatsit. It's also quite speedy, if you can plan it.

Tip #1: when you're cooking pasta, cook the whole pound whether you need it or not. Once cooked, put whatever you're not using into a gallon sized ziploc bag, add a glug of olive or canola oil, shake it about to coat the pasta, and throw it in the freezer. When you need cooked pasta to add to hot sauce sometime, you take the bag out of the freezer, empty the frozen brick of pasta into the colander and run hot water over it.

It thaws in a flash!

Tip #2: when you're making cheese sauce, do as I did and make a monster batch. Freeze the leftover sauce. You can thaw it in the microwave, dump it on the pasta, stir, then bake. You've got homemade Mac & Cheese in under 30 minutes, which includes the baking time.

Tip #3: when you go to Costco or whatever huge warehouse store you may frequent, and you see the packages of ham steaks, don't think "Jeez Louise! Who the hell is going to eat that freakin' much ham?!" Instead, throw one into your cart. You've got 3 ham steaks in there - that's 3 mac & cheeses, or 2 mac & cheeses and one ham & cabbage soup, or breakfast for a family of 9 minus the eggs and homefries. Just buy them. They're lovely.

Ok, tips done, time for some fun! Ingredients - Half & half (not necessary, but nice!), milk, cheese, flour, salt, Colman's dry mustard. Note the number of open bags of cheese I have. It would seem that instead of looking for an open bag, a certain spouse instead just finds any old bag of cheese and rips it open. So, if you have one of these spouses, you may find yourself in a similar situation. This is a great way to use up all of those bags. I'm all about space consolidation.

So, first, melt you some butter. Plop a whole stick of the stuff into your saucepan.

Let it melt all the way, then dump in 8 tablespoons of flour, one teaspoon of salt, and one teaspoon of Colman's dry mustard. Whisk the bejesus out of this, because you don't want it to burn!

Then, add 4 cups of the white stuff. I used one cup half & half and 3 cups of milk. You can do it however you like, though. Go wild. Once again, stir it like crazy, otherwise you're either going to have lumps or you're going to burn it. Neither scenario is desirable. So stir. You'll be stirring until this comes to a near boil and gets quite thick. I recommend using a whisk, since it eliminates the lumps better than a wooden spoon.

Now, take it off the heat and dump in as much cheese as you think it can handle. I thought my bechamel could handle about 6 cups of cheese. I was right.

Once again, sing it with me, you've got to STIR this shit until it's smooth and velvety, because lumpy cheese sauce is nasty. Once it looks like this:

then you've got something.

So you reconstitute your pasta that you'd made sometime last week, easy peasy. If you're a vegetarian, you can add the cheese sauce and continue living your virtuous meat-free life. If you're an unrepentant carnivore like me and cannot imagine a meal that doesn't feature some slain animal carcass, then continue on to the next bit.

Ham! You remember that ham steak? Cube it, then throw it into your casserole with the pasta, cover the whole mess with about a third of that cheese sauce, give it a stir, sprinkle it with more cheese, cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil, and bung it into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

This was before Miss Peanut and the WCM went back for seconds. There's enough left for Miss Peanut to have a meal of it tomorrow. The WCM accompanied his Mac & Cheese with my homemade Stewed Tomatoes. I'm going to save that recipe for tomorrow. Lord knows, I've little else to report on!

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Thursday, July 23, 2009


So, I've been telling you all about the lovely garden produce I've been harvesting from my garden. I figured it was time to show you some. After watching Remy the rat assemble a beautiful ratatouille in the movie by the same name, I thought that, as I had a smallish skinny eggplant, a zucchini, and several tomatoes, that I could do approximately the same thing. So I did.

Now, I have to tell you that the ratatouille of my childhood was always an aromatic soupy mess, served alongside some kind of meat. It was not a meal in and of itself. Nor was it ever so artistically arranged - the General had better things to do with his time than fiddle with the placement of vegetables in crockery.

Be this as it may, I have to avow that half my intent in arranging it thusly was to entice Miss Peanut to try some. She's a picky little thing, turning her nose up at all vegetables that are not asparagus. Let me tell you something else: it did not work. It wasn't half bad, though, so I'll share with you how I made it, just in case you find yourself with a free afternoon, some veg, and a burning desire to arrange circular veggie slices with mathematical precision, shall I? Ok, then.

You'll need one skinny eggplant, one skinny zucchini, and about 3 skinny plum tomatoes. They should all have roughly the same diameter. It will make your life easier if you plan it this way. In my case, serendipity played a part, since that's how they grew.

You'll also need one large-ish shallot, a clove or two of garlic, kosher or Maldon salt, freshly ground black pepper, a few healthy glugs of olive oil, and an ample handful of herbes de Provence.

Peel your eggplant. Whether you peel the zucchini is completely a matter of preference. I prefer not to, so I didn't. I'm lazy. Slice all the veg in damn-near paper thin slices, making neat cross sections. Put the zucchini - and only the zucchini - in a large bowl.

Finely chop the shallot and mince the garlic. Throw this in the bowl with the zucchini. Add the salt, pepper, herbes de Provence, and olive oil, and toss well, making sure that all the slices have some specks adhering to them. Oh, and since you're wondering why I'm picking on the zucchini here and not the eggplant, it's because eggplant is like an oil sponge. You put the oil on the eggplant and you're going to wind up emptying the entire bottle in there. It's not a good idea!

So then, into the casserole. A slice of eggplant, herbed zucchini, then tomato. Repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeatrepeatrepeat until you've either filled the casserole or run out of vegetables. If you've got any residual specks of herby goodness left in your zucchini bowl, scoop them out with the side of your hand and sprinkle them lovingly all over the assembled loveliness before you pop it into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. If you were me, you'd throw some grated parmesan cheese over the whole deal after you take it out of the oven. But you're not me, so you'll do what you want.

On the whole, I prefer the General's fragrant soupiness, but this is really pretty.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Facebook ate my brain...

That damned Facebook done ate my brain! I spend waaaaay too much time there these days, frittering away my summer vacation.

I've also been cooking and baking a lot, since our garden started producing vegetables - tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. Our blackberries are ripening now, the strawberries are flowering, and the raspberries are just putting out fruit. The fledgling fig tree has a few figs on it, but, as I am not a fig fan, I refuse to wax rhapsodic about them. I couldn't give a fig. (har, har, har... groan...)

But mostly, I've been reading like a woman possessed and making ice cream. I've gone through a book a day for a whole month, pausing this last week to collect myself before launching into another spate of devouring pages. The ice cream, well, let me justify it this way: I have an ice cream maker, see? Why should I pay for inferior ice cream when I can make delicious additive-free confections at home?

So far, I've made chocolate, vanilla, mint chocolate chip, cappuccino chip, and butter pecan. I've been all over foodgawker for recipes - next up is peanut butter with chocolate covered peanuts and fudge swirls or fresh strawberry. I really don't know which one I'm going with, but whatever it is, I can guarantee that it won't last long in our house.

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