Take some veggies, add some eggs and cheese…
I like to think that cooking, as an art, is a series of happy accidents. You know, man discovered fire, and then one night left a dead cow next to the fire, and poof! The first prime rib was born.
As part of my Tales of a Working Mom challenges, I have been trying to cook ahead more to make dinner time on weeknights easier. Despite all my best efforts, we never eat before eight. By eight o’clock, I never want to cook anything. Sometimes I end up eating crackers and hummus for dinner. This gets old, fast, and my husband and baby and I all need real food to keep going and ward off flu season.
My challenge is that my husband hates leftovers. He puts pre cooked, reheated dinners into that category.
My new strategy is to pre cook a few things and then make a nice, fresh, one pot meal using these pre-cooked ingredients.
This weekend, I roasted a large eggplant and a zucchini with some Italian seasoning, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes. I diced the veggies into little cubes so as to really cook them down, because I loathe spongy eggplant. We also had made some homemade tomato sauce in the fridge.
Tonight, I had this vision of using some organic sliceable polenta and turkey pepperoni and leftover cheese we had from a party to make elegant napoleons with this polenta and the aforementioned veggies and sauce. But my daughter had other ideas on how we should be spending our time. So after looking at the moon and divesting our beleaguered tomato plants of most of their still green tomatoes, I diced the polenta, and dumped it into the diced veggies with a handful of the pepperoni and the tomato sauce. I mixed it all together and then broke dill havarti, cheddar, and a sliced string cheese stick (it was what we had!) on top in little pieces, covered it with foil, said a little prayer, and threw it in the oven at 350 degrees. It cooked while I did bath, bottle, and bed with my little one. The gourmet that she is, she ate some of the components while I was making it and kept asking for, “More!” so I suppose my outlook on the shenanigan should have been slightly sunnier.
After about an hour, she was asleep, I was starving, and yep, it was eight o’clock. I pulled the pan out of the fridge.
“That smells good,” the husband said, “What is it?”
“Polenta,” I answered.
He pulled off the foil dubiously, “Polenta surprise!” he said.
Do you see all that empty space in the casserole dish? That is because it was FANTASTIC. I had to share it here with you. And note-twice baking the eggplant dissolved it into the sauce, making delicious, saucy hunks of yum. No sponginess here!
1 medium-large eggplant
1 large zucchini
11/2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup or so of turkey pepperoni (or real, if you prefer)
I roll of pre-prepared refrigerated polenta
Cheddar, dill havarti, and mozzarella cheese, shredded or in hunks.(I think a different combo would work as well. But I would not recommend a strong cheese for this recipe, like Swiss or blue cheese)
Red pepper flakes
Ahead of time
Peel and dice the eggplant. Dice the zucchini. Bake in a baking dish with enough olive oil to coat the veggies. Mix in a good big dash of Italian seasoning and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Roast uncovered in an 8×8 inch baking dish at 350 degrees for about an hour. Take out, let cool, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
The night of
Pull out the veggies. Dump in the tomato sauce. Add the pepperoni. Dice 1/2 the roll of polenta. Add to the dish. Stir, coating everything in sauce. Take the cheeses and pinch them into little pieces. If you are using shredded cheese, drop little pinches of it down. You aren’t covering the top, just adding small but abundant pockets of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.
Several people, both cyber and real-life, have asked me for crock pot recipes. Their faces bright
and hopeful, they said, “I love your blog! You should do some great crock pot recipes for the fall!”
“Sure!” I cheerily replied.
“Sh*!” I said inside my head.
You see, dear readers, here is the truth-at the moment, I do not even own a crock pot.
I did, until about a month ago, own a true vintage crock pot. Much like this one:
I owned this crock pot because it belonged to my grandparents. My mom gave it to me, saying, “Do you want this? I never use it,” about seven years ago. I never say no to a kitchen gadget, so I took it. It weighed about 1,000 pounds and had a glass lid. It soon found its way to the shelf above my cabinets. I used it, intermittently, over the years. Each time I almost fractured my skull getting it down.
I was never motivated to use it. Each recipe I tried came out, well, tasting like crock pot. Flat, soggy, one note.
Then, I became a mother. A mommy friend told me to use it to make baby food. This was a GENIUS plan. Five pounds of baby food at one whack, and I could store it in the same container I made it in.
When going back to work, I was like, dang it, I am going to use this crock pot, I am so BUSY, you know, being a working mom and all. And besides, now it is on my counter.
This time I did more research. I turned to what I had learned is the real crock pot treasure chest-Women’s Magazines. You know, the ones they display at the check out at Wal-Mart that say things on the cover like, “Walk off the weight!” next to a picture of a giant frosted cake. They almost always have one that says, “100 new crock pot recipes!”
I found one for a white chicken chile that had things I liked in it, including Ro-tel, which is like a crock pot chili must-have ingredient. This recipe turned out better than others, but was still a snooze alarm in flavor town.
With all these epic fails, and my baby moving on to non-liquified food, it was with relief I gave it to my brother about a month ago, while he was helping me move. “Skull fracture averted,” I thought with relief. Besides, he seemed enthused about owning it. It’s vintage, after all.
But now, I have to answer to those who want-need-crock pot recipes.
Secondly, I have to find a recipe that makes something that does not taste like liquid crock pot.
I have seen crock pot recipes where you brown ingredients first-in the crock pot- and then cook it for like 8,000 hours, but honestly, I can do that in my cast iron Dutch oven on my stove. Isn’t the point of crock pot cooking to throw it all in, turn it on, and then be like BAM I am home from work and dinner is ready?
So it is with these noble aims, dear reader, that I take up this torch. Crock pot cooking! May the odds be ever in my favor.
Off to the store…
The end of summer always leaves me hankering for peaches.
Confession: I don’t like eating peaches whole, like an apple. Too fuzzy.
I do, however, love peaches baked, grilled, macerated, sliced, diced, or otherwise dolled up.
Tonight, the brisk evening combined with the threat of a day over 80 degrees tomorrow led me to finally bake the peach crisp I have been dreaming of since last week. That, and the fruit fly invasion threatening my fruit bowl.
And, since I had them, I threw in some plums too.
Second confession: I am not much of a baker. I splish, splash, dash, and substitute through recipes.
When the recipe is, say, cupcakes, it often does not go well.
But crisps are forgiving. They take a licking and keep on ticking.
Especially when you decide the following:
1. Dirtying a second bowl (besides the baking dish) is unacceptable in a kitchen with no dishwasher
2. You have to do something with the bulk animal crackers you bought, or they will go stale
3. You do not feel like getting your hands sticky with crumble topping
Up for this one? You need the following
8×8 inch baking dish (I used Pyrex)
Food processor (or a plastic ziplock bag and a meat mallet of sorts)
5 baseball sized peaches
3-5 plums (small)
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup oatmeal
20 (2 handfuls) animal crackers
1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp nutmeg
Throw the butter into the freezer.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the peaches and plums, and take out the pits.
I did not peel them, but you can.
Put the fruit directly into the baking dish and mix with 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 nutmeg, and 1/2 Tbsp sugar.
Next, in a food processor, throw in the oatmeal, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, and the animal crackers and pulse until everything is fairly smooth. A few chunks of animal crackers are fine. You’ll live.
If you don’t have a food processor, put the animal crackers with 1tsp nutmeg in a baggie and smash. Very cathartic. Then, just mix them with the oatmeal.
Now-this is when things get hairy, and contrary, to the traditional Crisp Routine. Hang on.
Sprinkle the crumbs over the fruit.
Sprinkle the sugar over the crumbs.
Take the butter out of the freezer.
Take your cheese grater and GRATE it over the top of the crisp. I learned this trick from Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame, in her book,
A Handmade Life
It looks fancy.
If your husband wants to cook his frozen pizza at the same time, this crisp can deal with that.
Continue cooking until it is brown and bubbly.
Take it out of the oven, and stir one more time to get any last sandy bits sodden with peachy and plum goodness.
I love to cook, but here is a secret- I am both busy and lazy. I am a working mom, and I like to eat real food for dinner. It is also important to me to feed my baby good food, and I am working hard to set a good example. So, gone are the days-okay, who am I kidding, the MONTHS- of cheese quesadillas for dinner.
That is when I say, bring on the secret ingredient! Make my dinner special! Keep me motivated so I don’t hit the drive-thru!
Pasta is the next quickest thing to drive-thru, and seasonal ingredients make for a fantastic pasta sauce. I amped mine up tonight with my new favorite sprinkle-applewood smoked sea salt.
Applewood smoked sea salt adds a smoky, outdoor flavor to a skillet based sauce. It is a shortcut to slow grilling or roasting vegetables to get that charcoal-grill flavor. It is also tremendous on meat.
We found it at a local gourmet store, but it is available on the internets here applewood smoked sea salt
Here is the recipe I used to make this late summer tomato sauce:
Many tomatoes, preferably from your or someone else’s yard-I used two baseball sized tomatoes and about six cherry tomatoes
3/4 of a green pepper
1cup of pre-boiled cauliflower (you can use raw if you want, but boiling it first makes it absorb more sauce flavor)
A good glug of olive oil-about a tablespoon
A teaspoon of applewood smoked sea salt.
Four servings of your favorite pasta-mine is thin spaghetti.
Pour the olive oil into a skillet. Set your pasta water to boil.
Chop the green peppers into thin strips, and throw them in the skillet. Turn on the skillet to begin cooking the peppers. I used medium on my stove. You want a good sizzle but don’t burn them!
Chop the tomatoes into large pieces however you like. I mean, we are LAZY, people! Just get them in the pan!
Throw them in the pan.
Chop the cauliflower. Throw that in too.
Check the pasta.
Stir your sauce and add the salt. This will draw water out of your veggies and make it saucier.
Throw in the pasta and cook according to directions on the box. Cook your sauce at a vigorous bubble while your pasta cooks.
When your pasta is done, so is the sauce. Drain the pasta, throw it into the skillet and turn of the heat. Toss it together well, and serve!
Imagine a photo of pasta with sauce here.
I don’t have one because….I was hungry!