Friday, February 24, 2012

Panic Attack Casserole

Dear Reader,

I have a friend, let's just call her Sally, who is going through a period of terrific angst at the moment.  There is angst in her career, anxiety at home, and she's basically tied up in knots of gordian proportion all around.  She was coming for dinner the other night and had specifically requested something cheesy and warming, to calm her frayed nerves.  Problem was, she invited herself, and I didn't have time to go to the store.  But no matter!  I am the MacGyver of comfort foods.  I quickly checked my cupboards and saw that I had rice and broccoli, as well as a pack of Quorn tenders.  It is no secret that I am a fan of the mysterious Quorn.  Anyhow, you could make this same thing with chicken, if you wish.  My mind went instantly to a casserole, but I had no cheese, and only skim milk, which would amount to a pretty weak casserole, not at all what Sally required.  Then I found, tucked behind my thousands of vinegars, exactly what I needed.  Sally wasn't going to get some nasty broccoli mushroom soup casserole.  No ma'am.  For Sally, only the pseudo-French would do.  Thus was born this conciliatory dish.  Enjoy.

Panic Attack Casserole

 Here I sauteed shallots and some of an onion in some butter.

And here's the part where I lightly steamed some broccoli.

Did you hear the one about when I threw this bag of something chicken-ish into  the pan with the shallots and onions?  No?  Well, I also added a splash of vegetable stock!

 I boiled 1 3/4 cup water and added 1 cup basmati, lowered heat, covered, and simmered for fifteen minutes which is a pretty standard way to deal with a cup of basmati.

 Voila my secret ingredient!  I made the "Bearnaise" according to the packet directions, and slopped the whole thing together because nobody was looking.  If someone had been present for the event, I would have gingerly mixed all the ingredients, and used a nice wooden spoon to spread out the casserole in the dish, while wearing my adorable apron and listening to Edith Piaf.

 I toasted a couple of slices of whole wheat bread, whizzed them in the processor, mixed with a little parmesan, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and sprinkled on top.  Then I baked at 350 for about 20 minutes.  Actually I don't know how long I baked it for because Sally arrived.  I opened some wine and listened to her rant, cry, and hyperventilate simultaneously, which only made me drink more wine, and I totally lost track of time.  Also I forgot to take a photo of the finished casserole, so the one above, taken after we ate, will have to do.  Let me tell you one thing.  That mofo was delicious.  Sally left in good spirits, which may have been due to the wine, but I like to think my casserole helped.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Eggplant Extravaganza

Dear Reader,

Living in New York City provides myriad opportunities for someone who likes to cook.  Specialty grocers, farmers markets, exotic spice bazaars, and whole buildings devoted to nothing but cheese abound.  I tend to decide what I'm going to make for dinner sometime just after lunch, and then go pick up whatever I will need for that night's meal.  I don't need to tell you how expensive this can be.  In effort to be more thrifty, and clean out some of my cupboards which are in danger of falling off the wall, my husband and I decided to try something.  In one afternoon we would pick up all the produce we would need for the entire week's worth of meals.  I know that a lot of people do this as a matter of course, but we're a bit new at it, and as a result, one of us thought that we would definitely need at least six eggplants.  We never eat eggplant, although I like it very much, and found myself at the end of the week having to make a meal for my family that used six eggplants.


 I was inspired by Jaime Oliver's Eggplant Parmigiana, so began with his sauce which you see in the picture above.  Doesn't it look delish?  It was.  Olive oil, onion, garlic, oregano, tomatoes, wine vinegar.  I didn't use the suggested basil, as I didn't have any, and this was a strictly use-what-I-have kind of affair.

 I sliced and grilled the eggplant in my grill pan.  I should have cut the eggplant more thinly to minimize the slime factor.

Lovely parmesan made soft and fluffy with my microplane grater.

 I made breadcrumbs with the ends of whole wheat sandwich bread, toasted and tossed with a bit of olive oil.

 I layered the sauce, the eggplant...

 ...and the cheese, until it reached the top of this lovely dish which was a wedding present ten years ago.  I can't recall who gave it to me.  If it was you, I thank you again, and you'll be happy to know that I use it frequently.

 Ok, here's where I went a little crazy.  I wanted something filling, but still easy on the old Weight Watchers points, so I topped the whole thing with a pint of fat free Ricotta, mixed with an egg.  I added some salt and pepper, then topped with more sauce, the breadcrumbs and more cheese, then baked it in the oven for longer than I was expecting it to take.

I was a little excited when the dish was finally done, and forgot to take a picture before we ate it.  It was delicious, and my kids enjoyed it, too - even if they said they didn't.  The best part was all the room I had in the fridge after getting rid of those eggplants.  I wonder what he'll bring home this week.  Truckloads of turnips?  Mountains of mustard greens?  Or better yet, a bushel of beets.  I like beets.

Now here is something to entertain you on this Monday.   I forgot how weird this video is.  That's probably because at the time it was made I thought it was the decade's greatest artistic achievement.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Gingrich Spinach

Dear Reader,

Can you imagine folding the laundry, putting away your husband's socks and finding a whole bunch of girlie magazines in his drawer?  Yes?  Well how about finding a whole bunch of Newt Gingrich paraphernalia?  Horror!  That is exactly what happened to Steffi in Jacksonville, Florida this week.  Here you go, Steffi.  I wish you luck.

Gingrich Spinach

You will need:

3 pounds spinach
1 cloves garlic
1/4 cup flour
1 cup cream
1 1/4 cups milk
One small onion, diced
1/4 cup butter
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
handful breadcrumbs

Steam or boil the spinach until just cooked (or unfrozen as the case may be), then drain and squeeze all the water out, like you'd like to squeeze the brains of your husband if he thinks he's going to have some sort of new fangled "open" relationship.  Give. Me. A. Break.  Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan while you saute the onion and garlic in the butter.  Whisk in flour and cook for a few minutes to create a roux.  Add the warmed milk in a thin stream, like the thin stream of consciousness that must exsist somewhere in the head of the man you married.  Whisk constantly so that you don't get any lumps, you've already got one of those, no need to add more.  Stir in spinach, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Top with breadcrumbs and enough grated gruyere to make you feel better, and bake at 350 until golden brown and bubbly.  Go to and make sure your husband's name is first on the list to visit the moon base in 2019.

Now here is some music to help get you through these last six weeks of winter.