Sunday, September 13, 2009

what's on my plate - today for lunch

The Meal: Pretend ratatouille with some extras added. Read: Leftovers PLUS.

A friend of mine once told me she loved leftovers because it meant one less meal she had to cook. I love leftovers. Not because I hate cooking, but because the economy of using up food that has not outlived its purpose really appeals to me. Or I'm just cheap. Yeah, probably that.

Above is today's lunch: Some leftover pretend ratatouille, with chopped raw cucumber added. And a bit of sea salt, dried oregano and garam masala on top.

The Verdict: Thumbs down. The cucumber was a bit much. Now my stomach is roiling a bit. The pictures look pretty, though.

Monday, September 7, 2009

pretend ratatouille

Level of difficulty: I'm guessing most people wouldn't find this hard, except that it takes a long time to cook the eggplant. And you have to roast the peppers ahead of time. If it's any consolation, I use raw tomatoes in this recipe. So THAT'S one less thing to cook. But yeah - possibly not for the ADD among us.

So this isn't even real ratatouille. And man, is that hard to spell. Even with eight years of French classes.

Classic ratatouille is a stew-like dish with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and stuff. Which is all more-or-less in this recipe. But I wasn't really thinking I was making ratatouille when I was cooking it. More like I'd just bought some eggplants from the farmer's market, and wanted a good way to eat them.

I got two eggplants for $1 at the farmer's market. Here's my cat Tear with the eggplants. He and his brother, Guy, have recently learned how to jump up on my kitchen counter. I am so delighted.

After taking the boys off the counter several times, I kind of gave up. Cat hair is bound to become a new favorite seasoning of mine. Fair warning, if you ever come over for dinner.

The cats seem to prefer my food on the floor, too. I was a little too busy taking pictures of roasting peppers to prevent this.

Lying in wait on the other side of the sink for their next opportunity.

So anyhow... slice the eggplant into 3/4 inch rounds, then dice it. Some people do fancy things to their eggplant after cutting it and before cooking it. I don't even want to know about that. I don't do fancy things to my eggplant, and it always tastes fine.

Yes, this is the same zucchini that was on the floor moments ago. Look - I washed it. Also: It was the only zucchini I had. Sue me.

The chopped vegetables.

I made this recipe all out of order. You should really chop the onions first. Here are some nice Spanish onions that I also got from the farmer's market - six for $4. (The zucchini was from my parents' garden, BTW. It cost me zero monies.)

Chop the onion.

Meanwhile, still trying to thwart the cats, I tried putting a frying pan on the their only access to the kitchen counter. As you can see from the kitty butt in the lower right-hand corner, the pan wasn't much of a deterrent.

Baby Guy watching for another "really piss Michelle off" opportunity.

Fry the onion in olive oil. Here's my favorite brand of olive oil. It used to be the cheapest, which was awesome because I also thought it was the best-tasting. It's gone up in price since then. Not so awesome.

Saute the onions until they look kind of like this.

Add the chopped eggplant and zucchini. I chopped way too much eggplant and zucchini. Had to saute it in two batches. This is the part that takes the longest time. Like, much longer than it should. I'm betting it took more than 20 minutes for each batch of eggplant to cook. You know it's cooked when it's all soft and brown. I neglected to take a photo of that part. My bad. When you're done cooking the eggplant, BTW, if you're feeling really frugal, you could deglaze the pan and use the yummy eggplant and onion flavouring in other dishes. If you wanted.

Take the eggplant off the heat and add some roasted peppers. ADD Tip: Roast the peppers before even thinking of starting the eggplant. Just saying.

Add salt to taste.

Here's what the cooked eggplant and peppers look like.

Add some chopped, raw tomatoes, and you too can eat something this festive-looking.

Cost per serving: Let's see... $0.67 for the onion, $1 for the eggplant, $0 for the zucchini, $0 for the tomatoes (also from Mom and Dad's garden)... This recipe makes a lot - it would probably feed at least four people. So that makes... $0.42/serving. Holy crap! That's, like, hardly anything! You could SO pay 10 bucks for this stuff (minus the cat hairs, admittedly) in a French restaurant...

The End.

how to deglaze a pan

Level of difficulty: Not very hard, but definitely high on the gross factor. Quick gag reflexes may want to step out of the room.

So being really frugal, yet really loving to eat good food, means finding ways to use nearly everything. Like those little brown bits left over in the frying pan when you're done cooking something messy, like eggplant.

One complaint many meat eaters have about vegetarian food is that it doesn't have enough flavour. When you're used to dead, cooked animal flesh flavouring everything you eat, I guess I can understand the complaint. Because who wouldn't want to bite into something that tasted like dead, cooked animal flesh, right?

But anyhow... the way for vegetarian cooks to give their food a richer, more complex flavour is to use a few tricks like the one described in this deglazing technique.

(Obligatory definition of deglazing: Umm... from the prefix "de-," meaning to undo, and the word "glaze," meaning glass? BTW, I really don't recommend trying to take broken glass out of food. Ever. And this post isn't about eating broken glass, okay?)

[Later insertion for clarification: What I mean is, if you break glass in food - which I have done many times, and it's not pretty - do not try to salvage the food. The broken-glass infused food is garbage. Just so we're clear.]

For this technique I started out by cooking some eggplant and onions for a really great pretend ratatouille. After the vegetables were done cooking, there was this disgusting mess left in the pan. Now, I'm not averse to washing dishes, but I have a latent lazy streak that manifests at odd moments, so if I can figure out a way to get rid of a brown mess AND come up with a practical way of utilizing the brown mess in a future recipe...

(Plus, if the truth be told, I'm always trying to capture more iron in my food - and cooking liquids in cast iron pans has to be the iron jackpot, I'm sure.)

Add some liquid to the pan. In this case, I had some homemade vegetable stock (aka the cooking water from some potatoes that I'd put in a jar and frozen) on hand. You could also use water, or leftover wine if you're feeling especially frisky.

Use a spatula to scrape all the little brown bits off the pan, and stir them into the liquid.

Let the liquid simmer on high heat for a few minutes, until it reduces (some of it evaporates a bit). Stir frequently.

Pour the resulting liquid into a glass jar. I tend to favour doing this in my sink because, you know. Spills. That cool-looking speckled black thing is a canning funnel. It fits into the mouths of canning jars - which I always use to store food - and helps me not spill everything all over the place. Helps.

The brown liquid in the canning jar.

Now, I do realize this looks totally gross. But trust me - use just a little bit of this stuff in a recipe like French onion soup, and nobody will miss the dead animal flesh. You can also use this liquid to make vegetarian gravy, which is awesome over mashed potatoes. I personally avoid gluten, so you probably won't be finding a vegetarian gravy recipe anywhere on this blog, but go for it.

Cost per serving: I'm gonna say $0. Because really, the brown stuff is free. And so is the cooking water.

The End.

how to roast fresh peppers

Level of difficulty: May set off your smoke detector, and probably shouldn't be attempted with pets in the room. Just saying.

So I bought these peppers at Trail's End (a local farmer's market located just east of London, Ontario, on Highway 2) yesterday. I think they were labeled yellow banana peppers, although that might have been similar peppers at another stall. I wanted red bell peppers, but I didn't see any until after I'd bought these ones. Doh. Anyhow, these are the ones I bought, and they cost me $2 for all of them.

I asked the vendor if they were hot peppers (which I didn't want). She said no. Probably not. I admired her conviction. And prayed that they really weren't hot peppers.

Turn on the broiler in your oven.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. If you're worried about Alzheimer's or something, I'm afraid I can't help you. All I know is, these babies make a mess, and I'm not too jacked about scrubbing a baking sheet covered in carmelized pepper blood.

Put your peppers in a single layer on the baking sheet. You can roast any kind of peppers like this, BTW - it doesn't have to be just long, skinny peppers.

Gratuitous close-up of a pepper.

Put the baking sheet in the oven and broil under the broiling element (that red, glowing thing on the ceiling of the oven) until your smoke detector goes off. Seriously. That's what I do, anyhow.

If you're going to be all "I need a real time to broil them for," then I'm guessing maybe these peppers took about 10 minutes. Actually, that sounds kind of high. Whatever. Just broil them until you smell them getting all brown and everything, and keep checking the oven really often, to make sure they aren't bursting into flames.

Yes. They'll do that. Awesome, eh?

Turn over the peppers so the unburnt side is facing up. You might want to use tongs for that part. Just saying.

Here's a photo of the peppers broiling in my oven. The smoke alarm actually went off for the second time WHILE I WAS TAKING THIS PICTURE. I am not kidding. Hence the focus challenge.

(At that same moment, I was also trying to figure out how close I could get to the BURNING HOT OVEN without melting my camera. And there were cats milling about, who were unfamiliar with the event of an open oven door. Startled does not begin to describe my reaction when the alarm went off.)

Cover the finished peppers with another sheet of aluminum foil. Some people recommend using plastic wrap, but are you kidding me? The polyphenols in the plastic will give you cancer, or something!


(The covering is to sweat the peppers so that the skins come off easier, BTW.)

The sweated peppers. They should look all deflated.

Peel off the charred skin. You might want to wait until the peppers have cooled down a bit, first. They're kind of hot if you try to do it right after you take them out of the oven. The skins should just come right off.

Then slice into each pepper lengthwise, and spread it open to scrape out the seeds. The top part - where the pepper was attached to the stem - should just pull away from the roasted flesh. I'm not too picky about the odd seed here and there in my food, but too many of them aren't all that good.

Then chop the peppers however you need to for the recipe you're making. These babies were going in a pretend ratatouille.

Yum. Finished roasted peppers. I ate about half of them while I was scraping out the seeds. True. The broiling carmelizes the sugars in the peppers, and makes them really sweet and delicious.

Cost per serving: Are you serious? Am I really going to try to figure that out for every recipe? Man... Okay, let's see, if all of these peppers cost $2, and one person would eat... well... potentially all of them... then $2/serving.

The End.