Guess what everyone!!! It’s clean-out-the-fridge night!! Yaaaaaayyyyy!!!
In my ongoing to quest to reduce wasting food, I “invented” a recipe where I basically throw all my leftovers in a pot of mac’n’cheese. I say “invented” because it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to throw veggies in with pasta, and because when I was done with the whole thing I saw the exact same damn recipe on the back of the Kraft cheese bag.
I’m not sure how I feel about coming up with something that can be found on the back of a bag of anything, but you know what, my pasta was damn good, so whatever.
Under the Food Articles of Full Disclosure, I must confess that there was some major experimentation going on here tonight. I’ve decided to try to break away from milk altogether. I’ve been a huge addict, and have been drinking more milk that water lately. This becomes slightly problematic when you’re slightly lactose intolerant. I’m not cutting out dairy products altogether, since I want to keep the calcium in my diet. I’ve started exploring the use almond milk, which I’m now totally in love with. I used it as the liquid base in the cheese sauce, and frankly thought it would suck big cow balls, but nope! It rocks!
I love being surprised.
I call this recipe Mustgo…because it’s made up of everything in the fridge that must go tonight, before it goes bad!
I also love being clever.
One box of your favorite pasta shape
1 lb bacon
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups almond milk
Skim milk Italian cheese mix
Skim milk cheddar cheese
I brought a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. While the water was getting all warm and bubbly, I chopped the broccoli, pared down the Brussels sprouts and quartered them, then sliced the green beans. These all went into a steamer basket over about an inch of water on high heat. They only needed about five minutes (after the water came to a boil) to get deliciously soft and perfect. (The trick to steaming multiple veggies at the same time is to make sure they’re all about the same size.)
After the pasta had boiled for about 12 minutes, it was a beautiful, mouth pleasing al dente. It got to hang out in the colander down in the sink for the rest of the evening.
For small space cooking, the sink my favorite temporary storage area. I make sure it’s spotless before and after each excursion into culinary frontiers so I’m not being gross, but otherwise, it’s a great way to clear some counter space.
Into the now empty pasta pot went the pound of bacon, cut up into bite-sized pieces. Can I just take a second to ask, what
in the world is better than the smell of frying bacon? Seriously, it’s right up there with sautéed garlic and fresh bread. My apartment was, yet again, an aromatic paradise.
I love living here at dinnertime.
After about ten minutes, the bacon was perfect. Not gonna lie, I totally snuck a piece (or five) waiting for the rest of the meal to come together. It was blissful—perfectly golden and crispy, like Sunday morning on my tongue. Alas, reveling in nostalgia and culinary happiness can not be forever, as I had to vacate the bacon onto a paper towel lined plate to drain before they went past the Beautiful Threshold. (And we all know that Threshold. I’m not looking for Cajun bacon here.)
With the bacon removed, I had a LOT of bacon fat left over. I poured out all but about three tablespoons worth into a bowl, then whisked the flour into the bacon fat. Yeah, I know, I know. Bacon fat is bad. But you need a roux to thicken the cheese sauce, and roux is half fat, half flour. Why the hell would you pour out all of one fat just to replace it with another like butter? Besides, bacon fat tastes awesome.
I let the roux cook for about two minutes, just until it started to darken. The darker the roux, the better it tastes…but there’s a delicate balance before it goes all topsy turvy and gross. Once you burn a roux, you may as well order pizza, ‘cuz it’s a pain in the ass to start over. Once it hit that golden stage, I whisked in the two cups of almond milk, then let it simmer for about five minutes. You want it to look like a weakish white gravy when all is said and done.
At this point, I was hungry as hell. It had been a long day (aren’t they all?!) and I wanted FOOD. Luckily I was heading into the home stretch—the studio was smelling awesome, and I even started a little happy dance in the kitchen. Working quickly, I threw in about twelve shakes of hot sauce, a few good shakes of cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and the freshly grated nutmeg (do you remember my rant about the nutmeg? Seriously. I will stop talking to you!!). A quick taste proved my suspicions. It was awesome.
I should probably take a second to explain that this entire recipe is to taste. It’s based on leftovers, and whatever you have in your fridge. This isn’t something that’s going to be thrown off if you use a cup of peas versus half a cup. It’s not a bomb, it’s a pasta dish. Keep tasting as you go, and keep adjusting until you like what you’re eating.
And now…the cheese. You can’t make glorified mac’n’cheese without the cheese! That’s like going to prom without a great pair of shoes. It’s just not done. A generous handful each of the Italian mix and cheddar was all it took—they’re fast melting cheeses, so I turned off the heat and whisked it into a homogeneous blend of cheesy goodness.
Next…the peas. Those went in first since they were still frozen, and needed to cook first. After about a minute, I added two forkfuls of sundried tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans, and bacon. Those were combined with a strongly assertive stir before tossing in the cooked pasta.
Can I just say, without tooting my own horn a little too much, that this is a freight train of culinary awesomeness? Cause it is.
And now I’m off to clean the kitchen!!
Today is a cooking free day, dear fellow food lovers. But I am not sad about it, no not in the least. Right now, I’m plowing through a plate of brie, fruit, and crackers with a beautiful pinot gris to complement. “Eat Pray Love” is on the television (another food movie!!) and I’m curled up with one my four new cooking magazines I picked up this evening. There is Twix ice cream in my freezer that will most likely move from said freezer to my belly sometime tonight.
I love this movie. I hate the book, but I love the movie.
No recipes tonight, but I do I have big news. Big news that I’m particularly excited about.
I signed up for a cooking class!!!! My first ever. I’m a “home trained” cook. That means that my mother cooked, and I watched. I remember cooking first meal all on my own. I was a junior in college and had just moved into a student apartment on campus. I cooked chicken. I didn’t know how to check for doneness, so I called home.
“Mom, does this sound done?” and stuck the phone in the pan.
Needless to say, I have gotten considerably better in my culinary exploits. I can follow a recipe pretty well. I can come up with some intermediate level meals, but I don’t understand food. I don’t know what makes it tick. I want to be able to look at something, and just know what flavors—traditional, exotic, good, bad, I don’t care so long as it’s a flavor—mesh together. Right now, all I can say “huh. You know, I saw something on Food Network once…”
Last night I was out having drinks with friends when they brought up cooking classes. Surrounding counties have great adult education classes, and they were explaining about the Somali foods class they had signed up for. And I was jealous. I want to learn how to cook exotic foods!
A little late night, sleep-deprived googling, and what did I find? Sur Le Table, that mecca of kitchen supply stores, offers technique and cooking classes! Just what I wanted! $75 bought me a 2 hour, one time only class. I was so excited last night I couldn’t sleep—I don’t have the schedule to maintain a full semester class, so a one shot deal is exactly up my alley.
Are you ready for the title?
“Coming Out of Your Shell.” That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a class all about crustaceans. I think. The course description says it’s about crustaceans, but the photo featured a bowl of mussels. Mussels are clearly mollusks. Crustaceans are crabs and lobsters. I was confused, but hungry, so I signed up anyway.
Seafood makes me happy. I order it whenever I can when I’m out. When I was a little girl, my dad used to buy a dozen clams whenever he saw them on sale. He’d bring them home and steam them. Nothing special, I don’t think. Just a little water and the clams in a steamer basket (which I used to pretend was a hat when clams weren’t in it). Daddy would melt some butter in glass pyrex bowls. When the clams were open and the butter melted, we’d settle down on our green shag carpeting and watch hockey. He’d have club soda and I’d have milk.
I miss clams and milk. On bad days, when I’m feeling nostalgic and missing childhood innocence, I almost miss that carpet too.
So I’m going to learn about shellfish. The class isn’t for another 3 weeks, on February 23. I was gushing about the class at work today, and my coworker David showed me the Fairfax county adult education website. So many classes! Spanish food! Italian! French! Baking basics! So many things to learn. I have decided, it is my moral imperative to learn these things. And so I will. Not all at once, but maybe once every month or two.
It’s Wednesday, and I have no weekend plans. Any suggestions for food festivals or restaurants to hit up in the DC area?
In other news, I am now contact-able! If you have thoughts, comments, musings, recipe suggestions or ideas for restaurants or wineries, shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!