My sister, D., and I have a long-standing joke between us, knocked off from both “The Simpsons” and popular culture at large; whenever something happens in life that baffles us completely, we tend to say “Who put who in the what now?” Lately, cooking at my house has been a little bit like that phrase — slightly baffling, slightly tongue-in-cheek, and comprised of throwing together ingredients that may not have seemed like they’d be good friends when they were just hanging out in the fridge or pantry, but end up being great combinations.
What can I say? I get bored. I like to make things different ways and try different flavor combinations; plus, with kids who are at the ages and stages of my two, there’s an ongoing quest to make every food more appealing to them without dumbing it down and killing the whole experience of the meal for J. and me. This week I’ve sort of been on a roll with the kitchen creativity, and almost all the experiments have been pretty successful, I don’t mind saying — so, at the request of many friends and acquaintances, I’m dedicating today on the blog to a recipe sharing-palooza. (You’re welcome.)
First up: Breakfast. I’ve realized suddenly that L.’s general lack of enthusiasm about breakfast is kind of an inherited trait; I myself can easily get bored with breakfast and, in the morning blur, often find that I don’t feel mentally acute enough to bother with trying to rustle up anything exciting enough to appeal to me. Don’t get me wrong — I do make myself eat something in the mornings — but I hate the feeling of choking down a piece of toast I don’t really want just so I can say I ate. However, this morning I made something that really did excite me, and as an added bonus, thrilled P. as well: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie. L., an avowed smoothie hater, was almost tempted enough to try it — it turned out such an amazing shade of pink, and was so sweet and creamy, that even he had a hard time resisting it. (Next time I’ll pour the stuff into popsicle molds and freeze it; I bet he’d try it that way!)
Second on the list: Cracker-crusted cauliflower. Over the weekend, J. pointed out that we were in possession of a container of Ritz cracker crumbs — not usually something that would be in our pantry, but which I’d bought on a whim from our fishmonger when I was short on breadcrumbs one day and needed a quick substitution. “You should figure out some way to use these,” he said, and went on his merry way. Later, as I tried to think of a way to make cauliflower more enticing for the kids (whose relative acceptance of vegetables has NEVER extended to the humble cauliflower, for some reason), my eyes fell once more on the cracker crumbs. Now, the guys in my house are not big fans of cheese sauce, but cheese is the magical flavor pairing for cauliflower…and for crackers. A-ha! We ended up with a big casserole dish of crispy, cheesy, delicious vegetables that everybody enjoyed. “If you made cauliflower like this,” J. said, “we could eat it every week.” High praise, considering J.’s enthusiasm for cauliflower ranks somewhere in the same range as his enthusiasm for shoveling the mounds of snow off our front walk.
And finally: the Lentil Stew my son actually wanted to take to school. No, really. L. brought lentil stew for lunch today and was completely happy about it. This one is extra-fabulous because it’s made in the slow cooker; and a little offbeat, because I used kielbasa in the stew for flavor and body. If you’re not a fan of kielbasa, you could use any kind of sausage — even a turkey or chicken sausage would probably do just fine — but we found a high-quality, not-too-heinous brand that we were comfortable using, and its smoky flavor really added something to the dish. With crusty bread and salad, this is a cheap, filling, and ridiculously delicious dinner.
So there you have it, folks — three new recipes, from the files of “let me put this in with that and see what happens.” Peanut butter in a smoothie: good. Crackers on cauliflower: good. Kielbasa with lentils: good. Real, homemade comfort foods that are easy and inexpensive: outstanding. Tomorrow, we’ll talk a little bit about accountability or food news or some other deep subject, but for today, I just felt like sharing. You all deserve it.