Adventures of an unfussy foodie.

August 15, 2014

Pixar-esque Ratatouille & Ratatouille Subs

Before we really get started, I have to mention that this is an eggplant-free zone. I don't like it, and nothing you can say to me or do to it will change my mind. Sorry.

That said, I love ratatouille! Provided that you omit the eggplant.
You could easily add eggplant into this recipe, if it's non-negotiable for you. Find a long, skinny one, about the same circumference as the squash you use.

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one completely enchanted by Pixar's tian-style interpretation of this classic French dish. When I saw this version on Smitten Kitchen, and again later in her awesome cookbook, I knew it would be happening in a kitchen near me. Soon.

I've done ratatouille in the crockpot, and with stuffed shells, but this might be my favorite way to enjoy it. The presentation is wonderful for a Sunday supper or for when company will be joining you. It's lovely.

I use my mandolin slicer to get  uniformly-thick slices of zucchini and yellow squash. Then it's just a matter of layering things to make them pretty. And, honestly, it's not as much trouble as you might think.

Serve it over couscous or egg noodles and you've got dinner.

But even better than that, when it's layered this way, it holds together perfectly as the filling for a completely delicious vegetarian sub sandwich! Just pile it onto your favorite kind of roll, toasted, naturally. I like to add the zing of fresh tomato to round out the roastiness of the ratatouille filling. And, of course, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. You could spread your bun with goat cheese, instead, if that's appealing to you.
(This might or might not also be a goat-cheese-free zone... But that's the great thing about cooking at home, you get to decide what to include!)

Pixar-esque Ratatouille
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. tomato puree (such as Pomi)
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
a few sprigs fresh thyme or summer savory, stripped from stems and finely chopped
Salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil
Parmesan cheese for serving

In a small bowl, combine the onion, garlic, tomato puree, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread in the bottom of a 2 quart greased oval baking pan (mine's Corningware). On top of this mixture, start layering your veggies: zucchini slice, yellow squash slice, red pepper slice, repeat.

For prettiest presentation, follow the curve of the baking dish, making kind of a spiral. It would also be pretty in straight rows, alternating the direction of the layers on each row. Sprinkle with chopped thyme or savory, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and place in the oven.

Bake uncovered at 375º for 45 - 50 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, but not so long that they become mushy.

At this point, you have some options. You could serve this as is over couscous or pasta with a sprinkle of Parmesan, or you could take it one awesome step further: make it into the filling for a fantastic sub sandwich. It is hardly any more effort and it is so truly satisfying.

Ratatouille Subs

Extra Ingredients:
1 fresh tomato (I like a good beefsteak), sliced however thickly you like them for sandwiches
4 hoagie rolls or other buns of your choice, split and toasted (a baguette would even work nicely, if you can manage all that crustiness)
Parmesan cheese or goat cheese

Open up your bun and scoop some of the ratatouille into it. Sprinkle on some Parmesan, and top with slices of fresh tomato. Add the top of your bun, and enjoy! If you prefer, you could also spread the top bun with a smattering of tangy goat cheese instead of the Parm.

July 30, 2014

Baked Polenta Fries

It's no secret that I love polenta with much muchness. It's awesome stuff. I love it soft and creamy or crisped up on the stove top. But the first time I tried polenta fries, it was a revelatory experience. It was at a local restaurant during happy hour. They serve it with this delightful gorgonzola butter (which I didn't think I'd like because bleu cheese and I do not generally mix), and the whole thing was divine. The polenta fries were tender but crispy, the way a good fry ought to be.

I knew then that this needed to be in my home cooking repertoire.

But here's the thing. I don't fry things.
I just don't.
I'm not scared of it, per se. I just hate the smell that lingers in the house, and I have no idea what to do with all that oil when I'm done. And it's hard to justify frying things. It just is.

So when I stumbled upon a recipe for BAKED polenta fries over at Oh My Veggies, it was only a matter of time before these happened at my house. The original recipe calls for a flavored log of pre-made polenta. I couldn't find any flavored polenta at my grocery store, so I mixed up my own seasoning of oil with Italian seasoning and garlic powder. I brushed it on the fries before baking, and it was just so yummy.

These polenta fries rounded out a summery meal of Caprese Salad quite nicely. We could not stop munching on these! We dipped them in plain old jarred spaghetti sauce -- it was addicting, like those yummy fried mozzarella sticks, but without the guilt and artery-clogging.

A friend of mine tried it with homemade polenta and told me they turned out well. I'll have to give it a try myself sometime, but until then I love the convenience of using the ready-made polenta from the store. I can keep it on hand in the pantry and have polenta fries pretty much any time I want them.
And I want them all the time now. I bet you will, too.

Baked Polenta Fries

1, 18 oz. log prepared polenta
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning blend (I like Penzey's)
coarse sea salt

Heat oven to 450º.
In a small bowl, combine oil, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Set aside.
Cut polenta into 1/2 to 1 inch fry shapes. To do this easily, I cut the log in half lengthwise, then cut each half into about 3 planks, then the planks into strips. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet in one even layer.
Using a pastry brush, brush the polenta with the oil mixture, turn pieces over, and coat the other side.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until golden-brown, turning halfway through cooking time, if desired. (I didn't and it turned out fine, but one side was a bit toastier than the other.) Sprinkle with salt while still hot from the oven.
Serve with dipping sauce of your choice.

July 16, 2014

Stocking my Post-Partum Freezer

In 18 weeks or so, I'll be a mother all over again. It's scary business. We've got a good thing going with just the three of us, and a part of me is mourning its loss. I'm snuggling our firstborn more so that he knows I cherish this special time when I am just his Mommy and no one else's.  Our whole world is about to change.

But the other side of the coin is that our whole world is about to change. Again! Like the first time, only completely different. My little boy will become a big brother! I will see him grow and learn to love and share in ways he's never known. I'll see just how far my love (and patience) can stretch to make room for this new little one.

Once again, I'll see that I'm made of strong stuff -- I didn't realize it for a long, long time with my first because depression gets its grip on your mind and makes you feel so many untrue things. But now I know how the ugly lies it tells and that its foolish to believe them. I know when I need help, too, and how to ask for it.

I know that I can handle what's coming. I've done this before.

What I haven't done before is stock up my freezer before baby. When our first was born, we were living with my parents while hubby finished his Masters degree. There was no need for me to worry about feeding the family after the baby came -- my mom took excellent care of us.

This time around, after my mom comes out for the first little bit, we'll be on our own. And I intend to be prepared. I'm sure I'll be busy nursing and diapering. Going to the store will be challenging, but the family will still need to be fed. Having homemade meals on hand in the freezer will go a long way to making life manageable. These are things I could take from the freezer and get to the table with minimal work, or that hubby can make up after a long day at work so we won't resort to take out. (The options where we live are abysmal anyhow.)

Here's what I'm stocking up on for after baby makes his arrival:

Pre-Cooked Steel-Cut Oats

Oats are great for breastfeeding moms, and my preschooler adores oatmeal. Having it cooked up in advance and frozen in individual portions will be the perfect start to fuzzy, sleep-deprived mornings. Just add a little extra milk and a smear of jam or maple syrup.


From the freezer to the toaster to your plate in just about a minute. And who doesn't like waffles?


I have a 25 lb. bag of high-protien flour sitting in my pantry for homemade bagels (it was the same price for a 3 lb. bag as it was for 25 lbs. at Cash & Carry, so I guess we'll be making a LOT of bagels...). I know the recipe will make more than we can eat in one sitting, so the rest will keep nicely for later tucked into the freezer. Just toast and add cream cheese!

Chicken Noodle Soup

I'm due in November, prime soup season. Make up a batch of your favorite chicken noodle soup recipe, only omit the noodles until you're ready to serve. Then all you have to do is reheat and cook the noodles. My favorite noodles for chicken noodle soup come from the freezer section anyhow, so I'll just slip a package of those next to my soup in the freezer.

Pumpkin Chili

Any chili makes a great freezer meal. Just reheat and top with your favorite things (mine are cheese and sour cream).

Baked Pastas

Baked pastas are a great freezer meal option. I'm planning on making up a pan of Baked Ziti, and may also make up some Stuffed Shells. Both will go straight from the freezer to the oven beautifully.

Sloppy Joe (or Sloppy Sam) Filling

Sloppy Joes are one of my favorite dinners, but making them from scratch is a lot of work. Do it in advance and freeze it for an easy dinner. All you'll need are fresh buns and a green salad.


I considered making a couple batches of pizza dough, but with arms full of newborn, it's difficult to roll out pizza dough. Reheating pre-cooked calzones, however, would be a cinch -- whether I'm doing it one-handed, or hubby gets it going after a long day at work.

Slow-Cooker Beef & Barley Soup

Freezer-to-crockpot meals are a fabulous option for hands-off cooking. I love that I can throw this in the slow cooker in the morning and have something worthwhile for my family to eat come dinner time. Just dump and go.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

I consider these a meal all on their own. Just bake the potatoes, stuff as desired, then freeze. When you're ready to eat them, bake them again from frozen until heated through and golden.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

I don't know who wouldn't consider these essential. I'll make up a big batch of the dough, scoop into portions and freeze for cookies any time I need a little something sweet.

Do you stock your freezer with easy-prep meals to make life less hectic? What are your favorites? I'd love your recommendations!

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