Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stand Back Everybody...Katy Is Cooking

So, those who know me know I never cook. At best, I assemble. I can make a mean stir fry--my rice cooker cooks the rice (which I would never get right, not in a million years, because I have a hereditary condition in which all my rice turns into paste no matter what I do) and then I throw it into a wok with a stir fry sauce and vegetables and some kind of protein from Trader Joe's. Tofu, chicken, shrimp, whatever they're selling that's already cooked and sliced to throw into a stir fry. It's a balanced meal with complex carbs and veggies and protein, but I have not cooked it, per se. I have merely assembled it.

I have two tour-de-force recipes in my arsenal. They look like cooking, but they are actually just assembly followed by time in the oven. One is a French Toast Casserole, and one is a Strata (which is basically a savory French Toast Casserole, but nobody seems to have cottoned onto that yet). When I discovered that I could make these consistently without killing anyone, I was pretty excited. I prepared myself to be the Casserole Queen.

I like casseroles because everything is, by default, done at the same time. That's one of my major issues with actual cooking. If I cooked a meal like my mother used to make, you'd end up eating each element as a separate course. It would be like, "oh, look, the green beans are done." And then maybe an hour and a half later you'd have some meat. If you ever saw Bridget Jones and her blue soup, I'm right there with her. That's why a casserole is brilliant--everything is in the dish and then you have maybe a salad and some bread (one of which you assemble, and the other of which you can actually buy) and everyone is happy and fed and you get to sit down.

The only problem was that every time I looked up non-breakfast casserole recipes they always involved things I wouldn't eat under any circumstances. Cream of mushroom soup just...well, just look at it. It looks like industrial waste with some tiny, unidentifiable mushroom bits in it. Cream of chicken soup is even scarier. At least the cream of mushroom soup is vegetarian industrial waste.

Enter The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever. It offers sensible alternatives to the cream-of-mystery soups, and I have attempted several of the recipes without killing anyone. There is a Guinness stew casserole that was very, very tasty. And last night I was feeling sorry for myself and made macaroni and cheese.

When I lived in Brooklyn, there was a grocery delivery service that would bring a teeny tiny portion of the best macaroni and cheese on earth. I ordered it every two or three weeks and it was heavenly--until at some stage I looked at the calories and decided that I could not possibly exercise enough to keep eating it.

This book has a couple of recipes, and the easy one has a lot of low-fat substitutions in it, and I made it with whole wheat pasta. I would change some things next time (more cheddar, and all of it sharp), but it was darn close to the best mac and cheese I've ever tasted. It was by no stretch of the imagination virtuous but a) I'm not dead, and b) it was probably better for me than mac and cheese from a box--it certainly tasted better. Plus my house smelled amazing.

Cooking wasn't even one of my 2010 goals. Indeed, it may run counter to one of my goals, which is to lose weight. But I'm still glad to know that I can do it without taking lives.

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