Generally, people expect a certain level of detail when they are following a recipe.
Sometimes when you don’t have an ingredient listed, you scrap the whole idea and search for a new option. If you deem the ingredient minor, you may be willing to omit the item, or to replace it with something similar. Julia Child says that you can make Leek and Potato Soup with onions instead of leeks if you wish. I had no idea! I would have made the recipe much more often if I had realized this earlier. On the other hand, I wouldn’t think twice about replacing shallots with onions, or thyme with oregano. I would generally skip a recipe that called for cilantro if I didn’t have it, but for some reason, would omit parsley without a second thought.
Baking is another matter. Too much baking soda will make your cookies taste like freezer burned soft pretzels. Too much butter will turn your cookies into a crumble ice cream topping.
Having endured culinary adolescence in my latter years of college, I now feel a certain comfort and ease around most ingredients. I regularly make up recipes, or adapt them based on what is available in my refrigerator. I generally feel comfortable and confident in the kitchen, and even so, tips from Julia Child astonish me. For the first time in my life, I feel as though I am holding a knife properly. I now how to prevent my hands from smelling like onions, and am picking up delightful tips. The most surprising shortcut I have learned so far is to drop your unpeeled clove of garlic into boiling water for 20 seconds, scoop them out, and dash them under cold water. This quick step makes them a cinch to peel.
Once comfortable with basics, it is time to expand. This includes techniques and recipes, but what is most fun for me, creating new recipes.
One of our roles here is pumpkin-keeper. We are to check on the produce like pumpkins, squash and potato that are being stored in cool dark places, and to remove any rotting foods so as to prevent further spoilage. We were forced to remove one pumpkin, as it was entirely too far gone, but caught another before it was too late. We chunked off the end that was soft, scooped out the innards, and kept the thick orange shell in the refrigerator for more than two weeks, slicing off chunks as our recipes allowed. I did a Google search for “how to use up pumpkin,” but found that most recipes were for deserts, or requested small amounts of pumpkin like would be leftover from making a Thanksgiving pie.
Chris has found a love of making flat breads, and I have been experimenting with various spiced dishes like pumpkin Daal, and Morrocan inspired pumpkin stew. One recipe we found became a favorite that we have made with variations three times: Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese.
We were inspired by a recipe on the internet, but have not referred to it since the inspiration, so what I will relate to you can be considered an anecdotal recipe, rather than a mathematical equation.
Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese
Roast pumpkin in oven until soft, or cut into small cubes and cook on stovetop
Once very soft, mash, or use blender until almost smooth (chunks add intrigue)
Spice as you wish (we like Thyme and Oregano), add Salt and Pepper to taste
Meanwhile, cook 1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni for 5 minutes. Noodles should be harder than al dente
Grate 1/2 cup of cheese (we like Comte) and cube another half cup, or so
Mix pumpkin, noodles, and cubed cheese, and half of the grated cheese together, and pour into small baking dish
Optional: in a frying pan, with a small amount of olive oil, briefly cook 1/2 cup baguette, torn into small bits, and one clove garlic, minced. Place this on top of the pumpkin/noodle mixture, and cover with grated cheese.
Bake 10 minutes, or until cheese topping is melted
*Today we included bacon lardons, but we agreed that, strangely, this dish is better without it.
According to our calculations, this recipe is healthy. When you are eating this, you imagine that the bright orange creamy sauce is cheese, and the melted chunks of cheese inside the mixture as well as the crunchy garlic breadcrumbs scattered on top are pure decadence. Well, it may not fit everyone’s standard of “healthy,” but I think that we an agree that it has some healthy components, and is a step up from the original comfort food!
Other exploits of the day include: Walking to the bakery for breakfast (a longer walk can we normally attempt on an empty stomach, but fruitful), running out of gas before leaving the property, and pushing the giant taxi uphill to clear the road, walking back in to town to send Hilarie her birthday present that is postmarked on her birthday (today!! Look at your belly button and say, “Wow, we’ve been together for 22 years!”), relish the most beautiful weather since our arrival (18 degrees… Centigrade!), read Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass) and Stephen King (“Guns” $1 on Kindle, all proceeds to the Brady campaign to end gun violence), bond with donkeys (E), wield chainsaw (C), make plans for our next location (T minus 5 days), and finish with a movie (TBA), all while loving Muttley, and each other.