battle 14–day 2–cauliflower

Even though I won cauliflower easily enough on my first try, I decided to do it again the next night so I could cook it myself. I don’t have to cook the veggies myself to win them, I just wanted to. So I did. The fortunate thing about having already won cauliflower was that when I fucked it up, and I did, of course, it didn’t matter because I already knew I liked it.

However, my girl Vegetarian Erin joined for dinner, so even though I didn’t WANT to fuck up for myself, I NEEDED to not fuck up if I was going to be feeding someone else.  I did a lot of research on cauliflower before trying to cook it and ultimately decided on a two-point goal for dinner that night: I thought I should try to conquer cauliflower mash since I’d been so afraid of/pissed about it at Christmas that one time, and it needed to be vegetarian since Vegetarian Erin is a vegetarian.

Finding a recipe for cauliflower mash was easy enough, but finding a recipe for vegetarian cauliflower anything  isn’t easy at all. It turns out that because cauliflower naturally has no taste, the world thinks you should add a tasty meat stock of some kind to any and every cauliflower dish, and in general I wouldn’t disagree, except for the part where I know even meat stock counts as eating meat to vegetarians. Actually, I wouldn’t know that except for this one time Erin, Amber, Owen and I were on a road trip and we stopped for lunch at this little cafe, which was slightly off the beaten path in The Middle of Fucking Nowhere, Virginia. This is what they had on the menu: meat and potatoes. Erin sighed. I beamed. Virginia seemed great to me! Our well-intentioned but very dim server listened to Erin’s questions about the menu with interest, but he was clearly confused. Erin, who had been suffering from a really bad cold our whole trip, asked in a sniffly, pitiful voice, “What do you have for vegetarians?” The look on his face indicated to us that he thought “vegetarian” was a medical condition, which could be catching and it was probably what was making her look so ill. We could see the wheels slowly turning and then aha! a lightbulb. He went to the kitchen to inquire and came back with a very, very short list of non-meat items: potatoes.

Erin sighed again. “I’ll just have the French onion soup.”

“You can’t have that!” shouted Mr. Well-Intentioned but Dim-Witted Server Guy.

We sat there stunned. Apparently the French onion soup was made with meat stock, and he for real thought her condition would be disturbed by meat. We had to get the fuck out of there. These were my people, my food kin, and even I was scared.

But it was a great learning experience. I learned that many, many, many things (like vegetables) are prepared with meat stock to give them flavor where they wouldn’t otherwise have any (like cauliflower). Thank you, meat. After a lot of digging, I located a cauliflower mash recipe with no meat stock ingredients. So, meatless cauliflower, check.

But for our main it was all meat and I wanted to try pan frying again since I’d had such success the night before with country fried steak, but this time I was going to see what kind of damage I could do to fried chicken. But not regular ole fried chicken, I was going to make chicken sandwiches ala Chick-fil-a. (Erin brought grilled tofu for her sandwich.)

Once I had our MNF menu sorted out, I began prep. And wow, I really enjoyed working with cauliflower. Despite its relatively boring appearance (and taste), it was a really interesting vegetable to get to know. I peeled it apart, layer by layer, cutting the tiny stalks and pulling off the florets until I had a tidy pile of pieces for steaming and mashing. I really relish my prep time in the kitchen—cleaning and cutting vegetables, munching on crackers and hummus, singing and dancing when no one is looking—and think this will be what motivates me to continue cooking after the project is over. It just makes me feel good.

Once the cauliflower was on the stove, I started the chicken. Prepping the chicken was soothing, too. And that’s about where all the goodness ended. At prep.

Frying a couple of cheap round steaks was a cakewalk; frying chicken is an art. My fried chicken was the driest, most tasteless, chewy, boring piece of crap I’ve ever eaten. When I told my friend Kathy the next day what I’d done she said, “Yeah, leave that to the experts.” Yes. Good advice.

Then I took the cauliflower, which I had been boiling, off the stove and carried it to the sink to drain it. I poured the cauliflower into the colander and looked around for somewhere to put the pot, which I would eventually put the cauliflower back in to mash up. So, pot in one hand, colander in the other. Empty sink right in front of me. Pot in the sink, obviously. Then I had the colander in my hand and…oh, what’s that over there? Who the fuck knows what distracted me, but I found the need to put the colander down and the only reasonable place to put it, I thought, was back in the sink, which was where I had just put the pot. And there it sat, drip, drip, dripping water right back into the pot I intended to use again. This would have been fine, of course, if I had noticed or if it had occurred to me what I had done, because then I could just pour out the water before I put the cauliflower in the pot, but that only happens to real cooks and people who pay attention to shit. Instead, when I was done being distracted by looking at myself in the mirror or whatever else was happening that was so much more important than my cauliflower, I dumped it all right back in that watery pot and mashed, mashed, mashed until I had a great big mess of wet cauliflower. Mmm yum.

Meanwhile, the béchamel I was making to go with the mash finished and because I still wasn’t sure what was happening with my wet cauliflower, I added the creamy sauce to the mash, which made it…wetter. Total. Failure.

Erin, David and I choked down our sandwiches and cauliflower and said mildly congratulatory things like, I can see where this would be good if….(insert the hundreds of other ways my meal might have been edible if only I for real knew how to cook). Erin’s tofu sandwich was a success, though. So. I still win.

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battle 14–day 1–cauliflower

I was pretty concerned about cauliflower week because it was another vegetable I remember disliking pretty vociferously as a child. That dislike grew to utter hatred until eventually I was offended by the mere thought of this colorless, tasteless, virtually nothingness vegetable even occupying the same breathing space as me. At Christmas one time with David’s family someone brought mashed cauliflower, but I thought was mashed potatoes (and we all know how I feel about healthy vegetables masquerading as potatoes), and I was so disappointed when I found out it was cauliflower that it practically ruined Christmas. I mean, really.

But as I tried to recall some of my other experiences with cauliflower as a child, I couldn’t really remember ever having had it. Maybe that one time at…nope, or at…nope. I couldn’t remember a single time I’ve ever eaten cauliflower. Even that time at Christmas David warned me ahead of time so I was just disappointed that it wasn’t mashed potatoes, but I never had to actually eat it. So why did I hate it so much? Then I had a brief flashback to my childhood and remembered a church lady teasing my dad about not liking cauliflower… !!!! So this is really my dad’s fault. It’s my dad who doesn’t like cauliflower. It was my dad who was so vocal about it all my life.

Ah, the sins of our fathers.

Actually, this little revelation gave me some relief, as if being released from my own hatred of cauliflower pre-battle meant I would probably win this one with no problem. I love when I can start the week with this kind of attitude, because it means I will for sure fuck something up.

Sunday afternoon of that week we were out in the yard talking with our friends Naysayer Jon and Supporter Melissa when Melissa mentioned she had some frozen vegetables that included cauliflower, which we could heat up for dinner that night if I came up with the main dish. In a flash of genius I said, “How about country fried steak?”

Not that I have any idea how to make country fried steak. I know we’ve talked before about how my inability to cook is not exclusive to vegetables—that it extends to all my favorite foods, including meat, which is so unfortunate for me—but I’ve largely, obviously, spent this whole project learning about how to cook only vegetables. This is totally valuable (and sort of the whole point of the project), except that I’m not a vegetarian, so knowing how to cook other things is kind of important, too. Country fried steak is right up there with chocolate cake as one of my most favorite foods in the world, so since Melissa was going to make the cauliflower, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a break from learning about vegetables and give myself a little time learning to cook some meat. So, Battle 14—Day 1—Cauliflower, became Battle 14—Day 1—Cauliflower /Cooking Experience (not numbered)—Country Fried Steak.

The best, easiest, most straightforward recipe I found for country fried steak was Emeril’s on foodnetwork.com. I imagine back in yesteryear when country fried steak was invented, it was probably easy, straightforward and totally no-nonsense, so that’s why I went with this one. Also, despite some of my culinary successes of late (bacon beets), I have had a few massive failures (pumpkin cookies), so I approached country fried steak with no small amount of trepidation, thinking it would be best if I avoided nonsense.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound round steak, cut into 4 (4-ounce) pieces

(I deliberated at the grocery store for a long time about what cut of meat to buy: a big round steak to cut into four pieces or four smaller pieces….I went with four smaller pieces)

  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Country Fried Steak

  • Heat the oil in a heavy 9-inch cast iron skillet, to 360 degrees F.
  • Using a meat mallet pound out the meat.

(Country fried steak is a really great meal to make if you’re pissed or anxious or if someone has just cut you off in traffic, because pounding meat is a remarkably cathartic exercise in releasing aggression. I highly recommend it. I wasn’t mad that day, but I totally filed that little bit of useful info for use at a later date when one of you assholes naysays my awesome project.)

  • Season the steak with salt and pepper.

(A better cook than me would have experimented with seasonings here, but I’m still me and am pretty sure I forgot to do this part.)

  • Combine the egg with 3 tablespoons of the milk.
  • Put 1 1/2 cups of the flour in a shallow pan and season with salt and pepper.
  • Dredge the steaks in the flour, coating each piece evenly and tapping off any excess.

(I smirked at the use of the word ‘dredge’ here.)

  • Drip the steak in the egg wash, coating it completely and letting the excess drip off.
  • Dredge again in the flour, shaking off any excess.

(I smirked again here. I’m just saying, I don’t think people of yesteryear would have called the batter process “dredging.” So I did think this part of the recipe was a little nonsensical, but that’s fine, Emeril, you have your own restaurant and a toothpaste commercial and I have a blog detailing my ignorance with excruciating specificity, so I say you can call it whatever the shit you want. Dredge away.)

  • Fry the steaks in the hot oil, until golden brown on each side, about 3 minutes.
  • Remove and drain on paper towels.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

(Oh look…another opportunity for me to forget to season the meat.)

Gravy

  • Carefully pour off the oil, leaving behind about 1/4 cup of the oil along with the brown bits.
  • Over medium heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, whisking constantly.
  • Add the remaining 3 cups milk, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
  • Season with salt and plenty of pepper. (I remembered the salt and pepper here! Yay me!)
  • Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, whisking constantly. (Ouch.)
  • The gravy should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • If it is too thick, add a little water to thin it.
  • Serve the fried steak and gravy with mashed potatoes and green beans. (Or cauliflower.)

When Jon and Melissa arrived for dinner I was just finishing the meat pounding process. Wow. I loved that a little too much. Then I made an assembly line of the ingredients for country fried steak and one by one I “dredged” the meat in flour, then coated them with egg and milk, then dredged them in flour again, then dropped them in the super hot oil on the stove. I looked around the room at David, Jon and Melissa, and when no one objected to anything I’d done, I realized, Bam! I was frying some country steak. And then I lost my shit. For real. I was so excited that I was making one of my most all-time favorite meals forever in the whole universe right there in my very own kitchen all by myself that I could hardly contain my excitement. I jumped up and down. And I jumped some more. And I kept jumping and bouncing (which was not unlike my totally fly dance moves some of you may have been fortunate enough to witness in the recent past) until David said, “Wow, you haven’t been this excited about any of your vegetables.” I mean, it was country fried steak, yo.

But then I started making the gravy, which made bouncing difficult since it required standing stationary at the stove and whisking (“constantly”) for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long time. My excitement over the country fried steak waned considerably as I stood there whisking and my friends moved about the house, doing fun things other than whisking. I was reminded of pumpkin cookies when I was tethered to the kitchen while my friends were engaged in 100 percent awesomeness in places far, far away from the kitchen. Here I was again, shackled to the stove. Ugh. Gravy. Terrible.

Like three years later when the gravy was finally done, we set the dining room table and fixed our plates with the world’s most awesome homemade country fried steak and gravy. Then I remembered the cauliflower. Damn.

But it was great! Damn you, Dad! (I’m sorry, I’m just kidding, I didn’t mean it.) Cauliflower smothered in cheese is really great. It’s not unlike…broccoli smothered in cheese, which I quite like. What’s the big deal, Dad?

battle 13–day 2–kohlrabi

Even though I didn’t hate kohlrabi faux fries, they weren’t my favorite either. I figured I couldn’t really make a definitive call on kohlrabi after only one so-so night with it, so I decided to go for round two to see if preparing it in a more kohlrabi-ish fashion would help it act right and find a permanent place in my diet. What to do…what to do…

Fry it, of course.

When I was e-looking for the best way to fry kohlrabi, I found this awesome food blog created by a fellow Georgian, and decided to use her recipe for kohlrabi fritters because she said this: “I justify frying them as healthy because, well, they’re not potatoes.”

That’s right, my fellow Georgia blogger friend. They’re not potatoes, they’re kohlrabis.

We invited our friends Tom and Melissa B. over for kohlrabi fritter night. Tom is sort of an inconsistent naysayer, but a naysayer, I would say, of the worst ilk. I think he thinks conquering vegetables is a worthwhile endeavor and he’s even contributed some pretty great recipes to the project (the arugula sandwich was his idea, and it’s one of my favorites now), but he cannot understand why anyone in the world—other than my mom (hi Mom)—would read this blog. He goes on and on about the pointlessness of it all and wonders out loud way too frequently how anyone could possibly be interested in this, even though he’s never even read it. If any of you ever see Tom on the street, kick him in the shins. Melissa B., on the other hand, is a relatively consistent supporter who somehow manages to simultaneously teeter on the verge of naysaying (a fact I mostly overlook because I like her so much more than Tom. What? It’s not like he’s ever going to see this). She offers recipe ideas all the time (she rescued me from collard week with that amazing gratin), has occasionally been known to read the blog (the initiation of which she and her friends encouraged in the first place), and has found me when I was lost in the grocery store (more than once), but she largely detests most of the vegetables on the list and sends me little reminders about how awful each week will be. “Squash! Why did you have to start the project with the worst veggie of all?”

Still, they’re great friends of ours and we’ve shared some really good times over food, so when I know I’ve got something good on the agenda, I get them in on it. And I was pretty sure kohlrabi fritters were going to be good.

If only they were.

Melissa and I sent the boys out back to grill some meat, and she entertained me in the kitchen while I prepared the fritters. I really wanted them to look just like they did in A Hungry Bear’s photos but from the very start I deviated substantially from AHB’s recipe, I’d never fried anything on the stove before, and I’m pretty sure I heard my Fry Daddy beckon to me longingly (Juliiiie, Juuuuuulie), so I started taking bets from myself about how far I would get into making the fritters before I scrapped them and dumped the whole mess into my Fry Daddy. Fry Daddy Julie had a 2 to 1 advantage over Fritter Julie, but… I have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog, so I put my money on Fritter Julie and kept at it with the frying pan.

The main problem with the fritter recipe, as you may have noticed, was all the fucking onions. I mean, I think she had like 12 kinds of onions in there. WTF Hungry Bear? In considering a good substitute for the onions I went through my list of things that make vegetables better: meat and cheese. My dinner crew that night disputed that meat and cheese are equal substitutes for onions, but when I threatened to call them out as naysayers they changed their tune. Since we had a bunch of meat on the grill, I went with cheese for the fritters.

I grated the kohlrabi and some cheese, mashed it together, added some salt and garlic pepper, and formed some patties that looked suspiciously like potato pancakes. I pushed that thought out of my mind. I dropped those babies in the oil I’d been heating on the stove and started frying kohlrabi. And they looked great! Meanwhile the conversation around me occasionally turned to how much my kohlrabi fritters looked like potato fritters or potato pancakes. When we talked about whether cheese was the right idea, someone said, well when I make potato pancakes…. And when we talked about what condiment would go best with the kohlrabi fritters, someone said, well I don’t know about kohlrabi, but when I’ve had potato fritters….

Grrr.

In the end, my kohlrabi fritters looked a lot like A Hungry Bear’s kohlrabi fritters, even sans the onions. I removed them from the stove, laid them all pretty like on our plates next to some big hunks of meat, and we dug in. And then we all looked at each other, all four of us thinking the exact same thing. Kohlrabi fritters don’t taste anything like potato pancakes. Stupid kohlrabi.

I tried my best. I smeared a dizzying array of unlikely condiments on my fritter, I added more cheese, I drowned it in salt. But somehow the expectation or hope that it would taste one way made its actual taste that much more displeasing, like when beets didn’t taste like cranberry sauce.

Pretend Vegetable Lover But Really Fellow Vegetable Hater Melissa actually loved it. She kept calling it karabi. “I love karabi!” For the record, she also calls karate karabi, so I’m not sure she knew we were talking about the food, and I’m not sure she knew they weren’t potatoes.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a draw. That was the last of the kohlrabi we had in the house and since it was such a chore to find it in the first place, I wasn’t sure I wanted to put energy into buying more. I mean, I fried it, what were the chances it was going to get better? I know not everyone agrees with Julie’s rules, and that’s fine for you, but since this was Swiss Chard Week No. 1 anyway, I’m just going to give myself a pat on the back for giving kohlrabi—a vegetable no one even gives a shit about anyway—another go and move on.

battle 13–day 1–kohlrabi

I got home Monday night from my super awesome vacation and I was beat from all that relaxing, so I took Tuesday off and started last week’s veggie on Wednesday. I checked the list and discovered it was Swiss chard. I groaned. I already know I’m going to hate Swiss chard because it’s not cheese. I scrolled through the list to see if I could find something more interesting to look forward to. When I reached the end of the list I noticed that Swiss chard appears again in the penultimate (yeah, I said it) week of the project. Huh. This must have been what Nascar Patterson was talking about when he said one of the veggies was on the list twice; funny how I overlooked his comment at the time because I didn’t care (i.e., I couldn’t possibly have made a mistake). So, either I really had my doubts about Swiss chard when I set up the schedule and thought I needed to give myself two tries, or I made a mistake. Obviously it was because I had my doubts.

Then I remembered that I never was able to find kohlrabi during beet-and-kohlrabi week, and even though I was sort of stoked about skipping it altogether, I thought, grrr, maybe this would be a good time to try to find it again. So, Swiss Chard Week No. 1 became Kohlrabi Week Do-over.

I was still licking my wounds from the various pumpkin fiascos (…I might have left out the part about abandoning the cookies while the last batch was still in the oven…), so I sent David to the farmers’ market in search of kohlrabi. Really, folks, I know better by now.

And. He. Found. It.

I can’t tell you how excited I was, after weeks of this saga, that he fucking found it. And I’m using “found” in the strictest sense of the word—like discovered treasure—because it was neither in the area where it should have been stocked, nor was it spelled right, nor did anyone who works there know what it was (either in English or YDFM language), nor did the cashiers know what to charge him for it. David texted me with minute-by-minute updates and questions. “Are you sure it’s K-O-H-L-R-A-B-I?” I paused. Of course I’m not sure. It’s a vegetable I never knew existed before three months ago. “I’m positive.”

kohlrabi

Now that we had kohlrabi in our possession I had to figure out what to do with it. Kohlrabi, which Google says is German for cabbage turnip, is a member of the turnip family but it is most closely related to cabbage and cauliflower. It is usually light green, but the ones I got were purple, which brought back bad beet memories. Ugh. Beets. I was relieved when I cut into them and found a white, starchy center, not unlike a potato.

potato or kohlrabi

I decided to roast kohlrabi the first night. I peeled them and then cut off the “woody” exterior (I basically peeled them twice). Then I sliced them into French fry-like strips, tossed them in olive oil and placed them on a cookie sheet. I roasted them for about half an hour, stirring and flipping them every few minutes in the last 10 minutes. Then I added cheese and baked them for about five more minutes. They came out looking like cheesy fries.

cheesy goodness

Here’s the thing about food that resembles other food but isn’t. It’s disappointing. Kohlrabi has a white, starchy center like a potato, but it isn’t a potato. I cut it into French fry-like strips and they came out looking like cheesy fry goodness, but they weren’t French fries. We took a bite and it tasted….not at all like the food it resembled. It tasted like kohlrabi cut into strips and roasted with cheese on it.

I mean, it wasn’t terrible. It was totally fine. I’m just not down with food that pretends to be something it’s not. Be kohlrabi, kohlrabi. I think potatoes have the market cornered on fries.

battle 12–day 3–pumpkin

Pumpkin week ended with a mini-vacation to Southern California where we planned to get our ghoul on for Halloween. We and 13 of our friends rented a totally shabby 5,000-square-foot shack on a golf course, put in many long hours of hard labor by the pool during the day, and suffered through some really boring live music at night. It was a tough gig. To relieve us of this misery, my initial plan was to bake and bring everyone pumpkin treats—pumpkin crisp and pumpkin cookies—but some last-minute packing emergencies (i.e., I didn’t start packing until the last minute) derailed that plan, so instead I took some breaks from the laborious tasks of sleeping late and lounging in the hot tub to bake the crisp and cookies in the shack’s grossly oversized kitchen.

The recipes for both pumpkin treats originated with Supporter Jenn, and before that I think they might have come from a Phish chat board (who knew people used these boards for talking about more than which version of what song they saw at what show what year under what circumstances and whether it rained?), but they were both super easy and–for my vegetarian friends, which are, I think, like, all of you–totally meatless.

This was the first time I’d cooked anything in a kitchen other than my own, which was a challenge. I thought about this earlier in the week when Lauren was making lasagna in our kitchen, because she mostly didn’t seem fazed by the fact that she was in someone else’s kitchen making this extremely complicated recipe, but when I looked around I realized it was probably because she’d brought her kitchen with her, all her own pots, pans and utensils. I mean, she even brought her own casserole dish. Pfft. I have a casserole dis… nope. I absolutely do not own the size of casserole dish Lauren used for pumpkin lasagna. Oh, snap.

Of course, before I got lost in that gigantic kitchen, I got lost in the grocery store, which I thought was totally reasonable since I was practically in a foreign country. PROJECT 29 to 30 Steph, who had already done her new thing for the day, turned her attention to helping me find evaporated milk. No shit, it took us 20 minutes and walking up and down the same four aisles 12 times before she finally found it on the coffee aisle. For real? When I bought evaporated milk a few days earlier in Atlanta (before the packing emergency), I found it on the baking aisle, so I thought it couldn’t possibly just be my grocery store ignorance that had us wandering the store for so many minutes. To soothe my ego about this recurring issue, I did some investigating on getting lost in the grocery store and found this awesome piece about placement of grocery stock. Suddenly I felt a lot less bad about all the times I’ve been lost at the farmers’ market. From now on whenever I can’t find something I’m just going to blame it on the stock boys. Assholes.

Back at the house I fumbled around the imposing kitchen looking for all the baking accoutrements I would need for my first pumpkin treat: pumpkin crisp. Despite its impressive demeanor, the kitchen of our casa de fancy pants was seriously lacking in cooking and baking supplies. I imagine the people who live in these kinds of houses don’t do much cooking. They have people for that. Fortunately for me, I can barely tell one kitchen item from another, so using a broiler pan as a cookie sheet was completely acceptable. Our real only obstacle, which threatened to be relatively major, was that no one could figure out how to work the can opener. Actually, we weren’t even sure the object we were using was a can opener or a cork screw; when we finally determined it was probably the former it became even more frustrating when it turned out to be nothing more than a can-opener-or-corkscrew-shaped paperweight, since accessing the contents of the can was kind of crucial for assembling the pumpkin treats.  You know. Pumpkin.

can opener

Several people had gathered in the kitchen at this point—either because they were shocked I was actually awake before noon (Sarah F), or this was the first time they had actually seen me cook (Sarah F), or because actual real breakfast food was happening on the stove (everyone else)—and it was someone among this group who finally noticed that an electric can opener had been sitting on the counter the whole time, laughing at us as we each took turns fighting with the can opener/corkscrew paperweight. Whatever.

Things moved at lightning speed after that. Ingredients mixed. Mixture in oven. Pumpkin crisp baked, removed and summarily devoured. Because the crisp was so easy to make after those first few hiccups, it made me think about how easy my life will be once I know where every single thing is in the grocery store and once I have every single kitchen item at my disposal forever until eternity. I can cut prep time on everything down to like 30 seconds. This was such a great daydream. Until I made the fucking cookies. Goddamn fucking pumpkin cookies.

I took a break between the crisp and the cookies. A long break. I consumed a few adult beverages. And sat by the pool a little. And lounged in the hot tub a bit. And took a nap. By the time I got around to the cookies, I was A) overconfident and B) drunk. The thing about cookies is you have to have sustained interest in tending to them in fits and starts: one batch in and one batch out, remove some to cool, put more on the cookie sheet, another batch in, another batch out. Blah, blah, blah. But there’s always a weird time period of five or seven minutes in between with nothing to do; it’s just short enough that you can’t really start a new chore or project, but just long enough to be bored to tears standing in the kitchen by yourself. Cookies really aren’t for me. I read over the recipe again while the first batch was in the oven, trying to entertain myself at my little pity party in the kitchen. It was then that I discovered the flaw in cooking while overconfident and under the influence (CWOUI): things such as, like, measurements get blurry but you don’t care. I might have accidentally added twice the amount of pumpkin the recipe called for. Oops.

To fix this I just started adding shit to the remaining batter. To be fair, this little revelation made my pity party a lot more interesting. A little more flour here, a dash more of whatever else was in the recipe there, and voila….fuck, more batter. More cookies. More time standing here by myself. I really hate baking cookies.

Pumpkin crisp, in. Pumpkin cookies, out.

**********************************

Pumpkin Crisp

Prep: 15 min.; Bake: 1 hr., 5 min.; Stand: 10 min.

1  (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1  cup evaporated milk
1  cup sugar
1  teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1  (18.25-ounce) package butter-flavored yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist Butter Recipe Yellow Cake Mix, per the original recipe’s suggestion)
1  cup chopped pecans (I skipped the pecans, but eh, it was still delicious)
1  cup butter, melted
Whipped cream (optional) (I didn’t do this optional part, but I’m sure it would have been great)
Ground nutmeg (optional) (I don’t think I did this either, I don’t like nutmeg)

Stir together first 5 ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture; sprinkle evenly with pecans. Drizzle butter evenly over pecans.  Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if desired. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.

battle 12–day 2 1/2–pumpkin (lasagna recipe)

Hi friends. I’m still here. And even though pumpkin week totally revived me from my winter vegetable funk, I promptly went on vacation to sunny southern Cali and left half my brain there. Whenever it decides to rejoin me, I’ll post more updates about the cooking I did out there and what I’ve done since I’ve been home (I found kohlrabi!).

In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of friendly and insistent reminders to post the pumpkin lasagna recipe. It was one of the best meals of the whole project so I encourage everyone to do it while pumpkins are still in season (the cooking ones, not the smashing ones). Many thanks again to BFF Lauren for this gem.

Northern Italian Pumpkin Lasagna, from “Pumpkin, A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year”

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (Lauren skipped the onion for me)
2 lbs/4 cups fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ lb bulk sweet Italian chicken sausage (Lauren will have to verify what she used; I think it was special)
1 large clove garlic, minced

12 oven-ready/no-boil lasagna noodles* (Lauren boiled whole-wheat noodles)

Béchamel sauce:
5 tbsp butter
6 tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour
5 c nonfat milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
3 c grated part-skim mozzarella
1 ½ c freshly grated parmesan

*Using no-cook noodles cuts out one step; however, if using regular noodles, cook and drain them and reduce the amount of sauce: use 4 tbsp butter, 5 tbsp flour, 4 c milk.

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, or until wilted. (I say skip the onion. Yuck.)
  2. Stir in the pumpkin and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with the oregano, the salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the sausage and cook until it loses its color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour. Cook for 1 minute, until bubbly. Whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and bubbles, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg, and set aside.
  4. Combine the two cheeses in a medium bowl.
  5. Heat the oven to 375.
  6. To assemble the lasagna, spray a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Ladle ¾ cup of sauce on the bottom of the pan and top with 3 noodles, placed crosswise.
  7. Pour another ¾ cup of sauce over the noodles, then 1/3 of the pumpkin filling. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese mixture over the filling. Repeat the layers of sauce, noodles, filling, and cheese twice. Top this with the remaining noodles, pour over the remaining sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. The lasagna should look soupy.
  8. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with nonstick spray and cover the top of the pan, with the oiled side facing down. Bake for 45 minutes, uncover, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbly. Let sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Holy complicated. I’m so glad Lauren made this for me. Truly, it was worth every ounce of her effort.