Comfort Food. My way.

DISCLAIMER: Not a picture of my shepherd’s pie. Why not? Explanation at the end. This is a delicious Pixabay stock image (credit: RitaE)

Who wants a food post? I hope you do, because you’re getting one. Yes, this fiction author  is blogging about food again. Why? Because making food always leads to stories.

This story is about comfort. I don’t like restaurants OR cooking (or baking, for that matter) but I crave the comfort of a good meal. I crave it most  when I least wish to work hard.  Like, oh for example, when I’ve just gotten home from a 3-day convention bookended by 6-hour solo road trips. Yeah. Like now.

I have found many ways to make work in the kitchen as painless, practical, and fast as possible.  I am big on pan bakes & bar cookies, casseroles, stews, & other pantry put-togethers — things that can be assembled in 10 minutes and then leave to cook on their own….while I go write or something. See? Writing tie-in.

(Plus easily-distracted people are not the best cooks to put in charge of stir-fry, easily-burned sauces, or anything requiring precision measurements or timing. Yeah. Me.)

ANYWAY. Today’s entry in comfort food stories: a meal I call shepherd’s pie even though the only ingredient it shares with the traditional dish is potato. Its main appeal is that it can be thrown together in no time, feeds me & Spouseman for two dinners, and we both love it.  The ingredients can be conveniently kept on-hand in cabinets & freezer.

Spouseman makes it for me most times, on Bad Days like when I’ve just gotten home from a road trip and am thoroughly stressed. On other occasions I enjoy the think-free accomplishment of assembling asimple meal.

So here you go. One of my favorites.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. We use a 2 1/2 qt Corning casserole dish. Quantities were based on the dish.
  2. Dump into the casserole dish:
  3. 1 16 oz bag frozen vegetarian “meat crumbles.” No, I don’t thaw them. LAZY ME.
  4. Add enough wine/ketchup/barbecue/soy /Worchestershire/whatever flavors you like in a savory sauce. (Or, in my case, whatever’s in the fridge)  Make it fairly soupy.
  5. Stir in garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper to taste.
  6. Once you have that base stirred together, layer in the following in order
    • 1 c frozen corn
    • 1 c frozen baby peas (or sub another niblet-sized frozen veggie if you are pea-averse)
    • most of an 8 oz bag shredded cheese. Mild cheddar is my fave.
  7. Make enough instant mashed potatoes to cover the top & load them in. How much? To taste. Depending on how thick you want.
  8. Shake the remaining cheese over the insta-tater layer.
  9. Bake for at least 45 min.

Ten steps.  I swear it takes longer to read these instructions than to make once you get the hang of it.

Notes:

  • when it comes to choose abrand of “Let’s go vegetarian because too lazy to fry up ground meat and then have to wash the fry pan) crumbles, we’re partial to Morningstar Farms chipotle black bean. Really, any ground meat substitute will do.
  • Making mashed taters takes me zero time because we have an on-demand hot water maker. (Best. Gadget. EVER.) Anyway, if you have to boil water, you might want to start it when you preheat the oven. To save time. Because that’s what this is about.
  • Like most casseroles, this is excellent/even better after a cool & a second bake. So it’s perfect for make-ahead meal too.

Why no picture? I don’t take good foodie photos. When I attempt casserole imagery  the photo ends up looking like something pre-eaten. I don’t find that appealing. VERY NOT.

Warm Winter Comforts

This post is all about the delicious excuses I use to keep my oven working hard when it’s super-cold outside. To be precise, it’s about oatcakes & “oven omelets.” First, the oats.

Over the years an uncounted number of people have asked for my oatcake recipe. (Uncounted not meaning it was a large number necessarily, just that I never counted them.) Despite all the requests, I never shared a recipe…because I didn’t have a recipe.

The first batch was a total experiment, plopping plain cooked oatmeal onto cookie sheets. It did not work well, but I added a bit of this & that until I came up with something like a cross between muffin & pancake batter that produced tasty but unpredictable results.

The ultimate goal was oatmeal goodness in a crunchy cracker form. The reality never came out the same way twice. Always tasty, never predictable. The sheer number of uncontrollable variables, from the temperature of the cooked oatmeal to the ambient humidity, all factored in. I don’t commit recipe unless I can reproduce the results. I couldn’t do that with oatcakes.

<cue dramatic music> Until now! Success is mine at last. Fringe benefit of the perfected oatcake recipe is that it skips the one real PITA step in the process. (making the oatmeal first.)  But before I get to that recipe, let me rhapsodize a bit about the second oven-worker I’ve recently come across: baked omelets.

They’re not true omelets because they aren’t folded, they don’t qualify as frittatas because there’s no stovetop step, and they lack crusts, so aren’t quiches. They are without doubt delicious, easy, and only improve with reheating like a casserole. And as I’m married to someone who is pre-diabetic and needs more high-protein/low carb foods on the menus, I am beyond pleased to have discovered them.

And how did that discovery happen? Well. Let me tell you. It started with the big ol’ batch of eggs I bought for Christmas baking. Two dozen, because I needed 14. A little finger counting  gets us to the 10 extra eggs I had on hand when I began seeking “oven-on” possibilities.

I immediately thought of quiche & frittatas, but they’re a lot of work (multiple steps, lots of prep bowls & pans to wash)  and I’m lazy when it comes to food. Oven omelets are the best of all lazy worlds. Below you’ll find the recipe I use.

Quantities are based on the baking dishes I use (two mini loaf bakers) but eggs are very forgiving. The original recipes I immediately changed to suit myself came from AllRecipes & Genius Kitchen. The differences between them illustrated how flexible you can be with ingredient quantities. You can successfully bump the amount up or down by several eggs as long as you approximately boost or trim down the other ingredients. So if you want to make a big batch, or a thicker result, use more. Want a batch sized for one? That’s doable too.

Oven Eggs:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • anoint baking dish(es) with non-stick spray
  • In a bowl, whisk together until slightly frothy:
    6 eggs
    1/2 c milk
    salt & pepper
    other herbs & spices of choice
  • Stir in: 1/2 to 1c cheeses
  • Add 1/2-1c of whatever other additions you want.
  • Pour mixture into baking dish(es)
  • Bake for…well, it depends.
    45 min for an 8×8 pan
    35 min for my two small loaf pans
    20-30 min for muffin tin snack-sized servings
    –or “until a knife inserted at the center comes out clean”

Side note: I like my eggs cooked to death (on the dry side) so I cook them even longer, until the edges brown.

I’ve made these with ham & shredded cheddar, Mexican style (shredded colby-jack cheese, garlic & onion powder & salsa as additions) and Mediterranean (feta, basil, thyme, paprika & arrabbiata spaghetti sauce) and both versions came out great.

And now, back to the oatcakes. Important caveat: I make mine with old-fashioned steel-cut oats. The old-fashioned or quick rolled oats work fine too, but the texture will be different.

4-12 hours before starting, put 1c dry oats & 2 c milk in a container to soak. Those’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week as long as the milk is fresh. With traditional steel-cut oats, the mixture will remain very milky. That’s okay.

When it’s time to make the oatcakes:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
line baking sheets with parchment paper (or use non-stick sheets)

  • In a mixing bowl, sift together:
    1 c flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
  • add in
    the oats
    a splash of vegetable oil — up to 1/4 c.
  • Stir until very well mixed
  • Drop dollops of batter onto baking sheets. (Isn’t dollop a wonderful word?) ANYway. Leave 1/2″ or more between dollops. The batter is thin, which makes spooning it difficult. A 1/4 cup measure works well for me as a scoop.
  • Bake for ~45 minutes, or until tops are dry & edges are starting to brown.

So that’s it. A couple of batches of oatcakes & eggs will keep the oven busy for half a day.  If you start a batch of fruit bread rising or peel some apples while the other things are cooking, then you can add another hour of delicious-smelling heat to the house by baking apples or breakfast rolls.

The bestest of all best things about these foods is that making them is also writing-friendly. Unlike cookies with 10 minute bake times or stovetop foods that demand constant attention, these are all about quick preps, simple cleanup, and long baking times. All that means less distraction from putting words to page.

And that’s an important thing for me.

 


I write books. Some people say they’re good. (I’m one of those people.)  You can find the books here and there, and paperbacks are available to order from any bookseller. 

 

Tea remarks part 1

It’s time to comment on my choice of beverage mascot for this exercise. I chose tea not because it’s the only beverage I drink, nor even the only one I love. I chose it because it comes with a built in timing system, and unlike coffee, I drink it regularly.

I enjoy a good cup of coffee after a big meal, but I love tea any time. All the time.

Now, when I say tea I do include herbal, fruit and floral blends along with varieties derived from ti plant leaves which have been harvested, dried and treated in various ways. All teas are infusions, even if not all infusions are made with ti leaves.  I’m not going to fight the inexorable creep of language. It’s all tea-ish.

I am not a tea snob. When away from my tea-making toys, I gladly accept and greedily drink a tea-like beverage constructed in a mug using a paper tea bag and some hot water.  I don’t expect every home or restaurant to have a loose-leaf tea smorgasbord, strainers, and thermometers on hand any more than I expect them to have decent espresso machines.

On the other hand,  I do expect the water provided me be hot enough to steep tea, but it’s shocking how often people think hot tap water would do. (Imagine the travesty of hot-tap brewed coffee. *shudder*)  It would do the job in time, but when dining out, I don’t have the two hours to spend on a cold steep.

Also, if I request tea in a restaurant or cafe, I expect at least one of the varieties on offer to contain leaves of the ti plant without other additives. (Yes, Earl Grey, I’m looking at you with vast hatred right now.) A box full of herbs and flowers does not a proper tea selection make.

If those simple expectations mean others consider me a tea snob, that’s their problem, not mine.

Time: 3:10PM
Tea: Ginger’s Oolong
Steep: 7 min (should’ve been 5, but oh, well.)