Do you ever stand in the middle of the grocery saying to yourself, WTF?
I’ve been having one of those weeks. (Years? Lives?)
I’m re-learning how to drive again after 10 plus years of riding the iron horse to work every day in the city, and it’s been a doozy. It’s kind of like Ms. Daisy fired her driver and took the wheel herself. I was lucky enough to end up with a hand-me-down, very gently used 2004 Honda Pilot, a veritable tank of a car, a piece of machinery that makes me, a strapping 5’9” woman, look like a midget-waif. I perch behind the wheel with my gigantic Elton John pink sunglasses, high-heeled boots and a highly impractical get-up that pinches me in at least five places, somehow rev it up, and it all goes downhill from there.
In the past week, I’ve:
- Ended up accidentally off-roading twice (only minimal, aesthetic damage done, primarily to my pride, but also to the paint job).
- Screamed and sobbed at the same time while doing a white-knuckled, quaky brake-panic-water plane-and-skid through torrential downpours on the highway at approximately 40 MPH as normal drivers passed me buy shaking their fists, heads and other body parts at me in rage.
- Been forced to drive with the tip top of my tippy toes on the big, bad highway because I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the seat and I didn’t realize how far back I was until it was … too late (it was my first day of driving, I had to follow Stephen because I wasn’t sure how to get to the highway, we were both running late, yadda yadda).
- Burst out crying at three, count it, three gas stations in Bumble Backwoods, New York because I was lost and late for dinner, and when I’m hungry my level of self-control and ability to behave in a decorous, mature fashion (already dangerously low under the best of circumstances) seems to dissipate entirely.
- Pulled over to the side of deserted roads and flagged random cars down, begging for directions (my iPhone was low on juice, ok?)
I’m just like Alicia Silverstone’s character in that hilarious scene in Clueless when she’s careening around down the highway just barely avoiding gigantic 18-weelers, kicky sports cars and SUVs? Except without the freeway and the trucks, the sunny weather, fabulous blonde hair, awesome car, sassy sidekick, sprawling manse or youth! Yes, just like her!
You know what I’ve discovered through the tear-induced dehydration and panic attacks? People around Carmel and Kent Lakes, New York are super-scary nice! At first, I wondered if the nice people offering to let me follow them to the route I was attempting to find were evil miscreants with sinister plans for me; if the five people piping up behind me in line were going to yell at me for wasting their time; if the truck beeping at me from across the road had merely pulled over to chastise me for taking up half a lane with my truck. But soon I learned, no – they were just totally credulous people who actually … wanted to help me out.
It’s a shock to the system, and I’m still adjusting. I’m used to being faced by anonymous globs of angry people who look like they spend all of their free time practicing hostile expressions in the mirror (and these are the people who are actually paid to be nice to me; you know, waiters, shopkeepers, salesmen.)
Between the driver’s re-ed, endless hours trolling MapQuest and a much-needed brunch date with Lorraine, Helen and Paula, I haven’t spent as much time daydreaming about food. I went to the grocery store cold – no list, no clue. I left with a handful of my favorite things – cheese, avocados, milk, butter, corn tortillas, mushrooms, onions and jalapenos. I didn’t know what I wanted to make, but I knew I could make something comforting, but slightly sophisticated, with pantry staples as backup. And I did. I put together a decidedly Americain play on the inimitably French Bread Bourgignon, and a dish that combines my favorite elements – veggies, a bit of light meat, tons of cheese and carbs. It’s WTF Mexagna, perfectly imperfect, just like my driving skills.
Luckily, the view out the window is gorgeous, even when I’m screaming and crying!
Click on for recipes!
Makes 6 servings
- ½ cup butter
- 2/3 cup AP flour
- 1 cup milk
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano and Cheddar cheese (any grating cheese would do)
- 1 cup tomato sauce (check out my go-to recipe or just use the jarred stuff for a quick meal)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Special equipment: 4-6 ounce molds or ramekins
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- First, the bechamel. Melt the butter and then whisk in the flour, a bit at a time, creating a thick paste that always reminds me of art class in kindergarten (did you eat the paste too?) When the paste has come together and it’s starting to turn just a bit golden (careful, don’t let it burn), whisk in the milk, a bit at a time. Whisk it for about five minutes to dissipate lumps; keep it over low-medium heat, don’t ever let it boil or the milk will curdle.
- Season the béchamel with salt and a bit of pepper. Now, the eggs! Add them in, a few at a time, whisking until smooth over low heat. (Keep the heat very low – the eggs will scramble otherwise). Whisk in the cheese. Remove from heat.
- Now, spray the ramekins or molds with vegetable spray, and pour the batter in. Place in roasting pan or deep skillet and fill about halfway with water. (Avoid getting any water in the ramekins or molds). The water bath will help the little breads cook evenly and slowly. They’ll burn without the bath – believe me, I’ve tried it.
- Cook until they hold their forms, but they haven’t begun to color, about 1 hour. Allow to cool a bit in ramekins or molds, place a bit of tomato sauce on a plate, unmold the breads and serve, with more cheese if you like.
Nutritional Breakdown of Bread Bourgignon: Dieters, avert your eyes. These puppies are only 275 calories, but they pack about 23 grams of fat, most of it cholesterol-laden and totally saturated … which, of course, is why they’re so darn delicious-o.
Cost Breakdown of Bread Bourgignon: About $1.25 a serving if you use organic eggs and cheese.
Verdict / In the Future: “This is like your cheesy polenta, a souffle and an egg and cheese biscuit in one,” Stephen says. I say it tastes like a little pocket-sized pizza. Either way, it’s fabulous.
Makes 6 servings
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 1 Portobello mushroom, sliced into strips
- 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds mostly removed, sliced thin
- 5 ounces (or so) cooked, roasted meat (or swap in more Portobello mushrooms or other veggies)
- Salt, pepper, cumin and coriander to taste (I used about a teaspoon of each, except the pepper – I just used a few hearty grinds of that)
- 2 TBSP capers
1 avocado, sliced thin
- 2 ounces of cheddar cheese, grated
- 12-15 corn tortillas
- 3 cups tomato sauce (use my homemade version below, your own, or the canned stuff for an easy weeknight meal)
- Vegetable oil spray
- Sour cream and lime for garnish. (Or more cheese).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute the mushrooms until they’re golden and caramelized and have released their water, about 10 minutes. Add jalapenos, chicken, spices and capers and cook until warmed through, a few minutes. Pour about a cup of the sauce on the bottom of a casserole dish. Layer with 4 tortillas. Top with veggies, cheese, more sauce, 1/2 of the avocados, 4-6 more tortillas, one more layer of veggies, cheese, sauce and avocados. Reserve some cheese and sauce. Top with 4-5 more tortillas, remaining cheese and sauce.
- Cook, covered in foil, for about 20 minutes until cheese is melted and the tortillas begin to turn golden. Garnish with sour cream and lime, if desired.
Nutritional Breakdown for WTF Mexagna: About 400 calories and 12 grams of fat per serving. Decent source of protein, good skin-plumping fats. A great, nutrient-dense little dish. Avocados alone have more than 20 vitamins and minerals.
Cost Breakdown for WTF Mexagna: About $1.50 a serving.
Verdict / In the Future: The rich avocado, the smooth melty cheese and the nice bits of sautéed mushrooms and chicken ameliorate the spicy karate kicks of the jalapenos. The capers lend a hefty dose of brine to balance the flavors and the tortillas anchor the shebang. Stephen and I eat various versions of WTF Mexagna constantly.
Go-To Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 cups
- 2 TBSP butter or olive oil (butter lends a nuttier flavor)
- ¼ cup chopped yellow onion, diced fine
- ½ medium carrot, peeled and diced fine
- 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes in juice
- 1 tsp dried parsley, thyme and oregano (or 1 TBSP each of fresh)
- 1 tsp salt, plus a few grinds of pepper
- Melt the butter in a sturdy Dutch oven over medium heat. Throw in the onions, sauté and stir over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, sauté and stir until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook out the canned tomato taste for about 15-20 minutes, but don’t overcook this sauce.
- Then, give it a quick whiz with a handheld blender to get rid of the big chunks of tomato and smooth everything out.
- It should be super tomato-y without too many distractions (that’s why I left out garlic and red pepper, two of my favorite seasoning ingredients, yes, but they’re divas and they like to steal the spotlight).