Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cooking "Club" - The First Meeting

One of the best things about having a baby, aside from the baby itself, is that people bring you food. People come over to see your new little one and give you delicious frozen meals. Moms, in particular, know that when you are hormonal and sleep-deprived, the last thing you are going to consider is cooking. To prevent the family from eating pizza or scrambled eggs for weeks, good friends and neighbors willingly share their cooking prowess.Again, aside from the new baby and all, there is really nothing as wonderful as looking in the freezer and finding the amazing pasta that Juliane made. Or defrosting the tub of soup from Valerie only to discover that your family will actually get a full serving of vegetables that night.

After experiencing this influx of frozen dinners, I had been considering how, short of having another baby, I could recreate this scenario. The only other times I bring people food is when there has been some sort of horribly stressful event like a death in the family. Obviously, tragedy is not what we are looking for here. So I wondered if I could find like-minded cooks to start a frozen dinner "club".The idea is that you make as many copies of an easily frozen dinner as there are people in your group, and you get together regularly to exchange prepared dishes. (Sounds cool, right? Almost like one of those exclusive dining clubs at Princeton?)

I heard and read about these, but I had never had the nerve to actually set one in motion. My friend Valerie is an excellent cook. And since she just had her third child, I knew she would be interested in any opportunity to have more food in her house that she didn't have to prepare. Once Val was on board, I pitched our friend Katie who is also a great cook, but seldom has the chance to flex her culinary muscles since she is trying to finish her Ph.D. and work and have a social life. Katie agreed and convinced her school friend Vivian to come on board too. So our "club" was born and a date of November 1st was set.

Like all good clubs, ours has a few rules.
  1. Try to use local/in season produce
  2. Try to use local/humanely raised meat
  3. Cook gluten free meals
Yes, that last one really ups the ante. But Valerie is gluten intolerant, so going GF is part of the package. While this does raise the degree of difficulty a bit, I think it is an interesting challenge. I am looking forward to exploring some GF recipes this year.

We met last night and I seriously cannot wait to try these meals. Valerie made a Cuban style arroz con pollo - in quantities that far surpass what a family of four could eat. Katie brought chicken and biscuits. (Homemade biscuits, baby!) And Vivian cooked mapo tofu which I have never had but looks like the most delicious Chinese food of all time. Vivian gets extra points, too, for making a spicy and non-spicy version so that the kids can partake. To top it all off, she made a huge container of rice to go with the main dish. Really, these women are amazing. I was practically drooling looking at all this fabulous food.

My first offering is an eggplant pasta bake. This is basically the eggplant vegetarian "goulash" that I learned to make from my mom covering a layer of pasta and all of it topped with mozzarella cheese. Here is the recipe for the eggplant part.

By definition, goulash is traditionally a meat based soupy stew. This dish is meat free, but I call it goulash for lack of a better word. If you have ideas, I am interested. It can be a super thick sauce, baked like a casserole with cheese on top, or add some ground meat and you've got real goulash. This recipe is near and dear to me as it is something my mom cooked a lot and one of the first things I learned to replicate on my own. Thanks, mom!

-I think of this as the recipe of twos -- makes it easy to remember: Chop 2 small/medium onions, 2 green peppers, 2 red/yellow peppers, 2 carrots, 2 cloves of garlic.
-Heat up a large pot or dutch oven to medium high and coat the bottom with olive oil. Add the chopped veggies and cook until they are softened, but not mushy.
-While the chopped veggies are sweating away, peel and cube 2 large eggplants.
-If you have some red wine sitting on your counter, deglaze the pot. If not, no worries.
-Add the eggplant -- you may have to do this in batches to make room.
-When the eggplant is starting to soften and the volume in the pot has reduced, add two 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes.
-Stir it all together and let the mix bubble on the stove until the eggplant is soft. Season with salt, pepper and any other spices that taste good to you and your family.

Like the toddler knife on the stove? One of my favorite utensils.

-This can be served over pasta, rice, couscous, bulgar, quinoa. My favorite way to have this is over some grain with a slice of cheese melted on top. My mom used to cover her batch of goulash with slices of American cheese right in the pot. This is fabulous! It makes the whole thing creamy and rich.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel -- Yours was the first I tried, and it is delicious! I'm glad you posted the recipe because I was about to ask you for it!