Wednesday, January 04, 2012

My Excuses

My excuses for falling off the POLAOWN wagon almost as quickly as I hopped on go something like this:

Firstly, there are leftovers. JK and I went to the Meatball Shop for a farewell to bad foods. I ordered everything. A meatball hero with beef meatballs, spicy meat sauce and provelone cheese. I also had the Kale (which was AMAZING) and the mashed potatoes (also very good). And as a starter while I waited - a rootbeer float.

Their polenta is fabulous, creamy and smooth with just enough corn meal texture. If ever I go back there I will definitely get it.

I came home with half a meatball sandwich and some mashed potatoes. I also had a container of disappointing leftover mac and cheese. I had hoped that the restaurant in question would have good mac and cheese but instead, they served Stouffer's mac and cheese with the mushy fat noodles and the processed orangey cheese. But there was so much of it that there was plenty to take home.  Note to self - do not order mac and cheese at a place known for their wings.

Secondly, I kept reading the Beans book. By NYE I was up to the chapter on Black Eyed Peas. Despite the fact that I am not from the South and I do not know a thing about soul food. I got it in my head that what I needed to do was make Hoppin' John and Collard Greens to usher in the New Year.

I bought smoked ham hocks because I liked the romance of getting them. I bought a bundle of collard greens and several cans of black eye peas. I still don't know a thing about soul food but near as I can tell, the ham hock will take an hour to give up it's smokey, salty, porky goodness.  That is an hour of quality time with the hock before anything else gets cooked.

So I chopped up two onions, minced several cloves of garlic, tossed them in a pot of water with two ham hocks and some thyme, brought that to a boil, then a simmer for an hour.

Then split the water between two pots: a pot for collards and a ham hock and a pot beans and a ham hock.

I covered and cooked the heck out of the collards, pulled out the ham hock, added back the tablespoon worth of meat that was on it and added some sliced turnips and cooked the heck out of that. Added tons of salt, pepper and garlic powder. Next time I would probably go with cubed turnip pieces, lots more collards and maybe a ham broth alternative.

After it seemed like the beans were starting to warm up and maybe pick up a little smokiness, I pulled out the ham hock, added back the slivers of meat and threw in two cups of rice. Too much rice!!! It ended up making more of hammy rice porridge with beans.

So I have a fridge full of greens, beans and rice steeped in smoky fatty ham broth. the second excuse could be lumped with the first.  Except that for the superstitious hopes that the meal offers towards a prosperous New Year.

After work today, I headed to Trader Joe's.  The Trader Joe's in Chelsea was a mob scene. They were totally out of onions and almost out of bread. The line for check out snaked back and forth through the store. They stopped letting people in the store. At which point, a line of grocery shoppers started to form on the sidewalk. People all bundled up and shivering in the cold. You would have thought that Louboutin was having the mother of all sample sales. Surely these people were not waiting in line for Joe's O's.

When I finally got to check out, I felt foolish watching the cashier scan my tofu and fruits and vegetables. What if I was deluding myself and all of this food was destined to end up in the trash uneaten, not even composting. What if I am. How sad that would be.

I got home had three pieces of fruit and could not resist the lure of my leftovers. But rather than just reheat and eat them, I got the notion to make a casserole because I am foolish.  Some part of me was convinced that making it a more labor intensive activity would make it okay to eat this junk.  Whilst I am from the Midwest, I did not grow up in the hotdish part of the region. And I certainly do not come from a casserole family. I could not shake the notion that cauliflower and mac and cheese are a good match. Probably because of a similarity in coloring.

Steamed up half a head of cauliflower florets, tossed them with butter, garlic salt and black pepper. Chopped up the Meatball and mixed it with the soft part of the whole grain bread. Threw the whole grain crust into the oven the crisp up. Mixed the mashed potatoes with a good helping of collard green juice, some milk and the stouffer's mac and cheese and heated that on the stove. Mixed it with the cauliflower and the bread meatball mix and some grated cheese. Topped it with more grated cheese, the crumbled whole grain crust and some breadcrumbs. And baked it until smells started coming from the oven.

The results were not pretty. And let's put it this way, you have to be careful how many different styles of food that you mix together in a baking dish. If you are not careful it will start smelling like what comes back up after a long night of drinking.  I blame the tomato sauce blended with ham broth.  I am grateful that botulism has not killed me. Knock on wood.  Perhaps in February I will properly explore the mysteries of hot dish.  In particular, I have always wondered about the recipes that call for tater tots or cornflakes as the topping.

But in a day or two that unpretty casserole will be gone and the grand POLAOWN will begin.

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