All but three of my tomato plants died yesterday. I usually have ridiculously good luck when it comes to planting, but this year my transplants decided to give up the ghost. I feel like I did everything right: amended the soil with well-aged compost, gently fertilized, watered from the roots. And yet here I stand looking at a box of dead plants after a night of gusty winds and downpours. At least I still have three plants which will give us enough tomatoes to last us until the direct-seeded plants come in.
I feel like this is somehow a metaphor for life lately. Everything feels off and unusual. I was going to bake some bread, but the weather has decided to go from mild winter to full summer in the course of a week. I’m not complaining - just an observation and a change in plans. So, with the weather deciding it’s had enough of cold, I’m switching to grilling as my primary method of cooking. We’re huge BBQ fans - enjoying everything from simple burgers all the way to smoked meats and every side dish we can dream up in the mix.
Tonight will be a somewhat middle-eastern recipe I made up that is loosely based on kebabs. I grill a flank steak medium-rare, toss a few grilled veggies (peppers, onions and mushrooms) with some olive oil, fresh minced garlic and a healthy dose of za’atar, and then dice everything up and combine with leftover rice. The result is a robust pilaf that tastes like it took hours. Bonus points if you used fajita leftovers from the night before like I did. I don’t have a recipe, just a list of ingredients I can toss together in a ratio - 3-parts rice, 2-parts veg, one part protein - and it turns out to be a quick and tasty meal nine times out of 10. It’s my version of lazy meal prep.
Speaking of meal prep, I wonder how many people are re-discovering the joys of fresh cooking during the lock-down. We just can’t do meal-prep here at the Lazy Dog. We tried it back when we were on the go constantly with work and activities. We diced and cooked and packaged for an entire Sunday and we still have a few meals hiding in the back of the freezer because we discovered we REALLY don’t like left-overs. To me, there is something “dead” in the flavor of frozen meals, no matter how fresh the ingredients you use are. I just like the flavor of fresh food too much to give it up for the convenience of pulling a finished dinner out of the freezer. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t take some things from the process and continue to use them - pre-shredding cheese, dicing onions and garlic, pre-chopping peppers and lettuce for the week - all things I still do. I buy our cheese in five-pound blocks from an online family-run cheese shop and shred them with my mixer attachment. We spend an hour shredding and bagging cheese to freeze. Our efforts last us a few months. Not bad for an hour’s work.
So, in honor of our impending weekend cheese-shred-a-thon, I prepared two cheese-heavy recipes to try. The first is a homemade mac and cheese that my great-grandmother made. The second is a gouda and apple grilled cheese that never fails to impress.
Gigi’s Mac n’ Cheese
This mac is a no-bake recipe but can be baked (directions in notes). Eating this takes me back to being a kid sitting at my great-grandparents’ kitchen table watching my Gigi cook. I also like to add cooked broccoli to the mixture for some extra vitamins and flavor.
- 1 pound pasta
- 1.5 cups milk
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 -3 cups shredded cheese (more or less, depending on how cheesy you like it)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
1. In a large pot, boil pasta until desired consistency, approximately 10 minutes. Drain
2. In a separate saucepan on medium heat, add flour and stir for a bit.
3. Whisk in milk to flour, add mustard, salt and pepper until combined.
4. Cook milk mixture on medium, stirring constantly, until thickened.
5. Stir in cheese slowly, stirring thoroughly between each cup of cheese.
6. Add mixture to pasta and stir to combine.
7. Serve as is or bake, if desired.
Notes: You can put the mixture in a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs or more cheese and bake at 350F for 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
Darn Gouda Grilled Cheese
You will never look at grilled cheese as kids’ food again.
- 2 slices sandwich bread (or ciabatta if you’re fancy)*
- 2 slices gouda (I use a bourbon-smoked gouda sliced medium)
- 1/2 apple or pear sliced thin (you can use any firm fruit)
- Pinch herbes de Provence (optional)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil or less (for toasting)
1. Preheat a medium pan over low heat
2. Drizzle each slice of bread with olive oil and place oil side down in pan.
3. Add cheese to bread and cook until cheese starts to melt.
4. Add fruit and herbs. Place one side of bread on top of other, toppings together and cook until cheese is gooey
5. Remove and serve with rest of fruit slices on the side.
Notes: *This can also be made as a savory crepe or a quesadilla.
Dana Gnad is a freelance writer and photographer with over 20 years of experience in technology. She has spent most of her life living on various homesteads — off-grid, urban, and everywhere in between. Currently camped out on 30 acres in the suburbs, affectionately known as The Lazy Dog Farm, she is working on her first book and dreaming of a life on the sea. Connect with Dana on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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