Saturday, February 18, 2006

American Brushetta in the Kitchen

I had an e-mail from a young woman who wrote that she can't make anything but mashed potatoes (instant) and if there was "an easy recipe" using that, she would try to cook something.
Well there's an easy recipe for mashed potatoes but let's stick with instant mashed potatoes for a moment. Bonnie is a community member that I've exchanged e-mails with for about six months now. (Since she wrote a wonderful guest column in the gina & krista round-robin.) She's someone who enjoys cooking. So I called Bonnie and we discussed mashed potatoes. There are actually a number of things you can use them with. But if you're someone who's scared of your oven, as the e-mailer was, we felt this was the easiest thing that could get you used to using your oven. Here's the recipe.

Instant mashed potatoes
4 slices of bread
1 fresh tomato

Make enough instant mashed potatoes for four servings. Set aside. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (You can use a toaster oven for this recipe but we're trying to get the e-mailer used to using her oven.) Place four slices of the bread of your choice on a cookie sheet, pizza pan, glass pan . . .(whatever you have). Spoon mashed potatoes on bread. Use spoon to spread the mashed potatoes on each slice of bread. Slice your tomato. I prefer slices but Bonnie says that she's made this for her kids with chopped tomatoes as well. Place tomatoes on top of the mashed potatoes. Pepper the open faced sandwiches in the normal amount you would use. If you don't like pepper, skip this step. If you add salt, add it here. Now top the open faced sandwiches with cheese. I always grated cheese when I made these for my kids but Bonnie said that when her eldest turned 12, he started fixing them for his siblings and he would use cheese slices. So use whichever you prefer, grated cheese or a cheese slice you would use for a sandwich.

Place the cookie sheet into the oven. You want the cheese to bubble. When that happens, you're done. Here's where cheese slices might work better because they will trap the heat and make sure the mashed potatoes are warmed as a result. If you overcook, you will burn the bread on the bottom. So watch the sandwiches (it shouldn't take more than five minutes).

Now what do you have? I don't know. I've never had a name for it. My grandmother would make them for us. I asked Bonnie if she ever knew a name for this and she didn't. So we'll call it American Bruschetta. If the reader will work on that recipe and let me know if it turned out, next week, we'll do a recipe for bruschetta.

This recipe is one that probably became popular when kids were hungry and a mother (of a father) was looking through the fridge and trying to figure out what to fix. It is wonderful on a cold day. You've got a warm sandwich that tastes good. It's an easy recipe. (You can probably make it even easier by purchasing already made mashed potatoes.) So I hope the reader will try it and anyone else who is nervous about using their ovens. It will get you over the hump and we'll go a little further with next week's recipe.

I don't see this as a place where I'm going to say, "Cook this! I do! So you should too!" I see it as a place where we can see that cooking isn't difficult. If you're reading this and you can identify something as the reason that keeps you from cooking (either than, "I hate it!"), please let me know and we'll see what we can do about it. Every recipe here will not involve cooking and I was tempted to do another recipe that didn't require cooking after I read the e-mail. But the reader stated she wanted to use oven but she just felt that everything was beyond her. We've exchanged e-mails and she's been using it on frozen pizzas this week so she's less nervous. But hopefully this recipe will make her even less nervous.

Are you a renter? If you are, your rent money pays for the oven. May as well use it. I want to thank Brady and Cedric because they both passed on that they tried last week's recipe (which required no cooking) and it turned out great. If it hadn't, I would still have wanted to note. C.I. mailed an issue of The New Yorker to me this week with a note to read a story inside. The note just said the essay started on page ninety. I was curious as I opened the magazine and discovered Nora Ephron's "Serial Monogamy: My cookbook crushes."

The essay isn't available online but it is still is onsale and you can also check your libraries for the February 13 & 20, 2006 issue. (It's a double issue.)

In "Serial Monogamy," Nora Ephron provides her usual straightforward and humorous commentary. She explains how she began her own cooking life and the various cookbooks that she learned from or was enthralled by. She also points out that, in Heartburn, she "included Lee's recipe for baked lima beans and pears (unfortunately, I left out the brown sugar, and for years people told me they'd tried cooking the recipe and it didn't work) . . ." My point in including that detail is that I love Heartburn (we talked about it two weeks ago) and I've made all the recipes in the book including the lima beans and pears. The first time I made that baked dish, the kids loved it. It was sweet and syrupy. My husband thought it was runny and wasn't interested. But the kids kept asking for it again and anything that gets kids to eat lima beans and pears is a good thing. So I made it a few times when it hit me that brown sugar would probably make it less runny.

That's where you should be in a perfect world. You try a recipe and it doesn't work out so you figure out how you can make it work for you. Cooking is like democracy, you don't just follow what's on the page, you participate.

You shouldn't live in fear in your kitchen (or of it) and you shouldn't live in fear in your country (or of it). When you explore your kitchen, you get comfortable in it. You should explore your country as well. The Patriot Act is being pushed through for renewal with little opposition (Senators Russell Feingold, Jim Jeffords and Robert Byrd were the only exceptions) and Bully Boy has set the terms for the debate on the warrantless spying of Americans because the press has allowed him to do so. It's about "national security." Illegal spying on Americans is not about "national security." If someone is suspected of something, you go a regular court or the FISA court and get a warrant. That's how it works in America.

If someone came in and told you that before you served lasanga, you needed to take the cooked dish, douse it in Palmolive and run hot water over it, you would know they were insane. But that has to do with knowing how things work. You need to know how things work in the kitchen, you need to know how they work in this country. This is your democracy. Use it.