Do you ever get sick and tired of thinking about, preparing and cooking meals either for yourself or your family? What kind of tricks do you have for keeping things fun and interesting in the kitchen? If you have any tips that work for you, please take the time to comment. As a not-so-interested in cooking anymore woman, I can use all the help I can get.
I’ve recently set myself a new goal in an effort to get re-acquainted with the act of not just cooking, but enjoying the production of a simple meal at home. So I’ve set out to find interesting new recipes and methods for cooking, all with the main focus for such meals to fall under one main heading: S I M P L E. These recipes should also be geared to two or less people who don’t eat as much as they did when they were in their thirties, because while Hubby loves to eat the same leftovers days on end, I cannot stomach the same dish more than two times in a row before I’m ready to dump it in favor of something new and fresh. And in our kitchen the rule is and always has been, if Mama ain’t happy with it, then ain’t nobody happy with it. I hope that doesn’t sound self-centered, just that the cook–whoever that may be–has to like it first.
One of my more interesting finds was the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Garlic Lovers’ Greatest Hits, which is a collection of 20 years of prize-winning recipes collected from the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, and you can get your own copy here (used) for as little as $1.99. For those who may not be familiar with this festival, it’s a yearly tradition started in 1979 as a fund raiser for local charities. Usually held the last weekend of July, the festival is sometimes referred to as the “festival of the stinking rose,” and if you’re driving in from points east (or any other way for that matter), you can tell when you’re getting close by the smell penetrating your car which gets even more pungent when you stop and open the door. Everything offered in the food booths there (for 2008 at least) must have at least six cloves of garlic in it to fit the recipe competition rules. You can buy anything from dried garlic & floral head garlands to garlic ice-cream, and eat so much garlic-laced food you’ll have garlic oozing from the pores of your skin. While I’m one who actually enjoys the smell of garlic, whether in a dish or on my hands after chopping or mincing it, from the pores of my skin–not so much!–ever since I ate dinner at The Stinking Rose in San Francisco and literally got sick after a garlic overload. So if you decide to go, be forewarned.
As to the subject at hand, relearning to enjoy cooking, on a recent chilly spring day that lent itself to cooking in the oven, I decided to try a slightly revised version of Jo’s Baked Garlic Soup from the aforementioned cookbook. She made it with heavy cream or whipping cream; I toned down the fat content a bit by using non-fat half-n-half instead. I call my version Baked Garlic/Vegetable Soup, and while I’m sure the real cream version would be stupendous, the half-n-half was pretty damn good, too. Paired with a salad and a loaf of hard bread, this one fits my criteria very well, while using all fresh ingredients. Also, soup lends itself to leftovers that can be safely refrigerated a few days.
Baked Garlic/Vegetable Soup
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1 can (~15 oz) garbanzo beans, undrained
4 or 5 summer squash, sliced
2 large onions, sliced
½ green pepper, diced
1 ½ cups dry white wine
4 or 5 fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon paprika
1 ¼ cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
1 ¼ cups non-fat half-n-half (or as Jo did, heavy cream or whipping cream)
Generously butter the inside of a 3-quart baking dish (I used a 4 1/2 quart Dutch oven since the smaller baking dish was difficult to stir without slopping over). Combine all ingredients, except for the cheese and cream, in dish.
Cover and bake for an hour and a half at 375 degrees. Stir in cheeses and cream, lower heat to 325 and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer.