10 Feb 2010

Ratatouille, the Sequel

Posted by annmcolford

I reprised Julia Child’s ratatouille over the weekend—it took just as long to prepare as it did the last time—and invited friends Dan and Linda over to share. They brought a loaf of crusty bread and some good, sharp cheddar; I opened up a bottle of Townshend Cellar’s Vortex Red (a non-vintage Bordeaux-style blend, made locally with cab, merlot, and cab franc). We finished the meal with decaf coffee from Roast House and chocolate truffles from French Quarter. It was a fine feast, and we had a lovely time discussing things silly and sublime. (Like the Demotivators at Despair.com—simultaneously silly and sublime.)

On Sunday, I decided to update my mother’s standard mac-and-cheese recipe, direct from the 1954 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I substituted olive oil for half the butter and lowfat buttermilk for the whole milk. I still used extra-sharp cheddar, just like Mom used to do, but I cut back slightly on the amount. And rather than standard white elbow macaroni, I used Barilla pasta (rotini, this time), made with whole-grain flour and lentils for extra fiber and protein. I topped it all with breadcrumbs made from my homemade* lowfat whole-wheat bread.

The end result was similar enough to the mac-and-cheese of my childhood to trigger a few memories. As a kid, I didn’t like the custardy texture of this dish—I much preferred a smoother, creamier, cheese sauce to the almost quiche-like binding of Mom’s version. But I’ve gained a new appreciation for the old-fashioned custard-style casserole. Especially when I can make it a relatively guilt-free version. That makes it taste extra delicious.

* The word “homemade” is one of my editorial bugaboos, as my Inlander colleagues will attest. I assign exclusive usage of “homemade” to mean “made in someone’s home.” Therefore, nothing in a restaurant can ever be “homemade,” because, by definition, it has to be made in a certified commercial kitchen to satisfy public health codes. It can be home-style, made in-house, like Mom used to make, or made from scratch from a family recipe—but it can’t be homemade. Restaurant food can taste like homemade, but it cannot be homemade. If it is, then the restaurant is violating the law. Just sayin’.

Beyond the world of food, however, there is more leeway. Crafts are frequently homemade. Quilts, paintings, furniture. Mix tapes. Poems. Virtually everything I create these days is homemade, because I make it at home. But if I took my bread recipe to a restaurant’s kitchen and prepared it just like I always do—it wouldn’t be homemade.

OK. Today’s rant complete.

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