Wednesday, March 22, 2006

That Kind of "Cooking" is SOOO Hard

I've been thinking about this all last night and today, and I think the only way I'll get over it is to tell somebody about it.

Yesterday I made a very nice dinner to celebrate the first day of spring. The main course was a pasta sauce with eggplant. That took extra time and work because it was cooked separately, and because eggplant tastes better if salt is used to draw off its liquid. Before starting that I made a layer cake, kind of a difficult one that took longer than it should have because I copied the recipe down wrong and didn't realize it until I'd started mixing ingredients and ended up with gluteny goo. So I had to throw that batter out and start again. The buttercream frosting I made for it also takes a long time. Not the best planning I've ever done, but it was a special dinner, so that's okay.

While I was cooking the pasta my youngest stepson came into the kitchen to ask when dinner would be ready. He must have noticed that I looked tired (I'd been cooking for about seven hours straight at this point!), because he patted my shoulder and told me that he thinks cooking is hard, too. (We recently started a policy that everybody takes a turn cooking dinner. Both of us parents have offered to teach anybody how to cook anything we make, or to help them with new recipes.) What does youngest stepson almost always cook when it's his turn? He grabs a frozen lasagna, turns on the oven, and tosses it in for a couple of hours. If he works really hard he opens a bag of salad greens and pours them into a bowl.

I guess steam didn't come out of my ears when he said that about cooking being so hard, but it's a good thing he walked away before I could remind him that some mammals have been known to eat their young.

Tomato Pasta Sauce with Eggplant - adapted from the recipe in Mediterranean Light

1 eggplant, about 1 pound, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced (quantity to your taste)
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, roughly processed in a blender or processor to small chunks
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
salt, about 1/2 tsp (to taste)
pepper, about 1/4 tsp or to taste
sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or to taste
1/2 tsp. dried basil or to taste

Place eggplant cubes in a colander and cover well with salt, tossing to coat all cubes. Place colander in a bowl and allow to drain for 30 minutes. While eggplant is draining, preheat oven to 450°F. Using some of the olive oil, grease a baking dish; set aside.

In a large saucepan with a heavy bottom, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onion until golden and add garlic for last minute or two of cooking. Pour in processed tomatoes, then stir in tomato paste. Add all seasonings except basil to taste. (Use sugar if the sauce is too acidic for your taste; I never use it but I hate the taste of sweet tomato sauces.) Reduce heat and simmer while finishing the eggplant preparations.

Rinse eggplant thoroughly and dry well. Place in greased baking dish, add remaining olive oil and toss well to coat. Cover dish (if it doesn't have a lid, aluminum foil crimped tightly will do) and bake until tender, about 30 minutes. Add cooked eggplant to sauce, check seasonings, and continue to simmer. Add basil just before serving.

Prepare spaghetti to your taste. Pass pasta and sauce separately, and offer grated parmesan cheese to top sauce.

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