Anyone can cook ratatouille

I’ve loved Pixar’s “Ratatouille” since it first came out and I saw it in theaters. But it’s a movie that’s only grown on me since then.

Of course, I’ve come to love cooking even more, so that’s no surprise, but it’s really the movie’s messages that have grown in importance to me.

There is the message (*spoilers ahead*) from the critic at the end of the movie that “Anyone can cook,” which isn’t to say that we can all be great chefs but a great chef can come from even the humblest of beginnings.

But if I’m honest, it’s the message from Remy walking away from his dad to pursue his passion despite his family’s wishes that really gets me.

Screenshot from IMDB.

I won’t get overly sappy here, but I’m coming up on a year since leaving journalism, and that scene has been making me think and challenging me to move forward. That’s no less true of our current political climate as we approach another election. Things can change, as long as we decide to step up.

So, to readers, please vote and convince your friends and family to do the same. And, to myself, who voted last weekend, I am reminded to step up and try to help bring about that change by working for it.

Now, I’ll step off my pedestal and get back to my recipe.

Sheet pan ratatouille ingredients (please note, this is way too much to fit on one sheet pan).

I’m embarrassed to say how many years I’ve wanted to make the eponymous ratatouille from the movie, and I finally did it during my year of casseroles. And while it did not achieve the picturesque quality of the movie, it was a delight.

I thought it could be replicated on a sheet pan, albeit a smaller amount, and I was not wrong. However, I did buy way too much of the required vegetables, and so I had to make it on several sheet pans over multiple days. And yet, I’m not complaining.

I tried a few different methods to see what would work best — sauce on top, sauce on bottom, baked at a slightly lower temperature, and came up with what is my favorite. It’s also pretty easy, to boot, except the slicing, but it’s made easier if you have a mandoline slicer.

It looks classy, but it’s also easy and delicious.

Here’s what I did (using the best version of my tests):

Ingredients

  • About 2 small summer squash, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 2 small zucchini, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 2 medium Chinese eggplant, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 3 medium Roma tomatoes, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • Salt, to taste
  • Olive oil, for coating
  • 1 jar (16 to 20 oz.) arrabbiata sauce
  • Basil, to taste
  • Thyme, to taste
  • Minced garlic (I used dried), to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray or brush olive oil on a large sheet pan (about 15 ½ by 12 inches)

Pour the sauce on top of the oiled pan, enough to coat but not necessarily using it all. Place a layer of vegetables on top of the sauce, slightly overlapping like shingles, and in any pattern you like — I did a row of each except tomatoes and put tomatoes on top but do whatever makes you happy.

Oil the top of the vegetable layer and add some thyme, basil, and minced garlic. Add another layer and repeat with the oil and herbs and garlic. If there’s still room, you can add a third layer (with oil, etc. on top) but my edges are not high so two layers was about all I could handle.

Top with parchment paper.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the vegetables are cooked, with some browning around the edges (trust me, it tastes delightfully smoky). Serve with more sauce, if desired, and enjoy!

Meatballs offer reason to stay on hell site

I’m not saying anything profound when I acknowledge that social media, especially Twitter, when first introduced seemed like a great way to connect with people and now seems like a place to witness the worst of people and an endless scream of nonsense opinion.

So, now that I don’t need to check in on it for work I have been trying to avoid it in order to lower my blood pressure and increase my sanity. Of course, the news for the past 6 months (since I left media) has not always made that easy, and the *cough* president-created *cough* immigration crisis of the past couple weeks has been important enough to pay attention, no matter how awful.

But that doesn’t make it any easier day after day to click onto Twitter.com each day.

One tweet last week gave me hope, however. A reason to stay on it, besides being witness to the horrors that each day unfold.

Some wonderful human being posted out of the blue a delicious-looking, semi-healthy sheet pan recipe just as I was feeling like I was out of novel ideas and wanted to try something new.

Of course, because it’s a hell site that has introduced new people into my stream that I don’t even follow I now can’t find said wonderful human being. But thankfully Google still works well enough that I could find the Bon Appetit recipe for chicken meatballs with chickpeas and cherry tomatoes and get it made this week.

Chicken meatballs with chickpeas and tomatoes ingredients.

I feel faintly like an idiot because we checked three stores to get one of the main ingredients, harissa, which I’ve previously purchased online but was optimistic enough to assume I could find it in a college town. The fourth store had it. Thank you, Fresh Thyme!

So, that ingredient might be harder to find but the wonders of the Internet mean it’s never truly inaccessible. I’d say it could be substituted but it really ties the whole thing together. I’m sure another spicy paste or even some sort of sauce would work, but it’d just not be the same.

Other than our runaround, though, the recipe was super simple, cooked quickly, and was quite simply as delicious as it looked when I first heard about it.

That’s a spicy (and tasty) meatball.

Here’s what I did, mostly sticking to the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3-6 T. harissa paste (varies based on how spicy you want it/how spicy the harissa tastes, as it comes in mild and spicy varieties)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ c. panko
  • 8 oz. feta in brine, crumbled (this was also hard to find — thank you, Pammel Grocery — but I’m sure if necessary water could be substituted for brine)
  • ⅔ c. chopped parsley, divided (I didn’t measure, just used up the small bunch)
  • 6 T. olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 oz. ground chicken (if it comes in a 1 lb. package, that’s what the recipe calls for, but my hippie organic stuff is smaller, but I found I didn’t need to manipulate the recipe to make 12 oz. work just fine)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved if large
  • 1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees and place a rack in the top of the oven.

In a large bowl, mix together the egg, panko, ¼ c. feta brine (or water), half the crumbled feta, half the parsley, 2-4 T. harissa, and 2 T. olive oil until well blended. Add in the 2 of the garlic cloves, salt, and pepper.

Add the chicken and work with your hands until just mixed.

Spread tomatoes and chickpeas on a rimmed sheet pan. Add 2 T. olive oil, 1-2 T. harissa, and any additional salt and pepper.

Grease hands and roll out meatballs into about 16 golf-ball size, and place on the sheet pan between the chickpeas and tomatoes.

Bake meatballs until cooked about halfway, about 12 to 15 minutes. Increase the heat to broil, and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, rotating once if necessary, until the meatballs are cooked, the tomatoes lightly charred, and some chickpeas are semi-crisp. (If your broiler is on the bottom of the oven, then move your sheet pan there, but I was fortunate to just bump up the temp and leave the sheet pan.)

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining feta, parsley, and 2 T. olive oil in a small bowl. Add in the remaining garlic clove, and stir until all combined.

Once meatballs are done, let rest for a few minutes, and then sprinkle the feta mixture on top, and enjoy!

Racing the clock against brown rice

My health has been shite for the past month, and so I’ve been relying more heavily on fast and easy recipes, and also relatively healthy.

So, I was so pleased to come across a food blogger — Chelsea’s Messy Apron — who had a sheet pan recipe that met all of my qualifications. My only qualm was it didn’t leave enough leftovers for someone as ill and lazy as me, but that was more easily remedied than my chronic ailment.

It was so easy that I decided to have some fun — at least fun for me — by racing to see whether I could get the recipe ready in less time than it would take to make the brown rice I would serve with my chicken and vegetable meal.

Sheet pan balsamic chicken ingredients.

Alas, I did not, but the delays were my own. Mostly, my damn desire to double the recipe meant the chicken crowded the sheet pan and cooked more slowly. The side benefit was the veggies had a nice crisp to them.

Still, the recipe was a treat and one I’ll return to again.

The best part was the ease at which flavor was added. Balsamic vinegar and Italian dressing combined to form a marinade, coating and dipping sauce that worked wonderfully. Another benefit is that any veggie combination would work, so it works to clip up what’s in the fridge.

Next time, maybe though, I’ll spread it onto two sheet pans so I can beat the brown rice.

Quick, healthy, and most importantly, tasty. What’s not to love?

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into strips, or chicken tenders
  • 1 c. Italian dressing
  • ⅔ c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 (12 oz.) packages broccoli florets
  • ½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ lb. baby carrots, halved
  • ½ t. basil
  • ½ t. oregano
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large, sided sheet pan (or sheet pans).

Mix together the balsamic vinegar and dressing. Pour a third of the mixture into a Ziploc bag with the chicken and marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 6 hours. Split the remaining mixture into two bowls.

Place veggies on the sheet pan, and mix in the herbs, spices, and salt and pepper, as well as 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes while the chicken marinates.

When chicken is ready, move veggies to the side and place the strips in the center of the sheet pan. Brush a third of the marinade onto the chicken (and vegetables), and bake for another 15 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve the meal with the remaining marinade/sauce and serve over rice or another grain, if desired. Enjoy!

More sheet pan pasta goodness

I got a hankering again for one of my earlier recipes — the spicy broccoli pasta — but knew I couldn’t just make the same recipe again, so I scoured for a second sheet pan pasta recipe.

Thankfully, those aren’t hard to find. I’m not the only one who loves cheesy carbs.

(So many) Sheet pan pasta ingredients.

The recipe was a bit more involved than the last one, and a bit heartier, but it was worth it.

Having shared this one with friends, I can say that it was well liked by a variety of people, and half the reason to make a good dish is to get the compliment. The other half is getting to eat in 10 minutes what took 1 hour or more to prepare. And this one didn’t take nearly that long to prepare.

But at least there’s plenty of leftovers; even if you share with a half-dozen friends, you may have more to take home. So, the extra work isn’t as bothersome since it fills so many bellies or a couple bellies so many times.

It’s nothing fancy but who doesn’t love a hearty pasta dish?

So much cheese. *drool*

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 box (16 oz.) penne pasta or similar, prepared according to package instructions (and reserving ½ c. pasta water)
  • 1 c. panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan, divided
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided
  • 1 bunch chard, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 4 c. shredded cooked chicken (I used 4 chicken breasts I pre-cooked but you can buy a pre-made rotisserie if that’s your thing)
  • 2 c. shredded mozzarella, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix together the panko, ¼ c. Parmesan, 2 T. oil, salt and pepper.

On a large rimmed sheet pan (15 inches by 12 inches or so), toss together the chard and tomatoes with the remaining olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.

When the pasta’s ready, drain it but reserve about ½ c. pasta water, and return the pasta to the pot. Mix in sour cream, mustard, the remaining ¾ c. Parmesan, salt and pepper, and about ¼ c. of the pasta cooking liquid, and stir to blend. Stir in the chicken and half the mozzarella. Add more pasta water if necessary to get to desired creaminess.

Once mixed, spread on the prepared sheet pan and stir carefully to mix with vegetables.

Top the mixture with the panko/Parmesan mix and the remaining mozzarella.

Bake for about 5 to 7 minutes until the cheese is melted and the mixture on top is lightly browned. Let cool slightly, and enjoy!