Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Rob Lowe on Sending his Son to College

It happens this way:  A friend links to something on the web.  Then another friend and another.  Depending on how busy I am, by the third or fifth friend, I'll often click on the link.  After all, my friends are using their social media capital to tell me about this item, I might as well read it.

Last week, the item was Rob Lowe's essay about sending his son off to college.  Timed with the release of his book Love Life, the essay has been published by Slate.  It's not a super-long read, and I invite you to go read it before I share my take on it.

This is not a book review of Love Life, even though I used that label on this post.  I've only read the college essay they're pushing out in the publicity for the book.
  •  Facts highlighted by the essay or surfaced in subsequent Rob Lowe research - some striking, some not
    • Rob Lowe is ridiculously attractive and shared his genes with his son
    • Rob Lowe is still married to the mother of his two children as the older one goes off to college.  Impressive for a celebrity, especially given the above fact.
    • Love Life is Rob Lowe's third book! Look out, JK Rowling.
  • Gut reactions to the essay
    •  After being winningly honest about growing up as a child of divorce, Lowe demonstrates a need to be friends with his sons that feels not quite appropriate to the father-son relationship.  It feels a little dependent and clingy.  Maybe we all work to make up for what we saw as most glaringly missing or painful in our childhoods.  Having shuttled between his parents as a kid, it's apparently really important to Rob Lowe the Father to be very close and just one of the gang with his kids.  This is apparently backed up by an interview with Jimmy Kimmel in which he confesses to being an "inappropriate frat dad".
    • A fact relevant to the above: Lowe didn't go to college.  At the age at which he would have, he left home not for a campus full of his peers but for a 3-month movie shoot with grown-up actors and crew in Tulsa.  This does put an interesting spin on his life event of sending his own son off to college.
    • Being a celebrity does not inure one from being a proud papa.  He gushes so much about the incredibly competitive school his son went off to that I finally had to google what amazing institution this is.  Turns out it's Duke.  That means the president he quotes is my own beloved former professor Richard Brodhead; that was a cool upshot of my web stalking of Matthew Lowe.
  • It's a touching essay and definitely better than if he were unmoved by his beloved eldest's departure for college. 
Watch this space for my own version of this essay in six years, three months and six days.

    Friday, May 9, 2014

    Casserole Week: Italian Easter Pie

    It's hard to believe casserole week has already drawn to a close.  Some may not believe that the dish below is a casserole.  I've never been one for angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin philosophical discussions, so I won't feel the need to defend it as a casserole.  But it has meat, squishy cheese, a green and top and bottom starch layers.  That sounds like it fits somewhere in the casserole genus.

    Apparently Italian Easter Pie has been a thing for years.  We just found out about it through the April May 2014 issue of Cook's Country magazine.  The guy at the fancy cheese section of my local grocery store knew about it.  Of course, I bragged about how we planned to use the sharp provolone I was buying.  Mmmmmmm, sharp provolone.

    Shopping tip: some places call broccoli rabe "rapini".  Also, the one time we made this (the week after Easter, it turned out), we toned down the spiciness by using sweet Italian sausage and a mix of hot and mild capicola.  There's a lot of gooey cheese and starch to stand up to the spice, so we might ratchet that back up the next time out.  Our friends to whom we served it mentioned a sausage that gets its kick from black pepper as a possible alternative.

    This recipe might seem intimidating, but it's actually a bunch of easy steps.  We created some of the filling stages - sauteeing the broccoli rabe and sausage and mixing the ricotta/pecorino mixture  - the night before, baked it in the morning and served it in the evening.  As the recipe says, it could be baked on Good Friday and stored until Easter in the fridge.

    before the top crust

    before baking


    come and get it

    ohhhhhh yeeeeeeahhhh

    Masthead image from Flickr - user: JillPyrex, photo: small pyrex casserole.  Used under Creative Commons license

    Thursday, May 8, 2014

    Casserole Week: Macaroni & Cheese Casserole

    If there's one thing we've learned so far in the 21st century, it's that there are a zillion ways to make macaroni and cheese.  Just as newly industrialized and urbanized Londoners turned to the demon gin for comfort in the mid 19th century, we who are living through the disruptive effects of the Internet (not to mention interleague baseball) turn to elbow shaped macaroni, a variety of cheeses and other fats and bread crumbs to soothe our jangled nerves.  If you want to go deep and enrich your comfort food with eggs, look no further than Cook's Country's Macaroni and Cheese Casserole.  It's tastier than a gin-soaked rag in a flophouse...and better for you. 

    Masthead image from Flickr - user: JillPyrex, photo: small pyrex casserole.  Used under Creative Commons license

    Wednesday, May 7, 2014

    Casserole Week: Mexican Tortilla Casserole

    I got this recipe from Lynn Rossetto Casper's enewsletter called Weeknight Kitchen, but it comes from a sexist cookbook called the Mom 100.  Although this blog does not endorse knee-jerk sexism in book titles, the recipe is nice because it concludes with a note about how kids (It's a wonder it doesn't say "girls") can help with this recipe.  Weeknight Kitchen is a reliable source for pantry recipes that can, indeed, be cooked after work on a weeknight.

    According to my personal recipe database, I have apparently cooked this once a year in April for the past three years.  It's a good and easy recipe. It even features make-ahead instructions, which is always nice to have as an option.

    Mexican Tortilla Casserole
    From The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket by Katie Workman (Workman Publishing, 2012).
    Serves 4 to 6
    Essentially a lasagna with tortillas standing in for noodles, this is one of those dishes that can miraculously be on the table in short order, made from things you most likely have in your pantry and fridge. If you don't like, or you don't have, one of the ingredients, skip it. Or, if you have something else that you think might be appealing all layered in (like slivered bell peppers to sauté with the onions, kale, chopped, cooked broccoli -- whatever the people in your home will eat), then fling it on in.
    • Nonstick cooking spray
    • 1 tablespoon olive, vegetable, or canola oil
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
    • 1 can (14 ounces) chopped tomatoes, drained, with 1/3 cup juice reserved
    • 1/4 cup tomato paste
    • 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) white, black, or kidney beans (or a mixture of any two), rinsed and drained
    • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 can (15 ounces) sweet corn kernels, drained, or 1-1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
    • 3 cups coarsely chopped spinach
    • 4 medium-size (8-inch) flour tortillas
    • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
    • Chopped fresh cilantro (optional), for garnish
    • Sour cream (optional), for serving
    • Salsa (optional), for serving
    1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan, springform pan, or baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
    2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, cumin, chili powder, and garlic and cook until you can smell the spices and the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with the 1/3 cup of reserved juice and the tomato paste, then stir in the beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the bean mixture simmer until everything is hot, about 3 minutes. Add the corn and spinach and stir until the spinach has wilted and everything is well blended and hot, about 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as necessary.
    3. Place 1 tortilla in the prepared cake pan. Spread one fourth of the bean and vegetable mixture evenly over the tortilla, then sprinkle 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese evenly over the top. Repeat with 3 more layers, ending with the last quarter of the bean mixture and then the last 1/2 cup of shredded cheese.
    4. Bake the tortilla casserole until it is hot throughout and the top is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let the casserole sit for about 5 minutes, then cut it into wedges using a sharp knife and serve it with a spatula or better yet a pie server. Sprinkle the top with cilantro, if desired, and serve with sour cream and/or salsa on the side, if you like.
    Cooking Tip: You can make the tortilla casserole a day ahead of time, cover it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and put it in the fridge overnight; just take it out and let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes while the oven preheats to 400°F. Bake the casserole uncovered. You can also reheat the cooked casserole at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, until warm.
    What the Kids Can Do: They can layer the tortillas, bean mixture, and cheese. Encourage them to distribute the filling evenly across each tortilla and portion everything equally over all four layers.

    Masthead image from Flickr - user: JillPyrex, photo: small pyrex casserole.  Used under Creative Commons license 

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014

    Casserole Week: Slow Cooker Baked Ziti

    Casserole Week

    Casserole Week continues with a relatively new recipe in our rotation.  Cook's Country published a tasty and elegant update to baked ziti in the June/July 2013 issue.  Their version gets cooked in a slow cooker.  We enjoyed it.  The one thing it's missing is the crispy browned cheese on top, which is no small part of the enjoyment of a baked ziti.  I will trade it when necessary, though, for the ease of a slow cooker recipe.

    Masthead image from Flickr - user: JillPyrex, photo: small pyrex casserole.  Used under Creative Commons license

    Monday, May 5, 2014

    Casserole Week: Sausage, Polenta and Tomato Layers

    It's like Shark Week, but more badass.

    This is the wrong time of year to run Casserole Week on my blog, but a) I lacked the discipline to do it in the early winter when I should have b) I'm afraid if I don't run it now, I may never and c) This late cold, wet part of the spring lasts way longer than we think, and that's doubly true this year.

    So, this week must be Casserole Week.  The idea for this came when I posted a facebook status in November 2013 about the beginning of Casserole Season.  A friend asked if I would post some of my favorite recipes.  

    If the Cooking Authorities passed a law that we could keep only one casserole recipe, Sausage, Polenta and Tomato Layers would be our family's choice. It's our go-to meal for those who have just had a baby.  One of my favorite quotes about it was around-seven-year-old Charlie saying to his around-eight-year-old cousin at a Christmas week meal, "It looks really terrible, but it tastes good."  I think it's beautiful and delicious.  The recipe comes from the New Basics by Julee Rosko and Sheila Lukins, possibly better known for the Silver Palate.

    Please leave feedback if embedded Google Doc PDFs are the best way to share these recipes with you.  They're not the best for viewing on screen, but it's way easier for me to scan them than retype them, and they're good for printing and putting in your recipe file.

    Masthead image from Flickr - user: JillPyrex, photo: small pyrex casserole.  Used under Creative Commons license