Feeding The Beast: What Do You Cook When Stuff Goes Downhill?

So, yeah. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But the tough still have to eat, right? I think I may have mentioned this in a food-related post a while back, but learning to cook is not only a necessary life skill and quite the money-saving “hobby”, it’s also pretty therapeutic. Anyway, some stupidly lousy news hit earlier today and as I hadn’t yet thought of what to make for dinner, my brain went into emergency mode. Or, I decided to raid the fridge and one cabinet here and make something relatively fast because I tend to have a few gloomy to grumpy visitors when the Titanic goes into re-sink mode.

Anyway, my foraging (can you forage in your own apartment? I can!) found the following:

One 16 ounce package of #22 pasta shells
1 28 can of crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, or a jar of good quality pasta sauce (I flipped a coin and it was the sauce this time)
Half a container (about 4 ounces) of whipped cream cheese
About 1-1/2 cups of sliced white mushrooms
1 small block of part-skim mozzarella cheese (8 ounces)
1 8 ounce package of shredded whole milk mozzarella cheese.

You’ll also need an 8 x 12 or 9 x 12 baking dish or some other appropriately sized oven safe pan and about an hour of time, give or take.

Under normal circumstances most of those ingredients above would end up in a freshly made pizza like the one to the right. Yeah, I made that too a while back. (sings) I like thick crusts and I cannot lie!

But I was out of yeast and making a crust from scratch would have taken too long, anyway.

Speaking of anyway…

Preheat your oven to oh, 375 degrees. Go boil some water (salted, please) in a large pot. While that’s happening, pop open that cream cheese and add some Italian seasoning, granulated garlic, maybe a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes, some freshly ground black pepper? That’s all up to you and your downhill situation’s tastes. Sure, you can use ricotta if you have it. I didn’t and have found cream cheese a wonderful alternate for a few different recipes (you should try my tuna salad one of these days). Slice the block of cheese into about 1/4 inch thick planks – you’ll probably end up using 6 ounces of cheese with some left over. Chop those sliced mushrooms into smaller bits (unless you really want a super chunky topping). Note that this recipe is NOT set in stone – you can add or subtract what you like.

Once the pasta is ready (it should be just past al dente and still holding that shell shape. Overcooking it is bad, as it’ll fall apart during the next step. Drain the pasta (don’t rinse it!), put it back into the pot and add in the cream cheese. Gently stir to combine, then add about half to line the bottom of your baking dish. Add a layer of the sliced cheese and then the remainder of the pasta, followed by the sauce, mushrooms and shredded mozzarella.

Tip: when you pour that sauce on, you can always gently jiggle that dish so it settles. Also, if you do use a large can of sauce or tomatoes, you’ll want to not use the entire can if your dish or pan is on the small side (unless you’ve decided to clean your oven once it cools down). Save about 4 ounces or so for assorted tomato-based experimentation.

The results should look something like this:

While I guess you can attempt to eat it now (hey, that pasta is still pretty warm!), you’d be forgetting you’re having company and that would be a rude thing to do. Instead, take that dish and get it into the oven until it’s done (about 30-35 minutes? I wasn’t looking at the clock or intending to post a recipe, thus the lack of prep pics) or it kind of looks like this:

If you do make this for company and are pressed for time, tell one of your freeloading friends to bring over a bagged salad (you can whip up a simple oil and vinegar dressing with ease) and another to spring for some not too cheap wine or maybe a nice almost pint of something like a frozen dessert item. Cranky or not, contribution to the cause is always a welcome thing. I can’t comment oh this being “healthy” at all. But I get no complaints about my cooking unless I’m beating up on myself for making some oddball mistake.

Back in a bit. I was going to pop up a review earlier, but the night went long what with all the necessary grousing and ruminating that took place. Feel free to post a favorite dish you bust out when the road ahead turns to sinkhole central – I’m sure some of you put my fully baked but half-baked dishes to shame.

-GW

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