Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ugly But Tasty

Hello all, the Fresh Pioneer is back with something fresh and tasty! Ready? Wonderful!

But before we start, I suppose this post might need a small subtitle. Or a caveat. Or a warning sign.
(I think this means "picky eaters run for your lives". Pretty sure. Or maybe "parents will have to chase down their kids and force feed them this dish".)


Some people need their food to be picture perfect. Nothing wrong with that! As my mother said to me once, " If it doesn't look good, no one will eat it." (Of course, this doesn't apply to teenage boys, hungry men, or myself past the midnight hour.)
This post is for those times that you want to cook something wonderfully tasty that looks a bit... ugly. Some dishes are just not going to be on the cover of Gourmet magazine any time soon. Now that you're ready to get down and dirty (or ugly), let's start!
I hear you screaming already! Take a deep breath. I'm not cooking anything with tails. Today. But if anyone remembers this movie, the little dude's name was Ratatouille. Which is a delicious, fresh veggie saute, usually over rice, couscous or polenta. It USUALLY looks like this:
But who ever gets it to turn out that way? Not me. So, let's ignore the unreal expectations and cook something a little less perfect-looking!
Ah, a sideways pan filled with one chopped sweet onion and minced garlic, along with a few TBS of olive oil. While that heats up, let's go looking for veggies.
   These are fom the garden of my beautiful friend Barbara. Her husband, Larry, can grow just about anything, including GIANT PUMPKINS. I stopped by one day and was the happy recipient of a trunk full of produce.
    Love gardeners. Super love generous gardeners! My dad and his wife keep me supplied with cucumbers from June until the end of August. I haven't seen our grocery produce section in MONTHS.
Wash and choppity, choppity,  choppity.
Assorted sweet bell peppers join the party.
With a few big tomatoes, into the pan they go.
I took 3 cups of chicken broth left over from trying out Missy Tippens' dumpling recipe and added that to the group. If you don't have broth, you can dissolve two cubes of boullion into 3 cps of water. You can add more salt later, if needed. Turn the burner to medium high. This should get simmering pretty quickly. ( I like a lot of tomatoes so at this point I added one can of diced tomatoes.)
Now, you can definitely eat your ratatouille (the dish, not the chef rat!) plain, but it's usually over the top of a grain or pasta. I love polenta (cooked cornmeal). It's so... filling. And possibly caloric. I refuse to check.
Slice and lay in a skillet over 2 TBS of olive oil. (We're trying to be healthy! I've heard it's best with real butter and browns beautifully but I'm pretending I don't know about all that.) Sprinkle on some salt and pepper and parsley flakes. It doesn't take long to warm up/cook. About five minutes, and flip.

I know you're thinking none of this is particularly UGLY. But remember our veggies simmering away? We've been stirring them carefully, and waiting for the broth to reduce so it's nice and savory. No matter how careful we are, zucchini just doesn't like to be simmered and stirred.
 Prepare yourselves.
 Mmmmmm.... goodness. All garden fresh, with polenta on the side! It's just not quite 'picture perfect' so don't surprise any picky five year olds with this dish. Just make them a PB&J sandwich. That leaves more for you anyway.

  What's your favorite 'ugly' dish? Have you ever made anything delicious that looked... inedible? We're all friends here. I promise I won't laugh. Much.

Oh, P.S. A little bitty post on DESSERT. :) Piper, here's the fruit syrup/compote we were having this weekend in Seekerville to celebrate Rose's new sale.

Two cups of blueberries, one cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 TBS lemon juice or orange juice, pinch of salt, dash of cinnamon.
Rolling boil for five minutes, stirring frequently. (Mmm, smelling good!)
1 TBS of corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup of water. Add to bluebrries. Return to heat and stir constantly over medium high until thickened. Now's a good time to taste test (hot!) and see if it needs more lime, more sugar, or both. Some like it super sweet, but I like my syrup a bit tangy.
Oh, MERCY. Vanilla ice cream and blueberry syrup. (You can always strain out the berries if you just want the liquid, it's just as good.)
Another view. This is a very small glass. Really. It just LOOKS big. *innocent face*
And this is what one of my kids brought me. His bluebrries had 'disappeared' so he needed more.  And more. Pretty color, though. Almost like a shake.

  Okay, I'm really done now! Back to discussing ugly food...



  1. Awesome post! Who cares what 5 year olds say? That was not ugly at all, and if you make the ratatouille, you can have the sauce and ice cream for dessert--guilt free! Thanks, Virginia!


    1. Isn't that a pretty color for the desert? Mmmmmmm....

  2. looks good to me - never had polenta though. I"ve madea few crockpot meals that smelled awesome, tasted ok to good, but looked disgusting..something about chicken in a crockpot being all pale - blech! -but it tastes pretty good!

    ok time to walk the dogs - was taking a water break and planning to to another exercise thingy then go to the store when it opens at 6 but while checking the 'net my lab came up to let me know we may as well go o-u-t!



    1. Oh, that's right, you work nights? I was wondering what country you live in, ha!

      I just was given a giant corck pot and I've tried to make a few things in it. I think I better look up exact recipes because they were a little... odd.

  3. Sniff. Polenta is made with corn. None for me. But I loved it back in the day. Polenta = grits sausage, y'all!

    Ugly? Black beans and butternut squash. Black beans turn anything ugly but I do love them.

    Peace, Julie

    1. JUlie, I thought of you when I posted this. I thought, "Nyah, nyah, nyah!"

      Seriously. I thought of you and your corn allergy because I was focusing on G-free... but no corn, either? Wow. I would end up living on coffee... Like I do already.

  4. Virginia, back when I was in college, I waitressed in a French restaurant. The chef made an amazing ratatouille that looked far more like yours than that picture. He used it to make possibly the most delicious omelettes ever. I still love to use my leftovers that way.

    Oh, I was busy this weekend and missed Rose's news. Must go check.

    As for ugliest - just about anything i make since I go for lovely flavor competitions and don't much care about appearance.

    Happy Wednesday.

    1. Oh, Mary!!!! When I was in 18 I was the salad bar girl at a steak house. Um. didn't learn much except that if you leave apple sauce long enough it becomes alcoholic.

      A French restaurant. I'm so jealous! I've never even eaten in a French restaurant! Of course, I lived in France for a while but then I just ate the food of that one region.

    2. Virginia,

      I was totally TOTALLY spoiled. He used to cook us a huge family meal after the restaurant closed. It might have been around midnight, but we'd all sit around eating and he'd break out the wine. Man, that was the best eating I ever did.

    3. Okay, I hate you just a little bit now, if I didn't hate you before Miss Genesis Winner. *sigh*

  5. It may not look all that pretty, but it sure sounds good! I've eaten a lot of zucchini stewed with all kinds of things, but never served with polenta. That sounds better than just stewed zucchini - especially when you call it ratatouille :)

    And dessert! A bonus!

    1. HAHAHA! I know! Everything's better with a fancy name, don't you think??

      I mean, really, we could have had a post on 'Stewed Zucchini over White Rice' but that would have been boring.

      PLus, you just want to 'ratatouille' over and over again.

  6. Once again I'm introduces to something new. Polenta? I've never heard of it! Not sure where I'd find it in my grocery store but we've got an Italian deli down the road so they might carry it. I'm intrigued enough to find out!

    Ugly food? Lots of vegetarian food might be considered ugly. Legumes don't always cook up pretty, you know? And tofu -- well, no one can call it pretty! And don't get me started on split peas!

    1. Those of us with German ancestry call Polenta "corn meal mush". Same thing. Fancy packaging :)

    2. Jan, again, so true! My husband looked at that and said 'masa?' No! Not corn meal! POLENTA. :D

    3. Kav, I have a book of gourmet vegan recipes and they are GORGEOUS. Of course, it takes a dab hand to arrange some of it. And I usually just throw things on a plate (or into some mouths, if they're open).

      Totally hear you on the split pea. I love making pea soup and everyone calls it 'baby poo'.

  7. I don't think that's ugly at all! Looks delicious! I've never made it before. Didn't realize it was pretty simple. I"ll have to try it!

    Now, talk about ugly... Last night I cooked a bag of frozen vegetables. A mix of okra, tomatoes, red pepper and yellow squash. You're right that squash does make things look ugly. But is there anything uglier than boiled okra??!! Slimy and goey.

    But tasted pretty good! :) I love okra. (especially if it's fried)

    1. Missy, my college roomate was from Mississippi, and she never really amde okra, but when I went to visit her hometown, I had some. It's really interesting! Yes, kind of slimy, but I don't think there's any substitute, is there?

      It's not a green bean, not a pepper. Okra is definitely a regional food! I found some in the frozen food aisle once but it was SO expensive.

    2. Virginia, I keep frozen, breaded okra on hand all the time. I make it often. It's great to have instead of fries. I usually try to add something green (like broccoli) when I make it since I don't really count it as a vegetable nutritionwise. :)

    3. Keep okra far, far away from me...

      Virginia - "kind of slimy"???? Honey, okra defines slime.

      We can call a truce here. Send me all your cilantro and I'll send you all my okra. 'Kay?

    4. Oh, yeah!! Produce trade! And that's really what's summer is all about here. My husband plants things his friends don't, and vice versa, so we can all trade. If we all plant corn and tomatoes, then we're drowning in them. But hubby plants corn (not just for smut), tomatillos, and runner beans and heirloom tomatoes. His friend plant cukes, zuke, squash, and spinach.

    5. I love this. Talk about community!

      Here we just share fallen leaves. ;)

  8. LOL, Jan! It's not so slimy if fried well done. :)

    1. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice....

    2. When we lived in Kansas (the first time), our pastor was from Trinidad. He LOVED okra. I tried it all of his favorite ways.

      You can't fry that stuff well enough...

    3. You sound like my sister and scrambled eggs. She has tried to cook them into rubber and still swears they're too gooey. :) My husband used to eat them by poking a hole in the top of the shell and sucking out the egg. He doesn't do that when she's around anymore.

    4. LOL that's what I was about to post - aunt jemima cornmeal does something to the sliminess along with the grease!

  9. Oh my stars, I'm so glad I didn't miss this! First the Choppity, choppity, choppity left me laughing and that made people look at me strangely.

    That's nothing unusual, mind you!

    And then that dessert with a blueberry pie filling type topping. Now that's a little bit of God's blue heaven right here on Earth, honey-chile! Love it!

    I was gone this past weekend. I've been playing catch up for two days. Oh my stars, it's silly, isn't it?????

    But I got to see Jeter in Yankee Stadium.


    I think they may or may not have been playing ball. Who knows????


    1. Ruthy, you're SO BAD! LOL How does Dave feel sitting there beside you while you drool over another man???


    2. Ruthy, that was a little inside joke for my family.
      We saw a TV show where the chirpy woman told the kids to act like bunnies 'hoppity, hoppity, hoppity'. My oldest looked at me with wide-eyed horror. Maybe it was the squeaky voice, maybe it was the hand clapping. Anyway, it's been a sarcastic saying around here for years. 'Go fold your laundry, hoppity, hoppity, hoppity! (implied threat)'

      They all let out a shriek when they read those words. AAHHHHHHHAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

    3. Jeter's eyes... Oh mylanta.

      'Nuf said.

      Dave was too busy talking to Zach about baseball, track, Olympics, the world, farming, etc.... I sat next to Sara and we ate Cracker Jacks and talked and waved to Ichiro and giggled when he waved back. I'm such a GIRL.

  10. Hey, Mary, did you ever go back to my Seekerville post on Monday? I shared the scene cards you were asking about. Comment is near the bottom.

    1. Thanks, Missy. That's weird. I think sometimes comments come in out of order. I did go back and check and you had some replies, but not to mine. Now when I go look, your reply to me is ahead of the other ones.

      Either that or I'm blind.

      Thanks so much for checking back - and for doing it in the first place. I'm doing something similar with post-its and a notebook for this book. I can move them around until it feels right.

    2. I've used post it notes on the back of my kids' tri-fold science project boards! :)

      Now I use the notecards in Scrivener.

  11. Virginia, you've got me thinking dinner theater. Ratatouille--the meal and the movie. That is actually one of my husband's favorite movie. Always wondered about the dish. I just might have to try it.

    1. Mindy, this movie just cracks me up! I had a friend who is so afraid of mice she didn't let her kids see this movie. :O

      hey... Food and movie. Hm. How many others can we come up with? Now I'm thinking movie themed dinners...