Fresh Ingredients, Mouse News, & Mollie Katzen’s The Heart of the Plate

It was late at night.

A friend had left something in a restaurant. I banged at the door, and an employee kindly let me in to retrieve the item.  It was a pleasant place, the food was good, and I enjoyed the calm after-hours ambiance.

Then I saw something.

The mouse wasn't quite this cute.

The mouse wasn’t quite this cute.

About fifteen feet away a mouse scuttled across the floor.

I’m not afraid of mice.  I was startled to see a mouse.

It paused under a table.

It wasn’t afraid of me.

I pretended I didn’t see it.

I said nothing about it.

The restaurant is clean.  It is in an old building, and I would not be surprised if there are mice in many of these old buildings.  Your favorite restaurant has probably seen a mouse or two.

I was from out of town.

I am not the health department.

Yes, vermin can be a serious problem.

But I’m quite sure they swab the place down–it looked very clean that night–and they don’t leave food out on the counter for the mouse.

I have a lot of empathy for restaurateurs. The restaurant business is tough enough without some out-of-towner’s reporting a mouse problem (and if you’re going to report it, report it to the restaurateur first.  Give him/her a chance.).  It is estimated that 60-80% of new restaurants go out of business in five years.

In my freelance-writing days,  I was not concerned with mouse-reporting or reviewing.  It was the food industry per se.

What is/was happening at McDonald’s?  Are/were sales flat?

Yes, they are/were.

What is the secret of every top chef in the country?

“Always use fresh ingredients.”

What are people eating on Thanksgiving?

Nineteen percent of Americans plan to purchase prepared items from a grocery store or retailer this year, 6% said they would use a restaurant or caterer, and 4% plan to use both, according to Food Business News.

I was not critiquing food, but oddly many people didn’t notice that.  I had a very hard time explaining that I was writing the “Who? What? Where? Why?”, and not the “How good?”  Somehow, God knows how, the word got out among restaurateurs that I was writing about “food.”  Once a chef presented me with a rich chocolate dessert gratis, and I was unhappy about it. Take free gifts and you’re not much of a journalist.  But you can hardly be rude when somebody makes you a present in front of other diners, and I suppose I must have written something about him somewhere, if not actually about the dessert.

Anyway, I was freelance.

A freelancer recently approached a friend and me.

As usual, his/her story was a tortuous one that made no sense–talk of The Washington Post, followed by the admission that she/he wrote for a website–that is always the tale of a freelancer.

And  his/her business card was a little scatty.

My freelancer friends and I always hilariously had strange homemade-looking business cards.

If we had cards at all.

When I said I was writing for so-and-so, they always wondered why I didn’t have a card.

Because I was freelance, I explained.

Well, I’m not Lesley Stahl!

I no longer write about the food industry.

I rarely eat out these days.  One reaches an age when one wants good healthy food at home.  I do not particularly like to cook, but I spend a lot of time chopping fresh vegetables and cooking so we can avoid the high sodium and chemicals in prepared foods.  Fresh ingredients are the secret of good cooking.  Go to Whole Foods, get organic vegetables, some fresh pasta, and you have a meal.

HeartofthePlate by Mollie KatzenMollie Katzen’s new cookbook, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, is remarkably good.  We have been eating many roasted vegetables lately:  a favorite of ours is her roasted cauliflower with cheese.

Here is the recipe

Cheese-Crusted Roasted Cauliflower
Makes 4 servings

Cauliflower offers the broadest textural range of just about any vegetable. When spanking fresh, it’s delightful raw: Its crunchy white puffballs make satisfying crudités. And at the other extreme, cauliflower is also brilliant when boiled to oblivion and mashed. In this recipe, the high-temperature roasting process allows the cauliflower to become simultaneously fork-tender and chewy, with delicately crisp surface points (helped along greatly by the cheese) surprising you at random.

The roasted cauliflower will keep for up to 5 days in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and will reheat beautifully.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed and broken or cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 cups minced onion (1 large)
¼ cup grated Italian fontina or sharp cheddar or shredded Parmesan, or more to taste
¼ teaspoon salt
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and slick it with the olive oil. (You can use a chunk of cauliflower to spread it around.)
Arrange the cauliflower pieces on the sheet and sprinkle them with the minced onion. Roast for 15 minutes, then shake the baking sheet and/or use tongs to loosen and redistribute the pieces—gently, so they won’t pop off the baking sheet.

Roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is becoming uniformly golden, then push everything together in the center of the baking sheet, keeping it a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese.

Roast for 10 or so minutes longer, or until the cheese is thoroughly melted, forming an irresistible golden crust. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and season with the salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Optional Enhancements:

Roast a sliced carrot along with the cauliflower. Try this same process using broccoli instead of, or in addition to, the cauliflower. Sprinkle some toasted bread crumbs over the cauliflower after it comes out of the oven.

2 thoughts on “Fresh Ingredients, Mouse News, & Mollie Katzen’s The Heart of the Plate

  1. Yum! Cauli is my favourite vegetable so I’m off to try this out….. Definitely impressed with Katzen (the Moosewood book is going down well in our house). I wouldn’t have mentioned the mouse either….. Have you ever watched the Fawlty Towers episode with Basil the Rat?


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