Monday, July 19, 2010
I have been house/pet-sitting for a friend a couple times a year for a number of years now. During the week or so that she's gone, I stay at her house and usually just eat whatever I can find in her fridge or pantry, or order pizza.
This past week I stayed there again, pet-sitting her new 8-month old Golden Retriever and the (now much older) cat. I immediately noticed how my eating habits have changed. I no longer reached for the boxed mac and cheese or ordered take-out. I did not pig out (as much) on the mini York Peppermint patties she always keeps in the fridge. This time was different. I did not turn on the TV at all (except for So You Think You Can Dance, the only show I watch), because I know that if I plant myself in front the TV I'll find a Top Model marathon or some other trashy mindless show that will suck me in while I suck down the calories.
This time, I brought some food from home (veggies from the CSA and my garden) and cooked my meals from scratch. I sat down at the table and ate in silence, savoring the food I was eating and noting my hunger level as I ate. It felt pretty good.
One of the things I made was a healthy remake of a microwave dinner that I used to eat a lot when I was in high school. I don't remember the brand, but it was just potato wedges and broccoli, covered with a cheese sauce. It was sort of a comfort food for me I guess, and I always crave food like that when I'm staying at her house.
I don't know why I've never made my own cheese sauce before. It's so quick and easy! I bet you already have everything in your kitchen right now. Flour, milk, butter, salt, pepper, and any kind of cheese. Add a pinch of nutmeg and it's perfect! No need for those packets of neon orange liquid or powder with all those additives and artificial flavors. Just a rich, delicious cheese sauce that you can feel good about. I even used non-fat milk and it was still super creamy.
The vehicle for my cheese sauce was roasted red potato wedges and steamed broccoli. If I'd had fresh broccoli I would have roasted it with the potatoes, but all I had was frozen (because my darn broccoli plants bolted before they ever became anything resembling broccoli, but that's another story), so after steaming it in the microwave I tossed it together with the potatoes, and drizzled some cheese sauce over the top. It was so. much. better. than those frozen meals I used to eat. But that probably goes without saying.
Mornay (Cheese) Sauce
adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything
makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 cup grated Swiss, Gruyere, or other good cheese (she had Colby Jack so that's what I used)
Pinch of nutmeg (optional, my addition)
Melt the butter or heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour. Turn the heat down to low and continue whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and has turned a tan color.
Slowly stir in the milk, still whisking constantly. After you've added about half of the milk, the mixture will be pretty thick. Continue to slowly stir in milk until the sauce is just a little thinner than you want it. Cook, over low heat, until the mixture thickens up again. Stir in the cheese. Add a pinch of nutmeg if desired.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or keep warm until ready to serve. Bittman says to keep it warm over gently simmering water or a double boiler. I'm lazy so I just turned the heat down to low. The top forms a thin skin after sitting like that, but it's easy enough to just stir it up again.