Counter Action: Taco tater-tot casserole

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There are some recipes that are all fancy and pretty and lovely. Those are the recipes you trot out for birthdays and baby showers and in-laws. Things like cherry–almond muffins, and grapefruit–olive oil tarts, and chocolate–tahini challah buns.

Wait. Why are all of my examples sweet things?

Dang Sugar-Free January. It’s got me all muddled up. Last week I ate a freakin’ banana and it was almost too sweet for me.

A banana. I know. Send help.

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“Ba-na-naaa …”

This taco tater-tot casserole is not pretty, but boy howdy, is it yummy. In fact, those are the two reasons I never got a picture of it: I couldn’t figure out a way to pretty it up, and a whole 9″x13″ pan disappeared in about two days.

I know. I have a problem. But when it’s a cheesy, meaty, spicy, filling, hot-dish problem … that’s a problem I can handle.

So, no picture today. And no written recipe, either, since I wouldn’t add a thing to the original. Instead, please enjoy the very pretty picture above of Castelmezzano, Italy, and then go on over to The Girl Who Ate Everything and check out the original recipe for taco tater-tot casserole.


Image credit: Castelmezzano from 12019 and minion from Alexas_Fotos, both on Pixabay.

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Counter Action: Spicy cauliflower stew with spinach and feta

This week, I’ve been watching a lot of Jaguar commercials.

Okay, one Jaguar commercial. This one. The one with Tom Hiddleston.

I know. I’d feel ashamed, but let’s be honest … he’s so purty.

“Oh hey, you’re a fan of Richard II narrated over Elgar’s Nimrod? What a coincidence, so am I [starting today].”

At first, I thought that was my only reason for enjoying the commercial so much. But then I was putting together a lecture on blogging safety, and that took me deep into the psychology of trolling, and I realized that my appreciation went much deeper than a tailored suit.

"The suits ... the SUITSSSSS ..."

Let me clarify: I appreciate a tailored suit when there’s someone inside it.

See, here’s a breakdown of Mr. Hiddleston’s villain in this scene, balanced against a breakdown of trolls:

  • He’s witty. (Trolls generally aren’t.)
  • He’s polite. (Trolls, by definition, aren’t.)
  • He’s well-read. (If trolls are, they don’t show it.)
  • He’s well-dressed. (In fairness, trolls might be. They just don’t bring it up very often.)
  • His monologue starts with the premise that being an effective baddie means having certain characteristics. If this villain is the model, then it follows that a “proper” villain is never drunk, or high, or prone to episodes of psychotic rage. He’s always calm, logical, and discreet — a consummate gentleman. (Trolls definitely aren’t.)
  • Perhaps most significantly, I’m comfortable with this villain because I’m familiar with the actor as a public figure. I know he’s brought hot soup to a reporter, and lent his coat to another reporter, and traveled to Guinea with UNICEF, and never has anything negative to say, and is generally one of the sweetest public figures around. As I watch him play a villain, there’s a small voice that tells me, “This is just his day job. When he’s done delivering that nefarious leather satchel, he’ll go right back to living on a pound a day in sympathy with the world’s poor.”

(By the way, who’s up for forming a band called Nefarious Leather Satchel? Anyone?)

In short, the commercial plays right into my desire to believe that evil is always obvious, that I can always avoid it if I have a checklist of outward characteristics to go down. And as my research on trolling showed, I really can’t. Villains almost never fit into clearly labeled acid-free boxes.* They’re always going to surprise you, one way or another.

But on the upside, the inverse is also true: Good people can be found anywhere, with any manners and any education, dressed in any clothes, driving any car.

This has been your Sunshine Sonya update of the week, delivered to your news feed free of charge.

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Our motto: “Reach for the sun — it’s only got five billion years left.”

Similar to an unlikely hero, this stew doesn’t look like much, but I promise you, it’s well worth the effort. It’s got potatoes for bulk, cauliflower for silkiness, and spinach to make your mother proud. There’s whole-grain mustard for a zesty crunch, and carrots for visual warmth, and feta to amp up the flavor. In short, it’s the perfect stew for a brisk autumn day or a rare rainy summer day. If you chopped the carrots very finely, pre-wilted the spinach, and used less liquid, would it work as a cold potato salad? It might. Try it and let me know.

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Spicy cauliflower stew with spinach and feta

Serves 4

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Time-Life Books’ Vegetables: Great Taste, Low Fat

Ingredients:

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 T. minced fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 lb. (about 4) small red potatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium cauliflower, chopped
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 1/2 c. crumbled feta
  • 5 tsp. stone-ground mustard (the grainy kind)
  • 6 c. spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt
  • 2 T. flour

Directions:

  1. In large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger; cook until fragrant.
  2. Add potatoes, cauliflower, and carrots. Cook until lightly browned.
  3. Add mustard and broth. Raise stove temperature and simmer until veggies are tender.
  4. Stir in spinach and cheese. Cover pot to allow spinach to wilt.
  5. In separate bowl, combine yogurt and flour. Stir into vegetables. Serve with more feta.

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*This has been your archivist joke of the day. No need to thank me.

Photo credits: Suit and daisy from Pixabay.