Archive for September, 2008

Eggplant parmesan!

This is sooo yummy! It has been decreed that in my house no other eggplant dishes are welcome.

It’s not a weeknight dish because it takes time at least three hours to prepare. But most of that is waiting, and the steps are all pretty easy. It also freezes really well. You can use either Asian or globe eggplants. I’ve only done it with Asian, though, because that’s what comes in my bag.

  • about 1 lb eggplant (This could range from 1/2 lb to 2 lbs and still be okay. It only changes the tomato sauce to eggplant ratio. We like ours pretty high.)
  • salt (Kosher salt is better)
  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 clove or garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp each of dried basil, thyme, and oregano (or use 1 tbsp Italian seasoning)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Fontina cheese slices (or Mozzarella, but Fontina is so much better)
  • 3/4 cup grated Romano (or Parmesan) cheese

1. Peel eggplants with a knife or peeler. (This is optional. I’ve found the breading doesn’t stick as well to the peel. But it’s probably very good for you, so you might want to leave it on.)

2. Slice Asian eggplant lengthwise trying for 1/4 inch thick slices anywhere from 3 to 6 inches long. If you’re using globe eggplant, just slice into 1/4 inch rounds.

3. Purge the eggplant: Place eggplant slices in a layer in a colander in the sink or over a plate.  Sprinkle generously with Kosher salt. Continue layering and salting the eggplant until all the eggplant is in the colander. Place a plate on top of the eggplant and add something else heavy to press the eggplant down. Leave for at least an hour. Globe eggplants will need longer than Asian eggplants.

4. While the eggplant is draining, chop up the garlic and grate the Parmsan. You could slice the Fontina here, too. You’ll need enough for two layers of whatever size pan you’re using.

5. When the eggplant’s almost ready, mix the breadcrumbs and flour in a wide shallow bowl or a plate with a high rim. Pour the beaten eggs in another. Then heat half an inch of olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.

6. When the eggplant has drained, press down on the plate to remove extra moisture. Remove a slice and squeeze it with a paper towel to remove even more moisture. (See note below about the salt.) Dip in the egg and then the breadcrumb mixture and place in oil once the oil is shimmering. The eggplant should sizzle on contact. Once you’re sure the oil is ready, coat and and add more slices. Fry until golden brown, turning once. (Tongs are very helpful here.) Drain slices on paper towels.

(Note: the eggplant should look really beautiful fried. But taste it. It may be incredibly salty. Last time I made this, my fried eggplant were too salty to eat. But once it was combined with the unsalted tomato sauce and unsalted pasta, it was amazing. So be prepared to balance out the salt. If you want to use bottled tomato sauce, make sure your eggplant is less salty by brushing more of the salt off after purging. taste your eggplant, if it’s too salty, that’s okay. Just don’t add any more salt to the dish.  If you want, you could use the recipe up to this point to make a fried eggplant appetizer, maybe with marinara sauce for dipping. If you do this, however, use kosher salt and brush some of it off after purging. Don’t rinse it, though, because that will just put more moisture back in.)

7. Put tomatoes, garlic, and seasoning in pot. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil in which you fried the eggplant. Heat this mixture over medium until bubbling, stirring regularly.

8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Now you’re going to layer the eggplant, sauce, and cheeses. How many layers you have will depend on the size of the pan and the quantity of eggplant. Last time, I used a round 8.5″ glass pan about 1.5″ deep. This made for two packed layers plus the top layer of just sauce and Parmesan. However this pan was just big enough when I used 10 oz of eggplant. So if you have more eggplant, go with a larger pan.

Layers (usually two or three): 1 cup sauce + eggplant slices + Fontina cheese slices + grated Parmesan

Top layer: remaining sauce and Parmesan

9. Bake until cheese is slightly brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. (While the eggplant is cooking and resting, you can cook up some pasta.)

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Pepper hot sauce

Got this idea from Pepper Joe! It was a combination of these two recipes.

  • Hot peppers
  • Medium onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 8 tbsp of red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp of lime juice (or juice from 1 lime)
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tbsp white pepper

1. Halve and seed peppers. (Wear gloves to do this or put at least one hand in a plastic vegetable bag. Life can be pretty miserable for hours if you get pepper juice on your hands.) Blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds.

2. Add an onion cut in eights and 6 garlic cloves to the boiling water and cook till tender (about 15 minutes).

3. Put peppers, onion, garlic, and everything in a blender. Blend until saucy.

My peppers were pretty mild so next time, I’m going to leave some of the seeds in.

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Here’s what happened with my CSA bag this week.

1. Apples became applesauce. Used as oatmeal topping.

2. Green beans. These were especially good heirloom rattlesnake beans. Split into two parts. The bigger beans were cooked southern style. The smaller beans were blanched and the sauteed with some garlic.

3. Flowers. Sat on my kitchen table for most of the week. 🙂

4. Peppers became pepper hot sauce. These peppers are pretty mild, so the sauce is more tangy than hot. Still it should keep for a while in the fridge. I’ll use it to spice up eggs and other dishes. I think I’ll make more next week but leave some of the seeds in to make it hotter.

5. Tomatoes became bruschetta: chopped and cooked them down a little with onions, garlic, and Italian seasoning. Scooped onto french bread and topped with parmesan cheese. Made a lovely light lunch/afternoon snack.

5. Eggplants became eggplant parmesan. This was the real winner of the week. It was soo good. It takes a while to make from start to finish, but the steps don’t overlap so it’s not stressful. My husband now insists that all eggplant that enters the house must be used to make eggplant parmesan. My stepson said, “Tastes like Scalini’s.” That’s high praise, indeed.

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When you sign up with Farmers’ Fresh Food, you can list items that you’d rather not ever get in your weekly bag.

Here’s what’s on my family’s “hate list:”

  • Bell peppers
  • Collard greens
  • Cucumbers

So you won’t see those in my weekly reports. But, rest assured, these items are available. I know this because last year (pre-hate list), I would get my bag some weeks and pull out a bunch of stuff I’d end up giving away. That was kind of depressing; this year’s much better.

Also, I try to be specific on my list to give the baggers some wiggle room. I can deal with hot peppers, for instance. And kale and broccoli rabe I ‘m okay with – we turn them into creamy “spinach” dip. Cream cheese has a way of fixing everything. I’ll post the dip recipe next.

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Clearly, we’re still in transition to fall. I want some fresh lettuce so badly! Hopefully it will show up soon.

This week in my standard bag…

  • 4 apples
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 3 Asian eggplant (plus one teeny little one!)
  • beaucoup hot peppers
  • good-looking mess of green beans
  • pretty flower bouquet
  • 1 missing container of muscadines (Muscadines were listed on the slip attached to my bag, but there weren’t any in the bag. This happens sometimes, and an email to the CSA manager straightens it out.)

Bell peppers are one of the few things my husband won’t eat. So we’ve requested not to get any. That’s why I’m getting all these hot peppers. I bet other people are getting beautiful sweet and bell peppers this time of year.

Instead of using the apples fresh for afternoon snacks, I made applesauce. I peeled and cored the apples, added maybe 1/2 cup of water, 1 tsp of brown sugar, and a cinnamon stick. Brought it to boil and then cooked it on medium low for maybe half an hour. Boy, did it smell good! We ate some of it on oatmeal last night. The rest is in the fridge for lunch.

For green beans, I’ll divide them up into the smaller beans and the larger beans. The larger beans will get cooked to death southern-style. That’s how my husband likes them. For me, I either steam the smaller ones or blanch and then saute them.

Not sure what will happen to the tomatoes. I’m thinking they may end up eaten fresh because they’ll be some of the last tomatoes we’ll see this season. If not, they’ll turn into bruschetta-like sauce with onions and garlic. Always tasty on pasta or good bread.

I’ve been making fried (but not breaded) eggplant recently. I’ll either try that again or go all out and make eggplant parmesan. Depends on whether we need an extra main dish or a couple of side dishes this week.

There’s a string of hot peppers drying in my kitchen window. But considering it’s Georgia and the window’s not too sunny, they aren’t drying very quickly. My plan was to dry and then roast the hot peppers. With this week’s batch I’m just going to try to roast them fresh in the toaster oven. Then I’ll skin and seed them and turn them into yummy sauce or paste. At least, that’s the plan.

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Summer squash tian

From Country Living

Summer Squash Tian – 6 servings

2 yellow squash, cut into 1/4″ rounds on bias
2 zucchini, cut into 1/4″ rounds on bias
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped basil
2 tbsp lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 tbsp lemon zest (same 1 lemon)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high. Toss the squash and zucchini with the olive oil and grill the rounds until golden brown – about 3 minutes each side. Remove squash and zucchini and cool on wire rack. Toss squash and zucchini together with the basil, lemon juice, lemon zest, cheese, and salt. Transfer to a 1 1/2-quart casserole and bake until the squash and zucchini mixture is heated through – about 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the casserole and serve warm.

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Fresh lemons

Fresh lemons makes a big difference. I get a bunch every couple of weeks at the grocery store. I don’t use fresh limes as often so I keep a bottle of good key lime juice in the fridge for emergencies and only buy fresh limes when I have a specific use for them

Choose smooth-skinned lemons that are heavy for their size.

Juicing lemons

Lemons juice best at room temperature. If they’re cold, pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds. Either way, roll your lemons around on the countertop, pressing with the heel of your hand to soften the lemon and get more juice.

1 medium lemon equals approximately 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

There are lots of ways to juice lemons, but the idea is to get the most juice and the fewest seeds. I tend to just squeeze half a lemon in one hand over the fingers in my other hand. My fingers catch (most of) the seeds. (Be careful if you have any cuts on your hands!) You can also use a juicer or a reamer. My stepson suggested a method of cutting wedges and then slicing through the pulp horizontally. Then you squeeze the wedge against the knife. The juice then runs down the knife. I think this is excellent for restaurants when you’re given a wedge and a table knife. However, when I’ve tried it juicing lemons this way with my prep knife I’ve sliced my hand pretty good a couple of times. This is especially unfun when they’re covered in lemon juice.

Storing lemons

Lemons last longest stored in the refrigerator. Pick them up once a day and flip them if you can. This will keep them from getting moldy on one side.

If you only use a bit of a lemon, you can wrap the rest in plastic wrap or put it in a small tupperware in the fridge. It will last 4 or 5 days.

Here’s a neat tip from whatscookingamerica.com. If you only need a few drops of juice, pierce a lemon with a toothpick and squeeze out some juice. Then stick the toothpick back in to seal the lemon and put it back in the fridge. Pretty cool!

Using lemons

  • Squeeze up to half a lemon into a glass of water, soda water, or tea.
  • Steam any vegetable. Top with a pat of butter, pepper, and lemon juice
  • Make a light salad dressing with lemon juice, olive oil, water, salt, pepper, and a little sugar or jam.
  • Here are some household lemon uses. Yellow is the new green!

And don’t forget lemon zest…

Zesting lemons

When a recipe calls for lemon zest, listen. It adds wonderful flavor and there really is no substitute. That’s why it’s handy to have some lemons around. And lemon zest can be frozen for months.

Here’s an easy tip from Katie E. at www.discusscooking.com: After you’ve squeezed some lemon halves out, freeze the leftover halves in a freezer bag. Then the next time you need zest, just pop one out and start zesting. Brilliant! I can’t wait to try this.

1 medium lemon yields about 1 tbsp of lemon zest.

I zest using a magic grater. There are lots of other zesters, though, including some that you can use to make long pretty strips of peel. Be sure to get only the colored part of the peel and not the white pith underneath – it’s very bitter.

Zest is often thought of as a dessert ingredient. But it is good in lots of vegetable and chicken recipes, too.

For instance, here’s a tasty summer squash recipe that calls for lemon zest.

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My favorite recipe of all time

From Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less


51. Put a stick of butter and a handful of pine nuts in a skillet. Cook over medium heat until both are brown. Toss with cooked pasta, grated Parmesan and black pepper.



Don’t believe me? Try it. Oh, and I only use half a stick of butter for three of us. The fresh Parmesan and cracked pepper are not optional. Somehow it all comes together perfectly.

Why I love this recipe

Its haiku-like simplicity. I’ve threatened to decorate my kitchen by painting the recipe on the wall.

It times itself beautifully. The butter and pine nuts brown at the just same time – about ten minutes. And that’s if you just take the butter out of the fridge and literally throw it on to the skillet with the pine nuts. But make sure to keep tossing the pine nuts during the ten minutes so they brown evenly.

Ten minutes, you say? Why, that’s how long it takes to cook up a mess of spaghetti! So you boil the water for pasta, put the pasta in, set the timer for ten minutes, put the butter and the pine nuts in the skillet. That way the pasta comes out just before the pine nuts are ready.

It’s got butter and pasta, for Pete’s sake! So maybe you can’t eat it everyday unless you’re training for London in 2012. But if you’re eating good vegetables from your CSA all week, why not splurge? We also eat less meat now that we eat more vegetables. I intend to make up for that with butter and pasta.

So, what’s your favorite recipe of all time?

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I love tabouli! It’s a good healthy appetizer for entertaining. Or you can just eat it with a spoon out of a bowl if you’re me.

Here’s my recipe. Note that it doesn’t use cucumbers or tomatoes because I don’t like them. I also go light on the bulgar wheat compared to most recipes.

Soaking the bulgar takes an extra 30 minutes or so up front. But that’s okay because it will take you a while to chop all that parsley.

1/2 cup bulgar wheat
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
1 clove of minced garlic (optional)
onion (2 or 3 green onions if you have them. Otherwise, mince half a small onion.)
Add diced tomatoes and cucumbers here, if you must.

For the dressing:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (2 to 3 lemons)
1/2 cup olive oil (add more to taste)
1 tbsp pepper
salt to taste

Soak bulgar in 1/2 cup of very hot water for 30 minutes. Drain the excess water and squeeze dry.

Combine bulgar, parsley, garlic, and onion in a medium bowl.

Mix dressing ingredients together. Taste the dressing and add more stuff if necessary. Stir into parsley mix. If it tastes overdressed that’s probably okay. In the fridge it will meld more and some of the dressing will sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Chill and serve with pita.

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Making pesto

Pesto is yummy and very useful. It freezes beautifully. Somebody you know probably has too much basil come late summer/early fall. Relieve them of it (well before the first frost) and then invite them over for a pasta dinner this winter.

Try this recipe from from Simply Recipes.

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 cup.

Freezing pesto

If you’re freezing pesto, make sure to freeze it in small containers so you can get to just what you need. Some people freeze pesto in ice cube trays and then store the cubes in freezer bags. Then you just need a cube per serving. I’ve defrosted pesto overnight in the fridge and in an hour or so on the counter.  Both ways worked fine.

Using pesto

Add to freshly cooked pasta.

Toast on good bread.

Try it on pita crisps.

Add chicken. Here’s an interesting pesto recipe that I haven’t tried yet. You smear chicken breasts with pesto and then bake them until the chicken’s cooked. Sounds good.

From the New York Times picnic recipes…
“Cook peeled shrimp; little ones are best. Toss with pesto: lots. Put on small rolls. (In fact: cook anything; toss with pesto: lots. Put on small rolls.)”

Other pestos

Pesto doesn’t have to be basil. Play around with other herbs you like. I’ve heard of people doing it with cilantro (which I’m not terribly fond of). I bet it’s good for chicken dishes. Parsley would probably work, too. (Unfortunately, parsley in my house inevitably winds up as tabouli.)

Anybody have ideas for other pestos?

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