Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eggplant Experiment #1 - Eggplant Parmesan

I've had eggplant only a few times in my life.  I think the last time I had eggplant, it was at one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in downtown Orlando.  Unfortunately, the dish was not well prepared and I got a fried eggplant sandwich that was way too greasy and soaked with oil.  Yuck.  It must have been an off day for the chef.  I never ordered it again.

Having only recently researched this glorious ingredient, I've learned how important it is to not use too much oil with eggplant as it acts like a sponge and will absorb almost all of it.  So, use oil sparingly when dealing with eggplant!  Though I really wanted the sandwich I described yesterday, I ended up deciding I'd first go with something I thought I could connive my kids into eating.  I figured I couldn't go wrong with Cooking Light's version of Eggplant Parmesan.  You can find the full recipe here.

I was very pleased with the result!  The fresh garden basil really made this dish shine.  I didn't have sliced mozzarella (just the usual bagged and shredded stuff) but it still turned out fantastic.  I told the kids the dish was a kind of lasagna and they totally ate it up (though my daughter was somewhat skeptical of the green bits, i.e. basil).  I think this recipe just may be a seasonal staple in our house.
I first dredged the sliced eggplant in an egg mixture, coated it with seasoned panko crumbs,
and then baked it until golden brown.

Then, I layered the eggplant in a pan with sauce, a ricotta mixture including fresh garlic and basil, and mozzarella cheese.

I then repeated the layers and baked as directed per the recipe.  VOILA, the end result!

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Garden Club

Sorry for the lack of a post last week.  I have no real excuse, it just didn't happen.  :)

In Season Now: Carrots, Parsnips, Tomatoes, Peppers & Eggplant

I do have garden news to report.  The eggplants are finally in!!  I think this will likely be the last exciting bit of news for the year as we wind down the garden.  We "pulled the plug" on the broccoli under the house because I just don't have the energy to deal with prepping and planting beds right now.  As it is, I'm figuring next year we will have our hands a little too full to grow our tomato, eggplant and peppers from seed, let alone expand the garden as we had initially planned earlier this year.  We'll see what we can manage to fit in.  It will likely be more modest next year.

I thought the eggplant were going to get bigger so I left a couple of them on the vine and the few larger fruit I left on the plant rotted.  It seems like the size above (about 5"x4") is about the maximum size for this variety in my garden. I had a lot of picking to do this weekend and I'm not entirely sure what to do with all of them.  I found a delicious-sounding, eggplant parmesan recipe that I think I might try today for the eggplant in this month's issue of Cooking Light. 

Then again, a local restaurant I just love, Revolutionary Soup, posted this on their Facebook Page:

"We slice the Eggplant thick, batter it in local Eggs and Flour and then it is fried in really good olive oil. While crispy it is put on a roll and dressed with Basil and Red Pepper pestos, spread thickly with Chevre and then the entire sandwich is pressed on the griddle until the bread becomes nice and crunchy. Almost ...entirely local, this sandwich is healthy, tasty and refreshing. Eat seasonal veggies while you can."

Sounds serendipitous to me.  Maybe I should try my hand at that one first?  Does anyone have any tried-and-true eggplant recipes they'd like to share?  I'm sort of swimming in them.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lazy Cook's Cobbler

So the other weekend I was at my mother-in-law's and I got the most amazingly simple recipe to pass along to you.  It's so easy and yet so delicious.  I've nicknamed it Lazy Cook's Cobbler.  It's one of those recipes that makes you think, "What world was I living in before this pie?" (obviously, a very deprived one.)  Most of you probably already have something like this in your repertoire somewhere but this is for the folks like myself who did not!

The recipe is a whopping 5 ingredients and you can use canned fruit or frozen berries that have been already prepared or whatever is fresh and in season.  When you make it people will not realize just how easy this was for you to whip up!  My husband calls this quickie pie a slice of childhood nostalgia because his mom made it often.

Of course, since discovering this recipe, I've seen versions of it everywhere on the internet (including a more complicated version by Ms. Paula Deen) however my mother-in-law's recipe is the simplest I've seen and is a must have for anyone who just doesn't have the energy or time for a lot of fuss (including tired pregnant ladies like myself).

Lazy Cook's Peach Cobbler (using double the fruit)

For G-ma L's Fruit Cobbler (Quickie Pie)
you'll need:

1 pint of fruit* (I like to double the amount of fruit in my version as pictured above, turns out great!)
1 cup sugar
1 stick of butter or margarine
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup self rising flour** (if you don't have self rising flour see footnote below)

Melt the margarine in the microwave.  In a medium bowl, mix the flour, milk and sugar together.  Then add the melted butter.  Don't worry if the mixture is lumpy.  Pour the mixture into a 8x8 dish.  Arrange the fruit on top.  Bake until the batter turns golden brown, approximately 45 to 60 minutes at 350. Serve warm or at room temperature.

It takes literally 2 minutes of prep time.  I suggest you serve it with a heaping dollop of ice cream.  Enjoy!

*If using canned fruit, do not discard the juice.  After arranging the fruit in the pan, pour the juice overtop the pie.  It creates a nice simple fruit syrup that distributes evenly through the pie.  However, if doubling the amount of fruit (i.e. using two cans of fruit) I'd recommend only using the juice from one can.
**To convert regular flour to all-purpose flour, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to one cup of flour. You'll only need 3/4 cups for this recipe.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Monday Garden Update

First, I would just like to thank my awesome husband for clearing out the weeds from the asparagus patch yesterday.  This pregnancy has reduced my heat tolerance considerably and it has been so hard to just watch my asparagus patch get covered and smothered by weeds. It took him half a day in the heat and I'm so grateful, you just have no idea.  While he weeded, I opted to complete a less physically demanding but no less menial task of cleaning and purging my daughter's closet.  The asparagus look so much better and so does my daughter's closet!!!  It's a huge mental boost to have these big tasks completed.
With a slight rebound in energy (though still no complete relief from nausea), I've been cooking again.  Today I made 3 batches of basil pesto using this recipe.  The basil plants are continuing to thrive and we have been way overdue in harvesting it.  I had cut this one basil plant back considerably and all of it came back already and then some!!
The basil pesto was delicious but it was a little bit of a pain to make because apparently the basil I chose to grow is a small leaf variety and I had to de-stem a lot to get the two cups required for each batch.... imagine a million itty bitty leaves.  I prepared one batch for tonight's dinner with parm cheese and froze the remaining two without the cheese as I was instructed by Feet
I tossed in some cooked chicken breast and tomatoes.
The best part?  There is enough left over for tomorrow night too!

Speaking of cooking, there should be some sort of disclaimer on the Food Network mentioning that is hazardous for women to watch while pregnant.  Comfort foods are the only thing really appealing to me these days and when I saw Bobby Flay prepare a batch of Parker House Rolls (though I've never made anything like this) I decided I just had to have them and the next thing I know I'm making them for dinner (they took over 3 hours to prepare).  These things were delicious but lethal!!!

Back to the garden, I'm still waiting on my eggplant to grow to maturity.  I'm hopeful a few fruits will be ready soon though.  Every plant has quite a few fruits so lets cross our fingers.  Though I will mention that according to my brother-in-law eggplant have little-to-no nutritional value.  Thanks, S.  Way to kill my garden buzz. :)  My own research seems to support this claim.  As I was planning to use it as more of a pasta/carb replacement like this recipe here the lack of nutritional value doesn't bother me too bad but it is a bummer.

I had a few garden surprises this weekend.  Remember those brussel sprouts that never came up?  Well, a few popped up albeit not where I planted them!  They turned up "downstream" amongst the salad greens.  I guess all of the seeds washed away but a couple managed to take hold.

Another surprise is the tomato plant that popped up amongst my wildflower garden at the back of the house.  It has quite a few glorious grape tomatoes that I took advantage of today and hope to continue to enjoy for the rest of the season.  The plant hasn't been staked or watered or anything and it is thriving, all sprawled about amongst the wild flowers.  I'm excited because the early grape tomato I planted in the garden is already starting to die back a bit so it's good to have the backup for a nice late season crop too!

While taking a picture of my grape tomato surprise plants I couldn't help but notice this butterfly on one of the wildflowers.

Though most of the summer squash plants are nearing the end of their life cycle, the winter squash is still thriving which is great considering how gross summer squash seems to me right now.  :)

  Winter squash and some peppers

That's all this week, let's hope I'm as productive in the next installment!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Garden Update

I'm feeling a tinsy bit better these days though evenings are still pretty rough and that has meant that I've been able to spend a little more time doing the things I love again, i.e. cooking and some very modest gardening.  This week, it's all about the tomatoes!  Though I only planted 3 tomato plants this year, they've been very productive so I've been working on preserving the harvest for winter.  That means more roasted tomato soup.

Roasted Tomatoes

Soup loaded up with fresh, sweet basil

I can only use so much tomato soup so I also looked into making my own tomato/pasta/pizza sauce from scratch.  Turns out it's a huge pain in the arse involving 15 pounds of tomatoes for just a quart of sauce.  Then there is the blanching and seeding.  That's some crazy work for sauce that costs next to nothing at the store.  (You can check out how to make your own here.)

That didn't stop me though.  I ordered a vegetable strainer attachment for my kitchen aid mixer on Amazon so I could skip all the painful steps of blanching and seeding.  It was surprisingly easy and fast though it did require an amazing amount of tomatoes and involved a long cooking process to get it reduced to the desired thickness I wanted.

The Juicing and Straining Process

I'm very happy with the results.  I ended up deciding to make this batch of tomato sauce (all of one quart) into Pizza Sauce.  I can't wait to use it later this week so we can have some homemade pizza truly from scratch!  Next year I'm definitely going to have to plant more.