Monday, August 24, 2009

Stuffed eggplant with butter-toasted breadcrumbs

We saw Julie & Julia this weekend. It was fantastic. I found myself relating to the Julie character on so many levels-- being young and married and completely without direction, loving food and cooking with an intensity that not many people understand, watching friends move onward and upward in their careers while you dog behind... savoring life more, I tell myself. But really? I'm just happy I get to spend more time in my kitchen. I'd take my kitchen over a career any day of the week.

Anyway, where am I going? Oh right, the food. That delicious though collapsed-looking stuffed eggplant above. As I spooned the butter-and-garlic-toasted-breadcrumbs over the eggplants before sliding them into the oven, I thought of the scene in the movie (and apologies, because I know I'm botching this): "Whenever something tastes incredibly delicious, the secret is always butter."

That is the wisest line of the whole movie.

And here's the recipe.

Imam Bayildi (literally, "The Emperor Fainted," how cool is that?)

2 medium eggplants, halved

3 cups chopped onions
3 tbsp olive oil
4 or 5 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup chopped fresh basil

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

First, halve both eggplants lengthwise. Score the flesh in a crosswise pattern, sprinkle with salt, and let them rest facedown in a colander for half an hour. This lets the bitter eggplant juices drain out.

Meanwhile, you can start on the filling. Warm the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and melty-looking. Add the tomatoes and herbs, cook five minutes longer, and remove from the heat.

Now take your salted eggplants and squeeze them out. Rinse them once, and squeeze again. Pull all the "guts" out of the eggplants, leaving a 1/2" wall around the perimeter. Add the guts to the filling mixture.

Preheat your oven to 350, and oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Set the eggplants, cavity-side up in the pan. Add about 1/2 a cup of water to the bottom.

Toast your breadcrumbs: warm the oil and butter in a small frying pan. Add the garlic and crumbs and cook, stirring and mashing with a spoon, until the mixture is evenly blended and the crumbs are golden brown. They will also, incidentally, smell incredible.

Take a couple healthy scoops of filling mixture and stuff it into the first unsuspecting eggplant half. Repeat for the following eggplants. Heap the filling up a little-- you might end up with some leftover filling. Don't worry, you'll find something to do with it. Top the eggplants with breadcrumbs. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, and slide it into the oven for an hour. Remove the foil, and let it bake an additional 20 minutes.

Serve, with a side of bulghur, quinoa, or brown rice.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Telltale signs

Big pots on the stove. Sharp knives abundant on flat surfaces. Red ooze on the countertop (and the floor, and the cabinets, and the walls...). It's tomato season. When I spied those first ranks of tomato-boxes at Frog Pond on Tuesday, I knew it had come. I spent Wednesday night flinging seedy pulp into my biggest of big pots, making a colassal batch of tomato soup (which disappointingly tasted like Spaghetti O's). Last night was a girls-night canning soiree with Colleen, in which we canned rather a lot of pizza sauce.

Yes. Tomato season. We have waited so long. You are messy, and fleetingly brief, but joyous. We're glad you're here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer pizza

Unlike some places, Binghamton, NY is not a town known for its pizza. Spiedies, yes. Pierogies, yes. Those are much-celebrated regional specialties. There are festivals in their honor, okay? Big deal. But pizza, not so much.

There's two ways to react to this truth. One: mourn. Kvetch, gripe, complain, pull your hair and gnash your teeth and order Pizza Hut for your monthly fix.

Two: learn how to make your own damn pizza.

As someone mildly obsessed with self-sufficiency, I chose the latter. Over the course of two years, pizza has become a regular, twice-monthly event in our house. We've picked up a few tricks. The pizza is good. Not pizzeria-good, but still. Good. Here's our tricks.

1. If you're making dough, why not make dough enough for an army? If you're getting your mixing bowl all sticky with flour (or firing up your bread machine), make a double or even quadruple batch. Divide the finished dough into pie-sized pieces, form each piece into a ball, bag each one separately, and freeze. On the morning of pizza night, move one dough-ball from the freezer to the fridge. By dinner time it will be thawed and ready to rise.

2. After ten minutes in the oven, slide the pizza off its pan and directly onto the oven rack. This is critical. This makes the crust crunchy and delicious.

3. Tomato sauce and mozzarella is but the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, we put arugala on our pizza. Sometimes, figs. Feta made an appearance last night, and pepper jack has been known to do the job as well. Almost anything tastes better atop a pizza crust.

The Recipe (makes enough for two generously-sized pies)

1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tsp yeast
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour

Mix the yeast and water together in a large bowl. Add the salt and oil and mix well. Combine the flours in a separate bowl, and add to the liquid ingredients. Stir and knead until the ingredients are well combined and can comfortably be called dough. Brush the top of the dough with oil (a Misto works well), and cover with a damp towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Divide the dough in half. Each half makes a pie. Form each piece into a pizza shape by gentle stretching, using a rolling pin, or throwing it over your head and singing Amore. Generously oil a cookie sheet or pizza pan, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Lay the dough onto the pan, and pile on toppings. Last night, we paved our pizza with sliced fresh tomatoes, sprinkled it with crumbled feta, salt and pepper, and topped it with a lightly dressed arugala salad after it came out of the oven.

Adjust one of your oven racks to the lowest height, so it's as close to the bottom as possible. Slide in your pizza. Let it cook 10 minutes, until the dough starts to look like crust, but before it gets brown around the edges. Using a large spatula, slide in under the pie and lift it very carefully. Slide the cookie sheet out, and place the pie right on the oven rack. Note: If the pizza refuses to lift off in one solid disk, don't push it! Let it cook another five minutes and try again.

Once you've transferred the pizza to the rack, cook it a scant five minutes, (or until it looks done-- everyone knows what a done pizza looks like) slide it out of the oven, slice, and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Back in the groove

You know that feeling, the feeling of getting back to something without realizing you'd been missing it terribly? That was me, this morning, sitting in the rocking chair and watching the birds, (at work! I love my job) stitching away. I don't think anyone's ever called darning socks an enjoyable pastime, (and honestly, I've never actually darned a sock) but I'm going to step right up and do it. Hand sewing, with pretty thread and a sharp needle, feels amazing.

I'll allow that maybe it doesn't feel amazing to everyone. But really, if you've never tried it, you should. It's one of the sweetest forms of therapy I know. Sitting there, part of my mind fully present in each little stitch, my hands working their capable magic on two pieces of fabric which are being united by simple thread... while the other part of my mind is free to drift into or out of self-consciousness as it pleases. I can let my thoughts turn to whatever I want-- get as deep inside myself and my place as I choose, or think about a recent quote/movie/song I encountered, and start to hum.

At any rate, it had been a long time since I sewed anything by hand. As in, maybe not since last Christmas. Early this morning, I had a reminder to keep making space for it in my life. The cooking, the canning, the hikes and drives and trips to the grocery store have their place. But I need to remember to push back the thickets of obligation and make time for holding that needle.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Roasted Gazpacho

Who ever would've thought that tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions in a blender with oil and vinegar would taste so good? It's pure magic. On Saturday night, I made fancied-up gazpacho, roasting the tomatoes, peppers, and onions before taking them for a whirl. Here's the recipe I used.

Roasted Gazpacho

3 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored
1 red bell pepper, halved and seeded
1 small red onion, quartered
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp minced fresh marjoram
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

For garnish:
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
3 slices Italian bread, toasted until crispy and cut into cubes
2 scallions, sliced or cut into strips

First, set your broiler on low. Arrange the tomatoes, pepper, and onion on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with a little olive oil. Slide them under the broiler (as close as you can get them) and walk away for awhile. Mine took about half an hour to get all nicely charred on top, but yours may take less or more time, depending on your broiler.

At any rate, once everything is suitably bubbled and blackened, dump it into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it to cool on the countertop. The plastic wrap will trap the steam, making the vegetables easier to peel. Which is, incidentally, the next step.

Remove the peel and discard. Transfer the broiled vegetables to your blender, along with any pan juices, and half the cucumber. Blend until thoroughly smooth. Pour the puree into a large bowl, and stir in the remaining seasonings: paprika, cumin, marjoram, oil, vinegar, salt.

Chill for at least two hours. Taste it, and adjust the seasonings. My rule of thumb: when in doubt, add more vinegar. In my mind, gazpacho is best when it tastes just slightly less acidic than salad dressing. Salt is a good one to add, too.

Ladle the gazpacho into bowls, and garnish with a pinch of scallions, a spoonful of diced cucumber, and a few bread cubes.

Serves eight to ten as a starter, six as an entree.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Midsummer night's meal

Oh, do I have a penchant for working under pressure. I'm not the type who can let a free summer weekend go without contriving some event to fit inside it. What I mean is, on the rare weekends where we have no plans, I invent plans. I am gifted with conjuring, in no time at all, the exact mileage estimates to a nearby water park (and the picnic lunch we'll eat in the state park en route), the perfect new color to be applied to closet walls, and the five-course menu for a lavish midsummer meal. Something in me rallies against unstructured time. I just can't face it, even after jaunting halfway across the state for a concert where gauzy skeins of potsmoke obscured both the stage and the massive crowds.

We arrived home early Friday afternoon, and I got right to work.

The Menu

Peach salsa with Garden of Eatin' Sesame Blues corn chips
Roasted Tomato-Pepper Gazpacho (recipe to be posted tomorrow!)
And the meal? Well, it was good. It was good, but strangely, I felt I hadn't worked hard enough for it. I felt like I didn't deserve the accolades, or the title of "hostess with the mostess." Turns out, I only really feel entitled to praise when I'm sporting microplane-shredded knuckles, a sauce-splattered countenance, and an aching, aching back. I felt like I didn't work hard enough!What is wrong with me? What new and undiscovered strain of crazy have I found?

I'll leave Patrick to solve that riddle.

In the meantime, I'll pause and be thankful for bread machines and freezers, cold soups and the oscillating fan that made standing by the stove much more bearable on a ninety-degree day. And above all, thanks to my family of foodies, both sets of parents who really know how to appreciate a meal.

And for Sunday mornings, and cool creek waters and leafy trees.

Photo by Patrick. He's good, isn't he?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A few days... To go here.

Be back Monday. :)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy stacks

There's nothing to say here. This one is a complete, instinctual, no-brainer of a recipe. Easy, fast, and good for summertime. I can recommend a light, crunchy salad of some sort and warm bread on the side, but aside from that, I'll leave you to the recipe.

Tomato-Eggplant-Fresh Mozzarella Napoleans

1 smallish (but not baby) eggplant, sliced into rounds
1-2 biggish beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes, sliced into rounds
a big log of fresh mozz, sliced into rounds
chopped fresh basil
roasted red peppers
freshly ground black pepper
balsamic vinegar

First, begin heating a large frying pan over medium heat. Spray or drizzle it with a little olive oil. Lay eggplant slices down-- however many will fit-- and cook about five minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Transfer to plate. Once all the eggplant slices are cooked on both sides, you're ready for assembly. See? That was easy.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. You can stack your ingredients in whatever order you choose. Mine went something like this:

Fresh mozz
Black pepper
Roasted red pepper
A pinch of basil
Fresh mozz

I'm pretty sure it's impossible to botch this. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the cheese starts to melt a little (but before it creates an oozy ocean in the pan). If you want, you could experiment with broiling the stacks for a minute or two, to brown the tops. Optional.

Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and serve.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A sweet life


I'm Ida, the Frog Pond Goat, or FPG if you'd prefer. It's pretty nice here. Sometimes there's lots of people, and sometimes, like early on Friday mornings, there's just one girl with her camera. I don't mind too much, though. At least she's not interrupting my breakfast.

It's a pretty sweet life. I hang out, here, in my pen. If I feel like it, I'll put my feet on the fence and look out, and let people scratch my bristly goat neck. There's sunshine, and birds to watch, and sometimes a train will go by.

But the best part is the eating.

Leftovers. Mmmm.

Happy Friday!

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