Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stuffed Eggplant

This weekend, I went out in search of a new Farmer’s Market near me. There’s a really big one up in Birmingham – Pepper Place – but that’s a bit far for me to do more than once or twice. Sure, it’s half food festival, half fun-zone – but there’s NO parking. And you have to be there by 8 or you’ll never get close enough to want to walk. And I don’t do pre-8 AM on Saturdays so well.

So Saturday morning found me driving down to Columbiana in the pouring rain to the quaintest little farmer’s market I ever did see. There were more people playing stringed instruments than there were farmers selling their produce. And if it hadn’t been rainy and gusting my hair all over the place, I probably would’ve stayed to enjoy the two guitars and one banjo that held center stage. And by center stage, I mean corner of the shed.

The important thing, though, is that I found some cute little eggplants. And some mouth-watering apples. Along with a big juicy red bell pepper and a some sweet tomatoes. But what to do with the adorable little squashes?
Sunday night, I sliced them kind of thick, breaded them, popped them in the oven and then served them with a little red sauce. The Professor swears that the only way he’ll eat eggplant is if it’s sliced thin with a lot of breading and then fried in gallons of oil. Which makes my aorta scream in agony just thinking about it, but that also means he wasn’t a fan of my baked eggplant. So for tonight, I had to get creative.
How about some stuffed Eggplant?

1 small eggplant
4 tsp olive oil, divided
½ white onion, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
Sliced mushrooms – as many as you can stand.
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
½ tsp garlic powder
Handful of Basil leaves, chopped

Slice the eggplant in half, lengthwise, and put on a cooking sheet with the cut side facing up. Drizzle 1 tsp olive oil over each half and stick it in a 350 degree oven for about 30-35 minutes, until it’s soft. Scoop the flesh out of the skin and into a bowl.
Sauté the onion, peppers and mushrooms in the remaining olive oil for about 4 minutes, until the onions and peppers are just crisp-tender. Dump all that in the bowl with the eggplant. Pour in the bread crumbs, garlic powder and basil leaves and mix into one big yummy looking mess.
Now, here’s the fun part: if you were careful when you took the eggplant out of its skin, you can spoon the filling back into them and pop them in a shallow baking dish. If you weren’t careful, just put the filling in whatever size baking dish will hold it. On a whim, sprinkle some more bread crumbs on top to get some crispy action going on.
Pop your dish in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, so it can get hot all the way through.
I wish I had some good parmesan-type cheese to grate over the top of this. But I didn’t, so I had a glass of wine instead. It’s all about the compromises, people.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Cantaloupe Preserves

I found this recipe on 18th Century Cuisine, and was immediately intrigued. I LOVE cantaloupe. And I love preserves. So I had to try it.
I mentioned it to a few people (the ones that let me experiment on them). The Professor was more than a little dubious when I told him what I had planned for the cantaloupe. But as with most things I do in the kitchen, he's learned to keep his mouth (mostly) shut until it's time to shovel in whatever I've created lately. The Best Friend laughed uproariously at me. She still has a tendency to snort a little whenever the word "cantaloupe" is mentioned. I forgive her because I have to.

I didn't have four pounds of cantaloupe, though - only half of a leftover one that was ripe enough that I probably could have reduced it to a puddle of syrup with a really strong breath. Realizing the hygienic complications of that method, I decided to use my potato masher to make a kind of cantaloupe-pulp that was nice and liquidy. I added about a cup of sugar and transferred this to a saucepan and stirred it for about 30 seconds so the sugar would start dissolving. I added a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, and then turned the heat on medium low, stirring constantly, but slowly. When it was just starting to simmer, I turned the heat on low and let it kind of half-simmer for about thirty minutes, stirring it every now and then. The recipe above says it'll turn clear - and it really does change in transparency, although clear might be pushing the exaggeration a bit far. After thirty minutes or so, I poured the mess into a couple of small glass jars and stuck it in the fridge. The next morning, I took it out and smeared it on some whole-grain bread. And a new breakfast was born.

The Professor's Quote: "Well, it tastes like preserves. Very sweet preserves."

(I gave a sample to a friend of mine, and he told me one of his favorite ways to use it - and he tried it on just about anything that came his way - was to dip some cold shrimp in it. I'm not sure how his mind made the jump from preserves to shrimp, but we won't ask that question today.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I Hate Mayo

I have always hated mayo. To be truthful, I'm not big on condiments in general. Ketchup, mustard, mayo, miracle whip, steak sauce, vinegar, salad dressings in general...I hate them all. I eat everything plain and dry.

And then, a few years ago, I found Kraft Parmesan Romano salad dressing. It's part of their Special Collections line. And suddenly, I was accepted as a "real" salad eater, because I would eat lettuce with a wet topping.

About a year ago, I got to thinking. About half of Salad dressings are based on mayonaisse. And that's a main ingredient in pasta salads, tuna salads, chicken salads...you get the idea. I love all the ingredients in these salads except for the mayo. What if I substituted that Parmesan Romano salad dressing for mayo? And a love affair was born.

Sunday nights usually find me cooking up a big pot of something that can be used as leftovers for at least the first half of the week's lunches at work. Tonight, it's a chicken pasta salad, from various things I found around my kitchen and threw into a bowl. This makes a HUGE bowl of pasta salad. And I love it so much that I'll be lucky if there's any left by lunchtime on Tuesday.

Absolutely No Mayo Whatsoever Pasta Salad

16 oz Rigatoni, cooked
2 Chicken breasts, cooked and cubed (they were seasoned with red pepper flakes, garlic powder and a seven pepper blend)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 can black olives, sliced
7 oz (two little bags) baby carrots, chopped
8 oz mozzerella cheese, cubed
Enough Parmesan Romano salad dressing to make it tasty
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp celery salt
a few basil leaves, chopped up

The directions are simple: Cook the pasta and the chicken. Cut the chicken and veggies into pieces you're comfortable with. Mix it all together into a big bowl. Devour.

Rye Bread

I made rye bread for the first time two weeks ago this year. I bought some rye flour a while ago and never used it, and finally I decided it was time. And the Professor fell in love. We usually have a 12 grain loaf in the kitchen for him to munch on, but he's decided I should bake rye bread at least once a week.

The recipe I used here is different than the one from that first batch. It has a LOT more molasses in it for one thing; it also has twice as much rye flour and uses bread flour instead of all-purpose. I think the molasses is the reason it's so heavy and dense - I was expecting the bread flour to make it lighter, if anything. The Professor loves it, though, so I guess that's what really counts.

I did everything with a bowl and a wooden spoon, but a mixer would be a big help - this dough gets thick. And I just realized I forgot to put in carraway seeds like I planned. Ah, well. Guess I'll have to make a few more loaves, eh?

Rye Bread

  • 4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 1/4 cups rye flour
  • At least 3 cups bread flour
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water small bowl for five minutes or until foamy.
  2. In a large bowl combine milk, sugar, and salt. Add molasses, butter, yeast mixture, and 1 cup of rye flour and mix thoroughly.
  3. Mix in the remaining rye flour. Add white flour by stirring until the dough is stiff enough to knead.
  4. Knead 5 to 10 minutes, adding flour if it's needed. If the dough sticks to your hands, the counter or whatever you're kneading on add more flour (I just do it in my bowl so there's less flour to clean up).
  5. Cover dough and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until double (It was extremely warm and humid today, so it was right at an hour for me).
  6. Punch down the dough and form loaves in your favorite shape. Let the loaves rise on a greased baking sheet until they double (about 1 hour).
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.