Friday, December 16, 2011

I have finally perfected eggplant parmesan!

Eggplant parm is a staple for me, and has been for about the last two years. One day I was at my mom's house and we needed something to fix for dinner but there wasn't a lot of food in the house. She did happen to have an eggplant though, and some shredded mozzarella, so we decided to try eggplant parmesan even though neither of us had ever had it before (I have no clue why she even had the eggplant). I ended up really liking it and have been making it ever since. I didn't do much differently this time, but for some reason it just all came together in the most perfect way.

When I make this I cut the eggplant into rounds and bake it, instead of breading and frying it. This has two upsides: it is MUCH easier and cleaner, and it's healthier. No gluten from the breading, no worrying about oxidized frying oil. I'm sure I originally did it this way to make it lower in fat, and while that isn't really my focus anymore, baking the eggplant is still a good idea. This recipe takes a little time, but it is super easy.

Eggplant Parmesan:
1 large eggplant
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 C shredded mozzarella
2TBS shredded parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced
1 TBS each chopped thyme and chopped oregano
Olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

First preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Then slice the eggplant into rounds. Use a sharp knife for this, it makes a world of difference. I think one of the keys to really good eggplant parm is uniformly thin eggplant slices. Lay the slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle both sides with olive oil and season both sides with salt and pepper. This is basically the same way I cooked the eggplant when making enchiladas.

While the eggplant is baking make the sauce. Saute the garlic in some olive oil over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes (to taste) and let that hang out for a minute or two. Next dump the tomatoes into the pot, season with salt, pepper, and herbs, and turn it down to medium low to simmer while the eggplant is cooking. This is basically the same simple sauce I used for my sausage meatballs.

After about 20 minutes in the oven the eggplant should be done. It should look nice and brown before you take it out. The next step is to assemble everything in a casserole dish. I prefer to use a smaller one so I can get more layers in.

First put a thin coating of sauce on the bottom so nothing sticks, then add a layer of the eggplant rounds. Put more sauce on top of the eggplant, followed with a layer of mozzarella. The key to this is to make thin layers, if you put too much sauce or mozzarella the whole thing will come out too watery. Add another layer of eggplant, then sauce, then mozzarella until you run out of eggplant. Add the parmesan to the last layer of mozzarella. Put the whole thing back in the 400 degree oven, uncovered for about 45 minutes. Do not take it out before all the cheese on top is dark brown and bubbly. You could eat it earlier, but trust me, the crust is worth the wait. Also, the longer baking time makes the eggplant skin more tender. It can be really bitter and tough to cut, but if you cook it long enough it is soft and delicious. Here is what mine looked like:

Next, slice and serve! I cut this one into 6 squares. My husband and I both ate two squares for dinner and I had the leftover two for lunch the next day. This is really, really good leftover.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mediterranean Salad

I haven't been cooking anything very exciting lately since I've been pretty busy, but I had some friends over for brunch last weekend and I thought I'd share this salad I concocted for the occasion. It isn't terribly seasonal, but it is delicious, and *gasp* vegetarian. I thought I might never post any vegetarian recipes on this blog, but I guess the time has come. 

Overall, this is ridiculously simple. I had some bocconcini in my fridge and wasn't sure what to do with them, but my first thought was Caprese salad. That didn't seem all that interesting so I added whatever other Mediterranean ingredients I could think of to get a wider range of flavors and textures. Over all I used 

3 cups of bocconicini, halved
2 pints of cherry tomatoes, halved (I used about one pint red and one pint heirloom variety)
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 can of artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and halved
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, halved

I dressed the salad with the juice of two lemons mixed with about 1/2 cup of olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne, and about 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped basil. 

This salad is great leftover. After serving it for brunch on Saturday my husband and I ate it as a side with steak that night, and I've had it for lunch today and yesterday. For lunches I served it over some baby spinach, as pictured above.

I've never been crazy about olives, but I'm glad I put them in here. They add a nice salty kick and I think they are something I could definitely learn to like in small doses. Hopefully I can get back into the swing of cooking for a little while, but I don't know how hopeful to be. We are going on vacation in less than two weeks and for some reason travel always sucks away my ambition. We will see. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Garden Update!

I am new to gardening, and when I started out about six weeks ago I had no clue whether or not I'd be able to grow anything, especially since I decided I wanted to start pretty much at the end of the growing season.

Well, it turns out that I'm doing ok! I've been able to keep almost everything alive. Nothing is growing like crazy, but like I said, it's alive. I'm counting that as a success for now.

So far the most problematic thing has been basil. I just can't seem it keep any alive. I tried in the pot out on the balcony, and in my kitchen window because I thought it might be too cold outside. I don't know if it's the temperature, or the sunlight level, or what but it just shrivels up and dies. Maybe I'll have better luck in the spring. Also I think that my husband's aunt may have bought us an AeroGarden for Christmas, so I'll keep my fingers crossed for that.

My biggest success has been the garlic. I had a bulb that I guess I had been holding on to a little too long and the cloves had begun to sprout. Instead of throwing it away I decided to stick it in the dirt and see if anything happened. I really wanted this to work because we eat a LOT of garlic, and because buying garlic from seed suppliers is really expensive. Well, it did work! All the cloves sprouted and now have really tall leaves. I'm so excited!

Anyway, here are some photos:

First is my cilantro and parsley. They have grown a bit, but don't produce as much as I'd like to eat. The basil was in the middle but I took it out. The little green shoot there is garlic.
sorry for the sideways picture
Next is the pot with rosemary, oregano, and thyme. The oregano and thyme are doing great. I really wish the rosemary would grow more quickly. I've almost just gone to get a bigger plant a couple of times now. In front of the rosemary is a bunch or garlic that is just going crazy.

The last pot has kale and lettuce. Neither of them has really done much, I think the container might be too small. I'm thinking about moving them into something bigger.

The compost is still going. I filled the bucket up a bit quickly, so I'm waiting for it to break down more before I add more scraps. So far it doesn't smell bad or anything.

My next move is to get some holders for these boxes so I can put them on the railing. I also want to buy or make some larger containers and start to prepare for spring planing. I should probably start thinking about ordering seeds as well. I'm excited and overwhelmed all at the same time. This tiny garden has been easy, but I don't want to fail when I try something bigger or more involved. I guess I still have a few months to figure it all out.