Saturday, January 22, 2011

"are you lost?"

the food: eggplant parmesan
the song: "Preparedness" The Bird & The Bee

How important are recipes in cooking? Personally, I've always liked having a set of directions to follow and have relied heavily on recipes for the majority of time I've been cooking. Lately, though, I've found myself "winging it" more often than not. One of my unspoken goals for this year, actually, is to trust my food instincts and become a more intuitive cook

There are some recipes that I've made so many times I know them by heart. I'm pretty proud to have a really good eggplant parmesan under my belt. The idea is for a lighter eggplant frying is required. That is an extremely good thing since my attempts at frying up to this point have consisted of lots of fearful yelping about hot oil, then greasy results because of said fear. But I'm fine with being a bad fry cook. If I was good at it, I might would most certainly fry things all the time.

My stepmom first sent me this recipe a few years back when I was just getting started in my own kitchen (thanks, Linda!). I have followed this recipe step by step so many times that I can now do it almost blindfolded. The thing I really love about this eggplant parmesan is that it has grown with me as a cook. You can make it as simple or fancy as you like, depending on the occasion and time you have available. 

The original recipe calls for jarred tomato sauce, but these days I usually whip up my own marinara while the eggplant slices are baking. Similarly, you can build upon the basic recipe, adding extra ingredients between layers of tomato sauce and cheese. This time, I did spinach and artichokes. Pesto would also be good.

No matter how simple or elaborate you make it, this eggplant does take a little time. But it is worth the effort. The dish feeds a lot of people and is always a hit. Serve with a bit of pasta and even more vegetables on the side. And don't be afraid to get creative. Recipes are a nice starting point, but food is more fun with a little improvisation.

Eggplant Parmesan
adapted from Dallas Morning News

2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2- 2 pounds)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (divided)
2 1/2 cups marinara (homemade or your favorite store bought variety*)
1-2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (divided)
 Optional additions:
spinach or other greens, chopped
marinated artichoke hearts
sun dried tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil two large baking sheets and a medium-large baking dish. Set aside.

Slice the eggplants into 1/2 inch thick slices. Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and water until frothy. Set aside. In a shallow bowl, combine panko bread crumbs, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

One at a time, dip the eggplant slices into the egg-white mixture, then coat both sides with the breadcrumbs. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until eggplant is golden brown and very tender (about 20 minutes), turning halfway through.

Spread about 1/2 cup of prepared marinara in the bottom of the baking dish. When eggplant is done, arrange half the slices over the sauce, overlapping them slightly. Cover with about half of the remaining sauce, then top with any optional ingredient you might be using, then 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Arrange the remaining eggplant slices on top, pressing them down into an even layer. Top with remaining sauce, additional ingredients, and finish with the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan.

Bake, uncovered, until the sauce bubbles and the top is browned, about 20-25 minutes.

*Whether store bought or homemade, I like to include some garden herbs and a bit of cracked red pepper in my tomato sauce.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"i want a restorative beer"

the song: "Restorative Beer" The Fiery Furnaces

A few months ago, our good friend got a new job and was looking for a picture for to use in his press release. He encountered a almost every picture he was holding an alcoholic beverage. It is kind of a hilarious problem to have ("geez, I sure have a lot of fun!") but it got me thinking...

If it ever came to it, I might have that problem too. So I've made it a point lately to put down the drink I'm holding before I pose for a picture. Just something to consider.

As you probably know, I love beer. I love it in the same way I love good food. About a month ago, the Austin beer community took a huge step forward. Our fair city got something that it has been lacking-- an establishment that pays equal attention to beer and food. Black Star Co-Op has been blowing my mind. From the moment you walk in the door, it's clear that these people love beer. They love it so much that they dreamed up an idea for a co-operatively owned brewpub and made it a reality. 

No beer at Black Star bores me. In addition to recently added house beers, drafts are available that highlight local breweries. During my last visit, I sampled two of their house brews, the Double Dee (think sweet- I could drink too many of these) and Recalcitrant Dockhand (think molasses- this one's for sippin'). Both are extremely tasty, solid, and impressive. I also was fortunate enough to have the La Bestia Aimable made by San Antonio's "brewstillery" Ranger Creek. I'm truly at a loss to describe the deliciousness of that beer. Let's just say that I would be a-ok with my picture in the newspaper making kissy faces with a La Bestia.


As if that wasn't enough, Black Star's huge, ambitious and beautiful menu highlights locally grown, seasonal ingredients. Along with my fish and chips, we also ordered a side of locally grown cauliflower and carrots. Added bonus, they have plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans. I mean, it is a co-op. The best part is that the menu will obviously change and evolve with the season. And that is a pretty exciting thing for pub food.

If you're in Austin and haven't been, please go. Go today. No...seriously. They open at 4. 


Friday, January 7, 2011

"it's hard to get hold of"

the song: "People as Places as People" Modest Mouse

We all have our different ways of remembering years gone by. Photos of friends and family. Top ten lists. Diary entries. Food.

Looking back on my pictures from the last year, I realized there were an embarrassing amount of food pictures. More food than people. When my old computer was stolen a few years ago, my response was "Well, now that person has a lot of pictures of food, kids, and cats." 

Try as I might to keep up with food stories, there are a lot of photos from 2010 that never found a home.  Maybe the recipe didn't turn out right, but the process of putting it together was beautiful.

Maybe I did write about it, but the picture didn't make the final cut.

Maybe there never was a plan for the picture in the first place but I felt the need to document it anyway. 

Maybe the food struck me as so satisfying at the time but later seemed too simple for a story.

Maybe the moment in time was special and the best way I knew to capture the happiness was a picture of the food.

I certainly rely on words more than images to express myself. But sometimes I'm at a loss. In those times a picture can bring back the exact feeling I'm looking for.

For whatever reason, food is the thing I've found that makes me slow down and take notice. Where it comes from, how it is prepared, and who I share it with connects me. We all need that, whether it is through music or art or comedy or spirituality or nature. It's nice to have something that binds us together. 


For those of you interested: 1. Homemade vegetable enchiladas topped with scrambled egg 2. Pies at The Woodland 3. Flour coated blackberries from a failed quick bread 4. Roasted beets for salad 5. Garlic cloves for Christmas gifts 6. Brown rice with edamame 7. Panini and 512 Pecan Porter from Whip In 8. Wedding cake from our best man's wedding 9. My last tomato harvest before the temperature dropped.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"you don't win friends with salad"

the food: homemade croutons
the song: if you don't know what this quote is from, we probably shouldn't talk anymore

Know what my favorite part of salad is?

The croutons.

Here's the deal. I love salad when it is brought to me. All the little picky ingredients chopped, the dressing already on, copious amounts of cheese or tofu or beets or something...anything...interesting

But this is what happens when I make salad. A big ol' bowl of lettuce and shredded carrots. Yeah it tastes okay, but honestly I don't think it's worth the effort. I have no problem spending time with vegetables when I think the payoff is high. You should see the way I lovingly dissect a butternut squash. But lettuce bores me. The Kitchn has tackled this issue before and has some good tips to make your salads more interesting. My problem is that I rarely have enough ingredients on hand and again don't think it's worth the effort. I've even grown my own lettuce, which means it actually tasted like something. Still, salad doesn't win me over.

Is there a solution here, internet friends? Maybe not. But these croutons might help me eat a second serving of salad with dinner tonight. This is a ridiculously easy recipe- so much that I feel weird posting it. The main thing to take away from this is to save your stale bread. In the end it will inspire you to eat more salad. And if anyone has a fail proof dressing recipe, lettuce know.
Homemade Croutons

1/2 loaf stale french bread, cut into bite sized cubed
1/4 cup olive oil
any dried herb you like (I used about a 1/2 teaspoon of Italian blend)

In a medium bowl, toss bread cubes with olive oil and seasoning until well coated. Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, turning halfway through cooking time. Watch closely to make sure they don't burn. Remove from oven and allow to cool or toss with salad while still warm.