Monday, September 29, 2008

Baby eggplant sauté

This was an easy and pretty side dish from a few weeks ago. There were these perfect and beautiful little baby eggplants hanging around at the farmers market, along with some sungold tomatoes and cherry peppers, which can actually be sort of hot. It turned into a simple caponata-esque sauté.I started by mincing one onion and two of these beautiful small bell peppers along with about 4 hot cherry peppers. I sautéed these all together in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. After these had gotten a headstart of about 7 minutes and softened somewhat, I added in 2 cloves minced garlic. Then I sliced in half these tiny little eggplants and added them in along with another 2 tablespoons olive oil.I tried to keep them intact because I liked the shape so much, so I was very gentle while stirring them around. They took about 10 minutes to get soft and aromatic; I then added 1/2 teaspoon each cumin, chile powder and vindaloo seasoning into the center of the pan, and stirred everything up well together in the hot oil, then drizzled in 1/4 cup of white wine to give some moisture. After the wine had evaporated somewhat, I added a handful of golden raisins, 1 tablespoon minced parsley and 1/2 cup of sungold cherry tomatoes and let sauté for another 2 minutes.Removed from heat and stirred in 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar just before serving.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Betsy came into town for work one week, and so I thought the occasion called for something more elaborate than I would normally make on a weekday evening. Like eggplant parmesan, lasagna is not at all difficult to make--it just takes a little bit of time as there are a few distinct steps to it. This version I made recently is by no means definitive but it is definitely delicious, so here it is.

Begin by sauteing 1 pound each of ground beef and ground pork sausage (sweet or spicy, whichever you like) in a really big pan over medium high heat. Add 3 cloves minced garlic after about 3 minutes. Continue sauteing until the meat is browned--about 5 more minutes. By the way, the ground meats may put off a lot of grease--you might want to pour some of it off at this point to avoid an overly oily finished dish.Add 1 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes. I usually use this brand, because they're imported and I like the sassy lady on the label. Any brand will do though--drain them before adding to your meat.Break the tomatoes up in your pan with a wooden spoon and add in one of those tiny (6-ounce?) cans of tomato paste. Let this simmer together along with 1/2 cup red wine (or however much you feel like sparing from the glass you're drinking while cooking) uncovered for about 30 minutes while you do other things.

While your sauce is simmering nicely, you can make the ricotta filling and prepare the sheets of pasta. Start by chopping 1/2 cup each of parsley and basil. Reserve about 1 tablespoon of parsley for the top of the dish. Mix 2 1/2 cups of ricotta cheese with salt and pepper. After it is well blended, add the basil and parsley, 1/3 cup grated parmesan, and two beaten eggs. Mix it up really well. Set aside until it's time to assemble the lasagna.What about that pasta? Get a big pot of salted water to boiling and add a package of dried lasagna sheets. Actually, you probably won't need all of them, but I don't know how many fewer to tell you to use, so just boil up the whole box. You can always reserve a little of the fillings and make another, smaller lasagna, which is totally what I did. Anyway, boil up your pasta until just barely al dente.When they are done, separate out the sheets over cutting boards or a clean counter, and let them cool without sticking together while you get ready to assemble everything. By now your sauce should be looking pretty damn good.Begin assembly with a single layer of lasagna pasta at the bottom......then smooth some ricotta filling over the pasta.Try to get it all covered up. You have plenty so don't be shy.Then add a thin layer of mozzarella cheese for gooey deliciousness--about 1/3 cup is plenty but you can do as much as your conscience permits.Next distribute half of your meat mixture.And then do it all over again! You will be making two layers. After the meat goes another layer of pasta......then ricotta, then mozzarella, then the rest of the meat. Finish with a handful of grated parmesan.Stick it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. When it comes out all browned and lovely, sprinkle the top with your reserved 1 tablespoon parsley. This is a great way to make and keep friends--all you need besides the lasagna is a decent personality and a good green salad.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wiener schnitzel

Wiener schnitzel, wiener schnitzel, jah jah jah!!! I swear, it is so much fun to announce you've got plans to cook wiener schnitzel. I kept saying it, over and over, to people who I normally don't keep in the loop about my dinner plans. "I think I'll make wiener schnitzel tonight," I tell my boss/intern/guy at Whole Foods, as if it's the first time it's occurred to me. Why so chatty about the schnitz? Because a.) it's fun to say, and b.) it sounds complicated and sort of old-fashioned, Euro-sophisticated (maybe something the Countess from Sound of Music would pick at on the veranda while making eyes at Christopher Plummer and pretending to like the children). While the former is definitely true, the latter is not. Wiener schnitzel is easy to make and completely for the people. And this dish--or something like it--really occurs all over the world. From an Italian perspective, it is an Viennese/Austrian version of chicken milanese, which we've covered in the past. Traditionally it is made with veal cutlet, but I use pork instead. I also decided to serve it on a nest of german egg noodles, for visual appeal.

I used boneless pork loin chops. Like I said, this isn't necessarily traditional, so you can use veal for verisimilitude, if you want. By the way, doesn't "Veal for Verisimilitude" totally sound like something Big Edie would sing from her bed in Grey Gardens? Anyway, you need to flatten out your chops. Cover them in parchment or waxed paper and beat the hell out them with a heavy saucepan or a real meat pounder.I just got the OXO meat pounder and it's pretty awesome. Get your meat all flat--about 1/2" thick.Set up 3 stations for breading the now-flat chops. In your first bowl, put 1/2 cup flour, and in your second bowl goes two beaten eggs. Your third bowl gets 1 cup breadcrumbs mixed with 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Dip your flattened chops first into the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.Heat up 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan and brown the breaded cutlets on each side until nicely golden--about 4 minutes per side.Meanwhile, bring a big pot of salted water to boil and add in a package of egg noodles. I used very thin, bird's nest style ones, but you can use thicker if you like that better.When the noodles are cooked al dente (time will depend on what style you used--mine took only a few minutes because they were quite thin), drain them and quickly stir in at least 1 tablespoon butter to keep it from sticking, then stir in 3 tablespoons poppy seeds.When the cutlets are browned on both sides, place them on top of a tangle of egg noodles with poppy seeds and serve with lemon wedges.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cabbage with prosciutto & pine nuts

I have made this many many times before, but never had any pictures to document it. It's Melanie's favorite house specialty, probably because it totally has that addictive salty-sweet thing going on. Also, it couldn't be easier. Just shred a bunch of red cabbage...And slice some prosciutto...Sauté the cabbage with the prosciutto in a big pan with some olive oil until softened. Add a handful each of pine nuts and golden raisins (or dried cranberries). Season to taste with salt and pepper, then remove from heat and stir in a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. It is a beautiful accompaniment to any meat dish and is completely delicious. We had it with wiener schnitzel, which was a pretty awesome combination. Here's the original post describing how to make it step-by-step, but clearly it's a pretty easy and flexible recipe.

Eulogy: wine in a box

Summer is really and truly over, and not just because tomorrow is the fall equinox. No, it's because my beloved wine in a box is no longer available. If you will recall, Melanie found this wine at the beginning of the summer. Like it is with every summer, we thought it would last forever. With its attractive packaging (cream-colored box with snappy dark red graphics) and promise of endless pours, it seemed the good times would never run dry. I had it with antipasti. I had it with chicken, beef and vegetables. I had it for every single dinner, appropriate or not. I would have had it for breakfast, but I thought people might talk. Wine-in-a-box was there for me all summer long. Even when I tired of all the hot and humid weather, I never tired of the wine.

It came from World Market. When you went to buy it, there they were, amply stacked up in rows upon rows of wine-filled cubes. I had visions of buying hundreds and building some kind of structure out of them. The stacks and stacks of boxed wine encouraged one to buy in multiples. "Why not?" they said. "We're only $14.95 each! We're cheaper than hardwood flooring!"

Now I can see that this only contributed to the illusion of endless wine bounty.

One day I went to World Market to purchase a box for Aviva's birthday. I thought it would be funny and certainly would be easy to wrap. I didn't panic right away when the boxes weren't stacked up to greet me at the door as in past visits. I didn't even really panic when I couldn't find them anywhere in the store. Clearly, I was in denial. When I asked the lady behind the register about the fate of wine-in-a-box, she casually said "Oh, we don't have it anymore. You just have to snap these things up when they're in stock because who knows when they'll ever be back in again!" I acted cool but what I really wanted to do was shake her and scream "Lady, how the hell am supposed to build my wine igloo now?"

Maybe next year they'll be back. Until then, RIP, wine-in-a-box. You are sorely missed.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I got it into my head to make jambalaya the other day. This was definetely Creole-style or "red", rather than Cajun, jambalaya. Cajun jambalaya is tomato-free and always tastes sort of greasy to me. Also I hate green bell peppers, so you might as well just go ahead and take away my Cajun card anyways. This version is porky, sausagey and shrimpy. I would have used chicken but didn't have any on hand, so feel free to add/substitute for the pork. Perfect for September and feeling like fall...not that we really have that problem down here.

I sliced up a bunch of peppers--1 big red bell pepper along with some mystery small green and orange ones that were kind of hot. I probably had about a cup and change worth of sliced peppers when all was said and done. You can use whatever peppers you like; I thought these spicy ones added kick and I always think red or yellow bells are pretty to add.
The peppers went into my new, beautiful, life-changing, deep sauté pan along with one large, chopped onion. They sautéed together over medium heat in 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, I sliced up about 1 pound of andouille sausage......and stuck it in the pan, along with the meat from one huge porkchop. I just happened to have this porkchop lying around, so you can substitute chicken here if you like, or pork loin of another cut, or omit it althogether. It was about 1/2 pound worth of meat, if that helps your decision making process at all.Let the meat, peppers and onion all sauté together until the vegetables are soft and the sausage has some nice brown parts to it (about 10 minutes).

I made a space in the center and added in 3 cloves minced garlic along with 1 teaspoon each cayenne powder and thyme. Continued to sauté for 2 minutes, then added 1 big can of peeled, whole tomatoes and crushed them up in the pan with a spoon.Stir in 2 cups long-grain white rice followed by 4 cups chicken stock. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. It will take about 30 minutes and you might need to add a bit more liquid as you go to be sure the rice cooks fully.I was lucky enough to have Charlie over and he tended the jambalaya for me and kept it from sticking to the pan by adding some white wine in and scraping it up from the bottom. This also provides delicious browned bits in the rice. When the rice is pretty much all cooked and tender and the liquid is absorbed, add 1 1/2 pounds of peeled shrimp, stir well, and let cook for 2 minutes.That's actually the fun and relaxing part of making jambalaya for me--while the rice is cooking you can just chill out and peel the shrimp and drink wine.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Green and wax beans with roasted tomatoes

This is easy and delicious. The only part that is time consuming at all is the tomato roasting, but that is seriously so hands off that it's not like doing work at all. Actually, these tomatoes would make a great topping for anything you feel like; steaks, impromptu pizzas, chickpeas, grilled fish...

Slice in half one pound of small plum-style tomatoes. Mine looked like Romas, but the guy at the market said they were not, but then again, I can't remember what kind he said they were instead, so go on ahead and use whatever kind you can find. Just not too seedy or juicy and be sure they're on the small side. Toss the halves of tomatoes with salt, pepper, a few torn basil leaves, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons sugar. Stick them in a baking dish to roast at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Come and check on them at that point, to see how they look. You want them soft, shriveled up and jammy inside.Don't they look sad? But don't worry--they have a bright future. Get yourself about one pounds worth of mixed green and wax beans. You could, of course, use all one or the other, but I think they look nice with the two contrasting colors.Briefly boil them in a pot of salted water, only for 2-3 minutes or so. Drain them and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar. Or 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or white balsamic vinegar. Whatever you like, as long as it's acidy. I honestly don't remember what exactly I used anyway. When the beans are dressed, top them with your roasted tomatoes. Delicious.