Friday, October 3, 2014

Eggplant Parmesan

Wow...it's been a while!  Life is busy these days with the little ones, they demand just a bit of attention most hours of the day.  So while we're still growing and cooking our own food, the free time for posting recipes on the blog has been nonexistent.  But this one found the time, it's too damn tasty not to be shared.  It's a classic dish, perfect for the cooler fall weather.  Now that summer is over, the very last of the peppers and tomatoes are being harvested from the garden.  The big hauls are long gone, but they were plentiful this year, despite the lack of any sustained heat this summer.  Lots of tomato sauce in the freezer (didn't feel like canning this year, that time thing again), many jars of habanero hot sauce stashed in the back recesses of the fridge.  The eggplants were long-ago plucked, half of them grilled and the other 2 (only 1 plant) sliced for this hearty meal.  Grocery-store eggplants will be just fine, as will canned tomatoes- the better quality ones, like the San Marzano variety.  You will probably also have to buy some fresh basil, unless you now have a little plant or two growing in the kitchen window.  If you don't want to splurge on fresh basil without any from the garden, feel free to substitute dried basil for the sauce and then use chopped fresh parsley for the garnish. 

Yes, it does take a while to assemble this awesomeness with 3 steps, but it's mostly hands off time and well worth the effort.  Don't skip sweating the eggplant- otherwise you'll have a mushy pile of hot cheesy garbage.  And of course, use good quality fresh mozzarella and real parmigiano reggiano cheese. 

Eggplant Parmesan
8 servings

2 large purple eggplants, sliced just under 1/2" thick
kosher salt
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, finely diced
28 can whole tomatoes
S&P
3/4 C fresh basil, chiffonade
1.5 C fresh bread crumbs
1.5 C good parmigiano reggiano
3/4 C AP flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 lb. good mozzarella, sliced 1/2" thick

Lay out the eggplant slices on racks over cookie sheets, you'll have two large ones.  Sprinkle generously on each side with kosher salt and let sit for 3 hours. 

Fire up the oven to 425°F.  Set up your breading station- a shallow bowl or pan (pie pans work great)  with flour, one with egg, and one with the bread crumbs mixed with 1/2 C of parm reg.  Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towel and wipe down the cookie sheets of any moisture.  Spread a TB or so of EVOO on the sheet pans/cookie sheets.  Dredge the slices first in flour, shake off any excess, then dip into the egg.  Let any excess egg drip off, then place into the bread crumb mix dish.  Press well on both sides to cover with the crumb and layer evenly on the sheet pans.  Put a little EVOO on top of the eggplant rounds also, and then bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through until nicely golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool to the touch. 

While the eggplant is baking, assemble your sauce.  In a medium saucepan, saute the onion in a bit of EVOO for 4-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for a minute, then introduce the tomatoes.  Crush them up with a wooden spoon, season with a bit of S&P, and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add 1/4 or so of the basil, can also substitute a little dried basil or Italian herb mix.  Once thickened up and smelling all good remove from heat. 

With the oven at 350°F, you're ready to assemble the eggplant parm.  Using a 9x13 glass baking dish, layer about 1/2 C of the sauce on the bottom.  Next is 1/3 of the eggplant rounds, playing a little Tetris to cover the bottom as best you can.  Layer half of the sliced mozzarella over the eggplant, then 1/3 C of the parm reg.  Another 1/3 of the eggplant followed by 1 C of the tomato sauce, finish that layer with the other 1/2 of the mozz and 1/3 of the parm.  The last 1/3 of the eggplant rounds, the rest of the sauce, and the remaining parmigiano reggiano for the last strata. 

 Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese is browned.  Sprinkle with the rest of the basil, then let cool for 10 minutes before you slice and serve.  Don't cut into it right away!  Like a good flood on a fresh sheet of ice, you gotta let it set up.  Use the 10 minutes to throw together a quick green salad and uncork a bottle of red. 


Talk to you in another 6 months!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza

I like winter for the first four months.  Once March hits though, it's time for some warmer temps to accompany the recent extension of day light.  We shouldn't be getting 6" snow storms in mid-March.   8°F for the morning commute is silly.  With this winter placing 3rd in terms of snowfall in the past 146 years of Chicago weather, I'm getting a little tired of shoveling.  46 measurable snowfalls this winter, at times it has been a challenge to find room for it all between houses and in the alley.  Luckily, my neighbor doesn't use his garage so everyone has piled their snow in front of it.  The cold, the shoveling, the icy sidewalks, I can deal with all of that with little complaining.  The thing that gets me teed off most about the cold season- getting stuck behind the moronic winter drivers.  Those highway left-lane Prius' driving with their flashers on going twelve.  It should be illegal to drive a Prius in the left lane anyway.  The SUV owner with 4WD operating their vehicle as if it would slide off the road if they depress the accelerator.  If you can't navigate your motor vehicle in 2 inches of snow, stay home and wait for the roads to clear.  Take public transportation.  Or at least stay in the right lane, just get the hell out of my way.  I got shit to do.

Speaking of morons, I love how the local news finds these people to interview at the store right before a 'huge' storm hits.  4-6" are coming down tomorrow!! Gotta hit the Wal-Mart for canned goods and bottled water!  Where do they find these dumbasses?  First of all, water comes out of your faucet.  Kitchen sink and bathrooms too.  Secondly, how poorly stocked is your pantry if you need to make an emergency run for 1-2 days of food?  Having plenty of cupboard ingredients is important to creating successful meals, and some of the best dishes are when you throw a bunch of shit in a skillet, apply heat, and taste what happens. 

I'll never let the pantry become so dilapidated we can't make a simple pasta dish; mac-n-cheese, a carbonara, tuna noodle, or just noodles, butter and parm cheese.  What should you always have at the ready, snowstorm or not?  Mustards, canned tuna and/or salmon, artichokes, olives, capers, anchovies, whole and diced tomato, tomato sauce, chili sauce, taco sauce, salad dressings.  Oil and vinegars.  Dried pastas.  Rice.  Beans.  Dried or canned fruit.  Flour and yeast.  I'll run out of diapers and beer before I run out of something to make for dinner. 

We made this pizza last week to try and conjure the warmer weather.  It's light yet flavorful for summer eating.  There's a salad on top! If you tend to not like arugula due to the peppery bite, no worries- the lemon juice helps to tame the greens. 

There's only a few ingredients in this recipe, so the old saying holds true- the quality of those ingredients is key.  Get some good Italian prosciutto.  Don't use the pre-shredded mozzarella crap.  And for the love of all things culinary, don't ever buy lemon juice in a plastic container.  Parmesan cheese in a green can?  Hell no.  I'd go off on jarred garlic too, but some of you might argue that one. 

Having or going to a Saint Patrick's Day party? Like to bake? How about some cupcakes?

Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza
pizza dough, recipe below
2 medium cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
EVOO
6 oz fresh mozzarella ball, halved and cut into slices
3-4 oz. proscuitto
3 C packed arugula
2 TB fresh lemon juice
shavings of parmigiano reggiano

For the pizza dough-
1 ts or one packet of quick active yeast, 1 C of warm water (110°F), add 1 ts white sugar and stir well. Let sit until foamy, about 5-8 minutes. Meanwhile, add 2 ts kosher salt and 2.5 C bread flour (King Arthur preferred) into the bowl of your stand mixer. Or a large bowl if hand kneading. Shake to mix the salt and flour.  Add wet to dry and stir to incorporate, then mix on speed 1 using the dough hook for about 5 minutes. If your dough sticks to the bottom, add a pinch more flour.  If your dough isn't coming together after a minute, add a half ts water. When ready, the dough will become shiny and elastic. Turn out onto very lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes, then shape into a ball. Rub or spray a little oil on the inside of the cleaned bowl, add your dough ball and toss around, then cover with a kitchen towel and place in a draft-free area for about 1.5-2 hrs, until the dough has doubled in size. Turn out onto your board or clean counter and punch down to release trapped air, form into a rough circle shape, cover with plastic wrap and kitchen towel for at least 5 minutes, up to 30.  Any longer than that park in the fridge for a couple hours.  Don't have a stand mixer?  Knead by hand for 10 minutes. Go buy stand mixer. 

With your pizza stone on the bottom rack of your oven, preheat at 500°F for at least 30 minutes, 45-60 is ideal.

Using a rolling pin, roll out your dough moving from the center outwards, rotating the dough as you go.  A perfect circle (not the band) isn't necessary, in fact a better shape would be one that forms to your peel and stone.  Roll out to your desired shape, should be a bit less than 1/2" thick.

Sprinkle a little flour on your peel so the dough doesn't stick.  Carefully transfer the dough to the peel.  Drizzle with a couple ts of EVOO, then evenly spread out the sliced garlic.  Layer on the mozzarella slices.  To transfer the dough from peel to stone, hold the peel with the pizza at the back edge of the stone, then shake gently to loosen, placing the pizza on the stone as you remove the peel.  Bake until the crust is browned on the bottom and the cheese is nice and bubbly and golden brown, about 9-11 minutes.  The crust should sound hollow when you tap on it, and you can lift up an edge to check on the Maillard reaction. 


Toss the arugula and the lemon juice in a mixing bowl.  Add the slices of the prosciutto to the hot pizza, then the arugula.  Return to the oven for a minute to slightly wilt the greens.  Let the pie rest for 3-5 minutes, then top with the shavings of parmigiano reggiano, cut into slices and devour.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chilean Sea Bass with Lemon Caper White Wine Sauce

I wish we ate more fish, it's just not the easiest in terms of logistics.  Unlike other proteins, you shouldn't keep it for days in the fridge until the day you want to dine on seafood.  Often, I will make fish on Sundays, the day for grocery shopping.  I like my fish extremely fresh, which is important to quality and taste.  If your fish smells like fish, that's not a good sign.  Get yours from a fishmonger or grocery store that is popular, which means high turnover and therefore fresh product. 

Instead of the usual salmon, I picked up some Chilean sea bass last week.  Wild, line caught variety is best.  A few years ago, it was a no-no to eat Chilean sea bass because it was over-fished and the supply was dwindling.  Since then, the population has made a good recovery and you can eat them without guilt.  The real name for sea bass is Patagonian toothfish, and they are some ugly mothers.  You won't see that name on any restaurant menus, it's not quite as marketable as sea bass.  Want to learn more about which seafood is sustainable?

Feel free to use any firm white fish with this delicious lemon caper white wine butter sauce.  I served up these beauties on a bed of garlicky sauteed spinach with a side of oyster mushroom risotto. 

You should serve this with a glass of crisp dry white wine, such as a Chablis, Sauvingnon Blanc, or Pinot Gris.  And instead of guzzling the whole bottle, pour the last bit into an ice cube tray.  When frozen, move the wine cubes to a plastic freezer bag.  Now you'll have that little bit of wine you need for pan sauces such as this.  


One more thing.  The handle of that skillet will be hot when it comes out of the oven.  Don't forget about that, as I did.  I don't often burn or cut myself, but it's certainly easy to do if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  They make silicone handle covers which I should have put on right away, instead of gripping the super hot handle and searing my palm and finger.

Chilean Sea Bass with Lemon Caper White Wine Sauce
2 servings
12-14 oz sea bass, boneless and skinless
S&P
canola or veg oil
2 TB unsalted butter
1 TB finely diced shallot
2 TB capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 C dry white wine
3 TB fresh lemon juice
1 ts fresh parsley, finely chopped

Fire up the oven to 450°F.

Season both sides of the fish with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Heat an oven-safe skillet over high heat.  Once nice and toasty, add a touch of canola or vegetable oil to coat the pan.  Sear for three minutes on one side, then flip and place in the oven for about 8 minutes, until cooked through.  Place the fish on a plate to rest.  

Place the skillet back on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Add the butter and the shallot, cook for a couple minutes stirring often until softened but not browned.  Add the white wine and scrape up any tasty bits on the bottom of the skillet.  Add the capers and lemon juice, stir.  Cook until the wine is reduced a bit, another 3 minutes or so.  Add in the parsley and stir, remove from heat.  Season to taste with S&P. 

Plate the fish by splitting into two servings, top with the sauce and serve with a lemon wedge.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Maitre D'Hotel Butter

A really good steak needs little messing with.  Of course, we have zero culinary use for A-1 Steak Sauce.  Leave that shit for the Applebees/Chilis/Outback crowd.  Sometimes I'll put a little Chicago Steak Seasoning (Penzeys) on my ribeyes cause that's tasty stuff, the hint of charcoal smoke is especially nice when searing steaks inside instead of grilling them out of doors.  But when you get a really, really high-end cut of meat all you really need is kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Season them early- a few hours before you plan to cook them, and keep them on a rack on a sheet pan in the fridge.  Getting air underneath helps to keep the exterior dry, so you get a nice sear when it hits the hot skillet or grill.  Bring them closer to room temp before cooking, 15-30 minutes prior to fire time is fine.  You'll taste steak.  Just like it's supposed to be.  Pure delicious animal.  Other times you might be faced with some steaks that aren't quite as marbled as you would like, perhaps choice cuts instead of prime.  That's when you break out the compound butter to add some flavor to your protein. 

Compound butter, herb butter, or in more fancy terms maitre d'hotel butter, is very easy to make yet delivers fantastic presentation.  The recipe below is pretty standard and a great one to begin with.  I like to add a tiny bit of very thinly sliced shallot.  A spoonful of gorgonzola or roquefort cheese would be lovely with any cut of steak, an ingredient we add every now and then.  Don't forget a nice cab, syrah, or zinfandel!  (For drinking, do not add to butter)

Maitre D'Hotel Butter

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1/4 C parsley, finely chopped
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 TB lemon juice
1/2 ts lemon zest
1/2 ts sea or maldon salt (kosher is fine too)
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper

I like to use the stand mixer for compound butter so it can get some use other than making pizza dough.  A food processor will also mix your butter.  A spoon, a bowl and some muscle will too. 

To the bowl of your stand mixer, add the butter and mix with the paddle on medium speed for a few minutes until lightly whipped.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on low until incorporated, wiping down the sides with a spatula once to get all the bits that want to hide.  If using a food pro, throw it all in and pulse to combine. 

I use the original wrappings from the butter sticks.  Open them up and place half of the mix in each one.  Transfer those to a sheet of plastic wrap.  Roll the sticks into a log shape and wrap with both layers, then wrap a third outside layer with aluminum foil, twisting the ends like a huge joint.  (so I've been told)  Freeze for at least an hour up to a couple months.  Slice off a few rounds when you need to dress up your ribeyes, strip steaks or t-bones.  Place them on right after cooking and let the heat while resting soften up the butter. 

 What else could you amp up with maitre d'hotel butter?  Baked potatoes, crusty baguette slices, risotto, peas, carrots, and many other foods when you have a log ready to go in your icebox.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Onion Strings

Happy 2014 food people.  Any food-related resolutions this new year?  I have the same one every year, to watch what I eat.  Which means I have to keep my eyes open while stuffing my face.  Hard to do sometimes.

Let's kick off the early part of 2014 with a side dish.  These onion strings, or onion straws if you prefer, really amp up a home-cooked burger.  Other delicious applications could be a grilled steak or atop some mashed taters.  Comfort food, perfect for the cold days in the next couple months.  Very simple to make as well, just need to factor in the soaking time.

Don't want to buy buttermilk just for this recipe?  Take one cup of regular milk and add 1 tablespoon of plain white vinegar.  Stir and let sit for 10 minutes.  You'll have nicely thickened soured milk perfect for this recipe.  

You should have a candy thermometer or similar for frying foods like these strings.  How else do you make fried cod on a Friday night or cook cast-iron fried chicken??  Don't have a thermometer?  Stick the end of a wooden spoon in the oil, if it sizzles around the wood the oil is hot enough to fry. 

This recipe is adapted from one of my new favorite people, The Pioneer Woman.  Her blog, cookbooks, and instagram photos are all fantastic.  I did leave out the cayenne, at the lady's request.  If you like a little cayenne certainly add a pinch to the flour. 

Don't overcrowd the pot, fry in batches.  I didn't separate the onions very well after the flour, so they came out a little clumpy.  I didn't mind, since they were going on a burger anyway. 

Onion Strings
2 servings as side

1 large yellow onion
1 C buttermilk
1 C AP flour
1 ts kosher salt
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper
2 C canola oil

Halve the onion lengthwise, then very thinly slice crosswise.  Place into a glass pyrex cup or shallow dish.  Cover with buttermilk and soak for at least 30 minutes up to an hour.

Heat the oil over medium-high in a sauce pot or dutch oven to 375°F.  

Place the flour in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper.  When the oil has reached frying temp, remove the onion from the buttermilk with tongs.  Drip dry and then dredge in flour, shaking off the excess.  Plunge into the hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Drain on a sheet pan lined with paper towel.  Serve very soon thereafter on whatever needs some fried onion love.  

Onions soaking in buttermilk-


Onion strings resting-