Sunday, July 26, 2009

Take it Easy: Eggplant Gratin

As promised, voila le recette for eggplant gratin (sorry, I have this video on the brain).  It's so paradoxical:  the more abundant, fresh produce there is, the less inclined I am to undertake complicated recipes, even though I have so many ingredients at my disposal (is this how people felt when grocery stores started trucking in all-season produce from around the world?  It's kind of overwhelming!).  I've been doing a lot of very simple things lately:  roasted red pepper and red chile soup; feta, red pepper, red and blue potato frittata; spaghetti with raw tomato/olive oil/basil sauce.  In and out of the kitchen, and on with the rest of enjoying the last few weeks of friends, margaritas, and long lazy afternoons until school starts up again. 

This gratin falls squarely into the easy category.  Now, on salting eggplants:  I've made this guy twice (the second time I used yellow crookneck squash from Mama L's garden in place of the onions) and the second time around I didn't salt.  And it was bitter.  Way to ruin the enjoyment, Diana's laziness!  Salting is a personal preference, and I only do it in two situations:  1) When I'm sauteing in olive oil that's too expensive to be sucked up in an eggplant sponge and 2) When I'm working with eggplant that I know for a fact to be bitter and in need of weeping.  Some aren't.  The white and green varieties I bought from the market last summer never were.  But these big purple globes---I think from Mai Vue Farms---needed it.  It's trial and error, folks!

An Eggplant Gratin
From Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

2 1/2 pounds eggplant (she says "peeled if white"; I say, it doesn't matter if you're purple or white)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 or 2 medium onions, slices
4 eggs
1 cup milk or light cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese (used feta from Bonnie Blue again!)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (red wine works, too)
10 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil a 2-quart gratin dish.  Cut the eggplant into rounds or slabs about 1/2 inch thick.  Salt if you wish (!) and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet, add the onions and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until soft and light gold, about 12 minutes.  Scrape into a bowl.  

While the onions are cooking, beat the eggs with the milk, stir in the cheese, vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and some freshly ground pepper.

If you salted it, rinse the eggplant, then let drain or soak up the water with a towel.  

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet.  When hot, add the eggplant and immediately turn it in the pan so that all the pieces are coated lightly with the oil.  Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the eggplant is golden.  This will take about 25 minutes in all.

Season the eggplant with salt and pepper to taste, then toss with the onions and basil.  

Put it in the prepared dish and pour the custard over the top.  Bake until golden, firm, and puffed, 30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Also, check out the emerging tomato--my despair seems unwarranted.  My plants may be taking their sweet time, but things are happening.  Yes, I know, sideways picture.  But I have a whole lot of nothing to do right now, and shall not fix it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eat Your Vegetables: Blue and Green Potato Salad and Zucchini Fritters

Subtitled: There's a lot of produce out there right now.  Get creative with the ways you use it up.

Today, I offer you two fun ways to get your RDA of veggies, one decidedly more artery-friendly than another.  But everyone deserves a treat now and then, yes?

These True Blue potatoes came from Tims Family Farms (the Ripley tomato folks).  

Blue and Green Potato Salad
Adapted from This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow

Half a medium sized cucumber, washed well, but unpeeled, cut into chunks
As many blue potatoes (they are small) as matches the amount of cucumber, boiled in their skins
Cumin, coriander
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice (I used lime; it tasted fine)
Ground black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup firmly packed mint leaves, coarsely chopped.

(Note:  I did not use any mint or coriander.  I added a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for a little fat, though.)

After the potatoes cook through, cut them into chunks, and toss everything together.  This is super light, and made a fast lunch in the middle of a hot day.  Oh, and it's pretty.

The zucchini fritters were born of the need to dispatch a baseball-bat-sized being hulking on my counter.  Also, a tiring of sauteing it.  There's only so much sensible sauteing of summer squash you can do before you weary of your virtue, people!  Cut it up, batter it, fry it, give in to the South.  Choa Lor Farms seem to have the most outsized zucchini in the market this year.  The smaller ones are usually more tender and tastier, it's worth noting.  But this one wasn't bad.

Cut the zucchini into batons.  Give each baton a quick bath in milk, then dredge in a flour-salt-pepper-smoked paprika mixture (you could also use other dried herbs or seasonings).  Bathe it again in the milk, then dredge it in breadcrumbs.  The double-coating makes it crispy and helps the coating to stay on.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan (hmm, looks like I used my wok here.  That works, too!) Since olive oil tends to smoke easily, I used mostly canola oil with a little extra-virgin olive oil for flavor.  The oil should come about halfway up the zucchini's sides.  Fry to crispy perfection.  Try to remember to let it cool before eating, okay?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Eat Your Fruit: Blackberry Chocolate Cake

Basically, blackberries are my favorite fruit.  If anyone else wants to offer up a comparison fruit that matches its tart-sweet sexiness (I mean!  Look at those curves!), I'm down for seeing if it stacks up.  But I've yet to find anything that thrills me the way blackberries do (strawberries?  too obvious.  apples?  too much.  watermelons?  too unwieldy).

Consequently, I try to sneak them into whatever I can.  Like, uh, beloved family recipes.  In all seriousness, though, blackberries and chocolate have a natural affinity for one another.  I've also made blackberry brownies on many an occasion before, and the fruit lightens and moistens any kind of cake-like dessert.

This was also my first foray into baking with my new gas oven, and I was pretty happy with the results.  It's an old, old range and solidly built to hold heat and hold it well.  You have to light it with a match, though, which scared me at first, but I'm pleased to say I still have all my eyelashes and am fast becoming a gas-cooking convert.

Diana's Great-Grandmother's Chocolate Cake with Untempered Handfuls of Blackberries

For the cake:
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs (I used Van Cheeseman's duck eggs)
3/4 cups cocoa (Special Dark is nice)
1 3/4 cups unsifted flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup milk
a handful of blackberries (Jones Orchard)

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup confectionary sugar
1 tsp vanilla
another handful of blackberries

Grease and flour two nine-inch cake pans and set aside.

Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla til fluffy.  DON'T START EATING IT YET.  I know.  This is hard for me, too.  Keep thinking cake.  Cake.  Cake.

Blend in the eggs.  Admire how nice and thick duck yolks make the batter!

Combine dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk, until well blended.

Toss in the blackberries and blend them up, too.  I suppose you could press them through a fine-mesh strainer first to de-seed them, but I don't mind a little crunch.  

Pour into the floured cake pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.  They're done when: 1) A knife inserted in the middle comes out clean and 2) The cake pulls away from the side of the pan.

While that is cooking away, blend up your frosting ingredients.  It makes just enough to hold the two layers together plus a little for decoration on top.  Most people don't eat frosting anyway, so I didn't bother trying to cover the entire two-layer cake.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes and remove from pans to frost.

We had this for a 4th of July dinner party.  Not very patriotic (my great-grandmother was, err, French-English), but tasty!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whitton Farms' First Annual Feastival

Another awesome July event was Jill and Keith Forrester's party up at their farm in Tyronza, Arkansas.  The pictures mostly tell the story---it's evident from the attention to detail that the Forresters are really committed to growing quality produce and flowers, and enjoy the time they spend on their land.  Walking around their acreage felt very home-y, like their personalities extended from one living space--the house--to another--the land.  Also got to have one of the best lunches of my life, cooked by 12 Memphis chefs!

A fearsome longhorn

A rock-star pony (check out that 'hawk!)

Yesss---church pews.  Mom, Dad, looks like you aren't the only ones who consider them viable home seating.

Baby swiss chard--ankle-high

Attack of the monster greenhouse swiss chard!!  Waist-high

Shiitake mushroom logs

Drill into log, insert mushroom spores, cap holes with wax, let spores take over log, om-nom-nom.

What's for lunch?  Everything on this menu, for starters.

Plus chard salad, mini burgers, gumbo, cheesy grits with leeks, Berkshire pork, cannoli (the latter two I ate even before I sat down), a spicy summer squash casserole that came later

...and peach cobbler with homemade ice cream, obvs.

Triumphant Return!

Readers (all seven of you)!  I have returned from the Land of No Interwebs and have a backlog of posts to get yall caught up on.  What did I do with my July when I wasn't hanging out with my girl Sarah Haskins, re-watching old Buffy episodes, or indulgently revisiting my pre-pubescent days?  In between trying my hand at designing on a dime, pulling up the garlic, finding out I made law review, and counting the blossoms on my tomato plants, I've managed to cook a lot of delicious stuff.  The penury of winter seems so far away now that big, showy produce is draped all over the market and weekend dinner menus write themselves.  (My night to cook last week:  Corn on the cob, caprese salad+cucumbers and salami, eggplant gratin [recipe coming], and ratatouille).

Conjuring closets from bookshelves:

Garlic: the Easiest Thing to Grow, Ever: