Battle Eggplant: Holy Heaviness

How persistent of a person would you say you are? Stubborn as an ox? A total pushover? Or maybe somewhere in the middle? Truth be told, I waver depending on the subject. Do I really wanna pick a fight about the best road to take to get home from the grocery store? No, because one way or another, we’ll get there anyway, and what’s five more minutes (and knowing in my head that I was right, whether or not I verbalize that thought)? Do I often times end up emptying out the dishwasher an extra time or two because it’s just easier than the annoyance of piling dishes up at the sink? Sure, but I’m willing to bet I miss a few chores myself, so that probably balances out at some point.

Other times I’m a little more obstinate. My cat will always be prettier than yours (even when she’s resting her head on our dishes), and Eastern NC barbecue sauce will always be better than the clunky stuff they make elsewhere (although I will admit that it doesn’t mean the others taste bad, per se). And when it comes to figuring out a recipe, let’s just say that if it doesn’t go the way I initially planned, I am definitely fit to be tied.

I think we all have our f-ups in the kitchen though, right? I don’t so much mind talking about them, but I certainly don’t feel the need to waste real estate here by posting the recipes, pictures, etc. I hope that’s ok with everyone, but if it’s not, I’m also pretty stubborn about how I feel on this matter, and so arguing about it won’t help you all that much…

Remember when we went to Seattle earlier this year? Remember me talking about all the good food we ate (of course, before Hub’s bout with food poisoning…)? I also briefly mentioned a dish I tried that we had at Poppy – eggplant fries – and sadly that dish was lackluster at best. It’s been lurking in the back of my mind ever since.

And although I like eggplant, it definitely isn’t a veggie I regularly find on my grocery list. Last time I made it was during crazy vegetarian month, but thanks to Hope and her choosing aubergine for the past weekend’s Iron Chef battle, it was time for redemption. Hope may not have been physically present at this Battle, given her recent move (sniff sniff), but she was certainly there in spirit since this was an ingredient truly reminiscent of vegetarian cuisine.

That said, I immediately knew that the eggplant fries would make a comeback, and that this time I’d cut them more thinly and fry them at a consistently high heat to make them somewhat crispy. Round two was much better, but if there is a round three I might even try baking them to reinforce a little crunchiness.

Usually, I spend a relatively significant amount of time searching for the perfect recipe. One may be an inspired dish, or something I’ve been wanting to try, but generally I resort to google, Epicurious, or some cookbooks for the second recipe. This time, I didn’t bother, because no matter how unoriginal it was, I couldn’t think of anything but a classic baba ganoush. As expected, two of us had that thought in mind, but I was ok with that. You may have noticed – food tends to be one thing I don’t waver on much – are you surprised? By the way, that naan from last week is the perfect match with the smoky baba ganoush. Do it.

Anyways, we had a good turnout this time, with three newcomers and 13 dishes laden with eggplant. And with the eggplant came those perfect pairings – carbs, cheese, and tomatoes – enough to weigh that belly down nearly to the point of a food coma, but not quite enough that I couldn’t stomach a few second tastes and a fair share of wine. I mean, really, a girl’s gotta make up for not having dessert this time, right?!

*

The Top Three:

  1. Becca’s Marinated Eggplant (middle)
  2. Katherine’s Eggplant Gouda Pie (top right)
  3. Jennifer’s Eggplant “Pizza” (top left)

Strangely enough, this is the first time my three favorite dishes have made it to the top three, and placed in the exact order I chose. Newbie Becca’s marinated eggplant was a spoon-sized Asia in a bowl – a perfect combo of chile sauce with lingering heat, fish sauce for the saltiness (at least I think that’s what it was), and the sweetness provided by my favorite item, brown sugar. Newbie Katherine’s pie couldn’t have made me happier – I mean, what’s better than a flaky pie crust with smoky Gouda? And Jennifer’s eggplant pizza? It’s a good thing she lives 6 blocks away instead of 3, or else I might have followed her home and snuck into her fridge that very night for more.

Sadly, this battle of eggplants may have been the last of summer up here in the good ol’ Midwest. While the days seem to be getting a little shorter, the nights a little cooler, and the produce more autumnal, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to give up on Summer. The down side? this is probably one of those battles where persistence is a lost cause, but I might stomp my feet just a little bit longer after all.

Baba Ganoush
Adapted from various sites; serves 12-15

printable version

ingredients
2 small eggplants (close to 2 lbs)
evoo
5 T sesame seeds, toasted
1 lemon, juiced
1 t cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
smoked sea salt, to taste
cilantro, chopped, for garnish

instructions
heat grill to med-hi. slice eggplants in half and run over with oil. grill, flipping occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until soft. remove from grill and let cool; peel skin off leaving a little of the char for flavor. chop coarsely and add to medium sized bowl.

grind toasted sesame seeds in spice grinder until a paste forms (or, grind by hand in mortar and pestle). add to bowl with eggplant; add remaining ingredients. add smoked sea salt to taste. top with chopped cilantro.

Eggplant Fries
inspired by Poppy, in Seattle

printable version

ingredients
canola oil, for frying
1 large eggplant
3/4 c ap flour, or ap gluten-free flour
1 T smoked paprika
1/2 T ground ginger
1 T oregano
salt & pepper
sea salt
mint, chopped, for garnish
honey, for drizzling

instructions
in a large pot (preferably a Dutch oven), fill canola oil to about 3 inches. bring heat up to 350 F. meanwhile, peel eggplant and slice into thin strips.

in a large bowl, toss together flour and spices, along with salt and pepper. using tongs, toss eggplant fries into flour mixture and then into the oil, once heated. fry by the handful for 3-5 minutes, until golden brown. remove and let drain on paper towel-lined plate. toss with sea salt immediate after removing from oil.

serve on platter, drizzle with honey and garnish with fresh mint.

*Dishes from picture of 9 above, L to R: eggplant pizza, chinese eggplant, eggplant gouda pie, east african eggplant stew, marinated eggplant, baba ganoush, eggplant caponata, eggplant-tomato marmalade, eggplant-crab-shrimp casserole

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Meat & Potatoes Girl

steak-frites

Growing up, my family had a hearty rotation of meals. Each night was dedicated to a particular dish, and those dishes were infrequently altered. It wasn’t long before I had it figured out – my parents never really told us “the schedule”, but I eventually caught on. I was an honor roll student, after all. I started dreading Wednesdays and I perpetually anticipated Saturdays. As I type, I realize I might have felt that way regardless of the cuisine – to this day I continue to hate ‘hump day’ and love everything there is to love about Saturday.

Wednesday was meatloaf – I hated that meatloaf with a passion. Even now, I rarely choose to cook those lumps o’ ground meat. Thursday was fried chicken – my family’s fried chicken recipe will always be my favorite, no matter how much I heart Bojangles. The best part about fried chicken night was the fried gizzards. Maybe some of you have never heard of gizzards? Oh my – super tasty, my friend! The gizzard is a part of the digestive track in some animals and is helpful in digesting food. I’m sorry – that might not help in my plight to make them sound more appetizing, huh? When fried, they are delightful and chewy and sometimes downright difficult to grind. I don’t really eat them now, but I remember having them as an “appetizer” back in the day. Meanwhile, my cat was fed the chicken liver (not fried…) and we happily chowed down.

tri-tipbaked fries

Friday – barbequed chicken. The best darned bbq chicken you’d ever eat, sauce sopped up with bread. The only other night I vividly remember is Saturday – steak night. Of all meals, this was the night I most looked forward to. The down side to steak night was that most Saturday nights I was busy speed skating at the Galaxy Skating Rink, riding in cars with boys (isn’t that a movie?), camping out in the field behind my house, or various other things I’d rather not discuss here, thank you. As such, I frequently missed steak night, although I would occasionally stick around for dinner. My dad always cut up some cucumbers and submerged them in a bowl of apple cider vinegar and black pepper for us to snack on. He eventually started marinating his steaks in a bag of Italian dressing, and he grilled them to perfection, which was medium-rare/rare for he, I, and my bro and damn-near charred for my mom. Yes, her steak went on way before ours – and many times it had to go back to the ol’ grill as it was just way too juicy for her liking and just not quite leathery enough..

And while I loved those steaks, the cucumbers, and the gizzards, the item I craved the most from those Saturday dinners was the side – fried potatoes (which was also the side for Friday..we like fried potatoes). For whatever reason, my dad never cut up potatoes in the french cut fashion – he cut them into irregular chunks and fried those chunks in our much-used fry daddy. If I didn’t stick around for dinner, I knew there would always be a plate of those leftover potatoes sitting out when I got home – to the right of the stove, underneath the telephone and the key rack. They were good warm and fresh, but man, they were even better cold.

baked french fries

You might guess that my dad has not changed his cooking style. Me – I still like frying stuff, that’s no lie, but when it comes to fries, I bake ’em.  I mix ’em in some spices. Sometimes, I even eat them with aioli instead of ketchup or my old favorite, ranch dressing.

I still eat them with a nice, medium-rare/rare steak. Some things never change.

Tri-Tip Steak Frites w/ Red Wine Sauce
Steak adapted from Gourmet, October 2009; serves 4

printable recipe

ingredients
4 russet potatoes, unpeeled, cut into long thin strips
4 T olive oil
1 T paprika
1 T garlic powder
1 T chile powder
1 T Italian seasoning
1 (1.5-2lb) tri-tip beef roast (London broil), about 2″ thick, cut into 4 steaks
2 t cracked black peppercorns
1/2 t salt
1/4 c dry red wine
1/2 c water
2 T unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3 T finely chopped tarragon
accompaniment: Dijon mustard

instructions
preheat oven to 475 F. in a large bowl, toss potato strips with 3 T olive oil and spices (paprika through Italian seasoning). spread strips onto two large baking sheets, trying not to have pieces touch. bake in oven on top and bottom third, rotating about halfway through, for ~45-50 minutes.

meanwhile, pat steaks dry, then rub with peppercorns and 1/2 t salt. heat remaining T olive oil in ovenproof 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. sear steaks on all sides, about 3 minutes total. transfer skillet to oven (once fries are finished) on top third rack and roast 9-10 minutes for medium rare. transfer to plate and let rest 5 minutes.

while steaks rest, add wine to skillet and boil, scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half, about 1 minute. add water and meat juices from plate and boil briskly until reduced by half, 3-4 minutes. whisk in butter until incorporated. season with salt and pepper.

sprinkle fries with tarragon. serve steaks with sauce and fries.