Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Family's Favorite Eggplant Parmesan



 OF ALL THE HUNDREDS THOUSANDS OF MEALS AND DISHES I have cooked, my Eggplant Parmesan is the standout favorite and most cherished of all my family and friends. Everyone who has ever eaten it loves it. Even the pickiest of picky-eaters like it.

Almost any time I see Eggplant Parmesan on a restaurant menu, I order it. I have enjoyed many good versions and some not too great. But never one as tasty as this recipe.





I must confess, this is not my favorite thing to cook. It is not difficult but it involves many steps and it is messy. It involves two different cheeses, one of which needs to be sliced and the other grated. Three bowls are used for preparing the eggplant for frying--flour, then egg, then crumbs. And yes, frying, the messiest of messy for the home cook. Fresh garlic is minced and a sauce is made. It is a true labor of love.

This is not an everyday meal at our house. I make this for special occasions. Special occasions are times when family gather, whether for birthdays, holidays, weddings, family reunions, even funerals.





The recipe comes from one of my old hippie cookbooks, The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, c.1972. I love the author's philosophical introduction to the book and have read it many times over the years; almost every time I take out the book.

I always chuckle when I read, "The two-hours-later course is especially recommended if grass is smoked socially at your house. If you have passed a joint around before dinner to sharpen gustatory perceptions, you most likely will pass another one after dinner, and everyone knows what that will do--the blind munchies can strike at any time".

Use the best quality ingredients including the olive oil which lends so much flavor to the dish. Over the years, I have used dried and fresh breadcrumbs, wheat germ, and panko, all with good results. I have used both Swiss and Mozzarella cheese and prefer the latter. For the wine, I have used several good, dry reds, but my personal favorite for this dish is Burgundy.

The recipe is easily doubled and tripled to feed a crowd. And while you're at it, why not?





Eggplant Parmesan
1 medium eggplant
1 egg beaten with some milk
Breadcrumbs or wheat germ
Olive oil
1/2 pound Swiss or Mozzarella, sliced
6 oz. tomato paste
Red wine as needed
Pinch of oregano
Clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Wash your eggplant and, without peeling it, slice it about 1/2-inch thick. Dip slices first in flour, then into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs. Saute them in a little olive oil, a few at a time, until they are nicely browned on both sides. Tend them carefully and add oil as it is needed.

When they are crisp and brown, arrange them in a baking dish and put a slice or two of Swiss or Mozzarella on each one. Make a thick tomato sauce by diluting the tomato paste with wine. Mix the tomato sauce with the oregano, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic clove. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons on each slice. Finally, sprinkle the grated Parmesan on top of it all. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes and serve steaming hot.





Monday, August 25, 2014

Barbie Birthday Cake



OUR GIRL TURNED FIVE! Four years ago, I made  a very simple Chocolate Layer Cake for her first birthday, which you can see at the link. This year's cake was much more elaborate.

For months, she has asked me to make her a Barbie cake for her birthday. And because I had taken a cake decorating course last fall, I agreed and looked forward to the challenge.

There are a number of ways this project could be approached. Specialty pans are available. Also available are Barbie torsos on a pick that can simply be pushed into a cake. Because I try to limit my consumerism, I knew I would not buy a cake pan to use only once. Also I didn't want a Barbie bust on a stick--I wanted a whole doll that could be played with after the cake was gone.





I decided on making a chocolate sour cream pound cake using my old fashioned tube pan. Also, I used Stacie, one of Barbie's younger sisters. She is just as beautiful as Barbie, but I didn't need to make a cake big enough to accommodate the taller doll.

I made the cake the day before I decorated it. After it was baked and cooled, I place it on a fanci-foil covered cake board, applied a thin coat of frosting, which seals in the freshness of the cake and prevents crumbs in the decorations. It was refrigerated overnight.

I made 2 batches of butter cream frosting. One batch, I left white for the crumb coat, crinoline, and bodice. The other, I tinted pink.

I styled the doll's hair into a ballerina bun for both elegance and for saving from the frosting.

I began by marking, with a toothpick, the lines for the over skirt. Then I began piping the crinoline ruffles, using star tip #21, from the bottom up.

Wrap the bottom of doll with plastic wrap and insert her into the hole. Use extra balls of wrap to steady her and also to fill the hole. Don't worry about plastic wrap showing because you will pipe frosting right over it.

Because I wanted the skirt to look like fluffy and shaggy pink peonies, I used a 1M tip and made rosettes both clockwise and counter-clockwise, beginning at the bottom. Then I filled in any gaps by pressing a blossom, again using the 1M tip, into the space.

Then I applied blossoms onto the bodice, using a small #16 star tip, creating a modest halter top.





I know doll hair is highly flammable, so didn't want to put candles directly on the cake. Instead, I used the birthday cake candelabra (by Fred) I bought several months ago. To give it an anchor, I used a candied apple.

Looking back at the pictures, I thought it looked a little goth or malevolent but it didn't seem that way at the time. It looked really cool when lighted up while we were singing, "Happy Birthday". And our girl loved it.







Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake
(A Paula Deen Recipe)
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, softened
8 ounces sour cream
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup cocoa

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sour cream, and sugar. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and cocoa. Add 1/2 the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, beat well, add the remaining 1/2 flour mixture, and continue to beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. Continue to bake for an additional 15 minutes if necessary, but do not open the oven to check the cake for at least 1 hour.

Butter Cream Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups (approx.) powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. milk

Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Add milk and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.




Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Southern Legacy Green Beans

My Grandmother's Serving Bowl



IF MY GRANDMOTHER WERE ALIVE TODAY I would ask her to cook me some of her well loved green beans. As you can see, these beans are cooked to smithereens. It has taken me years to get them right and now I am sharing her secrets with you.

These beans are intensely flavored--practically a bean butter. Think apple to apple sauce to apple butter. That is the concept.

After inquiring about these beans repeatedly over the years, it was a recent conversation with my Mother, when she said that her Mother would put on the green beans right after breakfast, to have for supper that evening, that I had my Aha! moment. I had been told to put the beans in a big pot, add in a piece of fatback, cover with water and cook. That was it. The detail that wasn't revealed was the fact that the beans were literally cooked for hours. Hours.



My Grandmother's Table Cloth



 I cooked these beans as part of a summer vegetable plate, as was tradition in my family. To this day, there is nothing I love eating more than a plate of well prepared, flavorful vegetables. I have been eating these vegetables for two meals each day for three days in a row. Heavenly.

As the beans, squash, corn, field peas, okra, and tomatoes were spent, greens would be planted. In fall, the turnip greens, collards, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins would begin appearing on plates instead of the summer crops.





My Grandmother's beans cannot be made with the blue lake type green bean typically found year round in grocery stores. A good stout bean is needed. These are half runners which are an heirloom bean. You definitely don't want to steam these for five minutes and serve. Even if you don't want to caramelize them as I have done, they still need a good long cooking time to achieve tenderness.






You need to snap these beans and string them. Some people even call them snap beans. And when I say string beans, you can see what I mean. If you ever sit down before a serving of beans that have not been properly stringed--well, let's just say it is not pleasant. And the snapping helps to get hold of the strings for pulling to remove.





Rinse very thoroughly.





The vendor called this "side meat". My Grandmother always called it streak o' lean.  It is like slab bacon that has been cured but not smoked. It is salt cured, so don't add any salt to your beans. I have known cooks to use lard instead, or even a big glug of vegetable shortening. If I wanted to keep the concentrated bean flavor more on the healthy and vegetarian side, I would use coconut oil. Of course you would need to add salt then.





Southern Legacy Green Beans
3 - 4 pounds heirloom green beans, snapped and strings removed
2 - 3 oz. streak o' lean, salt pork, fatback, lard, or other fat of choice
Salt if not using salt-cured meat
Water

Put prepared green beans in a large, heavy pot. Add streak o' lean. Cover the beans with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a steady simmer and partially cover. Cook for several hours, adding more water as needed. Do not add more salt--the salt added in the beginning is still there, it is only the water that cooks away.




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

BLT Sandwiches with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basket Weave Bacon





EACH SUMMER, WE EAGERLY ANTICIPATE THE ARRIVAL of Harold's tomatoes. And it is our tradition to make BLT's with the first ones, because is there any better way to honor a fresh, vine ripened, summer tomato?





Harold is a farmer in a nearby county who grows all kinds of vegetables. He is especially proud of his tomatoes (as well he should be) and is most well known, area-wide, for his Mr. Stripey tomatoes. Mr. Stripeys are low acid, yellow heirloom tomatoes with red striping. They are sweet, juicy, and extremely tender. They are perfect for sandwiches and salads.

Harold is a commercial vegetable grower but because we happen to have an inside track, we had the honor of trying out three other heirloom tomatoes he has tested this season, which are not yet on the market. They are a pink tomato, a red Mr. Stripey, and a Cherokee black tomato.






The idea of weaving little rafts of bacon for sandwiches is not original to me. I have seen the concept around for quite a while but this is the first time I have tried it. And it really works great!

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking pan with foil. Cut bacon in half. I used 3 strips of bacon, or 6 half strips for each raft. Weave like a little potholder, or basket, or lattice crust. Bake 20 - 30 minutes, to preferred done-ness, depending on thickness of bacon. Keep checking, it may be done earlier or it may take a little longer. We like our bacon crispy and I think these rafts cooked around 35 minutes.





Pritchard Parker and I don't agree on every aspect of the perfect BLT. We both agree there is no need to bother without excellent summer tomatoes. We both prefer crispy iceberg lettuce. Neither of us wants to scrimp on bacon.

He prefers his bread untoasted and smeared with mayo, specifically Duke's mayonnaise (this is a must). I like my BLT on buttered toast.

How do you make your BLT?




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Broiled Welsh Rarebit





WELSH RAREBIT (OR RABBIT) IS A WELSH DISH consisting of a mixture of cheddar cheese, beer, and seasonings served over toast. The cheese mixture can also be toasted on the bread, which is what I did. It is usually served as a main course, or for high tea, and often accompanied with tomatoes.

Did you know that if you top it with a poached egg it becomes a Golden Buck? 






Most Americanized versions of this dish are truly not much more than a Mornay sauce with a splash of beer for tradition's sake. Also the Dijon or whole grain mustards used in many recipes are too sharp for my taste. I prefer using English mustard powder and of course Worcestershire sauce. I will pass on the hot sauce and cayenne called for in many recipes--the English mustard gives just the hint of heat desired, for my palate. 

I did not start my sauce with a roux. No flour was used. Instead, I used egg yolks to thicken the sauce a bit. I also used stout as my beer of choice. And I chose a lovely Lancashire cheese which I hand grated. 

For the bread, I selected a dense and seedy whole grain loaf. It was perfect to absorb the thinnish cheese sauce. They melded together while baking. After baking, a short trip under the broiler made the rarebits nicely browned and crunchy on top while the inside remained moist, cheesy, and tender. Superb. 






Welsh Rarebit
1/2 cup stout 
1 1/2 tsp. English mustard powder
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, more to taste
10 ounces Lancashire cheese, or other English cheddar, grated
3 egg yolks
4 slices bread

Mix the stout, mustard powder, butter and Worcestershire sauce in a small pan. Stir to combine well and heat gently until the butter has melted. 

Stir in the cheese until melted and don't let it boil. When the mixture is smooth, taste for seasonings and take off the heat. Let cool until only slightly warm, stirring occasionally to prevent it from solidifying. 

Toast the bread lightly on each side and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Beat the yolks into the warm cheese until smooth. Spoon onto the toasts and cook until bubbling and golden, about 15 minutes. Place under broiler to brown, if desired.

Serve piping hot.