Oriental Eggplant

I happen to live with someone who detests eggplant, yet it’s one of my favorite vegetables. I love how it collects the flavors of whatever it is cooked with as well as its texture and meatiness. I tend not to buy it unless I’m home for a solo dinner. But a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t resist picking up two gorgeous looking heirloom eggplants at the farmstand: Clara, creamy white; and Calliope, aubergine-colored with flicks of white stripes. They were smallish and were just the right size to make a skillet of Oriental Eggplant just for me!

I received the cookbook, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, by Sandia Belgrade and Patricia Sweeney-Park from my sister for Christmas in the early 1990s. Mainly a vegetarian cookbook (I was a vegetarian for seven years, breaking only on those rare occasions for bacon!), this book has some of my favorite all-time recipes. It’s a bit on the 70s hippie California side, despite being published in 1991; the lasagna I love is named “Jerry’s Lasagna,” named no doubt for Jerry Garcia. The recipe ends with “Don’t forget the garlic bread, salad, organic red wine, candles, and the Grateful Dead.” Despite it’s odd font, homemade look, and line drawings, I would never part with it.

After making a stir fry with fresh vegetables and quinoa one night for dinner, I took the skillet and started to make the Oriental Eggplant. While I got inspiration from the cookbook I, of course, have adapted the recipe to be my own. I love when the sauce is added, the eggplant becomes silky and smooth, and I have to admit to those who on the fence about eggplant, it does become a bit slithery, but that’s the way I like it! You could avoid that by not cooking the eggplant as much. While I didn’t have any converts that night, I can rest assured that whenever I make this dish I don’t have to worry about sharing!

Oriental Eggplant

2 tsp. oil
2 medium eggplants, cut into strips
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
About a teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Sauce
2 TBS soy sauce or tamari
2 TBS apple cider vinegar
⅓ cup water
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch

1. In a medium-sized skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and stir for a minute so it doesn’t burn. Add the eggplant and stir until it becomes soft.
2. In a small bowl, add the sauce ingredients together and mix well. When the eggplant is soft, add the sauce and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and stir the eggplant occasionally. When everything is soft and the sauce has boiled down, it’s ready to eat!

Cook’s Notes:
• The original recipe called for ⅓ cup of safflower oil. You could use that amount, but I think that is way more than you need. I always tend to use 2 teaspoon of oil for whatever I am cooking; but using less oil means keeping a watchful eye so the garlic doesn’t burn.
• You can always serve this over rice, but I like it as a side dish.
• This can also be gluten-free, just look for a tamari that doesn’t include wheat.
• I had this heated up for lunch a couple of days later, and find it loses something by sitting; best to eat the night you cook it!

Black Bean Salad with Shrimp

 

So are the lazy, hazy days of summer, when dinners are the quickest to make so we can enjoy those last few moments of the day before the sun goes down. Suppers of late have been ridiculously easy, so easy I thought twice about offering you this salad; I made it one night and takes about 15 minutes from start to finish, hardly a recipe! You have protein from the shrimp and beans, combine that with the sweetness from the tomatoes and the zing of the lime juice and you have a healthy and delicious meal in minutes! You can always add more vegetables, cucumbers and corn would be especially tasty, some creamy chopped avocado, and you could serve it on a bed of fresh lettuce. For vegetarians, you could substitute another bean, perhaps a high protein grain (quinoa, brown rice, or farro), or some sautéed tofu. And it’s healthy enough you won’t feel badly about going back for seconds!

Black Bean Salad with Shrimp
Some people have an aversion to cilantro, so that is an optional addition to the end of the dish. I had some leftover from the farmer’s market and it was a delicious addition to what was already a tasty dish! 

2 cups of black beans or a 14 oz. can, drained and rinsed
1-2 cups (depending on the size) of shrimp, poached
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. oil
½-¾ cup of grape tomatoes, sliced in half vertically
⅓ cup or so of chopped scallions
1 jalapeno, seeded (if you want less heat) and minced (optional for those who don’t like it hot)
Juice of one lime
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cilantro, for topping (optional)

1. In a small skillet, warm about a teaspoon of oil. Add the garlic, saute until soft. Add the shrimp and cook over low heat until they turn pink. Set aside.
2. In a bowl, add the beans, tomatoes, scallions, and jalapeno and stir. Mix in the shrimp and garlic, add the lime and salt and pepper to taste. Top with cilantro, if using.

 

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

This photo of “Les Trois Gourmandes” hangs in my kitchen. I like to think of them as my kitchen guardian angels.

I owe all of my interest in cooking and food to Julia Child. In the 1970s, her show would be on in the late afternoon on PBS and I watched in awe as she cooked something exotic and delicious-looking; I always wonder if that’s why to this day I have an urge to step into the kitchen and start cooking in the late afternoons on the weekends. Wanting to emulate her, my first step in cooking was whisking scrambled eggs with flour (my brother still reminds me to this day of my first “recipe.” And yes, it tasted like eggs and flour and went to the compost pile.) I was an early riser even when I was young, and one morning decided to make hors d’ouevres for my parents before 8 a.m (Ritz crackers topped with cheese and an olive. They were kind enough to eat them in their half-awake state.) When I got a little older, I used to borrow her cookbooks from the library, poring through the pages and dreaming of menus I’d cook for my future guests when I was an adult. I have nine of her cookbooks on my shelf, the most of any other cook. To this day, if I’ve had a bad day, I know her cooking show with Jacques Pépin is on at 7 p.m. and just watching it relaxes me and puts me in a better mood.

So I’ve watched cooks around the country join me on the Julia Child bandwagon for a celebration of what would be her 100th birthday today, August 15. Since I’m out of town today, Saturday night’s dinner was going to be in tribute to Julia and would completely be from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This also gave me time to spend in the kitchen, cooking in homage of this master cook.

How does the phrase go about the best laid plans? I wondered when I went to bed that day if someone was testing me to look outside the box. I awoke to a dreadfully humid day. This summer has been the three H’s, hazy, hot, and humid, and Saturday was no different. I took my usual long walk a little after 6 and by 6:15 I was drenched in sweat. But no matter, I had cooking to do this day!

We ran errands and did all our grocery shopping and were home around 2:30. I put everything away, washed the breakfast dishes, and had the house to myself–I was going to prepare the chocolate mousse! I read the recipe carefully, dividing the eggs by their yolks and whites, and started preparing. I had exactly ¼ cup of Triple Sec left, perfect. I started whisking and whipping over the double boiler as instructed. About 10 minutes into this, I realized I was whisking the whites not the yolks.

Now, this is where living in the country is a pain in the neck. I was furious with myself over this error and I had two options, put everything away for another day or travel to town and pick up more Triple Sec. After much consideration, I chose the latter, and also picked up some super fine sugar, as I also didn’t have enough at home. A short visit with a friend, and we were home a little after six. Still plenty of time to make dinner!

The “proper” chocolate mousse!

With the chocolate mousse properly made, I moved on to the tomatoes.

The tomatoes waiting for the oven.

The two recipes took a little bit under an hour. I was still on track time-wise. I sat down to watch a little bit of the Olympics with a small glass of wine when the electricity fluttered. It looked like it was going to rain, but not a storm that would take out the electricity. I breathed a sigh of relief, my mind going to the fridge, with the scallops, fish, and cooling chocolate mousse. I returned to the kitchen, turned on my computer to listen to music, and the lights went out. This time, for good.

After the rain, a faint rainbow bowed over the mountains and was lovely. The sun came out, but the electricity was still off. It started to get dark. Since we have a gas stove, I could use the stove top, but I needed the oven. Then I thought, I’m going to just cook everything on the stove and forget about the oven; I’d cook the tomatoes in the morning.


Cooking by candlelight isn’t as romantic as it may look and certainly isn’t the most ideal situation, but I was able to make the scallops and its sauce. I was thrilled, there really was no reason to pop them in the oven at all! I plated the food, brought the candles to the living room and just as I brought in the wine and was about to sit down, the lights came on. This time, for good.

So at 9 p.m., I started to make the fish, cook the tomatoes, I gave up on making the hollandaise, and washed the batches and batches of dishes that had accumulated. The scallops were rich, a little too rich for me; the fish overcooked a little bit, I thought; the tomatoes were delicious and a hit; and the chocolate mousse? Taking that trip to town was well worth it too, when I saw my number one eater dig into his dish, and silently return to the kitchen for seconds; I was tired and set mine aside for the next day. And after giving a serving on to a chocolate-loving friend, the request has been made to bring another batch along for this week’s annual trip to Lake George.

So WWJD? “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude,” she is quoted as saying.

To good food and good eating!

The Menu

Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne
(Scallops and Mushrooms in White Wine Sauce)
Recipe can be found here.
(Cook’s note: Since sea scallops are incredibly expensive, I substituted bay scallops. Also, she has you simmer the scallops and mushrooms for five minutes; I think this is way too long, maybe more like three minutes.)  

Filets de Poisson Pochés au Vin Blanc
(Fish Filets Poached in White Wine)
Recipe can be found here, Filets de Poisson Pochés au Vin Blanc
(Cook’s note: My supermarket had neither sole nor flounder, so I used cod. It was a good substitute. You can also use haddock.)

Tomates à la Provençale
(Tomatoes Stuffed with Bread Crumbs, Herbs, and Garlic)
Recipe can be found here.

Choux Broccoli avec Sauce Hollandaise
(Broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce)
The recipe served with asparagus can be found here.

Mousseline au Chocolat
(Chocolate Mousse)
Recipe can be found here.

Soba Noodles With Shrimp and Vegetables

Mornings are darker when I get up in the morning, but the sunrises are still gorgeous.

A few weeks back, I was challenged by a friend and reader to take my favorite summertime side dish Szechuan Cucumbers (you can find the recipe here) and create an entrée. I thought a lot about this for quite some time and was basically stumped. One evening, I spied a package of soba noodles I bought at the Asian market several months ago. I found a bunch of different veggies in the refrigerator bin (including some cucumbers) and started creating a recipe in my big silver mixing bowl.

Soba are thin buckwheat noodles and take hardly any time to cook at all, more like 3-4 minutes to pasta’s 6-8. You can find these in the Asian section of your coop or supermarket. I really like them because they add a somewhat nutty flavor to any dish. I set my big Dutch oven on the stove to heat the water while I chopped the vegetables. I first julienned two carrots, making them small sticks. Then I took a cucumber, and so it wouldn’t be watery, I peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced it. I added a thinly sliced red pepper. I had some fresh radishes, so I chopped a couple of those as well as a little bit of sliced red cabbage for color and crunch. These could be optional if you don’t have them, or you could add more carrots, peppers, and cucumbers if you want more veggies. I finished with a lot of chopped scallions I had just bought from the farmers’ market. The veggies part were done. Now for the shrimp.

I’ve started buying frozen uncooked shrimp at my supermarket’s fish counter this summer. It’s fairly inexpensive when it’s on sale (one bag can make for two to three dinners) and are easy to defrost on a work evening, and just a few shrimp are nice to add to salads and pasta. I defrosted the shrimp, sautéed them with a finely minced jalapeno pepper and olive oil, and set aside to cool a little. If you have an aversion to spice, you can leave out the pepper or just use half; sometimes I find using a whole jalapeno is even too hot for me!

Now came the sauce. I thought something with a peanut butter flavor would be tasty. I took some rice vinegar, tamari (or soy sauce), and peanut butter and mixed together. A squirt (or two) of sriracha sauce for a little bit more heat, which is of course, optional for those who like it milder. I added the cooked noodles and shrimp to the vegetables, gave it a light toss, then the sauce, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to avoid sticking, and then another toss. Served in deep bowls with a sprinkling of sesame seeds on top and dinner is ready!

This looks like a complicated recipe, but I made this on a work night and it’s mostly just a lot of chopping with minimal cleanup! I’m not sure if this fits the bill in terms of the challenge, but a dish involving shrimp, cucumbers, and Asian flavors made for a great dinner that night!

Soba Noodles With Shrimp and Vegetables
Of  course, you can make this vegetarian by leaving out the shrimp and substituting tofu or some good beans!

• 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
• 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
• 1 large cucumber or 1 ½ pickling cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced
• 1 cup chopped red cabbage (optional)
• 2-3 chopped radishes (optional)
• ½-¾ cup chopped scallions (the measurements vary based on how much you like onions and how strong the flavor of your bunch)
• About 2 cups uncooked shrimp (I used extra-large, but you can use any size)
• 2 teaspoon oil, olive or canola
• 1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced
• 4 cups cooked soba noodles
• 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
• Sesame seeds

Sauce
• ¼ cup rice vinegar
• 2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
• 3 teaspoons peanut butter
• A squirt (or two) or sriracha sauce (optional)

Add all the chopped vegetables to a large mixing bowl. Cook the soba noodles according to directions and add to the bowl. Cook the shrimp in a small heated skillet with the jalapenos and 2 teaspoons of oil until they are no longer pink, about 3 minutes or less. Add to the mixture.

In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for the sauce together. Gently toss the mixture together. Add the sesame oil and mix one last time. Serve in a deep dished bowl, top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Julia Child’s Vichyssoise

When I got together with my nieces and nephews, everyone was getting temporary tattoos, so Aunt Chris decided to get one too. And of course, mine had to be food-related–a cupcake!

With the prospect of Julia Child’s 100th birthday on August 15 (restaurants around the country are planning special dinners in her honor), I’ve been reading her tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and planning a special dinner for the weekend of August 10. So with that, I’ve been finding other easy-to-make recipes in the book that I could also make during the week.

Book club this month was slated for the lake (Champlain) and I would be coming straight from work, so I needed to pick up something or take along a dish that would be easy to tote and that I could make the night before. I discovered Julia’s recipe for Vichyssoise which, although I’m not a big fan of cold soups, is one of my favorites. I never need an excuse to buy leeks, I love them (especially in scrambled eggs with a little bit of cream cheese), and the chives in the garden had been ignored since springtime. This recipe is quite simple, peel and slice potatoes, slice some leeks, and add some broth and simmer until soft. Puree, add cream, and voilà! you’re done! It’s simple enough I able to make the soup while making dinner!

I spent Tuesday morning getting serving cups and utensils ready and I packed the soup in a cooler, which I put in the fridge at work when I got there. But as luck would have it, Vermont’s summertime weather did not cooperate. Rain in the morning made for a gorgeous afternoon. But by the time 3 p.m. rolled around, so did the clouds and more rain, leading us to cancel and meet at my house. Which actually turned out to be a saving grace for my soup; when packaged, its liquid  floats to the top. Since I had forgotten to pack a ladle (I thought I could just pour it into the cups), this could have been a potential mess. When I got home, I poured the soup back into the Dutch oven and stirred. Much better. Instead of chilled cups, I served in bowls;  since it had been in the fridge for about 24 hours, it was plenty chilled.

The soup was a hit, the book (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) was a hit, and the evening was filled with great food, great friends, and as always, lots of laughs. And the best part was there was just enough leftover for my lunch the next day!

Vichysssoise
(Cold Leek and Potato Soup)
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck

3 cups peeled, sliced potatoes (Cook’s note: I found this to be about 2 large Russet potatoes)
3 cups sliced white of leek
1 ½ quarts of white stock, chicken stock, or canned chicken broth (Cook’s note: I used just slightly more than a quart for this, I was worried it would be too thin for my liking. I gauged correctly.)
Salt to taste
½ to 1 cup whipping cream (Cook’s note: I definitely used 1/2 cup, a little goes a long way.)
Salt and white pepper
Chilled soup cups
2-3 TB minced chives

Simmer the vegetables in stock or broth instead of water, partially covered, for 40 to 50 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup either in the electric blender, or through a food mill and then through a fine sieve.

Stir in the cream. Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as salt loses savor in a cold dish. Chill.

Serve in chilled soup cups and decorate with minced chives.