Friday, October 15, 2010


Sometimes when dining out as I peruse the menu, my eye wanders from the main attraction, a grilled Sea Bass or braised Veal shank, to the right side of the page, though not all the way to the prices, not wanting that to ruin a good meal. But to the side dishes, the "WITH'S", as it were,  often determine my choice for the evening, other times the a particularly scrumptious appetizer might be in the drivers seat and steer the courses to follow. The same this can happen with home dinners and did just that when I woke with a burning desire for Eggplant. Perhaps it had been the Italian cookbook I had been reading before bed, or perhaps the dark purple, splendid smooth skin and tender flesh beneath this regal vegetable had crept in to my dreams. Generally served Parmesan style, fried to a golden brown and napped in rich tomato sauce, I grew to love freshly fried eggplant from years of cooking it 3 times a week in Italian restaurants, dipping morsels too hot to touch in to vat's of simmering tomato sauce on the way to yet another smoke break. So I had Eggplant on the brain, my dilemma was I also had some scallops that were in danger of needing an eviction notice from their residency in our fridge. Having recently had a meal with tomato sauce within the past few days it's inclusion redundant. Luck, timing or providence then reared it's pretty head when Chicken fried steak was featured on a cooking show I was channel surfing past. Let me mention I detest chicken fried steak and have never had a decent one in all my years of traveling .When I was young my Father and I logged many a road mile, him fueled on the previously mentioned culinary abortion. The idea however had planted a seed and I decided to use the scallops, in a "white" sauce, to dress the eggplant, accentuate it, put it in a sexy evening dress and send it out on the town.
Frying eggplant, or anything for that matter is not that daunting a project, but it does take some organization and counter space. You need to set up a small assembly line, complete with flour, egg wash, breadcrumbs and last but not least, a frying station. Before you start opening cabinets in a fury, searching for the breadcrumbs you know you bought, you should "bleed" the eggplant. Eggplant can have a bitter flavor, more so when unripe, so bleeding out the bitterness by salt extraction is prudent. Cut your eggplant in to pinkie width, ring finger for those of you with small digits, slices, skin on, or off and place on a cookie sheet, or even cooling rack, as you will want one later anyway. Liberally sprinkle with salt, Kosher works best, you can see the chunks and let sit for 45 minutes, then wipe off the liquid, a salty, bitter brew and discard paper towel. Turn the eggplant over and repeat, this all may seem like a lot, but it will give you time to make a tomato sauce, take the trash or let the cat in. I used the time to set up my breading station. Using two Pyrex dishes and a bowl, I filled the Pyrex with one cup of flour, salted and another with seasoned breadcrumbs. You can use Panko, seasoned, unseasoned, (season yourself), or best of all, homemade, something even I rarely do. Mix up one or two room temperature eggs and you are ready to bread. Breading is simple and not all that messy if you remember to keep one hand for wet and one hand for dry, never the two to meet. Drop a few slices of eggplant in to the flour and jerk the dish back and forth, using the same action you might when sauteing, or flipping an omelet. pat off excess and move to the egg wash, careful to coat the whole slice. Now with your "wet" hand, drain the eggplant, (let the wash drip off), and place in the dish with the breadcrumbs, shaking again and this time giving the vegetable a gentle pat to ensure full coating. Once you have done this with all your slices and you have a nice layered stack, you are ready to fry baby.
Here is where I think most home cooks get a little nervous. Home frying can be a daunting prospect. Some folks will have a "Fry Daddy" or the George Foreman easy fryer Aunt Josie bought you for your 10th wedding anniversary, but for most people, me included, a thick bottomed and high sided pan will be the tool of choice. After you have selected your pan, your second big choice will be what kind of oil should you fry in. I am not going to try to lecture you, nor influence you on the oil you like. Some swear by Canola, while others will tell you Canola causes cancer and creates children with 8 fingers. Olive oil, vegetable oil, lard,, you name it, it is out there and someone will tell you it is good and someone will tell you it is bad. I like Peanut oil, low taste and high burn temperature, again,, my choice and at this moment in time my government has not tried to regulate my use of frying oil, though that day make not be long in coming.
For this dish you do not
Now onto the Scallops, you remember the scallops,, this is a song about the scallops. If you feel confident as the eggplant are frying away, you can start the protein for your dinner. I used sea scallops, but if you like, as did my father, Bay's are fine. Smaller and some say sweeter they cook too quickly for my liking in this dish, but hey, it's your kitchen. After "footing", (removing connective muscle), scallops I pat dry and sear on high heat on side of the scallop in butter. Once the scallop has a nice crust and seal, I removed from the pan and set aside, adding 1/2 sliced Spanish onion, 2 cloves of minced garlic and 2 cups of mixed mushrooms. I went with Oyster and Shitake' mushrooms for their silky texture and lack of color, as I wanted to keep the sauce as white as possible. Sweat the onions/mushrooms until they have released their juices and the liquid in the pan has evaporated. then add 1 cup of heavy cream, bring the heat up and reduce by half. At this point I returned the scallops to the pan, hit them with the juice of half a lemon, salt and white pepper and a handful of chopped chives. Let the scallops finish cooking and add a 1/4 cup of grated pecorino, parmesan or cheese of your liking.
We are coming down the home stretch. All that is left is plating and receiving the admiration of your dinner companion, clamouring guest or the confused look from your pet as you walk your creation through the dining room with the pomp and circumstance usually reserved for kings, queens or the pope. I used the eggplant as my base and partially covered it with the scallop and sauce mixture. You can serve any side dish you like, I went with a crisp salad of Romaine, Radishes and Italian dressing.

So enjoy your evening and your company, keeping in mind that your leftover eggplant freezes very well and can later be used in a more tradional manner, such as Eggplant parmesean, made easy now that you have a stash of homemade fried eggplant. Keep cooking and share.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


What makes a good hostess, or host?
A good host someone who opens their home and their heart to you, who makes you feel their home is your home, your basic needs never going neglected. Weather it be a cocktail party,  dinner for eight, picnic for two or a weekend by the sea. A host should have a clean, (within reason), clutter free and warm environment to greet you.  Your host should be provider and tour guide, taking you on a journey away from your day to day, a magical place where good food, conversation and comfort rule with an iron fist.
Transversely as a guest you bear half the responsibility as well, or at the very least forty percent. A good guest should be respectful of your hosts possessions and property, considerate to likes and dislikes of the host, accustomed to the ways of land and most of all, along for the ride. A gift is always a nice touch and a staunch refusal to allow your host to do dishes goes a long way with the Miss Manners crowd, as a host your job now becomes to dissuade your guest from toiling in the dish pit, this battle should take no longer than 7  minutes and the results will vary depending the participants. If your an overnight guest, leaving the room the way you found it and doing some manual labor, yard work, making the morning coffee or building a sculpture, is always appreciated.
The simple nuance of the host/guest relationship is a dance, best done with familiar partners, though there is something to be said for bringing a group of strangers together for a magical night . In a time of the Internet, instant messaging, email relationships, the simple act of dinner together need to be cherished. Like the fading elegance of the Thank You note, putting pen to paper, stamp to tongue, a visceral connection in recognition of time well spent.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Veal stew with artichokes and chives, served with parmesan polenta

I love summer and the food that surrounds it. As summer is officially over and we move into fall and winter, more so on some nights, the stews and comfort food start to make an appearance. Though last night was not cold, or even cool I felt compelled to make something homey and soft, ( Jane is having tooth trouble). I like making meals that require some cooking time and can be prepared hours before service, it makes eating them more enjoyable for me as well, I can forget that I made the dish and just eat it. Another nice thing about stews and such is that you can work with the flavors over time, change things you don't like, or let new things develop, never know what direction something, even an old favorite might take.
Starting with 2 Lbs of veal stew meat, seasoned with dried sage, cumin, salt and pepper and dredged in flour, brown in 3 Tbl olive oil on both sides, you are looking for a good crust to seal the meat. Make sure you do this in a heavy bottomed pot, as burning can be an issue. I have this funny beat up pot my Mother likely bought in the 50's and somehow has survived both her and at times my nomadic lifestyle, but NOTHING burns in it, I love it.
Add 1 Spanish onion, lg dice
2 carrots, cut in similar size to the onions
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Sweat these for ten minutes, stirring from time to time.
Add 3 cups beef stock, 15 minced capers, 1 sprig of rosemary,10 chives, chopped, juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper, bring to a slow boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 1/2 hour. Uncover and add one can,, yes can,, I said it, sometimes canned artichokes just easier and in the winter, far more available. I used pre quartered artichokes, but you can quarter your own, or if really feeling ambitious you can use fresh. At this point you are just adjusting the thickness of the sauce by reduction, so the ball is in your court,, thick or thinner,, both are delicious and depending on what you are serving the stew with may dictate how thick the sauce is. Right before service I check for seasoning and added some more fresh chives.
For the polenta you can use instant, or plain corn meal. I substitute stock, in this case beef, for water and added grated Parmesan and butter at the end.
A bowl seemed the only fitting vessel for this meal with the veal stew sitting on top of the polenta, garnish with scallions, the whole meal was served with a micro green salad, Italian dressing and some warm corn bread. Since most of the work, short of the polenta was done by mid afternoon, I was able to sit down and dig in, kitchen clean and conscience clear. So enjoy and share..whats for dinner tonight?