Monday, May 31, 2010

Egg[plant] Man (Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes)

I love me some eggplant.

I have a hard time pinpointing exactly when I fell in love with those tasty purple critters, but I’ll use just about any excuse to cook with them now. One my the recipes that the Sweet Partner in Crime requests for special occasions is my Eggplant Parmesan, which I make from scratch. Yummy.

Today, though, we’ve got a more Middle Eastern take. This recipe takes a little time to put together, but a good chunk of the cooking time is hands-off, so you can find other things to do while you’re putting it together. This is my take on a recipe from a recent issue of Food & Wine. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 small eggplants (1 3/4 pounds)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • juice from 1 lemonIMG_0766

    Get a good, heavy pot. Prick the eggplants on all sides with a fork. Put the pot over medium-low heat, add the eggplant, cover and cook. (Yes, you read that right. Nothing in the pot but the eggplant.) Cook for about 40 minutes, turning a couple of times, until the outside is charred and the inside is soft.

    When cooked, transfer the eggplants to a colander. Cut a lengthwise slit in each and allow them to drain for 10-15 minutes, or IMG_0767until the eggplants are cool enough to handle. Cut the eggplants in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Take a mashing utensil (potato masher, bottom of a glass, phone book) and pulverize the eggplant.

    Put the pot back on the stove and heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant mush, garlic, and spices. Cook until most of the water has evaporated and the tomatoes start to break down – 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Add the herbs and lemon juice. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or so. While this is simmering, make the couscous. PlateIMG_0769 it up and chow down.

    If you’re looking for a wine pairing with this, a red from the Rhone region of France is a good bet. I opened a nice Chateauneuf-de-Pape with it, but a good Cotes du Rhone would do nicely.






    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Dig (barbecue-glazed grilled salmon)

    Cleaning out the pantry -- an iffy prospect.

    I never know what I’ll stumble across while I reach for the back wall. It can be sort of exciting in a way. It’s a culinary archeological dig.

    I’ll run into spices that I bought not realizing that I still had a supply (“What? Another bottle of fennel seed? More red curry paste?”), food-related gifts (“Dehydrated bean soup? Who gave me this?”), zippies with half a cup of unused orzo pasta and the like.

    This time around, I came up with a bottle of old barbecue sauce. No idea where it came from, but I feel fairly confident that it’s shelf stable. What to do? What to do?

    Keep it simple. Pour some of the sauce into a ziploc bag. Thin it a bit with cider vinegar. Put in a piece of salmon filet. Zip it up, slather it around, and throw it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

    After that, fire up the grill. When hot, grill the salmon for 3-4 minutes on a side over medium-high heat. When it flakes, it’s done.

    For a side, cut the kernels off a couple of ears of corn. Chop up some tomatoes and a green pepper. Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Throw in the veggies with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon of ground cumin. Sauté for just a couple of minutes -- until the pepper just starts to get tender. Plate it up. Pour yourself a glass of pinot noir. Enjoy.


    Afterwards, rinse out the bottle of barbecue sauce, recycle it, and try to forget that it was ever there…

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    Where Is My Mind? (Roast Chicken with Tomatoes & Marjoram)

    Ever tried to make dinner when you’re…shall we say…not completely there? I mean, who’d be silly enough to work around in the kitchen after that third happy hour martini or after a Lazy Sunday Afternoon with no mind to worry.* Certainly not me, of course. For the sake of argument, though, let’s imagine that we’re faced with this situation. Pop quiz, hotshot…what do you do?

    The best way to deal with this little hypothetical would be to have a recipe or three in one’s back pocket that can be thrown together with a minimum of effort and time. Picking up an item or two at the store might be necessary, but I’ll assume your hypothetical shopping was done with a little more foresight than your pre-cooking revelry.

    You really can’t go wrong with roasting chicken and tomatoes. It’s practically foolproof. Marjoram has a really fascinating flavor – it’s halfway between cilantro and sage. Besides, if you can still pronounce “marjoram” correctly, you’re probably in good shape to make this. A bottle of Spanish rose makes a great accompaniment.

    Disclaimer: If the cook’s mental and physical state is such that a few simple slicing tasks pose a significant risk of permanent disfigurement -- plop down on the couch, put on some Allman Brothers, and call your local pizza place or Chinese delivery. Bodily humors make a poor seasoning for this dish. 

    • 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram (or 3/4-1 tbsp. dried if you must)
    • 5-6 minced garlic cloves
    • 1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes
    • 3-4 tomatoes, cut into thin wedges and seeded
    • 1 c. couscous

    Preheat oven to 450. Pat chicken dry. Mix all but 1 tbsp of the marjoram (or 1/2 tbsp. if using dried), the garlic, and the red pepper with about 1/4 c. olive oil in a large bowl.

    Add the tomatoes and chicken to the mixture and toss. Spray a roasting pan with cooking spray and pour everything in. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer around the chicken. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

    Roast for about 30 minutes. Check the pan at this point. The tomatoes should be breaking down and making a sauce and if you cut into the chicken (which should be browning), the juices should run clear. If it needs a little more time, put it back in for 5 more minutes.

    Meanwhile, make the couscous however you prefer to make couscous. I keep it simple…water, salt, and a little bit of olive oil.

    When everything’s done, put down a bed of couscous, top with the chicken, pour the tomatoes and collected juices over everything, and sprinkle the reserved marjoram over the top. What you’ll end up with this is this scrumptious one-plate meal, an easy cleanup, and plenty of time to either crash or recover, depending on your plans. IMG_0749

    * Check out “Ogden's Nut Gone Flake” if you’re curious. (h/t to The Wizard of Covington)

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Love & Hap-pea-ness (Pasta with Peas)

    If there's a particular recipe site you like, get on the mailing list. Seriously – do it. Make a folder and route the mail there so you can go over it at your leisure. Chances are, you’ll delete about 95% of what you get – but every once in awhile, something comes over the transom that’s worth keeping.

    I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Giuliano Hazan. I think his cookbooks are great, his recipes can be lifesavers, and I’ve very rarely had an issue with anything I’ve read from him.

    The Sweet Partner in Crime and I were exhausted after a weekend that included our joint birthday/wedding celebration and hosting a Mother’s Day brunch. We needed something that would require a minimum of effort this evening and I’d been emailed a recipe that sounded promising. I took it and modified it a bit thanks to a couple of other ingredients we had around, and it turned into an ultra quick, very healthy vegetarian springtime pasta that was absolutely yummy. Alas, no pictures of this one…but you’ll be glad you threw this one together!

    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 tbsp. olive oil
    • 12 oz. package frozen peas
    • 10-12 mint leaves
    • 1/2 c. white wine
    • 1 lb. pasta
    Get a pot of salted water going for the pasta. Chop the onion and put it in a skillet with the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until it’s golden. Add the peas and 1/2 c. water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender (about 6-8 minutes). When the water’s boiling, add the pasta.

    When the peas are ready, drop the heat to low. Put half the peas, the mint, and the white wine in a food processor and puree. Return the puree to the whole peas. Add 3/4 c. of the cooking water (more if necessary) to the peas and stir well to make a sauce. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

    When done, drain the pasta and toss it well with the sauce. Top with a little parmesan and serve with a nice pinot grigio. It almost seems too simple, but trust me – try it.

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    One Slip (Chicken & Chickpea Curry)

    I mention “victories and defeats” in the Man Who Cooks intro. I should have probably used a weaker word than “defeat,” since when something starts to go awry, I need to be able to call an audible.

    I was planning to do a “cobble together stuff from around the pantry” sort of entry. I’d had a curry jones for a little while, and I thought tonight I’d get my fix.

    This is a curry I put together with some staples in my cupboard. Your staples may differ – but it’s my cupboard, dammit! Anyway…the ingredients are nothing fancy.

    • 1 lb boneless chicken breast or thigh, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized chunks
    • 1 small onion, minced
    • 2 tsp. olive oil.
    • 1/4 c. flour
    • 3 c. or so chicken broth
    • 1+ tbsp. curry powder
    • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained – or 2-3 med ones, chopped
    • 1/4 c. well-chopped parsley
    • garlic, ginger, salt, pepper depending on your seasoning desires
    • cooked rice

    Things started off innocuously enough. Cut everything up. Toss the chicken in the flour until coated. Heat the oil over medium-low heat. Easy.

    Add the onions. I like to cook onions slowly. Cooking them too fast makes them bitter. I like to use lower heat and let the sugars start to caramelize (which is  what happens when onions start to turn golden). Better flavor. So, sauté that onion until it just starts to brown in a few places (usually 7-8 minutes).

    Add the curry powder. 1 tbsp. gives you a medium-level curry flavor.IMG_0728 I used about 1 2/3 or so. Stir this in with the onions and stir this up for a couple of minutes. If the curry really starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, throw in a splash of white wine that you  have in your glass on the counter to deglaze. All’s well. And then…it happened.

    This is the inevitable result of spending time in the kitchen. You’ll have a recipe in your head, and you’re following along…you get a little bit distracted…and suddenly you’re faced with an “Oh, sh*t!” moment.

    This was where I was supposed to tell you to add the chicken and cook it until it was just brown all over. Instead, yours truly brainlocked and threw in the chicken broth by mistake…

    Suddenly, I’m faced with a pot of curry flavored broth with some onions floating around in it. Quick! Think! What can I do here? IMG_0729

    First off, I grabbed the biggest bowl in reach. I poured the liquid off into that. I splashed a little more olive oil in the bottom of the pot, raised the heat to medium and then added the chicken. IMG_0731

    Once the chicken was about halfway browned, I added a generous amount of ginger (jarred) and garlic (minced). Probably a tbsp. of the first and 5-6 cloves of the second.

    I sautéed this for about 3 minutes, until the chicken was more or less browned, then I added the liquid. Stir well, and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any cooked flour. Bring almost to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and scrape the bottom of the pot.

    While you’re in Simmersville, get your rice ready. Different types of rice take   different amounts of time, so you can judge this as well as you can. In our case, we use a rice steamer. Best $15 you can spend. If you don’t have one, go get one. I’ll wait…IMG_0733

    …I set ours up, went to the pantry, and [insert spit-take here] I realized to my horror that we were out of rice. White? None. Basmati? Nope. Not even some risotto rice. Thankfully, the SPinC had run the Flying Pig Marathon relay over the weekend (YEAH, SWEETIE!) and in her “gift bag,” she’d been given a little thing of brown rice. It ended up as our rice for the evening. 

    Anytime I make rice for something Indian-ish, I always stir in about 1/2 tsp. of cardamom and 1/2 tsp. salt to the water. Gives it a nice flavor. (A container of cardamom will last you just this side of forever.)

    IMG_0734After the 45 minutes are done, add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and parsley. Stir it in. Raise the heat slightly and bring it back to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes.

    Fluff up the rice, put it in bowls. Ladle this yummy stuff over it. Garnish with a few chives. Chow down.