Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Celebratory Pizza

I have yet to meet a kid who didn't like pizza. I have met many who look at falafel with disgust. However, my neighbor Carla's daughter isn't one of them. Mads is the single-most adventurous foodie of a child that I've ever met. And yesterday, she turned nine.

In the spirit of the day, we invited her and her mom over for dinner and cake. I learned about Mads' love of falafel on a day when her mom was running late at work and we took her to our apartment off the school bus. Dinner that night was falafel and though they were not staying for dinner, Mads was so excited about the prospect of this Mediterranean dish that I doggie bagged a few balls for her, for the road. So for the birthday dinner, falafel sounded perfect. Art and I commenced to the local Dave's, which is conveniently in walking distance from the apartment. Now, I have yet to make myself some homemade falafel, though I've always wanted to and will for a future blog, at an as yet undetermined time. Instead, we purchase the health food boxed mix falafel. Pretty much an add water and bake in the oven deal... not bad healthwise, due to the ability to bake instead of fry.

Of course, when I got to the store, I discovered, in dismay, that they had very recently stopped carrying falafel mix and I had no idea how much of what ingredients I'd need to make it from scratch. It was back to the drawing board, but, being in a store, it was hard to list out possible options. Instead, I opted for the age-old classic: pizza.

When I say pizza, I don't mean Marcos or Little Caesars or even Digorno or BoBoli crusts. I mean from-scratch crust with fresh ingredients. I have long since ceased eating store-bought pizza for the superior taste and whole wheat of a good homemade crust. The recipe I use is straight from the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. I make their friday night pizza crust and then the group adds their favorite toppings to the two large-sized thin crust pizzas that result.

Art adds all the meat he can lay his hands on, plus mushroom, onion, and of course, cheese. Garet won't eat a pizza with anything more than the standard cheese pizza. For my part, I usually use a migor amount of cheese and a lot of sauce, plus whatever veggies are handy, but recently, I've discovered a delicious recipe. Instead of sauce, I use ranch dressing. Then a thin layer of cheddar, followed by diced brocolli florets, carrots, red pepper, and mushrooms. Then a thin layer of moz. cheese. For the purpose of the party, Art did a whole pizza with his meat mix for him and Carla. I did half of the other pizza in my veggie-ranch and half in plain cheese for the kids. Mads loved her pizza, as well as the devil's food two layer cake I made to come after it, and Carla brought some actual French Champagne and Bellini mix for the adults and sparking pink lemonade for the kids, as well as five champagne flutes with which to toast the birthday girl.

The night ended up a success, but I couldn't have pulled it off without Barbara Kingsolver.

Friday Night Pizza Crust:

3 T yeast (one packet)
1 t salt
2 c wheat flour
1 and 1/2 c warm water
2 and 1/2 c unbleached flour
3 T olive oil

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water and add oil and salt to the mix. Mix flours and knead them into the liquid until a ball of dough forms. Let dough rise 30-40 minutes.

2. Add toppings.

3. Bake pizzas at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until crust is brown and crisp.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An eggplant start

I'm still waiting on my plot number for the community garden, so while I wait to plant my summer eggplants, I thought I'd get a jumpstart on summer eating with a little eggplant a la grocer. Heinen's to be precise. Though they have outlandish high prices on a lot of merchandise and not as much in the way of offbrands, they have a better than average produce section that I'm fairly sure comes more from local-ier areas than other grocer's produce. So while I was there today, I couldn't resist the eggplant: a nice deep color (but not too deep) with just the right amount of firmness. Too often supermarket eggplant is already overripe by the time it gets to the store, but these babies were some beautiful aubergine.

A few weeks back, on the first good weather day of spring, Art and I walked the two mile hike via sidewalk to the Shaker library. It was past noon by the time we got done with the book and movie perusal, especially given my recent fascination with knitting that leaves me salivating over patterns while cross-legged on the floor of the craft section. Not to mention a glance at the cookbooks. Needless to say, we were ready for lunch before the trek back to the apartment and went in search of a nearby restaurant. What we found was A Touch of Italy, a little Italian place/bar that serves pizzas, subs, pasta, margaritas, and Heineken. I guess Italian booze leaves something to be desired?

Art ordered some meat-filled thing that he was quite fond of. I ordered the eggplant sub. I envisioned grilled eggplant on bread. What I got was breaded and fried eggplant parmesan on bread, and while I was a little disappointed in the unhealthiness and grease-factor, the taste more than made up for any upset. It was delicious. Full on, mouth-bursting taste sensation with the breading and the sauce and the sesame seeds and of course, many thin slices of eggplant. Art tried some of mine too and he was very impressed with the place overall. He said, and I quote, "Best subs I've had since Mancinos," and given the love all Toledoans feel for the grinder, that is quite a praise.

Fastforward to my current eggplant purchase. Art got the idea: why not fry it up with breading and throw it on bread like the subs at A Touch of Italy? And it was on:

Fried Eggplant Fritter Sandwiches

One medium-sized eggplant
a fair amount of Italian-style breadcrumbs
skim milk
light butter
oil (olive or canola)
cheese (shredded moz or any other form of cheese sliced or shredded is fine)
basil pesto
some pasta sauce
bread (sandwich sliced, hamburger buns, or sub hoagies as you see fit)

1. Cut off top and bottom of eggplant. Then cut up eggplant lengthwise in thin slices (the thinness is important so you can stack them on the bread like thick layers of roast beef)
2. Place egg and milk in a small-med sized bowl in a ratio where you add twice as much milk as you do egg. Start with one or two eggs and twice as much milk and then add to it as you start to run low. Place some breadcrumbs in a second bowl of equal size. Replenish as needed.
4.Place 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a med-large skillet at med-high heat. Wait for butter to melt and then add enough oil to fry the eggplants in, replenishing the butter/oil mix as needed while frying to keep the bottom of the pan coated for each set of eggplant slices you fry. Once oil is bubbly, you are ready to fry.
3. Take a slice of eggplant and coat it in the egg/milk mixture. Evenly coat in breadcrumbs. Then recoat in egg/milk mixture. You may lose some breadcrumbs, but don't panic. Then recoat in breadcrumbs and place on a plate. Repeat until all eggplant slices have been coated twice in both bowls, replenishing ingredients as you go.
4. While coating eggplant, you can start plopping the coated slices in the skillet two at a time. Fry until eggplant slices are golden brown/crispy. Transfer them to a clean plate and repeat until all eggplant slices are fried.
5. spread pesto on the top slice of bread for your sandwich. Then add cheese and pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds to melt the cheese. Assemble sandwich as follows: fold one eggplant slice in half on the bottom bread add a thin layer of cheese and the sauce. Fold a second eggplant slice in half on top of the first one. Again, add cheese and sauce. Then top with the melted cheese bread. Enjoy.

We were pleased with how closely our sandwiches tasted to the restaurant sub version. As a sidedish, we cooked up some baked sweet potato fries, which complimented nicely.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries:
Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Cut up a sweet potato or two, depending on number of people eating, into fry-sized slices. Caution--sweet potatoes are hard to cut through when raw. I'm usually too lazy to soften them by prebaking though and it's do-able to cut them raw. Just make sure you're extra careful not to loose a thumb-tip. Coat the fries lightly in olive oil, either by brushing or olive oil cooking spray. Then sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and raw sugar. Bake in the oven for an hour, flipping 30 minutes in for even baking.
If you want a little kick with your fries, you can mix a bit of cayenne pepper to your condiment fry ketchup in the vein of the Elephant Bar's sweet potato fries.

Overall, it was an enjoyable spring meal that welcomed the first taste of summer while also bidding farewell to winter vegetables. Adios sweet potato. Bonjour aubergine.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Community Garden

Last year, I discovered the magic of the westside market, and suddenly my fresh vegetable options were endless... or mostly fresh anyway. Now, I'm going to have my hand at gardening. I've helped out in the garden since I was very young. There is, in fact, an infamous family story about the time my cousin Jesse and I wandered out to grandpa's garden and picked all of his green tomatoes. He was less than thrilled, obviously. Even so, I have never had the chance to plant a garden and labor through the whole gardening process.

I did try at indoor winter herb garden in the window sill. Some mint, some oregano, and a pot of basil. After all the long weekends we do in Michigan, however, not even the mint survived inevitable dehydration. I'm not good with indoor plants as a whole. In junior high, I even managed to kill my mother's cactus given to her at her high school graduation. I think I overwatered it. As a plant caretaker, I have something of a black thumb.

But then, indoor plants aren't really a gardening. And maybe my thumb won't get in the way too much.

The Episcopalian church I've been taking my son to for Sunday school has decided to open a community garden out back. Four inch by fourteen inch plots. To be planted by early June. I'm thinking heirloom tomatoes. I'm thinking eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, red pepper. I'm thinking Kale for the fall. I'm open to other suggestions and rather excited about my first attempt as an honest-to-god gardener. By this time in July, I hope to be swimming in nightshades. Olay!