A Little Eggplant

George and I are big fans of most ethnic food.  While French tops my list, Italian plays a close second.  Last week I got a sudden craving for Eggplant Parmigiana. I have made this dish in the past but am always looking for ways to improve on the outcome.  This dish has alot of opportunities for failure.  From soggy eggplant to excessive runny sauce to just too much of everything for two people.  Over the years I have been playing with variations and I think this week I came up with a winner.  Eggplant that was still firm to the tooth, the correct ration of sauce to eggplant and a dish that was eaten by two people over the course of one dinner and one lunch.

It all began at the grocery store with the purchase of a SMALLER eggplant. I live in New Mexico and eggplant is not a native ingredient in the local dishes. That means you need to search out eggplant that is still firm and not so ginormous that it could feed a family of ten.  Last week my local store has a nice selection of smaller eggplant that fit the bill.  The store also had a special on canned fire roasted tomatoes.  So they went into my cart along with the eggplant.  My pantry/refrigerator yielded the other necessary ingredients for both the sauce and the eggplant – eggs, bread crumbs ( I prefer Panko,)  Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, dried and fresh garlic (and lots of it,) dried oregano, anchovies, white wine, salt  and pepper.

I began by slicing the eggplant into six pieces approximately 1 inch thick.  These were salted, placed on a rack and left to drain for one hour. I have learned that one hour is the magic number to drain excess liquid while not allowing them to get too dried out.

While the eggplant was draining I made the sauce.  I sliced four large garlic cloves and mixed them with dried oregano.  I don’t know how much – I stopped adding it when it looked like the right amount,  I would guess about 2 tbl. I placed the oregano and garlic in a non reactive saucepan with a splash of olive oil.  This went onto a medium low burner just until the garlic and oregano began to get fragrant, about one minute.  Then I added the two cans of fire roasted tomatoes, a splash of white wine and two oil packed anchovies.  I moved the pan to my simmer burner and let it cook for the next hour.  When making tomato sauce I check the tomato mixture frequently to be sure the liquid is not evaporating too quickly.  If I find it is a tad dry I throw in another splash of  white wine.  When the hour had passed I used my stick blender to breakdown some of the tomatoes in the pot.  We like our sauce a bit chunky but this is definitely personal preference.  Then I tasted the sauce and seasoned with salt and pepper.  I use Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

When the eggplant has completed draining it went through a traditional three dish breading – flour, egg and breadcrumbs. I seasoned my breadcrumbs with dried garlic, parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The eggplant slices were dipped in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs.  They were placed on a silicon lined backing sheet and placed in a 350 degree F. oven for about 45 minutes.  I find that pre-baking the  eggplant results in a firmer finished product.

I began to assemble the dish shortly after the eggplant came out of the oven.  In the past I would coat the entire bottom of the baking dish with sauce, lay in the eggplant, add the mozzarella, add another layer of sauce and then the Parmesan. This time I attempted to make a much drier dish.  I placed two tablespoons of sauce in a pool on one spot in the baking dish.  A cooked eggplant slice went on top of that. The eggplant was topped with a THIN layer of sauce, a piece of sliced fresh mozzarella, another THIN layer of sauce and finally with freshly grated Parmesan.  I repeated this process with the other five pieces of eggplant.  The dish went into a 350 degree F oven until the mozzarella was melted and the parmesan was toasty brown.

I knew the moment I began plating that I had met one of my goals. The eggplant slid off the spatula and held its shape.  The three distinct eggplants made a nice presentation on the plate.  I served them with zucchini noodles I cut with my mandolin and  sauteed in a bit of olive oil.  I passed the extra sauce on the side.

As we begin the vegetable growing season I will be adding this to my repertoire of meatless meals.  Bonus feature – because the eggplant wasn’t soggy it held up to a quick stay in the microwave for lunch the next day!

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Happy Easter!

Easter Sunday.  A day that brings back so many memories of family.  Growing up I had two sisters and a brother.  We girls were always dressed alike with matching shoes, hats and dresses.  My brother always wore a suit.  Easter morning we would always wake up, go to Mass, then come home and hunt for Easter baskets which had been hidden by the “Easter Bunny” in various places around the house.  The baskets would be filled with candy and dyed eggs.   After we located our baskets we would gather around the table for the traditional egg fight.   For those that aren’t familiar, this consists of one person holding their egg in their fist, round end up and exposing as little as possible, while their opponent, holding their egg,  tried to crack the offered eggshell by bashing into the egg with the pointed end of their egg.  My dad was a master at this game and it was always a point of pride if you could crack his egg!

I don’t recall the first time we had an Easter Lamb cake.  It was obviously at Easter and at the home of one of my grandparents.  I do know when I began making an Easter Lamb cake.  It was the my first Easter after George and I married.  I had received the mold months before, and quite frankly had not considered using it until my old college roommate wanted to come for a visit over Easter and bring her 1 year old daughter.  I knew we had to make Easter special for the little girl so out came the mold.  That was 48 years ago.  And, with the exception of the last few years, it has been a love hate relationship at best – because of two major components, the cake batter and the cake mold.

Let’s start with the batter.  In the beginning I used a yellow cake mix.  It tasted fine but was not really good at holding up the weak links in the mold – the ears and the neck.  The finished batter did not have enough substance to hold the weight of the head and was prone to cracking at the neck.  The limited amount of batter in the ear section of the mold would bake much quicker than the rest of the cake, making the resulting baked ears dry and brittle.  After a few years had passed I heard about others using a pound cake batter for their lamb cakes. (Yes, lamb cakes were a “thing” at one time, unlike those cakes you see today which are frosted squares with a plastic face.) I decided I had nothing to lose so I gave pound cake batter a try.  Pound cake is denser than yellow cake so it solved the neck supporting the head problem but I still had issues with the ears.

And then there was the mold.  The original mold was made from thin aluminum.  The ear part of the mold was shallow, resulting in thin ears that finished baking long before the rest of the cake and often broke into two when I un-molded the cake.  I became adept at, prior to frosting, strategically placing toothpicks to hold the ears in place.

Then several years ago I came upon this thing of beauty:

Commercial Lamb Cake mold

Commercial Lamb Cake mold

I found it at an estate sale, buried under other pots and pans, as if it where a kitchen cast-away.  Based on its location among the sale goods I knew the estate people had little appreciation for this tool. I, on the other hand, was as excited as someone who may have come across an especially fine piece of art (what can I say, I’m a kitchen gadget geek!) This is a commercial grade mold.  Very heavy with deep pockets for the ears.  The face portion of the mold was far deeper making for a more pronounced nose.  You can’t see the small pegs on the other side of the face side of the mold that elevated the mold off the baking sheet.  You can see the two small holes that allow one to test the cake for doneness. You will also note the mold can be clamped shut – I imagine there was a special tool or perhaps the professional baker just used wire. I have never used that feature.

The first time I used this mold I had immediate success.  The ears released from the mold in one piece and did not appear to be in danger of falling off with the first application of frosting.  I admit, I still sweat it out every year until the mold comes off the cooled cake.  A history this long takes awhile to overcome!

Here’s the cake which will share in our Easter celebration this year.

Lamb Cake 2018 and Peeps!

Lamb Cake 2018 and Peeps!

It is the second cake I made for the event; the first went into the trash shortly after the mold came off.  To be fair it wasn’t entirely my fault.  As I was mixing the ingredients I got a phone call from someone who had a significant number of questions about the inn and about the three rooms.  After about 30 minutes on the phone I was able to return to my baking.  I finished mixing the ingredients, put the mix in the mold and put it into the oven. I was surprised that I used all of the batter for the mold – usually I have enough left over to make a small 4″pan cake.  That should have been a clue.  But I blithely went about my business until it came time to un-mold the cake.   The center back sagged as if this poor lamb had been starved for months.  It was then I realized I had forgotten to add the eggs.  A sacrificial lamb if you will. Chalk one up to customer service!

Happy Easter and a Happy Passover to all!





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The Last of the Chicken

Yesterday I wrote about the roasted chicken I made for our dinner on Sunday evening.  Here it is Thursday and the last of the chicken will grace our table tonight.  We usually get three meals out of a 5 pound chicken; the original meal, the chicken roast as a leftover meal and a third meal of whatever is left on the carcass. This usually takes the form of chicken pot pies, chicken enchiladas or chicken soup. Tonight we are having something different – Chicken a la King.

I don’t know why but I have never made Chicken a la King before.  It’s actually pretty easy.  Even better because you can substitute ingredients and use up other leftovers.  That’s what I did today.  And, because we have a meeting to attend at 6:30, I made the dish this morning and stuck it in the fridge.  When we return from our meeting tonight I can take it out, warm it gently and serve it up.  No time like the present to add a new leftover recipe to the repertoire.

Chicken a la King  – Leftover Style    2 servings

  • 1 tbl unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces mushrooms, sliced (You can use any variety of mushrooms. I had leftover wood ear mushrooms so I am using those)
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 2 tbl flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup cut up chicken
  • 1/4 cup pimentos, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbl dry sherry (optional)
  • 2 tbl minced parsley
  • 2 servings cooked wide noodles
Ingredients for my Chicken A la King

Ingredients for my Chicken A la King

Melt the butter in a 12 inch skillet over moderate heat.  Add the mushrooms and green pepper.  Saute for about 4 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.  Add the flour to the pan and stir to coat the vegetables.

Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened.  Add the chicken, pimentos and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until heated through.  The dish can be made ahead to this point, cooled and refrigerated until dinner.

Reheat gently, adding more milk if the sauce becomes too thick.  Add the sherry if desired.  Top with chopped parsley and serve over noodles or toast points.

I know original a la king recipes call for the mixture to be served over toast points but not in this house.  Remember that I wrote about being an army wife?  My husband had enough mystery stuff served over toast in the military to last him a lifetime.  So no toast points in this house!

And for those of you wondering about my mise en place white dishes; they are plates I purchased years ago at the Pfaltzgraff outlet store.  They were originally made, as you can see from the picture below, as the meal plate for Delta Airlines, back when you got meals on a plane AND they came on a ceramic plate!

Delta Airlines food dish manufactured by Pfaltzgrapff

Delta Airlines food dish manufactured by Pfaltzgrapff

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Sunday Dinner

I don’t know why, but after I married Sunday dinner became a special event. Prior to becoming a married woman I was in college and “Sunday Dinner” most often consisted of soup cooked in a pot designed to boil water.  When I married I wanted to make our Sunday Dinners something that took a little more time and effort than usual supper fare.

As a newlywed I was a military wife and we didn’t have alot of disposable income but I wanted to prepare a meal that was worthy of candles and breaking out the good china – all two place settings.  Chicken was my go-to protein.  Not only was it inexpensive but you could really dress it up with sides and sauces.  As out family and income grew I started including pork and beef.  Most often it was a rump roast but with the proper cooking and the right sides it was something the family looked forward to sharing (including on one occasion our Lhasa Apso and Siamese cat who, working together managed to steal the roast from the counter and make a beeline for the basement to enjoy their spoils!)

Of all the Sunday dinners roast chicken remains my favorite.  This week whole chickens were on sale so we decided beer can chicken would be perfect for Sunday dinner.  Until Sunday.  Sunday dawned cold and windy.  The temperature hovered in the mid forties (F) and the wind was blowing at a steady 15 to 20 miles per hour with much stronger gusts.  Enthusiasm for beer can chicken blew out with the dust devils that were playing along the acequia. On to plan B – a whole roasted chicken.

I put the neck, gizzards and livers in a pot with some water and set it on low to simmer.  Boz and Zoey would be treated to the livers and the neck meat while I would use the resulting liquid for my gravy.

I rubbed the interior with salt, pepper and some julienned fresh sage.  I peeled four large carrots and cut them in half lengthwise.  The carrots went into a lightly oiled baking pan.  They would act as a rack to keep the chicken elevated enough to allow the skin to crisp up all the way around and, after roasting with all that chicken juice, would be our vegetable for that evening.    Mashed potatoes (what else!) would round out the dinner.

When the oven temperature reached 425 degrees F I put the bird (a little over 5 lbs. Whatever happened to the three pound chicken!)  in to cook for 90 minutes.   As the time slipped past the kitchen began to take on the mouthwatering smell of roasted bird.

After 90 minuted I checked the bird and it was ready to come out and rest while I made the gravy and mashed the potatoes.  George set the table, opened a bottle of wine and we were ready to eat.

While I didn’t get out the good china or light candles it was still a special Sunday Dinner.  The tradition continues.

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It’s All About Adapting!

Last week I decided to go through my cookbooks to determine what to have for dinner this past week.  I was frankly tired of the usual winter options and wanted to bring a couple of new dishes to the table, as it were.  Coupled with it being the first week of Lent ( which means two meatless nights that week) I was eager to find something that didn’t involve pasta or fish.  I came upon a recipe for Chicken in Tarragon Sauce.  The title intrigued me so I took a look at the ingredient list.  It seemed easy enough for a week night dinner that could go on the table when we were ready to eat.

I read through the steps of the recipe  – combine the chicken breasts, onions, aromatics and stock in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. WAIT – Boil the boneless skinless chicken breasts? Nope, not happening.  I was about to give up on the recipe, when I decided adapting it to use my sous vide machine made more sense.  After all, once having tasted sous vide boneless skinless chicken breasts the words boiling chicken don’t go together in this house.

So here is my sous vide take on the Chicken in Tarragon Sauce.  The original recipe calls for almost all the same ingredients. So if you don’t have a sous vide machine just boil the chicken, onions, stock and aromatics instead.

Chicken in Tarragon Sauce     Serves 2

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 7 oz each – I had a large 13 oz breast that I used)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white vermouth (or dry white wine)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbl butter
  • 2 tbl flour
  • 2 tbl heavy cream
  • chopped fresh tarragon to taste

Season the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper.  Place the chicken breasts in individual bags. Add the onions, bay leaf and thyme.  Note:  If you have multiple chicken breasts you will need to increase the amount of thyme and bay leaf to match the number of breasts you are cooking.  Each cooking bag should have a breast and herbs.  Divide the onions among the bags.  Vacuum seal the bags and place in sous vide machine at 146 degrees F. for 1.5 hours.

Chicken breast with herbs, salt an pepper ready to be bagged.

Chicken breast with herbs, salt an pepper ready to be bagged.

Just before you are ready to serve, melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the flour.  Cook the roux until the flour taste is cooked out.  Add the chicken stock and stir to remove any lumps.

Remove the chicken breasts from the water bath and cut open the bags.  Remove the chicken from the bags, cover and keep warm .  Put all of juice, herbs and onions in the bag into the chicken broth mixture.  Add the cream to the broth mixture and stir to blend.

Slice the chicken breasts and plate.  Top with the sauce and sprinkle with the fresh tarragon.  I served this with fresh asparagus.  The chicken breast was juicy and tender.  It’s all about adapting!

Posted in appliances, Chicken, Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Food Vacuum Sealer, French Food, Kitchen tools, meat, Recipes, SanSaire Immersion Circulator, sides, Sous Vide | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Souper Soups Part II

Yesterday I shared the recipe for the thick and satisfying Black Bean soup that was one of two soups on the menu last week.  The second soup was a Pea and Leek soup with Dill and Bacon that I found on a website for a piece of cookware I brought back from France.  It sounded so good I decided to give it a try.  This is my variation on that recipe.

You will need a kitchen scale to complete this recipe as the directions call for ounces vs cups.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale,  have given my best guess for measured amounts in parenthesis on the ingredient list. This recipe also requires an immersion blender to obtain the rich, creamy mouth feel.  One would never guess that this soup wasn’t loaded with cream.  But as you will soon see the creaminess comes from the blended vegetables.  The only cream comes as an optional add-on during service.  I served this soup hot but I am eager to try it as a cold soup this summer.

Peas and Leek Soup with Dill Bacon and Sour Cream

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 tbl butter
  • 1 onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 5 ounces potato (about 2 medium Idaho potatoes – not big bakers)
  • 8 ounces peas – (about one cup) defrosted if frozen do not use canned
  • 10 ounces leeks – (3 or 4 leeks depending on size)
  • 6 sprigs fresh dill – roughly chopped (additional chopped dill for garnish)
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 slices bacon

Cook the bacon, using your favorite method, until crispy, set aside to cool.

Peel and finely dice the onion and the garlic.  Set aside.  Remove the dark green tops of the leeks and discard.  Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, slice them into 1/4 inch slices, place in a colander and place under running water to clean out any residual dirt.  Set aside.  Peel the potato and cut into 1/4 inch cubes.  Set aside.

In a sauce pot melt the butter over medium heat and sweat the onion and garlic for about 2 minutes.  If you are preparing this recipe at altitude it will take closer to 4 minutes to sweat the vegetables.  Adjust the heat as necessary to avoid browning the onion or garlic.   Add the potatoes, leeks and peas and sweat for another 2 (4 at altitude) minutes.  Add chicken stock and dill.  Bring the stock to a simmer.  Cook on low heat until the vegetables are fork tender.  Crumble the bacon into small bits while the soup is cooking. Set aside to use as garnish. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until it is smooth and creamy.  Note: you can place the soup in a standard blender pureeing a small amount at a time.  Take care not to overfill the blender as hot liquids have a tendency to erupt!

Season soup with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of bacon and fresh dill.

This soup will definitely go into our rotation, especially when the farmers markets start up again and leeks are so much easier to come by!


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Souper Soup

Last week was soup week. I didn’t set out to make soup the evening meal several times this past week.  The menu just came together that way.   George requested Black Bean soup and I had seen a recipe for a Pea and Leek soup that looked really great.  While I could have pushed one of the soups into the next week, I knew if I did that I would forget about it during menu planning until who knows when.  So  we souped out this past week. And no, this wasn’t about lent.  Both of these soups included meat – a variety of pork to be precise.

I make the Black Bean soup from dried beans that are simmered with a ham hock – different from my previously shared recipe.  We liked this one much better.  Today I will share the recipe for the Black Bean soup – tomorrow  the recipe for the Pea and Leek soup.  This Black Bean soup really sticks to your ribs.  A great meal for a cold and blustery day – the type of weather we seem to be having over the last few weeks ( I can see it snowing in the foothills as I write!) This recipe is my take on a Tyler Florence recipe.  It takes about 3 hours – start to finish, so don’t plan on making this from scratch when you get home from work!

Black Bean Soup

Feeds 6 with very healthy appetites!

  • 1 lb dried black beans
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper – seeded and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbl. oregano
  • 2 tbl ground cumin
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tbl olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper

Wash the beans, drain and remove any debris.

Place the garlic, onion and bell pepper in a food processor and puree.

Add the olive oil to a large pot set over medium heat.  Add the oregano and cumin.  Add the vegetable puree and saute about 7 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant.  Add the beans, ham hock, bay leaves, jalapeno and chicken stock.  Slightly cover the pot and simmer until the beans are tender – about 2 hours.

When the beans are cooked, remove the bay leaves and the ham hock.  Let the ham hock cool and then remove the meat from the hock.  Shred or cut into pieces and set aside.

Using a blender or an immersion blender ( fondly referred to as a “boat motor” in our house) to puree the soup just until thickened.  Season with salt and pepper and return the meat to the soup.

Serve the soup with any or all of these condiments – sour cream, cheddar cheese, chopped green onion.

I serve this with corn meal, cheddar cheese and jalapeno muffins.  Guaranteed to warm you on the coldest, windiest day!


Posted in American Food, Bed and Breakfast, Comfort food, Cooking, Food, Kitchen tools, Menus, New Mexico, Pork, Recipes, Sandhill Crane Bed and Breakfast, Soups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment