More cooking triumphs: this weekend, as I was searching around for a dish that would use up my GIANT eggplant, use only ingredients I had on hand, and, simultaneously, be appropriate for a church potluck during the Sunday sessions of conference, we stumbled upon moussaka, essentially Greek lasagna. After consulting many recipes online, we settled on this one (I know, from Martha Stewart, no less! Never thought I'd be using one of hers). But, this being me, we made some significant changes.
Whereas her recipe calls for one to peel, chop, boil, and then roast the eggplant (making a huge grey mass, I'd imagine), instead we sliced our eggplant thin, salted it with kosher salt, and then covered it with paper towels. We stacked the baking sheets full of eggplant and then loaded a piece of concrete on top of them to press out the excess juices. (Yes, we have a foil-wrapped piece of concrete in our kitchen for times just such as these.) After 20 minutes or so, we removed the paper towels (and the concrete), brushed the eggplant with olive oil, dusted off the majority of the salt, added some pepper, and then broiled it until brown on both sides. Then we layered the eggplant into the casseroles both under and on top of the meat mixture, making the dish even more lasagna-esque. We also added garlic powder and a little more cinnamon than called for (it came out fast!) and no fresh parsley (because we didn't have any). We also omitted the feta (because it's not good for the pregnant person), doubling the ricotta instead. Oh, and we added dried parsley to the ricotta for color. We should also have added salt, to make up for the missing feta, but live and learn. Finally, we treated ours like a make-ahead casserole, assembling it in the morning and then heating it at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Yum yum yummy, people!
In addition, my new obsession is Mark Bittman, chef, NYT food columnist, PBS denizen (with Mario Batalli and Gwyneth Paltrow in tow, no less), current culinary hero. I just got one of his cookbooks (and now want to buy them all), Kitchen Express, which is filled with 404 seasonal recipes (101 for each season) that take 20 minutes or less. This week I made White Bean Stew, a tasty and fast concoction of garlic, white beans, ham, canned tomatoes, oregano, and spinach served over toasted slices of french bread. It was delicious, fast, easy, and great as leftovers. My kind of recipe! His recipes are all conversationally written (add "some" salt, a handful of this, a bit of that, etc.) so not really for the neophyte cook (though their brevity might persuade you otherwise) but if you've had some cooking experience, the freedom from restrictions he encourages (he even supplies a possible substitution list if you're missing ingredients) is a breath of fresh air in the often overly precise world of cookbooks.