Sunday, July 30, 2017

Eggplant Parmesan at the Paradise Cafe

Photo credit: Lawrence Journal-World

Eggplant Parmesan was one of my favorite dishes at the old Paradise Café in Lawrence. The Paradise is long gone now, but I have find memories of meeting friends there on Friday evenings. We would sit at the bar, sipping martinis while we waited for our table to be ready. After the waiter seated us we would scan the menu, deciding which of the familiar dishes we would eat that night. My choice often was the eggplant.

It was an unusual combination – a layer of pasta with marinara sauce, topped with slices of crisply crusted eggplant. No wonder, then, that I thought of making it this summer when I became a semi-vegetarian.

The trouble was, I’d never made this dish because eggplant is not easy to prepare. The slices have to be salted and left to drip in a colander while the salt draws out the eggplant’s excess water. Then the slices are dried, dipped in batter, and fried in oil. They are famous for soaking up oil, and often end up soggy with excess oil.

A beautiful, shiny eggplant in hand, I set out to find a way to prepare it without excess oil. Lots of recipes are available but none quite filled the bill. Finally I devised a plan to dip the slices in beaten egg, then  into seasoned flour, put them in an oiled sheet cake pan, drizzle the tops with olive oil, and bake them.

All the recipes instructed me to peel the eggplant, but I tried to use my sharp peeler to no avail. With badly damaged arthritic hands, I just couldn’t peel the skin. A quick consultation with Mr. Google, my reference librarian, revealed the important fact that virtually all of an eggplant’s nutrition is in its skin! That settled it so I proceeded to slice and bake my eggplant with its skin intact.

Using jarred pasta sauce, fresh basil, and shredded cheese, I built layers of baked eggplant. The slices browned nicely in the oven with very little oil.

The final result was tasty served over pasta for the first meal, then over polenta for the leftovers, but it wasn’t as good as the dish the Paradise Café served.  How I miss that place! I hear there's a Paradise Cafe and Bakery Cookbook now. That's my next quest. I would buy it just for the eggplant recipe.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Going Semi-Vegetarian

For years I’ve scarcely had an appetite for meat in the summer, but this year my regard for meat has hit an all-time low. Now I’ve become a semi-vegetarian*, but it hasn’t been easy because I’m accustomed to planning and executing meat-centered menus. It’s now necessary to develop a new repertoire for evening meals and to think about food in an entirely different way.

I struggled with this transition until my pal Linda, counseling me over the distress inflicted by our staggering government, said, “You need a project to distract you.” She’s right, I thought, but none of my usual distractions appeal to me now. Later as I was mulling about what to prepare for supper, it dawned on me that becoming a decent vegetarian cook would be a suitable project. Instead of dreading re-learning how to cook, I could sink myself into it as a project and learn to be a freestyle vegetarian cook. (Everything about recipes is cumbersome, from assembling the ingredients to dishing it up, all the while checking back on the recipe. I want to know what to do, and just do it.)

So far it is going pretty well. I still look at different recipes for inspiration but gradually a sense of what works in the vegetarian kitchen is developing.

In this hot weather one of our favorite meals has become a beet salad. It started with a salad Carol served last summer in Maine. Carol used baby kale, crisp bacon, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and glazed walnuts.

I never had a taste for beets until I ate them in a salad with honey-mustard dressing at an Albuquerque restaurant.  Boy, it was delicious!

So I took Carol’s salad as a starting point, and added beets. No baby kale was available, so I used torn romaine lettuce. The pecans are lightly glazed with sugar. To me, this salad must have a honey-mustard dressing, though I might try it with raspberry vinaigrette.

Honey Mustard Salad Dressing    

3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup cider vinegar
½ cup vegetable oil

In a one-cup liquid measure, combine honey and mustard until smooth.

Add vinegar and whisk until blended.

Slowly add oil while beating with a whisk. Start with a few drops and gradually increase the stream, whisking all the while. This emulsifies the dressing.

Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.

Yep, I’m starting to enjoy this project. Thanks, Linda.

*I'm not giving up bacon.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Frugal and Green

Frugal: simple and plain, costing little.

Green:  not harmful to the environment.

It’s odd how these two principles go hand in hand. It’s been easy for me to be green because I was raised in a frugal family. For example, my grandma used to sew my well-worn books together with twine so I could go on reading them.  As an adult, I haven’t sewn books back together, but I have prolonged the life of books by gluing fabric on their spines and covers. I used to use packing tape, but prefer fabric.

Today I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom floors using a mixture of half water and half vinegar. This was greatly facilitated by my Swiffer. I don’t buy the manufacturer’s Swiffer covers, but use cheap washcloths instead.

I bought a bundle of washcloths for about the cost of a package of Swiffer covers. After using one, I put it in the laundry. When they’re all dirty, I run a load of my Swiffer washcloths and start anew.

Sure they are all stained with dirt, but who cares? Their only purpose is to clean the floors.

There are many ways to practice green frugality. Take those plastic produce bags the grocery stores provide for example. Why throw them away after you remove lettuce or oranges at home? I just put them back in my cloth shopping bag and use them again the next time I shop.  

I don’t buy plastic wrap either, but use my supply of gallon-size zip-lock bags. I just slip the bowl of food I want to store into a plastic bag and stick it in the refrigerator.  These plastic bags  are easy to wash for reuse. This gadget from Amazon makes drying them easy.

So that’s the idea: save money and protect the environment in one fell swoop.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Making Stuff Up

Not fake news, if that’s what you’re thinking this is about. I believe fake news is created by malicious, evil people. Such stories, like the so-called Pizzagate conspiracy theory – about Hillary Clinton  being involved in child trafficking in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria – are manufactured by an evil person’s sick mind, a person who wishes to harm others.

Nope, I like to make things up in the kitchen. The only harm that can possibly do is to ruin someone’s dinner. Usually I make things up when I haven’t planned a meal and have to make do with the materials on hand.  Although such meals turn out so-so – edible but certainly not memorable – once in a blue moon one turns out to be a family favorite, and that’s the one this is about.

This made-up dish is called Kielbasa Stir-Fry. It is best served with mashed potatoes, but rice also works. Everybody loves it and people sometimes comment how the flavors all complement each other. It has only three ingredients and, once everything is chopped, it's easy to make.

Kielbasas Stir Fry

For each kielbasa use two onions and two sweet red peppers. I use half a kielbasa, one onion, and one red pepper to feed two people.

Cut the onions into quarter-inch half moons. Cut the red pepper into quarter-inch slices. Heat a skillet or wok over medium heat with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped ingredients to the hot oil and stir to coat them. Cover with a lid. Remove the lid and stir the ingredients every 3 minutes or so. When the vegetables are soft and the sausage slices begin to brown, it’s done.

Make the mashed potatoes and serve it up.

P.S. The photo misrepresents the ratio of sausage to vegetables. Sorry I don't have a more representative batch to photograph.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Remember that hokey movie device where calendar pages flit away to show the passage of time? Recently I’ve had a recurring mental image of that same device going in reverse – pages rapidly reattaching to the calendar.

And that’s how I feel now, as if my life were going backwards to a much earlier decade in our country. Laws and regulations are abolished so rapidly my head swims. If the House of Representatives has its way, there will be no restraints on making a buck when it hurts masses of other people. Dodd-Frank will be down the tubes. Discrimination in our schools – that’s okay now. Mandatory sentencing will be enforced! We must keep our private prisons operating at capacity. Is a big hunk of Antarctica’s ice shelf about to break completely off and float away like a giant ice cube? Gosh, maybe someone can make a profit on that.

The list could go on, but I’m sick of thinking of all of the daily insults to our common sense and the common good, I want Bernie, a true man of the people, and a dammed smart one. When I think of his campaign, I get pissed off all over again. Why didn’t our major newspapers and other media give him decent coverage? The truth ­– and Bernie tells it – is that millions of ordinary people are being massively ripped off by our wealthiest citizens.

All of this has made me extremely cranky and outspoken. I don’t know what might save me, but my hope is that the Millennials will wake up, speak up, and vote! Without their participation, all of our rights will be lost. The calendar is rapidly flying backwards.

*Perpetually Pissed-Off.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer