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