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Eggplant Parm

 

Visiting our dear friends at their lake house I was designated the night’s cook.  I checked the fridge and found a couple of eggplant more than ready to be used.  At first I was just going to slice, bread and fry as my mom used to do – she insisted that fried eggplant tasted like fried oysters and who were we to argue – but then I remembered that I had brought a couple of jars of passata – that wonderfully rich Italian condensed tomato sauce so decided to look for enough other ingredients to make a version of eggplant parm.  However it was so hot, I didn’t want to turn the oven on so I thought why not give the grill a try……the eggplant would already to cooked and I would just need the heat to melted the cheese and give the flavors time to unite and give that delicious mixture of unctuous vegetable, rich sauce and melting cheese time to dance.

So, that’s what I did – I fried the eggplant, made a quick tomato sauce with the passata and fresh garlic and basil from the garden and sliced up a big hunk of mozzarella from the farmers market that I found in the cheese drawer of their well-stocked fridge.  Even found some pre-ground Parmesan to add that special sharp salty taste that gives that extra oomph to Italian dishes.  Put the mix together, heated up the grill, pulled the lid down and in less than a half flour we had a lovely almost Italian dinner on the deck.  Was my dish a classic – not really – but it sure was good.

Depending upon the amount of eggplant slices you have you can make a single layer, a double layer or even a triple layer of eggplant, cheese and sauce – always ending with a coating of sauce and a goodly amount of cheese to melt over it all.

You will also note that I don’t salt eggplant as many do – I’ve never found it necessary.  

By the way, just simply fried eggplant is a great easy dinner with the arugula on top and a bit of bread and cheese on the side.  And, you know what, the eggplant does kinda taste like friend oysters!

Just Plain Fried Eggplant

Serves 4 to 6 

2 large eggs

¼ cup milk

3 cups breadcrumbs (plain or seasoned, depending upon your preference)

½ cup Wondra flour

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 

2 medium eggplants, trimmed and cut, crosswise, into slices about ⅜-inch thick 

About ½ cup olive oil for frying

Lemon quarters for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  

 

Combine the eggs and milk in a shallow dish, whisking to blend well.

Combine the breadcrumbs and flour in another shallow dish.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to blend.

Working with one eggplant slice at a time, dip it into the egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off.  Then, dip it into the bread crumb mixture.  If you prefer a heavy coating, again dip into the egg and bread crumb mixture.  

Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  When very hot, but not smoking, begin adding the coated eggplant, without crowding the pan.  Fry, turning once, for about 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.  Transfer to a double layer of paper towel to drain.  If the oil gets too dark and filled with bits of the cooked coating, pour it out, wipe the pan clean with paper towel, and start again with fresh oil.

When all of the eggplant has been fried, transfer to a serving platter.  If you want to fancy it up, place a few handfuls of arugula in a mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil and the juice of ½ lemon.  Season with salt and pepper and mound on top of the eggplant. Serve with lemon quarters for drizzling on the eggplant.

If you want to make Eggplant Parm, generously coat a baking dish with olive oil.  Coat the bottom of the dish with you favorite marinara sauce, followed by a layer of eggplant and then a thin layer of mozzarella cheese and continue making layers until you’ve made as many layers as you wish, ending with a coating of sauce and a layer of mozzarella.  You can sprinkle in Parmesan at any point including on the top of the final layer of mozzarella. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until hot, bubbling and the top layer of cheese is beginning to brown.

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The Mighty Bean

We are a family of bean lovers!  I wrote my first bean cookbook almost 30 years ago and I have a new one coming out this winter – The Mighty Bean published by Countryman Press. They both are filled with recipes we love. Refried beans are right up there with the top 5 favorites even though they are not as heart healthy as we should be eating – but you really do need that bacon fat for the depth of flavor good refried beans have.  This is about as close as I come to making a traditional Mexican refried bean.  I like to make a batch and keep it on hand for making a quick burrito, enchilada or tostada.  If you keep a can of Hatch Enchilada Sauce (which I find to be excellent) and some tortillas on hand you can have a tasty Mexican-inspired dish on the table in minutes!

Refried Beans

Serves 6

1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked (see page 00)

1 cup diced onions

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves – Mexican oregano is great if you can find it

Salt and pepper

1 cup bacon fat

Place the beans in a large saucepan with cold water to cover by 2-inches.  Add the onions, cilantro, garlic and oregano and place over high heat.  Bring to a boil; then, lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for about 2 hours or until the beans are very soft.  The beans should still be liquidy – if not, add water throughout the cooking process.  When the beans have softened, season with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and drain well, reserving the liquid.  Place the beans in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and, with the motor running, add the cooking liquid a bit at a time.  The beans should be a bit rough – do not puree.

Place ½ cup of the bacon fat in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the beans and cook, stirring constantly, for about 15 minutes incorporating the fat into the beans as you stir.  Cook until the beans are a bit dry.

Remove the beans from the heat and let cool.

Then, return to the heat and, using the remaining ½ cup of bacon fat, repeat the frying process.  You may not need to use all of the fat.  

Serve as a side dish or as a topping for tostadas or as a filling for burritos and/or enchiladas.

Store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  May be frozen.  Reheat before using.

NOTE:  When frying the beans for the first go-round, you may add finely diced onions, tomatoes and/or minced garlic to the mix.

You can also incorporate 2 cups of shredded queso blanco or Monterey jack cheese just before serving.

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My mother made extraordinary pastry as did my father’s sister, Mary Frances.  Their skill intimidated me and, until I decided to make pot pies commercially, I never made pastry, I would always ask mom to make it for me.  So, when I decided to open my pie shop MOM in the 1970s, I had to spend many, many hours carefully watching her make her famous pastry.  She worked with me and my dear friend, Hu Pope, who would be making the pastry daily in the bakery, torturing us with her skill and our ineptitude.  Of course, the fact that she never measured anything and kept telling us that it was all in the feel didn’t help either.  We eventually got it, but I still believe that it was mainly the use of a big Hobart mixer and a commercial pie shell press which kept our hot hands from touching the dough that gave our acclaimed pastry the same flaky texture of her homemade dough.  However, the years in the bakery eliminated all intimidation and I began fearlessly tackling pastry making.  I usually do a fine job but I still miss my mom’s touch.  Since I made chicken pies every day for 10 years, I now generally leave their preparation to the kids, except for those chilly days when I miss my mom.

When I was a child, chicken pie was often made from leftover roast chicken and gravy.  It is one of those homey dishes that can be made in almost any way – the chicken can be dark and white meat, all white meat, chopped, shredded, cubed, or turkey; the vegetables can be cubed, diced, sliced (Chris’ method,) chunked; mushrooms added.  You get the picture.  This recipe is the basic – it’s up to you to make it your own.

I share photos of my individual chicken pie.  I usually make these as an introduction to people dining with us for the first time.  I think they are homey, delicious, warming and do all the things you want to do to bring people to your table.  I also share a recent photo of one of Chris’s West Coast famous chicken pot pies.  How proud my mom would be of him.

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Serves 6 to 8

One 4 pound chicken, rinsed and cut into pieces (or 2 pounds boneless,

skinless chicken breasts cooked in about 3 cups canned, fat-free, low-

sodium chicken broth)

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Nana’s Flaky Pie Crust (recipe follows)

4 organic carrots, well-washed, trimmed, and cubed

3 medium organic potatoes, well-washed and cubed

1 organic onion, peeled and diced

1 cup frozen petit peas, thawed

2½ tablespoons chicken fat or butter

2½ tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour

Place the chicken in a heavy saucepan, cover with cold water, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve, separately reserving the chicken and cooking liquid.  Set aside to cool.

While the chicken is cooking, make the pastry.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces, wrap each piece in plastic film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to chill before rolling.

When cool, remove and discard the chicken skin.  Pull the meat from the bones and, if necessary, cut it into bite-sized pieces.  Place the meat in a heatproof bowl and discard the bones.  Set the meat aside.

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Pour 3 cups of the reserved cooking liquid into a large saucepan.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Add the carrots, potatoes, and onion and again bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and simmer for about 12 minutes or just until the vegetables are barely cooked.  Remove from the heat and stir in the peas.  Strain the vegetables, separately reserving the vegetables and the liquid.

Place the chicken fat or butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  When melted, stir in the flour.  When blended, whisk in 2 cups of the hot broth, cooking for about 5 minutes or until the broth has thickened.  Pour the thickened gravy over the chicken meat.  Add the vegetables, gently folding the mixture together.  If the mixture seems too thick, fold in some of the remaining unthickened cooking liquid.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Unwrap and, working with one piece at a time, roll the dough out as directed in my NOTE.  Fit one piece into a 10-inch pie plate and prick the bottom with the tines of a fork.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pie plate.  Fold the remaining top crust in half over the rolling pin, lift, and place over the filling.  Unfold to cover the filling and attach to the bottom crust by pressing the excess dough from the edge of the top and bottom crust together with your fingertips.  Fold the pressed dough edge up and inward, making a rim around the edge of the pie.  Starting at the edge opposite you, pinch the dough between your thumb and index finger around the edge of the pie at about ¾ inch intervals, forming a fluted design.  (The pie may be made up to this point and stored, well-wrapped and frozen, for up to 3 months).

Place the pie on a baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Lower the heat to 350ºF for an additional 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is almost bubbling out.

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Nana’s Flaky Pie Pastry

Enough dough for one double-crust 10-inch pie

            2½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted

            ¼ teaspoon salt

            Pinch sugar

            ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, chilled

            ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled

            ½ cup ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Process to aerate and blend.

Add the shortening and butter and, using quick on and off turns, process just until crumbly.  With the motor running, add the water and process just until the dough begins to ball.  Scrape the dough from the processor bowl and divide it into two equal pieces.   The dough may also be frozen; thaw before using.

NOTE:  My mother never used a food processor to make her dough but I think it makes great pastry, particularly because the processor allows you to make quick and easy work of the job without handling the dough too much.  However, if you over-process, the heat created from the speed of the machine will toughen the dough.

Some pastry recipes give an approximate measurement for the water, but that always scares me.  How do you tell when enough is enough if you’re not a seasoned cook?  Most approximates are based on flavor so it really becomes a matter of taste but, with pastry making it is all up to the kitchen witch.  Rainy days, humid days, hot days, warm kitchen, glutenous flour – all of these play in how much water will be enough water to create a dough that just holds together and does not toughen.  I’ve found that the ½ cup of water is nearly always the correct amount.  Add the water slowly and watch carefully.  The incorporation moves much quicker with the food processor than it does when making dough by hand.

If you have never made pastry before, the rolling out is usually the most frightening task.  I have found that Wondra flour is terrific for flouring the work surface and the rolling pin as it only adds a light coating of flour to the dough.  Then, don’t panic; use a light hand, pushing the dough out from the center, lightly coating it and the rolling pin with Wondra if it seems to hang onto the rolling pin.  Lift the pin gently as you near the edge of the pastry to prevent breakage.  When the desired size is reached, lift the pastry by gently folding it in half over the rolling pin and slip it, still folded, into the pie pan.  Carefully unfold it to cover the bottom of the pie pan and remove the rolling pin.  Do not stretch the dough or it will shrink when baked.  If the pastry tears, not to worry, just gently pinch it back together.  Smooth the pastry down into the pan with quick pressing movements.

A further note:  If you can find an excellent quality lard and you aren’t concerned about fat in your diet, use it in place of the vegetable shortening and butter when making a savory pie.  It adds a wonderful meaty flavor.

From my son Chris:  Longing for home on a chilly, foggy San Francisco afternoon, I decided to make a chicken pie.  I was feeling a bit challenged as I wasn’t sure that I could live up to my pot pie heritage.  Nana, mom’s mom, made the flakiest pie crust you have ever tasted and I had spent my teenage years living off of the acclaimed chicken pies that mom made at her bakery.  I called mom and got the basic recipe, did my shopping, and announced to Canada that we were going to have a MooMoo dinner.  I was worried that I had overestimated my skill but forged ahead.  I was aiming for Nana’s flaky crust and a pie that could be cut into nice even pieces with just a calm oozing of gravy.  But although the finished pie looked terrific, the crust wasn’t as flaky as I had hoped and the filling ran all over the place once I cut into it.  Didn’t matter – Canada loved it and so did I.

Determined to master the craft, we added chicken pie to our favorite menu list.  After a good many tries, I like to think that mine is now equal to Nana’s.  I always use organic vegetables, but conventional can easily be substituted.

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I know I disappeared once before and then promised to do better about keeping my blogging moving ahead.  Then, it just seemed as though there was so much information and so many recipes and food talk online that what I had to add didn’t seem necessary.  So, once again, I shut down.  However, through this past year or so, friends kept asking me to return to the blog.  When I would ask why, the general answers seemed to be about the same – your recipes are easy, your comments light and comforting to novice cooks and fun to read.  Even those great cooks told me that they enjoyed my banter as much as they enjoyed seeing what I was cooking and why I was cooking.  All that to say as the pandemic is raging across the world, I’m back.  And, I dearly hope, here to receive plenty of comments from all of you who take the time to read my ramblings.  It’s you who make this all worth doing.

Here is a “Welcome Back” photo from my dear husband, photographer Steve Pool.  You can visit his work on his website www.stevepool.net – his show this past October was a sold-out event.  It features Sausage Rolls, a specialty of my dear friend, Stuart Clarke, and was taken at my December DeGustibus at Macy’s Cooking School class

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As I mentioned upon my return to writing these posts, one of my joys is watching our youngest granddaughter thrive.  So, we often go to the west coast to visit her which is where we’ve been these past couple of weeks.  This is a photo of the two of us doing what she loves best – playing and learning.  We are at a cash register that she recently got as a birthday gift learning about how to pay at the grocery store as well as the worth of each bill and coin that you have to spend to buy your groceries.  Her monies – as she calls the play money – all seem to have the same value to her at the moment no matter how many times we try to point out the differences it is all there just to spend.  As we neared the end of our visit, I told her parents that she should have been named Sunshine as that is what she brings to each day.  A have never known such a happy, joyful child and I’m so happy that we are able to frequently spend time with her.

 

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It’s been quite a while since I wrote my last blog post.  I don’t exactly know why I stopped. Maybe I felt I had run out of things to say. Maybe I just got lazy.  Maybe I wondered if I had been at it so long that I couldn’t write another recipe that was interesting.  But if I really wanted to speak the truth I think that after I lost my oldest son to lung cancer, my heart just wasn’t interested in doing too much of anything other than watching my grandchildren grow up, particularly our youngest granddaughter who is 15 years younger than our middle granddaughter. Watching her as she celebrates her birthdays gives us one more chance to feel the joy of watching a little one grow up to be an amazing adult.

One day last week the thought came to me that I’d like to be back at it.  So here I am.  I hope that I have a little stick-to-it still in my bones and that I will keep writing recipes for years to come.  More than anything, I would love to hear from you if you come across the blog. I would love to hear about the foods you enjoy, favorite recipes, and, of course, tell me if you enjoy the blog or even if you hate it.  If the latter I’ll try to do a better job.

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Clara_Thankful

 

This is the day when we should all take the time to remember the blessings in our lives.  I know that many people begin their Thanksgiving dinners by asking everyone around the table to express their gratitude for the goodness in their lives – a wonderful way to acknowledge what we often forget.  I love Thanksgiving not only for the warmth and hearty meal that it brings but because it is not specific to any religion so it can be embraced by people of all faiths, races, and ethnic backgrounds.  This year with so much conflict in the world and so much divisiveness in the United States it is more important than ever that we take the time to convey our thanks for any evidence of goodness that we see in the world.  Gratitude uplifts our thoughts, encourages a new outlook, enables friendships to grow, and enriches our lives in ways we don’t expect.  It is about kindness – it is an unselfish act of grace that we should all be willing to share.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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Flavored Vinegar_DSC_5804

 

If you have a bottle of fine quality vinegar that is just hanging around the kitchen, take a few minutes of a lazy afternoon and turn it into a flavored brew. I often do this when I have extra herbs, very ripe fruit, or am just in the mood to fancy up that bottle of white wine vinegar on the shelf. Fruit-flavored vinegars make delicious shrubs and switchels, both early American thirst quenchers that are rarely made today, but if you decide to do so, I think you will find them extremely refreshing on a hot summer day. More about those later.

To make flavored vinegar you will need the following for every 2 cups of white wine, champagne, or rice wine vinegar.

For berry-flavored:

2 cups crushed berries, ¼ cup sugar, 1 strip of orange peel, and a few whole berries to put into the finished bottle

For garlic- or shallot-flavored:

5 cloves garlic, crushed, or ½ cup chopped shallots, ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, a couple of garlic cloves or large pieces of shallot to put into the finished bottle

For herb-flavored:

½ cup chopped fresh tarragon, sage, thyme, basil, or chives or a combination of fresh herbs that you prefer along with a few sprigs of the fresh herbs to put into the finished bottle

 

Place the vinegar into a medium non-reactive saucepan. Add the fruit, sugar, and orange peel OR the garlic or shallots and red pepper flakes, OR the herbs. Place over medium heat and bring to just a simmer. Lower the heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to come to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, strain the vinegar through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean nonreative saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Immediately pour the vinegar into a sterilized bottle, add the berries OR garlic/shallot OR herbs. Cover and set aside to cool before storing in a cool spot.

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PIE©StephenKolyer

 

I have been writing cookbooks for 45 years and I rarely hear from anyone who has cooked from any one of the many, many books I have written, co-authored, or ghosted.  However, the other day I got the following note posted on Facebook from a very nice lady named Elaine Grahame-Dunn.  I wanted to share it as just simple graciousness doesn’t come my way very often.  The book about which she is commenting was published in 1992 in the States and in England and Australia somewhat later.  How nice that it is still being used.

 

June 16th, 6:19am

Just wanted to say how much I use your wonderful book ‘The Great American Pie Book’. I am a British woman living near Seville in Spain and own a bed and breakfast establishment. It is a great book to go to for inspiration when I feel a little jaded with my menu choices. Thank you. It isn’t said enough in this World nowadays. X

 

And after my response to her I received the following:

Just wanted to make contact and I think it’s important to let people know when they do a good job. Some recipe books are nice you look at but not practical. Few and far between are those that make life easier as a cook! Thanks again for a job well done. You are welcome here any time. X

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Since there are just two of us when I roast a chicken I am faced with quite a lot of leftovers which translates to extra meals without a lot of cooking.  My first go-to is a chicken club sandwich – Steve, my dear husband is a lover of sandwich dinners.  At this time of the year the sandwich is not quite as delicious as it is in the summer with ripe juicy tomatoes on hand, but I chop up some of those sweet Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and they do the job quite nicely.

Even after making our sandwiches, there is still meat on the bones so I put the meaty carcass in a pot with cold water, onion, carrot, celery stalk (if I have it), herbs, and any leftover chicken stock or “jus” I have and simmer up a rich, chickeny broth.  I strain it, discarding everything but any meat floating about and the carcass.  I pull off the meat left on the bones and make a soup that will be dinner one night and a couple of lunches during the week.  For this particular broth, I added some diced carrots and onions along with a bag of chopped organic kale that was lurking in the freezer and some terrific Italian pasta from a brand called Rummo, a family-owned company in Campagna, Italy.  The pasta is what made the soup – it is extremely flavorful and stays al dente so you get that wonderful chewiness that great dried pasta reflects.  I was introduced to this brand by Rita, one of my favorite Italian baristas.  Although I haven’t seen this brand in many stores, Rita purchases it somewhere uptown in Manhattan.  I went on line and checked its availability and found an old review from New York Magazine where 3 NYC chefs rated it extremely low.  I can only assume that the company has changed its process because there is no way I’d rate it at the bottom of a list of dried pastas.  I find it has great flavor and cooks to the perfect “al dente” texture.

 

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