Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eggplant Parmesan Salad

It's everyone's favorite comfort food--in salad form!

Did you just run screaming from the computer? No, seriously, folks-- this salad is delicious. You know I'd never tell you to make a salad if it wasn't delicious.


If you're vegan, or if for some other reason you want to leave out the Parmesan, I'd recommend throwing five or six unpeeled cloves of garlic into the pan with the eggplant cubes. Even if you don't leave out the Parm, I never heard of roasted garlic hurting anything. (Except maybe vampires.)

Eggplant Parmesan Salad


Greens (spinach, mixed greens, or arugula are my preferences. Mm, arugula.)
2-3 cups eggplant cubes, about 1/2 lb.
5 unpeeled cloves garlic (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cups chopped tomato
5 sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), chopped and rejuvenated with hot water
1/2 cup white beans (or red beans or whatever. Lentils work well, too.)
1-2 Tbsp grated Parmesan (Freshly grated works best. That goes without saying.)
Lemon juice
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar


Salt the eggplant and let sit for an hour or so. Then rinse off the salt and pat cubes dry. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss eggplant cubes (and garlic, if using) with olive oil in a baking pan and roast for about twelve minutes, toss, then pop back in the oven for another twelve minutes, until the cubes are browned and blistered.

Peel the garlic cloves. Throw greens, roasted eggplant cubes, roasted garlic, tomato, sundried tomato, and beans in a bowl. Sprinkle some Parmesan on there. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Toss. You're done.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole

Hey, kids: wanna see a magic trick?
You see before you a perfectly ordinary set of wholesome and not particularly exciting ingredients. I'd like a member of the audience to confirm that these are, in fact, regular, blechy, ho-hum vegetables.
I shall now, in just a few simple steps, change these humdrum, mother-made-me-eat-these ingredients into a side dish to write home about.
First, I shall transform raw zucchini and red onion into something tender, sweet, and charred.

 For my next trick, I will, with the help of canned tomatoes, turn green beans and potatoes into something not just potentially appetizing, but visually appealing as well.
Looking tasty already and I'm not even done yet.

And finally, the piece de resistance.
Transformatus Delicioso!
 Nothing up my sleeve. Presto!
 Eat your heart out, Harry Potter.

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.
Okay, okay-- it's not magic. It's dill. Dill, combined with the wondrous effects of a hot oven and a little bit of time, infuses the vegetables with a perky, piquant liveliness that steals the show. Feta is an accent rather than a main player, and that's fine with me. Too much, I think, would overwhelm what is already a richly flavorful dish.

Recipe: Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole

From Bon Appetit


1 zucchini (about 8 ounces), cut crosswise into four sections, then lengthwise into quarters
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch wedges
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
1 14-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, cut into quarters, juices reserved
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (I used 1/2 tablespoon dried dill, since that's what I had)                                            
1/4 cup crumbled feta


Preheat oven to 450°. Place zucchini, onion, and 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Season with salt. Transfer to a large baking dish (9x13" or larger) and roast until zucchini is slightly dried and beginning to turn brown, 12–15 minutes. Transfer zucchini and onion to a wire rack.
Meanwhile, toss remaining 3 Tbsp. oil, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes with their juices, garlic, lemon juice, and oregano in a medium bowl. Season with salt. Place mixture in same baking dish; top with roasted zucchini and onion. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and stir vegetables; bake until pan is nearly dry and potatoes are tender and beginning to brown, 25–35 minutes longer.

Sprinkle dill over and let casserole sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with feta and serve. (Don't forget to check for seasoning!)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trout Giambelluca


There is a depressing dearth of trout giambelluca recipes on the internet.

When I was in Oklahoma, planning the menu for a dinner party that could not possibly happen for at least six months (as is my wont), I googled trout giambelluca and came up with: nothing.


This is an outrage, people. Something so delicious and so easy to make as trout giambelluca deserves a presence on the World Wide Web. So, as it is my sworn duty to make the internet more delicious, I present to you: trout giambelluca. That's pronounced JAHM'-bah-LOO''-kuh.

First you broil some trout.

Then you melt some butter in a skillet and add green onions, garlic, tomatoes, and shrimp.

At first it's not much to look at. But then the magic happens.

The tomatoes slowly begin to break down, and the shrimps release all of their shrimpy juices, turning your skillet into a bubbling pool of pink-orange sauce.

When both of your meal components are done, spoon the sauce over the trout.


Then take lots of pictures because it looks so darned delectable.

 Don't forget to serve with fresh, crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

Recipe: Trout Giambelluca



For Trout:
2 (10 ounce) fillets of trout
Lemon juice, to taste
For Sauce:
1 fresh tomato sliced thin
1/2 pound of shrimp
1 stick butter
1/2 cup shallots or green onions
Salt and pepper, to taste



In butter, with lemon juice to taste, broil fillets about 8 minutes. Set aside.
Saute all sauce ingredients together and spoon over fillets. Serves 2. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Scene from a A Movie In Which Bette Davis Depicts My Steamy, Stormy Relationship with Chocolate Nut Butters

In the role of me: Bette Davis.

I held my opera-length cigarette holder by its tail end and rolled my ash into a point against the jade tray on the coffee table. "It's been riveting, darling. Really, it has. But it's over."

In the role of Nutella: Humphrey Bogart. Or, with an appropriate change in dialogue, Charles Boyer or Paul Henreid. In the second case, replace the word "sweetheart" with "ma petite choufleur." 

He glowered at me from his perch in my kitchen cabinet, the wholesome glass of milk and sunny yellow flower on his label suddenly comic in their pathos and absurdity. "Over, huh?" he said. The diffident sneer in his voice clashed with the icy-cold anger in his face. "Why?"

I turned and strode dramatically to the opposite side of the kitchen; my floor-length cocktail dress rustled stiffly with my movements. "Let's not beat around the bread slice. I've outgrown you, sweetcheeks. Oh, sure-- back when I was young and inexperienced...well, you gave me shivers. I first met you on a grocery store croissant in high school French class, remember that? Wide-eyed innocent that I was, I immediately fell for you: you with your aura of European sophistication and vague healthfulness. PS-- what were you doing in French class? You're from Italy."

"I asked you a question, dollface, and it wasn't a geography question. Why don't you cut the trip down memory lane the and get to the point?"

21 grams of sugar per two-tablespoon serving? Why not just sprinkle some Pixie Stix on a slice of toast and call that a balanced breakfast?

I knocked back a conveniently placed martini. "Even after I got to know you better-- you know, right around the time when I realized that your first ingredient is sugar and your second is palm oil-- even then I stuck by you. But it was never the same."

"So why'd you stay?"

"Well, I have to give you credit, darling. You may not have been as elegant or as pure as I originally thought, but you were still a lot of fun. You knew how to turn a leftover dinner roll into a good time. Besides, the market was in your favor. There just weren't a lot of other chocolate hazelnut butters out there."

Somewhere in the back of his eyes, a light bulb went off. He settled back with a cynical smile. "Oh, I see," he said. "You wanted an upgrade. Out with the old, in with the new. Am I warm, sister?"

I held my chin up in an unflinching profile. "Yes, Nutella. There's someone else."

Hey there, handsome. Where have you been all my life?

"Don't tell me," said Nutella. "Not that pretentious, eight-bucks-a-pop shortstuff."

In a whirl of theatrical fury I wheeled around. My softly curled hair flounced against my back. "You're a fine one to talk about pretension," I said. "And I won't have Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Blend slandered that way in my presence."

"All right, sweetheart. Floor me. What's he got that I ain't got?"

"Depth, for one thing. Yes, depth-- and integrity. First ingredient on the list? Hazelnuts. Second? Almonds."

"You don't like almond butter."

"Stop changing the subject!" I threw my martini glass across the room; Nutella ducked, and the glass shattered against the wall. "Sorry, I got carried away. Where was I? At first I wasn't sure about his flavor-- so dark, so, so, nutty-- but once I got used to it, I saw the appeal. Compared to Justin's, your sweetness seems cloying, your one-note flavor flat and only superficially exciting. Besides, is it such a novel idea-- a hazelnut butter in which you can actually taste the hazelnuts?"

He struck a match and lit his cigarette. "So if you're Justin's girl now," he said, putting the match out with two shakes of his big right hand, "why did Johnny No-Neck see you yesterday with your mouth all over a grilled banana and honey sandwich slathered up with Peanut Butter & Company Dark Chocolate Dreams?"

In the role of chocolate peanut butter: Jimmy Stewart all the way.

My heavily-made-up eyes fluttered upward in a glance of shrewd sexuality. "Well, I never said we had an exclusive relationship. Justin's is upwards of fifty cents an ounce, after all. Besides. I like Dark Chocolate Dreams. To tell you the bitter truth, I think I like him better than any of you. Yes, I prefer peanut butter to hazelnut butter, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Plus he's not going to break my bank like Justin's might."

"So you really think it's over between us. Sayonara strawberries, au revoir mes croissants, auf wiedersehen sneaky little spoonfuls from the jar."

"Over. Done. Finito. Never again."

Smoke wafted from his parted lips. "Never is a long time, babyface."

I fixed him with a burning stare. "What are you insinuating?"

He started to walk toward me. "Only that you can't quit me. Oh, sure-- you might stay away for a year, two years. Maybe even five. But forever? You'll be back. It'll take time. But you'll be back."

By this time he was right in front of me, so close I had to throw my head back in a very dramatic and cinematically attractive pose to see his face. He pressed something into my grip: a spoon. "So howzabout it, sweetie? For old times' sake?"

My wine-red lips curved in a sly smile. "I'm not that food-label-illiterate girl in a plaid skirt anymore, honeybunch," I said. "You can't fool me. I know you for what you are: chocolate frosting in a Party City beret."

"And that doesn't appeal to you?"

"You're incorrigible."

"You don't know the half of it," he said, and the lights dimmed.

In the role of Johnny No-Neck: Claude Rains.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Flag Cake

With liberty and cream cheese for all.

So last post I waxed poetic for several paragraphs about the relationship of crawfish potato salad to patriotism, which seems, in retrospect, a bit odd, given the fact that I had this flag cake recipe in my back pocket. Whole lot easier to relate patriotism to a flag cake, wouldn't you say?

Ease is overrated.

Step One: Round up the usual suspects.

But of course I immediately have to take that back, because this flag cake is very easy and very delicious.

Step Two: Use the usual suspects to create golden-brown scrumptiousness.

Are you intimidated by its homespun prettiness? I was-- but you shouldn't be, because trust me, this cake is all about big effect with minimal effort.

Step Three: Using the courage of your convictions, flip golden-brown scrumptiousness onto cake platter-- or flattened shoe box lid covered in aluminum foil, whatever.

Step Four: Frost that sucker with cream cheese icing.

I got the recipe from Deb at the Smitten Kitchen, and since this is the second time I've relied on Deb in as many days, I'll refer you to her site for the full instructions. Here I'll include a few notes:

Step Five: Arrange berries in flag shape.

A. Deb says to start checking the cake at 35 minutes, but as she herself points out, most who've tried her recipe say it took more like 45-50 minutes. For me it took 50.

Step Six: Put on rousing patriotic music to make serving the cake more dramatic. Because what this cake needs is more drama.

B. Deb says the 3rd cup of powdered sugar in the cream cheese frosting is optional. I say it's totally not optional. But, different strokes for different folks-- me, I like my cream cheese frosting sweet.
Step Seven: Elbow people out of the way so you can get a raspberry piece. Just kidding-- don't elbow people. But do get a raspberry piece.

C. I don't know how Deb made 3 cups of raspberries cover her entire cake. Not only was I completely unable to make the recommended berry measurement cover the whole cake, I also had to turn the little suckers on their sides just to have enough for the red stripes. (Deb positioned her raspberries upright.) Fortunately it's no biggie, since the exposed cream cheese frosting can stand in for the white stripes just as easily (nay, more easily) than the sugared-over raspberries. Saving the berries for red stripes also makes it more likely that you'll get in all thirteen stripes, a plus for the persnickety patriot. Either way, the cake will be girl-next-door pretty and completely delicious.

Step Eight: Stick a flag in your flag cake. No such thing as flag overkill on July 4th.

Finding the Universal in the Particular: The Fourth of July and Crawfish Potato Salad

Thy potaaaatoes make ty-yranny trembllllle, whe-en bo-orne by the red, white and bluuuuue....

O beautiful for Spanish moss
In oak and cypress trees,
Fats Domino, the fais do-do,
And making groceries.
Louisiane! Louisiane!
Thy swamps and rivers shine.
Your name I bless
You're such a mess
But, cher, I'm glad you're mine.

I wrote this (admittedly silly) song last Independence Day. (Writing silly songs I never show to anyone [except you, Internet] is a hobby of mine.)

I love "America the Beautiful," not least because of the song's terrific images: its amber waves of grain, its purple mountain majesties, its parallel shining seas. At the same time, a little petulant part of me rebels against the very images that make me love this song. I live in Louisiana. I've never seen a mountain in my life. Amber waves of grain? More like chartreuse waves of cane. My state is no less a part of America than any other, so shouldn't we be included in the national iconography, too?

I'm probably a little hypersensitive on this topic. I love my hometown; I love my home region. I get sick of seeing the South represented as "the other."

My original intention was to use red white and blue fingerlings, but alas, nor fate nor my grocery store produce section smiled upon my culinary color-coding aspirations-- i.e., I couldn't find enough good ones.

But if there is one universal experience, it's this: everyone thinks her place of origin is misrepresented. And that's because everyone's place of origin is misrepresented, from New Delhi to New Mexico, from Wyoming to Winnipeg, from sea to shining estuary.

My creative writing students frequently fall into one particular literary trap, which I've come to shorthand "non-specificity." Their stories aren't set in any particular locale. Their characters aren't members of any particular ethnicity or social class or religion. These fledgling writers are afraid that if they make their stories too specific, the stories won't be "relatable."

The surprising fact is this: non-specific stories are, generally speaking, forgettable and bland. Specific stories, on the other hand, are much more likely to sink their nails into our skin and set our veins on fire. When this happens, it's usually, I believe, because the writer has found a way to find the universal in the particular-- to wed the "relatability" my students crave with the vividness of a unique setting/situation/cast of characters.

And the same is true of America. All of our bright, heart-rending particularities add up to one glorious, hideous, profound universal: our nation. The mountains of Colorado that sent Katherine Lee Bates into poetic ecstasies are my birthright, as much as the cypress-haunted marshlands down the road from my house. My marshlands belong in turn to folks in Iowa and New York, their wind turbines and subway tunnels belong to me, and the list goes on. Every corner of the country belongs to all of us, as all of us belong to each other. Different as our landscapes and viewpoints might be, we are connected; we are responsible for each other.

So what does this have to do with crawfish potato salad?

This dish is my way of wedding a culinary particularity (crawfish) with a Fourth of July universal (potato salad). Originally a lobster potato salad at Deb Perelman's marvelous Smitten Kitchen, the salad works beautifully with the (for me) more local and (for everyone) more budget-friendly crawfish subbed in for the lobster. It's a great way to celebrate the birth of the whole country and my own little corner of it at the same time.

E Pluribus Unum, y'all. Happy Fourth of July.

Recipe: Crawfish Potato Salad

Adapted the Smitten Kitchen's Lobster Potato Salad, which is adapted in turn from Ina Garten


1 1/2 pounds unpeeled small Yukon gold potatoes (Deb used fingerling-- I think redwhiteandblue fingerlings would be fun)
 Kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic
1 large or extra-large egg yolk, ideally at room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons drained capers
6 scallions, thinly sliced (yielding about 1 cup)
2 medium stalks celery, diced small (about 1/4 inch, yielding about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
3 pounds boiled crawfish, peeled (This is the amount we used-- I think you could use just a tad more if you wanted to, but it's by no means necessary)
1 lemon
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon (Deb used parsley instead-- and we cut down the tarragon to 1 tablespoon)


Cook the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with an inch or two over water. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes, until just tender. (A bamboo skewer is ideal to test them. Me, I used a fork.) Drain in a colander, and let potatoes cool for 5 minutes. Cut potatoes into quarters or halves (or fingerlings into 1/2- to 1-inch segments) and place them in a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon salt, and many grinds of black pepper (Ina recommends you use a full teaspoon of pepper). Whisking constantly and vigorously, pour the oil in in a thin drizzle, ideally making an emulsion. Stir in the wine and capers.

Assemble the salad: While the potatoes are still very warm, pour half the vinaigrette on the potatoes and toss them gently, allowing them to soak up the vinaigrette. Stir in the scallions, celery, red onion, lobster, and add enough vinaigrette to moisten. Reserve any remaining vinaigrette for later. Add the zest and juice of the lemon, the tarragon or parsley, and more salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. Taste for seasonings and add more vinaigrette, if necessary. (We didn't find it necessary.)

Serve: This salad is especially good served closer to room temperature.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Skillet Gnocchi with White Beans and Spinach

My folks are not adventurous eaters, and so it was only reluctantly that they agreed to try this gnocchi. After all, gnocchi? What's a gnocchi? Do I really want to stick in my mouth something that begins with a silent "g"?

(I know, I know, gnocchi really isn't all that exotic these days, but it's my parents, they still think a thong is something you wear on your feet.)

If you're reading this, you! Don't disown me!

So it was especially gratifying when they tried this dish and loved it. And really, what's not to love? Slices of caramelized onion, thick pillows of sweet potato pasta, wilted spinach, and melted cheese, all in a thick, chunky tomato sauce.

Recipe: Skillet Gnocchi with Spinach and White Beans

From Eating Well's Skillet Gnocchi with Chard and White Beans


1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 16-ounce package shelf-stable gnocchi  (This is what I used)
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup water
6 cups chopped chard leaves, (about 1 small bunch) or spinach
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt (my add-in)


Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often, until plumped and starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and water. Cover and cook until the onion is soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Add chard (or spinach) and cook, stirring, until starting to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper and bring to a simmer. Stir in the gnocchi and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 3 minutes. The recipe says nothing about adding salt, but me, I thought it needed some.