Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Baba Ghannouj, Red Wine Poached Eggs, Venison

Over the past few weeks I’ve cooked a lot of stuff I’ve never attempted before, but nothing quite elaborate enough for a full post.  I’ve got a few other posts queued up for the next few weeks, but figured I’d clear out the backlog with this one first.  Sooooo, you’re ending up with another edition of Cleanin’ out my Cabinets that will show some of the more interesting recent dishes.  This category isn’t exactly a best seller on this blog, but oh well; you gotta take the bad with the… slightly less bad.

First up is baba ghannouj.  I love hummus but have definitely had some mixed experiences with baba since, while similar, the flavor and consistency seems to vary widely.  The ones I’ve always enjoyed the most had a lot of tahini, garlic, and lemon flavors, particularly the variety served at Magic Carpet in Philly.

With that in mind, I pierced a few holes in the side of a large eggplant and placed it in the oven to cook for 40 minutes at 375F.

Never cooked an eggplant whole before. It wasn't as momentous an event as you might have expected

Once the eggplant had cooled enough to be handleable, it was surprisingly easy to peel.  In other news, I see the little wiggly red line under “handleable”, and it certainly doesn’t look right, but I am going to stand by my belief that it is a word.

For some reason the bottom side, which was farther from the heat, ended up softer. Also, I couldn't come up with an interesting caption for this picture

Once the eggplant was peeled I placed it on some paper towels for 10-15 minutes.  Theoretically, this was supposed to drain some of the bitter juice from the eggplant but it didn’t really pull out any liquid.  It did give me a chance to get out the can of tahini and use a can opener to open it.

The first can of tahini I have purchased. Kristi hates this stuff, but my favorite Mediterranean food is always heavy on the tahini flavor

For anyone who hasn’t used it, its like a soupy thin peanut butter that tasted like roasted sesame.  When you open the can it’s completely separated into oil and solids, like organic peanut butter, and needs to be stirred heavily.

I sliced the eggplant into chunks over the blender the same way you would slice a banana over a bowl of cereal.  I then added two large spoonfuls of tahini, a handful of flat parsley leaves, juice from one lemon, a tablespoon of minced garlic, and lots of salt and pepper before pulsing the blender.

Been using the blender and food processor interchangeably lately, but generally the blender for anything saucy

A few more pulses and it was ready for a bowl.

One eggplant makes a lot of baba ghannouj, plenty for an appetizer at a party

As I said while I was eating it, I think I just don’t like baba as much as hummus.  My version could have used a little more tahini and lemon juice, and a little less garlic.  It also just didn’t have as much eggplant flavor as I wanted, which is surprising to me since it went in seeds and all.  Not bad, just not as good as I was hoping.

Next up was  some recipe writing for Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Eggs.  The company is run by a few friends from college and I recently started writing recipes for their site in exchange for free eggs.  Works for me, since I love eggs and theirs are really in a different universe than the sad yellow yolked “sweatshop eggs” (as Kramer put it) you get in the cardboard cartons.  It’s also fun to have the challenge of making dishes that highlight an egg and aren’t just breakfast.

Anyhoo, when the temperature dipped last week, it seemed like a perfect time to make a hearty fall salad with steak tips, beets, mushrooms, and red wine vinaigrette.  I thought the addition of an egg poached in red wine would make the flavor richer and the dish much nicer to look at.  First step is dumping your finest bottle of Three Buck Chuck into a pot with a little chicken stock and bringing it to a boil.

Boiling red wine taps into my OCD side. I guarantee I was worried the red wine was staining the sides of my pot

While the wine rose to a boil, I heated a grill pan and mixed together some red wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, and garlic for the salad dressing (details are here).  Once the grill pan was hot, I put the meat and mushrooms on with plenty of salt and pepper.

The story of these steak tips makes me unreasonably cranky. Steak tips are flap steak, or sirloin tips, and should cost about $7 a pound in New England. These were $10 a pound at Whole Foods and were clearly just chopped skirt steak. As psyched as I was to see the new Whole Foods sign in JP, they're suspect

Once the wine was at rolling boil, I dropped in two eggs over the areas that were bubbling the most.

You can't really tell in this photo, but the Ameraucana Heirloom eggs are blue inside. Just a cool looking food

After 4-5 minutes, you had this:

I didn't take any of these pictures, Kristi was all about snappin' detail shots

Which worked perfectly as a centerpiece to the plated salads.

C'mon mehn, you know that looks wonderful

The best part was breaking into the yolk before mixing the salad up a bit to distribute the bits of egg and the rich yolk.

Kristi and I are on a serious beet kick at the moment. I can't get enough of them in my salads, especially when there's a little Annie's Goddess dressing involved

This was a really delicious dinner.  The red wine poaching mixed well with the vinaigrette and the rich yolk helped make the salad a lot more filling than your average salad.  I can honestly say I was stuffed after eating this, which I have never said about a salad before aside from those pseudo salads that come in the awesome fried taco bowl and are essentially a giant nacho.

Last up was a hearty venison dinner we had a few nights ago.  I haven’t cooked venison since last fall for a two reasons: it’s more of a cold weather meal and the last time I cooked it Kristi was two months pregnant, very nauseous, and made me wait until she went to sleep to eat it.  She’s had almost no interest in venison since then, but OK’d a trial run this week.

The traditional way Kristi’s family cooks venison is in a pan with butter and onions.  Pretty much can’t go wrong with that, since the butter and onions go great with venison.  I wanted to switch it up a little, so I went with a grill pan over high heat.  To add the other two key flavors, I caramelized a chopped onion and poured a melted tablespoon of butter over the meat along with salt and pepper.

Its amazing how there isn't even a trace of intramuscular fat in venison meat

From there, the meat went onto a hot grill pan for a couple minutes on each side.  Once the meat came off, the medallions went onto a celery root puree and were topped with a spoonful of the onions.

I really don't like peas, but they did add some nice color contrast to the plate

Once again, Kristi was going nutso with detail shots of the meal.

I mock her efforts, but that is a pretty dece detail shot

Another great, filling meal.  The puree almost made it too rich, but combining everything on the plate including the peas was awesome.  Big thanks to Kristi’s uncle Billy for the venison which he gave to us along with some homemade venison sausage.  Billy (and that sausage) will be discussed more in a future post.

I’m thinking the next post should be a WCIC, so it might be time to finally bite the bullet and buy that ox kidney I’ve had my eye on.  Something to look forward to.  Unless you happen to be hanging out in a bouncy seat in the kitchen watching my every move.

I have a feeling Janet's first words will be "no thank you"

Till next time.