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.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: End of Summer CSA (feat. moussaka)

Kristi and I have talked about signing up for a CSA multiple times and never done it.  For those that don’t live in hipster-heavy communities, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  A membership consists of paying a flat fee for a delivery of fresh, locally grown vegetables (or meat), once a week.  The main reason we’ve never signed up is because our summers have been pretty busy the past few years and that is prime CSA season.  We thought we’d end up letting too many vegetables go bad or missing our pickup.

Last week our neighbors headed out of town and offered us their weekly CSA delivery in exchange for checking in on their cat occasionally.  Seemed like a good chance to see what CSAs are all about, so last Saturday I went to the farmers market in JP and picked up their share.  They have a half share, but it’s still a lotta stuff.

I still have no idea what that purple leafed vegetable is. I think it's purple kale, and my guess is I end up boiling it or sauteing it sometime soon

Cantaloupe, potatoes, corn, yellow onion, eggplant, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, celery root, beets, tomatillos, red bell pepper, lettuce, and purple leafy stuff.  We ate the cantaloupe with breakfast and Kristi boiled the beets for salads with the lettuce and tomatoes, but that left some things I needed to come up with a use for.

My friend Conor makes what he calls a “smoky salsa” by grilling tomatoes and hot peppers then pureeing them in a blender.  Sounded like a decent use for some of the vegetables, so I put two tomatoes, the four husked and rinsed tomatillos, a few cloves of garlic, two jalapenos, and the onion under the broiler for ten minutes.

I know it's best to keep the door open a bit to make sure the broiler stays on high, but I was losing some eyebrows in the process

After ten minutes or so, I had this:

I remember thinking, "should I take the seeds out or maybe not use both peppers?", then just saying, "nahhhh" and barreling ahead

I let that cool for a few minutes then everything went into the blender with some cilantro, lime juice, and salt.  After a good blending, I took a taste and, wowza, that was some spicy stuff.  Like, cough when you smell it spicy.  I decided to boil some of the corn and cut it off the cob to mix into the salsa and hopefully cool it off a little bit, leaving us with this:

It even looks spicy

The flavor of the salsa was great, but it had us chugging water and sniffling constantly.  I guess it was a testament to the tastiness of the salsa that we continued eating it despite being in obvious pain, especially for Kristi who doesn’t like spicy foods.  After a debilitating sneezing attack I had to give up and still have about a cup of it leftover in our fridge.

As for what to do with the other vegetables, I noticed that we had a package of ground turkey in the fridge so I decided to combine the turkey with whatever I was going to cook. Which is how I ended up settling on one of my favorite restaurant dishes that I had never cooked myself, moussaka.

I looked up a recipe online, got a sense of what I would need to do, and got started with the eggplant.

The CSA eggplants are the three front ones, the back one is the genetically modified grocery store variety

I peeled each eggplant and then sliced them lengthwise into pieces 1/4-1/2 inch thick.  After cutting each slice, they went onto paper towels with a little salt to drain for a while.  I don’t know why this is necessary, and I have definitely cooked eggplant before without doing it, but I think it helps flush out some of the moisture and bitter flavor.

I had another eggplant, but based on some unscientific eyeballing of the eggplant next to the baking dish, it looked like enough. Basically, this entire CSA experience made me realize I never use the right amount of stuff

The recipe I referenced online called for a bechamel-style cream sauce consisting of a stick of butter and a cup of whole milk to be poured over the whole dish.  I wasn’t trying to make this a healthy version of moussaka, despite the turkey for beef substitution, but it still seemed a little over the top.

On a slightly related note, I’ve never cooked celery root, but I’ve had celery root puree a few times in restaurants and remember it being very creamy and rich tasting.  Since a small celery root came with the CSA, I figured I’d give a shot at using it to replace the cream sauce.

Started cutting before I remembered my all important food blog. Important to me, that is

I did my best to cut away all of the brown outside and probably ended up wasting more of the white edible part than anyone who has prepared this more than once.  While a pot of half water/half skim milk heated on the stove, I peeled one of the potatoes.

I had plans for the remaining potatoes as well

After the pot of milk/water boiled over on two separate burners and required extensive scrubbing of the stovetop to avoid the smell of burning milk (which stinks), I cubed the potato and celery root and added them to the pot.

Pots of milk boiling over are a breeding ground for the creation of new curse words. I don't know what I was saying or what I thought it meant, but it was definitely said aggressively

While that simmered for thirty minutes, and the eggplant continued draining, I started sauteing the ground turkey with four cloves of garlic and a chopped large onion.  Once the turkey had browned, I added about 6 ounces of red wine (3 buck chuck Shiraz, ‘course), a can of tomato sauce, dried parsley, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a secret ingredient to the pan.

The secret ingredient is a beef bouillion cube, clearly visible in the center of the pan. I wanted some beefy flavor and figured it would replace the salt i was going to add anyway

I stirred up the turkey and turned the heat down to let all of the ingredients simmer together for awhile.  The eggplant went into a large pan with olive oil to cook in multiple waves, about 5 minutes on each side to brown it a bit (didn’t take any pictures of that).

With all of that in progress, I turned my attention to the celery root which I strained after cooking for 30 minutes, then dumped into a blender.  For flavor I added a tablespoon of butter, some skim milk, salt and pepper.

The celery root looked identical to potato, just a little darker

While blending I added a little more milk until the consistency looked right for something replacing a cream sauce.

Rich and creamy, not grainy at all. Like a celery flavored cream sauce, really amazing stuff

At this point most of the eggplant was cooked and the turkey meat had been simmering for 20 minutes so I shut the heat off and let everything cool.  Once the pan was cool enough to touch, I stirred in a beaten egg which would help add some firmness and texture to the meat layer.

Kristi and Janet were in VT for a couple nights when I made this. I missed them beforehand, but it got even worse when no one was around to congratulate me on taking such an awesome pour shot

And with that, the moussaka was ready for construction, which I will use photos to explain instead of another thousand words.

Sliced taters. They went in raw since the whole thing had to cook together for an hour

This is why I hate following recipes. I blindly followed the advice in the one I saw to cut the eggplant thicker when my natural inclination would have been to cut it thin and layer it for full coverage. Which is what I wish I had done

The meat mixture and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. I was starting to get nervous about whether there was enough room for everything in the dish

Another layer of eggplant. That's right folks, I blew it, I didn't cook enough eggplant for full coverage on the top layer despite having an extra unused eggplant. I'm an awful person

Top layer of the celery root puree and some shredded pecorino romano. Lookin' dece, moussaka

The dish went into a 350F oven for one hour.  While that cooked, I attempted to clean up the ridiculous mess this meal created, and made a salad with the lettuce, beets, and tomatoes to tide me, Con, and Trish over.

Here's how much I like Annie's Goddess dressing: upon seeing a big bottle of it for the first time (usually only in small bottles) at Stop and Shop on Saturday I couldn't control a loud, "Ohhhhh, AWESOME!!!" from escaping my mouth and drawing confused looks from everyone in the Nature's Promise aisle

After an hour, the moussaka was ready to come out of the oven and rest for a few minutes so that it could set up a bit.

Added a sprinkle of nutmeg over the top after a couple minutes in the oven, turned out to be the right call

It looked pretty liquidy at first, so I was happy that a few minutes of resting time allowed it to firm up, which meant it could be cut and served like a lasagna.

I love all-in-one dishes like this. My fav thing is when a single bite of food has a bunch of different textures and ingredients

I thought it came out pretty good.  There were a lot of rich flavors but the cinnamon and nutmeg offered a nice contrast to the richness.  Replacing the bechamel with the celery root puree didn’t take anything away from the flavor and I thought it worked pretty well with the other flavors.  It was an encouraging sign when everyone got seconds.

On the other hand, there is a lot of stuff I would do differently next time.  Most important would be cutting the eggplant thinner so that each layer of eggplant actually consisted of multiple thinner layers.  As it was, some bites had lots of eggplant, while some had very little.  I would also peel the potatoes for the base layer since the skins were tough to cut through, and use shredded mozzarella under the puree instead of romano sprinkled on top.  Maybe use 93/7 beef instead of turkey next time too.

I’d like to stop posting on Fridays, but I will need to think up something to cook this weekend to change that trend.  Too many mid-week meals documented here.