Eggplant Sloppy Joe

I am always looking for ways to be creative in the kitchen, so Dave and I aren’t eating the same chicken and broccoli every week.  We try to split up our week night meals among meat, poultry, and fish, and include eggs frequently.  I didn’t grow up eating Sloppy Joes, but started making it years ago when I was looking for an alternative use for ground turkey.  It had been a while, but I decided to give it a another whirl, this time with a reduced fat recipe that came across my inbox.

In addition, Dave and I started off the New Year promising ourselves we would eat healthy during the week, and then eat whatever we want on the weekends.  This is a useful strategy since Friday night is Date Night and Saturday is Culinary School.  And so far, we have been pretty good at sticking to this edible schedule.

So, I thought why not replace the bread from the Sloppy Joe and sandwich it between two thick eggplant slices?  The results?  A healthy and satisfying meal!

*Note:  You’ll see in the eggplant preparations, you need to use salt and let the eggplants sit for 1 1/2 – 3 hrs to release their water content.  This may seem time consuming, but what I do is as soon as I walk in the door from work, I slice the eggplant, rub in the salt, set the slices in a colander over a bowl and then go about my after work tasks for that hour or two before I get dinner started.

Broiled Eggplant Slices
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Serves 4 to 6

2 lbs eggplant (about 2 medium eggplant)
1 T salt
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic (optional)
2 – 3 T minced fresh parsley leaves or finely shredded fresh basil (optional)
Ground black pepper

1. Cut off and discard stem and bottom end of each eggplant. Do not peel. Cut eggplants into 3/4-inch slices. Lay slices out on a work surface, sprinkle tops with half the salt, and rub it in with your fingers. Turn eggplant slices over and repeat procedure with remaining salt. Place eggplant in a colander, set colander over bowl or in sink, and let eggplant stand for at least 1 1/2 hours, preferably 2 to 3.

2. Rinse eggplant under cold, running water, rubbing slices lightly in your hands. Shake colander to drain. Lay slices about an inch apart on triple thickness of paper towels; cover with another triple layer of towels. Using your palms, press each eggplant slice very firmly until it looks green and translucent and feels firm and leathery when pressed between fingertips. Repeat pressing process on fresh toweling if eggplant has not yet reached this stage. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices. (Can refrigerate up to 3 hours before cooking.)

3. Heat broiler. Mix oil and garlic in small cup. Arrange eggplant slices fairly close together on a baking sheet; brush tops with half of oil mixture. Turn slices over and brush with remaining oil mixture. Broil eggplant slices about 8 inches from heat source until tops turn mahogany brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Turn slices over; broil until other sides brown, an additional 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle eggplant with herbs and pepper, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Reduced-Fat Sloppy Joes
Adapted from Cook’s Country
Serves 4 – 6

4 tsp vegetable oil
12 oz white mushrooms, sliced thin
2 tsp brown sugar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 medium onion, minced
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup of ketchup
2 1/2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 cup of water
1 lb 93 percent lean ground beef
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 2 tsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat in large nonstick skillet until shimmering.  Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about 5-7 minutes.  Transfer to food processor and pulse until mushrooms are finely ground.

2. Heat remaining oil in empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Cook onion and processed mushrooms, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 12 minutes.  Stir in chili powder and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomato sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire, sugar, vinegar, and water.  Simmer over medium-low heat until vegetables are completely tender and sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

3. Add beef and simmer, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper.  Divide among eggplant slices and serve.


Two of My Favorite Tips and Tricks from Culinary School

I thought I would share two of my favorite culinary school tricks I have learned so far that I am currently obsessed with in my own kitchen.  I hope they’ll be as helpful to you, as they have been to me!

1) Put a mesh drawer liner underneath your cutting board to keep it in place.

On my first day of school, the chef suggested buying mesh drawer liner as a way to stabilize your cutting board. (you can also use a damp towel, but who wants a wet towel lying around all the time?)  I thought this was brilliant and told everyone I knew about it.  I was even readily willing to cut friends and family their own piece from my personal roll.

This works wonders and you will easily be able to chop and slice without the cutting board sliding beneath you.  You can buy a roll at any hardware store.  Cut it so it is about 3/4 of the size of your cutting board.

2) Deglazing.  No more scrubbing burnt pots, pans and baking sheets!  For some recipes, you use the caramelized bits stuck to the pan (called Fond) in a sauce to accompany what was just cooked in the pan.  Typically wine or another type of liquid is used for deglazing when creating a pan sauce.  But when your pan, pot or baking sheet looks like this sans a sauce, here is what you can do:

Heat the pot, pan, or baking dish on the stove top, and pour some water it in.

Using a wooden spoon or the utensil that was used for cooking, push the bits back and forth to remove these pieces from the bottom of the pan.

Empty the pan of the liquid and debris and…….

Voila, you have a clean pan!

I wish someone would have told me about this when I received my new shiny All-Clad set 7 years ago.  Sigh.  Well, at least going forward, no more additional brown stains on my pots and pans!

Stay tuned as I plan on sharing more tidbits of useful information as I learn them!

Julia with a dash of Ina

Between Christmas and New Year’s, Dave and I took a road trip to South Florida and as we headed back north, stopped in Tampa to visit my close college friend Joy, her husband Ian, and their adorable 2 year-old son, Jack.  When I spoke with Joy a few days before our visit, she was so excited and planned an exquisite meal for us, with a deal that it would make this blog. And it turned out to be more than worthy of a post!  As Joy said to me, “I introduced you to Ina (Barefoot Contessa); I think you are ready for Julia.”

We started with store-bought Foie Gras mousse, accompanied by Barefoot Contessa’s apple and prune compote.

The main event was Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin with her garlic mashed potatoes and buttered peas from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.

It was a lovely evening of good food, good friends, and good conversation.  Which is how I prefer it!  Take a cue from Joy and try this menu for your next dinner party.  Bon appétit!

Warm Apple and Prune Compote
Serves 6

3 large apples, peeled, cored and each cut into 12 wedges
2/3 cup sweet dessert wine, such as Sauternes
1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
14 large pitted prunes (3/4 cup)
2 springs fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the apples, wine, lemon juice and honey together in a bowl.  Pour the mixture into one or two baking dishes large enough to hold the apples snugly in a single layer with the apples cut sides down.  Scatter the prunes among the apples and tuck the rosemary sprigs into the fruit.  Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of pepper.  Cover the baking dishes with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the baking dishes and raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Continue baking for 10 – 15 minutes, until the liquid has become syrupy.  Set aside.  (You can refrigerate the compote for 24 hours and reheat when ready to serve.)

Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin
A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of lean bacon
A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole or an electric skillet
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12-24 brown-braised onions
1/2 pound sauteed mushrooms
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley

Remove the rind of bacon and cut into lardons (rectangles 1/4 inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.

Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned (temperature 260 degrees for an electric skillet). Remove to a side dish.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole (360 degrees for the electric skillet).

Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly (300 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (see below).

Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, discard bay leaf.

Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manié). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.

Brown-Braised Onions:
12 to 24 small white onions, peeled (or double the amount if you want
to use tiny frozen peeled raw onions)*
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

* If neither frozen nor fresh pearl onions are available, substitute one large onion cut into 1/2-inch pieces. (Do not use jarred pearl onions, which will turn mushy and disintegrate into the sauce.)

While chicken is cooking, drop onions into boiling water, bring water back to the boil, and let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain. Cool onions in ice water. Shave off the two ends (root and stem ends) of each onion, peel carefully, and pierce a deep cross in the root end with a small knife (to keep onions whole during cooking).

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add parboiled onions, and toss for several minutes until lightly browned (this will be a patchy brown). Add water to halfway up onions and add 1/4 to1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover pan and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until onions are tender when pierce with a knife.

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small,
sliced or quartered if large
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Prepare mushrooms. In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat butter and olive oil; when bubbling hot, toss in mushrooms and saute over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat.  Don’t crowd the mushrooms!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves
½ cup milk {reduced fat is fine, but not skim}
½ cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt
2 pounds potatoes, preferably Idaho or Yukon Gold, peeled and quartered

Purée the garlic, milk and cream in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, bring a large a 3-quart or larger pan of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the potatoes.

Cook until tender, about 15 minutes; drain.

Arrange a potato ricer over a large heat-proof bowl and press the potatoes through it. If you don’t have a potato ricer {you should, it makes super-smooth potatoes!} just mash the potatoes in the bowl using a potato masher.

Dribble in the hot milk mixture beat until the potatoes are creamy. Taste and add more salt if you think they need it. I find that they almost always need some – start with ½ teaspoon kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon table salt and go from there.
Serve warm, sprinkled with some freshly chopped parsley or chives.

Buttered Peas with shallots
10 oz fresh or frozen peas
2 – 3 tsp butter
1 small shallot diced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the peas in a boiling pot of water for 1½ – 2 minutes (if using frozen peas, less time is needed). Remove from the water and drain.

Heat the butter over medium heat then add the shallots and cook stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add the peas to the butter and shallots, mixing well to evenly coat the peas in butter. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste.