Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cooking binge

Every other weekend, my kids go to their dad's house and Ben and I often travel. Sometimes, however, we stay at home all weekend with no social plans and I go on a cooking binge.

I *love* it when this happens.

This weekend, everything is ripe and the garden is burgeoning and the farmer's market is, too. So, this is how I spent my weekend.

First, I went out to survey our apple trees. Yes, the red delicious and yellow delicious look pretty ripe, if spotty (we don't spray them).
I picked a big bowl, used my apple peeler-corer-slicer from Pampered Chef, and layered the slices in the crockpot with fresh lemon juice, raw sugar, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and some water. Cooked on low for about 8 or 10 hours and voila--I have applesauce. Yum.

While the apples simmered, I pondered an eggplant parmesan recipe when I just happened to be looking at the blog What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat, Anyway? I had a globe eggplant from my CSA share and a big bag of Roma tomatoes plus lots of sweet peppers, so I imagined a delicious homemade marinara over a round of fried polenta about the same size as a disk of eggplant. And a tofu disc?  Three delicious crispy circles over a bed of homemade marinara. 

But first, a cocktail. Nectarines are getting soft so I put them in a blender with lime juice, orange juice, the rest of the nectarine jam I made last week, white tequila, and ice. That'll do.

Next, I set a big pot of water to boil. I blanched all the tomatoes (about 4 pounds), then dunked them in ice water, peeled them, squeezed the seed-jelly into the bucket for the compost pile, and chopped up the tomato meat.

I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, then added chopped sweet peppers, all the tomatoes, and the rest of a batch of homemade pico de gallo I made the other day, just so it wouldn't go to waste.

While the sauce simmered, I surveyed the eggplant parm recipe. Yikes, I need to deep fat fry these? I rarely if ever do that, but in the spirit of Cooking Binge Weekend, I clipped a thermometer to my skillet and poured in about 2 inches of canola oil, then set the heat to medium-high.

I made my three dishes: flour with smoked paprika, salt, and pepper; cornstarch slurry; and bread crumbs, which I made by toasting and grinding up the rest of a loaf of sourdough bread I had on the counter (which I purchased at The Bread Garden.) I dipped a slice of eggplant in the 1-2-3 dishes and then dropped it into the oil when it was heated to 375 degrees. What a fantastic sizzle! It turned golden brown almost instantaneously. I flipped it with tongs, then lifted it out and put it on paper towels. I repeated with the rest of the slices (I had salted them first, by the way), and then I took my two rounds of tofu (extra firm, drained, cut into circles with the edge of a small pyrex ramekin) and breaded and fried it, too. Gorgeous. Finally, I fried slices of herbed garlic polenta. I was pretty proud of myself, looking at all those beautiful golden-brown crispy disks.

I cleaned some butter lettuce and put that in a bowl with vinaigrette for a side, then put a ladle of sauce on each plate and arranged a disk of eggplant, a slightly smaller disk of tofu, and an even slightly smaller disk of polenta over the top. Sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley from the garden, it was pretty gorgeous. And the eggplant? All I can say is, Yum! Ben doesn't usually care much for eggplant, but he thought this was great. Deep fat frying really can work miracles. With the salad and a Red Stripe, it was a fantastic dinner.

Just before bed, I took the applesauce out of the crockpot and put it in a jar.

Surely, that's enough cooking for one weekend, you must be saying to yourself. But wait! What about Sunday?

I woke up thinking about the extra tofu I had--about a pound. I sat out on the deck with my coffee and browsed through my new favorite book, Vegan Brunch. Isa's recipes never let me down. The pesto scrambled tofu with grape tomatoes recipe caught my eye. I have a big basil plant in the garden, plus a lot of ripe orange cherry tomatoes. Close enough. The only problem: no pine nuts. However, I just happened to have the perfect amount of leftover raw hazelnuts from making Isa's Not-tella (vegan version of Nutella, from Isa's last book, Veganomicon) last week, so I used those. This was the absolute best pesto I have ever made, including the kinds I've made with cheese back in the day.  It all came together quickly, resulting in a beautiful tender savory delicious breakfast. On the side: Russian bread from my CSA baker, toasted with EB and the applesauce I made yesterday.

Ahh...satisfaction.  I think I can finally clean up and close the kitchen for the weekend.

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