Friday, 29 November 2013

Eggplant Parmigiana

Isn't life funny? Four and a half years ago, I was working as a waitress in a corporate box store restaurant (which shall remain nameless) that "specializes" in kitschy, mostly frozen Italian fare. Their claim to fame was unlimited salad and bread, so you can imagine the kind of clientele that sauntered up to the trough. The place made me viscerally hate pasta and wedding soup, and don't even get me started on chicken parm.

Today, I work in a fine dining independently-owned Italian bistro. It's elegant, modern, and serves many fine wines. We have a chef, and a sous-chef. It's impeccably clean. The only thing they keep in the freezer is homemade gelato. And they don't serve chicken parm.

They do serve melanzane alla parmigiana though (eggplant parm, y'all) and it's one of the most delicious things you could possibly enjoy for $8 (or $12 if you aren't staff). I decided to recreate it at home, with pretty good results. I still recommend you go to Casa and try theirs though - it's a smidge better than mine, and you might run into Dan Aykroyd or Doug Gilmour.

First, the ingredients:
- One large eggplant will feed two people with a little left over
- Italian style breadcrumbs. Make your own with parsley and romano cheese if you want, but you can buy them pre-prepped.
- Two eggs
- Milk
- Buffalo mozzarella. The good stuff. Don't be cheap.
- Tomato sauce. Again, make your own if you're Giada Di Laurentiis but if it's just a Tuesday, buy the jar.
- Olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees while you slice your eggplant. There are a few ways to structure an eggplant parm, but this is the best one I've encountered: lop off the top and the bum of the eggplant and then slice it lengthwise into very thin sheets. Like, eighth of an inch. Leave the skin, it's fine.

Lay out the slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast it in the oven for about fifteen minutes until it starts to turn golden brown. This is a very important step, because eggplant is very bitter and sinewy if it's not cooked through.

When roasted, leave the sheets aside to cool. Slice your buffalo mozz into sticks about a half inch in diameter. Meanwhile, beat two eggs with a quarter cup of milk and pour the bread crumbs into a pan or dish. When your eggplant slices are cool, dip them into the egg mixture and then into the breadcrumbs, thoroughly coating all sides. Place the stick of mozz at the top of the eggplant slice, and then roll it up like a yoga mat around the cheese, tucking the end underneath. Set it into a casserole dish. Repeat it with all the eggplant and cheese until you have a bunch of little roll-ups of eggplant and cheese in your casserole dish.

Spoon some tomato sauce overtop of the rolls. Not too much, or it will make the breadcrumbs soggy. Place into the 400 degree oven for about 20-30 mins or until the cheese is sufficiently melted. If you love cheese, put a little extra mozz on top for the last five minutes in the oven.

Serve the eggplant rollups alongside some green salad and a glass of red wine. Excellent vegetarian winter meal. Hearty and easy!
In the pan, ready to eat! 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Good Karma Shrimp

The beautiful shrimp.
I have had an incredibly wonderful week. Like, of all the 1, 448 weeks I’ve lived, this is surely a Top 10.

There are several reasons for this, but it mostly has to do with the Hopes and Dreams contest I’m in, put on by CBC Radio One’s “All in A Day” show.

Most people in Ottawa know me as an advocate for women’s rights and safety in our community. But when All in A Day offered listeners a chance to tell them about a secret dream, I jumped at it. I told them that I would like to have a cooking show. As you know, the LadyGirls love to write this blog, but I’d love to showcase our recipes on television. Often, many of my blog posts come from the script I narrate to my dog as I prepare dinner (you never get too old to make-believe you’re on TV!)

My entry submission photo, courtesy of LadyGirl Kelly
The best part of this opportunity is that this is all part of CBC Ottawa’s holiday charity drive "Day Of Giving", where they raise money for a local charity, Shepherds of Good Hope. As one of the finalists, I have until midnight on Sunday, November 24th to raise as much money as I can for the Shepherds of Good Hope. CBC’s All in A Day top fundraiser will have their dreams come true- meaning for me, I’ll finally be behind the camera sharing our recipes with people!

What is truly incredible is the amount of support I've received from friends and family in this experience. I am so grateful for all the wonderfully philanthropic people I have in my life.

Shepherds does amazing work in our community. Just the other day, I was talking to a close friend of mine who slept outside for a night to raise money for another organization, and I asked him how it was. He pointed out an important fact- for him, it was just one night. He had a sleeping bag, a tent, and knew that in the morning, he would be eating a catered breakfast. Obviously, that’s not the experience of the city’s homeless. He thought the key to understanding was the concept of, and I agree, hopelessness. Shepherd’s provides Ottawa’s homeless with hope- and the secure knowledge that they have somewhere to go when times get tough. In reading some of their client stories, this was quote was particularly poignant and really resonanted with me:

I clearly think I' a chef already
Suddenly, it was Christmas Eve.  Martin asked me if I knew what was happening tonight and I shrugged my shoulders.  There in the darkness of the parking lot were burning barrels and I could hear carols being sung by a choir all bundled up for winter chill of the evening.  It was Christmas Eve Mass for the homeless complete with a huge manger scene.  I found my way across the street and stood mesmerized. Someone handed me a cup of hot chocolate and I listened to what the man in the robes was saying about not losing hope.  It was as if he was talking just to me.  I was in this crowd of the poor and the homeless together.  I heard what he said and I believed.”

So many stories start out with people who have lives much like mine or yours. But one thing can happen where it all falls apart. When I reflect on the experience of the clients of Shep’s, I can’t help but think, “That could so easily be me.” It could be any of us. 

Please consider donating to the Hopes and Dreams contest. It’s a win-win: You give, CBC gives. You win with good karma, and the Shepherds of Good Hope really wins. Please click here to make an online donation.

So here’s a lovely recipe for your holiday season.

I made this shrimp as an appetizer for our Thanksgiving meal at my father’s house. It’s taken basically directly from this recipe, and I hardly changed a thing. You need:
  •        package of frozen shrimp (ideally with no shells or tails, but if your father was the one to do the grocery shopping, cleaning frozen shrimp shells with your sisters is a fantastic bonding experience)
  •         3 tablespoons soy sauce
  •        2 tablespoons chili sauce
  •        2 teaspoons sesame oil
  •       2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  •       1 teaspoon sugar
  •        2 tablespoons olive oil
  •       4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  •        1 pinch freshly-ground black pepper
  •       1 scallion, thinly sliced

 Mix all the ingredients, with the exception of the shrimp and the oil together. You can let this sit for as long as you need to. When you’re basically ready to eat (because this comes together quickly) fire up a big pan and get it nice and hot with the oil in it. Toss the shrimp with the sauce in a bowl and put into the hot pan. Sauté until the shrimp is pink, and serve immediately.

Season with love, warmth and hope for a year full of blessings.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Cream of Mushroom Soup

 When I say to you that I have mushrooms growing in my house, I am neither exaggerating nor joking. I legitimately have enough of a leakage problem that some rather ambitious agaricus bisporus have sprouted up near my balcony door.

I am horrified by this. HORRIFIED. What does it say about someone to have mushrooms growing INSIDE their home? Please don’t judge me. I keep a very clean home, really. I know you must have visions now of me living like someone out of Hoarders, just pleading with the counsellors to let me keep just my favourite 27 cats, but it isn’t like that.

I am now waiting for my homebuilder to come and deal with this under the warranty, but in the meantime, being someone who doesn’t let a little fungi get her down, I decided to make a beautiful wild mushroom soup.

(NB: This soup was not crafted from the very mushrooms invading my home. Do not eat wild mushrooms, ever. Especially ones hearty enough to take root in a cement floor. Unless you enjoy visits to the emergency room with potentially lethal consequences.)

Start with some chopped mushrooms, I used cremini. One package of them should be fine. In a big pot, add some finely chopped leeks and sauté in butter until soft. Add a few cloves of sliced garlic and let that get soft. Then deglaze your pan with about a cup of sherry and reduce by half.

Now add your chopped mushrooms, some fresh thyme with the leaves picked, and enough chicken stock to cover the mushrooms. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, until everything is soft.

Puree the mixture with your hand held blender, and then add a cup of cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring up just to the boil again and serve nice and hot. Preferably in a home without poisonous spores filling the air.