Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I once told my mom that she only made two vegetable dishes: stir fry and ratatouille. And the only difference between the two was that the ratatouille had tomatoes. My mom didn't find this funny.

And of course, I've inherited a lot of my mother's cooking style. She may have been right about this one. (Don't tell her I said that though.) This family recipe is another one of those 'throw a bunch of things in a pot and let it cook' types. The beauty of this Mediterranean peasant dish is that all of the ingredients grow at the same time. All of the vegetables in this dish can be found in my parents' garden (probably why it showed up so often). As an apartment dweller, I don't yet have a garden, but I found all of these vegetables at my farmers market (and I snagged the rosemary from a bush outside the museum. Shhh!)


1 onion, chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped
3 summer squash, a mixture of zucchini and yellow squash, sliced into rounds
2 tomatoes, chopped
6 mini or 2 medium bell peppers, assorted colors, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup olive oil
rosemary (and/or oregano, thyme, marjoram, chervil, or basil)

Combine all the ingredients in the largest pot or sauce pan that you have. Simmer uncovered (don't brown) on medium low for 45 minutes to an hour, until everything is soft. Stir occasionally. The eggplant will be the last to soften. By the time the eggplant is ready, the tomatoes and the onions will have almost disintegrated.

That's it! Use what vegetables you have on hand. My mom sometimes adds mushrooms.

Other eggplant recipes
Eggplant dip
Spicy eggplants

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Eggplant dip

When I was learning to cook in college (not what I went to college for!), one of the things I did was keep a recipe box just for vegetables. I made it a goal to find five recipes I liked for each vegetable. I never got to five for everything, but I developed a good pile of recipes and ate a few more vegetables than I would have otherwise. Now that I've discovered some new vegetables (kale) and I'm trying to cook more seasonally, I've decided to revive the practice. So starting now, five recipes for eggplant.

Eggplant is one of the things my parents usually plant in their vegetable garden. And this eggplant dip, similar to baba ghanouj, is something my mom made often.

Roasted Eggplant Dip
1 medium eggplant
4 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
cayenne pepper

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Separate the garlic cloves from the head of garlic, but don't remove the skin from the cloves. Place the eggplant and garlic in your roasting dish and drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over them. Roast at 350 degrees until the eggplant and garlic are soft, stirring once or twice. The entire process will take 45 minutes to an hour depending on how big your eggplant is. The garlic may finish earlier. If so, remove the cloves and set aside.

When the eggplant is soft, remove from the oven. Scoop the eggplant flesh from the skin and squeeze the garlic from the skins. Combine the eggplant flesh, garlic, and remaining olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth. Salt to taste.

Place the eggplant in a bowl, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with cayenne.

Other eggplant recipes
Spicy Eggplants

Friday, July 18, 2008

This post is not as graphic as it could be.

So I've been sick. Again. Both times I suspected food poisoning. So, between sipping ginger ale and reading mysteries, I decided this would be a good time to challenge my beliefs a little. I'm a big advocate of buying local food as much as possible. Partly, I like the routine of walking to the farmers market every Saturday and returning with a week's worth of produce. I like being in the swirl of the community. I like handing my money directly to the person who plucked the food off the tree or out of the earth. And I like knowing where and how my food was grown.

I've always said, part of the advantage of eating locally is that it's so easy to ask questions. I can ask the nice man who sells me oranges what sort of fertilizer he uses or what his policy on pesticides is. If I want to know the same thing about the orange I got via Sunkist, who do I ask?

Raw garlic was the only connection I could find between the two times I was sick. So I looked up the number of my garlic farmer and gave her a call. The call went right to her home phone number. And we chatted for a bit. No one else had called her about food poisoning in the past few months. Matter of fact, she hasn't had a complaint in the thirty years she's been growing garlic. And what reassured me most of all, she told me about her dinner last night, served to her entire family, that included several bulbs of that same garlic.

So where does that leave me? There's really nothing you can do about food poisoning beyond prevention. There's no pill or medicine to make you feel better, and most people will recover fine without ever visiting a doctor.
  • You can report food poisoning to the health department. There's an "easy" form from Michigan State University. "Easy" because they want you to report what you ate the four days before you were sick, where you ate it, and where all the ingredients came from. I cook just about everything I eat myself, so that part was easy. But by the time I felt well enough to fill out this form, they were asking me to think back to breakfast five days before. That's pretty hard to do. And the canned beans I ate, were they the can I bought at the local store or the can I bought at Albertsons? And which brand were they?
  • You can be very, very careful cooking and cleaning up after the most easily contaminated foods. According to the Center for Disease Control, these are: raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk, raw shellfish, and sprouts. Foods that mingle lots of raw ingredients together from different sources are particularly at risk. These include ground meat, bulk raw milk, and bulk raw eggs. I don't really eat any of these. I have the occasional sprout when I'm on vacation eating the ubiquitous "vegetarian sandwich", but that's about it.
  • You can store your food properly. Don't store your meat with your veggies. Prepared food shouldn't be out of the fridge for more than four hours. This might be where I fell down. Where do y'all keep your garlic? I usually put it in my "root cellar" next to the potatoes. My mom always refrigerates it, but she puts tomatoes in the fridge, too.
  • I don't have to tell you to wash your hands, right? My high school Trig teacher told us we should wash our hands for the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday". Don't ask me why my math teacher was giving us hygiene advice. Every time I turn on the tap this song floats into my head now. Be sure to wash up after handling messes from babies and other animals, too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cornbread salad

I was sick last week and then my boyfriend came for a visit, so my fridge is all out whack right now. Tonight's dinner mission: use up as much of the food as possible before it goes bad. There was half a pan of cornbread and my boyfriend bought me THREE avocados that were too hard to use until today, so this is what I came up with. Since I made this up by the fly of my pants, substitute away.

Cornbread salad with avocado-lime dressing
cornbread pieces, about two cups
tomato, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 scallions, green and white parts, chopped
an avocado, chopped
juice from a lime
jalapeno, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Mix together cornbread, tomatoes, bell pepper, scallions, and half the avocado. In a food processor, mix together the rest of the avocado, the lime juice, jalapeno, and cilantro. Thin the mixture with water until it's to your preference. I probably used two teaspoons water. Salt to taste. Dress the cornbread salad with the avocado-lime dressing.