The month of my birthday. Oh joy. I always look forward to my birthday. Don’t know why. But then I never want to celebrate it. I just look forward to it. I think it’s left over from my childhood and all the fun birthday parties that I had. My mom knew how to do that part up right – that’s for sure. I remember it must have been when I was turning 4 and we had a neighbor who worked at a bakery and my mom let me get this really pretty cake from the bakery (my mom always made our cakes but this was some kind of special exception) and the cake part was a dress – a big beautiful old-fashioned dress with layers and layers. I can still it in my mind and there was a doll stuck in the top of the cake so it looked like she was wearing this huge skirt.
I remember thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I remember where we were exactly in our house in Inglewood (we moved from there in time for me to start kindergarten in the Valley so I must have been turning 4). We were at the dining room table and I remember leaning over the table to just stare at this thing of delicious edible beauty and being so so so happy! I think that this was also the cake with the dimes in it so that you had to be careful when you ate it because you might be the lucky one to bite into a dime!
This birthday year was a simple one. Alan and Alex and I had dinner at one of my favorite places on Abbot Kinney called Axe (pronounced Ashay). We got a chocolaty thing and home made ice cream for dessert. There was a candle in it. I was super happy. The next day wasn’t my birthday any more but I still had left over birthday happiness.
Since I’ve already written about birthday cakes (see Recipes) I’m going to write about one of my favorite foods. Eggplant. I love eggplant. My grandma taught me about eggplant. She used to roast it whole in her old-fashioned O’Keefe and Merrit oven and when the eggplant was charred and mushy she’d drain it, peel it, and then chop it with a tiny bit of onion, garlic, and olive oil and salt.
Then she’d let me eat it warm on crackers. It was one of my grandma’s specialties de la casa although I have to say that until she lost her sense of smell and taste (at which point you wouldn’t want to eat much of what she made) she was one of the best cooks that I’ve ever known. Good old fashioned home cooking – that’s what my Grandma Rose did. Pie to die for. I still make her pumpkin chiffon pie at Thanksgiving. No recipes, all from memory and instinct. Still miss her.
So! Eggplant. I like to cook with eggplant. I keep experimenting. Last night I made eggplant parmigiana. I made a “lower fat version” (I baked the eggplant circles instead of frying them) of course it was still full of cheese. It was ok. Eggplant caviar is still the best use of eggplants though. Another of my favorite eggplant recipes is from Mark Bittman.
He dry roasts the long thin eggplants in a pan and then chops them up skin and all – SOOOOO delicious. Smoky tasting with the charred skin in there. I love that. I’ll give the recipe for that one soon! Last summer we made tons of it from the eggplants from our garden – it seemed like we had an endless supply. And I love Yotam Ottolenghi’s eggplant from the book Plenty.
The photo of that recipe is on the cover and it tastes as good as it looks. Everyone loves that one. It’s like the eggplant caviar but it’s served right in the eggplant and it’s got a delicious sauce over the top – to die for.
Here’s the eggplant parmigiana recipe that I made. I thought it was tasty. The family seemed to like it too and it made great leftovers.
EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA – A lower fat version (-Martha Stewart!!)
Olive oil for greasing pans
¾ cups plain dry breadcrumbs (panko is fine)
¾ cups plus
2 Tbs parmesan cheese finely grated
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil salt and pepper
2 large eggplants (about 2 ½ pounds)
6 cups (48 ounces) chunky tomato sauce – homemade or canned is fine
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 375°
Peel the eggplant and slice into ½ inch rounds
Brush two baking sheets with olive oil and set aside.
In a shallow bowl whisk together the eggs and 2 Tbsp water.
In another bowl combine breadcrumbs, ¾ cup parmesan cheese, oregano, and basil with a little salt and pepper
Dip the eggplant slices in the egg mixture then dredge in the breadcrumb mixture coating well. Place the slices on the baking sheets.
Bake until golden brown on the bottom about 25 minutes. Turn the slices and continue baking until brown on the other side about another 25 minutes. Remove from oven and raise the heat in the oven to 400°
Spread 2 cups of tomato sauce in a 9-by-13 inch baking dish. Arrange half the eggplant slices in the dish and cover with 2 cups of sauce then ½ cup mozzarella. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tbsp parmesan.
Bake until the sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted and it’s brown and delicious looking on top. This should take about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. This dish is really better the next day when all of the flavors are melded together!
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