Charles Siskin: Surfing The Food Channel

Thursday, March 13, 2014 - by Charles Siskin

I was surfing through my television looking for mindless entertainment when I came across the Food Network.  And what did my wandering eye behold but four chefs all dressed in their best white chef jackets being harassed by three suspicious looking gentleman who appeared to look less like food critics and more like extras from a Coppola movie or Scorsese’s Goodfellas flick from 1990 .

Beefy, partially bald, heavy beards decked out in the kind of clothing seen on Tony and friends on the Sopranos.

Actually it looked just like a scene from the Valentine’s Day massacre only this time they were taking aim at those four dudes in white jackets. My other thought was that whomever in the group would be “chopped” that could be a literal thing with these judges. 

This segment was about leftovers. Okay that’s reasonable, but most chefs in finer restaurants scoff at using leftovers except for soup for the staff. It is just not a high minded culinary undertaking. Leftovers are like regifting. Something your Aunt Martha might give you if she invited you over for potluck. Unless Aunt Martha lived in Colorado where potluck and regifting might take on a whole new meaning.

Anyway the first elimination was about reimagining the following ingredients: Cooked spareribs slathered in barbecue sauce, cold French fries, chili and German chocolate cake. Those poor souls had thirty minutes to make these items into something deliciously edible. As for myself I would need no more than maybe a couple of minutes to gather up my belongings and be gone white jacket and all. 

For those fortunate enough to miss this segment last I saw was one white jacket whizzing up chocolate cake and chili to make a mole sauce. No really this was going to be German mole sauce which made me wonder if drug kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, could not use that as a defense for not being extradited to stand trial here.

In my house we can do one round of leftovers before my Bride balks at going a second round. Not a problem really because I take them to my twice married and divorced work buddy who eats the same meals every day, day in and day out. Honestly he is the absolute King of Campbell’s single serves. 

I like diversity in my day-to-day eating and try to think of ways to make foods more interesting and sometimes unexpected. Recently I took leftover cooked chicken, careful to leave a nice amount to supplement my little dog Madame’s dry food, and made a jalapeno laced chicken salad. There was just enough kick to the salad without a lingering burn and I served it as a dip with chips.

I also thought that now that you can find anything on top of tortilla chips making it “supreme”, it could well be a topping covered with the multi shredded Mexican cheeses I often buy at the store topped with salsa and sour cream. I also came across a smoked chicken at one of our local restaurants that was so moist and tasty that I think that would be exceptional on the chips as well. Actually nachos with different toppings is the new pizza and a lot easier to make. 

At the grocer’s this past week end I purchased some great fresh veggies including a beautiful purple eggplant, some of those skinny green asparagus that show up in abundance in the spring and zucchini. I also picked up some ricotta because I was thinking of moussaka with the eggplant. However plans changed when I got home and instead I made what I like to call an Eggplant Supreme. Relax as I did not put it over chips. I was in no mood to be chopped.

As for those dear souls who show up on the Food Channel with visions of money dancing in their heads, the sort of humiliation they receive at the hands of the judges makes me realize that the criticism I receive from my family when something I think will be awesome turns out more in the category of disaster I can only feel their pain. “Hey ya know what I mean doll?” 

Eggplant Supreme

1 lb eggplant peeled and sliced into medium rounds

1 -2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 cup each diced red peppers and sliced onion rings

Homemade chunky tomato sauce or ½ can of diced tomatoes

1-2 teaspoons chopped garlic

½ to 1cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 large egg

Shredded cheddar (sharp) 

Prior to preparing the eggplant:

Layer eggplant slices in clear glass bowl sprinkling each layer with enough kosher salt to lightly cover

Place plate over top of bowl and weight down with heavy object so that it presses the eggplant to release it water

Let this process take at least an hour

Sautee the peppers and onions and garlic in half the olive oil until soft

Squeeze by hand as much water as you can out of the eggplant slices

Add eggplant to pan and most of the olive oil as eggplant will absorb the oil quickly (remember during cooking the more oil you add the more you will find at the end of the cooking cycle so try to be prudent on your use of the oil) 

Break the egg into the ricotta cheese and whisk until well combined

Cover the bottom of your casserole dish with a layer of tomato sauce

Next add a layer of the eggplant mixture then a layer of the ricotta

Repeat finishing with the tomato sauce

Cover and bake at 300 to 325 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until it bubbles

Add the shredded cheese, turn off your oven, place casserole back in the oven to let cheese melt

Let the casserole sit out at least 15 minutes or more before serving. 

Zucchini Logs

Slice zucchini into thick strips

Put into a heated pan that has been coated with lemon infused olive oil

Sautee turning often until strips are golden brown

Remove from pan and add juice of one lemon to the pan swirling until well combined with the olive oil.

Pour sauce over logs add fresh ground pepper and salt to taste.

Before serving top with fresh grated parmesan and run under broiler or in microwave until cheese melts

Serve the logs as a first course with a thick slice of sourdough bread for “sopping up the sauce”

A crisp white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc would be an excellent choice to sip throughout the meal if you make the Eggplant the main course along with fresh blanched asparagus as a counter point to the richness of the eggplant.

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