>Sweet & Sour Eggplant

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“Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain:
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie”
                                                                    ~¨Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène, 1587
A quote Ronsard wrote to a lover, explaining that we shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to pick the beautiful flowers of today – a rather irresistable way to tell a girl that she shouldn’t waste another second before being with him.  But of course I appreciate the larger message of living for the beauty of today – when it’s put so simply, I feel stupid for not following this advice – why don’t we always just enjoy what’s great right now, right in front of us? 
I fear that the answer to this simple question will take at least my entire lifetime to answer, if I ever succeed in reaching a conclusion before I die.  I don’t understand the art of living, and while I am working hard at creating a satisfying and peaceful lifestyle for myself, I am constantly aggrandazing my problems and anxieties until they eat up any chance of happiness I may have had.  All the books, tapes, movies and lectures I’ve been exposed to have pointed to the same thing, something which I believe is true but am still unable to fully embrace – in order to sustain any realistic possibility of a content life, we need to let go of everything.  Just avoid the past and the future, which are entirely out of our hands, and be content with the simple pleasure of the present.
As hard as I try to live in this time frame referred to as the right now, I rarely succeed, because my mind immediately races in about 20 different directions – should I check my cell phone for that life-changing email I know I won’t be receiving, or what about that comment someone made to me this morning, what did he really mean by it?  Why does it even matter what he did mean by it? While none of these actions or thoughts matter on any conscious or subconscious level, I am utterly unable to resist allowing them into my mental state of mind, and thereby affecting my tension and anxiety level.  If one day I can control my thoughts to be geared almost uniquely toward this present moment, all with a smile on my face, I think I will have achieved enough for a lifetime – I won’t need much else to feel like a human at its basest level.
So that’s where I am in my life right now, and for some reason I need to share it.  I made this eggplant dish which I like because sometimes I don’t know how to eat eggplant (aside from my two favorite eggplant dishes, caponata and caviar d’aubergines – yummmm).  Please make it.  And if you do make it, PLEASE make a comment.  Even if you’re just reading this, make a comment! what do you think? Do you think it looks good, bad, appetizing, ugly?  I won’t be offended, and I’ll appreciate your opinion, whoever you are, so please keep that in mind.
Bon appétit, bonsoir, beaux rêves.  La vie n’est qu’un aigre-doux, n’est-ce pas?

Sweet & Sour Eggplant- Serves 1

1 small eggplant
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fresh ground ginger
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tbsp sugar
pinch cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tbsp plain yogurt (greek-style preferably)
1 handful sliced basil leaves

1.Wash and dry the eggplant.  Thinly slice it cross-wise and place slices in a colander. Sprinkle heavily with salt, place over the sink, and let sit for 20-30 minutes.  Dry slices with a paper towel, and roughly chop into 1-inch pieces.
2.Meanwhile,  mix remaining ingredients except the garlic in a small bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, taste, and adjust sauce according to your taste, adding more of whichever ingredient you choose.
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add chopped garlic, and sautée until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4.Add eggplant chunks, and sautée until browned evenly, approx 6-7 minutes.
5.Reduce heat to medium-low, pour sauce over eggplant, and sautée to combine. Cook until sauce has been well saturated and thickened, about 5 minutes.
6. Put on a serving plate, top with yogurt, and sliced basil. Voilà

>Sloppy Joes à la Française

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I’m not supposed to be doing this.  I have a final exam tomorrow at 9:30 AM, but of course the only thing I could keep my mind on tonight was food, and as soon as I put the first bite of this sloppy sandwich in my mouth I knew I would have to write about it immediately. 
First, some essential things I feel obligated to tell you about this dish:  I could only find ground beef that came packaged, and which therefore provided with more than was necessary for one person.  No matter, I am confident this will taste equally good tomorrow when I toss it with pasta for dinner, and if you make this I encourage you to do the same, or to eat it as is with some vegetables or potatoes on the side.  This dish will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge so you can save it for a lunch or dinner not so far away.
Additionally, I apologize because the ingredient list is longer than I would like, but I really feel that all of the flavors are necessary and make this meal so complex and complete; besides, aside from chopping the onion, garlic, and anchovy fillet, everything else you can just toss right into in the pan. So please enjoy this – I’m still jumping in my seat a little about how fantastically this came out.  Bon appetit and happy eating.
Sloppy Joes à la Française – makes 2 servings
10-12 ounces lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
1 large garlic clove, chopped
a pinch each of cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, and paprika
1/2-cup beef broth
1 1/2-tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 anchovy fillet, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
1.  Sprinkle ground beef with a dash of pepper and a generous pinch of salt; mash with a fork to mix together.
2.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, thyme spring, and bay leaf, and cook until onion is slightly softened, about 4 minutes.
3.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
4.  Add the spices, and sautee for 30 seconds to combine.
5.  Reduce heat slightly; add the beef with an additional pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until heated through, stirring gently once every so often with a wooden spoon to break apart beef strands, about 8-10 minutes.
6.  Add tomato paste, beef broth, vinegar, and anchovy; simmer until reduced to a thick sauce, about 5-7 minutes.  Season to taste with additional cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, or paprika as desired.
7. Discard thyme sprig and bay leaf; add parmesan into sauce and stir until combined.  Serve on a french baguette, with additional grated parmesan. 

>Beet Cups Filled with Pistachios, Goat Cheese, and Prunes

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Ingredients:  beets, pistachios, prunes, goat cheese
These beet cups came to fruition on a more creative day, and I must confess that it was also during a night when I felt the need to dispose of some of the ingredients that had accumulated in my fridge and pantry over the past few months.  Thus was born the beet cups stuffed with this interesting combination you see here, which fortunately came out to my satisfaction.
Please feel free to get creative with this dish and fill beets with whatever you’d like or whatever you have available in your kitchen.  Some other ideas I had were to stuff the beets with avocado, crabmeat, and lime juice, or with feta and avocado and some kind of nut, like walnuts or pine nuts.  I believe that many things would complement the sweet and almost tangy flavor of beets, and if you pair a nut, a fruit (dried or fresh), a cheese, and even some herbs like basil or mint you usually won’t go wrong. 

Beet Cups Filled with Pistachios, Goat Cheese, and Prunes – serves 1
1 large beet
1 fistful pistachios (about 10-12), chopped
2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese
2 prunes, pitted and chopped
optional: balsamic vinegar and olive oil to drizzle on top
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1.  If your beet is already cooked, move ahead to step 2.  If using a raw beet, wrap it in foil and roast it in the oven until soft and the skin easily peels off, about 1 1/4-hours.  Once cool enough to handle, peel of the skin.
2.  Cut off the stem and root, and cut the beet in half cross-wise.  Use a serrated knife or one of those handy grapefruit spoons cut a well in each beet half, making sure not to cut through to the bottom. 
3.  In a small bowl, combine the pistachios, prunes and goat cheese.  Chop up the scooped-out beet sections and add them as well.  Sprinkle with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
4.  Spoon the mixture into each beet cup, and place on a baking tray.  Bake until goat cheese is slightly melted, about 5-7 minutes.
5.  Remove and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil if desired.