M&M Dinner Series: Part 1

For most of her life, my grandmother wasn’t much of a cook.  My mother’s most common references to the meals of her childhood – with the possible exception of certain holiday traditions such as matzo ball soup – refer to various offerings of canned and jarred products (“purple plums or applesauce” being the dessert-time refrain).  In her later years, however, M has gotten more ambitious, subscribing to cooking magazines, clipping recipes from the newspaper, and becoming an amateur collector of cooking gadgets and aficionado of cutting boards.  Her dilemma, however, is that most of the time she cooks for two, and my grandfather has little appetite these days for health reasons.  In order to alleviate the boredom and spur the spirit of culinary adventure, I suggested that we could pair up on a regular basis and make dinner for the three of us.  This has become something of a routine: we pick a recipe, she does the shopping, I come over, and we cook it, eat it, and assess the results.  And such is the groundwork for the M&M Dinner Series.

June 2, 2010: Eggplant & Parmesan “Soufflé” and Pistachio Cake (eventually)

The recipe we picked for tonight’s dinner comes from the latest issue of Cooking Light.  I don’t subscribe to the magazine (although both my mother and grandmother used to), but this issue looked particularly good, so I bought it.  The recipe is really more of a baked egg dish as you don’t whip the whites separately, but it does have a nice light, almost airy consistency due to the high ratio of whites to yolks, and that makes it more soufflé-like than a frittata.  I made one adjustment to the recipe, which was prompted by the fact that I was running late, but which turned out to be fortuitous.  I suggested that, while she was waiting for me, M could slice the eggplant, salt it, and drain it on paper towels, as I knew that eggplant exuded a lot of liquid.  The recipe does not indicate to do this, but I think it ought to as even after we had added this step, and sautéed the vegetables, there was still a lot of liquid at the bottom of the dish when we served the soufflé.  It didn’t affect the texture, but if there had been even more, it might have.  Plus, it’s just not all that appetizing.

But enough complaining; the basic recipe starts with eggplant, bell pepper and red onion, chopped up and sautéed in a pan.  You could play around with different veggies here (M pointed out that mushrooms would have been a nice addition) but these ones worked well.  Then you make a simple white sauce with milk, flour, red pepper and parmesan.  Finally, whisk the eggs in a bowl with fresh oregano, slowly add in the white sauce, fold in the veggies, and pour it all into a baking dish.  Into the oven it goes, and 30 minutes later, you have a lovely dinner.

As with most of the recipes that we have been making lately, there is a lot of room for creativity here.  You could play around with vegetables and, especially, with seasonings.  It wasn’t especially flavorful and I think could have used a little more spice or some punchier herbs (I actually forgot about the oregano until just now as I was writing this; I don’t think I tasted it at all).  Nonetheless, it was a good base, and the texture was very nice (in spite of the leaky eggplant).    In case you missed the link above, you can find the original recipe here.

Onto dessert:  I had been holding out on M when it came to dessert (although last time, I did bring some of the pumpkin pudding cheesecake).  I had been uninspired or just didn’t have time.  This week, however, the Cold Duck Cook (hereafter “CDC”) was at work.  I had most of a bag of pistachios taunting me in the cupboard and most of a container of plain yogurt lurking in the fridge.  Miraculously, in one of my dozens of baking-themed cookbooks, I found a recipe for pistachio yogurt cake.  What could be more perfect?  I made a few more tweaks to this recipe than I did to the first one, including the addition of strawberries, which are now in season and which I could happily put in everything I bake and almost everything I eat.  They worked beautifully in this cake, although I actually wish I had had more of them.  Unfortunately, through gross mismanagement on my part, half the container rotted before I had a chance to slice them and put them in the fridge.  Tragic.

But moving on: this recipe also proved somewhat more complicated than the first because M’s newfound spirit of adventure in cooking has not yet extended to baking.  I managed with her not-quite-newhandmixer (okay actually that thing was pretty powerful and really cool looking in a retro way), and after pulling out the step ladder, she was able to unearth the flour and sugar from the top shelf of her cupboard.  Unfortunately, when I asked for baking powder, she came up empty-handed.  I was not about to let the whole ordeal turn into a leaden cake, so I hopped in the car and drove to New Seasons.  Twenty minutes and two U-turns later, I was back, baking powder in hand, and the cake went into the oven (in a rectangular pan instead of a round one because the closest thing M had to round was a pie dish).  It puffed up beautifully, and actually the rectangular pan cut down on the cooking time, which was a bonus as at that point we were eating rather late.

Once the cake finished baking, I made a simple syrup with lime peel and rosewater (my addition) and spooned it over the top.  I didn’t find the syrup especially lime-y, and might, were I to do it again, use a little of the lime juice as well.  I guess the correct balance would depend on your preference for sweet vs. tart.

Pistachio Yogurt Cake (with strawberries)

1 cup shelled pistachios

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1¼ cups sugar

1½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) butter

5 oz. plain low-fat or non-fat yogurt

3 eggs

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

2 tbsp rosewater

1 lime

In a food processor, pulse pistachios and cardamom until nuts are finely chopped (but not a powder).  In a mixing bowl (or you can just keep going in the food processor) beat butter and ¾ cup sugar until creamy.  Add eggs and yogurt and mix well.  Add nut mixture (if you are using a separate bowl).  Separately, sift flour with baking powder and salt (okay I’m not going to lie, I always skip this step, but if you’re a believer in it, knock yourself out) and mix into batter until just incorporated.

Butter or spray an 8-inch round or roughly 8 x 12-inch rectangular baking pan.  Toss strawberries with a couple spoonfuls of flour, and distribute evenly over bottom of pan.  Pour batter on top.  Bake at 350 degrees until top is golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean (or with moist crumbs).  This should take about 45 minutes in the round pan, about 30 in the rectangular.

In a small saucepan, combine ¼ cup of water, rosewater, and remaining sugar.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat.  Add zest from lime and keep at a low boil for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and strain.  Poke holes in top of cake with a skewer or fork.  Spoon syrup evenly over cake and serve.  (Serves 12-ish)


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