Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chopped Eggplant

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't run across something that makes me think about my Grams.  A dirty joke (she could have a pretty raunchy sense of humor).  Calla Lilies at Trader Joe's (we would "paint" them with powdered chalk at Easter time). Sweet 'n Low packets at a restaurant (she helped herself to them - for her morning coffee at home). All kinds of random things.  Like our vegetable garden - I think often about how much she would have liked it.  She would have liked making her chunky mash of our carrots and turnips. Or maybe some sour-creamy borscht from the beets.  And then there are the eggplants.  No matter what the occasion, my grandma brought two dishes to all of our family gatherings - chopped liver and chopped eggplant.  Now, for me, the chopped liver was a no go.  But the eggplant? - that was another story. 


Gram's Chopped Eggplant (or as close as I can get it)

  • 1 large eggplant (she always used the common Black Beauty) or about 1 1/2 -2 lbs. other variety
  • 1 medium red pepper
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1/2 medium white onion
  • olive oil
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • salt and pepper
post roast
  1. Pierce each eggplant a couple of times with a fork (they can explode in the oven if you don't!), place them and the pepper on a lined baking sheet.  Roast them at 400° until the eggplant begins to collapse and is easily pierced with a fork, 20-40  minutes depending on  the size.
  2. After roasting, place the pepper in a paper bag or tightly covered bowl till cool, 10-15 minutes. Set the eggplant aside until cool enough to handle easily.
  3. While you wait, dice the onion and tomato.  You want the pieces small, but not overly fine.  Think salsa. Add to a medium bowl.
  4. Scoop softened eggplant out of the papery skin into the bowl with the diced veg.  Discard skins.
  5. Peel and seed the pepper.  Give the pepper a rough chop and add to the bowl.
  6. Drizzle in olive oil - start with a good tablespoon.  Add a couple teaspoons vinegar - cider, white wine, plain white, whatever you like best.  Sprinkle with sugar - start with 1/2 a teaspoon.  Add a couple hearty pinches of salt and black pepper.
  7. Chop the whole mess up. My grandma always used a mezzaluna to chop her eggplant, but use what you have.  Two butter knives will do the trick.  Stop when you like the consistency. I've seen versions where it is blended. My grandma's was chopped by hand and still chunky.
  8. Taste and add additional seasonings as you like.  Put in an airtight container and let it sit in the fridge for a day or two for the flavors to meld.  You might adjust the seasoning again at that point.  Serve it cold or at room temperature.  Grams always served it with fresh rye and egg breads.  It's good on crackers, too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Garden Snake

Found this cool snake in the yard the other day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dog Burrito

Marty rolled himself into a nice package for some relaxing on the couch (with a little help from Jeremy).


A funny buddy.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Since the tomatoes started going off a few weeks ago, I have had two big saucing sessions.  I did two separate batches each time - one with all Amish Paste tomatoes, and one with a mixture of different varieties.  

For both batches, the first part was the same.  After blanching them for 60-90 seconds (depending on the size), the tomatoes went into an ice bath and then were peeled, sliced and seeded.  It is messy, but very easy to do.

With the mixed varieties, I spooned them into the blender and whizzed them up into a slurry.  I poured the puree into clean quart-sized jars, lidded and labeled them, and sent them off to live in the freezer until needed.
With the Amish Pastes, I set about making an actual simple tomato sauce.  I used Alice Waters' recipe from The Art of Simple Food - there's not much to it, but with tasty tomatoes it really makes a delicious basic sauce that you can use on its own or easily dress up in dozens of different ways.  To store, I did the same as above - into clean mason jars and into the freezer.

So this winter when we are looking for some bright summer flavor, I will most likely use the mixed tomato puree to make tomato soup - with croque monsieurs or other grilled cheese sandwiches, of course.  The simple sauce will eventually partner up with some meatballs as it is, or maybe be cooked down into a heartier bolognese, or possibly make it into a casserole dish as lasagna or eggplant parmesan or....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Meet the Tomatoes!

With such funny, mild weather this summer, it has taken until just the past few weeks for us to finally meet this season's tomatoes. 

the extended family

Back in April, when I planted the majority of the summer garden, I sowed seeds for nine tomato varieties directly into the upper bed.  Though I had planned to start seedlings and transplant, time lapsed (as it tends to do) and I skipped some steps and put the seeds straight into the ground.  The cotyledons sprouted quickly, and lovely strong plants followed.  We had huge, bushy plants for months with no fruit to speak of.  Slowly, at the end of August, the tomatoes finally started appearing.

Ox Hearts

Our only crop to get bloom end rot - not on all of them, but on enough.  I'd say good for saucing, but not the best eating tomato.  A little mealy.

Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge

The catalog described these as more beautiful than tasty.  Ours taste pretty good, but the beautiful swipe of  purple that's supposed to grace the top of the fruit has yet to show itself.
White Queen 

So delicious!  Firm, but fairly seedy.  Fruity, a nice touch of citrus, and really tasty.
Galo de Table

Yummy cherry.  A multi-colored variety.  They are ready to eat when they are yellow (firm and tangy), great at orange (sweet with good bite), and at orangey-red (very sweet and very juicy).
Emerald Green

This has been our most prolific thus far.  Really tasty and really large.  Sweet, but still nice and tangy.  The catalog mentions that they grow with ease and with relatively little heat - which has been true for us.
Black Cherries

So pretty and dusky colored.  Big producer with firm, rich-flavored fruit.  And delicious oven-dried.  (Thanks for the inspiration Livi and Steve!)
Amish Paste

I waited several years to finally get this variety.  I'd looked for seedlings at local nurseries and online, but they were always unavailable - at least when I was looking.  Part of settling on seed this year  was the impetus to finally have some Amish pastes. Totally worth it!  Not a great looking specimen, and not a great eating variety, but when it comes to making sauce this is holding up to the hype.  Big tomatoes, almost no seeds, great consistency and amazing, zingy flavor.

Of the nine different tomatoes that I planted, we are still waiting on two of them - they have plenty of fruit, but it's all still green.  Our giant German Red Strawberry was the first to ripen, but after that one ready fruit, the rest have stayed green.  Pink Ponderosa is also slow going. All of the seeds came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - which is one of the most fun, inviting, inspiring seed catalogs to peruse.  I definitely recommend indulging in a paper copy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lawn Part 1

I have been making steady progress over the last few weeks on getting our lawn in.  This marks one of the last remaining big projects for the back yard.  We had planned for a lawn area when we first started laying out our backyard a number of years ago.  Over the last few years, I have researched different grass varieties and began to think that it wasn't such a good idea given our water shortages in Los Angeles.  Yet, at the same time, we both love a good lawn game with friends and we love entertaining.  About 6 months ago, I found a grass that had a lot of promise.  Called UC Verde, it is a buffalo grass developed by UC Davis specifically for Southern California and arid regions.  It requires a quarter of the water that typical grasses require, and it needs little or no mowing.  Some people have not mowed their lawn in 2 years.

After reading a few blogs about people's experiences installing this grass variety, we decided to go ahead.  One thing though, the grass is only available in plugs.  When I first researched pricing in the Spring, there were only a couple of sources to purchase through, now the sources have multiplied and it appears you can even order it through Armstrong.  I ordered mine through Florasource.  Using their recommendations, I determined that about 800 sf of lawn and plugs spaced at 15" intervals would yield roughly 500 plugs.  Four 128 plug trays are arriving tomorrow.

For the installation, I first laid out the sprinkler system: 3/4" sprinkler valve, 3/4" lines, and 6 pop-ups. For the nozzles, I am using these Rainbird brand high efficiency rotary nozzles.  They put out less water per hour, this reduces runoff, allowing the water to soak in properly.  They are also elgible for rebates from the state (25 head min.) and are readily available from Home Depot or your local sprinkler supply house.  I use J. Harold Mitchell in Pasadena.  They are not the cheapest, but they will answer all your sprinkler related questions as well as having lots of hard to find parts.  I have used them extensively for our drip system in our vegetable garden.

Valves for the lower half of our yard.  The lawn sprinkler valve has the
3/4" pvc running down.

Trenching was the hardest part but a pick axe, trench shovel and full day's work will do.  Next, I layed  the pipe in the trenches and glued it up.  This is a pretty easy process.  Cut with the PVC cutter, coat the pipe and fitting with glue, hold together until set.

For the pop-up bodies, I am using a 12" Rainbird 1800 series pop-up.  I decided not to use the cheaper 6" since I thought if I allowed the grass to grow out I may have problems with it the heads adequately clearing the grass.  The pop-up and nozzle assembly is connected to the water line with a swing joint giving lots of flexibilty in adjusting the head as well as raising or lowering the height if need be.

Spinkler assembly: the 12" pop-up body is attach to 2 swing joints, then a
1/2' by 12" pipe, then 1 additional swing joint that is attatched to a threaded
3/4" 'T'.

After all piping and sprinklers are glued up, I removed the sprinkler heads and turned on the valve to flush the line of any dirt or debris.  I let this run for a few minutes before I turned it back off.  I screwed the heads on and turned the valve on again to check for orientation and spray radius.  At this point I just needed to make my final adjustments and fine tune the spray distance with the adjustable screw on top of the nozzle.

The sprinklers installation is complete.  Next up, Part Two: tilling, leveling, and planting.