September 18, 2019

Dear friends,
I didn’t think I would get quite as much cooking done Sunday as I did. Tony was sick. I figured I’d spend most of my time making cups of tea with honey and delivering tissues and aspirin.

Instead, after a breakfast of tea and toast, Tony went back to bed and stayed there. The hours passed. I made chicken soup. I make eggplant lasagne. I read a novel. I watched sumo on TV. I started to worry. Tony is never sick. What if he was dying upstairs? I had told him to take Tylenol every 4 hours, but the pills were downstairs and he was upstairs, possibly comatose and unable to call out.

Finally at 5 p.m.I delivered hot tea, a bowl of chicken soup and a Tylenol on a tray. Tony, incredibly groggy, said didn’t need the pill. He had been taking the ones in the upstairs bathroom every four hours, just like I said. He showed me the packet. They were Nyquil tablets. He had been taking Nyquil. All day.

When Tony finally snapped out of his drug-induced haze, he wandered downstairs and zeroed in on the bubbling pan of cheesy, tomato-ey eggplant. He scarfed down half the casserole and settled in to watch sumo with me (we get a Japanese TV station and I’ve become addicted to sumo tournaments).

I began making this no-recipe eggplant casserole one September to use up a bumper crop of Chinese eggplant from my garden. I wanted eggplant Parmesan but not the calories that go with breading and frying. So I cut the eggplant in halves lengthwise, roasted them on a cookie sheet, then topped them with spaghetti sauce and low-fat mozzarella cheese. The next time I made my no-fry Parmesan, I upped the deliciousness by sandwiching the eggplant halves with low-fat ricotta. That’s the version I’ve been making ever since.

Eventually it occurred to me that this dish is closer to lasagne than Parmesan. Whatever it is, it’s stupid-easy and delicious enough to make an extra casserole for the freezer. Which I did.

EGGPLANT LASAGNE

Eggplants (3 large or 6 to 8 slender Chinese)
Olive oil spray
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/4 cup minced fresh basil (optional)
3 cups spaghetti sauce with meat
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

If using large globe eggplants, peel them and cut into 1-inch-thick slices. If using Chinese, trim off the stem and cut in halves lengthwise without peeling. Place on foil-lined baking sheets that have been coated with olive oil spray. Lightly spray eggplants. Roast in a preheated, 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes for the thick slices or 30 minutes for the slender eggplants, until the eggplants have softened but are not mushy.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl beat together the ricotta, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan,
salt and egg. Stir in the basil.

Spread about 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9-inch-square baking pan. Arrange a single layer of eggplant slices over the sauce, fitting together tightly. Spread the ricotta mixture over the eggplant. Top with more eggplant slices. You may have some eggplant left over. Save it for another use.

Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the eggplant. Top with the mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until the cheeses have melted and the sauce is bubbly. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBITS
Half of my friends seem to be down with the September scourge, which is either strep throat or a sore throat, depending on the teller. Chicken soup is in order, but a quick one because no one wants to cook when they’re sick.

While making a thrown-together but delicious chicken soup on Sunday, I wondered how others meet this challenge. If I tell you about my quick chicken soup, will you tell me about yours?

I made a double-strength chicken stock with three boxes (32 ounces each) of store-bought chicken broth in which I simmered some chicken on the bone (I used 8 legs), covered, for an hour or so. I also added a chunked up carrot, half of an onion (not chopped) and a branch of thyme from my herb garden.

I removed the chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon, picked the meat from the bones and returned the meat to the rich broth along with a half-cup of large-pearl couscous, a handful of baby carrots and half a bag of frozen chopped kale (about 1 1/2 cups). I also added salt to taste. In a half hour, I had soup.

I have a feeling I’m going to need more chicken soup, but I don’t want to repeat myself. Will anyone share their version?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Toast with cream cheese and thin-sliced Asian pear; grilled top sirloin steak, sliced tomatoes with chunky sea salt and microwaved corn on the cob; bagged chopped Southwest salad with microwaved frozen chimichurri chicken breast; cream cheese, tomato and lox on toast; stir-fried beef, roasted tomatoes and peppers over baby salad greens with sesame-soy dressing; pan-grilled hamburger with steamed green beans; egg, bacon and tomato sandwiches; egg salad; chicken soup with couscous and kale; eggplant lasagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Seared sea scallops over crispy crab hash, oat-crusted swordfish over bacon risotto with asparagus, and pho from chef Louis Prpich at the Chowder House in Cuyahoga Falls; half of a ham sub from Subway; wedding soup from Acme; a chili dog at the Sharon Township Fall Fest.

THE MAILBAG
From Francie L.:
Loved your suggestions for tomato sandwiches, they sound delicious! Our favorite tomato sandwich recipe is from Serious Eats https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/04/anchovy-tomato-basil-aioli-sandwich-recipe.html It’s so easy and the perfect weeknight dinner. I get that the idea of anchovies and capers might seem like salt overload but for some reason it works.

Dear Francie:
Homemade aioli, fresh basil, anchovies — what’s not to like? I want to try this. Thanks for sharing.

From Lois S.:
The funniest time I saw a person repack fruit was in Marc’s. She had several containers of strawberries open picking out the perfect ones to make her container complete! OMG!!!

Dear Lois:
The cretins are everywhere!

From Linda C.:
I saw freekeh at Meijer’s today. Not sure if you have one near you.

Dear Linda:
Not near, but I haven’t visited the new Meijer’s in Stow yet. This will give me a good reason.

From Jan in Tallahassee, Fla.:
Google came up with an ad for Bob’s Red Mill freekeh available on the Vitamin Shoppe website. Maybe they carry it in the store, too?

It looks like they’ve opened a store on Main Street in Cuyahoga Falls, across from Sheetz where the JD Byrider used car dealer was. Yeah, that’s on the outskirts of the messed-up Howe Avenue zone but it’s a thought if you’re really freakin’ for freekeh…

Dear Jan:
Thanks for the long-distance sleuthing

From Linda C.:
You can order freekeh from Vitacost. I love it and I look forward to your recipe.

From Mary B., Christine and others:
You can buy freekeh from Amazon.

Dear Jan, Mary et.al.:
I guess I’m still not used to the magic of Jeff Bezos, because Amazon had not occurred to me. Still, when possible, I like to buy locally.

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