Sunday, October 23, 2011

Friday Night Dinner Crew - Eggplant Rollups, Shrimp and Grits, and Pumpkin Cheesecake

I've always loved Friday nights more than any other time of the week.  Totally weird that Friday nights win over Monday mornings, right?  I know.  Anyway, even though I still love them dearly, my Friday nights have evolved throughout the the years.  In high school, Fridays were fun because it was football or basketball night (remember that I was cool in high school.  I WAS COOL, I TELL YOU!!!!).  In college, Fridays mattered slightly less because, well, by the time I was a senior, we treated every night like Friday.  And then once I graduated and moved to a new city for my job, Fridays were Tobacco Company night.  Tobacco Company is a fairly high end restaurant downtown with a VERY low-end basement.  Their claim to fame was a $1 rail drink happy hour and the fact that they would serve you as many at once as you wanted, state booze laws be darned.  People (and my "people", I mean my friends and me) would wait in line for like an hour to get in first so you could secure a table with a waitress.  We'd stay for an hour or so and then go across the street to a multi-purpose bar where you could play pool, practice your pickup lines, or dance.  Or all three!  I'm pretty sure we rarely if ever ate dinner.

These days, Friday nights are a little tamer (usually), but still a whole lot of fun.  Actually, even more fun than high school or college, and especially more fun than Tobacco Company and the multi-purpose bar across the street.  For starters, there is always amazing food involved, and the drinks are far more delicious, albeit more expensive.  Almost every Friday night, we get together for dinner with my husband's brother and his girlfriend, Lauren.  They live 2 blocks from us and are not only family but great friends....the four of us have so much fun together.  Sometimes too much.  There are times that we go out - either to a dive bar or somewhere fancy, and times we stay in and cook.  Lauren is an amazing cook and I've learned a lot of cool tricks and recipes from her.  She bakes stuff that I'll probably always be too intimidated to try.  But that's why we keep her around, right?  To bake stuff that I can't!  I kid.

This past Friday we decided to stay in and have a sophisticated martini and card game night.  I had been wanting to try the eggplant rollup appetizer that I learned in Italy and Lauren had gotten a request for shrimp and grits.  And pumpkin cheesecake just sounded good.  Sure, they're completely different cuisines, but that didn't stop us.  Because martinis go with everything!  The meal was amazing and the card game was a heated battle that eventually ended up in a loss for the hubs and I, but I'm pretty sure the other team cheated.  I'm just saying.

I'll disclaim this post to say that I didn't make the shrimp and grits OR the pumpkin cheesecake.  I did the rollups and the salad (recipe can be found here), and Lauren did the rest.  I also have to disclaim the pictures because taking pictures inside when its dark outside without a speedlight is HARD.  Which is why I'm going to purchase a speedlight online right after I'm done with this post.  I'm sure the 2 glasses of wine I've just consumed haven't influenced my decision in the slightest.


Mamma Agata's Eggplant Rolls
Source: Mamma Agata - Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast!

2 eggplants (they MUST be the long, thin, firm kind, such as Japanese eggplant)
1 3/4 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1 3/4 oz smoked provolone or Gouda cheese (thinly sliced and trimmed to match width of eggplant)
few pieces of salami, thinly sliced and trimmed to match width of eggplant
20-30 arugula leaves
6 strips roasted red peppers (make sure they are sliced thinly)
sea salt, as needed
1 quart peanut vegetable oil for frying
1 cup very fine white flour or pastry flour
wooden toothpicks

Wash the eggplant and remove the top and end of each.  Use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin of the eggplant lengthwise in stripes, like a zebra, keeping some of the skin on the eggplant.  Once peeled, slice the eggplant lengthwise into long pieces, about 1/2 to 1 inch thick.  Don't slice too will reduce in size during cooking.

Layer the eggplant slices around the edge of a colander and sprinkle each slice with a pinch of sea salt.  Allow to sit for 30 minutes to assist in draining out the excess water and removing the bitter taste from the eggplant.

After 30 minutes, gently squeeze out excess water from the eggplant slices, starting from the top of the slices to the bottom.  Do not rinse off the salt - eggplant is like a sponge and will absorb the water. 

Place the flour on a plate.  Dip each slice of eggplant into he flour to cover both sides.  Work quickly, as you do not want the eggplant to absorb too much flour.

Heat oil in a large cast iron frying pan or dutch oven (oil should be 2 inches deep).  Make sure it gets to at least 350 degrees Fahrenheit before frying.  Add eggplant slices to oil and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Remove the eggplant and place them onto paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

While the eggplant is still very hot, begin assembling the rolls.  Place the slices on a hard work surface, with a paper towel underneath.  Sprinkle each slice with grated Parmesan cheese, provolone, and whatever else you like (I used salami, arugula, and roasted red peppers).  Carefully roll each slice of eggplant, making sure to keep the ingredients intact as you roll.  Place a wooden toothpick through the middle of each eggplant roll to hold the ingredients in place.

Once the rolls have cooled a bit, slice the individual rolls into two pieces to create your own little Italian eggplant sushi rolls!  Serve immediately.

Shrimp and Grits
Source: Bon Appetit

1 cup yellow grits
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar (we used provolone)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 jalapeño, seeded, diced
1/4 cup heavy cream (we used half and half to make it a little healthier)
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup 1/3" cubes tasso, andouille sausage, or bacon (we used andouille and also used about 2 times the amount of sausage since who doesn't love sausage!)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, divided
20 large shrimp (about 1 pound), peeled, deveined 
1/4 cup (or more) beer
1/4 cup low-salt chicken stock
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Bring 3 cups water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits. Turn heat to low; gently simmer until grits begin to thicken. Continue cooking, stirring often and adding water by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick, until tender, about 1 hour. Stir in cheese, butter, and jalapeño, then cream. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add tasso; sauté until fat begins to render, about 5 minutes (if tasso is very lean, add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet). Add garlic and 1 tablespoon butter; stir until butter melts. Add shrimp. When garlic begins to brown, add beer and chicken stock. Simmer until shrimp is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat; set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to skillet; swirl to melt and cover bottom of pan. Crack eggs into pan and cook until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes.

Divide grits among bowls, forming a well in center. Spoon shrimp mixture into center of grits. Top with egg.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Spiced Cream
Source: Food Network

For the cheesecake:
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (about 45 crushed wafers)
1 cup pecans, ground
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 pounds cream cheese, cubed and softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
6 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups canned pure pumpkin

For the topping:
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
dash of bourbon
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 1/3 cups)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Prepare the cheesecake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the wafer crumbs, ground pecans and melted butter in a bowl. Press into the bottom of a 12-inch springform pan. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, mix the cream cheese until smooth. Add the brown sugar and process until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, processing until fully incorporated, then blend in the heavy cream. Add the flour, salt, cinnamon and vanilla and blend until smooth. Add the pumpkin and blend until smooth.

Pour the filling over the crust in the pan. Bake 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until the cheesecake is just set. Remove from the oven. Use a knife to loosen the cake from the side of the pan; this will prevent it from splitting down the center. Let cool completely before slicing.

Meanwhile, make the toppings: Combine the whipped cream and bourbon in a bowl and mix until blended. For the chocolate sauce, combine the half-and-half and butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Heat until a thin, paper-like skin appears on top; do not boil. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Remove the side of the springform pan and slice the cheesecake. Top each piece with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and some bourbon whipped cream.

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