Ally

Mr. S. and I are not huge proponents of Valentine's Day (or as I like to call it: "the holiday that Hallmark built") but we do love to celebrate our birthdays. And since Mr. S.'s birthday comes in right before V-day, we used it as an excuse to pack our bags and duck out of town for a few days. Mini-vacation time!

Where did we go, you ask? Well, we packed up the car last weekend and headed up the coast to Mendocino. We discovered two things on this trip 1) Mendocino is abso-lutely gorgeous 2) the actual town of Mendocino has the most pretentious, unfriendly people I've ever come across (seriously, could the shopowners be any more unfriendly to their patrons?). Anyhow, except for the quick jaunts we made into town to stock up on provisions (mainly coffee...gotta have our coffee) we had a wonderful time on our getaway. We ended up staying in a super adorable cabin in Little River (about 2 miles from Mendo) at a place called The Andirons. The Andiron cabins resemble something out of the 1950's Adirondacks or Catskills. In fact, it made me feel a bit like Baby in Dirty Dancing....nobody puts Ally in the corner! (Shhhh! Please don't tell Mr. S. I said that, I'll never hear the end of it.) We were lucky enough to score the biggest cabin and saying the place was cute is an understatement. This particular cabin was named after the owner's parents- The William and Mildred Suite. The proprietors, Madeline and Scott, had taken tremendous care to decorate the cabin with period pieces- my favorite discoveries were the vintage cookbooks and cake decorating set in the kitchen. The cabin walls were lovingly decorated with letters and cards the couple exchanged during the war, old photographs and several menus of the period (remember when a full dinner only cost 65 cents? Neither do I, but I bet my parents do!). We kept a toasty fire burning in both stoves, some 1940's music humming in the background while we were there and enjoyed being away from all of the day-to-day hub bub. We both fell in love with the king-size Posturepedic/Memory Foam mattress (it was like sleeping on a cloud in heaven, I tell ya) and the fact that there were two bathrooms in the cabin (we didn't have to fight over who got to get ready first). Anyhow, we had a fantabulous time while we were there. Upon our return to Sacramento though, we discovered that the beautiful spring weather we had been having had been replaced with a lot of rain and cold. No bueno. Not wanting to let go quite yet of our wonderful trip, I decided to whip us up some comfort food for dinner. Eating some warm and hearty eggplant parmesan while the rain pours and the wind howls outside...does it get any better than that? Well, I guess we could have thrown on some Sarah Vaughan and started a fire....









Eggplant Parmesan with Crisp Bread Crumb Topping
(Recipe by Ethan Stowell, printed in Food & Wine Magazine)

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus about 2 cups for frying

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

Two 28-ounce cans whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, drained

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

8 small eggplants (1/2 pound each), cut lengthwise 1/2 inch thick

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil

1 pound lightly salted fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and torn into small pieces

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs


Instructions

- In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

- Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 5 minutes.

- Using your hands, crush the whole tomatoes into the skillet.

- Bring to a simmer and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick, about 25 minutes.

- Transfer the tomato sauce to a food processor and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

- Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil.

- Season the eggplant slices with salt and pepper.

- Working in several batches, cook the eggplant over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden on both sides, about 8 minutes per batch; add more olive oil to the skillet between batches.

- Drain the eggplant slices on paper towels.

- Preheat the oven to 400°.

- Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce in a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.

- Arrange one-third of the fried eggplant slices in the baking dish and sprinkle all over with 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil.

- Top with one-third of the torn mozzarella and sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

- Repeat this layering twice.

- Sprinkle the bread crumbs all over the top of the eggplant Parmesan.

- Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the top of the eggplant Parmesan is golden and the tomato sauce is bubbling.

- Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.



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