Poe Cooks Reality: Eggplant Parmigiana from Food Network’s “Best Thing…”

While it’s generally well known that I have a very handsome in-house personal-chef-for-life, I too, can combine raw ingredients into something passably edible. Or, at least not poisonous. (I just scoured this website for a picture of me cooking and found nothing. NOTHING. I was sure there was a picture of me stirring a pot somewhere, but no.)

And, now that I work from the spacious Poe Industries World Headquarters (ie: home), I’ve been stepping up and cooking more often.

Truth be told, I tend to lean towards large, stick-to-your-ribs meals that would feed a small yet hungry army, with a particular tendency towards casseroles smothered in cheese until unrecognizable. This weekend’s offering definitely falls in that category.

I saw this eggplant parmigiana on some Food Network show. Something along the lines of “Best Cheese-Covered Mess I’ve Ever Eaten/Made.” (Actually, here it is, and it was called “Best Thing I Ever Made – Fry It Up”) Alex Guarnaschelli, who has the most impossible last name ever, was raving about it. Seriously, I almost gave up on trying to find the recipe because of typing in that last name.

Now, I don’t find Chef Alex particularly enchanting. Her delivery is pretty boring actually, and she looks just like a former friend who literally just up and stopped talking to me right around the time I met XFE – never did solve that particular issue/mystery, but I’m sure my happiness was totally annoying to her.

But, Chef Alex does have some meat on her bones, and I tend to trust chefs that actually look like they eat. Never trust a skinny chef is one of my life mantras.

Eggplant Parmigiana via Poe

This recipe was fine. I wouldn’t say it was easy. And, you will use every damn cooking utensil in your house. At one point, I had four cookie sheets at play, and three pie plates that I was using as a dipping/breading station.

There are also a lot of steps that I think could be skipped. For example, making your own sauce. Yeah, it’s not like that’s a hard thing to do, but probably not necessary. In our case, one of the reasons we were making eggplant parmigiana is that we had some crushed tomatoes in the freezer from last year’s amazing tomato crop. So I swapped those out for two of the three cans of whole tomatoes the recipe called for, and just used one can of San Marzano whole tomatoes. If I made this again, I’d just buy a good, premade sauce and save myself some time.

Also: in the recipe, Alex says you don’t have to salt the eggplant and let them sit for an hour, but really, who wants bitter eggplant?

My other quibble is that we were told to use a 9 x 13 casserole dish, which I did. However, in the recipe, she suggests you can get three layers in that thing, which was not the case in our house. We used two medium-sized eggplants and got two generous, overflowing layers in the pan, so it worked out fine, but definitely not three layers.

Ours was a bit watery at the end. Some moisture on the bottom of the casserole dish. XFE noticed it when he was wrapping the leftovers to put them in the fridge. I don’t know if it was because I used too much sauce or because of the tomato swap out, and it wasn’t a ton, but maybe more than we expected(?).

I also question the necessity of breading and frying the eggplant. I’m not a big fan of frying in general (not for health reasons or anything. It just makes the house stink, in my opinion), and the final product was really a cheesy mess. You definitely don’t get any fried crispiness. But again, maybe that was because of the tomato/watery situation. Hard to tell. After dinner, XFE pointed out that Trader Joe’s has fried eggplant slices in the freezer section, so if I made this again, I might use that short cut as well, since home frying didn’t seem to make a discernible improvement to the final product.

However, with all that being said, this eggplant parmigiana was really, really good. Downright delicious.  I mean, how could it not be? It had like a couple of pounds of cheese. It was basically an ooey, gooey Italian cheese delivery system, which is just fine by me. And our tomatoes tasted amazing, really bright and summery, so it was a good use of those.

Can’t wait to eat the leftovers for lunch this week. Maybe with a side of cheese, eaten Bleona style.

Bleona eating cheese.

Friday Links: Does This Blog Post Make My Butt Look Big (And/Or Shiny?) Edition

Kim's twin comets

I was a bit light on posting this weekend. Mostly because I was transfixed by the comet landing. I just don’t get it. Why would anyone want to land on a comet? I don’t get space exploration in general. And don’t even get me started on this nonsense about commercial space travel. Or NASA funding. Just avoid all space-related topics around me.

Anyway, that’s my excuse. And a roundup of some links that may or may not have distracted me from writing blog posts.

  • The Styleite story “behind” the overtly racist French artist who inspired the Kim Kardashian Paper cover. Yep, pun intended.
  • Who even knew that there was a beer mile record? Welp, there is and a mother of six broke it. Chris Kimbrough ran four laps and drank four beers in 6 minutes 28.6 seconds. Also known as Friday Happy Hour at Poe Industries. Minus the running laps part.
  • MentalFloss rounds up 11 common things people are trying to replace or redesign, including the toilet, which I’ve written about before. I mean, building a better toilet. I’ve written about that effort. Not just toilets, like randomly, or anything. OK. Time to be quiet now.
  • Sweet bat karma justice at work, via Revolver Magazine: New “Bat Frog” Found in Amazon, Named for Ozzy Osbourne
  • Lifehacker has some good tips on how not to become a hermit crab when working from home. I have to admit, I struggle with this, especially now that it’s getting cold out. I’ve been pretty good about going to the gym and I’m trying to get out to events, coffee dates, etc. But man, sometimes all I want to do is snuggle up on the couch with the cat and the computer.
  • What I’m cooking today (using up some leftover chicken – PLUS it has “scrumptious” in the name): Scrumptious Thai coconut red curry

Have a happy beer chugging, butt-oiling, and bat-frog-avoiding weekend!

Haciendo Fideo: Making Noodle Soup

So….I’m Mexican. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming).

Don’t let the pale, sunburn-prone skin and curly, red hair fool you. I am definitely La Chicana. Maybe even a Chola. I don’t know. I haven’t fully explored my new-found ethnicity yet.

little loca

Let me explain: since my adult-companion-caretaker-for-life XFE has been out of town a lot lately (first on a cross-country golf trip with his dad, then on a work trip to Japan), I’ve had a bit of free time on my hands. It appears that when one is not being bossed around, and doing adult things like laundry, grocery shopping, and watering the yard, there is a lot of time left over.

(To address your questions: Laundry – I have lots of clothes and could probably go without doing laundry for about a month before things became, shall we say, pungent. Grocery shopping – that’s what take out and frozen foods are for. Watering the yard – why bother? The squirrels are eating all my damn tomatoes anyway)

What are you looking at, chola?

So in my vast amounts of newly discovered “me” time, I’ve been discovering me; ie: snooping around into my family tree.

I have been slightly curious about this topic before; as would anyone with the last name Poe (for the record: Not related to the Great One, not even remotely). My mother also has a slightly unusual maiden name that always made me wonder, “Where the hell did that come from?”

But when one is raised in the rough-and-tumble wilds of trailer parks in West Texas, things like tracing one’s genealogy seem mighty frou-frou and uppity. Plus, I’m not exactly a very family-oriented person, in that, basically, I don’t really talk to mine very much.

Then I realized, I don’t live in a trailer park anymore and I’m quite frou-frou and uppity, and as an uppity frou-frou professional type person, I’m expected to know where my family originated.


Sidenote: You should see the horror on people’s faces when I exclaim loudly, “Where are my people from? They’re white trash from the trailer parks! Before that, we were probably dirt farmers! Where’s the race classification checkbox for that?” After an uncomfortable pause, I usually then launch into a tirade on how white trash people are underreported and disenfranchised in society. Don’t worry — I’ve started a movement for restitution. An unsuccessful and entirely unsympathetic movement, I might add.

Anyway, what I found was totally surprising. On my errant father’s side, his people go all the way back to tobacco farmers who arrived in Virginia in 1704. Before that the line is a bit sketchy and unclear, but as far as I (and the lovely hard workers on ancestry.com) can tell, they most likely came from a long line of Poes in and around Nottingham. As in England, y’all.

Then there’s my mother’s side. My grandfather’s people came over from Bergen, Norway in the 1800s. I was pretty blown away by that. I would have never in a million years guessed Norway. But there it was, my mother’s maiden name on a ship manifest in 1843. All historic and proof-like. Crazy.

But the real kicker was my maternal grandmother’s father. My great, great grandfather was Mexican. Which makes me, like, 1/16th Mexican. Or maybe it’s 1/32nd. I don’t know. Math is the devil’s work. At least, that’s what people from Norway believe.

In honor of my Mexican heritage, I made fideo this week. Fideo is sort of a Mexican noodle soup with tomatoes. Both my grandma and my mom used to make it. Con pollo, naturalmente. (That means with chicken for all you non-natives out there.) We also make it kinda thick, so it’s really like chicken spaghetti when it’s all said and done.

Hola. Mi nombre es fideo.

First, you pour a large goblet o’wine. Since Mexico isn’t known for it’s wine, I went a bit further south of the border and had a glass of Argentinian Malbec.

Then, you throw half an onion, some crushed garlic cloves, salt and pepper in some water with a couple of ridiculously large chicken breasts and boil for about one-and-a-half episodes of a Real Housewives of Whatever. (You’re trying to cook the chicken through). Remove the chicken and let it cool. Keep the leftover broth to the side.

Pasta + Petunia = Party 001

Have another glass of wine and watch another Real Housewives while waiting for the chicken to cool. Shred the chicken and set aside.

fideo ingredients

Heat up a small amount of vegetable oil. Chop up the other half of the onion, crush some more garlic and brown it all in the hot oil. Add the fideo noodles. Usually, I use those vermicelli nest ones, but fancy-schmancy Trader Joe’s didn’t have those, so I just used capellini and broke them into small pieces. Brown the pasta until it smells nice and nutty and homey.

everybody in the pan

Add a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, the shredded chicken, and the leftover chicken broth a ladle at a time. Add some cumin, come cayenne, more salt and pepper. The noodles will absorb the broth, so you’ll need a fair amount, but probably not the whole pots-worth. Just eyeball it. Heat on low until it looks yummy and smells so freaking good, you can’t stand it any more.

fideo finito

It’s easy and comforting and is one of the few dishes from my childhood that I actually crave and have good memories associated with (do NOT get me started on creamed corn).

Fideo belly

Now I guess I have to figure out what they make in Norway. I have a feeling it might involve creamed corn or something equally gross.

Big ups to my aunt Delores for taking the time to do the maternal part of the family tree AND putting it on the internet so I could stumble upon it. Saved me shitloads of time. Time which I could then put towards making fideo. 

Bring us the fideo!

Sichuan Must Be Chinese for ‘Burn a Hole in Your Belly’

My travel-buddy-for-life XFE and I often discuss where we might want to go for our next Really Big Trip. You know, the ones that require using lots and lots of miles, and all of your 25 vacation days and crossing many, many time zones.

The last Really Big Trip was three weeks in Australia for my 40th birthday last year where I hung out with pop stars, watched kangaroos sun themselves right off my porch, ate some of those poor kangaroos (ok, not the ones I saw, but some other ones, probably related), avoided sharks (mostly), and hugged koalas.

Koala and Poe

There have, of course, been trips since then (including an apparently undocumented short jaunt to Austin for New Years – bad travel blogger here), but none of these trips have been quite on the scale of the Australian one.

One of the many, many places that XFE keeps mentioning is China. We’re usually pretty simpatico on potential destinations but I am not really feeling the whole China thing.

Actually, come to think of it, despite our lovebird status, we are NOT always simpatico on travel destinations. He always wants to go to dangerous places where we might be killed or taken political prisoner while I want to go to nice, climate-controlled museums located near shopping.

We are, however, fairly good at blending the two travel styles. I look forward to finally visiting a climate-controlled museum where you can purchase weapons used by political prisoners.

I have a few reasons why I think China might not be my cup of oolang. For one thing, I have very vivid memories of the toilet situations in Hong Kong (ie: hole in the floor), and I fear that those would be considered spa-like by Chinese standards.

Chinese bathroom
Exceptionally unpleasant in the winter when you’re wearing pants, a coat, sweaters….

And there’s that whole Chinese sense of humor business – somehow I feel like I would smart mouth the wrong government bureaucrat and find my butt in a nice prison complete with “special suicide watch cells with walls made of rubber so prisoners could not commit suicide by running into the walls.”

And that’s just no fun.

chinese prisoner
I totally agree with this woman, whatever she’s saying.

But one of the main reasons we probably won’t be going to China anytime soon has to do with the food. And that’s our own damn fault.

We thought we’d get all “The Bitten Word” on things this past weekend (wonderful blog, go check it out. But then come back.) and actually make something from one of the many cooking magazines we receive each month.

XFE actually does adapt a very few recipes from our magazines once in a while, but we’d never attempted anything as ambitious as this.

Chinese cooking at home
Page 70, if you feel inclined.

We made Sichuan pork dumplings and stir-fried pork belly with Chinese chives from the current issue of Saveur (the one with the donuts on the cover).

We have an entire kitchen cabinet with Asian oils, spices, vinegars, pastes and other potions, but we use them so infrequently that we decided to go to our nearest Asian market and procure new ones. This turned into an hour-long confusion-fest as we tried to find three different bean pastes, none of which appeared to be on the shelves we were looking at.

Here’s a snippet of the typical muttering to be heard in that aisle on that day:

“It says we need sweat fermented broad red bean chile paste. I see sweet bean paste. I see fermented bean paste, and I see dried fermented black beans, but not in paste form. I also see fermented bean curd paste, and sweet tofu chile paste. Do you think any of these would work whatsoever?”

Chinese cooking at home
Some–or all of these –might be part of the recipe.

Also: no sherry. All other kinds of wine/vinegar permutations, but no dry sherry.

After best guessing it, we went home and XFE started cooking, including grinding his own pork for the wonton filling. The recipe for the wontons made like, 2 dozen, so we cut that in half. We did not, however, remember to cut the ingredient list for the sauce we tossed them in by half.

Chinese cooking at home
Ladies, here’s a gift tip: men love a meat grinder.

XFE also pulled out our old electric wok, which was purchased for $3 at a garage sale about 6 years ago and has been used a grand total of once. That was for a bacon tempura recipe that stunk up our whole apartment so bad I screamed bloody murder every time XFE even mentioned using it again.

(FYI, our apartment reeked of dirty grease for a week. It was winter and we could not even open a window to air things out. No fancy candle could cut through that smell.)

The wok has sat unused and unloved taking up valuable cabinet space every since. It almost met its long overdue demise during our last two moves, but somehow, has been spared each time.

Finally, that wok was going to earn its keep.

Chinese cooking at home
Old Red, the unloved wok sizzling away in the background.

The wontons came off the stove first and got a good dousing in the sauce. The first one was delightful. Very good. But as I reached for a second one, my mouth began to burn. I quickly pushed it aside and popped another drenched wonton into my gullet. Yep, definitely tongue tingling.

I knew – because I do have eyes – that there was some chili oil in the sauce. But I’m from Texas. And not just Texas, but El Paso. On the border of Mexico. I grew up eating hot stuff.

However, I vastly underestimated my tolerance for chili oil.

Chinese cooking at home

You know how when something’s so hot, you just can’t stop eating it, because to do so would allow air to hit that surface and send the flames higher, therefore, you have to just keep eating? Yeah, that’s what was going on here.

XFE caught on a lot quicker than me and stopped at just a few.

Next came the stir fried pork belly, which also had some chili oil, but we’d learned our lesson and cut the chile oil portion. Plus, the oil from the pork helped cut down the heat a bit. It smelled amazing and looked just like the picture. But it was fried in approximately three cups of vegetable oil and made us both feel kind of greasy and gross.

Chinese cooking at home

So, Chinese cooking was a bust for us. Not sure how we’d fare on visiting the actual country.

How Not to Do Date Night

My super significant other and I had one of those so-called “date nights” the other night. Well, I guess you could call it a “date night.” We put on real clothes and left the house for a pre-planned activity.

This is one of those things you have to do when you’ve been together for seven years to remind yourselves that you have a life together outside of the confines of your own house and things to talk about besides what TV show to watch that night.

However, this date night was missing a particular ingredient that I am quite sure is necessary for a true “date night” – wine.

A few months ago, when XFE’s family was coming into town for Christmas, I was looking around for activities to keep people happy and occupied. That’s when I stumbled across Sur La Table’s cooking classes. While I didn’t find anything for that particular timeframe, I did see that they had an upcoming January class called “Date Night: Exquisite Spain.” Since we had just been to Spain, I thought it might be fun for us to learn how to make some Spanish foods.

slt kitchen

(Not that we—supreme smugglers of chorizo and paprika—don’t know how to make any Spanish foods, by the way. But work with me here. I was trying to do something cute.)

We went a bit early to swing by DSW and buy some terrible ugly but knubby shoes for hiking in Peru. Of course, being fully dedicated to “date night,” we bought matching shoes. That should help solidify our “taken” status on Machu Picchu. Pretty sure these shoes guarantee no one’s going to try to steal either of us away from the other.

Please note the Petunia photobomb

With time still to kill before our cooking class (ugly-practical shoe shopping took less time than we had allotted), we stopped at an Irish-themed bar for a drink and a small snack. While tucking into some mediocre calamari, we talked about the last time we’d taken a private cooking class at an Italian restaurant – which had included wine – and wondered whether tonight’s Spanish cooking class would include any of the wines we had had in the Rioja region.

“They might not serve any wine at all since they (a) aren’t a restaurant and (b) don’t sell wine,” XFE pondered.

“Pshaw. Of course there’d be wine at a cooking class. How absurd!” I scoffed.

“But what if they don’t,” XFE queried.

“Well then, we should just leave immediately,” I countered hotly.

Then we made our way over to Sur La Table.

This particular Sur La Table cooking school is apparently the most busy in the franchise. Our kitchen contained two steel prep tables, with space for approximately 8 people at each table. In front of us were name tags, an apron, some utensils, including a chopping knife and board, and our recipes for the evening.

slt recipes

Our instructor, Chef Anna, invited us to grab some water or make ourselves a coffee from their very fancy coffee machine. And those, dear reader, were of course the only two beverage options to part Chef Anna’s lips.

“Excuse me. Where’s the wine?,” I asked.

“Oh, we unfortunately don’t serve wine. We don’t have a liquor license,” Chef Anna said.

slt coffee
Probably the only time I was not excited to see coffee.

At which point, I wish I could say we made good on our earlier pledge to abort the whole fiasco. However, as XFE pointed out, we’d already paid our $79 per person, might as well suck it up and stick it out.

Things pretty much went downhill from there. Not because of the lack of wine, mind you. Well, not entirely. But primarily because of the complete skills gap between us (fairly proficient kitchen masters) and the other students, who apparently, did not know how to chop garlic, heat oil in a pan, and were puzzled by the term “brown the chicken.”

slt apps

slt work
10 pieces of chicken prepared by 8 ‘chefs’

Each step of the very simple recipe confounded our cohorts. And, let me remind you, we had very simple recipes printed out for consultation right in front of us AND a kitchen staff who were on hand to answer any questions and clear away used utensils and even finished off cooking our desserts for us.

slt main

Since there was literally not enough work for all eight of us at the table (two garlic cloves and two onions to chop, two burners/skillets to oversee), XFE wandered over to a bookcase near the door and began perusing the ginormous, six-volume Modernist Cuisine set gleaming away in it’s acrylic cube.

I hesitate to call it a cookbook. It’s more like an amazingly photographed encyclopedia of contemporary cooking. We’d only heard about it (it was a prize on an episode of Top Chef several seasons ago), but we’d never seen a set in person (at least, I hadn’t. XFE probably had.)

He was absorbed the whole class, which was fine by me since I was feeling so apologetic about the whole enterprise at this point. We spoke to Chef Anna during our much-deserved (HA) break, and she told us they actually sold the set at Sur La Table. A quick conversation with the store manager confirmed they had just one set left, and that it was on sale, and we also had a 10% coupon, thanks to our cooking class.

The behemoth set came home with us and is now occupying a large amount of space on our kitchen counters. We celebrated the purchase with a well-earned bottle of wine, and a vow to avoid “date nights” for a while. I guess the evening wasn’t such a bust after all.


All I Want for Christmas is World Peace. And a Gateau Basque.

So Christmas is always, in my experience, an emotional roller coaster.  And I don’t like roller coasters. Or emotions, really.

monks on coasters

But what I do like is cake. Or, pie. Or, cookie/pie/cake hybrids. Which is why for Christmas this year, I made a Gateau Basque.

Actually, we’re not very big on sweets in thePoeLog household. Neither one of us has much of a sweet tooth. We don’t really do much baking either, other than an annual batch of Kris Kringle Christmas cookies.

But, when we were in San Sebastian staying at the fabulous Hotel Maria Cristina, they had this gateau on the desert table at the amazing breakfast buffet each morning.

The breakfast room at Hotel Maria Cristina. Gorgeous.
The breakfast room at Hotel Maria Cristina. Gorgeous.

Gateau Basque is like an adult version of a cherry Pop Tart. It’s an almond crust pie stuffed with cherry jam inside. And, it’s awesome. I immediately regretted not discovering it earlier, but as I said, we don’t really seek out the sweet stuff when we travel or eat out.

I wasn’t even sure what it was called, but when we got home, I did a Google search for “Spanish cherry pie.” I knew when I saw the picture for the Gateau Basque that that was what I’d had.

There are a million recipes for Gateau Basque out there, including ones that include a cream custard filling. But, I stuck with my original favorite, which I knew had an almond flavor and cherry filling. So I combined a couple of different recipes, making sure to include almond flour and leaving out the lemon zest I found in many of the recipes.

First, I hand mixed the dry ingredients, including 1 ½ cups of flour, ½ cup of almond flour, ¾ teaspoon of baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt.


Then I creamed 1 cup of sugar with 10 tablespoons of room temperature butter in the KitchenAid at medium speed until smooth (about 3 minutes). I added 1 large egg and ½ a teaspoon each of vanilla and almond extract and mix for another couple of minutes.

kitchenaid mixer

I then lowered the speed on the mixer and gently added the dry ingredients until they were fully incorporated. Divide the dough into two sections, and roll out two round crusts in between 2 pieces plastic wrap or wax paper.  They should be about 8 ½ inches to fit in the bottom of a spring form pan. I made one of them slightly thicker than the other, with the plan to use the slightly thicker one on the bottom.

I stored the two pieces of crust on a cookie sheet in the fridge overnight. Recipes vary, but most suggest chilling the dough for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.

When you’re ready to make the pie, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line the bottom of the spring form pan with a sheet of parchment paper (to avoid sticking).

Making a gateau Basque

Place one chilled crust on the bottom of the pan, pressing any excess crust up onto the sides. Heads up: the chilled crusts are a bit crumbly and prone to breakage. Don’t worry, just smooth out any cracks with some wet fingers.

Making a gateau Basque

Spread an entire 8 oz jar of cherry jam or preserves on the crust. Leave a little bit of the edges bare. The goal is to not have sticky cherry jam cooked onto the sides of your spring form. Now place the second layer of the crust on top of the cherry layer, pressing the edges of the two crusts together.

Making a gateau Basque

Brush the top of the dough with a glaze of egg and a little water. Use the tines of a fork to scratch a light cross hatch pattern across the top.

Making a gateau Basque

Bake the pie for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool for about 5 minutes before opening the spring form and sliding the pie out. Eat plain, with cream, or, with salt ice cream, which is how we had it at Christmas dinner this year. It has a nice, slightly hard, cookie-like crust that makes it easy to travel with, as well.

Making a gateau Basque

Share it with family, even if they’re driving you crazy after four days of forced closeness. Or, eat it alone while hiding from said family in the bathroom. Eat it for dessert. Eat it for breakfast. Eat it with coffee on a rainy/icy/miserable day like today. Do not, however, eat it on an emotional roller coaster. Far too messy on so many levels.

Making a gateau Basque

Weekend in Pictures

No weddings, but other shenanigans were afoot. 

I signed up for this race about two months ago. I thought it was on Sunday, but while ironing on Saturday, I saw a commercial for a new show starting on Monday, April 30. I thought to myself, “no, Monday’s May 1,” but when I went and checked, I saw that it was actually the 28th and I had missed the race. Awesome. I swear, i’m not signing up for another race again.

Some boar chops from Steve the butcher. We had Matt and Melissa over on Saturday night and made dinner.

We made wild mushroom risotto. Luckily, I’m not too embarrassed to put up a shit-eating grin photo. This is literally the only help I provided the whole meal.

All together now, boar, risotto, asparagus.

And then we noticed that our tomato plant had been vandalized. We think a squirrel is messing with us. 

End of weekend drink. We went to Brabo (down the street from our house) hoping to take advantage of their happy hour deal (mussels, frites and wine for $15) but they were actually out of mussels. Bummer.

Dessert in the dark. Berries with whipped cream and dark chocolate squares.