Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Jane Austen Book Club Night

Last night I hosted our Jane Austen Book Club. Three founding members invited three friends (one apiece) to get together and talk about Jane Austen’s six novels. Pretty simple – six novels, six people, six nights. Thanks for my invitation, Kassidy.

I should admit that after three tries at Ms. Austen’s novels, the Jane Austen Book Club is fast becoming the Jane Austen Movie club. We are shamed and embarrassed but equally busy and not able to get through a lengthy novel each month… So, after last night, we have decided to switch to movies. (Since there had been quite the trend for abandoning the books already, I did have door prizes for whoever read the most and least… The most was two chapters and the least was, of course, none at all.)

Instead of making more excuses and defending our status as conscientious readers – for everything but Jane Austen – I thought I would share the menu for the night.

Last summer, I made oodles and oodles of pesto which I froze, and I already had several kinds of cheese in the fridge, so I decided we’d start with little bruschetta/ crostini thingies. If it sounds SO easy, you're right. It is. I got a baguette and sliced it into thin, round pieces of toast. I drizzled olive oil on the bottom of each of the breads. I spread either marinara or pesto or goat cheese or some combination of the three on all of them. Then, I topped them either sliced roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, parmesan or kalamata olives. I put them in the oven right at 350 degrees when people started walking through the door and we ate them straight from the oven after about ten minutes.

Dinner was my latest favorite meal: SHEPHERD’S PIE!!! I think I mentioned this dish earlier because it is the inspiration for my plan to grow eggplants this summer. I adore this recipe. Since Mollie Katzen has it posted on her website, I won’t feel bad sharing it with you all here:

Adapted from The Enchanged Broccoli Forest
Preparation time: 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes to bake.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

A deep-dish casserole with vegetable hash on the bottom and garlicky mashed potatoes on top.

Mashed Potato Topping
(Make this first):
2 large potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup milk
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

Peel or scrub the potatoes, and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Cook in plenty of boiling water until soft. Drain and transfer to a medium-large bowl.
Add the butter, garlic, and milk and mash well. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the parsley. Set aside.

Vegetable Hash:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced onion
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk celery, minced
1 pound mushrooms, chopped
1-pound eggplant, diced
1 medium bell pepper, minced
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
1 cup (packed) grated sharp cheddar
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
Cayenne to taste
Paprika for the top

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 2-quart casserole or its equivalent with nonstick spray. (You can also use a 9 x 13-inch baking pan).
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften.
Add garlic, salt, pepper, celery, mushrooms, eggplant, and bell pepper. Stir until well combined, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the herbs, stir, and cover again. Cook for about 5 more minutes, or until the eggplant is perfectly tender. Remove from heat.
Stir in the peas, 1/2 cup of the cheddar, the bread crumbs, and the vinegar. Add cayenne to taste. Spread this mixture into the prepared casserole or baking pan.
Spoon and/or spread the mashed potatoes over the vegetables. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top, and dust with paprika.
Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and bubbly around the edges. Make the sauce while the casserole bakes. To serve, spoon a little sauce onto each plate. Add a chunk of "pie" potato side-up, and spoon extra sauce over the top. Serve hot.

I thought I would mention that even though I don’t exactly double the recipe, I usually add extra of whatever I like to ensure I can make two pans of it. It tastes great right out of the oven or reheated for several days afterward (I live alone – my favorite dishes always end up lasting me a few days). So, to ensure it fills two pans, I use an eggplant that is 1 ½ pounds, extra mushrooms, tons and tons of bread crumbs, twice as much cheese, and extra onions. Also, I mix chives in the mashed potatoes, and I usually toss in extra potatoes as well.

Since I was entertaining and I understand not everyone is a vegetarian, I conceded to a request for BACON. It’s been about eight years since I’ve eaten bacon, and the smell actually (don’t tell anyone) still makes my mouth water. Despite my bacon-yearning, I did not try the bacon pie. But, I will mention that the feedback on the bacon was that you couldn’t really taste it; the base layer is so flavorful that the bacon simply adds a little extra salty taste.

So, if you want to keep your meat eaters happy, I recommend serving a steak on the side. Skip the bacon.

Lastly, dessert was homemade vanilla ice cream with mint oreo crumbles. Erik gave me the ice cream maker attachment that goes with my mixer for Christmas, and I am so pleased with how this second batch of ice cream turned out. I’ve heard that some people haven’t had good results, but if you put the attachment in the freezer for the fifteen hours that the book recommends, the ice cream has a nice soft-serve consistency and isn’t soupy at all. Plus, you have to let it set up in the freezer after it’s mixed. If you want to serve ice cream, or just have some yourself, be sure to plan ahead!

And of course, the piece de resistance of every meal was good wine and good conversation. Thanks, gals!

1 comment:

Virginia said...

It's after midnight, and I'm having serious hunger pangs...the picture of those yummy crostini is definitely not helping!!! I think I'm drooling:)I'll have to try the Shepherd's Pie recipe. I'm attempting to go meat-free atleast a couple of days a week, and it seems like something even my carnivore of a hubby would like.