Programming Alert: Walking Dead returns February 10. Have a zombie plan. That’s it. Just wanted to make sure you were aware.

Plants vs. Zombies

“We’re having steak tartar and sweetbreads” is the response I got from my dad when I asked about my parent’s zombie plan.  It was a throw-down, for sure.  I went looking for a way to out-gross my dad in the offal section of Larousse Gastronomique. (Offal not awful.)   I lost my enthusiasm for our zombie plan somewhere between Croquettes of sheep’s trotters and Hot calf’s head with various cold sauces. Ears, kidneys, animellles (testicles), lungs, sweetbreads, palates.  Braised, breaded, fried, sautéed, jellied or served à la vinaigrette.  Eeeewwww.

I studied Mastering the Art of French Cooking for recipes using organ meats with the idea that if Julia Child made French cooking more accessible to the American Housewife she might actually make sweetbreads sound appealing.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.  Her description for preparing sweetbreads and brains, for optimal flavor and texture, lost me:   “Both must be soaked for several hours in cold water before they are cooked, to soften the filament which covers them so that it may be removed, to dissolve their bloody patches, and to whiten them.”  Logically, I know that when the meat had a face it had blood coursing through it’s veins, too.  But I would rather not have to drain, soak, or let the blood from my meal.  Not to mention the fact that I do not want to imagine what the brain that I am eating was imagining just before it met his or her end.   I think that would be like standing between two mirrors at the start of bikini season.

I raised the white flag.  No way my parents would be outdone on this one.  In the end, all I could think about was Hannibal Lecter serving brains to his dinner guests who had unwittingly provided the feast.  (Incidentally,  I don’t remember seeing Hannibal soak the brains prior to the sauté.)   Instead, we went in a whole new direction; we had butternut squash soup served alongside fresh black-eyed peas and swiss chard.  I added 3 strips of bacon to the swiss chard which was all the meat I could muster after my reading.

For our zombie plan this Sunday, I think I might go back to eggplant.

-Andra

Butternut Squash Soup 

1 3-4 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch dice

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 onion, diced

3 small carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

1 sprig of rosemary

1 teaspoon of sumac

4 cups of low sodium chicken broth

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425°.

Toss the diced butternut squash with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes until tender.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large dutch oven, over medium high heat.  Add the onion, carrots, celery and rosemary.  Stir and cook until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce to simmer.

Remove the sprig of rosemary.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.  (Or, puree in a blender with the round stopper removed and dish cloth placed over the lid of the blender. Return the soup to the pot.)   Add the sumac and salt and pepper to taste.

Black Eye Peas and Swiss Chard 

1 pound of fresh black eyed peas, rinsed and cleaned

1 small onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, crushed

3 strips of bacon, diced

1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

1 large bunch of swiss chard, tough stems removed and leaves chopped into bite sized pieces

salt and pepper

Place the beans in a medium saucepan of water that covers the beans by one inch.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until tender.  Drain the beans and set aside.

In a large shallow pan, cook the diced bacon.  Once crisp, remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and reserve.  Drain all but two tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan and add the diced onion.  Cook until translucent and then add the garlic until fragrant.  Add the swiss chard and cook until wilted, tossing and stirring frequently.  Add the black eyed peas to the pan along with the apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper and reserved diced bacon.  Serve immediately.

What’s your zombie plan?

After waiting a full year for the new season of The Walking Dead to start,  the question “what’s our zombie plan?” now refers to what we’ll eat for dinner on Sunday night rather than what we’ll do during an actual zombie apocalypse.  (For the record, we have a plan for that too.)  With a little more than 24 hours to go until the next episode, I’m finalizing our zombie plan for tomorrow night.  I can hardly wait.

Our zombie plan last Sunday night was an eggplant lasagna.  Eggplant is a hard sell around here because both my husband and Catherine’s husband say that eating eggplant feels a lot like eating skin.  Both guys have said that the skin of the eggplant has a rubbery consistency and a toothsome bite that feels like gnawing on live flesh.  I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the evening than to a create meal around this epidermis-like-vegetable.  The lasagna was delicious and Tim didn’t feel like a cannibal, even though that was what I going for.    I encourage you to try this recipe, zombie fan or not.  But, you know what they say, there are two types of people, those that love The Walking Dead and liars.  -Andra

Eggplant Lasagna

2 eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices

8 ounces of  sliced mushrooms

1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef

2 onions, chopped

1  1/2 – 2 cups of freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce

1/2 cup red wine

olive oil

salt & pepper

Béchamel Sauce

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of flour

1 cup of milk

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350° degrees.

Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 20 minutes to draw out the moisture. Lightly oil a pan and brown the eggplant on both sides. Set aside.

In a large skillet  set over high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic salt and pepper.  Once the onions are translucent and ground beef is cooked through,  add the cinnamon, nutmeg and herbs.  Cook for 1 minute, until fragrant and then add the tomato sauce and wine.  Combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Once boiling,  lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Taste for seasoning and set aside in a large bowl to cool.

While the beef is cooking, sauté the mushrooms until lightly browned over medium high heat.  Set aside to cool.

In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Once melted,  whisk the flour into the butter until light brown.  Slowly add the milk and continue to whisk until thick.  Add the cheese and stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce has become smooth and thick.  Add the ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Grease a 9” x 13” baking dish and layer the bottom of the pan with the cooled eggplant, overlapping slightly.  Spread half of the meat mixture over the eggplant. Sprinkle about a 1/2 cup of grated cheese over the meat mixture and then spread half of the sautéed mushrooms over the cheese. Repeat again with another layer of eggplant, meat, mushrooms and cheese. Finally, top the lasagna with one last layer of eggplant and then spread the béchamel sauce over the top.

Bake for 60 minutes. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

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