Cast Iron Skillet Eggplant Parmesan

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I rarely brag about my at-home cooking abilities. I’m a good cook, but certainly not a great one, and I definitely tend to shy away from the more adventurous recipes. With all that said, I cooked something pretty spectacular this past weekend, and truth be told, the local ingredients are what really made the dish so fantastic. Most of them came out of my local Rattle’s Garden farmshare, along with some beautiful tomatoes given to me by a friend. Enough with the small talk. Here’s my Cast Iron Skillet Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients:
2 large eggplants (peeled)
3 cloves of chopped garlic
1 medium chopped onion
6 large tomatoes (peeled)
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
3 eggs (scrambled)
1-2 cups of mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
2 pinches of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
fresh basil

Directions:
1. You’ll want to first peel the tomatoes. The easiest way (at least for me) is to cut a small “X” into the bottom of each tomato, boil for about 30 seconds, and then transfer to an ice bath. The skin peels right off. Chop all of the tomatoes into big chunks and leave them on your cutting board for the time being.

3. In a large pot, heat your olive oil on medium and then add the chopped onions. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute and add your tomatoes. Add salt, pepper, and sugar. Simmer for 1 hour. During this time, periodically take a fork and smash the tomatoes, creating a chunky sauce.

3. Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Take your peeled eggplant and cut into VERY thin rounds. If you have a mandolin at home, this works great. Take each round and dip into egg mixture and then into bread crumbs. Transfer each round to a cookie sheet. Bake for 5 minutes on each side. Remove from oven and let cool. *Note: for time purposes, it helps to have multiple cookie sheets and a double oven.

4. Take a cast iron skillet and add a huge scoop of the tomato sauce (spread around). Next, add a layer of eggplant rounds, then add shredded mozzarella and Parmesan. Keep layering with eggplant, sauce, and cheese until you reach just a little below the top of the skillet.

5. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and garnish with fresh basil.

I also recommend boiling up some good pasta to accompany the eggplant Parmesan, especially if you have some excess tomato sauce.

Enjoy!

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Honey Pies Opens in WLR, Q/A with Owner Sharon Woodson

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Good news … Honey Pies is officially open, well, let’s call it a soft open. Owner Sharon Woodson gives us all the details on the new storefront and what to expect now and in the future.

Let’s get this out of the way, what is your estimated opening date for the Honey Pies shop?
Right now I need to be spending my time organizing the store front but customers love my pies and the orders keep coming. Opening the doors this week with a soft opening makes the most sense right now while I continue getting everything ready.

What will your eventual hours be once you get settled?
This week I’ll be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM with my hand-made pies and Loblolly Ice Cream. Next week, I’ll add coffee to the menu and hope to expand into the morning hours with full coffee service next month. We’ll host a grand opening party later in August.

What is the address of the storefront?
Honey Pies is located at 315 North Bowman Road, Suite 14, Little Rock in the Colonnade shopping center on Bowman Curve.

I was just in your shop and think the space is beautiful. What was your inspiration behind the design?
Thank you for the kind compliment! I am 100% in love with how the space turned out. The credit goes to Laure at L. Antonetti Design. I definitely wanted the space to be bright and have the welcoming feel of a southern kitchen. In the south we say the kitchen is the heart of the home and Laure completely nailed that concept.

What kind of pies can customers expect to see on a regular basis, and will you sell both whole pies and pie-by-the-slice?
We will bake pies daily for walk in customers and continue taking special orders. Additionally, there will be a rotating selection of sliced pies, Loblolly Ice Cream, cookies, brownies and other pastries to enjoy in our dining area or to take with you to-go. Honey Pies made it this far by listening to our customers and asking what they would like to see. Keeping us focused on our customers’ needs will continue to be my top priority.

I’ve always known you to be big on collaborations and supporting other local businesses. How do you plan to incorporate these partnerships into what you’ll be doing at the shop?
We set aside some space in the shop to showcase a small market of local items. We partnered with Me and McGee Produce, LK Rustic, Geri’s Jams & Jellies, Loblolly Creamery, & Leiva’s Coffee. We’re also working on several ideas to promote Arkansas’ No Kid Hungry program and are involved with events with Little Rock’s Taste of the Finest and Women’s Own Worth.

You have a huge presence at various food truck events. Will this continue?
I hope so! I took a big leap of faith and swapped my SUV for a cute little Honey Pies delivery van named “Honey.” We plan to utilize her for catering, deliveries and food truck events so you’ll continue to see us all around the community.

I’ve tried many of your pies … for someone who’s never had one, what would you say makes them unique?
Butter! There are lots of places who make their own pie filling, but the major difference in our pies is the quality of our ingredients and the crust. Most bakeries buy pre-shaped frozen dough or make their own crust using shortening to keep the dough easy to work with. This cuts cost but also cuts flavor. At Honey Pies, we don’t believe in taking short cuts and instead use butter just as my grandmother did. We love to boast our crusts are rolled by hand and baked with love. Sometimes we joke our crusts are rolled by hand and baked with butter. Everything we offer is made from scratch and I’m a firm believer that little details add up to big differences. Butter is more difficult to work with and more expensive, but it’s absolutely worth it in the end.

How long have you been making pie?
I honestly have no idea; I think I just always have! I was in the kitchen standing on a chair cooking with my grandmother as a little girl and have continued her methods through today.

You’re taking over the lease for the space formerly occupied by BASH Burger. What do you foresee happening with that?
Tell me what you’d like to see! We’d love to know what our community would like to see in the space. The main goal right now is getting the dining room ready to re-open. We have been working hard renovating and have plans to reopen the space as a restaurant with the same attention to detail you find at Honey Pies.

What are you looking forward to most about having your own shop?
I am looking forward to a slower paced environment and making more connections within our community. Being on the food truck circuit, my interaction with our community feels very rushed. Honey Pies is really an extension of my home and I love the thought of being able to welcome our community inside our Honey Pies home and host all of the new friends I have made while making new friends along the way.

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Unique Randomness: BBQ News, Buffets Galore, & Table 28 Shines at Italian

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Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…

Chef Scott Rains at Table 28 hosted our latest TMR dinner and proved once again why he can hold his own with any chef in this region. Every dish from the 6-course Italian dinner delighted, with highlights including the Warm Tripe Alla Parmigiana, the Grilled Octopus with Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette, and the crowd favorite Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads, Sweet & Sour Onions, Duck Bacon, Brussels, & Vinaigrette. Kudos to Rains and the entire staff for a delightful evening.

Is it just me or is that area off Rodney Parham (near Franke’s) experiencing somewhat of a resurgence? With Al Seraj, Flavor of India, Taj Mahal, and what looks to be an almost open Asia Buffet … it’s time to dub that area Buffet Row. And I mean that in a good way.

What will happen to the old Savoy space? Do you think another high-end restaurant will go in there? Would it succeed? It’s a little bit of a funky location, but not any crazier than Table 28, which is just down the block.

We did a poll over on Facebook this week about the best French fries in Little Rock. A quick scan of responses had Big Orange as the favorite with Maddie’s Place a close second. Hard to argue with that.

As previously stated on Twitter, what is up with so many places dumping mac & cheese on a perfectly good hamburger? Doesn’t this seem ridiculous or am I being overly critical? Probably the latter.

I stumbled upon another fantastic local baker, this time at Sunday’s Bernice Garden Farmers Market. Twiggy’s Treatery, based out of Sherwood, does all sorts of sweet treats, like strawberry tarts, oatmeal cream pies, banana bread, and chocolate chunk cookies (with Izard Chocolate). It was my first time trying them out, so I can only vouch for the oatmeal cream pie, but it was fantastic and definitely will inspire future purchases from Twiggy’s.

My buddy Rob over at WaterVeg has ramped up production of his aquaponic lettuce. For $12 a basket, you get four plants of living produce, one each of red and green Romaine, and red and green Bibb. I just received my first basket the other day and couldn’t be more pleased with the quality and taste. You can order the basket on a weekly, biweekly, and monthly basis, and each one is delivered right to your front door.

Lost Forty is set to up its bbq game with the addition of some monster smokers. This is potentially great news for a city lacking in top-notch bbq. I think the main question now becomes who will run and oversee these bad boys?

Doesn’t that former FRESH Eatery space near the Capitol seem like a wonderful opportunity for someone? While it may not be the ideal dinner destination, it strikes me as a perfect spot for lunch.

Finally, Sharon Woodson over at Honey Pies recently announced that she’ll be going brick and mortar with a WLR location. Sharon is so passionate about what she does, works her tail off, and is determined to make the very best pies around. All the best to her!

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The Southern Gourmasian Shines, As Does Capeo and Ciao Baci

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Thoughts on my eating escapades around Little Rock…

Beef or no beef … the Thai Chicken Burger at The Southern Gourmasian is one of the best burgers in Little Rock. Yes, I feel that strongly about this one and only hope it lands on the restaurant’s regular menu. The thick patty of super juicy ground chicken is topped with a creamy edamame hummus—a condiment that truly makes this burger a memorable one. Add some pickled onions and crisp lettuce and you’ve got yourself a damn near perfect burger.

Capeo is one of those underrated restaurants you tend to forget is one of our top dining destinations. The place is cozy, somewhat elegant, but not over-the-top fancy. In short, it’s a great restaurant to go for dinner, and in a town void of top-tier Italian food eateries, Capeo is a place you can always go for a good-to-great meal. My very traditional Veal Parm from a recent dinner was saucy, cheesy, and just an overall hit … as was my tablemates’ Tagliatelle Bolognese and Spaghetti Carbonara. Wine lovers will also have plenty of amazing options to choose from.

I’m not sure why, but I am always a little shocked by what a great business Mugs Café does at just about any hour of operation. They seem to have such a loyal clientele, the hallmark of success for any small business. Props to ownership for its continued quality and consistency. Btw…my cold brew coffee was spot on.

I’ve been pretty vocal over the past several months about Ciao Baci and why I now consider Chef Owen a top 5 chef in town. Past inconsistencies have given way to a restaurant where you can not only expect sophisticated yet unpretentious food, but also service that is second to none. I’ve touted it before, but the 5-course, $45 chef’s tasting menu is really the way to go. I’d go into detail about my last experience, but looking over the restaurant’s website, I see Chef Owen already has a new seasonal menu. The bottom line is this … go to Ciao Baci.

If you follow me, by now you know I love El Palenque. Simply put, it’s my favorite Mexican restaurant in town and dishes like the loaded nachos, chicken enchiladas, shrimp burrito, and shrimp ala plancha only solidify my case. All that said, I was a little disappointed with my Chicken Milanesa from the other day. The pounded thinly, then fried chicken breast was a little ho-hum and bland. It wasn’t bad, mind you, but definitely not a dish I’d recommend over some of the far superior options mentioned above.

We took a roadtrip to Bentonville this weekend. Per usual, we dined at The Hive (inside 21c Hotel) and Crepes Paulette. While both places were outstanding, The Hive shined even brighter than usual by churning out an insanely delicious wood fire grilled Berkshire Hog Chop and a dish of Alaskan Halibut. Kudos to Chef McClure and his crew. I also had a chance to pop into the new Pressroom location for a quick brunch. The space was absolutely gorgeous–clean, modern, and expansive, yet warm and inviting—and my Austin City Limits dish of eggs and beans resting between two tortillas and topped with salsa, avocado, and cilantro, was certainly good enough to inspire a return visit.

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