Things I don’t love:
- Most things
- Most people
- Myself…JK (…but not really kidding)
Things I DO love:
- Platform Heels
- Hot tubs
- Wine IN hot tubs
- Faux fur jackets
- Snow, but only when it’s clean and white
- Steak Tartare (I’m a heathen)
- Eggplant Parm
- Truffle (of the fungi variety, not the chocolate)
Ah yes, the good ol’ American mall – a timeless institution! All of the stores a girl could ask for under one roof (listen – even if you’re extra fancy, there are malls with Chanel…); the smells of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels mixing with Yankee Candle, Bath & Body Works, the fragrance counter of Macy’s and the food court lulling you into a false sense that everything in the world is good and peaceful.
I have a sick obsession with malls – I think it’s because I grew up going to the mall every weekend with my mom, and now the mall is basically the one place left that makes me feel a sort of comforting wash of nostalgia when I set foot in one – it’s like stepping back to the safety and pleasantry of childhood. They’re always the same – which is what I really like the most I think. Regardless of whether they’re high-end or middle-brow, you always know what you’re getting. There will be a food court, several chain restaurants, an H&M, Journey’s shoes, Sephora, Abercrombie, and two big department stores. These days, a trip to the mall is a rare treat, since I live in NYC and do most of my shopping on line, or in person in brick-and-mortar stores around the city. I usually don’t even end up buying anything in the mall to be honest, but I like walking around sniffing candles, reminiscing about my college stint piercing ears at Claire’s, and of course, doing a walk-through of Hollister. How could I not?! I worked for Hollister for almost four years, so I like to walk through the store to relive my best memories while taking in the scent of SoCal…. it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. What can I say? Can’t go wrong with a pair of $25 boyfriend jeans…
Anyhow, sometimes it’s really nice to drive out of NYC and go spend a couple of hours at a mall upstate, or in Long Island or New Jersey just to GTFO of the rat race that is life in NYC. Escaping to a mall for a couple of hours is like stepping back to a time when life was simple, and all I cared about was weather my mom would by me that $60 sweater from Abercrombie or sparkly skirt from Limited Too. There is also something to be said for the comfort of chain restaurants. Living in NYC you have the best of the best and all of the variety in the world, but sometimes it’s just as satisfying to get Ruby Tuesday’s, or my new favorite: Zin Burger.
Anyhow… apart from malls, &$%28!, and cheese, one of my other favorite things is eggplant parmigiana. If I go to an Italian restaurant and eggplant parm is on the menu, you can be almost 98% certain that that is what I will be ordering. One of my very favorite eggplant parms in the city, is the one served at Fiat Cafe. If you’ve never been to Fiat Cafe in Nolita, you should go. It’s on Mott Street between Spring Street and Kenmare. The prices are really affordable, the food is amazing, the servers are always friendly, and its cozy. It’s not fine dining by any means, but for a cozy date night, or intimate dinner with a couple of friends or small family, it’s perfect. They also do brunch and lunch, though I’ve never been before 4pm.
Everything on the menu is fantastic. Their meatballs are honestly some of my favorite in the city, apart from D.O.C. Wine Bar, in Williamsburg. Honestly, my boyfriend and think the meatballs served at Fiat Cafe are not made in house and in fact, we believe they’re of the frozen, store-bought variety. I am not 100% certain, so don’t quote me on this – but they taste store bought, but like in the most delicious, fucking way you can dream of. It helps that the marinara they have is perfect.
Apart from the eggplant parm, which is a substantial size and dripping in hot mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, the layers of eggplant are super thin, and fried and then baked to perfection – it melts in your mouth. It is absolutely perfect, and I’m salivating just thinking of it. The hairs on my arms are standing straight up, because that shit is SO GOOD, it gives me goosebumps, the same way a good song or good cocktail would.
If I had to pick my favorite eggplant parm upstate, I’d say the Spot restaurant/diner in Binghamton has pretty excellent eggplant parm… or at least they used to… I haven’t been in like 10 years.
Ever since having Fiat Cafe eggplant parm about 6 years ago, I’ve been trying to recreate it when ever I make my own eggplant parm – and this weekend, I’d say I can pretty damn close.
The key, I’ve learned through trial and error, is to NOT use any bread crumbs at all, and to use substantial amount of oil when frying (deep-fry style) The eggplant is first dipped in beaten egg, and then instead of going into breadcrumbs, it just goes into a mixture of flour (Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic powder) before going into the hot oil.
The marinara sauce is also important – if you’re not making your own, you’ll want to splurge on a good jar of sauce (Rao’s, Meatball Shop, or Victoria brands are all really good quality when going with store bought). You don’t want a sauce that is too sweet (which many brands are – I’m looking at you Classico and Newman’s Own…), or chunky.
It’s also important to cut the eggplant length-wise (long ways, instead of horizontally into rounds), and fairly thin (although, not TOO thin, otherwise you’ll be frying all night… and this is already a time consuming dish to make).
- Two medium-sized eggplant, or one really large eggplant
- 3-4 eggs, well beaten in a bowl
- 3 cups of bleached baking flour
- 2 cups of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (aka Paremsan cheese)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 Tbs. granulated garlic or garlic powder
- Finely chopped fresh basil
- 1 cup olive oil or vegetable oil, or a combination of the two
- 1 ball (8 oz.) fresh mozzarella, or 1 bag pre-shredded mozzarella
- Homemade marinara or large jar (or two smaller jars) quality marinara sauce (feel free to spice it up with arrabiata sauce or any other variety within reason)
- Wash and dry your eggplant(s) ans slice vertically (length-wise) into thin slices (1/4 an inch or 2cm, maybe? I don’t have a ruler on me…sorry)
- Beat 3-4 eggs in a shallow bowl; beat well enough that you can’t differentiate between yoke and egg white – should be consistent
- In a separate, shallow bowl or container, mix together the flour, 1 cup of finely grated Parmesan, 1 TBS. granulated garlic, and salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and set aside a shallow casserole dish or baking pan
- Cover the bottom or a frying pan/large sauce pan with enough oil that the bottom is actually totally covered (this will be a lot… I didn’t say this was a healthy dish 😉 ) and turn to a medium-low heat
- Next, you’ll dip the slices of eggplant one by one, first into the egg wash, and then lightly coat in flour
- cook over medium-low heat about 1 minute on each side: the flour should brown ever so slightly – just a nice golden color
- Be careful NOT TO BURN or get the oil too hot, otherwise everything in your house/kitchen/hair/clothes will smell like a deep-fryer (Believe me, I’ve been there…. makes for a terrible headache)
- It’s a process you must finesse, cooking, turning, battering at the same time – obviously you cannot fit all of the eggplant slices in the pan at one time, so you’ll have to get the rhythm right (don’t worry… it takes time. Practice makes perfect)
- You’ll want to either set the finished pieces of fried eggplant directly into the baking pan, if you have a good system down between frying, turning, and creating the layers within the pan, or, if you are not that skilled yet, just set aside all of the finished fried eggplant and then you will build the layers when you’re done!!!
- After you have a layer of fried eggplant that covers the baking dish, you’ll top with an even mix of mozzarella slices and grated Parmesan, followed by a light layer of sauce
- Once your sauce jar is half empty (if you’re using jarred sauce), add some water (enough to almost fill the jar again), and shake vigorously – most marinara out of the jar will be too thick by itself to create a moist and juicy eggplant parm – so adding water is a necessary step!
- Keep layering until you’ve used up all of your fried eggplant layers (in my experience, you’ll end up with 3-4 layers of eggplant and subsequent toppings, depending on how thin you’ve sliced your eggplant)
- Add a final topping-layer of marinara, cheese, and sprinkle with the chopped parsley and put into the oven
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes until cheese has melted and is browning ever so slightly
- Once the eggplant comes out of the oven, let it cool/sit on the counter for about 15 minutes – otherwise it will be too sloppy to serve
- This is one of those dishes that almost tastes even better in the following days, so enjoy your leftovers… you should have plenty – unless you’re cooking for a family of four or more!
Oh, also, in other news – despite what negative things my family has to say, I can’t fucking wait for my kitten (Lord Simon Pier Tuna) to arrive. Mr. Peeper has been so hard up for a friend that he now waits by the door when he knows our neighbor across the hall is taking her dog out. He sits by our door and meows until we let him into the hall so he can go sniff and greet Quincy (the neighbor’s little dog)… that’s how much he wants a friend/brother. I pray he gets along with/likes another cat for a friend as much as he likes the neighbor’s dog. My poor boy.
OH . MY . GOD…
In other, other news – while I just had my back turned typing the above paragraph, I heard Peeper (speak of the Devil) licking something on the counter behind me, and turned around to find him licking olive oil out of the sauce pan I just readied to make Bolognese sauce… AWESOME. He’s probably going to shit his brains out now. Fabulous.