Every week for the past 5 years or so I’ve put together this ridiculous thing called the Weekly Planner. I don’t even remember how it started. There’s always three sections: ‘Events’, ‘Free/Cheap’ and ‘Restaurant of the Week’. Occasionally I have other sections like ‘Get Out of Town’ or ‘Take a Hike’ that I throw in there, and lately I’ve had a ‘Random’ section about… well, random stuff. I always try to make the subject of each planner a funny play on one of the events happening in Phoenix that week, and I open every email with some greetings and some random thoughts about either the events happening or some charity event I really hope people will think about attending.
It’s silly, I know. I realize that, but I can’t bring myself to stop doing it. I actually think the whole thing started because I’m a shameless cheerleader for Arizona and I was always telling people things they should do, places they should go, restaurants to eat… so I just made it more official and started sending out suggestions to anyone who might care on a weekly basis.
Some days I think maybe it’s just TOO silly and I should stop it, but then I’m a day late and I start getting a slew of emails to the tune of “did I somehow miss the Weekly Planner??” or “Where’s the Weekly Planner?? My group at work is waiting for it and I’m starting to get scared they’re going to take their panic out on me in a painful way”. And on about a monthly basis I get emails from people saying “My random friend Fred is tired of waiting for me to forward it, can you just add him to your list?”. Oh! And then there’s the woman who’s been sending it out to her WHOLE COMPANY as if she was the person who put it together. (I only know this because occasionally she forwards me suggestions from her ‘fans’ and they thank her for her awesome Weekly Planner. I love the thought of her whole company reading this thing, it cracks me up.)
One of the problems with the Weekly Planner is I’m constantly having to find, and often try, new restaurants to support the Planner. Since I love food, it’s not a HUGE problem though. One week Ryan and I took our Entertainment Book to a restaurant I’d only been to as a kid and wanted to try now that I understand food. Byblos is right near Gammage Auditorium, so it was a great choice before a recent Broadway show we saw there. And people, this was ONE OF THOSE MEALS. You know, a meal that changes you, makes you sit at the table and think “I’m having one of the most amazing meals of my life”. You’d think I was over-exaggerating, but Ryan and I actually said that to each other at that dinner.
I had a dish called Moussaka, which is a eggplant dish in tomato sauce with a cream sauce and cheese to finish. I chose to have it with meat, so mine had a mixture of beef and lamb on it. I almost passed out from happiness. Eggplant, meat, tomato, creamy, cheese, and then you add incredible flavors like nutmeg and cinnamon… to die for. I knew I had to make it for myself.
This recipe did not disappoint. I lightened it up quite a bit by using lean turkey and skim milk for the sauce on top, and the flavor was still amazing. I also finally sweated eggplant using salt, and was amazed at what a difference it made! I’m totally doing it from now on when I cook with that vegetable. While it wasn’t the earth-shattering meal we had at Byblos, this was an instant favorite. The flavors are just so amazing and I was thrilled that the lighter version worked out well! I also added more tomato sauce and some mushrooms, and those were totally the right choice too. My lighter, saucier version is below.
- 3 eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices
- salt (for sweating the eggplant)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- salt to taste
- ground black pepper to taste
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon fines herbs
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (4 oz) can tomato paste
- 1 (8 oz) can diced tomatos
- 1 (8 oz) container mushrooms, rinshed and chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 egg, beaten
- 4 cups milk
- 1/2 cup butter
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- salt to taste
- ground white pepper, to taste
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. Then in a skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil. Quickly fry the eggplant until browned. Set aside on paper towels to drain.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef, salt and pepper to taste, onions, and garlic. After the beef is browned, sprinkle in the cinnamon, nutmeg, fines herbs and parsley. Pour in the tomato sauce, paste, diced tomatoes, mushrooms and wine, and mix well. Simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then stir in beaten egg.
- To make the bechamel sauce, begin by scalding the milk in a saucepan. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Lower heat; gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Season with salt, and white pepper.
- In a greased 9×13 inch baking dish, spread about 1/2 C. of the tomato/meat mixture. Then arrange a layer of eggplant. Cover eggplant with all of the meat mixture, and then sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese over the meat. Cover with remaining eggplant, and sprinkle another 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Pour the bechamel sauce over the top, and sprinkle with the nutmeg. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
- Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F. Allow to sit 10-15 min so it sets up.