Sunday, July 20, 2014

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Tomato Stacks

Despite the introductory traffic-related rant, this post is about eggplant.

I promise.  Please read on.

I work in Wilmington, Delaware.

This 495 bridge closure thing has been quite a treat, adding at least 20-30 minutes to my commute to and from work each day.  If there’s an accident, it’s even more eventful.

And painful.  

Even the POTUS is concerned (maybe Joe is whispering in his ear because Delaware is, after all, his home state).  Himself visited the First State disaster this week to tour the damage and repair progress and to talk up his highway infrastructure improvement initiative.  

That gives you an idea of what a colossal mess this has been and will continue to be until Labor Day.  Just in time to handle beach-related traffic…that weekend.

But, the bright spot is that on Wednesday and Fridays in the summer, there is a farmers market very close to my office and that is where I saw these beauties:
Those aubergine things, those are eggplants and the globe-shaped variety are Kamo eggplants.  The absolutely delightful woman from the farm told us that the skin of this variety is not as thick or bitter as regular eggplant so there is no need to peel the skin prior to cooking.   Like other eggplants, they are quite porous and this allows them to easily absorb the flavors of the ingredients with which they are prepared, releasing many layers of tastiness and texture.

As I was chatting with my co-worker about what to make with this jewel, she told me about the eggplant stacks she enjoyed at a nearby restaurant.  Well now, that sounds quite delicious AND would also look amazing plated.  Plus, my Mom, Sister, Uncle and Daughters were coming for Sunday dinner, and I suspected they would really like them!  A quick search revealed several recipes for the stacked lovelies and, like many other recipes, I tweaked it a bit to make it my own.

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Tomato Stacks
Adapted from Food Network

Ingredients
1 Kamo eggplant, unpeeled and sliced (you should get about 6-8 slices, depending on the thickness)
1 1/2 cups of seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg, scrambled with some milk, salt and pepper
3 large tomatoes, sliced
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
Olive oil for brushing and frying
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced
Fresh basil

Directions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place the breadcrumbs and egg mixture in two separate bowls.  Dip the eggplant, one slice at a time, into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs.  Drizzle a frying pan with some olive oil over a medium heat and when hot, fry the slices until golden brown on each side.  
Place the browned slices on a baking sheet.  Next, slice the tomatoes and arrange them in a single layer on another baking sheet, brush the tomatoes with some olive oil, garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Bake the eggplant slices and the tomatoes for 12-15 minutes (until the tomatoes are soft and slightly browned on the edges).  Let the eggplant and tomato slices cool so you can handle them.  

To make the stacks, place an eggplant slice on a plate, then a tomato slice, next a mozzarella slice, then another tomato slice.  Top with a basil leaf.  Enjoy!

In these parts, we wait all year for Jersey tomatoes and I made this recipe with the purple beauty you see right up there, juicy, delicious Jersey tomatoes, basil from my garden, and mozzarella from the Whole Foods store.  We also enjoyed a cheese tray, chai cupcakes and beer...what could be better, except to share it all with family. More photos from our gathering:




The gorgeous photos are courtesy of my sister at Love, Kate Photography…..visit and like her Facebook page here!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Creamy Spring Vegetable Pasta

We had dinner at Foodie’s house this past week. 

It was my turn to cook but I had a massive leak in a stack pipe that needed to be repaired.  When my Irish contractor opened the walls, I did get a glimpse of my kitchen in days gone by!   We won’t say anymore about this mishap except that Foodie agreed to cook.

Good thing.  My house was a mess.

She made Creamy Spring Vegetable Pasta featuring yellow squash.  As we were sitting eating dinner, Architect told us about the lovely squash she has growing her garden.  She explained that she would throw the seeds of squashes past in the compost pile and, what do you know, one day she saw a squash vine develop along with a distinctive and beautiful squash blossom flower.  A few little squashes followed that seemingly grow at the clip of 1/2 inch per day!   Feisty little buggers.

Anyway, the dainty and delicate flowers that escort squash into summer are also edible. The  blossoms are often served fried in a simple batter, but can be stuffed with fresh, creamy cheeses like ricotta or goat cheese and herbs then drizzled with some honey and lemon.  You can also bake the blossoms if you don’t like deep frying.  There are some nice squash blossom recipes on-line too.

Do try this dish.  It is simple, delicious and just perfect for a relaxed summer evening.

Creamy Spring Vegetable Pasta

Ingredients
1 pound of spaghetti or fettuccine
Olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, sliced
2 yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 container of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
8 oz of sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste (red pepper flakes would add some zip!)
Juice of one lemon
Lemon zest
3/4 cup heavy cream
Pasta water
Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
6 basil leaves, slivered
Note: Peas or asparagus would be nice in this dish too.

Directions
Cook the pasta.  Reserve about one cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, add two swirls of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over low heat. Add the garlic and onions and sauté stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the squash and sauté for two minutes, then add the tomatoes, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Raise heat to medium high; cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the lemon, lemon zest, cream, and some Parmesan cheese and cook until the cream is heated through and thickens a bit, just a couple of minutes.   Put the pasta in a large bowl, add the vegetable mixture and toss. You can loosen it up a bit with the pasta water.  Grate some more fresh Parmesan cheese on top, add the basil and serve.

A lovely and chilled bottle of Anderra Sauvignon Blanc was perfect with this dish with its citrus, rose blossom-infused and grassy notes….very flavorful, crisp, and fresh.


For dessert, Foodie served pan seared peaches with amaretto.  The sugar in the amaretto turned into the most delectable syrup that she drizzled over the peaches and vanilla ice cream before serving.  Simply decadent and divine.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chia Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

I am a creature of habit.  

I have a cup of coffee every morning and one of three breakfast selections.  I take the dog for a walk and sometimes I do something really radical like change the route to spice things up for her. 

Dogs like new smells and don’t give a damn about human idiosyncrasies.

I have an exercise routine and schedule and I regularly record my workouts and what I eat in myfitnesspal.com.  Sometimes the Ap chides me and reminds me that “if every day were like today you’d weigh 3000 pounds.”  This little prod used to bother me but now I simply readjust and get back on track realizing that bad eating days are sometimes good for the soul.

And really yummy.

In my view, if we deprive ourselves of everything we enjoy, then life is just one more chore and who needs or wants a 24/7 chore, right? 

Anyway, to keep my occasional debauchery and periodic overindulgences in check and to remind me to log-in to the tool every day, I also follow myfitnesspal.com on Facebook.  They post motivational articles and healthy recipes and recently, this little jewel appeared in my feed:

Notice my comment.  

And, hell yes, I did make them. 

And, hell yes, they are delicious.

Make them! Please.

A few years ago, I did not know a chia seed from a chia pet, let alone know how completely good the seeds are for you.  Coincidently, and in case you are wondering, these healthy chia seeds are the same chia seeds used to grow those “ch-ch-ch-chia pet” plants popularized in the 1980’s!

I liked the bald guy one….it reminded me of someone I used to work for.

There is a notion that chia seeds help you lose weight by expanding your stomach making you feel full so, theoretically, you’ll eat less.  Both scientifically, and in my humble and non-scientific opinion, the jury is still out on that assertion....anything that makes my stomach expand can’t be a good thing.  In moderation, the tiny black seeds really are healthy for you.

Chia means strength and they are indeed energy boosters thanks to healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. They are an unprocessed, whole grain food but are easily absorbed by the body.  They have a nutty flavor and are typically sprinkled on cereal or yogurt or added to drinks and baked goods, such as with these breakfast bars.

Chia Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
From:  myfitnesspal.com

Ingredients
1½ Tablespoons chia seeds
¼ cup Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla almond milk (I used 1% milk and a splash of vanilla extract)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
¾ cup old fashioned oats
¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup chopped dates (I used crainsins)
¼ cup dark chocolate chunks or carob chips
1 Tablespoon creamy almond butter
large pinch of cinnamon

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350°. In a small bowl, stir together the chia seeds and almond milk and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes, or until the chia seeds have created a nice gel-like consistency. Pour the chia seed gel into a medium sized mixing bowl and add in the mashed bananas, oats, coconut, almond butter and cinnamon until well combined. Gently stir in the dates and chocolate chunks. Scoop out dough (about 1-2 tablespoons worth) onto a baking stone or a greased cookie sheet and use a fork to press the dough down a little to make more of a cookie shape. You should get about 15 cookies. Place in oven and bake for 17-20 minutes, or until the bottom of the cookies have browned a tiny bit.  Cool and enjoy.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 1 cookie Calories: 79 Fat: 4g Carbohydrates: 12g Sugar: 6g Fiber: 2g Protein: 2g

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chilled Peaches in Wine

I am sitting on my back porch typing this post on a very pleasant first day of summer afternoon.  A mama bird sitting in her nest (that she built in my gutter!) is giving me the stink eye as I assure her I won’t hurt her or her hatchlings.  

The simple pleasures of nature. 

This past week we had dinner at Architect's house and she made Caprese Lasagna from Rachel Ray.  You can find the recipe here.  Architect modified it a bit…she used a can of the San Marzano tomatoes rather than the fresh tomatoes…she heated olive oil then added 2 cloves chopped garlic and the canned tomatoes.  She did not add the garlic to the white sauce since she added some to the tomatoes.  Also, she mentioned that she thought the white sauce was a bit runny and said the next time, she’ll add less milk. 

We protested her assertion of “runny”…..this lasagna was delicious…not too heavy and the perfect dish to satisfy a warm-weather pasta craving.  

Although, I always have a hankering for pasta, regardless of the temperature.

So when we have dinner at Architect’s house, it’s my turn to bring dessert.  It was too hot to bake last week and I wanted to bring something light, like fruit.  I just finished a book, Delancey, by one of my favorite food bloggers, Molly Wizenberg (her blog is called Orangette).  It’s the memoir of her and her husband’s adventures opening a New York-style pizza restaurant in Seattle, WA.  The restaurant’s name, Delancey, was inspired by the subway stop in NYC.

Anyway, along with her humorous, touching and sometimes self-revealing, candor-filled stories, this delectable tale includes recipes of things other than the pizza served at the restaurant, including this recipe for Chilled Peaches in Wine.

This was one of the maiden-voyage desserts at Delancey.   It screams for a crisp, lineny white wine and the freshest, sweetest peaches you can find.  After a full day of marinating in the refrigerator, this concoction is “wonderfully boozy” and succulently syrupy.   When serving, I added a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt and when the yogurt melted into the wine juice, the most luscious and creamy sauce resulted….a serendipitous encounter indeed! 

Chilled Peaches in Wine
by:  Molly Wizenberg

4 medium peaches, ripe
2 tablespoons of sugar, or more to taste
2 cups of crisp, dry white or rose wine
A pint of vanilla frozen yogurt

Slice the peaches very thin (at least 12 slices per peach).  Combine the peaches and sugar in a large storage container and toss gently to mix.  Add the wine and toss again, adjusting the mixture for sweetness.  Put the lid on the container and store in the refrigerator overnight, but not more than 24 hours.  

Serve the peaches, very cold (straight from the refrigerator) in short, wide glasses.  Ladle some of the wine on top and a scoop of frozen yogurt.  Eat the peaches then drink the creamy syrup.  

So easy and so incredibly good.  Aren't these peaches gorgeous!?!?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Italian Almond Cookies

As I write this, it is a Friday evening and I am in Rehoboth Beach, DE with younger daughter.

We are celebrating.

We actually have a few things to celebrate.  First, Younger Daughter won an award at her University for the junior biology major who “best exemplifies the ideals of sound scholarship or interest in research for its own sake, active pursuit of truth, intellectual leadership and appreciation for the significance of science to mankind and community service.”

Damn girl.

I am so proud of her.  I can barely pronounce the words bacterial pathenogenesis let alone discuss its significance to mankind.  I get very excited when I hear a science-related story on NPR because that means I can share my epiphany with her. Younger daughter listens patiently as I ramble on trying to recount a story about the benefits or hazards of genetically modified organisms or how the lack of iodine affects brain development.  She's probably thinking..."somebody, please, make her stop!” But she would never make me feel like she's not interested in listening to her business-major mom trying to understand and participate in her world.

Also breaking and BIG news…lovely Older Daughter got engaged to her beau of five years, a very nice lad from Michigan.  They met at work - a museum in Philadelphia - and the entire staff witnessed as their friendship unfolded into love.   A June 2015 wedding is planned and if you think I fret over what to make when it's my turn to cook, just you wait.

Anyway, the planning has begun, complete with paging through bridal magazines, watching "Say Yes To The Dress" episodes (I have already set a budget for the gown, and it is WAY south of the $10,000 that brides featured on the show consider a bargain), developing a checklist and creating several obligatory Pinterest boards.

I thought, being half Italian and all, we could have a cookie table at the wedding.  There's always a cookie table at an Italian wedding (never mind that she only 1/4 Italian...it still counts).  I remember at my various cousin's weddings, my aunts, Millie and Adeline, would shamelessly pack their purses with the cookies.  What I thought was a clandestine sister-act operation actually turned out to be a revered tradition at all Italian weddings....apparently all Italian aunts pilfer the goods.

Any respectable Italian cookie table includes pizzelles.  Nowadays, we use electric pizzelle irons when making the thin, waffley goodies, but my Grandmom used this cast-iron stove top version that I'm pretty sure she brought with her from Italy (but I could be simply romanticizing that point).   You could develop carpel tunnel syndrome using it but that further embellishes the story of the pizzelle making because there's always a story about the making of the pizzelles.

Since making pizzelles is a half-day affair, I’ll share a recipe for making Italian Almond Cookies, another must-include on the cookie table.

Italian Almond Cookies are rustic little gems….flavored with almonds, shaped into ovals, baked to perfection and dusted with confectioners sugar, slivered almonds or pine nuts.  They are not too sweet and are the perfect something-something after a satisfying meal.   The recipe I used — from David Lebovitz’s blog — calls for almond flour and I found some on amazon.com.  He also uses apricot jam in this recipe, so I had an opportunity to deplete some of the jam stockpile I bought on sale a little while ago…I wrote about that bargain in the Thumbprints post.

Italian Almond Cookies
By:  David Lebovitz

Makes 25 to 30 cookies

For the cookie dough
3 cups blanched almond powder
1 cup sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons smooth apricot jam
A few drops of pure almond extract

For finishing the cookies
1 large egg white
1 1/2 – 2 cups sliced almonds and/or pine nuts

Directions
In a large bowl, mix together the almond powder and sugar. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they start to mound and form soft, peaks. Like this:
They should not be stiff, but the consistency of softly whipped cream. Fold the beaten whites into the almond mixture, then fold in the apricot jam and a drop or two of almond extract. Mix the dough until it comes together in the smooth ball. You may need to use your hands to work this dough.  I found it to be quite sticky and you may have to add a bit more flour (a bit of white would be fine) as it comes together.


Preheat the oven to 325º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pinch of pieces of dough about 1 1/4-inch in diameter and roll each into a ball, then roll them in your hands to make them into ovals, setting them on the baking sheet as you go along.  In a small bowl, stir the egg white with a fork briskly for about ten seconds to break it up. Brush each cookie with the egg white then top each with the nuts, patting gently to help them stick.  Bake the cookies for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven, turning them around so the cookies bake evenly, until the cookies and nuts are light golden brown. Let cool before serving.