Broccoli and Cauliflower with Orange Zest, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

I have a simply delicious side veggie to share as well as my responses on being tagged for the 10 Question Quiz from Mandy at The Complete Cookbook!  (following the recipe)

Along with citrus being the fruit in season right now, broccoli and cauliflower are the seasonal vegetable during the winter months.  This very simple side dish bursts with unexpected flavor from the pine nuts, orange zest and golden raisins.  The raisins add a gentle sweetness that blends so well with the orange zest and pine nuts.  I’ve used this trio  mixed into orzo as well and as a topping for grilled or roasted fish or chicken.  Not only do these flavors enhance the dish, they also add a colorful presentation!

Broccoli and Cauliflower with Orange Zest, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

1 small head broccoli, cut into florets, stems trimmed

1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 oz pancetta

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 cloves garlic, mined

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine

½ cup golden raisins

2 tablespoons pine nuts

Zest from one large organic orange

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to boil.  Add in the broccoli and cauliflower and bring to boil, reduce to simmer and continue to simmer for about 5-8 minutes.   Drain and set aside on baking sheet.  (Can be made several hours ahead or day before).

Heat a large skillet with olive oil, sauté the pancetta until crisp.  Remove and set aside.  Add in the broccoli and cauliflower, salt and pepper to taste and sauté until lightly browned and heated well.  Remove to serving bowl and add the raisins, garlic, pine nuts, orange zest and rosemary to the skillet.  If necessary, add additional oil.  Sauté lightly to toast the pine nuts and marry the flavors.  Return the broccoli, cauliflower and pancetta to the skillet to mix together or simply pour over the veggies and toss lightly.  Serve at once or room temperature.  Makes about 6-8 servings.

Now, for my responses…

10 Questions – My Answers

1.  Describe yourself in seven words.

Mother, first and foremost, Friend to many, new and old, Passionate in all I do and feel, Caring to others, Perfectionist at heart but Realistic in knowing that striving to be my best is better than achieving perfectionism, Cheery and happy throughout my day and hopelessly Romantic dreaming for that special one to share my life with.

2.  What keeps you up at night?

Not much as I live by the words of Scarlett O’Hara…”I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

3.  Who would you like to be?

I’m very happy being who I am!

4.  What are you wearing now?

A pair of jeans and a tank top.

5.  What scares you?

I can only think to answer of the safety of my children; no matter how old they are I will be concerned for their safety as they journey on in their life.

6.  What is the best and worst things of blogging?

I’d have to agree with Mandy’s answers on both accounts as the best thing about blogging is the wonderful virtual friends I have met and come to know through their comments and support.

The worst thing about blogging would have to be the amount of time it takes to keep consistent and in touch with everybody on a daily basis.

7.  What was the last website you looked at?

Amazon.  I’m constantly filling my wish list and cart with cookbooks I desire!

8.  If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

I will refer to my New Year’s resolution to strive for Divine Thoughts throughout my day!  It’s not that I’m naughty but caddy thoughts are just not right!

9.  Slankets, yes or no?

No….really had no idea what it was!!

10. Tell us something about the person who tagged you.

Not sure how we found one another, thru her stopping by first or my finding her, but regardless of the way we “met”, I’m glad to share our virtual friendship!  Mandy not only posts some wonderful recipes but her blog contains so much other useful information.  If you search around you can find a wealth of information on conversions, cooking times, tips and how tos…even table setting ideas! She’s definitely the “complete cookbook”!

Who are you going to tag to join the quiz?  (hopefully I’ve not tagged someone already tagged!)

  1.  Mary – One Perfect Bite 
  2. Amy – Savory Moments 
  3. Phyllis – Food Flowers Herbs and Life 
  4. Juliana – Simple Recipes
  5. Junia –   Miss Pensamientos 
January is #citruslove month!
Please join in on the #citruslove by linking up any citrus recipe from the month of January 2012. Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to come stop by the #citruslove event! The twitter hastag is #citruslove :).
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Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Lemon Thyme Butter

You have to serve mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving.  There are all sorts of ways to prepare potatoes but on this turkey day, gravy poured over mashed potatoes is a must.  I know, I’ve tried in years past to serve au gratin, roasted, stuffed….and I see it in my family’s eyes, as they glance across the table searching for the mashed potatoes.  And even if the gravy is only poured over the turkey and stuffing, those creamy mountains of potatoes are still missed.

I’m more a purist in my mashed potatoes.  There are endless recipes out there with an assortment of add-ins to choose from… flavored butters, a drizzle of pesto, a small amount of fresh herbs, a soft, gentle cheese, caramelized shallots or bits of roasted garlic.  But please, not all at once!

The choice of potato for mashing is a matter of preference too.  I like Yukon gold for its buttery flavor.  It is less starchy and holds up to boiling better without absorbing a lot of water.  I find that Russets really fall apart when boiled making for oober creamy mashed potatoes and red skinned hold their shape for a fairly chunky mash.  And speaking of skin…leaving it on or off is the next question.  I prefer to peel my potatoes when serving with tender turkey but leave it on for a rustic dish when being served with steak or grilled meats.  And, if you want to surprise your guests with some WOW color, check out Sports Glutton for some purple potatoes!

Adding milk or cream?  I like organic cream; it gives the mash a rich creamy feel and taste.  Whole organic milk , 2% or buttermilk can be used but in my opinion non fat is definitely a no-no!  I have used a small amount of turkey stock to cut back on the cream in the past but regardless of what is used, warming it slightly is better than shocking the potatoes with a cold liquid. And start out adding the cream in slowly as you can always add more to get it to the right consistency.

Lots of organic butter, sour cream in some recipes, Kosher salt and white pepper, not black, unless you like specks of black pepper through your mash.  Taste as you go to season to your liking.

Lastly, what to use to mash.  A ricer is “known” to be the preferred choice, but if you’ve ever used one, it’s a lot of work especially with a big pot of potatoes!  I like to use a simple potato masher giving me the control of mashing to my desired creaminess.  Just be aware that over mashing or using a mixer could cause the potatoes to become gummy and heavy.

Mashed potatoes can be made up to 2 hours ahead and left at room temperature or if you prefer to make them the day before, gently reheat them in a large pan adding milk to adjust the consistency.

Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Lemon Thyme Butter

Makes 10 servings

Recipe adapted from Epicurious.com

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, room temperature

4 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced

1 tablespoon minced lemon peel (yellow part only)

4 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups organic cream, gently heated

1 roasted garlic bulb

Kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Mix butter, thyme, and lemon in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. (Butter can be made 3 days ahead or made a week ahead and frozen.  Wrap tightly and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Place potatoes in large pot. Add enough cold water to cover. Bring to boil. Cover partially and cook until potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes and roasted garlic (squeezed from cloves) to same pot and mash.  Stir warmed cream slowly into the potatoes, continuing to gently mash.  Set aside 2 tablespoons thyme-lemon butter to top later.  Mix in remaining butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mashed potatoes to large warmed bowl. Top with 2 tablespoons butter and serve.

These mashed potatoes are part of my Thanksgiving Countdown.  If you’d like to share your favorite appetizer potatoe dish for Thanksgiving, please use Linky Tools below.

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Braised Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Pecans and Parmesan

Ever since roasting or braising of brussels sprouts became popular, this veggie has gained a lot of attention.  Prior to it being boiled (to death) these little balls of mini cabbage were not pleasantly taken to.  They certainly have earned their place on the table now, especially when prepared with pancetta or bacon, seared to a golden crust and topped with toasted nuts and a soft melting cheese.

When selecting your brussels sprouts always look for tightly closed sprouts.  I prefer those on the smaller size as cut in half they cook quickly becoming tender on the inside as well.   I find that the larger ones do have a tendency to be bitter but if only larger sprouts are available, I will cut those in quarters.  I vary my preparation year to year depending on whether or not my oven has room to roast them or use the stove top for quick sauté and braising.  Sometimes I’ll use a stronger cheese to top them like gorgonzola or smoky Gouda but with my menu this year, I’ve opted to use shaves of parmesan that will lightly flavor and soften.

They are best served hot.  To prep ahead for this dish I’ll have my nuts toasted ahead of time and set aside.  The brussels sprouts can be trimmed and lightly drizzled with olive oil and kept in the refrigerator until needed.  On a side note, I’m always excited to learn new things.  If you happen to grow your own brussels sprouts, David at The Gastronomic Gardener braises the large leaves as greens.  Talk about using every part of the plant!

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Pecans and Parmesan 

¼ cup diced pancetta

2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts, stem cut off and trimmed of outer leaves

2 medium shallots, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup turkey stock or low sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons butter

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Shaved Parmesan Cheese

In a large skillet, sauté the pancetta until crisp over medium heat.  Remove and set aside.  Add in the Brussels sprouts and allow to sauté until golden before turning.  Do not cook over high heat to avoid burning.  If pancetta did not release enough fat, add a bit of olive oil.   Add in the shallots and garlic and continue to cook a few minutes until the shallots are soft.  Pour in the turkey stock and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes or until a knife inserted in the sprout feels tender.  Finish by adding in the 2 tablespoons of butter and the pancetta.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove to a warmed bowl and top with the toasted pecans.  Serves 8-10.

These brussels sprouts are part of my Thanksgiving Countdown.  If you’d like to share your favorite veggie recipes for Thanksgiving, please use Linky Tools below.

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Pumpkin Biscuits

A basket of freshly baked biscuits are always a welcome, special treat.  I’m no Southern gal nor was I raised on biscuits but through the years I came to like making mine with self rising flour.  Since I’ve been on a pumpkin kick, I thought I’d add in pumpkin  puree replacing the buttermilk I would normally use.  I didn’t want these to be overly pumpkin “pie” tasting, so I only lightly added some cinnamon and nutmeg.  And since I do prefer using more whole wheat than white flour, I substituted in 1/2 cup of whole wheat pastry flour instead of my normal 2 cups of self rising.

Preparing biscuits to be served hot takes a bit of planning ahead but it’s so worth the small effort.  If you’ve been following along with my preparations, I do like to plan ahead!  Regardless if this was to be served at Thanksgiving or just a small dinner party or brunch, I still like to prep the dry ingredients along with cutting in the butter ahead of time, up to one day ahead and store in a glass container in my frig.  Since all the ingredients when making biscuits should be cold, prepping it ahead ensures that.

The next day, in the morning or several hours ahead of time, I add the wet ingredient, in this case the pumpkin, which by the way, I had measured out the day before and stored it in the frig also.  I knead  and cut the biscuits and place them on the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.  I’m kinda a neat freak, cooking and cleaning as I go so when I prep in this manner, I can clean up as I go along and when my guests arrive it’s only the baking sheet I’m bringing out.

I was really excited with the taste of these biscuits.  Not sweet, but just enough to balance the pumpkin flavor.  I couldn’t find my biscuit cutter so I used a leaf cookie cutter.  Just don’t use a glass or dull object as it could compress the sides of the dough not allowing it to rise flaky.  Also, try to not over work the dough and pat the dough into a circle, as a rolling pin ends to compress it.

Pumpkin Biscuits

1 1/2 cup self rising flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled

1 cup canned pumpkin puree, chilled

2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing tops before baking or 1 beaten egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a mixer with the paddle attachment, or large bowl with a pastry cutter, or your finger tips in a large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, spices and salt and mix to combine.  Add in the chilled butter pieces and quickly mix until the butter is thoroughly cut into the flour, resembling coarse meal.  Add in the pumpkin and stir to combine.  Turn the dough out onto a floured board and gently knead, adding a bit more flour if sticky and folding the dough back over itself a few times to create flaky layers.

Pat the dough into a circle and use a biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits.  Depending on the size of the cutter, this will make about 8-10 biscuits.  Place the biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate for one hour or up to 12 hours covered with plastic wrap.  When ready to bake, brush the biscuits with either an egg wash of one beaten egg or melted butter.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown and set.  Serve hot.

These biscuits are part of my Thanksgiving Countdown.  If you’d like to share your biscuits for Thanksgiving, please use Linky Tools below.

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Artichoke, Sausage and Parmesan Stuffing

I’ve been sharing my favorite recipes for this year’s Thanksgiving. There are so many different stuffing recipes out there using cornbread or wild rice, dried fruits and nuts.  I probably have made just about every recipe there is over the years!  When I choose my stuffing recipe I like it to compliment the seasonings I will use on my turkey and the overall theme of my dinner. Normally, I like Thanksgiving to be very traditional.  And with guests ranging in all ages, I try to please all tastes as best as possible by not being too extreme in any dish.

This year my turkey will be lemon and herb-based; sage, thyme, and oregano with dried herbs de Provence. Therefore, I thought the flavors of Italian sausage, artichoke and parmesan would marry nicely with the turkey.  With all the warnings in past years about the dangers of stuffing a turkey, I no longer stuff mine. Therefore, I suppose this should be called a dressing not a stuffing.   Also, I like the crispiness of the dressing when baked separately.  But I do know that some people like a soft stuffing that has been cooked in the turkey.  Therefore, to stuff safely, the stuffing should be added right before roasting and removed immediately after.

To make this ahead of time, the bread can be made up to 3 days ahead  as it is meant to be stale after all!  The sausage can be made the day before and brought to room temperature before mixing together with the bread and remaining ingredients.

If you’d like to share your favorite stuffing recipe, please follow the Linky Tools directions below. Also, for some very good information on selecting turkeys as well as a bit of humor, check out My Little Corner of Rhode Island  Talking Turkey!  And for a great recipe on a stuffed turkey, check out Greg and Katherine’s Turkey with Herb Butter at Rufus’ Food and Spirit Guide.

Artichoke, Sausage and Parmesan Stuffing

Adapted from Bon Appetite

2 1 lb loaves of sourdough bread, about 15 cups, crust removed and cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 pounds Italian sweet sausages, casings removed (about 4 links)

2 cups chopped onions

3/4 cup chopped celery

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 8-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

1 teaspoon herbs deProvence

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup (or more) turkey stock (or chicken broth)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide bread between 2 baking sheets. Bake until cubes are dry but not hard, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and sauté until cooked through, breaking up with back of fork, about 5 minutes. Add onions, celery, and garlic. Sauté until celery is soft, about 10 minutes. Mix in artichokes and thyme, sauté 2 minutes longer. Transfer sausage mixture to large bowl. (Bread and sausage mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately. Store bread at room temperature and refrigerate sausage mixture.)

When ready to bake:  In a large bowl, combine the bread to sausage mixture; toss to blend well. Mix in cheese and stock adding in extra stock to moisten well.  For stuffing the turkey, add in about ¾ cup more stock; for baking stuffing separately, add up to 1 ¼ cups additional stock.  Season with salt and pepper.

To bake stuffing in turkey:
Loosely fill main cavity and neck cavity of turkey with stuffing. Spoon any remaining stuffing in a buttered baking dish. Cover dish with buttered foil, buttered side down. Bake stuffing in dish — alongside turkey or while turkey is resting until heated through, about 25 minutes. Uncover stuffing in dish. Bake until top of stuffing is slightly crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.

To bake stuffing in a dish:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spoon stuffing into a buttered 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cover with buttered foil, buttered side down. Bake until heated through, about 30-40 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is slightly crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.

This stuffing is part of my Thanksgiving Countdown.  If you’d like to share your favorite salad for Thanksgiving, please use Linky Tools below.

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Corn Pancakes with Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini and Roasted Red Pepper

Taking veggies and making them into frittatas or pancakes is one of my easy go to meals for weeknight dining.  Combining the veggies with an egg or two and I have a pretty good protein/veggie mix.  Stacking up the presentation turns these simply pancakes into an impressive dish for guests!

Using fresh corn is always the best; however frozen corn can be used.  I like to have the texture a bit chunky so I process the ingredients only until blended.  The grilled veggie toppings can vary and I have also added a slice of fontina cheese which will warm and lightly melt from the heat of the pancakes.  The herbs also can be changed up; I have used sage for the fall, basil in the summer and parsley at any time!  

For a prettier presentation and flavor, I will take one of the roasted red peppers and make it into a coulis to drizzle over the pancakes.  

Corn Pancakes with Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini and Roasted Red Pepper

For the Grilled Veggies and Roasted Peppers:

1-2 red peppers *

1 eggplant, peeled and sliced

1 zucchini, sliced

For the marinade:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil or parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Roast the red peppers under the broiler or on a grill until charred all over.  Place in a paper bag to cool.  When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and the seeds from the peppers.  Slice into strips and set aside in a baking sheet.  Preheat the grill and brush each eggplant and zucchini slice with oil.  Grill about 3-4 minutes each side and place on a baking sheet.   Prepare the marinade by combining the oil, garlic, basil and salt and pepper.  Pour over grilled veggies and set aside. 

* To make a roasted red pepper coulis:  Process one roasted pepper until smooth with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 small shallot or green onion and salt and pepper to taste.

For the Corn Pancakes:

2 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 large ears or frozen corn, defrosted)

1 scallion, chopped

2 eggs

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For Garnish:  ¼ cup sour cream mixed with a bit of chopped fresh parsley

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until just blended but still chunky.  Preheat a griddle over medium heat and grease thoroughly.  Pour 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake.  Cook for about 3 minutes until lightly browned on each side.   Makes about 6-8 pancakes.

To serve, place two corn pancakes on a platter, top with a grilled eggplant slice, 2 roasted red pepper slices and a grilled zucchini slice.  Top with sour cream and herb mix.  Drizzle with roasted red pepper coulis, optional.

Zucchini Pancakes

When I was little zucchini was not my favorite veggie.  In fact, it was never on my dinner plate, no way.  It seemed like my mother would come up with so many different ways to sneak in prepare zucchini.  She won me over finally, disguising it in pancakes or bread.  Even better, chocolate zucchini bread!  Thankfully, my taste buds expanded and just like my mother, zucchini finds its way into so many dishes and meals I plan.  

The same held true for my kids; though my daughter grew to love zucchini, my son still stays away.  This one is for Gina.  It’s an easy, quick lunch or dinner, served alone with a salad and baguette or as a side.  She always needs a dipping sauce to go with whatever she eats so along with the obvious marinara sauce, a nice dollop of sour cream or tzatsiki sauce, recipe below, or for a bit spicier dipping, a sirachi and mayo mix.   When I’ve served these for a brunch, topped with a poached or fried egg is really good! 

I’m thinking though I might first have to buy her a box grater…

Zucchini Pancakes

adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

1 medium zucchini

2 small yellow squash

1 tablespoon Kosher salt, optional for salting/draining

1 green onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I’ve also used a mix of fresh parsley, basil and or oregano)

2 large eggs, beaten

¼ – ½ cup of flour (for gluten free use cornmeal or garbanzo bean flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Grate the zucchini and squash and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle on Kosher salt and allow to sit for about 20 minutes (optional, as sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t!)  Rinse well and squeeze dry in a clean towel.  Return the squash to the bowl and add in the remaining ingredients.  If the mixture appears too liquidy, add in more flour. 

Heat a large griddle with olive oil to coat.  Working in batches, drop spoonfuls* of batter on to skillet and cook about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown.  Place the pancakes on a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven until all pancakes have been made.  The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Serve hot. 

* Sometimes size does matter, I prepared these as small appetizer bites, but they can be prepared larger and, for those with good flipping hot skills, one large pancake that fills the skillet make a cool presentation!

Tzatziki Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup grated cucumber, squeezed dry

1 teaspoon minced garlic 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped mint

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice 

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Leaning Tower of Eggplant

I’m a big fan of the caprese salad in every way it’s presented.  From uniform overlapping slices or stacked like an Italian flag, to a jumble of tiny mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes or roughly rustic chopped.  Summer is the perfectly ripe time for this salad and I could truly enjoy a simple caprese salad with a chunk of ciabatta bread for dinner any night!  But when I’m looking for a bit more; it’s this tower of crispy, melting, cheesy delight I go for!

Eggplants are always in my grocery basket.  Usually I have no specific plan for their use while also knowing they will find their way into something within the next few days!  Lately, I’ve been obsessed over making them into eggplant fries, which I now totally prefer over zucchini fries hands down!  Following the similar method of roasting the egg white/breaded eggplant slices instead of frying; the slices are then topped with a slice of tomato and mozzarella.  A drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar is drizzled over and served warm; totally a melt-in-your-mouth explosion of flavor!

Just recently Chicaandaluza posted her eggplant stack layered with marinara.  This too is a great idea; check it out also!

Roasted Eggplant Caprese Tower

1-2 eggplants (depending on amount to be served)

1 egg white (or 2 depending on amount of eggplant)

½ cup panko/bread crumbs (or more)

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dried oregano or basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil for drizzling

1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut in ¼ inch slices

1-2 tomatoes (size to match the eggplant), cut in ¼ inch slices

Fresh basil leaves, enough for each slice

¼ cup Balsamic vinegar (see below to reduce to a glaze)

Slice eggplants about ½ in thick and layer with salt on a plate for 1 hour.  Drain well and press down to release any liquid.  Preheat oven to 420 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet with a rack on top.  Spray the rack well with cooking spray.  Beat egg white well in one bowl, in another mix the bread crumbs, cheese, dried herbs, salt and pepper.  Dip eggplant slices in the egg white and then in bread crumb mix.  Place on prepared rack over the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Turn the eggplant, top with a slice of tomato, basil leaf and a slice of mozzarella.  Return to the oven and roast an additional 10-15 minutes or until cheese has begun to slightly brown and soft.  Remove from oven and stack.  Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve.

Balsamic Glaze:  In a small saucepan, gently simmer the balsamic vinegar until reduced by 2/3.  Cool and set aside until needed.

Eggplant Fries with Spicy Mayo

On the morning of the arrival of my weekend guests, I ran out to my favorite Italian market and stocked my frig, that is two refrigerators, with plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, meats and fish for grilling, appetizers and morning breakfasts.  I had my thoughts for what I would serve but I also knew that being in the kitchen with Ayesha we would pull the “ingredients” and come up with lots of combined ideas.  And that is exactly how the weekend played out!

On Friday we took the boys to the beach.  It was really a weekend for the little guys to experience Florida; the blue skies, sunshine, sand and ocean.  For lunch that day we ordered zucchini fries.  And here is where the story begins.  I see the fries.  Kinda greasy, overpriced, but tasty.  I think… I’ve done these many times, I’ve got zucchini at home, I’m adding this to one of our grilling meals.  I make the zucchini fries, Ayesha makes up a spicy mayo dipping sauce.  We absolutely love it!  Crispy from the oven, not greasy and the sauce she made was perfect with just enough heat!

The next day we are still talking about the zucchini fries, but we are all out of zucchini.   I mention we have an eggplant but never made eggplant into fries.  I think it might not be a good idea… and then I change my mind.  And, OMG, I’m so glad we tried it out!  The eggplant fries were meatier, crisped up on the outside and tender on the inside.  Totally not bitter and we did not salt them beforehand.

We served the Eggplant Fries with grilled Florentine Veal Burgers that I adapt from my Florentine Veal Loaf recipe.  Basically I use the same ingredients from the meatloaf but omit the ricotta cheese.  The meatloaf and the burgers always turn out juicy and flavorful!  Though I didn’t take food photos of the entire weekend; we had the Grilled Tuna Salad with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini, Grilled Pizzas, No-Fail Kale Caesar Salad, grilled t-bone steaks and grilled chicken sausage spirals and for breakfast one morning a trio of pancakes with rum syrup.  Thank you to Geni from Sweet and Crumbly for the inspiration on the trio idea.  I made a trio of granola, chocolate chip and blueberry pancakes, topping the “adult” pancakes with her rum syrup!

In addition there were (soon to be posted) Jello shots, key-lime ice cream bites, a secretly filled cookie jar and probably a few others I’m forgetting… weekends just go by too quickly!

Eggplant Fries with Spicy Mayo

For the eggplant fries:

1 large firm eggplant, peeled and cut in half, then in slices and then into sticks

2-3 egg whites

2 cup mix of seasoned Italian bread crumbs and Panko

¼ cup parmesan cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil to drizzle over eggplant

For the spicy mayo:

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce

Prepare a baking sheet with a rack on top.  This allows the “fries” to bake all around and not get soggy.  Preheat oven to 420 degrees. 

In a medium size bowl, mix together the bread crumb/panko mix, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Rather than dip each “fry” into egg white then bread crumbs, I place all eggplant fries into a large bowl and pour over egg whites mixing gently.  Using my hands I grab a few sticks and drop them into the bread crumb mix bowl and gently coat each “fry”.  Place the eggplant evenly onto the rack, close but not overlapping.  Lightly drizzle olive oil over the eggplant.  Bake for 20 minutes, turn the “fries” and bake until crisp about another 10 minutes.  For extra crispiness, turn on the broiler for just a few minutes, about 2 minutes.

For the dipping sauce:  combine the mayonnaise and sriracha sauce and mix well.  Adjust spiciness to individual taste.

Black Bean and Mango Salad

I live in an area that was once very rural; known for cattle raising and horse ranching.  While the rural feel is becoming a bit more urban as developers have changed the landscape of the community, it still has the status of a “western” town.  Riding my bike through the back roads, old farmhouses with broken fencing and overgrown land mix in with newly built homes.  Grazing horses can be seen in yards and occasional riders on horseback trot along the road.   

The mango trees are full of ripe fruit and I can smell the sweetness as I pass by.  Some trees are so loaded with fruit that many have fallen before their owners can collect them all.  I’m so tempted to save a few from their rotting future, but I keep peddling by because although I do not have my own mango tree, I am very lucky to have some coworkers that do!

Salads are my summer meals especially those that can be prepared ahead of time and keep for a day or two.  Using canned black beans makes this really quick and easy.  The mango flavoring is in the salad and in the dressing.  I served this along with grilled tuna, but it is great on its own for lunch.

Black Bean, and Mango Salad

Adapted from Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill

2 14 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained

2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 scallions, thinly sliced including the green

1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and chopped

1 large tomato, seeded and diced

Mango Dressing, below

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the beans, garlic, scallions and tomatoes in a large bowl.  Toss with the mango dressing and season with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature.  Serves 4.

Mango Dressing:

1 mango, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the mango, lime juice, garlic, onion, ciltantro and cumin in a blender and blend until smooth.  With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until emulsified.  Season with salt and pepper.  Can be refrigerated for 1 day, serve at room temperature.  Makes more than enough for the salad above.