Baked Eggplant with Tomato and Mozzarella

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How quickly time passes… last week I was vacationing in the beautiful surroundings of Italy and now…well, it’s all a cherished memory as I work my way back into the daily routines of my life.  Yet, I brought back a different me from this trip.  A woman who once feared venturing out alone, pretty low on the confidence pole and decision doubting, to a renewed, refreshed, totally in awe of life and beauty, humbled by my inner strength and a new amore la vita, love of life! Continue reading “Baked Eggplant with Tomato and Mozzarella”

Carrot Mash with Orange and Mint

carrot mashIsn’t this color just gorgeous??  I was so thrilled with this recipe, I just had to share with all you lovelies!  Just like so many of you, I’m preparing my Thanksgiving menu.  I have this huge binder of tried and true recipes that I refer to in creating my menu using traditional favorites from my mom and those newer ones that I found.  I save each year’s menu, notes and comments, guests and table settings!  Continue reading “Carrot Mash with Orange and Mint”

Corn, Kale and Butternut Squash Saute

When I was growing up our Thanksgiving menu consisted of a big, gorgeous turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, salad, pasta, meatballs and sausage, pumpkin pie and birthday cake.  Later that evening, sheet trays of homemade Sicilian pizza would be brought out just in case anyone was still hungry.

Pasta was served not only on Sundays, but all holidays, along with the meatballs and sausage as my father was not that fond of turkey.    As for the birthday cake, well, that was for me.  Since my birthday falls close to Thanksgiving and all the relatives were gathered together anyway, my birthday was celebrated. Continue reading “Corn, Kale and Butternut Squash Saute”

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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Eggplant Lasagna

I’m sure I’m not the only one constantly inspired by food I see or hear about.  As soon as someone mentions a new restaurant, or had an interesting dish or something deliciously sinful, I’m instantly interested.  I want to know every detail so that I can try to recreate it myself.  Sometimes it’s simply the general idea of how a dish is presented or a picture that catches my attention or a specific ingredient that has my head whirling with ideas!

For over a year now, I have heard about a coworker’s eggplant lasagna.  I’ve never had a chance to taste it, but all those that did raved highly about it.  Obviously, my interest peaked and I had to talk to Vinny (and yes, he’s Italian, which had me even more interested in his lasagna).  Then during the holidays it seemed like everyone was talking about making lasagna.  Phyllis at Food Flowers Herbs and Life posted her lasagna recipe for Christmas Eve and several other friends along with my sister were chatting about either making it or having had it at a dinner party.

Obviously my craving for it increased; I really have not made classic lasagna in a few years.  Vinny’s recipe basically swaps out the pasta for eggplant slices.  I’ve made vegetarian lasagna in the past but liked this idea of no pasta, i.e, carbs!  He peels and cuts the eggplant into thin slices, breading and frying them.  I skipped the breading part and just fried each slice.  While I normally bake my eggplant and he said he does at times also, I agreed that frying the eggplant would give the lasagna a richer taste.  And it certainly did; everyone loved it!  It was meltingly tender, full of flavor and definitely fulfilled my lasagna craving!

Eggplant Lasagna

For the eggplant:

2-3 large eggplants, peeled and thinly sliced, about ¼ inch thick

Olive oil for frying

For the sauce:

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 medium onion finely diced

2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, squeezed or blended into a puree

2-3 cloves garlic minced

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

For the ricotta layer:

1 15 oz container ricotta

1 large egg

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

½ cup shredded mozzarella

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese

To prepare the sauce:  In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and pork until browned.  Remove from pan and drain well from the grease.  In a large stockpot, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft.  Add in the tomato puree, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in the browned meat and continuing cooking on low heat for about 1 hour.  Can be made ahead of time.

To prepare the lasagna:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   In a large skillet, fry the eggplant slices a few at a time until browned on each side.  Set aside.  Mix together the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, egg, parsley and pepper.  In a baking dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and begin layering with the eggplant slices, meat sauce and ricotta mixture.  Repeat and finish with the layer of eggplant slices and some sauce on top.  Cover the dish with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes.  Remove the foil, sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and bake until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and set before serving.

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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Roasted Pumpkin Sweet Potato Hash

Was I kidding when I said pumpkin will be sneaking in almost every one of my posts this month!!  Not a day or two goes by without something pumpkin showing up in one of my meals!  Especially when I roast a whole pumpkin I have plenty of leftovers to use in various ways.  Last year I made a Roasted Pumpkin and Apple Soup.  I just so happened to be on a 21 day cleanse at that time but I’ve also served it to friends receiving lots of compliments and requests for the recipe. 

In my kitchen you will find one or two small pumpkins decorating my counter waiting their turn to be prepped into my next meal.  It’s a weekly purchase of pumpkins, those cute little 2-3 lb pie pumpkins.  As always, whenever I roast any veggies, I try to take advantage of my heated oven and roast several whole garlic bulbs, an eggplant to use as a dip or spread or sometimes chicken breasts to have on hand for lunches.  Over the weekend I tossed in a sweet potato while I was roasting my pumpkin as I had an idea to create a roasted pumpkin and sweet potato hash.

I was going to serve this for Sunday brunch, but my morning got a bit hectic and this turned into a later lunch.  Having the pumpkin and sweet potato roasted the day before, it was easy to pull together.  A poached egg on top would be perfect for brunch; I served it at lunch with a green salad.  The colors were vibrant and so very flavorful.  The pancetta added just enough earthy saltiness along with the sage adding in its unique slightly peppery aroma that always reminds me of Autumn and Thanksgiving.  For a heartier hash, crumbled Italian sausage or breakfast sausage would be a fabulous addition.  Quantities can vary; this would serve 4 small servings or 2 large.

Roasted Pumpkin Sweet Potato Hash

For the roasted pumpkin and sweet potato:

1 small cooking pumpkin, about 2 pounds, cut into cubes – I leave the skin on and peel it off after roasting; much easier!

1 medium sweet potato

1 -2 tablespoons of olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the hash:

1-2 cups of roasted pumpkin, diced

1 roasted sweet potato, skin removed and diced small

2 tablespoons chopped pancetta

1-2 cloves of garlic, mashed

Pinch of crush red pepper

1 small red pepper, diced

2 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To roast the pumpkin and sweet potato:  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place the cubed pumpkin on a large baking sheet. Drizzle on oil, kosher salt and pepper.  Mix well arranging the pieces evenly on the sheet.  Prick the potato and place on the sheet.  Roast until fork tender and lightly browned, about 35-40 minutes.  Allow to cool before handling or wrap and refrigerate overnight.

For the Hash:  Heat a large skillet over medium high heat with a touch of olive oil.  Add in the pancetta and allow to release its fat and slightly crisp.   Add in the crushed red pepper, garlic, onion and red pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add the roasted pumpkin and sweet potato to the skillet.  Allow it to cook without stirring for a few minutes to brown the bottom.  Stir gently to crisp and brown the hash and sprinkle in the sage.  Serve immediately.

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.

Fresh Tomato and Basil Spaghetti with Ricotta Salata

If I told you I make this at least once a week through the summer months, would you think I was kidding?  I kid you not.  This to me is summer on a plate.  My memories of garden fresh tomato salads simply dressed with basil, salt, pepper and olive oil and served with fresh baked Italian bread for mopping up the juices brought me to this simple pasta dish.  I cannot imagine this any fresher tasting, unless I made the pasta myself.

I’ve seen many versions of this dish; Maris (In Good Taste) recently did a similar no cook pasta sauce, and I’ve seen cheeses ranging from feta to parmesan to mozzarella.  I prefer to use ricotta salata as the taste is very gentle and mild and does not distract from the aromatic fresh tomatoes.   Recently I have switched to corn spaghetti instead of semolina or wheat.  The corn spaghetti works amazingly well as it layers another dimension of flavor to this dish.  Think of a fresh tasting corn, tomato, scallion and basil salad!

When I find a variety of heirloom yellow, orange and red tomatoes, the dish really pops with flavor and color!  I prefer to not remove the tomato seeds as I don’t mind the appearance of the seeds and I like to have as much juice as possible in this “sauce”.  A truly light, great tasting olive oil also works best since the olive oil’s flavor is not heated or altered in any way.   The tomatoes are only marinated for about an hour; just enough time for me to change out of my work clothes, play with my pups, pour a glass of wine and get the pot of water boiling for the pasta.  In that one hour, the flavors marry, the salt brings out more juice, the basil remains bright and a perfect fresh sauce is ready.

The “recipe” should be prepared based on the quantity to serve as this is not a dish that stands up well for leftovers.  Therefore, based on appetite and guests, roughly chop up the tomatoes (about 2 small, 1 cup per person), seeds and all, season with chopped fresh basil, thinly sliced scallion (white part and just a bit of green), minced garlic (optional for raw garlic lovers), Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Drizzle on great tasting light olive oil and allow to marry and marinate for at least one hour, but no longer than 2, at room temperature.  Pour the marinated tomatoes over just cooked al dente corn spaghetti, sprinkle on crumbled ricotta salata, adjust to taste with a finishing of freshly ground pepper, sea salt and a light drizzle of olive oil!