Seared Eggplant Parmesan Slices and Moving On

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I am here to talk about eggplant, but what I really want to talk about is how the time is coming when I’ll be moving out of Murrayville once again and so I can’t take for granted small wonders like  playing board games of Jeopardy and Stratego with my delightful siblings, and smoking an occasional cigarette with my brother (I know–a bit hypocritical with all the emphasis on health here–so we keep it to a minimum) and sitting on the porch roof outside my bedroom window with Liz and dreaming up our futures.  Today I am grateful for new opportunities, and  for the months of catching up that I’ve been able to enjoy with the people I love most.

Sauteed Eggplant with Parmesan

1 eggplant, slices into orbs
1 can tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp walnut oil
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp oregano

In a pot, combine tomatoes, onion, pepper, garlic and spices. Cook over low heat until the pepper has softened and the onion has become translucent. Use and immersion blender to puree until the mixture has turned to a sauce. Heat the walnut oil in a frying pan and saute the eggplant slices until browned. Set on a plate, cover with the sauce, and top with the grated parmesan cheese.

Serves 2

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Broccoli Bean Soup

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In the interest of honesty, I have to admit that I usually feel a bit deceptive whenever I record one of my own recipes on this blog (so about 95% of the time).  Recipes are ontologically systematic, and if anything, the way I cook is the opposite of systematic.  I rarely use measurements and I am usually taste-testing everything throughout the whole process and adding spices or throwing in onions according to what my taste buds deem necessary.  The only problem with this is that I am now accountable to a blog, and I cannot just give out a nebulous recipe comprised of “a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of love all thrown together in a pot.”  I am slowly getting better at self-discipline and training myself to pay attention to the amounts I am using, but I am far from perfect in this regard.  I feel I owe it to people to offer this as both a disclaimer and an encouragement to think a little outside the box and adjust your ingredients to match your gustatory preferences.

That said, this wonderful soup was made in a haphazard fashion, and while I think the measurements of the ingredients provided will yield a most satisfactory result, I cannot be too sure.  So exercise your freedom and edit as you see fit should you decide to stir up this delicious soup in your own pots.

Ingredients

1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 cup milk or almond milk
2/3 cup carrot juice (simply puree 3 large steamed carrots with a bit of water)
1/2 cup brown rice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cup cooked kidney beans
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

Use a food processor to blend together the broccoli with the milk, onion, garlic and parmesan cheese. Pulse until well blended. Transfer the mixture to a medium size pot over low heat. Add the carrot juice, beans, rice, salt and pepper. Cook for an hour and serve hot. Enjoy! Tastes great with a side of tortilla chips.

Serves about 4
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Cauliflower Zucchini Curry

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The weather has been calling for lots of soups and stews lately, with all this dampness hanging in the air and making everyone sick. Luckily, this curry happens to be a great defense for the immune system, in large part because of its spices. Cumin and turmeric are well known for their healing and fortifying properties. The carrot juice provides the vitamin A, while the kale is chock-full of wonderful vitamins. Both the cauliflower and zucchini are anti-inflammatory vegetables with B vitamins. Cauliflower also contains stores of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin K.
I like using cauliflower because of my impossible weakness for the underdog in every situation. It seems cauliflower doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, and if there’s anyone who will side with the losing team, its me. Cauliflower is making a slow come-back these days, as it should, because it is extremely versatile and can be incredibly tasty when treated properly. I like to think that I am playing my part by making this warm toasty curry. This dish is packed with flavor, spice and color, and it’s just the thing to chase away the blues that can come with too many rainy days.

Ingredients

2 medium yellow zucchinis
1/2 head cauliflower
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
1 can crushed or diced tomatoes
2/3 cup pure carrot juice (about 2 large carrots steamed and juiced)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ginger
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In a medium size pot, simmer together the tomatoes, carrot juice, and half of the minced garlic on low heat. Stir in one tsp of curry powder along with the cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, coriander and ginger. Dice the zucchini and divide the cauliflower into small florets. (I used blended cauliflower that I had on hand from my cauliflower pizza crust, which also worked fine). Heat olive oil over a stove top and saute the zucchini for about 10 minutes or until browned. Remove from oil and add to the pot with the tomato curry sauce. While oil is still hot, add the onion. Saute for about two minutes, then add the cauliflower to the pan and saute for about 8 minutes. Lightly salt, then add the garlic and saute together for a few more minutes until brown. Add to the tomato curry. Stir everything together and add the second teaspoon of curry powder, the rest of the salt, and the chopped kale. Simmer on low until kale has wilted. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Serves 4
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Winter Ratatouille

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I say winter ratatouille because of one key distinction between this dish and the alternative I might make in the summer.  I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes, and because of this, I also altered the technique for the layering of the vegetables.  If you know me well, you know that I love and respect tomatoes too much to disgrace their good name by buying a fresh tomato in the winter.  The winter offers tasteless mealy pale imitations that come from God knows where.  Don’t do it.

I began with Julia’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking simply because she throws each group of vegetables over some hot olive oil and sautes them slightly before putting them together in the stew, thereby calling forth the separate flavors of each before they are combined together.  I like that, and it certainly worked for me here. After that, I kind of did my own thing, not because I think I can do it better than Julia, but because my amateur self is still bad at following directions.

Disclaimer: I did not use parsley.  Can you call it ratatouille without the parsley? I’m not sure.  I didn’t have any, but to be fair I did use lots and lots of thyme in its place, and in my book you can never go wrong with thyme.  In fact, it might taste even better this way. I’ll try to remember to do a taste comparison at some point.

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
2 large zucchinis
1 orange bell pepper (any bell pepper works; I chose orange for aesthetic purposes)
1 yellow onion
2 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 head garlic (you can douse it with olive oil, slice off the rough end of the head, and stick it in the oven at 400° for 10 minutes and then the cloves will slip right out of their casings)
7 tbsp olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 handful fresh thyme
1 tbsp salt

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(^^Hannah helped slice even with her Hulk arm. What a trooper.^^)

Preheat oven to 350.° Slice the vegetables into thin circles and separate them. Toss them with a light sprinkling of salt, basil and oregano. Heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on a stovetop. Taking one bowl at a time, lay the vegetables over the hot oil and brown them slightly on both sides. Add more oil to the pan as needed, and heat before sauteing. Use a deep baking dish (its actually a casserole dish but I hate the word “casserole”) and layer the vegetables into it, starting with the eggplant, the zucchini, the tomatoes, the peppers and then the onions. After the first layer, top with whole roasted garlic cloves. Slice them once or twice if they are very large. Remove the thyme leaves from half of the sprigs of thyme and sprinkle over the top. Repeat the entire process. Cover the dish and set in the oven for 40 minutes. Enjoy!
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(^^Before it’s been cooked^^)
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(^^Also good over salad^^)

Strawberry Bean Quesadillas

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Yesterday I stopped in at Scotti’s record store where I had not been in ages.  My sister Celine wanted to buy a gift there for a friend.  Coincidentally, I had just finished listening to the All Songs Considered podcast about favorite albums during college.  All day I’d been trying to figure out which artist or song or album had the single greatest impact on me in my college years.  I couldn’t nail it down.  That’s really hard.  I’d love to say that I nursed an obsession with a single band, but there was such a conglomerate of groups that I went to for all different reasons…some to serenade me while I studied, some to blast in the car, some to be my personal soundtrack when I felt invincible, and some to serve as the backdrop when I was feeling low and needed to stew in my own funk juices for awhile.

Recently a friend asked me what music I listen to while I cook.  Also tricky.  If I am preparing something grandiose and need to channel my inner Jacques Cousteau, I will usually have either opera, Charles Aznavour or Edith Piaf playing.  If I am cooking as a means of self-therapy, it could be anything from Paul Simon to the Avett Brothers or Arcade Fire or Jeff Buckley or The Staves or Brand New or Cat Stevens or Talking Heads or Sigur Ros or Fall Out Boy or xxx or or or…..it all depends.  If I am surrounded by my family, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong will always do the trick.

In any case. my trip to Scotti’s and subsequent purchase (just could not refrain) reminded me of all the times when I’d just brought home a new album or mix and couldn’t wait to get in the car and drive with it and use up half my gas tank just to let the music elevate me and remind me what a good thing it can be to be alive, as myself, in this world.  And then I’d look forward to listening to it again and again and again until every lyric was engrained and every octave switch was anticipated in my bones.

Also, as I drove with my new purchase last night, I remembered that caution is required  to avoid potholes and too-bumpy roads so as not to scratch the disk.  I happened to choose particularly bad roads, but with fingers crossed, we made it out unscathed.  That is one of the downsides about having a cd as opposed to simply downloading new music, but there is just something so much more exciting about holding a new album in your hands and sticking it in the player.  Anyways….

Yesterday I made this refreshing dish while Shakira sang.  Not the new, commercialized Shakira, but the very young old school artist with the awesome lyrics and carefree attitude that exuded from her first album: Pies Descalsos.

I have to say that, delicious as these quesadillas may be, they still fit more into a summer food category than a winter one.  All the same, they are super refreshing and enjoyable any day of the year.

Ingredients

(Inspired by Sprouted Kitchen)

8 corn tortillas
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 avocado
1 lime
1 handful fresh cilantro
8 strawberries
2/3 cup black beans, cooked and blended
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup goat cheese
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Stir together the beans and yogurt. Spread over a tortilla and then layer the spinach, slivers of avocado, two sliced strawberries, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over it, and then give it a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Top with a smattering of crumbled goat cheese and a second tortilla, and heat on a pan over the stovetop on high heat until the outer side of the tortilla is slightly browned. Flip and repeat. Slice into quarters and serve warm. Enjoy!

These make 4 quesadillas, but the recipe can be easily multiplied.
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Maple Crisp Apple Pots

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They say that smelling is half of tasting, but that can’t be true because three other senses are also involved in the all-inclusive sensory experience of eating.  Enter your imagination and try to recall your favorite food memories.  Taste and smell are crucial components, but sight and touch and sound are essential as well.

For example, some of my favorite food memories don’t involve taste or smell at all.  I used to watch my dad eat breakfast in the morning.  He would have toast with butter or apple butter, and would sit at the table with a mug of hot coffee and his newspaper.  There was something about the way he would take a bite from a buttery slice of toast that invariably drooped down in the center, fold over a page of the newspaper and then take a long audible sip of coffee.  It looked like the best meal in the world.  I fully enjoyed the experience without tasting a morsel myself.

I have many voyeuristic food memories like that including watching: the way Denzel Washington chews his gum in Remember the Titans, or death discovering peanut butter, or Babette preparing her feast…and who knew that even this grotesque concoction could seem enticing?  And food in literature opens up a whole other world of sensual experience that I’ll need to devote many posts to in the future.

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Or sometimes it’s the texture of the food that gives it its charm.  My grandma used to make a quick breakfast for me when I went to her house that she must have learned during wartime or the great depression or some such period when creativity was a necessary aid for scrimping on ingredients to make something out of nothing.  She’d combine together one poached egg with some butter and a hunk of bread in a pan and then put everything into a mug and hand it over with a fork.  To me it seemed like quite a decadent little feast, and I think most of the appeal came from the combination of textures: fluffy eggs, toasty bread, and hints of butter.  The same can be said about my childhood obsession with the tapioca pudding my mom used to bring home, where half the pleasure consisted in savoring the slippery feel of the little tapioca pearls before swallowing them down with their surrounding clouds of creamy pudding.

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So what does all this have to do with today’s treat? Well nothing much except that the wonderful potency of the fragrant cinnamony apples brings back memories of Thanksgiving mornings when we used to borrow the oven of our neighbors who were away in order to accommodate all the cooking required to host a Thanksgiving army of people.  Our house smelled like roasting turkey and sounded like chaos and March of the Wooden Soldiers (which plays each Thanksgiving at 9am), while the neighbors’ house was empty and quiet and smelled like apple pie.  It was fun running back and forth with my mom to check on the cooking process, and escape and re-enter the mayhem of home.

So there’s nothing more to say about these baked apples except to note that they hit up all five senses.  They smell like all the best apple baking aroma memories.  Each bite holds a treasure trove of texture varieties.  They taste like comfort and home.  They look like the best of autumn, and they give a pleasing little crunchy chew.

Ingredients:

4 apples of your choice
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter (if you want to make these vegan, just leave out the butter)

Preheat the oven to 375° Core and hollow out the apples while leaving their exteriors in tact. Dice the interior of the apples and mix with all the ingredients except the butter. Stuff each apple. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with water and place them upright inside the dish. Top each one with a pat of butter and bake for 35 minutes. Serve warm. Enjoy!

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PS> A bonus treat for making it through the post. Watch this video of a Norwegian guy finding the caches of food that he hid for himself after days of arctic hiking.

Red Lentil Soup

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To all those practicing Catholics out there, welcome to lent.  To everyone else, today is the annual “Find People With Black Spots On Their Foreheads Day.”  Happy hunting!

While I am not of the opinion that lentils should be reserved for the lenten period, I do believe that lent is a great excuse to make absolutely delicious heartwarming bowls of steaming goodness. When my iron levels dropped dangerously low in Lebanon, my adopted Lebanese family made sure I ate lots and lots of lentils. It wasn’t hard to do, because Lebanon is a genius in the lentil department, and I was soon introduced to many different dishes. Lentils have lots of iron as well as high levels of fiber, folate, and magnesium. They also contain potassium and calcium and are generally great all around.  This red lentil soup is so comforting and tasty that you should try it even if you aren’t a big fan of the more traditional hearty lentil soups.

Ingredients

2 cups red lentils
6 1/2 cups water
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt (or more if you prefer)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper

*The measurements for the spices are not very exact. I added a lot of cumin, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. You can adjust according to your taste.
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Pour the olive oil into a pot and add the onion. Stir over medium heat until the onion is almost translucent. Mince the garlic cloves and add them along with the spices. Add the water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about half an hour. Use an immersion blender to bring the pot to a smooth, creamy texture. Serve hot.

Serves 4 generously

Thai Style Cabbage Salad

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Sometimes serendipity, just like creativity, is born out of confinement.  Such was the case of my lucky dessert yesterday.  I was craving a good creamy bowl of yogurt, but was out.  I thought about making some but didn’t want to wait 8 hours and then remembered I’d need a little yogurt to start with in order to make more anyway. Lately I’ve been finding it hard to come across plain full fat yogurt at your average supermarket.  There are either flavored ones or plain ones with 0% fat, which to me taste too bitter.  I perused the refrigerator and came across some nice whole ricotta.  I decided to combine a small portion with some Dutch cocoa, chia seeds and a drizzle of honey.  Boom!  It was so creamy and perfect. Often when I experiment like that, I end up shrugging my shoulders and giving myself an A for effort while quickly tossing the creation in the garbage, but yesterday was lucky and the dessert satisfied my craving.

The eponymous salad of today’s post was also fortuitous to a similar degree.  I had a large bag of carrots on hand and had been wanting to try a Thai-inspired dish.  What I was really thinking about was this beautiful meal of duck with peanut sauce that I ate at a Thai restaurant once, but I definitely did not have a duck sitting in the kitchen.  This salad had to suffice and it did so wonderfully.  It was so refreshing and tasty and nutrient-packed.  I could eat bowls of it.

Thai Style Cabbage Salad with Peanut-Carrot Spread and Beets

Ingredients

6 large carrots, peeled
1 head green cabbage
4 beets, boiled and sliced
2 limes
1/2 cup peanuts
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 knob of ginger (about 2 inches long)
2 tbsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp turmeric
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Blend the carrots in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped. Chop the ginger and add it. Squeeze in the juice of two limes and add the peanuts, vinegar and hot sauce.  Blend till everything is combined.
Cut the cabbage until shredded. Lay the sliced beets on the cabbage and give the salad a good dollup of the carrot spread. Sprinkle with turmeric. Enjoy!

Serves 6

The carrot spread is great to make by itself and use as a dip for other vegetables.
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Snow and Brown Rice Pudding

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If you happen to go to the grocery store and encounter rows of empty shelves, it could mean one of two things.  A) The apocalypse is at hand or B) there’s snow on the way.  Last night exhibited all the tell-tale signs of the oncoming snowstorm.  The grocery stores, gas-stations and liquor stores all had to accommodate about five times the amount of customers they would regularly receive on a quiet Thursday night.  Hurricane Sandy is still fresh in people’s minds as well, so all the more reason to stock up on the necessities.
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The snow is coming down and the roads are slowly receiving their first blanketing layer.  When you get home, there’s no better way to enjoy it than to fill the house with the warm rice pudding aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove spices.  This rice pudding was made with the last of a bag of brown jasmine rice.  It is filling and mildly sweet with a wonderful cloying texture and slightly nutty flavor from the almond milk.  If you prefer a more traditional rice pudding, simply use milk and arborio rice.

Brown Rice Puddin’

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice
5 1/2 cups almond milk
1/4 agave nectar
2 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger spice
4 cloves

In a medium size pot, stir the rice into 4 cups of almond milk. Bring to a low boil. Add the spices, agave nectar, and the rest of the almond milk. Let it simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally for about an hour and a half, or until the moisture has absorbed. Serve warm or chilled. Enjoy!

Serves 4
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Lentil Patties with Sesame Seared Eggplant and Cauliflower Pesto

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This hearty meal with a glorious nutritional profile is best reserved for a day when you have a voracious appetite.  There is something about those days.  It’s the feeling of hunger, the tantalizing smells wafting from the oven, the ticking of the clock as everything is preparing itself for your plate…and finally the moment when you can sit down and eat till you are satiated and content.  Hmm…sounds familiar.  I will be heading to the kitchen right now!

Ingredients

*If you wish to make this a vegan recipe, simply use the substitutes I posted and omit the parmesan cheese.  You will probably need to add some salt if you leave out the cheese.

Sesame Seared Eggplant

1 large eggplant, sliced
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 eggs/egg subsitutes
2 tbsp butter/coconut oil

Preheat oven to 425°  Combine parmesan cheese and sesame seeds in a small bowl.  Whisk eggs together in a separate bowl.  Melt butter in frying pan.  Submerge eggplant slices in egg and then in sesame parmesan mixture.  Fry on both sides until seeds are crusted onto the eggplant.  Lay the slices on a cooking tray and roast for 10 minutes.

Cauliflower Pesto

1 head cauliflower
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 large handful thyme sprigs
1 cup whole milk/ almond milk
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425° Cut the cauliflower, rub with olive oil, and lay on a cooking tray to roast in the oven for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to food processor.  Add the thyme, garlic, milk and cheese.  Blend until smooth.

Lentil Patties

1 cup lentils
1 cup brown rice
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp butter/ coconut oil
2 eggs/ egg substitutes

Cook the lentils and rice together with the broth in a pot on low for about an hour or until the moisture has absorbed.  Add the eggs and stir until everything has thickened.  Form into patties and brown with butter in a frying pan on both sides.

Place each patty on a slice of sesame seared eggplant and top with cauliflower pesto and some spinach leaves if desired. Top with a second slice of eggplant.  The roasted cauliflower pesto also makes a delicious dip or sandwich spread.  Just be sure not to leave out the thyme because in my opinion, it’s the key to the whole dish. Enjoy!

Serves 6 generously

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