Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poached Mozzarella in Fresh Tomatoes

OUR TOMATO SEASON IS COMING TO A CLOSE. And I am eating as many as I can. This is a lovely, fresh, and flavorful way to use not only fresh tomatoes, but some of your fresh herbs. I will really miss stepping out the kitchen door to snip some fresh basil and parsley, won't you?

My Mother made this dish for me when I visited her last week. I loved it so much, I came home and made it again to share with Pritchard Parker.

It is Capri-like with the fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese, but it it served hot, as an open faced sandwich, with oozy cheese. The herb topping brightened with a squeeze of lemon juice adds another layer of fresh flavor.

Poached Mozzarella in Fresh Tomatoes
4 slices French bread, sliced 1/2" thick, brushed with olive oil
1/4 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups fresh tomatoes (about 4) peeled and diced
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. sliced fresh basil
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
4 slices fresh mozzarella (1/2-inch thick)

Saute onion, garlic, and pepper flakes in oil over medium-high heat until onion softens, 5 minutes. Deglaze pan with wine; simmer until reduced by half, 5 minutes or so. Add tomatoes, broth, and vinegar; simmer until tomatoes begin to break down, about 10 minutes.

Toast bread under the broiler and set aside.

Toss herbs with lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper.

Add cheese to tomatoes, and cook gently until it's soft and a little gooey, 2 - 3 minutes.

Place toast in shallow bowls, lift a slice of mozzarella from the tomatoes, and place on the bread. Spoon more tomatoes around and top with some of the herb mixture.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Cobbler

AS THE SEASONS CHANGE, WE NATURALLY begin changing our diets. As our summer tomato harvest winds down, the weather gets cooler and the days shorter, I often feel myself at a loss. I will fumble along for a bit but then I will find my "sea legs" again. Meanwhile, I will prepare very simple meals to sustain us.

One thing I miss in the summer, is using my oven. I love baking and roasting--so delicious, fragrant, comforting, and warming.

Upon my return from a recent trip to the flat lands, I discovered it was quite chilly here in the mountains. I began planning a roasted dinner right away!

Using Brussels sprouts and root vegetables, seasoned with what I think of as the quintessential savory seasonings for fall--sage, rosemary, and thyme, I made this vegetable cobbler with a slightly sweet cornmeal biscuit topping.

I served it with fresh, warm, homemade applesauce. It was a perfect meal.

Roasted Vegetable Cobbler
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 large sweet potato
2 large carrots
2 medium rutabagas
4 cups Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. each sage, rosemary, thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash potatoes, carrots and rutabagas, peel if desired, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut in half. Place all into a large black skillet. Toss with the olive oil and seasonings.

Roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the topping, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, sour cream, vegetable oil, and brown sugar. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until well combined.

Remove vegetables from the oven and drop spoonfuls of the batter over the top. Return to the oven and bake for 40 -45 minutes, until vegetables are tender and topping is golden brown.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Composed Salads, Grain Bowls, and Organizing Photo Files

IF YOU LOVE COOKING AND YOU LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY (a match made in heaven) you will most likely end up with a backlog of photo files to sort through.

My files had gotten so big, they were bogging down my computer. It was time to stop procrastinating and get to work. I have deleted hundreds on photos and transferred others to an external drive.

I do photograph many things other than food and this process has taken me down a memory lane of the past couple of years. There are so many cute pictures of the children--they grow and change so fast. There were pictures of my head, bald from chemo, to growing out, to my first haircut last week. There are many photos of beautiful flowers, birds, bunnies, butterflies, and bugs from our yard. Scenic photos from the gorgeous, vibrant, and hip place I am blessed to live--Asheville, North Carolina.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

As I culled photographs, I decided to share some of the things I have made, we ate, but never made it to my blog. Mainly because I wasn't pleased with the photos. But also because I wasn't thrilled with the taste of the food. I only blog about things I think are delicious.

For example, the Mandarin Chicken Salad. Ho-hum.

Shrimp, Brown Rice, and Vegetable Salad

I can see the salad has a dressing but I don't remember what it was. Which is another danger of letting my photo files back up. I can't remember what I did.

I remember loving the brown rice and tofu bowl--I would happily eat it right now. I suppose I could fake some recipes. . .

Many things I love, tuna, cheese, boiled eggs, radishes, cornichons, sprouts (!) with baby lettuces.

Waldorf Quinoa Salad

I was really happy with this meal, but I didn't get any photos I loved. Quinoa, grapes, celery, apples, lettuce, candied pecans, and crumbled blue cheese. (Some kind of dressing). Mmmm, I think I'll try this again.

I was also happy about this meal, but again did not get shots of it that I loved. It was an awesome combination of flavors, quinoa, black beans, roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, pineapple, cheddar cheese, and spinach. I dressed this one with a Honey Lime Vinaigrette.

Honey Lime Vinaigrette
1 small sweet onion, preferably Vidalia, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large tomato, washed and peeled
1 lime, washed, roughly chopped and seeded
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients into blender and process until smooth.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vegetarian Sawmill Gravy (S.O.S.)

I LOVE GRAVY.  I love mashed potatoes and gravy, rice and gravy with fried chicken, biscuits and red eye gravy for breakfast, French bread dipped in au jus, tomato gravy, sesame gravy on brown rice.

In my neck of the woods, Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast is made from browning crumbled bulk sausage, then using flour and milk to make a gravy, with plenty of black pepper.  It is then served over piping hot biscuits.

Not sure if it is still the case, but I have heard more than one veteran from the U.S. Navy speak of enjoying S.O.S. (Sh*t-on-a-Shingle) while aboard ship. That recipe uses dried chipped beef to make the gravy which is served over toast. It is delicious!

I recently stumbled upon a fun food blog, The Egg Farm. The blogger, Mary, had made a country gravy with eggplant, to serve over biscuits. I fell in love with the concept.

I didn't really follow her recipe, but I have to give her credit for the idea--I'm pretty sure I would have never thought of this. Because I started with a "zebra" eggplant, one that is paler purple in color and streaked with white, with much thinner skin than the classic dark purple eggplant, I didn't bother to peel it. It gives my gravy a darker appearance than the one Mary made.

I took some other shortcuts with Mary's recipe and also served it over toast because I love toast I was too lazy to make biscuits.

Vegetarian Sawmill Gravy
1 medium eggplant, peeled if desired, finely diced
1 small, sweet onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 - 3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. each sage, thyme, fennel, red pepper flakes
Pinch each ginger and nutmeg
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and all the spices, stirring for about 30 seconds.

Sprinkle the flour onto the vegetables and stir well. Cook for a minute or two then stir in the milk. Continue cooking and stirring until the gravy has the desired consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve over toast, biscuits, rice, or noodles with roasted tomatoes.

For roasted tomatoes, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash tomatoes but don't bother to peel or core. Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a rimmed baking pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes. As you can see the tomato skins slip right off, but during cooking they hold in the juices.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Brown Rice Bowl with Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Massaged Kale

THIS SIMPLE AND HEALTHFUL MEAL IS TYPICAL of how we eat most of the time in the summer. We love fresh vegetables. We love brown rice. We love cheese. The black olives, roasted red pepper, and toasted pumpkin seeds please the eye and palate and make the dish more satiating.

A word or two about brown rice. I don't really care that much for the commercially available packaged brown rice found in typical grocery stores. When purchased from a Natural Foods Market, it can often be found in bulk bins. There, it will be fresher, organic, tastier, and less expensive. You will most likely be given a choice of long, medium, or short grain.

How do you choose? In my experience, long grain brown rice cooks up fluffier, medium grain is stickier, and short grain is creamier. Some nutritionists recommend using the fluffier long grain rice in summer and the creamier ones in cooler weather. I almost always choose medium grain and that is what is pictured here.

 This was our first time experiencing  Halloumi Cheese, which the package described as the "Grilling Cheese of Cyprus". I think my husband was somewhat dubious about it because it was squeaky on the teeth. I believe he felt the texture was a little suspect. He even asked, "What kind of animal is this from"?  (Answer: Sheep).

Myself, I loved it and I will buy it and use it again. Pritchard Parker will be more receptive next time--it was just not what he expected. But it was exceptionally delicious!

For the greens, I used kale, one bunch of red kale and one of lacinato. Here they are going for a little swim in my sink. After the greens were washed and dried, I massaged them with lemon juice, sea salt, and olive oil as I did in my Massaged Kale Salad.

Brown Rice Bowl with Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Massaged Kale
(4 servings)
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
2 bunches kale
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Sea salt
1 red bell pepper, roasted and chopped
1 cup (approx.) black olives
8 oz. Halloumi cheese
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Place rice and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a bare simmer, and cook for 50-55 minutes. Stir and taste rice. If needed, add about 5 more minutes cooking time. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Wash and dry kale. Remove large stems, cut or tear into bite-sized pieces, and place into a large bowl. Sprinkle with sea salt and squeeze on the lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil. Massage for 5 minutes, until desired tenderness,

Cut the cheese into 8 slices. Saute in a little olive oil, over medium heat, until golden on each side.

Arrange the rice, kale, cheese slices, peppers, and olives on a plate or salad bowl. Sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. If desired, sprinkle a little tamari or soy sauce on the rice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Family's Favorite Eggplant Parmesan

 OF ALL THE HUNDREDS THOUSANDS OF MEALS AND DISHES I have cooked, my Eggplant Parmesan is the standout favorite and most cherished of all my family and friends. Everyone who has ever eaten it loves it. Even the pickiest of picky-eaters like it.

Almost any time I see Eggplant Parmesan on a restaurant menu, I order it. I have enjoyed many good versions and some not too great. But never one as tasty as this recipe.

I must confess, this is not my favorite thing to cook. It is not difficult but it involves many steps and it is messy. It involves two different cheeses, one of which needs to be sliced and the other grated. Three bowls are used for preparing the eggplant for frying--flour, then egg, then crumbs. And yes, frying, the messiest of messy for the home cook. Fresh garlic is minced and a sauce is made. It is a true labor of love.

This is not an everyday meal at our house. I make this for special occasions. Special occasions are times when family gather, whether for birthdays, holidays, weddings, family reunions, even funerals.

The recipe comes from one of my old hippie cookbooks, The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, c.1972. I love the author's philosophical introduction to the book and have read it many times over the years; almost every time I take out the book.

I always chuckle when I read, "The two-hours-later course is especially recommended if grass is smoked socially at your house. If you have passed a joint around before dinner to sharpen gustatory perceptions, you most likely will pass another one after dinner, and everyone knows what that will do--the blind munchies can strike at any time".

Use the best quality ingredients including the olive oil which lends so much flavor to the dish. Over the years, I have used dried and fresh breadcrumbs, wheat germ, and panko, all with good results. I have used both Swiss and Mozzarella cheese and prefer the latter. For the wine, I have used several good, dry reds, but my personal favorite for this dish is Burgundy.

The recipe is easily doubled and tripled to feed a crowd. And while you're at it, why not?

Eggplant Parmesan
1 medium eggplant
1 egg beaten with some milk
Breadcrumbs or wheat germ
Olive oil
1/2 pound Swiss or Mozzarella, sliced
6 oz. tomato paste
Red wine as needed
Pinch of oregano
Clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Wash your eggplant and, without peeling it, slice it about 1/2-inch thick. Dip slices first in flour, then into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs. Saute them in a little olive oil, a few at a time, until they are nicely browned on both sides. Tend them carefully and add oil as it is needed.

When they are crisp and brown, arrange them in a baking dish and put a slice or two of Swiss or Mozzarella on each one. Make a thick tomato sauce by diluting the tomato paste with wine. Mix the tomato sauce with the oregano, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic clove. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons on each slice. Finally, sprinkle the grated Parmesan on top of it all. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes and serve steaming hot.