Saturday, March 31, 2012

Eggplant Florentine over Gemelli Aglio e Olio

The last time John was on travel in Virginia, he enjoyed an eggplant dish that he wanted us to recreate at home. I had the advantage that Italian cuisine is my specialty, but the disadvantage of not having seen, or tasted, the original.  So, this is what I created from John's description.  He said the original was served with a small dish of Spaghetti Marinara on the side, but what's better than serving it right on top of the pasta so it can soak up all the gooey goodness of the sauce and the cheese?  That's what I thought!  So, I referred to a super-simple Italian classic pasta that is tossed in butter, garlic, and olive oil.  Here is the delectable result!  And, just like Lasagne, we expect the leftovers to be even better than the firsts.

There is nothing difficult about this recipe, but you'll want to allow about 1 1/2 hours to prepare it.  You can make it ahead, then place in the oven 1/2 hour before serving.

Eggplant Florentine

Fried, Breaded Eggplant
Peel and slice a 1 - 1 1/2 pound eggplant into 1/2-inch thick disks.
Place on paper towels and sprinkle with salt - this removes excess moisture and any possible bitterness.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Pat with paper towels, and turn over.
Repeat process.

While eggplant is resting:
Whisk 2 eggs in a shallow dish.

In a rimmed dish, mix together:
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian Herb Mix

Begin working on Spinach and Ricotta Filling:

Spinach and Ricotta Filling
In a large, deep saute pan, over medium heat, saute 2 cloves minced garlic in 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, just until they begin to soften.
Add 5 ounces fresh baby spinach (you can use thawed frozen, just make sure it's well drained).
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Stir until spinach is well-blended with olive oil and garlic.
Cover, and stir once, or twice, to ensure even cooking.
Braise until fully wilted.
Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and allow to cool.
(It's worth noting that we often serve this spinach as a side dish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While Spinach is cooling, return pan to the stove and fry the eggplant:

Return pan to medium heat and fill with 1 cup Olive Oil (to start - add more if you need it because eggplant soaks it up like a sponge).

While oil is heating, place one slice of eggplant in the eggwash, then press it into the breadcrumbs - turning to coat thoroughly.  

You can fry up to 4 pieces at a time, turning to make sure they're evenly golden brown.
Remove to a tray lined with paper towels.
Continue until all pieces are done.

Let eggplant rest and finish Spinach and Ricotta Filling.
To the bowl of Cooked Spinach,  add:
1 15-ounce container of Ricotta Cheese
1 egg
Salt, and Pepper to taste.
Whisk with a fork until thoroughly combined.
Set aside.

Spray a large oval (or rectangular) baking dish with Pam, or coat with olive oil.

In the interest of time, I used a 26-ounce jar of Tomato and Basil sauce from Trader Joe's, but if I were going to make it from scratch, I would use Giada's Marinara Sauce which is our go-to recipe.

Pour half of the Tomato Sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.

Then spread the Spinach and Ricotta Filling over it.

Pair up same-size pieces of the Fried Eggplant and place one layer over the Spinach and Rocotta Filling - spacing them out evenly.
Sprinkle with 1 cup Shredded Mozzarella (or Italian Cheese Blend).

Place remaining pieces of Fried Eggplant over their partners (We had 10 pieces total, so 5 stacks.)
Top each stack with remaining Tomato Sauce - spreading out with a spoon.

Then top with another cup of Shredded Mozzarella (or Italian Cheese Blend).

Set filled baking disk on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes.

Gemelli Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Oil)
While the Eggplant Florentine is baking in the oven, cook a 16-ounce package of short pasta according to package directions.  We used Barilla's Gemelli (which means "Twins" in Italian) because they're sturdy & hold up well to heavy sauces.

Drain the pasta and return the pan to medium heat.
Quickly stir in:
4 ounces Butter
1/4 cup Olive Oil 
2 cloves Garlic, minced

When garlic softens, return drained pasta to pan and toss to coat.
Add Salt & Pepper, to taste.

Putting it all together...
Place about 1 cup of the Gemelli Aglio e Olio in a pasta bowl.
Scoop one stack of Eggplant Florentine over it - scooping up the sauce, too.

Print these recipes

We served this with Italian Bread and Butter.
And, we stored the leftovers by placing the Eggplant Florentine over the Gemelli Aglio e Olio in a lidded glass bowl.

Buon Appetito!

Rincon Park Beach, Carpinteria, CA

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Crab Grapefruit Salad ~ French Fridays with Dorie

This week's French Fridays with Dorie challenge is for this delightfully simple salad.  It's beautiful and delicious - just like something we'd order in an elegant restaurant overlooking the beach in Santa Barbara.

I made two versions of this recipe because I can't eat peppers or cucumbers.  So, I followed Dorie's recipe for John with the addition of blanched, sliced asparagus which I prepared for mine.  I absolutely love avocado, so I  added it without hesitation. I found mache and micro greens at Trader Joe's.  I love mache - it's such a pretty alternative to spring greens.  We were lucky to have all the herbs growing in our garden, too!

We served this beautiful salad with a cheese plate, a sliced baguette, and Orchid Hill's Muscat Canelli.   The biggest surprise for me was how well grapefruit pairs with mint.  This is a lovely starter salad that's chock full of vitamins, color, and flavor.

This goblet is from our Depression Glass collection - it's Duncan Miller Teardrop.
Bon Appetit!

The Versatile Blogger Award!

I am so honored to receive the Versatile Blogger Award from fellow Dorista, Allison, of The French Whisk.  Allison is an adventurous chef with a generous heart who's always cooking for friends & family.  Please take a moment to check out her blog.

Here are the official rules:
  • Add the award to your blog.
  • Thank the blogger who gave it to you.
  • Mention 7 random things about yourself.
  • List the rules.
  • Award to 15 bloggers.
  • Inform each of those 15 by leaving a comment on their blogs or on Facebook
Seven Random things about me:
  1. I work for the U.S. Navy Seabees and I manage my command's Face Book Page.
  2. I spent the spring semester of my sophomore year at the University of Dallas Rome Campus. 
  3. I have an irrational fear of earwigs!
  4. I don't drink coffee, but I make it for my husband almost every morning.
  5. I'm reading The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley.
  6. I started collecting stamps when I was 10 and I still have them - I was organized even as a kid!. 
  7. I adore my husband and admire him more than anyone else I know. 

The best thing about this award is that I get to share it with these
15 Fabulous Versatile Bloggers!

From the base of the Space Needle, Seattle, WA
Thank you, Allison!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Boneless Pork Chops in White Port Sauce, Sweet Carrots, and Wild Rice

John & I went to Temecula for a quick weekend get-away.  We picked up some gourmet items at the South Coast Winery.  One of them was this Spicy Apple Garlic Jam.  We also picked up some White Port at a wine tasting and sale with our PRP Wine broker in Orange, CA.  We thought the combination of flavors would be a perfect match for pork, so we thought this dish up in the car on the way home and stopped to buy fresh boneless pork chops at our local market.

Boneless Pork Chops in White Port Sauce

Dust boneless Pork Chops with Garlic Salt, Pepper, and flour.
Sautee in 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil until nicely browned on both sides - about 5 minutes a side.
Deglaze pan with 3/4 cup White Port
Then, stir in 1 cup Chicken Broth.
Turn Pork Chops to coat.
Top each with 2 Tablespoons Spicy Apple Garlic Jam and spoon port sauce over them, gently.

Sweet Carrots
Clean and peel 6 Carrots.
Cut them into 1-in pieces, diagonally.
Steam in an inch of water in a covered pot for 10 minutes.
Strain, and stir in:
3 Tablespoons of Butter
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
Salt and Pepper, to taste. 

Wild Rice
Prepare 1 cup Wild Rice according to package directions.


Living in the "Wild, Wild West!"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cocoa Orange Sables ~ French Fridays with Dorie

Rolled in Sugar & ready to bake!
I've always loved the combination of chocolate and orange, so when this week's French Fridays with Dorie presented the chance, I couldn't resist adding orange.  In place of the vanilla, I used 1/2 teaspoon Orange Oil, and for the chocolate bits, I smashed a Lindt Excellence Intense Orange Bar with my marble rolling pin.  (This is great therapy!  LOL!)

Baked & ready to eat!
These chocolate shortbread cookies come together so quickly and easily.  The hardest part was letting them sit in the refrigerator for 3 hours.  They're crisp, and deeply flavorful. These are great to make ahead and throw in the oven while eating dinner.  Dorie says you can use them for ice cream sandwiches ~ and I will try that  as soon as the weather warms up.

I've also made her Lemon Sables from Paris Sweets: Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops, and loved them.  Both versions are excellent with tea.


Tree Swallows on their way to San Juan Capistrano ~ Ventura Harbor, CA

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bon Appetit's Brown Butter, Ginger, and Sour Cream Coffee Cake ~ Susanized

I thought the crumb topping would sit on top, but it sank into the cake imbuing each bite with caramel and cinnamon.
Butter Browning

Since I work primarily with U.S. Navy Seabees and Civil Engineer Corps Officers, everyone I work with thinks I'm a great writer.  People often ask me to edit documents and presentations for them or to write papers or articles from a list of facts.  I do this so often, that people come to me and say, "I need you to Susanize this."  I take it as a great compliment and realize that I "Susanize" a lot of things.

Filling sandwiched between layers of cake batter ~ before topping was added.

When I saw this recipe for  Brown Butter, Ginger, and Sour Cream Coffee Cake in the November edition of Bon Appetit,  I tore it out & saved it.  Like any good food blogger, I have a pile of recipes at the ready.  This morning, when I felt like baking, I came across this recipe and decided to try out.  Brown Butter has such an addictive flavor.

Since I don't care for Ginger in sweets, I substituted Penzeys Baking Spice for all of the spices in the cake.  For the filling and topping, I used 1 Tablespoon Baking Spice and 1/4 cup Cinnamon Chips for the 1/2 cup crystallized Ginger.  I also used Walnuts in place of Almonds.

Even though there's only one cup of Brown Sugar in this recipe, it imbues the cake.  The Browned Butter and Whole Wheat Flour give it a graham and nutty flavor.  This is a dense cake that can be served any time of day.


Sun setting over Santa Cruz Island ~ from Ventura Harbor

Friday, March 16, 2012

Seared Scallops with Saffron Cream Crab Sauce and Risotto Verde

John & I belong to Jaffurs Winery in Santa Barbara.  On Tuesday night, we were invited to Cecco Ristorante in Solvang for a 5-course meal that included a glass of Jaffurs wine with each course.  The food was incredible and magical with the wine pairings.  One course we particularly liked was a potato and goat cheese ravioli with saffron cream sauce topped with crab meat.

We had 4 large crab claws in our refrigerator that I bought from Fresh Fish Fanatics at the Channel Islands Farmers' Market, so John was inspired to create this delicious dish.

Seared Scallops with Saffron Cream Crab Sauce

Steep 1/4 teaspoon Saffron threads in 2 Tablespoons boiling water.  
Set Aside.

Steam 4 large Crab Claws for 10 minutes.
Set aside to cool.

In a medium skillet, saute 2 finely diced Shallots in 4 Tablespoons Butter over medium heat.
When they begin to soften, stir in:
3/4 cup White Wine
2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
Reserved Saffron Broth with threads
Simmer until reduced by half - about 15 minutes.
Stir in 1 cup cream
Add Salt & Pepper, to taste.
Continue cooking until sauce thickens.

While the sauce is thickening, crack Crab Claws and extract meat.
Then, stir in Crab Meat.

Rinse 8 Sea Scallops, pat dry, and sprinkle with Sal & Pepper.
Sear Scallops in 2 Tablespoons Butter over medium heat for 2 - 3 minutes on each side.

Place Scallops in dish, and pour Saffron Cream Crab Sauce over the top.

Risotto Verde

In a deep sauce pan, saute:
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 small Onion, diced

When Onions begin to soften, stir in:
1 Cup Arborio Rice
Continue stirring until rice is lightly browned

Add 4 Cups Chicken Broth in 1 Cup increments, stirring until almost completely absorbed in between additions.

Then stir in:
1 Cup White Wine
4 Tablespoons Fresh Basil (or 4 teaspoons dried)

1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 cup fresh Peas (you can also use thawed frozen)Salt and Pepper, to taste

When liquid is absorbed, finish with:
1/4 Cup Cream
1/2 Cup Parmesan, shredded
Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.  Stir before serving.

Crab Claws for sale at the Channel Islands Farmers' Market

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chunky Lola Cookies ~ Joanne Chang

Chock full of everything good!
One of the fun things about writing a cooking blog is always trying new things.  I just got Joanne Chang's cookbook, Flour.  I love cookies, and have been baking them since I was about 8 years old.  So I was intrigued by this recipe that combines what her bakers crave most in a cookie:  oats, toasted pecans, coconut, and dark chocolate!  Seriously, what's not to love?!?  You can find the recipe here.

Toasted Pecans

I thought the batter was a little too moist, so I added an additional 1/4 cup flour - you can see the difference in the photo of the cookies in the linked post & mine.  I really believe it's a matter of personal preference.

Ready for the oven!
Ready to eat!
I have to say, these cookies taste much better than they look.  They didn't last long, so I'll have to make more soon!

In the front of the book, Joanne says she always toasts nuts for baking.  I think it's a good idea - I really liked the toasted pecans in these cookies.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Cashew Chicken with Asparagus and Rice

Prepare 1 cup White Rice according to package directions (we also like this with Brown Rice).

Thinly slice 2 Chicken Breasts, against the grain, then marinate in:

1 Tablespoon White Sherry
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
Salt and Pepper

Clean and slice:
1 Yellow Onion into thin wedges
5 stalks Celery into 1/4 inch pieces on the diagonal
1 bunch thin Asparagus cut into one-inch pieces

In a wok, heat 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil over high heat.
Quickly stir-fry Chicken in sauce.
Remove from wok, set aside, and wipe wok out with paper towels.

Add 2 more Tablespoons Vegetable Oil to wok and stir-fry vegetables until they are bright and still slightly crunchy.

Stir together:
1 cup Chicken broth
3 T Soy Sauce
2 T White Sherry
1 teaspoon Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Then return Chicken to wok and pour sauce in.
Then stir in 1 cup roasted Cashews.

When Chicken is heated through, pour in:
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water

When sauce bubbles and thickens, remove from heat and serve over hot rice.
Print this recipe

Fresh vegetables for sale at the Channel Islands Harbor Farmers' Market

Friday, March 9, 2012

Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars ~ Baked Sunday Mornings

This week's Baked Sunday Mornings challenge is for the rich, creamy, and crunchy PB&J Bars.  My brother, who is known to smear peanut butter on *almost* everything, loved these.  And, my step-father reserved a batch for his birthday (in August).  I think you're getting the idea...these are good...really good!   
The shortbread crust is topped with a light and fluffy peanut butter layer that's like fudge.  Then, it's smeared with concord grape jelly and coated with an oat crumble topping.  Next time, I would melt the jelly to spread it more evenly.  I also have to say I would be very tempted to replace the jelly with melted semi-sweet chocolate!

These were a little time-consuming, but not at all difficult to make.

Sweet Williams

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