Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-recipe challenge Day 9: Gluten-free Eggplant Parmesan

This one’s for my mama.

“Gluten-free” anything often seems daunting to me, but this recipe (from Gluten-Free Girl, natch ) just makes so much sense. Fry the eggplant without breading it first. Duh. (Also makes for a healthier fried eggplant.) This is also vegetarian, though definitely not vegan. So. Much. Cheese. YES!

Eggplant parm 1

*Side note: There are a lot of vegetarian dishes on this list. I don’t hate it. Kevin even got excited about making one tonight. More on that later.*

This was my first deep-frying endeavor, and I only walked away with minor burn marks. Victory! My yoga clothes may have taken a bit more of a beating, though…luckily I was wearing my black hoodie. (Yes, I know, I have an apron, but what good are exercise clothes if they’re not able to take a little oil splatter?)

There’s an irony here: Sunday marked my return to yoga, as I took my first class in ages, courtesy of Groupon. Then I went home and deep-fried a perfectly innocent vegetable. Life’s all about balance, my friends. (How very yogi of me.)

Anyway, this recipe’s pretty great on its own, I just halved it, as per usual. Mainly because I rarely have 4-8 people to feed. This recipe probably would have been even better if 1) my knife skills were better (i.e., actually cutting the eggplant into 1-inch slices, not some 1-inch slices, some 1/2-inch slices and some choppy pieces because the whole slicing thing wasn’t working out so well) and 2) I baked it in a shallower dish. Because I halved the quantity, a 9×13 baking dish seemed way too large for my meager eggplant, so I stacked in all in a small but deep casserole dish instead. It was a little…mushy. One of the two aforementioned things is likely to blame.

Eggplant parm 2

Nonetheless, it tasted good. Fried eggplant, even on its own, is pretty tasty. It made a good cooking snack. (Maybe eggplant chips will be the new “it” thing! Hey, a girl can dream.) My mom gave it a passing grade and especially like the less-common addition of the sautéed peppers and onions for a little flavor and bite. And the cheese. All the cheese. That alone makes up for any perceived imperfections.

Oh, and again my apartment smelled terrific. I really hope I’m making my neighbors jealous.

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31-Recipe Challenge: Day 1 — Kicking it off!

Well, folks, the day has finally arrived–I have officially started  my one-month, 31-recipe challenge! Since I’ve been sick for the past week (battling an ear and throat infection punctuated with cold-like symptoms, yay winter), I started off slow, but delicious. My first recipe I tackled for this challenge–sausage and pepper pizza!

Sausage pizza 1

Now, I’m from New Jersey, where sausage and peppers can be found in every corner pizza joint (and you can bet they’ll be good, too!) They’re not usually my first choice, but let me tell you, this pizza rocks. I’m rethinking sausage and peppers now.

One great thing I learned from this recipe: making pizza dough from  scratch is super-easy. Like, crazy, crazy easy. Literally takes five, maybe 10 minutes, not counting the time for it to rise.  I don’t think I’ll be buying pre-made pizza dough anymore, it’s just not worth it.

Let’s take a minute here and let this sink in: I. made. homemade. dough. And it didn’t suck.  The non-baker inside me is freaking out and doing a happy dance! (And possibly a literal happy dance occurred at the time, as well. Not ashamed.)

The pizza got the stamp of approval from my toughest critic, the sausage pizza aficionado, if you will. (AKA…Kevin loved it!)

I *very, very* slightly modified this recipe from Joy the Baker for the pizza.  The main modification I made was using all-purpose flour in place of bread flour in the dough recipe, because, well, I’m not likely to use much bread flour again, so having five pounds of it seemed excessive. Frankly, though, the AP flour worked fine. I also used mild Italian sausage (patties, not links, since there was no casing) instead of spicy, because I have a low heat tolerance and actually wanted to be able to eat my pizza. As it was, I was reaching for the water anytime I took a bit with a little too much red pepper flake on it. (And there wasn’t much.)

Sausage pizza 2

I totally plan on making this one again, and keeping homemade pizza dough on hand in my freezer. It was so quick to make, even on a rushed post-work Friday evening, yet WAY beats any fast-food and even beats great pizza shop sausage pizza. Possibly because even the best Jersey pizza joints don’t usually put fresh bell peppers and arugula on their pizza.

Consensus: Day 1 a success.  The fun continues today with sweet potato tacos with avocado and apple, pomegranate and kale salad. And I’m getting really crazy tomorrow, combining the recipe challenge with a Super Bowl party! Yes, I may have the best-fed Super Bowl guests this side of Baltimore (see what I did there?).

See you soon for Day 2!

Learning from our mistakes: 5-Cheese White Bean Macaroni and Cheese

Sometimes I try new things and they don’t always work.  Sometimes that means utter, throw it in the trash failure, and sometimes that means it came out okay, but not great. This is a story of the latter.

I had seen this recipe for white bean mac and cheese a while back and decided to tackle something similar. I was craving the ooey-gooeyness of mac and cheese but didn’t want to go completely off track, health-wise, so this seemed like the perfect compromise.

I didn’t have a whole lot of any one kind of cheese in my fridge, but I had a lot of different kinds of cheese, so I just ran with it. At the time, I though using about a tablespoon of cottage cheese would be a good idea to help get a creamy consistency.  Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that cottage cheese doesn’t really melt.  It stays kind of chunky and clumpy, which is sort of off-putting in a cheese sauce.  So, if I were to attempt this again (and I plan to!), I’d probably go with a tablespoon of cream cheese over the cottage cheese to ensure that creaminess is there.

Another mistake I learned from: garlic burns. Fast. And it makes your house smell. Brown garlic (as in burned) smells even stronger than just the regular cooked stuff. And it doesn’t make the other people in your house happy. Also, the flavor is INTENSE. Like, whoa baby, that’s garlic intense. (I contemplated throwing it out and starting over after burning the garlic, but since it was just brown and not completely charred, I decided to go with it. Next time, lightly cooked garlic or bust.)

So, yes, the final product was a bit too garlicky for my taste, and sort of a strange, overcooked garlic flavor. Also, I was probably a bit overzealous in my use of the white bean puree–I didn’t mind it, but the sauce was a bit grittier than a normal cheese sauce from the beans.  If you want to hide the white beans and get more of a traditionally smooth cheese sauce, go with less puree.  But, still, I could see the real potential in this dish, and so I still want to share it with you, with some adaptations to the recipe based on what I learned.

5-cheese white bean macaroni and cheese

Spiral pasta (or any shape you like)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 can white cannelini beans, rinsed
1 tbs butter
1 tbs all-purpose flour
1/2 cup to 1 cup skim milk (depends how thin/thick you want your sauce)
1 tbs cream cheese
2 deli slices or 1 handful shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices American cheese
1 handful shredded provolone cheese
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
Dried mustard seed
Paprika
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Boil the pasta in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking.  When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and set aside. While the pasta boils, puree the white beans with a little bit of water or oil, if necessary, to get a smooth consistency.
2. In the same saucepan, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook through (until still white, not dark brown!)
3. Add the butter, let it melt, and mix in the flour to create a roux.
4. Once incorporated, add the milk and let it simmer and heat through. Add the cream cheese and stir it into the milk sauce until it melts.
5. Add the white bean puree, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir to incorporate into the sauce.
6. Add each cheese, one at a time, and stir until melted. (Eyeball this–if you need more or less, adjust to that. And taste along the way!)
7. Add a few sprinkles of mustard and paprika, to taste. Grind in the black pepper, to taste.
8. When the sauce is smooth and reaches the desired consistency, add the pasta back to the pot and stir well to coat.  Add more seasonings, if necessary.
9. Turn the oven on to Broil. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a baking dish or into individual ramekins and top with more grated Parmesan and paprika.
10. Broil macaroni and cheese for 3-8 minutes or until the Parmesan topping begins to bubble. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

This recipe is great to just lighten up and healthify regular mac and cheese, but it’s also great for kids! You can sneak this white bean puree into their favorite dish and they won’t even know it’s there! Instant fiber, protein and vitamins–and they’re not the wiser! Ha!

This is also a great no-bake cheat to still create that baked macaroni and cheese flavor.  The Parmesan topping gets nice and crispy while the pasta inside stays super creamy and cheesy. I’ve never made a baked-style mac and cheese before–I’ve always made it with a cheese sauce and let it be, like a homemade version of the boxed stuff. But this time around, I wanted to try that baked casserole-style without actually baking it. Broiling it for a few minutes was a quick way to achieve that without actually sitting around and waiting for it to bake. (Cause I’m hungry!) And you know what? Yes, the burned garlic was a bit overwhelming. But with the crispy cheese topping and the ooey-gooey inside, this was still pretty darn delicious! Nothing beats a good mac and cheese, and the addition of white beans and skim milk instead of whole milk or cream makes this (almost) guilt-free!

Making something out of nothing

I mentioned last week that I’ve been sustaining myself on frozen food and Kind bars because I was too busy to cook, let alone go grocery shopping. Well, the other night I still had not gone grocery shopping, but I was hungry and I wanted to cook something resembling real food. So I raided my freezer and my pantry to pull together whatever I could find, and the results were not half bad. (Pretty tasty, actually!)

What I found:

A box of elbow macaroni
A bag of frozen spinach
Frozen green beans
Frozen ham steaks
Italian cheese/pizza cheese blend
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh garlic
Fresh ground pepper
Red pepper flakes

My mom ended up coming home early, so in addition to my regular pasta, I boiled up some brown rice pasta for her (she has Celiac disease, so she has a gluten intolerance.)

First, get some water boiling with a bit of olive oil in it. While the water boiled, I thawed out the ham. It’s even better if you have non-frozen ham.
Cube the ham (I used one large ham steak) and sautee in a pan. Add frozen green beans to the pan and let it all cook together.
Once the water boils, toss in as much pasta as you’d like, let cook to a nice al dente and drain.
Thaw or steam the spinach and drain to get rid of the excess water (there will be a lot.) Add to the pan with the ham and green beans.
Mince one small clove of garlic and add to the pan. Add plenty of fresh ground pepper and a small palmful of crushed red pepper flakes to add just a bit of heat.
Once the spinach cooks down, add some olive oil to the pan–just a drizzle.
Put pasta into bowls, followed by the ham and spinach mixture. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil (mine’s closer to a pour than a drizzle) and top with the cheese. Heat in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese, if necessary.

Finished product

Finished prodcut 3

Finished product 2

And the best part--leftovers! Made a great lunch at work the next day.

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