Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “Tomato”

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.

So. Much. Produce.

My fridge has been lacking in the produce lately, so I was very glad when I had a half day at work last week and Kevin and I could hit the farmer’s markets. He only needed to get corn for dinner that night, but I walked away with a far more impressive haul:

We made our rounds. We started at Sickle’s Market, a part garden center, part farmer’s market and part general store. It’s a year-round place, with the majority of the produce and groceries indoors, but the quality and selection is more akin to a good farmer’s market than a supermarket.

Anyway, everywhere I turned I found something else I had to have. It’s a miracle I only walked away with what I did.

I ended up walking away with a bunch of kale (meant to make kale chips, but that didn’t go quite as planned–more on that later), five nectarines, a quart of Jersey-fresh blueberries and half a watermelon. There was also an almond croissant in there that didn’t make it through the car ride home. (Don’t judge.)

We also hit a small, local produce stand, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s, where I grabbed a couple of avocados so I could make more of this before leaving on vacation.

Over the weekend, I also got a goody bag of home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers from a friend of mine. She’s been growing them in her yard and had more than she knew what to do with, so I gladly volunteered to take some of that pesky produce off her hands. Then I realized I don’t know what to do with five tomatoes and four cucumbers either. So I’ve been eating a lot of tomato, mozzarella and basil salad and drinking tons of cucumber-lemon water. I’m not complaining.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Kevin did get the fresh Jersey corn he was looking for–and it was delicious! It was so sweet it didn’t even need butter. Just boiled with some salt, and I could’ve eaten all six ears! Also, I forgot how much fun it can be to shuck corn. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Speaking of vacation, (I spoke of it somewhere, I’m sure…) I’m getting pretty stoked to go to Disney World in two days! (Yup, I’m a child. Whatever. Happiest place on Earth, man.) Anyway, I’ve been compiling a list of certain things I want to try to do while I’m down there this time around. It’s a little lopsided though:

Yup, my Things I want to eat list is far longer than my Things I want to do list, especially since some of the things I want to do a really food-related anyway. Really, though, is anyone even surprised? I’ll be lucky if they’re not rolling me out of the parks. The saddest part is there is literally, like, one healthy thing on that food list, and that’s the AK egg roll stand (really!) because I want to go there for their veggie spring rolls, Asian noodle salad and fruit salad.

What? I’m on vacation. Don’t judge.

Well, not quite yet. Right now, I’m still at work, eating avocado-black bean salsa and wishing I was already in sunny Florida. (New Jersey’s a bit cloudy today…)

Expect some fun, Disney-themed posts in the coming weeks!

Avocado-Black bean salsa

It’s August, which means there’s still a month or so of summer left (almost two, technically) and still plenty of grilling and barbecue opportunities. Also, it means we’re coming into the hottest days of the year, and hot, heavy food just doesn’t always sound so appealing. Sometimes, in the East Coast heat, I just want a cool and refreshing snack or light meal that will leave me satisfied but not weighed down. And that, folks, is how I got my avocado-black bean salsa.

I made this stuff on a whim one night after I bought ripe Haas avocados and some canned black beans. Served with some super-addictive Trader Joe’s plantain chips, I couldn’t put this stuff down! I ate it for dinner, a late-night snack AND lunch the next day!

It’s the perfect summer snack and an awesome side dish to bring to your next barbecue–a fun and nutritious way to mix it up from regular salsa or mayo-laden picnic salads.

Seriously, make this salsa and you’ll never want to stop! It will become a staple for your summer, for sure!

One thing I’d like to note: I always look for no salt added canned beans–they’re much more convenient than dried beans, but canned beans are notorious for their sodium content. Rienzi sells all sorts of no salt added beans, which I love, so my pantry’s stocked with black beans, cannellini (white) beans and chickpeas. I still rinse the beans, though, to get off any extra salt and to improve the texture (they’re still canned in liquid, so they are a little slimy otherwise.) By rinsing them, it also allows me to almost completely control the amount of salt that goes into my food.

Avocado-black bean salsa

2 small or 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
1-15.5 ounce can of no salt added black beans, rinsed (I buy Rienzi brand) or soaked and cooked black beans
1 tomato, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, diced
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Mix the first five ingredients together, being careful not to overly mash the avocado. Mix in lime juice, and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  Serve with veggies, tortilla chips, plantain chips or use as a topping for, well, anything you want! (This would go great over salad greens, steak, grilled chicken, burgers, you name it!)

This is so fast and so easy, and it brings a bounty of veggies and a healthy dose of protein and fiber to the party!

Happy August!

I suck. Seriously. But I’ll try making it up with a hummus salad.

I suck.  I mean, I really, really, suck.  It’s been almost two weeks and I haven’t written, haven’t cooked, haven’t gone out to a great new restaurant. Rather, I’ve been taking way too long to adapt to a new (albeit, temporary) schedule, since I’ve decided to try my hand at theater again while still working and writing. It’s clearly not going so well. Most of my weekdays involve getting to work by 8, home between 5 and 5:30, then at rehearsal by 7. That leaves me a very small window to eat, change and run whatever necessary errands I have.

There has certainly been one change for the good. For the past 10 months, I’ve been a waitress. When I went back to work, I became a part-time waitress. But even that once-a-week shift typically took up my entire Saturday. Well, I’m no longer a waitress, so, thankfully, my metaphorical plate is a little less full now.

Why is this good news? (Besides the obvious salvaging of my sanity?) Because now I will have at least part, if not all, of my Saturdays free to cook, eat and blog! Because clearly, that needs to be a priority again.

Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I can devote some more weekly prep time, so hopefully my meals don’t end up being Lean Cuisines, convenience store sandwiches and coffee shop breakfasts. (Seriously, health aside, it’s not good on the wallet. And I’m out a job here.)

All that being said, I’ll make it up to, at least a little bit, right here and now, with a banked “recipe” (if you can even call it that) that I’ve been putting off posting.

It’s such a quick lunch or dinner, a super-healthy salad with an unconventional dressing you’ve probably never thought of: hummus.

Say what?

No, really. This salad was actually inspired by a favorite sandwich of mine. Anyone who’s read this blog or follows me on Twitter or Facebook has heard me mention the Twisted Tree Cafe, a vegetarian/vegan eatery two doors down from my office. This place makes even a meat-eater like me want to go veg. And they have this sandwich that I am just a sucker for called, simply, the hummus sandwich.

It’s pretty much just what it sounds like. Roasted red pepper hummus topped with tons of fresh veggies–spring mix greens, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, onion and avocado all on their homemade bread. Let me tell you, that bread really makes it. That stuff is just the best.

The first time I had this sandwich it totally changed my way of thinking–I had never thought to use hummus as the base of a sandwich before. I’ve used it as a condiment and spread plenty of times, but to actually make it the star of the sandwich? Preposterous! Or so I thought. Crazy in theory, perhaps, but genius in execution.

So, to wrap up a long story, I was craving some of this hummus-y goodness at home one day, but I knew my silly store-bought bread wouldn’t live up, so I wasn’t really feeling a sandwich. But I figured I could get all the key components of this in a salad, and I just went grocery shopping, so I had tons of fresh veggies lying around.

My salad’s not identical to the sandwich, and your salad won’t be identical to mine–I used what I had, and it was delicious.

(On closer inspection of their menu, I see they also offer hummus over their big garden salad. See? Not so crazy after all!)

Hummus Salad

Romaine lettuce leaves, torn or chopped
Bibb lettuce leaves, torn or chopped
Cubed tomato, seeds scooped out
Chopped avocado
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Arugula
Chopped flat-leaf parsley
Roasted red pepper hummus (if you make this yourself, awesome! If not, like me, use a store-bought one. I promise I won’t tell.)

Combine all the veggies together in a bowl (after rinsing and drying well, of course) and in place of salad dressing, top with a heaping tablespoon or two of hummus.

That’s it. Really. So fast, so healthy, so yummy! And the hummus offers a great burst of protein that you’ll never get from regular salad dressing. Of course, you don’t have to use roasted red pepper-flavored hummus either. You can use plain hummus, or any flavor you like. I’m thinking sundried tomato, garlic or spinach-artichoke would be fantastic too! (And yes, all of those flavors exist. I highly recommend the spinach-artichoke! Like a way healthier version of the dip! Yum!)

I hope this redeems me at least a little. Now that I have some more time on my hands (and a holiday coming up! Memorial Day!) hopefully I’ll have a slew of new things coming your way.

My very first “What I Ate Wednesday” (Bridal Shower edition!)

Yesterday was a sick day for me, and I worked from home. So I expected to hit you with a double-whammy of recipe posts. But instead, I ended up sleeping most of the time I wasn’t working or feeling like I was dying, so, alas, no recipe posts. I’ll get them to you later this week. In the meantime, I’m jumping on the train of something I first saw on the Lean Green Bean blog: “What I Ate Wednesdays.” It’s just what it sounds like–every Wednesday, you chronicle what you ate for one day, one week, one trip, whatever. And today, I’m joining the WIAW club.

While I first saw this on the Lean Green Bean, it’s actually hosted by Jen over at Peas and Crayons, so a big thank you to her for hosting! (Check out lots of great WIAW posts here, too!) And so, on with my first What I Ate Wednesday. For my first post, I’m not just following any old day of eating–this is a WIAW Bridal Shower edition!

I attended a friend’s bridal shower on Sunday, and there was no lack of yummy homemade food and drinks. So, naturally, I had some of everything! But before I could get to that, I had to start of the day with a good breakfast. I really wanted cereal, but I was almost out of everything, so I ended up with a mixed bowl of Kashi Autumn Wheat, Kashi GoLean Crunch (Honey Almond) and some muesli from the Wegman’s bulk bins. I topped that all off with some chopped strawberries and finished up with a glass of Simply Orange-Mango juice. (Even better than regular orange juice!)Then, the bridal shower! We had lots of little snacks and hors d’oeuvres, like pita chips and hummus, bruschetta, chips and such. There was also a little bar set up with both regular and grown-up (ahem, spiked) lemonade, wine and fun Italian sodas. Then, for lunch, a great spread of finger sandwiches (ham and cheese and cucumber and cream cheese), curry chicken salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad and a big Italian salad with grape tomatoes and mozzarella.Of course, some seconds were had. (And a few cocktails!)

Then there were the desserts! A tray of assorted Italian cookies (my favorite!), along with homemade funfetti-dipped strawberries (yes, you heard that right–funfetti strawberries! They were dipped in white chocolate with the funfetti sprinkles in it), colorful cupcakes with hearts and fruit. Unfortunately, the desserts were snatched up too quickly for me to get a picture! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate-covered strawberries, so I had to try one of the funfetti variety (even though I’m not a big funfetti fan.) I also had a cupcake–chocolate, how could I not??–and WAY too many cookies. (Lesson learned: don’t sit down right next to the cookie tray. Ever.)

All that eating really did me in, and I ended up having half a cup of coffee for dinner. No joke. I was pretty much full for the rest of the night.

Well, there you have it–my first foray into WIAW! Hopefully I’ll remember to keep this up! And keep your eyes peeled for that double-whammy of recipes coming sometime this week!

The Great Leftover Challenge: Take One

A blog I follow regularly, Danny’s Kitchen, posted a rather fun and interesting challenge that he is calling “The Great Leftover Challenge.”  The rules of the game are:

  • Start with a leftover ingredient in your fridge, freezer or pantry.
  • Create something new that you’ve never made before.
  • Don’t use a recipe, be creative and just “wing it” at that moment.
  • It can be for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack and any serving size.
  • It can be savory and/or sweet.
  • Everyone is welcome so spread the word!

Well, how could I not try that? So, I scrounged around in my fridge and discovered the base for my first leftover challenge attempt: Mom’s meatloaf. I’ll tell you, it looks a little gross (cause leftover loaves of cold ground meat often do), but my mother’s meatloaf is probably second only to my own (I’m very, very proud of my meatloaf!) So this makes for a pretty delicious leftover.

Mmm, yummy!

I looked at this meatloaf and decided to attempt a soup/sauce/chili-like concoction. So I dug through my fridge, shelves and pantry to gather up these ingredients:

The ingredients for today's challenge

I started by sweating a little bit of red onion and a garlic clove in a splash of

Sweat it out (garlic and onions, that is).

extra virgin olive oil and then added some frozen broccoli and cauliflower that had been relegated to the bottom of my freezer. Once the veggies thawed out, I chopped up the meatloaf and added it to the pan with some more olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Next, I added the liquids: tomato soup (pre-made, yes, but the idea here was to use only leftovers or things

Added the liquid--tomato sauce and white wine

I already had on hand) and a (generous) splash of white wine, plus some more seasoning. Cook until everything heats through, simmering for a few minutes–also let it simmer to keep it warm/reheat it. I also had some leftover brown and basmati rice, so I mixed those together to serve the sauce/chili-like mixture over.

It came out looking pretty…mushy. And brown. It tasted good, but I don’t think I’ll be submitting this one to the contest. It just kind of looks, well…gross.  I think I was wrong to attempt to make meatloaf into something besides what it is–there are some things you just don’t mess with, and Mom’s meatloaf might be on that list. (Along with the leftover coq au vin in my fridge–that’s pretty much meant to be eaten straight.)

It kind of looks like chili, but kind of tasted like meat sauce. You know, meat sauce with meatloaf in it.

Not a bad quick meal, but not what I’d call a kitchen success either. Hence, this was leftover challenge take one. Must keep trying!

By the way, head to Danny’s blog to enter the Great Leftover Challenge yourself if you think you can whip up a mean leftover dish!

Brunch at Porta

I wrote a post in late February praising Porta Pizza in Asbury Park, but I mentioned that they did much more than just dinner–including weekend brunch.  Well, keeping true to my promise, I checked out their brunch on a cold, drizzly, early Spring Saturday, and I wasn’t disappointed!

I met up with a friend of mine, Carolyn, for what seems to be becoming our semi-monthly (or six-monthly, as the case may be) meetup. And as much as I’ve been waiting to try brunch at Porta, funnily enough, it was her suggestion. (Great minds think alike, I suppose.)  So, this past weekend, we headed to Asbury Park in the rain and the cold to meet up for what turned out to be a spectacular brunch.

Porta serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Not wanting to be late to the party, Carolyn and I arrived just after 11:30.  I was expecting the place to be packed, but maybe because it’s still relatively unknown, or maybe because the weather was exceptionally atrocious, we were the only two people in the restaurant. People began to trickle in once we were settled in with our cappuccinos, but we seemed to constitute the entire “early” crowd. (By the way–good, big, inviting cappuccinos–and this is coming from someone who can make a cappuccino!)

Porta’s brunch menu is unique and varied, with a mix of their usuals and brunch-only options. They offer sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch, ranging from pizza and salads to french toast and fritattas.

We agreed that the best and only way to do this brunch was to try multiple things and share them.

Luckily, we have similar palates so this did not prove too much of a challenge. We started with a house-cured salmon appetizer with crostinis, marscapone cheese and chervil.

As you can see, I couldn't wait long enough to get a picture before I dug in.

I’m a Jewish girl, New Jersey-born and raised. Lox and cream cheese is pretty much a staple in my life, and I will try almost any and all variations on it. (Lox–smoked, cured salmon–is one of the only seafood I actually like. That, shrimp and fried calamari.)

This one was so good I’m afraid I’ll never be able to eat a regular bagel with lox and cream cheese again.  My first thought when the plate arrived was, “I wish they gave us some lemon to squeeze over the fish.” But as soon as I tasted it, I realized it was already there. The salmon was finished with lemon, olive oil and garlic, and the spicy-citrusy taste was bright and abundant. With the smooth, luscious marscapone and crispy-chewey crosinis, I was in a Jewish-Italian heaven.  I could have ordered three plates of that alone and been perfectly content.

Well, almost…we also ordered lemon-ricotta pancakes which were the lightest, fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever seen. As Carolyn put it, “much more cake than pan.” They were served over ricotta cheese with a vanilla brown butter syrup and macerated plums.  I didn’t expect a big punch of lemon, since in a pancake or similar baked good, the lemon flavor is typically subtle and underlying. But these pancakes packed a lemon punch! The lemon flavor was intense, but not fake, and most definitely a pleasant surprise for a lemon-lover like me.  And, I need to find out how to make such fluffy pancakes.

It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!!!

We had decided we were also going to try their butternut squash pizza, which neither of us had ever seen on the dinner menu, and sounded like quite the savory-sweet experience.  When the waitress informed us they were all out, Carolyn and I looked at each other like sad children for a moment before settling on the roasted tomato fritatta with smoked mozzarella instead.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of cooked tomatoes, but they weren’t overpoweringly sweet in this dish.  The arugula served over the fritatta helped too, I’m sure, as did the homemade focaccia that came on the side.  We sat close to the pizza ovens that are out in the open, and I watched the chef make our focaccia bread–the smell was intoxicating to this starving girl, and it looked so yummy! The fritatta was tasty, but ended up overshadowed by the salmon and the pancakes–it’s the only dish we didn’t finish. (Really, we were just too full–and too focused on our pancakes.)

Fritatta with that wonderful-smelling focaccia that made me so hungry!

So, that’s two down for Porta, and I would recommend their brunch to anyone.  I actually really want to take my mom since a lot of their brunch options are seemingly gluten-free, like the fritattas and other egg-inclusive dishes (braised Beluga lentils with quail eggs, for instance.) Even the salmon appetizer–the crostinis tasted great, but they’re really just a vessel for carrying the cheese and the salmon.  They’re not a necessity.  Carolyn ate some of the leftover salmon and cheese once the bread ran out and she agreed, she didn’t miss them.

OK, so next up, I guess I will have to check out Porta’s nightlife.  Or gluten-free pizza Tuesdays.  Or spaghetti and meatballs Sundays. Or… the list goes on.  All I know is I want to go back to Porta over and over again.

Ingredients game: Guess that recipe

OK, let’s play a game. Based on the photo below, can you guess what I’m making?

Red onion, tomato, minced garlic, basil

*****************************************************************************************************ANSWER BELOW*****************************************************************************

If you guessed bruschetta, good work!  You win…the knowledge and satisfaction that you know what those four simple ingredients can make!  Sunday night was bruschetta night in my house, since it was simple, quick, tasty and nutritious.  The longest part of this recipe is all the prep–chopping onion, garlic, basil and tomatoes. (Hint: a garlic press really helps cut down on time. Seriously, I’ll never stop espousing the virtues of the garlic press.)  Anyway, once all the prep work’s done, it really takes only a minute or two to put everything together.

Bruschetta

2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded
1 ring chopped red onion (this is a very strong flavor, so feel free to use less–honestly, if it was up to me I would’ve used very little, but Kevin had some say in this too, and he loves red onion)
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic (again, a personal palate thing–I used closer to 2 teaspoons but regretted it later; it ended up being a very strong garlic flavor and overwhelming aftertaste)
Handful chopped fresh basil
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Chop tomatoes, onions and basil and transfer into a medium mixing bowl. Mince or press garlic and add to the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Mix to incorporate all the ingredients well. Serve with crostinis. (See below)

If you choose to serve the bruschetta as a traditional appetizer with crostinis, then you need some nice toasty bread.  We bought some pre-sliced saloio bread from the supermarket (this was about speed and convenience–and of course, flavor), which has a nice crusty, Italian bread flavor mixed with a sourdough. Any crusty white bread, thinly sliced, will do. To make the crostinis, arrange a single layer of bread slices on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. Place under the broiler for one to two minutes on each side or just until golden brown and crispy.

Before broiling: arrange on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil

After broiling, golden brown. Make sure you flip and broil both sides

Pile the bruschetta on the hot, crispy crostini and enjoy! Drizzle with a little more olive oil, if desired.

The finished product--yum! But a bit spicy. (Go easy on the garlic and onion if you're spice-sensitive like me)

UPDATE:  We had leftover bruschetta after dinner, so I mixed it into some brown rice and quinoa and added some chopped rotisserie chicken–instant delicious, healthy lunch for work! (Sometimes I wish I could do a whole post on leftovers!)

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