Project Food Blog Cook-Off

Open-Faced Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches

I was flipping through a Bon Appetit the other day and saw Mario Batali’s recipe for Chicken Parmesan. All that melted cheese and sauce and fresh herbs. Mmmmm. I like Chicken Parm just fine, but I’m really more of an eggplant girl. I do have an Eggplant Parm recipe I adore, but I wanted to mix it up a little. Since I was craving a sandwich, I thought of topping thick, crusty bread with roasted eggplant slices, cheese, and fresh herbs, but I really wanted that gooey combination of fresh mozzarella, sharp Parmesan, and marinara sauce. Why not throw them all on a slice of bread, and eat it open-faced, I thought?

I had big plans for how to prepare the eggplant. I was going to coat the slices in egg, dredge them in flour, and bread crumbs, and bake them (which I how I make my Eggplant Parmesan), but Monday night rolled around, and I’d worked a long day and dealt with too many annoying issues, and I just didn’t want the complication or goopy fingers. So, I took the easy way out and baked the eggplant slices sans bread crumb mixture. I’m glad I did. I think it would have been too much with the sandwich concept. Maybe when I’m looking for an exceptionally hearty meal, I’ll try it that way. Until then, I’ll stick with this recipe, which is mighty tasty and low-key.

Open-Faced Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
Parmesan cheese
fresh basil
marinara sauce
a loaf of thick, crusty bread
fresh ground black pepper (optional)

Guidelines:

Slice the eggplant into ½” thick slices. Working in layers, place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle each layer with salt. Place a heavy bowl on top of the slices and let the eggplant sweat for 30 minutes. The salt helps break down the cell walls and remove the bitter flavor.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Coat a large baking sheet with a light layer of oil. Place your eggplant slices in a single layer on the baking sheet. Using a paper towel, pat the slices dry. This will also help remove excess salt. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the slices reach the texture you like. I like mine melty, but if you prefer yours firmer, take them out early. Flip the slices halfway through baking.

While the eggplant is baking, heat your marinara sauce. You can, of course, make your own, but I tend to use Trader Joe’s Organic Marinara for nights when I’m too tired to bother.

Slice your bread and lightly toast it.

Slice your fresh mozzarella.

Grate your Parmesan cheese.

Mince a handful of fresh basil.

To assemble the sandwiches, place however many slices of bread you desire on an OVEN-PROOF plate. Top with eggplant, a heap of grated Parmesan cheese, plenty of sauce, and a slice of mozzarella. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted to your satisfaction. Remove from oven, let cool briefly, top with fresh basil and fresh ground black pepper (optional).

Serve. Warn your dinner companions of a hot plate!

Chai Spiced Banana Muffins with Pistachios

I like to buy bananas for snacks, but my husband and I only like them when they’re green. Once they get a few spots of brown, it’s all over. So, I’m often left with two or three overripe bananas left in the fruit bowl at the end of the week. And I always try my hardest to do something with this sickly sweet things. It’s easy to run out of fresh ideas though. I mean, really, there is only so much you can do with bananas.

I can’t even remember how I got the idea to spice up banana muffins with a chai infusion. In any event, I went through several different trial runs before deciding the recipe below was the best one. I could really taste the chai spices, but they didn’t overwhelm the banana, and vice versa. As for the pistachios, they are very mild, but once in a while, you get this jolt of pistachio taste which is wonderful. You can certainly use the traditional walnuts, or pecans or hazelnuts for that matter, if you don’t have pistachios.

The core of this recipe was borrowed from Better Homes and Gardens. I tried Joy’s, too, but the chai spice got lost in that batch.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. cardamom
¼ tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. black pepper
½ cup milk
1 black tea bag
1/3 cup cooking oil
2 large bananas, mashed
1/3 cup pistachios, chopped

Guidelines:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a small saucepan, or in the microwave, heat the milk until warm but not scalding. Add the tea bag and let steep until the milk is a creamy brown color.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, and black pepper. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.

In the center of the well, beat the egg. Add the oil and the tea infused milk. Stir all ingredients together until just moistened. Batter should be slightly lumpy.

Gently fold in the mashed bananas and pistachios. I like to leave my bananas on the chunky side, so I don’t mash mine until they look like puree, but however you like them is fine.

Grease muffin cups or line with paper baking cups. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool briefly, then remove muffins from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Adjust recipe for high altitude cooking.

Super Simple Sundried Tomato Pasta Sauce

I love the flavor of sundried tomatoes. They’re slightly sweet with a bit of tang, and they add a lot of character to regular old marinara sauce. This recipe is super simple. Seriously. At its core, it only contains five ingredients. You can always add to the core recipe, and I usually do, but it’s delicious without any extras as well. Use this sauce over any pasta dish–spaghetti and meatballs, veggie lasagna, sweet sausage and mushroom penne, anything! I usually add some form of garlic to the sauce. I prefer whole roasted garlic cloves, but in a pinch, garlic powder will do. For those who don’t care for garlic, simply leave it out. If eggplant will be used in the pasta dish, I like to add some fresh thyme or rosemary. Marjoram is a great herb in tomato based sauces, as well. Use your imagination and add to it the flavors you like!

Tomato Pasta Sauce

Core Ingredients:

1 28oz. can of whole plum tomatoes (I buy them from Trader Joes)
1 package of sundried tomatoes
1 tbsp. dried basil
several tablespoons of olive oil
black pepper

Optional Ingredients:

Whole roasted garlic cloves or garlic powder, fresh thyme, rosemary, marjoram

Guidelines:

In a blender, combine the whole plum tomatoes, ¾ package of sundried tomatoes, dried basil, and the olive oil. Blend until mostly smooth, but not entirely.

Place the contents of the blender in a pot along with the remainder of the sundried tomatoes (chop if they are whole) and the black pepper. Heat over medium-low heat and keep warm until the pasta dish is ready.

How-to Roast Garlic

Roasted garlic is one of the most delicious flavors ever. Ever! It doesn’t at all resemble the strong, pungent taste of raw or even sautéed garlic. It’s smooth and creamy and utterly delectable. It’s so good, you could eat the roasted cloves whole and alone, if you wanted to. But I usually use them in pasta dishes, or as a pizza topping.

It takes a bit of time to roast garlic, but the prep time is fairly minimal. The oven does the rest. Give it a try. Follow these step-by-step instructions, and in 40-45 minutes, you’ll have an entire head of melty, delicious roasted garlic to use however you want.

Roast Garlic

Ingredients:

1 head garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper
a couple tablespoons water

Guidelines:

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Step 2: Remove the outer paper layer of the garlic head, without peeling off the protective covering over the individual cloves.

 

Step 3: Place the head of garlic in a small dish (I like to use a ramekin).

Step 4: Drizzle the garlic with a bit of olive oil (about a tsp.) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Step 5: Place a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of the dish.

 

Step 6: Cover tightly with foil.

Step 7: Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a fork inserted into a clove slides easily in.

Step 8: Let cool for 5-10 minutes, or until you can easily handle the cloves.

Step 9: Tear the garlic into individual cloves, and squeeze the cloves out of their protective coverings.

 

Step 10: Enjoy!

Green Chile Chicken Posole

Posole is a type of corn soaked in powdered lime and water. Hominy is often used in its stead, as traditional posole is not generally commercially available. Hominy is softer and milder than true posole, but is perfectly acceptable in this dish. Many people prepare posole stew with pork. Other common ingredients include cabbage, radishes, beans, and squash. I make posole the way my dad taught me—with large chunks of chicken, plenty of green chiles, and some jalapenos to spice it up. I also use a can of fire roasted diced tomatoes to add some color to the dish, though my dad has taken that element out of his recipe. He’s also started buying packages of Bueno frozen green chiles, one mild and one hot, instead of canned. As I live in the Pacific Northwest, I’m stuck with canned, and even those (because I buy 28 oz. cans) have to be purchased in the Southwest and hauled back to Washington state. I buy Hatch, which come from southern New Mexico, a region and town well-known for its green chiles and annual festival. But any canned green chiles will do. I’ve never made posole with fresh green chiles because it would take far too many, and I refuse to roast, de-seed, and chop for hours on end! Feel free to try it, however. The only thing I insist, is that you cut the chicken into LARGE chunks!! It’s not the same with small cubes of meat floating around!

Note: If you don’t like your food spicy, omit the jalapenos, or use a smaller amount.

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken, cut into large chunks
1 large onion, diced
1 28 oz. can diced green chiles
1 4-5 oz. can diced jalapenos
1 28 oz. can hominy
1 14 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
lots of Mexican oregano
1-2 tbsp. cumin
salt and pepper to taste
olive or canola oil

Optional Ingredients:

cheese
sour cream
tortillas

Guidelines:

Cube the chicken, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and brown it in a couple tablespoons of oil.

After the chicken has browned, add the diced onion and chopped garlic. Cook until the onions begin to soften.

Add cumin and oregano. Stir to combine.

Add green chiles, jalapenos, hominy, and diced tomatoes. Mix well.

Add enough water to cover, and let simmer for several hours or until the chicken begins to fall apart.

Drink Suggestions: Mexican beer, a good American microbrew pale ale, or margaritas.

Raspberry Lemonade Spritzer

This isn’t a very wintery drink, but when the sun peeked after a wind and rain storm last week, I was inspired to look forward to spring. Yeah, I know, it isn’t even technically winter yet, but a girl can dream, can’t she? So, here’s to a little looking forward to spring cheer. Sit yourself in front of a sunny window, ignore the snow, cold temperatures, dormant garden, and whatever other unpleasantries winter brings to your part, and pretend the baby birds are chirping, the bulbs are in full bloom, and new shoots of grass are green and vibrant in the warm sun.

Note: I’ve made this drink without alcohol, but if you want to spike it, I suggest using Vodka, as it doesn’t impart a lot of flavor. Mix in 2-3 ounces, depending on how big of a glass you’re using.

Note 2: I cheat and use a can of raspberry lemonade concentrate and mix it strong. You can purchase premixed, or even make your own, if you’re that ambitious!

Ingredients:

1 can raspberry lemonade concentrate, mixed strong (about 2 ½ cups of water vs. 3)

fresh lemon
fresh mint
club soda
ice

Guidelines:

Fill a tall glass halfway with ice. Add raspberry lemonade until 2/3 -3/4 full. Add club soda until nearly full. Top with a slice of fresh lemon, and a sprig of fresh mint.

Pepperoni and Fresh Garlic Pizza

We used to have the best pizza joint EVER. I say “used to” because they closed sometime last month. The family that originally owned the place, sold it to a very nice young couple last year, and at first my husband and I were hesitant to try it, but the new owners assured everyone that though they’d changed the names of the pizzas, the recipes were the same. So, we went down there and had our usual pepperoni and fresh garlic pie. Sure enough, it tasted like the same great recipe, and while we were undergoing our kitchen remodel, we spent one night a week down there eating pizza and drinking beer. We quickly became regulars. The owners knew our names. They gave us free bread sticks while we waited. Then, we started spending more time in Colorado, bought a house there, and started hoarding our money so we could eventually move. It’d been several months since we’d visited the pizza shop, and a few weeks ago, when we stopped by, a For Sale sign was in the window. We tried another joint down the street, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t even close. So, I set out to make my own Pepperoni and Fresh Garlic Pizza that tasted similar to the recipe used by our favorite departed pizza place. I’m still working on it, but this recipe is close.

Pepperoni and Fresh Garlic Pizza

Ingredients:

I’m not listing quantity here. That will depend on the size and number of pizzas you want, and how you like them topped. I make one recipe of pizza dough, which gives me two large pizzas. (I like Julie Jams’ pizza dough recipe, but feel free to make your favorite, or purchase pizza dough.) For two large pizzas, I buy 6-8 ounces of pepperoni, 12-16 ounces of mozzarella cheese, and a 28 ounce can of Trader Joes Marinara Sauce, though I never use that much sauce for the pizzas. You could probably get away with a small can of your favorite. Adjust your quantities accordingly.

pizza dough (homemade, or purchase unbaked dough)
quality pepperoni
mozzarella cheese
chopped fresh garlic (I buy a jar. It saves lots of time!)
marinara sauce
smoked paprika
quality course sea salt
olive oil

Guidelines:

Make your pizza dough early in the day so it has time to rise.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Shape your pizza dough into the desired size. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a quality course sea salt. Bake for 5-8 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown just a tinge. Remove from oven.

To make the sauce, heat the marinara with about ½ tsp. of smoked paprika and a tsp. of chopped garlic. When warm, spread on pizza dough.

Sprinkle a light layer of mozzarella over the sauce.

Top with pepperoni, more chopped garlic, and the rest of the cheese.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.

Let cool slightly before cutting.

Farmhouse Salad

I call this “Farmhouse Salad” because I used an aged Farmhouse White Cheddar Cheese to make the cheese sticks that top the dish. Also, I think the word “farmhouse” somehow conjures a feeling of coziness and comfort, and this salad definitely lives up to that. The warm, gooey cheese sticks, sautéed apples, toasted pecans, and honey mustard vinaigrette are comfy, homey foods for those cool fall and winter days.

I made this salad as a light main dish. If you need a more substantial dinner with plenty of protein, however, it would make a great side salad. Pair it with roasted chicken or pork tenderloin, perhaps a loaf of country bread on the side, and you’d have a great, full meal.

Farmhouse Salad

Ingredients:

(Note: These portions are for two light meal main dish salads. Adjust the ingredients as necessary to fit your purpose and portions. )

spring greens (two full plates)
1 apple, cored and sliced
½ cup pecans
3 thick (about ¾”) slices of aged White Cheddar Cheese
1-2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs
several cups of canola oil for frying
a pat of butter

Dressing Ingredients:

(Note: The amounts you see below are only approximates. I rarely measure. Apologies!)

¼ cup hazelnut or walnut oil
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
1-2 tbsp. brown mustard
1-2 tbsp. honey
a couple sprigs of fresh thyme

Guidelines:

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the salad, then give a final vigorous whisk before serving.

In a small sauté pan, heat enough canola oil to fry the cheese sticks.

In three separate pans (I use pie pans), place the bread crumbs, flour, and eggs. Beat the eggs well. Cut your cheese into thick slices (about 3/4 of an inch), then cut them in half length-wise, and width-wise, if you choose. Dip the cheese sticks first in flour, then in the eggs, then in the bread crumbs. Fry until crisp. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain.

In the meantime, slice and core your apple. Sauté the slices in a pat of butter until just softening. You can add the pecans to the apples at this point, and let them heat through, or toast them separately.

To assemble the salad, place a healthy serving of spring greens on your plate. Arrange the apple slices around the perimeter, sprinkle the pecans over everything, and drizzle with dressing. Don’t toss. Mound the cheese sticks in the center and serve.

Veggie “Patty” Melts

I don’t eat red meat, but I love the idea of patty melts. Okay, I don’t dig rye bread or pickles, either. So, what do I love about patty melts? It must be the name. That, and the melted, gooey cheese. Mmmm. Anyway, while watching someone on the telly make patty melts one night, I thought to myself: I’m going to make veggie “patty” melts next week. In lieu of beef patties, I used hearty eggplant and mushrooms to give the sandwich a “meaty” feel. Red peppers, plenty of caramelized onions, and a nice sharp, white cheddar cheese rounded out the veggie melt. If you prefer the more traditional Swiss cheese, you’re welcome to use that, however. And since I’m not a rye fan, I opted for sourdough, but you can use any bread you like. My husband, a big meat eater, loved this sandwich, so hopefully it will please your picky eater, too.

Veggie Patty Melts

Ingredients:

2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 med. eggplant, sliced medium thick
1 red pepper, sliced
1 package Crimini or white mushrooms, or about 12 count; sliced
sharp white cheddar cheese
sourdough bread
olive oil
salt and pepper

Guidelines:

“Sweat” your eggplant. To “sweat” eggplant, slice into desired thickness, layer slices in a colander, salting each layer, and place a heavy bowl over the top. Let drain for about half an hour. Pat dry each slice as you place it in your roasting pan. This will help remove extra moisture and salt.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place your eggplant slices in a single layer in a roasting pan or baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast, turning every 10-15 minutes until soft. Depending on thickness, this takes about 40-50 minutes.

In the meantime, caramelize your onions. Thinly slice two large onions, and place them in a pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Cook until softened, reduce heat, and cook until they are deeply brown. This will take about 40-50 minutes as well.

About 10 minutes before your eggplant and onions are done, sauté the mushrooms and red pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the cheese, place on bread, and place in toaster oven or under a broiler until cheese is bubbly and bread is toasty brown.

Heap plenty of eggplant, onions, red pepper, and mushrooms onto a bread slice and top with another bread slice.

Sesame Pasta Salad

I’ve been fooling around with this recipe for a while now, trying different vinegars, oils, sweeteners, vegetables, and processes. At one point, I even made a version with roasted tomatoes and asparagus, with prosciutto. But nah. The cold, crisp, raw veggies are what I prefer. And now I finally have a version I’m happy with! This is a great salad for picnics, potlucks, light meals, lunches, and snacks. One pound of pasta makes a big batch, and if you’re only feeding two people like I am, it goes a long way. Thankfully, this makes great leftovers! If you’re feeding a large crowd, you may want to double the recipe. Feel free to substitute your own favorite vegetables. So far, the grape tomato, snap pea, and yellow pepper combo is my favorite. I’ve tried cherry tomatoes, green beans, red pepper, orange pepper, carrots, the roasted veggies and prosciutto I mentioned above, and probably a few more. None of them worked for me. But this version has great flavor, color, and texture. The recipe is extremely flexible, however, so mix and match and adjust as you see fit.

Sesame Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. sugar
1 lb. bowtie pasta
1 crate grape tomatoes
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 ½ cups snap peas, halved
¼ cup sesame seeds

Guidelines:

Cook pasta according to package directions. You want your pasta to be al dente, however, so you may have to pull it off the stove and drain it just shy of the time it lists.

In a medium bowl, combine olive oil, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and sesame seeds. Mix well.

In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the sauce. Add vegetables and toss again.

Note: The pasta and vegetables should be thoroughly coated in the sauce. If your dish it too dry, mix up a half batch of sauce and add to the dish until it’s, well, saucy.