Monday, February 27, 2012

Lightened Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant was on sale at the grocery store this week, and I made the mistake of shopping while hungry. Fortunately, I limited my impulse buys to the fruit and veggie area, but I still came home with a lovely purple eggplant.

I wasn't entirely sure what I would do with said eggplant, but I watched The Chew a week or two ago where one of the features was eggplant parmesan. I remembered this particular episode because they talked about how eggplant is in the nightshade family, which was a trivia clue later that week at our local trivia spot; yay for daytime television! Thus, pondering my eggplant, I decided the natural thing to do would be to try my hand at my first-ever eggplant parm.

I don't like to fry things. I love fried food, but I hate the smell of fried oil that permeates the kitchen. My waistline doesn't particularly care for fried things either. The recipe below is my spin on a combination of these two recipes: Martha Stewart's Lighter Eggplant Parmesan and EatingWell's Eggplant Parmesan.

Lightened Eggplant Parmesan

1 large eggplant (cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds)
3 eggs
1 c. italian-style breadcrumbs
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. 2% milk
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 c. marinara sauce (I used some I had frozen from a batch a few months ago)
1/2 c. shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/2 c. shredded parmesan

Preheat oven to 450F. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork until scrambled. Combine the breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg until covered and then in the crumb-cheese mixture, and place on a greased jellyroll pan (I don't grease, but I have silicone pan-liners (which I absolutely LOVE)). Bake until lightly browned and crispy, flipping halfway through, approximately 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/4 of the milk with the flour and garlic in a saucepan until thoroughly combined. Add the rest of the milk and 1/2 of the marinara sauce and whisk until thoroughly combined. Turn the heat to medium, and cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce begins to boil. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. In this particular case, thickened meant I could see the bottom of the pan when whisking the sauce. Remove from heat.

I used a large silicone meatloaf pan, but I would imagine this would work well in an 8x8 or metal loaf pan, but be sure to grease thoroughly. Spread half of the remaining marinara (about 1/4 c.) in the bottom of your dish. Place a single layer of the baked eggplant, and top with the tomatoey béchamel. Repeat until you have filled the pan with your eggplant and sauce. Pour the remaining 1/4 c. of marinara over the top, and sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella and parmesan. Cook for approximately 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has browned, as below.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blondie Brownies

Doesn't that look amazing? I promise, it tastes even better. I love blondie brownies. Warm, chewy, almost caramely. If I kept ice cream in the house, it would have been perfect with a scoop of vanilla on top. This is a Southern Living favorite. The recipe makes a 13x9 pan, but I usually split it between a 9x9 and a pie pan so that I can freeze one of them to enjoy later. I also line my pans with aluminum foil so that they are easy to clean and easy to move to a freezer Ziploc.

Blondie Brownies

1 16-oz. package light brown sugar
3/4 c. butter (1 1/2 sticks)
3 large eggs
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Melt butter and brown sugar together in a medium size saucepan or small stockpot over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition. I mix it in the existing pot. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and mix with a spatula until smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Pour into a greased and floured (or greased and foil-lined) 13x9 pan (or multiple pans). Bake at 350F for approximately 25 minutes (less if you are using smaller pans), until the top starts to crinkle along the edges (see below) and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. They should be light golden in color.

White Chili

Please forgive the photograph. It was a late night and I had very shaky hands. That being said, this dip is amazing. As in my family will throw elbows over who gets to stand next to the pot and eat it amazing. It is a recipe from an old family friend that has become one of our family favorites. While we call it a "chili," there is nothing terribly chili-like about it. The trick is to serve it warm with tortilla chips, and I find that a fondue pot set on low works very well in terms of keeping it warm.

I made this most recent batch for an office open house, and I made it the night before, stored it in glass bowls in the fridge, and then reheated it in the fondue pot for serving the evening of. It tastes better if you serve it immediately, but it still tastes pretty amazing reheated. The proportions below should yield approximately 2 quarts, based on the size of the glass bowls I used to store it. You could easily halve the recipe (but why would you want to?).

White Chili

2 large sweet onions
4 Tbsp. butter
3 cans chopped green chiles (7 oz. cans) (Mexican aisle)
2 cans petite diced tomatoes
2 packages cream cheese (8 oz. bars) (Neufchâtel to lighten if desired)
1 1/2 c. heavy cream

Chop the onions in a food processor until they are finely diced but not liquid. Melt the butter in a dutch oven or medium stock pot, and saute the onions in butter over medium heat until they are translucent. I drain the chiles and tomatoes before adding. If you have only diced tomatoes (I can't find the no-salt-added in petite diced), use the food processor to do a quick chop so that you have smaller pieces. Once the onion is soft, add the tomatoes and chiles and cook until the tomatoes soften. Add the cream cheese and cook, stirring, until melted. Pour in the heavy cream and cook until heated through. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Half Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (a work-in-progress)

I am a pizza snob. While my parents are from Chicago, our favorite pizza is actually thin crust. We swear by Giordano's for deep dish, but what we actually spend nights dreaming about is the paper-thin crust of Nick & Vito's. My crust is a far cry from either of those, but it is a vast improvement on anything I can find around here.

My sister has been after me to start incorporating whole wheat flour into my cooking. I would highly recommend the recipe below if you are using all-purpose or bread flour. As for the whole wheat, it was good, but not great, and a little on the bitter side (although, that could just be my Wonder-Bread-trained palate), and that is why it is still a work in progress. I think the next time I make it, I will try adding a tablespoon or two of honey to the dough to see if it combats the bitterness.

The dough recipe is an adaptation of Emeril's, but I find I need far more flour than he uses. As for pizza sauce, I started with Giada's marinara sauce and tweaked it to suit my tastes. I will do a post on that once I make a fresh batch, but for pizza the other night, I just used a frozen batch from a while ago. You can also buy canned pizza sauce if you're looking for something quick and easy. With respect to toppings, use whatever you have on hand; peppers and onions happened to be already chopped in my fridge from salads and quesadillas earlier in the week. Other favorites of mine include drained, crushed pineapple or roasted garlic with caramelized onion. I usually top with a mixture of part-skim shredded mozzarella and parmesan. Fontina makes a very tasty topping as well.

Pizza Dough

1 c. warm water (about 110F, use a thermometer!)
1 package active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 to 3 1/4 c. flour (I used half whole wheat and half all-purpose this time, adjust to your preference)
Cornmeal for sprinkling

In a 2-cup glass or plastic measuring cup, mix the water, yeast, and sugar with a plastic spoon (yeast hate metal, for whatever reason, so always use glass or plastic when working with breads). Let stand about 5 minutes, until the yeast has "proofed" or turned foamy and bubbly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (metal works fine here), combine 2 1/4 cups of flour (whole wheat or a mixture), the salt, and the olive oil. Pour in the yeast mixture, and knead with a dough hook. I usually set it to 2 until the flour gets worked in, and then I move it up to about 5. You will want to knead the dough until it comes together such that it is smacking/thwapping (so techincal, I know) against the sides of the bowl and starting to pull away cleanly, about 5-7 minutes. Add flour as needed to get a smooth and elastic consistency. I usually add a 1/4 cup or so every 2 minutes and watch how it works in. If I were going to knead by hand, I would start mixing with a thick wooden spoon and adding more flour because the dough will be very wet and sticky at the beginning.

Once the dough looks smooth and elastic and pulls away from the sides (mostly) cleanly, shape it into a ball, place it into a large greased bowl, flip the dough so the greased side ends up on top, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

I cheat on rising: I put the oven to warm, let it heat up, and then place my bowl in the oven after turning it off. An alternative is to place a pan of steaming water in the rack below the rack on which the bowl will sit in a cold oven and let the dough rise in there. You are looking for a warm but not hot, draft-free space. You want to let the dough rise until it is doubled in size, which depending on temperature and draft is between 45 minutes to an hour or so.

Punch the dough down, sprinkle with flour, and divide into two halves. Pat out (I've never had much success with rolling) your pizza round to the desired shape and thickness, and place on top of sprinkled cornmeal on a baking sheet. The cornmeal is what is going to allow the bottom of the crust to crisp up. Preheat the oven to 400F while topping with sauce, toppings, and cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden. I usually wait for the cheese to brown to prevent underdone middles. Enjoy!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Butternut Squash and Sweet Onion Rotini

It's been a long week, and I was craving comfort food. I also wanted to use up the veggies in my fridge before they went bad, and I discovered butternut squash the other day hidden behind the milk. I had been thinking about how good fettucine alfredo would taste during my corporate tax class, and tonight, staring into the fridge, the two ideas melded.

Butternut Squash and Sweet Onion Rotini

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 large sweet onions, cut into medium sized strips
1 box (14.5 oz.) of Barilla Plus Rotini (you can use any, but I love this stuff)
1 Tbsp. garlic salt
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. heavy cream
Olive Oil for drizzling
Salt & pepper for sprinkling
Grated parmesan for serving

Preheat the oven to 400F. Into a jellyroll pan, spread the squash and onions in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place into oven. Roast until the squash is tender (test with a fork) and the onions are translucent, approximately 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the Rotini and the garlic salt to the water, and cook for 10 minutes, as instructed on the box. While the pasta is cooking, drizzle a little olive oil and let it heat in a saute pan. Once the pan is hot and the oil is shimmery, add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn it.

Drain the pasta. Return to the pan. When the vegetables are done, mix the garlic, squash, onion, and heavy cream together in the pan with the pasta. When serving, top with grated parmesan and pepper to taste.