Easy, Breezy, Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

I do this thing where I go to the farmer’s market, buy the most perfect, tender organic eggplant, and then they go bad and end up in my compost bin before I get to use them. Well, not this time, my friends. Oh no. I present to you the whole reason I buy these babies: Eggplant Parmesan Casserole.

I’m almost ashamed to show how easy this is. Seriously, it’s a piece of pie (pumpkin, of course)! And one of the greatest things about this recipe is you can make it with just about any amount of eggplant, sauce, or cheese you have on hand. It’s very forgiving.

Regardless, there are some ingredients you’ll need:

  • Fresh, firm organic eggplants (I used white, but you could go with any you like)
  • Bread crumbs (seasoned with granulated garlic, salt, and pepper)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • All-purpose flour
  • Your favorite organic tomato sauce (marinara, pomodoro, or whatever you like)
  • Mozzarella or provolone cheese
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese

First things first, get your breading station ready. In three different bowls, put the beaten egg, about a cup of flour, and a cup of seasoned bread crumbs.

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Preheat your oil to 375 degrees in a heavy skillet or pot. Fill the vessel just a couple of inches; it’ll be more than enough.

Next, slice your eggplant in nice, even slices. I used six small eggplants for this because my boyfriend is crazy and doesn’t like eggplant. It’s an offense punishable by breaking up. (Kidding…or am I?)

Some people like to salt them and let them drain for few minutes to draw out the bitterness, but the white ones are so sweet. I  honestly don’t even do this with the purple ones. I just skip it altogether. They’ll start browning a smidge, but it’s OK; they’ll be fine. The taste isn’t affected whatsoever.

To fry the eggplant, dredge first in flour (shake off excess), next dip in the egg, and coat in bread crumbs. This is sort of messy, I admit, but it’s well worth it. One by one, place in the oil. Do this in small batches as to not bring down the temperature of the oil by overcrowding. You want things to get nicely browned and crispy. And, for the love of all that’s good, don’t put the eggplant on paper towels to drain. Use a wire cooling rack to allow the oil to drip down. Paper towels only make things soggy. That’s not good eats. (Alton Brown’s so smart.)

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Then, in your favorite casserole dish, start layering. Think lasagna. I place a layer of fried and drained eggplant, some sauce (by the way, here is the link for my favorite sauce recipe), some grated parmesan, some shredded mozzarella, and repeat until you’re all out of ingredients. Make sure, though, whatever you do to top with sauce and cheese. Because, let’s face it, that bubbly layer of cheese is why you’re all here.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until the top is all brown, bubbly, and perfect.

Let cool for a few minutes (resist the urge to pick all the cheese off the top), slice, and eat. Finally, thank God for creating the eggplant.

Happy eating, everyone!

Oh, by the way, sorry about not having a final photo. Melted cheese is my siren song, and I forgot. I’m so weak.

Take a Cheap Vacation with this Mediterranean Potato Salad

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I reeeeeally need a vacation. Unfortunately, I won’t be taking one, at least for the near foreseeable future, and so I decided my tastebuds could at least experience a change of pace. They always have the most fun. So, for this flavor-cation, I’m going to the Mediterranean with this light, bright, organic and super tasty potato salad. It’s even a win for my gluten-free and vegan friends out there, too.

For this recipe, I used:

  • 2 pounds red potatoes, cooked in salted, boiling water until soft; cut into large chunks and let cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour before incorporating the other ingredients
  • 1/3 cup diced red onion
  • 10 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sundried tomatoes (the ones packed in olive oil work best)
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons kalamata olives, sliced
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Dressing to coat
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

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Method:

Place all ingredients in a large bowl once the potatoes are fully chilled and carefully combine. As for the right amount of dressing, you just want the salad to be lightly coated. Add a little at a time until you’re satisfied and remember the potatoes will absorb some. Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

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For the dressing:

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 basil leaves
  • Juice of one fresh lemon
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon honey (or sugar if you’re vegan)

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Method:

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and creamy. It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds. You’ll have plenty left over after making this potato salad, so enjoy it on fresh greens, on bruschetta, or brushed on grilled shrimp!

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Safe travels, everyone, and bring me back a magnet! 🙂

 

St. Barthelemy Cellars Pinot Noir Port is Just Perfect

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I received a wonderful gift from a dear family friend who lives in San Francisco. This Pinot Noir Port is a 2004-2005 vintage blend and, as I hope you can tell from the photo, it’s a stunning, translucent garnet. It really does represent what Pinot Noir lovers love about the wine, and Pinot Noir is my all-time favorite. St. Barthelemy Cellars Port is fruity with a fantastic mouth feel. And the scent, my friends, is heavenly. This port, from the Green Island Vineyard in Napa Valley, is described as having “combined flavors of strawberry and cherry with hints of tropical melon [and] followed by licorice, spice and honey on the finish.” You could absolutely enjoy this with a variety of earthy cheeses or fruits, but I just enjoyed it with the company of good friends.

Until next time, cheers, everone!

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Protein-Rich and Veggie Laden Breakfast Quesadillas

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There’s nothing that I can’t and won’t slap between two tortilla shells, and breakfast is certainly no exception. This morning I got a little crazy with some local eggs, purple bell peppers, red onion, yellow extra sharp Vermont cheddar, yellow sharp cheddar, and chicken apple sausage. To channel my inner Guy Fieri, I bought a one way ticket to Flavortown.

NOTE: If you’re vegetarian, gluten-free, or dairy-free, I’ll give some ways for you to adapt this to your dietary needs at the end of the post. 🙂

First thing’s first. Sautee the peppers and onions in a bit of canola oil until they’re translucent. Medium heat for 3-4 minutes should do the trick. Transfer to a plate.

Next soft scramble some eggs. To do this, beat them with a bit of milk and, using the same pan the veggies were in, add a smidge of butter, let it melt, and add the egg mixture. Moving them around the pan every 30 seconds or so, just cook them until they’re barely done. Runny is good. Salt and pepper them while they’re cooking. Transfer them to the same plate the veggies are on. Make neat little piles of your cooked goodies.

Finally, slice and sauté the chicken sausage. I really like the depth of flavor that comes with caramelization. This is a crucial step. As with the ingredients before, add these to the plate of goodies.

Now wipe out your pan. Add a bit more butter, and place one tortilla in the pan. Make sure the heat is on low-medium. Layer by layer, add some cheese, egg, veggies, chicken sausage, and more cheese.

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Cover with the other tortilla. Wait about two minutes, and check the underneath. It should be nice and golden brown. If so, carefully flip it over.

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Cook for another two minutes, transfer to a plate, and cut into triangles. I use a pizza wheel for this.

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Now all that’s left to do is grab your favorite hot sauce and chow down. Happy eating, everyone!

And, as promised, here’s some substitutions or omissions for my friends with dietary needs:

  • For my vegetarian friends, just leave out the chicken sausage or sub your favorite veggie one. Veggie bacon would also be yummy.
  • For my gluten-free friends, just swap corn tortillas for the flour ones. Also, the Al Fresco apple maple sausages are gluten-free, so you’re fine with those.
  • For my dairy-free friends, just use Daiya cheese, omit the milk in the eggs, and use Earth Balance spread instead of butter.

Florida Fall Gardening: Growing Organic Heirloom Lettuce in a Container

It’s a sad state of affairs, but I’ve yet to figure out how to grow lettuce in the Florida summer. Now, however, that it’s the fall, I’m giving it a go. As with last winter, I sewed a whole bunch of Southern Exposure’s Wild Garden Lettuce Mix seeds. I like this mix because there’s 60 types of seeds in one packet! You never know what you’ll get, but it’s always interesting and beautiful.

I sewed them in a 15″ pot about two weeks ago. I made sure to use good compost with some loose organic potting mix in a pot that drains really well. Last week, they started coming up. As you can see, I also had some tomato volunteers (that I shortly thereafter removed).

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As of five minutes ago when I took this photo, they look happy and healthy.

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They get about five hours of sun per day, mostly in the mid to late afternoon. Most guides say to grow lettuce between September and March in Florida, but it still feels so warm. I’ll be watching the delicate, tender leaves closely over the next few days as to see if they’re getting too much or not enough sun. The guides also say to be sure it gets at least eight hours of sun per day, but I’ve never had that much exposure, and the plants, no matter head or looseleaf, have always produced vigorously and grown quickly.

We’ll see what happens. I’ll be sure to post an update as to their progress. Until then, I’ll be spending a fortune on store-bought organic lettuce…

I Love Bubbly: Almond Champagne from Wilson Creek Winery

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I just celebrated the start of my 33rd year on this beautiful Earth. What better way to celebrate than to enjoy a bottle of bubbly from Waterford crystal while in your pajamas? That, my friends, is how I roll.

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This bottle of Wilson Creek Almond Champagne was a lovely and extremely enjoyable gift. It’s a white sparkling California wine that’s naturally fermented via the charmat method and has just a smidge of real almond flavoring to make it really unique. It’s slightly sweet, very bubbly, and super drinkable.

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This definitely isn’t my last bottle of this delightful, nose-tickling, sparkly wine.

Cheers, everyone!

To All Organic Gardeners: I Need Your Help!

Every day when I get home from work, I putz around in the garden and examine all of my plants. Not only do I get the chance to pluck a lot of harmful caterpillars and worms from the leaves, but I get a chance to just sit and enjoy my blessings. Today, though, I’m stumped.

This is the front and back view of a Chadwick Cherry heirloom tomato plant leaf:

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These black, shiny, bean-shaped things are actually embedded inside of the leaf. They look like seeds of some sort…maybe? Of all the years I’ve been a Zone 9 Florida organic gardener, I’ve never seen this. Please, please, please, gardeners, friends, bloggers, I beg you, help me.

Thanks in advance,

Jenna

Enrich Your Garden Soil Now: Four easy ways to revive your garden soil for spring

This is a wonderful post from my blogger friend, Jean, at For Dragonflies and Me. Happy reading!

For Dragonflies And Me

I stood and gazed at my beloved gardens today… My winter crops are growing beautifully and with the rain we were blessed with all through the night along with the warmer days and cool nights we’ve recently had, they look happy.

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My  gardens were so generous and fed my family lavishly this year. My heart gets a warm, fuzzy feeling just thinking about it… Then there’s all the goodness I’ve stored in jars and freezers from her as well.  Now it’s time to do for it, like its done for me… it’s time to feed the garden!

winter share

Fall’s when we need to prep our garden soil for next years crops. Just when you thought you’d be able to till it all under and forget about it until next spring, here I come with this news. Your gardens productivity depends much on how you care for it… the soil I mean. Feeding your soil nutrients in the…

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Peeling and Deveining Shrimp in 9 Easy Steps

Disclaimer: I’m spoiled and live in coastal Florida where local shrimp are available for most of the year. But still…

We live in a world of convenience and short cuts. Sometimes those convenient little short cuts, especially in the kitchen, lead to inferior outcomes. One of my least favorite time savers is frozen peeled and deveined shrimp. I understand why some shoppers gravitate toward the frozen crustaceans, I really do. Doing it yourself is a bit messy and labor intensive, but good food is worth the effort. If you’re a foodie, and I’m pretty sure you are, take the time to do it with fresh, local shrimp.  I had my honey snap a bunch of photos as I peeled and deveined a shrimp that I got at my local farmer’s market. This is the resulting step-by-step collage of the process.

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See how easy that was? If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop me a line!

A Week’s Worth of Chopped Garlic in Only Five Minutes

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Readers, have I got a time saver for you! Read on…

Garlic goes in practically everything in our house. We go through about two heads weekly and, to be honest, the time it takes to separate, crush, peel, and chop really adds up. And that pre-chopped stuff you buy in store hardly tastes like garlic. It’s like canned pineapple: it’s not really gross per se, but it’s certainly a disappointment.

So last week, I tried something new. I chopped one whole head of garlic in my handy dandy food processor and stored it in canola oil. I kept it in the fridge. I used it all week long, and it was fantastic. The taste, texture, and pungency of the garlic remained the same as if it were just chopped.

The great debate: olive oil, canola oil, or no oil at all?

We went with canola. While we use olive oil a lot in cooking, canola is more versatile. We could still add the chopped garlic to olive oil during cooking, which happened quite often. Storing the garlic without any liquid just seemed like a bad idea; it’d probably end up dry and lifeless (sadly, a lot like the last season of The Office). I don’t know for sure, though, as we didn’t try.

This is one culinary shortcut I definitely recommend…unless you really, really like chopping garlic.

Here’s the process in photographs:

Remove skin from garlic cloves (a whack of the flat side of a heavy knife or skillet will make this a breeze):

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Put garlic in a food processor:

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Pulse until it looks like this:

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Transfer to a glass jar (you could use plastic, but the smell of garlic will forever remain):

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Fill to cover with canola oil:

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Seal with tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator:

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Five minutes of your time now will save way more than that throughout the week.

Happy cooking, everyone!