Cheesy Pleasey

A few teasers for my cheeser pleaser…
-zucchini
-asparagus
-kale
-garlic
-fresh thyme
-vegetable rotini
-freshly grated parmesan
-LOVE!!!
I’m just saying. This is going to be an amazing dish…hopefully. I love taking all of these incredibly *fresh* ingredients and turning them into something wonderful. I know its, like a gajillion and five degrees out and pasta seems a bit on the heavy “holy crap why am I eating warm food” side, BUT how can I let all these spring-summer goods NOT be dressed in cheese?        That’s right.
I can’t.
Don’t worry, its not going to be covered with a heavy, flour cheese. This is gonna be sexy and smooth. Yup, sexy cheese.
Also, a squeeze of lemon is going to make this as bright as our Arizona sun. So lets get this party started.
Oh! By the way! This lovely dish I just quasi-described? Yeah its for an almost complete stranger. I have met her once, spoken to her twice (ish). So here’s crossing my fingers for day one of the new gig. And let us pray for the universal love of garlic and cheese.

Book, gig & life

I basically have decided to become a self serving student of Italy. Its for my new cooking gig, which directly plays into my blog which ever muchly plays into my future cookbook(s).
I will be posting entirely too much Italian food porn, lingo speak and history in attempts to direct my brain into this culinary journey.

Probably doesnt hurt that I work with a stellar Italian chef on occasion. My mind is a sponge!!! 

Eggplant Parmesan

If you’re not an eggplant (auberigine) lover, I am about to change your mind. Rock your world. Take meat out of one meal (just because. Im not about to get all preachy on you about meat…for another blog) But seriously. When EP is $.48 each (!!) at Sprouts, I pounce. My mind feverishly finds the wonderful applications for this sexy nightshade. Yes, nightshade. **Make sure you cook it all the way, or you’re in for some pains and (in children and the elderly) even death in extreme circumstances. **
So Eggplant Parm. I have tried a few different ways of tackling this delicious veggie plate. One ended up absorbing a ri-donk-ulous amount of oil and making it ultra soggy. No one likes soggy food when it is expected to be crunchy and meaty. Lesson learned: no fry. Bake!! The following is the progress of my new eggplant experiment. Enjoy!!

Check out those less than half a dollar yums!! They are ripe, medium sized and oh-so tasty!

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A first for me was peeling the eggplant. I have always just used it, skin and all. I was wondering if maybe this had to do with the unpleasant cutting last time… but I changed too many variables in the experiment to be sure. However!! I will say, they are (post cooked) more visually appealing. So here is peeling!
Cut the top and bottom ends off. This will give you a FLAT base to peel the vegetable. Lets say that in this case flatter is better. More control, less knife slippage and therefore! less injury. Yay!

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Peeling is as easy as it sounds. Take a chef or paring knife (preference here), and keeping as much meat of the veg as you can, cut the dark purple skin off. It will give you fun angles, a clean vegetable and lots of joy for your compost.
This DOESNT have to be perfect or even by any means. The goal is a blank canvas waiting for you to paint it with flavors. Go Picasso if you must…

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Once it is peeled, slice into 1/2 inch slices. These have to hold up to an oil bath, crumbing and baking/broiling BEFORE you add sauce or cheese. Don’t psych yourself out because they don’t look like au gratin potatoes. They aren’t supposed to. Keep them where you would expect chicken to be (on a good night)

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After they are sliced lay them onto a pan (mine was porous) with paper towels under and on top, if layering, with a sprinkle of salt. This will serve to dry them out a bit. Just like any meat, any moisture will result in steam, not crunch. Steam = soggy; dry= crunch! Let them sit out for at least 30 mins, rotate as needed and use your best judgment in how they feel. Cooking is all 5 senses, plus a 6th that comes with time. Use all of them!!

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Let us pause and admire my garlic oil. Fold your hands in reverence for something that I paid no more dollars for than I did buying what I would’ve used anyway. No fancy, schmancy stuff here. One night I wanted roasted garlic bread. This is as easy as taking an entire head of garlic, cutting the top 1/4 to 1/3 off of the top to expose all cloves, turn it upside down in an oven safe sauté pan filled 1 inch up with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and roast til fragrant. When the cloves are soft and squeezable (but not burnt) take the pan out of the oven (typically 375 for 20-30 mins), pull the head of garlic out to cool before squeezing and let the oil cool. DO NOT WASTE THE OIL!! I put mine into a small glass jar, refrigerated it and I use it as needed. Its amazing, simple and uber cheap!! Dove-tail win!

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After the EP slices have lost a good amount of moisture, its time to move on. Like I said, frying was a no go for me. This time I brushed each side with my garlic oil and then dipped and pressed )like my life depended on it)each slice into a panko-breadcrumb-parm mixture.The pressing is crucial to get it all to stick, since there arent any eggs being used to glue them. Oil is light but it needs some help. So get physical. I recommend the panko addiction. It gave the dish the extra crunch it needed, without drying it out by over broiling. Yum!! After each was coated, I veg sprayed the pan and laid a single layer of eggplant down to bake (I needed two with as much as I had). The goal is to bake and then broil them to give them the meaty texture before the sauce and excessive cheese are added. Into a 375 over for about 20 mins (I peeked a lot), then broil for another 5. When they smell amazing, are golden brown and can hold their shape they are done for this part. Pull them.

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At this stage, I busted out my famous and beloved homemade marinara (recipe to be seen later) and evenly covered each slice **by now I am down to one pan since the veg shrank as it cooked** with the sauce. Sprinkle parm, sprinkle mozz and shazzam! Into the oven for 15-20, or until desired cheese crispiness. Prepare yourself for an intoxicating kitchen smell. It will happen. It may run you outside to catch the last glimpse of sunset… but I digress!

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When it is done, pull it out of the oven and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. I know. It looks amazing, smells like heaven and after all of this time ALL you want to do is eat it. But let it be. Finish up your noodles and if desired, extra veggies (Hellooooooo, Asparagus!) and let it settle down. Noodles, a splash of extra sauce, and finish it with the eggplant. Of course, no meal with sauce is complete without some bread to sop up the remaining juices, but that is just me. Prepare yourself for a meatless wonder!! Freezes well and keeps in the fridge for future dinners.
Enjoy!!

Spring Pancakes

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Winters don’t last long in Arizona at all. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it has been in the 80’s for the past 2 days. February. Come on!! And I feel like I made it worse. I busted out the spring plate. I put soy milk pancakes with big, juicy strawberries on said plate. And then I gave them to my 2 year old, who delighted in the spring moment as much as I did. Oh woe. On the other hand, bring on the produce!! I’ve been making the best of this weather with some cryovac action. Just you wait…