Archives for category: Cheesey

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It finally feels like Spring is around the corner.  The days are getting longer and the sun is shining a little brighter.  I can’t wait until we’re basking in the sun of summer and eating al fresco and drinking some refreshing mint lemonade.  I felt winter was long and brutal this year.  Not much exciting went on in my kitchen.  Just cranking out dishes for the daily grind – a few moments of deliciousness, but overall I can’t recall anything very special.

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Sometimes you feel the same way about life, you get in the doldrums.  I’ve felt this way this winter so I am very excited about the onslaught of spring.  By doldrums I mean that I felt stagnant – not going anywhere – in the same place.  That is not always a bad thing, but I wanted more.  I started a new job, which is fun and interesting.  I’ve also stepped back in the kitchen a bit more.  I’m glad about that because I’m always so inspired by cooking, recipes and food.

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Additionally, there are times I wish my sister lived close-by.  We are quite similar and love to cook together.  I always say “if” we lived close we “could” do something together, a business or catering or anything…I need that push and support from her.  We always talk about what-ifs and never follow-through.  Sometimes you have to just take that leap.  Sometimes you weren’t meant to succeed and that’s the scary part.

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But at the end of the day what’s important is that you have a passion for something and you can share it with your loved ones.  I consider my blog readers my loved ones and I really enjoy sharing recipes with you.  Sometimes I need a little push to get myself posting, but at the end of the day I always feel satisfied sharing a little of my kitchen with you all. 🙂  I wish we could have one long table dinner party and eat, talk and celebrate for no reason.  🙂

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I want to share this phyllo cigar appetizer with you all because it is really tasty!  I find it quite easy to make as well.  Phyllo can be annoying to work with, but I just keep it covered with a damp cloth and fudge any mistakes I make and it all comes together alright in the end.  It’s just food, it doesn’t have to be perfect!  I’ve made these a few times now and people always enjoy them.  I love them hot out of the oven – flakey, crunchy and savory.  If you’re bored on a weekend, make a bunch and freeze them for later.  You’ll be glad to have them on hand when a sudden hunger pang comes upon you!

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Feta, Dill and Red Chili Phyllo Cigars

Makes about 8 rolls

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, for brushing the phyllo and 1 tablespoon for the feta mixture

1/2 a 16 ounce package of phyllo dough, thawed if frozen

6 ounces of feta cheese

2 long red chilies, chopped, seeds removed

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

2 scallion, white and light green parts, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon nigella seeds

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a food processor, add the feta cheese, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, red chilies, dill, scallions, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse a few times until everything is combined.

Each roll will require 6 sheets of phyllo, so layer 12 sheets of phyllo and brush each sheet with olive oil.  Keep the sheets stacked on top of each other and cut the sheet into four equal-sized pieces.

Next, take about a tablespoon of the feta mixture and drop it into the quartered 6 phyllo sheets.  Roll the phyllo like a thin burrito, fold the long ends over the feta mixture and roll the rest like a cigar..  Repeat with the rest of the feta mixture and the remaining 7 quarters of phyllo dough.

Place the cigars onto a cookie sheet seam side down and top brush with a little extra olive oil and top with the lemon zest and nigella seeds.  Place in the hot oven and back for about 15 minutes, or until the cigars are golden.  Serve hot.

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I’ve totally lost touch with my blog.  I’ve been trying to write a post for ages, but something was stopping me.  I have no idea what it was, but I put my foot down finally and decided I really want to resume my posts.  They are fun for me and I love the interaction with all of you!  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but my resolution this year is to get back into blogging and stop making excuses about why I’m not, because there’s no valid reason except my own laziness.  I’m so silly, I will buy things thinking I’ll use them for my blog and they sit untouched.  I’m sure some of you with blogs know what I’m talking about.

I didn’t really fall off the wagon from cooking, but I haven’t been as enthusiastic about it as I used to be.  It’s slowly coming back and I’m ready to start up again.  Maybe it’s the winter – winter blues, I guess.  I know there’s lots to cook during the winter, but until recently I was totally uninspired.  Summer produce and colors inspire me.  This is probably also probably why I’ve been thinking once my husband is done residency we NEED to move somewhere warm.  It’s been on my mind for a few weeks now.  I’m craving sun and warmth.

Despite my love for summer, I do have a few winter produce favorites.  Most notable are beets.  I almost always have them on-hand.  Must have something to do with the color, I suspect.  As I’ve said before I’m a sucker for vibrant colors.  To the same effect, I buy watermelon radishes ALL THE TIME, not because I love thetaste, but more that I love the way they look.  For this dish there were no watermelon radishes, unfortunately.  But this tart is good with whatever you have on hand: mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions – you name it.  I used to be daunted by making dough, but now I’ve formulated my own proportions and it works every time like a charm.  This sort of tart is one of my go-to dishes.  Although it does take some time, it is by no means difficult to make.

Roasted Beet and Carrot Tart

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

for the crust:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, frozen

up to 1/4 cup ice water

filling:

6 ounces goat cheese, softened

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

salt and black pepper, to taste

for top:

2 golden beets

2 carrots

1/4 cup chopped parsley and chives, or any herbs of your choice, for garnish

Method

Roast the beets in the oven (at 350 degrees) in a foil pouch on a baking tray drizzled with some olive oil, salt, and pepper for 45 minutes or until cooked.  At the 30 minute mark add in the  whole carrots, also tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Once cooked, slice the beets and carrots into thin slices.

To make the tart dough: in a food processor, add the walnuts and pulse until they turn into a fine grind, add in the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse until combined.  Grate the frozen butter and add it to the flour.  Pulse until the mixture forms pea-sized clumps.  Next, through the top, stream in the ice water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Once the dough comes together, cover it in plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour.  After the dough has chilled, roll it out and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and blind bake (cover it with foil and use pie weights or dried beans to weigh down the crust, so that it doesn’t puff up while baking) it in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

For the filling: whisk the goat cheese, ricotta, and egg together.  Add in the salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence.  Pour it into the partially baked crust and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 15 minutes, take it out of the oven and arrange the cut beets and carrots over the goat cheese and ricotta and bake for another 10-15 minutes.  Garnish the tart with chopped parsley and chives, or any herb of your choice.  You can also sprinkle the final product with some flaky sea salt and drizzle with olive oil, if you like.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Summer’s bounty is in full swing and I’m taking full advantage of it.  I think August is the best time at the farmers’ markets.  You find all sorts of gorgeousness there.  But this August it’s Ramadan and the fasts are longggg and you don’t feel like making anything elaborate because of your lack of energy.  I’m trying my best to keep as many as I can, but to be honest it’s hard.  I know complaining is very shallow, but I love my food.

This year we’ve only had one proper Pakistani fast-breaking meal and that was at my in-laws’ house.  Maybe these last two weeks we’ll make a more a bigger effort.  After all, who doesn’t love opening their fast with pakoras, chaat, samosas, and other fried goodness.  I hope to make some Ramadan speciality for my next post.  This one could be seen as a pseudo-pakora.  Not really, but at least I tried.  Potato pancakes are definitely a favorite with me.  You can be a purist and keep them basic or the sky is the limit with options you can add to them.

Since corn season is in full swing, I decided to add corn to them.  When the sweet corn slightly roasts while frying in the potato cake, it’s a beautiful thing.  I also took inspiration from an older post of mine where I made cornmeal cakes and added jalapeño and queso fresco into these potato pancakes.  They’re a perfect appetizer or fast-breaking snack.  Add some mashed avocado on top and you’ll be a very happy person.

Potato Pancakes with Corn, Jalapenos, and Queso Fresco

Ingredients

neutral-flavored vegetable oil of your choice, for frying

2 cups shredded potatoes, I used Yukon Gold (squeeze excess water from them using a kitchen towel)

1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds and ribs removed if you like

1/2 cup shredded queso fresco or Monterey Jack cheese, you can add as much or as little as you like

1 egg

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

optional: smashed avocado mixed with some lime juice and salt, for garnish

Method

Combine the potatoes with the corn, jalapeño, herbs, cheese, and lime zest.  Mix in the flour and crack in the egg and combine.  Season with salt and black pepper.

Heat a large frying pan with oil on medium heat and add about a 1/4 cup of the potato mixture and form into a free-form patty and put it into the pan.  Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown on each side.  When cooked, drain excess oil on a paper towel.  Serve warm with smashed avocado, and  garnish with jalapeño rounds, cilantro, and chives, optional.

*Be careful when frying the potato cakes, the corn might pop slightly.  You may have to reduce the heat slightly.

My parents are obsessed with tennis, especially my Mom.  They went so far as installing a tennis court in our back yard so they could play a match whenever they felt like it.  My sister and I would watch them play and also wander around quite mischievously.  We would play pioneers and Indians and one of us would most likely be the medicine man.  Luckily for us, living in the countryside allowed for an abundance of wild berries that we would smear across our faces and pretend we were curing whatever ailment the “medicine man” said we were struck with.  I think a lot of this “make-believe” had to do with the computer game, “The Oregon Trail.”  I’m sure many of you remember playing this at school-forging the wagon across the river and shooting buffalos and turkey for food.

Anyway, my sister and I would be engaged in this world of pretend and all the while my parents would be playing tennis.  I mention these memories because surrounding our tennis court were huge, sprawling vines of concord grapes.  We would use these as medicines in our games and eat them as a snack when we were hungry.  Multi-tasking children, I guess.  I remember, in the beginning of the summer, parrot green marbles would begin to emerge amongst the vines.  Of course, being inquisitive creatures we would taste them and pucker our lips because of the intense sour flavor of the grapes.  We waited all summer until Autumn arrived and for the grapes to plump up and become almost blackish purple and sweet.  We couldn’t get enough of them.  For two little girls, plucking grapes of the vine was the ultimate bliss.  The thing about the concord grapes we adored was that we could peel off the skin quite easily in our mouths spit it out and eat the gooey center, it reminded us of gummy bears-much healthier though.

Every time, I see Concord grapes in farmers’ markets I swoop them up and just eat them plain, like I did as a child.  This time though, I wanted to prepare something with them.  Cheese and grapes are a long-standing favorite of mine and if you know me you know I am an absolute sucker for appetizers and canapes.  If I ever have the pleasure of inviting you over, most likely I will serve you a platter of cheese, fruit, nuts, and honey as a starter.  I took this “habit” of mine and adapted it to the Coronation grape (an Ontario version of the Concord grape that is seedless).  I also used St. Agur blue cheese from France and made a sweet onion jam and walnuts all perched a top toasted sourdough baguette slices.  My husband wasn’t home when I made this and I had to stop myself from finishing the entire platter and save some for him.  Yes, these toasts were that good.

Coronation Grape Toasts with Onion Jam, Blue Cheese, and Walnuts

Serves 4, as an appetizer

Ingredients

4-6 ounces blue cheese, I used St. Agur, feel free to use Gorgonzola, Stilton, Maytag, or any favorite of yours

1 toasted sourdough baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices (I just throw the baguette into the oven during the last five minutes of the grapes cooking.)

1/2 cup whole walnuts, toasted (you can break them up to put on the toasts, if you wish)

for the grapes:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (good quality)

1 pound of Coronation grapes or Concord (seeded), keep the grapes in clusters-you should have about 3 clusters

1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped finely

a sprinkling of Maldon salt

fresh black pepper

for the onion jam:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons raw honey

salt and pepper to taste

Method

First, roast the grapes.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the grapes on a baking sheet, sprinkle over the rosemary, Maldon salt, black pepper, and drizzle over the olive oil.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the grapes just begin to ooze out their juices.

To make the onion jam, heat a sauté pan on medium heat and add the olive oil.  Once the olive oil begins to glisten add in the butter and onions.  Toss in some salt and pepper and lower the heat to medium-low.  Once the onion start to wilt down add in the red wine vinegar and honey, turn down the heat to low.  Allow the onions the caramelize for 30 minutes.  Set aside.

To assemble the toasts, take the sourdough slices and top with a mound of onion jam, a crumbling of blue cheese, a few walnuts and a drizzle on honey.

I love appetizer platters, so I set up everything as a kind of do it yourself station.  But, if you prefer you can pre-assemble the toasts, as you wish.

I did it again, I pulled another ladies luncheon type of dish on my husband.  I’m telling you all (over and over again), I miss the girly bonding.   I was never the type to solely hang with the guys, but someway, somehow this has become my existence.  Much to the contrary, I consider myself a girly girl.  Ruffles, lace, pink, and jewels all make me *swoon.* Therefore, all the talk of the Habs, cardiothoracic this and that and I am at a loss.  Cooking fuels my girly aspirations.

Many of you might be wondering why I complain.  Just to be clear, it’s all light-hearted.  I moved to a small university town after I got married and it has been an adjustment.  For the first time in my life, I don’t have someone in this city I can just call and say let’s go grab a coffee.  My husband goes to medical school here and is quite busy.  I have been hunting for jobs for a few months now and no luck.  There are very limited options here, but I am hoping I find something because we have 1 more year in this city.  Essentially, I am a housewife (until I find a job).  I never pictured myself as a housewife.  The plus side to being a housewife is that I have time to cook.  There’s good and bad in every situation.

I’m glad I have the free time to explore my culinary interests.  This is why I made this savory roasted tomato tart all from *scratch.*  I was quite proud of myself because dough rolling/preparing and I have never quite on the same page.  So you can imagine my utmost and complete anger when my husband walked in and said, “where’s the meat?”  Grrrrrrrr.  In my head it was, “I’ll tell you where the meat is!”  But, in reality it was more, “I made you a fresh and delicious meal, so stop complaining.”  When he came into the kitchen and saw my farmer’s cheese all whipped up looking smooth and silky and the garnet-red roasted tomatoes and the sprinkling of thyme, I could tell he was getting excited and eating his own words.  That’s when he started saying, “I haven’t eaten all day, when will dinner be ready.”

Once my husband started eating, he actually really enjoyed this tomato tart, maybe even more than did.  Plus, he wanted to take it for lunch the next day.  Men, they are all the same.  I like to say, “simple minds.”  They will most probably come back and say women are all the same.  Tit for tat.  My husband and I call it revenge tactics.

The tomato tart is bursting with rich concentrated tomato flavor.  It is summer on a plate, a nice and light slice with a fresh farmer’s market salad so absolute bliss on a warm, sunny day.  The farmer’s market is beginning to boom with tomatoes, lettuces, rhubarb, berries, asparagus, radishes, and fiddleheads.

For the past few weeks, the farmer’s market was kind of drab and desolate but slowly the produce selection is expanding.  It’s a Saturday tradition, albeit a new one, for my husband and I to go to the farmer’s market.  We never stayed in Kingston for the summer, during the off-season the market only had maple syrup and a few odds and ends.  I am glad it is blossoming.  I look forward to the upcoming months and creating dishes for my husband and myself and of course, anyone who wants to visit.

Oven Roasted Tomato Tart with Whipped Farmer’s Cheese

Serves 3-4

adapted from Susan Spungen’s, RECIPES: a collection for the modern cook

Ingredients

for the cheese base:

1/2 cup farmer’s cheese

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, (I used fleur de sel)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

for the oven roasted tomatoes:

4-5 plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

3 cloves garlic, minced finely

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

3-4 sprigs thyme

sprinkling of sea salt

a few grinds of black pepper

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

for the crust:

1 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 ice water

Set aside 1 tablespoon of capers or olives for the tart, optional

Method

Start by making the dough.  Combine all the ingredients for the dough except the ice water in a food processor and pulse until the butter and flour combine into pea-sized pieces.  Next, stream in the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts to come together.  You may not have to use all the water.  Next, pour out the dough onto a floured surface and knead into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and meanwhile place the tomatoes on a baking tray with the herbs, salt, pepper, and the olive oil.  When the oven has come to temperature place the tomatoes in the oven for about 2 1/2-3 hours or until they shrivel up.

Prepare the cheese base by whipping together (using a mixer, food processor, or whisk) the cheeses, egg, salt, and pepper together.  Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the tart.

At this point, set your oven to 400 degrees, for the baking of the tart make sure your oven rack is in the middle of your oven and not too close to the top.

When the tomatoes are done, start rolling out the tart shell.  Hit it a few times with your rolling-pin so it becomes more pliable.  Roll it out until it can fill a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place the tart shell into the pan once it’s the right size.  Press it into the sides, it doesn’t have to be perfect and rustic looks better.

Next, spread the cheese mixture onto the base of the tart and arrange the tomatoes over the cheese mixture.  You can add some extra thyme on top if you chose.  Also, sprinkle the capers or olives on top, if you are using them.  If you wish, you can add on some extra farmer’s cheese.  Bake the tart for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is fully cooked through.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a garden salad with whatever vegetables are fresh and tasty.

I do not document and write the recipe for all the things I make.  Though, on occasion I like to snap a few shots, just for the memory (if I did not forget my camera in some random place).  The memory of good times, good people, and of course good food.  If you know me at all, you know that I love making dips (gotta love the food processor), and I get a high off making appetizer platters consisting of cheese, and also to me, a table is incomplete without flowers.  I hope this set of pictures brightens your day and makes you hungry.

*The last few shots are from restaurants and I have noted their names as a caption on each picture.  I should take more pictures when we go out to eat but either, I forget my camera, or I get conscious that someone might tell me that photos are not allowed and I am sensitive, so that will bother me all night, hehe.

Appetizer at Buca in Toronto

Mushroom Pizza at Buca in Toronto--The best thing there!

Branzino at Buca in Toronto

Fruit Tart from Pastiche in Providence

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Raspberry Coulis from Pastiche in Providence (My husband's all-time favorite dessert.)

Cheese strikes, yet again.  I love it when I make something and people love it and rave about it.  I especially love it when what I made was simple and easy.  I sometimes get insecure about making things that do not take a lot of time for guests.  Will they judge me because I made something that took me literally five minutes to make.  Me and my hang-ups, difficult to understand for my husband some.  I mentioned this before, I like guests to feel welcome and enjoy the experience of coming over, and part of this includes good food.

In Rhode Island, I helped my parents throw a party for their friends.  Party planning is something that gives me a high.  (On a small scale, large 500 guest parties might cause me to go over the edge, but that’s another story.)  The non-stop action and preparations that are required for a party are thrilling as well as terrifying.  To ease this extreme range of emotions, it is important to have a few tricks up your sleeve.  (Wow, I said a few tricks up your sleeve, am I becoming cliche!?)

Baked Feta definitely qualifies as a crowd pleaser.  The night of the party, it was a big hit and was the first starter to be wiped clean.  Some people do not love cheese in the same way as I do (my husband grrrr, though I must admit he has come a LONG way).  But, even people who do not share in my enthusiasm for cheese enjoy this Baked Feta.  Feta is known to have a salty pungency, but the baking process really mellows it out.  I use a sheep’s or goat’s milk feta of good quality because I have tried this with average supermarket feta and it does not have the same consistency or smoothness.  The sundried tomatoes, and nuts, capers, and thyme ooze together in perfect unison.  I also add a drizzle of honey to cut the saltiness and though most could not discern the honey in the baked feta, they could certainly notice its absence if I did not include it.  The honey and almonds caramelize together, almost forming a candied crunch on top.  Enjoy this with some crusty bread, Greek pita, or crackers.

Baked Feta with Sundried Tomatoes, Almonds, Capers, and Thyme

Serves 6 (as a starter)

Ingredients

10 ounces of food quality Feta, sliced into 1/4″ thickness

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, julienned

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

10 springs of thyme, left whole

2 tablespoons honey

2-3 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Use a quiche dish and lay the feta slice son the bottom and assemble the sundried tomatoes, almonds, capers, and thyme on top in an attractive way.  Drizzle with the honey, extra-virgin olive oil, and the lemon juice.  Add a few cranks of freshly ground pepper over the top.  Bake the dish in the oven for about 15 minutes or until bubbly and oozing.  Switch the oven to broil for about a minute, stay near the oven because the thyme can burn easily.  Remove from the oven and serve hot with warmed Greek pita.

I have been on a cooking slump recently.  I am visiting my parents and have not been cooking at all.  Although, I have been buying local produce and dairy products to no end.  Where my husband and I live it is harder for me to source some things and being in Rhode Island I am almost like a kid in a candy store.  Not to say, where I live does not have local produce, but I have to put in a great deal of legwork and it is not as easy to find as it is in Rhode Island.

Here, in Rhode Island, I grab a million things out of excitement.  I must look psychotic, almost like Rachel Ray trying to maneuver all her stuff out of her pantry and fridge to her cooking area in one trip.  (Not to say she is psychotic, because I am sure she is not. But, she is definitely a little too perky.)

Back to me gathering all sorts of foodstuffs.  I tried Johnnycakes for the first time with my friend at a local diner called, The Liberty Elm.  This prompted me to pick up both white and yellow corn meal and try to make something like a Johnnycake, but with my own spin on it.  I absolutely love  the sweet and savory combination of jalapeno cornbread and wanted to jump from this idea.  I was soon sold on a recipe I found from Gourmet Magazine, one for Corn Cakes.  I worked from this and used my taste buds to get something exactly to my liking.   They turned out quite well and would be great in so many ways.  They would work as an appetizer, a side, a bottom layer for eggs, or beans, or cheese, or all of the above!  I am getting carried away with ideas, I will stop here and give you all the recipe!

Corn Cakes with Serranos, Herbs, and Queso Blanco

adapted from a Gourmet magazine recipe

1/2 cup white corn meal, I used Kenyon’s from RI

1/2 a cup yellow corn meal

1/2 a cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and more for pan-frying the cakes

1 large egg

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup thawed frozen corn, chopped

1/2 a small red onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced finely

1-2 serrano chilies, chopped (remove the seeds if you like)

handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

1 scallion, chopped

10 sprigs of chives, chopped

1 cup queso blanco or monterey jack, shredded

Garnish: sliced serranos, chives, and sour cream or crema

Mix together all the dry ingredients.  Set aside.  Combine the egg, buttermilk, and melted butter.  Add in the onion, garlic, serranos, cilantro, scallion, chives, corn, and the queso blanco.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined.  Heat a griddle or frying pan with some butter on medium-medium high heat and drop 1/2 cup-fulls of batter into the pan.  Cook on each side for approximately 3 minutes per side.  Garnish with sliced serranos, chives, and sour cream or crema.

I am pretty sure pizza takeout places are buzzing on Fridays.  I must admit, when I am too lazy to cook, I have picked up the phone and placed an order for a processed cheese and squishy vegetable pizza.  There are not any great takeout pizza places where I live, so I find it to be a better option to make my own.

My family has been doing this for ages.  Making three or four pizzas at a time and devouring them all.  In high school, my friend’s mom also made great pizzas every week.  It is a family tradition for many of us.  Pizza can be doctored up in so many ways, that anyone can find something they like.  Pizza is a unifier for us all.  Who thought pizza could hold such a deep place for humans?  Sarcasm aside and in simpler words, everyone loves pizza!

There are no hard and fast rules to making pizza.  I usually use a whole wheat crust, (this time I got one from my local bakery) but feel free to use white, gluten-free, or herbed.  It is not that hard to make pizza crust and it is worth it.  Bread/Dough, of course is another common ground for all human beings.

Toppings are endless.  I am definitely a toppings girl.  I can never decide what I am in the mood for.  There are so many decisions to make and if you know me, you know how indecisive I am, especially when it comes to food.  This is probably because I want everything but ultimately I have to toughen up and make a decision. This time my refrigerator dictated what the outcome would be.  Instead of tomato sauce, I used ricotta cheese.  In the summertime, I like to make a simple Neapolitan style pizza, but in the winter I like the heartier ricotta.  If any New Englanders know about Papa Gino’s, you may remember their 3 cheese (or was it 4 cheese) pizza that had dollops of ricotta on it.  I used to love this pizza as a child.  I wish my inspiration for the ricotta came from a more sophisticated source, but alas it was good ole Papa Gino’s.

Pizza with Herbed Ricotta

Serves 3-4

Pizza dough

1/2 a bell pepper (any color you prefer) cut into small strips

3-4 stalks of asparagus cut on an angle

1/2 a zucchini, thinly sliced

1 onion, caramelized (sauté onion in a little olive oil on medium-low heat, add salt, pepper, 2 sprigs of thyme, crushed red chilies, and 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar and allow to caramelize for about 15 minutes)

1/2 cup whole Kalamata olives, pits removed

3-4 cloves roasted garlic, optional

fresh mozzarella cheese or buffalo mozzarella, as much as you like

parmigiano regginao, as much as you like

fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

crushed red chilies for garnish

For the ricotta mixture:

3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup baby arugula

15 sprigs fresh chives

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Roll out your dough onto a large baking sheet (round or rectangular).  If you have a pizza stone you may use that as well.

For the ricotta mixture, pulse all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth or mix and combine in a bowl but in this case, chop the herbs finer.

Spread the ricotta over the dough and top with the vegetable and cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is cooked and the cheese starts to get bubbly.  If you wish, garnish with the parsley and crushed red chilies.

Growing up in Rhode Island, I was introduced to a large Italian-American community.  The one that calls pasta sauce, gravy and manicotti is manigot.  Federal Hill in Providence is the hub for this community and they serve up great culinary delights.  I would not call the food authentic Italian but definitely as Italian-American as you can get.  I love Venda Ravioli, where you can get great cheeses, olives, and fresh pastas.

On twitter, Amy from Poor Girl Gourmet, mentioned that she was making Chicken Parmesan for dinner.  I love Chicken Parmesan and I was thinking about making Eggplant Parmesan for quite some time.  This twitter conversation reminded me of  how Rhode Islanders call a sub sandwich a grinder, or more accurately, grindaaa.  These local colloquialisms make up a big part of growing up in Rhode Island.  My sister and I can go on and on for hours in our fake Rhode Island accents (somehow we did not pick them up).  We banter back and forth, “Yo, Tony!”  This drives my husband mad.  We just get into a zone and forget about who is around us.

On the topic of Eggplant Parmesan, this has always been one of my favorite foods.  It is so versatile as well.  You can have it in a calzone, on top of pizza, in a “grinda,” or on its own.  My version is full of herbs and is not too far a departure from the original.  I bread and fry eggplant rounds till golden and delicious.  Who does not love fried eggplant?  Then, I layer it with herbed ricotta, marinara sauce, and provolone cheese.  I top it all off with Parmigiano Reggiano and bake it in the oven.  The result is a bubbling and gooey dish that no one can resist.

Eggplant Parmesan

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 medium-sized eggplant, cut into 1/4″ rounds

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups Italian breadcrumbs

1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

any combination of fresh herbs you like, I used oregano, rosemary, thyme, and parsley (for the breading and eggs)

oil for frying

2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (preferably homemade)

1/2 cup provolone cheese, grated

1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

1 cup ricotta cheese (I used part-skim, not that it really made a difference)

salt, to taste (extra for leaching water out of the eggplant)

black pepper, to taste

crushed red chilies, to taste

Method

Lay the eggplant rounds on a tray and cover liberally with salt.  Allow the excess moisture to come out of the eggplant, about 30 minutes.  Then rinse away all the salt and pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Meanwhile, make the ricotta mixture by whipping the ricotta with salt and pepper.  After the eggplant is dried, in one plate add the breadcrumbs and a handful of the mixed herbs, salt, and pepper.  In other plate, combine the beaten eggs with some mixed herbs, salt, and crushed red chilies.  Dip the eggplant rounds in the egg first then into the breadcrumbs.  Heat up a frying pan on medium heat with enough oil for a pan-fry.  Fry the eggplant on both sides until cooked through.  Drain off the excess oil on a plate lines with paper towels.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium-sized baking dish, add a little marinara sauce to the bottom of the dish and then lay down the eggplant slices, then the marinara, dollop the ricotta cheese on top of the marinara (about 1 cup), then the next layer of eggplant.  Continue this until the layers reach the top, it should be 2 layers.  Top off with any extra marinara sauce/ricotta and the provolone and Parmigiano Reggiano.  I sprinkled a little parsley on top as well.  Bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and light golden.  Allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Eggplant on FoodistaEggplant