Friday, September 18, 2009

Healthier Eggplant Parmesan

Remember that cookbook I told everyone to go buy? Well, here's something else from it, and as usual, it was GOOD. So good I can't believe they cut the calories from 760 in the original recipe to 330 in this one, and the fat from 59g to 9 g (13g saturated vs 4g saturated). I actually liked this BETTER than fried versions because it didn't taste greasy.

So seriously, people, go buy this book! I can give you the recipe here, but the book has the "story" of the recipe, including what they tried that failed and how they got to the final "best" light recipe. Sometimes the way to get there is rather labor intensive, but often it's not (or not in comparison with the original recipes). I'd say this is easier than traditional eggplant parmesan, because you don't have to fry anything. It's not, however, something I'd try to cook when I'm at home with the kids by myself--you do need some time without a "human leg warmer" to get this one together.

2 medium globe eggplants (1 lb each), ends trimmed, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick rounds
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
ground black pepper
3 large egg whites
1 Tbsp water
vegetable oil spray
8 oz reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
2 Tbsp minced fresh basil leaves

Tomato Sauce* (they give a recipe, but I used a jar of tomato basil sauce from Safeway)

1. Salt the eggplant: Toss half the eggplant with 1 tsp kosher salt, then place in a large colander set over a bowl. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and 1 more tsp kosher salt, and transfer to the colander with the first batch. Let sit until the eggplant releases about 2 Tbsp liquid, 30-40 minutes. I recently read a blog that said it also helps to put some weight on top of the eggplant, traditionally a plate and stone, but a better suggestion was a ziplock bag filled with water. The recipe says that after the 30-40 minutes, you should spread the eggplant onto a triple thickness of paper towels, cover with another triple thickness of paper towels, and press firmly to remove as much liquid as possible, and then to brush the salt off. I, however, just picked up each piece and kind of shook off the salt, mainly because I had moved on to a different part of the recipe and apparently didn't go back and notice that part. I thought mine tasted fine, but maybe it wasn't very "soggy" eggplant to begin with?

2. During the time you're waiting for the eggplant to release liquid, combine the breadcrumbs and oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring often, until golden (about 10 minutes). Spread the breadcrumbs into a shallow dish and let cool slightly.

At this point, adjust the oven racks to the lower-middle and upper-middle positions and preheat the oven to 475.

Then add the 1/2 cup Parmesan to the cooled breadcrumbs and stir to combine. Combine the flour, garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a second shallow dish. In a 3rd shallow dish (or a bowl), whisk the egg whites and water together. Make a little assembly line of flour, egg whites, panko, foil-covered baking sheet (with edges--I needed 2).

Season the eggplant with pepper. Then dip ONE SIDE ONLY of each eggplant slice in the flour, shake to remove excess, then in the egg, then in the panko, pressing firmly to make sure the breadcrumbs "stick." Place, crumb side up, onto the foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat with each slice of eggplant. Spray the top of the eggplant slices with vegetable oil spray. Bake at 475 until the top of the slices are crisp and golden, about 30 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

3. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with vegetable spray. Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan. Layer in half the eggplant slices, breaded side up, overlapping the slices to fit if necessary. Distribute 1/2 cup of the sauce over the eggplant, sprinkle with half the mozzarella (about 1 cup). Layer on the remaining eggplant, breaded side up, and dot with 1 cup of the sauce (just put a spoonful on top of each piece), leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so it will reamain crisp). Sprinkle with the reamining mozzarella and bake until bubbling and the cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, then sprking with the basil and serve, passing any remaining sauce and extra Parmesan seperately (although I didn't add any--mine was good as it was).

I also didn't use shredded mozzarella, because I had a ball of fresh mozzarella I needed to use, so I just sliced it and put it on top of the eggplant. I'm sure this made my final product higher in fat and calories, but I don't think it's what made the recipe so good. It was the crisp texture and deliciousness of the breading combined with the sauce that I really loved, and I actually may have used less cheese with the fresh mozz. than if I'd used shredded. I didn't have fresh basil, either, so I left that out.

I LOVED this. The Big Geek ate it and didn't complain, which is good considering his preference for meat. The little geek said, "is this pizza?" so I told her it sort-of was, and she ate 1 1/2 servings before saying, "I don't like this pizza."

Really, because you sure ate a lot of it before reaching that conclusion. . .

This book also has a chicken parmesan recipe, which I'll try in the near future. I hear it's FABulous.

*Sauce: 2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes, 4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 tsp), 1 Tbsp tomato paste, 1 tsp EVOO, 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 cup minced fresh basil leaves, salt and ground black pepper. Process the tomatoes with their juices in a food processor until mostly smooth (15-20 1-second pulses), set aside. Cook the garlic, tomato paste, oil, and pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the tomato paste begins to brown, about 2 min. Stir in the pureed tomatoes and cok until the sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside until needed. This can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge. I think this will make more sauce than you need, so you can serve it on pasta the next day.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Jamaican Rice and "Peas"

There are no peas in this recipe. Apparently, in Jamaica, all kinds of beans are also called peas. And when you win "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" with that little piece of trivia, I hope you'll remember where you learned it.

Anyhow, this has to be one of the easiest recipes in the history of the world. The flavor is mild, and you hardly taste the coconut, but the little geek and baby geek liked it, so I'm sure I'll make it again.

You need:
1 can of dark red kidney beans (or whatever kind you want to use)
1 can of coconut milk (I used light)
water to make 4 cups of liquid
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp oil
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper (whole, do NOT chop up)

Pour liquid from beans into a measuring cup. Add coconut milk and water to make 4 cups of liquid total. Pour into large pot.

Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and oil, and bring to a boil. Add the rice, stir, and lower heat to medium-low. Add Scotch Bonnet pepper to the top of the mixture, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

And that is all. :)

Now that I think of it, you could make the filling for the beef patties, toss it in with the rice, and this would be a complete meal.

I think I may have enjoyed that filling a little TOO much. . .
2 cups rice

Jamaican Beef Patties

We took a little trip to the Island yesterday in honor of the holiday weekend. The Big Geek grilled jerk chicken and island chicken, bought a ton of Red Stripe, and plenty of RUM! I also made these little Jamaican Beef Patties. They're meant to be larger, but I made small ones as appetizers. You can do them either way, but if you make small ones you'll probably end up with extra filling (I doubled the filling recipe but had to triple the dough).

If I make these again (and I probably will), I think I'll use the patee brisee recipe instead of this one. It was much more moist and flaky than this recipe, even though the biggest difference was that this one called for half shortening, half butter and the patee brisee used all butter. I'd also leave out the curry powder from the dough because I thought it competed too much with the filling, but you can add it if you like. If you have a pastry dough recipe that you know and trust, go with it.

But here's the "original" recipe that I used yesterday:

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 cup solid shortening
1/4 cup butter (called for margarine, but ew)
1/3 cup COLD water

I combined mine in the food processor like the patee brisee recipe, but the original says to sift together the dry ingredients, cut in the shortening and margarine until crumbly, and add cold water to make a stiff dough. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick and cut out as many circles as possible (you want to roll it out as few times as necessary). I used a drinking glass to make 3-inch-ish circles, but you can use a saucer or a cookie/biscuit cutter or whatever to get the size you want. The "real" Jamaican patties are the size of a small calzone, probably 8-inch circles.


Now this is the good stuff. I may play with this to make "Jamaican" meatloaf in the future, or hamburgers, oooh, or meatballs!

I did make this a day in advance, and I think the result was that the filling was too dry, so if you do that add some extra water or beef broth to get it a bit moist. I think in the better crust it might not have mattered as much.

2 Tbsp oil or butter
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1/4 tsp Scotch Bonnet pepper (habanero, seeded)
1/2 lb lean ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cup Breadcrumbs
1/4 cup beef stock
dark brown sugar to taste (optional)

For Assembly:
small bowl of water
1 egg, beaten

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter or heat the oil and saute the onion and Scotch Bonnet pepper over medium heat until they become limp. Add the ground beef. Brown the meat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain fat, then add salt, pepper, curry powder, thyme, and allspice and mix well. Turn the heat down to medium low.

Add the breadcrumbs and stock and combine all ingredients well. Cover the skillet and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all liquids have been absorbed. It should be moist but not watery.

Taste the filling and, if desired, add dark brown sugar until you are happy. This will cut down the spice a bit and just make things even more delicious.

Remove from heat and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place filling in each dough circle (original recipe is for 8-inch circles and says 2-3 tbsp, but you'll need to adjust for your size of circle). Moisten the edges of the dough with water (just dip your finger into a bowl of water and trace the outside of the circle). Fold the dough circle over the meat filling. Pinch edges closed with a fork.

Brush each pastry with the beaten egg (or a mixture of 1 egg plus 1/4 cup water) and place onto a lightly greased baking sheet (or aluminum-foil-covered sheet).

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

Original recipe makes 10 patties.

I'm sure I'll play around with this recipe some more, because the filling was really really good. :)

If you're making this for kids, omit the Scotch Bonnet pepper. It won't taste the same, but there's a better chance that they'll eat it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Risotto with Fresh Mozzarella, Grape Tomatoes, and Basil

The other night we had a prepackaged (gasp) side of seasoned rice with dinner, and the baby geek gobbled it up. As a result of that (and the fact that I bought a 3-pack of fresh Mozzarella from Costco), I made this for dinner last night.

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp EVOO
2 cups chopped leek (2-3 medium leeks)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or other medium-grain rice (I didn't have enough so added some regular long-grain rice and it was fine, but Arborio is best)
1/3 cup dry white wine (in the future, I might double this and cut down the chicken stock to compensate)
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black papper
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/4 cup chpped fresh basil
5 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, diced

1. Place vinegar in small, heavy saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until slightly syrupy and reduced to 1 Tbsp (about 4 min). Set aside.

2. The original recipe has you bring the broth to a simmer in a pan and then keep it warm so that it's warm when you add it to the rice. Or you could do this in a microwave, which is what I intended to do, except that I forgot and just added it cold. Nothing bad happened as a result. If your broth was cold (not room temperature), you probably want to warm it up a bit before using it.

3. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add leek; saute 3 minutes or until tender.
Add rice, cook 2 min, stirring constantly.
Stir in wine and cook 1 minute or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.
Stir in 1 cup broth; cook 5 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.
Reduce heat to mdium. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 25 minutes total).
Stir in half-and-half, salt, and pepper; cook 2 minutes.
Remove from heat; stir in tomatoes, basil, and cheese.

Place in individual serving bowls and drizzle with 1/2 tsp balsamic syrup. (Little geeks don't always like the syrup, but big geeks do!)

This is a perfect rainy day lunch or dinner! It was not rainy when we ate it, but it was still good, and the baby geek LOVED it.