Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella

About half way through my day today, I thought, “Today is a great day.” I wasn’t doing anything special. I didn’t win anything. I didn’t get any mail. I didn’t have anything epic to look forward to. I was doing the same old, same old.

I literally stopped in my tracks, consciously making an effort to figure out why I was in such a great mood. I was looking out my kitchen window…when suddenly I realized what the source of my contentment was. Sun. The sunlight was streaming in through the window. My face felt warm. I went outside and sat with my chickens. Giving them each lots of snuggle time in the sunshine.

Sigh.

Then I got to feeling adventurous and hungry. When I saw this eggplant recipe a while back, I thought it looked delicious! But what the heck does eggplant taste like? If I didn’t love orzo fiercely, I might not have made it. Boy, oh boy, am I glad I did.

This dish has a wonderful lemony kick that pairs well with the chewy bits of mozzarella disbursed throughout. When I initially picked up the eggplant in the store, I thought I was going crazy. They feel like firm pillows. But I stuck to my guns. It basically has the texture of soft zucchini and a very similar taste. At least when it’s smothered with other ingredients like it is here.

You might notice that I put tomato slices on top of this dish, instead of chopping and mixing it in like the recipe calls for. Well in the original post, she gives you the option. I sprinkled oregano, salt and pepper on top of the tomato. So…do it either way!

Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella

From, of course, Smitten Kitchen

1 large (mine was just over 1 1/4 pounds/570 grams) eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 celery stalk, in a 1/4-inch dice
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (225 grams) orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) tomato paste
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) vegetable stock
1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 1/2 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup or 45 grams) parmesan, grated
3 medium tomatoes, diced

Sprinkle your eggplant generously with salt and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes. I used this time to get the rest of my ingredients ready. After 30 minutes, rinse it well and pat it dry on towels.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and once the oil is shimmering, add the eggplant. Fry for 8 minutes, stirring pieces occasionally. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer them to paper towels to drain. Add celery and carrots to remaining oil and cook for 3 minutes before adding onion and garlic. Cook together for 5 more minutes on medium heat. Stir in the orzo and tomato paste and cook for two minutes more. Off the heat, add the oregano, mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes, fried eggplant, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon table salt, many grinds of black pepper and the stock and mix well.

Transfer mixture to an 8×11-inch (about 2 quarts) ovenproof baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, then bake 20 minutes without the foil. (You can increase the ration of foil-on to foil-off time if you don’t like a crunchy pasta lid.) Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Eeekkk!

I. Am. Amped.

There have been several instances in which I’ve referred to Smittenkitchen.com. A cooking site by Deb Perelman that my BF4Eva Julie told me about. The recipes are imaginative, simple, and perfectly suitable for a moderately-abled cook, like myself. Once a week at least, I am making something from her site.

Her pictures and words are gorgeous. She cooks out of her own humble little kitchen and most often provides step by step-ish pictures, which I find really helpful when trying out a new technique.

I knew she had a cookbook coming out, but I figured I would just keep looking up recipes on her site and never have to spend a dime. That is until I realized that she, like a smart business women, only posts a teaser of the recipes provided in the book. Ack! I must have them.

THEN I found this out: She’s doing a book tour. Gasp! I wish I would have had my webcam on when I was realizing this. It would have caught an image of a blank expression…glittering eyes. Then a hushed, “Yes!” whispered to myself. I focused in hard, with furrowed brow and clammy hands. I fumbled around her book tour schedule until I found what I was looking for. “Portland, OR – Powell’s Books on Burnside, November 5th, 7:30pm”. Yes!

Normally, I would go with Julie to this…but she moved 2,696 miles away. So I can’t. I can always make my hubby go with me (make is a strong word as he’d actually find this enjoyable). I strongly encourage any of you Oregon folk to come! I’m going to be making a Smitten Kitchen dinner beforehand, just to add to the festivities. Sigh. I can’t wait.

While I daydream and wait for that day to arrive, I’ll be working on a huge crate full of clothes needing to be mended. Yeah for me.

Crock-pot Cinnamon Sugar Almonds

Yum. Simple, sweet, crunchy, easy…yum.

Sometimes a sweet and salty almond (or walnut, or pecan, or maybe a peanut?) just hits the spot.

Cinnamon Sugar Almonds

1 1/2 cup white sugar, 1 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 Tablespoons cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 egg white, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 3 cups almonds, 1/4 cup water.

While I feel tempted to tell you to lessen the sugar (I think I used 1 1/4 cup of each, and might try even less next time) I also know I missed a step (stirring every 20 minutes). So who knows if that makes a difference or not. Either way…yum.

1. Mix sugar, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white and vanilla until frothy. Toss with almonds until well coated.

3. Toss almonds with sugar mixture.

4. Thoroughly grease your ceramic crock-pot. Throw in the almonds and set temperature to low.

5. Stirring every 20 minutes (I didn’t see this step…some of my almonds burned) let your almonds cook on low for 2 1/2 hours. Stir in 1/4 cup water and let cook for another hour.

6. Spread your almonds out on parchment paper, separating to prevent clumping. Let cool.

Store in an airtight container…if they last that long.

Roasted Garlic Bliss

I’m normally a very inclusive person. This isn’t a normal situation. If you have never made roasted garlic…I…I…I feel sorry for you. I wonder how we became friends. If you claim ignorance, that’s cool. Laziness = not cool.

So make this…soon…like tonight.

You take one (or multiple, like I do) head of garlic and chop off the top so the cloves are exposed. Place on foil, drizzle in olive oil. I also like to add a bit of pepper. Wrap up in the foil and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. When it’s done you can either scoop it out right onto whatever it is your eating or, like I do, squeeze all the garlic into a bowl and mash it up a bit. Then spread it on warm bread…

Come on. Live life and do it.

Teriyaki Tastiness

So you know how I made peanut sauce the other day? Well we ran out of it in like 3 days because I put it on everything. So I said to my hubby, “Well, I better make some more.” He responded hesitantly, “Oh…yeah…cause you can just make some more…real easy, huh?”. This seemed like a strange way to respond. I mean, he just heard that I would be making more liquid gold for him to eat, and he wasn’t looking excited.

In the next few minutes we deduced that not everyone has peanut sauce running through their veins like I do. We agreed it was delicious. “Just not for breakfast” according to Matt. Weirdo.

He made a fleeting comment the night previously, about the same dish being good with teriyaki sauce. I thought about that and realized I had ever made teriyaki sauce. Having been a vegetarian for over two years now, teriyaki always seemed synonymous with chicken, so we never ate it. But heck! Matt was right. I thought I would track down a recipe.

And just like the peanut sauce…it was perfection. Sweet, thick, quick and fool-proof. I added more honey and less brown sugar. I also didn’t have garlic powder for some reason. So obviously I skipped that and I added like 1/4 cup pineapple juice, which tasted great!

“Restaurant” Teriyaki Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

4-5 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1-2 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup cold water

Directions:

  1. Mix all but last two ingredients (cornstarch and 1/4c water) in a sauce pan and begin heating.
  2. Mix cornstarch and cold water in a cup and dissolve. Add to sauce in pan.
  3. Heat until sauce thickens to desired thickness.
  4. Add water (or pineapple juice) to thin if you over-thick it

For those of you who missed the peanut sauce post, I added steamed veggies and fried tofu to a rice or noodle base. I did the same here. This recipe makes enough for about three meals. If you’re feeding 4 I would double it just in case. I also don’t know how it saves but I assume it would be fine in the fridge for a little while.

If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out!

Peanutty Perfection

I have been waiting for this day. Waiting…not so patiently. After trying several, (like 8) peanut sauce recipes or versions of said recipes, I have finally found, the one. The perfect balance of peanutty sweetness is now in my possession.

 I could eat peanut sauce with every meal. Every. Meal. Seriously, add that stuff to cap’n crunch and I’ll LOVE it. However, my budget does not allow me to buy peanut sauce all the time…plus it all sucks. Nothing in the store compares to the yummyness you get on your favorite Thai meal.

Except this one.

Since I’m not one to keep all the wonderfullness to myself…here’s the recipe. Like most recipes I share, I found it online, but have changed it quite a bit. Making sure it’s just to my liking.

Peanut Sauce Perfection

1 can (13.5oz) of coconut milk

1/4 cup (2oz) of Thai red curry paste

 3/4 cup unsweetened natural peanut butter – the oil in natural peanut butter is essential.

2 teaspoons salt

 1/2 cup sugar – add slowly to taste

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or white vinegar (Do not use white wine, red wine, balsamic, or anything else)

1/2 cup water

1. Put everything into a medium-sized pot and bring to a very gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.

2. Let the mixture simmer for 3-5 minutes over low heat; be careful not to let the mixture scorch at the bottom of the pot.

3. Take the pot off the heat, let the sauce cool down to room temperature (or slightly warmer), and serve the sauce with satay or fried tofu.

This peanut sauce keeps in a glass container in the refrigerator for weeks. Refrigerated sauce will thicken up considerably. All you have to do is thin it out with a little bit of water to desired consistency, reheat, and serve. The sauce also freezes beautifully.

The noodle dish above is simple to make as well. Toss egg noodles (jasmine rice is also yummy), steamed carrots and broccoli, bean sprouts and fried tofu with about 1 cup peanut sauce and dish accordingly. 1 scoop Matt, 2 scoops Haley, 1 scoop Matt, 2 scoops Haley, etcetera, etcetera.

Happy Eating!