Eggplant Sun-dried Tomato Spread

I got two plump eggplants in my vegetable box last week, which I thought was odd…considering it’s winter here. This week I got fresh peas. And strawberries. And brussels sprouts. Aaaand I officially have no grasp on the Australian growing cycle.

Nothing to do but roll with it.

Make this spread to eat on toast or crackers, chicken or fish, over pasta, rice, quinoa, pizza or with eggs. Stir in some chickpeas or white beans to give it a protein boost.

If you like creamy eggplant and sweet roasted garlic, make this immediately. It’s easy to put together, packed with good Mediterranean flavors and tastes great warm, cold or at room temperature. And in all seasons.

Eggplant and Sun-dried Tomato Spread
(very slightly adapted from Gourmet)

- 1/2 head garlic
– 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
– 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch/1 cm pieces
– 1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (3 ounces), chopped, plus 2 tablespoons tomato oil
– 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
– 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
– salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F/205 C.

Cut off and discard the bottom (the woody end) of garlic head to expose cloves. Brush top of head with olive oil. Wrap garlic in foil and roast until tender, about 40 minutes. Cool to warm, then squeeze garlic cloves from half of the skins into a small bowl, discarding skins. (Reserve the other half for other things like this or this.)

Meanwhile, toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in a large colander. Let sit for 30 minutes. Squeeze eggplant in a kitchen towel to remove excess liquid.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, saute half of eggplant until browned and tender, about 6-10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Cook the other half of the eggplant in olive oil the same way, transferring to bowl.

Add 1 cup cooked eggplant to garlic and coarsely mash together. Stir into remaining eggplant with sun-dried tomatoes (without tomato oil), parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Drizzle with tomato oil and serve.

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Chewy Coconut Muesli Bars with Figs and Almonds

There is a window of time about 15-20 minutes long between when my blood sugar dips and hunger takes over. If something is not consumed within this time (anything – a single large Brazil nut - something) I become downright unpleasant. It’s like I’m possessed by some crotchety old spirit. Except it’s just me being…extremely disagreeable.

Have you seen those Snicker’s commercials? All of the sudden I’m an extremely sassy version of Aretha Franklin that you DO NOT want to be in the car with. (For the record, I would LOVE to be Aretha Franklin all day every day. But I don’t want to detract from the example.)

That’s real life.

I’ve learned to harness this monster (a Joe Pesci-like monster) by carrying snacks with me at all times. Most of the time it’s a piece of fruit and some homemade trail mix I keep in my purse. But sometimes I get a little fancy.

This is my go-to muesli bar recipe. Great for long car rides, picnics, brown-bagged lunches and safely escaping the hunger window. I love their soft and chewy bite, toasted coconut flavor and the fact that they’re easily adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand.

There’s no baking involved, they can easily be made vegan, they’re cheap and you know exactly what’s in them. They also happen to be a favorite of Mr. F’s, so I like to think that they make up for all the times I’ve turned into ArethLeah.

When I first started making these I used butter to keep them together, but I think I prefer the coconut oil version – adding an extra layer of coconut flavor. (I’ve started putting coconut butter on these babies too – I’m a woman obsessed.) The day I made them the texture was slightly crumbly but after another day or two in the fridge they were perfect – becoming slightly dense, chewy, oat-fruit-and-nut-packed squares of coconutty goodness.

Chewy Muesli Bars
– 1 cup rolled oats
– 1 cup shredded dessicated coconut
– 1/3 cup wheat germ
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/2 cup coconut oil (or melted butter)
– 1/3 cup honey or maple
– pinch of sea salt

Optional add-ins (feel free to swap any of these out for what you have on-hand)
– 1/3 cup dried fruit (I used: figs and golden raisins
– 1/4 cup chopped nuts ((I used: almonds)
– 1/4 cup seeds (I used: sunflower seeds)

Add-in suggestions:
– dried cranberries, cherries, currents, blueberries, chopped dried apricots
– chocolate chips or chunks
– walnuts, macadamias, peanuts, cashews, pecans
– pepitas, sesame seeds

Line a 9 x 9 inch (23 cm) baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large pan mix oats, coconut, wheat germ and cinnamon and toast over a medium-low heat until coconut is fragrant and has turned slightly golden.

Remove from heat and place in a large bowl – allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Mix in sea salt and desired nuts, fruits and seeds.

In a small sauce pan, warm or melt coconut oil (depending on what form it’s in) and honey over a medium heat. Allow oil and honey to simmer for about 5 minutes and remove from heat.

Pour oil mixture over the oats mixture. Mix well until all ingredients are evenly coated in the coconut oil and honey. Pour into the prepared pan and press down with the back of a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the mixture.

Allow to sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours, but ideally over night. Cut into squares and store in the fridge for about a week.

Roasted Shrimp with Easy Romesco Sauce

As soon as we dropped our bags at the hostel in Barcelona last year, I was overwhelmed and over-excited about the whole wide world of tapas at my disposal. It was my first time visiting the city and in preparation I read obsessively about great markets, tapas bars and delicacies. I also paid particularly close attention to an Anthony Bourdain No Reservations episode all about Spain.

One thing Tony (yeah, I call him Tony) got to experience on his trip was some Spanish country barbecuing that involved sloppily drinking red wine from porrons (which I have been lucky enough to do at a bar in New York) and eating charred over-sized spring onions dipped in Romesco sauce. Way more than El Bulli, this is what I wanted my Spanish eating experience to be like.

When I saw these grilled-to-order greens on a menu I jumped at the chance to order them. Peeling off the blackened outer layer, dipping them generously in the sweet and nutty Romesco sauce, then throwing my head back to take a bite – I felt like I was living large.

In fact, I nearly made myself sick between gorging on those and fried peppers that first night. No biggie. That’s what I was there for.

Romesco sauce is excellent with seafood, chicken, eggs, as a dip for crackers and vegetables and as a spread on sandwiches. My easy version isn’t totally traditional, but the basics are there.

The roasted garlic shrimp below can also be tossed with pasta, chilli, olive oil and lemon, with rice and chopped roasted scallions, or over a lightly dressed mixed green salad. For this dish, I roasted some spring onions with my shrimp to take me back to Barca.

Garlic Roasted Shrimp
– 1 lb./1/2 kilo uncooked deveined shrimp
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1-2 cloves of garlic finely minced
– salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F/205 C. Toss shrimp with olive oil, minced garlic and salt and pepper.

Spread the seasoned shrimp out on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 10-15 minutes – flipping the shrimp once after about 5 minutes cooking- until the shrimp is pink and cooked through.

Easy Romesco Sauce
3 whole roasted red peppers, drained and roughly chopped
1/3 raw almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
pinch chili flakes
salt & pepper

Heat olive oil in a medium pan over the medium-low heat. once warm, add paprika, chili flakes and almonds. Toast almonds in seasoned oil for about 5 minutes until fragrant. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute.

Place roasted red peppers and garlic oil/almond mixture in a food processor and process until finely chopped and nearly smooth in consistency, adding additional olive oil if necessary. I like to keep mine a little chunkier, to get those toothsome bites of almonds.

Edamame Sushi Bowl with Wasabi Dressing

I have come to realize that 72% of the time when I think  I’m craving sushi, I’m in fact craving straight up wasabi.

It’s not that I don’t looove sushi in its many glorious forms but it’s the wasabi that really brings the whole thing together for me. I love the stuff. It’s a completely different type of spicy that I totally dig.

I even love that eye-watering moment when you’ve gotten a little too much and your sinuses are magically the clearest they’ve felt in months. Oh yeah. That’s the good stuff.

I know not everyone shares my crazylove for Japanese horseradish (I mean, clearly I’m some sort of spice sadist. Whatevs.) But if you do like the flavor, you have to try this salad with wasabi dressing. The dressing isn’t at eye-watering level (I’m not a monster!) but it’s undoubtedly wasabi-flavored.

The combination of traditional sushi roll vegetables like carrots and avocado topped with sesame seeds and a wasabi and soy dressing completely satisfy my sushi/wasabi cravings from the comfort of my own home.

It’s a salad that holds up well if you want to take it as a work week lunch or on a picnic – and it’s best at room temperature.

This version of the salad is vegan-friendly, but I’m dreaming about a gorgeous medium-rare piece of grilled salmon on top of this situation sometime soon.

Edamame Sushi Bowl (serves 2)
inspired by Sushi Roll Edamame Salad from Appetite for Reduction
– 1 cup cooked brown rice
– 1 medium carrot, shredded
– 1 cup shredded kale
– 1/2 cup shelled edamame (defrosted)
– 1/2 avocado, cut into bite-sized chunks
– 1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Place rice, carrot, kale and edamame in a bowl and toss well with 1-2 tablespoons of the wasabi dressing (below) top with avocado and toasted sesame seeds and serve with additional dressing (if desired.)

Wasabi Salad Dressing (warning: packs a punch!)
– 1 teaspoon wasabi paste
– 1 teaspoon soy sauce
– 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
– 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Place all ingredients in a small jar or bowl and mix well until everything is blended together.

Vegetarian Pho

Are you a pho addict yet? I didn’t know about this brothy Vietnamese soup until a couple of years ago, but once I did I was hooked. HOOKED I tell you!

Most commonly you see it made with thinly shaved raw beef that’s cooked by the heat of the broth and ladled over rice noodles. You’re given mix-ins like bean sprouts, lime, basil and chilli on the side that you can add at your own discretion. Interactive food! You know I love that.

But it’s often hard to find vegetarian-friendly versions of pho in restaurants. Luckily, you can make this aromatic broth at home pretty easily and load it up with all the veggies you want.

My version used a heap of mushrooms and spinach, as well as soba noodles in the place of the rice noodles. Traditional? Not all all. Vegetable-packed, slightly spicy, aniseedy pho-like goodness? Yessir.

You can easily make this broth non-vegetarian by using beef or chicken broth and fish sauce. I personally prefer the fish sauce here instead of soy sauce, but it’s up to you. You could also add cooked shredded chicken or prawns.

Vegetarian Pho Broth (serves 4)
adapted very slightly from The Kitchn

- 1 large onion, peeled and halved
– 4-inch/10-cm piece fresh ginger root, peeled and halved lengthwise
– 2 3-inch/7.5-cm cinnamon sticks
– 2 star anise
– 4 cloves
– 2 teaspoon coriander seeds
– 8 cups vegetable stock (or stock of you choice)
– 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or fish sauce)
– 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

Char onion and ginger directly under a broiler until slightly blackened, about 5 minutes on each side. Rinse with water.

In a large pot, dry roast cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and coriander over medium-low heat, stirring to prevent burning. When spices are aromatic (about 2 minutes), add vegetable stock, soy sauce, carrots, and charred onion and ginger.

Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain and keep hot until ready to serve.

Vegetarian Pho
– soba noodles (or rice noodles)
– 3 cups mushrooms
– 2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped

Toppings
– finely chopped chilies
– finely chopped green onion
– bean sprouts
– basil
– mint
– cilantro
– sriracha

Prepare noodles ahead. For soba noodles, cook in boiling water for about 4 minutes (according to package) strain and portion into bowls. If using rice noodles, soak in boiling water for approximately 20 minutes or according to package instructions. Pour broth over the noodles when you’re ready to serve.

I added sliced mushrooms to my finished broth and cooked covered for about 10 minutes until tender, adding the spinach in the last minute or two. Serve hot with desired toppings.

Roasted Strawberry & Banana Coconut Oatmeal

There are some things in life I think (slash know) we could do without. Like third nipples, Real House Wives, Cheez Whiz, and the Kardashians.

BUT! We’re also lucky enough to have access to things that are near perfect, totally awesome and make the universe right.

Like the beach, food trucks, the perfect Pandora radio, Masterpiece Mystery!, puppies, London’s Oyster Cards and the combination of strawberry and banana.

Ever a favorite smoothie combo, these fruits love each other – the tart sweetness of a good strawberry with the mellow warmth and smooth texture of a sweet banana never gets old.

So naturally, I thought that roasting these two fruits might make for an excellent oatmeal/yogurt/ice cream topping. I was not disappointed. The bananas become caramelized and candy-like and the strawberries create an intensified strawberry-flavored syrup.

If you have an affinity for coconut, I suggest using a bit of coconut milk for cooking and/or topping off your oats. It adds a gorgeous non-dairy creaminess along with the hint of sweet coconut.

This breakfast almost completely compensates for the existence of the Jersey Shore.

Strawberry and Banana Topping (serves 2)
– 1 banana, sliced into rounds
– 6-8 strawberries, hulled and sliced into rounds
– baking spray or oil

Pre-heat the over to 400 F/205 C.

Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Lightly oil the parchment with baking spray and place the fruit on it. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until strawberries are releasing a syrupy juice and are soft and fragrant.

Oatmeal (serves 2)
Choose your own adventure

Steel-cut Oats/the Overnight Method:
Place 1/2 cup steel-cut oats in 1 cup water and 1/2 cup coconut milk (or milk of your choice) in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil, take off heat and cover. Let stand for at least an hour or overnight  – either on the counter or in the fridge. (You can make a larger batch and keep it in the fridge for the week.)

When ready to eat, reheat desired serving over a medium heat with a little extra water or coconut milk. Stir in vanilla and cinnamon. Serve with toppings.

-OR-

Rolled oats:
Place 1 cup rolled oats with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup coconut milk. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed – adding more liquid for desired consistency, if necessary. Let stand covered for 2 minutes and serve with toppings.

Toppings and stir-ins:
– coconut milk or cream
– 1/2-1 teaspoon vanilla essence
– 1/2-1 teaspoon cinnamon
– chopped macadamia nuts, walnuts, cashews or almonds
– toasted coconut flakes

Kale and Quinoa Waldorf Salad

Did I just visit the Wikipedia page for the Waldorf salad? Yes, yes I did. What OF IT?

Truth is, I was trawling for fun facts. I LOVE a good random fact – my favorites are historical and very trivial – making them good for nothing except dominating a couple of Jeopardy categories if I’m lucky.

My limited research on the Waldorf salad didn’t unearth much more than the obvious – that the salad was invented at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York around 1896. (By a man named Oscar!)

Useless facts aside, here’s a lightened up version of the famous salad. It still has the signature crunch and sweetness of a Waldorf without the heavy dressing (I used a little Greek yogurt with a Dijon vinaigrette instead of the usual mayo business) and added bonus powerhouse foods like kale and quinoa.

Kale and Quinoa Waldorf Salad (serves 4 as a side)
– 3 cups of kale leaves, de-stemmed and finely shredded
– 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
– 1 small or medium-sized apple (I used a Pink Lady) sliced into bite-sized chunks
– 1 celery rib, finely chopped
– 1/4 cup golden raisins
– 1/4 cup toasted walnuts

Dressing
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
– 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
– 1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
– salt & pepper

Mix dressing ingredients together in a small bowl or jar and set aside.

Place kale, quinoa, apple, celery and raisins together in a bowl. Pour on dressing a little bit at a time, tossing well to combine. The kale softens a little with the dressing – which is a good thing if using Tuscan kale – so this salad can be dressed for to 2 or 3 hours before serving. Otherwise let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes and top with toasted walnuts before serving.

Make it a meal with: 1/2 cup more quinoa and 1/2-1 cup of chickpeas
Make it meaty with: grilled or roast chicken and/or bacon