Friday, August 27, 2010

Eggplant Parsley Dip with Homemade Pita Chips

I love eggplant. It's a delicious, meaty vegetable that's versatile and found in many varieties of cuisines: Italian, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Middle-Eastern, Thai... Sometimes I'll forgo preparing a dish with eggplant because I've been taught to slice it thinly, sprinkle with salt and weight the slices down to help extract the bitter juice. I'm generally not a patient cook, so this extra step is sometimes a turn-off. I learned a tip from Alton Brown, when I had the Food Network Channel. Supposedly, the female eggplant is less bitter and has fewer seeds than its male counterpart. How do you tell the difference? Look at their navel. Male eggplant have oblong navels while females have round ones. I happened across one of each at the CSA last week:

Female and Male Eggplant
But I used them together in the same dish so it's not easy to tell whether there was any impact on flavor. My Saveur magazine focused on Greek cooking and so I attempted Melintzanosalata (Eggplant and Parsley Dip). Melintzano is close to the Italian Melanzana...interested in word origin, here is what I found on

"The ancient Romans did not know about eggplants, so the word melanzana is not of Latin origin. It appears that the introduction of eggplants in the Mediterranean area is due to the Arabs, who got to know it in India. The word mela, meaning apple, and the Arab name of the plant, badingian led to melanzana. For centuries, melanzana had a bad reputation and it was even thought to cause madness. Its name was interpreted to mean mela insana, meaning both insane and not healthy. Such bad reputation comes from the fact that melanzana belongs to the Solanaceae family. It does not cause madness, but it contains the alkaloid solanin, and should not be eaten raw. Even undercooked, eggplant does not taste good." But well cooked, it's delicious!

Roasted eggplant

2 lbs eggplant (about 2 large)
1/2 cup evoo
1 green bell pepper, cored and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toasted pita for serving
Eggplant Draining

1. Heat the broiler. Pierce the eggplants with a fork in several places and broil in the oven until slightly charred and soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Peel eggplants; scoop out most of the seeds. Chop the soft eggplant and drain in a strainer for 30 minutes.

2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add peppers; cook for 10 min. Add jalapenos and continue cooking until golden brown, about 7 minutes longer. Transfer to bowl of food processor along with reserved eggplant, remaining oil, parsley, vinegar and garlic. Process until slightly chunky. Season with salt and pepper. Chill to meld flavors. Serve with toasted pita.

**Cook's note: I would add the garlic to the skillet a few minutes after the jalapeno next time for a milder flavor, or use 1 clove minced.


Homemade Pita Chips

12 baby whole wheat pitas
5 Tbsp olive oil
Any other spices or herbs for flavoring

Preheat oven to 375. Halve the baby pitas so you have to small round disks. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and any other seasoning. I used paprika and thyme for one batch, dried parsley, onion and garlic for another. Cook for about 8 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until golden brown. Some will cook faster than others...all are yummy!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Acorn Squash

Those of you who thought Acorn Squash are correct!
Roasted Acorn Squash
The deep yellow flesh is delicious roasted in the oven as pictured above with a touch of butter (1 Tbsp total), dash of salt (if butter is unsalted), and a sprinkle of your favorite sweetener. I like maple syrup or agave nectar and a tiny bit of brown sugar. The mixture soaks into the squash and enhances it's natural sweetness. Roast uncovered at 400 until your fork pierces the flesh with no resistance. Let it cool before enjoying right out of the skin or scrape everything into a bowl . It tastes like dessert! With a bonus of extra vitamins and minerals including potassium (not only found in bananas), magnesium, calcium and vitamins C and A.

If you choose not to sweeten your squash, opt for just a sprinkle of salt and butter or olive oil to keep it from drying out. Once roasted, you can add the squash to pasta or any type of casserole for extra veggies. It's undetectable in homemade macaroni and cheese but really boosts the nutritional value.

A different variety of squash is coming this week...stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fall Preview

Have you noticed some of the shops are starting to stock their Fall line of clothes? Light coats, sweaters, darker colors...generally cozier things to wear. The weather's cooling off and the days are getting shorter. All the signs that Fall is approaching. We've been getting a preview of Fall from the farm as well!

Can you guess what the surprise vegetable is?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tomatillo Pepita Gazpacho

I had so many tomatillos leftover from the last two weeks and with the weekend approaching I had to use them up before the next CSA pickup! This is a great summertime recipe that I've made before, but I personalised with a few tweaks.

First, here is some history about gazpacho from

"Gazpacho is a liquid salad from the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, made of ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, and bread moistened with water that is blended with olive oil, vinegar, and ice water and served cold. It is Andalusia's best known dish and probably originated as a soup during the time when Spain was part of the Islamic world in the Middle Ages, a soup the Spanish call an ajo blanco, which contained garlic, almonds, bread, olive oil, vinegar, and salt...Gazpacho comes in a variety of different intraregional versions, some of which contain almonds, and no tomatoes and peppers (tomatoes and peppers came to gazpacho after Columbus)."

Liquid salad...mmm...doesn't that sound tasty??

In this case, I'm using tomatillos (a.k.a husk tomatoes or Mexican green tomatoes) and ground cherries (a.k.a cape gooseberry) instead of regular tomatoes as the main ingredient for gazpacho. You can see the ground cherry looks like a mini tomatillo but it's much sweeter in flavor.  Tomatoes, tomatillos and ground cherries all come from the same taxonomic family which is nightshade. So it's not a huge leap of faith to do some replacements in various recipes. Tomatillos are the main ingredient in Salsa Verde, which also isn't a far stretch from this recipe for Gazpacho. Instead of almonds, mentioned in ajo blanco above, pepitas or pumpkin seeds are used. There is definitely a green theme!
Tomatillo Pepita Gazpacho

1/2 cup shelled unsalted pepitas
2 lb tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/4 cup ground cherries, husked and rinsed
2 Hungarian hot peppers
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, diced
1 avocado, peeled and diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatillos and peppers on a baking sheet and bake until almost soft, about 10 minutes. Add ground cherries to baking sheet and leave in oven 3-5 minutes longer. Pepper and tomatillos will be very slightly charred ground cherries soft. Set aside to cool.

Grind Pepitas in food processor. Add tomatillos, ground cherries and garlic. Peel and seed peppers and add to processor. Process soup to a coarse puree. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in vegetable broth and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, chill until cold, about 3 hours.

When ready to serve, divide soup among bowls and top with green onion, cucumber and avocado. Finish with a dollop of sour cream if desired.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fougasse Failure?

One thing about cooking with good ingredients: even if the recipe doesn't yield the intended result, you're likely to still have a fine tasting dish.

Yesterday I attempted Fougasse: a Provencal style bread traditionally flavored with orange and served as a dessert. This bread is meant to have a focaccia-like texture but mine came out more like pizza crust. The recipe I used was from Saveur magazine and called for a savoury blend of olives and herbs. It was going to be a perfect accompaniment to tomato salad and feta stuffed peppers which was on the menu for dinner.

Here it is for you to try. My modifications: I used a medley of olives from the bar at Shop Rite and dried oregano, fresh parsley and fresh savory instead of the herbs mentioned. Also I'm including in blue where I things may have gone wrong. Let me know how yours turns out!
Makes 5 loaves

1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
4 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp evoo plus more to brush loaves
1 tsp kosher salt
cornmeal for dusting
1/2 cup minced kalamata olives
1/4 cup minced green olives
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
Sea salt and cracked black pepper

1. In a large bowl, stir together yeast, sugar and 1 1/2 cups water heated to 115 degrees, let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. Yeast didn't foam up very well. Expiration date was fine. May need to include a bit of the flour mixture to give the yeast more to work with next time. Stir in flour, oil, and salt and mix until a dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead for 6 minutes. I'm not the best kneader. May need to whip out the mixer Hbear got us for our wedding to do the job for me! Cover with a a damp towel; let sit until doubled in size 1 1/2 hours.

2. Divide dough into 5 equal pieces. Working with one dough piece at a time, roll into an 8" x 5" triangle about 1/4 inch thick. Probably didn't need to be rolled out quite so thin. It's not easy to roll dough into a triangle! Transfer dough to a cornmeal-dusted parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife cut slash the dough as pictured. Spread the slashes apart with your fingers. Cover with a damp towel and let rest until puffed, about 30 minutes. I should have left it alone for longer...didn't seem to puff up very well.
3. Heat oven to 500 degrees. Combine olives and herbs in a bowl. Lightly brush each dough piece with oil, sprinkle with olive mixture and season with salt and pepper. Bake one at a time until golden brown, about 15 min each.

So my final result was crunchy like pizza crust not fluffy like focaccia, but tasty all the same. The olives fell off a bit, but were deliciously shriveled, salty and concentrated with flavor--perfect with the tomato salad.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Food for Thought

"Most fruits and vegetables sold at U.S. supermarkets travel an average of 1,500 miles from their source; farmers' market produce is typically sold no more than 50 miles from where it's grown"
source: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Driving west 1,500 miles from Plainsboro, NJ would put me right about in Dodge City, KS. It would take approximately 1 day and 1 hour according to Google maps. To complete the produce transportation analogy, I should be crammed shoulder to shoulder with other Jennifers for the nonstop ride. How would I look, feel and smell after that drive? If you were to greet me in Kansas after my trip, you'd probably want to get the heck outta Dodge.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pepper Poppers

Jalapeno poppers are a popular deep fried appetizer often found on chain restaurant menus. With a 1/2 inch thick greasy crust and loads of oozing hot cheese, the actual pepper taste and texture is lost. Anything filled with cheese, breaded and fried would probably taste the same. I set about trying to make my own poppers with the lovely peppers I collected last week. Jalapeno and Hungarian Hot Wax were the varieties I worked with and they made great 2-3 bite snacks. You can actually taste the flavor and firmness of the pepper! These mini chile rellenos are a bit time consuming to make, so give yourself an afternoon to try them out. They're definitely worth the effort!

First order of business is preparing the peppers. If you skin is super sensitive, wear gloves. My mom likes the kind that come in the hair color box, but if your locks are "au naturel" any clean set of dish washing gloves will do. I sliced mine lengthwise on one side only to leave them whole. The recipe calls for halving them entirely which yields twice as many poppers; your choice! Using a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds and ribs being careful not to press too hard and squirt pepper juice. It would be difficult to continue the recipe with only one eye open. If you prefer peppier poppers, leave some of the seeds and ribs or finely dice a whole pepper and add to the cheese mixture. I skipped the bacon bits and used pepper jack cheese instead, although next time I'll include some extra sharp cheddar to boost the flavor. This recipe from is easy to follow, my notes are in blue:


12 ounces cream cheese Neufchatel has 1/3 less fat, softened
1 (8 ounce) package Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon bacon bits (optional)
12 ounces jalapeno peppers, seeded and halved
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry bread crumbs (try fine panko for more crunch!)
2 quarts oil for frying

In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese, Cheddar cheese and bacon bits. Spoon this mixture into the jalapeno pepper halves. For my whole peppers I used a teaspoon to pack the cheese in and gave them a little squeeze to close.
Put the milk and flour into two separate small bowls. Dip the stuffed jalapenos first into the milk then into the flour, making sure they are well coated with each. Allow the coated jalapenos to dry for about 10 minutes.

Dip the jalapenos in milk again and roll them through the breadcrumbs. Allow them to dry, then repeat to ensure the entire surface of the jalapeno is coated. Rinse and dry your hands frequently or you'll peel off fingertip size pieces of the coating. Once in the flour and twice thru the breadcrumbs was sufficient!

In a medium skillet, heat the oil to 365 degrees F ( 180 degrees C). Deep fry the coated jalapenos 2 to 3 minutes each, until golden brown. Remove and let drain on a paper towel. Be careful when taking a bite, the not cheese might bite back!