Eggplant Stacks

stacks plated *

I have stared at the description of “Eggplant Stacks” on the menu of our favorite Italian restaurant in the bucolic Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York for many years, but never ordered it.   Why not?  I love eggplant.  I love mozzarella.  And I LOVE tomatoes.   Yet, there’s something about the name…”Eggplant Stacks”….that is just so unappealing to me.  Now let’s call it as they would in Italy. “ Melanzane e mozzarella con tomato e basilica.” Now that sounds likes music!    That I would order!   Time after time, I’ve glanced at this on the appetizer section of the menu, and then order something else.

Recently a friend of mine told me she was making “eggplant stacks” for her family that evening. I was astounded that she used the same name as the restaurant.  Of course, the ingredients were the same, and she convinced me that I would love it, no matter what it was called.   I didn’t even have to write the recipe down on paper, as it couldn’t be easier. However, when she said it was as good as eggplant parmigiano I became suspicious, and then downright curious. I immediately went to the store and bought all the ingredients I needed.  My family was now having “eggplant stacks” as well that evening.

I rather enjoyed preparing this dish.  You slice the eggplant in rounds, coat in egg, then breadcrumbs and bake in the oven. You can do this ahead of time for sure. Then you just slice the tomatoes and mozzarella and arrange the stacks, top with basil and then bake again.   It’s so pretty once assembled and baked just enough for the mozzarella to slowly melt down the sides a bit.   By the look of it, as well as the aroma, I knew we were in for a treat.

So let me be honest and tell you that these eggplant stacks are absolutely delicious.  They are pretty on the plate, and pass well on a platter as antipasto.  As an appetizer or side dish, they are a great addition.    Also, added to a delicious bowl of pasta in fresh tomato sauce (see archives), this is a real treat.   Easy to prepare; pleasing to the eye; divine to the taste buds.   A perfect recipe!

HOWEVER, let me just say, don’t try to pass this off as “as good as eggplant parmigiano.”   Sorry.  Not even close.  You won’t fool anyone.  But, it is delicious in it’s own right.  The distinct flavors of the eggplant, the mozzarella and the tomatoes stand out more than in eggplant parmigiano because they stand alone, ever so slightly melded together.  I like that, and I think you will too.

So let’s just call this for what it is.  It is indeed a stack of breaded eggplant, mozzarella and tomatoes,  topped with basil.  Delicious in it’s simplicity.  I especially love the lightness, and of course the combination of these ingredients can’t miss.

I will agree with my friend in that if you are craving eggplant parmigiano, this could possibly satisfy your taste.  It’s less work, and yes, it’s probably less calories, but there’s nothing like the real thing (see the archives for my recipe for eggplant parmigiano). However, I really do like making this. Everyone loves it, and as I said already, these ingredients are just so wonderful together.

Also, if you have food issues amongst your guests, it’s easy to make half the eggplant with gluten free breadcrumbs.  Or if dairy is a problem for some, you can easily use non-dairy mozzarella for some of the stacks.   It’s a recipe that can easily accommodate food allergies.

I hope I have enticed you to try this recipe.  I didn’t mean to put it down.  I LOVE it.  Please make it.  Call it whatever you like.  Just don’t try to pass it off as eggplant parmigiano, that’s all.

RECIPE:  makes approximately 8 to 10 stacks, depending on size of eggplant

1 large eggplant or 2 medium, thickly sliced….a good 1/2 inch or so.

2 large tomatoes, thickly sliced

8 ounces of mozzarella, thickly sliced

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (I recommend Italian panko breadcrumbs to make it crispy, or add plain panko to the Italian seasoned crumbs)

lots of fresh basil

3 TBSP grated Italian cheese, either Pecorino Romano or parmigiana.

olive oil cooking spray

olive oil for drizzle

  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet pan with olive oil cooking spray.
  2. Whisk eggs in a shallow bowl, and place breadcrumbs in a second bowl
  3. Dip each side of the eggplant slices in the egg, then press into the breadcrumbs to coat each side.  Place on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops of the eggplant generously with the cooking spray.
  4. Bake 8 minutes at 400 degrees, then turn each slice and spray again.  Bake an additional 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and cool slightly (or let sit until ready to “stack”).
  6. To make the stacks, just place a slice of mozzarella on top of the eggplant, then the tomato.  Sprinkle with some grated cheese and top with basil.
  7. Bake stacks until the cheese has slightly melted, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Serve warm.  Before serving, top each stack with fresh basil, and perhaps a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.

*Note:  I have thinned out some pesto sauce (see archives) with olive oil, and drizzled with this.  You absolutely don’t need to drizzle anything.  It’s just a suggestion.

**You can also double stack. Or, you can do as I do, eat two singles at one time.

IMG_9734IMG_9716stacks mozzarells slicedstacks crumbs:eggstacs dipstacks pan 1stacs pan 2stacks pan 4stacks pan 5stacks plated closeupstacks plated *

 

 

 

 

 

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Pasta with Asparagus and Peas (Primavera)

primavera plated ***

Pasta Primavera can typically be made using all, or some, of Spring’s finest bounty.  My favorite way, however, of making this dish is with asparagus and fresh spring peas.   The simple flavors of asparagus and peas go so well together, especially when sautéed with shallots, garlic, olive oil and butter.   All you need after that is some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, some fresh herbs, such as parsley, tarragon or mint, and a grind or two of fresh black pepper.  Heaven awaits your taste buds.  I especially love how light this dish is without sacrificing flavor.

Eating what’s in season, just makes sense.  Most culinary aficionados have touted this practice for many years.  But before that, human nature just knew that this was the tastiest (and cheapest) was to eat.    In my grandmothers’ time, this was how you fed your family…..seasonally, from your garden.   Even when I was young, we had a vegetable man who came around to our street a few times a week with the freshest, local produce of the season, piled high in his bus.  Now we can buy just about any vegetable at any time of year from all around the globe.  I try very hard to wait for the right food at the right season.  This is one of the recipes where I do just that.  Asparagus and peas are in season right now in NJ, and I plucked the herbs from my garden.   The taste is extra fresh and extra vibrant.  You really taste each ingredient.

The motto to the story:  take whatever vegetables are in season, preferably grown local (easy to do this now with Farmer’s Markets in most towns), sauté with garlic, shallots or even spring onions in olive oil and butter. Put it on top of any pasta shape of your choice.  Add some fresh herbs and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, and dig in for truly delectable experience.  You can’t miss!

Buon Appetito!

RECIPE:  serves 4

1 pound asparagus, preferably thin

1 lb. fresh peas ( you can find them shelled in the “convenience” section of the produce aisle

2 large shallots, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 TBSP unsalted butter, plus 1 extra TBSP for mixing

3 TBSP olive oil

1 tsp fine sea salt, plus salt for the pasta water

4 TBSP minced parsley

3 TBSP minced fresh tarragon or mint or both

Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

  1.  Cut tips off the asparagus and set aside.
  2. Cut stems of asparagus in 1 to 2 inch diagonals
  3. Melt the butter with the oil in a large sauce pan.
  4. Add the shallots, asparagus stems and peas.  Saute for 5 minutes, then add the garlic.
  5. Continue cooking for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetable are tender but not mushy.
  6. Add the asparagus tips and fresh herbs (or you can add the herbs when plated) and cook 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain.
  8. Add the 1 TbSP ( maybe 2) of butter to the serving bowl before adding the drained pasta.  Stir to coat the pasta.  Add the asparagus and peas mixture and stir to combine.  Add at least 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cheese and combine.  Grind some black pepper.
  9. Serve with more grated cheese and black pepper.

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1950s Date and Nut Loaf

date:nut loaf slice **

My sister and I have spent months going through our parent’s home, navigating through 70 years of memorabilia.  Among the treasures that we found was our  mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook that she received Christmas 1959.   It is worn…actually falling apart.  It is soiled……so many pages have her food-coated  fingerprints.    It was loved and enjoyed by her for almost 60 years.

I can recall this cookbook, opened on our red formica kitchen table, and mom in her apron following her favorite recipe.  Usually she was baking from it’s pages, and nothing made me happier.  She had her favorite recipes, and I liked each one better than the next.

Going through Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book was a history lesson steeped in memories for me.    The pictures of the 1950s housewife, cooking in a beautiful dress and heels, is truly a slice of life that has disappeared (thank goodness).   The recipes have changed as well.  There is no mention of healthy ingredients, caloric or fat content, and surely the more sugar the better for these desserts.

In deciding which recipe to try first, I went through the cookbook, page by page, stopping and marking any page that was soiled by her food and her fingerprints.   Sixty years later and I can still smell and taste each one of her favorite recipes…….the ones where the spine of the book opens flatly.    I remember her apron.  I remember the standing Sunbeam mixmaster sitting on the counter.  I remember her smile.  She was always happy when she was cooking for her family.    I remember waiting with anticipation for that first slice of whatever it was she was baking.   It warms my heart to just recall this scene.

So after much deliberation I decided to begin my journey down memory lane within this cookbook with “Date and Nut Loaf.”   It was always one of my favorites.  She usually made it for afternoon coffee with a neighbor or one of my aunts.  I especially loved it when it was spread with cream cheese and made into small tea sandwiches.  If we were lucky, it appeared at the breakfast table the next morning.

My first bite of the date and nut loaf brought back many memories.  The taste was so familiar, even though I can’t even imagine when the last time was that I’d had it.  It was as if I’d had a slice yesterday.   It never ceases to amaze me how many memories our taste buds have locked away.  One bite and I’m back in time……a special time, that I love to visit over and over.

Recipe:  1 loaf

  1.  Pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water over ……1 1/2 cups cut-up dates
  2. Let cool.
  3. Mix thoroughly…. 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 TBSP soft shortening and 1 egg
  4. Stir in the dates and water.
  5. Sift together and stir in…2 1/4 cups sifted flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt
  6. Blend in 1 cup broken nuts.  Use either walnuts or pecans.
  7. Pour into a well greased 9x5x3 loaf pan.
  8. Let stand for 20 minutes before baking
  9. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 60 to 70 minutes.

 

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Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms & Grapes

roasted mushrooms plated close up **?

You already know about my addiction to shitake mushrooms, and how very good they are for you.   My brilliant nutritionist claims that eating shitakes throughout the flu season really boosts your immunity.   Hence, you will find shitakes cooking in my kitchen all year long, either sautéing, roasting or in soups and stews.  I add them to everything!  Do check the archives for my sautéed mushrooms recipe.

One of my favorite ways to make these nutritional bombshells is to roast them in a hot oven with red grapes, shallots, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Then once they are cooked through and slightly crunchy, you drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  They are great as a side dish,  in an omelet, but also super as a snack, b y the handful.  The grapes add a slightly sweet touch to balance the earthy flavor.

Because I can’t remember where I read this recipe (this is a major problem lately), I’ve had to play around with the measuring of ingredients, but honestly, you can’t mess this up.  You can make them as crunchy as you like by increasing the heat.   The sweetness can be controlled by the amount of grapes you use, and of course, the balsamic vinegar adds a very complex flavoring to the entire dish.  One night I found myself adding a little extra salt, and eating them like popcorn while I watched a movie on TV!

They do shrink as they cook, so don’t be overwhelmed by the amount I’m suggesting.   No matter how many pounds of mushrooms I make, they disappear within 24 hours…..every single time.

Here’s to your health!  I hope you enjoy!

Recipe:  

1 1/2  to 2 lbs shiitake mushrooms (sometimes I add 5 oz. or so of a baby bella or criminology mushroom for texture)

15-20 seedless red grapes (left whole)

1 large shallot sliced

2 – 3cloves of garlic, thickly sliced

4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil ( you may need more)

sea salt or fine Kosher salt and pepper to taste

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread the mushrooms, shallots, garlic and grapes on a sheet pan.
  3. Generously season with salt and pepper, but remember you can add more at the end.
  4. Drizzle with the olive oil and stir well to coat them.  You may need more olive oil.
  5. Roast in the oven for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes or so.
  6. When they are cooked to your liking, take them out of the oven, and while still on the pan, drizzle the balsamic vinegar all over, and stir.  Leave them on the pan for a few minutes before serving.

 

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Chia Breakfast Pudding

chia plated **

Long before chia seeds became known for being a super food, they were marketed as chia pets. All you had to do was plant the seeds in a clay figurine, water it and it would grow. When my kids were young they would sing the song, “chi chi chi chia,” as this was the theme song in the advertisement on TV.  They’d sing it over and over again and loved their chia pets. The song drove me crazy, and I found the chia pets to be hideous. These chia pets are still around and still as offensive as ever.

Before the craze changed from chia pets to super food, I had a friend ( a health enthusiast, to say the least) who told me about all the delicious things she was doing with these chia seeds. This wasn’t the first crazy food that she insisted was good for me. Most times, I’d listen to her and march off to a health food store and purchase some hemp, wheat grass or uva ursi leaves.   But “chi chi chi chia” seeds? Never!! Those disgusting things growing in my children’s rooms??!! No can do. But being a good friend, I wrote (scribbled) down her instructions on how to make a chia pudding that she swore would taste like tapioca pudding.

This scrap of paper ( her recipe for chia pudding) has sat in a folder marked “recipes to try” for years and years. I would constantly move it to the back of the pile, knowing that I’d never try it, until the last year or two, when chia breakfast pudding became popular and is everywhere!   You can find a million and one ways to make this on the internet.   I decided it was time to give it a go. I hadn’t seen a chia pet growing in my house for a very long time, so I thought I would be able to stomach it now.

Why did I wait so long to make this? It’s delicious! Saying it tastes like tapioca pudding is a stretch, but with berries, fruit and nuts, this makes a delicious breakfast or snack. There are so many variations on this pudding, but I think it best to keep it as simple as possible because it literally takes five minutes to make. Why complicate things? Keep it simple and you’ll make it often. I vary the toppings according to the fruit and nuts I have on hand.

I can’t believe that this has become a weekly breakfast choice for me now, after all these years. Now I’m the one singing, “chi chi chi chia.”

Recipe:  4 servings

1/2 cup chia seeds

2 cups milk…can be almond milk if desired

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. cinnamon

4 TBSP. maple syrup, or any other sweetener of choice (honey, agave, stevia etc), and you can adjust to your liking.

4 jars with lids….or you can put it all in a bowl and cover it.

Fruit, berries, nuts or any topping of  choice

  1.  Combine seeds with the milk and stir.
  2. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and sweetener and stir until all combined.
  3. Place in jars.  Cover and refrigerate over night.
  4. Top with fruit, nuts, etc.

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Ida’s Polenta

polenta plated **

First of all, please excuse my recent absence. It’s been quite a long time since my last post. What I’ve learned during this time of reflection, is just how important our memories truly are to us. Without memories, we are left with very little. I have been blessed with many memories of family and friends, and even people I hardly knew, who made me smile and brought some happiness into my life.

To that point, this blog has always been an homage to the people who have left me with beautiful memories of food, family, friendship and tradition. Nothing warms my heart more than remembering those special moments of cooking, laughter, and indulging in a world of taste, that has stayed indelible in my mind and on my tongue forever. I cherish each and every recipe, and every moment spent with that special person, who took the time to share themselves, as well as their recipes, with me.

One such recipe is Ida’s Polenta. I especially cherish this recipe as it is written in her handwriting, for my husband. Ida was a fabulous cook, and everything she made was a trip back in time to Italy, where she learned how to cook as a young girl. My favorite dish of her’s was polenta, with a tomato sauce made with pepperoni. This was an unusual dish for me because polenta wasn’t anything I was too familiar with at this time ( about 20 years ago, polenta wasn’t the rage as it is today). I also wasn’t fond of pepperoni, so it amazed me how outrageously delicious this sauce was.   The best part was the way she formed the polenta into perfectly shaped large shells, placed in a Pyrex baking dish, topped with gravy and grated cheese, and then baked it in the oven. It was a thing of beauty!

Ida made this for me every time we went to her apartment, as she knew it was my favorite. The minute you walked into her apartment, you could smell this sweet and tangy sauce, and my mouth would start to water. When she knew her cooking days were coming to an end, she wrote the recipe down on paper and put it in an envelope for my husband. Each time I open this envelope and pull out the handwritten recipe, memories abound for me. When I’m shaping the polenta ( I cannot get mine into the form of a shell as she did) I can see her working intently, but always having time for a laugh. She could tell a joke…..even while cooking!! And when we sit down to this delicious meal, my husband and I look at each other, and say,  “eat with the bread,” as she always did.

Recipe:   serves 4 to 6

1 cup polenta

2 cups water

1/2 grated Italian Pecorino Romano cheese

1 28 ounce can of Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes, squished or pureed.

1/3 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 to 3 ounces of pepperoni, sliced in 2 inch by 1 inch pieces (no need to be accurate )

1/2 cup white wine

salt and pepper to taste

  1.  To make the sauce, simply heat the oil in a saucepan, add the garlic and onion until soft.  Then add the pepperoni for about 5 to 10 minutes.  The add the white wine.  Cook down the wine for 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 30 minutes on medium low heat.
  2.  Make polenta as package directs, which is usually to bring the water and 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil, and then to slowly stream in the polenta, constantly stirring so as not to form lumps. Once the polenta is firm and not runny, add the grated cheese and stir until absorbed.
  3. Put a layer of sauce in a 9 x 13 Pyrex pan.  Then layer the polenta on top.  (As I mentioned earlier, I just cannot shape the polenta at this point as Ida did.)
  4. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20  to 30 minutes or until slightly firm to the touch.
  5. Once the polenta is firm and cooked, I am able to form it into ravioli, as I plate the polenta. It’s not necessary, but I think it looks nice in the dish, rather than like “mush.”  I then top it with sauce and grated cheese.
  6. “Eat with the bread!”
  7. polenta recipe 1polenta recipe 2polenta ingredientsIMG_9478 copypolenta choppolenta sauce 1polenta sauce finalpolenta pot 2polenta pot 3polenta pan 1polenta pan 2polenta pan cookedpolenta plated close uppolenta plated **

 

 

 

Orecchiette with Broccoli-Rabe & Sausage

orechiette bowl **

In honor of my dad….a signature dish from his place of birth, the Puglia region of Italy.

To be specific, he was born  in Santeramo in Colle, Provincia di Bari, Puglia, Italy.

Recipe:  serves 4

1 pound orecchiette ( a Puglia pasta, named for the shape it resembles, “little ears”).

1/4 cup olive oil

4 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, meat removed from casings and crumbled.

2 pounds broccoli-rabe, cleaned and roughly cut

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (can add more to taste)

1/4 tsp. of salt or to taste

1/4 cup grated pecorino romano or parmigiano cheese.

  1.  Heat the olive oil in a large, deep, heavy skillet with fitted lid. Add the garlic and saute until golden, about 2 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the orecchiette and cook until al dente.
  3. Meanwhile, add the sausage meat to the oil and garlic.  Cook, stirring about 5 minutes, or until meat is browned.
  4. Add to the broccoli-rabe to the meat, along with 1 cup pasta water, 1/4 tsp. of salt, and the pepper flakes.
  5. Cover pan and steam for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove cover and cook over high heat for 3 minutes or so, until the liquids are slightly reduced.
  7. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, and toss gently.
  8. Sprinkle on half the cheese, toss again and then add remaining cheese over the pasta.
  9. Serve immediately and pass more grated cheese if desired.

** You can eliminate the sausage by cooking the broccoli rabe in a large pot of salted water.  Remove it by using a slotted spoon.  Squeeze as much water out of the broccoli-rabe as possible.   Then cook the orecchiette in the same water.  Add it all to the pan of sautéed garlic,  red pepper, and oil,  and toss with the cheese.

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My Hearty Pasta e Fagioli (Beans)

my fagioli plated **

Looking for a hearty dish to make for dinner? If you live in the two thirds of our country that’s in a deep freeze right now, I’m quite sure you are! With these frigid temperatures and snowstorms that are plaguing most of our country, we need a meal that warms our hearts, souls, and bodies. My hearty pasta and beans is just that meal.

My husband adores this dish, especially on a cold evening with a hunk of crusty Italian bread and a glass of red wine. However, he refuses to call it “pasta e fagioli.” Please do check the blog archives for what he considers traditional pasta e fagioli. I blogged his recipe years ago. It is absolutely delicious. I love it when he makes it, but I also love my pasta e fagioli. They are different, and both delicious. No one has ever turned down a dish of either.

It does make me laugh when we confront each other in the kitchen to decide(argue) who’s recipe will we use on any particular night. I want it my way, and he wants it his way. You would think that a 50/50 compromise would settle it. Actually, I let him make it his way 75% of the time. He feels triumphant, and I get a delicious homemade meal without doing the cooking. I just have a glass of white wine and watch.  What could be better?

I hope you’ll try both recipes……and stay warm!

Recipe:  serves 4

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 carrots,  chopped finely

2 celery stalks, chopped finely

2 Tablespoons tomato paste or 1/3 cup leftover marinara sauce

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 tsp. crushed red pepper or to taste

salt and pepper to taste

fresh sage leaves (optional, but oh so wonderful), roughly chopped and for garnish

8 to 12 ounces of chicken or vegetable broth or bouillon

1 29 ounce can of white cannelloni beans (I sometimes add another small can of beans)

1 pound mezze rigatoni or the calamari shape pasta

Grated pecorino romano cheese for passing

  1. Bring a pasta pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pot.  Add the chopped garlic, celery and carrots (I throw them all in a food processor and chop finely).  Saute until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the chopped sage and red pepper and saute for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato sauce or paste and stir until combined, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add all the beans and the broth, and let cook for 10 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally to combine flavors.  Season with salt and pepper.
  5. With a slotted spoon, take 1 1/2 to 2 cups of beans out of the pot and puree until just smooth.  Return to the pot and cook for 5 minutes.
  6. When the pasta is cooking, add 1 cup of the pasta water to the beans.  You can also add more broth if you feel you need it .  Reserve another cup of the water.
  7. Drain pasta when done and add to pot.  Add more water if necessary.
  8. Serve with lots of grated pecorino romano cheese and garnish with sage.
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Healthy Chocolate Avocado Mousse

mousse 4

Had enough sugar yet? Are you counting the days until the Holidays are over and you can get back to healthy eating? I know I am. For me, the Holiday Season means a free pass to eat anything and everything that I normally would not dream of eating.  By the time I get to New Year’s Eve, I’m always moaning that “I just can’t eat or drink another thing!!!”   If I had my choice, I’d toast the New Year with a glass of vitamin packed green juice or smoothie. But not to be a “kill-joy,” I’ll finish up 2017 by indulging (hopefully one last time) in too much food and alcohol

My pre- New Years Eve tradition is to go through my recipe files and cookbooks, and pull out some healthy recipes to start off the New Year.  At the very least, it makes me feel pro-active, and always gives me hope that the end of this insanity is in sight.   As we all know, healthy food can be very delicious, but it takes some time to plan and prepare, and honestly, who has the time during this hectic time of year.

As my sugar high is in full swing, and we still have several days to go until I can officially declare my kitchen a safe haven for those who want to feel better about what is going into their bodies, I have found a recipe that will make you think you are indulging in a decadent dessert, but are actually eating something very healthy. The best part is that the ingredients are staples in my kitchen, so I can whip this up any time. Whip it up indeed…. as all you have to do is throw the ingredients in a blender! It couldn’t be easier.

Chocolate avocado mousse is one of those desserts that every time you serve it, your guests will want the recipe (usually after one bite), and then can’t believe the ingredients. I’ve seen variations of this recipe floating around the internet and on some food shows for years and always thought it looked good, but couldn’t possibly be that good. Well I was wrong. This is decadently delish. It’s so rich that you really do need a small dollop of whipped cream or some berries on top.

If you are in need of a dessert recipe to finish out this year, or start the new one, you can get a head start on healthy eating by making this delicious chocolate avocado mousse. If you don’t share the recipe, your guests will think they are indulging in another rich and delicious dessert before staring their new year’s resolutions. Only you will know that you have started them on their way to a healthy 2018!

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2018!

Happy New Year!

Recipe:  makes 6 servings

6 – 7 medjool dates, soaked (you can find these in the fresh produce section)

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 very ripe avocados, mashed

3/4 cup organic cocoa

1/2 cup water

  1.  Once your dates have soaked for 20 minutes or so, pit them and put in the blender or food processor with the maple syrup and vanilla and blend until smooth.
  2. Add the mashed avocado,  cocoa powder and water and process until smooth.  You may have to scrape the sides a few times in-between to mix the ingredients.
  3. Fill each small ramekin or dish.  Top with berries or whipped cream or both.
  4. Serve chilled or at room temperature.mousse ingredients.jpgmousse datesmousse avocado mashmousse dates blendermousse cocoa:vanilla:watermousse closeupmousse plated again

 

 

Mashed Potato Pie

potato pie baked **

Mashed potatoes are just not my thing. We never had them in my home growing up. If my mom thought a dinner guest might enjoy mashed potatoes, out came the box of “Hungry Man instant mashed potatoes” and she whipped up an absolutely disgusting blob of “fake” mashed potatoes.   It was hard not to gag if you were brave enough to scoop up some of this bland mush. I learned quickly to avoid it at all costs, and I felt sorry for any non-suspecting guests. It was fun to watch their faces as they happily dug in, and then didn’t know what to do with this blob of something unfamiliar in their mouth. It became a family joke until we finally convinced my mom not to bother any more. Just make pasta!

In 1977, my mom and I decided it was time to break this mashed potato curse. It was my daughter’s christening, and we had planned to make all the food for the party. We would make everything the day before, and then serve it buffet style for the 20 or so family members attending. I’m sure we made a baked pasta dish, but I remember deciding that this was a perfect time to try out her friend’s recipe for baked mashed potato pie…….using real potatoes! I should have known it was a mistake when she took the recipe over the phone, with no measurements or directions. I must admit it sounded easy enough.

We peeled 10 pounds of potatoes, and cut them into cubes. We salted the water as if we were cooking pasta, and kept an eye on the boiling potatoes , testing frequently. Once they were soft and easy to mash, we shut off the water and left the potatoes in the hot water while we prepared the rest of the ingredients……set the table….fed the baby, etc. All in all, the cooked potatoes must have been resting in the hot water for over an hour.

We melted the butter, and started to mash with an electric beater.   It was like glue!! It looked like we were making taffy. We honestly had no idea what we had done wrong. This was unknown territory to us. We continued fighting with the potatoes, stretching and pulling, and finally made one very large pie. We convinced ourselves that once baked, it would be delicious.

I think by now you can guess what happened.  It was inedible! Everyone was very polite, and ate a bite or two. We questioned what we had done wrong, and we learned that you never leave the potatoes in the hot water after they have cooked. You must drain them immediately.

Since 1977, we have made many successful potato pies. It’s simple, delicious and can be made ahead of time. It’s a lovely change from plain mashed potatoes, and infinitely better than instant potatoes!

I hope you enjoy!

Recipe:  serves 6

2 to 3 pounds of potatoes

1 stick of butter, melted plus 2 TBSP for greasing the casserole

8 ounces mozzarella

1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, plus 4 tablespoons

1/4 cup (approximately) Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

salt and pepper to taste

  1.  Boil the potatoes in salted water.  Drain immediately when soft.
  2.  While the potatoes are boiling, heavily grease a casserole dish with the 2 TBSP butter.  Then coat the buttered dish with breadcrumbs.  Also slice the mozzarella and set aside.
  3. Add the melted butter to the drained potatoes, and mash.  Add 1/4 cup of the grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add half the potato mixture to the casserole.  Top with some mozzarella and more grated parmigiano.  Then add the remaining potatoes, mozzarella, grated parmigiano and sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs.
  5. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling.

** I’ve come across a secret ingredient for my mashed potatoes. It’s totally not necessary, but truffle salt (just a little ) turns regular mashed potatoes into something special, and it also added that “extra something” to this dish as well.  It’s worth a try sometime.  It’s certainly a long way from that box of “Hungry Man!”

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