Friday, June 5, 2009

Eggplant: easier than you think.

The eggplant: It sits there in the vegetable aisle, dark, foreboding, impenetrable. What are you supposed to do with that thing? Somehow Italian restaurants transform it into the uber-delicious eggplant parm hero, but the novice chef throws up his hands and reaches for the good old broccoli instead.
Fear not, novice chef, I'm here to help, with a recipe for baked eggplant that is as easy as slice, bake, top, and eat.
Alot of eggplant recipes start out with the following directions: "Slice eggplant, put slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt, let sit for 2 hours, rinse, and pat dry".
WTF? Who has time for that? I must have ADD, but any recipe that involves leaving something alone for more than 30 minutes is too long. Knowing me, I would do the first step and then completely forget about the eggplant and find it two days later, resplendent with mold. So I have always skipped this salting step, which is supposed to prevent the eggplant from having a bitter taste, and have never found my cooked eggplant bitter at all. I now feel vindicated in skipping this step and confident in passing on this tip to all of you in blog-land because I just found the following on Wikipedia:
Salting and then rinsing the sliced eggplant (known as "degorging") can soften and remove much of the bitterness though this is often unnecessary. Some modern varieties do not need this treatment, as they are far less bitter.
Ha! I knew it! If you see any recipes for eggplant involving this step, go ahead and skip it. Veggielicious and Wikipedia say so.
Anyway, on to the recipe. Actually, not yet. I could teach you how to make pizzeria-style eggplant parmesan, which involves breading and frying the eggplant. I used to make that all the time, but stopped for a few reasons:
-it's messy and time-consuming to do the breading;
-watching the eggplant soak up massive quantities of oil as I fried it freaked me out, as I am diet-conscious and don't want to eat 4 tablespoons of oil for lunch;
-baking the eggplant turns out a dish that is just as flavorful, but lighter and much easier.
So, the recipe:
-Take your eggplant and slice it into rounds about a 1/2 inch in thickness. I've found that cutting them thinner gets better results. If you have a thing against the skin you can peel it off, but I like it and we all know that vegetable skins are good for you, especially dark-hued ones.
-Salt the slices and leave them in a colander for 2 hours. Just kidding! Eggplant joke!
-Prepare your baking sheets (aka cooking sheet): If you have a pastry brush, use this to brush some olive oil on the sheet to prevent the eggplant from sticking.
If not, pour on some olive oil and spread it around with a paper towel. You could probably also spray it with cooking spray.
-Next, lay the eggplant slices out on the baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with oil if you have a pastry brush- if not, use a paper towel, and make a note to buy yourself a pastry brush. Put some black pepper on top.
-If you have a red bell pepper in your fridge, wash it, cut it in half, and put it skin-side up on the cookie sheet along with the eggplant. If not, don't worry about it.
-Cook the eggplant for about 25 minutes. When it's done it will look like this:

-Get out a baking dish, around a 9x9 brownie-pan like dish is fine. Put some pasta sauce on the bottom of the dish, then a layer of eggplant, then some Parmesan cheese. If you cooked the red pepper, remove what you can of the skin, slice into thin strips, and put it in with the eggplant. You can also put in thin slices of onion, and some sliced garlic if you're not making this dish for a first date.

-When you are done layering the eggplant, sauce, and Parm, you can top it with mozzarella cheese. I didn't do this last time because I didn't have any, and didn't miss it.

-Bake this in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes. In the meantime, boil some spaghetti.
Serve the spaghetti topped with eggplant and an extra sprinkle of Parm. Tell your friends it is 'Spaghetti melanzana', which means 'spaghetti with eggplant' but sounds fancier.
Variations: I bet this would be great served in a toasted hoagie/sub/grinder roll, but I've never tried it. If you're a low-carber, you could eat this straight up, with no pasta or bread. I had it last night with nothing, but it was more satisfying with the spaghetti.
Bon appetit!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I love Indian food, and that's only because I forced myself to try it again after initially not liking it. I can't exactly remember the first time I had Indian- it must have been in high school or early college- but I know that I had something I didn't like, and my brain created a link that was basically "Indian food=disgusting".

Then my senior year in college, I became friends with an Indian guy in one of my sociology classes and he invited me to go out for Indian food with him. Not wanting to insult him or, oh, a billion of his compatriots, I decided to try it again. The fact that it was a buffet encouraged me, because that way I could a) see and smell the food before putting it on my plate and b) discreetly shovel food in my napkin if I didn't like it and go back to the buffet for something different, like plain white rice.

Lo and behold, I loved everything at the buffet. (everything vegetarian, of course). Since that fateful trip to the Indian buffet in Boston, I have loved Indian food.
***note: I know that at this point, Indian foodies/experts/actual Indian people are rolling their eyes and thinking that "Indian food" is too wide a term, that I don't have any idea about the regional differences that exist in Indian cuisine, and that if all I have ever eaten is faux Indian food, then I am woefully ignorant. I agree with all of the above. I would love to learn more about Indian cuisine, and am open to anyone sponsoring a trip to India for me to master the art of Indian cooking and report back on my blog.

After Boston I moved to Paris, where there was no shortage of authentic Indian restaurants. There was one walking distance from my apartment, with reasonable prices and a nice vegetarian selection:
But since moving to Fernandina Beach, Florida, I have been deprived of nearby Indian restaurants. There are definitely some in Jacksonville, but somehow in 5 years of living here I have not made it to one. So the closest I have come to eating Indian has been Amy's frozen Indian meals, which are good, but expensive:

I have a couple of Indian cookbooks, but the recipes usually involve no fewer than 20 spices, a mortar and pestle, and clarifying butter. Being a single mom with what feels like 10 different jobs, I have no time for such preparations. So I started experimenting with the variety of jarred Indian sauces you can buy at nice supermarkets or health food stores. Basically you prepare whatever vegetables and proteins appeal to you, mix the sauce in, make some rice, and voila, a quasi-Indian-esque stand-in for real Indian food. The vegetables I used this time around were:
onion, garlic, carrots, spinach, potatoes, and chick peas.
I chopped the onion and garlic and put that in the frying pan with some oil to get started, and then added the carrots. I used fresh spinach for this one, but you could use frozen. Cooking fresh spinach is really easy; in this case, I already had the onion, garlic, and carrots in the pan, and then I added a small amount of water (less than 1/4 cup), heaped the fresh spinach on top, and perched the lid on top of that. After a couple of minutes the spinach starts cooking down and you can move it around so more raw spinach goes to the bottom of the pan. After another minute or so the spinach is cooked. At that point I added the sauce- in this case, Karala Curry Vegetable Kurma Sauce-and let it all simmer together for a minute. I had made basmati rice on the side (boil in bag- no measuring- no burning!) and put the whole thing together.

Now, I love Indian, but I don't love spicy. Call me a wimp, but I don't like having my mouth on fire and my nose running at the dinner table. This sauce was too spicy for me, so to thin the flavor out I added a can of chick peas and a can of diced potatoes. That made it much less spicy while still being flavorful.
So the next time you want a satisfying curry but are short on time and/or the only spice in your pantry is oregano that expired in 1988, try making an Indian-inspired meal at home with store-bought sauce. You won't feel as if you've been transported to India, but you might feel as if you were at the Epcot Center version of it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stealth Tofu

My 6 year old daughter would never want to eat an animal. She would never want to eat tofu, either, and hence the problem. While her sister once asked me if she could have chick peas for dessert, getting non-animal protein into Julie is a bit of a problem. She likes lentil soup, veggie burgers and dogs, and vegetarian chili if I mash the beans up and cover the bowl with enough shredded cheese to top a 12 inch pizza. So in order to get her to eat more protein, I have to be creative. Black bean brownies, as discussed in an earlier post, were a big hit. I made them again today and they turned out extra delicious- undercooking them in a 8"x8" pan seems to produce the kind of gooey, fudgy brownie I love. But for some reason, it took me till yesterday to finally slap my forehead and say 'duh! Silken tofu smoothies!'. So I got out my 1970s-era blender and blended:

-one box silken tofu ('silken' refers to how firm the tofu is. Your choices are extra-firm, firm, or silken. It's still solid, but the least solid of the three).
-frozen strawberries, probably about 15 of 'em
-apple juice
-honey, and sugar- you could just honey, maple syrup, agave nectar...
-drop of vanilla
-ice cubes

Most smoothie recipes call for a frozen banana, but Julie hates bananas, along with beans and tofu, so no bananas here. You could also use OJ instead of apple juice. Go crazy, kids!
So anyway, I whipped the crap out of it until it was completely smooth.
Now, here's the thing: I tasted it, and since I knew it had tofu in it, it tasted like tofu to me. But since I carefully hid the tofu situation from Julie, I figured she would have no bias and maybe like it- which she did! Hurray! At first it was so thick, like frozen yogurt, that I gave it to her in a bowl with a spoon. I stuck the blender container in the fridge, and the next day I added a few more frozen strawberries and some ice cubes and blended it again to bring it back to a smoothie-like consistency. I then poured it in a large cup with a lid and a giant straw (think 7-11 style) and brought it with me to pick her up at school. She sucked down the whole thing, which means over the course of two days, she ate an entire box of tofu! Incredible! A new protein food to add to the list of Things My Child Will Eat Besides Macaroni and Cheese.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Eating out in Fernandina Beach

I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted on my culinary adventures, but the truth is, I haven't had many homemade culinary adventures in the last month. I suppose that I get into cooking funks, where I won't cook for a while, and then bust out of the funk and cook fab meal after fab meal for a while.
So, in lieu of describing meals I've made, I'll tell you about meals others have made and served to me as I reclined on a chaise lounge, fanned with palm fronds by handsome young men in loincloths. OK, not quite. But actual meals in actual restaurants, nonetheless!

On Saturday, a chance meeting at the Farmer's Market with some friends led to an invitation to lunch at 29 South, a restaurant in Fernandina Beach, Florida. I stayed away from 29 South for a long time because they had nothing vegetarian on the dinner menu, and I usually detest cobbling a meal together from sides. But I went recently for dinner and the server and kitchen were more than happy to work with me to make a meal that felt more like a normal dinner than thrown-together scraps. At that dinner, I ate grilled romaine lettuce with walnuts and blue cheese as my appetizer, and a stack of breaded tomato slices and goat cheese (and something else, I forget) as my main course.

Grilled romaine lettuce- in my wildest dreams, I would have never thought of grilling lettuce. Eggplant, zucchini, even asparagus- delicious grilled. But lettuce?
Turns out, it was awesome, smoky and crispy in parts and tender. It went great with the cheese and walnuts. The tomato-goat cheese tower was delicious, too, but a little heavy after the appetizer. Still, I left happy.

So, back to lunch at 29 South- as it turns out, they have not one but TWO vegetarian options on their lunch menu: a falafel sandwich, and a veggie wrap. Both sounded good, but I went with the falafel because it's pretty rare to see falafel on a menu in Fernandina Beach, and I love falafel. (the best falafel I ever had was at L'As de Falafel in Paris. Be sure to check it out the next time you pass through France) . The 29 South falafel came out as a giant ball on a hamburger bun, with what I think was feta cheese, and a slice of tomato. I would have preferred a pita or wrap bread to the bun, but no matter. It was excellent- the falafel was fresh and fairly light for what can be a real belly-sinker of a meal. The cheese was a great accompanyment, and there was a nice mix greens salad on the side with a nice homemade dressing. I left feeling satisfied but not stuffed.

The very next day, my friend and I helped my friend out with a project related to her new book- shameless promo, and to thank us she invited us out to dinner. There was talk of going to Chil'is, but I successfully blocked this most dreadful idea. I will go to Chili's if I have absolutely no choice, but having their defrosted black bean burger more than once a year is not my idea of a nice meal out. We ended up at Arte Pizza, another independant restaurant in downtown Fernandina Beach. Arte is known for its brick oven pizza, but I opted for what they called Eggplant Parmesean but I think is more aptly referred to as eggplant rollatini. It was strips of cooked eggplant, no breading, wrapped around cheese (mozzarella and I assume parmsean) plus four little strips of pasta stuffed with ricotta on the side, all covered with fresh tomato sauce. Growing up eating authentic Italian food, I have little patience for the Olive Gardens of the world, but this was the anthesis of Olive Garden. It was fresh and homemade tasting and really good. Our salad was romaine with Ceasar dressing, which was a treat for me because 99% of Ceasar dressing contains anchovies, but this one did not. It was great and I did my best to ignore the amount of calories and fat that the dressing represented as I chowed down.

Summer's almost here, and with the kids out of school/ballet/soccer and the chauffering that goes with it, I hope to have more time to cook and more time to blog.

29 South on Urbanspoon

Arte Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Vegetable Fajitas

Last night I had veggie fajitas at a Mexican restaurant. It's always impressive when the sizzling hot plate comes to your table, but I was less impressed with the fajitas themselves- they were pretty good, but I think I'm so in love with my way of making fajitas that nothing else compares. Now, if you've had fajitas in a restaurant but never make them at home, you might think they would be pretty hard to replicate, but actually they're pretty easy. Fajitas are something I like to make for a casual dinner with friends, because you put all the different toppings out on the table and everyone can roll their own...fajitas.
I'm not a big fan of seasoning mixes, but the Old El Paso No-Fuss Fajita kit kicks butt. Actually, I love it for the seasoning, but they don't sell it separately so you have to buy the kit, which is fine because all it contains is seasoning, a pouch of salsa, and some tortillas. The cool part about the fajita seasoning is that it sort of caramelizes and burns (in a good way) in the pan, so you get that authentic flavor of restaurant fajitas at home.
My fajita recipe contains the veggies that I like, and none that I don't. The ones at the restaurant had mushrooms but no corn or black beans. I wish restaurants would have a bean option to their fajitas, so those of us opting out of steak or chicken would still have some protein to our meals. Anyway, enough vegetarian griping, here's the recipe:

Serves 4 very hungry or 6 somewhat hungry adults):
1 Old El Paso No-Fuss Fajita kit
1 can of corn, (preferably no salt added b/c there is lots of salt in the seasoning) drained and rinsed
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 large or 2 small onions
3 or 4 bell peppers, mix red, green, and/or yellow
jar of salsa
shredded cheddar cheese
guacamole (I will give you my friend Suzanne's recipe later, she makes the best guac!)
extra tortillas (you can now get these make with whole wheat)

Heat a large frying pan on medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil. You want to cut the onions and peppers into strips- all the better to assemble your fajitas with, my dear. Stir-fry the onions and peppers for about 5 minutes or until they start to soften. Then dump in the corn and beans, mix, and then sprinkle the seasoning mix in. If you're sensitive to things being too salty or seasoned, start with half the packet, taste it, and then add more if it's not flavorful enough. Stir the seasoning powder into the veggies until it's well mixed and you start to get yummy sticky pieces of seasoning on the spoon. Turn off the heat, but you can leave the pan on the hot burner to keep everything warm.
On the table you have put bowls of shredded cheese, salsa, and guacamole. (I guess you could put sour cream, but I hate it so never think of it). Don't forget to stick a spoon in each bowl. Put the tortillas on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 30 seconds or so to warm them up. When the tortillas are warm, transfer the fajitas to a large bowl and serve them with tongs or a big serving spoon. Everyone takes turns passing around all the different ingredients, like some sort of Mexican Thanksgiving dinner, or Mexican dim sum, or some other lovely meal that gets passed around and shared.
Serve with ice-cold Corona or Coca-Cola. Enjoy the leftovers the next day.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oatmeal, old-school

Breakfast: It's the most important meal of the day. There is a mind-blowing variety of convenient breakfast options available today. You can have your cereal in cereal form, as a bar, in a little packet to funnel directly in your mouth, or even as a straw itself. With so many choices, it's easy to forget about humble oatmeal.
In my house, oatmeal comes in one form: plain, in the big cardboard cylinder that most people buy only when they're making a boatload of oatmeal raisin cookies (which I have a great recipe for and will post soon!). However, don't think that I rise at the break of dawn every morning to slave over a boiling vat of oatmeal for an hour. That's not how I roll (my oats). My oatmeal cooking method is fast, convenient, and nutritious. I don't have oatmeal for breakfast every morning, but my six year old daughter does. She has had oatmeal for breakfast pretty much every day since she was about 8 months old, and miraculously still likes it.
So, here's the deal: First off, make sure you buy quick cooking oats, not steel cut, Irish, or even regular. For a quick breakfast, 1 minute oats is where it's at. Put a good handful into a microwave-safe bowl. (I used to use plastic bowls adorned with Elmo for the oatmeal, until my mother, convinced that the plastic in the microwave was slowly poisoning my child, guilted me into switching to Corelle.)
Now here's the trick: I use MILK in my oatmeal instead of water. It makes it creamier, yummier, and healthier. I don't measure the milk, but rather pour it on until the oatmeal is saturated with milk but not floating in milk. It's better to put too little milk rather than too much, because you can easily add more milk after the cooking time, but you it's harder to add more oatmeal and cook it all over again.
Pop the oatmeal in the microwave for one minute, and then flavor as you like. I put in a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and a good sprinkle of cinnamon. There is evidence that cinnamon suppresses blood sugar spikes, so in addition to tasting good, I figure it balances out the brown sugar. I keep both the brown sugar and the cinnamon on my countertop, so they're easy to get to every morning. If I'm feeling particularly virtuous, I will also add a sprinkle of ground flaxseed and a sprinkle of wheat germ. I got this idea from the book Super Baby Food, which has a whole chapter about fortifying your child's oatmeal with everything from flax and wheat germ to avocado, egg yolk, and (ewww) dessicated liver. I wouldn't try to sneak egg yolk in oatmeal past my kid, but when the flax and wheat germ is mixed it, she doesn't notice, especially when she is shoveling her oatmeal down, glassy-eyed and half awake, in front of Spongebob.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Black Bean Brownies

One thing you'll need to know about me up front is that I have a serious sweet tooth. I always snicker with disbelief when dieting articles in magazines like Cosmo suggest that you limit your dessert consumption to once a week. I should try limiting my dessert consumption to once a day. Sometimes I have dessert after breakfast.
However, with the exception of cakes (which will be the topic of another post), I often like to try to sneak some nutrition into my baked goods. I try to use whole-wheat flour. I'll add some wheat germ, use egg whites instead of whole eggs. I might even use pumpkin puree to make chocolate cupcakes.
But black bean brownies takes sneaky dessert nutrition to a whole new level.
When my friend Jenny first told me about black bean brownies, my first reaction was 'eww'! I imagined that they would be dry, have a funny aftertaste, or smell like beans.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong!
I just made them for the third time tonight, and I swear that the beans are undetectable. This batch was the best yet. I took them out of the oven at just the right time, and they were practically fudge-like, just the way I like my brownies to be.
Now, what is so good about beans that we should sneak them in our brownies? I'll tell you what's so good about beans!
One serving of black beans (1/2 cup) has only 90 calories and a half gram of fat, yet packs in 7 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber (which is 24% of your daily needs), and 10% of your iron needs. You won't get all that in one brownie, but every little bit of extra protein, fiber, and iron helps!
At this time I'd like to give a shout-out to Goya brand black beans (that's frijoles negros in Spanish, FYI), because their can features a pull-top lid. Anytime I can avoid wrestling with a can opener is a plus.
Here is the recipe:
1 box of brownie mix. Today I used Duncan Hines, but it really doesn't matter.
1 can black beans. Make sure they are UNseasoned or you could have an UNpleasant surprise.
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use fake vanilla. Sue me, food snobs!)
about 1/2 cup of water
Handful of chocolate chips (0ptional, but I'm decadent that way)

Using a small chopper, food processor, blender, or a fork, mash the bejeezus out of your beans, adding water a tablespoon at a time, until beans are a nice smooth puree but not watery. Dump bean puree into brownie mix, add vanilla and chocolate chips, and stir. The mix will be thicker than regular brownie batter, but if it seems really dry you can add more water a tablespoon at a time. Bake the regular way for the regular time. Let cool a little, then give out to your unsuspecting children, who think you are cool for letting them eat brownies for an after school snack.

Laura's famous spinach lasagna!

This is a recipe that I have given out many, many times. It is so easy to make, I don' t even consider it cooking- it's more like throwing things together. Everyone loves it, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. The other great thing about it is that most of the ingredients are things that are easy to have on hand at all times, either in the freezer or in the pantry. Even the cheeses in the recipe usually have a sell-by date several months down the road.
Funny story about this recipe: Several years ago I went on a weekend getaway with some friends to a remote village in France. I was told that the organizers were planning on grilling meat all weekend, and that meat would be the only thing available to eat, so I brought a large tray of this lasagna for myself so I wouldn't starve. The first night, as the carnivores enjoyed their meat, one person asked me if she could sample a tiny bit of my lasagna. Flattered, I gave her a piece. She wanted seconds. Soon everyone wanted to try it, and wanted seconds, and after that first night my lasagna was gone. I ate bread for the rest of the weekend!
So, without further ado, the recipe:

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
2 large jars of your favorite marinara sauce
2 small containers of part-skim ricotta cheese, OR one ricotta and one container of firm tofu
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1 egg
1 cup Parmesan cheese (any kind will do. Personally I would not waste expensive Parmesan cheese in this kind of recipe, where it adds flavor but is not a main ingredient)
1 bag of shredded cheese. (I prefer a mozzarella-provolone mix, or the 'five cheese Italian blend' that my supermarket has, but you can use plain mozzarella. When I lived in France, I actually used to use Swiss ! )
2 cloves garlic
salt, pepper, dried oregano, dried basil

Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 F.

Step 2: Assemble filling in a large bowl: If using tofu, mash tofu until it resembles ricotta cheese. Then add ricotta cheese, egg, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and the spinach, which has been thawed and squeezed dry. (you can either squeeze the liquid out through your hands, or in a fine-mesh strainer). Crush the garlic and throw it in. Add salt and pepper to taste (about a teaspoon of salt and a few turns of the pepper mill- you do have a fresh pepper mill, right?) and a tablespoon each of basil and oregano, which you will put in the palm of your hand and smoosh with the heel of your other hand to release the flavor. Mix everything together.

Step 3: Spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of your lasagna dish. Lay down as many strips of lasagna fit in your dish. Then use a spoon to put large dollops of the spinach mixture all over the noodles until you have used up half the mixture. Use the back of the spoon to spread the mixture evenly over the noodles. Next add a layer of sauce, then sprinkle the sauce with your shredded cheese and a bit of your other 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Now start over: noodles, rest of spinach mixture, sauce, shredded cheese. Finish with a third layer of noodles, then sauce, then shredded cheese.
Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes or until cheese on top is browned to your liking.

-Sometimes I make a white sauce or bechamel sauce (or, truth be told, buy a packet of Knorr alfredo sauce mix) and add that to the tomato sauce for a creamier lasagna.
-Sometimes I add fake meat crumbles, either beef flavor or sausage flavor, to the sauce. This always surprises people, who think I have given up my misguided vegetarian ways when they taste the sausage. Ha! Fooled you, carnivores!
-Don't worry if you don't have any garlic. You can add garlic powder, or just leave it out.
Bon appetit!

Welcome to Yummy and Healthy!

Welcome to my blog, Yummy and Healthy!
One of my passions in life is cooking, and another is nutrition. I have always been a healthy eater, and for the past 20 years or so have been a vegetarian. (a lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning that I don't eat any animals, but do eat dairy products and eggs). One of the great misconceptions of vegetarianism is that because we don't eat meat, that we don't love eating great food, or that we only eat salads.
I love food, all kinds of food, except the dead animal kind. :) I especially love food made with healthy ingredients, the kind of food that I can feel good about eating on a daily basis. Don't get me wrong, I love a good junk meal every now and then, but I can't eat poorly too often or I don't feel good.
Over the years, many friends and co-workers have looked at the meals I create with great interest and ask me to share recipes with them. I decided to create this blog to share my recipes with the world and show the world how EASILY and QUICKLY you can make delicious, healthy meals at home.