Eggplant Parmesan with Smoked Mozzarella

We’ve been trying to practice what we’ve learned from watching Food, Inc., a few weeks ago and have been trying to buy local things.  So we’ve been dedicating our Saturday mornings to buying produce from our local farmer’s market.  We have two farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings… one downtown and one in the more posh side of town.  The problem with the latter is how ridiculously expensive the items are.  I might as well go to Whole Foods if I want to pay that kind of price.  And the thing is that it’s not even organic.  I think people are paying more for the location, and the idea of buying from a farmer’s market.  There are also too many stands that only sell chocolate, coffee, pastries, and honey.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with that.  In fact, it’s great to be able to purchase those items, but what I want are more produce stands!!  Because in the end, I still end up at a grocery store to finish off my grocery list.  It’s also too overcrowded.  People bumping into you without saying “excuse me.”  People pushing you aside to grab the plentiful squash that you are picking through.  Large crowds irritate me.

So we found a downtown farmer’s market that has really, really fresh produce for way lot less.  The stands offer a large variety of produce.  And it isn’t too crowded.  It’s FABULOUS!  We walked away with 3 pounds of tomatoes, 3 pounds of apricots, a flat of strawberries, 4 large bunches of spinach, 2 pounds of squash, 6 lemons, 6 limes, 3 green chiles, 4 pounds of small cucumbers, 1 ginger root, 4 large eggplants, and 1 pound of sugar peas for $20.  Yes.  That’s a good deal.  And the only thing that I needed from my grocery list that I couldn’t purchase at the farmer’s market was cumin seeds, and green onion.  That made me happy.

Eggplant Parmesan with Smoked Mozzarella

1 large eggplant
1 1/2 cups flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups panko
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 ounces fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, sliced
6 cups homemade marinara sauce
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Slice the eggplant horizontally into 8 thick slices. Sprinkle a little a salt onto both sides of the eggplant slices. Place it on a rack over a baking sheet to draw out excess water, about 30 minutes. Rinse eggplants, and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.

Place flour and one teaspoon of salt on a shallow plate, and combine well. In another shallow plate, pour the panko onto it.

In a separate shallow dish, whisk together the egg and water.

Take one eggplant slice and lightly dredge each side in flour. Next dip it in the egg, and then to the panko. Generously coat the eggplant with panko. Place panko’ed eggplant onto baking sheet. Repeat for the remaining seven slices of the eggplant.

Place baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, until the panko has turned golden to golden brown and the eggplant is soft. Flip onto the other side, and repeat the same baking process. Turn the broiler on, and remove the baking sheet from the oven. Sprinkle each slice with parmesan cheese and top with sliced smoked mozzarella, and place it back into the oven. Allow the cheese the melt and brown a bit before removing from oven, about 2 minutes. Pay close attention to the eggplant and cheese so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from oven.

Ladle 1/3 cup of your favorite marinara sauce onto a small plate. Place one slice of eggplant on top of the marinara sauce, then spoon a little marinara sauce over it. Repeat with a second layer of sliced eggplant, and spoon over a little marinara sauce. Top with fresh basil leaves. Repeat entire process with the rest of the sliced eggplant.

Makes 4 servings.

Vegan Cornbread

Does your pup lick you incessantly?  My little boy, Shiu Mai, does.  [Yes, he is named after the pork and shrimp dumpling you find at Dim Sum restaurants.  My other pup's name is Cha Shiu Bao.  They're small, white, and so cute just like the Dim Sum treats.]  He sits on the bed, and waits for me to come out from my shower so that he can lick the lotion off my arms and hands.  In fact, he has spent the last 10 minutes licking off the lotion from my left arm as I type this post.  It’s as if I didn’t put on any lotion.  Why bother, I wonder sometimes.  But how can I get mad at him?  Just look at him.  Isn’t he a cutest little guy ever?  I’d like to think that this helps soothe any anxiety he has.  But who am I kidding?  I think it’s because he really likes the taste of lotion.  Animals and their idiosyncrasies.  I just love it.

He usually follows me to the kitchen as I get ready to cook.  He hovers around (im)patiently waiting for something to drop onto the floor.  He looks up and begs with his sweet brown eyes for me to “accidentally” drop something onto the floor.  And when he realizes that maybe there are no treats this time around, he traverses his way back to the couch and hunkers down on my pillow heartbroken.  

Vegan Cornbread (slightly adapted from Food)

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons water
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1.5 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup canned corn, drained
1/4 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Spray an 8- or 9-inch pie tin with cooking spray.

In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add the ground flax seeds, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the flax seed-water mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir occasionally. Turn heat off and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Add the ground flax seed mixture, soy milk, and canola oil to the flour mixture. Beat until just smooth, but do not overbeat.

Pour into prepared baking pan, and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, cut into wedges, and serve.

Super Duper Vegan Chili

We’ve been having mad cravings for vegan chili as the weather is still cool for this time of the year.  The weather has actually been really wacky… lots of rain, and cold days.  The weather is usually in the 80s this time of year, but today it’s only reached a high of 65.  I’m not complaining.  At all.  Trust me.  The month of May just means the summer is around the corner, which means hot summer months.  Ugh.  Such a drag.  So as much as I would like some days in the high 70s/low 80s, I’m going to enjoy this weather now because it’s gonna get hot in herrre.  Okay, now I’m complaining.

We decided to take advantage of today’s weather to make some spicy vegan chili to satiate our cravings.  And satiate it did!  I would love to eat this chili all year around, but the thought of cooking and eating it during the summer when the temperatures can range anywhere from 100-110 degrees F seems torturous. In fact, anything involving the burners or the oven inside the house during the summer heat sounds unpleasant.

Interestingly, I enjoy this chili more than I do a hearty and meaty chili! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total carnivore. In fact, my initial thought before I tried this chili for the first time was how vegan chili could taste better than a meaty chili? Well, let me tell you, I was completely blown away after my first bowl. The texture of the “ground meat” fooled me, and the beans, vegetables, and spices were so flavorful that I didn’t need or miss the meat.  This chili even fooled my dad who says no one can trick him with vegan meat products.  Hah!  Take that, dad!

This chili is truly the best prescription for the soul.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onions, diced
1 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 large garlic clovies, minced
2 large jalapeno peppers, minced
1 large serrano pepper, minced
12 ounces textured vegetable protein (aka, original Smart Ground)
1 cups water
1 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
1 cans (15 ounces each) red kidney beans, drained
1 can (15 ounce) black beans, drained
3 medium sized fresh tomatoes, chopped
1.5 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large dutch oven, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and onions, and saute for five minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add the textured vegetable protein and water, cook for 5 minutes, while stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for another five minutes. Reduce the heat to a medium to medium-low (depending on your burners), and let it “stew”, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes (or until the bell peppers are tender).

Remove from heat and serve with your favorite toppings!

Baked Chicken Taquitos

My brother and I grew up in the back of the kitchen of our family restaurant.  No joke.  We had our own little study/play area.  It was pretty sweet, as I look back in retrospect.  [The play area, that is.  Not growing up in the back of the kitchen.] We had our own 13 inch TV with our old-school Nintendo unit hooked up to keep us entertained, out of trouble, and out of any danger from the kitchen chaos itself.  My parents had very little time to spend with us because they worked all day long.  Well, except for the fact that they still found ways to breathe down our necks to finish our daily homework assignments.  Ahh, Asian parenting.  So quality time was limited in our family.  As I was growing up, I longed for the “normal” family units that my friends had.  But my parents did their best to spend time with us.  My parents would take us to [insert fast food chain] after they closed up the restaurant for the night, order food, and we’d eat in front of the TV.  This was our way of spending quality family time.   So food, albeit it wasn’t always the healthiest, was our way to spend time together.

One fast food chain we used to frequent as a family was Jack In The Box.  Do you remember when Jack In The Box used to serve beef taquitos (and tacos)?  It was probably during the early 1990s when they rolled out with this menu item.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this, and am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I thought they were really, really tasty.  They were the perfect snacky, greasy, finger foods.  I’d ask for an order of taquitos (I think it was five taquitos to a box), and beg my parents to buy the guacamole and sour cream on the side for an additional charge.  I think Jack In The Box was my first introduction to guacamole and sour cream, and possibly even “Mexican” food.  Hysterical, yet pathetic, right?

I don’t know if they still sell them or not, but I do crave them from time-to-time, like I crave french fries from McDonald’s.  Mmmmmmm.  But I haven’t had fast food since 2006, and won’t start now.     So I’m always on the hunt for healthier alternatives…

Baked Chicken Taquitos (adapted from Our Best Bites)

1/3 cup Toffuti cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salsa verde
1/2 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons green onion, chopped
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
10-12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Salt, to sprinkle
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese, salsa verde, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, minced garlic, cilantro, green onion.  Stir to combine.  Add chicken and shredded cheese, and combine thoroughly.  Season with salt, if necessary.

Heat corn tortillas until soft and pliable, about 30 seconds, on a plate with damp paper towels inbetween and on top of the tortillas to “steam.”   Spoon about 3 to 3 tablespoons of the filling onto the lower third of each tortilla, and roll tightly.  Place taquitos, seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

Lightly spray the top of the taquitos with cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp and golden.  Serve with your favorite salsa, guacamole, and greek yogurt.  Yum!

Makes 10 to 12 taquitos.

There’s No High Fructose Corn Syrup Here!… Apricot-Mango-Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups.

I just watched Food, Inc. yesterday, and it’s making me look at food in a whole different way.  I think my jaw was on the ground from start to end of the documentary.  I was shocked and disgusted.  I’ve never really given much thought about how food is grown, how it’s processed, and where it comes from.  I just went to the grocery store and bought what I needed with my savings card to get the best bang for my buck.  Now I’m not feeling so guilty about the $100 I spent for some groceries the other day at one of the more eco-friendly, green markets.  The movie just reinforced the need to buy from local farmers, organic products, and from eco-friendly markets.  It’s also left me feeling the need to eat more veggies, and less meat.  Ugh.

Have you seen Food, Inc. yet?  If you have, did it change the way you buy food?

Apricot-Mango-Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups

4 apricots, diced
1 1/2 cups strawberries, diced
1 large mango, diced
2 tablespoons water
Agave Nectar

Preheat oven to 150 degrees F one hour before dehydrating the fruit roll-ups.

[Just as a side note, my oven did not have a setting for 150 degrees F. Instead, it has a "warm" setting, which I used, and worked out great. Also, as an FYI, you will be using this "dehydrating" setting for about 6 to 8 hours. It may be tempting to use a higher temperature to quicken the process, but you'll just bake the fruit roll-ups rather than dehydrate them. So patience is key with this recipe.]

In a sauce pan over medium heat, add water and diced fruit. Cook until the fruit breaks down so that it is soft and mushy. Allow the fruit mixture to thicken (the syrup should coat the back of the spoon and shouldn’t be runny or thin), almost like the consistency of a chunky applesauce. Adjust sweetness with agave nectar to your liking… I used about 1.5 tablespoons of agave nectar because the fruit was already really sweet.

Carefully pour the fruit “compote” into a food processor or blender, and puree the liquid until it is smooth in consistency.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease with non-flavored oil, such as corn or vegetable oil. Pour fruit mixture onto baking sheet and spread evenly across the baking sheet, about 1/4-inch thick.

Place baking sheet into oven and dehydrate for about 6 to 8 hours. The amount of dehydrating time varies depending on the thickness and the amount of sugar in the fruit mixture, so check every two hours until done. You don’t want crispy fruit roll-ups. When the fruit is dry and no longer sticky to touch, remove baking sheet from oven, and allow to cool at room temperature. If you find that the edges are a little crispy, just rehydrate by dabbing the edges with a wet paper towel.

When cool to handle, carefully peel the sheet of dehydrated fruit and lay it on a cutting board, and cut with a knife or pizza slicer into 2″ by 6″ strips, or whatever size you want. Cut wax paper or parchment paper just a little larger than the strips, and roll the strips of fruit into fruit roll-ups. Store in the pantry in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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