Baba Ghanoush

We just finished a 30 day pescatarian diet with no dairy, carbohydrates, or sugar.  Oh.  My.  Word.  That was an incredibly hard challenge.  It was harder than our 30 day vegan challenge!  The no dairy thing wasn’t the issue.  It was the no carbohydrates or sugar that I had a hard time with.  We used fruit as a way to satiate our cravings for an after-dinner dessert, but that only lasted for a little while.  By the end of the second week, I was jonesing for bread and butter, frozen yogurt, cookies, and chocolate.  And do you know what was the worst tease?  My work place had a Strawberry Day event with all things strawberry desserts, and a few going away parties with the best cake from my favorite bakery, and I couldn’t have a lick of it.  Ugh.  I think I was drooling as I watched my coworkers eat cake, pies, tortes, strawberry punch, and cookies.  Such a tease.  Sigh.  The diet was worth it, I guess :)

To celebrate our first day of eating carbohydrates, I decided on a Middle Eastern and Greek meal centered around a filthy amount of pita bread.  Yes.  I said it.  I am a glutton for pita bread.  Okay.  So, honestly, we only ate one pita bread for the vegan seitan gyro sandwich, alongside a few wedges of pita dipped in some baba ghanoush.  But nonetheless, I still heart carbohydrates.

Baba Ghanoush

3 medium globe eggplants, cut lengthwise (about 2 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to your liking
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Brush cut side of eggplants with extra virgin olive oil. Place eggplants cut-side down on baking sheet and roast until until very tender, about 40 minutes.

Scoop the eggplant flesh into a large bowl, and discard skin. Mash the eggplant with a fork until it is smooth, but still has some texture. Stir in the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with pita, pita chips, vegetables, or however you fancy baby ghanoush :)

Roasted Asparagus and Enoki Salad Drizzled with Truffle Oil

We had the best wood-fire wild mushroom pizza drizzled with truffle oil during our vacation week of gluttony.  It was to die for.  I’ve been craving that pizza since, but because we are on our quest to lose the weight that we gained from our vacation, I wanted to cook something that involved mushrooms and truffle oil minus the carbs.

On our way back home from vacation, we stopped by the Korean market and got some beautiful oyster and enoki mushrooms.  I was so excited to make my asparagus and oyster mushroom salad (the enoki mushrooms were reserved for miso soup tomorrow), but to my dismay, the oyster mushrooms started to grow fungus on itself and not in a good way :(  I was so distraught.  [Yes.  Distraught.  Haven’t you learned that I’m a bit of a drama queen, yet? :)]  I really, really wanted that warm salad tonight with the truffle oil.  Actually, I just really wanted the truffle oil.  So fortunately I still had the enoki mushrooms and thought I’d give it a try instead, and sure enough it tasted just as good!

Roasted Asparagus and Enoki Salad Drizzled with Truffle Oil

1 pound asparagus, ends trimmedd and cut to 3-inch lengths
2 packages enoki mushrooms, cut 2 inches off the base and pull/shred apart
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small block of parmesan cheese
Truffle oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Toss asparagus and enoki mushrooms with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread onto a cookie sheet and roast for about 10 minutes until the mushrooms start to brown and the asparagus spears are tender. Remove from oven.

Toss the roasted asparagus and mushrooms with the lemon juice and arrange onto a platter. Shave the parmesan over the salad, and finish with a drizzle of truffle oil.

Serve immediately.

Makes 4 side salads.

Roasted Sweet Potato Cube Skewers with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli Dip

roasted sweet potato, sweet potato, cubed sweet potato, roasted sweet potato skewers, sweet potato skewers

My first introduction to fine dining (which I wouldn’t call fine dining anymore nowadays) was when my parents took us to Max’s Bistro when I was in high school.  It was for no special occasion, but to try this restaurant that had just opened up, which was trying to introduce this town to “California cuisine.”  It was one of the only “upscale” restaurants that I could recall at that time when I was younger.  So we were all very excited.  We even got all dressed up for this non-special, special occasion.  We salivated as we looked over the menu.  I saw sweet potato fries with a cilantro-jalapeno aioli and begged my parents to order it.  They were a little reluctant partially because they aren’t too keen on appetizers, but also because the price tag on the dishes were a little high at that point in time for the city we live in.  But hellooooo?!  Fried sweet potatoes?!… Yes, please!  Anything with the word fries was magic to my ears (and it still is!).

Mmmmm.  Sweet potato french fries.  I can still recall how amazing it was the first time I tried a sweet potato fry… crispy panko coating on the outside, and just the right about of tenderness on the inside.  It was perfect.  But then dip it into that aioli, and oooooooh weeeeeee!  It was 100 times even more amazing.  The aioli was tangy, cilantro-y, and had just the right amount of heat from the cilantro.  Yum.  Unfortunately, the only thing that impressed us that night was the sweet potato fries, and dessert.

Coming from a family history of the restaurant business, I grew up with the mantra of “the customer is always right.”  Service.  It’s a really important part of any business dealing with customer relations.  In my humble opinion, if the service sucks, then the food sucks.  I know the logic may seem oversimplified to some, but it can really ruin the mood of a great meal.  If the entree costs more than $25, I expect to be wined and dined by the wait staff.  And of course, the service that night was snooty and unattenative, which completely turned my parents off.  My dad actually vowed never to go back to the restaurant because of the poor service, and he still hasn’t to this day.

I have found myself at the restaurant a few times here and there over the years for business and pleasure, and find the food a bit of a hit or miss.  But it’s those sweet potato fries and the aioli that I crave.  So I did what any other foodie would do, and that was to recreate one of my favorite appetizers.  But in a more healthy matter.  I still haven’t been able to bring myself to fry anything in the house.  I’m afraid of the smell of fried oil lingering around the house for days.  So I’d rather not.  But trust me, I really want to fry foods like fries and chicken.  I’ve tried the oven-“fried” sweet potato fries, but we weren’t a big fan of them.

My solution… roasted sweet potato cubes.

Roasted Sweet Potato Cube Skewers with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli Dip

3 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Paprika
Salt and pepper
Skewers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Dice the potatoes into 1 inch cubes.   Place the cubes in a medium sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season with paprika, salt and pepper.   Toss with hands to coat evenly.  Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.   Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender, but slightly crispy in the outside.   Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice during roasting.   Remove from oven, and allow to cool just enough to be easily handled.  Skewer the cubes, and enjoy with your favorite dip!

Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli

1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (we really like the Trader’s Joe brand)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, seeded (if you like it less spicy) and chopped
Juice of one lime, plus more to taste
Salt, to taste

In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, cilantro, and jalapeno; pulse until smooth. Remove the mayonnaise and pour into a bowl. Add half of lime juice and salt, to taste. If you like it more citrusy, add more lime juice, which is how we like it. Cover and refrigerate for one hour before serving to allow all the flavors to develop. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.

This is the perfect prescription for sweet potato fries, or with fish or shrimp tacos.

Makes about 1 cup of aioli.

Roasted Ratatouille Bisque with Parmesan Crisps

ratatouille, ratatouille soup, ratatouille bisque, roasted ratatouille, roasted vegetables, vegetables, parmesan crisp

ratatouille, ratatouille soup, ratatouille bisque, roasted ratatouille, roasted vegetables, vegetables, parmesan crisp

I’m losing my mind.  I have been so forgetful lately.  And I feel like it’s only getting worse.  I’ll think of something that I need from the bedroom, walk to the bedroom, and completely forget what I needed in the two seconds it took to walk to the bedroom.  I know the example is a common problem for a lot of people.  However, I seem to be doing this many times during the day, several days a week!  Here’s another example that I have been doing a lot of lately… I go to the grocery store with a huge list of items to purchase, gather all the stuff, place all the items on the belt at the cash register station, and just as I am about to pay I realize that my wallet was left at home!  It wouldn’t be so bad if I went to the grocery store a few blocks away, but the two places I love to shop at is a 15-20 minute drive EACH way.  So what should be a 45 minute endeavor, ends up being an hour and a half grocery store trip from hell!  No bueno. This cuts into my limited cooking time.

Ratatouille Bisque with Parmesan Crisps (adapted from Modern Comfort Food)

For the soup:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into quarters
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 red bell peppers, seeds and pith removed, sliced
1 small eggplant, peeled and diced to large cubes
1 medium-sized zucchini, peeled and diced to large cubes
2 1/2 pounds of fresh tomatoes (mix of heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes), cut into halves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3 cups of chicken broth
1/4 cup fat-free half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Spread the tomatoes, red bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, garlic cloves and onions onto a baking tray.  Use two baking trays to not overcrowd the baking tray with too many vegetables.  I find that when I “crowd” the baking tray, the veggies tend to “steam” rather than roast properly.  Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

Remove vegetables from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot. Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, thyme, cayenne, and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.

Remove sprigs of thyme from the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to medium heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Garnish with a parmesan crisp.  Forget the crouton.  Do the crisp.

For the parmesan crisps:

2 cups shredded parmesan cheese

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner. Sprinkle four 1/4-cup mounds of parmesan about 2 inches apart onto each prepared baking sheet; slightly flatten with a spoon. Bake until golden-brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool for 30 seconds. Using a thin metal spatula, drape the crisps over a rolling pin until hardened into shape, about 3 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

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