CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES: They’re Delicious All Day Long!

cheesy brunch potatoes textI’m a fan of potatoes – dressed up or dressed down, they’re pretty much always good. I’m, also, a fan of brunch….only for dinner. So CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES is an Antonini family favorite evening meal.

Served with a vegetable, salad, and a yogurt shake, you’ve got yourself a fast, filling, and kid-friendly meal.

CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES – serves about 6 (unless you have teenagers – then it’s 2)

  • 1½ lbs red potatoes (Yukon gold potatoes are fine, too – just not russet)
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1¼ cup jalapeño jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup avocado, cubed

Get a pot of salted water boiling. Cut unpeeled potatoes into 3/4″ cubes. potatoes choppedWhen water reaches boil, drop in potatoes and cook about 5 minutes – just to par-cook them. potatoes boiled(You don’t want them completely cooked or they’ll start to mash when fried.) Pour into sieve to drain.

In a large nonstick skillet (at least 12″), melt butter over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, flipping them with non-metal spatula every few minutes. After about 5 minutes add in the onions (they cook faster than the potatoes – you don’t want to burn them). potatoes onions friedContinue flipping until the potatoes are browned. potatoes onions fried2Turn off flame.

Stir in salt and cheeses to blend. Gently fold in tomatoes and avocado. Add salt and pepper, if desired.brunch potatoes beauty

RED LENTIL SOUP: A Quick, Guilt-Free Delight!

red lentil soup textIn my ongoing attempt to post bathing-suit friendly recipes, I decided to turn to RED LENTIL SOUP. Enjoy it either as a meal unto itself, or as a starter to curb your appetite before the higher-caloric main course.

We often think of homemade soups as time consuming so, instead, we reach for the can opener. While it’s true that some soups can take hours to steep, this RED LENTIL SOUP is NOT one of them. It can be in your bowl in 30 minutes with very little bother.

NOTE: This soup needs to be seasoned well or it’ll just taste bland. Don’t be afraid of using salt – salt usage in the home kitchen isn’t a problem like it is with fast food or prepared foods.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: If you have garam masala (a spice blend) in your pantry and want to substitute it instead of the ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, & cumin, then use 2 tsp.

RED LENTIL SOUP – makes about 7 cups

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1¾ salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried ginger
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (for recipe click:  Vegetable Stock)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1½ cups dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

In large pot, melt butter. Add in onions and 1 tsp salt. Sauté about 5 minutes, until translucent – don’t brown. Remove from heat.

Add in pepper, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin (or the garam masala). Return to heat for 2 minutes to bloom flavors. Stir in tomato paste and garlic, and cook 1 more minute.

Pour in vegetable stock, water, and lentils. Bring to boil then simmer uncovered about 15 minutes – until lentils are soft. Whisk soup vigorously 30 seconds to cream the lentils (don’t use blender or food processor).

Stir in lemon juice, 3/4 tsp salt, and cilantro. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

FATTOUSH SALAD – Full Of Flavor…With A Crunch!

fattoush-salad-text1Tired of the same old salad?  Try Fattoush Salad. It’s quick to put together (unless you’re compulsive, like me, and make your own pita bread).  Comprised of arugula, cucumber, mint, and cilantro, it’s a light salad that cleanses the palate.

Note:  If you’d like to make your own pitas, click on PITA BREAD for my recipe.

FATTOUSH SALAD – serves about 4

  • 2 pita breads
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 1/2 c cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 c mint, chopped
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1 c arugula, roughly cut
  • 3 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic, pressed

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

Separate top and bottom of pitas. Cut each piece in half. Brush rough side of pitas well with olive oil. Place on cookie sheet, oiled side up, and bake 10-14 minutes, until crisp. Let cool.

While pitas are baking, wash and chop veggies. Place tomatoes, cucumber, and arugula in a bowl. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together lemon juice, salt, and garlic. Set aside.

When pitas are cool break them into bite-sized pieces. Set aside until ready to serve.

At serving time, add cilantro, mint, scallions, and pita pieces into salad. Pour in the 1/4 cup olive oil and lemon juice mix, and gently toss. Serve immediately.

 

CRISPY EGGPLANT PARMESAN: New And Improved!!!

eggplant parm textPreviously, I posted an Eggplant Parmesan recipe made in the traditional manner:  coated fried eggplant, slathered with marinara sauce, and topped with mozzarella. This was baked to fully cook the eggplant and melt the cheese. What I ended up with was mushy eggplant, soggy crust, bland marinara, and rubbery mozzarella. I knew no different.

Until I watched an America’s Test Kitchen episode where they made Chicken Parmesan. Significant changes were made, thus producing a crispy crust, fresh-tasting marinara, and melty cheese. Of course, I substituted eggplant for the chicken.

What changes, you ask? They used panko crumbs in lieu of bread crumbs for a crunchy coat. They cut the mozzarella with Italian Fontina to achieve a nice melt without being rubbery.  They added the marinara sauce at the end to retain the fresh tomato taste and crispy crust. And, finally, they didn’t bake the heck out of it – in fact, they merely broiled it enough to melt the cheese. Brilliant!!!

NOTE:  A Queen Of Freeze time-saving tip is to double or triple the marinara recipe. Then freeze it in portions for future use. Don’t add the basil before freezing, though – it will lose it’s potency.

CRISPY EGGPLANT PARMESAN

  • 2 eggplants (about 1½ pounds total)
  • kosher salt
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano, divided
  • 1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped (discard stem ends & peels)
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 2 T  fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 c panko crumbs
  • 3/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Italian Fontina cheese

Remove ends of unpeeled eggplants and discard. Cut into 3/4″ pieces. Lay rounds on a wire rack and sprinkle 1/8 tsp of kosher salt on each side of slices. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the salt to draw out water from the eggplant. eggplant salt sprinklePrepare the marinara:  In a saucepan, heat 1 T olive oil. Add in the garlic, 1/4 tsp table salt, 1/4 tsp oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 30 seconds to bloom. Add the canned tomatoes and sugar. Bring to simmer and cook 20 minutes, uncovered. Stir now and then. After 20 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the basil and remaining 1 T olive oil. Set aside.marinaraIn a bowl, mix together panko, Parmesan, garlic powder, 1/4 tsp oregano, and pepper. Pour onto a large plate.

Using a spoon, mix together the flour and egg, smashing out the flour lumps as best you can. Pour onto a large plate.

Wipe down both sides of eggplant slices with paper towel to remove excess salt. Heat several tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium/high heat. Dredge eggplant slices first into egg (both sides),eggplant dipped in eggand then into panko mix (both sides)eggplant dipped in pankoPlace into skillet, frying both sides to golden brown.eggplant friedPlace eggplant on a broiler pan and preheat broiler with rack in upper third of oven.

Combine Fontina and mozzarella. Sprinkle cheese on eggplant. Broil about 3 minutes, until cheese is melted.eggplant melted cheeseTo serve, top with marinara. Sprinkle on additional basil, if desired.eggplant parm cropped

KING CAKE: Pistachio Sweet Bread Works For This Mardi Gras Favorite!

king-cake1-textMardi Gras is filled with a number of traditions. A yummy one is King Cake – a rolled cake decorated with purple, gold, and green. Often a plastic Baby Jesus or treat is hidden in the cake for some lucky person to be served.

This particular cake (actually, it’s technically a bread), Pistachio Sweet Bread, is a favorite of our family throughout the year. My husband loves it with a cup of coffee.

NOTE: Because I was decorating the cake for Mardi Gras, I used colored sugar. And because I’m a wee bit obsessive, I made my own homemade colored sugar with natural ingredients. Of course, this takes longer. I’ve put directions at the end of the post for those of you who choose to be chemical-free.

PISTACHIO SWEET BREAD

  • 2¼ tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 cup milk (I use nonfat)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 T  +1/2 cup  + 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3½ – 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup salted pistachio nuts, chopped & toasted
  • egg wash: 1 T egg + 1 T water, beaten together

At least an hour before starting the bread, cut up 1/4 cup butter and leave out to soften. (You’ll be using another 1/4 cup butter later.)

In a small saucepan over low flame, heat the milk, 1 T sugar, and water to 100º – 104º Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and stir in yeast. Let proof for about 5 minutes.

Into the work bowl of your food processor, put 3½ cups flour, salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and the softened 1/4 cup butter. Turn on machine then slowly pour in the proofed milk mixture. Let run about 30 seconds before deciding if more flour is needed – the dough should begin to pull away from the sides but not form a clump. (I usually need to add about 2 T-ish.) Empty dough into a greased bowl, flip dough so both sides are greased, cover, and let rise 1½ hours.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Pat into a rectangle, then let rest about 5 minutes before rolling dough to finished size. (Letting the dough briefly rest decreases its elasticity.) Roll dough to 18″ x 12″. Brush on the 1/4 cup melted butter all the way to edge. Sprinkle on 1/3 cup sugar and pistachio nuts, patting them gently into dough. Roll up dough from long side, leaving seam on bottom of log. (Try not to let the ends taper, so the ring is uniform in size.) Bring ends together to form a ring. Using a little water on your fingers, pinch dough together.

Carefully transfer dough to a greased cookie sheet. (Don’t use a dark sheet – it browns the loaf too much.) Cover and let rise 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375º F. When oven is hot and dough has risen, slice about halfway through dough in 1½” increments (I use kitchen shears). Brush with egg wash and bake 30 minutes, rotating cookie sheet after 15 minutes for even browning. Top should be lightly browned. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Let cool completely if you plan on frosting. If not, let cool about 20 minutes and serve warm.

WHITE FROSTING – makes 1 cup

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-4 T milk

Beat together the butter, salt, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Add in milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. If frosting becomes too loose, add more powdered sugar.

COLORED SUGAR

Orange

  • 1/2 cup mango cubes
  • about 2 inches of carrot sliced very thinly

Boil carrots in water, covered, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Purée mango and drained carrots in blender.

Purple

  • 1/2 cup blackberries or blueberries

Purée berries with a little water, until paste-like.

Green

  • 1/2 cup spinach (don’t worry – you won’t taste spinach in the frosting)

Boil spinach with a little water for 15 minutes. Drain and purée.

To Make The Colored Sugar:

Place about 1/4 cup sugar in 3 bowls. Add about 1 tsp (depending on preference) of colored pastes to each bowl. Mix with backside of spoon until color is well distributed. It will be very thick. To dry, spread each color on a plate and let air dry. After a couple of hours or so, mix to break up clumps. Keep doing this until it’s pretty dry. Then smash out crystals with a flat bottomed glass or measuring cup. Spread out on plate and let dry some more. Repeat until you get dried colored sugar. Drying time will be dependent on weather and how much coloring you use. But, it will eventually dry.

GIAMBOTTA – Low Cal Doesn’t Have To Mean Low Flavor!

giabotta2-textIt’s that time of year again when spring is just beyond the horizon. Soon we’ll be able to leave the house without bulky sweaters and coats. This means, of course, we won’t be able to hide those holiday pounds anymore.

Soooo, let’s do something about it NOW!

Just because I’m slimming down doesn’t mean I’m about to sacrifice taste. There are plenty of delicious meals one can prepare to keep the calories at bay. Giambotta is one such recipe. It’s a delicious stew that’s quick to put together and makes enough to last for several days.

GIAMBOTTA – makes about 9 cups (I forgot to measure)

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 lb russet potatoes, chopped into 1/2″ cubes (don’t peel)
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 zucchinis
  • 6 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1  1/3 cup fresh basil, divided (USE FRESH!)
  • 1 T dried oregano (or 1/3 cup fresh)
  • 6 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • optional:  hard cheese such as Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan, grated

TIP: Don’t leave out the tomato paste – it adds flavor.  You may be reluctant to open a can for just 1 tablespoon.  As Queen Of Freeze, my advice is to spoon out 1 tablespoon mounds of the remaining tomato paste onto a piece of waxed paper and freeze.  Once frozen, roll the waxed paper around the paste blobs and place in a freezer bag.  That way you’ll have tomato paste for future recipes.

Cut unpeeled eggplant into 1/2″ cubes. Place in a sieve and sprinkle on 1½ tsp of the salt. Toss cubes and salt together with your hands. The salt will draw out some of the water from the eggplant. Let drain for about 1/2 hour.

While eggplant is draining, chop the tomatoes, discarding the stem ends and any peels or imperfections. Also, chop the onion and potato.

Into a Dutch oven, heat 2 T of the olive oil over medium/high heat. Add in the drained eggplant, onion, and potatoes. Sauté until potatoes just start to brown – about 7 minutes. Lower flame to medium and shove the veggies to the sides of the pot, leaving the center empty. Place the tomato paste in empty center and pour 1 T olive oil over it. Cook this mixture 2 minutes in the center, stirring often. This will bring out the flavor the tomato.

After cooking the paste, stir it into the veggies. Pour in 2 cups of water, scraping up the fond (the burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pot). Add in the tomatoes (including the juice) and bring to boil. Cover pot and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook 20-25 minutes, just until potatoes are done (test by poking with fork).

While this is cooking, chop the zucchinis and bell peppers. Set aside.

Chop the basil and make a paste by mixing 1/3 cup basil (save the remaining 1 cup for later) with the oregano, 2 T olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes.

In a skillet, heat 1 T olive oil over medium/high flame. Add in the zucchini, bell peppers, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook 10-12 minutes, until browned. Shove the zucchini and peppers to sides (like with the eggplant), leaving the center clear. Place the basil paste in center and cook 1 minute. Mix the paste and zucchini/pepper mix together. Pour into a bowl until ready to use.

Add 1/4 cup water into the now empty skillet and, over high heat, scrap fond off bottom. Save.

When eggplant mixture is done, add in the zucchini/red peppers and fond water from skillet. Cover pot and let sit off-heat for 20 minutes to combine flavors.

When ready to serve, stir in remaining 1 cup chopped basil. Top servings with grated cheese, if desired.

KALAMATA OLIVE BREAD – Pretty As A Picture!

olive-bread1-textCompany was coming and I needed a bread – fast! I flipped through my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook and found this Kalamata Olive Bread recipe made in a cast iron skillet. (To those under 35, cookbooks are how people used to get recipes!)

I’m always looking for ways to use my cast iron skillet, so I tried it. The results? It was fast, it was beautiful, and, best of all, it was delicious.

NOTE: A cast iron skillet is imperative to producing the crisp top, side, and bottom.

IDEA FOR NEXT TIME:  Include crumbled Feta cheese in the dough.

KALAMATA OLIVE BREAD

  • 5 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 12.5 oz (2½ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4.5 oz (1½ cup), divided, Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 cup milk (I used whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (or yogurt – I’ve used both)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 450º Fahrenheit.

In a 10″ cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium/high. Add in the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. You want to flavor the oil but not burn the garlic. Remove pan from heat and let cool down while preparing the rest of the recipe.

In medium bowl, mix together the flour, basil, baking powder, salt, and 3.5 oz (1 cup) Parmesan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg to break it up. Whisk in the milk and sour cream.

Remove garlic from skillet and mince (I use a garlic press). Add the garlic to the egg mixture. Stir in all but 1 T olive oil. Pour in the dry ingredients and blend until nearly all the flour is incorporated. Add in the Kalamata olives and gently finish blending. DON’T OVERMIX OR THE BREAD WILL BE TOUGH.

Heat remaining 1 T oil in skillet. Turn off heat but leave pan on burner. Pour in batter (it will be thick), smoothing top. Sprinkle on remaining 1 oz (1/2 cup) Parmesan.

Bake at 450º F for 20 minutes, until top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes in skillet. Remove to wire rack. I like to serve it as soon as it’s cool enough to eat.