Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Eggplant Parm Grilled Cheese Supreme

Sometimes there's nothing quite like a sandwich for dinner. Now I'm not talking about a PB&J on squishy Wonder Bread or even baloney and a square slice of American "cheese" straight from the cellophane (not to diss the cheese...unless, of course, we're talking Velveeta) with a smear of Miracle Whip. Nope, I'm talking about a favorite Italian entree turned into a glorious grilled cheese sandwich. The Eggplant Parm Grilled Cheese Supreme.

What makes this grilled cheese supreme? Besides warm slices of crispy eggplant, slivers of roasted red peppers, bits of fresh basil, and slices of smoky provolone? Why, both outsides are finished with shredded mozzarella and double grilled to create a crispy, crunchy fried cheese surface. A frico exterior, if you will.

Costco has those beautiful little eggplants in the fresh produce section again, so naturally I bought a bag...then promptly forgot about making them - nothing new there (oops). Once remembered, I set out late in the evening to make a nice big dish of eggplant parm. I started out strong, but once the purple edged veggie slices were oven fried, I simply ran out of time and energy. Instead of cooking into the wee hours, I put them in the fridge for the night after enjoying a couple for "quality control" purposes. The next day, I had "fried" eggplant slices to play with!  

First, I built the sandwiches (and delivered an extra to my sister, Jeanie, for dinner last night). I still have slices to make into individual ramekins of eggplant parm and just to eat as a side dish with grilled chicken or a good medium rare steak. You know, I might just make eggplant slices ahead from now on...I bet it would even freeze to use whenever I wish. Ooooo...and often!

Eggplant Parm Grilled Cheese Supreme

  • 2 C fresh or packaged fine breadcrumbs - I used 3 slices of gluten-free bread to make mine GF
  • 1 1/2 t granulated garlic
  • 1/2 t Kosher salt
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 6 small or 3 medium eggplants, tops and bottoms cut off, sliced lengthwise into 1/2" slabs
  • canola oil
  • Pam or other cooking spray
  • jarred roasted red peppers, cut into strips
  • smoked provolone slices
  • shredded mozzarella
  • fresh basil
  • Italian bread, cut diagonally into hefty 1" slices
  • a good jarred marinara

First combine breadcrumbs, granulated garlic, salt and oregano in a plastic bag and shake until well mixed. Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Using 2 baking sheets, pour enough oil on each sheet to just skim the surface. Spray both sides of the eggplant slices with cooking spray, then put a few slices at a time into the breadcrumb mixture. Shake and coat the slices well, place on the baking sheets and repeat until all the eggplant is coated and on the baking sheets. Spray the top sides with cooking spray to help them brown.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until all the eggplant is crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Let cool. At this point, either use the eggplant right away for the sandwiches or store covered in the fridge until ready to make the sandwiches or whatever else you may be making.

Sandwich Assembly:
Butter the outsides of the bread slices. In a skillet or griddle, put the buttered side of one slice of bread down, add a slice of provolone (and whatever more you need to cover the bread), then  a layer of eggplant (be sure to warm the eggplant quickly in the oven), strips of roasted pepper, torn pieces of fresh basil, another slice of provolone (and whatever more you need to cover the contents of the sandwich), top with the other slice of bread (buttered side up) and grill until the bottom of the sandwich is beautifully brown. 

The proper amount of shredded mozzarella to finish the sandwich.

Carefully turn the sandwich over, carefully put a thin layer of shredded mozzarella on the already grilled side. When the other side is beautifully browned, carefully turn the mozzarella-ed side down and repeat the shredded mozzarella on the upside of the sandwich. Carefully turn again and brown the second mozzarella-ed side. Be careful not to burn the mozzarella...just brown it until crisp. Remove to a plate and serve with warm marinara to dip.

After the final grilling with the mozzarella browned, crisped, and ready to cut and serve.

DO try this. It. Is. Fabulous! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Smoky & Spicy Pecan Bacon Pimiento Cheese

Busy, busy, busy! Life changes again. This time it's moving and moving on. 

Kimber had moved home quite a while ago when help was needed with Mark, taking shifts at the hospital, getting him to and from doctors appointments once he got home and with this big ol' house (and snow shoveling, mowing, and just the day-to-day stuff). After being back here and working in the 'Burgh, she's decided Pittsburgh is a pretty special place (although she still misses Cleveland) and is making Pittsburgh her home for good. Yay!

Family and neighbors are pitching in together over the next couple of days to move her to her own apartment. Although she's been an awesome roommate, it's time for her to do her own thing again. Thanks, Kimber, for all the help and support over the last year and a half. I couldn't have begun to do this without you...both the tough times and the fun times, too.

Our neighbors across the street - the ones whose three boys Kimber babysat when they were little - are loading up their two pickup trucks, my sister's pickup truck and my SUV and we're tackling this mother as a team! Oh, and those boys Kimber babysat those many years ago? They're big strapping young men who are helping, too. 

Naturally, I'm feeding the crew. It's the least I can do! Pulled pork, coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans and pimiento cheese are on the menu. Good hearty food that boys love and that will replenish our reserves to finish the job in one fell swoop. Why pimiento cheese? Joy is from Georgia and just happens to love my version of the southern classic. So this is for Joy and the boys...and Kimber, too. With love and thanks. 

Smoky & Spicy Pecan Bacon Pimiento Cheese

  • 1 1/2 C mayo - Hellman's, of course
  • 1/3 C drained, diced jarred peppadew peppers - or pimientos if you can't find peppadews
  • 1 t worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 t finely grated onion
  • 1 t chipotle powder
  • 1/2 t ancho chile powder
  • 1 t hot paprika

Mix all the above and set aside.

  • 1 1/4 C chopped, toasted pecans
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded - shred this yourself, it makes a world of difference in texture!
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded - shredded on the largest holes of your box grater

Toss the cheeses, pecans and bacon in a large mixing bowl. Pour the mayo mixture over top and mix thoroughly with a heavy duty wooden or metal spoon until completely incorporated.

Spoon into a serving bowl and serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until about 2 hours before serving time. Letting it come to room temp helps it spread more easily on crackers and makes it easier to dip into with veggies.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Carne Rojo (Shredded Beef With Red Chilies)

Happy Cinco de Mayo, all! What's the Mexican classic on the Dinner Plan-it table tonight? My version of a Mexican classic, Carne Rojo, over cilantro rice and garnished with black beans, crema, jalapenos and cilantro. There WILL be a molcajete filled with guacamole, too.   

This recipe may be a little too late for you to make it for tonight's happy celebration of the Mexican victory over the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla, but there's nothing stopping you from making it all throughout the year, is there?  

Are you wondering what makes Rojo red? A TON of chilies! I used Ancho, Chipotle and Guajillo peppers and threw in the additional rosy hue of three kinds of paprika for emphasis...sweet, hot and smoked. For both depth of color and flavor, next I added in ground espresso and ground cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs added sweetness as well as depth and dark brown sugar added even more of a balance of sweetness against the heat of the chilies. Garlic, onion and kosher salt rounded out the rub.

I'd recommend making a double batch so you have plenty of leftovers for tacos or tostadas for the next night's dinner...IF there are any leftovers. Oh. Don't forget a damned good margarita to celebrate in style!

Carne Rojo
(Shredded Beef With Red Chilies)

  • 3 lb chuck roast

  • 2 whole dried guajillo chilies, crumbled - get the dried chilies at Reyna's in the Strip District or even in the Mexican section of Giant Eagle, Whole Foods or Trader Joe's 
  • 3 T ground espresso
  • 3 T dark brown sugar
  • 2 T granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 T kosher salt
  • 2 t onion powder
  • 2 t smoked paprika
  • 2 t chipotle powder
  • 2 t ancho chile powder
  • 2 t cocoa nibs, crushed with a mortar and pestle
  • 1 t hot paprika
  • 1 t sweet paprika
  • 1/2 t cinnamon

  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1 1/2 C water

Combine all the rub ingredients - crumbled guajillo peppers through cinnamon - and mix well. I used my molcajete for this step and ground the guajillo peppers and cocoa nibs together. You could easily use a spice grinder or just mix it all up in a bowl. This makes more than you will need, but save what's next for the next time you make this...there WILL be a next time.

Molcajete filled with Rojo Rub.

Put the beef on a baking sheet and put 2 T of the rub on the top side. Rub the rub into the meat thoroughly, pressing it into the meat and rubbing well. Flip the beef over and do the same thing on the other side.

Rojo rubbed chuck roast ready for browning.

In a deep enamel pot with a cover (one that just holds the beef is ideal, but a larger one is just fine, too), heat the oil on the stovetop. Once it is hot, gently place the rubbed beef into the pot. Brown on one side, then flip gently and brown the other side. Carefully add the water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover with the lid and simmer until the beef falls apart easily. It took 3 hours for mine to get where I like it. Yours may take more or less time, so keep an eye on it and don't let it dry out. If necessary (it wasn't in my case), add a little more water.

Using two forks, shred the beef into the pan liquids and either serve immediately or keep warm until dinner. Or make it a day or two know how things are better the next day! 

Serve over rice or spoon into tortillas or just serve it up in bowls. I spooned it over rice and will use the leftovers for tacos tomorrow.  Don't you love a versatile and delicious recipe? I know I do.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Roasted Chicken With Sumac, Lemon, Garlic and Thyme

Our shy and elusive spring made another welcome appearance last Saturday here in Pittsburgh. How to celebrate the sun's reemergence from what seemed like an eternity of cloud cover over the city? A trip to the Strip District, of course!

I'd been thinking of making a Middle Eastern inspired Sunday roast chicken for a couple of months now, but needed a few items from Labad's (or Penzey's) to actually bring the dish from idea to reality. Somehow, crappy weather seemed to stalk an endless string of Saturdays, which caused me to huddle at home instead of braving the cold and wind of Penn Avenue. Call me chicken. I can live with it.

It may have taken an inordinate amount of time to finally roast that bird, but I can tell you the wait was worth it. The siren smell wafting from my kitchen of roasting chicken, garlic, lemon, exotic spice and honey was alone worth the drive to the Strip. But, the juicy succulence and deep flavor of that bird all by itself would have been worth dodging any winds and snow the winter could have tossed my way...yes, it was THAT good.

Do yourself a favor, don't waste your time waiting for perfect weather to gather up whatever ingredients you might not have on hand. Make the trip to the Strip now! You'll thank me later.

Roasted Chicken With Sumac, 
Lemon, Garlic and Thyme

  • a 5-6 pound roasting chicken (or thereabouts)

  • 1 T Sumac (get it at Penzey's or Labad's in the Strip or order it online)
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1 T Kosher salt
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed or minced finely
  • 1 lemon, zested, then juiced - juice reserved
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T honey (helps to brown the bird beautifully!)

  • the reserved juice from above
  • 1/2 C water

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees - you read that right. This technique browns the bird quickly on the outside, yet keeps it juicy on the inside.

Combine sumac, thyme, salt, garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, pepper and honey to a paste. Loosen the skin on the breast of the chicken by gently running a couple of fingers between the skin and the flesh of the bird being careful not to tear the skin. Rub 1/3 of the spice paste between the skin and the flesh of the breast and rub the rest all over the outside of the bird including legs and wings. 

Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan and pour the lemon juice and water in the bottom of the pan.

Roast the chicken until the legs wiggle freely in the sockets, the juices run clear, and its perfectly browned. (Or until thermometer reads 165 degrees at the thickest part of the breast - AND is beautifully browned.)

Roasted carrots and sugar snap peas made quick and easy side dishes, too. Enjoy! (And enjoy this gorgeous spring weather...finally. We earned it!)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Grillades And Fresh Veggie "Spaghetti"

The good folks at Tuttorosso Tomatoes (who sent a lovely variety of products to my door) are featuring lightened recipes for spring on their website...of course using their very fine products.

Coincidentally, I recently came upon a recipe I'd never heard of before...grillades (pronounced GREE-yads) and grits. After checking out a number of recipes, I decided it sounded a lot like the Swiss steak I've made for many years only with a decidedly Cajun/Creole twist. This was something that needed to be made...and Tuttorosso tomatoes would be perfect for the recreation of a southern classic.

While the recipe I developed didn't use the dark roux used in versions I read (gluten-free issue, you know), I think my recipe is a little lighter, features more healthy trinity veggies - peppers, onion and celery - and even includes my favorite southern veggie staple....okra! (You know how I LOVE okra!) The bonus of adding okra is that it helps to thicken the sauce and adds lots of flavor at the same time.

Since the Tuttorosso promotion, Inspiralize the Spring, lightens recipes by using spiralized veggies in place of pasta, I did the same in place of cheese grits. You CAN use cheese grits instead, of course, but I found the raw zucchini and red peppers I used made for a very bright base for the tomato and beef Grillades. Hot grillades over raw spiralized veggies cooked the veggies just enough to keep them crisp, yet still brought out all the wonderful veggie flavor.

The online Tuttorosso promotion features recipes by Ali Maffucci like Parsnip Spaghetti All' Amatriciana, Pasta Arrabiata with Carrot Noodles, and Spiralized Turnip Mushroom and Tomato Risotto. Obviously, Ali is a Spiralizer master! 

Check out those and other recipes at Inspiralize Spring and while you're there, enter to win aprons, Ali's cookbook, "Inspiralized," an Inspiralizer or the Grand Prize of all of the above PLUS more kitchen gadgets packed into a picnic basket. What are you waiting for? When you're done entering the contest, come on back and make a nice pot of Grillades and Fresh Veggie Spaghetti!

Grillades and Fresh Veggie "Spaghetti"

  • 2 1/2 pounds round steak, pounded thin and cut into approximately 4" X 4" pieces
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 C flour (gluten-free in my case)
  • 2 T Paul Prudhomme's Magic Salt Free Seasoning, divided
  • canola oil
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 large onions, peeled and diced
  • 1 large green pepper, seeded and dixed
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 C beef stock, salt free or low sodium
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  •  28 oz. can of Tuttorosso diced tomatoes
  • 12 oz. frozen okra

  • 2 zucchini, spiralized
  • 1 red pepper, julienned (didn't spiralize well, what the heck...julienning worked just as well)

Combine the flour and 2 T Paul Prudhomme's in a plastic bag. Set aside.

Salt and pepper both sides of the round steak pieces, then shake them in the flour mixture until well coated.

Heat enough canola oil in the bottom of an skillet (or a slow cooker than browns - I use an Instant Pot that browns...LOVE it!!!!!) and brown the meat well on both sides. Remove to a plate.

Add a touch of butter to the bottom of the skillet, browning slow cooker (or Instant Pot) and saute the onions, green peppers, celery and garlic until soft. 

If you don't have a browning slow cooker, transfer the meat to a slow cooker. Then pour all the veggies over the top, add the stock, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, and okra over all and then gently combine all.

Cover and set your slow cooker (or Instant Pot) to high and let 'er rip for 4 hours. At the end of the time, uncover and taste, then adjust seasonings - I added another teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of Paul Prudhomme's, another tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and 2 tablespoons of Frank's hot sauce.

To serve, pile the spiralized zucchini and red pepper on a plate and spoon the Grillades over top. Unless, of course, you decide to use traditional grits! Go for it!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Beer Braised Pork Chops With Cabbage, Apples And Caraway

Frigid weather and Eastern European flavors were built for one another. Hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare is just what the doctor ordered when outside temps seem more suited to the frozen tundra of the far, far (FAR) north than to Western Pennsylvania.

Morning temps of -10, -8, -4 demand substantial fuel for our bodies to warm us up and get us through the workday until we're once again home...preferably snuggled under an afghan next to a roaring fire. (Can't you just picture a golden lab sleeping peacefully in front of the fireplace while you cradle a mug of steaming cider between your slowly thawing hands?)

What might such a dinner consist of? Pork. And bacon. Cabbage and beer! Here's a dish that's sure to warm you from the inside out.....

Beer Braised Pork Chops 
With Cabbage, Apples And Caraway

  • 4 slices thick sliced peppered bacon, cut across into 1/2" lardons 
  • 4  1" thick bone-in center cut loin pork chops 
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 T. Butter
  • 1 small head of cabbage, cut into quarters, core removed and sliced across into 1/2" slices - about 12 C, more or less
  • 1 large tart apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T dark brown sugar
  • 3 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 t caraway seeds (optional, but it really makes a difference!)
  • 12 oz. bottle of beer (I used gluten free beer to make this GF)

In a large electric skillet, saute the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate, leaving the bacon fat in the skillet. Add 1 T butter to the skillet, melt it with the bacon fat.

Season the chops on both sides with salt & pepper and brown them on both sides in the skillet. Remove to a plate.

Add 1 T butter to skillet again and melt. Add the cabbage, apple and onion. Stir and let it soften. Add brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, 1 1/2 t kosher salt, caraway seeds and the reserved bacon. Stir everything together well. 

Add the pork chops back into the skillet, nestling them into the cabbage mixture. Spoon some of the mixture over the pork chops. 

Pour the bottle of beer over all, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for about an hour until the pork chops are tender, but the cabbage mixture is still moist. (Add a little water, if necessary.)

Just add a salad or a veggie of some type...and definitely a nice dark pumpernickel to complete the meal!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Eggs In Purgatory With Sweet Italian Sausage

Without fail. Every time I see Eggs In Purgatory on a brunch menu, that is exactly what I order. Every. Single. Time. 

There it is on the menu of Meat & Potatoes (Downtown Pittsburgh)

And here it is smack dab in front of me!

Why? Undoubtedly it's the zip of spicy, peppery tomato against lush, smooth, creamy and cheesy polenta topped with perfectly poached eggs that create such richness that it sets my pulse to racing. Brunch paradise, I tell you!

Stagioni's (Southside Pittsburgh) simple and classic take on Eggs in Purgatory

Redpack tomatoes recently sent me a kit of products to try out in conjunction with their Carnevale promotion. The moment I opened the box and saw the goodies, I knew just what I'd be making with the variety of tomato products inside.  

Could I make Eggs In Purgatory in my very own kitchen? Would it compare to the restaurant versions? Could it be simple enough to make whenever I got the urge? The answers: yes, yes and YES! Not only that, you can do it easily too!

I started with a spicy arrabbiata sauce that came together in just minutes...this would be a quick sauce for weeknights, too! While the sauce simmered, the polenta cooked and all that was left was to poach the eggs and plate the dish. And yes, it was everything I'd hoped it could be!

Want to check out some more recipes and enter to win a kit from Redpack just like I got in the mail? Head on over to for the scoop on how to enter and to get recipes for Tuscan Tomato Bruschetta, Antipasto Salad, Authentic Italian Gravy, Pizza Stromboli, Baked Ziti (you KNOW how we Pittsburghers love our ziti!) and Chicken Parmesan. 

Now here's my own recipe for my very favorite brunch. Ever!

Eggs In Purgatory With Sweet Italian Sausage
  • 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T crushed red pepper flakes (more or less depending on how much heat you can's purgatory, remember)
  • 6 oz. can Redpack tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 T minced fresh basil
  • 28 oz. can Redpack diced tomatoes
  • 2 t Kosher salt
  • 3 links sweet Italian sausage, broken into medium large chunks, browned and drained
  • cooked parmesan polenta (see recipe below)
  • poached eggs
  • freshly shaved parmesan

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add crushed red pepper flakes and stir a few seconds before adding the minced garlic - stir a few seconds again, then stir in the tomato paste. Let the mixture cook a couple of minutes to caramelize the sugars in the tomato paste and the garlic. Add salt, basil - stir together well, then add the can of diced tomatoes. Stir until well combined, add the cooked sausage, combine into the sauce and that's it! Set aside.

Poach as many eggs as you need to serve as many people as you are serving. Then begin assembly.

Spoon warm polenta into individual serving dishes, make a nice well to snuggle the eggs into. Spoon Arrabbiata sauce around the polenta, place the eggs into the well you made in the polenta, shave fresh parm over all and serve! 

Arrabbiata sauce, sweet Italian sausage and Redpack tomato products.

Did you know that "arrabbiata" means angry in Italian? Reportedly the sauce is angry because of the hot peppers. Or could it be because it's often found in Purgatory? Hmmmmmm......

Parmesan Polenta

  • 8 C chicken stock - I used unsalted
  • 2 t. salt - use less if your stock is already salted
  • 2 C polenta
  • 3 T. butter
  • 2/3 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the stock and salt to a boil. Sloooooowwwwly pour in the polenta while stirring constantly. Continue stirring for a minute or two until you're sure the mixture is smooth. Stir frequently for another 20-25 minutes until the polenta is thick and smooth and creamy. Stir in the butter and the Parmesan completely.