Roasted Eggplant Dip with Tomato Relish and Pita Toasts: A Mediterranean-style Dip for the Fourth of July
Eggplant was never a favorite dish growing up. As an adult I began to experiment with different recipes and have come to love it in appetizers, side dishes and stir-fries. This dip is a winner for dinner parties or backyard barbecues and has become an annual appetizer at my Fourth of July party. It has all the flavors of the Mediterranean blended into a tasty first course.
Make sure to select firm, unblemished heavy eggplants for best flavor. Serve this creamy dip with crispy pita toasts. Pitted Greek olives could also be added to the dip if you like. This is also good as a spread on lavash topped with peeled roasted peppers and basil leaves. To accompany the dip I like to serve glasses of chilled Prosecco topped off with a touch of peach nectar and a thinly sliced peach.
- Olive oil spray
- 1 medium leek, light green and white part only, cleaned and finely chopped
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 pounds eggplant, (about 2 1½ pound eggplants) peeled and coarsely chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
- ¼ cup finely chopped basil
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- For the garnish:
- 2 Roma tomatoes (Italian plum), peeled, seeded, and finely diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- For the Pita Toasts
- 2 pita breads, plain or sesame
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 to 6 whole basil leaves
- Preheat an oven to 400F.
- Lightly spray a large roasting pan and combine the leeks, garlic, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the eggplant to the roasting pan and toss with tongs to coat.
- Place the eggplant mixture in the oven and roast for about 1 to 1¼ hours or until very soft, tossing the eggplant with a large spoon every 15 minutes so it will cook evenly.
- Meanwhile prepare the relish: combine the tomatoes, oil, vinegar and salt and pepper and mix to combine. Taste for seasoning and reserve.
- Remove the eggplant mixture from the oven and cool. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of vinegar, basil, thyme and capers and mix well. Taste for seasoning.
- To make the pitas toasts, preheat a broiler. Split each pita in half, and then cut each half into 8 triangles. Brush the top of each triangle with oil and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Working in batches, spread the triangles on a baking sheet and toast in the broiler until brown and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Let cool. Repeat with the remaining pita triangles.
- Mound the eggplant dip into a serving dish. Garnish with the tomatoes and whole basil leaves. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Serve with Crispy Pita Toasts
- 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
- 4 cups V-8 juice
- 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
- ⅓ cup finely chopped red onion
- ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh basil
- 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 cup corn kernels (about 2 medium ears of corn)
- 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and finely diced
- ½ cup sour cream, for garnish
- 1 cup favorite croutons, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, for garnish
- In a large bowl, whisk the anchovy paste into the V-8 juice until dissolved. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, and whisk until blended. Add cucumbers, red onion and basil and mix well. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the chopped red and yellow bell peppers (reserving the 2 tablespoons for garnish).
- Puree 3 cups of soup in a blender and return to the rest of the soup mixture. Add the corn, stirring well to blend.
- Cover the soup bowl and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.
- Just before serving add the avocado to the soup and mix to combine Taste for seasoning.
- To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with reserved chopped bell peppers, sour cream, croutons and chopped basil.
Gazpacho, the cold soup sometimes referred to as a liquid salad, is colorful and low in calories. Originally from the Spanish region of Andalusia, gazpacho is as likely to land on a menu in California as it is in France. It is one of those dishes that is reinterpreted in whatever region it is prepared.
I have seen recipes that include avocadoes with tomatillos, almonds with yogurt and even mixed fruit. Other recipes insist on adding bread, sherry vinegar, olive oil and ice water to the classic Spanish soup that traditionally include a mixture of tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, cucumber and garlic.
My version is a loose translation of the original idea and relies on a combination of fresh chopped tomatoes along with V8 juice to intensify the tomato-vegetable flavor. Avocado is added for a slightly creamy accent. Sweet corn kernels provide added texture. Adding a bit of vegetable or chicken stock balances the flavor. The anchovy paste is essential for its unique flavor. Don’t worry if you don’t like anchovies. You can’t really taste them but they add an important flavor dimension.
I prefer to chop the vegetables by hand. If you are low on time, you can use the food processor but be sure to chop each vegetable separately so each has a distinct texture. I use the blender to puree a few cups of the soup to give the soup more body. I think it is really important to have both texture and a slightly thick broth that is accomplished by this method.
If you like fresh garlic croutons you can make them yourself. Cut the crusts off 4 to 6 slices of country bread that is ¾-inch thick. Cut the slices into 1- inch cubes. Heat ½ cup olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Add 4 peeled and sliced garlic cloves and sauté until lightly brown, about 4 minutes. Remove the garlic and add the bread cube, stirring often, until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Help is on the Way
- For a more substantial version garnish this soup with crab, shrimp or lobster meat.
- For a low-acid version stick with yellow tomatoes and yellow peppers.
- Use a good quality store-bought crouton if you don’t have time to make the croutons.
- Make sure that this well-chilled before serving.
- This can be made upt to 3 days ahead, covered and refrigerated.
Spring has sprung. How can I tell? Asparagus are in every market, super or open-air. They come in all different sizes and I love cooking with all of them.
- ½ cup hazelnuts or ½ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
- 3 tablespoons hazelnut oil
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon finely ground pepper
- 1½ pounds fresh medium asparagus spears, peeled and trimmed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium garlic cloves
- 1 medium shallot
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped sweet red pepper, seeded
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped basil leaves
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped, seeded, sweet red pepper
- *For Hazelnut Vinaigrette;
- Preheat oven to 350F. Toast hazelnuts in oven for 10 minutes. Remove and rub off skins with a dish towel and coarsely chop. Reserve.
- For hazelnut oil vinaigrette: Whisk together ingredients. Reserve.
- Increase oven temperature to 450F. Place the asparagus spears on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and salt and pepper so they are evenly coated.
- Roast for about 12 minutes or until tender, very slightly browned. The time will depend upon how thick the asparagus are.
- Using tongs, place the asparagus on a platter and spoon vinaigrette over. Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts; serve warm.
- *For Red Pepper Vinaigrette
- In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the garlic, shallot, and red pepper until minced. Add the vine¬gars, lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and basil. Process until combined. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Toast the pine nuts until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
- When ready to serve, pour the vinaigrette evenly over the asparagus. Sprinkle the diced red pepper and toasted pine nuts on top and serve immediately.
Asparagus are fun to cook. You can steam them, boil them, grill them or roast them. For this recipe I like to roast medium sized asparagus that have been peeled and trimmed. You can’t beat the rich grassy slightly caramelized flavor of roasted asparagus.
For a French accent, these bright green stalks are dressed with a hazelnut oil vinaigrette and garnished with toasted hazelnuts. Sweet and buttery hazelnuts, also known as filberts, are popular in French cooking. The rich flavored hazelnut oil has a distinctive flavor. It is used mainly as a condiment or in salad dressing since it has a very strong flavor. I pair it with a lighter olive or vegetable oil to mellow the taste. Remember to store the hazelnut oil in the refrigerator and use within 4 months.
If you can’t find hazelnuts or the oil, try the Red Pepper Vinagrette instead (see below). The sweet pepper dressing is a colorful and tasty alternative. This is also much more economical since you can use what oil you have on hand.
I often serve this warm as a first course or as a side dish with a simple grilled entrée. I have also doubled the recipe and served it chilled or at room temperature with either vinaigrette. Try these either way when you feel like a fresh take on asparagus.
Shredded Kale and Romaine Salad with Quinoa, Currants and Almonds is the perfect answer to longing for delicious dishes that pack plenty of flavor with a light touch. After weeks of holiday eating I go back to this salad for comfort with no guilt attached.
Kale, that curly dark green leaf, is ubiquitous. I even saw it in Whole Foods today in the chip section… as in kale chips in savory flavors. I’ve baked and roasted it and added it to soups and sauces. But I hadn’t prepared it raw. How happy I am to report that it is delicious as a salad and is now a family favorite.
I tasted this at The Napa Valley Grill in Los Angeles and thought it would be even better with a few changes. I used currants instead of raisins and Spanish Marcona almonds instead of California almonds. I also like the idea of combining crispy sweet romaine lettuce with the slightly bitter kale. It is a happy combination of flavors.
The lemony whole-grain mustard dressing is just the ticket to dress these mixed greens. Remember that you can use this vinaigrette with any other green salad with equally satisfying results. If you can find Meyer lemons use them for an even richer citrus flavor. And tiny diced pears, peaches, nectarines, plums or even dried apricots make a colorful substitute for the currants. Serve this salad as a side dish with grilled fish or poultry or as a main course for lunch.
- To cook the quinoa, rinse ¾ cup quinoa, combine quinoa with 1 ½ cups water or chicken stock and boil it for 10 minutes. Let cool.
- To shred the kale and lettuce, stack leaves on top of each other, roll up tightly and then thinly slice through the leaves until you have shredded greens.
This home-spun dish made from dried bread and rich custard has come a long way. Today’s restaurant menus feature myriad adaptations such as gingerbread, white chocolate, and lemon, to name just a few.. Served in soufflé dishes, in individual ramekins, or in a shallow baking dish, bread puddings are difficult to resist because of their old-fashioned quality.
Simple to put together this dessert can be as versatile as your imagination. I like to serve it during the holiday season because it seems to satisfy all the generations. This particular version is based on an idea of a sticky toffee pudding. Cut-up fresh and dried dates are combined with toasted egg bread and then the mixture is bathed in a vanilla-scented custard. I have served this at casual family gatherings and major holiday parties with great success. If you want a wonderful ice cream sauce, defrost a pint of dulce de leche ice cream and whisk it in a bowl. Spoon it over the warm pudding for an wonderful taste sensation.
Keep these tips in mind when making this dessert:
- Use a good-quality bread like Challah or brioche.
- Make sure to dry it out so that the bread can absorb the custard. You can do this by putting it out on the counter overnight or in a 250F oven for half an hour.
- Allow time for the custard to absorb into the bread before it goes into the oven. It is also important to let the bread absorb the custard fully by allowing it to sit until you can feel that a cube is soaked through to the center.
- Advance Preparation: This can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, covered and left at room temperature. It can also be made a day ahead and served chilled. It can also be reheated.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the same thing on Thanksgiving: “I love the turkey but it’s really all about the side dishes.” So in the spirit of trying something new this year, here are there of my favorite side dishes. Feel free to double any of these recipes.
First, consider these Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes and Carrots. Roasted vegetables are one of the signatures of cold weather cooking. And you can vary this recipe with other root vegetables. Jerusalem artichokes, when eaten raw, taste a bit like sweet, crisp jicama; when roasted they taste like a sweet root vegetable somewhere between a parsnip, turnip and potato.
Root vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, carrots and turnips become especially delicious as the sugars caramelize and bring out their inherent sweetness. Be sure to use a large, shallow roasting pan to give the vegetables plenty of room for even roasting. Cooking times may vary slightly, depending on the type of vegetable, its freshness and thickness, so watch closely toward the end of the cooking time to make sure they’re done.
Parsnip and Turnip Puree will offer creaminess of mashed potatoes but without all of the added calories. Try this incredibly tasty tribute to the unappreciated root vegetable on your holiday table. Your guests will wonder how anything this rich tasting can still be good for you. The vegetables turn a beige color so be sure to garnish with plenty of chopped parsley.
And, finally, Chicken Apple Sausage, Chestnut, Dried Fruit and Nut Dressing is my most requested dressing recipe. You can serve this in a casserole or stuff it into a 16- pound turkey. Either way it is a holiday hit with its sweet crispy, nutty, fruity flavors. Using trail mix makes putting this together Seriously Simple. If you want a pretty presentation, try baking it in a greased loaf pan and then, once it’s cooked, unmold it onto a rectangular platter and garnish with parsley.
You can find all of these recipes in the recipe section. Hope you try at least one of these for your holiday meal.
Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf and Pumpkin Chocolate Bread Pudding: A Quick Bread Combines with a Pudding That’s Just Made for Holiday Happiness
What’s a quick bread? By definition it’s a bread that does not rely upon yeast to rise, rather baking powder or baking soda acts as the leavening agent. You don’t have to let the dough rise nor do you knead it; just a quick mix of ingredients and pop it in the oven. What you gain in time savings you give up in light airy texture. Most quick breads are dense and very moist. Not a bad thing if you ask me.
Quick breads are usually flavored with fresh or dried fruit, vegetables, cheese, herbs and nuts which give the bread its distinctive flavor. This is also true for muffins. You’ll notice that the tops of these breads often crack or split in the middle giving them a rustic character.
Chocolate and pumpkin flavors are combined in this surprising sweet spiced quick bread. Peet’s, a California coffee shop chain that is now opening across the country, serves slices of this bread, along with steaming cups of their famous, rich coffee.
When I recreated the recipe I wanted to make sure that the chocolate stood alone in the pumpkin batter. To achieve this effect, I use a skewer to streak melted chocolate through the batter. (more…)
I am always searching for side dishes that can accompany main courses without overpowering them. This is a recipe that does just that. Rice and noodles combined with toasted almonds and red peppers is one of my favorite autumn side dishes.
Look for long grain rice for this recipe. It has slender grains that stay separate and fluffy after cooking which works well for side dishes, or as a bed for sauces. Long grain rice is fairly bland so that any flavorings added to it mingle nicely. There are other long grain rices that can be used as an alternative to the American version like Basmati or Jasmine rice, but they are more aromatic and have a nutty flavor. I prefer plain old American long grain rice for this recipe.
Simple egg noodles work best for this recipe because they cook up in the same amount of time as the rice, arriving at a point where they’re soft but not mushy while maintaining their distinctive flavors. Look for fine egg noodles for this recipe.
When I first began making rice I would combine the liquid, butter and rice and simmer the mixture until it was just cooked. Through years of rice making I have found that sautéing the rice in oil for a few minutes until the kernels just become light brown adds additional richness. In this recipe we also sauté the noodles to add extra texture and flavor.
Sauteed leeks and red peppers bring a taste of the fall season and the toasted almonds add a delightful crunch. People always ask me why I am so partial to leeks. The simple answer is they have a delicious taste effect when slowly sautéed and lightly caramelized. Remember when working with leeks to cut off the dark green tops (you can freeze them for making soup later) and to slice the light green and white part just down to the root. I run them under water in the sink to remove excess dirt. Then slice or chop them as desired.
Keep this recipe handy. When you find yourself asking “What am I going to serve with this entree?”, you will have your solution. Try Autumn Noodles and Rice with grilled or roasted lamb, chicken, beef or fish.
Help is on the Way:
- To make this a vegetarian main course add sautéed tofu pieces and use vegetable stock.
- This may be prepared up to 2 hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Reheat carefully in top part of double boiler above hot water over medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Make this into a cold salad the next day by adding some vinaigrette to the leftover portion. Cold shrimp or chicken pieces would be a nice addition.
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1¼ cups long-grain white rice
- 1¼ cups fine egg noodles
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium leek, finely chopped
- 1 medium diced yellow or red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- Preheat oven to 3500F. Toast almonds in oven for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Reserve.
- In a medium saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of the oil on medium heat. Saute the rice and egg noodles for about 3 minutes or until evenly coated and very lightly browned. Add the broth, salt and pepper and increase heat to medium-high heat. Stir with a fork. Lower heat, cover, and simmer 15-18 minutes, or until cooked through and the liquid has evaporated.
- Meanwhile, in a medium skillet heat the butter and remaining oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes or until soft. Add peppers and continue sauteing for about 3-4 minutes or until cooked but slightly crisp.
- When rice and noodles are cooked, add vegetables, almonds, and parsley. Toss with a fork, taste for seasoning, and serve immediately.
My friends warned me that when our daughter left for college it would be a really hard adjustment. So, in my take charge manner, I decided that what my husband and I needed was a trip to our favorite outer island Hawaiian resort, The Mauna Lani Bay Resort and Bungalows. I worried that it would make me lonesome for our daughter, who we had spent so many fun summers with us there. Good thing Mauna Lani Kids Camp was over for the season. I figured we would get over empty nest sadness once we hit our favorite snorkeling spot at The Beach Club where there is a clubhouse and quiet beach reserved for resort residents and condominium dwellers.
And guess what? We discovered that the empty nest isn’t so bad after all. We arrived at the hotel in late September. The kids were all back in school. The weather was perfect, not too humid or hot. And best of all, the beach was so quiet we had our pick of any cabana we wanted. I chose our favorite spot, number 41, right on the point in front of the hotel between 2 palm trees. We were perfectly positioned to watch the surf come in and close enough to see the sea turtles that congregate near the rocks just off shore.
To break up our “busy” day I visited the Mauna Lani Spa on a few occasions. I hopped the shuttle to the spa that takes just a couple of minutes. In the locker room I was given a tropical covered sarong to wear during my visit that put me in a Hawaiian state of mind. I began my experience with a sudsy foot bath in a common waiting room. My feet were softened by the warm bath along with the local smooth rocks on the bottom of the footbath.
My next visit to the spa was for a Lava Watsu Water Experience. Alain, my therapist invited me to step into a saltwater pool built around vintage lava tubes. The goal of this modality is to allow you to totally relax by being moved around in water in a safe environment. You quickly develop a sense of trust with your therapist as you allow him to move you around the water. I found this to be both excellent for my back as well as my mental state of mind. As I lay in the pool and was swept into different positions, I found that the music under the water played a large part in helping me to relax. Would I recommend this slightly new age treatment? Absolutely. If you are having trouble with your back this session is easy on your body and very helpful in reducing tight muscles.
The Canoe House was in a culinary transition on my visit but it is well worth a visit for some pupus and a house Mai Tai. We watched the sun set and later the waves glisten in the moonlight under spotlights. I really enjoyed the local Kona Lobster, sweet and moist, cooked just perfectly on a bed of fried rice.
The rooms at the Mauna Lani have just received a facelift including new beds, duvets, carpet and televisions. Happily the original open air Mauna Lani feeling remains untouched. The Mauna Lani Hotel stands alone. It is a unique property with beautiful grounds that are easy to get around. No matter where you are staying, your room may well be a few steps from the beach of the pool. I am already booking my return for next year.
Norio’s at the Fairmont Orchid
Just next door on the Mauna Lani resort property you’ll find the Fairmont Orchid Hotel. One evening we ventured there for a Japanese dinner. If you are looking for a first rate sushi experience Norio’s at The Fairmont Orchid is it. Norio creates exciting variations on classic sushi. Try the oyster Martini for a refreshing appetizer. Plump, juicy Seattle oysters are made especially piquant with his sesame ponzu sauce. I particularly enjoyed the supremely fresh Tuna Tataki, seared tuna on a bed of seaweed and shredded Maui onions drizzled with a fine aioli sauce, a nice twist on a classic Japanese dish. You can’t go wrong with any of the sushi or sashimi offerings. Tempura is cooked in rice oil that keeps it very crisp and non-oily.
Make sure to ask your waiter to recommend a flight of sakes. I really enjoyed the different flavors and found it fun to compare them-a nice change from wine or beer accompaniments. The Sake martini is a take-off on the very popular Cosmopolitan and will delight the mixed-drink crowd.
For dessert don’t miss the green tea cheesecake, much lighter in texture and subtle in flavor than a traditional New York style Cheesecake. Make sure to plan ahead because Norio’s is booked far in advance.
I had to let you know how great my book party was… Here are a few photos that I hope you like. My dear friend Denise Vivaldo pulled off the food and drink and all had a great time.. Very fun to do it at Surfas in Culver City, a cook and chefs dream for anything and everything for cooking and food related items. We had my wonderful Viognier Fruit Spritzer that was enough to sell out the book alone.,Other goodies included my Parmesan and Artichoke Dip, Chicken Drummetes with Romesco Sauce, Meatball Sliders, Warm Roasted Nuts, Cheese and Fruit Platter and the best Shortbread with Chocolate and Caramelized Walnuts you have ever tasted, which all contributed to make the party so fun and delish. I had an email from someone who attended the party who said “it was amazing the amount of love in the room.” I say what more could I ask for: dear friends and family, great food and an love all around— my version of heaven.
- 1 bottle chilled Viognier wine
- 3 cups sparkling water
- 1½ cups tangerine juice
- 1½ cups cranberry juice
- 8 to 10 crushed mint leaves
- 1½ cups crushed ice
- Sliced oranges, tangerines and frozen strawberries
- In a large glass pitcher combine all of the liquid ingredients. With your fingers crush the mint leaves and add them to the mixture. Add some crushed ice and the fruit. Mix to combine with a long spoon. Pour into pretty goblets.
- • Use Sauvignon Blanc, Fume Blanc or even a California Rose
- • Use different juices like Guava, pomegranate and pineapple