There will be bread

I love me a recipe that offers shortcuts and still tastes amazing. So, even though I don’t mind kneading bread, I still eagerly bookmarked the no-knead recipe from Jim Lahey as soon as I came across it.

No-knead bread ingredients. No, the Sodastream water is not bubbly.

Then, I discovered the caveat. There may not be kneading, but it still takes time and a little bit of getting your hands dirty (with sticky dough).

After going through it the first time, I shrugged and said I wasn’t really saving all that much so I wouldn’t make it again. That is, until I tasted it. Readers, it’s worth the time and effort.

And the more I’ve made it, the less the time and minor effort bothers me. I just plan better.

This is also a quintessentially Dutch oven dish.

Part of why the crust crunches so well is you preheat the Dutch oven for long enough that your dough goes into a nice and hot container. (I will admit, however, that I have used this recipe to make a couple of baguettes and it turns out well, just not as crunchy.)

It’s also pretty hard to mess up, since there are so few ingredients. The key is using bread flour, but I have — and I did this time on a whim — thrown in some amount of wheat flour and it’s worked. It’s not quite as fluffy but fiber does a body good.

Now, you can time things out how you want, but with a 12 to 18 hour rise time on the first go, my planning schedule is this:

*Before bed: Mix together the yeast, salt, water, and flour, and stir until blended.

*The next day/evening: When I get home from work, or the afternoon on a weekend, scrape the edges of the mixture and ensure it’s risen; then, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, shape into a boule, and wrap in a well-floured or cornmeal-coated towel, and let rise another 1 to 2 hours, before preparing to bake.

If you’re an early morning riser or an insomniac, a different schedule may work for you. But I’d rather get it started before bed and then deal with it later in the day. And a few hours extra rise time, if it’s a work day, hasn’t made a difference.

Again, it’s pretty hard to mess this up, even if there is an optimal way to make it that will maximize its awesomeness.

My boule isn’t the prettiest and it didn’t rise as much as I thought it would, but it tastes forking great.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • ¼ t. active dry yeast
  • 1 ⅓ c. cool water
  • 1 ¼ t. salt (I estimate)
  • 3 c. bread flour (OR, 2 c. bread flour, 1 c. wheat flour — which may require slightly more water)
  • Bran, cornmeal, or additional flour, for dusting

Directions

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast, and then add the water. Use a wooden spoon, rubber dough scraper, or your hands to mix together until a wet, sticky dough forms, about 30 seconds. If it’s not wet and sticky, add more water or flour as necessary.

Cover the bowl — either a tea towel or plastic wrap or a loose lid will work. Let rise in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, for 12 to 18 hours.

When small bubbles dot the surface of the dough and it’s at least doubled in size, dust a work surface with additional flour. Scrape the dough onto the work surface. Use your hands — lightly floured — to shape the dough into a round.

Dust a (non-terry cloth) tea towel with flour or cornmeal, and then place the dough, seam-side down, in the towel, and then gently wrap together. Let the dough rise for another 1 to 2 hours. (It’s ready when it has almost doubled and/or you can poke it with a finger and it holds the impression.)

About a half-hour before the second rise has finished, heat the oven to 475 degrees with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Place the Dutch oven, covered,  in the center of the rack.

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven. Uncover it, and add some cornmeal or wheat bran if desired, to the bottom of the pot. Then, unfold the dough and quickly but gently invert it into the pot with the seam-side up. Cover the pot again.

Bake the dough for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to bake until the bread is browned but not burnt, another 15 to 30 minutes.

Once the bread is done, carefully remove the loaf from the Dutch oven, and place it on a rack to cool. Let cool for at least an hour before slicing, and enjoy with soup, butter, or all by itself!

So long, see ya, 2018 sheet pan scalloped potatoes

I’ll be honest, there’s not much I’m going to miss about 2018. It was a long slog of a year. But I am a bit disappointed to be leaving sheet pan recipes behind. It turned out to be more challenging and have more variety than I even imagined going in.

And that was delightfully true with my final sheet pan recipe of the year.

Mostly I was just looking for something that would be versatile for the many smoked meats my sweetie made over the Christmas holiday, but I was delighted at how tasty my scalloped potatoes were. Especially for my first time and really fudging the recipe.

Sheet pan scalloped potatoes ingredients.

They also might have the distinction of being one of the fattiest things I’ve made this year. Helped by the fact that I added more cheese and more cream because that’s what I do.

My fudges — I chose to do a bechamel sauce instead of just heating cream because I also wanted to add leeks. Then, because it was thicker, I added more cream than the recipe called for. And as usual, I added more cheese.

But despite all that, it worked. It was — much like my lasagna — quite crusty but in the most delightful way.

My only note: Don’t be lazy like me, and instead, put it in Tupperware or storage containers while it’s still warm/room temperature; otherwise, you’ll be scraping at the pan to get all the potatoes and solidified fat off your sheet pan.

So much fatty goodness. Just look at it.

Here’s what I did, tweaking another Food Network recipe:

Ingredients

  • 4 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 T. flour
  • 2 ½ c. heavy cream
  • 1 large leek, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used more)
  • 1 T. dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 ½ lbs. Yukon gold potatoes (or similar), scrubbed and thinly sliced (a mandoline works best)
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan
  • 2 c. shredded Gruyere (about 6 oz.)

Directions

Grease a large rimmed sheet pan (the recipe calls for 18 by 13 inch, but mine is 15 by 12, and it was fine) with 1 T. of butter. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sliced leek and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until the leeks are softened. Meanwhile, mix the flour with the thyme and salt and pepper. Slowly add the flour mixture to the leek mixture.

Stir for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned.

Add the cream slowly and stir in. Thicken slightly but not too much. Set aside.

Arrange half the potato slices in a single overlapping layer on the prepared sheet pan. Add half the grated Parmesan (and some of the Gruyere if desired). Arrange another layer of potatoes using the remaining slices. Spread the sauce mixture on top.

Cover the sheet pan with foil and bake the potatoes for about 20 minutes.

Carefully remove the sheet pan from the oven and remove the foil. Top the warmed potato mixture with the remaining Parmesan and Gruyere. Cook uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes until the top is brown and crusty on top, the potatoes are cooked through, and enjoy!

Happy New Year, dear readers, and I’ll be back with in 2019 with a new plan for a new year.

My favorite mistake

I’m going to say right up front that I forked this one up royally from beginning to end. So, I can’t say that it was a great recipe, but I do think that it’s salvageable, as in, the blame lies with me.

And, to be honest, I still had a lot of fun making it.

It’s been a stressful week, and I came home grumpy. But once I started to make this week’s poppy seed streusel and listening to podcasts about “Doctor Who” (*nerd alert*), I felt immensely better. I didn’t even really care that I was forking up.

Streusel ingredients. Notably not pictured is the milk I should have used.

I have loved my Amy Thielen “The New Midwestern Table” cookbook, so the fact that this recipe didn’t turn out I think is a fluke. I have made a lot of things from it, including hand pies this year.

And, seriously, it has a butt-ton of butter, sugar, and flour, so it should have been perfect.

Also, while her recipe said to bake for a half hour, I knew it looked done about 7 minutes early, and instead of trusting my gut, I let it go for another 5.

So, the fact that it’s hard as a rock, is on me.

Then, the second page of the recipe really spends a lot of time on the importance of grinding the poppy seeds well. This was after I had, uh, not done that. See, I bought a bunch of cream and figured there was not harm in replacing whole milk with cream. Except that, obviously, cream whips quite quickly. So, when I mixed them together in the blender, there was whipped cream well before poppy seed broke and bruised.

I made up for it by adding water instead of more cream later … but the damage (or lack thereof to the poppy seeds) was done.

So, the fact that the poppy seeds are intact and the innards of the streusel didn’t turn out as expected, is also on me.

Again, though, it was an adventure to make, and I’m pretty sure if I follow the recipe, and trust my gut, I’ll nail it next time.

It doesn’t look that bad until you noticed the blackened edges and that that ain’t *lightly* golden.

Here’s what I did. Actually, scratch that, here’s what I should have done:

Ingredients

  • ¾ c. poppy seeds
  • ¾ c. whole milk (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE)
  • 1 c. raisins
  • 3 c. sugar, divided
  • ½ c. heavy cream
  • 2 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • ½ t. sea salt
  • 3 sticks butter (the recipe calls for salted; I used un- so hopefully that didn’t mess things up), and more for coating the pan, all at room temperature

Directions

Combine poppy seeds and MILK in a blender and process on high until the poppy seeds have broken down down. Add the raisins, 1 c. sugar, the cream, and the vinegar. Process until smooth.

Pour the mixture into a medium skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir often to prevent it from sticking, and continue reducing heat to keep the mixture at a slow bubble. Keep cooking until the mixture thickens to like jam, about 30 minutes. I’d say a little less but that might just be because I overcooked the thing from top to bottom in the oven.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 degrees, and lightly butter a 9-inch by 13-inch sheet pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, the remaining 2 c. sugar, salt, and the butter. Use your fingers to work the butter into the flour mixture until well combined, and the mixture holds its shape when squeezed together.

Scoop 5 loose cups of the butter mixture onto the sheet pan, and use your hands to spread evenly, and then gently press down. Bake for about 10 minutes, and then let cool for about 10 minutes.

Then, pour the poppy seed mixture on top, and spread until smooth. Then squeeze the remaining butter mixture on top of the poppy seed mix to make decorative nuggets, leaving some space for the filling to show through.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until LIGHTLY golden brown, *checking often*, and then cool in the pan before cutting into squares. Enjoy, if you got this far and succeeded!

 

Beautiful briny bread

The checkout girl at Target told me not to tell anyone that the bread I made this week had anchovies on it. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d be telling everyone through this blog post. So, let me get it out of the way at the front.

This bread is not for the faint-hearted.

If you can think of everything flavorful and potentially off-putting, this bread has it. Anchovies. Capers. Kalamata olives. Onions (lots of ‘em). Garlic.

Briny bread* ingredients. *Actually called “pissaladiere.”

It’s also got tomatoes, a butt-load of olive oil, and a no-knead yeasty bread.

Basically, me and my sweetie thought it would be perfect. And the recipe didn’t let us down. It’s been amazing.

The recipe comes from the cookbook my brother turned me on to about bread: “Bread, Toast, Crumbs” by Alexandra Stafford. I finally got myself a copy.

Unlike last time, my deviations from the original recipe worked just fine. I mostly stuck to it — including all those delicious toppings — but I have regular yeast, not instant, and I figured there was no harm in swapping. Especially since I spent a year making bread.

To correct, I just upped the amount of yeast and added a little honey to get it kickstarted, but otherwise I stuck close to the original.

My only complaint — and it’s expected — is that it took a long time and dirtied quite a few dishes, including the pain-in-the-ass-to-clean food processor. But I knew all that going in, and a lot of the time is pretty passive and a great time to rewatch this amazing season of “Doctor Who.”

It looks so pretty, and it’s tasty too.

Here’s what I did (with notes to use instant yeast):

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 ½ t. active dry yeast (1 t. If using instant)
  • 2 c. lukewarm water
  • 1 T. honey, optional

For the bread

  • 6 T. olive oil, divided
  • 3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 anchovies
  • 1 T. capers (I didn’t measure, I love capers)
  • ½ c. kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

Directions

Make the dough. If using active dry yeast, mix together the yeast, warm water, and honey, and let sit for about 10 minutes before stirring in the flour and salt. If using instant, the recipe says to mix together the dry ingredients, and then add the water (and honey). Either way, use a rubber spatula to stir until the mixture combined and you have a sticky dough that’s sort of ball-shaped. Cover the mixture with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise for about 1 ½ hours until the dough has doubled in size.

Just before the dough is ready, heat a large pan on high heat. Add 1 T. olive oil, and then add the onions. Cook on medium heat, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

In a food processor, mix together the garlic and anchovies with 2 T. olive oil until pureed. Add the capers and pulse till chopped. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees, and set the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper, and pour on the remaining 3 T. olive oil. Use two forks to deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center until you get a rough ball. Lift the dough with the forks or pour it onto the oiled sheet pan. Roll the dough ball in oil to coat it all over, and then let it rest for 20 minutes.

With greased hands, push the dough to stretch it to the edges of the sheet pan, and use fingers to dimple it. When the dough resists stretching, let it rest for about 5 minutes and then stretch again until it fits most of the sheet pan.

To assemble, spread the anchovy paste on the dough. Scatter on the olives, and then the carmelized onions. Top with the tomatoes. Use fingers again to dimple the dough and stretch more if necessary.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the underside of the dough is golden and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares, and enjoy!

Sheet pan mac & cheese the gift that keeps giving

I was looking for something different to try this week and that’s when a new message popped up. My brother Nate came through out of the blue with a mac and cheese recipe for me.

Sheet pan mac and cheese ingredients.

It turned out that the gift of a new, fun recipe just when I needed it came about because he had bought his wife Monique a birthday present of the delightful-sounding book “Bread, Toast, Crumbs” by Alexandra Stafford. BTW, Happy Birthday, Monique!

While I just used the image my brother sent me for this post, it definitely sounds like the type of book that belongs in my kitchen, as I love carbs and crumbs. My test with mac and cheese was mostly positive, if not perfect.

Despite my pronounced love for crumbs, I must have accidentally added more than the recipe, or perhaps because there was a note in the text to another page for homemade crumbs, I ended up with an over-abundance. Don’t get me wrong, the crumbs *tasted* great, but they were a bit overwhelming versus the mac and cheese.

But for that error, I only blame myself and my lack of owning the book.

I also failed to purchase more parchment paper after using it up for last week’s ratatouille, which may have contributed to a drier and darker mac and cheese, though the latter didn’t bother me at all and the former also probably an error I made in adding too much of the mac, defying instructions.

If you’re sensing a theme, it’s that in cooking there’s always a balance between trusting your gut and trusting the expert recipe; and, in this case, I erred toward my own opinions and judgment. But I won’t disavow my gut altogether. There’s some logic in what works for my palate and some room for error in how an item cooks in my oven, but this time, not so much.

Even though my attempt didn’t turn out perfectly, I had no problem eating it as leftovers throughout the week, and I’m adding the book to my cart right now.

So many crumbs. Yet, so much deliciousness.

Here’s what I did (or, more accurately, what I should have done):

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. elbow macaroni (I used 16 to use up the whole box, but in hindsight, it would’ve been better with less)
  • 1 stick (8 T.) unsalted butter, divided
  • ¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. store-bought bread crumbs (The recipe called for 3, but also apparently how to make them homemade. Since 3 c. was too much, I’d go to 2 c. but I left all else for the crumb mix the same as the recipe called for, because delicious flavor!)
  • ½ c. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used much more because I love garlic, but add to your tastes)
  • 5 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees, and bring a large pot of water (salted if desired) to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook to al dente for 5 minutes. Drain but don’t rinse, and set aside.

In the same large pot, melt half the butter over medium high heat. Add the flour, a little at a time, whisking constantly, and continue to stir for about a minute. Add the milk, and 2 c. water, continuing to whisk to ensure nothing is stuck to the bottom. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes (mine took longer than the recipe stated, closer to 30 than the 20 in the recipe) until the mixture is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add more salt or pepper to taste.

In a medium bowl, melt the remaining butter. Then, add the bread crumbs, parsley, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In the pot with the sauce, add the Parmesan cheese (I left a little for topping but it’s optional), and then add in the macaroni. Stir until cheese is melted and mac is coated.

Line the bottom of a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper (optional but recommended), and spread the mac mixture on top. Add the mozzarella cubes evenly throughout, and then top with the bread crumb mixture, and any leftover Parmesan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crumbs are golden and the mac mixture is bubbling. Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and enjoy!

Important addendum:

My delightful brother sent the important context for the missing page with the note on bread crumbs. Mystery solved!

Anyone can cook ratatouille

I’ve loved Pixar’s “Ratatouille” since it first came out and I saw it in theaters. But it’s a movie that’s only grown on me since then.

Of course, I’ve come to love cooking even more, so that’s no surprise, but it’s really the movie’s messages that have grown in importance to me.

There is the message (*spoilers ahead*) from the critic at the end of the movie that “Anyone can cook,” which isn’t to say that we can all be great chefs but a great chef can come from even the humblest of beginnings.

But if I’m honest, it’s the message from Remy walking away from his dad to pursue his passion despite his family’s wishes that really gets me.

Screenshot from IMDB.

I won’t get overly sappy here, but I’m coming up on a year since leaving journalism, and that scene has been making me think and challenging me to move forward. That’s no less true of our current political climate as we approach another election. Things can change, as long as we decide to step up.

So, to readers, please vote and convince your friends and family to do the same. And, to myself, who voted last weekend, I am reminded to step up and try to help bring about that change by working for it.

Now, I’ll step off my pedestal and get back to my recipe.

Sheet pan ratatouille ingredients (please note, this is way too much to fit on one sheet pan).

I’m embarrassed to say how many years I’ve wanted to make the eponymous ratatouille from the movie, and I finally did it during my year of casseroles. And while it did not achieve the picturesque quality of the movie, it was a delight.

I thought it could be replicated on a sheet pan, albeit a smaller amount, and I was not wrong. However, I did buy way too much of the required vegetables, and so I had to make it on several sheet pans over multiple days. And yet, I’m not complaining.

I tried a few different methods to see what would work best — sauce on top, sauce on bottom, baked at a slightly lower temperature, and came up with what is my favorite. It’s also pretty easy, to boot, except the slicing, but it’s made easier if you have a mandoline slicer.

It looks classy, but it’s also easy and delicious.

Here’s what I did (using the best version of my tests):

Ingredients

  • About 2 small summer squash, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 2 small zucchini, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 2 medium Chinese eggplant, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 3 medium Roma tomatoes, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • Salt, to taste
  • Olive oil, for coating
  • 1 jar (16 to 20 oz.) arrabbiata sauce
  • Basil, to taste
  • Thyme, to taste
  • Minced garlic (I used dried), to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray or brush olive oil on a large sheet pan (about 15 ½ by 12 inches)

Pour the sauce on top of the oiled pan, enough to coat but not necessarily using it all. Place a layer of vegetables on top of the sauce, slightly overlapping like shingles, and in any pattern you like — I did a row of each except tomatoes and put tomatoes on top but do whatever makes you happy.

Oil the top of the vegetable layer and add some thyme, basil, and minced garlic. Add another layer and repeat with the oil and herbs and garlic. If there’s still room, you can add a third layer (with oil, etc. on top) but my edges are not high so two layers was about all I could handle.

Top with parchment paper.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the vegetables are cooked, with some browning around the edges (trust me, it tastes delightfully smoky). Serve with more sauce, if desired, and enjoy!

Quiche me like you mean it

After two weeks of traveling, I’m finding it nice to be home. And one of the surest signs that we’ve been on the road too much (and that I’m officially grown up) is that I got burnt out on fast food. Yes, I was craving salad and vegetables.

Of course, I do not need to be nudged too hard but the need for healthier fare hit like a craving. So, I was glad I had saved this quiche recipe for a post-travels dinner.

Sheet pan quiche ingredients.

It isn’t all healthy, what with an all-butter crust, cream cheese, and more cheese. But it was topped with my comfort food veggies, marinated artichokes and asparagus. And eggs, well, I think the jury is still out on whether they’re healthy or not. For the sake of this post, let’s say they’re a good source of protein.

Plus, I was happy to have another reason to make a pie crust in this year of sheet pan recipes.

The recipe was adapted from food blogging fave Smitten Kitchen. But I chose my favorite vegetables over spinach (which is a fine green!) and had to tweak to fit my size sheet pan (roughly 11×15 inch). All worked out perfectly and I found a relatively simple recipe I am sure I’ll be returning to again and again.

Look at those beautiful vegetables and that perfect crust.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

For crust:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • Scant 2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
  • 3 oz. ice water (I used a handy shot glass and shaker, don’t judge)
  • Salt, if desired

Or, feel free to roughly double your favorite pie crust.

For quiche filling:

  • 1 brick (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c. half and half
  • 7 large eggs
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced white and light green parts
  • About ¾ bunch asparagus, ends removed and cut into about 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 1 (about 6 oz.) jar of marinated artichokes, drained
  • 1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Oil, for coating

Directions

Prepare crust. Use a food processor, pastry blender, or hands to mix together the butter and flour until well blended. Add water slowly until dough forms. Pat into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour. When ready, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about ¼ inch thick and slightly larger than the size of your sheet pan. Carefully place the dough in the sheet pan and trim the edges as necessary. Freeze for about 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Then, when ready, pierce the cold dough throughout with a fork. Cover dough with a lightly oiled piece of aluminum foil. Add weights. (I forgot this step and all turned out fine.) Bake for about 20 minutes until partially done, and then remove foil (and any pie weights) and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes to lightly golden the crust.

Meanwhile, make the filling. I was lazy here and used my stand mixer, but do what works for you. Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl. Carefully add the half and half. Whisk in eggs one at a time, until combined. Stir in the scallions, cheeses, and salt and pepper.

Once crust is ready, pour on the egg mixture. Do not overtop the crust (this amount of egg mixture worked perfect for my sheet pan, but amounts and sheet pans vary). If you have extra, consider you’ve got breakfast in the morning.

Top egg mixture with asparagus pieces and quartered artichoke hearts.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake the quiche until the crust is fully golden and the eggy filling is set, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes or until warmed to desired temperature, and enjoy!

Energizing eggplant Parm

I know at one point I had a recipe for chicken Parmesan. It’s how I learned to cook it, as it wasn’t a traditional family recipe I learned by osmosis. But anymore, I just wing it.

The recipe is easy enough to mostly remember, and I like it and its partner in crime, eggplant Parmesan, enough that I make it fairly regularly. So, somewhere along the way, I just stopped consulting whatever recipe it was I used, and it always turns out fine.

*All* of the ingredients for eggplant Parmesan.

Well, OK, I actually usually forget one ingredient, but it’s the ones that are served with the dish, i.e., pasta or pasta sauce. And, OK, one special time where I forgot mozzarella.

But a quick trip to the grocery store later and I’m back on track.

This time was no exception. I, of course, forgot pasta sauce, but it otherwise worked out well.

I was a little nervous because I usually saute the eggplant (or the chicken) before a short time in the oven to melt the cheese. This time, though, it was all sheet pan.

My experience in — holy cow! — more than six months of working with sheet pans, however, prepared me quite well for the endeavor. While it took a long time, it was more or less the amount of time I expected. And, yeah, it was pretty great.

Tastes great any way you slice it, and any way you serve it. Generally, pretty great.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced about ¼-inch thick
  • 1 c. whole wheat bread crumbs
  • ½ c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1 T. dried basil
  • 1 T. dried oregano
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Olive oil, preferably the spray kind
  • 1 c. mozzarella, shredded
  • Pasta sauce, such as marinara, to taste
  • Pasta or bread, for serving

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray or coat lightly with oil.

On a large plate, mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, herbs, and spices, and salt and pepper. Add a little water to the beaten eggs, and stir to combine in a small bowl. Set up a workstation so you can easily go from dipping the eggplant in the beaten eggs to coating them with the bread crumb mixture. Then, individually dip the eggplant slices in the egg mixture, and then coat in the bread crumb mixture before placing on the sheet pan. Repeat until you’ve used up all the eggplant.

Spray or coat with more oil.

Bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway through, until the eggplant is fully cooked through and the bread crumbs have browned. Add the sauce (we used about ½ a 24 oz container), and then top with the mozzarella. Bake for another 15 minutes until the mozzarella is melted and the sauce is warm.

Serve with pasta and some additional sauce, or serve on hoagie buns for a warm sandwich, and enjoy!

Fun with falafel

I can’t tell you the first time I had falafel but I know that it was love at first taste. And the love affair has been ongoing ever since.

I like any kind too. There’s not a boxed falafel I haven’t enjoyed, and I will go out of my way to get it in stores. Literally. Almost any time I’m in Iowa City, I’ll make a stop at Oasis. Heck, one time I made my family go to Canada (from Montana) to get a falafel dog (and hot dogs, which I also love).

Baked falafel ingredients.

So, it’s not a surprise that when I found a homemade recipe for it years ago, I had to try it. And once again, I’ve been making it ever since.

My tastes have evolved over the years, so it’s probably just my current palate that makes me say this, but I think this time is the best I’ve made it.

It comes from a snarky vegan cookbook that I’ve only made a handful of recipes from and mostly ignored the annoying pleas for using coconut oil, and I’m sure I’ve made other things where I straight up just added real cheese. Not to snark on vegans but, man, cool it sometimes.

So, suffice to say, I’ve amended the original (though mine is still vegan. Until I top it with tzatziki.).

Since I don’t have a good food processor, I used my very wonderful Ninja blender. That made it a little hard to bring the mixture together so I added a little water, and this made the mix look a little like cookies when I finally baked them. But don’t let that fool you, they were still amazing and perfect, and I honestly recommend making them with a few splashes of water even if you have a food processor so they turn out this delightful.

While they’re not as simple as pouring from a box, they are baked instead of fried and still pretty frickin’ easy, and did I mention, amazing?!

These aren’t cookies, but they are savory treats that won’t make you falafel. 😉

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 2 T. panko crumbs
  • 2 T. whole wheat flour
  • Chopped parsley, to taste (it calls for 2 T. but I like more)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 t. ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1 t. ground coriander, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil, preferably spray

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray or lightly coat with oil.

In a food processor or blender, combine the garbanzo beans, onion, panko, flour, parsley, garlic, spices, and a splash of water and blend. Pulse until smooth, adding tablespoons of water as necessary. Once mixed, flatten into about a dozen rounds and place on the lined sheet pan. Spray or brush lightly with more oil.

Bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway through, and enjoy with tzatziki and pita!

Serendipitous simple spinach swirls

I was not expecting to make this week’s dish, but I just happened to have all but one of the ingredients on hand. So, one Sunday morning before a get-together with friends, I whipped together spanakopita-like spinach swirls.

Spinach swirls ingredients.

And they’re a real Frankenstein’s monster of my previous sheet pan recipes.

I had left over one sheet of puff pastry from the sausage “sandwich” I made earlier this year. I had bought a gigantic block of feta for the chicken meatballs, because it called for the brine too, and had quite a bit leftover. I had the basic idea of what it’d take to make it work from when I actually did make spanakopita. We even just happened to have dill around for some reason, and everything but spinach is a regular pantry item. So, I sought spinach.

While I made this frantically, because as usual I was running late for said get-together, it was super simple and comes together quick. Mine didn’t look as pretty as a similar-ish recipe on the back of the puff pastry box but still tasty.

My only issue is I took the back-of-the-box advice to brush on an egg wash on the dough before baking, which was fine, but it made the swirls stick to the pan, so I wish I had used parchment paper for easy cleanup. Oh, and I probably should’ve strained the spinach a bit. Other than that, simple and delicious.

So simple and so delicious.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • ~1 c. crumbled feta (I’d bet a 4 oz. container of crumbled feta would be a fine amount)
  • ½ c. Parmesan, shredded
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Dill, to taste
  • Flour, for rolling pastry dough

Directions

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.

Squeeze out water from handfuls of spinach and place in a large bowl. Add feta, Parmesan, garlic, 1 egg, salt, pepper, and dill to the spinach, and stir well to combine.

Place a small handful of flour on a clean surface, and unroll the puff pastry sheet. Sprinkle with more flour, and then roll out to about 12 inches by 10 inches or so.

Place the spinach mix along the long side of the puff pastry. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut into about 12 slices.

Place face up on the lined sheet pan.

Mix together the remaining egg with about 1 T. of water. Stir the egg wash on the edges of the puff pastry to coat.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the puff pastry is golden brown, and enjoy!