Greek, anyone?

Vegetarian Moussaka

Being vegetarian is usually not an issue for me, especially since I’m technically only semi-vegetarian and will (happily) eat seafood. Inevitably though, one is bound to come across a situation where a vegetarian dish may not be so easy to come by. Enter a Christmas party while I was home over the holidays. Thankfully, my mom knew this and tried to fix the situation beforehand. I say tried because our initial conversation went something like this:

Mom: “I have to think of something to make that you’ll eat for dad’s family get-together.” (They usually just do ham sandwiches. Gourmet, I know).

Me: “I’ll figure something out. I’ll just throw together a big salad for myself or something.”

Mom: “I know! I have some chicken breasts in the freezer that I’ll take out.”

Me: (blank stare) “Uhhh…”

Mom: “Oh. Yah. I’ll make the vegetarian moussaka [my co-worker] talked about the other day.”

Thank you, mom, for redeeming yourself. It’s the thought that counts. And yes, I did feel like I was in the scene of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

I bring you vegetarian moussaka. Yes, it is in the picture above. No, that’s not ground beef you see. They are Boca’s ‘veggie ground crumbles.’ I usually try to avoid the fake meats but it wasn’t that bad and I’d use them again.

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What will you need?

  • Eggplant (1)
  • Ground veggie crumbles (or something similar. or ground beef if you’re not vegetarian)
  • Diced (or crushed) tomatoes (1 can)
  • Zucchini (1)
  • Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Allspice
  • Coriander
  • Oregano
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Egg yolk
  • Parsley
  • Milk
  • Flour
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt/pepper

What you do with all of those ingredients…

  1. Start off by peeling the eggplant and slicing it (quarter- to half-inch thick slices, or so).
  2. Layer the eggplant slices on a baking sheet and top with some olive oil, a little parsley, and salt. Put them in a 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, so they soften a little.DSC_0795
  3. While the eggplant slices are in the oven, start by shredding/grating the zucchini.
  4. Add olive oil and garlic (chopped, minced, however you like it) to a sauté pan (med-hi heat), followed by veggie crumbles. I added my crumbles while they were still frozen, it may help if they are thawed a little or at least broken up (and not one solid chunk).
  5. Add grated zucchini and can of diced tomatoes to veggie crumbles mix, as well as spices (a pinch of each should be fine).
    • My mom’s directions (for spices) listed the ones in the ingredient list. I used what I had on hand – cinnamon, coriander, cumin, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano. Use whatever sounds good to you.
  6. Let it all simmer/cook together for a little. Add a handful or two of chopped parsley towards the end.
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  7. By now, the eggplant should be done. Layer the eggplant slices and cover the bottom of a 13×9 glass baking dish. Or a smaller glass dish (I used a smaller one).
  8. On top of the eggplant, spread the veggie crumble mix. Topping this will be a béchamel sauce…
  9. …which you will now make. (Note: if you want a thicker layer of béchamel, use more butter/flour/milk than I list). Melt about 2 Tablespoons butter in a pan. Once melted add about 2 T flour and mix together. Mixture should not be too liquidy but not completely solid.
  10. Add about a cup of milk and stir until it begins to thicken (you do not have to stir it constantly). Once it is creamy thickness/texture, remove from heat and about 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Mix.
  11. Pour the béchamel sauce over eggplant and veggie crumbs in pan.
  12. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until it’s a nice golden brown on top.
  13. Enjoy!

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Avocados are on sale!

Please tell me I’m not the only one that buys too many avocados when they are on sale and not yet ripe. And then they all ripen at the same time and I’m not sure what to do with them…?

If you are as awesome as I am, here’s a good use of at least one of those avocados. I’m not sure where I originally got this recipe from but I love it! I originally had this dish when I was in Napa about two years ago and remember tracking down a recipe as soon as I got home. I unfortunately don’t remember which restaurant I originally had this dish at though…

Anyways, this dish combines some of my favorite things: avocado and pasta – there is of course olive oil as well but that should be known. And you can make it with Hass or Florida avocado. I present Creamy Avocado Pasta. Take note that since this dish is avocado based, it doesn’t exactly reheat well. In other words, only make what you’ll eat. Or eat all that you make, something like that. Since I generally just make this for myself, I tend to only use 1/2 avocado.

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What you’ll need:

  • 1 avocado
  • lemon juice (freshly squeezed is great but the bottle works too)
  • garlic
  • salt
  • basil
  • olive oil
  • pasta (I usually use linguine)
  • pepper

Now that you have all this, start by cooking the pasta. In other words, boil water, add pasta. I really hope I don’t have to explain this one…

While the pasta is cooking, pull our your trusty food processor, stick blender, blender or whatever you prefer. First, blend together the olive oil (tablespoon or 2), garlic (I usually do about 1-2 cloves per 1/2 avocado), and lemon juice (if freshly squeezed, about half a lemon; if from the bottle, about a tablespoon-ish). Once that’s blended together and you don’t have any massive garlic chunks, add the avocado, basil, and salt (to taste). Blend. Until creamy and delicious.

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Once the pasta is done, strain it and mix it with the avocado sauce you just made. Toss some pepper on for taste if you please. Eat and enjoy.

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My cooking style. And some broccoli.

There is actually a recipe here! A few things about me before I get to that…:

  • I generally use recipes more for ideas than exact directions. In other words, I don’t like measuring cups and spoons when I’m cooking. There’s a time and place for those and it’s not dinner.
  • Those measuring cups? Yah, I definitely use them for baking.
  • I love olive oil. Really, need I say more? It’s good for you, right?
  • I cook with wine. Meaning there is usually a glass of wine that I sip on as I cook + eat.
  • I’m Italian, and learned to cook from my mom and nonna. This combination may actually explain a lot of things, including my love for olive oil and wine, my inability to measure things as I cook, and my propensity for dinners to be last-minute and involve whatever I can throw together with what’s on hand.
  • Sometimes I get too into the cooking that I don’t always take pictures along the way…you may just get the final product.
  • I’m not a fan of really intricate recipes – I believe good, healthy food doesn’t have to take hours to make.

Moving on…

The other night I made roasted broccoli and sweet potatoes. The recipe landed in my e.mail a few days ago so I thought I’d give it try. I had the broccoli and sweet potatoes from my last trip to the produce market and I really just had to run out and grab rosemary. Yes, if I were awesome, I would have stepped out on my porch/patio/whatever you want to call it and picked rosemary out of my herb garden. I’m not that awesome. And I definitely don’t have a green thumb.

Excuse the really bad picture but this would be my last attempt at growing basil + parsley. Please note the brown (dead) stalks on the basil plant.

About that recipe. What you need is:

  • Broccoli (I used about 2 heads, chopped into florets)
  • Sweet potato (I used one average size)
  • Garlic (couple cloves?)
  • Rosemary
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil

Once you have all that, you can start by cutting the sweet potato up into chunks – however big or small you like, just make sure they are about the same size. Toss that with a drizzle of olive oil (it doesn’t need to be coated), rosemary (chopped; I used about 1 sprig), and garlic. Put it all onto a baking sheet (I put my baking mat on the pan), add a little salt and pepper, then it goes into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. While that’s roasting, cut the broccoli heads up into florets. When the buzzer for the potatoes goes off, add the broccoli to the mix, along with a little extra olive oil. It heads back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so and comes out like this…

And that, my friends, is it. Delicious, I might add. The sweet potatoes were definitely sweet and reminded me of the sweet potato dishes Thanksgiving (that are made with sugar and all other sorts of healthiness I’m sure).

Now onto those two papers I need to write.