Thursday, August 27, 2015

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Marinara Sauce

Once a while when my craving for tomato red sauce hits, the good ol' Eggplant Parmesan sounds like a perfect choice without overloading on carbs from pasta in a spaghetti pomodoro. A hearty staple of Italian Americana, "Eggplant Parm" usually comes breaded and fried - in some instances even drowning in pools of sauce, cheese, and grease when not done right. This delicious grilled version is my take on the traditional one, which is much lighter (and easier to make) and loud on both flavor and texture. The eggplant is beautifully grilled and charred, layered with melted mozzarella and homemade marinara, and finally topped with crisp, golden seasoned breadcrumbs. Forget the heavily breaded, slimy eggplant swimming in grease, because you won't miss that - and those calories - at all.

Now, if you are short on time, you can always use store-bought marinara and breadcrumbs. But making homemade tomato sauce and breadcrumbs is almost as fast as visiting the supermarket and infinitely better than the jarred/boxed stuff on the shelves. With basic pantry staples, you can control what goes into your own sauce, how chunky or smooth you like it, and also make bigger batches for later use. As for breadcrumbs... just like me, once you've made it for the first time you would probably feel silly for having actually purchased any in the past. It is essentially day-old, dried out bread that you can easily transform into tasty, golden, versatile crispy goodness in mere seconds at home.

Below are the recipes for each of the two. The tomato sauce and the breadcrumbs can be made ahead; once you've got those two down, assembling the Grilled Eggplant Parmesan is a breeze!
To prepare... 
For the classic Marinara Sauce:

I go heavy handed when seasoning with fresh herbs!
1 can (28 ounce) chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons extra vigin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 sprig fresh basil
Fresh or dried herbs to taste (such as oregano and thyme) 
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of sugar (optional)
A small handful of cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and any dried herbs and cook until fragrant. Pour in canned tomatoes and salt, bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.

2. Stir in cherry tomatoes (if using). Add basil sprig (and any other fresh herbs) and submerge in sauce for the last 10 minutes. Taste sauce and add more seasoning as desired. Add some sugar if you find the sauce acidic. Discard basil, and remove sauce from heat.

For the Seasoned Parmesan Breadcrumbs:

2-3 pieces of stale white bread or plain rolls, roughly torn
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs or Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt, or to taste
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Several whole black peppercorns

1. Preheat oven to 150C/300F. Place all of the ingredients into a food processor and pulse to desired crumb size. Spread the crumbs evenly on a sheet pan and bake until crisp and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Let cool and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.



For the Grilled Eggplant Parmesan:

1 Italian eggplant, sliced into 1/3-inch-thick rounds
Extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
Fresh basil leaves, to garnish



1. Preheat grill. Brush eggplant rounds with olive oil on both sides and season with salt. Place eggplant on grill, flipping once, until softened and charred. Remove from heat.

2. Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Place the bottom layer of eggplant rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet. Top each with a small spoonful of tomato sauce (the more sauce there is the more likely the stacks will slip while baking) followed by a slice of mozzarella. Repeat to make a second layer. Bake until bubbly, about 20 minutes.

3. Top each stack with a heap of golden herbed breadcrumbs and garnish with fresh basil. Serve immdiately. Enjoy!

Sprinkling the seasoned breadcrumbs on top last ensures that they stay crispy and crunchy

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Grilled Peaches with Cognac Butter Glaze and Vanilla Ice Cream

If you are anything like me, you look forward to summer peaches all year more than you ever would your birthday.

Every summer I find myself bewildered in New York City's bountiful farmers markets, dazzled by color and intoxicated by the perfume of peaches and nectarines at their peak. These blushing beauties are delicious fresh as they are, but also make heavenly desserts grilled.
Grilling intensifies the natural sugars in peaches, not only bringing out the sweetness and juiciness, but also softening the flesh. If you ever wonder what to do with underripe peaches, the grill comes to the rescue! Never throw out any "bad" peaches again!

A super simple dessert that requires under 10 minutes and only a handful of ingredients - making this a perfect choice for last-minute summer entertaining!
The peaches will soften and get those pretty grill marks
Serve grilled peaches alongside vanilla ice cream, greek yoghurt, mascarpone - whichever your heart fancies - all it takes is just minutes and you have a perfect ending to any meal that looks like a million bucks. The almond biscotti adds a welcome crunch and perfectly complements the liquor - which brings us to the best part - that drizzle of booze that takes this fruit dessert to a whole other level. Substitute the biscotti with a shortbread cookie or some chopped almonds if unavailable!

Hail to the peach season this year!

To prepare...
3-4 large, ripe peaches
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tablespoon Cognac, brandy, or rum, plus some for drizzling
Vanilla ice cream
Almond biscotti

1. Heat the grill. I lined my Panini Grille with foil for easy clean up. Lightly grease the foil with oil.

2. Half each peach and remove the pit by loosening one end with the tip of a knife. In a small skillet, melt butter together with brown sugar until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Mix in ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and liquor.

3. Grill peaches skin side down (lightly brush peach with olive oil before grilling if placing directly on grill without foil), basting occasionally with the Cognac butter glaze, 3-4 minutes. Repeat with the cut side down for them sexy grill marks. Serve at once with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and an almond biscotti. Spoon any remaining glaze over the grilled peaches and finish off with a drizzle of Cognac all over.

For a less naughty version of this scrumptious dessert, try greek yoghurt - the taste of grilled peaches will pop out even more!

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Cheddar, Apple and Rosemary Scones

Weeks passed since I've buried myself deep in training and assessments, and now I am back having achieved a major career milestone! Over the last two weeks my body has undergone significant shock, for once in years actually adapting to a lifestyle grounded in routine and one stationary time zone. Soon my body will have to readjust as I embark on my new role. But for now, lets celebrate this occasion wholeheartedly - with none other than the heavenly homemade scone.

Perhaps because scones are often associated with English high tea, I have always regarded scones as a form of royal decadence and indulgence. I took a break from attempting to make my own years ago ever since an epic fail (an irremediably gooey dough that resulted in misshapen choking hazards). After weeks of intense pressure and dreadful cafeteria food, I longed for something comforting and homemade. A block of aged cheddar in my fridge and an overgrown rosemary bush on my rooftop garden gave me just the right nudge for a renewed attempt - and a savory one this time.

Go for mature, sharp white cheddar or other hard cheeses like Gruyere for the best results
Tender, flaky, fluffy, crispy, crunchy, cheesy, savory scones perfumed with the piney scent of fresh rosemary



Makes 8 wedges; alternatively, cut scones into rounds or squares as desired
All apprehension set aside, these scones turned out so fantastic it is safe for me to say that I have never had a better scone in my life. Perhaps it is because I finally got the hang of mixing, and not over mixing; or that I showered it with love; but more likely it may have to do with the apple hidden somewhere inside.

Grate apple with ease or add them diced for a more noticeable crunch
Now, we all know apple and cheddar are a match made in heaven. In this recipe, however, the apple plays more of a supporting role, balancing the sharpness of cheddar and the woodsy, piney aroma of rosemary with a subtle sweetness. More significantly, though rendered invisible after baking, the apple provides just the right amount of moisture that effectively keeps the scone tender and fluffy, thereby reducing the liquid needed in this recipe.

As usual, I am shamelessly bold with fresh herbs in cooking, so feel free to tweak the quantity to suit your preference.

Serve these heavenly scones with Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Apples and Cranberries.

Enjoy warm over breakfast, afternoon tea, anytime!
To prepare...
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
113g (1/2 cup) cold butter, cubed or thinly sliced
1 large egg, plus extra for egg wash
3-4 tablespoon milk, plus extra for egg wash
1 firm, tart apple, peeled
3 teaspoon finely minced rosemary*
1/2 cup grated or diced white cheddar

*Tip: using a bullet blender saves time and effort and lessens bruising of the herb

1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add butter and, using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the texture resembles coarse sand. Stir in rosemary and cheddar. Using a hand grater, grate apple into the mixture and stir until evenly coated.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and 3 tablespoons of milk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture, reserving some for the egg wash. Gently fold to combine. If mixture appears too dry or sandy, gradually add remaining milk. Be careful not to overstir. The mixture may not be fully combined at this point and it is perfectly okay!

4. Turn mixture out on a lightly floured surface and gently knead a few times to bring the dough together. Pat the dough into a 9-inch circle and dust the bottom with flour. Cut the circle into 8 triangles.

5. Place the triangles on a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly brush with egg wash and sprinkle sugar over the top (optional). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Cool on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Bask in the heavenly aroma, and try not to finish the scones all at once!

Bask in the heavenly scent of cheesy rosemary scones baking away in the kitchen, and melt into ecstasy as you gently break apart a freshly baked scone...


Tip: Make ahead and store unbaked scones in the freezer until you need them. Simply brush with egg wash and bake still frozen for a few extra minutes.

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