Eggplant Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Chevre

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I love summer fruits and vegetables, so I am ecstatic that I am now cleared by my doctor to carry heavy bags of produce from the farmers’ market to my house. I made a trip last weekend to the South of the James market and I went a little overboard with vegetable purchases. Everything wonderful is in season right now!

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The haul:

  • Goats R Us roasted red pepper chèvre (so flavorful!)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Jalapenos
  • Green bell peppers
  • White peaches
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow crookneck squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers

I made a ton of great seasonal meals last week, and doing a lot of meal prep (washing, chopping, blanching, etc.) on Sunday helped me out so I could get healthy home cooked meals on the table around a busy schedule. The roasted red pepper chèvre and eggplant inspired me to throw together a quick and easy appetizer on Sunday afternoon.

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This is a flavorful, summery dish that you can put together in about fifteen minutes, which is great for those impromptu summer porch sitting sessions. You know what I’m talking about. When a conversation with friends that starts with “What are you doing tonight?” and “I don’t know, what are you doing?” ends with two friends and a bottle of wine on your patio.

I used oval-shaped eggplant slices in place of baguette slices to make this summer “bruschetta” a bit lighter (and gluten-free, if you’re into that kind of thing). I guess technically that makes it not bruschetta, but I don’t bother with technicalities on sunny summer weekends. If you’re unlike me and you’re getting hung up on the semantics, have another glass of wine and throw some quotation marks around the word “bruschetta.”

Eggplant Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Chèvre

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Chinese eggplant
  • 2 small heirloom tomatoes (I used Green Zebra and a red-green variety I couldn’t identify)
  • 1 oz. fresh chèvre goat cheese (I used roasted red pepper)
  • 1 small handful of fresh basil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Slice the eggplant on a diagonal to make oval-shaped slices, about a 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Heat a grill pan, indoor counter top grill, or outdoor grill. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil, then grill for a few minutes on each side, until eggplant is tender and grill marks appear. Do not overcook or eggplant will get mushy; you want the slices to still be firm enough to hold the toppings.
  3. While eggplant is cooking, slice tomatoes. Stack and roll basil leaves, then slice into a chiffonade.
  4. Remove eggplant slices from grill and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  5. Spread each eggplant slice with chèvre, then top with a tomato slice and basil. Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

So are you curious what we made with all of the rest of that produce? Here is last week’s meal plan. At the end of the week, when there is still produce left over, I chop it all and throw it in a stir-fry or on homemade pizza.

Breakfast: Blanchard’s Dark As Dark iced coffee, Peach Oatmeal Bars

Lunch: Mediterranean salad with baby greens, cucumber, tomato, olive, and hummus

Dinner:

Noodleless Zucchini Lasagna and baby greens salad

BBQ Tempeh, Green Beans Almondine, and Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Fresh Corn Salad (recipe coming soon!) and Black Bean Quesadillas

Yukon Gold White Bean Basil Burgers and Roasted Yellow Summer Squash with Sage Pecan Pesto

 

What tasty seasonal recipes are on your meal plan for this week?

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Vegology Branching Out, from Home Cooking to Competitions and Catering

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I started this blog four years ago to help me get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen, and to inspire others to do the same. From trying out new ingredients for the first time, to testing strange cooking techniques, to doing vegetarian cooking demonstrations, to traveling to distant places just to see what is going on in other food communities, I have stepped out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways, with mixed results. In four years, I have learned a lot about cooking and eating, and I have further developed my food philosophy as well. I do not reflect often, so although I have grown in a lot of ways since June 2010, I still see myself as a newbie, learning as much as I can, from people with more experience and different perspectives than me.

My initial reaction when I was asked earlier this year to participate in the Richmond Vegetarian Festival Food Fight was, “who, me?!” The Food Fight is an Iron Chef style cooking competition, in which three competitors must prepare three vegan dishes in one hour, using only the limited pantry ingredients and equipment available at each of their stations. The dishes must feature a secret ingredient, which is revealed seconds before the clock starts.

The invitation came in a tweet, and my immediate response upon receiving the Twitter notification on my phone was to look over both shoulders and wonder if there is another Vegology out there for whom this invitation is meant. I ignored the message, assuming it had been broadcast to a long list of people who would jump on the opportunity.

When the organizers (from Citizen, one of my favorite lunch spots in RVA) followed up with me, I realized the first message had not been an error. I was still in hand therapy and could barely cook for myself at the time. What I could do in the kitchen and at work, I was really slow at. The competition was about a month away and I figured it would give me a good goal for therapy to get my hands and wrists mostly functional by the end of June.

So I recruited a partner, my delightful and talented friend Brittany from Eating Bird Food (read her wonderful post about the competition here), and I agreed to do it. We do not cook fancy or complicated food and we do not spend hours perfecting our plating techniques or our knife skills, so we expected to come in dead last. We were determined to make food that tasted good and to have a ton of fun doing it. And that is almost exactly what happened.

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The secret ingredient was fennel, one that we had not anticipated at all. After a quick strategy session, we started grabbing ingredients from the pantry, chopping, blending, and roasting (in a toaster oven!). Our first dish was raw spiralized summer squash “noodles” in a fennel and basil pesto sauce, with pan roasted red peppers and a sprig of fennel on top. We had a lot of fun putting this together, and twirling the squash “pasta” into little nests on each plate.

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We worked really well together, and just focused on the cooking while we worked. I tuned out the audience, the host who narrated and entertained during the whole thing, and all of the comments from the judges and other competitors. There were definitely a few times that Karri Peifer, the host, put the microphone in my face and I had not even realized she was in our kitchen or had asked me a question until that black bulb was right in front of my mouth. I doubt that any of my answers were very impressive – sorry Karri!

Our focus paid off when our vegan ground beef, or “nut meat” came out perfectly. Our second dish was a nut meat lettuce wrap taco with a fresh corn and fennel salad on top. The spicy “meat” was countered by the sweet fresh corn, and I thought it tasted pretty good. The judges said they couldn’t detect the fennel, which we had included in the “meat” as well as the corn salad, but our proportions must have been off, or the strong flavors of other ingredients drowned out the fennel flavor.

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Our final dish, which was described by one judge as “homey” was a Nourish Bowl with jasmine rice, black beans, roasted sweet potato and fennel, and pan roasted red peppers, finished with a peanut sauce and Thai basil garnish. All three dishes were ones that any home cook could easily throw together. I’m not sure if “homey” was meant as a compliment or not, but I took from it that we cooked our food, which was exactly what we had set out to do!

Each duo was given a score out of 240 total possible points, and dishes were evaluated on taste, presentation, innovation/uniqueness, and use of the secret ingredient. Our team (Team VegBird) came in second place, and the host announced that we were within two points of the winners! The winning team was Kate Koyiades and Mackenzie Monday from 821 Café. Yes, that’s right, two points away (out of 240) from professional chefs. What?! We were very pleased with the results.

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We celebrated with a beer from Ardent Craft Ales, a new brewery that is located in Scott’s Addition, right down the street from the festival. I would be lying if I said that was it. Then we took the party over to Hardywood for another beer and some tacos from the Boka Tako Truck.

Riding high after our second place finish, I packed my car the next day for a road trip to Asheville, NC for the grand opening of my sister’s ballroom dance studio, Rococo Ballroom. We spent a week putting the finishing touches on the studio space and getting the word out for the grand opening and ribbon cutting.

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I spent my days handing out flyers, hanging posters around town, writing press releases, shopping for décor, and cleaning impossibly large windows and mirrors. I squeezed in three classes at Asheville Yoga Center (so wonderful), and at night I ate a ton of the best vegetarian food Asheville has to offer. To see all of our great eats, check out the #vegologyeatsasheville hashtag on Instagram.

After the great experience I had branching out at the Vegan Food Fight, I did not hesitate to say yes when I was asked to do all of the food for the Rococo Ballroom grand opening party the following Saturday. I prepared food all day in my sister Meghan’s kitchen, packed it into containers within a giant cooler, plated when I got to the studio, and then replenished from the same cooler throughout the party. My “catering kitchen” on-site was a gigantic cooler with a pack of gloves, a cutting board and knife, and a few bags of ice, all located on a sidewalk outside the back door of the studio. The kitchen got soaked during a sudden downpour halfway through the party. I adapted. The food turned out pretty great!

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The appetizers included caprese salad bites, which were basically tomato, mozzarella, and basil, skewered and marinated in a balsamic viniagrette, and cucumber cups filled with jalapeno cilantro hummus, topped with chili powder and pimentos.

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We also enjoyed watermelon, feta and mint bruschetta, which was a nice summery treat.

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Dessert (not pictured) was a tower of mini cupcakes in gold foil wrappers to match the regal décor of the studio. We also had a cheese tray and plenty of wine, which I wrapped in custom Rococo Ballroom labels just for the party. The selection  included Waltz White (Pepperwood Pinot Grigio), Rumba Red (Castle Rock Pinot Noir), and Bolero Bubbly (Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Rose Cava).

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After pulling off a week of helping to open a business, bookended by a vegan Iron Chef competition and my first catering gig, I needed a glass of Bolero Bubbly wine to relax!

In retrospect, the marathon week was a great way to celebrate Vegology’s fourth birthday. It definitely boosted my confidence and pushed me to ask myself the question, “what’s next?” proving once again that it’s sometimes a very good thing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve never done before. It could turn out great or it could turn out to be a disaster learning experience, and either way at least you can say you did it!

Vegetable Dumplings

My friends laughed out loud. My own parents declared me insane. Kyle’s jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide as he said… “awwwesome.”

I had decided that I was going to create homemade dumplings and there was no convincing me otherwise. I thought that making veggie dumplings was going to be the most quaint and wonderful thing. . . until I actually made them. One by one, I placed a minuscule amount of filling in the center of a tiny won ton wrapper and then, one by one, I sealed and pinched them together. They were difficult, delicate, and nearly bored me to tears. And then one by one, they started to fall apart.

No worries, this is not a sad tale. There is a light at the end of this tunnel of noodle monotony, because they did, in fact, work out. On more than one occasion, I successfully made delicious dumplings. All I’m saying is, it takes some practice. I present to you the first time (and second time) I made dumplings.

Spinach and Tofu Dumplings

According to my browser, I first bookmarked this recipe from Food & Wine at 2:00 PM on January 21, 2008. I have wanted to make homemade dumplings for three years! A few weeks ago, I went for it. It was pretty easy to make the filling, but folding the dumplings proved challenging.

I followed the directions for sealing the dumplings, but even with water it was difficult to get the edges to stick together. I think I also overstuffed the first round of dumplings, so some of the edges tore when I folded them. I think the main reason I was having trouble was that the dice on the tofu was too large, and the cubes were a tough shape to fit into the miniature wrappers. About halfway through, I decided to mash the tofu into the spinach filling, which made things a lot easier.

When all the dumplings were stuffed and sealed, I popped them into a large pot of boiling water, and then removed them with a slotted spoon to a colander, and finally to a wax paper lined baking sheet. A little messy, but not too bad, right?

Unfortunately, not all of the dumplings made it.

But man did they taste good cold, with a little soy sauce, over a salad the next day. As for the hot dumplings that didn’t fall apart, I served them with TJ’s Gyoza Dipping Sauce as an appetizer before stir-fry.

So what happened to the dumplings that exploded in the pot?

This.

Not a pretty sight, but they did serve as inspiration for my next attempt at dumplings: hot and sour vegetable won ton soup.

Recipe coming soon!

Ready for 2011

I have had quite a year, and to tell you the truth, when midnight rolled around, I was happy to kiss 2010 goodbye. While attending a lovely party last night, my dearest friends and I toasted to life, to luck, to friends, to family, to the end of 2010, and to the start of 2011. While I’m being honest here, I’ll admit that there was a whole lot of toasting going on.

Because it is in my research-y nature to read up on various subjects that interest me, I spent a bit of time over the last week learning about New Year traditions and superstitions from around the world. Previously I had a limited knowledge of what practices were believed to bring luck in the coming year. Basically it was limited to the practice of putting on a party dress and glitter mascara, drinking a gallon of champagne, and hoping to get lucky, along with something about eating twelve grapes at midnight. Clearly I needed a little culture.

We’ll start in the Southern United States since that is where I currently reside. People from here traditionally eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Eve and Day because they are thought to bring you luck in the next year. When I was asked to bring an appetizer to the New Year’s Eve party, I knew I had to incorporate a little superstition into my dish. I had not heard before that black eyed peas held the keys to luck and wealth, so I was skeptical as to the prevalence of this superstition in modern times. However it was apparent that there are still plenty of believers when I picked up the last can of black eyed peas off the grocery store shelf. They were already out of dried peas, and I was able to snatch up the last can just in time.

I discovered a lot of lucky foods that are eaten to ensure wealth and prosperity. Many of them are round foods that symbolize coins. This brings us back to the grapes I mentioned earlier; Spaniards eat twelve round grapes at midnight. This custom is found in various South American countries as well. I personally took my midnight grapes in bubbly liquid form this year. Does that count?

Other round foods that are believed to be lucky are lentils, round cakes (Greece and Mexico), and dough fritters called ollie bollen in the Netherlands. Greens are also eaten due to their resemblance to folded cash. Stewed kale is eaten in Denmark and collard greens are eaten in the southern U.S. The Japanese eat noodles for luck, and the belief is that you must not break or chew them until the entire length of the noodle is in your mouth. Pomegranates are eaten for luck in Mediterranean countries. I have already shared a ton of ways to enjoy pomegranate seeds here in case you want to try them out yourself.

I personally created two dishes this year, not necessarily because I believe in the superstition, but because I like to be festive and I believe in good foods. I think you will find both of these recipes to be good in more ways than one. And if you aren’t into eating your way to good luck in 2011, you could steal a page from the Mexicans’ book and express your superstition via your undergarments. In Mexico and many other countries, red underwear is worn on New Year’s Eve to bring the wearer luck in love, and yellow is worn to guarantee wealth and prosperity.

As for me, I think I’ll stick to the legumes and the greens. They have yet to fail me.

Lucky Black-eyed Pea Dip (serves a small army)

Ingredients:

1-15 oz can black-eyed peas

1-15 oz can black beans

1-15 oz can white beans (Great Northern or Cannelini)

1-15 oz can white corn

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup finely chopped parsley

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp hot sauce

Preparation:

1. Rinse and drain black-eyed peas, beans, and corn and combine in a large mixing bowl.

2. To the bean mixture, add onion, garlic, and parsley and stir to combine.

3. In a separate small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, basil, and hot sauce. Add dressing to bean mixture and stir to combine.

4. Refrigerate 4 to 24 hours and serve with tortilla chips.

And for New Year’s Day. . .

Potato, Kale, and Lentil Stew (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups mirepoix (any combination of diced onion, carrots, and/or celery will do – use what you have on hand)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup red wine

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced in 1/2-inch cubes (or whatever you have on hand, seriously, this is like peasant stew)

6 cups vegetable broth

1 cup small green lentils

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

4-5 cups kale, torn into 1- to 2-inch pieces

Preparation:

1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add mirepoix and garlic and saute until onion is almost translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add red wine to the pot and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, and lentils. Add cumin, coriander, and cayenne and stir to combine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils are not quite al dente.

4. Add salt, pepper, and kale to pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more.

5. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve in large bowls to your gaggle of hungry and slightly hungover friends, who are yearning for health and prosperity in the new year.

Cheers anyone?