Friday, February 18, 2011

Valentine's Day

 The Spread:

 Beautiful Roses:

This year, my fiance and I had some things to celebrate on Valentine's Day.  It was our first one together, and we had FINALLY settled on a date for our wedding.  Yey! - June 4th - mark your calendars!  :-)

We said we weren't going to do Valentine's Day this year because of our upcoming wedding, but of course, Raymond being as sweet as he is couldn't not do anything, so he brought me roses, a cute stuffed animal, a picture frame for an upcoming engagement or wedding picture, and a homemade card. 

I made him a special meal that included Rib Eye Steak & Lobster with a Whiskey Glaze, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potato Risotto, and for dessert, Rum Roasted Pineapple over Ice Cream. 

These were all firsts for me and they turned out great, but I did decide on a few tweaks to make them even better, plus it was kind of crazy in my kitchen cooking that much on a week night so I only got good pictures of the finished products. 

The recipes will follow after I get a chance to tweak and make them again, but here are some yummy pictures until then.

Raymond's plate (the food always seems to look better against black than white):

My plate:

Raymond enjoyed dipping his steak in the whiskey glaze:

We opened up a great bottle of wine that I had brought back from Europe:


Playing with my Valentine's gift:

Raymond's Tips:
Put a spoonfull of sugar in with the flower water and change it daily to make the flowers last longer.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eggplant Pizza: The Perfect Storm

Four things: I just got a new exciting food paring book, being stuck indoors due to the weather had made me ancy for something different, I had the craving for some yummy pizza, and I want to make a super healthy version that I don't feel guilty for eating.  This made for the perfect storm resulting in what I call Eggplant Pizza. 

I have this friend who describes her weakness as pizza.  Well, who doesn't love pizza?  I'm not talking about the typical chain pizza places with the boring menus, but I LOVE the two extremes.  The hole in the wall mom-and-pop shop, and the nice gourmet pizza place with unique menu choices.  I wholeheartedly believe that pizza does not have to be a weakness.  By making your own dough and controlling what you put on as toppings you can create a delicious pizza without busting your calorie allowance for the day.  I decided to take this a step further, and cut the calories per slice in half, by taking out the typical crust, and replacing it with a slice of eggplant.  You can be as creative as you want with the toppings, but this is where the new book came in handy.  The book I just recently purchased pairs flavors together and helps you decide what to include in your recipe to enhance the flavors.  It is soo much fun and I plan on using it for tons of new recipes!

Raymond and I have different tastes sometimes, and when it came to the toppings I wanted, he decided he would rather take a different approach.  I thought mine turned out absolutely incredible, while his was...well, mine included goat cheese, need I say more?  :-)  I will share my combination below, but first, in case you're not a fan of my combination he liked his pizza, and the toppings we used for his include: pizza sauce, red onions, ricotta cheese, chicken sausage, mozzarella cheese, and proscuitto.


1 Eggplant
Sea Salt
Tahini (optional, but highly recommend)
Red Onion
Goat Cheese
Green Olives
Mozzarella Cheese


Slice eggplant lengthwise into approximately four 1" slices.

Coat both sides of eggplant slice with sea salt, place eggplant on a wire rack over the sink, and let soak for about 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse eggplant slices to remove the leftover salt.  Coat each side of eggplant slice with Tahini.

Cover the eggplant in breadcrumbs and place on baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove eggplant from oven, flip, and top with pizza sauce and favorite toppings.  I just have to say, I couldn't get enough of my combination.  I coated the eggplant in the pizza sauce, sprinkled some red onions on top of that, then added goat cheese and lamb, green olives, and topped it all off with a little bit of mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 - 13 minutes

Each slice contained a different topping combination, however the one on
the bottom right was my absolute favorite and the one that I wrote out above.
Yummm, perfect pairing for a glass of wine. 

Disclaimer: Unfortunately these don't get thin crust crispy, but are more like a deep dish style pizza you eat with a fork and knife.  It has a crisp to it, but not a crunch.  If you wanted a crispier crust you could try sprinkling cornmeal on the cooking sheet before placing the eggplant slices. 

Amanda's Tips:
If you let eggplants 'soak' in salt for a minimum of 30 minutes, it will take the bitterness out of the eggplant.  Also, adding Tahini to the eggplant to increase the meatiness of the eggplant.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Pizza Sauce

So I just had an amazing weekend, and I hope you did too!  Even though the weather has been terrible lately, it was a perfect excuse for soup, and lounging around not doing too much.  That being said, it made for a very calm week.  As a result I decided wanted to cook this past weekend.  Mind you, not once, but twice!  That is big for me.  I love cooking, but to make time to cook something good, and not just a quick, staple meal, but a nice meal that we both enjoyed!  Lucky for me I have the best fiance ever who knew I was really excited about cooking and had my heart set on using certain ingredients, so he braved the icy roads and went to three different grocery stores just to find what I wanted (most stores hadn't been able to get trucks and re-stock due to the weather).

If you are anything like me, you've tried making homemade pizza using jarred spaghetti sauce as the sauce and then when you tasted the pizza something was just off.  In my next run around with homemade pizza I used spaghetti sauce but added some garlic and other seasonings to try and imitate pizza sauce.  That didn't work either.  The next time I was at the store buying pizza supplies I noticed actual pizza sauce!  Genius...that did the trick!  (Boboli pizza sauce is what I like.)  This weekend I decided to go all out and tackle making my own pizza sauce, as I had big plans for what I wanted to do with it.


5 Roma Tomatoes
1 Red bell pepper
3/4 - 1 head of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic)
1 (6oz.) can Tomato paste
6oz. warm water (just use the tomato past can)
4 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. Honey
1 tsp. Anchovy paste (optional, but would highly recommend)
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried Red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. warm water
Salt to taste


This is the simplest recipe ever! 

Quarter the tomatoes and slice the red bell pepper into large slices. 

Put the tomatoes, bell pepper, and garlic on a foil lined baking sheet and sprinkle with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (for your own sake, line the baking sheet with foil, otherwise you will be sad during your clean-up)

(Yes I initially forgot I wanted to roast the garlic at well,
but I remembered and added it like a minute later)

Roast the vegetables at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes or until the peppers get a nice charred skin. 

Take the pepper slices and put in a Ziploc bag to rest for about 15 minutes.

D'oh! Sorry about the a glare.  :-P
Meanwhile process the tomatoes and garlic in a food processor until smooth.

Add the rest of the ingredients to a sauce pan and slowly cook on low while the peppers are resting.

Once the peppers are cooled, you should be able to easily peel the charred skin off of the peppers.  Process the peppers with 2 Tbs of warm water and add to the rest of the sauce.

Let the sauce cook for about 5 more minutes after the pepper is added, then salt to taste.  I like my sauces with a kick, and since this sauce is used as a pizza sauce, its a bit more spicey than a typical maranara sauce.  If you are worried about it being too spicey you can either start with 1/4 tsp of cayanne pepper and 1/4 tsp of red pepper and add to taste, or add another teaspoon of honey to the end sauce. 

Makes enough sauce to cover two medium sized pizza's.

Amanda's Tips:
This sauce freezes very well!  I would suggest making a double batch and freezing half so that next time you are in the mood for pizza, you've already got a great sauce made!

A foreshadow to what's coming up: Remember, a great marinara sauce can be used for more than just saucing a pizza!  :-D