Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Baby Eggplants: The Cute Factor

The other day at Sprouts, a local grocery store, a woman saw me selecting baby eggplant.

She asked, "Do you like those?"

"Oh, I adore them," I said. "They're much sweeter and more tender than large eggplants."

"How do you cook them?" she asked.

"Lots of ways," I replied. "You can saute them, stuff them, broil them."

She screwed up her mouth, looked perplexed. "Mmmm... I don't know," she mumbled.

I scanned her shopping cart and noticed she had a bag full of baby eggplants in it. I said, "Well, you must like them too."

"Me? No, I don't really like eggplant," she said. "I only bought these cause they're just too cute to pass up."

Blame it on the cute factor — you know, when you buy something not because you love or need it but because it's too cute to pass up.

We continued talking, and I gave her several suggestions of how to cook baby eggplant. She seemed relieved. In fact, baby eggplant are quite versatile: They can be grilled, broiled, sauteed or baked and pair well with Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean flavors.

Here are eight great ways to enjoy baby eggplant:

1. Make eggplant chips: Slice paper-thin, toss in olive oil and salt and bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until crisp.

2. Broil 'em: Thinly slice, brush with olive oil and broil until browned. Douse with fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper and sprinkle with finely chopped fresh mint or basil.

3. Stuff 'em: Cut off the tops and scoop out the flesh. Saute flesh with olive oil and shallots and transfer to a bowl. Add some bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, egg, salt and crushed red pepper. Mix together and stuff eggplants. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender.

4. Glaze 'em: Thinly slice and broil or grill until tender and brown. Drizzle with a warm balsamic-honey reduction and sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary.

5. Saute 'em: Saute thin slices in olive oil until browned and tender. Toss with goat cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and mint.

6. Pickle 'em: Pickled eggplant is a unique addition to an antipasto platter. Check out these pickled eggplant recipes from Punk Domestics.

7. Grill 'em: Slice slightly thicker and brush with olive oil. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until lightly charred. Serve with Romesco sauce or drizzle with a balsamic reduction.

8. Curry 'em: Cut into chunks and saute in olive oil with diced onions and chilies. Add Indian curry powder or other spices such as garam masala and turmeric. Add coconut milk and a thickening agent such as cornstarch, and cook until sauce is thickened. Serve over basmati or jasmine rice.

Or make the Asian Chicken and Baby Eggplant recipe below.

How about you? How do you cook with baby eggplants?

Asian Chicken and Baby Eggplant with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Cashews
Makes 4 servings
Printable recipe.

Chicken marinade:
4 (1/2 -pound pieces) of boneless, skinless chicken breast (2 pounds total)
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
Juice 1 lime
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup wild rice or brown rice
2 1/2 cups water

10 to 12 baby eggplant, stems removed, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
2 scalions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons roasted unsalted (or salted, if you prefer) cashew halves

1. In a large Ziploc bag or tightly closed container, add chicken and marinade ingredients and shake well. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 6 hours. 

2. Place rice and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked through yet still firm.

3. Take chicken out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before cooking. In a large non-skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Add the chicken. Cook for 4 minutes without touching. Flip and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil and eggplant slices. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the eggplant begins to soften and brown. Add the scallions and cilantro, and stir. Cook until the chicken is nicely browned all over and the eggplant is tender. Spread rice evenly on a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cashews, and, if desired, chopped fresh cilantro.

Here are more baby eggplant recipes you might enjoy:
Chili Eggplants recipe by Teczcape
Lebanese-Style Stuffed Baby Eggplant recipe from Fresh Cracked Pepper
Stuffed Baby Eggplant in Peanut Sesame Sauce recipe from The Steaming Pot
Grilled Baby Eggplant with Queso Fresco and Lime recipe from Not Eating Out in New York

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Update: Cookies for Cody Online Bake Sale

I thought you'd appreciate a follow-up to last week's post about 4-year-old Cody Brasich. Sadly, little Cody passed away this past weekend while in Hospice care, with his mom and dad by his side.

Hundreds of people, including many of you reading this, placed generous bids on the online bake sale and made direct donations to So far, over $11, 000 has been raised to help Cody's parents with their exorbitant medical bills.

Thank you for donating, spreading the word, and keeping the family in your thoughts and prayers.

Warmest regards,

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cookies for Cody Online Bake Sale and Cookbook Auction

The little boy you see here is Cody Braisch, the nephew of fellow food blogger and personal friend, Stephanie Weaver. Since last July, Cody has been battling a rare type of cancer called neuroblastoma and was until recently in remission.

About a month ago, Stephanie asked me to participate in an online baking fundraiser called "Cookies for Cody" to raise money for Cody's cancer treatments. Then, sadly, this past Sunday, Stephanie said Cody was no longer in remission. There are no more treatment options for him.

Cody asked for a carnival, and this past Sunday, his family and friends rallied to make that happen. (You can read more about it here.)

Although the tone of the fundraiser has changed, it is still going to happen, as Cody's parents have incurred over $15,000 worth of medical bills.

Today, I'm asking you to help Cody's parents by bidding in Stephanie's online auction. It begins today and lasts through August 5th. Click here for full details.

Over 50 bloggers and bakers (including me) have volunteered to bake traditional, vegan, and gluten-free cookies to donate to bidders. There are also about 50 signed cookbooks and other culinary gift items available for auction. All proceeds will go to Cody's family.

You can also donate directly to the family at Please include "Cookies for Cody" so Stephanie can track donations.

Thank you for your consideration. Please keep Cody and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making the Case for Beets

In my latest NPR piece, "Making the Case for Beets," I explore the deep-seated antipathy towards beets. People have said they taste like, metal, dirt, even smelly socks. That's some hard-core beet hate.

The piece has caused a lot of beet buzz with many comments both praising and bashing beets. I'd love to know where you stand. Do you love beets? Hate them? Let us know, either here in the comment section or over at NPR's comment section.

And don't forget to check out the four recipes I've included.

Red Rice, Roasted Beets, and Greens

Raw Chiogga Beet Salad with Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

Beet Smoothie

Gingery Roasted Beet and Sweet Potato Soup

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cherry Orchards

Up until last week, the closest I had ever gotten to a cherry orchard was reading Anton Chekhov's masterpiece, The Cherry Orchard. And if you're familiar with that play, you know it doesn't end happily for the family or the cherry trees.

Thankfully, life is much happier in the state of Washington, especially the Leavenworth region, where scores of cherry orchards heavy with fruit line the highways. A fully fruited cherry tree is gorgeous — the clusters of cherries are dramatically suspended from branches, like firework starbursts.

Despite having eaten over three pounds of cherries in three days while we were in Washington, we're still craving them. So last night  I made Smashed Cherries, Amaretti and Ricotta, a delightful, no-cook summer dessert from Cheryl Sterman-Rule's new cookbook, Ripe: A Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables. I had tested this recipe for Cheryl last year and have made it numerous times since. No doubt, you will too. 

If you'd like to learn more about Cheryl's book, then please see my full review at One For The Table, which also includes a tasty recipe for Radish and Olive Crostini. 

Smashed Cherries, Amaretti and Ricotta 
A no-cook summer dessert.
Serves 4
Printable recipe.

4 cups (1 to 1 1/4 pounds)
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
2 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoons milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 amaretti cookies
1 teaspoon cacao nibs or mini chocolate chips

Thwack the cherries with the flat side of a heavy knife so they flatten. Discard the pits. Divide the cherries among 4 pretty, clear glasses.

In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, sugar, milk, and almond extract. Spoon pillows of ricotta over the cherries in equal proportions. Crumble one amaretti cookie over each serving and sprinkle with the cacao nibs. Serve immediately.

Tip: You'll find amaretti cookies (Italian macaroons) in larger supermarkets or Italian grocery stores, though you may substitute toasted, chopped almonds if you like.

Third photo credit: Photography © 2012 by Paulette Phlipot

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Minding My Peas and Mushrooms

I miss the way my grandmother used to say "mushrooms." It was "mushroonz" with a hard "n." I don't know why she pronounced it that way. Maybe it was a Rhode Island-Italian mash-up. Maybe it was just her.

When she was alive, I never missed an opportunity to remind her of it: "Hey, Nan, whatcha cooking over there? Some peas with mushroonz?" I'd say, suppressing a giggle. Invariably, she'd reply, "Ooh, you're so fresh." Then she'd make me sit down with her and eat some. Although I didn't like peas and mushrooms, I always liked Nan's, slick with butter and speckled with black pepper.

Even since Jeff and I moved away from Rhode Island 15 years ago, I've been cooking Nan's recipes — Italian chicken and escarole soup, Pizzelle Cookies, her famous Easter pies — and saying words like she did (well, only when I'm home). I'm not making fun of her. It's just the opposite: It's a way to remember her and talk about her.

The other night I had a pot of cooked fresh peas and mushrooms resting on the stove top. When Jeff came home from work, he walked straight to it, scooped a spoonful into his mouth, and said, "Mmmm.... good peas and mushroonz just like Nan's."

Yup, just like Nan's.

How about you? Did you grandmother or other loved one have funny ways of pronouncing words or doing things? I'd love to hear about them in the comment section below. 

Peas and Mushroonz (or Mushrooms)
Makes 4 servings
Printable recipe.

2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, diced (about 1/4 cup)
1 (10-ounce) bag of sliced mushrooms
2 cups fresh peas (about 10 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add the shallots and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook 5 to 6 minutes or until lightly browned all over. Add the peas and cook 2 to 3 minutes, if you like them al dente like I do. If you prefer them softer, then cook them longer. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy.

Since it's fresh pea season, here are more peas recipes you might enjoy:
Spring Pea Guacamole recipe from Everyday Southwest
Sweet Peas Hummus recipe from My Man's Belly
Orange Spiked Peas with Dill recipe from Food Blogga
Spring Pasta with Fresh Peas recipe from Arugula Files
Fresh Peas with Vegan "Bacon" recipe from May I Have that Recipe?
Warm Three Pea and Radish Salad recipe from Food Blogga
Creamy Minted Fresh Pea Almond Soup recipe from Healthy, Happy Life
Lemony Pasta with Fresh Peas, Ricotta and Mint recipe from Food Blogga
Spring Salad with Dandelion Greens, Asparagus and Fresh Peas recipe from Sass & Veracity

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thinking of Dad this Father's Day (Plus, a Give-Away)

As I was thinking of what to write about for a Father's Day post, I started to recall the times I talked about my dad on this blog. Turns out, it's a lot of times. So, rather than create a new story, I'm going to share some of the spark some good memories of you and your and dad. And, to dads everywhere, thanks, and Happy Father's Day.

There's a give-away too! 

In the comment section below, please share a fond memory of your dad. It can be sentimental, funny, quirky, food-related, sports-related, whatever. It's completely up to you! I'll choose 5 winners and mail them a signed copy of my book, Recipes Every Man Should Know

Deadline for entry is the end of the day, Sunday, June 10th so I can mail you the books in time for Father's Day on June 17.

Tweet about the contest, mentioning @Susan_Russo, and I'll count that as another entry. Good luck!

See a video of my dad trying to crack open a 14-pound crustacean. This is good viewing, folks.

My dad share's his perfect pepper biscuits for my Christmas cookie round-up.

My attempt at an intervention regarding my dad's obsession with stockpiling food. 

Dad + Jerry Lewis + bushels of peppers = Labor Day celebration

Buddy may be the Cake Boss. My dad is the Pizzelle Boss.

A story about my dad's overzealous appreciation to spaghetti squash.

Me: Wisdom teeth, pain. Dad: Shamrock Shakes. Lots of them. 

One of the first posts I had written on Food Blogga highlighted two of my dad's favorite things:
pizza and football.