Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Super Size Me Eggplant

giant eggplant

You just never know what you're going to find at the farmers' market. This past Sunday as I was walking toward a table heavy with eggplant I noticed something strange. The closer I got to it, the bigger it got. The eggplant was expanding right in front of my own eyes.

My first thought was, "Great, I mixed up my contact lenses again and have them in the wrong eyes." (Yes, I've done that before -- it distorts your vision.)

When I reached the eggplant, I bent down, staring closely at it. It stopped growing, and it was sharp and in focus. My eyes weren't deceiving me; these eggplants were far from normal. Sure, they still had their smooth, shiny, purple skin. But they were huge. Like beached whales, they were unmovable.

The farmer noticed me ogling and scurried over. "Is something wrong?" he asked.

"Oh, no. I'm just shocked at how big they are," I said.

He exhaled a sigh of relief and smiled warmly.

I picked one up. It was heavy, in the 1 to 2-pounds. I held it up, turning it around, admiring its muscular size and heft.

"So, what made them grow so large?" I asked.

"The sun?" the farmer said, asking me more than answering me.

"No, I mean did you do anything special to make them grow so large?"

"Water them?" he said, in that questioning voice.

"Are they heirloom eggplants? Are the seeds special? Are they from Jupiter?" I asked.

I was determined to get to the bottom of these freakishly large nightshades.

He furrowed his eyebrows and rubbed his chin between his thumb and forefinger. He paused then finally said, "Nope. They're just really big. Do you want to buy one?"

In typical supersized-American fashion, I said, "No, give me two."

Whether you find a giant eggplant or not, here are seven sensational eggplant recipes for you to try:

Grilled Eggplant Napoleons recipe from Food Blogga, pictured above

Baked Eggplant Parmigiana recipe from Food Blogga

Spicy Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Salad recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen

Eggplant, Potato, and Chick Pea Curry recipe from Andrea's Recipes (Photo courtesy of Andrea from Andrea's recipes)

Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana Panini recipe from Panini Happy

Italian Eggplant with Crumbled Beef, Tomatoes, and Mint recipe from Gluten-Free Goddess (Photo courtesy of Karina from Gluten-Free Goddess)

Cold Aubergine Salad recipe from The Perfect Pantry

Pasta alla Norma recipe from The Italian Dish

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cookbook Review: Teen Cuisine by Matthew Locricchio

Chef Matthew Locricchio wants your teens to get cooking in the kitchen. And with his new cookbook, Teen Cuisine, they just might.

The 50 recipes, many of which are photographed by fellow cookbook author James Peterson, are divided into traditional categories including Brilliant Breakfasts, Celebrity Soups, and Shooting Star Entrees. Teens will no doubt goggle up the chapter devoted exclusively to pizza from coast to coast. There they’ll learn how to make their own pizza dough and how to transform it into New York, California, and Chicago-Style pizzas. After all, no one should be limited when it comes to pizza.

The recipes are great; however, I’m not sure exactly what makes them “teen” recipes. To me, most of them are just classic, American comfort food dishes that kids and adults of all ages enjoy such as pancakes, tomato soup, pulled pork sandwiches, crisp oven fries, chicken pot pie, spaghetti and meatballs, and chocolate chip cookies.

There are several recipes that would appeal to the more serious teen cook including a hearty Sante Fe Tofu Scrambler, a refreshing Greek tzatziki (a yogurt and cucumber sauce), a tangy glazed pork tenderloin, and a deliciously cheesy fondue.

Though it's not a cookbook geared toward dieting, Locricchio does encourage teens to use the best local, organic food they can afford and to avoid “mystery ingredients” with unpronounceable chemicals typically found in highly processed, packaged foods. That's sound advice.

I also like that Locricchio doesn’t talk down to teens or attempt to “be cool.” The recipes are written in the same format of “On your mark, “Get set,” “Cook!” though that’s about as cutesy as it gets. There are a few call-out boxes with “chef’s tips,” and at the end of the book, there are helpful sections on essential kitchen ingredients, tools, and equipment.

This quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) and black salad with fresh lime dressing has it all: it's colorful, sassy, tasty, and healthy. Serve it as a side dish or a vegetarian main meal. Either way, teens and parents alike will love it.

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Fresh Lime Dressing

Guess what? There's a GIVE-AWAY! 
3 lucky Food Blogga readers will receive a copy of Teen Cuisine.

Here's how to win: In the comment section below, simply share a story, a comment, a tip, a question, etc. about cooking with your kids. Don't have kids? Then just tell us why you'd like to receive the book.

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Fresh Lime Dressing
Serves 4 to 6
Printable recipe.

1 cup rinsed quinoa
2 cups water

1 lime
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sour cream

2 medium Valencia or navel oranges
1 medium ripe tomato
5 to 6 sprigs cilantro
5 to 6 sprigs parsley
1 cup cooked black beans, or canned
1 small cucumber
1 bunch fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped, roasted, salted cashews

On your mark...
Place quinoa and water in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Let the quinoa cool to room temperature. Set the cooked quinoa aside.

To make the dressing, squeeze the juice from the lime into a clean glass jar with a lid. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper, and sour cream. Close the lid, shake well, and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Get set... 
Wash and peel the oranges. Remove as much of the white outer skin as you can. Cut into 1/4-inch slices. Set the slices aside.

Wash the tomato; cut out the stem circle at the top and discard. Dice into small chunks and place in a large bowl.

Wash the cilantro and parsley, shake to remove excess water, and dry by rolling in paper towels coarsely chop.

Add the quinoa, black beans, cilantro, and chopped parsley to the bowl with the tomatoes.

Shake the dressing again and pour it over the ingredients in the bowl. Toss well to combine and set aside.

Wash, peel, and slice the cucumber into thin slices.

Mound the tomato-quinoa combination in the center of the serving platter.

Arrange the orange slices and cucumbers around the edge of the platter.

Wash the fresh mint, shake to remove excess water, and dry by rolling in paper towels coarsely chop; remove leaves from steams and discard stems. Garnish with mint leaves and cashews. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get Your Kids Cooking and Win Great Kid's Cooking Sets!

Do your kids cook with you? What are your best tips? What types of recipes do you make together?

Over at the Pork, Knife & Spoon we're celebrating National Eat Together Week, a time to encourage families to eat together not just for one week but all year-round. We know teaching kids to cook and eat healthfully at a young age will make it more likely that they'll eat healthfully as adults.

So to encourage parents and kids to get cooking, we're offering an amazing kid's cooking set give-away worth over $70!

Wanna win it? Visit the Pork, Knife & Spoon for details!

Photo credit, FFC: Rachel Tayse.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September's Golden Harvest: Grilled Peaches Stuffed with Mascarpone Cheese and Rosemary

grilled peaches stuffed with mascarpone cheese and rosemary

This season's peaches have been like the "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." July's peaches were too hard. August's peaches were too soft. September's peaches are just right. In fact, Southern California's September peaches are often plumpest, juiciest, prettiest peaches of all with appealing names like Summer Flame and Suncrest.

After you've eaten your fill of peaches out-of-hand, baked into pies, slipped into cobblers, and mashed into jams, try some grilled and stuffed with mascarpone cheese and rosemary.  They're deceptively simple to make and deceptively delicious. I should tell you that they taste best when eaten al fresco, with a loved one, while sipping a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, and watching the sun set.

Grilled Peaches Stuffed with Mascarpone Cheese and Rosemary
Makes 4 servings
Printable recipe.

2 large ripe peaches
Olive oil for brushing peaches
About 2 ounces mascarpone cheese
Zest of 1/4 lemon
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, plus some for garnish
A few shakes of salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Slice the peaches in half and discard the pits. Brush the flesh with a little bit of olive oil. Heat a grill to medium or place a grill pan over medium-high heat on the stove top. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes or until the flesh begins to caramelize and light grill marks appear.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine mascarpone cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary, and salt and pepper. Stir until combined. Divide filling evenly among the four peach halves. Serve.

You might also enjoy these grilled peach recipes:
Grilled Peaches recipe from Sugar Crafter
Grilled Peach Prosciutto Kebabs recipe from Rosemary and the Goat
Grilled Peaches and Humboldt Fog Panini recipe from Panini Happy

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Olivewood Gardens 2nd Annual Fundraiser: Heart of the Harvest

Olivewood Garden

Thousands of American children are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes each year. Type 2 diabetes used to be known as "adult onset" diabetes since people who developed the disease were generally aged 40 and older. Not anymore. With childhood obesity on the rise, so too is Type 2 diabetes, which leads to increased risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, bone deformities, and more.

How can we help our children avoid this unfortunate fate? We can teach them how to eat more healthfully. That's exactly what the folks at Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City are doing. They are dedicated to teaching children and their families (primarily low-income kids) how to raise fruit and vegetables and then how to prepare them in the kitchen and turn them into delicious and nutritious fresh meals.

Martha, Olivewood Gardens' master gardener with beautiful purple carrots

Please help Olivewood continue their noble work by attending their 2nd annual fundraising weekend event this October 1st and 2nd called Heart of the Harvest.

Festivities will begin Saturday, October 1st at 6pm with A Moonlit Soiree, an intimate, multi-course dinner prepared by San Diego’s top chefs and served under the stars. There will also be a garden-themed art show with 10 participating artists. Tickets are $200 per person; adults only.

The second event, A Day of Play: Art of the Harvest, will take place on Sunday, October 2nd from 11am to 4pm. It will be a lively outdoor family day with garden tours, games, swimming, arts and crafts, and food demonstrations with local growers and chefs. Student student art work will also be for sale. Tickets are $15 for adults with FREE ADMISSION for CHILDREN under 12.
Tickets may be purchased online at

Olivewood Garden

Many thanks to the talented chefs, designers, artists, and community members who have generously donated their time and talents to the Heart of the Harvest:

Moonlit Soiree Chefs (list anticipated to grow!)
Chad White:  Sea Rocket Bistro
Catherine Humphus: Bo Beau
Daniel Manrique:  The Red Door
Hanis Cavin:  Carnitas’ Snack Shack
Ricardo Heredia:  Alchemy
Joe Magnanelli:  Cucina Urbana
Craig Jimenez:  Craft and Commerce
Sam Burman and Aldo Negrete:  Quality Social
Anthony Sinsay:  Harney Sushi
Chris Powell:  Bali Hai
Rachel Caygill and Scott Caygill: Banker's Hill

A Day of Play 
Zach Negin and James Magnetta : Sono Trading Co (OWG Burgers)
Lisa Altmann: Viva Pops

Table Designers List
Thomas Bui Lifestyle
LaVonne of Adorations
Wedding Elegance by Nahid
Amy Vargas of First Comes Love
Frankie of Hartworks Floral
Wyn Austin Events
Helena Parker
Swan Soiree
Bradley of Fun with Jack
Ana of Floral Works and Events
Dawn of Embellishment
Arturo of ArtQuest Floral and Fine Gifts

Pablo Aztlan Acevedo
John Baldessari, signed exhibition poster
Lynn Cyi
Helen Shafer Garcia
Jim Gibson
Cassandra C. Greene
Tom Hatton
Suda House
Wendy Kwasny
Patricia Patterson
(Note: a preview of the artwork may be seen at

Activities for Sunday's A Day of Play include:
Paint pots and plant succulents
Make seedballs
Pinecone art
Self-guided garden scavenger hunt
Garden Art - Harvest Themes (sketching, drawing, painting, oil pastels, and sun prints)
Singalong with Pablo & Friends
Eat This, Not That!
Lavender Wands
Rock Painting
Swimming in the Pool

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Memories of School Lunch Sandwiches and a Give-Away!

First Day of School...

You know how I made it through sophomore geometry? My mom's meatball sandwiches.

I dreaded geometry. Measures, angles, slopes, points. Coordinates? I thought they were clothes. It didn't help that my class was right before lunch, last lunch, actually, so I never knew if it was the geometry or the hypoglycemia that was causing my sweaty palms and headaches.

Nothing made me feel better than pulling my sandwich out of its paper bag. I'd take a whiff, know instantly it was a meatball sandwich, and give praise for Italian mothers. Then I'd carefully open the crinkly aluminum foil and discover three of my mom's homemade meatballs snuggled lovingly inside of a chewy Italian roll and doused with just the right amount of red gravy. It was as close to Nirvana as I would get, at least until I read Siddhartha.

Thanks to Mom I passed geometry and learned how to make a killer meatball sandwich, so killer that I included it in my book, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.

So, dear readers, I'd love for you to share your story of your favorite childhood school lunch sandwich in the comment section below. And to celebrate school lunch sandwiches everywhere, I'm giving away three copies of The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches!

Leave your comment anytime through the end of the day, Wednesday, September 14th, and I'll announce the winners on Thursday, September 15th. Good luck!

Meatball Sub
Yield: 8 sandwiches with 3 meatballs per sandwich
Printable recipe.

Tomato Sauce:
2 teaspoons olive oil

2 shallots, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup canola oil

24 cooked meatballs (below)
8 crusty Italian rolls, split lengthwise
16 slices (about 1 pound) mozzarella or sharp provolone cheese

1. Warm oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic sauté 2 to 3 minutes or until translucent. Stir in tomatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt. Reduce heat to medium-low. Let sauce lightly bubble for 15 to 17 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Turn off heat. Stir in the fresh herbs.

2. Place meats in a large bowl with breadcrumbs, cheese and parsley. In a small bowl, beat the egg with salt and pepper; add to the meat mixture. Mix the ingredients with your hands until everything is moist and the meat holds together. If it's too dry, add a bit of water or another beaten egg. If it's too moist, add more breadcrumbs. Once the consistency is right, use your hands to roll mixture into 1-1/2-inch balls.

3. Place oils in a large skillet over medium heat. Fit as many meatballs in the skillet as possible without overcrowding. Cook about 2 to 3 minutes until browned; turn and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, until all sides are evenly browned. Place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

4. Add meatballs to sauce and warm over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Preheat broiler. One at a time, add 3 meatballs to a roll. Top with sauce and 2 cheese slices. Place on a large baking sheet and repeat with remaining sandwiches. Broil 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly and bread is golden. Eat them while they're hot.

Note: Meatballs can also be baked. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Shape as above and place them on a tinfoil-lined baking sheet (for easy clean up). Cook for 20 minutes, or until browned.

Variations: Substitute cooked Italian sausage for the meatballs to create a sausage sub.
If you can’t decide, then add sausage to the meatballs for meatball and sausage sub.

Here are more delicious sandwiches from my book that you might enjoy:
Banana Split Sandwich
Egg Salad Sandwich
Pork Tenderloin
Mexican Torta
Monte Cristo

Photo credits: 1. FFC, Colanda; 2 and 3 Matt Armendariz

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Slow Food USA: Take the $5 Challenge September 17th

I'm feeling challenged. And that's a good thing. Here's why: Saturday, September 17th, Slow Food USA is challenging you to take back the value meal. They want you to share a meal with family and friends that costs no more than $5 per person. Can you do it?

Why the challenge? Because healthy, slow food shouldn't cost more than unhealthy, fast food. Because eating fresh, clean, whole foods should be a right, not a privilege.

Do you agree? If so, visit the Slow Food USA website and take the challenge. While you're there, you can also find tips on how to create a $5 per person meal, how to host an  event, or how to find an event near you.

What is San Diego doing to take the $5 challenge? Slow Food Urban San Diego is  hosting a big bash in Little Italy's Amici Park on September 17th from 9am - 1:30 pm. Just show up with your $5 challenge meal. Come with friends, host a potluck, or just mingle and meet new people.

heirloom tomatoes from Little Italy Mercato
Heirloom tomatoes from the Little Italy Mercato.

And don't forget that the Little Italy Mercato will be open at the same time, so you can get your weekly produce shopping done too!

There's even a GIVE-AWAY! My friend Jane from Let There Be Bite is taking the challenge and wants you to as well. As an incentive, she's giving away a goodie bag full of tasty food worth $50. Want to win? Submit your recipe to her by September 25th. Good luck!