Curried Peppers and Tomatoes on Rice with Grilled Chicken or Cooking in a Time of Grief


There have only been a handful of times in my life when I didn’t want to cook.  This is one of them.  For a couple of days, we just ate out or ordered something sent over.   I did send up a big pot of chicken noodle soup to the family, because they wanted it.   I guess we had to eat, but I had no interest in figuring out meals for us or lighting the stove.   After a while we thought we’d better fix something, so Dave grilled some chicken and I rustled up a big pan of vegetable curry.  We ate it on trays in front of the tv watching “The Newsroom,” my newest tv crush.

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Eggplant-Tomato Salad on Mint Rice with Warmed Mozzarella

If you’re a loving cook (and most cooks are), you make your loved ones’ favorite foods.  In fact, you know that what we love — or hate– in some ways defines us.  For instance, I am a chocolate fiend and, if I’m smart, when I’m trying to slim down, I don’t even keep it in the house.  I buy a tiny, perfect piece at the grocery check out (50 calories or so) and I eat JUST THAT ONE.

If I want chocolate cake, I make one for a friend’s birthday and have a piece.  Perfectly happily.  This one was Roberta’s.

Dave’s a baseball nut.  My mother-in-law loves peppermint.  My sister-in-law hates green vegetables.  Roberta has a  life-long love affair with the organ–even has one in her house.  Your favorite color is ____.   My boss “never met an egg she didn’t like.”  Tony’s passion is national parks and scotch; I don’t know in what order.  Artist friend Dan is nutty about bluegrass and my friend Bud waited long years for his Bosendorfer piano.  My sister Helen adores green beans.  Sue loves the beach and anything lemon.  We know who people are (partly) because of these things.

This comes up at my Weight Watcher’s meetings.  People complain and cry (an exaggeration…but nearly) about not being able to have ice cream, margaritas, chips, chocolate, butter, etc.  My comment is occasionally, “You’d better have what you love or you won’t stay on the program, won’t lose weight….because you won’t be YOU.”  It’s actually a pretty well-known fact in WW circles, but it usually needs repeating on a weekly basis.  And no one else ever says WHY you shouldn’t deprive yourself, except that it results in binges.

These little Thai eggplants are often available at Saint Paul farmer’s markets.  If you have small, young eggplant of any kind you probably don’t need to peel them–just wash, trim, and dice.   A little trial and error might be called for.  I did, however, use the regular large, purple eggplant and needed to peel it.  Check out the various kinds of eggplant.

So, in addition to baseball, Dave is crazy about eggplant  Any way. When eggplant is perfect–fresh with tender, deep purple skin– I’m making it as often as I can.  The other night I wanted a salad that I could have for a meal (that Weight Watcher thing) and he could have as a side for his steak sandwich with horseradish sauce while we watched “The Newsroom”, my new TV crush.   I had fresh mozzerella leftover from caprese,  jasmine rice, eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and… this is what transpired, a fusion sort of meal I think you will love.  If you love eggplant, that is.

Sometimes in this blog, I only have to say, “Fried cheese,” though in this case I tempered it with the adjective, “warm.” Try this:

eggplant-tomato salad on mint rice with warm mozzerella

This warm and/or cool salad begins with sautéed eggplant, onions, and tomatoes–seasoned with garlic and lemon rind– that are then spooned into the middle of a ring of rice that has been stirred together with chopped fresh mint, parsley, and spinach. Half-moons of fresh mozzarella are quickly warmed in oil with a bit of crushed red pepper and are then scattered on top of the ring of rice.  Fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil are drizzled at the last second for an instant vinaigrette.  If you have both run-of-the-mill (cooking) and salad (or garnish) extra virgin olive oil, use the better (salad or garnish) oil for the end of the salad vinaigrette.  

Makes  6 servings         Read through recipe before making.

  •  7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups (approximately) eggplant, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 cups cooked jasmine (or other) rice at cold or at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup each chopped fresh parsley and mint
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, shredded
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella (1/2 pound), sliced in half-inch rounds and cut again into 1/2 moons, cold
  • Juice of one lemon (2-3 tablespoons)

1.  In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat for 30 seconds with a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Add eggplant and onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until quite softened and tender.  Add tomato and garlic, let cook another 2 minutes or so, and remove from heat. Stir in lemon rind.  Taste and adjust for seasonings.
2.  Meanwhile, in a large shallow bowl or on a large platter, using your hands, mix together the rice, herbs, and spinach.  Sprinkle with just a bit of salt and pepper and mix again.  Pushing the the rice mixture out from the center, form a ring to allow room for the eggplant mixture in the middle.  Spoon eggplant mixture into the open space, mounding as needed.

3.  Wipe out skillet with towels, add 2 more tablespoons olive oil and heat over medium flame.  All attention as you begin this step:  Leaving room between each piece, place the mozzarella slices in the skillet, sprinkle with crushed red pepper, and heat briefly until warm and just beginning to ooze.  Quickly turn, using tongs or spatula, and repeat on the other side.  Remove from heat and remove the cheese from the skillet and onto the rice, spreading evenly around the ring. Waste no time or you’ll have a skillet full of melted cheese.
4.  Drizzle entire salad with lemon juice and then with remaining 3 tablespoons (best quality, if you have it) extra virgin olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.   Serve at room temperature or cold.  Store leftovers well-covered for up to one day.   Keeps well, according to Dave, who ate all of the rest of it for lunch.

* If you prefer, and it’s too warm, grill the eggplant in slices, cut it up afterward, and stir in fresh chopped tomatoes with just a tablespoon or so of minced onion–perhaps scallions–along with only half the garlic.  Continue with rest of recipe. I’m a good guesser and guess it’d work.  Let me know if you try it.
*You can certainly make this recipe with different vegetables (bell peppers? zucchini? yellow squash?) and/or different herbs (basil? thyme?oregano?)

Quinoa is a tasty substitute for the rice.

{printable recipe}

Sing a new song; make a new salad,

Shop and Chop Pickles: Every Night Now!

It’s too warm to do much cooking indoors unless you do it in the wee small hours of the morning.  Lately I’m not up then unless I need to bake and then I start between four and five.  Mostly I throw together fresh vegetable soups in the food processor or get Dave to grill while I whip up a salad or vegetables and dip to go with the vodka tonics. That said, there is the odd exception when I do something like cook up a pot of Turkey Italian Sausage chili mid-summer, which I did yesterday afternoon, an unusually cool day.  Just for grins and change. We still ate it outdoors, as we do nearly every dinner in the summer.

Throwing together a big batch of thinly sliced, fresh and variable vegetables and tossing them together with vinegar, salt, sugar, and seasonings is one of my favorite summer supper acts.

When cucumbers were running rampant in the garden, my Mom just sliced up cucumbers and put them in a bowl with vinegar for supper.

I began my instant pickle dish just like her, but went on to be wild and crazy with the addition of salt, pepper, and sugar.  You know how it is with your Mom’s dishes; eventually they morph.  Another year,  I added thinly sliced red onion and chopped garlic or chopped dill.  And finally, just a year or two ago,  I blew myself away by adding whatever other vegetables I had, as well as crushed red pepper.   One of the most wonderful things about this shop and chop dish is that it’ll hold for several days in the refrigerator while one night you grill burgers, another night you make pork chops with barbeque sauce, and so on.  Or, if you’re like me, you eat it for lunch, too, with some cheese and a big, thick slice of rye bread, a couple of boiled eggs, or even some leftover smoked fish.  Whatever you do, don’t think of this as just, “pickles,” (though you can use it that way) it’s a salad, a side, a meal.

Be your own inventive cook and use your favorite vegetables (radishes?) or fresh herbs or spices (coriander seeds or mustard seeds?)  Most of the ingredients and amounts are variable so you can change this up to suit yourself.   If you choose tomatoes, add them at the last minute to the portion you’re serving that night.

instant vegetable pickles

4-6 generous servings

  • 2 cucumbers, trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds (peel if store-bought American variety)
  • 1 small zucchini, trimmed, and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1 small yellow (summer) squash, trimmed, and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 3 tablespoons minced red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons minced green pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and minced or grated
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1-2 teaspoons white sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Generous pinch crushed red pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 cup white (or pickling) vinegar — or more to cover about half of the vegetables

In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients, tossing lightly.  Taste and adjust seasonings (usually sugar or salt).  Eat immediately or refrigerate, well covered,  for up to 3 days.

{printable recipe}

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If you liked that, you might like my…

gazpacho-poached eggs from the dinnerplace blog


Miss Gab turned 5 on the Fourth of July.  Happy Birthday, Gabriela!!

Sing a new song,
Alyce, Gabby and Tucker

Ina Fridays –Desserts and "Other" Recipes — Eli Zabar’s Shortbread Cookies Three Ways

Tiny, fluted, showered in sugar:  “Sparkly, Very Sparkly Stars”
Raspberry Sandwich Cookies
Dipped in Vahlrona chocolate and topped with fleur de sel

These cookies are always on all my cookie trays in one version or another.  Each shortbread cookie is made from the same recipe, but is simply finished differently.  The recipe is Eli Zabar’s  (NYC) and I took it straight from Ina Garten, who I guess took it straight from Eli, who, it appears got it from his mother!  My cookies, however, are quite different than Ina’s.  Your cookies will be something else as well.  And while these are not terribly innovative or cutting edge, they are terribly delicious.  Addictive, in fact.  Just add coffee.  Just add tea.  Just add sherry.  Just add…you.

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Fourth of July Berry Cake–Buy a Pound Cake if You Don’t Want to Bake

I first posted this recipe in Oct., 2012, but think it’s perfect for the 4th, so am reposting.

Just looking at this cake will tell you that it’s not difficult to make and it’s NOT.  A quick glance at the recipe, however, might put you off.  Don’t let it.  There may be a little reading involved, but the cooking and baking are fairly simple and don’t take long.  In fact, though it’s two layers, you only bake one cake.  After it’s cool, you cut it in half.

But listen, if you’re not a baker, this is just the cake for you… because you can get away without baking a cake at all!  Just buy a Sara Lee pound cake(or one from your bakery) and cut it into layers–maybe three?–and do a loaf-shaped cake on a pretty rectangular tray.  Follow the rest of the directions for the berries and filling and there you are!   You could also bake a box cake into cupcakes, slice them, put half in a pretty coffee cup and decorate from there.  Whatever you do, this is a beautiful, tasty cake for 4th of July, Easter, Mother’s Day, or the Memorial Day picnic.  (Assemble this cake where you’re serving it.)  If you don’t have a special cake plate, don’t worry about it.  Whoever eats this will be happy no matter what.  Next time you run in Good Will, see a funky antique shop or a garage sale,  keep an eye our for great serving pieces.  No need to spend a fortune at the department stores.

Another idea comes from my mother-in-law, who, when I was  a young wife, often made a similar cake using a homemade or store bought angel food cake.  To cut calories, she used Cool Whip, but I can’t go that far.   If I’m eating cake I want to eat cake.  Let them eat cake!  But if you really must cut the whipped cream for health or allergy reasons, try the Cool Whip version.

  • Easy Berry Butter Cake (Aida Mollenkamp–courtesy Food Network)
    Difficulty: Easy | Total Time: 1 hr 5 mins, plus cooling time | Active Time: 25 mins | Makes:8 to 10 servings
     For the cake:*
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for coating the pan
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
    • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), softened, plus more for coating the pan
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 1/2 cup whole milk
    *Or use a purchased cake like Sara Lee Pound Cake
    • For the filling:
    • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
    To assemble:
      • 1 1/2 pounds mixed berries*, washed (if you’re using *strawberries, they’ll also need to be hulled and quartered)  You might not need quite this many berries; mine didn’t fit on the cake. 
    For the cake:
      1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat an 8-inch round cake pan with butter and flour, tap out the excess flour, and set the pan aside. Combine measured flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until evenly combined; set aside.
      2. Place measured butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium high until light in color and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar and continue to beat on medium high until white in color and the texture of wet sand, about 3 minutes more.
      3. Add eggs one at a time, letting each incorporate fully before adding the next. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer on low, add half of the flour mixture. Mix just until incorporated, then add milk and continue mixing until smooth. Add the rest of the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated, about 2 minutes more.
      • Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter of the cake and turn out onto the rack, right side up, to cool completely. Meanwhile, make the filling.
    For the filling:
    Place mascarpone in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whip on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add cream, sugar, and almond extract, increase speed to medium high, and whip until ingredients are combined and firm peaks form, about 15 seconds more. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
    To assemble: *
      1. Slice cake in half horizontally using a serrated knife. Divide filling evenly between the cut side and the top of the cake. Divide berries evenly over the filling. Stack cakes on top of each other and serve.
    If using a purchased cake like frozen Sara Lee pound cake, you might want to slice it (into thirds, perhaps) while it’s still partially frozen.  (Recipe first posted in May of 2012)


    Note:  I’ll share with you that whenever I’ve made a recipe by Aida Mollenkamp, it’s been incredible.  I don’t see her on Food Network anymore; is she still on?  But she does have a lot of recipes.  One that immediately comes to mind is her lasagna. Can’t make that very often.

     I like berries because of all the things they can do for us…provide tons of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants,  memory ability boosters, and more…  But I also love them because they’re gorgeous, inexpensive (relatively),  taste incredibly good, and are low in calories.  Many of them are also easy to grow at home.  And while we’re out of berry season in most places in the country, I just got a couple of pints of Michigan blueberries much like the tiny wild Maine berries that are often lusciously sweet-tart and make such great pancakes and muffins.  For more on berries and why we should eat them, click here.  

     My gorgeous partner of 39 years turns 60 on Wednesday.  Happy Birthday, Honey!  He wanted a big backyard Burgers, Brats, and Beer Party and that’s what I did yesterday.  A very good time was had by all. Wednesday night, we’ll celebrate at the Twins game.  Tickets to see the Yankees play our Twins on Fireworks night are my birthday gift to him.

     Sing  a new song,