Has it ever happened to you… you’re going on a trip and you have tons of fresh stuff in your kitchen and fridge you know will rot by the time you get back home? This happens to me ALL THE TIME!!
I’ve been trying to be better at not going grocery shopping before a trip, especially before a trip that’s over 1 week. But still, even when you try to plan to eat most everything fresh by the time you leave, there might be things here and there you forgot or where unable to eat completely. This was the case with an almost full case of Campari Tomatoes I had bought at Costco. I hate to place them in the fridge because I believe they taste different after being refrigerated.
So I needed to do something so these tomatoes would not go to waste and still be good, edible and better yet tasty to integrate into my back-from-the –trip recipes…
ROASTED TOMATOES WITH BASIL AND GARLIC
Roma or Campari Tomatoes, cut in half and seeded
Garlic Cloves, sliced thinly
Basil, I use freeze dried herbs
Salt and Pepper
- Place tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Massage the tomatoes somewhat to ensure the olive oil, salt and pepper kinda coat the tomatoes evenly.
- Make sure tomatoes are arranged cut side up in a single layer. Place a slice or two of garlic inside each tomato, sprinkle liberally with basil leaves and a little sprinkle of turbinado sugar.
- Roast in a 375F – 400F oven for about 45 mins to 1 hour. I usually place them, leave them and when they look cooked and a little caramelized. I just turn off the oven and leave them there to cool together with the oven.
Place them in an air-tight container and save for future recipes. Use them in any recipe that calls for sun-dried tomatoes. I used them in a version of my pasta with marinated tomatoes where I used part fresh tomatoes and part these roasted ones. I also used them in a filling for stuffed bell peppers and to add a nice pizzazz to my easy pasta with fresh baby spinach.
I will be honest… I learned this recipe from somewhere on the Internet. The thing is… I can’t remember where or who to give the credit to.
I made this recipe for the first time about 3 years ago when I was staying with my sister for the birth of my nephew, who turned 3 recently. I was craving eggplant… and I wanted an easy way to make it without frying it, which you all know is my favorite eggplant preparation. I did it at home in Puerto Rico and also at my sister’s after scoring a huge bag of eggplants at The Boys Farmer’s Market.
I vaguely remembered what I did the initial time I made it. So who knows, maybe I did came up with THIS version after all.
Eggplant and Goat Cheese Bake
1 medium eggplant, find one as light as possible, peeled and diced
1 pint of grape tomatoes, divided, all cut in half
1 tbs of dried basil, I use freeze dried
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 ounces of goat cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, optional
Brown Rice Fettuccini, I use Tinkyada brand
- In an oven-proof dish place all the diced eggplant pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, minced garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss all to combine well.
- Add over the eggplant half of the grape tomatoes that you’ve cut in half already. Leave aside the rest of the tomatoes.
- Sprinkle the dried basil over the tomatoes. Add the goat cheese inc crumbles over the tomatoes. Drizzle a final stream of olive oil over everything and a last sprinkle of salt and pepper to make sure everything is well seasoned.
4. Place in a 375F oven for about 40 minutes. Turn off the oven.
5. Boil water to make the pasta according to the package directions. I use Brown Rice pasta, but you can use your favorite brand/kind
6. Drain the pasta, return to the pot and add the eggplant bake. Mix well to combine. Add Parmesan cheese, if using. Add the fresh tomatoes you set aside earlier. This adds an element of freshness that contrasts really nice with the creaminess of the baked eggplant.
Serve with your favorite salad and baked plantains on the side… This is so easy to make ahead and just re-heat when you’re boiling the pasta. Easy dinner without a lot of tending to it.
I planned the whole menu for my sister’s baby shower… and appetizers is my thing. So I had a few ideas already in my mind. I would work with puff pastry to make something savory and something sweet. I would make a version of Rosemary Almonds but using cashews, which are easier on more adult teeth. Gotta think of the grandmas…
I brought with me an exquisite Pigeon Peas Antipasto too, but I was missing something else. Like a dip. But I was running out of ideas. I can’t make Veggie Dip one more time!!!
Then… I remembered a recipe I had seen from Giada DiLaurentiis – a savory cheesecake recipe designed to use a small cheesecake pan, just like the only one I have!! I had to adapt the recipe to make it egg-free and integrated some ideas I have learned while making Pumpkin Cheesecake over Thanksgiving.
Hope you enjoy it as much as we all did… this recipe is a keeper. Great for making in advance… great to bring to a party too!!!
SAVORY BASIL CHEESECAKE
Butter, for greasing the pan
1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tbs sour cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tsp egg replacer + 4 tbs water
Pinch of salt and freshly cracker pepper
1/2 packed cup chopped fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
- Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a small bowl mix together the egg replacer and the water. Whisk well to combine and set aside. The mixture will foam and grow a bit.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 4 1/2-inch diameter spring-form pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with a piece of heavy-duty foil. If you don’t have heavy-duty foil, just double on the foil.
- Place the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese and sour cream in a food processor. Pulse until mixed.
- Add the brown sugar, the egg replacer mixture, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Add the basil and pulse until incorporated.
- Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared spring-form pan. Place the pan in a glass baking dish that’s slightly larger. Pour enough hot water in the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the spring-form pan. Make sure the foil top edge is above the water line.
- Bake until the cheesecake is golden at the edges and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the cheesecake will become firm when chilled), about 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove the spring-form pan from the baking dish and remove the foil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 3-4 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the spring-form pan. Allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature before serving, about 30 minutes.
- Drizzle the top of the cheesecake with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with assorted crackers.
This is a great recipe to make the day before you need it. Just chill in the fridge and get out before your guests arrive. The cheesecake will hold very well at room temperature.
I planned the menu for my niece’s baby shower last week. As you know… I only plan vegetarian parties, so this baby shower would be no exception. Last time we catered a lunch, but after all that was left afterwards, I decided this time around I would do the catering myself.
Over the next few posts you’ll enjoy some of the creations I prepared for the event. I am pretty audacious because I am not afraid of trying a new recipe onto 20-30 unsuspecting guests. Some are really not that new… but new twists on old favorites. Some are just improvisations at the last minute. Like this stuffed shell recipe for example…
The main course for the baby shower menu was Broccoli/Cauliflower Stuffed Shells. You’ve already read about it here. Pastas are so popular among non-vegetarians and so easy to make in advance that I decided this would be the dish to wow once again some vegetarian lifestyle non-believers. I didn’t want to make lasagna like I did for my nephew’s birthday just a mere 6 weeks ago. But stuffed shells give you the same make-in-advance advantages but in a very different presentation. People just feel is something completely different, when in reality, it isn’t.
I was making 2 baking dishes of stuffed shells… so my instinct was boil two boxes of large pasta shells. I never knew how many shells that would yield. When I was halfway thru my broccoli/cauliflower filling I knew that I was going to run out of filling before I would run out of shells. So my instinct was to make a cheese/spinach stuffing with some extra cheese I had bought. My family always teases me that I exaggerate… maybe it’s the Cuban in me. But I always want to err on the side of caution… we have a saying in Spanish – “Pa’ que falte, que sobre.” which translates to that I prefer to have more food than we need than to be short. So I always buy a few extra cheeses and things when I am cooking for a party. Sometimes I don’t need them, but this time it came in extra handy.
CHEESE AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS
About 30 brown-rice pasta shells – I use the Tinkyáda brand
2 tbs olive oil, divided for the filling and the tomato sauce
15oz ricotta cheese
8oz package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
8 oz cottage cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese, divided
4 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 handful of basil leaves, chopped for filling
Another handful of basil leaves –chopped for sauce
28oz of diced tomatoes
About 1 tbs apple cider vinegar
4 oz of crème fraiche
4 oz of sour cream
½ cup of milk
6 Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil.
- While the water boils, add the pasta shells. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they have grown in size a bit, are flexible to the touch, but still not fully cooked. Drain the pasta shells and rinse with cold filtered water to stop the cooking process and cool them enough to handle. Set aside.
- For the filling, mix together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ½ cup of parmesan cheese, baby spinach and basil leaves for the filling. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. It helps when the ingredients are at room temperature.
- For the tomato sauce, mix together the diced tomato, salt, pepper, vinegar, basil leaves and a small drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
- For the white sauce that goes on top, mix together the crème fraiche, sour cream, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Now we assemble… in your baking dish 9 x 13 glass baking dish pour the tomato sauce on the bottom. Using a small spoon, fill each shell with the cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. I can accommodate about 3 rows of 10 shells each.
- After all the shells are filled and placed on the baking dish, spoon the white sauce over the shells. Now sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top of the white sauce and finish with pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.
- Now we bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. If you find the top is not browning, just turn the broiler on and watch the oven until it starts getting golden. Turn the broiler off and wait a few minutes. It’ll brown a little bit more with the oven off, you’ll see. As always… leave it there for about 10-15 more so it finishes cooking with the residual heat in the oven.
You can certainly assemble everything the night before your event, cover completely and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. I usually take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I want to bake… or before pre-heating the oven. Then bake as directed above.
This dish was such a hit!!!! Both, these shells and the original broccoli/cauliflower ones, were all a great success. Even my cousin has asked me to show her how to make the recipe. It’s simple, no?? She’s excited I am posting here, but she wants a full-on demo in her kitchen. So now I know what I am eating the night before the Miami ½ Marathon I am running next month!!!!
Have you ever come up with a recipe “on the fly” that was as successful as your original recipe???? Please share…
When I am at home cooking for myself, I am lazy. So I just dress my salads with either an organic brand of prepared salad dressing or just drizzle a bit of olive oil and lemon juice over the greens and call it a day.
But when I am with the Yoga Center people, I need to prepare salad dressings most days I cook for them. Most of the times, we create what we lovingly call Left-Over Dressings. But once in a while I will create such a delicious combination that I will write the ingredients and make it over and over again… such is the case with this Tomato and Basil Dressing.
I created this dressing for the first time during my recent trip to Asunción, Paraguay. Several of us were in charge to cook for the whole group, right before our spiritual retreat. We needed to prepare a salad dressing that will stand up to the delicious greens, sprouts and other veggies we were eating… hey, we were fasting and people get reaaaaaaallly hungry.
The results were so delicious I wrote down the recipe and have been making it a few times since. Each and every time we get great compliments on the flavor and simplicity. Hope you like it as much as my yoga crowd…
TOMATO BASIL DRESSING
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small cucumber , roughly chopped
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
1 small green bell pepper, cut into medium-sized pieces
½ carrot, peeled and cut into medium chunks
2 garlic cloves, smashed
½ bunch of fresh basil, washed and cut somewhat including the stems
1 tbs salt
1 heaping tbs Garlic & Herbs Seasoning blend
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
The juice of 2-3 large green limes
1 cup olive oil
A small drizzle of honey or agave nectar
- In a blender, add all the solid ingredients. I like to add the tomatoes first because they’re the most liquid and will create the right environment or the rest of the ingredients to puree well. I also add the salt, pepper, lime or lemon juice and other seasonings.
- Puree well using the blender… let the blender go for a while to ensure the mixture is well pureed.
- While the blender is going, add the olive oil thru the hole on the blenders cover. Drizzle the oil in a small steady stream. This will allow the dressing to emulsify and fir the oil to stay integrated in the dressing and not separate when it’s standing. Add also the drizzle of honey after the oil is integrated.
This recipe will yield you two large jars of dressing (I recycle glass jars for this purpose)… good enough for a hungry crowd like ours. You can certainly scale it down if you prefer or just keep it in the fridge for a whole week of deliciously dressed salads.