Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant

One of the aspects of gardening I appreciate most is the social one.  I know, this may sound strange; but if you’re a gardener you know what I mean.  When you garden, you end up talking passionately with other gardeners and trading produce like young boys trade baseball cards (or at least they did when I was young).

If you’re lucky, you grow different things than your friends do….that way when the crops are really prolific, you end up with produce you didn’t grow and your friends end up with a harvest they didn’t grow.  It’s a wonderful way to build relationships!

“When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree; when drinking water, remember who dug the well.”

~ Vietnamese Proverb

Abundance of Eggplant 2

Over the weekend I came into an abundance of end-of-season eggplant; so I spent part of my day today making Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant.  I’ve made this recipe previously; but never written down the process.  Today was a good day to take my time documenting the recipe and an even better day to share it with you!

Preparing Eggplant

Eggplants Cut in Half

Peeled Stripes

Gazebo Room DressingEggplant Boats

Eggplant Boats Drizzled with Gazebo

I began by preparing the eggplant……First I cut the stem end off and then I cut them in half lengthwise.  I used a peeler to strip away some of the peel (I left some stripes of skin on the eggplant because Jeff likes them without the skin, but there are important nutrients in the skin – so it’s my compromise).  Next I used a paring knife to score a “well” in each half and then a spoon to scoop out the flesh.  I saved the flesh in a bowl to add to the filling later.

After preparing the eggplant “boats,” I drizzled them with some Gazebo Room Dressing (about 1/3 cup total for all 7 eggplants) and roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes (some were smaller so I took them out sooner).

I cut the skinless boneless chicken breast into 1 1/2″ cubes and mixed it with 1/3 cup of Gazebo Room Dressing.  I set the chicken aside to marinate while I worked on the filling.

Orzo Cooking

Filling in Process

Then I boiled a pot of water to cook the orzo for the filling.  While the pasta cooked, I prepared the vinaigrette using lemon juice and zest, minced garlic, minced thyme, coarse Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil.  When the orzo finished cooking, I drained it and stirred about 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette into the orzo and set it aside to cool. When it was cool, I added 1/2 cup of currants, 1/2 cup of pine nuts and 12 oz. of Feta cheese that I had cut into cubes.

Eggplant Flesh for FIlling

I then set about making the filling.  I started by sautéing 2 medium diced onions in olive oil.  (To minimize dish washing later, I used the same vessel in which I cooked the pasta). While the onions cooked for about 5 minutes over medium heat, I diced the reserved flesh from the eggplants (I discarded the really seedy pieces) – in the end it was about 3 cups of diced eggplant flesh.

I added the diced eggplant to the cooked onions and continued to cook the mixture while I cut some Tuscan kale into ribbons.  When the onions and eggplant were softened, I added the kale and cooked it long enough for it to wilt.  When the veggies were finished, I transferred them to the bowl with the orzo to cool.

Cooking ChickenBrowning Chicken

Next I turned to the chicken.  In the pan I used to cook the veggies to cook the chicken (again, this would save me on dish washing later).  I cooked it in 3 separate batches – to avoid boiling the chicken – for about 4 minutes per batch until it was nicely browned and cooked through.

After all the chicken was cooked, into the filling mixture.  To finish the filling, I mixed in all but 3 Tbsp. of the dressing.

Eggplant in Oven

Stuffed Eggplant

I spooned the filling into the eggplant “boats” – filling them until they were nicely mounded with filling.  Finally, I topped the “boats” with seasoned breadcrumbs and a drizzle of the remaining dressing and baked them in a 350 degree F oven for about 35 minutes.

The result? Mmm mmm mmm!

 

Plated EggplantI hope you use this recipe and enjoy the delicious results. I recommend making extra and sharing it with friends or family.  As a matter of fact, the timer is just going off and as soon as I slide the eggplant out of the oven I’m headed to our friends’ house to drop some off.

Sharing the fruits of your labor – whether they’re veggies from your garden or a meal from your kitchen (or really, the result of any of your talents) – gives your friends one more reason to think of you and smile!!!

Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: entree chicken eggplant lemon feta cheese

Ingredients

    To Prepare Eggplant Boats

    • 6 medium eggplant
    • 1/3 cup Gazebo Room Greek Dressing

    To Make Vinaigrette

    • 3 lemons, zest and juice (about 1/2 cup juice)
    • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
    • 1 Tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard
    • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    • 1/2 tsp. pepper
    • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    To Make Filling

    • 3/4 lb. orzo, cooked according to package instructions
    • 3/4 lb. chicken, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes and marinated in 1/4 cup Gazebo Room Greek Dressing
    • 12 oz. Feta cheese, cut into 3/4″ cubes
    • 1/2 cup currants
    • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
    • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
    • 3 cups cubed eggplant (reserved when preparing eggplant boats)
    • 2 medium onions, diced
    • 1 large bunch Tuscan kale, chopped

    For Topping

    • 3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
    • 3 Tbsp. reserved vinaigrette dressing

    Instructions

    To prepare eggplant “boats”

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    Cut the stem end off each eggplant.

    Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise.

    Optional – if you don’t prefer to eat the peel, peel each eggplant half or compromise like Jeff and I do and peel strips off each eggplant half, leaving a little of the skin intact.

    Using a paring knife, score a well in each eggplant half.

    Using a spoon, scoop the flesh out of the well. (Cut the removed flesh into small cubes and save 3 cups of the cubed eggplant for the filling. I discard any flesh that is really seedy.)

    Place the “boats,” well facing up / skin side down, on a rimmed baking sheet.

    Drizzle the “boats” with Gazebo Room Greek Dressing – dividing the 1/3 cup dressing among all the halves.

    Roast the “boats” in the preheated 400 degree F oven for approximately 30 minutes (you want them to be tender, but not mushy).

    Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

    To make the vinaigrette

    In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, minced thyme, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

    While you are vigorously whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the lemon mixture. You want to whisk faster than you pour so that you create a nice emulsion.

    Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

    To make the filling

    Cook the orzo according to the package instructions.

    Drain orzo and transfer to a large, heat-proof bowl.

    Pour 1/2 cup of the dressing over the hot orzo and stir to coat.

    Set orzo aside to cool.

    When orzo is cool, stir in cubed Feta cheese, currants and toasted pine nuts.

    Set aside.

    Over medium-high heat, sauté onions in Tbsp. olive oil- stirring frequently – until tender but not brown, approximately 5 minutes.

    Add remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil and cubed eggplant and cook for an additional 5 minutes, lowering heat to medium.

    When eggplant is soft, add chopped kale and cook for approximately 3 minutes just to wilt the kale.

    Remove the veggies from the pan and allow to cool.

    In the same pan, sauté the cubed, marinated chicken – stirring frequently – over medium high heat – working in batches to avoid boiling your chicken rather than searing it – for approximately 4 minutes, until cooked through and nicely brown.

    Remove chicken from the pan and allow to cool.

    When veggies and chicken have cooled, mix them into the orzo mixture.

    Add all but 3 Tbsp. of the remaining vinaigrette and stir well to coat and evenly distribute ingredients.

    To Fill, Top & Bake Eggplant

    Reduce heat of preheated oven to 350 degrees F.

    Fill each eggplant half with filling, mounding the filling over the top edge of the eggplant.

    Place eggplant half on a rimmed baking sheet.

    Repeat with all halves.

    Distribute the seasoned breadcrumbs evenly over all the eggplant halves.

    Drizzle the remaining 3 Tbsp. vinaigrette over all the eggplant halves.

    Bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Filling will be heated through and breadcrumbs should be golden brown.

    Serve & enjoy!

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    Love Your Leftovers (and your garden): Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes

    What’s for dinner?

    I’ll bet this question is uttered in every household in the world at least once a week, if not more often. And if you answer this question, I’ll bet what happens to me also happens to you – you get in a rut. We all get in ruts from time to time, whether it’s with the food we eat or in some other area of life.

    For Jeff and I, the dinner rut has been quesadillas for quite some time. If we can’t decide what to make for dinner, we fall back on quesadillas. We scrounge through the fridge and fill them with whatever we find. The beautiful thing about quesadillas is that they are soooooooo incredibly flexible. They can be filled with any kind of meat (or none), any kind of veggies (or none), beans, sauces, cheeses, etc.

    In keeping with our rut, Jeff suggested chicken quesadillas for dinner on Thursday night. And I agreed…..that is until I looked in the fridge.

    But I am getting ahead of myself. I began my dinner preparations in the garden. I picked a zucchini, an eggplant, some Hungarian peppers and some cherry tomatoes. These things would make a great veggie filling for the quesadillas. I also had two ears of cooked corn on the cob left over in the fridge, which I knew I would add to the veggie filling.

    One the way from vine to table (800x530)

    After I came inside, I washed the produce I had picked and set it all on one of the dining room chairs to photograph. I know that stopping to take pics during a recipe is not “normal” for everyone, but in our house nearly all food prep stops multiple times for photo ops. So anyway, I photographed the produce and turned my back for just a second to put the lens cap on my camera and make sure it was securely stored out of harms way. MISTAKE. When I turned back around, the cherry tomatoes and one of the Hungarian peppers were missing from the chair and there was dog “schlark” (drool) all over the chair. Kissy, who has been known to eat tomatoes right off the vine, decided she needed a snack. Ugh…….

    from Vine to Plate (800x530)So I must admit, I was too lazy to pick more tomatoes so I scrapped them from the recipe. But I was not too lazy to re-wash the produce!

    Sauteed Veggies and Chicken (800x530)

    Back on track, I began sauteing the veggies and cutting the chicken to add to the saute. I also grated three kinds of cheese – Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Parm – for the quesadillas. Finally I reached into the fridge for the tortillas and a container of leftovers caught my eye. Hmmmmmm ……. interesting ….. zucchini pancakes – my mind started spinning.

    For something different, I decided to reheat the pancakes and top them with the veggie and chicken saute and some grated cheese. As I was building my pancake stacks, I realized they might need a little zing, so I pulled out some BBQ sauce from The Shed which is now available at Karn’s (a local grocery store).  The discovery that Shed Sauce is available locally has my Facebook newsfeed atwitter (haha).

    Reheating Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)

    Reheated Pancakes Topped with Veggies Chix and Cheese (800x790)

    with a splash of BBQ and a slice of tomato (800x530)

    Many folks from our church – Daybreak Church in Mechanicsburg – have had the opportunity to eat at The Shed while on missions trips to Biloxi and because they loved the sauce so much have been ordering it online. So now that it’s available in a local grocery store, all those Shed lovers are really excited – Jeff included. As an aside, food network is launching a new show about The Shed on August 4th (tomorrow).

    Anyway…..I topped my pancake stacks with a drizzle of “shed sauce” and out of the corner of my eye I spied a full-sized tomato on the counter. I thinly sliced it, added it as the final layer of my stacks and seasoned the tomato slices with salt and pepper.

    I slid the stacks into a 350 degree F oven, set the timer for 10 minutes and sat down with a book.  After 10 minutes I checked the stacks and decided they needed a little time under the broiler.  I turned on the broiler, set the timer for 3 minutes and waited.

    Well, I’m sure you know what I’m going to write and what Jeff said in reaction to dinner……..mmm mmm mmm!

    Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)

     

    Close Up LYL (800x530)

    Don’t dread your leftovers…….love ’em!

    Shhhhhhh!

    Shhhhhhhh!  My friend Holly is turning 40 (I hope this is not a secret) and her husband, Jeff, is throwing her a surprise party (this is the secret).  He asked me to make a few things for the party and although I’ve been Tweeting pics all day, I haven’t indicated why I am cooking.

    The house smells amazing as hundreds of meatballs cook. Today I am making two types of meatballs and tomorrow I will be skewering hundreds of grape/cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil leaves.

    My contributions to the party include:

    • Buffalo Chicken Meatballs with Blue Cheese Dressing

    Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

    • Greek Meatballs with Eggplant & Feta with Tzatziki Sauce
    • Greek Meatballs with Eggplant & FetaCaprese Skewers with Basil Pesto

    Caprese Skewers Continue reading

    Marketing

    I had a whirlwind of a day today, but it sure was fun!  I met my mom and dad at their house at 9:00 this morning and we didn’t stop moving until we got back to their house at 4:30 pm.  We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of yummy food, and scoped out a new place to visit when we have more time.

    Our day started in Hershey with my mom having a bone density scan…from there we began our adventure to the Lancaster County Farmers Market, which incidentally is not in Lancaster County – go figure.  It’s actually in Delaware County on the Main Line in Wayne, PA.  Normally it’s pretty easy to get there, but we were in technology hell today….the ATM machine at the Turnpike rest area at which we stopped was having a meltdown and both my GPS and my parent’s GPS were persnickety as well!!!  But after RECALCULATING several times and using common sense (uncommon, I know) we finally made it.

    Although it’s not a big market, there are some very nice stands to capture your attention and tempt your taste buds.  My first stop was at Sugartown Smoked Specialties. The smoked trout spread looked delicious, but I was there for advice and information.  On Sunday I’ll be experimenting with smoking clams (which I have never done) and wanted an expert opinion.  The gentleman at Sugartown pointed me in the right direction. THANKS!

    The next stand we stopped at was Semaan’s Homemade Specialties to ogle the olives, which is completely strange since I don’t like the way they taste.  I like olive oil and I love the look of olives – they LOOK like something I would love.  And I’ve certainly given them a fair shake…..I try them at least once a year to make sure my taste for them hasn’t changed, but so far….nothing.  But I still think they’re beautiful – particularly these that were marinating with all kinds of herbs and spices!

    From there I gawked at the fresh seafood and pre-made foods at Mainline Marketplace. Of everything we saw all day, I rated the jumbo lump crab meat at this stand the most beautiful!!!  I could imagine using this amazing lump crab meat in Jeff’s crab cake recipe OR it would make a fabulous addition to a creamy crab soup OR it would make a delicious lemony cold crab salad…….the possibilities are endless.  I did not buy any because we didn’t have a cooler AND because what you don’t see in this photo is the price behind the garnish – $29.99/lb. A little too rich for my blood today!!!!

    The salmon also looked amazing, but again no cooler….. I recently found a recipe for a honey spiced salmon sandwich in which this salmon would be great.  Next time, when the cooler is in the trunk, I’ll be buying some seafood….maybe I can start keeping my spare change in a jar so I can get some crab!!!!

    The Ultimate Bake Shop had some gorgeous desserts and baked goods.  Although expensive, the biscotti that looked terrific – packed with delicious ingredients.  The cakes were all beautifully decorated and the descriptions of them sounded tempting.  I do wonder when I see such pristine looking desserts, if they will taste as good as they look.  Perhaps next time I will be “in the market” for desserts and I’ll let you know if the desserts live up to their looks!

    We saw some fine-looking produce – in fact, I took pictures of some beets, carrots and cauliflower that I am happy to share.  And I couldn’t resist buying some fresh figs. Just this morning I saw an idea for a flavorful, but health-conscious dessert – fresh figs dipped in dark chocolate.  So how fitting that I be tempted by fresh figs at the market.

    After buying the figs, we wandered around a little more, pointing out a few goodies here and there, including some pretty tea towels at The Cottage at The Market and some tasty looking Asian food at Foo To Go.  In fact, the food looked so good at Foo that my mom bought a container of curried rice and one of cold sesame noodles.

    After one final trip around the Lancaster County Farmers Market to make sure there wasn’t anything else we needed/wanted, we hopped back into the car and headed to Ardmore.  Our plan was to make stops at the Ardmore Farmers Market at Suburban Square and Trader Joe’s; however we were running short on time so we had to make a decision – farmers market or Trader Joe’s.  Although they are right next to one another, our schedule only allowed for one.

    We chose the farmers market, and I am so glad we did. First thing in the door we were greeted by the sight of the most beautiful coral/orange roses at Inspired Blooms.  After taking a few photos, my mom called me over to Ardmore Seafood to look at some of the most amazing colossal shrimp – they were so large I swear I thought to be safe I should address them as “Mr. Shrimp.”  From there we spied the small eggplant for which my mom was on the lookout all day.

    And then……Di Bruno Bros. in search of Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar from England.  SUCCESS!  The cost of a pound of this cheese makes the price of the crab meat look like lunch money; but every bite is worth it!  It is described as “a sublime balance between sharp and fruity” and the description couldn’t be more accurate.  I’ve also heard it billed as “quite possibly the best cheddar in the world” and again, I can’t argue. A bit of the Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar and some Clandestin made it into my shopping bag.  The Clandestin is an aged sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheese from Canada.  It is a soft cheese, like a Brie and is absolutely delicious.  And in addition to the cheeses,  I also had some lively conversation with the “cheese guy.” He was talking with another customer about Grana Padano cheese, which he referred to as “the son of Parmigiano Reggiano.” I asked him why you’d want the “son of” when you have access to the real deal – it was a serious question, I was truly not being a smartalec.    He replied with something to the effect of “Grana Padano is still Ivy League, but it’s Brown, not Harvard” (which may have offended his other customer) and he and I were off to the races on good cheeses vs. lesser cheeses.  I enjoyed the conversation almost as much as the cheese.  I am looking forward to a nice glass of wine, a crusty piece of bread and some bits of the cheeses I purchased today.

    After Di Bruno Bros. there was time enough for a very quick spin around the rest of the market – only enough to see what other vendors are there so that when we return we know what we want to see.  Just before getting into the car, I got myself a Kale Shake.  I know, it doesn’t sound great; but I truly believe veggie juices get a bad wrap.  Besides, it wasn’t all veggie juice – it also had lots of whole fruits whizzed up in it.  The kale shake did not disappoint.  It was the color of the inside of a kiwi fruit and tasted like freshness in a cup.

    Back in the car, we wound our way through the Main Line back to the Turnpike and headed for home.  We each had a little something to nibble on since we didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.  My dad had a piece of pizza from Pallante’s Pasta Company, my mom had her selections from Foo To Go and I had my kale shake and a little treat my mom surprised me with – an arancini (the literal translation is little orange, the food translation is a risotto and mozzerella ball with onion and flecks of basil – in other words, mmm mmm mmm) from Di Bruno Bros.

    All in all, we had a successful trip.  We made a few purchases, sampled a few really good foods and found a future destination for a day of foodie fun!!!

    A Rare Treat

    I had a rare treat on Tuesday….lunch with my husband on a weekday!  It wasn’t planned, which made it even better.

    Jeff needed to pick up his car and asked if I could give him a ride.  As I was on the way to his office, I called him to let him know I’d be arriving soon. While on the phone, I teasingly asked if he’d be taking me to lunch as payment for the ride.  I was taken aback when he said, “yes!”  I expected him to reply with some sassy comment, putting me in my place for even suggesting that he had to pay for the ride!  Sometimes he knows how to render me speechless – not an easy feat!

    On the remainder of the ride to his office, I thought about the different places we could go – some of our favorites…but as soon as he got into the car and I asked him if he had any ideas; he gave the exact right answer…Alvaro Bread and Pastry Shoppe.  Immediately my mouth started to water.  Everything there is homemade – bread, pasta, sauce, pastries, gelato…..oh, the possibilities were endless.

    When we arrived I was comforted by the homey interior – exposed brick, terra cotta colored paint on the walls, and framed photos of the owners’ travels to Italy.  And the cases lined with pastries and cookies reminded me of trays of cookies at weddings in my family.  All lovingly made and beautifully decorated.  When we looked at the offerings of the day, I immediately knew what I would be ordering.  Deciding took only as long as it took me to read the words, “tortellini with rolled eggplant.”  They had me hook, line and sinker!  As we waited in line to order I found myself muttering a silent prayer that they wouldn’t run out of the eggplant before I got to the counter!  You see, the folks at Alvaro’s make the best eggplant rollatini I’ve ever had.

    The eggplant is sliced as thin as humanly possible, breaded so lightly you’d swear that angels blew the breadcrumbs onto the slices, and fried so gently.  The result is not greasy at all, but tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.  The base of the filling is the freshest ricotta you’ve ever tasted! Mmm mmm mmm!

    The tortellini – of course, homemade – is fantastic.  The pasta is incredibly smooth and just thick enough that it doesn’t tear when it’s rolled into the tortellini shape.  The filling is light and flavorful.  And the sauce – oh, the sauce – is perfection!  It’s just the right combination of fresh tomato sauce and cream.  You’d expect it to be heavy, as many cream-based sauces are; but it is silky and light with fresh tomato flavor.  Jeff also ordered the tortellini, but he ordered the Italian sausage rather than the eggplant.  Normally I would ask for a taste, but I was so engrossed in my food – trying so hard to pace myself that I’d have some to take home – that by the time I thought to ask, he was finished!

    It is almost impossible to leave Alvaro’s without some kind of sweet treat.  When you look into the cases lined with cakes and cookies and pastries and homemade gelato, you’d swear the dessert gnomes were whispering, “Try me, try me!”  But we steeled our resolve and left without dessert…..but not without a loaf of rosemary bread!

    If you are looking for a warm, homemade, filling lunch – the kind after which you probably need a nap – I’d give Alvaro’s Bread and Pastry Shoppe 6 forks out of 5!!!!  And no, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes or my math!!!

    To Market, To Market . . .

    Sometimes cooking, eating and entertaining begin not in the kitchen, but with a journey.  My mom, Connie, and I set out early yesterday on a trip to Lancaster Central Market (LCM) in Lancaster, PA, which is approximately 40 miles from home.  We were not in search of anything specific, just adventure.  I haven’t been to the LCM in probably 18 years so I wanted to reacquaint myself with it.

    I find a trip to the farmers market quite relaxing…. and it can be both informational and inspiring.  I like seeing the fresh ingredients and dreaming about what I can make from them. One of the ways I can tell the best stands at the market – the ones with the freshest, choice ingredients – is by spying on the chefs.  If the chefs are shopping there, I reason there’s probably some good stuff to be had!

    We entered LCM at the corner of Orange and Prince Streets and were met at the door by beautiful sunflowers and the equally sunny disposition of the woman selling them at Spring Knoll Farm.  Although not all stands had as much personality, it was a great beginning to the experience.

    As we meandered through the rows in search of nothing in particular, we spent a lot of time pointing to various things (produce, flowers, pastries, etc.) saying, “ooh, look at that” or “hmmmm, what is that” and telling each other about things we’d made from similar ingredients.

    One of my favorite stands was Tulip Tree Hill Farm, which sells small packages of sprouts and greens and a lovely tart raspberry lemonade.  The stand is nice to look at and the woman who helped me with my purchase of micro greens and lemonade was quite friendly.   I don’t yet know what I’ll make with the micro greens, but I cannot wait to try them.  They will likely be served alongside the roasted veggie soup Jeff is making today.

    *I put a quarter next to the greens so that you can get an idea of how tiny and delicate they are.

    Other than some multi-grain rolls from Willow Valley that looked too yummy to pass up and 10 pounds of beets (more to come in a later post), it seems our adventure was in miniature.  In addition to the micro greens we bought some teeny patty pan squash and some beautiful mini purple striped globe eggplant.

    What we will make with the patty pan squash and eggplant remains a mystery.  But I can definitively say that we had a great time at the Lancaster Central Market and will surely return soon.  Yesterday proved that not all who wander are lost….some of us are preparing to cook, eat & entertain!

    Additional photos of the beautiful produce we saw at LCM can be found on my Photo Gallery page.  Enjoy!