Baked Eggplant, Tomato & Feta with Polenta

“Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth-brothels. There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one’s belt buckled.”
– Frederic Raphael

It’s not that I have forsaken cooking in pursuit of other, more easily acquired (and dare I say wanton?), meals. I haven’t. Sure, the occasional Chinese food delivery threatens my resolve, and the even less frequent meat loaf sandwich convinces me of my own culinary inadequacy, but I do still cook.

Unfortunately, prolific eating does not always lead to prolific writing. On the contrary, my food-induced comas compel me to do very little of anything, which is further indication that my restaurant reviewing career would not be especially promising. (Unless Instagram-friendly reviews were considered pithy rather than lazy.) Similarly, the food I eat out does not always inspire me so much as enable me to continue eating out.

So, my homemade meals of late have been basic. Vegetarian. Wholesome. I am still wholly capable of making indulgent foods, but mine is a city of indulgences, and sometimes I just crave simplicity. And that’s what home is for these days.

This recipe comes from One Big Table, which is as much about American food and material culture as it is about recipes. I highly recommend buying a copy. I especially love all the amazing vegetable dishes. (Cooking veggies tends to be where my creativity wanes.)

Baked Eggplant, Tomato & Feta with Polenta
Serves 4
1/4 cup olive oil
1 eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, minced
sea salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup diced tomatoes (I used canned)
pepper
4 ounces/1 cup feta cheese
1 dish of polenta

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a pan, heat olive oil to medium heat, then add eggplant and garlic. Cook until browned and slightly tender, then season with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oregano.
2) Pour eggplant into an 8 x 8 inch glass or ceramic baking dish, then cover with diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, and remaining oregano. Sprinkle feta on top, then cover the dish with foil. Bake until cheese begins to melt (25 to 30 minutes).
3) Meanwhile, prepare the polenta according to the package’s directions.
4) Remove the eggplant dish from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Heat a pan to medium heat and grease with butter or olive oil. Slice pieces of polenta and fry on each side for 2 to 3 minutes.
5) Place polenta on a plate, then top with eggplant and tomato dish. Serve warm.

Healthy Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

One day I was perusing Pinterest (addict that I am) when I came across a recipe for breakfast cookies. Read that again. Breakfast. Cookies. COOKIES YOU CAN EAT FOR BREAKFAST.

Naturally, I had to adapt them for my own. I added coconut for a little more sweetness, and nuts for crunch, but this recipe is easily altered to satisfy your tastes. I’m going to add peanut butter to mine next time. They make as good of a dessert as they do breakfast, too.

Healthy Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies:
Makes about 2 dozen
1 1/2 cups of rolled oats
2 ripe, mashed bananas
1 cup of unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1 tsp cinnamonto taste cinnamon
1/8 cup chopped pecans or almonds (optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
2) Spoon out teaspoonfuls of batter onto a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
3) Let cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Twice Baked Potatoes

I made these babies for Super Bowl Sunday, because the only thing I enjoy about the Super Bowl is the food.

They basically speak for themselves, don’t they?

Twice Baked Potatoes:
Serves 8
4 large russet potatoes
olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
4 green onions

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Clean the potatoes thoroughly, then pierce with a fork all around each potato. Rub potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake directly on the oven rack (with a cookie sheet on the rack below it) for 40 minutes to an hour. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
2)  Split each potato lengthwise and remove most of the potato, saving the skins. Combine the potato insides with the sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper and 1/2 a cup of cheddar cheese. Blend by hand or with a mixer until creamy.
3) Place the skins on a baking sheet. Fill each skin completely with potato mixture and top with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake for another 15 minutes. Top with green onions and more sour cream. Enjoy!

Roasted Portobello Mushroom Sandwich

I’m back from my accidental hiatus. For good this time. It’s easy to disappear in NYC, and I don’t necessarily mind, but I also missed it here.

I came to this city to consume — experiences, my energy, and, of course, food. I didn’t expect that I, too, would be consumed. Caught up in work (of course), but also in the sensory overload of living in a place so frenetic that I am grateful for my windowless cave of a bedroom, the one space I can enter where the only movement is the flickering of a candle. (And, on occasion, my insanely antsy foster cats.)

That I found myself moving to New York a mere month after returning from Munich I can only attribute to a favorable combination of luck and pluck. That I have managed to survive four months here, well, it’s due to more of the same. I’ve yet to have my first New York City street cry, for example.

So, yes, I’m surviving, to say the least, and thriving, at best. It really depends on the day and the amount of good food I’ve eaten. And I really mean that.

Due to a combination of Restaurant Week and my body’s desire to enter hibernation mode, I’ve eaten a ridiculous amount of food recently and show no signs of slowing down. Enter the roasted portobello mushroom sandwich — as close as I’ll get to a detox.

I prefer roasting veggies in winter, but this sandwich would be good on the grill come summertime, if you happen to have the luxury of outdoor living space.

Roasted Portobello Mushroom Sandwich
Serves 2
2 portobello mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
salt & pepper, to taste
1 red pepper, chopped in strips
1 white onion, chopped in strips
2 sesame rolls
mozzarella cheese, if desired

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the stems from the portobello mushrooms and place stem-side down on a cookie sheet.
2) Make the mushroom marinade by combining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Brush or spoon onto the mushrooms. Set aside.
3) Set a pan on medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the red peppers and onions. Cook for about 1 minute, then add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Lower heat slightly and cook for 20 minutes.
4) Place the portobello mushrooms in the oven once the peppers and onions have been cooking for 10 minutes. Roast until slightly shrunken, about 10 minutes.
5) Remove the portobello mushrooms from the oven. If adding cheese, place the cheese on the mushrooms and put back in the oven for another 2 minutes.
6) Toast the buns and place the mushrooms on the buns. Top with the red peppers and onions.

Beef Chili and Cheddar Cornbread

I’ve nearly been swallowed by this city in the best, all-consuming sense of the word. I have no other excuse.

I celebrated my one-month work anniversary. It snowed in October. I turned 23.

And this recipe is the best meal I’ve posted yet. Seriously.

Beef Chili:
2 large onions, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 carrots, diced (I also roasted ’em)
2 pounds ground beef
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon crumbled dry oregano
Dried red pepper flakes, to taste
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 8-ounce cans kidney beans
2 red bell peppers, chopped (I roasted these, too)

1) In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat and cook the onions in it for 5 to 10 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and carrots and cook for one minute more.
2) Raise the heat to medium and add the beef, stirring and breaking up any lumps until it is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano and pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Add the diced tomatoes, broth and Worcestershire sauce and simmer the chili, covered, for 35 to 40 minutes.
3) Add the kidney beans, bell peppers, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, until the bell peppers are tender.

Cheddar Cornbread:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
8 ounces aged extra-sharp Cheddar, grated, divided

1) Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved. Mix in 2 cups of the cheddar and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.
3) Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheddar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares. Serve warm.

Recipes based on this beef chili recipe and this cheddar cornbread recipe.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Carrots and Chickpeas

It’s literally impossible not to love Central Park in fall. (It’s also literally impossible not to get “Danke Schoen” stuck in my head when I hear the phrase “Central Park in fall.”)

Yes, autumn is upon us. In fact, we got a sneak peek of winter the other day when it snowed. In October. It’s time to eat lots and lots of warm orange foods and put cinnamon on everything. Which is what I did the other day when I roasted up these veggies.

I assure you, the smell is better than a Yankee Candle.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Carrots and Chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

1) Toss all ingredients in a large bowl.
2) Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.

Butternut Squash Tart with Caramelized Onions


I’ve officially lived in New York City for one month.

I want to say that I’ve been putting my beautiful black-counter-topped, white-subway-tiled kitchen with cherry cabinets and gas stove to good use on a regular basis, but shoot, kids. I live in New York City. Do you even know how much food exists here? I experience moments of overwhelming anxiety whenever I consider how many restaurants I have to eat at while my metabolism still allows for reckless eating. It’s a rough life.

Also, I’m in love with Brooklyn. In love. I see no reason to leave on the weekends when there are flea markets and food markets and farmers markets to be visited and general exploring to be done.

But, every Sunday, I make lunch for the week. This was last week’s lunch. Sometimes I even paired it with salad.

Butternut Squash Tart with Caramelized Onions:
Makes one 9-inch tart
Tart Crust
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons ice water

Tart Filling
olive oil
1 small butternut squash
1 red onion, sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons heavy cream
4 ounces goat cheese
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon pepper

For crust:
1) Blend flour and salt in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in butter and shortening until pea-size pieces form. With the machine running, add enough ice water by tablespoonfuls to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate 1 hour. Soften dough slightly before rolling dough out.
2) Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter tart pan. Trim dough overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang in; press to form double-thick sides. Pierce bottom of dough all over with fork. Refrigerate 1 hour.
3) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake crust until golden, piercing with fork if bubbles form, about 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

For filling:
1) While the tart crust is being refrigerated in the tart pan, slice squash in half and place on cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast for 40 minutes or until squash is soft.
2) Heat a pan on the stove over medium heat with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Cook onions for a few minutes to soften, then add balsamic vinegar. Cook for 20 minutes.
3) Beat together eggs, sour cream, heavy cream, goat cheese, cayenne pepper and ground pepper. After the squash cools, remove it from the skin and combine with egg mixture.
4) Pour the filling into the tart and sprinkle with caramelized onions. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 375 degrees.

Eggplant, Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce

Oh, hey there. Have you missed me? I’ve certainly missed this blog. And cooking.

In the past three weeks, I lunched with friends in Raleigh and said my goodbyes, I packed my life into boxes and suitcases, I flew to New York City, I started a job, and I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn. Somehow, the move was easier than it sounded. I survived, at least.

And now I have a NYC kitchen. You might be surprised to learn that I managed to fit all of my kitchen supplies into it, with room to spare.

The first thing I made was this sauce, just like mom makes. Sweet and savory and hearty and just right for these first cold days of fall.

Folks, I’m baaaaaaaaaack.

Eggplant, Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce:
Serves 8
three tablespoons olive oil, divided
two red peppers, chopped
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound sausage, removed from casings
16 ounces tomato sauce or diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt & pepper to taste
feta cheese, if desired

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread chopped red peppers evenly on a cookie sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and put in oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until soft and slightly blackened around the edges.
2) 10 minutes before the red peppers are done, place a pot on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add eggplant and onion. Cook until soft.
3) Meanwhile, cook sausage until browned. Add sausage, roasted red peppers and minced garlic to pot.
4) Stir in tomato sauce, cayenne pepper, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until bubbling.
5) Serve with pasta and sprinkle with feta cheese.

Spiced Pepitas

Remember that time I got to help with a cooking demonstration at A Southern Season? Well, I’m excited to be a part of another project with Sandra Gutierrez in celebration of her first cookbook: a virtual dinner party! I’m joined by fellow bloggers Robin Asbell (making layered potato and egg salad) and Dean McCord (making chile-chocolate brownies) for this week, with participants from the other weeks listed below.

I had the privilege of seeing The New Southern-Latino Table in its final stages of development while shadowing Sandra last semester, and I’ve been cooking out of my very own copy for a couple of weeks now. Sandra combines the familiar — Southern cuisine — with the more unfamiliar flavors (at least for me) of Latin America. I’m particularly looking forward to tackling her empanadas and cocoa, chile, and bourbon mole. I am also excited for Sandra herself. I consider her a mentor and, above all, a friend. She provided me with a wealth of insight about the world of food writing for someone just starting out in the field. I think her final quote in my profile about her says it all:

“I would like to see the next generation to be responsible about the world we live in, the food that we eat, generous with helping others who are coming along in their career or feeding people, but also, honest, to really try to treat each other with respect. I’d really like to see a return to honesty and respect in the next generation. For others. For our world, for our earth. For our ingredients. And a return to the kitchen. I feel that these last two generations have run away from the kitchen and that you really lose that connection with the world, that honesty and respect, if you do not have it for cooking.”

Respect, Sandra believes, begins in the kitchen. My respect for her began there, as well.

She encompasses everything I love about being a part of the food community. Foodie people are happy people.

These spiced pepitas certainly make me happy. This recipe is quite possibly the easiest I have ever posted on this blog, and I like to think that most of my recipes are easy. Cooking time is under 10 minutes, and the final product makes for an addictively healthy snack. A little bit salty, a little bit spicy, and undeniably easy to consume in large handfuls.

Spiced Pepitas:
Makes 2 cups
2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss together the pumpkin seeds, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, cumin, pepper, coriander, chile powder, cayenne, garlic powder, and sugar. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes; remove the baking sheet and shake to redistribute the seeds. Return to the oven and bake for another 3 minutes; stop to shake the pan again. Finish baking for 1-2 minutes, or until the pumpkin seeds are crispy and golden, being careful not to burn them. Transfer to a cool baking sheet and cool completely before storing.

Check out the other weeks’ dinner party participants:
Dinner 1 – Monday, September 12
Peach Salsa – Tara Mataraza Desmond
Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce – Jill Warren Lucas
Pecan Rum Cake with Figs – Amy Lewis

Dinner 3 – Monday, September 26
Chile-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter – Cheryl Sternman Rule
Carrot Escabeche & Jalapeno Deviled Eggs – Domenica Marchetti
Pumpkin Seed Brittle – Johanna Kramer

nestMeg Moving to a New (York) Nest


Well, I have broadcast the news all over my favorite social media sites, but I have neglected to share my impending move on nestMeg. The fact is, between moving back to America, driving to New York City for interviews (thanks, Irene, for getting my flight cancelled!), and navigating the tumultuous world of job negotiations, food preparation has not been on my mind. (Food consumption, however, occurred in a big way in NY. And is continuing, for that matter, in NC.) Hence, I haven’t cooked in quite a while, and I’m milking these last days of eating momma’s cooking for all they’re worth.

Now that I have secured a job in Manhattan and an apartment in Brooklyn, I can safely say that I am going to fly the North Carolina coop in just under two weeks. I would be terrified, but I’m too busy being really excited about the future. Ask me again when winter comes.

Despite being born two hours north of the city, I never imagined myself living in New York. I’d say the aversion to cold weather factored highly into that decision, as did my concern about being surrounded by so many oppressive skyscrapers. This summer, though, as I connected with my German roots, I realized that the greatest opportunity I could have to fully understand my heritage was waiting for me in NYC. Those same streets, after all, played host to the dreams of my great grandparents, grandparents and parents. Why not mine?

So, on the 10th anniversary of September 11th, a day that has come to define our generation, I find myself preparing to live in the city that never sleeps. And I couldn’t possibly feel more alive.