Friday, March 29, 2013

Greek Goddess: Baked Eggplant Stacks

My very own Greek Eggplant with Yogurt and Tomato Basil Sauce

Nothing in the world represents Greece to me more than eggplant.

I was 21, studying away from home and backpacking my way through Europe.
When I hopped a flight from Paris to Greece with an Ancient Greek Mythology class
I truly had no idea what I was about to experience.
During my trip, I explored some of the most beautiful and culturally rich parts of ancient Greece:  from Athens, Delphi and the southern tip, Cape Sounion.  
Me on the Aegean Sea, Cape Sounion: 2003
Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion: 2003
Dinner in Athens: Fine Greek Dining At It's Best!
 It was during my visit to Athens that I experienced real traditional Mediterranean Greek cuisine.  Shared plates of moussaka, tzatziki, peppers, dolma (grape leaves) and feta were created to absolute perfection everywhere I went.   The pita was devoured at every meal.   Some of the best dive spots I visited were dined alfresco in places that made you feel as though you were sitting in someone's intimate (and quite rustic!) backyard in their countryside home.  The picnic tables were lined in red & white check, lit by candlelight if you were lucky enough.  At times there were no menus.  Nothing glamorous.
Just good, made to order fare, and just the way the local Greeks would have it.

All of the Greek ingredients were so fresh and full of pure Mediterranean flavors.
The spanakopita (phyllo pastry filled with spinach and feta) 
was unlike anything I had ever tried.
But one thing stood out to me most on my palette and that was the aubergine (eggplant).

It was served in it's purest form, not breaded, nor fried.
It was simply grilled to perfection or broiled in good Greek olive oil- allowing it's natural, distinguished taste to be fully enjoyed.

I remember the moment I took my very first bite of a heavenly dish of eggplant, 
tomato sauce and greek yogurt, I was hooked.
The combination was just unexpected and divine.
And I asked myself why I hadn't thought of this one sooner!

Meanwhile, in my own kitchen:


This time around I decided to bread & bake the eggplant rather than broil it pure in the oven.
I was craving the crispness of a "lightly-fried" texture without all the added calories.

I prepared the 1/2" wide slices of eggplant by sprinkling them with sea salt on a paper towl and leaving them to sit for 20 minutes until much of the retained water was released from the eggplant.  **This step is oh-so important! Eggplant contains so much moisture that can ruin any dish!**

I blotted the eggplants with paper towels afterward and then dipped them in order of seasoned flour; egg (beaten) ; panko breadcrumbs. 
I used individual zip lock bags for these 3 steps - saves the clean up!

After arranging the breaded eggplant slices on an olive oil coated baking sheet,

In a preheated oven at 425 degrees, I baked them for 30 minutes 

(flipping once half way through until each side is golden brown and crispy).

And while the eggplant is baking in the oven, I cook the tomato basil sauce.
It's very similar to all of my other traditional marinara sauce recipes except this one involves only a very few simple ingredients:

 I always love a good canned Cento whole peeled tomatoes and a little Sclafani Tomato Paste puree (this helps to thicken the sauce and give it richness).  I combine with sauteed chopped garlic and some freshly chopped basil along with a tablespoon (or two!) of unsalted butter (a little goes a long way).
I simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes until the consistency is slightly thickened and wholesome.  Add a little red wine for an exceptional kick!

Once the eggplant is baked and the sauce in complete, layer the eggplant slices + with a spoonful of greek yogurt and a little tomato sauce in between each slice.

Top with basil and drizzle with a little good olive oil.
Greek heaven on a plate!

My Baked Eggplant Stacks with Greek yogurt and tomato basil.


Greek Eggplant Stacks with Yogurt & Tomato Basil Sauce

Recipe serves 4.   Prep/Cook time: 1 hour

2 medium - large eggplants
1 cup panko bread crumbs (or stale bread can be used to make your own breadcrumbs in a food processor!)
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup Greek Yogurt (I prefer FAGE whole or 2% for this dish, but adjust if you prefer) 
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsps butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine (optional - for tomato sauce)
1 can (28 - 35 ounces) whole plum tomatoes, drained & crushed by hand (I prefer Cento or San Marzano)
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste puree (I used Sclafani)
8 leaves of fresh Basil, roughly chopped
Freshly ground salt & pepper

Preparation & Cooking instructions:  
 1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Rinse and Clean the eggplant.  Slice the eggplants into 1/2" wide slices crosswise (discarding any smaller slices of the eggplant, keeping slices that are similar in size).
2.  Lay the eggplant slices on paper towels and sprinkle each side of the slices with sea salt.  Let sit for 20 minutes.  Then blot the eggplants with paper towels to absorb the excess moisture.
3.  In 3 plastic zip lock bags (each bag with 1 dipping ingredient), coat the eggplant slices in batches in the flour (seasoned with salt & pepper), then the egg, and then the break crumbs.  Shake off any excess ingredients in between each coating.
 4. On an olive oil coated baking sheet, lay the eggplant slices in a single layer (you may need more than 1 baking sheet).  Place in  a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Flip the eggplants half way through until both sides are golden brown and crispy.
5. Set aside and keep warm until serving. 
1. In a large skillet or heavy bottomed pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil & 1 tbsp butter on medium high heat.
2. Add in the chopped garlic, salt & pepper to taste, saute until soft and lightly brown, stirring often.
3. Lower the heat to medium.  Add in hand-crushed plum tomatoes, simmer for 5 minutes. Add in the tomato paste, stir to combine and until dissolved. Add in 4 leaves of basil, chopped.
5. Simmer the sauce uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occassionally and adding more salt & pepper to taste.  Add in 1 extra tablespoon of the unsalted butter in the last 5 minutes of simmering.  Add in red wine if desired.
6.  Once the Tomato Sauce is cooked, turn off  the heat, allowing the sauce to thicken and cool for 10 minutes.
1. Layer as follows: Eggplant slice, spoonful of greek yogurt, spoonful of tomato sauce, eggplant slice....and so on
2. I typically use about 3 - 4 eggplant slices per serving/stack.
3. Top with basil and drizzle with good olive oil.
4. Serve warm.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sushi Love

My very own handmade sushi hand roll trio: Toro Avocado Roll; Spicy Salmon Roll; Cucumber roll

Tonight was a dinner date all with myself and a very impressive one needless to say.
And since I had only myself to impress, 
I figured now would be the time I'd try something entirely new.
Whether the outcome good or bad, I knew I had nothing to lose! 

My very first attempt at making hand made sushi was surprisingly a successful one.
I was no Iron Chef of America.
I had always feared the sushi mat.  
My expertise on finding the best sashimi was still questionable.
How would I make the rice stick to the nori?
Would it even be edible?
All of the answers to my questions where right at my finger tips, literally!

After doing some research, I had discovered that an Asian grocer that I had so frequently ignored over the years was busy carrying some of the most delicious sashimi selections, 
and all in perfect portions.

Commonly my go-to spots for sushi-grade quality seafood would be 
Dean & DeLuca, Citarella, Wild Edibles...etc.  
They were always reliable, but left a horrible dent in my wallet.

And then there was M2M.
It is a wonderful Asian grocery store that has just about everything you would need to create the perfect at-home Japanese sushi experience ...
and at a much more affordable price!     

At M2M, a 1/4lb-1/3lb cut of sashimi will cost just as much
 as a hand roll typically would in a restaurant, 
but will make up to 3 rolls of sushi at home depending on how you use it.

This sashimi tasted so good and sliced like butter.
was entirely impressed with the overall quality! 

**If you can't get fresh sashimi from a grocer or fishmonger, then I would suggest purchasing your favorite sashimi from your local Japanese restaurant to use for your own hand made sushi!

The sushi rolling mat I used to prepare my hand rolls was actually made out of silicone and so much better than those old fashioned bamboo mats.
And so much more hygienic too! 

The brand of the mat I used is by Lekue 
and can be found at Sur La Table stores in NYC or online.

This excellent video demonstrates just how easy all of this was!

The best part about tonight's dinner was that I already had ALL of the simple ingredients fully stocked in my pantry and fridge except for the sashimi 
(I always love when that happens).

I prepare thinly sliced cucumbers (lenghwise) to the size of a hand roll.
I also finely chop fresh chives and set aside an avocado for thin slicing as well as sesame seeds.  I lightly rinse and pat dry the sashimi cuts.  Make sure to keep the fish chilled on ice until just before using.

For the Spicy Salmon roll - I combine in a small bowl the finely minced (tartar style) salmon with a dash of "spicy mayo" and a sprinkle of chives.
The key ingredients to the spicy mayo are SO simple:  
1/2 cup mayonnaise + 1 tbsp. Sriracha hot sauce.

On my sushi mat, I place a Nori (unseasoned dried seaweed sheet) with the glossier, shiny side down on the mat along with an evenly thin layer of the sushi rice spread out all over the mat (but leaving a 1" spacing at the opposite end of the Nori sheet).

 At the end closest to me on the Nori/Rice sheet, spoon a thin layer of the Spicy Salmon mixture over the top of the rice in a 1" wide strip.

Below is an excellent, fool-proof diagram from Japanese chef Marc Matsumoto on the PBS 'Fresh Tastes' Food Blog:

It is THAT easy! 

and voila! Hand made Spicy Salmon Chive Hand Roll!
The texture will melt in your mouth, the taste is unforgettable!

I always like a simple, pure and healthy cucumber roll to balance out the meal.

Next up is a Toro (fatty Tuna) Avocado Roll.
This is healthy and delicious. 

I begin with a thinly sliced (halved) avocado and thinly sliced (lengthwise) strips of the Toro sashimi.

On a Nori sheet with rice on top, placed on the sushi mat,
 I overlap slices of avocado along a 1" border.

Then overlap the Toro slices on top of the avocado.  
Sprinkle with chives and sesame seeds if desired.

Roll up your sushi mat, making sure to roll it tight so the ingredients don't separate from the nori & sushi rice.  

Using a very sharp knife (sushi knife would be ideal), score the roll at the midpoint, then score the middle of each half, and then score the middle of each quarter (you should have 8 segments).

My very own heavenly sushi platter

Toro (fatty tuna) avocado roll
Spicy Salmon Chive Roll + Cucumber Roll

Iron Chef Jen

Hand Made Sushi Hand Rolls
*Spicy Salmon Chive Roll
*Toro Avocado Roll
*Cucumber Roll  
Recipe below serves 2.  Duplicate the measuring for larger servings.


For Sushi Roll filling:
1/4 lb. fresh sashimi-grade Toro (fatty tuna), thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 lbs. fresh sashimi-grade Salmon, finely minced until tartar style paste
1/2 avocado (pitted), thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
chives, finely minced 
For Rice:
12 ounces short grain sushi rice
1 1/2 cups cold water
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt 
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
For Spicy Mayo
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce (adjust as needed)
Tools/For Roll:
1 pack unseasoned nori for sushi (1 sheet per roll)
1 silicone or bamboo makisu (bamboo mat for rolling sushi)     
Preparation / Cooking Instructions

1. Prepare the sushi rice.  Wash the rice in a sieve until the water is almost clear.  Drain and add to a heavy bottomed pot along with the water.  Bring the pot to a boil and cover with a lid.  Turn down the heat to a low simmer, leaving to simmer for 15 minutes (stirring occasionally so the rice doesn't completely stick to the pot).
2. After 15 min., remove the rice pot from heat and let the rice steam for an additional 10 minutes. 
Do not open the lid during this time.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar and salt together.  In a separate dish, place the rice from the pot to the dish and carefully fold in the sushi vinegar mixture, using a spatula to fold and combine.
Leave the rice out to cool until at room temperature.
4.  For the Spicy Salmon Roll: in a bowl, combine the minced salmon with 2 tablespoons of the spice mayo mixture and a sprinkle of chives and sesame seeds.
5.  Lay the nori, shiny side down on the sushi mat.
6.  Wet your fingertips with water and lay down a thin layer of rice, leaving a 1" spacing empty from the top of the nori.  The rice will be sticky - dip your fingers in water to help release some of the stickness when pressing the rice outwards to keep an even thin surface layer.
7. Spoon the Spicy Salmon mixture across the bottom edge of the nori/rice sheet (at the edge closest to you) - from 1 end to the opposite end creating a 1" border.  Try NOT to overfill at this point.  The thicker your filling, the bigger the roll will turn out and the messier the presentation might be.
8.  Hook your thumbs below the sushi mat and roll the edge of the mat up and over the filling.  Do not squeeze the roll too much at this point or the sushi won't stay in place.
9.  Continue rolling, being careful not to roll the mat along with the sushi.  When you've reached the end, give the roll a good squeeze from all around to set in the shape of the rice. 
You should end up with a slightly square long roll.
10.  Using a very sharp knife (sushi knife would be ideal), score the roll at the midpoint, then score the middle of each half, and then score the middle of each quarter (you should have 8 segments).
11.  For the Toro Avocado Roll: repeat all of the above steps except for the sushi filling mixture.
Use thinly sliced avocados with thinly sliced Toro placed on top as the filling.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sushi Ceviche: Fusion style!

My very own Sushi Ceviche: featuring Sashimi-Grade Ahi Tuna in a Citrus Ceviche with a Japanese twist

Spring hasn't even begun yet, and I'm already dreaming of summer night dinners alfresco on the terrace.
I miss my dinner parties with good friends; the delicious, pure, light hearted fare, and most of all...the simplicity of a Ceviche.

When it's too hot out to cook... or when my day at work turns into a full-night affair..
the one thing I look forward to most is staying in the comfort of my own home and "throwing together" the most simple ingredients to create a heavenly dish.  

I've obsessed over ceviches before.

My own summer ceviche love affair

But this time around, it's my new found obsession with making Sushi.
And somehow I've managed to combine Sushi with Peruvian ceviche, ha!
Now we're talkin'!
Even though I'm just learning the very basics about Japanese sashimi
I'm starting to discover one key's all in the fish.  

 I've searched the markets high and low for the best of the best.
A good chef friend led me to the holy grail.
In NYC, my #1 specialty market: Dean & DeLuca.  And option #2: Citarella.
**open to even better suggestions if one has! Please help!

Though quite pricey I won't lie! are truly getting "the very best".
Once selected from the butcher, make sure to ask for them to pack it in ice - 
to keep it the freshest!

Pictured above: heavenly SASHIMI-GRADE Yellow Fin (Ahi) Tuna  
I sliced approx. 4 ounce (1/4lb.) single portion for the recipe below.
An entire 1 lb. Sashimi-Grade Ahi Tuna steak will run you about $22/lb. 
For this recipe, you will need a metal ring, square or rectangular mold.
The presentation is fantastic!

For the full recipe: see full details at the bottom of this post!

Begin by layering thinly sliced English cucumbers on a plate, overlapping each slice in a shape slightly greater than the size of your mold. 

 In a small stainless steel bowl, combine the sushi-grade Tuna (sliced into cubes), thinly sliced red onions, lime juice, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and a touch of olive oil, sea salt & black pepper.

Chill the Tuna mixture for 5 min. - 45 min. (max!) 
depending on how you prefer the consistency of your ceviche.  
The fish will actually "cook" in the acidic marinade during this time.
The longer it marinates, the tougher and more cooked the fish will get so timing is key.
Personally I prefer mine tender and almost raw...or just like I would enjoy sushi, so usually I just "toss" it in the marinade for literally a few minutes right before serving!

 While chilling & "marinating" the ceviche in the citrus juices,
prepare the Sushi Rice with the "Sushi Vinegar" and sesame seeds.
Center the metal mold over the top of the cucumber slices and spoon in a layer of sushi rice.

 Place thinly sliced avocado halves in a layer on top of the rice.

On top of the avocado, add a layer of chopped grapefruit segments (all skins fully removed from the segments of a Star Ruby or regular grapefruit) CLICK HERE FOR TUTORIAL.
This is a great video to watch...
 and learning this trick on how to prepare what used to be my most hated fruit,
 has now gotten me to eat a grapefruit a day!

And then add a finishing layer of the chilled & marinated Tuna ceviche on top. 

Trim around the mold by slicing away any excess cucumbers extending past the mold (or keep them as is if you's all up to you!) 

 To top it all off, sprinkle cilantro and thinly sliced Nori over the top of the "Sushi Ceviche" Tartar.  Drizzle with soy sauce or sweet balsamic reduction if you prefer.
**I always keep my pantry stocked with a good bottle of balsamic reduction --
 always adds an incredible finishing touch!

Carefully and slowly lift off the metal ring mold to reveal the most beautiful and delicious presentation. 
My 6 layer Sushi Sashimi Ceviche with Citrus Grapefruit and Balsamic Reduction

**Food for thought: this recipe can also be arranged with sashimi-grade salmon as well.
My own recipe was adapted from Cristina's blog, Buenos Aires to Paris and her incredibly inspiring take on Sushi Ceviche fusion.. 

full recipe below: 

Ahi Tuna Sushi Ceviche with Citrus & Balsamic sauce
Recipe below serves 1.  Duplicate the measuring for larger servings.
1/4 lb. (4 ounce) SASHIMI-GRADE Yellow Fin (Ahi) Tuna, cubed into bite size pieces
1 lime (for fish "cooking" marinade)
1/2 grapefruit, peeled and segmented (all skins removed) **click on the "segmented" link for a very clever video!
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or *maldon salt (*my favorite, must try!)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 large or 1 small avocado, pitted and thinly sliced
1/2 cup Japanese sushi "sticky" rice
1 cup water
2 tablespoons Rice Wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/8 cup very thinly sliced red onion
Approx 15-20 thinly sliced English Cucumber
1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
Nori seaweed, sliced into thin strands (optional, for garnish)
Balsamic Reduction (optional, for drizzling) 

1 metal mold for forming the tartar: round, square or rectangular

Preparation & Cooking instructions:
1. Dice the fish  (approx. 1/2" to 3/4" dice).  Place in a small stainless steel bowl.
2.  Marinate the fish in the lime juice, sliced red onions, 4 tablespoons grapefruit juice, olive oil, salt and pepper - chill in the fridge for 5 min - 45 min. depending on desired consistency (10 min. for most tender and just barely cooked). Stir occasionally.
3.  Prepare the sushi rice. Rince the rice under cold water until the water runs clear.  
Place in a medium saucepan with 1 cup water, bring to a boil, cover with lid and turn heat down to medium/low.  Simmer for 10-15 min.  Remove from heat.  Combine the Sushi Vinegar: 2 tbsp. Rice Vinegar + 1 tbsp sugar + a pinch of salt.    Place the cooked rice in a dish.  Combine with the Sushi Vinegar and sesame seeds.  Fold gently until combined and cover with plastic wrap - leaving out at room temperature.
4. Drain the fish marinade.  
5.  Form the tartar layers as follows (see photos above): layer the cucumbers in a shape greater than the size/shape of the mold - overlapping the sliced cucumbers slightly.  
In the mold placed on top of the cucumber slices: add a layer of sushi rice, then the sliced avocados, 2 segments of grapefruit (sliced), the Tuna ceviche mixture, and top with garnishes if preferred (cilantro, nori, etc).
6.  Drizzle the plate and the tartar with balsamic reduction or soy sauce.
7.  Slowly remove the metal ring mold, serve immediately & chilled.