Scotch Eggs

This last week was a little bit nuts. We’re getting ready to release the Meal Planning Board to Alpha, and I had a rather large project due at school. And we both had computer issues in working on our respective projects.

Fortunately, the ballistic baker made these beautiful Scotch Eggs a couple of weeks ago, and I decided we needed to eat them. Sam obliged. He only boiled the eggs for 3 minutes before cooling them and then wrapping them in sausage. The egg itself was still runny, and made that delicious eggy sauce we love so much. I’m sure it would still be delicious with a medium or hard boiled egg at the end, though less saucy.

Go forth and conquer something delicious!

{insert meal here} Composite Recipes

I have a lot of cook books.  In fact, they have place of pride on the bookshelf next to my desk where I can easily grab them and plan out what I want to cook.  It is one of the things that inspired this entire project.  And, as I’ve been building the program, and running it on my local machine to test, and use, I’ve put in some of my favorite recipes, or new recipes that I wanted to make. Occasionally (or frequently depending on the book) I would come across a recipe that was presented as if it were two recipes, like this:

recipe

A composite recipe. That is, two or more recipes that are interdependent on each other to make a single dish. At first, I had no way to handle this other than to simply enter in all the ingredients and make sure that I made the instructions more explicit about what goes where and how much.  That can be rather painful when you’re entering a dozen recipes into a form, and slows the process down a lot.  So, instead of making the data entry more work, I made the database do more work instead!  As you can see from the above screen shot, {Insert Meal Here} does indeed support composite recipe. (incidentally you also get a peak at what the alpha version pages look like, not much yet, I know).

 

Pumpkin and Flour and Balsamic Vinegar and Tarragon

Appetites go further than food. We have an appetite for success, for dreams, for growth, for most anything that we can have more of. Growing up, I had a strong appetite for horses and horseback riding. I was lucky enough to receive an education in riding and training based on the concepts of classical equitation. By the end of high school, my self-trained horse and I were jumping beans and performing “haute ecole” moves. College loomed over my head, and I and my parents weren’t willing to give up on the years of hard work I had put in to my extra curricular activities.

Enter Camelot and 4-H T.R.A.I.L. This wonderful ranch and hippotherapy program was just 15 miles north of my school, Humboldt State University. To top it off, they were looking for a second caretaker right then. This entailed caring for between ten and twenty horses during the week by seeing to their safety and nutrition, and assisting in leading the Saturday volunteer based program. And in exchange, a place to live in the quiet country with the animals I loved and like-minded people.

But, it got even better.

Those volunteers I mentioned that arrived on Saturdays came to work. They mended fences and painted stalls and mucked and groomed and mucked and pruned blackberries and nettles and mucked some more. They put riders on horses and lead them around and ensured their safety. All volunteer work.

Did I mention the mucking?

All that work brought about a healthy appetite for food. Besides the horses, the camaraderie, and the good deeds done, volunteers came for the potluck. Every week, while most were up working and mucking, a couple of volunteers would stay at the tack room and set up a smorgasbord of delights brought by those same volunteers. Sometimes this was the average potluck fare: five kinds of potato salad, a lone soup, three things of chips and dip, and a vegetable tray. But among those five kinds of potato salad were five long-kept family recipes, each different from the next. The chips and dip may have been store bought, but at least one of them was usually a locally made variety bursting with flavor. And the soups weren’t a couple of cans tossed together and called delicious: they came from the garden on the ranch run by the same wonderful women who managed the potluck. Swiss chard and beans and all manner of a variety of vegetables burst forth to become food.

gardenAnd the bounty from the garden was shared.

This potluck was the driving force behind some of our favorite meals now. Including this one. A mystery squash was grown my first year there. It was a winter squash: hard on the outside, meaty and orange and sweet and fiberous on the inside. Not as flavorful as pumpkin or butternut squash, and a little bit bitter, and more plentiful than zucchini. We were all looking for new things to do.

I wanted to make a pasta salad for the potluck. I had grown bored with the sourdough and French breads I had grown accustomed to baking. And I wanted to try my hand at fresh pasta. So the squash was split in half, gutted, and tossed in the oven with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper for an hour and a half or so, then pulled out and allowed to cool. The next morning, I got up, fed the horses and rode my own, then came back inside, washed up, and pureed my squash. A mountain of flour was poured on my kitchen table, a well made, a half-dozen eggs cracked in to it. With a pitcher of water at my side, I mixed the eggs and flour with enough water to come to a dough, just like the celebrity chefs on the TV told me to do.

Then I stopped listening.

And I kneaded in the mystery squash.

I rolled out the dough, cut it into squares, and dropped it in to boiling, salted water, drained it, dressed it with a balsamic vinaigrette, and marched out to muck stalls and mend fences, my bowl of pasta goodness in my hand. It was a giant bowl of pasta (gnocchi). No leftovers survived, and it was requested many times over.

I’ve since made it with all variety of winter squashes, and it’s always come out quite delicious. It’s rather forgiving. Serve it with a side of chicken or pork, a side salad, or a fried egg. Adjust the vinaigrette to suit the squash you use: a sweeter vinegar for a more sour squash like pumpkin. Brighten it up by using a champagne vinegar. Apple cider vinegar and nutmeg bring this into the fall that much more. And, of course, tossing the gnocchi in a sauce of butter and homemade chicken stock is always a great addition. Garnish with a bit of something green (green onion, parsley, and cilantro have all made an appearance a time or two). Experiment and make it yours!

pumpkin gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly roasted winter squash such as butternut or pumpkin (I’ve used canned pumpkin as well – it works, but is a bit “flat” in flavor.)
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • fresh tarragon
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 – 3 handfuls chopped walnuts
  • salt & pepper to taste

Make It!

Gnocchi

If you haven’t already, roast the squash in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Allow to cool completely (I often go for “enough”), and mash or puree until fairly smooth and “workable.”

The best fresh-made pasta is messy. Mound the flour on your table, and make a well in it. Crack your eggs into the well, add salt, and begin to beat with your fingers. Start bringing in the flour, and slowly add more flour until about half is added in. Bring the squash to the party in the well. Continue mixing, folding, and kneading until everything is well integrated. Roll out the dough as thin as you can manage, and cut into small squares. Drop into well-salted, boiling water 3 to 5 minutes, or untill cooked. Drain, but do not rinse.

Vinaigrette

Combine the shallot, garlic, vinegar, tarragon, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Wisk well, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking. You could saute your onions and garlic first to soften and temper them. Dress the gnocci with the vinegerette, toss in the walnuts and parsley, and serve.

{insert meal here} A few of my favorite features.

Last time, I shared with you my general excitement and a very brief overview of what I’m planning for my program.  Today, I wanted to talk a little bit more about some of the features that I’m most excited about, and have garnered some of the most excitement from the people I’ve talked to about it so far. Meal Templates (or The Great Meal Wizard! ™).

Meal Templates:  One of the first things I thought of when I started writing notes for the program was Meal Templates.  In our house we frequently do things like Pizza Night, Taco Night, or Tea Party.  And that is exactly what we write on our current white board. The fun thing is, as everyone who enjoys a good pizza knows, that you can make so many different variations on these, and other sort of generic ideas. But how do you best represent that on a meal planning board?

Yes, I could easily add Pepperoni Pizza, Sausage Pizza, Meat Lovers Pizza, etc into the database until my eyes bleed.  But there’s a better way.  Computers have been walking users through complex configuration for the better part of thirty years.  Why not a wizard that takes a basic idea (Pizza Night) and walks you through the steps to put together your perfect pizza!

In the Pizza Night example, it would follow the steps similar to this:

1) Choose your dough! Sourdough? Whole wheat dough? The system would present you any recipes that are on your account tagged with Pizza Dough and allow you to choose.

2) Choose your sauce. Classic marinara or a spicy pesto? This would be the same as the previous step but for your sauces.

So far steps one and two would be exactly like the manual step of adding recipes to the database and selecting each of them individually. However on step 3

3) Toppings! This one would present you a list of dozens, or hundreds of possible toppings (including cheeses) that you might want to grace your pizza.

4) Sides, much like steps 1 and 2, here you would be given a selection of popular (or not so popular) sides to serve with your pizza. Of course, you can completely skip a side if all you want is pizza.

In each of the steps above, you would also be given the opportunity to add your own recipe to the database, where it would be safely stored for future Pizza Nights.  And when you are done with the process, the whole thing is combined into one Composite Recipe for easy reference and addition to future meals without having to go through the selection process again (if you want the same pizza again anyway).

Don’t know what a Composite Recipe is? Check back soon and I’ll talk about what they are, and why they are important.

Grapes and Walnuts and Cilantro and Tarragon

Sometime between 2007 and 2008, Sam and I went to a lovely French Bistro in Meridian, Idaho for a late lunch. It was a quiet restaurant, dark, and little bit lonely. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I remember what it came with: a grape and walnut salad with a honey mustard dressing. The grapes were split in half and lent their own sweetness to the salad. The walnuts added a crunch and a robustness missing from everything else. And the cilantro, apparently out of place in a French restaurant, sidled up right next to the grapes and walnuts like they were all best pals.

I can make this, I said.

You need to make this, Sam said.

We finished our lunch, ordered a cheesecake made with Gorgonzola (an amazing idea, and, unfortunately, one I haven’t tried to replicate) and headed to the grocery store to buy grapes.

The salad was that good.

I made it a few times, worked at it, and turned it in to something that became a bit of a staple, especially for the pot lucks at Sam’s KungFu studio back in Boise. These potlucks required a vegetarian dish. And not a cheater vegetarian dish that doesn’t have meat but does use a bit of bone broth or bacon grease; something with no meat. This grape salad fit the bill, and would guarantee I couldn’t forget what I was making and use a bit of chicken stock.

This is a recipe that’s hard to share because I really don’t measure a thing. I base the quantities on the number of grapes I’m using, which is based on the number of people I’m serving. Just my family and I’ll use a couple of bunches of grapes at the most. A potluck with 30 people attending and I’ve spent most of an afternoon slicing grapes to prepare. (Be smarter than me though: use this cherry tomato slicing technique instead of slicing the grapes in half one at a time. It’s a bit harder with grapes since they’re smaller. A shallower plate is helpful. Same concept though).

Grape and Walnut Salad with Cilantro and Tarragon

Ingredients

Dressing

  • 3 tbsp each mustard (dijon, stone-ground, or other high quality, high flavor mustard is best) and honey
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh tarragon to taste
  • 1 shallot

Salad

  • 3 cups grapes sliced in half
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Finely chop the tarragon and shallot. Mix all the dressing ingredients except the olive oil well. Drizzle in enough olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Set aside.

Slice the grapes in half. Chop the walnuts so they’re no more than 1/4 the size of the grape halves. Chop the cilantro. Add all of this to a bowl and drizzle the dressing over it until everything is very well coated. For a large, potluck size bowl, I find I need about 1/3 cup of dressing total.

image

Pasta Dough + Ricotta + Egg = Ravioli

Okay. You got me. That should be raviolo for just one pocket of stuffed pasta goodness. Language lesson aside, there’s nothing quite like thinly rolled out pieces of pasta dough that sandwich a filling of some sort. I grew up with ravioli making a regular occurrence on the dinner plate. The pasta pillows were frozen little pucks that, when cooked, boasted gooey fillings featuring cheese, herbs, and meat.

A little older, when I was in college, I graduated to ravioli with more exotic fillings. Still in a package from the freezer aisle, these ravioli were a little bigger and boasted fillings that included shitaki mushrooms or butternut squash and nutmeg. I would place them in boiling water, smother them in a cream sauce or olive oil, and call it dinner.

The internet, and television (which we watch on the internet) has shown me a whole new world of food. We have a mild addiction to Master Chef, and to attempting to meet the challenges presented to the contestants on the show (at least, the ones that just require a kitchen and some ingredients). We have a three year old, and consider his involvement or need or entertainment to be the timed portion of the challenge – if we can manage the meal at a reasonable dinner time and it tastes pretty good without looking like a pile of dog-do, we call it a win. Here’s where the ravioli get relevant: a few weeks ago, the contestants on Master Chef had to make Pasta Al Uovo: a ravioli stuffed with ricotta and an egg yolk. The ricotta makes a little chair for the egg yolk, and the yolk makes a sauce for the ravioli when cut into at the table. Just one or two of these with a little salad makes a rich, wholesome dinner that’s even toddler approved.

An aside: I’m not a big fan of waste. Recipes that call for separated eggs and don’t use both halves. This one at least is relatively easy – whip up the unused egg whites and make meringue cookies.

This recipe will make four or five ravioli, depending on their size. You may end up with a bit of extra ricotta mix. Keep it, and spread it on toast in the morning. Yum!

Ingredients

  • Pasta Dough – Sam pulled a recipe from the internet. If you’re lucky enough to be able to get fresh pasta sheets in your area, great! I don’t recommend using wanton wrappers instead. Italian pasta dough generally includes egg, which creates a completely different texture and flavor from wanton wrappers. I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve always been disappointed.
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 2 tbsp fresh herbs (we used parsley and a bit of oregano)
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan. Fresh stuff that was recently on a wheel. If you’ve never tried it, go buy some now. It’s pretty amazing stuff.
  • 5 egg yolks
  • Olive oil or melted butter for dressing

Method

  • Mix and roll out your pasta dough. Don’t be afraid if you don’t have a pasta roller – we don’t either. A rolling pin works pretty darn well. So does a bottle of tequila kept in the freezer. Cut the pasta sheets into to long strips about 4 inches wide. I like to use a pizza cutter for this.
  • Set a large pot of well-salted water on to boil.
  • Combine the ricotta, fresh herbs, nutmeg, most of the hard cheese (reserve a little for serving) with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Here’s where the tricky part starts. Each raviolo will be about four inches in diameter, with about a half an inch of buffer for sealing. This leaves about three inches of diameter for the ricotta, or about a tablespoon and a half. Eyeball where the ravioli will be, and place the ricotta down. Make a little seat in the middle of each ricotta mound.
  • Separate an egg. DO NOT BREAK YOUR YOLK!
  • Gently place the yolk on a ricotta seat.
  • Repeat for the remaining ravioli.
  • Place the second sheet of pasta over the first, and gently start pressing down where the two sheets of dough meet to seal the ravioli.
  • Finish sealing the ravioli. Seal them quite tightly. This process requires a fair bit of finesse and patience. Don’t break the yolk, but to make sure the ravioli are sealed tight.
  • Place the ravioli in the boiling water. Be gentle. Let them cook for 3 or 4 minutes.
  • Serve one or two ravioli with a bit of crumbled bacon and crispy sage for a rich, earthy, fall dinner.pasta al uovo3

#PSL Bandwagon

Sometimes, it’s fun to hop on a bandwagon and go with a trend. I’m a big fan of coffee, and even enjoy putting flavor in my coffee from time to time. With pumpkin spice lattes getting so much talk right now, I thought this was a great time to put it all together. At home. At a fraction of the cost of buying at a coffee shop. So, I checked our spice cupboard: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, star anise, and ginger (though it’s fresh ginger). We had enough coffee for the week anyway, plenty of sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. Cream is a standing item  , so I only needed to add canned pumpkin to husband’s shopping list. I waited for Saturday, and the arrival of groceries.

Then I read this article from Time Magazine. I tend to like my food minimally processed because I think it tastes better, however, Oaklander brings up a good point in her article: adding some spices to a frothy, hot, coffee based beverage does not make a tasty treat. Pumpkin pie is awesome because of all its ingredients: spices, eggs, milk, sugar, and, yes, the pumpkin itself. Starbucks, along with many other main stream businesses who come out with a pumpkin pie something every fall, emulate all the characteristics of a pumpkin pie. The silky texture, the warm spices used to counter-act pumpkin’s natural sour quality, and the richness of cream and eggs.

So I thought a little bit more. The recipe I had been conjuring up all week was really just sugar, canned pumpkin, vanilla extract, and spices. Eggs add a level of richness that can’t be beat. Fortunately, eggs are a standing item on our shopping list.

spicesI made my spice mix myself. We’re huge fans of whole spices whenever possible, so I ground my own mix in my favorite mortar and pestle from IKEA. I omitted nutmeg (because I forgot) and ginger (because I was too lazy to work with fresh raw ginger). The Star Anise in my spice mix adds a level of sweetness that counters cinnamon’s bitter qualities. Allspice is an amazing base, and cloves just round everything out. You could substitute a ready-made pumpkin pie spice mix very easily, though it will be based on cinnamon and cloves. You could also use fresh pumpkin, roast or boil it to cook it, and puree it. We do most things from scratch, but, sometimes, it’s just not worth it to me.

Ingredients:

  • Ground Cinnamon
  • Whole Allspice
  • Whole Cloves
  • Whole Star Anise
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 16 oz canned pumpkin
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2/3 plus two tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs; 1 separated

Grind your whole spices. I did about 3:3:1:1 Cinnamon:Allspice:Cloves:Star Anise. The beauty of making your own mix is that you can adjust to your preference. In the end, you’ll want about 1 heaping tablespoon of spice mix. Less if you don’t like it so spicy. More if you like it spicy (though, I’m in that camp, and I find this to be quite pleasant).

Add the pumpkin to a pan of some sort, along with the butter and 2/3 cup of sugar (hold the two tablespoons aside for the eggs), salt, and spices. Set on the stove on low. I did way low because I was also cooking dinner, and can only split my attention so many ways. Heat until the butter is melted and well integrated. Do stir it frequently so the sugars don’t burn.

Separate one egg. You’re using the yolk for this. If you’re a waste not, want not kind of person, beat the egg white to turn it into a meringue cookie to have with your coffee. Add the other egg, the two tablespoons of sugar, and beat well. The sugar in the eggs at this point is important, as it will help keep your eggs from scrambling.

Here’s the tricky part: adding the eggs. Don’t go tossing them in with the mix right away. You’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Though I’m a big fan of scrambled eggs, in this instance, they’re not right for so very many reasons. Instead, temper your eggs by adding first a tablespoon of the warm pumpkin mix and beat well. Then add 1/3 cup of the warm pumpkin, and again, and again. This will slowly bring the eggs up to temperature without scrambling them.

Add the egg and pumpkin in with the rest of the pumpkin and mix well on the heat. Stir constantly, and heat until everything becomes super smooth. Pull off the heat, stir in the vanilla, and set aside. When it’s cooled, store in a mason jar for up to a week. Or freeze it into ice cube trays and then into a tub or bag to make it last longer.

latte potBut you don’t have to wait for this stuff to cool off to use it! Make a pot of coffee. I like a French Press. If you’re fancy and have an espresso machine at home, pull a shot. If you like drip coffee, go for it. K-Cup fan? Great. Add 2 tablespoons of your pumpkin mix to your cup, cream, and your coffee. I use heavy cream for the texture. It’s also more versatile in the kitchen during the week than half and half.

Smooth, rich, creamy, spicy, and sweet. The full amount of flavor of a pumpkin pie in your coffee, at home, for pennies. (I estimated the cost of the whole mix to be $5). The mix can be put into tea with cream to make a pumpkin pie spiced chai, drizzled over ice cream, or beaten with cream cheese to make a frosting. Milkshakes, smoothies, I’m sure I’m missing something. How will you use your homemade pumpkin pie flavoring?

The Plan

Even short term goals need a plan. Every week, we make a meal plan to map out our dinners for the week. Lunches are then put together with leftovers from previous evening meals. With a plan, we’re successful. We eat at home. We eat high quality, nourishing meals made of quality ingredients. And our grocery bill is rarely more than $150 for the food that makes up our meals.

How do we do this?

I’ll start with what we don’t do. We don’t buy packaged food. We don’t buy tons of detergents or other household goods. Drinks are seen as either things we can’t make or things we want one of on the way home (i.e. beer/wine and a refreshing fizzy drink). And we don’t use coupons.

What do we buy? Organic, locally sourced ingredients. Portland is lucky in that we’re even able to get our flour local, thanks to grain giant Bob’s Red Mill just a little ways south. Vegetables and fruits from the Pacific Northwest, and sometimes the exotic banana or mango to satisfy the small child. Pasture raised meats from farms an hour away or closer, from farmers that welcome their customers to the farm. Dairy and eggs from the same people.

Let me repeat myself. All the above and our grocery bills are $150 or less each week. No coupons. Very little, if anything, processed. And minimally so if it is. (Think pepperoni or ham, cheese, tortillas, and sometimes a jar of pickles)

And what is it that we do?

We make 90% or more of what we eat. And we start the process by making a plan of our meals for the whole week. Look up above, at our banner. That’s our plan for this week. It’s almost always centered around dinner. Right or wrong, it’s our big meal of the day. Lunches are leftovers from dinners. Sometimes they’re changed a bit by using chicken into a soup or by adding beans. Breakfast is regular and simple. Lately, we’ve been loving this baked oatmeal recipe from Nourished Kitchen. From our menu, we write a shopping list, hit the grocery store, and don’t come back for a week.

This whole process has improved significantly since Sam started writing the Meal Planning Board. This is a piece of software that does all of this, and more. Check out the Dev Log for progress, updates, and planned and implemented features.

For us, the plan is crucial. Stick to it, and we succeed. We eat high quality, homemade food based on things we find, things we know we like, and the odd bit of nostalgia. And even during tax season, when I work 50 – 60 hour weeks and have 20 hours or so of studying for school, and try to keep up with our young son, we still stick to the plan. Our budget, and our diet, stays under control, and we’re happier and healthier for it.

Do you plan your meals for the week? Are you as obsessive as we are? Less? More?

{insert meal here} Meal Planning Board

Somewhere around the end of May, beginning of June my wife and I got a small week planner white board. The kind that people write their schedules on so everyone knows what’s going when.  For us, it was so I would remember what I was cooking when.  It was amazing! Rather than struggling to remember where I left a sheet of paper with the plan on it, it was right there on the wall. I could change what day of the week I was doing my zucchini fritters with the faux croque madame.

And for a while that was good enough.  But I still had to generate a shopping list and schedule the meal plan before I put it onto the white board.  And I often found myself starting two or three shopping lists during the week with things that I know I’ll need when I go to the grocery store (only to lose them, or forget that I already made them). I wanted to be able to pull a standard recipe out at a moment’s notice and have it ready to go! (like my mom’s blank recipe book that she filled with family favorite recipes).

So, I turned to Google. I turned to forums. I turned to blogs. Nowhere could I find the tool that would do the things that I wanted, that I needed.  There are plenty of tools out there for aggregating recipes. More that make a shopping list for you. And even programs that help you with meal scheduling. But all three? No. While I looked into an abyss of searches for a program that didn’t exist, I kept thinking of more features that I wanted! Nowhere was the tool I was dreaming up to be found!

Fortunately, though I am an airhead, I’m also programmer, and I knew just what to do.  So one sleepless night, when there was no one to talk to and TV felt redundant and dull, I pulled up my IDE (that’ programmer talk for a very fancy text editor) and started writing code.  A lot of code.  I built a database, I wrote control logic, I built HTML templates.  And slowly a virtual white board started coming together.  And a shopping list.  And a recipe aggregator.

Right now, it’s still just a prototype. Right now, it’s running locally on my machine, and a few select testers to help me flesh out the feature set. I want to get this right. I want to share with you this wonderful tool that is in my mind, so that together we can explore new recipes.

Eggplant Pizzas

The internet is full of genius solutions to making pizza without pizza dough. Most of these recipes are for health or lifestyle and diet choices; an attempt to avoid the carbohydrates or phytochemicals that pizza dough is laden with. A couple of weeks ago, when husband took child off to go grocery shopping while I stayed behind to work on homework, I was charged with putting together a lunch for while they got back. My requirements were simple and few: I needed something that I could scramble together with the remainder of the prior week’s groceries, and something I could set and forget. Our meal plan for that week included:

  • Braised eggplant (from which there was still a fresh, whole eggplant in the fridge)
  • Pollo Piquin (of which we still had plenty of sauce)
  • Ham Pucks (which left us with a bit of cheese).

The Piquin sauce is basically a tomato sauce, made less spicy than what husband and I would like to make it more palatable to a small child (who does sometimes eat salsa with serranos mixed in to it). And we regularly eat plenty of salads, and keep the odd vegetable around to put on top. In this case, a bit of shaved fennel frond lent another layer of flavor and a bit of texture to the party. Carrot tops brought more flavor, and another texture.

I did have carrots in the fridge, but I opted to use the tops instead for the texture. Eggplant pizzas can get soggy and gummy. Toppings with different textures help ensure a pleasant mouth feel. Of course, there are dozens of options out there for a base instead of eggplant. Patty pan squash and zucchini are popular options. You could use beets, turnips, parsnips, or any other vegetable that holds itself together well when roasted. Even thinly sliced potatoes could be an option. Regardless of what you use for the base, it will need to be at least 2 inches in diameter once sliced. Otherwise, the pizzas will just sort of fall apart.

A meal of cobbled together leftovers and “extra” or “leftover” ingredients took about 5 minutes of active preparation time, put something delicious on the table on the return of the husband and small child, and gave me nearly an hour and a half to get some work done.

Eggplant Pizzas

Makes 8 – 12 mini pizzas

Ingredients

  • 1 egg plant, sliced thinly.
  • Pizza sauce (or other left-over, somewhat thick sauce. Bechamel works great as well)
  • Cheese
  • Fennel fronds
  • carrot tops

Slice the eggplant thinly and place on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and slide into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the eggplant is nearly done. If you do cook the eggplant all the way, there’s nothing to worry about.

While the eggplant is cooking, prepare your toppings. I used thinly sliced fennel fronds and some chopped carrot tops. Shred your cheese.

Pull out the eggplant and top with sauce, cheese, and other toppings as you would a normal pizza. All this goes back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so or until your cheese is melted. Serve.