Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant

Giant fluffy snowflakes are drifting out of a grey sky this afternoon. It’s one of my favorite kind of days really, when everything gets canceled because of the snow and all I have to do is do whatever I feel like doing.

But today I’m feeling that wanderlust itch. Today, I’d happily give up my beloved snowflakes to be transported to Gimmelwald in the Swiss Alps, Haarlem’s bicycle busy cobbled streets in the Netherlands, or the Cinque Terre along the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy.

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On snow days I read blog posts like this and this and the gorgeous pictures of far away places make me smile and cry at the same time. Maybe it helps cure the travel bug bite… maybe it makes it worse.

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It’s funny how the senses can take you back in time to a specific place. Pictures, food, music, and smells – they all do that to me. I love it. The smell of Torani Hazelnut syrup takes me right back to the counter of the Rocky Mountain Candy Factory in Georgetown, CO. Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Not Home Yet” finds me driving in the wee hours of the morning on lonely highways through Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. And the combination of kalamata olives, tomatoes and feta cheese? Well, you know where that’s headed…

I found these adorable mini eggplants at the market for 10 cents a piece, that’s right, 2 bucks for all 20 of them…

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…And I thought to myself (Well, I don’t know, maybe I said it out loud right to the produce guy placing them in the bins), these would be perfect stuffed.

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Slice in half and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle on the olive oil, salt and pepper and roast @ 375 for about 20 minutes.

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Scoop out the insides with a spoon (I used my melon baller-dilly-wopper-thing.). Place the shells back on the pan.

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Chop the flesh into small pieces and put in a bowl. Add some chopped tomatoes, green onions, kalamata olives, feta cheese and cooked quinoa.

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How about some fresh oregano if you have some? Oregano is pretty tough stuff. Mine is living through it’s second winter.

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Season with olive oil, pepper and more salt if needed.

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Spoon into eggplant skins and top with Parmesan cheese.

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Bake at 350 until the cheese is melted on top and it’s warm throughout – about 15 minutes.

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May the flavors transport you to your favorite Mediterranean getaway!

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And where would that be?

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Toasted Israeli Couscous with Grilled Vegetables

We’ve been having some fabulously rainy weather here in our part of the South. After such a parchingly dry summer, it’s the kind of rain you just want to go party in. Pull out the colorful umbrellas and rubber boots, fire up the grill – or bonfire – and dance away in the mud puddles.

It reminds me of our rainy stay on the Cinque Terre, Italy.

I’ve been re-editing my Taste of Europe Series (since, after moving from Blogger to WordPress, the pictures are all too small) and going through pictures of our Europe travels. Sigh…good memories!

Love this one of the locals hanging out with their colorful umbrellas!

Anyway, back to our rainy day party!

We already have the Honey Mustard Marinated, Butterflied Grilled Chicken on the menu.

The grill’s still hot and we’ve got a pot of steamy, rich chicken stock simmering on the stove.

And the zucchini and red peppers are cut in half and quarters, respectively, and are soaking up the sea salt I sprinkled on them about 15 minutes ago.

I found the inspiration to this recipe over on the Food Network – Bobby Flay’s Toasted Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables . However, his recipe was all together too time consuming, considering I found it shortly before dinner. Not to mention I was missing some key ingredients.

So here’s my take –

2 zucchini, sliced in half long ways

2 red pepper, quartered

3 c. Israeli couscous

chicken stock to cook couscous

2 c. cherry tomatoes, quartered

fresh basil, sliced

sea salt & pepper to taste

olive oil

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into a pot. Add couscous and a dash of salt.

Toast on medium heat until couscous is golden. Cover with chicken stock and let cook until al dente. Drain remaining liquid, toss with olive oil – to keep from sticking and add flavor – add tomatoes and basil and set aside.

Just have to share my Blue Basil with you here! It’s a beautiful plant and adds a nice dimension to an herb/flower garden.

Brush vegetables with olive oil and grill briefly. A few minutes will do depending on the heat of your grill. Basically, you just want some  grill marks showing.

Cut in half again length wise, then cut into bit-sized pieces. Add to couscous.

Salt and pepper to taste and it’s ready to serve!

So what’s your favorite rainy day memory? Was it spent in a different country or at home on your front porch?

Did you soak it all in? :D

Northwest Fishing and Fish Chowder

I know, it’s been forever since I said I was going to do this post. I feel terrible for leaving you hanging so long. I do have a good excuse though, or two…that is, if there is such a thing. :)
You see, I was waiting on some pictures that I just had to include in this post. Then my sister came up to visit, I finished my last day at work, we traveled around visiting friends for a week then headed down to Boise to meet Caleb. The three of us traveled two days to get home, a friend flew in the night we got back, another friend flew in for a week,  Thanksgiving came and went and, well, I think I just realized I’m actually home. Weird,  yeah? What’s really weird is that it doesn’t even feel like I left. Except that…someone changed some things around in the kitchen. 

 One of my favorite things about being in the Northwest is that I get to hang out with some of my favorite people. These particular favorite people do some really cool things that I was privileged to participate in and one of those really cool things was going Mackinaw fishing.

It was cold and rainy, but it was fun and we caught some delicious looking fish. My one regret is that I didn’t save all the beautiful orange fish eggs that were in all those fish. Did you know caviar sells for over six dollars an ounce?!! We would be rich! :)

Being a landlubber from the plains of Oklahoma where the freshest fish you can get is bass or perch from a muddy cow pond across the pasture, I was thrilled to have fresh fish to cook with and eat. Some friends of mine had gone on a trip to Alaska and gave me some of the fish they caught as well – Halibut, King Salmon and Rock fish, so I was in fish chef paradise. :) 
After our fishing camp trip, my friend grilled a very fresh mackinaw for our dinner.

It was amazing.

I topped that trip off with a solo hike up Smalley Creek.

 The “bear hair” hanging from the trees gave the already misty morning a surreal feeling. It was so beautiful and quiet…

 Until I heard something crashing it’s way through the brush. I froze. It froze. I moved. It moved. I think we were both trying to figure out what the other one was. It got scared and ran first. I was scared but I didn’t run. Don’t ask me who was smarter. :D Anyway, from the sound of it,  it was a moose. I was very disappointed that I didn’t get to see it. I’m certain it wasn’t at all disappointed that it didn’t see me. 
Anyway, it was exciting…for both of us, I’m sure.

But, now that I’ve made you all very envious of my adventures, I’ll move on to the fish chowder. After all, this is still a cooking blog…I think. :D
I made fish chowder twice while I was in Idaho. Once with rock fish and the other time with halibut. I’m a huge halibut fan, but it’s all about personal tastes. Any white fish will do in this recipe. 
Another FYI, this soup is super versatile, so I’m not giving any measurements or specific ingredients. Don’t be mad at me please. Just use your creativity and go with what you think sounds good.
Start by placing the fillets in an oiled skillet over medium heat. Season heavily with smoked paprika and sprinkle with salt. Cover and let cook until it looks like the bottom half is done. Flip and season the other side. When the fish flakes easily, remove from pan and reserve for later.

The vegetables can be added according to your taste. From top left clockwise I have celery, red pepper, zucchini, frozen corn and peas and onion.

Add a little more oil to the skillet and saute the onions until caramelized. Then add the other chopped veggies. Saute until slightly soft.

Turn the burner down to low and toss in a handful of flour. Stir the mixture as you pour in chicken broth and/or milk until you have a gravy consistency.  Flake the fish into large chunks with a fork and add to soup.

 Season with salt, paprika, garlic and pepper.

For added smokey flavor, serve topped with smoked Gouda or sharp cheddar cheese.             
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A couple more pics before I go. When Anna came to visit me, our friend took us to Smalley Creek Falls. It’s just below where I started my solo hike, so I hadn’t seen it before. It was a beautiful place, especially with the icicles framing the falls.

So, this marks the end of my Idaho summer! I can’t believe 2011 is almost over! I’m guessing this will be the last blog post for this year, so have a wonderful December and a great beginning to 2012!