February 6, 2001Greetings,
Happy Valentine's Day to all my friends in cyberspace! I hope that all of you are fortunate enough to have people in your life that you hold near and dear to you. Love is one of the greatest stimulants, and it's all natural. It's like sunshine on your face, it instantly restores your vitality, awakens your senses, lifts your spirits, and frees your mind! There's nothing like it to improve your outlook on life and bring out the best in you! It also taps into feelings of goodwill and sharing, maybe that explains some of its ties to food. The friendship of the two is ages old and can be found in every culture throughout the world. Some of the greatest pleasures known to man can be found in the preparing, sharing, and eating of food. Plants provide us with a vast array of fruits and vegetables that appeal to many of our senses with their vibrant colors, flavors, and aromas. It's no wonder that many foods are thought to have aphrodisiac-like properties.
I designed this menu for an intimate dinner with those thoughts in mind. It features asparagus, avocados, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, rice, saffron, apricots, cherries, nuts, and of course one of my personal favorites, chocolate. Many of these recipes can be prepared ahead, then simply brought to room temperature or reheated in the oven, so that you can enjoy more time with one you love instead of being tied to the kitchen. They also provide for a few leftovers to be enjoyed in the same manner the next day, or you can even try combining some of the recipes into making tasty wraps or casseroles. As always, be good to one another, and remember... eat your veggies! :-)
1 1/2 cups ginger ale, chilled
In a glass pitcher, stir together all of the ingredients. Serve immediately in your favorite stemware or "on the rocks" (over ice).
Yield: 4 Cups
1 lb. eggplant
Using a fork, prick the skin of the eggplant in a few places. Place the eggplant on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until soft and starting to collapse. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and set aside to cool. In a non-stick skillet, saute the mushrooms and green peppers in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the green onion and garlic, and saute an additional 3-5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Allow vegetables to cool for 5 minutes.
Carefully remove the stem, and cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape the soft flesh of the eggplant into a food processor or blender. Discard the skin of the eggplant. Add the sauteed vegetables, along with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and blend until smooth. Taste and add additional lemon juice, salt, or pepper, if needed. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Place the pine nuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 3-5 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Decorate the top of the eggplant caviar with the sliced olives and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Serve with your choice of vegetables, crackers, bread slices, or pitas.
Yield: 1 1/2-2 Cups
*Serving Suggestion: To make a Mediterranean Appetizer Platter, prepare one recipe each of: Eggplant Caviar, Roasted Red Pepper Strips, Zesty Garlic Marinated Olives, and Cumin Crisps. Place the Eggplant Caviar, Roasted Red Pepper Strips, and Zesty Garlic Marinated Olives in decorative glass bowls. Place the bowls in crescent pattern on a platter and arrange the Cumin Crisps in the remaining space on the platter. Serves 4-6 people as an appetizer or as part of a buffet.
3 6-inch pitas, split in half and separated into 2 circles
Cut each pita circle into 4 wedges and transfer to a cookie sheet. Brush the tops of each of the pitas with a little olive oil. Sprinkle the pitas, to taste, with the ground cumin and paprika. Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes or until crisp. Serve with your favorite vegetable dip.
Yield: 4 servings of 6 chips each
2 red peppers, washed well
Place the whole peppers on a broiler pan. Broil, turning often, until blackened on all sides, or blacken over an open flame. Place the blackened peppers in a paper bag, close the bag, and set aside for 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Peel the blackened skin off of the peppers, and discard the stems and seeds. Cut the peppers in half and then cut them into 1/2-inch strips. Serve as an appetizer, as part of an antipasto platter, on sandwiches, to flavor sauces and dressings, or in grains, side or main dishes. To store roasted red pepper strips, place them in an air-tight container, add enough olive oil to fully cover the peppers, and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Yield: 1 1/2-2 Cups
3/4 cup black olives of choice, pitted
In a glass jar, place all of the ingredients and a few grindings of black pepper. Cover the jar with the lid and shake a few times to evenly distribute the olive oil over the olives. Marinate the olives in the refrigerator for at least one day, shaking the jar occasionally to help combine flavors. Bring olives to room temperature before serving. Olives will keep for several weeks.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Place the almonds on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and set aside. In a small glass bowl, place the diced avocado, drizzle the lemon juice over the top, and toss gently to thoroughly coat the avocado with the juice to prevent discoloration. Add the mung bean sprouts, carrot, dried apricots, green onion, and 3-4 T. of the Dried Apricot Vinaigrette (enough to thoroughly moisten), and toss gently to combine. Divide the Boston lettuce evenly between two salad plates. Divide the avocado mixture in half and mound it in the center of the lettuce. Drizzle a little of the Dried Apricot Vinaigrette over the top of the lettuce. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over each salad and serve.
Yield: 2 servings
1/2 cup apple juice
In a small saucepan, combine the apple juice, apricots, and ginger, and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool. Transfer the apricot mixture to a blender or food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Yield: 1 Cup
1 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed
Slice each of the asparagus stalks diagonally into 1/2-inch thick pieces, but leave the tips 2-3 inches long, and set aside. Cut the lemon in half. Cut one half of the lemon into wedges, place them in a small dish, and reserve for service. From the other half, remove the zest, reserve the lemon half for use in the cooking process, and set it and the zest aside. In a non-stick skillet, saute the asparagus in the olive oil for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, the reserved lemon zest, season the mixture with a little salt and pepper, and saute an additional 2-3 minutes or until the asparagus is tender. Add the chopped parsley, squeeze some juice from the zested lemon half, and toss well to combine. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed. Serve the reserved lemon wedges along with the asparagus.
1/3 cup pine nuts
Place the pine nuts on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 3-5 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven, transfer the toasted pine nuts to a small bowl, and set aside. In a small saucepan, place the vegetable stock, salt, pepper, and saffron, and bring to a simmer. In a medium saucepan, saute the onion and red pepper in olive oil for 3-5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and saute an additional 1 minute.
Add the rice, stir well so that the grains of rice are thoroughly coated with the olive oil, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until the rice is translucent. Add the simmering broth to the rice mixture and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, leave covered, and set aside for 5 minutes to allow the rice to steam. Fluff the rice with a fork. Add the toasted pine nuts, peas, and parsley, and gently stir them into the rice. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Transfer to a bowl or platter for service.
*Note: If you are unable to obtain saffron threads, substitute 1/4 t. turmeric for the saffron threads in the recipe, to achieve the same golden color in the pilaf.
1 lb. firm tofu
Cut the block of tofu in half lengthwise, turn each half cut-side down on the board, and cut through the outer edge of the block of tofu 3 times to yield 4 tofu cutlets from each half. This means that the block of tofu will yield 8 tofu cutlets. On a large cookie sheet, place a clean, lint-free towel, or a layer of natural, unbleached paper towels, then all of the tofu cutlets in a single layer, followed by another layer of toweling, and finally place another large cookie sheet on top. Place several large cans or something very heavy on top of the cookie sheet and leave tofu to sit for 1 hour. This process is known as cutting tofu into cutlets and pressing. I use this technique a lot as it makes the texture of the tofu much firmer.
Meanwhile, in a non-stick skillet, saute both peppers and onion in 2 T. of the olive oil for 3 minutes to soften. Add the zucchini, yellow squash, 1 T. of garlic, and saute an additional 3 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp tender. Add the white wine, olives, half of the fresh herbs, salt, and 1/4 t. black pepper, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. While the vegetables are simmering, in a small bowl, combine the remaining olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, black pepper, and other remaining ingredients, stir well to blend, and set aside.
Lightly oil (or spray with a light mist of oil) a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Spread the sauteed vegetable mixture in the bottom of the pan. Place the pressed tofu in two rows over the top of the vegetables and pour the reserved red wine vinegar mixture over the tofu. Cover the baking dish with a piece of aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve 2 pieces of tofu per person with a generous portion of the ratatouille vegetables spooned over the top of the tofu.
1/2 cup soy milk, water, or apple juice
In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy milk, maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and almond extract, and set aside. In a large bowl, place both types of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and stir well to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well to combine. Fold the remaining ingredients into the cookie dough. Lightly oil (or spray with a light mist of oil) two non-stick cookie sheets. Drop the dough by teaspoonfuls, spacing them 2 inches apart, onto the prepared sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until cookies are set and lightly browned on the bottom and around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Repeat the baking procedure for the remaining cookie dough. Store the cookies in an air-tight container.
Yield: 24-30 cookies
In a medium saucepan, place the soy milk, arrowroot, maple syrup, vanilla, almond extract, and salt, and whisk well to combine. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the hot water and instant coffee granules, and set aside. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
Divide the thickened custard evenly between two bowls. Add the reserved coffee mixture to one half of the custard, and whisk well to combine. Sift the cocoa powder into the remaining half of the custard and whisk well to combine. Press a piece of waxed paper on top of each bowl of custard to prevent a skin from forming, and place the bowls of custard in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.
To assemble the parfaits, begin by dividing the cocoa custard evenly between 4 decorative bowls. Crumble one of the cookies over each of the cocoa custard layers. Then sprinkle 1 T. of the toasted almonds over the crumbled cookie. Carefully layer the coffee custard over the almonds, evenly dividing it among the 4 bowls. Repeat with a layer of crumbled cookies and toasted almonds.
*Note you can make the parfaits with additional layers or with other flavorings or nuts, if desired.
Yield: 4 servings
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