Ratatouille Napoleon

I received several fantastic cookbooks around the holidays and I have been so over-the-top excited about each of them that I can’t believe I have waited this long to share them with you. I have spent the last couple months cooking away and trying different recipes from each of the cookbooks. But one of the ones I was most thrilled about diving into, The Southern Vegetarian, was one that began as a gift to someone else. I purchased this book for Christmas for my fellow foodie friend and once it arrived I determined that I needed my own copy right away.

Thankfully my parents got it for me for Christmas so I could start drooling over all the pages without dirtying someone else’s copy. This book proves, if you didn’t believe it already, that eating vegetarian can be exciting, surprising and absolutely drool-worthy delicious. Matt and I previously ate vegetarian about once a week, although it was mostly for cost-saving purposes.

After the holidays were over, a scale had been purchased and we both had picked our jaws up from the floor (ok, it wasn’t that bad, but still a minor reality check moment), we decided to increase our vegetarianism for health concerns as well. Reduce your grocery bill and slim down? No, I’m not talking about starvation, I’m talking about eating (partly) vegetarian!

This ratatouille napoleon is an easy and delicious multifaceted meal that will undoubtedly impress your family and friends. The layering of the crunchy phyllo dough, hearty sautéed vegetables, savory olive tapenade, refreshing ricotta and slightly sweet balsamic reduction will perform a cohesive symphony of flavors on your taste buds. So veggie lovers and meat snarfers alike: make this dish, eat it, repeat, but don’t forget to share.

Ratatouille Napoleon
 
Yield: 6 stacks
Ingredients
for the napoleon
  • 2 cups peeled and diced eggplant
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • ½ red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 5 ounces crimini mushrooms, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 8 sheets phyllo dough
  • ¼ cup olive tapenade, plus 2 tablespoons
  • ¼ cup reduced fat ricotta cheese, plus 2 tablespoons
  • Salt and pepper
for the balsamic reduction
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet then spread the eggplant, peppers, onions and mushrooms in an even layer. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss to coat then lightly season with salt and pepper. Bake for 16 minutes then remove from the oven.
  3. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. Carefully lay a sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface. Lightly coat with cooking spray. Top with another sheet of phyllo. Repeat the process until all 8 phyllo sheets have been laid on top of one another. Using a pizza cutter, cut the phyllo stack into 12 equal squares.
  5. Place half the squares on the baking sheet. Use a medium ice cream scoop to place ¼ cup of the vegetable mixture on half of the phyllo squares. Bake the squares for 18 minutes or until they are golden brown.
  6. Repeat with the remainder of the squares.
  7. Spread olive tapenade on each of the un-topped squares.
  8. To serve, scoop a spoonful of the ricotta onto a plate then layer a tapenade square followed by ratatouille square. Follow with a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.
for the balsamic reduction
  1. Heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until it has been reduced to a couple tablespoons.

Recipe adapted from The Southern Vegetarian.

Olive Tapenade

A couple weeks ago Matt’s brother was talking about olive tapenade and I got inspired to create my own. Whenever I decide to make a new item from scratch I like to do some thorough research and soak in whatever information I can about the adventure I’m about to embark on. According to Wikipedia, clearly the smartest website on the internet, a tapenade is, “a Provencal dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil.” This statement provided two surprising conclusions (who knew a dip could be so unpredictable?).

First, this recipe should just be called tapenade since that word already assumes olives are included. However, I’m a descriptive person so I will keep the olive in the title even though it’s apparently redundant. Second, the recipe I had for olive tapenade and was about to create was an imposter and no olive tapenade at all! There were no capers. There were no anchovies. Having only half of the Wikipedia required makings of an olive tapenade made me nervous. So I jazzed up my recipe a bit and added some capers, although you can breath a sigh of relief as I continued to omit the anchovies.

So if all this rambling and mumbo-jumboing about olives and anchovies hasn’t scared you away, please know that this dip, spread or whatever you want to call it is so tasty. Addictingly tasty. The texture is smooth while the briny flavor manages to be hearty and light at the same time. Spread it on a caprese panini. Stuff it in baked chicken breasts. Eat it straight out of the container with rice crackers, a perfect combination. Or you could put it in a presentable bowl for company if that’s your thing. Your guests will be very impressed- as long as you don’t eat it all before they get there.

Olive Tapenade
 
Yield: 1½ cups
Ingredients
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • ½ cup minced shallots, about 3 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the shallots, garlic and oregano until cooked through and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the garlic mixture, olives, capers, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.
  4. Serve with rice crackers or hearty bread.

Recipe adapted from The Southern Vegetarian.

Pomegranate Molasses Coffee Cake Loaf

Coffee cake is one of the many foods that reminds me of my grandma. I love the soft cake, sweet ribbons of cinnamon sugar and the icing coated top of my grandma’s coffee cake. When she lived with me she would make them regularly, even storing big slices in the freezer so I could pull them out and microwave them for 30 seconds for an after school snack. Although I’m reminded of my grandma because she was the one to bake the coffee cakes, I’m more reminded of the morning ritual that would occur.

As the first two people awake every morning my grandma and I would get to share some alone time. It was different than the alone time we would spend in the car on the way home from field hockey practice and different than the alone time we would spend during our weekly mall trips. The business of the day had not yet begun; the house was quiet and the mood in the kitchen was serene. Now when I go down to visit my grandma we usually get a little alone time, but it’s not that the same as those early kitchen mornings we used to have. The minute I tasted this pomegranate molasses coffee cake loaf I knew my grandma would approve.

Baking this coffee cake loaf could not be easier, but even if it required expert skill and extreme brain power I would still implore you to bake it because it is just that amazing. The cake is moist and perfectly spiced. And the crumble, yes please. I love my grandma’s icing, but I must confess that this crumble takes the cake. Literally. I could eat a plate of just the crumble topping.

I will have to bring my grandma a loaf the next time I visit, but in the meantime I will enjoy it myself and squirrel away big slices in the freezer for midmorning snacks.

Pomegranate Molasses Coffee Cake Loaf
 
Yield: 1 loaf
Ingredients
for the cake
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
for the crumble
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x5” loaf pan with parchment paper, lightly coat with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, oil, molasses and vanilla extract in a small bowl.
  4. Carefully stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Mix in the melted butter until just combined.
  5. In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Using a fork of pastry blender cut in the butter until well combined.
  6. Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan then top with half the crumble mixture. Pour in the rest of the batter then top with the rest of the crumble mixture. Bake for 55 minutes or until the top is golden.
  7. Remove the loaf from the oven then let cool in the pan for half an hour. Remove the loaf from the pan and let cool on a cooling rack for another hour.
Notes
*If you don't have buttermilk put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup then fill the rest of the way with milk. Let sit for 5 minutes before using in the recipe. Any milk from skim to whole will work.
*Although the cake won't cut as well while it's still warm it's worth to cut a messy slice just to taste this baby while it's warm!

Recipe from How Sweet It Is.

Spiked Hazelnut Hot Chocolate

There is so much hot chocolate in my apartment right now. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a hot chocolate hoarder. It’s okay, there are worse things to hoard like styrofoam peanuts and diner jelly packets, although I do have a couple of those packets in the fridge. What do you expect, I was raised by my grandma!

Even with all the hot chocolate options sitting in my cabinet I could not resist making this spiked hazelnut hot chocolate. I have never made homemade hot chocolate without a mix and after this experience it’s going to be hard to go back. The drink is creamy and decadent with a strong hazelnut flavor.

Just like Nutella tastes by itself, the hazelnut doesn’t overpower the chocolate taste. Since there is no powdered cocoa involved this hazelnut hot chocolate stays delightfully smooth.

The addition of the Frangelico, although fun and perfect for bringing out the hazelnut flavor, is of course optional so feel free to omit it for any kiddos or nondrinkers. I know this won’t be the last I see of this hot chocolate over the next couple months. I plan to drink it as a cozy breakfast treat, an after dinner dessert or as a nice warm pick-me-up after inevitably shoveling my car out of snow for the tenth time. How will you enjoy yours?

Spiked Hazelnut Hot Chocolate
 
Yield: 1 hot chocolate
Ingredients
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Nutella
  • 1 tablespoon Frangelico or another hazelnut liquor
  • Whipped cream
Directions
  1. In a small saucepan on medium heat warm the milk until it begins to bubble at the edges.
  2. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the Nutella and Frangelico and whisk until smooth.
  3. Top with whipped cream then serve.

Recipe from Saveur.

Spinach Salad with Fried Goat Cheese, Pears, Toasted Walnuts and a Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette

I often get inspired by dishes I have out at restaurants. Sometimes it is because the dish was so fantastic that I dream about it day and night. I develop an obsessive nonstop craving for it and must recreate it myself to satisfy this craving. Sometimes the dish wasn’t all that great, but in theory it sounded amazing. That is when I know I must recreate it to help the dish live up to its potential. The later was the case with this salad. A spinach salad with fried goat cheese, pears and toasted walnuts. The minute I saw it written on the menu my mouth started watering.

I have an affinity for goat cheese with its creamy texture and tangy taste so the thought of adding a crispy exterior had me over the moon with delight. Then adding pears for sweetness balanced by the toasted walnuts for crunch and an earthiness? Genius workings of a perfect salad in my eyes. But then it came to the table and the first bite was a serious letdown. The dressing was bland and the fried goat cheese was overpowered by breading. I knew the salad was meant to be amazing so a week later I set out to help it reach its full potential.

This spinach salad with fried goat cheese, pears and toasted walnuts with a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette exceeds expectations beyond what my wildest dreams had imagined. The fried goat cheese has a very light yet crunchy exterior which pairs perfectly with the refreshing spinach, pears and toasted walnuts, but what really makes this salad sing is the pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. Sweet and tangy this dressing packs a punch and is anything but bland. You only need a small amount so make sure you don’t overdress the spinach.

Typically, a salad is the last meal choice on my list, but that week I ate this salad every day, oftentimes for lunch and dinner. Now if that testament isn’t enough to get you to make this salad right this minute, then I’m not sure what is.

Spinach Salad with Fried Goat Cheese, Pears, Toasted Walnuts and a Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
 
Yield: 4 servings, 1 cup dressing
Ingredients
for the fried goat cheese
  • 8 ounces goat cheese or goat cheese with honey
  • 2 egg whites
  • ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
for the dressing
  • ¼ cup pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
for the salad
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • 8 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 pears
Directions
for the fried goat cheese
  1. Place a small cooling rack over a baking sheet small enough to fit in your fridge then set aside.
  2. Beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Place the breadcrumbs in a separate small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Slice the goat cheese into ½” thick slices. The best way to cleanly cut goat cheese is with a small piece of dental floss.
  4. Carefully dip each slice of goat cheese into the egg white mixture then the breadcrumbs before placing on the cooling rack. After all the pieces have been dipped let them chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
  5. When the goat cheese rounds have chilled, heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  6. Cook 2-3 minutes per side then remove from the heat.
for the dressing
  1. Whisk together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar, mustard and honey until combined. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
for the salad
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Evenly place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned.
  2. Thinly slice the pears.
  3. Toss the spinach with some of the salad dressing. Divide dressed spinach onto 4 plates then top each plate with the ¼ of the toasted walnuts, ½ of the sliced pears and 2 pieces of warm fried goat cheese.

Vinaigrette from Bobby Flay.
Fried goat cheese from Ina Garten.