Meatless Manic Monday

Let’s talk about this relentless winter. Like a demanding toddler, this winter has been running around all over the country with its snow and ice, and if for one minute we seem to be forgetting about its power, it wallops us to get our attention. We have been at the mercy of frequent snow storms in the Northeast. Last week, I had not one but TWO snow days off from work. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where having a few days with the office closed doesn’t put me incredibly behind at work, nor threaten my vacation days. I’m not in danger of having a shorter summer, like the teachers, and I don’t have kids to scramble to find care for or to keep entertained myself. For me, these days can be viewed as wonderful gifts. I should be thrilled to have extra time to cook, or to take care of my task list, or take on creative projects.

The truth is, both of these days went by very quickly. The main feeling I had, by the end, was that I was cooped up in my house. I missed my routine, and felt a little lost having such open chunks of time. It is nice to have somewhere to go every day, even if you don’t necessarily love the place you’re going. I get the feeling that you all might be a little tired of these disruptions too? For some reason I wasn’t drawn to cook those days; in fact, I had a hard time pulling myself from the computer, which is dangerous because lengthy computer use can sometimes negatively affect one’s mood. I did use one of the days to leisurely prepare these chocolate hazelnut linzer heart cookies from Smitten Kitchen. It required me first to trudge around or through uncleared sidewalks and in the traffic lanes of slippery roads to the corner store for Nutella (why didn’t I have Nutella on hand? Good question.) It was worth it.

On Monday (another day with extra time because of the President’s Day holiday) I decided I wanted to prepare simple sandwiches for my husband and me. Hot paninis to be exact, because a cold sandwich never quite satisfies to the same level–my husband feels this quite strongly. A week or so earlier we had an awesome portobello mushroom panini out at dinner, so I picked up a few caps thinking I would give it a shot. It helped that, once again, we had a some of his delectable homemade bread on hand.

Grilled Portobello, Pesto, and Roasted Red Pepper Panini
Inspired by La Bottega restaurant and A Hint of Honey

2 portobello mushroom caps, stemmed and gills scraped off
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices hearty bread
, wheat or multigrain
2 slices of cheese – provolone, cheddar, swiss, havarti, or whatever you have
1/4 Cup basil pesto
2 slices roasted red pepper
, patted to dry slightly

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.


Heat your grill pan. You might have a stovetop grill pan that works, or like us, a Cuisinart “Griddler” which is ideal for paninis.
A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.

A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.


Brush both sides of portobello caps with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms on grill and cook on medium for several minutes on each side, until soft.
De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.

De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.


Top mushrooms with cheese so that it melts while the mushrooms are still over heat. Set aside on plate, temporarily.
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Meanwhile, spread about 1 Tablespoon of pesto on each slice of bread.
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Layer sandwiches grilled portobello, cheese, and roasted red pepper. Return to the grill/Griddler/panini press to further melt the cheese and toast the bread. You may want to brush a little olive oil on the surface of the bread.
You might notice that these photos look a little below par--I was so lazy that I didn't even get out my SLR camera, so I only used my iPhone.

You might notice that these photos look a little below par–I was SO lazy that I didn’t even get out my SLR camera, so these were taken on the iPhone.

Remember my urge to preserve? We are enjoying this same basil pesto from the summer! I could have made and jarred my own red bell peppers too. Now, in the middle of winter, we can enjoy a taste of summer flavors. We’ll just keep the shades closed so we aren’t so keenly aware of the mess outside.
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Soup’s On

Something tragic happened earlier this month. My oven stopped working.

It was the day after my birthday, and I had plans to make pizza. I wanted to top it with barbecue chicken, because not long ago someone (who may or may not have been my husband) opened a second jar of barbecue sauce when we already had an open one in the fridge…but there’s no need to get into that.

The oven was failing to heat up on multiple settings, so as I grieved, I improvised by using the outdoor grill as an oven.

The oven failure comes at a time when we are starting to feel the chill outdoors. That means it is time to start baking, right? I read a lot of summer seasonal recipes in which people reference the fact that “you may not want to turn on your oven!” because of the heat. Honestly, I think I use the oven almost equally in summer and winter! I don’t think I’ve consciously decided not to use my oven because of the weather…perhaps I’m not discouraged because we have central air conditioning and cool tile floors. But how quickly I forget! Now I’m flashing back to the apartment I lived in right out of college, the top floor of a converted house, and how I survived one Long Island summer without air conditioning. I’m pretty sure I avoided the oven then.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t necessarily gravitate to the oven in fall. The thing I start thinking about when it comes to fall is SOUP.

Of course, soup is a great way to incorporate miscellaneous vegetables. So later that week, I found a recipe that utilized CSA peppers and eggplant, along with leeks. With the help of the immersion blender, Matt was persuaded to eat and ENJOY something with eggplant! Pretty much any roasting vegetable could be incorporated in a soup like this.

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Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious
Makes 4 servings

1 eggplant (about 1 pound), halved
~12 ounces red bell peppers
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
, chopped
~1 Cup/1 leek, halved lengthwise, dunked in cool water to remove grime, and thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 1/4 Cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 Tablespoons fresh basil
, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1.5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Parmesan cheese shavings

As you can see, Matt pulled out his tools and made a fair attempt to diagnose and potentially repair the oven. Now a week and a half later, the repairman came, only to say he has to order a part and come NEXT week to see if that fixes it.

As you can see, Matt pulled out his tools and made a fair attempt to diagnose and potentially repair the oven. Now a week and a half later, the repairman came, only to say he has to order a part and come NEXT week to see if that fixes it.


This is where an oven WOULD have come in handy–the original recipe called for roasting the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 450°F. I once again turned to the grill, cranked up high to try to keep it over 400.

Pierce eggplants all over with fork. Transfer, cut side down, to baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.
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In the last 15 minutes of the eggplant’s cooking time, char bell peppers over a flame or in a broiler until blackened on all sides.

The blacker they get, the easier they are to peel.  These were a challenge.

The blacker they get, the easier they are to peel. These were a challenge.


Carefully add to a ziplock bag, sealed, and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Allow eggplant to cool slightly, then remove and discard peel. Chop eggplant into large pieces. Rinse pieces under running water. Drain well and set aside.
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Take out peppers, and peel, seed and coarsely chop.
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Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leek and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute.

Stir in eggplant, peppers, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.

Stir in basil and thyme.
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Either cool slightly before using a blender to puree the soup in batches, or turn off heat and use an immersion blender to blend in the pot. Once blended, season with salt and pepper, and add butter and lemon juice (general side note: if you are making soup and upon tasting think it is missing something, try lemon juice). Warm over low heat if soup has cooled too much.

Transfer to bowls, and garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese.
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