Stuffed Eggplants

Stuffed Eggplants

Eggplant is one of these vegetables that I have very little experience with. Up until cooking with one this past summer, I think its safe to say my encounters with eggplant had extended only to Eggplant Parmesan at Olive Garden. I am not sure if eggplant is something that is just not popular in my family, or if it is just not popular at all.

Although my experience with it is limited, I do enjoy eggplant. Its meaty texture reminds me a lot of the large Portabella mushrooms I like on a grilled vegetable sandwich.

Stuffed Eggplants

I got involved with eggplants after a co-worker shared garden produce last July. I had no idea what to do with the things, but they were so cute I could not resist taking them home. Notably, the urge to take things home based on cuteness alone could be detrimental at, say, the animal shelter (kittens!),  but in the case of cast off produce, it served me well.

After putting out a call for ideas, I ended up stuffing those eggplants. I liked them so much, I knew I would make some another time, and that time is now. If you like the idea of stuffed vegetables but prefer to use rice or quinoa in place of bread crumbs, simply click on over to the stuffed recipes page and refer to the tomato and pepper recipes. Enjoy!

Stuffed Eggplants

Stuffed! Eggplants
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 medium to large eggplant
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • ½ cup diced tomatoes
  • 1½ cups Italian-style bread crumbs
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup mozzarella cheese
Instructions
  1. Halve the eggplant lengthwise and scoop out the flesh.Take care not to damage the skins as they will be used to hold the filling.
  2. Set the shells aside and chop the flesh.
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium low heat.
  4. Saute the chopped eggplant along with the onion and celery until soft.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes.
  6. While the vegetables cool, stir together the bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese and the egg.
  7. Stir together the cooked vegetables and the bread crumb mixture.
  8. Fill the reserved eggplant shells with the mixture and place in a lightly greased baking dish.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes. During the last few minutes of baking, sprinkle with mozzarella or another cheese of choice.
 

Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

The final round of the Willow Bird Baking challenges required contestants make a cheesecake. Since Julie is the queen of cheesecakes – featuring selections like Red Velvet and Sticky Toffee Pudding cheesecakes on her blog – I should have seen this coming. I, on the other, am lukewarm at best about the dessert. Then she threw in the requirement to bake something representative of our personal culinary journey. What is that exactly, and how do I get one?

I have said many a time that I am not a “foodie”. Words like “scrumptious” or “delectable” simply do not fill my brain when I am called upon to describe food. Though I look forward to a meal at a really good restaurant, I also enjoy eating pizza from the grocery’s freezer aisle. What the heck am I doing writing a “food” blog?

I am still looking for the answer to that one too. Maybe it was because I was bored to tears with work. Perhaps I just needed a creative outlet. Some people thrive off creating drama in their lives. It very well could be that I like inflicting pain upon myself in the form of continually failing at recipes.

Though I have no formal training in anything I do here – cooking, writing, or photography – people visit from time to time. I can’t say why I started this blog, but I can safely say I keep it up because I value the community, connections, and new friendships it has brought to my life. So thank you for keeping me going.

Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

I chose to craft a turtle cheesecake simply because a good family friend makes these bad boys, and they are to die for. And that’s coming from someone who is not a big fan of cheesecake! It is also worth noting that aside from watching my grandmothers and mother cook, the first thought of a culinary journey outside of my family extend to her.

As a teenager, I remember spending an evening where she tried to teach a few of us to cook. I fear we probably spent more time playing with the dog and just generally messing around. She was also the first person I ever saw use dental floss (not mint flavor!) to cut pieces of cake. This trick also works well for cinnamon-type rolls (see Challenge 1), though I inconveniently forgot about that until well after I made mine.

Why the coffee? Because I never made a coffee cheesecake before and that sounded good. As I was making the filling, complete with a layer of chocolate ganache as suggested, I remembered coffee is certainly indicative of my earliest tastes. As a young child, I used to make a point of drinking a half cup when I visited my grandma, despite warnings it would stunt my growth and perhaps put hair on my chest. Maybe I was just trying to act grown up, but I loved the flavor of the hard coffee candies she had sitting out as well.

The only things I recall loving as much as those coffee candies were red hot cinnamon disks, tiny Chiclets and those big, red NutraSweet gumballs that used to come in the mail. Hmm, what about gumball cheesecake? Ideas like that are precisely why I should probably not be writing a food blog. Enjoy!

Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

Coffee Turtle Cheesecake Finale
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Crust
  • 2 heaping cups graham cracker crumbs (about two sleeves worth)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • For the Ganache
  • ¾ cups heavy cream
  • 10 ounces chocolate chips
  • For the Cheesecake Filling
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1½ teaspoons light molasses
  • 3, 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • Aluminum foil, for baking
  • For the Topping (measurements approximate)
  • 1-2 tablespoons pecans
  • 1-2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
  • caramel sauce, enough to drizzle
Instructions
  1. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl.
  2. Mix thoroughly to moisten all of the crumbs.
  3. Press the mixture into a thin layer covering the bottom and sides (about 2.5 to 3 inches high) of a lightly greased springform pan. Use a flat-sided glass to get the crust even and thin.
  4. Bake the crust in a 350 degree F oven for about 6 minutes, then allow to cool while preparing the ganache.
  5. Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
  6. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl.
  7. Once the cream reaches a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes.
  8. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache has formed.
  9. Pour 1½ to 2 cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust (leftovers are good for eating or decorating).
  10. Place the ganache-laden crust in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, prepare the cheesecake filling.
  12. In a small bowl, combine the coffee granules, vanilla extract, and molasses.
  13. Allow to sit until the coffee granules are dissolved, stirring as needed.
  14. Beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until well blended.
  15. Next add the flour and dissolved coffee mixture and mix until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  16. Beat in the eggs one at a time until very well combined throughout the mixture.
  17. Pour the filling into the crust.
  18. Line the bottom outside edges of the pan with aluminum foil, then place the entire springform pan in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  19. Fill the baking dish with about two inches of water. Make sure water does not get into the cheesecake mixture. It should also not top the edges of the foil lining the springform pan.
  20. Return the cheesecake dish to the oven and bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, about 40-50 minutes. The center should move only very slightly when the pan is gently shaken.
  21. Remove the cheesecake and allow to cool.
  22. Before serving, sprinkle the top with pecans and mini chocolate chips.
  23. Complete with a drizzle of caramel sauce over the top.
Notes
One bag of mini chocolate chips should provide enough for the ganache and the topping.
 

Spice Cupcakes with Pumpkin Filling and Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Round Four of the Willow Bird Baking Challenges found me feeling particularly uninspired. My creativity had hit a wall. Add to that the theme to bake seasonally, and my brain stopped at pumpkin. There has got to be more to autumn than pumpkin. Right? Turns out there is! Check out all of the other creative challenges here.

I eventually set out to make a brown sugar cupcake that I baked about this time last year. My intention was to fill the cupcake with a white chocolate mixture and top it all off with a simple vanilla frosting. As I flipped through my folder that holds copies of my Great Grandmother’s recipes (it was her brown sugar cake recipe I had in mind), I first had to get past no fewer than four spice cake recipes.

What a minute, was that  four spice cake recipes?  For a round four challenge? Change of plans. That and I realized I had no white chocolate chips when I set out to bake. The innovation had begun.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

More often than not, innovation and creativity in my kitchen is simply based upon what I have available. Necessity truly is the mother of invention when I cook. I tend to exhaust my supplies before I go to the grocery because grocery shopping is one of my least favorite chores. I do not mind laundry or sweeping, but grocery shopping is right up there with car waxing on my “chores I dislike” list. Yet, I do it because it must be done.

Baking one of my great grandmother’s recipes really does call for some level of innovation as her recipes could easily double as lists. They are just ingredients. I have no idea  how long to bake the cake or at what temperature or if I should pack the brown sugar. I just have to figure it out with a little trial and error.

I ultimately settled on the “Spice Cake – Lottie’s” recipe. The cupcakes are filled with a sweet pumpkin dip and frosted with ginger cream cheese frosting. Four challenges down, one to go. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Spice Cupcakes with Pumpkin Filling and Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting
 
Author:
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • For the Cupcakes
  • 2½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • For the Filling
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • For the Frosting
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
Instructions
  1. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and spices together and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs.
  4. Slowly and alternately add the buttermilk and flour mixture in two additions and mix until combined.
  5. Fill each well of a paper-lined muffin tin about ⅔ full.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  7. To make the filling, mix together the pumpkin, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined.
  8. When the cupcakes are cool, simply cut a "cone" from the center, place the filling inside, and top with just the top of the removed cone (cut the excess away).
  9. To make the frosting, place the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and ground ginger in mixing bowl and beat until combined.
  10. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time, beating until the frosting is light and fluffy.