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dips

Totally Garlic Cookbook: Savory Taste of the Stinking Rose

garlic goat cheese spread

GoatCheeseAtPicnicWhen I signed up to bring appetizers to the office picnic, I promised one vegetable-based dish and one “more indulgent” dish. The eggplant dip met the “vegetable-based” goal. For “more indulgent,” I decided that meant it had to have cheese. I also knew it had to be something that could be served at room temperature. I turned to the shelf where I’ve gathered all the GarlicCookbookremaining cookbooks for the project and found the Totally Garlic Cookbook, which is a slim little paperback shaped like a clove of garlic. (Get it? Because it’s garlic! Hi-larious, right?)

I have no idea where we got this, whether it was a gift or a discount bin purchase or a throw-in-with-an-online-order acquisition, but here it is. It’s loaded with GarlicHeadappealing appetizers, entrees, even desserts. I quickly found garlic goat cheese spread and was ready to go.

I began with the garlic: one head, top trimmed off, drizzled with a little bit of olive oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes. I wrapped the head in foil and put it into a 350-degree oven for an hour, then pulled it out, unwrapped the GarlicRoasted3foil, and let it sit until it was cool enough to handle.

While the garlic baked, I minced four of those sun-dried tomatoes and chopped about three tablespoons of fresh basil. When the garlic was cool, I squeezed the garlic into the bowl with the tomatoes and basil. The garlic was soft and almost gooey, and was easy to squeeze out of the SunDriedTomatoeslittle papery hulls. It smelled glorious: rich, mellowed, but still pungent and distinctly garlicky. (Note to self: Next time I’m using the oven, wrap up three or four heads to roast and set aside.) (Additional note to self: When using the oven for potatoes or chicken or something, not cookies.)

At this point I stirred in about 11 GarlicBasilTomatoesounces of goat cheese. I used the Chevre brand spread, the last two little containers that were on the shelf at the grocery store, but I think just about any basic goat cheese would serve. Once I’d thoroughly mixed it all together, I laid four whole basil leaves on a sheet of plastic wrap, spread the goat cheese mixture over them, laid on four more basil leaves, and rolled the plastic around to GoatCheeseMixture2shape the cheese into a little log. It went into the fridge, and the idea was that after an overnight chilling it would be stiff enough to slice into rounds. It was not. It was still soft and spreadable in the morning, and I knew that once I got it to Central Park there would be no chance of chilling and slicing. So I removed the plastic and laid the cheese in a container with some kalamata GoatCheeseMixture3olives.

At the picnic I offered it up with slices of baguette, and it was very well received. The picnickers went through a good proportion of it, though what was left at the end of the day was decidedly the worse for wear.

Verdict: Success. I’ll do it again, when it cools down enough to turn on the oven.

Eat More, Weigh Less: The Joy of Eggplant

pita chips with roasted eggplant dip

EggplantAtPicnic2Lately it seems to be taking an act of God to get me to cook much. I’m cooking dinner most evenings, but I’ve been doing easy lazy things. Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, basil and chickpeas. Stir-fry. Hot dogs. Things that don’t require measuring or even really counting. I feel like I haven’t quite caught up with my domestic life yet, what with travel and Eggplantsome fairly mentally demanding projects at work.

But this past Friday was the office picnic, in Central Park no less, and I knew I had to get my act together. By the time I signed the contribution sheet the dessert and entree categories were pretty full, so I turned my attention to appetizers, and chose two: a spicy roasted eggplant dip, and a EggplantRoastedgoat cheese spread with roasted garlic (next post).

I’ve made roasted eggplant dip before, about a year ago. This one is a little bit different, with the inclusion of a minced jalapeno pepper and a slightly different blend of spices. Spices are a key element in Eat More, Weigh Less, the first of two healthy lifestyle cookbooks by Dr. Dean Ornish (I ShallotChileSpicescooked from the second, Everyday Cooking With Dr. Dean Ornish, in November). Dr. Ornish’s recipes are drastically low in fat, so strong flavor elements are featured to help counteract the popular notion that low-fat food isn’t flavorful.

This dip was definitely flavorful. I began by halving two eggplants lengthwise and putting them in a EggplantRoasted3350-degree oven to roast. While they cooked, I minced a jalapeno pepper and a shallot, juiced a lemon and a lime to get a teaspoon of juice from each, and mixed that in a bowl with some cumin, cinnamon and salt. Once the eggplants were out of the oven and cool enough to handle, I put them into a food processor with the shallot-pepper mixture and processed it all until it was EggplantInProcessorsmooth.

I did push the eggplant halves into the processor bowl without cutting them up (come on, you try neatly slicing a roasted eggplant! It kind of falls apart on you), and this meant that there were some oversized pieces of the skin that I had to pluck out for aesthetic reasons. I think if I did this again I’d scoop the EggplantDip3eggplant flesh out of the skins, even though I favor eating the skins of vegetables on principle.

I also cut up some pitas into single-layer slices and toasted them. Dr. Ornish’s recipe said to brush them with an egg white wash, which I didn’t bother to do. That might have made them stiffer and better able to scoop up dip, but I wasn’t convinced the MorePicnicSpread2extra effort would have been worth it. I cut up some additional pitas and left them uncooked, and they seemed robust enough.

The next day I hauled my dips, pitas and bread to the park, where our crew found a picnic spot that was very close to, but not exactly, the spot we had chosen ahead of time. We laid out blankets and massive quantities MorePicnicSpreadof food, and began to dish up a welcome late lunch. People seemed to enjoy the eggplant dip. There was a fair amount of it left at the end of the day, but that was because we had managed to bring enough to feed at least twice our number. And it was a little too warm out to overstuff ourselves.

Verdict: Success. Easy, tasty, and low in fat. I’ll want to make this one again.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: More party food

roasted eggplant spread, parmesan croutons
Roasted eggplant spread

It was probably not my smartest move to kick off the project by making nine recipes from five cookbooks in two days. But I was hosting a party and thought it would be good to try out a range of appetizers and nibbles, particularly since we don’t have enough room for a sit-down dinner for the number of people I invited.

I was looking for things I could cook ahead and serve without warming up, since our apartment gets RedPeppersvery warm in the summer and I didn’t want to add to it with a freshly heated oven. I had a feeling The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook would have good options; the Long Island shop closed before I moved to this part of the country but the book’s pictures suggest food you could bring home in cartons, turn into a pretty china dish, and offer to your weekend houseguests with wine and cheese. The eggplant spread looked like it would be as delicious at room temperature as it was when warm.

The recipe was very easy to prepare. You peel and dice an eggplant, dice red bell pepper and red onion, and mince some garlic. peeling eggplant to roastToss these with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast them at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. When the chunks have cooled a bit, throw them into a food processor with a bit of tomato paste and pulse them until the consistency looks right: well blended but with some chunks.

I wanted to offer something interesting for dipping into the spread, and thought the parmesan croutons would fit the bill. Since they’re not cubes but individual slices of baguette, I took to calling them toasts instead of croutons, not that it really matters. Preparing these was easy too: slice a baguette diagonally into inch-thick slices, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, top with freshly grated parmesan, and toast in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes. EggplantMixtureI think next time I make them I’ll slice the bread a bit thinner, which will mean a shorter cooking time; an inch-thick slice of bread is a bit hefty to bite into even if you haven’t dipped it into eggplant spread or hummus.

Both the eggplant spread and the toasts tasted great. The guests polished off about half the eggplant spread during the evening. More of the toast was left; people were pairing the dips with plain untoasted baguette and veggies as well. I wasn’t terribly surprised that the spread went over well; I’ve cooked from this book before and enjoyed everything I’ve tried. Ina Garten’s recipes focus on fresh, high-quality ingredients, with just enough preparation to build flavor and texture without overcomplicating matters.EggplantMixtRoasted

Verdict: Success. Both recipes were easy and delicious.I may hold off on making them again until the fall, though, since I try to avoid using the oven during the hottest months. But I will make them again, and want to try other unfamiliar recipes from the book as well.ParmesanToasts