RECIPE: Baked Rigatoni with Garden Eggplant and Zucchini

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Between my parents, neighbors and my own garden, I am getting quite an influx of fresh vegetables piling up in the kitchen. And as you well know, home grown vegetables are the best around, and you need to use 'em or lose 'em! Here was a great pasta bake I made last Sunday using fresh eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and basil. We were able to make a dent in our stockpile and have an amazing meal. This recipe was a little time consuming, but I think you can do a couple of steps ahead of time to cut down on the effort the day of serving. You can pre-roast your vegetables and refrigerate them a couple days in advance, and you can peel your tomatoes and store as well. Also, you can go ahead and make the sauce a couple days in advance, too. The only thing I would say is you would have to add ten minutes or so to baking time to allot for the chilled ingredients.


Baked Rigatoni with Garden Eggplant and Zucchini


Ingredients:


ROASTED VEGETABLES:
1 1/2-2 lbs combined of zucchini, eggplants or other squash, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp sea salt

SAUCE:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
28 oz. various medium sized, ripe tomatoes or (1 can 28 oz. plum tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

PASTA:
1 package (16 oz.) whole wheat rigatoni
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp. chopped basil











Roasting Vegetables:


Preheat oven to 450˚. In large bowl, toss eggplant, 2 tablespoon olive oil, sea salt and zucchini. In a baking pan lined with a foil, layer the vegetables in an even layer. Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes, switching racks midway for the vegetables to cook evenly. Avoid mixing them with a spoon because it bruises and mushes the vegetables. It also prevents the nice caramelization on the vegetables to happen evenly. I move them around only once, gently, when I switch racks from middle to top. Remove pans from oven, let cool and set aside.




Tomato Sauce:

Cleaning Fresh Tomatoes:





















Cleaning Fresh Tomatoes:
First, peel and deseed the tomatoes. Do this by making a small incision in the skin on each tomato. Mean while, boil a large pot of water. Bring to simmer, and dunk the tomatoes in the water and let sit for 5 minutes. You will see the skin begin to peel back. In a separate bowl, fill with ice water. Strain the tomatoes, and dunk them in the cold water. The coolness will help contract the fruit away from the skin and allow them to be cool enough to handle. Let them sit in the water for 5 minutes, adding more ice if needed. Strain again, and carefully peel the skin off the tomatoes. When done, it is time to deseed them. With your hands, puncture the middle and tear open the tomato, and empty the seeds in each "pod". Put the empty tomato aside, and continue along for all the fruit. Now you have fresh tomatoes ready to use in recipes.












With the tomatoes, crush them with your hand until broken up and "mushed". Now, in a 3 qt. saucepan,  heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add garlic and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. 
 Lower the heat and add in all the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, pepper, salt, breaking up the tomatoes with the back of your spoon as you stir. 




Let simmer for 5 minutes, then add the bouillon, and stir. Heat to boiling than simmer for 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened. Add basil for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Set aside.


Pasta and Assembly:




 Preheat oven to 450˚. Cook pasta according to package directions, and drain. Return to the sauce pot. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta and toss. Add the tomato sauce and half the Parmesan cheese and toss. Butter a 12 x 9 Pyrex pan and pour the pasta mixture evenly into the pan. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the rest of the Parmesan. Using a spoon and your fingers, add the dollops of cheese on top and nestled into the pasta. Sprinkle with the chopped basil, and cover with tin foil. Bake the pasta for 30 minutes until hot and cheese is melting and bubbly. Uncover for the last 5 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes and serve with extra Parmesan.

KITCHEN: 11 Things to Do or Make with the Invasive Herb-Mint

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If you have any form of mint in your garden, you, like me, are probably doing battle with it constantly. It is extremely invasive. But I find myself feeling guilty throwing these sweet smelling leaves in the compost pile when I rip them out of my Iris and Catmint patch. Here are some ideas that help me use this great herb. Maybe they will inspire you, too! If you don't want to plant this herb in the ground, a container pot will keep it under control. It may even come back year to year if you keep the pot near a wall for frost protection, or in the garage.


1: Make tea
Dry the leaves upside down and store in an airtight container. Use leaves in a tea leaf cage on it's own or as a minty accent to black tea. Use it fresh in hot water to make a tea similar to Middle Eastern mint teas. Here's how-


To make mint tea, heat water to an almost boil and pour over mint leaves. Place in a glass container and let sit, covered, for 3-5 minutes. Strain liquid through a strainer.

2: As an accent to lemonade or iced tea. We actually make a great iced tea/lemonade combo that spearmint is an important ingredient. Here's the recipe:

Mint Lemonade Iced Tea


5 tea bags
1 small can frozen lemonade
1 cup fresh spearmint leaves
1/2 cup sugar

Steep tea bags and spearmint leaves in hot water for 3-5 hours. Strain and add to a gallon jar. Mix in the lemonade. Fill the jar with water and ice and serve. Garnish with a mint leaf!


3: Chop it up and add it to a simple fruit salad-or a watermelon salad.


4: Spearmint is a great ingredient for homemade ice cream. Below are some great recipe links-
http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/fresh-spearmint-ice-cream

5: Create a bath sachet with old panty hose or tied-off cheesecloth filled with spearmint leaves, and tie it to the faucet of your hot bath. The spearmint oils will infuse your bath to energize tired muscles. The vapors may also help with congestion or coughs.


6: Mint has a soothing affect on skin. Use it ground up in a homemade facial mask.

Mint mask:


1 Tbsp. Ground or powdered Spearmint
1 Tbsp. Honey
1 Tbsp. Oil (cooking)
1 cap of Liquid CoQ10
Combine all ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Apply this mask to your face, leaving on for approximately 20 minutes. Afterward, rinse with cool water. *This mixture can be stored for up to a month in a glass jar.

7: Spearmint is a major ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. A staple for many kabobs and salads is a yogurt sauce-here is a recipe you can try:


Yogurt, Cucumber and Mint  Sauce:


1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 3/4 cup plain, thick yogurt
salt 


In a bowl, mix all the ingredients. Season to taste. Serve with roasted meat or with pita chips as an appetizer.


8: Mojitos and Mint Juleps, just to name a few alcoholic beverages that spearmint is indispensable.
  
Mint Juleps 

4 handfuls mint leaves
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 cups water
8 ounces bourbon
Crushed ice



Working in batches, bruise the mint leaves in a bowl, slightly crushing leaves with a mortar/pestle or the rounded handle of a rolling pin. Combine mint, sugar and water in a saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes. Strain. Fill 4 silver julep cups with crushed ice. Add 2 ounces bourbon to each cup. Pour equal amounts of syrup into each cup. Stir rapidly until outside of cup gets frosty. Rub fresh mint around the rim of the cup.

9: Spearmint can be used indoors as a substitute to normal cut flowers. It's scent will freshen a room and the leaves and it's flowers can liven it. You can also use the herbs to accent conventional flowers in vases as well.

10: Great accent to candies and desserts. I made a dark chocolate mint torte that was unbelievable. By steeping the leaves in cream it can be used to make many chocolate mint flavored desserts-or mint whipping cream!

11: Something very simple but healthy-mint water! Add 1 cup bruised spearmint leaves to half gallon of cool, fresh water. Chill, strain and serve over ice. These little leaves help with digestive upset and freshen breath. So make your water even more beneficial for you by adding these great leaves.






RECIPE: Whole Wheat and Oats Blueberry Crisp

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Blueberries are all over the farm stands, and this is a quick dessert that I whipped up with a delicious pint I bought last Sunday. Crisps are great because they are very fast and let the fruit be the star. Accenting the crisps with a whipped cream or ice cream compliments the tartness of the berries with it's creaminess. I made this recipe healthier by cutting down on the sugar and using whole wheat flour. Yes, there is butter and cream. I would imagine you could cut down the fats by using vegetable shortening or canola oil and low fat milk. But hey-I made peace with butter. Somethings you should enjoy properly. I believe butter makes baking better. I did use light cool whip on top to feel less guilty.

Whole Wheat and Oats Blueberry Crisp

Ingredients:

Fruit 

1 pint blueberries, rinsed and picked through
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 Tbsp Splenda for baking (or granulated sugar)

Crumble 

3 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 Tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Directions:





 Butter a shallow baking dish (a 10 inch oblong or a square brownie pan). Preheat the oven to 375˚. In a bowl, mix the berries with the lemon juice, Splenda (or sugar) and flour. Pour into prepared pan evenly. 







In another bowl, mix the flour, oats, cinnamon and brown sugar. Cut in the butter and push it around with a fork until resembling coarse crumbs. Gradually add the cream while mixing the mixture with a fork. The crumbs will begin to form into larger clumps. Pour the crumble over the fruit. It doesn't need to completely cover, because the fruit will bubble up through the crumble.



Bake the crumble in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. The topping will be light gold color and the fruit will be bubbly. Let sit out to cool. 



ALL GONE! YUMMY!
 Serve warm with light cool whip, whipping cream or vanilla ice cream.


RECIPE: Creamy Whole Wheat Pasta and Chicken Salad

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I know I posted a pasta salad a month or so ago, but this one is a little different. It has a creamy dressing which you would think is decadent, but isn't. The yogurt cuts the need for mayo, and the fiber in the whole wheat pasta keeps your points down for Weight Watcher's or South Beach. And honestly, my husband was concerned I used whole wheat pasta because we served this to guests, and he thought it would be too "earthy". No one could tell it was whole wheat! Everybody loved it. This was based on a food network recipe that I kicked up a little bit. Enjoy!

Creamy Whole Wheat Pasta & Chicken Salad


Ingredients:

8 oz. whole wheat rotini, cooked according to package directions and cooled
1 1/4 cups 2 % plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/2 rotisserie chicken or roasted chicken, meat shredded and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 Japanese cucumber, quartered, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste

Directions:


First, cook your pasta, drain and toss with ice to cool down quicker. Set aside. Meanwhile, make your dressing. In a small bowl, whisk yogurt, mayo, vinegar, mustard, 1/2 the dill, chives, salt and pepper. Chill the dressing (this dressing can be done ahead of time and chilled overnight).





Toss the pasta with the cucumbers, red onion, celery, the rest of the dill, the chicken and the carrots.






Toss the creamy dressing into the pasta. Chill for 10 minutes before serving.


LIFESTYLE: Love this Poorer Girl's "Anthropologie Like" Store, Ruche

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Ladies-I know we love looking fabulous, and sometimes that gets expensive. I was in Santa Monica a couple weeks ago on business and I walked the Anthropologie store there and wanted to buy everything. I love the styles that they have, where they allow us to rejoice in our femininity without making excuses for it. The thing is, they are a little pricey. Hey, we are all on budgets these days, and I would love to spend 90 bucks on a flouncy chiffon top that would look sextastic with a cute pair of jeans, but it is hard to justify that amount for a little top. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that store. But I found a great alternative.

I ran across a great online store called Ruche. It has the heart of Anthropologie and "sort of" the prices of Target. Check it out! I loved the jewelery, the dresses, the tops and the bottoms. The shoes were hit or miss, but overall, this is a really fun site. I am getting myself some rings. Take a visit!


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