Snow Storm Cooking: Eggplant Parmesan

Well, it has been a long time since writing in a Charm Offensive matter.  Lord knows, it would take a blizzard to make me pour out my cooking prowess.  Since I last left you, I have been busy with work, travels, and beginning a relationship, life gets in the way and you find yourself out of the kitchen for a while.  Thankfully, the blizzard conditions have provided some time back in the kitchen.

Since I was craving Italian food, I did not want to resort to a frozen pizza (that’s for Super Bowl and I will include the tricks tomorrow).  I had an eggplant to use from my last grocery store trip, a jar of delicious Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce with Cabernet Sauvignon, and mozzarella cheese to use.  I decided to make Eggplant Parmesan, as it is an easy vegetarian dish to make.  This recipe has received rave reviews from both the non-vegetarian and vegetarian audiences.  It was my second time using the broiler element in the oven, and I was petrified that I would burn down the house (especially after my last experience making bruschetta).  However, it turned out perfectly with no crispy burning.  Enjoy this dish with a glass of Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc, and enjoy the beautiful winter scenery.

Eggplant Parmesan

1 Eggplant (peeled and sliced)

1/4 c. Italian Bread Crumbs

2 tsp. Olive Oil

1/3 c. finely shredded Parmesan Cheese

Cooking Spray

1 c. Marinara Sauce (I used Bertolli’s Vineyard Spaghetti Sauce)

1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese


Set the oven to broil.  Spray both sides of each eggplant slice with cooking spray.  Place on rack in broiler pan.  Broil with tops 4-5 inches from heat about 10 minutes, flip eggplant half way.

While eggplant is broiling, combine parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  Toss with olive oil.

Meanwhile, heat the sauce in a saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until heated through.  Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.

Sprinkle 1 c. of mozzarella cheese over eggplant slices.  Spoon bread crumb mixture over cheese.  Broil for a minute or until cheese is melted and crumbs are brown.  Top eggplant with sauce and remaining 1/2 c. of mozzarella cheese.




The Joys of Baking

When I was a child growing up in rural Maryland, I was always filled with joy and excitement every December to finding my mother in the kitchen baking several varieties of cookies.  It wasn’t because I was a sweet tooth, rather it was the enjoyment of spending time with my Mother and learning about the traditions from her childhood.

Her mother always made a lavish spread of baked goods every year and was a phenomenal cook, who loved to entertain others.  Every time, we would always receive a baked good…you knew it was baked with good will and love.  My mother still carries on the same traditions, and these only enhance Christmas in my eyes.

Now, it is my turn to take on some of these traditions of good southern hospitality at Christmas.  I have created my own traditions by adding new twists to old-fashioned standbys.  One is implementing new tastes to the “vintage theme” Christmas tree.  Today, I share my Peppermint Bark recipe for your enjoyment.

Peppermint Bark
2 c. All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 large egg yolk
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. finely chopped red and white striped hard peppermint candies or candy canes
2 oz. white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13 X 9 X 2 inch metal baking pan with a long strip of 9 inch wide parchment paper, leaving overhang on both short sides of pan.

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl.  Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy.  Gradually beat in sugar.  Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape sides of bowl.  Beat in vanilla, then egg yolk.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just to blend.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into prepared baking pan, spacing evenly.  Using moistened fingertips, press dough to form even layer over bottom of pan.  Pierce dough all over with fork.

Bake cookie base until light golden brown and slightly puffed and edges begin to come away from sides of pan, about 30 mins.  Place pan on rack; immediately sprinkle bittersweet chocolate over.  Let stand until chocolate softens.  Using small offset spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate over top of cookie in thin even layer.  Immediately sprinkle chopped peppermint candies over.

Stir white chocolate in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth.  Remove from over water.  Using fork, drizzle white chocolate all over cookies.  Chill until white chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Using paper overhang as aid, lift cookie from pan and transfer to a cutting board.  Using a large knife, cut cookie into irregular pieces.  You can also do this recipe ahead of time by placing cookies in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper.

Christmas Cookie Season Begins!

December always brings out the cookie sheets and creativity.  Every year, we always try to out-do the year before by creating new recipes and traditions or relying on the old stand-bys to bring cheer.  It is always a good time to bond with family members and loved ones.

Every year, my Mom would make a lavish spread of cookies for family.  These cookies included the traditional standards of cut-out sugar cookies, gingerbread men, “What’s in a Kiss?” cookies, and the infamous chocolate chip cookies.

So…this year, I decided to try my hand at creating my own twist to Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies.   The idea was to add an additional ingredient that would make my cookies have a taste of their own.  First, my Mom always adds pecans or walnuts to her cookies.  While I love her cookies, I wanted to do a version with crushed Heath bars while keeping the cookie moist.  Lastly, I made my cookies larger than Mom’s by using an ice cream scoop.  The cookies were big, but they offered more of a great tasting product.

Crushed Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter (1 c.) softened

3/4 c. Granulated Sugar

3/4 c. Packed Light Brown Sugar

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

2 Eggs

2 1/4 c. All-Purpose Flour

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/2 tsp. Salt

2 c. (1 package) Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips

1 c. Crushed Heath Bars

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl using an electric or stand mixer until creamy.  Add eggs; beat well.  Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended.  Stir in chocolate chips and crushed heath bars.   Using an ice cream scoop or teaspoon, drop onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool slightly, and place cookies on wire rack.  Cool completely.


Lazy Evenings

Normally, I make a conscientious attempt to cook, but lately, traveling for work and other events has kept me out of the kitchen.  However, I do have to say there are a few things that I have fell in love with in the kitchen lately.  One is Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake mix.  It’s good stuff and a life saver for those lazy weekend mornings, when you want a home cooked breakfast or for a quick dinner.

Another thing is my hopeless addiction to the George Foreman Grill.  I love grilling.  The taste of charcoal marks on chicken or cedar plank salmon on the grill always reminds me of summer.  Since I have to wait for cedar plank salmon, I keep the summer tradition going with marinated chicken on the indoor grill.  So, I am sharing my favorite recipe for marinated chicken and it just requires a bottle of vinaigrette.

Marinated Chicken Breasts with Polenta

1 tube of Italian Herb Polenta (sliced and fried in olive oil)

1 package of chicken tenderloins (boneless, skinless and thawed)

1 bottle of  Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette or Greek Vinaigrette

In a glass dish, place chicken tenderloins then cover with vinaigrette.  Let chicken set for a couple of hours to develop a great flavor (as soon as I woke up this morning, I did this and let the flavor soak in while at work) in the fridge.

Once flavor develops and seeps into the chicken, place on the hot indoor grill.  Grill until light goes off.  Then, place chicken tenderloins over 2-3 polenta slices.

It was quite yummy and a healthy departure from the fattening pasta I had planned to fix.

Stay tuned for some holiday cooking starting this weekend.  I should have some good baked goodies planned.

Rainy Nights Call for Good Chocolate

It has been my intention to make chocolate truffles for a colleague, since he requested them back in January after I made them on a whim.  I decided to whip up a batch of these wonderful delicacies for my colleagues, and in the midst of things felt like sharing the recipe.  This is truly a Charm Offensive original.

Lady K’s Divine Chocolate Truffles

2 packages of semisweet chocolate

1 tsp. extract (I used Pure Almond Extract, but you can use Raspberry, Coconut, Vanilla, Orange, Cherry or Peppermint extracts)

1 8 oz. brick of cream cheese

In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Meanwhile, in a microwave safe bowl, melt 1 package of semisweet chocolate squares chunked, unwrapped in 30 second intervals until melted.  Once melted, add melted chocolate to cream cheese.  Mix until thoroughly incorporated, then place chocolate cream cheese mixture in fridge for one hour.

After the mixture has set, shape chocolate-cream cheese mixture into balls.  Then, roll into cocoa powder, powdered sugar, or melted chocolate.



Easy, Breezy Chicken Pot Pie

Over the weekend, I did not have much time to spend in the kitchen as planned.  One of the things I do every Sunday is cook meals for the week, so I have lunch and dinner every night.   However, since the weather was so beautiful, I focused on utilizing chicken as the key ingredient.  The first dish I made was a Mango Chutney-Greek Yogurt Marinated Chicken paired with Vegetable Medley rice.  I love mango chutney, and greek yogurt is becoming a staple in my kitchen, as it is healthier than sour cream.

Are you Mango for the Chicken?

1 package boneless chicken tenderloins (4 tenderloins)

2 tbsp. Cumin

4 tbsp. Mango Chutney

1 container (8 oz.) Stonyfield Farms Oikos Plain Greek Yogurt

In a small bowl, combine all four ingredients.  Add salt to taste.  Then in a glass casserole dish, spoon marinade over chicken.  Refrigerate for one hour, then grill.

Next dish I made was a scrumptious chicken pot pie.  You would have thought I spent all day in the kitchen slaving over this dish. In all honesty, I spent 5 minutes assembling this dish. The total cook time was 40 minutes.

Easy, Breezy Chicken Pot Pie

1 can of Crescent Rolls
2 tbsp. Cumin
1 can of Cream of Potato Soup
1 pkg of Frozen Mixed Vegetables
1 pkg of chicken tenderloins (cooked…I grilled mine without the marinade)

In a medium bowl, combine cream of potato soup, cooked chicken, frozen vegetables, and cumin. Then pour in a greased casserole dish, and then place crescent roll dough on top (do not separate into triangles). Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly, then serve.


Cooking Hiatus and New Recipes

I would like to apologize to you about recent cooking hiatus. I have not been on this site lately, due to work commitments, but I will have more recipes this weekend. Keep on the lookout for a fabulous Chocolate Truffles recipe, a chicken and apple casserole dish that will make your mouth water, and lastly, a tribute to my favorite city in America, New York, with my Caprese Pasta dish.

However, I will share my famous hot chocolate recipe, since the weather is starting to get chilly.

Krystle’s Hot Chocolate

1 c. Fat-free Milk
1 tsp. Extract (Pick a flavor. I generally use Pure Almond or Vanilla Extract.)
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. secret weapon (You can use cinnamon, but it will not have the Krystle effect. Secret Weapon is a spice blend that you use when making Pumpkin Pie.)
2 tbsp. Hershey’s Cocoa (While you can use regular Hershey’s, I highly recommend the Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa…which is ten times better.)

In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar, extract and secret weapon (cinnamon). Cook on medium heat, then when it is starting to steam, add one tbsp of cocoa, then whisk to combine, then add the last tbsp. of cocoa, then whisk to combine. Pour into mug. Now, if you want it to be super glamorous, add some homemade whipped cream.

Whipped Cream
Heavy Whipping Cream
1 tsp. extract (again, I would strongly advise Pure Vanilla or Almond Extract)
1 tbsp. sugar

Beat all three ingredients until stiff peaks form in the cream.

Butternut Apple Soup

As someone who is beginning to embrace a vegetarian diet, I am beginning to find a special joy in cooking various vegetable dishes.  Whether it is my Caprese Pasta dish or a good Panzanella salad featuring kalamata olives, it is quite an interesting adventure cooking with certain vegetables.

Since last weekend was cold, rainy, and dreary, I had a soup craving.  I poured through various websites in search of a perfect soup that incorporated butternut squash and apples, since Trader Joe’s discontinued their butternut apple soup that I loved so much.   First, I wanted something simple, and allowed for some slight modifications (like adding my special secret weapon that I use in mostly every dessert dish). 

The recipe I stumbled across came from Food Network, and while it was quite tasty, I found the recipe to be slightly messy. It was messy due to the fact that I do not have a food processor, so I improvised and used a blender instead. Another downside is that your kitchen and surrounding rooms will smell like curry. Since curry powder is a big ingredient in this recipe, it is my suggestion to light some candles (Yankee candles are the best. A personal favorite for the kitchen is Macintosh or Home Sweet Home.)

Overall, I rate this 5.5 out of 10. Next time, I am using my secret weapon spice in place of curry. It was a tad spicy for my liking.

Butternut Apple Soup

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 c. chopped onions
2 tbsp. curry powder
2 large butternut squash (peeled, cut in half, removed the seeds, and chunked)
4 Macintosh Apples (peeled, cored, quartered, and chunked)
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 c. water
2 c. apple cider

Warm the butter, olive oil, onions, and curry powder in a large stockpot uncovered over low heat for 15-20 mins. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Add the peeled, cubed squash and apples, along with salt, pepper, 2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30-40 mins., until the squash and apples are very soft. Puree the soup in a food processor. Pour the soup back into the pot, and add the apple cider to make the soup the right consistency. Serve hot.

Semi-Homemade Treats

This weekend was fairly busy, but I did spend a good deal of time in the kitchen.  On Friday night, I had a craving for apple pie.  Since my kitchen has been under some slight renovations, I decided not to make the homemade pie crust and opted for the refrigerated Pillsbury pie crusts.   Pillsbury pie crusts taste like they are the closest thing to homemade, and they are great when you are short on time.  However, this was not your typical apple pie recipe, as it incorporated caramel (think…caramel apples), and a homemade apple pie filling.  Overall, this recipe works a lot better if you melt the caramels for the pie.

Caramel Apple Pie

1 package Pillsbury Pie Crusts

6 Jonathan (or another apple suitable for baking) apples

1 package of Kraft Caramel Bits (they are ready for melting, so no need to unwrap each caramel)

3 tbsp. Cinnamon

1/2 cup of Sugar
First, peel and core the apples.  Then, slice the apples.  In a bowl, mix the apples with cinnamon and sugar.  Also, add a sprinkle of flour to help with the thickening of the apple filling.

In a pie pan, roll out one of the pie crusts.  Spread a nice layer of caramel on the pie crust.  Then add the apples to the crust and pour some more caramel on top of the apples.  Place the other pie crust on top of the apples, crimp the edges of the crust with a fork, and cut a slit on the top of the pie.  Bake according to pie crust directions (450 degrees for 40-45 minutes).
Serve warm with additional melted caramel.

Today, I was pretty busy prepping food for this coming week.  This is to help curb eating out and focusing on eating healthy.  However, I wanted to make some goodies for my colleagues tomorrow, so I fixed my infamous Candy Bar Brownies.  These brownies are so easy to make, as they involve a brownie mix and two Symphony bars (you want the ones with Almonds and Toffee).

Candy Bar Brownies

2 Symphony Bars with Almonds and Toffee

1 box of Brownies (Chewy Fudge)

Fix brownie mix according to package directions.   In a 8 x 8 pan, spread half of the brownie mixture.  Then place two unwrapped Symphony bars on top of the brownie mixture, and on top, layer the remaining brownie mixture.

Bake the brownies according to package directions.  They are so good and rich.  People won’t even know they were made with a brownie mix. 🙂

You see, I have a non-political side

For those who do not know me, I run a political website called Crystal Clear Conservative. While it seems things are politics as usual, I do have a non-political side, and this will be on display here. I am a foodie, who loves buying from small businesses, farmers markets, and spending a lot of time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. It is my goal to feature recipes, in addition to food reviews and featuring local small businesses that sell food products and kitchen supplies. I hope you enjoy the contributions.