Eating My Way Through

Eggplant, Tomato and Mozza Stacks with Basil Polenta June 29, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Veggies — Nikki Wegner @ 10:55 am
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For this meal I once again had some guest cooks. My high school friends Brendan and Emma graced me with a visit last weekend, and since Brendan previously requested to be on the blog, I thought I would indulge him!

Brendan, Me and Emma

Brendan, Me and Emma

Since Brendan has been a vegetarian forever, and Emma has since started to embrace the lifestyle too, we decided on making eggplant, tomato and mozzarella stacks on a bed of basil polenta. If you follow the link to the recipe below, you will see we changed it up a bit to make a quicker, easier version, since all three of us were starving!

This was a great meal for a dinner party or small group dinner, I am not sure how it would re-heat if you had leftover, so something to keep in mind if you decide to give it a try.

You start by slicing up the eggplant and tomatoes, grating the Parmesan and slicing the mozzarella.

Take the eggplant slices and place on a pan, brushing both sides with olive oil and sprinkling with salt.



Let those broil for about 4 minutes on each side until brown.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the tomato slices with balsamic vinegar.

One the eggplant is done, adjust the temp of the oven to 375° and assemble the stacks in the order of eggplant, mozza, tomato, mozza, and then one last tomato.

Assembled Stacks

Assembled Stacks

Let the cheese melt for about 15 minutes.

While the cheese is melting, make the polenta. Bring 2 cups water to boil. Whisk in the polenta gradually and continue whisking for about 6 minutes. I was lucky enough to have a helper, who didn’t complain at all about the job he was given…

Brendan Stirring the Polenta

Brendan Stirring the Polenta

Once the polenta has thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and margarine/butter, then stir in the basil and set aside.

Basil Polenta

Basil Polenta

When the cheese has melted between the layers of the stacks, remove from them from the oven.

Eggplant, Tomato and Mozza Stack

Eggplant, Tomato and Mozza Stack

To finish up, divide the polenta (about 1/4 cup) and stacks (about 2) among 4 plates.

Eggplant, Tomato and Mozza Stacks with Basil Polenta

Eggplant, Tomato and Mozza Stacks with Basil Polenta

Sprinkle with oregano or top with a basil leaf to finish everything off!

Emma loved this dish as did I, but Brendan didn’t chime in with warm praise, so I am a little skeptical of his feelings. But still, I would definitely make this again if I was feeding a bunch of people. I also think the stacks would be great as an appetizer sans polenta, as the flavors are a proven great combination!

Eggplant, Tomato and Mozza Stacks with Basil Polenta (adapted from Bon Appétit)

2 cups water

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup polenta (yellow cornmeal)

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1 tbsp butter

1/4 cup basil, fresh and chopped

2 large Chinese eggplants, each cut into 1/2 inch strips

Olive oil for brushing eggplant

4 large plum tomatoes,  cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling on tomatoes

Dried oregano

1 7 3/4-ounce package small fresh mozzarella balls in water, drained


Pre-heat your broiler

Place sliced eggplant on baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt

Broil until brown, about 4 minutes per side

While the eggplant are broiling, sprinkle tomato slices with balsamic vinegar

When eggplant are done broiling, remove from oven and adjust temperature to 375°

Top each eggplant with 1/3-inch think slice of mozzarella, then 1 tomato slice, then 1 more slice of mozzarella, and then another tomato slice

Place back in oven until cheese melts, about 15 minutes

While the cheese is melting, bring 2 cups of water with some salt to a boil and gradually whisk cornmeal into boiling water and reduce heat to medium-low

Keep whisking polenta constantly for about 6 minutes or until it is nice and thick then remove from the heat

Stir in cheese and butter, then stir in basil

Remove eggplant and tomato stacks from the oven

Plate dish with about 1/4 cup polenta and 2 stacks per serving, sprinkle with oregano if desired

Yields 4 servings


Pesto Pasta Salad June 24, 2010

Filed under: Lunch,Salad — Nikki Wegner @ 11:11 am
Tags: , ,

For the past year I have been meaning to make pesto. I even bought a very expensive, huge bag of pine nuts from Whole Foods last summer. Yet, they have sat in my cupboard, waiting to be turned into something. My roommate makes pesto all the time and she inspired me to experiment with it. Combining a bunch of different recipes, I think I came up with a pretty healthy, very yummy pesto.

I decided to toss the pesto with some pasta and veggies to make a salad I could take throughout the week for lunch. This would be a great addition to any bbq, as it’s super light and has great flavor.

To start, make some whole-wheat pasta according to the package directions.

While it’s cooking, start the pesto by toasting some pine nuts and walnuts for about 5 minutes, watching them so they don’t burn!

Toasting Walnuts and Pine Nuts

Toasting Walnuts and Pine Nuts

As the nuts are toasting, put the basil, garlic cloves, Parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, chicken broth and salt in a food processor. Add the nuts when they are done toasting.

Pesto Ingredients

Pesto Ingredients

Now, start the chopper and process the ingredients until smooth.



That’s it! Now you have a great pesto you can not only use for this salad, but for tons of other recipes!

Once the pasta is done cooking, drain and let cool a bit. Toss in a large bowl with the pesto, and veggies. I used  cherry tomatoes, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes, but feel free to substitute others. Kalamata olives would be great, or maybe spinach and some red onions.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Pesto Pasta Salad

Top the pasta salad with a bit of cheese, I used goat cheese (Parmesan would also work) and serve. I have been eating this all week for lunch and it keeps really well and is super filling, helping me stave off the 4pm snack craving!

Pesto Pasta Salad (own recipe)

2 cups whole-wheat pasta

1 tbsp walnuts

1 tbsp pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh basil, packed

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup Parmesan, fresh and grated

1 tbsp olive oil

1-2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 tbsp chicken broth, low-sodium

1 tsp salt

4 oz black olives, sliced

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled or 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated (to top off the salad)


Prepare pasta according to package directions, drain and let cool

Toast walnuts and pine nuts over medium-low heat, about 5 minutes

Combine basil, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, chicken broth, salt and toasted nuts in a food processor or chopper to make the pesto

Process until smooth

Transfer pesto to a large bowl, toss with pasta and mix until well-combined

Add in olives, cherry tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes and mix everything together

Divide into bowls and top with goat cheese

Yields 4 servings


Baked Risotto with Sauteed Summer Squash June 21, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Veggies — Nikki Wegner @ 5:49 pm
Tags: , ,

A few months ago I made risotto the traditional way…aka the time-consuming, arm-hurting way with lots of stirring. You slowly add broth, let it absorb, and then repeat, for what seems like too long. It is delicious, just a process.

So I was intrigued when I found a few recipes for baked risotto…and I am happy to report it is much easier and tastes just as good! This version is another Martha Stewart recipe, though it is much easier than the enchilada sauce I made before. I added some sautéed summer squash to give it a bit more flavor and add in some veggies!

To start, make sure you prep your ingredients. Chop the onion, grate the parm and slice the squash!

Heat some olive oil in an oven-safe dutch oven or pot, and add onions and cook until translucent. Then you toss in the Arborio rice and stir to coat for about 1 minute.

Arborio Rice

Arborio Rice

Then you add in some wine and stir until it completely evaporates, which should take about 2 minutes.  Then you add in some chicken broth (can use veggie if you are vegetarian), water and salt. You bring this to a boil.

Mixture boiling

Mixture boiling

Once it is boiling, cover and remove from heat. Place in your pre-heated to 425° oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

When you have about 5 minutes left, start sauteing the squash in a skillet. I just use a little bit of olive oil, get that heated up over medium heat, toss in some garlic and cook for about 1 minute then add the squash.



The squash takes about 5-10 minutes, just make sure it is cooked through and you should be all set. Be sure to watch it though as it goes from perfect to burned quickly, admittedly mine got a little burned!

When the timer goes off for the risotto, remove it from the oven and place back on the stove. Remember, it will be super hot, so use oven mitts at all times!

Remove the cover, and stir in a 1/2 cup of warm water, the parm and 1 tbsp butter/butter substitute. It should have a nice and creamy texture! Top with the squash and serve.

Baked Risotto with Summer Squash

Baked Risotto with Summer Squash

After making risotto this way, I don’t think I will ever go back to the original. This is just as good, maybe even better, and is so much easier ( with less room for an oops!) The recipe serves 2 for a meal portion, but served with a filet of salmon or a chicken breast as a side, you could definitely get 4-6 servings out of it and would definitely be great for a dinner party.

Baked Risotto with Sautéed Summer Squash (adapted from Martha Stewart)

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1/4 cup onion,  finely chopped

3/4 cup Arborio rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 cups water, hot and divided

1/2 cup low sodium chicken (or veggie) broth

3/4 tsp coarse salt

1 tbsp unsalted butter or butter substitute

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

3 cloves garlic

2 summer squash, cut into 1/4 inch coins


Pre-heat oven to 425°

In an ovenproof pan (with lid) or Dutch oven, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-high heat

Add onion and cook, stirring,  2 to 3 minutes

Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat , about 1 minute

Toss in the wine and cook until it is fully absorbed, about 1-3 minutes

Stir in 1 1/2 cups water, the broth and  salt

Bring everything to a boil

Once boiling cover the pot and put in the oven, baking 20-25 minutes until most liquid is absorbed

While it is cooking, heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in a skillet, add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes

Add in squash and saute until fully cooked, remove from heat and set aside

When time is up on the risotto, remove from the oven

Stir in 1/2  cup water (the consistency of the risotto should be creamy), the butter and cheese

Serve immediately and top with squash

Yields 2 full portions, 4-6 side portions


Maple Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Salad June 19, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Veggies — Nikki Wegner @ 11:16 am

I love cooking dinner at home with friends. It’s a great alternative to spending a lot of money out at a noisy restaurant on the weekend. And it’s so much fun to cook together, laugh together and maybe even drink a little bit of wine.

This week our guest cook is Jen. Say hi Jen! (She wanted to take my pic too, but I got out of it since I was still wearing my PJs when she got here!)



Jen is also a food-lover and we sometimes spend way too much time email/gchatting about recipes at work…whoops! She picked the recipe for the main course, a Maple Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Salad.

I used to hate tofu growing up, but I have come around to how great of a protein it is, and how if you prepare it right, it can actually be really tasty. What is great about this recipe is that it is super tasty, healthy and hearty.

To start, chop all the veggies and turn on your grill (we just used my George Foreman) and let it heat up while you mix up the maple marinade.

Maple Vinaigrette/Marinade

Maple Marinade

Using a pastry brush, spread the marinade on the tofu and veggies. Because we were working with a smaller grill, we first grilled the tofu…

Grilled Tofu

Grilled Tofu

then all the veggies…

Grilled Veggies

Grilled Veggies

Once everything is grilled, all you do is toss some lettuce lightly with some balsamic vinaigrette and plate with the grilled veggies and tofu. I also whipped up a pseudo-bruschetta of olive oil, basil, tomatoes and salt to serve on top of some toasted french bread to go along with the meal.

Maple Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Salad

Maple Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Salad

This meal was super easy and great to cook with a friend. While one person is grilling, the other can dress the salad, make the bruschetta, and get everything ready to serve.  All in all, I say Jen’s and my cooking date was a success!

Maple Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Salad (from

1 package extra-firm tofu

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

3 tbsps maple syrup

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp paprika

1 tsp ground cumin

Sea Salt

4 Portobello mushrooms

4 small summer squash/zucchini, chopped into coins

1 small eggplant, cut into long strips

Mixed Greens

Balsamic dressing (I used Trader Joe’s Fat-free Balsamic)


Heat grill

Drain tofu and slice into strips, set aside on paper towel to dry out a bit

Mix up the maple marinade by whisking together the olive oil, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and sea salt

Using a pastry brush, brush the tofu and vegetables with the maple mixture and sprinkle with sea salt

Grill the tofu and vegetables for about 10 minutes until tofu has grill marks and veggies are cooked through

Serve the tofu and veggies atop the mixed greens and drizzle lightly with dressing

Yields 4 servings


Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble June 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nikki Wegner @ 1:55 pm

Growing up we had rhubarb that randomly grew in the middle of our backyard. No one in our family ever planted it, so who knows how it even got there in the first place. My mom loved it, as she like me, loves to bake. But my dad, he had a long running hatred for it.

As soon as it grew, he was plotting its demise…and it took him a few years to finally kill it off. He used to pay me to mow our lawn, and I would get a little bonus if I “accidentally” mowed down the rhubarb too. Since I was young and naive, I had no idea how yummy rhubarb could be when cooked right and prepared with sweeter fruits, so I of course listened to my dad and pocketed the extra cash.

Today though I am happy to announce my dad’s personal dislike of rhubarb never rubbed off. I love rhubarb in pies, jams and other tasty treats. And the other night I was making dinner with a friend, and she asked if we could try to make a non-dairy dessert. So I decided to go with my trusty Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble!

This recipe is a snap and can be baking in the oven as you eat dinner, so when you are all done, it is warm and ready to serve.

All you do is chop up some rhubarb and strawberries, add some lemon juice, flour, sugar and a bit of cinnamon and combine in a large bowl.

Rhubarb and Strawberries

Rhubarb and Strawberries

Pour the mixture into an 8-inch square pan.

In a food processor, combine the crumble ingredients: flour, sugar, brown sugar and butter (or a vegan  substitute like Smart Balance), and pulse for a about 20 seconds until it is mixed and clumpy.

Crumble Topping

Crumble Topping

Spread the crumble topping over the strawberry-rhubarb mixture in the pan. Pop in the oven and bake at 375° or until the top is golden brown.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

When serving, it is easiest to place in bowls because without any sort of crust it could get pretty messy!

But that doesn’t make it any less scrumptious!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble


3 cups rhubarb stalks, diced into 1/2 inch pieces

1 quart strawberries, cut into quarters

1 tbsp lemon juice, fresh

1 tbsp water

1 tbsp, flour

1 tsp cinnamon


1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup butter (or substitute)


Pre-heat oven to 375° and grease with cooking spray an 8-inch square pan

Chop rhubarb and strawberries and put in a large mixing bowl

Add in lemon juice, water, flour and cinnamon, mix to combine

Spoon mixture into pan

In a food processor combine crumble ingredients, pulse a few times until clumpy and combined

Spread topping evenly over strawberry-rhubarb mixture

Bake in oven for 40 minutes, or until browned

Yields 8 servings


Black Bean, Mango and Quinoa Salad June 15, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Lunch,Salad,Veggies — Nikki Wegner @ 8:01 am
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In the summer I love recipes that don’t involve turning on the oven! This probably comes from growing up in a house without central air, where turning on the oven always raised the temp downstairs like 10° and you started sweating instantly.

Now, living in DC, living without air conditioning seems unfathomable. But old habits die hard, and this Black Bean, Mango and Quinoa Salad is a great no-oven necessary summer meal!

To start, toast the quinoa for 4-6 minutes, until fragrant and it starts crackling. Then just remove from the heat and using a very thin strainer rinse the quinoa. Definitely use the thinnest strainer you can find, if you don’t you will have a mess on your hands and quinoa all over your sink!

Quinoa Toasting

Quinoa Toasting

Return the quinoa to the pot and add water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed.

While the quinoa is cooking, rinse and drain the black beans, chop the yellow pepper and Mango (I cheated this time and bought pre-cut, cause chopping mangos can get a bit sticky).

Black Beans, Mango and Yellow Pepper

Black Beans, Mango and Yellow Pepper

In a large bowl, combine some orange juice, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, ginger, cayenne pepper and  salt for the dressing and whisk.



Add in the beans, yellow pepper and mango, tossing to coat.

Once the quinoa is fully cooked, toss in the black bean and mango mixture.

Black Bean, Mango and Quinoa Salad

Black Bean, Mango and Quinoa Salad

This is a great salad to make for lunches or a light dinner, plus it is ready in like 20 minutes, so you really can’t beat that!

Black Bean, Mango and Quinoa Salad (adapted from Eating Well)

1/2 cup quinoa

1 cup water

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tsp olive oil

1 tsp ginger root, minced

1 tsp cayenne pepper, ground

1 small mango, diced

1 yellow pepper, chopped

1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 scallions, chopped


Toast quinoa in a saucepan for 4-6 minutes, until fragrant and crackling

Using a very fine strainer, rinse quinoa and return to pan

Add water and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover, and cook 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed

While quinoa is cooking, prep the black beans, yellow pepper and mango

In a large bowl, combine orange juice, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, ginger root and cayenne pepper with a whisk

Add the beans, pepper and mango to the bowl and toss to coat

Once the quinoa is done, toss into the bean mixture and stir

Divide among bowls and top with scallions for serving

Yields 3 servings


Balsamic Poached Chicken with Chickpea and Tomato Couscous Salad June 11, 2010

Filed under: Dinner — Nikki Wegner @ 1:55 pm
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Top Chef is starting again soon, and yay, it’s being shot in DC! Whenever I watch Top Chef they throw around terms and ways of cooking, like molecular gastronomy, souvee, poach that I have never tried, nor really thought of trying.

But in an attempt to branch out and challenge myself, I decided to try poaching chicken for dinner, and guess what, it just sounds harder than it is! My old roommate attempted to show me how to poach eggs once when she came to visit me once, and I just watched her in awe. But it turns out when it come to chicken at least, poaching is a breeze.

To poach the chicken all you have to do is combine the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar and garlic in a large pot. Bring the liquid to a boil then add the chicken. You might have to add a bit of water to the pot, no more than 1/2 cup to make sure the chicken is full covered. Cover the pot with a lid and let simmer for a minute. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for about 15 minutes.

Chicken Prepped for Poaching

Chicken Prepped for Poaching

After 15 minutes, remove the lid and make sure the chicken is fully cooked! If it is, remove from the liquid and place on a plate.

Poached chicken

Poached chicken

Put the chicken in your oven on the lowest setting to keep it warm as you reduce the sauce.

Return the saucepan to the burner on medium-high heat. Let the sauce cook down for about 15 minutes, or until you have 1/3 cup of liquid.

While the sauce is reducing, make the couscous.

Cook the couscous according to the package directions. Mine said to bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Once boiling, add a bit of salt and 1 cup couscous. Stir couscous then cover and remove from the heat. Let steam for about 5 minutes.

While the couscous is steaming, combine cherry tomatoes, onions, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, mint and basil in a medium bowl.

Tomato mixture

Tomato mixture

After 5 minutes, remove the cover from the couscous and fluff with a fork.

Add in chickpeas, orange zest, 1 tablespoon and salt to taste, and stir.

Add in tomato mixture, stir.

Chickpea and Tomato Couscous Salad

Chickpea and Tomato Couscous Salad

Remove chicken from the oven, divide among plates. Cover with some of the reduced balsamic sauce. Spoon a serving of the couscous salad on to the plate and top salad with almonds and feta,  and voila!

Balsamic Poached Chicken with Chickpea and Tomato Couscous Salad

Balsamic Poached Chicken with Chickpea and Tomato Couscous Salad

This meal has it all. Protein, grains, vegetables and it is delicious! Who knew poaching was so easy? Not sure I am ready yet to try souveeing anything, but maybe I will get adventurous again soon!

Balsamic Poached Chicken (adapted from Real Simple)

1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders

1 14.5 oz can low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup balsamic vinegar

3 garlic cloves, whole


Combine broth, vinegar and garlic in a large saucepan/pot and bring to a boil

Add chicken to pot

If necessary, add up to a 1/2 cup water to make sure chicken is full covered

Cover pot and simmer for 1 minute

Remove from heat, and set aside until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes

Transfer chicken to a plate, and place in oven on lowest heat setting to keep warm

Return the liquid to the burner and turn to medium-high

Let liquid simmer and reduce until you have about 1/3 cup of liquid left, about 15 minutes

Remove chicken from oven (make sure to use oven mitts!)

Plate with sauce and serve

Yields 4-6 servings

Chickpea and Tomato Couscous Salad (adapted from Real Simple)

1 cup couscous, dry

1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 tsps grated orange zest

2 tbsps olive oil

Kosher salt to taste

1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 small sweet union, thinly sliced

2 tsps dried mint flakes

2 tsps dried basil

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup reduced-fat Feta


Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan, add 1/2 tsp salt and couscous

Stir couscous, cover with lid and remove from heat

Let couscous steam for 5 minutes

While couscous is steaming in a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, mint, basil, salt and 1 tbsp oil

Remove lid from couscous and fluff with a fork

Stir in chickpeas, orange zest, 1 tablespoon of oil, and salt to taste, stir

Add tomato mixture, stir

Place in serving bowl or on plates, sprinkle with almonds to top off

Yields 4 servings