Okra and Eggplant Cobbler

Food often reminds me that I’m a Yankee living in the south.

Where I come from, chicken cutlets and eggplant are about the only reasons to break out the breadcrumbs and pans of oil. And with my focus on a healthier way of eating, I don’t even fry those favorites anymore.

But when your partner-in-cuisine-crime is as Southern as sweet tea, which I don’t drink, sometimes you have to cave and pay homage to your surroundings.

I mean, I made fried pork chops for dinner last night. I didn’t eat them, but I still made them. Doesn’t that count?

At the farmers’ markets right now it’s hard to avoid okra. I love it, and I really can’t pass it up. It’s a gorgeous green color and it reminds me of a witch’s nails or nose. You know how much I love Halloween, right? RightProblem is, okra is usually fried in these parts. It’s delicious that way, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my favorite way to treat fresh produce.

Stewing is another popular way to treat okra in the south. As you know, if you’re a loyal reader, I don’t do anything the simple way. My way of stewing okra is to add lots of spices.

To keep me happy and turn okra into something that’s reminiscent of my partner-in-cuisine-crime’s childhood, I created an Okra and Eggplant Cobbler.I stewed the eggplant and okra with tomatoes and gave them a cornbread crust.

Here’s what you need:

For the filling:

  • 1 pound of okra
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 small onion cut into thin half-moons
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp. onion powder

For the cornbread crust:

  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (preferable stone-ground whole-grain)
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (I made my own: a hair under 1/3 cup of whole milk + 1 tsp. vinegar)

Here’s how you do it:

Cut the okra into coins on the diagonal. I do it about a half-inch thick.Cut the eggplant into chunks.Set a deep pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil.

When the oil starts to slide around, add the onion. Stir. Add a pinch of salt and some pepper. Stir.Let the onion cook for about 4 minutes or until it softens, then add the okra and the eggplant. Stir. 

Let the mixture cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the can of tomatoes and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any brown bits that have formed. 

Add all the spices and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir. 

Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium. Let it cook for about 10 minutes or until the okra softens.While the tomato mixture cooks, preheat the oven to 400, and start making the crust.

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, garlic powder, salt, and baking powder. Whisk it all together.

Add in the melted butter, egg, and buttermilk. Whisk together. Taste the okra and tomato mixture. Add salt if necessary. If it’s ready to go, pour it into a casserole dish (9×12 or 9×9) and then drop big dollops of the cornbread batter on top. 

Spread out the batter using a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust starts to turn golden.

This can be lunch or a side dish.I love the texture of the soft, stewed okra and eggplant with the crusty cornbread. The eggplant satisfies my Italian roots. You don’t know how hard it was for me to not add garlic. I just didn’t think it would work here. 

What I really love about this savory cobbler is that you could put zucchini or squash in the filling with or instead of the eggplant. You could also add diced bell pepper or minced jalapeños for some heat. If you don’t like okra, I feel bad for you, but you could certainly double the eggplant or use zucchini and squash in its place. 

You could also try adding some browned and drained ground beef or turkey to make this a stand alone meal. If you do that, let me know how it works out. Celebrate summer, and the south, by making my cobbler!

Tip: Sprinkle sliced green onion on top of the cornbread batter before baking. You could also add minced jalapeños and shredded cheddar to the batter before baking. 

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Italian Stuffed Peppers 

This time of year, I’m focused on easy meals made with in-season ingredients.

It’s always important to eat what’s fresh, but in the summer that’s much easier to do. And in the scorching heat no one wants to stand over the stove for 2 hours or heat up the house through an oven that’s roasting for 3 hours.

I usually go to the farmers’ market on Saturday and I buy what catches my eye.

I have a friend, Jan, who meets me at the market sometimes and as soon as I buy something she asks me what I’m going to do with it. It’s a great question, but the truth is, I don’t go with a plan. I buy what looks ripe and colorful, and then I design my cooking plans around it.

I’m always drawn to Cubanelle peppers. There’s a stand at my favorite market, which offers tables packed with anything from gorgeously speckled pluots to fiery red Roma tomatoes. I’ll usually find just a few baskets of Cubanelle peppers there and I always have to buy them.This variety of pepper is long, lime green, and usually sweet.It looks like it would be spicy, but it’s not. The walls are relatively thin, too. The flavor is close to the bell pepper. Italians call the Cubanelle a frying pepper. Some supermarkets will sell them as “Italian frying pepper.” While the Cubanelle pepper is wonderful sliced and fried with onions for sausages and peppers (I just drooled onto my iPad screen), I love to stuff it. Continue reading

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Guilt-Free Salad Dressings 

For the last year, I’ve been in the midst of a transformation.

I wanted to feel better. I mean that in terms of my physical health and my self esteem.

At this point, I’m down about 60 pounds. I can’t believe it.

A lot went into this journey, but there were two points of focus: diet and exercise.

I didn’t latch onto some fad which required eating 2/3 of a caterpillar and 1/4 of a newt’s eye. I just limited my intake of calories. I also started working out 5-6 days per week.

Instead of depriving myself of my favorite foods and drinks, I either cut back or figured out a way to get the flavor without the calories.

My job doesn’t allow for the daily use of a microwave, so I’ve turned to salads. I once worked with a guy who ate salad without dressing. I just can’t even imagine. Can you?

The truth is that he’s onto something. All the calories in a salad come in the dressing. On top of that, the ingredients in most bottled dressings come with pronunciations that would make a nun blush.

Ranch and French, or Catalina, are my favorite dressings. They’re loaded with calories, so I and to find an alternative. Vinaigrettes get old.

I used Greek yogurt to create my own twists on those dressings.  Continue reading

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Strawberry Citrus Salad

Every Spring my excitement for strawberries overshadows my sorrow for the dwindling citrus season.It’s so weird. I feel like juicy, bright-colored fruit, like citrus, should be celebrated in the summer. And I guess it is, hello lemonade.

Growing up in Florida I took for granted the ability to pluck an orange from the tree whenever I wanted. I mean, I never really thought about most of the fruit being in season in the winter. Then again, winter in Florida basically feels like spring and summer in Florida. But I digress.

The presence of blood oranges, cara cara oranges, and my beloved Meyer lemons is fading in stores, and this year I wanted to send them out in style.

I felt like a seasonal salad was in order. Continue reading

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Strawberry Dark Cocoa Crostata with Basil Whipped Cream

It’s strawberry season! We’ve already polished off the first of many overflowing buckets of berries.

They’re juicy, as sweet as sugar, and perfect enough to eat on their own.

But, it’s so much fun to transform them.

Strawberries and chocolate are a phenomenal pair.

Strawberries and basil are the Laverne and Shirley of the culinary world.

Put the trio together and you’ve got a threesome that’s so naughty it could easily violate indecency laws.I think I could charge $9.99 a minute to let you look at this recipe. Continue reading

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Lucky in Lime Stoutcakes

The mint madness is underway.

If I could, I’d take a shillelagh and knock that “festive” flavor out of the month of March.

I get it. It’s green. I love mint. I really do.

I just ate Thin Mints. But they didn’t make me think of St. Patrick’s Day.

So at a time when Scope traditionally symbolizes the 17th of March, I thought I’d give you another way to celebrate.

Meet my Lucky in Lime Stoutcakes.Chocolate cake infused with Dublin’s own Guinness Stout. Bright green lime curd filling. Lucky Charms-infused whipped cream.The cupcake itself is super light and airy thanks to the beer. Continue reading

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Icy Spicy Coffee Sundae 

It’s February. Love is in the air.

And if you’re single, don’t  close out of this blog just yet.

Love doesn’t have to involve a person… even on Valentine’s Day.

So don’t clip Cupid’s wings or give him an arrow enema just yet.

Think about what you love. Continue reading

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Dark Chocolate Rosemary Brownies with Caramel

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for a merry mess in your kitchen.

Cookie swaps.

Edible gifts.

Snacks for Santa.

Surely you’ve baked something sweet at this point, right?

So far, I could’ve done flour angels on my counters and skied upon the mounds of baking mixes catapulted from an overexcited stand mixer. Continue reading

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Harvest Pasta

This time of year the trees are cooking up a feast for our eyes. It’s exhilarating.

Reds, oranges, yellows mixing with the year’s last shades of green.

With that comes a drop in temperatures. That tends to inspire soups and stews, but I let it feed a desire to use color in my creations. Continue reading

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Pumpkin Spice Latte Panna Cotta

In September we were lucky enough to go to two events at Euphoria in Greenville, South Carolina.  It was the ultimate eater’s paradise. Chefs from the southeast show off their very best.

We went to the brunch and dessert showcases. Continue reading

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