After celebrating the big 2-9 at a Whole Foods beer dinner followed by a night out on the town with my favorites, this birthday week (obviously?) finished up with an early evening dinner with The Man’s parents last night!

I had the following choices (1) go out to dinner (2) have dinner cooked for me or (3) cook dinner for everyone. 

Obviously my choice was completely not normal but so totally “me” 😛

An old recipe for moussaka unassumingly crossed my path Saturday morning and I just knew that I had to try out my own version of this Greek specialty!

In doing some reading I learned that Greek moussaka (at least the modern version) consists of (1) a layer of eggplant (2) a layer of cooked meat – usually lamb – w/ onion and tomatoes all topped with (3) a creamy béchamel sauce layer.

Triple threat? 😀

Start by slicing the eggplant and sprinkling with a bit of sea salt.  Allow these to sit for about 20 minutes to draw out the moisture before cooking.

Then cook in a very hot pan using olive oil until browned a bit.  I had to do this in batches.

Once the eggplant are done, saute the diced onion in 1 tblsp olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Then add your ground beef and cook until done.  I opted for ground beef vs. lamb, I’m not a big fan of the latter.

The drained tomatoes and garlic go in followed by tomato paste, a few spoonfuls of the reserved tomato liquid (about 4 large spoonfuls), dried oregano, dried thyme, sugar and black pepper.

Then turn down to medium low and let do its thing for about 20 minutes.

At this point you’re ready to make the béchamel – which also has cheese mixed in.  I’m sure there is some technical culinary term for this?

Simply whisk 1/4 cup of the milk plus the flour (over medium heat) until smooth.   Then in goes the rest of the milk followed by the shredded cheese, a little at a time until smooth.  Last add the ricotta, nutmeg and cayanne – whisking until smooth.

Then you’re ready to assemble the moussaka!

Eggplant layer – half of the cooked eggplant.

Meat layer – half of the cooked meat mixture.

Then repeat.

Last layer – cheese sauce aka heaven.

Then baked at 350F for about 45-55 minutes, or until browned on top.

Served up!

With a fresh side salad.

And a warm loaf of fresh bread.

Sunday night dinner at its best!

The moussaka had great flavor, all the spices blended so nicely and the flavors were spot on.  I think The Man’s parents really enjoyed it too – especially after his mom told me she didn’t really like eggplant usually (ooops!) but really enjoyed it in this dish 🙂

Definitely glad that worked out!

Speaking of The Man’s mom, check out this amazing cake she brought over for the birthday dinner.

Per request by moi.

This cake rockssssss!

It has a pineapple layer, a banana pudding layer, a whipped cream layer and the cake portion is super dense and moist.

So. Full. So. Good.

Guess it’s time to snap back into reality and stop eating cake after every meal now that birthday week is over – but wow, was it a good one!! 🙂

Moussaka – CookinFanatic Style

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced 1/2″ thick
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28oz. can crushed tomatoes, drained & liquid reserved
  • 3 tblsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 3-4 tblsp olive oil, divided

For the cheese sauce:

  • 1 1/4 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
  • 2 tblsp flour
  • 1/2 block mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 container ricotta cheese
  • pinch cayanne pepper
  • pinch fresh nutmeg

Step 1:  Cook eggplant

Salt the sliced eggplant and let sit for 20 minutes.  Then cook in a large pan over medium-high (in batches if necessary) using 1/2 tblsp olive oil, until browned a bit.  Set aside.

Step 2:  Cook meat mixture

Saute onions in 1 tblsp olive oil for about 5 minutes, add ground beef and cook until browned.  Drain any grease if necessary.  Add garlic and drained tomatoes followed by the tomato paste, oregano, thyme, sugar, black pepper and a few spoonfuls of the reserved tomato liquid to make the mixture nice and moist.  Cook over medium low for 20 minutes.

Step 3:  Make cream sauce.

Start by whisking 1/4 cup milk in a hot pan with the flour, until smooth.  Then add the rest of the milk, whisking.  Follow with the shredded cheese, a bit at a time, until melted and smooth.  Lastly, add the nutmeg and cayanne plus the ricotta cheese, stirring until smooth.

Step 4:  Assemble and bake!

Layer half the eggplant on the bottom of a baking dish, top with half of the meat mixture.  Repeat. Top the moussaka with the creamy cheese sauce, pouring over the top.  Bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes, or until browned on the top and set.

Enjoy!

After a wonderful date night last night munching on delicious Indian food (Dal Makhni is my new favorite!) and seeing the controversial Black Swan… look what we woke up to this morning 😀

Winter Wonderland.

But not for long…

Would you even believe me if I told you that by lunch time it looked like this?!

I’m not even kidding.

Gotta love Virginia weather!

At least Lucy Dog got to enjoy it a little bit.

Looks like someone went rolling around in the snow today didn’t they?!?! Lookin’ pretty guilty there, mmmm hmmmm 😛

Well all this snow definitely got me in the mood to get to baking.

Snow = baking.  Why is that?

I decided that it was time for a kitchen baking experiment (scary!), but not just any kitchen baking experiment.  One made using one of my favorite products ever… Cho Cho Chobani!

That’s right… this morning’s adventure ended in:

Strawberry Cho-Nana Cake Bread!

This recipe has 5 ingredients.  Yes, 5.

The flavor turned out spot-on, “freakin delicious” as The Man put it haha.

The bread was very dense & moist, which is why I coined it “cake bread” because it reminded me of a pound cake with it’s somewhat spongy texture. 

Next time around I think I need to increase the baking powder to increase the “fluffiness” if I’m going for more of a “bread-like” consistency <—- thoughts?

Simply mash the banana.

Stir in your yogurt.

Then the eggs.

Fold in the flour and baking powder.

And into a baking pan (w/ cooking spray) it goes.

350F for about 40 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean) and you are ready!

Yummmmmmmmm!

Served warm this goes wonderfully with your morning coffee.  At least that’s what I’m told.

I thought it went just perfectly with a scoop of ice cream, but who am I to say? 😉

So today I’m teaching lil’ sis how to make pasta fagioli – so excited that she wants to start learning how to cook!  Then we’re having the rest of the Fanatic Fam over for a big family dinner.  I haven’t seen them since they left on their Caribbean vacation so I’m really looking forward to it!

Just out of curiousity, what’s your favorite kind of yogurt??

 

Oh how excited I am to share this recipe with you friends!

Yesterday I had a serious craving for bacon… don’t know what came over me but I had it for both lunch and dinner!  I know a certain someone who’d be proud 😉

I also purchased some of the best Italian bread earlier in the day and wanted to incorporate this into some sort of one dish meal for a relaxing Saturday night…

That’s when this was “born”!

BLT Panzanella Salad

Combining the flavors of farmer’s market vegetables with bacon, bleu cheese, balsamic & fresh bread this was a twist on both a well-known sandwich combined with a classic Italian panzanella salad (aka bread salad).

Salad

  • romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 slices 365 brand natural bacon
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • S&P

Bread topping

  • 3 slices good Italian bread
  • 1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  • S&P

Dressing

  • 2 tblsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tblsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp reserved bacon grease from cooking

First on the agenda was cooking the bacon, which I love to do in the oven!

400F for 15 minutes and no fail, your bacon will be perfect… and all the grease will have drained away 🙂

I also toasted up the bread for a couple minutes until crispy.

The bread portion of this salad was inspired by this episode of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie:  Tuscan Simplicity. Watching them make this rustic bread salad made me want to pick up and move to Italy, like yesterday 😉

After toasting the bread I let it get friendly with 1 tblsp both balsamic vinegar and olive oil, plus some S&P.

The crispy bread immediately began to soak up the liquids and the longer it sat the more flavorful/tender that once crunchy bread became.

Like a soft yet kind of crunchy crouton, this is definitely on of my new favorite fun food textures! 😀

Then the salad veggies were assembled:  romaine lettuce, tomato and onion (these farmer’s market onions are far superior than store bought, why haven’t I picked them up before?!)

I always give our salads a sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper & a bit of salt too…. mmmmm!

Then the bacon went on top, which I crumbled once it was done baking.

Followed by the crumbled bleu cheese (or whatever cheese you like, if bleu cheese ain’t your thang :P)

Lastly went on the oil & vinegar soaked bread chunks.

I was seriously drooling already over this haha…

And to serve, it was topped with a homemade bacon balsamic vinaigrette.

I just couldn’t let some of that bacon flavor go to waste, and a little bacon fat never hurt anyone now did it 😉

Needless to say we scraped this salad bowl clean!

The Man declared this to be one of the “best salads he’s ever had” … and if I can make him happy with a salad-only meal then I know I’ve done well!

Although I don’t think I’d eat bacon like this everyday, it was a fabulous salad “treat” and was definitely of restaurant quality or better.  I’m glad to have this idea in my recipe “arsenal” if you will, because I definitely think it would be a crowd pleaser 🙂

Well time to go check on my homemade chicken stock… I’m feelin’ productive this morning!

Have you ever tried panzanella salad?  If so, did you like the idea of a “bread salad”?