Labor Day Weekend Food

We often have a crowd around the dinner table for the three holiday weekends of summer because we have a house on the lake and we enjoy keeping it filled with family and friends. I’ve put together a list of my favorite, A.K.A. easily prepped or cooked ahead of time, recipes to serve at mealtimes.  I’m a big believer in delegating so everyone can participate and have an enjoyable weekend. My blog makes it especially easy for my family to find our special recipes.

 A Few Appetizers

Crunchy Roasted Tamari Almonds
I keep these almonds in my kitchen year-round. They are just salty, tangy, and crunchy enough to be my go-to snack. The almonds are roasted with gluten-free tamari sauce.

“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
This is a favorite for both family and friends. My son’s friend, Grant, makes this whenever he has a party in NYC and often sends me a photo of his guests eating it. It is delicious served on sliced baguettes.
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A Quick and Easy Baked Hummus and Feta Appetizer
This requires baking, but it is one of those appetizers you can bring to someone’s house with the ingredients still in a shopping bag, arrange the ingredients in a pie plate, and then bake when needed. It will become a grazing station.

Breakfast Options

The Biscuit King
My husband makes these biscuits whenever the family is in town. We serve them with homemade jellies and sorghum.

50 Ways to Make a Frittata
This is always a good breakfast food to make the last morning you are together because you can add almost any leftovers to the egg mixture, bake it, and call it a meal. The egg to milk to cheese ratio remains the same no matter what you add.

Ellen’s Most Moist Zucchini Bread
This is the moistest summertime quickbread I’ve ever made. We love it. One can throw a few chocolate chips into if one is so inclined.

Homemade Artisan Bread the Easy Way
The dough for these boules of bread can be made up to two weeks ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to shape and bake them. The bread is wonderful with butter or the Croatian Cheese spread on it.

Other breakfast options: eggs, bacon, sliced avocados, and fruit

Lunch Options

The Classic Pimiento Cheese Sandwich
I never had pimiento cheese until I moved South. Now I love it. I’ve served it as a sandwich for lunch or used it as a spread on crackers for an appetizer.

My Favorite Gazpacho
I’ve been making this recipe for over twenty years. What makes this gazpacho extra delicious is the addition of garlic-seasoned homemade breadcrumbs. The gazpacho is the most time and ingredient intensive recipe on this list; I only make it when I am highly motivated to do a lot of chopping and when summer vegetables are at their peak.

Other easy lunch option: pork barbecue with rolls, cole slaw, and pickles

Dinner Options

Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts
This is my go-to recipe for moist, grilled chicken. The breasts only take ten minutes to grill because you pound them to a flat, uniform thickness before marinating.
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Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
When I have a houseful, I’ll often make this for dinner on one of the nights. I use Premio Italian sweet sausages from Costco. They are equally good grilled, sautéed, or simmered in sauce.

Meera’s Arugula, Feta, Cherry, and Toasted Almond Salad
My friend, Meera, brought this to a potluck dinner at the lake once. All of the ingredients were in a Trader Joe’s shopping bag. She fixed the salad for dinner, and the next day, I had her recipe up on the blog! I love it. I eat variations of it almost every day for lunch.

String Bean Salad
My mother taught me how to blanch vegetables when I was in high school. I’ve been doing it ever since. The only vegetables I routinely blanch nowadays are string beans, broccoli and cauliflower. I roast most of the others.

Roasted Ratatouille
I roast zucchini, eggplant, onions, and tomatoes together when I have a glut of them in my summer “Italian” garden. The vegetables require lots of chopping, but roasted veggies are delicious and I usually have a lot of helpers in the kitchen. Sometimes, I serve the ratatouille over pasta.

@judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing
I keep a bottle of this homemade four-ingredient salad dressing in my cupboard 24/7. I use it in many of the recipes mentioned above, either in salads or as a marinade.

Other options: Roasted white and sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes

Sweets

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies
Last Christmas, I made these when I had lots of kids in the house. When I got up the next morning, the cookie container was empty. Now, that’s a good cookie. They are barely sweet, but between the butter and eggs and the nutty flavor of the toasted sesame seeds, the cookie is exquisite.

Very Berry Clafoutis
This is an easy dessert to make. There is no pie crust, just eggs, milk, flour, some sugar, and whatever ripe fruit is in season. It tastes great for breakfast, too. I cook it in a pie plate, but you could cook it in a cast iron pan just as easily.

Bon appetit!. Have a nice weekend.

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A Quick and Easy Baked Hummus and Feta Appetizer

Recently, I  hosted my book club’s annual dinner where guests signed up to bring either beef or chicken chili, salad, cornbread, dessert or an appetizer. When Book Hunters member, Janna, uncovered her Greek-style appetizer, the aroma of warm feta and olives wafted through the kitchen attracting us like moths to a flame. Guests started scooping up the dip with abandon, or at least I did. Soon, there was a lot of gushing going on in my kitchen.

Janna said the appetizer was easy to make.  Even better.

Ingredients:

1-pound container hummus
6-ounce container crumbled feta
5 ounces (¾ cup) flavorful tomatoes, chopped
4 ounces (¾ cup) flavorful kalamata olives, cut in half
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mise en Place:

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350º. Allow ingredients to come to room temperature if times allows.

Layer ingredients in an 8″ by 8″ square pan or other ovenproof containers, as shown. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Bake in a 350º oven for 20-25 minutes.

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Serve with pita bread or crackers. We loved it with naan dippers.

A few words about the ingredients. I tried this with cherry tomatoes but thought the sliced tomatoes had a lot more flavor. One tomato was enough.

It took me a few attempts to find kalamata olives that were tasty. Make sure the ones you choose are flavorful.

We preferred the dip with the garlic-flavored hummus.

Things to knit while watching the game

How to Knit a Hat and Make a Pom Pom
A Birthday Tribute for my Mother: Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash
What to Knit for a Baby: a Hat, a Sweater and a Blanket

Foods to serve a crowd on Super Bowl Sunday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Marinara Sauce

Last night, my son and grandson joined my husband and me for dinner. I made baked ziti with eggplant.

The nicest compliment was when my son said the ziti was one of the top five meals I’d ever made. He said he wished it was served in a restaurant so he could get more whenever he wanted. (No need for that, honey; just say when:-)) It was all music to my ears. I’d been working on making a good batch of baked ziti and eggplant for years.

I love roasted eggplant. I was taught by my mother to sweat (salt and drain) eggplant before cooking to rid it of its bitterness. Indeed, for most of my adult life, I have equated the brown liquid that dripped from the colander during sweating as the color of bitterness. The more brown liquid in the sink, the more successful I thought I would be in producing a delicious eggplant dish. But recently, I learned the true reason for sweating had nothing to do with bitterness and everything to do with the anatomy of eggplant. Eggplant is porous; it is full of small air pockets that absorb oil like a sponge. Sweating draws out water from the cells. The water released floods the tiny air pockets essentially eliminating the open spaces that frying oil would otherwise occupy.

Since I no longer fry eggplant, this summer I eliminated this time-consuming step of sweating and instead simply lightly brushed each raw slice of eggplant with olive oil before roasting.

The results have been delightful. At a recent dinner party, guests started gobbling down the unadorned slices of roasted eggplant before I even got to the step of smothering them with marinara sauce and mozzarella. This is why I roast most vegetables, you get to taste their essence.

Recently, I went to the Richland Farmers Market in Nashville and bought these gorgeous, svelte, Italian varieties of eggplant (melanzana, in Italian) from Corner Spring Farm. They had delightful names like Violeta di Toscano, Rosa Blanca, Clara, and Beatrice.

When I got home, I added them to the hefty stash of Black Beauty and Japanese eggplants I had harvested from my garden. I decided to make a day of it and cook all the eggplants at once. When I trimmed and peeled the skin, I was surprised to see the contrast in color of my stash of eggplants and the Italian varieties. Their flesh was so much whiter. Once roasted, I noticed the Italian varieties were denser and maintained their shape better, too, plus they had the mouth-feel of artichoke hearts. Yum. Now I know why my mother would always choose Italian eggplants at markets; there is a difference. Next summer, I’m planning on growing more of the Italian varieties.

Yield: serves 8 as main course

Ingredients 

The ingredients list is segmented by the cooking steps for the eggplant, marinara sauce, pasta, and basil and cheese layers.

4 or 5 medium-sized eggplants (I didn’t weigh them before cooking, but after cooking I had one pound of eggplant equaling 3 cups)
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 28-ounce cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or dash of cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional)

6 quarts water
1 tablespoon fine salt
1 pound penne ziti rigate pasta, cooked to al dente

1 pound sliced and then chopped, mozzarella
1 cup finely grated parmesan ( about 3 ounces)
1 cup basil leaves, about ¾ ounce

Mise en Place

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425º

Remove the stem, and peel and slice the eggplant. Slice them about one-half inch thick; better to err on the side of thicker than thinner slices.
 

Pour olive oil in a bowl and brush each side of each slice very lightly with oil. I only used 3 tablespoons of oil for all the eggplants pictured above.
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Arrange the eggplant slices on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Roast for 30-40 minutes. If you want them browned on each side, turn them over after about 20 minutes. I do not bother with this extra step. They should only be lightly browned when done. If you can’t decide if they are cooked enough, try tasting one. That’s what I do. You want them to be firm enough to hold their shape.

At this point, you could store the slices for one or two days in the refrigerator, or freeze. To prep for this recipe, measure out one pound (about 3 cups) and chop into 1.5 to 2 inch segments. Set aside.

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While eggplant is roasting, start the marinara sauce. Heat olive oil in a 6-quart frying pan over low heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Pour the tomatoes into the pan breaking them up with your fingertips as you do. Add salt, cayenne, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring frequently. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and turn the heat off. Set aside.
 

While the sauce simmers and the eggplant roasts, start a large pot of salted water over high heat for the ziti. When water comes to a full boil, add the ziti, bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta. The pasta will cook more as it bakes.

Now you are ready to layer all the ingredients into a 9 by 13-inch casserole.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Pour two cupfuls of sauce into the bottom of casserole pan.
Add half of pasta, half of eggplant, half of basil, half of mozzarella and one-third of parmesan,

Repeat layering starting with half of the remaining sauce, the rest of the pasta, basil, and mozzarella, and a third of the parmesan. End with the remaining sauce followed by the last of the grated parmesan.

Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.

Related Italian Dishes:
Tomato Pie for a Crowd
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Marinara Sauce
Peperonata!
Spiralized Zucchini (aka Zoodles) with Marinara Sauce
Roasted Tomatoes, Burrata, and Basil
Roasted Ratatouille
Pasta, Mozzarella and Marinara Sauce
Tomatoes: The Crown Jewels of the Summer Kitchen Garden
My Favorite Gazpacho

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Meera’s Arugula, Feta, Cherry, and Toasted Almond Salad

If you need to bring a side or a salad to a Labor Day Weekend fête, I’ve got just the one.

This salad is quick, colorful, and delicious with the added bonus that it could easily become dinner with the addition of sliced grilled chicken. The first time I had it, on the weekend of the eclipse, my good friend, and relative, Meera Ballal, brought all the ingredients over in a Trader Joe’s grocery sack. By the time the chicken was grilled, the salad was assembled and on the table. Everyone loved it!

Yield: Serves 10-12 as a side dish

Ingredients
2  7-ounce bags arugula, (have a third on standby to perk up the salad)
1  8-ounce package dried, tart Montmorency cherries
1  6-ounce package crumbled feta cheese (sometimes Meera uses 2 containers)
1  8-ounce package raw, sliced almonds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Judy’s Chickens Every Day Salad Dressing or TJ’s Balsamic Vinaigrette
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts  (optional)

Mise en Place

Instructions

Put the arugula, feta and dried cherries in an extra-large mixing bowl that leaves plenty of room for tossing the ingredients together.

Next, toast the almonds in olive oil to enhance their nutty flavor. To do so, pour olive oil in a warmed medium-sized sauté pan. Add almonds and mix to coat. Sauté over medium-low heat for about two minutes. Meera told me to stir the nuts almost constantly because they go from toasted to burned, quickly. She said, with her infectious laugh, “This is not the time to multitask in the kitchen.” She was right about that. The nuts went from creamy-white to brown, to dark brown around the edges of the pan in the blink of an eye. When they start to brown, dump them immediately into a small bowl to stop the cooking process. Keep the nuts warm in a separate bowl until dinner time.

 

Just before serving, add the nuts and salad dressing. I like to use my own homemade salad dressing  @judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing.  I sprinkle a little white balsamic vinegar over the greens for added “bite” before tossing. The greens start to collapse quickly, so don’t add dressing until you are ready to serve.

For the grilled chicken, try my chicken marinade recipe, Lemony Thyme Grilled Chicken Breasts.  The lemon and thyme in the chicken enhance the flavor of the salad.

The cost of this salad? $17.14 if you use your own salad dressing.

For a fun Labor day activity, check out Catfishing with Noodles on Lake Barkley, Kentucky!

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.