Roasted Eggplant & Red Pepper Tapenade (Or “That Yummy Stuff”)

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(Becky, the Mama.)

The first time I created and served this recipe for a patio party, guests kept saying, “Oh my goodness, what IS this yummy stuff?” I struggled to describe what is was, because, as is so often the case, I just put whatever sounded good to me into a pan and crossed my fingers. This recipe began with a pan of diced roasted Greek veggies that becomes a colorful, intensely flavored Mediterranean topping for wedges of hot grilled Naan bread, alongside hummus and a lemon-zest ricotta. If I were to be asked to create a “perfect bite” on some sort of home cook’s competition, I’d serve this Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Tapenade on top of, well, just about anything.

This hearty appetizer is perfect with a glass of good wine, either on a hot summer day or a cold winter evening. It is wonderful at just about any temperature but probably best served a room temp which makes it a great no-fuss appetizer for parties. (Also perfect for New Year Celebrations coming up.)

I must confess, I am a little sad when there is not a container of “Yummy Stuff” in the fridge somewhere. It’s become my favorite condiment on top of fresh grilled Naan or Pita,burgers or sandwiches, or as a topping to punch up flavor in everyday spaghetti. If you are vegan, it’s especially nice to keep on hand to add a quick burst of color and flavor to lentils, beans, brown rice or quinoa.

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Roasted Eggplant & Red Pepper Tapenade

(Or “That Yummy Stuff”)

* Recipe of Roasted Veggies below,cooked, cooled and diced to desired “chunkiness” for spreading
1 T. olive oil
2 T. tomato paste
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 ½ t. sugar
Couple of shakes hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco) to taste
1 T. capers or 1 T. finely chopped pepperoncini peppers
5 large green stuffed olives, sliced (may use black olives if you prefer)
1/3 c. chopped dried tomatoes
1 to 2 T. water, if needed
Salt and pepper, if needed


In medium to large skillet, heat olive oil. Add diced roasted Garlic Greek Veggies. Add tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, capers or pepperoncinis, sundried tomatoes, and olives. Stir and cook in skillet until sauce is thick, well-blended and hot and some of the “vinegary” smell and taste is cooked out, about 2 minutes.

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Add water if needed, but keep the tempenade thick. Serve warm, room temperature or even cold if you like. It is amazing on grilled Naan or pita bread atop hummus, fabulous as a thick relish-like topping for a Greek-style burger or any sandwich.

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Mediterranean Garlic Roasted Veggies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees


1 eggplant, peeled and diced about 1 inch cubes
1 red pepper, seeded, stemmed and rough chopped in big chunks
3 big cloves garlic (or 4 smaller ones)
1 red onion, peeled and rough chopped in large chunks

3 T. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar

Fresh ground sea salt and pepper (light sprinkling over all)


On a large baking sheet sprinkle olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Place chopped eggplant, red pepper and red onion on pan. Using clean hands mix the veggies with the oil and vinegar and then give the whole thing a light sprinkling of fresh sea salt and pepper. Put whole garlic cloves somewhere on pan either wrapped in foil or parchment with a little olive oil; or use a small clay garlic roaster.

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Roast veggies for about 20 to 30 minutes or until veggies just begin to get soft and brown-blackish in spots. Smash soft roasted garlic into a paste with flat edge of knife or fork, and toss with veggies.

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Pesto Parmesan Chicken

(Becky, the Mama.)

I was famished after a gym workout this week, and decided to grab a bite to eat on my way home. Cruising through the drive-through lane at Taco Bell, I placed my order for a taco. The voice on the intercom sounded confused, so I repeated my order again, louder and with more clarity. And that is when I actually looked at the menu and realized…. I was in line at Starbucks.

One of my Facebook friends quipped, “So did you ask them to make you a Taco Frappucino?”

Granted, there is nothing appealing about the thought of a Taco Frappucino, but you’d be surprised at how many of my favorite recipes are created because of accidents. Or because I am hungry for a particular something, but out of an ingredient or two, so try to make due with substitutes. Time and again, the substitute often proves to be an improvement on the original recipe.

Such is the case with today’s recipe. Typically, when I make Chicken Parmesan, I use thin cutlets. What I had on hand was a couple of monster size breasts (Yes, my husband could not keep himself from making a few jokes about that) and I was in too much of a hurry to pound them thin.

Secondly, I often dip the cutlets in egg whites and grated garlic before rolling in Panko crumbs and Parmesan. Alas, nary an egg or a clove of garlic anywhere in the house.

That is when I spied a large jar of pesto that I’d purchased at Sam’s Club (it is surprisingly tasty, some of the best purchased pesto I’ve tried). One thing led to another and I ended up covering the breasts with pesto, then rolling them in Panko and grated Parmesan cheese. What we ended up with, eventually, was the best Chicken Parm I’ve ever made. In fact, it was the best Chicken Parmagiano I’ve ever eaten. The chicken inside stayed incredibly tender and when you cut through it, you could see the pretty layer of green pesto, golden Panko, red marinara and white cheese. Now that’s amore.

Pesto Parmesan Chicken

Serves 2 people (with big appetites)


2 large boneless chicken breasts

Salt & Pepper (to taste, to sprinkle lightly on chicken)

2 cups marinara sauce (your favorite bottled brand or homemade)

¼ cup fresh or grated mozzarella

1/4 cup olive oil

1 T. butter

1/2 cup Pesto

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Heat Oven to 400 degrees


Heat the marina in a saucepan until hot.

Put olive oil and butter in a large oven proof skillet and heat to medium high.

Rinse and pat boneless chicken breasts dry. Sprinkle both sides lightly with salt and pepper. Put pesto in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl mix Panko and ½ c. Parmesan cheese. Lay chicken breasts, one at a time, into pesto first, coating both sides of breast and edges thoroughly, and then in Panko-Parm mixture, coating both sides and edges of breasts thoroughly again.

Saute the breasts on both sides until the coating is crispy and golden. You may have to add a little more oil depending on size of breasts and your pan.  (Drain off excess oil, if there is a lot of it, before putting in oven.)

Then put the entire skillet into the oven and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and ladle each breast with ¼ cup marinara, 2 T. mozzarella and 2 T. Parmesan cheese. Place back in the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes or until cheese is melted and chicken breast is cooked but not overly so. (A meat thermometer is helpful here, but if you don’t have one, just cut through the middle of one of the breasts to check for doneness.)

Before serving ladle each breast with more marinara and sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese. This dish is excellent served with a side of angel hair pasta that has been tossed in a little pesto.

Variation:  Use thinner chicken breasts or pound smaller chicken breasts thin.  Put sauce and cheese on immediately after pan frying, and cook in oven only until cheese melts.

Vegetarian or Vegan Variation:
Use a vegan chicken patty (such as Gardien brand frozen chick’n scallopini), tofu, tempeh or seitan instead of chicken breasts. Use or make a vegan pesto (omit the parm cheese in most pesto recipes). The cooking time in the oven following pan-frying may not be needed at all, or just cook for a few minutes with tomato sauce and cheese. Vegans can serve without cheese, or use vegan versions of mozzarella and Parm on top.

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Rustic Sausage & Peppers Skillet (Vegan)

Sometimes the simplest meals are the best ones. I can tell this easy one skillet dish with classic flavors is going to be a family favorite.

The day I turned 17, I drove 20 miles out of my small town to look for a part-time job. That was how I chose to spend my birthday. I loved school and my friends, but I was eager to experience the world. The first place that was hiring was a restaurant called Johnny Carino’s Italian Kitchen, they’ve since shortened the name to Carino’s Italian.  The managers interviewed me that day and offered me a job on the spot. It was one of my proudest moments. I had gone out into the world and “made it.”

I took my hostessing job very seriously, organizing systems to make sure every waiter got the same amount of tables, the kitchen didn’t get slammed, and guests were greeted and seated promptly or quoted an accurate wait time. I loved it. The multi-tasking, the smell of roasted garlic drizzled with olive oil and herbs, Frank Sinatra crooning over the speakers, the dim light, the kind and the quirky guests, the power of controlling the flow of the restaurant. Waiters, be kind to your hostess, for she knows who the $20 tipper is, she knows his kids’ names and she knows you can impress him by greeting him with his glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. Be good to her and she may seat him in your section and share the inside scoop with you. She also knows the $2 tippers. Be kind to your hostess, waiters, and she’ll be kind to you.

From my hostess stand, I could see the open kitchen where the chefs pulled pizza out of the brick oven and sent out scalding hot plates of baked lasagna. I remember the sound of the skillets sizzling and the trail of smoke that followed the food runner as they delivered the piping hot skillet filled with spaghetti, spicy marinara, sausage, onions and peppers to the hungry guests.

Almost twelve years after taking that job in the “big city,” here I am living 20 miles in a different direction from that same Italian restaurant, back in a small town, happy to no longer work in the “real world.” Funny how life works and time changes us.

I got the hankering for Carino’s classic skillet dish the other day and created a simple vegan version using Apple Sage Field Roast grain meat sausages (100% vegan, soy-free). I don’t use a lot of fake meat products because they are so processed and full of non-organic soy, but these sausages are different. I know what every ingredient is: filtered water, vital wheat gluten, expeller pressed safflower oil, nonsulfered dried apples, yukon gold potatoes, yeast extract, onion powder, barley malt, garlic, hickory smoke, natural flavoring with torula yeast, sea salt, spices, sage. At least you know what’s in this sausage! Plus, it tastes delicious in this dish and packs 26 grams of protein per link. (I don’t have any ties to Field Roast, I just really like their product.)

Rustic Sausage & Peppers Skillet (Vegan)

Serves 2


  • 1/2 package of whole wheat pasta, cooked al dente (1-2 minutes less than recommended cooking time)
  • ~2 T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced in thin strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced in strips
  • 2 links of Smoked Apple Sage Field Roast Sausages, chopped into rounds
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced into thin “chips”
  • 2 cups of spicy pasta sauce (I used Emeril’s Kicked Up Tomato Sauce in a jar, my Arrabiata Sauce would be great too.)


Generously coat a large skillet (iron or stainless steel work better than a nonstick for this recipe) with olive oil and heat on medium heat. When warm, add onions and saute for a few minutes until they start to get soft. Add bell peppers and sausage and turn to almost med-high heat, stir every minute or so until the onions, bell peppers, and sausage are slightly charred. Turn off heat. Stir in garlic chips for a couple of minutes. Stir in al dente pasta and pasta sauce. You can turn heat back on to warm the sauce, but I didn’t need to. Serve immediately.

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Sun Dried Tomato & Artichoke Bowtie Pasta

We are proud Texans in this household….

Hook 'Em Horns

Jackson cowboyed up for his first Halloween

…but if I weren’t Texan, I’d be Italian.

My mom would say the same about herself. In fact, I think she may be Italian at heart. She lives on Italian time meandering through the day, disregarding clocks and schedules, stopping for a daily afternoon siesta when she gets the yawns. Like a typical Italian mama, she cooks great big delicious meals for family and friends for any occasion that pops up.

I, on the other hand, may more accurately fit the description of the strong willed Italian. Just now as I was browsing for Italian quotes, I stopped on a t-shirt slogan that said “Always right, never wrong…I’m Italian.” Jared peaked over, and quicker than a stallion shot off, “Hey honey, maybe you are Italian!”

Italian food is as diverse as the people from there (or who wish they were). It can be crazy indulgent or mad healthy. Most dishes can be modified to satisfy a meat lover, vegetarian, or even vegan. A dish can have bright and fresh flavors from lemon and rosemary, deep rustic flavors from tomatoes and olives, or rich creamy flavors from cheeses and cream. Kids love it, adults love it. What’s not to love?

This bowtie pasta dish would be great to serve at your next big family gathering. Feel free to mix up the veggies with whatever you have on hand or toss in some chicken or Parmesan for the meat and cheese lovers at the table.

Sun Dried Tomato Bowtie Pasta


16 oz of Whole Wheat Bowtie Pasta (The Delallo line of whole wheat pastas are my favorite)
1 can of quartered artichoke hearts
1 6oz  jar of Sun Dried Tomatoes packed in olive oil and herbs
1 small onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
A couple handful of spinach
3 tbs of white cooking wine
Salt & Pepper
Chopped parsley (optional)


While prepping the veggies, boil the water and cook the pasta as directed on the box, salting the water liberally.

Chop the veggies and mince the garlic. Julienne cut the sun dried tomatoes, reserving the oil in the jar.

In a large pan, heat about a tbs of oil on med-high heat, add onions and a sprinkle of salt. Sautee until the onions are golden. Add zucchini, squash, and garlic and sautee until soft. Add artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, and white cooking wine and sautee until spinach is just wilted. Gently toss the drained pasta in with the veggies. Pour in just enough of the oil and herbs from the sun dried tomatoes to lightly coat everything. Season with salt & pepper to taste and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
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The Title: Sun Dried Tomato & Artichoke Bowtie Pasta
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