Eggplant Parmesan

eggplant parmesan

Hey NCJ Peeps, I took a little time off for the holidays but I’m back!  It’s a new year and time to start fulfilling those New Year’s resolutions and eating healthy.  After Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years I can’t eat another bite of turkey, stuffing or (I can’t believe I’m saying this) cake!  So here’s a recipe to help you stay healthy while not sacrificing flavor.  I actually never had eggplant before writing this post but I can see why a lot of vegetarians substitute this for meat.  It has a hearty texture and is heavy enough to fill you without giving you that bloated feel.  Also, instead of frying the eggplant Parmesan it’s baked, lightly sprinkled with mozzarella (not smothered) and served with a healthy tomato sauce.  Now if I could just get myself to the gym I would be good!

Aside from eating healthy I have some resolutions of my own for this website.  My goal is to post a new recipe at least twice a week, begin my YouTube series and do more exciting giveaways for my loyal fans.  I’m telling you all this so you can hold me accountable!  So I won’t get upset if I get an email or two holding me to my word…that’s what friends are for 🙂

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions you want to share?  Here’s to a bigger better 2013!



Olive oil, for baking sheets
2 large eggs
3/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
2/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 large eggplants (2 1/2 pounds total), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
6 cups (48 ounces) store-bought chunky tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded low fat mozzarella



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together eggs.  In another shallow bowl, combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper.
Dip eggplant slices in eggs, letting excess drip off, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, coating well; place on baking sheets.  Bake until golden brown on bottom, 20 to 25 minutes.  Turn slices; continue baking until browned on the other side, about 20 minutes more.  Sprinkle low fat mozzarella on each slice and place back in oven until cheese is melted.
While the eggplant is baking, heat sauce on the stove until bubbling.  To serve, ladle about a half cup of sauce on a plate and place 2 to 3 slice of eggplant on the sauce.  Garnish with fresh parsley or oregano.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

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Chicken Skewers with Walnut Pesto


A few weeks ago I went to an event with my sisters and co-workers.  It was a nice relaxing night with my girls and a glass, or two, of wine…my kind of night!  The only thing that made it better was the delicious food.  Nadia G. from the show “Bitchin’ Kitchen” on the Cooking Channel was there to promote her new cookbook “Cookin’ for Trouble”.

Nadia did a demo of some of her new recipes but the one the impressed me most was her Chicken Skewers with Walnut Pesto.  Such a simple recipe that packs a ton of flavor.  I didn’t want to seem greedy but…whatever these skewers are awesome and you should make them now.

Normally pesto is made with pine nuts  and olive oil but this recipe calls for walnuts and walnut oil.  It gives the pesto a more mellow flavor in my opinion but I think I’ll try a more traditional pesto next time.  Before this event I’d only seen Bitchin Kitchen a few times. I’m more of a Barefoot Contessa on a Saturday morning kind of girl.  But after trying some of the recipes in her new cookbook I am officially a fan of Nadia G.


For Pesto:

2 cups of basil, packed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup walnut oil
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper

For Chicken skewers:

1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, cubed
12 cherry tomatoes
9 pearl onions, cut in half
Sea salt
Garlic powder
Freshly cracked black pepper


Making the pesto: In the processor, pulse basil, walnuts, garlic, and walnut oil until combined. Add Parmesan and olive oil, and pulse again.  Season with sea salt to taste.

Making the chicken skewers: Soak the wooden skewers in water for 1 hour. Onto each skewer, alternately thread chicken, cherry tomatoes and onions; repeat until skewer is full.

Brush the prepared skewers with olive oil, and season with garlic powder sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Grill for around 5 minutes, turning regularly, until cooked. Slather with walnut pesto.

 ♥ Nina

Recipe adapted from Windy City Live with Nadia G.

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Baked Ziti with Spicy Italian Sausage

When cooking for someone have you ever heard them say, “What’s in that?” “I’ve never tasted that!”. LOL  Well it seems like whenever I make something out of the ordinary my family is hesitant to taste something new which drives me crazy! I am such a huge foodie and I love to try new and exotic dishes so sometimes I forget that not everyone likes to experiment like I do.

So I let my sister Ashley pick something that I would cook for the whole family that they’ve had before and would no doubt love.  This is what she came up with and even though I hate to admit it she was right.  My family loved loved loved this dish and even ate all the leftovers.  I guess sometimes you’ve got to go back to the basics and keep it simple.

This would be a great dish to make for a large gathering or party.  You can make it in advance and warm it in the oven right before serving.  I promise this dish is delicious and you and your guests will love it.



1 lb. whole milk or 1% cottage cheese

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups), divided

Table salt

1 lb. ziti

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

20 oz. spicy turkey Italian sausage

1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce

1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided

Ground black pepper

3/4 tsp. cornstarch

1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)

8 oz. low-moisture mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch pieces



Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.  Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in a medium bowl; set aside.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in colander.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Crumble in the turkey sausage and cook until nearly browned.

Add in the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is softened and the sausage is completely browned.  Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl stir together the cornstarch and heavy cream.  Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella.  Stir to combine.  Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer the pasta to a 9×13″ baking dish and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer.  Cool for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.


Adapted from: Annie’s Eats


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White Pizza with portabella mushrooms, red pepper, goat cheese & garlic

One of the best things I love about living in Chicago is the summertime.  People always ask me how do I live with the cold and snow in the winter but any Chicagoan will tell you the summer makes it all worth while!  Last weekend I went to the Division Street festival which was basically an excuse to hang out in the sun and have a few drinks without fearing the open container law.  I had a great time looking at the art and enjoying the music but an unexpected surprise was a pizza that I had at one of the local eateries.  Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the place but I loved the pizza so much that I had to go home and make my own version, plus/minus a few things.  I may have to go on a stroll up Division so I can find this place again…who’s coming with me?!



  • 10 inch pizza dough (frozen or premade)
  • 1 ½ cup mozzarella, shredded
  • 2-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 portabella mushroom, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped



Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Unthaw dough according to package directions or if using premade crust like I did, remove dough from packaging.  Layer 1 cup of mozzarella cheese over dough leaving about ½ inch around the outside to form the crust.  Layer pizza with red peppers, mushrooms, garlic and goat cheese.  Cover with the remaining ½ cup of mozzarella cheese.  Place in oven directly on cooking racks and cook for 20 – 30 mins or until cheese is bubbling and slightly browned and crust is crisp.  Garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately.


*An NCJ Original*


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Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

I recommend chopping and mincing all of your ingredients before you begin cooking to cut down on prep time.  This way everything will be ready for you to use and you won’t have to stop along the way to cut vegetables or shred cheese.



2 medium sized zucchini (8 ounces each), trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch coins

2 medium sized summer squash (6 ounces each), trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch coins

2 large sweet red peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 large red onion, trimmed and cut into 1 inch wedges

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

8 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 3/4 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

12 dried lasagna noodles

6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese



  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Coat 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Spread zucchini, squash, red peppers and onion in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets; coat generously with the nonstick cooking spray.  Sprinkle vegetables with 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.  Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until edges are browned.  Remove from oven and transfer vegetables to a bowl.
  3. Pulse mushrooms in a food processor or dice with a knife until finely chopped.  Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms to skillet.  Cook, stirring for 6 minutes or until all liquid has evaporated.  Reduce heat to medium; stir in garlic and remaining 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper; continue to cook 1 minute.
  4. Add butter to skillet and cook until melted.  Add flour and cook 1 minute, stirring.  Add milk and nutmeg to skillet and increase heat to medium-high.  Bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally.  Remove skillet from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of the parsley and all the basil.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook noodles according to package instructions, about 9 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside.
  6. Coat a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Stir together Fontina and Parmesan.  Spread 1/2 cup mushroom sauce into bottom of baking dish, then place 3 noodles in dish.  Pour another 1/2 cup sauce over noodles, then sprinkle 1/3 of the vegetables and 1/2 cup of cheese mixture over sauce.  Repeat layering twice.  Top with three noodles, pour the rest of the sauce over top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
  7. Cover dish with nonstick aluminum foil and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.  Raise heat to 500 degrees, remove foil and cook for another 12 minutes or until browned.  Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and let stand 15 minutes before serving.


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Seafood Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Before you look at the amount of butter in this dish let me be the first to tell you this is definitely one of those meals reserved for special occasions when you feel like cheating a little.  So with that said of course this dish is yummy!  I am a huge fan of any type of seafood and I grew up with my dad making fish all the time.  So this is a family favorite!  Best served with garlic bread so you can dip it in the extra sauce on your plate.  You can thank me later.


Yield: 8 servings


  • 1 pound linguine pasta
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound bay scallops
  • 1 pound medium shrimp – peeled and deveined
  • 1 (8 ounce) jar clam juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper to taste



  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
  2. In a large skillet add the olive oil and butter. Heat until butter is melted. Add the garlic and saute until tender.
  3. Season with shrimp and scallops with salt & pepper.  Add the scallops and shrimp to the pan. Cook until shrimp is pink, about 10 minutes. Add clam juice, salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes more.
  4. To the cooked pasta add the tomatoes, parsley and lemon zest, toss. Pour seafood mixture over the linguine, serve immediately.


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Chicken Saute

I am currently in the process of creating my portfolio for culinary school and came upon this recipe in my textbook.  To be honest it sounded like something I’ve tasted a thousand times at most Italian restaurants but I decided to forge ahead so I could have something to add.  However, after I tasted the first bite I almost did a double take!  This is like nothing I’ve ever tasted and I like to think I have a pretty eclectic palate, lol.  It is deliciously savory and the basil is key to this recipe.  This would go well with rice or potatoes.  Enjoy!



  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • Natures seasoning to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (reserve the juice)
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly (chiffonade)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Split the chicken breasts in half if the thickest part is more than an inch thick.
  2. Season the chicken with Nature’s Seasoning, dredge in flour.
  3. Saute the breasts in 2 tablespoons of butter, browning them and cooking till almost done.  Place chicken in to hold in the oven.  Make sure not to over cook the chicken, it will finish in the oven.
  4. Add the onions, garlic and 2 tablespoons of butter to the same pan the chicken was cooked in. Saute until the onions are translucent.  Add the diced tomato and caramelize, about 5 minutes.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and lemon juice.
  6. Add the chicken stock and the reserved tomato juice.  Saute to combine the flavors, reduce the sauce about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the basil to the sauce and return the chicken breasts to the pan for reheating.  Add salt & pepper to taste.


*Nutritional values per 5oz serving: Calories 230, Total Fat 8g, Saturated Fat 3.5g, Cholesterol 90mg, Sodium 560mg, Carbohydrates 9g, Protein 30g.


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Chicken in Parmesan Basil Cream

The secret to this dish is the pimento peppers…I had to call customer service at the grocery store to find them but it was well worth the effort!



1/4 cup milk

1 cup dried bread crumbs

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 (4 ounce) jar sliced pimento peppers, drained

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper



  1. Place milk and bread crumbs in separate, shallow bowls. In skillet, heat butter or margarine to medium heat. Dip chicken in milk, then coat with crumbs. Cook in butter or margarine, on both sides, until juices run clear (about 10 minutes). Remove and keep warm.
  2. Add broth to skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and stir to loosen browned bits from pan. Stir in cream and pimentos; boil and stir for 1 minute. Reduce heat.
  3. Add Parmesan cheese, basil and pepper. Stir sauce and cook until heated through. Pour mixture over chicken and serve!


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