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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Roasted Turkey Sandwich with Onion Jam and Brie

By show of hands, who here loves onions?  Ok I won’t be able to see you but you know who you are!  I have a love/love relationship with onions that goes way back.  In my humble opion they are the best condiment and can be eaten with almost anything.  Since we’re sharing, here’s a quick run down of few of my favorite onion dishes: onion rings, french onion soup, caramelized onions, raw onions, white onions, yellow onions, red onions…you get the picture!

I know that the title of this post begins with “turkey sandwich” but the real star of this post is the onion jam.  So when my fellow classmate from culinary school made some I thought, “Why haven’t I thought of this before?!”.  We tasted it with toasted baguets and if it tasted that good on plain bread I knew it would be awesome on a sandwich, burger…just about anything!

After a few days of eating the traditional Thanksgiving turkey I came up with this yummy sandwich that I hope you all enjoy!



For onion jam:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

¼ teaspoon dried marjoram

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon honey

1/3 cup dry red wine

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup red wine vinegar

For sandwich

Toasted baguette

Brie cheese

1 tbsp mayo

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Sliced or deli turkey meat


1. In a medium skillet set over medium-low heat, add the olive oil, Vidalia  onion and red onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and  translucent, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Stir in the marjoram, rosemary, thyme, salt and black pepper and cook for  2 minutes. Add the honey, red wine, balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar and  stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the  mixture is thickened and the liquid is almost evaporated, 35 to 40 minutes.

3. Transfer the onion jam to a bowl and cool completely. Serve at room  temperature, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5  days.

 4. Cut baguette lengthwise and lightly toast cut side up.   Layer sandwich in this order: bread, Dijon mustard, onion jam, turkey meat, brie cheese, lettuce (if desired), mayo and bread.

Turkey sandwich an NCJ Original

Onion Jam Recipe adapted from Tasting Table

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Candied Yams

Thanksgiving is finally here and me, my mom and dad are busy cooking, baking, sauteeing, boiling and grilling and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.  Put two of my favorite things together, family and food, and I’m a happy girl 🙂

Candied yams are a classic soul food dish and I grew up eating them at Sunday dinners with my family and definitely during holidays.  I’ve seen several versions where they’re baked and topped with marshmallows, but in this version the sweet potatoes are lightly boiled and sauteed with a brown sugar butter sauce on top of the stove.  They cook pretty quickly and can be ready to go in 40 minutes.  However, if you have the time allow them to slow cook for several hours.  I think this allows the syrup to caramelize and makes a sweeter (and yummier) dish.


4-6 medium sweet potatoes peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch segments

1 stick of sweetened salted butter

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp real vanilla extract

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar


Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch medallions.  Boil potatoes until they pierce easily with a fork but are still firm.

In separate pot melt butter and brown sugar together add all seasonings.  Add sweet potato medallions and cover with brown sugar cinnamon mixture.  Simmer 30-40 minutes with a lid on the pan until potatoes have caramelized.  Be careful not to stir too much or potatoes will fall apart.  Serve warm.

Recipe adapted from The Joy of Soul Food

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Pumpkin Chowder

A lot of you have been asking for my recipes from culinary school and I am working on putting them all together for you.  In the meantime here is my latest culinary creation.  I had to do a presentation on a fruit or vegetable so I decided to  do my favorite Fall fruit, the Pumpkin!  Nothing like doing a 10 minute presentation on pumpkin to make me feel like real foodie geek, lol.

Part  of my presentation included a recipe demo and since this is culinary school I wanted make something using fresh pumpkin and not the pumpkin puree you find in a can.  I wouldn’t have been able to show my face in the kitchen!  I’d never eaten or cooked with fresh pumpkin but I was so surprised at how delicious this chowder is.  It’s not at all what you’d expect and doesn’t have the “pumpkin pie” flavor that we’re all used to.  It’s warm and savory with just enough spice to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Perfect for a cold Fall day.

Here are some interesting pumpkin facts I found during my research:

  • Originated in North America and first cultivated by Native Americans
  • Small pumkins are best for cooking, more tender and sweet
  • Pumpkins are 90% water
  • Entire plant is edible including the shell, leaves, seeds and flower
  • 80% of pumpkins in the US are harvested in October
  • Excellent source of Alpha & Beta carotene and fiber

P.S. – Sorry for the picture quality but I can’t bring my high powered DSLR camera to the kitchen, lol.

P.P.S. – I’m pretty sure I got an A+ 🙂


♥ Nina


3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Leeks, trimmed of tough green tops and chopped
3 large Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
2 1/4 pounds pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2- by 1-inch-thick pieces
1 1/2 tsp dried majoram
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 cups frozen corn
6 cups chicken broth


Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until very soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in green peppers, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until peppers soften, about 8 more minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until pumpkin is tender, about 30 minutes.


Recipe adapted from Country Living

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Mixed greens, strawberry & goat cheese salad

This is hands down one of the best salads I’ve tasted. Sweet and refreshing, just in time for Spring!




  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 small red onion, grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mixed greens, washed and torn into pieces
  • 1 can hearts of palm, drained and chopped
  • 2 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 6 ounces goat cheese, cold



  1. For the dressing, combine the vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small non-reactive saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Make sure not to let the dressing boil.
  2. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature. When cooled, whisk in the oil, onion, poppy seeds, dry mustard and paprika until thoroughly combined. Set dressing aside.
  3. In a salad bowl, combine the mixed greens, hearts of palm, strawberries, walnuts and goat cheese. When ready to serve, add some of the dressing, and toss gently. Serve the remaining dressing alongside the salad so diners may add more, if desired.


Source: inspriration from Paula Deen (

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Spice Roasted Sweet Potatoes

When I saw this recipe I thought could something so good be so easy??  The answer to that was an astounding YES!  I would have never thought to use faijita seasoning on sweet potatoes but trust me it works.  No it doesn’t taste like tacos, lol…but combined with the olive oil it does give the sweet potatoes a spicy crust that is delicious.  This would serve as the perfect side to a pork loin, roasted chicken or anything really.  I actually ate the whole bowl right after I took this picture!  This is a quick and easy dish to make especially if you’re cooking for a large dinner party.  Enjoy!


  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • Olive oil to coat
  • 2 tablespoons of faijita seasoning mix
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Peel the potatoes and dice them into half-inch cubes.
    3. Pour enough olive oil over the potatoes so that each cube is coated.
    4. Sprinkle seasoning over the potatoes and toss to coat each cube.
    5. Bake in a single layer until potatoes are fork-tender with a light caramelized crust on the outside, about 35-40 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    6. Serve immediately.


Source: Adapted from The Bitten Word (

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French Onion Soup

This was so easy to make and the taste is incredible.  Just like the French onion soup you get at restaurants…probably better!


  • 2 Onions sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 20oz beef stock
  • 20oz chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 1 ½ cup Gruyere cheese grated
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 cups seasoned croutons



  1. Warm the oil and butter in a pot for about 1 minute or until it begins to create a white foam.  Add onions and sauté until the onions are caramelized and have a nice golden brown color.  Add oregano and basil and cook for another 2 minutes.
  2. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan by scraping the bits off the bottom.  Add remaining stock and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Pour soup in an oven safe bowl or ramekin and place croutons on top of soup.  Add cheese on top of the croutons and place under a broiler to allow the cheese to melt.  Remove from broiler once the cheese begins to bubble and turns a golden brown.  Garnish with a little parsley or paprika and enjoy!


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Fried Goat Cheese & Pear Salad

I hope you all like goat cheese because I seem to put it on most of my salads.  I’m going to try something different next time I promise but I couldn’t resist making this salad for lunch today.  I had something similar when I started my job about a year ago.  My boss took me out to lunch on my first day and one of the easiest things to eat in a business setting is a salad, right?  That was kind of the problem…it was so good and so easy to eat that I wolfed it down right in front of my boss.  I must not have offended him too much cause I still have my job, lol.



  • 4 cups leafy greens
  • 1 red pear, thinly sliced
  • 1 small log of goat cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • salt & pepper to taste


  1. In a large bowl toss together the lettuce and pears. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl whisk the egg and place the bread crumbs into another small bowl.  Cut a small log of goat cheese into small pieces, about the size of 2 tbsp. Roll the piece of goat cheese into a ball in your hands and then gently mold into a disk shape. Repeat this process for the remaining goat cheese.
  3. Dip each of the pieces of goat cheese in the egg wash and then into the bread crumb mixture. Repeat this process once more.  Using your fingers, make sure the bread crumbs are firmly into the goat cheese and set aside.
  4. Heat the canola oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Lightly fry the goat cheese rounds for about a minute on each side until they are golden brown and are just slightly melted on either side but still retain their shape. Remove from oil and set aside on paper towel.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic, honey, salt and pepper. Toss the salad with dressing.  Sop with the fried goat cheese and serve immediately.


Slightly adapted from Gaby Dalkin (


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Roasted Asparagus

After my weekend of poor eating my body has been craving something healthy!  So I made my favorite veggie, asparagus.  Of all the fancy ways to make asparagus edible I like the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method.  I hate mushy vegetables which you can get by over boiling them.  However, I have a simple way to make them without over or under cooking them.

Even my dog Tabu liked it!  I’ll take that as a seal of approval.



1 bushel of asparagus

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp garlic powder

Sea Salt to taste

Crushed black pepper to taste



Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheet with aluminum foil.  Rinse asparagus under cool water and dry with a paper towel.  Cut off the ends of asparagus, about an inch.  Place asparagus on the cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Season with garlic powder, salt & pepper.

Roll asparagus in oil and seasonings to ensure even coverage.  Roast uncovered for 13-18 minutes depending on how tender you prefer them to be.  Flip asparagus about halfway through cooking time.  Serve immediately while still warm.



*An NCJ Original*


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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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