Involtini

Ingredients:
3 eggplants, about 1 pound each, trimmed and cut lengthwise into slices 1/4 inch thick (about 16 slices total)
¾ cup olive oil, or as needed
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup pine nuts
cup raisins, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes until plump, then drained
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ teaspoons dried mint
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 large egg, beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ cups drained canned crushed tomatoes
1 large ball fresh mozzarella in 1/4-inch slices

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place a ridged cast-iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil and cook, turning, until soft and (if using a ridged pan) crisscrossed with grid marks. Set aside and allow to cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine feta, pine nuts, raisins, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, bread crumbs, garlic, lemon zest, mint and parsley. Mix in egg, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Spread eggplant slices on a surface, and divide stuffing evenly among them, placing 1 to 2 tablespoons at one end of each slice. Roll up slices tightly to secure filling, and place in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or other shallow baking pan in which rolls fit snugly in a single layer).
4. Pour crushed tomatoes on top of eggplant rolls. Arrange mozzarella slices in a line lengthwise down center of pan. Drizzle olive oil evenly over pan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Bake until cheese has melted and eggplant is bubbling and fragrant, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to stand 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Ingredients:
3/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c white sugar
3/4 c packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 3/4 c rolled oats
1 c raisins

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Cream together butter, sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually beat into butter mixture. Stir in oats and raisins. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
3. Bake 8 10 to minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly, remove from sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup warm water (must be between 110-115 degrees)
2 (1/4 ounce) packages active dry yeast
3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup raisins
8 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, melted (approx.)

Directions:
1. Warm the milk in a small sauce pan on the stove until it just starts to bubble, stirring occasionally.
2. Remove from heat.
3. Let cool until lukewarm, about 120-125 degrees.
4. Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside until yeast is frothy, about 10 minutes or so (make sure your water is at the correct temperature or the yeast won’t activate.) Then mix in eggs, sugar, butter salt and raisins (stir in the cooled milk slowly so you don’t cook the eggs.) Add the flour gradually to make a stiff dough.
5. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes until smooth.
6. Place in a large, buttered, mixing bowl and turn to grease the surface of the dough.
7. Cover with a warm, damp cloth and let rise (I like to let my bread rise in the oven with the light on. It has just the right amount of heat and keeps the bread out of drafts.) Allow to rise until doubled, usually about 1 1/2 hours.
8. Roll out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle 1/2 inch thick.
9. Moisten the dough with 2 tablespoons milk and rub all over the dough with your hands.
10. Mix together 1 cup of sugar and 3 tablespoons cinnamon and sprinkle mixture evenly on top of the moistened dough.
11. Roll up tightly (the long way).
12. The roll should be about 3 inches in diameter.
13. Cut into thirds, and tuck under ends and pinch bottom together.
14. Place loaves into well greased (you can use Crisco or butter for this) 9 x 5 inch pans and lightly grease tops of loaves.
15. Let rise in warm place, uncovered, again for about an hour.
16. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until loaves are lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped.
17. Remove from oven and let cool on rack.
18. Take melted butter and spread over tops of loaves.
19. After about 20 minutes, lay loaves on their sides and remove from pans.
20. Allow to cool before slicing.

Brie Toast with Chardonnay Soaked Golden Raisins

This one was made for me by a most amazing hostess (who is also a gourmet chef by night).  Props go out to Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials (available at any bookstore).  And no, Laura Werlin was not the hostess who made these for me.  If you like this recipe, though, grab a copy of the book.  You will be glad you did.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup Chardonnay ( I use La Ferme Julien – Cotes du Luberon available at Trader Joe’s)
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half vertically
1 cup golden raisins
12 ounces Fromager d’Affinois cheese sliced into 24 pieces (or any double-creme brie)
24 slices baguette cut 1/4 inch thick
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Directions:
In a medium-size saucepan, combine the water, wine, and sugar.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Scrape the insides of the vanilla bean into the liquid and add the remaining bean.  Add the raisins.  Let steep uncovered for at least 1 hour at room temperature.  Refrigerate overnight.

Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid.  Discard the vanilla bean.  Put the liquid back in the saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce to about 1/3 cup or until the syrup turns a deep golden color, 10 to 15 minutes.  Watch carefully so the syrup doesn’t burn.  If it starts to foam, remove from heat immediately (as a fire might start).  The syrup will continue to thicken as it cools, and have a texture similar to light maple syrup.  Cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Brush butter onto both sides of the bread slices.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool completely.

To assemble:
Put a slice of cheese on each toast.  Sprinkle with a few raisins and drizzle syrup over the top.