• Tommy Centola

Celebrating special occasions with food

October is a special month for me. The 20th is the day of my wedding anniversary. To celebrate, my wife and I are usually on a cruise. Everyone knows that this hasn’t happened the last couple of years. So, we have had to come up with other ways to celebrate.

Of course, food figures into our celebration. Sometimes, we head to a restaurant. Lately, we have chosen to have a quiet dinner at home. Usually those menus are chosen by Peggy. Today, I want to honor her by sharing two recipes that are near and dear to her. The first would be our entree, Stuffed Eggplant Pirogue Peggy and the second our dessert, White Chocolate Mousse. Let the celebration begin by heading to the kitchen!

How could I not create and name a recipe for my lovely wife, Peggy? This is my take on one of her favorite restaurant dishes from Copeland’s. Since they have closed their Little Rock location, this is now the only way for her to get her favorite entree.

Stuffed Eggplant Pirogue Peggy

3 medium eggplant cut in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup ham, diced small

½ cup onion, chopped

¼ cup yellow bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

½ cup seafood stock or chicken stock

½ pound medium shrimp peeled, deveined and chopped

½ pound lump crabmeat cleaned of shells

½ cup crushed plain breadcrumbs

6 tablespoons fresh Parmesan cheese grated and divided

¼ cup green onions finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil chopped

1½ teaspoons fresh tarragon chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning

Preheat over to 425℉.

Score cut side of each eggplant half in a crisscross pattern. Lightly coat cut sides of eggplant with cooking spray. Place eggplant halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Bake at 425℉ for 10 minutes. Turn the eggplant halves over and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove pulp for the eggplant, leaving a ¼ inch thick shell. Place eggplant shells on baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Chop pulp and put aside. Reduce oven to 350℉. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ham, onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add reserved eggplant pulp and stock, cooking for 10 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Stir in shrimp and crabmeat, cook 1 minute and remove from heat. Add bread crumbs, three tablespoons Parmesan cheese, green onions, basil, tarragon, lemon zest, and Creole seasoning, stirring gently to combine. Mound about ½ cup of seafood mixture into each shell. Sprinkle each with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350℉ for 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated and shrimp are done.

White chocolate is my go-to ingredient for special desserts. Flavoring whipped cream with white chocolate creates a dish that is not very heavy. This recipe is a simple yet elegant way to end any meal.

White Chocolate Mousse

8 ounces white chocolate, chopped into very small pieces, or white chocolate chips

2 Egg yolks

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 cup heavy cream

Chocolate sprinkles

In a large glass bowl, place the chopped white chocolate and set aside. Add the egg yolks and sugar to a small bowl and whisk until pale in color. In a saucepan, over low heat, bring 1/4 cup of the cream to a simmer, and slowly add the cream into the yolk and sugar mixture to temper. Pour the creamy mixture back into pan and stir with a wooden spoon until it coats the back of it. Pour hot mix through a strainer over the bowl with the white chocolate. Stir until completely smooth. In another bowl, whip 1 cup of the cream to almost stiff peaks. Fold half the whipped cream into the white chocolate mix to lighten and then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spoon the white chocolate mousse into 4 serving cups and refrigerate until set, approximately 1 hour. Top with chocolate sprinkles.

Of course, you don’t need a special occasion to serve these dishes. They will, however, bring a celebratory feeling to any meal. Since today only comes once a year, why not celebrate it? It could be the start of a new tradition.

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