An Open Cookbook

An Open Cookbook


Homemade Paneer

I was lucky enough to have J, T and H over a few weeks ago for an Indian dinner party.  J came over early to talk to me while I prepared....or so he thought.  Little did he know that he was to be my naan-man.  I put him to work after two sips of wine.  He was rolling out naan dough like a pro with a pint glass (still don't have a rolling pin).  The tricky part about making naan at my house is that for some reason, my pizza stone smokes of there isn't any sort of food item on it in the hot oven, which you have to do to prepare.  So we opened the oven, tossed in the first set.  The pizza stone and the smoke alarm were co-conspiring for attention.  I jumped up on the couch with a placemat to quiet the screech.  All was fine.  We opened all the windows and my front door.  Ok.  Loud noise averted.  We grabbed a few bites of cucumber and dip. 

The air was still calm.  I then opened the oven to get the naan out.  Beeeeep.  This time J jumped up on the foot stool fanning the alarm.  He slowly got down and helped with rolling more naan. One set down.  Three to go.  A sip of wine.  An apricot and and almond taste.  

The semi-calmness, expontentially went up in smoke.  I opened the oven about five more times before J just stationed himself on the foot stool with the place mat, fanning the alarm.  Then there was me, sweating, opening the oven door to quickly throw in the naan or scoop it out.  The room was Bikram hot.  We were in tears laughing and screaming at the same time.  This was the scene when H and T arrived.   Needless to say, the white wine began flowing to cool us down. 

As the pictures depict, we added more and more food to the table and more and more eye-popping-table-grabbing-mouth-covering stories.  By the end of the night, we were laughing so hard at ourselves I literally felt like I had gone to a hot yoga class.

But this post is supposed to be about Paneer...the cheese you see featured in many an Indian dish.  It sort of looks like tofu from afar...but for those of you anti-tofu...fear not.  It is good old fashioned dairy.  And it is so satisfying to make your own, which by the way is super easy.   So if you have ever bought a giant container of milk and know you won't use all of it, now you have something to do with it.  Make cheese!


You can certainly buy Paneer at Indian grocery stores.  But it is so satisfying to make your own.  Pictured above is the cheese cloth in the strainer over a large pot set up you will read about in the instructions below.  I was lucky enough to meet Nabia of Food I Make and assister her in a cooking class.  Her blog is my resource for good authentic Indian food. 

The short of it is this.  You simply boil the ingredients below.  Let them curdle.  Strain in a cheese cloth.  Wrap.  Refrigerate.  Cut into cubes and saute.

And that is how it's done.

Homemade Paneer
Adapted from Nabia's Food I Make Blog and the Hindi Bindi Club Book

If you have leftover milk that you know you will throw away in a few days, make cheese instead.  Or buy yourself a half gallon and start anew.  Either way, use good quality brands.  There is nothing better than homemade cheese to toss into your favorite dish, or just snack on.  Just as an aside, this is a special occasion type food to make, so use the full fat version of every ingredient...and split the dish with someone else.  It is much more rewarding and authentic to make it as it should be.  Eat your veggies on the side.

1/2 gallon whole milk (use good quality local, hormone-free if you can)
1 cup heavy cream (same as above, good quality local hormone-free)
1 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt + 1 cup water to dilute it (mix yogurt and water together to make a nice even mixture)
Cheese cloth (enough to line the inside of a strainer with two layers)

Ok let's begin!  Pull out a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven.  Pour in the milk and cream.  Slowly bring to a soft boil.  This step took awhile for mine because the milk and cream were very cold to start with.  So if you remember, take them out 30 minutes prior, to get the chill off. 

Back to the soft boil.  Stir the milk often so it doesn't burn.  Once the boil happens, lower the heat to low.  It is time to add the yogurt now.  The curdling should happen fairly quickly.  Slowing pour the diluted yogurt mixture in a thin stream into the milk and cream, meanwhile stirring with your spare hand.

As it begins to curdle, the whey (the liquid part) will turn a little grey.  Once you have achieved curdling, turn the heat off and let the pot sit for 10 minutes.  While you are waiting, prepare the cheesecloth.  Put two layers of cheesecloth on top of each other into a strainer.  Put the strainer over a large pot.  This will catch all the curds in the cheesecloth and the whey will drain out.

After the 10 minutes is up, carefully pour your curds and whey through the cheese cloth.  Let as much whey drain out as possible.  The liquid will still be hot, so once it cools a little, gather the cheese cloth around the curds and squeeze out any excess water.  Shape this into a circular disk.  Put the disk back in a strainer over a smaller bowl and put something heavy on top of it.  I put a plate on top and then a new unopened container of broth.  Place this cheese contraption into the fridge, preferably over night.

The next day, you will open this little package to find a very sturdy disk of paneer.  Slice it into small cubes and saute and add to any dish you like.  I made saag paneer, which was a great addition to the Indian feast.


Rosemary Pickled Carrots

Carrots are kitchen staples.  It is always a good idea to have a large bag of them awaiting use in the refrigerator.  You can chop and plop them into soup, shred and toss with apples in a salad, boil and puree into carrot dip...all of course in addition to eating them plain and simple, rabbit style.

The most recent after work snack at this house is either olives or little cornichons with a few almonds or Brazil nuts.  The other day when reaching in the refrigerator for such a snack, I eyed the big bag of carrots in the back corner.  Then they reluctantly moved over to the leftover rosemary that somehow seemed to be multiplying.  I had been adding rosemary to eggs and salad dressings for what seemed like weeks.   It is a fine enough herb, but I was beginning to get rosemary overdose.  Making pickled carrots would finally use the rest.

I remembered Molly Wizenberg talking of how easy pickled food items were to make in her book 'A Homemade Life'.  I have been intimidated by them because I thought you had to do the whole sealing and jarring procedure.  And after years of microbology class, Botulism has terrified me.  But my fears were eased upon discovering they can simply be placed in a clean jar and immediately into the refrigerator.  And as long as you consume them within a few weeks or so, all should be fine.  A tightly boiled seal is not necessary.

The great part of pickling is that you can pretty much pickle any vegetable or even fruit.  Green beans.  Asparagus.  Grapes.  Add in 'whatever you want to try' to this sentence.  The most difficult part of pickling is that you have to wait for them to soak up the brine.  So basically put the head of cauliflower, bag of spinach and cartons of figs in front of the jars which should be in the back of the refrigerator so you don't get tempted to crack open prematurely.  You certainly can though if you want.  I mean, nothing like a little recipe testing every day to check the difference a day makes.  Yeah I said it.

Rosemary Pickled Carrots
Adapted from 'A Homemade Life' by Molly Wizenberg

I had two sizes of jars and thought it would make things interesting to cut the carrots into different shapes.  So feel free to do the same.  Also, the original recipe calls for thyme, but I happened to have a bunch of rosemary leftover from the rabbit adventure a few weeks ago.  So experiment with different herbs.

3/4 lb of carrots, cut into desired shape
1 cup apple cider vinegar, plus additional spoonfuls for topping
1 cup water, plus additional spoonfuls for topping
2 Tbsp sugar
2 big sprigs of fresh rosemary, cut into big chunks
3 cloves garlic, sliced very thinly
3/4 tsp black peppercorns, chopped in the coffee grinder (or mortar and pestle)
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp mustard seeds

Chop your carrots into whatever shape you fancy.  Set aside in a large shallow heat proof bowl.  In a small saucepan, pour in 3/4 cup cider vinegar,  1 cup water, sugar, rosemary, garlic, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt and mustard seeds.  Turn heat up to medium high.  Once it boils, lower to a simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir every so often.  Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.  Pour the vinegar mixture on top of carrots.  Top with remaining 1/4 cup vinegar.  Let cool completely.

While they are cooling, wash your jars thoroughly with soap and warm water and let dry.  When the carrots are at room temperature, arrange them in the jars in a way that looks nice to you.  Pour the brine into the jars, including all the herbs and spices (A ladle or measuring cup works best).  If the carrots aren't totally covered, top them off with 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water.  Put the lids on the jars and refrigerate for a week if you can wait...they get better with time.


Pumpkin Beer Bread

I was recently a lucky recipient of two large bottles of Autumn Maple beer from The Bruery in Southern California.  My immediate thought was...Beer Bread!  What a perfect accompaniment to a nice glass of cold beer with the hint of yams and warm spice.  So I scoured through the internet, cookbooks and my recipe binder and finally landed on this hearty recipe from Ezra Pound cake blog.  I wanted to climb through the looking glass when I saw the picture of her beer bread.  She perfectly depicted the idea of tearing off a hunk of bread from a loaf and eating it as quickly as possible.

I made a hefty loaf of bread in my spring form pan.  So every time I ate it (which was quite frequently), I concocted a different topping.  In the picture below you see butter and honey in a little bowl.  The first time I ate it, I slathered a slice with the butter and honey.  The next time I took a bowl of bread over to M's house, and melted the honey and butter together and we gave the bread a dip.  Yes.  This is by far the way to go...syrupy, salty coating for every bite.  The bees would have been proud and the bread sort of falls apart from the hot honey butter.  All the more reason to lick your fingers.

I am sort of relunctant to say that the weather seems to have taken a slight crisp turn, but as a consolation, we have beer and beer bread to keep us happy and warm.  If you are lucky enough to have access to beer such as Autumn Maple, do yourself a favor and buy double the amount.  Half for cooking and half for kind of need both.

Pumpkin Beer Bread
Adapted from EzraPoundcake blog
Yields one hearty loaf

Beer bread is a great centerpiece or accompaniment to a meal that you can share with your friends and family.  The pumpkin puree adds a hint of autumn and little flecks of orange.  Use a good quality beer like The Bruery's Autumn Maple for a richly flavored bread.  Serve with a nice pumpkin soup and a slab of butter and honey.

2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
12 ounces beer
½ cup pumpkin puree (canned or made from fresh)
2 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Slowly pour the beer into the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go.  Add in the pumpkin and stir just until combined.

Line a bread loaf or spring form pan with parchment paper.  Pour half of the butter into the bottom of the prepared pan and tilt it around until the butter is evenly spread.  Spoon the batter into the pan.  Evenly pour the remaining butter on top of batter.  Slide into the oven.  Put a baking sheet on the shelf below the bread in case the butter drips (which it probably will).

Bake about 60 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top and done in the middle.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Serve with melted butter and honey and a glass of beer.


Do You Know What Today Is?

I have had the Tony Toni Tone song Anniversary in my head for about two weeks now...because today is my Blogiversary.  Just one year ago, I had no idea how much opening up my kitchen to the whole world would change my life.  As a tribute to an entire year of sweating, cooking, laughing, crying and eating in the kitchen, I have compiled a list of the top most important lessons I have learned along the way.

This feels very similar to those episodes on The Cosby Show or Friends where they are all sitting on a couch speaking of memorable scenes on the show, and then they flash back.  I have learned so much about myself, about life, about friends and family and strangers alike.  In some of the lessons, you will notice that a word is this colorIf it is, you can click on it, and it will send you to the post or website that I am referring.  Some of the lessons are food related, some life related, some both.  Some are funny...others are thought provoking.  They are listed in no particular order.

So I thank you dear readers and all of you who have encouraged me, tried my recipes, have given feedback or simply read my blog.  You have made the ride so much greater.  Here's to many more years of blogging.

The Top 34 Lessons Learned in A Year of Food Blogging

1. Coconut crosses over into every meal...always have it on hand.

2. Sometimes you have to throw the whisk in the air, take a swig of wine from the bottle and walk away.

3. SEO, Tweeting, 'Like' buttons, widgets and bounce rate are all important words to keep in the vocabulary.

4. Different uses for Verjus is not an interesting topic to everyone in the bar.

5. When making doughnuts, your hair, clothes and house will smell of sugary oil for days.  Plan accordingly.

6. Simplicity can make a meal.

7. If you are nervous and scared to do something that you know will make you a better person...Do it anyway.

8. Chocolate and wine make everything better.

9. Be patient when cooking onions.  No one likes to be rushed while sweating in the fire.

10. Be proud of small accomplishments, even if they pale in comparison to something bigger someone else did.

11. Have your good friends over for a gnocchi making party.  Everyone adds a different shape to the dish.

12. Evolving is a process...enjoy every successful and painful step of the way. 

13. Do what you truly enjoy for you, and just you...and the rest of your life will follow.

14. Re-creating that dish from your favorite restaurant may take at least twenty times to even get close.  Ask the bartender, the chef, a chef who used to work there and the hostess.  You will get a new piece of the puzzle every time.

15. Cook, even when you are helps to heal the heart and your tears will flavor the soup.

16. Buy good quality for the things that coffee cups.

17. Don't pretend to know something because you think you are supposed to.  Authenticity is much more attractive.

18. Sometimes the bread doesn't rise the way you planned.

19. Asparagus ribbon nicely...but go forth with caution or wear thimbles.

20. Happiness comes from being completely honest with yourself and then doing whatever it takes to follow your heart...It may be the hardest thing you ever do.

21. Rearrange your furniture and stand in an area you've never stood before, even if it is on top of the counter.  Seeing life from a new angle gives perspective.

22. Get dressed up and take yourself out for a nice meal every once in awhile.

23. Distract yourself while you are waiting for the bread to cool.

24. If you are at a restaurant and ask the chef the ingredients of the chickpea burger and your dad happens to mention you are a food may get special treatment.

25. Ad-libbing often works.

26. Matching dishes are overrated.

27. Cinnamon sticks make great skewers...(thanks Mom!)

28. You can taste the TLC when using seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables.

29. You can pretty much freeze anything.

30. Stuffed grape leaves are really satisfying to make and to eat afterwards, but give yourself the entire morning to make them so you don't arrive to the party two hours late.

31. Recipes work the best when you read them all the way through before starting.

32. You don't have to like every recipe.

33. Some of the best conversations can happen while cooking together.

34. We are capable of making our wildest dreams come true.  Make big goals with small ones to pave the way.


Prosecco Bathed Rabbit with Pecans and Apricots

 Whew.  One gigantic, 20 second long exhale.  With no intention of sounding melodramatic, today was the absolute most emotionally taxing culinary experience I have ever had.   It is Recipe Swap time again where Christianna gives us a recipe from her vintage cookbook and we are assigned to switch and swap ingredients around to make a recipe our own.  This month is rabbit: 

A little intimidated is an understatement.  I have been excited and nervous to dive into this for about two weeks.  Actually I have put the recipe in a tiny little box in the middle of my brain, only to be opened the day before the recipe is due.  So today was that such day.

I did a little research this week on rabbit recipes and places to actually buy rabbit meat.  I found an awesome little butcher shop in Melrose Market called Rain Shadow Meats that only sells locally and responsibly grown meats.  The butcher was really kind and understanding when I told him that I had a recipe for stuffed rabbit legs.  He politely told me they didn't sell just rabbit legs....that I would have to buy the whole rabbit.  (Big swallow...and pause.)  Ok.  I could do this.  To ease the process, he told me he could cut it up for me.  Great.  This wouldn't be so bad.  I couldn't really see what he was doing, but I figured he was cutting the meat off the bone for me so that I could easily roll the meat with the pecan and rosemary filling, and I would be on my innocent way.  He handed me the 3.5 lb package of meat.  Thunk.

I was walking around Capitol Hill with a grey re-usable tote of rabbit parts.  I quickly walked to three other places to get all the other goods...butcher twine, Prosecco, rosemary, onions...a little courage.  After gathering said components, I got home, unloaded groceries, made lunch and poured myself a healthy glass of wine.  Was there really a rabbit in my fridge?

For the next three hours, I would occasionally open the fridge.  Yep.  There was a rabbit in there.  Now I realize, there are many many people in the world who regularly butcher meat, or purchase whole animals, or better yet, raise their own animals, put them to rest and then butcher and prepare them.  All I had to do was cut it up and prepare it.  But I am very very new to this idea.  Most of my culinary trekking has involved chicken and beef.  I have eaten interesting meats...just not prepared them.  Well it is about flipping time I muster up the courage to cook foods that I am very willing to order off a menu.

I took my last gulp of wine, washed my hands and cutting board and pulled out the large brown paper wrapped rabbit...hoping for a de-boned bag of rabbit meat.  I pulled the sticker off.  Undid the wrapping as if I was an eight year old on Christmas morning.  Uh-oh.  It was a fully intact rabbit, just cut into about eight pieces...bones, ribs, joints and all.  Ok.  I could do this.  I was up for the challenge.  No big deal.  I sharpened my knife, and started slicing away like I was a butcher in a small Italian town.  And before I knew it, I had six slabs of meat and a pile of bones.  I did it.  The hardest part was over. 

After spending as much money as I did on this glorious little rabbit, I wanted to use it to the fullest.  So I pulled out the Dutch oven, sauteed some carrots and onions, tossed in a few sprigs of rosemary and the pile of bones with several cups worth of water.  I would make rabbit stock.  And as it turned out, shredded rabbit.  There was a ton of meat left on the bones that I hadn't cut off.   So thank you dear gave me many many meals worth of goodness.

After spending hours butchering, stuffing, sauteeing, braising, and finally tasting...I was spent.  I actually took a few swigs from the Prosecco bottle before pouring it into the pan.  After sitting down and eating a nice plateful of rabbit with apricot and cranberry sauce, I very slowly and intentionally portioned some of the recipe into a reheatable dish...taped it shut and took it over to M, J and W's house, for their dinner tomorrow night.  This nice little rabbit needed to be shared.  Hopefully they will taste the TLC. 

What a great experience to go through.  Though extremely small in this great big world, it was a big deal to of those defining moments in the myself, with just a knife, a cutting board, a rabbit and an unlocked door just in case I needed an escape route. 

But escape route needed.  Cooking an entire rabbit was quite a feat for me.  If you are up for the challenge, this recipe is quite rewarding in more ways than one.  Please click Here to see all the other great recipe swapper's rabbit experiences and recipes...I can't wait to do the same.

Prosecco Bathed Rabbit with Pecans and Apricots
Adapted from Mario Batali on
Yields 4 servings

1 rabbit (or enough pieces for 4 servings)
1/2 cup pecans
2 large cloves garlic (or 3 medium), peeled and roughly cut
1/2 cup olive oil, divided in half
1 tsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1/2 Tbsp ground black pepper
Butcher twine
1 medium red onion, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut into small chunks
1 bottle Prosecco

Carefully open your package of rabbit meat.  Slice the meat off the bone into as many large pieces as possible.

In a food processor, add in the pecans, garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, rosemary and pepper.  Blend until it makes a paste.  With a spoon, spread the paste over all the pieces of meat.  Slowly and carefully roll the meat.  Secure it by tying butcher twine on the two ends of each piece (see picture above for an idea).

In a large saute pan heated over medium heat, pour in the other 1/4 cup olive oil.  Allow the oil to heat.  With tongs, place each rabbit roll into the pan.  Cook each side until all sides are fully lightly browned.  Add in the onions, cranberries and apricots and saute until onions have softened...about 5-10 minutes.  Now the fun part.  Pop open the Prosecco.  Take a swig if you need one.  Pour the whole bottle into the pan.  It will bubble and become quite frothy.  Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  Partially cover or use a splash cover.  Cook for about 45-50 minutes.  Every 10-15 or so, turn the rabbit rolls to ensure it is evenly cooking and give it a good stir.  Cook until the meat is super tender.  If the liquid evaporates too much, add a little water. 

When done, remove the rabbit and cut the strings off.  Arrange onto a platter and spoon the sauce over the rolls.  Garnish with fresh rosemary.  Serve with roasted cauliflower and herb seasoned rice for a nice warm meal.