An Open Cookbook

An Open Cookbook


Zucchini Parmesan

I know we are all so very busy at this time of year, so I will keep my conversation brief.  My first order of business is to suggest having a bowl of olives and a glass of wine at your fingertips while you prepare this recipe (or any recipe for that matter).  The picture above represents my evening snack, basically from when I step into the door.   You see, I walk to and from work, so by the time I get home, I am pretty hungry.  While I don't want to spoil my appetite for dinner, olives seem to do the trick.

This zucchini Parmesan dish does have several steps, but it is a great dinner party dish and can even made the day or night before.  It reheats quite nicely, and like lasagna, tastes even better the next day since all the flavors have had a chance to marry.  You can certainly do this same recipe with eggplant or other varieties of squash may be interesting.  But take the recipe for a spin.  You will impress the people warming the kitchen chairs.

Zucchini Parmesan
Yields 2-4 servings

This recipe is a little looser than most of my recipes, mostly because I don't follow a recipe for eggplant or zucchini Parmesan.  This is a simplified combination recipe of eggplant/zucchini Parmesan and lasagna mixed together to make for a healthy, lighter version.  If you want a little more, serve spaghetti noodles to accompany.

2 zucchinis, sliced thinly with a mandolin or carefully with a sharp knife
Spices, such as oregano and thyme
1 egg, whisked
Olive oil
Tomato Sauce (click for recipe or use from the jar)
Parmesan, shredded

If you are making your own sauce, start there first so that it can be simmering on the back burner while you prepare the zucchini.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees at this time as well.

Prepare the zucchini by slicing in long thin slices from the top to the bottom as pictured above.  Set aside.  Prepare two very shallow bowls or two deep plates with the dredging stations.  In one plate or bowl, pour in the whisked egg.  In the other plate or bowl, pour in enough flour that you imagine will finely coat each zucchini slice (you can be conservative here because you can always add more).  Toss in some herbs.  I used oregano and thyme.  Prepare one or two large saute pans at this time as well, because once you coat the zucchini, you can start sauteing.  Heat the pans on low to medium and pour in a healthy amount of olive oil.

Take one zucchini slice at a time and flip it around in the the egg.  Then carefully take out of the egg bath and let drip dry a little.  Then lay it carefully in the flour mixture and coat both sides with flour and spices.  You can immediately put this into the saute pan.  Repeat with all of the slices and put in saute pan(s).  Cook each side for a few minutes until it browns.  Flip over and cook the other side.

Next is the assembly.  Prepare an oven safe casserole dish by rubbing a little oil around the bottom and sides.  Treat this segment like lasagna assembly.  Pour a thin layer of tomato sauce into the bottom of the pan.  Make a layer with the zucchini slices next.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Repeat the process by pouring tomato sauce on top of this.  Then add zucchini and cheese.  Repeat until zucchini is completely used.  Top with the last of the sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted and browned to your liking.  Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes to let the ingredients get cozy with each other.  Slice in and serve as a light dinner or add pasta or chicken on the side for a heartier dish.


Simple Roasted Vegetables

Forewarning...this post is a little unconventional in the ingredient measurement department.  Probably like many of you, I have stepped onto the holiday roller coaster with the rare, yet cherished nights of staying in, cooking dinner, having a glass of wine and maybe watching an episode of Mad Men Season 2.   Tonight is one of those nights.  Although I only have thanks and gratitude for all the wonderful events and get togethers that have populated my appointment book...many-a-happy hours, food, holiday parties galore, food events, dinner outings, several dancing opportunities, gift exchanges, food, champagne, charity events, and did I mention food?

I was doing dishes yesterday, and realized I hadn't been home to cook dinner for at least a week...hence, the time lag since last post.  So tonight I am embracing the ability to make one of my favorite dinners...roasted vegetables with a medium cooked egg and a glass of wine.  I mean, you can't get much better than this.  So by unconventional, I mean that I didn't do exact measuring for the mere pleasure of shaking the spice containers over the oil coated vegetables.  So I ask you to do the same...enjoy your evening, throw together this simple dinner and put your feet up...the party is right in your living room.

Simple Roasted Vegetables
Yields 3-4 cups

You are absolutely at fact I urge use whatever vegetables you like. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, carrots or any of the ones I used roast quite nicely.  Use any of your favorites herbs as well, such as thyme, parsley, basil or rosemary.  The following recipe is my tried and true: lots of garlic powder, salt and pepper.  I think I am always trying to bring a little Black Bottle broccoli flavoring into my kitchen.

7 crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 eggplant, cut into 1/4th inch circles and then cut those in half moon shapes
1 head cauliflower, cut into chunks
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
A heavy-handed sprinkling of garlic powder (about 1 tsp, divided)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 440 degrees.  Cut the vegetables and place onto a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet.   Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil all over the vegetables.  Give them a very generous (about 1/2 tsp) coating of garlic powder.  Sprinkle in salt and pepper.  Using your hands, toss and coat all pieces involved.  Roast for 15 minutes.

Once 15 minutes are up, remove sheet from oven.  Toss the vegetables with a pair of tongs.  Drizzle the remaining Tbsp of olive oil, another 1/2 tsp garlic powder and more salt and pepper.  Toss evenly.  Return to oven for 15 more minutes.

This is a good time to do your dishes, check email, prepare tomorrow's coffee, sip a glass of wine or eat some olives.  When the buzzer goes off, open oven, toss one more time with the tongs.  Return to oven for 10 more minutes.  Repeat above activities as needed.

When the final timer goes off, they should be fully ready for consumption.  Serve alongside your favorite protein, or top with a medium cooked egg like I did.  Divine dining.


Butternut Squash with Shallots (Roasted vs. Pressure Cooked)

I was a lucky girl last month for many reasons.  First of all, when we had M's going-away-to-vacation dinner party, her sister C made the best squash dish I think I have ever had.  It was roasted butternut squash cooked with shallots and topped with a light parsley dressing...AND I got a plastic container full of leftovers.  So during the Thanksgiving season, the squash revisited our table.
I was also lucky, because I got to borrow a Fissler pressure cooker from Allrecipes last month too.  And so I set out to compare the time saving abilities of a pressure cooker.  My main experiment was on the squash.  Roasting does lend itself to a nice rich product, but it does take upwards of an hour.  So I wanted to see how much time a pressure cooker would save on this particular dish.  Being the novice pressure cooker that I was, I hadn't ever thought about how the pressure that builds inside a cooker has to be generated from liquid.  And after reading the instructions for the cooker, I learned there had to be at least 2 cups of liquid in the cooker for it to work.

So this was going to change the consistency of the dish.  I wanted to keep it really flavorful, and I had just happened to have opened a bottle of white wine around the same time, so I figured, why not go wild and pour some into the cooker.  I also had a fresh container of chicken broth, which would also add a nice herbal dimension.

And the outcome?!  I liked them both for very different reasons.  The roasted squash dish had a much richer depth to it from the almost caramelized effect of roasting.  The pressure cooker version was lighter, especially with the lemon juice addition and the fruitiness of the wine.  They both made for really good leftovers...again.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Shallots
from C at M's going away party

1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and sliced in 1/4th inch cross-sectional cuts
3 shallots, peeled and chopped in half
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1 Tbsp cider vinegar
2-3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large oven proof dish or a parchment lined baking sheet, toss the squash and shallots with 1-2 Tbsp olive oil until every piece is generously coated.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 45-60 minutes until the squash is very tender.

Meanwhile you can make the dressing by whisking the vinegar, parsley and mustard.  Slowly pour in the olive oil last, while continuously whisking.

Remove the squash and shallots from oven, transfer to a serving dish.  Toss with the dressing.  Adjust any salt and pepper needs.  Serve alongside your favorite main dish or bring to a dinner party.  Your guests will be elbowing for seconds.

Pressure Cooked Butternut Squash and Shallots with Wine
Adapted from C's original recipe

1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and sliced in 1/4th inch cross-sectional cuts
3 shallots, peeled and chopped in half
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 medium lemon, zested and juiced
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

At the beginning, treat the pot part of your pressure cooker like any other pot.  Drop in the squash pieces, shallots, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Over medium heat, saute them for about 5 minutes until lightly cooked.  Pour in the wine and chicken broth.  Put the lid on top of your pressure cooker, close and lock it.  Turn the heat up and allow the pressure to build.  Every pressure cooker is different, but the particular Fissler version that I was borrowing has a blue circular device that rises.  When two white rings appear, the pressure has built.  So do the same version with your pressure cooker.  Once the pressure is built, turn the heat down as low as possible.  Cook for about 8 minutes.  Turn off heat, slowly release the pressure ( a lot of steam will emit, enough for a mini facial if it isn't hot).  Unlock the lid, and remove the goods.  With a slotted spoon, remove the cooked squash and shallots.  Toss with lemon zest, juice and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve as a side dish or like I did, alongside an over-medium cooked egg.  Use the leftover liquid for your favorite soup recipe.


Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Bar

It is Recipe Swap time of the month again!  Last month we celebrated a year's worth of recipes from one cookbook, so Christianna has decided to switch gears and give us recipes from a new cookbook called 'The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places'.  And this month's recipe is the Toll House chocolate chip cookie.  And to be totally embarrassingly honest, I had never thought about Toll House cookies originating from a toll house converted into an inn.  Toll House was always a proper name to never dawned on me that it was an actual toll house:

There are so many reasons why this is the perfect recipe for December.  First of all, it is cookie making time of year, so this is a great way to incorporate our Recipe Swap group recipe with a food item that can be shared with the special people in our lives.  Another reason is that my friends at are participating in Cookies Across America which is a national campaign that Allrecipes and Nestle Toll House are launching where groups host cookie exchanges to bake and donate cookies to shelters, food pantries, schools, etc. in order to share the holiday spirit with the community.  You can click on the highlighted word above, and see the Facebook page for more details if you are interested in participating with your friends.  So it is synchronicity that both the Recipe Swap group and Allrecipes would go hand and hand with the Toll House cookie this month.  

I was really scanning my brain's Rolodex of recipes and consulted with my mom (the family baker) on my walk to work the other day and came up with a cookie bar topped with my favorite three ingredients: peanut butter, chocolate and coconut.  What a better way to enjoy a cookie, than to be smothered in a melted peanut butter cup type topping.  These flavors warm my cheeks and make me rub my hands together in excitement.  I don't know if it is because I ate a lot of peanut butter for dinner as a kid, or frequently slurped down peanut butter cup blizzards after soccer practice or still dip my chocolate bar in the peanut butter jar after dinner...but this is my idea of a perfect dessert.  I also added some oats into the bar portion to make it even more of a comfort food.  So after whipping these babies up and making my kitchen warmly scented with chocolate, I sliced them into small squares, sampled the coconut and 'plain' ones, and promptly wrapped and froze them so I can take them to the Cookies Across America event next week.  So if you are looking for an easy, rich dessert for your cookie making this year, try these or take a look at the other Recipe Swappers' take on the recipe below.  I can't wait to see what everyone else did with the original cookie recipe.   

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Bar
Yields 16 servings
Adapted from The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places

This recipe gives you the freedom to add or omit a sprinkling of coconut on top of the chocolate.  I opted to leave half of the pan 'plain' and half sprinkled with coconut.  I sampled both, and maybe like the coconut one 55% more.  The chocolate portion ended up being as thick as the cookie portion, so you could flip them over and call them 'oatmeal-chip-chocolate-chip-cookie-coated chocolate bar'.  I think it depends on your mood, whether on not to add the coconut...either way, you will bring a smile to anyone who bites into these little squares of heaven.

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp hot water
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup oats
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chocolate chips (bittersweet or semisweet)

1 1/2 cup chocolate chips (bittersweet or semisweet)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the butter and the two sugars.  Beat them together until smooth and airy.  Add in the egg.  Combine the baking soda and hot water in a small bowl.  Add this into the sugar mixture.  Slowly pour in the flour, oats and salt.  Stir in the 1/3 cup chocolate chips and vanilla until every ingredient is fully combined in the batter.  Spoon the batter into a parchment lined (or buttered) 9x9 pan.  Spread into an even layer.  Bake 12-15 minutes, until cookie bar is fully cooked.  Remove from oven and let cool.

While the cookie is cooling (keep it in the pan for chocolate pouring purposes), in a double boiler (or in microwave), combine the remaining 1 1/2 cup chocolate chips and peanut butter.  Heat until the they fully melt, stirring occasionally.  Once the chocolate and peanut butter is fully melted, pour on top of the cookie bar, allowing it to drip down the sides of the cookie bar in the pan.  Sprinkle with coconut if you so choose.  Place the pan in the freezer for about 10 minutes.  Once it has solidified, move it to the refrigerator until the bars have a solid layer of chocolate on top.  Remove and cut into small squares.  Serve as a dessert with coffee, milk or dessert cocktails.