An Open Cookbook

An Open Cookbook


Upgrade 2012

I am probably going to sound like an insanely broken record, but I am dedicating this post to yet another one of my New Year's Resolutions: to upgrade my life.  This is intended to materialize in many forms.  For example, as I suggested in a previous post, I am continuing my 2011 resolution to branch out with my recipes like cooking more eggplant.  Expanding my culinary repertoire by opening new cookbooks, attempting recipes that would have previously intimidated me, allowing myself to make something that I may not actually like the taste of, and purposing buying ingredients so I have to research what to do with them...these are my interpretations of upgrading my cuisine.

Another upgrade is my camera.  Now that I have been blogging for a little while, I saw 2012 as a pivotal time to upgrade my photography.  Thanks to my dear friend B, I learned what to buy, what reference book to have at my fingertips at all times, and have an upcoming photography class given to me as a gift from my six girlfriends.  So this post is the first post with the new camera.  These are literally my first pictures, so you will have to bear with me as I get more accustomed.  Hopefully from here on out, my pictures will get better and better as I navigate my way through the book.

Another upgrade is adding more blues and purples into my life.  You know that feeling when you are attracted to a person, or an object or a landscape, and feel your eyes open just a little bit more?  Well, that is what happens when I see these colors, and therefore have accented my apartment with them in the form of water glasses, pillows and more.

But the main lesson and goal of Upgrade 2012 is to approach life fearlessly.  The most intimidating experiences are the ones that make me feel so empowered afterwards.  If that means going up and talking to the keynote speaker at a conference, or buying that dress that is a little out of your 'style' range, or taking that class that places you way out of your comfort zone...Do It.  Trying something is way more interesting than sitting at home thinking about it and never doing it.

So embrace 2012 and make it a year of truly going for what you want, even if it means breaking out into a cold sweat from time to time.  The end result (and the experience) are so rewarding.  Speaking of which...below is one of my first photographs of food with the new camera.  This was my dinner from a few nights ago:

White beans in a tomato sauce
Sauteed kale
Roasted cauliflower
Dried figs

Let's all 'Carpe Diem' and make it that much more interesting...


Chicken Piccata

As you may have noticed over the past several months, my posting schedule has been a little bit less frequent than it used to be...and realized that I haven't formally explained my reasoning.  Those of you that follow me on Facebook and Twitter may be in the know.  But I want to keep everyone in the loop in the case that you don't have said accounts.  I have been contributing a whole other set of recipes to another site called .  If you click on the green highlighted word there above, it will take you to the site. If you then click on my name, you will be directed to my page.  I have become a 'Featured Foodie' on the site, and every Monday you will see a new recipe and photo.  It has been a really great community and is inspiring to cook up recipes on a scheduled basis.  So now I have two opportunities to share the happenings in my kitchen.

Now let's get down to brass tacks.  Chicken Piccata.  Last week this dish popped into my view a handful of ways...on websites, on magazines and on menus.  One day at the grocery store I figured I needed to buy capers and shallots in preparation for making it sometime.  I needed to find out what this Piccata business was all about.  So last week I was home for lunch after having included myself in a hard workout in the morning.  So I was craving a hearty protein filled lunch.  Enter Chicken Piccata.

I realized before making the dish that I didn't have every ingredient the recipe called for, such as white wine, parsley or lemon juice.  Those ingredients were improvised with apple cider vinegar, fresh basil and caper juice, respectively.  I incorporated my experiment with the original below because one aspect I definitely would change from what I did, is to use lemon juice for sure, over caper juice.  Caper juice is a little pungent, so I do not recommend.  But otherwise, this was such a satisfying and hearty lunch, that I was honestly sad when my plate was empty.

Chicken Piccata
Adapted from Cooking Light January/February 2012
Yields 2 servings

Cooking chicken with a little bit of flour, butter and oil bumps it up several levels on the taste scale.  Shallots, capers and basil add such an earthy and fresh dimension to the gravy that you really do feel complete after this meal.

3 Tbsp flour, divided 2 Tbsp/1Tbsp
2 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless and free range if possible)
Salt and pepper
2 tsp butter
3 tsp olive oil, divided 2tsp/1tsp
1 shallot bulb, peeled and finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (or 1/4 cup white wine)
1/2 cup broth (mushroom, chicken or vegetable), divided in half
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp capers
3 Tbsp fresh basil, julienned (thinly chopped)

Prepare a small plate with 2 Tbsp of flour for the chicken dredging station.  Set aside while you place the raw chicken in a large plastic bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Using something heavy, like a 10 pound weight (such as myself), or better yet, a real meat mallet...pound the chicken until it has become thin.  Remove from plastic, sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.  Dredge them through the flour on the plate until both sides are nicely coated.  Wash hands.

Heat a medium skillet on medium heat.  Plop in the butter and 2 tsp of olive oil and allow to melt/heat up.  Carefully place the chicken breasts into the pan.  Cook each side for about five minutes, until fully cooked in the middle.  Remove, place on a plate and cover with a paper towel to keep warm.

Using the same pan, pour in the remaining tsp of olive oil.  Add in the shallots and cook for about 2 minutes. Drop in the garlic next and cook for 1 minute.  Pour in the apple cider vinegar (or wine) and cook until almost all of the liquid has cooked out.  Measure out 1/4 cup of your broth of choice and spoon in the remaining Tbsp of flour.  Whisk until fully incorporated.  Pour this into the pan with shallots.  Cook for a few minutes until it has thickened a bit.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup broth and cook for a few more minutes.  Remove from heat and add in lemon juice and capers.

Spoon the gravy on top of each of the chicken breasts.  Top with a sprinkling of fresh basil.  Serve with a nice green vegetable and a glass of wine.


Peanut Eggplant Salad

One of my New Year's resolutions last year was to branch out in my cooking and try new ingredients.  I also wanted to get a new perspective on foods that I didn't think I liked.  This has become more of a lifestyle now, so I have carried it into 2012.  Eggplant is one of those such foods that I used to have something against.  The only way I would ever eat it was eggplant Parmesan, which hardly counts when it is coated in egg and bread crumbs to be fried in oil.

So last year I began my branching out project with eggplant.  I started small, by roasting a bunch of vegetables like carrots, potatoes and broccoli and sneaked in thinly sliced eggplant.  And to my surprise, it wasn't so bad.  Then I moved on to adding it in a stir fry.  I could do this.  Sandwiches with roasted problem.  I was getting the hang of this...

...which brings us to now.  I recently discovered a great cookbook at the library called 'Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students'.  I took it to the coffee shop to page through while sipping a mug of tea.  And I found myself flagging almost every other page.  This is my new favorite piece of reading material.  So I decided to start from the beginning and work my way through all the highlighted pages.  So to go alphabetically, I started with Africa and came upon this recipe from Chad, using eggplants and peanuts.  Sounded intriguing and a little out of my comfort zone.  Even though I thought I had mastered the art of liking eggplant, this was still a branch out for me.

The recipe entails peeling the eggplant and cutting it into small cubes.  Upon doing so, I was a little nervous about the sponginess of the cubes.  After peeling them and letting them sit for awhile, they looked more like apple cubes than eggplant.  But I pushed through.  I then sauteed them in olive oil and subsequently tossed them in vinegar, garlic and crushed peanuts.  And wow it is quite nice.  The tang from the vinegar mixed with the salt and crunch of the peanuts made for new flavors in my Rolodex.  So if eggplant is one of your questionable vegetables, please try to make friends with it this year...even if you have to start small like I did and sneak them in with other vegetables.  They really do have a lot to offer.

Peanut Eggplant Salad
Adapted from 'Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students'
Yields 2 cups

This simple recipe provides such a flavorful dimension to your plate.  You can eat it by itself as a lunch or dinner salad, or serve it alongside eggs or your favorite protein.  It works well hot or cold.  I recommend keeping the peanuts separate until you are about to eat the dish so they stay crunchy.

1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp salted peanuts, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the eggplant chunks into a large strainer.  Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt, toss to coat and let sit 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the vinegar and garlic and set aside to allow flavors to marry.  After the eggplant have been relating to the salt, rinse with running water.  Press all excess water out of the eggplant and gently squeeze dry with a paper towel.

In a medium to large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Drop the eggplant in and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continuously stir until the eggplant are lightly browned and fully cooked, which takes about 7 minutes.  Occasionally give them a good press into the pan with the spatula to release any excess water.

Carefully spoon the eggplant out of pan and into the bowl with vinegar and garlic.  Toss with the peanuts and any more salt and pepper you think it needs.  If you think you may have leftovers, save some of the peanuts to toss into it when you eat it again so they stay crunchy.  Serve immediately, or cool in the fridge and serve later.


Coconut Pudding Shooters

It is Recipe Swap time again!  Each month Christianna of Burwell General Store chooses a recipe from a cookbook called 'The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places' which highlights recipes from different regions of the country in 1954.  This month was a dessert called Zabaglione.  This was a new type of dessert to me, so I did a little research as to what exactly it was because the original ingredients include egg yolks, sugar and a proportional amount of alcohol:

I did a lot of googling to find out what the end result would look like...which it turns out, is very similar to a pudding.  I was so curious to see how this recipe would pan out, that I didn't veer too far from the original directions.  So yesterday, I studied the ingredients, got my workout clothes on and went out for a long walk to decide how I would alter the recipe.  And after a lot of deliberating, I decided it needed to have coconut, vanilla and cinnamon.  Malibu!  That could replace all of the wine, sherry and brandy with one fell swoop...and it would be nice and tropical.  I wanted something warming, so cinnamon and vanilla popped into my mind.  And then I could serve it as a warm dessert drink like egg nog.  So I packed up my ingredients and headed over to T's house to try it out on her family and M.

The original recipe says that whipping the ingredients together in a double boiler should result in multiplying the pudding's volume by 4.  But after about 10 minutes of whisking, then using the hand mixer, I handed it over to M.  She did the same whisking and mixing.  No multiplying happened.  So I added 4 Tbsp half and half, with the thought that it would be more like a whipped cream.  But this really didn't add volume, but did make it quite tasty.  So after 20 minutes, I determined it would be a warm liquid mini dessert shot.  So T pulled out the mini wine glasses and we poured the liquid in, topped it with cinnamon and toasted coconut.   

Check out everyone's interpretation of the recipe, by clicking on the links below.  It is so interesting to see how we all spin it...

Coconut Pudding Shooters
Yields 4-6 servings
Adapted from The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places

This warm drink is a great ending to a nice warm winter meal.  Feel free to swap out the alcohol with a different variety like spiced rum, whiskey or wine.  The egg yolks and sugar are basically a vehicle for any flavor you may be craving. 

3 egg yolks
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
3 1/2 oz Malibu coconut rum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 Tbsp half and half
Ground cinnamon
Shredded coconut (for garnish)

Preheat oven on broil.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, sprinkle enough shredded coconut to garnish the dessert.  Broil for just a few minutes until the coconut is toasted.  Remove and set aside.

Combine the egg yolks, sugar, rum, vanilla, half and half and a sprinkle of cinnamon in the bowl of a double boiler.  Heat the double boiler until the water is a light boil.  Whip continuously until the mixture becomes frothy.    Remove and pour into small shot glasses or miniature wine glasses.  Sprinkle with the toasted coconut and a dusting of cinnamon.  Serve as a warm dessert drink, or refrigerate and serve as a small dessert pudding.


Baked Eggs in Peppers

Happy New Year!  This entry is a virtual version of cracking open a new journal to be greeted with a fresh sheet of paper.  I have very positive feelings for 2012.  Out with the old, in with the new.  I have been welcoming those de-cluttering feelings this past the office, at home and even in my car.  The girls in the kitchen at work just recently emptied all of the cabinets and made a huge pile of appliances, plastic cups, old pastry sheets, etc. which I am gladly taking to the thrift store today, along with my trunk full of 'stuff'.  You see, I have a method to my cleaning madness.  I carefully tear through cabinets, closets, bathroom, storage, shelves and the like.  Then I bag all the goods and place into two piles.  One pile is the 'Get-rid-of-immediately-and-don't-look-back'.  The other is the 'Maybe-not-totally-committed-to-getting-rid-of-immediately', which then goes to the trunk of my car.  These items quietly reside for a few weeks. 

Meanwhile, when I do need to use my trunk, it is clogged with random pillows, bags, jewelry, and more.  If I don't even remember what is in the bags or if I get annoyed by what I see, my car is soon driven to the thrift store to empty.  So today is that day.  I am taking kitchen items from work, and my trunk items, and my coffee maker that I have had since college. 

So in honor of simplifying my apartment, I simplified my dinner last night.  My mom gave me this recipe a few months ago and last night was the perfect time to pull it out of the recipe binder.  It involves two ingredients, and takes minimal time to prep, cook and eat.  If you are in the midst of a busy schedule, or clearing out your closets give this recipe a try.  You will feel nicely full and satisfied and ready to tackle that dusty box labeled 'Miscellaneous' with boa feathers poking out the side.

Baked Eggs in Peppers
Yields 2 servings

This is such a simple healthy way to start your day or evening.  For variety, you can use green, purple and yellow peppers.  It is especially great because of the two ingredient list and involves very little prep time.  Enjoy as is, or atop of a piece of toast or alongside hash browns.

1 red pepper, sliced lengthwise
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Slice the red pepper lengthwise.  Take out the stem, seeds and membranes.  Lay them in a parchment lined oven proof dish.  Carefully crack an egg into each half.  Depending on the size of the red pepper, a little of the egg white may spill over.  Don't fear.  It actually makes for a very enticing overflowing dish.  (See picture above.)  Bake for 10-20 minutes, checking in 5 minute increments, until the whites are fully cooked.  Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes.  Serve for breakfast, lunch, dinner or fancy snack time.