Bridal Shower Fun & Eggplant Caponata

A few weeks ago, I traveled up to Pittsburgh for a bridal shower hosted by my fabulous bridesmaids. It was such a great time. Usually I end up running around so many places trying to see everyone in the short visits that I am home, but this time, they all were in one room (or house, really). It was awesome to see and talk with everyone. It was such a laid back shower and I appreciate the hard work and preparation that my family and friends did to make it that way. Thanks guys!
The food was amazing - homemade goodies made by my mom and talented bridesmaids. Here's just a sampling of the tasty items on the menu that included tea sandwiches, quiches, fruit, muffins, breads, yogurt and granola, bacon wrapped asparagus, cupcakes, pies, and champagne punch.

At the shower, I also received recipes from the attendees. I have a slew of new-to-me, tried and true recipes to try including:

Linguine and White Clam Sauce
Tex Mex Green Bean Salad
Baked Pineapple
Spaghetti Sauce
Ukranian Pyrohi (which was a recipe I had been looking for since getting the pasta maker)
Chicken Cacciatore
Cranberry Relish (is it Thanksgiving yet?! I could also go for some Turkey Cranberry Ravioli)

Since Nick and I eat bread pretty often, we're always looking for new toppings or dips for bread. We've made Cannelli Bean and Basil Dip, Pesto Sauce, Bruschetta, Artichoke & Goat Cheese Dip, and more. So, this week, I decided to try the Eggplant Caponata recipe given to me by one of my friends at the shower. I figured it would be a nice deviation from our usual toppings. It ended up being a sweet and spicy (and tasty) topping that both Nick and I enjoyed.

Marianne's Eggplant Caponata

1/2 c olive oil
1 large spanish onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
3 tbsp pine nuts
3 tbsp currants*
1 tsp hot chili flakes
2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 tbsp sugar*
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp unsweetened coca powder
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/4 c basic tomato sauce
1/3 c balsamic vinegar

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and saute for 4-5 minutes until softened. 

Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil. 

Lower the heat and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish with mint and chili flakes. Serve spooned on crostini or with crostini on the side. 

I'll admit, she also gave a Basic Tomato Sauce recipe, but Nick did some grocery shopping alone while he was hungry and there was a BOGO on tomato sauce, so I had plenty to use in the pantry. Perhaps next time I make this, I'll give the sauce recipe a try as well.

*I couldn't find currants at the supermarket (when is currant season?) and so I substituted the currants and the sugar for some black currant jam I found. Next time I spot currants I'll give those a try, but this worked in a pinch. I added it when I was supposed to add the sugar, figuring they had already softened and cooked down when they were prepared for the jam.

I can't wait to try the other recipes I received. What's your favorite way to get new recipes, or your favorite new recipe?

Kitchen Lifesaver: Chicken Stock

We use chicken stock for all sorts of things: sauces, risotto, casseroles, just to name a few so it's always good to have on hand. It's so expensive to buy ready-made in the box (and even the low sodium contains more than this does - which is none), and so cheap to make at home that it's one of those things we just can't justify spending our grocery money on.

To start, freeze chicken remains/carcasses as you purchase them. Keep the bones, the skin, any remaining meat. Discard the innards. We usually get two whole chickens at a time, but need four to get a good, hearty stock. We just keep the two in the freezer until we get the second two to make the stock. Thaw all the chickens in a large stock pot. 

Add the veggies and herbs. We use:
1 large onion, quartered
4 carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 ribs of celery, cut in half
1 leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
2 bay leaves
8 to 10 peppercorns
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled


Add 30 cups of water to the pot. Once you have added 24 cups, take a mental note of the water level. Ours is usually somewhere around the steamer basket we use to keep all the goods submerged.

Simmer, simmer, simmer. But DO NOT BOIL! In the first hour, you'll see scum (gross white stuff in picture) bubble to the surface. Strain this off the top with a fine mesh strainer and discard. Keep an eye on it for the first hour or so to make sure you keep it at a simmer (not a boil!) and to remove the scum.

Simmer for 6-8 hours. If the water level gets to about that 24 cup mark you made a mental note of, add a bit of water. Don't add to much or it will reduce the concentrated flavor of the stock, but try and keep it around 24 cups total. Once you are at the 6-8 hour mark, the stock has reduced down to the 24 cup mark, test to see if the stock is done by fishing out a bone. If it breaks easily, the stock is done. Remove from the heat and strain the solids out from the stock*.

To cool down quickly, have an ice bath prepared in a large cooler. Place the strained stock container directly in the cooler and cover the lid. For even faster cooling, we stick plastic bottles in the freezer filled with water and place directly into the pot and then place in the cooler. Once the temperature lowers, you can place the stock pot it the refrigerator. Leave in the fridge overnight and remove the fat from the top the next day.

To keep for longer periods (if kept in the fridge, 2-3 days is the maximum), store in the freezer. For easy storing, that's also organized, follow the instructions below:

Place plastic zip top bags into plastic containers. I like the blue top, screw on lid containers from Zip-Loc as they are the perfect size for two cups of stock.

I prefer to measure the stock as it goes into each container/bag because that way we know when thawing how much we need to pull from the freezer. We usually throw in a couple 1 cup quantities as well.

Once the two cups is in the bag, seal the bag and fold into the container. Seal with the lid and place in the freezer.

Once the stock is frozen, you can remove it from the container and they will keep their shape, allowing you to easily keep them stacked and organized in the freezer without monopolizing all your Tupperware.

*If you are adventurous, keep the bits of meat that are strained from the stock. It makes a delicious chicken salad, although it takes a bit of patience to remove from the bones.

Champagne Asparagus Risotto

This is a great risotto, light but full of flavor. It compliments almost any protein and is delicious as leftovers the next day. Enjoy!

Ingredients (for four servings, trust me, you'll want to make at least this much!):

8 thin slices prosciutto
6 c chicken broth
1 bunch asparagus spears*
4 tbsp butter, divided
2 shallot, finely chopped
1 1/2 c arborio rice
1 1/2 c Champagne
1/2 c freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Crisp the prosciutto slices in a 450 F degree oven (about 6-8 minutes). Set aside to cool.

Boil chicken stock in a pot. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and toss in the asparagus spears. I prefer to keep them whole stalks at this point (with the woody end removed**) since they are easier to fish out the the stock. Blanch them for a couple minutes, but don't over do it, since you want to keep them pretty firm and crunchy. Once removed, keep the stock at a simmer. Cut asparagus into 1 inch long pieces when they are cool enough to handle.

In a saucepan, melt 2 tbsp of butter. Add the shallot and cook until tender (a few minutes). Add the rice and toss with the shallot and butter. You want to toast the rice, so keep it moving in the pan with the butter until it turns in color from opaque white to more of a clear color (about 3 minutes). Add the champagne and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add the stock at a 1/2 c at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid in between additions. It's a slow process, but very worth it. Once the rice is creamy and tender, you can stop adding the stock and stir in the remaining butter, cheese and asparagus spears. Season with the salt and pepper. Top with crumbled bits of proscuitto and serve.

* I like to keep my asparagus spears in a water glass in the fridge. I find they keep fresher longer when I store them this way as opposed to a bag in the crisper drawer.

**To remove the woody portions of asparagus, hold the two ends of the stalk and bend, it will break at the point where the woody portion begins. Discard that bottom of the stalk and cut all others at that length (or break them all off individually). The tips are the best part (despite what my picky eater sister thinks!) so don't discard those!

This recipe was adapted from this recipe, by Giada De Laurentis. 

Happy Fourth!

Happy Fourth of July! We weren't able to make it back to Pittsburgh to celebrate the holiday with our families, so we'll be celebrating down in Florida with friends & good food. Hope you all have a Happy Holiday!

Oh, and now that our wedding invitations went out, I'll be back to posting more regularly. And I've got some great back-logged recipes to share! Hope ya'll will stay tuned!