Cooking at Home: Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Continuing with the cooking journey I started late last month, I had every intention of picking a new recipe to try sometime in March. But, I already had a fridge full of new groceries and I wasn’t too keen on having to pick up specific ingredients from the store, so I decided to forgo any form of instruction and I opted to do my own thing.

Really feeling the need to detox (I use this word lightly), my kitchen was stocked with eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes on the vine, avocados and salad mix. When it comes down to it, I’m all about keeping things simple, and when food is involved, I’ve learned that less is often better. As I wrapped my head around the items I had at my disposal, I realized that I should try making stuffed peppers. It’s something that always looks so tasty, healthy and relatively easy, so I figured it would be a piece of cake.

I decided that my basic ingredients would include one large bell pepper (I went with an orange one, so it was sweeter), eggplant, tomatoes on the vine, jalapeno cheese, Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express quinoa & brown rice with garlic flavour – I will often cut corners by going this route to save myself time – and a bit of garlic olive oil.

I’d say this took about 15 minutes to prep and about 25 to 30 minutes baking in the oven at 200 C (392 F). The cheese had melted through giving the stuffed pepper some kick, the eggplant had softened to a nice texture without becoming a squishy mess, the diced tomatoes added acidity, and the quinoa & brown rice with the garlic flavour made it a satisfyingly savoury dish.

Here’s the recipe:

Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper
1 Serving
15 min. prep
25 to 30 min. cooking time

1 large bell pepper (any colour)
1/3 of an eggplant
1 small tomato on the vine
1/2 package of Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express or bowl of rice
8 small slices of jalapeno cheese
1 tbsp Garlic olive oil

1) Cover a pan with tin foil and set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 200 C.
3) Wash your pepper. Slice the top off and scoop out the seeds.
4) Take your eggplant and cut into half inch cubes.
5) Dice your tomato.
6) Warm the package of Uncle Ben’s in the microwave.
7) In a bowl, mix the cubes of eggplant and diced tomato together. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil until the veggies are coated.
8) Add a portion of the rice to the bowl. Mix well.
9) Put your pepper on the pan and start filling it with layers of cheese and veggie/rice mixture. Alternate between the two until the pepper is full.
10) Once the oven is ready, place the pan on the middle rack.
11) Let cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is an excellent recipe when you’re cooking for just yourself. Or, easily modify the portions and you’ll find that you can serve this to your guests next time they drop by for dinner. Enjoy!

Learning to Be a Better Home Cook

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

A couple of years ago, inspired by a friend who cooks and talks about food like he’s a chef, as well as by the meals I’ve eaten at restaurants in Edmonton and during my travels, and from watching the more popular than ever Food Network, I decided that I want to better my own culinary skills. Cooking is a science and an art. A beautifully presented dish can bring joy to the eye, but you also need to know what can work together to create something pleasing to the palate.

I had every intention at the beginning of 2014 to learn a new recipe once a week (or perhaps every two or three) – actually take the time to make a delicious and balanced meal. But, now, more than 12 months later, that hadn’t really happened. However, after having enjoyed a year’s worth of amazing lunches and dinners at eateries across the city, I’m now feeling a little more motivated to go ahead with my initial idea. I want to be able to make myself, my family and my friends dishes that are as good as those at all the fine establishments I’ve had the opportunity to dine at.

Up until now I’ve been winging it and, don’t get me wrong, I’m not terrible in the kitchen. Everything I’ve ever cooked has been edible and even quite tasty, but I’d like to add variety by building on what I already know because I want what I put into my mouth to be healthy and nothing other than delectable.

But, where do I begin? My biggest dilemma is that I never have a fully stocked pantry of food or ingredients just lying around waiting to be molded into some spectacular meal. So, I have to be really proactive about planning ahead. I also think I have to slowly work my way towards dishes that require a little more technique.

My plan is to scour the cookbooks I’ve amassed and the Internet for what, I hope, will be a yearlong experiment. If I am able to keep up with it, I’ll do my best to chronicle the more successful attempts here on my blog.

And, should set recipes not work for me, I’ve told my parents that they can go the way of Chopped (or Chopped Canada) and bring me random baskets of various ingredients and I’ll take up the challenge of preparing them a meal that is fit for consumption. So, wish me luck!

In the meantime, I have dipped my toes in by learning how to make one of my favourite desserts. In no way does this recipe really help me add to my repertoire of main dishes, yet it is a handy one to have in my back pocket should I need to whip a little treat up with short notice.

Panna cotta is a traditional Italian “cooked cream” dessert. I typically order it at restaurants when I want something that is subtly sweet and feels relatively light. The ingredients and cooking method have changed over time, but, regardless, it’s a classic that is surprisingly simple to make. It can also be garnished a number of ways to bring in different flavours. Making this, you’ll feel like a proper dessert chef in no time!

Vanilla Panna Cotta*
6 servings
10 min. prep
6 hr. cooking time

7 g (1 pkg) unflavoured gelatin
1 1/2 cup milk (2% suggested)
1 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Fruit or cinnamon to garnish

1) Grease six 1/2 cup ramekins and set aside.

2) Pour milk into a small saucepan. Sprinkle the entire package of gelatin into the milk. Let stand for 1 minute.

3) Heat the milk and gelatin mixture on medium, making sure to stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

4) Add the cream, sugar and vanilla extract to the pan. Keep on medium heat so it remains hot, but not boiling (be very careful about this!). Stir occasionally until smooth.

5) Pour the liquid into the six ramekins. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

6) Once set, you can slide the panna cotta out of the ramekin and serve in a bowl or on a plate. You can also opt to serve it in the ramekin. Top with fruit, honey or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Modified from Cook iPad app contributor Reizel Ayeras’s recipe.

#26ActsofKindness and Beyond

On Dec. 14, a tragedy took place in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. A shooter, for reasons unknown, decided to take the life of his mother and then the lives of twenty children and six of their teachers in a rampage that is too hard to fathom. In honour and remembrance of those lost too soon, Ann Curry from NBC News took to twitter on Dec. 16 to ask if others would commit to twenty acts of kindness, one for every child taken. That snowballed into 26 (#26Acts or #26ActsofKindness), 27 and even 28 from those who wanted to take part.

This request came at a time of year when people are often feeling generous, loving and kind towards one another, usually more so than the rest of the year. And, though this holiday season is coming near an end for another year, the goodwill that is so abundant doesn’t need to stop.

I don’t believe what Ann Curry (@AnnCurry) came up with is anything new, but, regardless, the point of her idea is to spread joy in this world rather than hate or hurt, and I think that this is important for all of humanity to adhere to. If each of us can bring just an iota of happiness to one person, maybe that would be the key to preventing such horrible occurrences in the future. This can be a better world if we take the steps to make it so.

In an effort to get you started on your acts of kindness (random or not), which I hope will continue past twenty six, here are a number of small and big things that you can do.

1) Hold the door open for someone.

A simple gesture that is usually appreciated.

2) Donate toys and clothes that are no longer being used to a shelter.

3) Donate non-perishable food items to the food bank.

4) Babysit your friend’s kids, so he/she can have a night off.

It might not be your idea of a great night, but your friend will love you for giving up your day or evening so they can have a bit of a break.

It might not be your idea of a great night, but your friend will love you for giving up your day or evening so they can have a bit of a break.

5) All too often, what others do goes unnoticed. Recognize and acknowledge someone else’s hard work.

6) Donate a bus ride. Edmonton Transit System has a program. Maybe your city does as well.

7) Bake cookies for your co-workers.

My favourite kind of cookies!

My favourite kind of cookies!

8) If you have long hair, consider donating some of it towards wigs for cancer patients.

9) Smile and say good morning to a stranger, co-worker or friend.

10) Help carry someone’s bags.

Kids always want to help. We should emulate them.

Kids always want to help. We should emulate them.

11) Truly listen to people when they’re talking to you. You never know what you’ll learn or how you might be able to help if you don’t take the time to absorb what they’re saying.

12) When a co-worker is swamped with work and you’re not, offer to help them out.

13) #FF (Follow Friday) your Twitter friends.

If you think someone is worth following on Twitter, don't hog them to yourself. Share with others!

If you think someone is worth following on Twitter, don’t hog them to yourself. Share with others! But, make sure to give reasons why they should do so.

14) Clear away shopping carts that are blocking parking spots.

15) Surprise a friend by paying for their lunch, too.

16) Buy coffee for the next person in line.

They'll be glad for the free morning pick-me-up!

They’ll be glad for the free morning pick-me-up!

17) Volunteer at a non-profit agency.

18) Help your parents by picking up their groceries, cleaning their house, doing their yard, etc. Whatever they need and you’re able to do, even if it’s small, will be appreciated.

19) If you’re buying a cart full of groceries and the person behind you only has a few items, let them go first. They’ll be thankful they don’t have to wait so long and it will only keep you for a few more minutes.

Shopping cart

Those with a few items will appreciate your willingness to let them butt in front of you.

20) If you’re done with you shopping cart at the grocery store and someone else needs one, let them have it and your quarter.

21) If a friend is moving, offer to help them pack up their stuff or transport their things.

22) Drop off a care package and some homemade chicken noodle soup for a friend who’s feeling under the weather.

Chicken soup for the soul is always comforting.

Chicken soup for the soul is always comforting.

23) Support local artists by buying, viewing or listening to their work.

24) Give away a gift card you received to someone who needs it more.

25) Sometimes we take people for granted. Thank someone if they do something for you.

We often don't say this enough.

We often don’t say this enough.

26) Leave positive notes in random places for people to find.

27) Donate a party dress for upcoming graduates who may not be able to afford something on their own. There are various projects in many cities. Google to find one near you.

28) Adopt a pet from the local animal shelter.

Improve your emotional well being and provide a home.

Improve your emotional well being and provide a home.

29) Be a snow angel and shovel a neighbours walkway and driveway or clear off their car.

30) Donate blood.

31) Tell someone special how much you care about them.

This is something a lot of people forget to do. Don't leave it until it's too late.

This is something a lot of people forget to do. Don’t leave it until it’s too late.

32) On the road, let someone merge into your lane if they need to.

33) Help someone bag their groceries at self-checkout.

34) Hug a friend.

Getting a hug always makes me feel special and brightens my day!

Getting a hug always makes me feel special and brightens my day!

35) Set aside $1 a day for a year and once you’ve collected the $365 donate it to the charity or agency of your choice.

36) Send a care package to a friend or family member who is far away from home.

37) Light candles in honour of those who have passed.

Each flame is representative of the soul of someone meaningful to you.

Each flame is representative of the soul of someone meaningful to you.

38) If your parking ticket hasn’t expired, pass it onto someone who can still use it.

39) Be a mentor.

40) Help someone wrap gifts, decorate for a party or bake a birthday cake. Or bake a cake for your best friend just because.

I love coconut anything.

I love coconut anything.

41) Be kind to yourself. Sometimes we worry so much about others that we forget to take care of ourselves.

This list is by no means comprehensive. However, I included whatever I was able to think of over the last few days. I tried to come up with a variety of things – some might require a bit of money, but most can be done without. It’s all about the gestures and paying it forward.

If you have other ideas to add, please share them in the comments section below.

Peace and Love,

Crystal

Marrying the Themes of This Blog

Film, meet Fashion. Fashion, meet Food. Food, meet Photography. Photography, meet Film. Let’s all get married. I now pronounce you Marie Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola.

For my first post , I was looking for a way to start off with something that encompassed all four of my main interests. The 2006 film, Marie Antoinette, seems able to fulfill all the aspects I am looking for.

I remember this movie quite distinctly. When it was released in theatres, my friends and I went as a group. As we exited after the show, my friends were initially quiet, eventually stating they found it slow and a little hard to sit through. Overall, it wasn’t what they expected.

While I agreed it was a slow story, I didn’t mind. I appreciated that the film’s slowness probably mirrored what life was like for a privileged aristocrat. Not only did they live a life that was pretty repetitive, but the boredom that Marie Antoinette felt in her marriage comes through in Sofia Coppola’s purposeful directorial style. My appreciation of the overall story was further enhanced by the costumes and imagery throughout the movie. The clothes were detailed and beautiful, and, in my mind, immediately worthy of an Oscar, or at least an Academy Award nomination for costume design. Coppola made sure that the film had such a sumptuous feel to it. Filming the movie at the Palace of Versailles, creating a set filled with feasts for the eyes as well as the stomach (food plays a big role in many scenes) and ensuring extras were decked out in regalia as fine as those worn by the main cast made it special.

In addition, the music used as the soundtrack brought a modern element to the movie. The fact that it was a period piece did not deter Coppola from including new wave and post-punk artists to help bring her vision to an audience. That’s what made the whole production seem fresh and new.

Stills and Photos from Marie Antoinette:

As per the quote, “let them have cake,” often attributed to Marie Antoinette, I leave you with a recipe:

I hope that you enjoyed this post. Please remember, feedback is always welcome!