Monday, July 26, 2010

Gordon Ramsay's Ratatouille

My children love Ratatouille! Yes, I mean the movie. Alex especially loves watching the kitchen scenes. He's a little chef in the making. Except when he remembers that he wants to be a doctor. (He want to "fix sick babies' brains.") We recently had a discussion about our backyard garden and all the veggies that we were growing. Somehow the conversation turned to the fact that he wants to be a doctor and when he gets older (he's not even five yet) he won't have a garden at his home. I asked him why not. "Mom, I'm going to be a doctor, not a cooking doctor!" I hope I was able to convince him that even if you're not a chef, it doesn't mean you're not allowed to grow your own food. He loves farmers markets, meat markets, Whole Foods, and yes, gasp, even Giant Eagle. I hope he keeps that love of food into his adult life.

So, in honor of their love of a little rat who knows how to cook, I made the boys Ratatouille, which they were quick to point out looked nothing like the movie version. Eh. Deal with it.

Red onion, eggplant, red pepper, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil, thyme, garlic, canned diced tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Coarsely chop the onion.
Quickly chop the eggplant and pray it doesn't get brown before you get it in the pot.

Chop the pepper and watch your fingernails turn red.
Chop the zucchini.
Halve the cherry tomatoes.
Literally throw everything except the zucchini and tomatoes into a hot pan with some olive oil. Cook just until the veggies start to soften slightly.
Add the zucchini and cook until they, too, just start to soften.

Stir in the canned tomatoes.

Add the cherry tomatoes and cook just until everything is soft and fragrant. The cherry tomatoes just start to break down. At this point your kitchen will be filled with the wonderous aroma of all that is good. (Season with salt and pepper to taste.)

Chop some fresh basil and scatter over the top.
Because my family wouldn't be my family without eating meat of some sort -- I pan fried some cod fillets and placed it on top of the Ratatouille.

It was a perfect match. Nothing over-powered anything else.
This is one of my favorite dishes so far from Fast Food. I think this is the sort of dish Ramsay really meant when he said "anyone can cook" (funny -- that's a line right out of the movie, too -- wonder who took it from who?) The dish is hearty, yet so fresh you don't mind eating it on a hot summer day. It's a great harvest dish (the majority, if not all, of the ingredients can be grown in your own backyard. It's a great "clean out your fridge" sort of dish, and it's quick enough to make on any night of the week.
How long? The Ratatouille took about 35 minutes.

"Ratatouille ... Done"

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

First Harvest Dinner

So, how's your summer been going? Mine's been pretty good. Too hot for my liking, not enough money to do some of the funner things, but it's a good time to remember that the simpler things are sometimes the best.

We did make it up to Put-In-Bay, and we had a great time cruising in our rented golf cart.

I had my 20 year high school reunion picnic today. Had a very nice time with some old friends. 20 years gone, but it was like we just saw each other yesterday. I brought my Honey Almond Bars. I thought they went over pretty well.

When we got home after a hot day at the beach, I found I had enough of a first harvest to be the basis of a pretty good meal.

Our first cucumber mixed with thinly sliced red onion and tomatoes. Stir in some salt and pepper, apple cider vinegar, a splash of olive oil and another splash of raspberry vinegar. A teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity.
Our first banana peppers sliced up.

Thinly sliced chicken breast.

Sprigs of herbs from the garden -- tarragon, thyme and lime basil.

Saute all in a bit of olive oil.

When you're nearly done, a splash of balsamic vinegar (I wish I had white balsamic, but what I have does add a nice caramel color). Saute just until things start to carmelize a bit.

It may not be the most colorful dish, but I really was tight on time because hubby had to leave for work in 20 minutes. So, yes, this is a wonderfully quick dinner.
Some variations I've done in the past, if I have more banana peppers, I skip the balsamic because the peppers add more than enough flavor. Sometimes I add a small handful of feta cheese after removing the chicken from the pan, and throw in a few sliced cherry tomatoes. Other times, I've wrapped up the sauteed chicken in a flour tortilla with a dab of sour cream and cheddar cheese.
So, happy first harvest

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stay Tuned -- More to Come After This Intermission...

In the meantime, check out my new favorite t.v. channel -- The Cooking Channel. It is incredible. I love Food Network, but the Cooking Channel is even better. It's food t.v. for the foodie. Remember when Food Network showed all cooking, all the time, then suddenly it became reality t.v., and contests, and "Kitchen Stadium." Sort of like when MTV used to be "music television," then suddenly it was all "Cribs" and "Real World." They actually had to create new stations when they realized they forgot the music. Cooking Channel is like MTV2. Seriously, check it out. Watch for hours on end. I do! (yeah right -- o.k. I wish I could.)

In the meantime, I'm stockpiling more recipes and photos. Gordon Ramsay, watch out. I'm calling you out!

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gordon Ramsay's Sicilian Caponata

I will preface this post by saying: "Gordon Ramsay is full of crap."

That said ... Today's entry. A pretty little appetizer said to feed four. Well, maybe four armies.

Tomatoes, celery, eggplant, garlic, onion, green olives, bell pepper, capers, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, fresh basil, superfine sugar (or if you live in Cleveland and can't find any, regular sugar), and a big loaf of crusty bread.

By the by, this is a great "clean out your fridge" recipe.

Coarsely chop the onion. Wipe the tears from your eyes.

Chop the celery.

Chop the bell pepper (the recipe did call for red bell pepper, but I can't really tell the difference, can you?)

Finely chop the garlic.

Chop the green olives. Slap you husband's hand as he tries to help himself to a snack from your chopping board.

Toast the pine nuts.

Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 1 minute. I put a small "X" on the bottom to help the peels come off.

Rinse the tomatoes in ice cold water and watch the peels just start to fall off. Slice and remove the seeds.

Coarsely chop the tomato flesh.

And finally, chop the eggplant last. Do it quickly -- it changes color fast.

Heat the olive oil and drop in the eggplant, pepper, celery, onion and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Saute for a few minutes.
Meanwhile slice the bread thickly and toast in the broiler.

Add the capers, tomatoes, garlic, olives, sugar, and balsamic vinegar to the pan. Saute until bubbley and the vegetables are soft.

Set aside and let cool.
Meanwhile ... I skillet cooked some spencer steaks in the same pan (without wiping it out).

The steaks carmelized nicely in the little bit of balsamic glaze left behind from the caponata.

Serve the caponato over the warm toasted bread. Sprinkle with chopped basil and the toasted pine nuts.

Very nice.

So, for my opening statement about the dear chef being full of crap?

How long did it take to make this dish? AN HOUR. Seriously. That does not include the cooking time for the steaks. So much for Ramsay's book jacket quote: "Many of the dishes can be prepared and cooked in 15 minutes (none take longer than half an hour)." Bull poop. Cooked in 15 minutes, sure. But not prepped within that time. It took me 30 minutes alone to chop everything. For the tomatoes, I had to bring the water to a boil, cook the tomatoes for a minute or two (which I did while chopping the other veggies), rinse under cool water, get them cool enough to handle and then try to peel off the skins without destroying the tomato flesh, then get all the seeds out, then chop.

Come on, Ramsay. Get real. I know you never have to prep anything yourself, you have all of your sous chefs doing it for you, but real people with real lives don't have sous chefs on call.
The dish itself? Not bad. I won't make it again, though. There was too much eggplant. Not enough olives. Not enough tomato. Not enough garlic. The dish was too wet.
I guess I prefer a nice olive tapenade instead. Something thick and rich. Besides, this recipe really made too much. I have a whole bowl of it left over in the fridge. We'll be eating it for a week.

"Sicilian Caponata ... Done."

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Bon Appetit's Fettuccine with Peas, Asparagus, and Pancetta

In the current issue (May 2010) of Bon Appetit the picture on the cover really captured my fancy. I couldn't wait to make it. It looked creamy, rich, and simply yummy.

So, last night I did.

Now ... a opening word. When you ask your spouse to shop for you, make sure you are specific. I said, "Please buy what we need for the recipe." Well, he didn't buy the fettuccini, because we already had pasta at home. Not fettuccini, but penne. Not a problem, even the recipe says "fettuccini or penne." But all we had was rice penne, which if you haven't tried it, isn't quite like regular pasta. It's texture is unique. The taste isn't too bad, though. The recipe also called for 12 oz. of pasta. Our box of pasta was only 8 oz., so I ended up tossing in a handful of whole grain rotini, just to finish the box and to make sure I had enough pasta for the dish. Next, the recipe called for fresh lemon juice and the zest of a lemon. Well, hubby figured my bottle of lemon juice would be good enough. I know - can you believe I actually have a bottle of that stuff? Actually I only use it to add a squirt to my ice water. NEVER FOR COOKING. So, I had to forgo the zest. For the freshly grated Parmesan, hubby figured that Kraft Romano in a canister would be just fine. It's fine on top of jarred spaghetti sauce, but, eh, for real cooking? He managed to get the fresh basil, but decided to skip the fresh parsley entirely. So I ended up with dried parsley from the spice rack. The rest of the ingredients he managed without incident.

So, pasta, frozen peas, asparagus, green onions, basil, garlic, pancetta, heavy cream, parmesan (or romano), lemon juice, olive oil and parsley.

Cook your pasta. (I didn't take a picture of this.) Drain and reserve about 1/2 cup of the hot water.

Slice the asparagus on a diagonal in 1 inch pieces.

Thinly slice the scallions. (Separate light green and white parts from the dark parts.)

Press two cloves of garlic.

Chop the pancetta.

Coursely chop the basil.

Cook the pancetta until crisp, then drain on paper towels.

In the same pan in the pancetta drippings, cook the asparagus for about 3 minutes.

Then add the frozen peas (or if the peas are fresh, blanche them first), the chopped onions and the garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the vegetables to your cooked pasta, along with the dark parts of the scallions and half of your basil.

Add the cream, parmesan, about 1/4 cup of the pasta water, the parsley, lemon juice (and zest if you have it), and olive oil.

Mix until you have a wonderfully creamy conconction.

Plate it up. Sprinkle the remaining chopped basil over the top with the crispy pancetta. Sprinkle additional parmesan over the top.

It plates beautifully. It's so colorful.

This picture courtesy of my four year old Alex. He loves to cook as much as I do. His twin brother does too, but Alex's photo turned about a bit better.

Now as for the dish itself. The last picture above, was taken at the end of the meal. The boys wouldn't eat it. They picked a couple pieces of the pancetta off the top, ate one or two peas and two pieces of asparagus. They did not like it one bit. Of course, they're four.

My husband ate his. I ate mine. It wasn't anything special. In fact, it was very plain and sorely lacking ... something. Nothing in the dish sang out. The peas and the asparagus tasted the same. The creamy sauce was bland.

It's a gorgeous dish - no doubt about it - that's why it made the cover of Bon Appetit. But I couldn't taste the garlic, so I would have doubled it to about 4 cloves of garlic. The pancetta did add a nice salty note, but the dish needed some depth. Maybe some coursely chopped sun-dried tomatoes would have done it. It was so full of wonderul spring time vegetables, but there was nothing to remind you of the good earth that grew them. Maybe some wild mushrooms thrown in would have given the dish some earthiness.

Unfortunately, this was a beautifully presented dish that forgot to bring its taste to the table.

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