Posts Tagged With: french

birthdays are better with ratatouille

I’m turning 30 on Friday, but this post is about a much more famous birthday.

All you foodie folks probably know that Julia Child, if she were still alive today, would be one of those 100-year-old ladies that Willard Scott always used to introduce on the Today show.

(Does he still do that? Is he even still on the show? I haven’t watched in a decade or two…)

What amazes me about Julia Child?

She wasn’t French, and yet she brought French cooking to America before people could just plop down at a keyboard and Google recipes for beef bourguigneon or ratatouille.

She got people excited about cooking outside their comfort zone.

And she wasn’t pretentious or snooty about French cuisine–her vision was that everyday people could use everyday ingredients to make delicious food. She was down-to-earth, funny, and so charming.

I can’t say Julia’s been a direct influence on my life as a cook, because I don’t own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (though I’ve adapted a recipe from it at least once) and honestly am not sure I’ve ever seen a full episode of her show.

But she has influenced my cooking–and your cooking and everyone else’s cooking–the same way the Beatles forever changed the face of pop music.

Rock and pop bands today, whether they enjoy the Beatles’ music or not (or, for that matter, whether they’ve ever heard of the Beatles or not) have been influenced by Fab Four. Music today is different, and better, because the Beatles existed.

And cooking nowadays is different, and better, because of Julia.

Now, the ratatouille.

Two weeks ago, I was headed to my good friend Amy’s house for a cookout. Her husband was grilling cornish hens, another friend was bringing bread, dessert was covered, and I was supposed to bring some sort of vegetable.

I had only been back from Portland for a couple of days at this point, and Micah and I had picked up a few things from Daily Groceries, but we didn’t have a lot of any one vegetable. That made it kind of hard for me to come up with any single side dish.

What did we have? Garlic, an onion, a few tomatoes. One eggplant. A huge summer squash. Three bell peppers.

Ratatouille, it turned out, was not just a practical solution for combining all those yummy summer vegetables. It was also delicious, and a natural complement to Trey’s perfectly grilled little chickens.

slow-simmered veggie goodness

Julia Child inspired the recipe I used, which was posted by Priya on her lovely blog, quête saveur. Of course, I not only multiplied the recipe by 1-1/2 for our large group, but I also made some changes. My apologies, Julia!

What did I change? I cooked the vegetables slightly out of order and all together instead of in batches to make this a super-easy one-pot dish. And I seasoned my ratatouille differently from how Julia wanted me to, because I didn’t have any parsley but did have some other stuff that seemed like it would work.

I don’t know how my results compared with Julia’s vision, but this ratatouille was darn good.

What’s in it:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, about 3/4 pound, peeled and diced (salt it and let it sit for ~20 minutes while you prep the other veggies)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, about 3/4 pound, chopped
  • 1 large summer squash, about 3/4 pound, sliced
  • 3 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes, about 1-1/2 pounds, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the oil in your biggest skillet over medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes or until they start to become translucent.
  • Stir in the bell pepper and squash and saute for another 4-5 minutes.
  • Drain off any water your salted eggplant has released and add the eggplant to the pan. Cook for 5 more minutes.
  • Finally, add your tomatoes, lemon zest, and herbs.
  • At this point, your ratatouille might look a little dry, not stew-y and delicious. Don’t add water or chicken stock–just let it cook for at least 30 minutes. The vegetables will release plenty of liquid, and you’ll end up with a savory, hearty pot of stew that you can easily sop up with a warm slice of homemade bread.
  • Season to your liking with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

The best thing about ratatouille is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways.

The night I made the ratatouille, we ate it as a side dish with those aforementioned cornish hens.

The next day, I used the leftovers as a salsa for brunch of leftover steak frites and eggs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I made a second batch at the end of last week, which we ate as an entree. First over some steamed brown rice (which was kind of bland) and then over polenta (oh, my goodness! highly recommended!).

The last of the ratatouille and polenta was also my lunch today, chosen over several other lunch options because, of course, I wanted to commemorate the Julia who inspired it. 🙂

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Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

potluck goodies – 7.4.12 – blueberry cherry clafoutis

Yes, this post about the 4th of July is long overdue.

But, like I said, July’s been busy. So I hope you’ll forgive me. 🙂

Three and a half weeks ago, we enjoyed a pretty awesome Independence Day celebration.

Jessica and Brent had us over for a cookout at their house, which is in the middle of nowhere. But, strangely enough, the little rural fire department just down the road from their neighborhood hosts an impressive fireworks show every July 4th, and this year, we were invited to set up our tailgate chairs in Jessica and Brent’s front yard, sip a cold beer or three, and enjoy the festivities!

The party itself was fantastic. Great company, of course (much of the same bunch we hung out with at the wedding a few months ago), but also, great food!

Brent made a spicy and delicious low country boil. We stuffed ourselves with salads and sausage balls, red-white-and-blue Rice Krispie treats and a crazy chocolaty layered dessert in a trifle dish, a loaf of my very first sourdough, and the blueberry cherry clafoutis that you see here:

full o’ fruit!

I was going for a red, white, and blue dessert with the cherries, blueberries, and custardy cake, but as you can see my dish turned out to be a little more like deep purple and warm, golden brown. Not that I’m complaining. 🙂

This sweet treat was inspired in part by an abundance of fruit in my refrigerator, but I doubt I would’ve thought of it on my own without some help from my blogging friends.

Daisy over at coolcookstyle posted her Cherry Clafoutis recipe (adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1) just a couple of weeks after Putney Farm posted their Cherry Clafoutis recipe (adapted from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook).

Unable to decide which recipe to follow, I combined the two.

Not willy-nilly, either–I actually made myself a little chart to compare techniques and quantities of ingredients between the two recipes, then merged them into one. (Yes, I’m a nerd.)

I loved that Putney Farm spiced their clafoutis up with lemon and cinnamon, but Daisy’s recipe proved easier to execute because it didn’t involve individual ramekins or cooking the cherries first.

And, of course, I made a few changes of my own, subbing blueberries for half of the cherries and Greek yogurt plus 2% milk for the whole milk/heavy cream.

Having not made or eaten a clafoutis before, I can’t tell you if mine turned out to be technically correct, but I can describe it for you: imagine a dessert that’s part-cake, part-custard, and bursting with fresh fruit–without being super-sweet. That’s exactly my kind of dessert, and if that strikes your fancy, I’ll bet you’d like a clafoutis, too!

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups cherries, halved and pitted
  • 1-1/2 cups blueberries
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • powdered sugar for dusting and/or vanilla ice cream for topping (both are optional but highly recommended :))

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a 9″x13″ baking dish. (You could probably use a smaller dish instead for a thicker clafoutis, but you’ll probably want to adjust the baking time and/or temperature if you do.)
  • Spread the cherries and blueberries out evenly over the buttered pan.
  • In your blender, combine the rest of the ingredients except for the powdered sugar and blend for about 1 minute. Or, mix in a bowl with a stick blender, an electric hand mixer, or a whisk until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour the batter over the fruit. (Be gentle so you don’t shove the berries around too much in the dish.)
  • Bake for about 1 hour or until your clafoutis is puffy and golden brown. (Daisy notes in her recipe that the cake will sink a little, like a souffle or a frittata, after you take it out of the oven. So when this happens, don’t worry! It’s supposed to do that.)
  • After allowing your clafoutis to cool for 5 or 10 minutes, feel free to dust it with powdered sugar before cutting yourself a big wedge, which you are then welcome to top with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Now that I’ve made my first clafoutis, I’m interested in trying other variations.

First, I think next time I might reduce the amount of flour just a bit (and maybe also reduce the baking time or temperature) to see if I can achieve a more custardy, less cakey result.

And while clafoutis is traditionally made with cherries (which I adore), they’re not really suited to hot, humid Southern summers, so next time I’ll probably experiment with some local and seasonal fruits like figs or peaches, which grow all over around here (even in my yard, when the pesky squirrels don’t get them first!).

Of course, Wikipedia informs me that once you vary from cherries, your dessert is now properly called a flaugnarde…but please forgive me if I fudge a little and call mine clafoutis anyway. It sounds prettier. 🙂

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Dave & Kim’s wedding shower!

I just realized that it has been eleven days since my last post. A week and a half!

How did this happen?

Well, I’ve been busy.

First off, I’m on day sixteen of the eighteen-day Red Clay Writing Project Summer Institute, which meets from 8:30am to 4:00pm Monday through Friday. And, as I mentioned before, this thing is intense! I’ve been writing up a storm, pretty much all day every day, even well into the evenings. I’ve written pages and pages and pages of material…just, nothing for the blog.

(I’ll be back with you full time in just a couple more days, so please–stick around! I’ve got a really exciting project to share with you. :))

This past weekend was the AthFest Music & Arts Festival. Micah and I had our very first date at AthFest 2006–we walked around downtown Athens together all night, got drenched in a summer storm, laughed over crispy fried okra and creamy feta dip at The Grill in the late evening, and shared our first kiss in a crowded club to the twangy tunes of an Athens band called the Bearfoot Hookers. It was a magical evening, and we love revisiting that magic every year by going back to AthFest, bar-hopping, hearing awesome local music, and (of course) eating at some of our favorite downtown restaurants.

The weekend before that, Micah and I had his entire family (his parents, his three siblings and their plus-ones, and all eight of their children–whew!) over to our house for a cookout, so we of course went a little crazy cleaning the house and cooking way too much food.

And the weekend before that is what I’m going to share with you today. Like I told you a couple of weeks ago, my brother Dave is marrying his fiance Kim in just a few short weeks! Dress fiasco aside, being a bridesmaid in this wedding has been nothing short of fabulous.

The other three maids are Chelsea, Amanda, and Shannon, none of whom I knew very well until very recently, but the four of us have been working together to plan Dave and Kim’s French-themed shower since April.

The end result was simply lovely! The weather was gorgeous, Memorial Park was a beautiful venue for our summery shindig, the decorations and flowers were simple and pretty, and the food…well, the food was amazing.

I am glad the shower turned out so beautiful. I wouldn’t have wanted anything less for my little brother and his bride-to-be! ♥

*   *   *   *   *

And now…the food!

Amanda brought crackers, a delicious assortment of cheeses, fresh fruits and veggies, and an array of yummy dips to go with them. Simple, refreshing, perfect.

Feast your eyes:

the full spread

Besides being in charge of tablecloths and all of the plates, napkins, cups, etc., Shannon also made macaroons and creme puffs, which were lovely, delicate, and tasty:

pretty pastels

Chelsea rocked our tastebuds with these fantastic dishes:

sweet little beignets

fluffy croissants filled with chicken salad

savory, cheesy, perfectly puffed gougères

If any of these wonderful ladies sends me the recipes they used, I will make sure to pass those recipes on to you! Their food was fantastic.

I brought flowers, paper fans and lanterns, and yes, even more food. 🙂

not quite croque-monsieurs

Micah actually constructed these guys from soft white dinner rolls from the Earth Fare bakery, some excellent uncured deli ham (sliced paper-thin), slices of double-creme brie, and my own homemade grainy mustard.

originally, I planned to make a pear tarte tatin, but
these rustic little guys are what I ended up with instead

These were also super easy:

  • Thaw two packages of frozen puff pastry for a couple of hours, then cut the dough into two dozen little rectangles.
  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Roll up the edges of the rectangles so you have a little pastry boat.
  • Pre-bake the boats for about 25 minutes or until they are puffy and just starting to brown. (They’ll deflate a little when you take them out.)
  • Dice six or seven fresh pears. Saute the pears in a large skillet with a couple of tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of dried marjoram. Cook them until the liquid is reduced to a nice, thick syrup.
  • Pull your pastry boats out of the oven, top each one with some pear filling, and stick them back in to bake for another 15 minutes or so.

Last, but not least:

leek, chanterelle, and chevre mini quiches

I don’t mean to brag, y’all, but these little quiches were great.

Here’s the recipe:

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms, rehydrated in warm water for 30 minutes (or use 8 ounces fresh)
  • 3-5 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (about 1 cup total)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces shredded parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 375°F and get two 12-cup muffin pans ready with cooking spray or paper liners.
  • In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, leeks, salt, pepper, and thyme, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms and leeks are tender.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, and flour.
  • Fill your 24 muffin cups in this order:
    • Cover the bottom of each cup with a layer of shredded parmesan.
    • Add about two tablespoons of leek and mushroom filling.
    • Add about 1-1/2 tablespoons of egg filling.
    • Top with crumbled goat cheese.
  • Bake the quiches for about 15-20 minutes or until the eggs are set and the goat cheese is a little gooey.

These were delicious right out of the oven the night before the shower (yes, Micah and I had to sample one!), but they were also yummy at the shower the next afternoon (where they were served at room temperature), and reheated later in the week (because we were lucky enough to have leftovers).

To sum up: we enjoyed delicious food, a gorgeous day, and a celebration of love with two of my very favorite people.

Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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