Monday, July 22, 2013

Men Who Cook: Summer Ratatouille

What's the only thing better than having a man who knows what they're doing in the kitchen?
Two men in the kitchen who know what they're doing!

This is what we're discussing today. 
Summer veggies, men and ratatouille.

My son Ross and I decided to take a bike ride to Joe's Garden and pick up some extra fruit for the week.  We were low on fruit and I needed a few extra cucumbers so off we went.  After picking out hoards of new fruit I noticed a common grouping of veggies.  A perfect assortment for ratatouille.    Now, we have plenty of veggies at home from our CSA and garden but I just couldn't help myself.  I must explain.

I've never been too excited about ratatouille. What is it really but vegetable stew?  It doesn't really look appetizing BUT I must admit that I've always been curious about it.  It's a strange curiosity that I just can't explain.  And because I'm curious about food I have to try it.  It just seems like one of those things that you just have to try making once in your life right?  I think that I made this eons ago but I don't really remember much about it.  I do remember that it wasn't very noteworthy.  A kind of "meh" dish.  However, it's summer and the veggies are bountiful.  It's always important to revisit something, especially if it wasn't very memorable in the first place.

Meanwhile at Joe's Gardens, my son and I looked at the eggplants, zucchini, peppers, onions, and garlic I noticed that Ross was hesitant.  "Does it have tomatoes in it?", he skeptically questioned after I asked him if I should make ratatouille.  I told him that yes, it does contain tomatoes.  "Hmmmm.  Can you taste them very much?" he asked.  I told him that you could kind of taste them, but they didn't overpower the dish.  (If you can't tell he has an aversion to tomatoes).  This is a bit of a fib on my part because I don't really remember what it tastes like, but if you're a mom and you have a child who is curious about a new food you do what you have to do.  I did know that there were not a lot of tomatoes in the dish so my guess was pretty good.  I also know that if I want my son to be adventurous with a new dish there can be no wishy washyness about ANY of my answers.  For Ross, the adult has to know for sure.  After a few pondering moments Ross decided that we should make it, together. 

So here we are now back at home and ready to make this dish and Ross needs a visual.  Heck, I need a visual.  Who gives the best visuals for ratatouille?  Why Jacques Pepin of course.  He has made this dish on camera two separate times. 

The first was a shorter and quicker version from the More Fast Food My Way series.  I have the cookbook for this one.  Here's the video for that one.  Use it if you're pressed for time and prep your veggies ahead of time.  I suggest chopping everything up, putting it in your pan and putting the pan in the fridge.  Just take it out and let it come to room temperature before you cook.    The recipe for ratatouille starts on 2:26. 
The second video I found is of Jacques Pepin making ratatouille from his newer Essential Pepin series.  In this video his charming childhood friend Roland comes and cooks with him.  I must say that out of the two viewings, this second one is my favorite.  Sadly, I wasn't able to attempt this one because Ross decided not to help after all.  He was busy teaching himself to ride a bike.  O.K. I'm proud and a bit disappointed but please take the time to watch this version.  Even if it is just for entertainment value you've got to admit that the banter between these two chefs is fun to watch.  They exhibit exactly how men (and anyone else for that matter) should be in the kitchen.  They're relaxed, having fun, giving each other a hard time and drinking wine.  Please remember that above all else, cooking should be an enjoyable venture. Don't stress.  Just have fun and do your best. 

Here is the link for the recipe and the video.
However, I always prefer a direct link to the video itself.   They start making ratatouille on 13:35 and it ends at 20:00.  It's only seven minutes long but I recommend watching the entire show. 
Before I tell you how I made this dish, I have to make an important point.  There is a TON of argument about what constitutes a traditional or "real" ratatouille.  Is it the ingredients?  Is it the process?  What?  Personally, I think that ratatouille has to have a few things.  Things like:
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes
  • garlic/onions
  • zucchini
  • pepper (s)
  • olive oil
Other than that I think that it's important and fun to experiment.  To me it doesn't matter whether you layer the vegetables, the process in which you cook them (casserole vs pan) or even the spices.  People can get really testy about spices.  For example I used lavender in mine and that is definitely NOT considered appropriate by some.  Who cares?  It was awesome, fun and tasty. 
Another aspect that gets peoples knickers in a twist is how you serve it.  In general, ratatouille was intended as a side dish that is served at room temp.  However, I wanted to make this a meal so I opted to incorporate pasta.  You can decide to serve ratatouille a few different ways. 
  1. By itself with olives.  This is traditional and it can be served cold or room temperature when it's hot outside.
  2. Over pasta
  3. Over polenta
  4. Perhaps even over gnocchi.
  5. You can even top it over bruschetta.  That would be great for leftovers or for hors d'oeuvres
  6. Topped over fish like halibut or other meat.
Try it and get back to me here to let me know what you did.  I bought more eggplant and I might even post your suggestion.

Anyhow, here is how I made my ratatouille as inspired by Jacques Pepin. 

Ratatouille (all of my ingredients came from either Joe's Gardens or my CSA)
Everything local but the tomatoes.  However, I did purchase them from a local store.

  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 2 med. cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 bunch garlic scapes (from my CSA)
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1/4 of a very hot jalapeño
  • 2 small zucchinis
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen Organics is my preference)
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil (Mediterranean Specialties)
  • Optional:  for the pasta version
    parmigiano reggiano and kalamata olives
Here's how I made it.
The lavender is fresh right now but the rosemary and oregano is hand dried from my garden.

Oooo.  Look at the lavender flowers.  They really did add a nice flavor.
Spices: I didn't measure anything but used equal amounts of almost everything. The first 5 spices I combined and added to the veggies before boiling.
  • dried oregano
  • fresh lavender
  • dried fennel
  • fresh thyme
  • dried rosemary
  • fresh basil (Only use this at the very end when serving)
In general making this dish was pretty simple.  I mixed all the ingredients and the first 5 spices in the largest non-stick pan I had and brought everything to a boil.
Once boiling I reduced the heat to low, covered the pan, and cooked gently for about 20 minutes.  Jacques recommends 30 but I don't like the veggies to turn into complete mush.  My dish didn't have a lot of extra water but if yours does then reduce the moisture by boiling, uncovered until it has the consistency you desire. 
Your ratatouille is pretty much done now.  Now you have to decide how to serve it. 
  • For a side dish:  Drizzle with olive oil, add kalamata olives and fresh basil.  Serve cold or room temperature.
  • For over pasta:  Cook pasta according to package directions and spoon ratatouille over drained pasta.  Add a bit of parmigiano reggiano cheese, a few kalamata olives and top with fresh basil. 
Here's the end result.  It was very tasty and quite memorable. 
Now, that said.  Here's a few things I would have done differently.  I plan to by the way because I was just at Joes Gardens and pick up more eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. 

  • Peel the eggplant!  (My goodness the skin gets rubbery.  Maybe it's because I didn't cook it the full 30 min. but this is a problem I've had with eggplant before.  I'm a texture girl and this is a problem for me)
  • Reserve about a third of the garlic and add after the boiling was completed.  I've done this with other dishes and it adds more flavor. 
  • Top with goat cheese.  (I confess that I snacked a bit on the veggies afterward.  They were good but goat cheese would have made it super amazing! 
If you have made this before, please respond with your successes and frustrations with this dish.  If you haven't made it before, try it and then post your questions/comments.  All posts go directly to my email and I get back to them right away. 
Happy Cooking! (said in my best imitation of Jacques Pepin) 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Men Who Cook: Not your typical omelette.

Roquefort egg white omelette.   
This is what happens when a person understands the basic fundamental aspects of food.
Yesterday I made a lemon/lime tart and had a few egg whites leftover. Matt offered to make me an egg white omelette. I relented because I feel that yolks are an essential part of this type of egg experience. Egg white omelets are usually so bland and I should have know that Matt would get that. He also has a very clear understanding of my severe lactose intolerance and what cheeses I can tolerate.
Let me introduce you to the flavor extravaganza I was presented with this morning. It was an egg white omelette (made with local eggs) with a small amount of Roquefort cheese and local chives (from our backyard). It was so good that I had to share it with you all. I might just insist all my omelets be made this way. It's a win win right? Matt gets a tart and I get this. An! It's the give and take of marriage that I enjoy.
Give it a go yourself and let me know how you mix it up.
Here's how he made it. 
  1. Whisk 3 egg whites in a bowl. 
  2. Put about 1 tbsp. butter in a non-stick pan and melt over medium-low heat.
  3. Place egg whites in the pan and add a bit of salt and pepper.
  4. When the bottom of the eggs appear to start getting more substantially cooked add a few pieces of Roquefort cheese.
  5. Flip the other side of the omelette over and put on plate.
  6. Add toast on the side and a few chives over the omelette. 
  7. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Real men bake. (And cook too)

This handsome man is my hubby Matt.  He was in the middle of making a cherry rhubarb crisp.  Nice huh?
I read it, see it and hear it all the time. 
Women often complain about the following:
  • I'm so tired of cooking.
  • Why can't he do it for a change?
  • Homemade baked goods?  I don't have time for that.
I have a wonderful secret.  My husband.  He's a kind person, an amazing father, one hell of a sexy man, and he cooks well.  Very well. 

I am very lucky that my husband is this way.  We've been married for 15 years and I'm still astonished by how lucky I am, especially when I talk to other moms and married ladies.   The biggest complaint I hear over and over is that there is often little help in the kitchen from our male counterparts.   This living locally stuff would only be a fad of mine if I didn't have some help from this man.  He's integral in its success.  Why?  Because I get tired like everyone else.

Most of what I make is homemade but there is a point every week when I get tired.  I get tired of doing all the normal stuff around the house, with the kids, and sometimes cooking just seems like one additional task.  It's the day of the week that I don't want to make dinner.  I don't care if it's local and the idea of baking anything will certainly set me over the edge.  Enter Matt.  My savior. 

9 times out of 10 he's already got something planned in his mind of what to make for dinner.  The other time he searches around the pantry and our garden for ideas.  Like me, he prefers to use as many local ingredients as possible and feels pride when the majority of them come from local businesses.  He is especially pleased when the ingredients come from our garden itself.  That means these ingredients are essentially FREE and who doesn't like free stuff?

We are blessed with a wonderful backyard.  It's why we bought the house.  It affords us a ton of space for our active boys to play along with a nicely sized garden.  We have 3 raised beds.  One is a perennial garden with strawberries and some very recently added asparagus.  The other beds are rotating beds in which we plant new stuff every year.  I always let one lie fallow for the winter and sometimes an entire season.  We are very proud of our little garden because we both built it and we continue to add new things to it all the time.  For us this little garden is the nexus of our local mindset.  What's more local than your own backyard right? 
Here's our veggie garden as it currently stands.  I was late in starting it this year.  That's why it's so sparse.

Over the years, we've also added fruit trees (2 apple, 2 pear, and 2 cherry) and some rhubarb plants.  The rhubarb was Matt's idea and he tends his plants nicely.  Currently we have 3 and they are all in their second growth of the season.  One is normally superbly gigantic and the other two are doing well in keeping up with their older "brother."  Needless to say we usually have plenty to go around and Matt is often seen snapping off stems to bake into something. 
Our pie cherry tree.  It's small but it puts out a ton of fruit and the critters don't like it.  Yay!
One of our rhubarb plants.  It looks small but this is its second growth this season. 
You see Matt has a bit of a secret.  Matt is a pie fiend.  He looooooves pie.  Sadly for him, I do not get around to baking much.  It's not my favorite thing to do although I can do it quite well.  I prefer to cook dinners and such.  It's more to my liking.  Also, I have two boys, ages 4 and 8, and they have constant needs.  I can attend to these needs and still cook.  Baking however can be time sensitive and once you begin you can't just stop in the middle of it all.  So when Matt can wait no longer for a pie he does one of two things.  He either keeps the boys out of my hair and kindly requests a well deserved pie or he takes matters into his own hands.  The rest of this post is about him doing just that. 

When Matt can't have a pie he will either make one himself or make a crisp.  While he loves to consume pie he finds it tedious to make the crust.  Sometimes we compromise and I make the crust and he makes the filling.  However when Matt is in the throws of a serious pie craving something needs to happen and FAST.  This is where a crisp comes into play. 
According to my husband a crisp has many things going for it. 
  1. It's fast.
  2. It's easy to make. 
  3. It has most of the essential components of a pie, such as fruit, sugar, starch etc.
  4. You can make it out of staples that are already in your pantry.
  5. Frozen or fresh/seasonal fruit work very well.
    (Frozen fruit can complicate pie making very quickly.  A crisp is ideal for frozen fruit.)
  6. You can feel good about eating it for breakfast because it has oatmeal AND fruit. 
    (This is Matt's favorite aspect of a crisp and now the boys are on to it.  However, he manages to still eat pie for breakfast too, but he doesn't feel quite as good about it.)
When Matt gets ready to make a crisp he gets out his go-to cookbook.  Here she is.  Betty Crocker's New Cookbook:  Everything You Need to Know to Cook.  I got this book as a wedding gift and I used it when I first began cooking because it has all the basics in there.  I quickly outgrew it and moved on to a full fledged cookbook addiction.  I guess you could say that this book was my gateway drug.  Seriously, though.  It has some pretty good basic stuff, like how to make pies and crisps.  Both Matt and I ignore the old-fashioned "healthful" advice of this book.  For example substituting margarine for butter.  It's butter all the way in our house.  I don't even keep margarine in the house.  Blech! 

Oh, the memories...She was a good little cookbook...
However, the irony is that this book was not meant for Matt.  It was given to me by a well-meaning and very conservative couple who wanted to help get me on the right path to cooking for my husband.  How tickled I am now that Matt loves this cookbook and uses it to put himself on the right path to cooking for me/us/our family.  Ha!  Now that is turning tradition on its ear. 
I have to say that in general Matt cooks very different from me.  I try new stuff constantly.  I revamp recipes and turn them into my own.  Matt on the other hand cooks with what is there.  He is far more creative than I.  He cooks mostly by instinct.  Like most men, he knows what he likes and he utilizes that strength in the kitchen. He will whip up a wonderful meal when I complain that there is "nothing in the house to use for dinner."  It always tastes amazing and the kids love it too.  However this style of cooking doesn't always work in the area of baking.  That's why a cookbook is needed.  Since Matt cooks on the fly, he views most cookbooks as destructive to whatever he is creating.  So Betty Crocker really has been quite honored by this man.  This is one of a small exclusive group of cookbooks that Matt will utilize for extremely specific purposes.  I love it.  I love his unique way creating food that he and I enjoy.  It's truly awesome. 
So here's what he made. 
Matt's Tart Cherry Rhubarb crisp (Inspired by Betty Crocker's New Cookbook)
  • 4 cups fruit (a mixture of pitted tart cherries and rhubarb)
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (adjust to the tartness of your fruit)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup stick butter
  • 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. nutmeg
How he does it:

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease bottom and sides of square pan, 8x8x2 inches, with butter.  Arrange fruit in pan and mix remaining ingredients in a separate bowl.  Sprinkle over fruit.  Bake crisp for about 30 minutes. 

That's it.  Then according to Matt you just eat it until it's gone.  Yes, breakfast is acceptable. 
Voilà!  Here she is.  Local and yummy.
So ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you this.  Real men not only cook but they bake too.  They take matters into their own hands and get it done.  They support their family by doing their part.  Men, you don't need to be a master chef to cook or bake well.  You just need to know what you like and begin somewhere.  Find a cookbook that suits you, open it up and get going.  This is what women have done for centuries.  It's your turn and guess what?  You might even discover something new about yourself.  Something like, it feels good to create something that your family covets and enjoys.  It feels good to make your spouse feel less tired during the week and see that grateful smile on her face.  It feels good to see that you are setting a good example for your children of what it means to be a man.  It feels good to realize that a man who cooks/bakes is an incredibly sexy creature.  No woman can resist a man that knows his way around a kitchen.
Lastly, let me end by saying this.  I have never expected Matt to be like me in the kitchen.  I let him be himself and so therefore he is comfortable there.  I want him to be comfortable.  The alternative keeps me up at night.  I might actually have to make my own crisp!