Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ratatouille with banana peppers - joining the rataouille debate


1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups green banana peppers, seeded and diced
1 medium eggplant, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup white wine

Summer seems to finally have arrived here, and for some reason, in my mind, summer dishes always include either peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and/ or eggplant - don't ask me why! And somehow, they always come together as some variation of ratatouille, which got me into heated discussions with the santoku master of what has to go into a real ratatouille. Growing up, eggplant was basically unknown in my family, and many summer days were spent feasting on completely eggplant-free ratatouille (a paradox, as I am being told now).

Still convinced that any combination of the vegetables above can make a ratatouille, this time I opted for a combination of eggplant, banana peppers (less sweet and crunchier than bell peppers which gave the dish an interesting tangy note, and I also liked the light green color, a good color for early summer) and tomatoes.

To prepare the eggplant, I cut it into small cubes, salted them and let them sit for 20 minutes before rinsing them in water to wash away the bitterness. Then, my usual beloved ritual of sauteing onions and garlic in olive oil followed, adding first the eggplant and after another 5-8 minutes the peppers, and letting them more or less roast in the pan for 15 minutes before adding the juicy tomatoes and stewing the mix with the white wine. After seasoning with salt, pepper and herbs de provence, the first ratatouille variation of the summer was ready to be enjoyed.

What is your favorite ratatouille and what has to go in it?

Life is good!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bone marrow and beef broth


1 marrow bone
2 pounds beef
1 onion
2 carrots
1 leek
1/2 celery root
parsley for garnish
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 cup green beans, cut into chunks

Two factors encouraged me to have another go at making broth this week: officially, it might be spring, but at night, it still gets very chilly. Plus, I finally read "Nourishing traditions" and while I am still half-heartedly experimenting with fermenting my own vegetables (so far I have produced two batches of inedible and possibly poisonous cucumbers... glad they didn't explode in their jars!), I can proudly say that at least I know how to make a good broth.

In winter, for us this is a staple food eaten often as an appetizer before something more substantial, and having read about all of broth's surprising health benefits (it sounds like a superfood!), I am certainly going to prepare this also in summer. To make it more suitable as a spring or summer dish, after straining the broth, I blanched some carrots and green beans in it and added some of the meat, trimmed and cut into small pieces.

The preparation of the broth is pretty straightforward, basically following the same method as in my pho bo recipe.I don't roast my bones (just the onion in the pot), and gradually add in the meat and vegetables, simmering the broth for about 3-4 hours.

However, in our broth ritual, the best part is kept for last - the bone marrow. Lately, bone marrow is making something of a come back as a delicacy, besides its health benefit (consumed in reasonable quantities, of course), it truly is mouthwateringly delicious in texture and taste. We usually spread it on a slice of bread like butter and very lightly salt it. My grandmother used to make the most amazing bone marrow dumplings, and the next time we have broth (hopefully before next winter), I'll share the recipe.

PS: For my vegetarian readers - for a really cool idea how to make excellent vegetable stock from scraps, lock at Green Thyme's blog here

Life is good!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Filipono Chicken Adobo

Slightly adapted from Tomatoes on the vine


4 bone in chicken legs, trimmed
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 (13 1/2-ounce) can coconut milk
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
8 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons pepper
1 scallion, sliced thin
1 medium pieces fresh ginger, peeled

A couple of weeks ago, the Santoku master and I celebrated our new home ownership with this recipe featuring quite an unusual combination of different flavors like coconut milk, soy sauce and vinegar which somehow, rather magically, blend in so well together to create a completely new and delicious flavor.

This also marked one of our last real meals before renovations began and left us to eat the most fast food I've had in years... so in my mind, the recollection of the creamy-intense sauce, the tender and juicy chicken covered in crispy skin, became one of those dream-like food memories, my happy place that got me through applying paint to wall after wall after wall, carrying boxes and moving furniture.

The preparation is fairly straightforward and simple - wash and trim the chicken legs and marinate them in the soy sauce for at least one hour, better two or three. Put the legs in an oven proof dish and mix the rest of the soy sauce with all the other ingredients, covering the chicken legs with the sauce. On low heat, broil for around 40-45 minutes depending on how well-done you like your chicken. Serve with rice, potatoes or bread - something to soak up the sauce which you don't want to waste!

As with any recipe or dish that takes such a prominent place in your heart and fondest memories, it's always a little scary to try to recreate the experience. Will it still taste as magical? Will it live up to your own expectations or is it going to destroy the the illusion through harsh reality? I am happy to report that I threw my fear of being disappointed over board and made the dish again, and Velva's recipe did not fail me - it turned out as delicious as the first time.

Life is good!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Onions caramelized in red wine with spaghettini


1 large onion, chopped in rings
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste

The onion is one of those kitchen-staples that I've always just taken for granted, chopped finely, as the invisible basis for many sauces. I use onions so often and so thoughtlessly that until now, I never gave them a second glance or treated them with imagination or creativity.

However, making my first real Julia Child French onion soup changed my perspective on onions for good. Just observing the transformation of the onions from their raw state into a sweet and tender yet still savory delight was something of a small revelation. Onions are excellent and reliable background singers, but from time to time they do deserve to be the star in the spotlight.

So this easy pasta recipe takes the idea and technique of an onion soup and applies it to make a sauce. Having just talked about the pleasure of old-fashioned chopping, I chopped my onion in rings similar in size as for a soup - not to thin so they would still keep some texture. On a very small flame and covered with a lid, I sauteed them for around 5 minutes in olive oil, then removed the lid and sauteed them with lots of stirring for 20 minutes (this is when you want to start heating the water for the pasta). Once I added the spaghettini (for this dish, I prefer them over spaghetti because of their airiness) to the boiling water, I poured the red wine over the onions, and just before the pasta is ready, I thickened the sauce with tomato paste and a little bit of the pasta water.

The quest is on for more onion-recipes!

Life is good!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The end of cooking?

Recently, I've attended a party at a friend's place where a certain kitchen appliance was presented. The mood of the evening was fun and friendly, a nice mix of half a dozen women watching in awe as the presenter transformed grains into flour, cooked fruit into jam, kneaded dough, chopped and sauteed onions, steamed pasta... and showed us a hundred other functions we were told the wondrous machine could perform in no time at all. This was no simple food processor, but a highly sophisticated miracle worker that could also cook and steam!

But somehow watching the presenter throw carelessly ingredient after ingredient into the pharynx of the machine, pressing a couple of buttons according to her manual, brought an incredible sadness over me. While she enthusiastically told us how we would never again have to chop a vegetable or some herbs, never again have to mash a potato or knead a dough with the strength of our hands, never again be exposed to the odors of cooking which would be forever conveniently contained in the inside of the machine, I couldn't help but ask myself: isn't all this what constitutes the very joy of cooking?

I love the steely beauty of my knives and the sense of empowerment when using them. I love the feeling of accomplishment when creating something with my bare hands, the promising smells emerging from different pots and pans and the magic of transforming different ingredients into meals. Would my recipes in the future resemble technical manuals, specifying only the amounts of stuff to throw into a machine and which buttons to press in what sequence? Would this complete the alienation of modern humanity from food and nourishment?

To my deepest satisfaction, at least at our party, the machine quickly revealed it's true self for the others to see. After the preparation of each separate dish, the machine had to be cleaned and the food kept hot in a separate container, undoing the promise of reducing the amount of dishes to wash, and elongating the preparation of a complete meal by the need to do everything sequentially, undoing the promise of saving time. And the attempts of some of the group to actually use the machine and navigate the dozens of buttons and functions - so seemingly easy in the hands of the presenter - turned out to be a complex science, producing several mishaps.

That makes me hopeful that the kitchen will remain a place of mystery, of bubbling pots and steaming pans, of creativity and the utter satisfaction of the time-honored preparation of real food.

Life is good!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lamb stew - happy easter!


1.5 pounds lamb, trimmed and cut in junks
1 onion, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped

So Easter and the end of lent have finally arrived. I will let those of you who celebrate it celebrate, but not without a quick and unconventional lamb recipe.

In a pan over high heat, heat some oil and brown the lamb pieces in batches until nearly done (you'll want the meat to be still a little bit pinkish on the inside). Remove from the oil and in the same oil, saute the onion and later add the tomato. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer for 15 minutes. Finally add in the meat again, just for a few minutes to heat it up again, arrange on a plate with fresh cilantro and serve with rice and a fresh lime.

Life is good!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quadrucci - pasta dough leftovers


leftover pasta pieces from tortellini a la casa
1 bell pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup strained tomatoes

Do you remember my afternoon of female bonding over the menial production of homemade tortellini a while ago? It turns out there was an unexpected bonus meal in the whole procedure, which I didn't want to hint at yet because I didn't know how it would turn out.

The story of the unexpected bonus meal begins the day of the laborious pasta making. I'm not sure whether it is only because of our lack of experience or if that's just what happens, but next to the pretty tortellini you saw on this blog, neatly folded from the squares cut out from sheets of dough, as you can imagine, there were a lot of less pretty, less neat looking pieces - some from the borders of the dough sheet, some from the middle - which we couldn't use as tortellini.

My original impulse had been to simply throw it out but then I remembered what I had preached about leftovers and reducing food waste. Reading your responses had made me proud of my ever so tiny contribution to making better use of the food we have, and it is with great pleasure that I am reading about an increasing awareness in that regard. So the idea came to my mind to dry the leftover pasta patches in their idiosyncratic shapes and forms, and try to make a different meal out of them.

And how wrong I had been to think that only the flawless tortellini could be pretty! The dried pasta patches (which we'll call quadrucci from now on to make it sound fancier!) looked so quaint in their jar that I left them on my shelf for weeks just to enjoy looking at them.

Of course, after a while curiosity got the better of me and I prepared my bonus meal. The quadrucci are quite straightforward to make - I didn't cook them in rolling boiling water, but just below boiling so as not to destroy the more fragile ones among them.

For the sauce, I sauteed onions, peppers, mushrooms and frozen peas (basically the leftover veggies I had that day), added a little bit of strained tomatoes and seasoned them with salt and pepper.

As it turns out, the delicate texture and flavor of the quadrucci was a real pleasure in itself, making it absolutely worthwhile keep them. They were so flavorful and special that with the tiniest hint of regret do I even recommend using a slightly less powerful sauce to accompany them. The dish was delicious but I can't help but wonder whether for example, a simple sage butter would not have displayed the quadrucci more prominently.

Life is good!
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