Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rainy-Day, Comforting (Best) Ratatouille


I was craving vegetables. It was a rainy summer day during my visit home to see my family in Saskatchewan. After being pummeled by rain and cleaning up puddled basements, I wanted to be in the kitchen, to cook and soothe souls. So I ended up in the grocery store.

I love shopping for groceries. We all need to eat, and I rarely feel guilty spending money at the grocery store. It is always justified in my head. A tasty tomato is worth the price. (At least that’s how I think.)

While wandering the aisles, I waited for inspiration. I saw the eggplant first. Though I’m not a fan of this bitter vegetable, I love its purple suit and wondered if I tried it one more time if I might become a fan. So I googled: "best ratatouille recipe" on my phone in the middle of the produce aisle.
Ratatouille dates back to the 1800s and the region of Nice, France. [It requires that special French accent to pronounce (ra-tuh-TOO-ee). Just ask your daughters who are in French Immersion to pronounce it!]
Several options were listed, but I have long been a fan of Marc from No Recipes. I knew I could trust his “No Recipes” recipe.
The word Ratatouille actually comes from the French term "touiller," which means to toss food.
We had garlic, onions and herbs from the garden at home. I just needed a few more vegetables to fill my basket: red bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms (my addition to this rendition). For security, I picked up a small can of tomato paste. I find it adds a richness to sauce that I like.

Back home, I prepared all the vegetables. A sharp knife is always good for this task, and thankfully, my parents had their knives sharpened before my visit. And then all that was left to do was sauté the ingredients separately (as the French like to do) and then together to build flavor. You must let each vegetable have its limelight. That's the French way. And it's the key to a non-mushy ratatouille.

The result: no mush but a collection of cooked but chunky summer vegetables. This is a keeper recipe of fresh summer vegetables bathed in tomato sauce. I served it over pasta (because my kids love pasta!), but it’s good over couscous, rice or on its own.

Thanks, Marc! Click here for Marc's recipe.

Here is my rendition:

Rainy-Day, Comforting (Best) Ratatouille

1/4 c olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
6 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped 1-2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 packed cup parsley, roughly chopped
6-8 sprigs thyme
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp salt, to taste
1 tsp pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pan and saute the for 1 to 2 mnutes.

Reduce the heat to low and add the onion and red bell pepper and saute for 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, cover and simmer until the tomatoes are soft the consistency of the mixture is not runny, but more stew-like.

Add the eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and then cover with a lid and cook until tender (about 30 to 40 minutes), stirring occasionally.

When the vegetables are soft, remove the lid, add the tomato paste and let the ratatouille continue to simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated and the stew is thick. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and serve.

---

If you haven’t seen Ratatouille, the movie, then add it to your list
"Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great." – Chef Auguste Gusteau - in Ratatouille, the movie




Friday, April 18, 2014

Cheers to Life with a Jamaican Sorrel Cocktail




It’s been a while since I've posted. I’ve missed sharing my thoughts and food experiences, and life is all about sharing moments: the highs, the lows and everything in-between.

I recently met a character. Someone who shares honestly and openly, and his integrity and authenticity inspired me. What is authenticity or being authentic? To strive to be genuine, real, true, sincere. These are all qualities I look for in others and try to use as a compass for myself. I fail, and I watch others make mistakes too. The arrow on the compass isn’t always locked in the right direction. But I know I’m heading the right way.

Thanks to another authentic individual I met a few years ago, I’ve been able to do some traveling to a few warm climates this past winter. In November, I was in Jamaica on assignment with Taste & Travel Magazine. A new taste for me was sorrel. Sorrel comes from a shrub with small pink flowers. Jamaicans take the flower petals of the sorrel to make drinks and condiments. It is from the species of the Hibiscus, and not the sorrel of the garden herb variety that I know. At Hotel Mockingbird Hill, we sipped this sorrel cocktail while viewing the lush hills and ocean below. It was one of many memorable moments.

[The Summer issue of Taste & Travel Magazine will include my article about Jamaica.]


 Sorrel Petals

Jamaican Sorrel Cocktail

1 lb sorrel, thoroughly washed
2-4 oz ginger root, grated
8-12 pimento (allspice) berries
8 cups water
Sugar syrup, to taste*
Sparkling wine or rum (optional) 
Ice

1. Combine sorrel, ginger and pimento berries.
2. Boil water and pour over sorrel. Allow to stand 4-6 hours. Strain.
3. Sweeten to taste with sugar syrup and serve with sparkling wine or rum and ice.

*To make sugar syrup, bring 2½ cups water and 1¼ cups sugar to a boil. Allow to cool.

Note: You can get sorrel from specialty Caribbean markets.

Recipe from Chef Barbara Walker
Hotel Mockingbird Hill
P.O. Box 254, Port Antonio, Jamaica
+1 876 993 7134 or 7267
www.hotelmockingbirdhill.com



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  • Monday, February 6, 2012

    Ottawa and Taffy on the Snow



    Taffy on the Snow is nature's best candy. Though I usually associate it as a sugar shack tradition, I was excited to see it offered at Ottawa's Winterlude. As part of our skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway, which is the world's largest skating rink, we stopped to indulge in this sweet treat.

    While talking to the taffy maker, I learned that in one week he has gone through 300 kg (over 600 pounds) of maple syrup! For the "snow", he grinds up bags of ice cubes. And each taffy pop costs $3.

    The pure maple syrup is boiled to the soft ball stage (about 235˚F).


    boiling the maple syrup


    Then, it's poured onto the snow and allowed to cool slightly. Using a popsicle stick, the taffy is rolled around the stick into a ball.


    pouring the maple syrup

    placing the popsicle sticks

    letting them cool

    rolling the taffy


    The crunchy snow crystals on the taffy make an unstable but delicious marriage of ice and warmth. And it just might be a better business idea than a lemonade stand!

    Click here for more ideas about baking and cooking with maple syrup.

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    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Ottawa and BeaverTails



    The best part of Ottawa is the Rideau Canal Skateway, which is the world's largest skating rink. When all sections are open, it stretches 7.8 km (4.8 miles). The season seems short as the ice tends to last for four to six weeks, if we're lucky. And a skate on the canal for me always ends with a BeaverTail. Freshly made bread dough is dipped in hot oil and then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The line ups are always long, but worth the wait for this bite of sweetness.

    BeaverTail shacks have been around since 1978 and started in Ottawa. Now franchises can be found in other parts of Canada, Colorado and recently in Saudi Arabia!

    I tried making BeaverTails at home, and although they are delicious, they can't measure up to the ones from the BeaverTail shack.











    Recipe

    adapted from Link

    1/2 cup warm water
    5 teaspoons active dry yeast
    1 pinch white sugar

    1 cup milk, warmed
    1/3 cup white sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 eggs
    1/3 cup vegetable oil
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    2 cups whole wheat flour, or as needed

    4 cups oil for frying

    Cinnamon sugar (or toast dope)

    Click here for method.

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    Monday, January 9, 2012

    Bringing Mexico Home: Pescado Zarandeado


    Pescado Zarandeado is a signature Mexican dish that varies depending on the chef creating it. It can involve marinating a whole fish in a combination of lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce and lime. The choice of fish is often Pargo, which has sufficient fat content to prevent it from drying out during the grilling process. However, other types of fish such as Snook or Red Snapper can also be used. Then, the fish is butterflied and grilled over an open fire.

    Pescado Zarandeado is thought to have originated on the isle of Mexcaltitan in the state of Nayarit. Today, Diego's in Mazatlan has mastered this national dish without losing sight of its basic roots. His version was a mayonnaise-based sauce with garlic, oregano, soy sauce, herbs and cilantro, which was different from the recipe I tried here.


    Chef Diego Becerra, barefoot on the sand, made us Pescado Zarandeado grilled on the beach outside his restaurant. The smoky aroma of fish as it was slowly being grilled was tantalizing while the sound of the waves and the children playing on the beach made it memorable. Traditionally, mangrove wood was used to smoke this dish, however, now mesquite is used so that the mangrove forests are protected.

    The Pescado Zarandeado was served on a large platter with all the sides filling the table. Everyone dug in to fill their tortilla with the fish, refried beans, salsa, onions, rice, a squeeze of lime and all sorts of other fillings. It was moist, tender, and delicious.


    Recipe for Pescado Zarandeado

    from link

    Serves 6


    For the marinade:
    1/3 cup olive oil
    1/2 cup soy sauce
    1/4 cup lime juice
    6 cloves garlic, minced

    For the fish:
    1 3-pound fillet Snook, Dorado, Bonita, Red Snapper, Pargo or other white-fleshed fish suitable for grilling
    6 tomatoes, deseeded and quartered
    2 green bell peppers, cut into thick strips
    2 red bell peppers, cut into thick strips
    1 purple onion, cut into thick slices
    6 jalepeños, sliced

    Whisk the marinade ingredients. Let steep to blend flavors for about 15-30 minutes. pour over fish and let the fish marinate for 30 minutes.

    If you don't have a grill or fish cage (or if it's winter!), you can put the fish in foil with the vegetables.

    Grill (or bake the fish in the oven at 375° until the meat flakes). The time it takes depends on how large the fish is. My small Red Snapper took 20-30 minutes in the oven.

    Serve with salsa, guacamole, refried beans, rice, limes and tortillas.


    I would like to thank www.gomazatlan.com for inviting me to the 2011 Gran Fiesta Amigos. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared on my blog are completely my own.

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    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Gingerbread Cookies


    You'd think with all the food that appears on this blog that there would be clouds of flour and aromas of cinnamon wafting throughout my home. But, like everyone, I'm scrambling to find the balance of working, blogging and family life.

    One year, I made over 500 cookies before Christmas for friends and family. This year, I was able to pull off a batch of gingerbread and shortbread!

    My girls love decorating gingerbread cookies. So one night we spread out all the sprinkles I've collected and tinted some white icing with food coloring. We have cute gingerbread men, gingerbread Dr. Seuss characters, ghoulish ones with missing legs, and ones with more icing and sprinkles than cookie for the sweet tooth in the bunch (my youngest).

    So, though our cookie jar isn't overflowing, we have a table that's still sprinkled with dragees, sugar and dried icing. But best of all we have sweet memories.

    Recipe for Gingerbread

    From Epicurious

    Makes about 50 regular-sized gingerbread cookies

    6 cups (about) flour
    1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
    2 teaspoons ground ginger
    1½ teaspoons ground cloves
    ¾ teaspoon salt
    11 tablespoon (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
    2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
    1½ teaspoons grated lemon peel
    1 large egg
    ¼ cup buttermilk
    2 teaspoons water
    1 teaspoon soda

    Whisk 5¼ cups flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a bowl.

    Using a stand mixer, blend the butter and shortening. Add sugar, molasses, and lemon peel and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and buttermilk.

    Blend 2 teaspoons water with soda. Beat into butter mixture. In two additions, beat in flour mixture. Add more flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough feels slightly firm.

    Divide dough into three equal disks. Wrap them and chill until firm enough to roll, at least 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften slightly before rolling out.)

    Roll out one disk of dough at a time, between sheets of waxed paper.

    Either cut the dough using cookie cutters (or another shape) or press the dough into a heat-resistant shot glass or silicon shot glasses. (See blog post for Gingerbread Cookie Cups.) Chill the dough again before baking. (Cutout cookies can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the baking time.

    ========================

    Head on over to Natalie MacLean's blog to check out my simple but tasty holiday brunch idea: Salmon Dill Crepe Recipe Paired with Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand



    ========================

    Here are some other delicious Christmas treats:


    Linzer Sablés

    Rice Pudding
    (which is what we like to have for dessert at Christmas)

    Shortbread

    Spiced White Chocolate Cappuccino
     
    Happy Holidays!


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