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 the 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 version:

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 garlic for 1 to 2 minutes.

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) 

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

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