Archive: November, 2011
Not many fond memories were born in the school cafeterias of my youth.
But I have a wonderful remembrance of my first bite of ratatouille in the cafeteria at the Université Nancy, in France.
As a college student on a junior year abroad, I was already marveling at the cheese, the bread, the wine, and the patisserie that lovely country produced.
I can’t remember if it was the very first thing I tried in that cafeteria, I just remember it was a revelation, tasting that homey dish and thinking this was French home cooking. Even from a commercial kitchen, it tasted like it was lovingly prepared by a grandmother, the same way it would be made for her family at home.
I’ve made it many times over the years, simply chopping onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes and cooking slowly until all the vegetables are tender.
But when my daughter asked for a ratatouille recipe, I turned to an authoritative French chef, knowing my daughter’s insistence on accurate measurements, specific times, and clear instructions.
This recipe is from Eric Ripert’s recent cookbook, Avec Eric, and its simplicity bears its authenticity. The only flourishes: He adds a banana pepper, giving it a touch of heat, and garnishes with fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese. (My own addition was some capers because I love their salty, briny tang.)
You can serve it over couscous, as it was first served to me many years ago, or over rice, or just on its own.
It is exactly what you might imagine simmering on a stove in Provence. Or served in a school cafeteria in Nancy.
For the past three years, my roommates Kat and Sara have hosted a Thanksgiving celebration a few days early, among friends, affectionately known as “Fakesgiving.” I know that many do a variation on this same theme-- my friends in the Philly area host their own annual, “Friendsgiving.” Now in its third year, “Fakesgiving” has become a wonderful pot luck tradition. The host makes the turkey and makes sure all the other Thanksgiving staples are accounted for-- Kat has perfected this through use of her notorious Google spreadsheet—where everyone signs up for what they will bring, the stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie etc. Yet, in the past, the turkey was made by putting a turkey breast in a slow cooker with white wine, butter, carrots, onions and water (not a bad alternative as Sara said, “that way the turkey was still really delicious but also really ugly.”). This year we decided to be ambitious. After talking it over with my mom and Kat and Sara, we decided Fakesgiving was the perfect moment for me to cook my very first turkey —in a setting with low expectations and lots of booze.
That being said, I was still cooking a turkey for 20 plus people!! The pressure was definitely still on!!
After chatting again with my mom, I decided I would do a turkey and two other Thanksgiving family favorites: cranberry relish and sweet potatoes with honey and lime. We bought a fresh organic 18 lb turkey from Whole Foods for $62. My friend Abby and her boyfriend Chris, who are both 2nd year Medical Students at UVA, were driving from Charlottesville to NJ and decided to make a pit stop at my apartment for Fakesgiving. Lucky for me, they arrived late Saturday and were up early to be my assistants on Sunday. Chris was such a rock star-- he pulled out the neck and giblets from inside the turkey helped me rinse and pat it dry. Meanwhile, might I add that my dear mother was MIA. My parents had gone into Philly early that morning to watch my Aunt Joanne run the Philadelphia Marathon and of course they went to cheer her on (Go Aunt Joanne!). BUT SERIOUSLY MOM? I am calling and texting like crazy and she is MIA. (She did answer the phone, but said she couldn’t hear because everyone was cheering so loud at the finish.) She hadn’t even given me a recipe—here were her instructions. Salt the inside of the turkey, salt and pepper the outside, brush it with butter and olive oil, put it in the oven and cook for 4-4.5 hrs at 325ᴼF. In the end, that is pretty much all I did. But I work in clinical research, mom; we follow very detailed, very exact protocols.
Sweet Potatoes With Honey and Lime
Makes 6 servings
5 pounds sweet potatoes, unpeeled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Bake the potatoes until soft, about 45 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Peel, roughly chop, and puree the potatoes in a food processor, being careful not to overprocess.
4. Place the butter and sour cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
5. Stir in the pureed potatoes and remaining ingredients, adjust seasonings, and serve immediately.
— From City Cuisine (William Morrow & Co., 1989)
Per serving: 163 calories, 1 gram protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 36 milligrams cholesterol, 212 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
My daughter Sally and her friends are hosting a “fakes-giving” at her apartment this week.
It’s a lovely tradition a lot of young people are adopting, a turkey feast with all the trimmings prepared and shared by friends, before or after the day with family.
It gives the younger generation a chance to celebrate and give thanks in their own way, without the stress or expectations of a family gathering.
But they still need recipes. Sally is making the turkey (which I argue is the easiest contribution), and I suggested two easy side dishes: cranberry relish and sweet potatoes with lime and honey.
The cranberry relish is so easy, it’s ridiculous. This recipe was given to us by Rosie Hymerling, the kindergarten teacher for all three of our children. Rosie used to cook with her students in class as much as she could. She was also the very first person to call at 8 a.m. the day the blog was launched. I promised her that Sally and I would come to her house and cook with her, so stay tuned for more of Rosie’s recipes.
But back to the cranberries. I believe this recipe was also printed on the back of the bag of cranberries for awhile. It requires no cooking, only a whir of the food processor and a few hours in the fridge. And we love the results.
The sweet potato dish is compliments of my sister Kathy, who brought it to Thanksgiving dinner one year. One taste and we never made the version with mini-marshmallows on top again.
Dorie Greenspan came to cook in my kitchen when her new cookbook, Around My French Table, was published last fall. (See that story here.)
A prolific author who has rubbed elbows with the world’s best chefs, Greenspan is also among the most gracious and humble people I’ve ever met.
Most important, I love her recipes. Her latest book, an ode to French home cooking, is chock-full of 300 of her favorites, and she details each step in clear, straightforward prose.
I’ve been cooking my way through her offerings, from her mustard tart to her impossibly light gougères.
And while all the recipes are carefully explained, beginners may be overwhelmed by some of them, just in terms of the number of steps and the time they take.
The one I have chosen here is not one of those. For my daughter, Sally, for our learning-to-cook blog, I selected Curried Chicken, Peppers and Peas en Papillote. Even though the result is impressive, the recipe is so easy that the most inexperienced of cooks can pull it off.
I baked mine in parchment because I had it on hand, but aluminum foil works just as well. And if you buy sliced chicken tenders instead of boneless chicken breasts, the recipe is truly foolproof.
So thank you, Dorie, for another great recipe. I hope one day my daughter will work her way through your entire cookbook.
Curried Chicken, Peppers, and Peas en Papillote
Makes 4 servings
Congrats on your tuna salad Sally and for making do with what is in your pantry. You are learning! Just one little picky thing... When you are using good tuna packed in oil, there is no need to rinse it. Just drain off the oil and add the tuna. I even use the oil in the dressing sometimes to enhance the tuna flavor.
First of all I'm so sorry I have been so delinquent and not posting... Momma, don't punish me!! I have a good excuse. I'd been working on a Fundraiser for the National Blood Clot Alliance in honor of my dear friend, Anna Frutiger, who died in May of 2010 at the young age of 23, from a pulmonary embolism, which resulted from a blood clot. The Fundraiser was this past Saturday and a big success.
Anyway, I did make the Tuna and Bean Salad last Tuesday... I just didn't have time to write it up and post it.
So, here goes: My momma is absolutely right that this is a very very easy recipe. All I needed to buy was Cento canned tuna and cherry tomatoes. I had the celery, a can of white beans and a yellow onion -- which I just used that instead of a red onion-- and things worked out fine! Also, on my way home from work I stopped by my friend Jenny's house to pick up some fresh rosemary from her plant in her garden. I didn't have fresh parsley so I used 2 teaspoons of dried parsley instead. Now, I was ready to go! I rinsed the tuna and added it to a medium sized bowl. Next, I chopped up all the celery, onion and rosemary and placed them in the bowl. Next, I sliced the tomatoes in half and added them. And last but not least, I rinsed and added the beans. Like my momma said in the recipe, I used a forked to fold everything together (I attempted to fold, but really more like gently mixed).