ratatouille de grandmere

August 27, 2012 § 8 Comments

I guess this is my first realtime post. Dinner is finishing in the oven, I’m sipping an Oregon pinot noir and remembering my longtime friend and culinary mentor Robert Reynolds. Like me, Robert conquered cancer. His victory lasted for three years before lymphoma returned in the form of a brain tumor earlier this year. One of my reasons to travel to Portland in June was to see him. He had just had surgery but some of the tumor remained. He contemplated a horrendous chemotherapy regimen for a brief time. Not surprisingly to me, he courageously chose quality of life over quantity. He shared his strength with me during my treatment last winter. I wasn’t sure what I could bring to the table, but now it was my turn.

Tonight in Colorado hubby Phil and I raise a toast to “Rowbear” (he liked to go by his French moniker Robeirt) over a light supper of some roasted tomato focaccia I had made this weekend and a zucchini dish from the cookbook he co-authored with his mentor, Josephine Araldo. I loved the cooking technique of lightly cooking each vegetable or leaving raw as it needed, then gentle baking in the oven (even though it’s still summery warmish here). This left each ingredient’s nature distinct, yet in harmony with the dish, a perfect example of the whole, being more than the sum of its parts. Au revoir, Robeirt, until we meet again.

sufferin’ succotash

August 23, 2012 § 5 Comments

Remember Sylvester the Cat chasing Tweety Bird in all those Looney Toon cartoons from Warner Bros. when you were little? OK, I guess I’m really dating myself now. One of his famous lines was “sufferin’ succotash” whenever he got frustrated at Tweety.

I think of succotash as the quintessential summer vegetable dish starring fresh corn, beans (traditionally limas), tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic and occasionally other players like summer squash and even okra, often cooked in lard or butter. The word “succotash” comes from the Narragansett word “msíckquatash” meaning “boiled corn kernels”, but succotash is so much more.  It was easily prepared from vegetables I had on hand either from my garden or local farms.

I grab onions, garlic, mild shishito peppers, tomatoes from the garden, and some vegetables that I brought home from friend Mark’s Hotchkiss farm earlier this week including young corn, purple long beans, zucchini and fragrant cilantro. They get cleaned up and a quick rinse before chopping.

I keep a cutting board next to the stovetop, so I chop each vegetable according to how long it needs to cook and add them to the pan in which I’ve heated a little bacon fat (you can use butter or oil as you like). In they go, onions, garlic, peppers, zucchini, long beans, tomatoes and finally corn. I season with a little salt as we go, and some dried oregano.

I love the vibrant colors and surprisingly the long beans are still purple (usually purple vegetables turn green as they cook). The succotash is garnished with cilantro and served alongside a smoked pork chop with spiced apricot preserves I made earlier this season atop some cheesy grits. Some good Southern eatin’ tonight, no “sufferin’ succotash” for us!

too pooped to post

August 22, 2012 § 13 Comments

Well, almost. I wasn’t too pooped to pop though, and after seeing all the triumphant puffy popovers posted by the other punctual Tuesdays with Dorie members, here I am with my tardy popovers and a quick (for me) recap.

Little did I know when I bought these mini-cake pans years ago, that I had in fact purchased popover pans. Their straight sides looked perfect for turning out little chocolate cakes, which they did admirably then. They look and feel like cast iron covered with a durable non-stick, so they distribute heat evenly and with a thin coating of butter, nary a crumb of popover stickiness. I have no idea who made them or where I bought them.

One of the best things about popovers is that you almost always have all the ingredients you need – milk, eggs, butter, flour, salt – and they are very easily mixed together by hand or machine, just dump and mix! I recommend, however, that you never plug in the blender when you’ve already loaded the pitcher onto the base, but haven’t placed the lid on yet. Yeah, did that, but skipped taking a picture of the result. 😦

Like many of the TWD’ers I made this recipe more than once since it’s quick (unless you forget the blender lid) and the ingredients are readily available. It’s so intriguing and almost magical when you get these big puffy baked things from a 1/3 cup of rather thin batter and it’s pretty fun to watch them bake too. I altitude adjusted the first batch on the left by adding 1 1/2 cups each of milk and flour instead of the original 1 cup; these definitely rose taller and kept their shape better. The extra flour develops more gluten for structure, while the extra milk keeps the ingredients in balance and prevents dryness. While they looked amazing, they were a little doughy inside and a bit on the chewy side for me. So I went back to the original unadjusted recipe for Round 2. I bumped up the salt to 1 teaspoon of coarse kosher, and even added 1 tablespoon of sugar as Round 1 was also a little flat in taste while not in height. Round 2 did not have the impressive height of the altitude-adjusted batch, but I liked the more tender crumb, thinner crust and completely hollow interiors which were the perfect vessels for some homemade preserves.

And while we could have easily consumed both batches with my son visiting, I sent some of AA (altitude-adjusted) Round 1 to our next door neighbors along with apricot butter. The three of us enjoyed the rest alongside a summer frittata and cottage bacon Sunday brunch.

plum delicious!

August 7, 2012 § 14 Comments

Here’s last night’s dessert ~ backyard plum galette, vanilla ice cream (store bought) and plum sauce. Since our Baking with Julia recipe made a double batch of dough and I had enough plums, I went ahead and made two, and delivered the second one (still warm) to our good friends, Mo and Peter. It got a big thumbs up from everyone!

I started on this dessert in April; my hair just starting to sprout post-chemo, along with our fruit trees leafing out! I’m munching a yummy cookie from Lynn at Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat, one of a box she sent me when I supported her in “The Big Climb” for leukemia/lymphoma research and support for survivors. Back to plums, doesn’t everyone grow their own? Actually, this is the first year we had enough from our backyard to do more than just taste. Colorado’s Front Range climate is not kind to fruit trees, so most of ours comes from the slightly milder Western Slope, which grows the most delicious peaches (I have not tasted the famous Georgia peach, however). And since our local abundance is stone fruit and not berries, this is what went into Flo Braker’s Berry Galette recipe.

We had to pick plums (and some small peaches) a little under ripe. By late July, the robins and squirrels have figured out there is a daily buffet of fruit in my yard. While I think there is plenty to go around, they eat or damage so much fruit, that we have to pick it under ripe and barely get our share. Luckily the plums ripened up nicely off the tree, the peaches not so much so I ended up composting those. 😦

This was a small batch of a simply made dough, so I thought it best to do by hand rather than in the food processor. The food processor is so fast, that it’s more difficult to control cutting in the butter and avoid over mixing and/or warming the small amount of ingredients. Dry ingredients, including a beautiful multicolored cornmeal went into the bowl which I mixed to blend.

Remove the ice cubes from now well-chilled water and add the yogurt or sour cream. What a great idea! I often use a little lemon juice or even vinegar to pie dough (helps keep it tender), but this adds a little richness and flavor too. Now you have to work fast, especially in the summer, to avoid letting the butter get too soft which can lead to a greasy, too soft dough and then a tough crust after baking.

I went ahead and used the whole stick of butter (what’s the point of leaving 1 tablespoon out?), quickly cut it into small pieces with the bench knife and tossed it into the flour mixture. If the weather’s warm and you don’t have air conditioning, chilling the dry mix in the refrigerator first will help.

Use a pastry cutter, a pair of table knives or your fingers (only if they’re cool enough though), cut and toss the butter pieces until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Add the chilled liquid, and gently toss and mix to evenly distribute the moisture. Keep a little iced water on hand if you need a little more just to moisten most of the dry mix; you don’t want a too wet dough which tends towards a tough cracker-like crust (remember, water + mixing = gluten).

My dough was a little dry (better than too wet), so I just pressed and folded it on itself a couple of times to bring it together; again you don’t want to overwork here either. The hour or so rest in the refrigerator allows the moisture to distribute more evenly, re-chill the butter and relax the gluten; all of this will make rolling a lot easier. See the butter bits and the colorful flecks of the cornmeal?

I prepped the plums while the dough chilled. These plums were easy to split and pit with my fingers (a lot faster than with a paring knife) and they were small enough to leave halved. I tossed them with the sugar, and then drained, hoping they would give up some of their juice before baking.

If you roll out two portions of dough, place them on a chilled parchment-lined sheet pan. Put the first one back in the refrigerator if your kitchen is warm, or it’s taking a long time to roll out the dough. The oven should be hot by now, and let any calls go to voicemail. Place the fruit onto the dough leaving a 2″ border, gently fold up and pleat; pressing the edge slightly at the bottom of each pleat helps keep the galette from opening during baking.

I did not glaze or sugar the crust before baking, but the small amount of sugar in the dough gave the crust a nice golden brown color after a full 40 minutes at 400°F. Wow, those were juicy plums! After a short 5 minutes of cooling, I c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y moved them using two pancake turners directly to platters; I didn’t want to serve galettes-with-parchment later. That sticky goo was a bit tricky to recover from the parchment and pan, but it made a yummy sauce!

Oh, and I drizzled the honey over the fruit after baking, instead of before. The tart plums definitely needed more sweetness, but I wanted to avoid more oven goo.

Here’s my breakfast next morning, and here’s the squirrel’s. That red plum was gone by the time I got this posted.

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