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Bon Vivant


Ratatouille & St. Germain Champagne

I was inspired to make a French dish to honor Bastille Day, but truth be told, I really don’t need a reason.  French cuisine is among my favorite types food to cook and with the celebration of the French storming the bastille, it was the perfect opportunity to revisit a summertime fav, Ratatouille.

I like to research multiple recipes and pick and choose from amongst them for the ingredients and cooking techniques that I think would make the dish phenomenal.  I’ve been following Melissa Clark of the New York Times, she authors the food section, “The New Essentials of French Cooking” and has written many cookbooks.  She breaks down the history of ratatouille and points out that this dish does not have a set recipe or precise technique.  I appreciate that because she provided the framework as I went about reviewing other recipes.  I used a combination of her wisdom, Julia Child’s process and Bruno Albouze’s authenticity, he is French born and raised.  He added the extra kick of charring the peppers for the sauce.  I think this only adds to what Julia says in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, and I quote, “Ratatouille perfumes the kitchen…”  The sauce turned out soooo good, you could just eat it alone, like a gazpacho…which I did.  There was more than enough sauce for the casserole,  one-third cup  was reserved pour moi.  #cookperk

Besides the rich flavor of this dish, when prepared as a casserole, the presentation is as beautiful as it is delicious.  I used a mandolin to slice perfect 1/16th –inch rounds for the squash and zucchini; however, it didn’t work so well for the eggplant and tomatoes.  I had to resort to my knife skills, which can use some sharpening, but it turned out lovely none-the-less.

And, of course every celebratory meal deserves its own signature cocktail.  What better choice than an elegant sparkly.  The French invented the effervescence we have all come to associate with raising a glass. St. Germain Champagne, served up, rises to the occassion.

The presentation is gorgeous and is perfect for any summer get together or revolution.

Viva La France!

Side Note: Always hold your flute by the stem.  More than looking sophisticated, you reserve the chill of the beverage.  Otherwise, the heat emanating from your hand warms the beverage…who wants body temperature champagne on a hot summer’s day?…No one.  Pinkies up!

Cooking Playlist:

RECIPES:

RATATOUILLE & ST. GERMAIN CHAMPAGNE

Serves 6 to 8

Recipe adapted from Bruno Albouze

INGREDIENTS

SAUCE

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter and olive (each)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled and chopped
  • 1 jalepeno pepper, charred, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 fresh basil leaves

SLICED VEGGIES

  • 2 yellow squash, sliced into 1/16” rounds
  • 2 zucchinis, sliced into 1/16th-rounds
  • 2 Japanese eggplants, sliced into 1/16th-rounds
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16th-rounds

SEASONING

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to tasted

ST. GERMAIN CHAMPAGNE

  • 2 parts Champagne
  • 1 part St. Germain
  • chilled flute
  • garnish with lavender

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Roast peppers over a flame and put them into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, let them steam for about 15 minutes; then peel peppers
  • Meanwhile prepare the mire poix, chop carrots, celery and onion
  • Slice zucchini, squash, eggplant and tomatoes into1/16th inch rounds
  • Open the peppers, take the seeds and ribs out and chopped them
  • Sautee the mire poix on high heat for about 10 minutes; add garlic and cook for about 3 more minutes then stir in the roasted peppers
  • Add in the crushed tomatoes and herbe de Provence and cook down for about 20 minutes
  • Puree with basil, then put the mixture back into the pan
  • Arrange a strip of alternating slice of tomato, squash, zucchini and eggplant; add salt, pepper and the olive oil, garlic, thyme seasoning; cover with foil
  • Bake for 3-hours at 280 degrees
  • Right before serving, uncover and bake for another 45 minutes at 350 degrees

The “double” cookings  give the vegetable and herbs new verve when they are combined and cooked again (Melissa Clark)

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The Telltale Kitchen (cafelamour.me; alovecafe; gina’skitchen, spellbindingcuisine) reveals traditions, beliefs, myths and secrets of food and cooking.

 

Summer Lover


Beach House Crab Cakes

I am a summer lover.  The summer solstice is the time for listening to acoustics around a fire pit on the beach, Bar-B-Ques, picnics, and dining al fresco.  I muse over the flavors of the season and think of all of the wonderful foods I want to prepare during this glorious 13-weeks of fun in the sun.  My list is long.  This week I settled on crab cakes.  I discovered a new way to prepare crab cakes in the July/August 2017 issue of Louisiana Cookin magazine which I combined with a recipe for lemon crab cakes that I learned how to prepare at a cooking class hosted by Christina Dimacali called “Clean Your Plate” when I lived in Philadelphia, PA.  I call the new crab cake recipe, “Beach House Crab Cakes”.  It is a longtime dream of mine to own a beach house with a water front patio where I can entertain guests and have memorable summer dinner parties.  These crab cakes would star as one of the appetizers.  Until then; however, I am grateful for what I have right now.  1.) Access to the beach; 2.) a big beach blanket; 3.) a beach umbrella; 4.) a blue-tooth speaker to play my beach picnic playlist; and 4.) a beach bag packed with my beach house crab cakes and cucumber lime basil prosecco spritzer.

BEACH HOUSE CRAB CAKES

Makes about 8 crab cakes

Recipe adapted from Louisiana Cookin magazine, July/August 2017 issue

INGREDIENTS INSTRUCTIONS
1 tablespoon canola oil In a cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat.

Add corn and bell pepper; cook until softened, about 3 minutes

Spoon corn mixture into a large bowl, let cool slightly

Add mayonnaise, green onion, mustard powder, salt, black pepper, Creole spice, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and egg; whisk until combined.

Fold in crab meat, bread crumbs and lemon zest

Refrigerate for 10 minutes

Shape mixture into 1/3-cup patties

 

Heat remaining oil in same skillet over medium heat.  Cook cakes in batches until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side, turning carefully with a spatula.  Let drain on a wire rack.

 

Serve with Dill-Cucumber sauce.  Garnish with dill, chives and a lemon wedge

4 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup fresh corn kernels
¼ cup red pepper, diced
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup green onion, chopped (2)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice + zest
1 pound lump crabmeat, drained
1 cup panko
DILL-CUCUMBER
½ cup plain Greek yogurt In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, dill, chives, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper.  Gently stir in cucumber.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (or Creole mustard)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup seedless cucumber, chopped

 

WATERMELON and FRIED CHICKEN, DONE UP


Watermelon-Shrimp Salad

Watermelon is one of the first foods that come to mind when I think of 4th of July bar-b-ques and picnics.  It’s a summertime favorite.  Sweet, refreshing, good for you.  Yet, the association of watermelon with Blacks in America, pictured as lazy simpletons, made for some distastefully juicy humor at the expense of a nation of people who loved the fruit as much then, as we all do today.

It was with the popular satirical blackface American theater performances from the 1830s through the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s that spread such racial stereotypes.

It’s disheartening to know that some Black people will not eat watermelon to this day because of this stigma, regardless of how good it for you.  Watermelon is soaked with nutrients, each mouthwatering bite has significant levels of vitamins A, B6 and C and is nicknamed “liquid love” because it is a rich source of citrulline, an amino acid that enhances male sexual performance (it relaxes and dilates the blood vessels much like Viagra) making this slave diet food all the rave of late.  It should be noted; however, that the sweet watermelon can be found in a medieval manuscript, the Tacuinum Sanitatis, which is a guide to healthy living based on an 11th century Arabic manuscript.  It’s what the angels eat.

As we celebrate the independence of the 13 colonies that represented America in 1776 from Great Britain with fireworks and feasts sure to include watermelon, it’s hard not to recognize that it wasn’t for almost another 100 years, by executive order in 1863 (the Emancipation Proclamation), that the Black people in America gained their independence; all the while, the nation’s laughing stalk. The United States is the largest producer of watermelon and no doubt the farmers of this crop in those early days were Black.  The under mindedness of the value placed on Black people and this bountiful crop was crude and shameful to say the least.  It’s glorious though, to see the influence and the evolution of both Black people in America and of the recipes starring watermelon.  It was the recipe on the cover of the July/August 2017 issue of Louisiana Cookin’ for Watermelon Shrimp Salad that inspired me to write this post.  It is a beautiful, flavorful summer salad that I instantly said yes to, a “done up” watermelon salad with a “done up” watermelon cocktail. I curated a cooking playlist to make this dish and another recipe from the New York Times for my beach picnic and discovered a song called Watermelon Man by Johnnie Taylor on Spotify, the Watermelon Man is super cool and appropriate for what I felt as I danced and cooked.  My Beach Picnic Playlist connected me even more to my cooking experience.

Watermelon Shrimp Salad and Pink Cadillac Watermelon Margaritas

Fried chicken, another American favorite, has negative connotations associated with Blacks and is also another common dish found in summer celebrations.  For my beach picnic I used a The New York Times  recipe for Fried Chicken Biscuits with Hot Honey Butter.  Talk about movin’ on up.  I enjoyed the results of the double-dredged crust for the fried chicken that the recipe called for.  One layer of flour and cayenne pepper and one layer of panko.  I would have customarily used the flour mixture for each dredge.  The recipe also called for the thigh, which I also like because its the juiciest part of the chicken, the dark meat.  A feeling of nostalgia overcame me while making the biscuits, that seems to always happen when I do anything related to baking.

Fried Chicken Biscuits with Hot Honey Butter

A signature drink is always a fun addition to celebratory dinners.  Aretha Franklin’s Freeway of Love named the pretty watermelon margarita, Pink Cadillac.  Trading out triple sec for Grand Marnier and for all of the health benefits of fresh watermelon juice makes this cocktail a high-end ride just like Aretha’s whip.

Pink Cadillac Watermelon Margarita

  • 2 cups Watermelon, cubed & juiced
  • 1 cup Silver Tequila, 100% Agave
  • 2oz Grand Marnier
  • 1/4 cup Lime Juice, juiced
  • 1/3 cup Simple Syrup, infused with orange zest

Watermelon and fried chicken is a mainstay in American cuisine with a cynical history no matter how we dress it up, it’s bitter-sweet, yet it is a part of  this nation’s food history that makes the fabric of this country.

Happy 4th of July ~ 2017

The Telltale Kitchen (cafelamour.me; alovecafe; gina’skitchen, spellbindingcuisine) reveals traditions, beliefs, myths and secrets of food and cooking.