Kitchen Muse

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:



Serves 6 to 8

Recipe adapted from Bruno Albouze



  • 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


  • 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


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


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


  • 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)


The Telltale Kitchen (; 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.


Makes about 8 crab cakes

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

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
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


The Darkest Night

Santa's Cookies

Santa’s Cookie Plate by Gina’s Kitchen Musings

Today is Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun!  It is recognized as the day that the sun stands still.  From the northern hemisphere, it appears as though the sun and moon have stopped moving across the sky.  This longest night of the year is a threshold in time followed by the renewal of days filled with sunshine.  There are many rituals, recipes and lore observed at this time of year and sharing food is an important part of any celebration. Baking and exchanging cookies during the winter solstice is a gesture of love and goodwill that I enjoy doing for my family and friends.

Millionaire's Shortbread

Millionaire’s Shortbread

On the chilly Friday evening that I stopped in my neighborhood liquor store, Carroll Gardens Wines & Liquor, to purchase a bottle of dark rum, an ingredient called for in a recipe for Buttered Rum Melt-Aways that I got from “Martha Stewart’s Cookies” cookbook, I was in the middle of discussing with Phil, the owner, what type of rum I needed when a man walked in, smelling like he had just smoked a fresh bowl weed, and interrupted our conversation.  The man proceeded to aggressively pursue me, saying that he wanted to taste whatever it was that I was making.  What came next took me by surprise.  Phil demanded that the aggressor leave his liquor store immediately!  Phil was intolerable of the man’s strong advances towards me.  The man became irate.  Phil then came from behind the counter, confronted the aggressor head on and showed him to the door.  This only further upset the man who angrily shouted obscenities causing the liquor store stocker to stop what he was doing to assist the owner.  I frequent this store and Phil and his crew know me by name but never did I expect that they would “protect” me.  Phil told me that he would have defended his own daughter or wife in the same manner.  For the first time, my nomadic spirit felt “at home”.

Raspberry Cream Sandwiches

Raspberry Cream Sandwiches

We continued our discussion about the rum after the aggressor was off and on his way.  Phil told me that Gosling’s dark rum was the original rum used in the classic cocktail, “Dark & Stormy”.  On my way home I made one more stop to pick up the ginger beer so that I could make this classic while I baked the melt-aways, of which, a special batch was set aside for my friends at the liquor store.  I hope the Friello family feels the same warmth I did on that “dark & stormy” night they stood up for me.

Cheers and Best Wishes!

All packaged and ready to share!

All packaged and ready to share!