Monday, 16 May 2016

Ratatouille to Cure the Blues....

May 2016

SmartCooks here.  

We're frozen in time, literally.  Snow on the weekend and a frost advisory for two nights so far this week.  I turned off the pool in disgust.  I've only been in there swimming once this year even though I spent a considerable amount of time finding a swim-in-place system to replace the FastLane, which won't start.  Sigh.  I so loved it.

The replacement, though, does the trick. I found it on line from France.  It is called Static Swim and it's a simple system of a line hooked into one of the steps on the deck.  I then put on the equivalent of an aqua fitness belt and start to swim and swim and swim ... in place, with my Speedo Aquabeat music for company. 

There's three lines you can use -- easy, medium and hard.  I've hooked up 'easy'  until i get used to it.  Good workout if the weather would cooperate. 

To add to the crappy weather, I've been tracking some terribly sad news.  A former Deputy Minister and mentor of mine from Environment and PCO days got sick suddenly about a month ago and died yesterday of cancer.  Alan Nymark. A shockingly swift decline and death.  I met with him literally two months ago as he chaired Treasury Board's Audit Committee and we discussed preparing a 3-year strategic plan for human resources in the federal public service ... sigh.  

So I'm wallowing in the dumps and took today off to veg. The first batch of spring ramps arrived in the house yesterday so that kept me occupied preparing pesto (totally scrumptious).  I then bought too much stuff on-line ... like I really needed a Japanese square egg pan to make Tamagoyaki or another raised vegetable bed from Lee Valley called Veg Trugs for the back of the yard.  But I did. 

The highlight of the low-day was making Ratatouille.  I discovered this recipe after signing up to a new service called Chefstep, which has some really nifty recipes with a $20 or so Premium subscription.  Asian steamed buns are next on my list. The site has tips and videos and meticulous step-by-step instructions and equipment lists etc.  Thanks to Chefstep for making the day somewhat better! I hope they get more subscribers to their premium service.  Enjoy! 

Ratatouille to Cure the Blues 

10 each Roma tomatoes
Ice Water, for ice bath, as needed
-       2 each Yellow and Green Zucchini
-       2 Japanese eggplant
-       400 g sweet onion, about 1 large or 2 small
-       27 g garlic, about half a head
-       300 g red bell pepper
-       50 g olive oil, more for seasoning
-       4 g salt, plus more for seasoning
-       .5 g black pepper
-       1 g fresh rosemary or 3 sprigs, plus garnish
-       .5 g thyme, fresh, 2 springs, optional
-       parsley, fresh, optional, for garnish
-       chives, fresh, optional, for garnish

1   Preheat oven to 300 degrees F

     1.  Blanch tomatoes.  Bring a pot of water to a vigorous boil.  Prepare a large pot of ice water and set it on the counter nearby.  Score bottom of each tomato with an X – pierce just the skim, so not too deep.  Drop each tomato into the boiling water for about 45 seconds, then transfer immediately to the ice water to halt cooking.  Note blanching may vary depending on tomato size.  Look for skin to split along the length of the tomato, then remove – this will make peeling easier.  

     Remove tomatoes from the ice bath, and peel and discard the skins.  Use a knife to slice tomatoes into evenly shaped pieces about 2 mm thick.  Using a mandolin, slice remaining veggies into 2 mm thick pieces.  Set aside, and reserve the scraps for the sauce.

2.  Make sauce:  With a knife, finely chop onion and garlic.  Seed and chop bell pepper. Add olive oil to a medium-sized pot and warm over medium heat.  Lightly fry garlic until translucent.  Add onions, bell peppers; and reserved tomato, zucchini and eggplant scraps and cook slowly while stirring. Reduce heat to medium low and place lid atop pot to lightly steam the contents until soft.  Remove lid, and cook until onions appear jammy. Don’t let the bottoms brown. Remove from heat. 

3.  Make ratatouille:  Pour sauce evenly into a round casserole pan, and spread it around.  Don’t go crazy.  If you use too much sauce, it will seep through and ruin your perfectly shingled top layer.  Imagine saucing a pizza, then stop when properly sauced.  Now begin arranging your perfect vegetable slices in a pattern on top of the sauce. 

For example, start with yellow zucchini, add green zucchini, then eggplant, then tomato. Repeat.  The top edges of your slices should all be at about the same height.  Once you have a stack of slices, arrange them in a tight row along the outside of the casserole pan, and continue working inward, ring by ring, until the pan is full.  Be sure not to press veggies too deeply into your sauce; that gets messy.

4.  Season and bake ratatouille:  Sprinkle ratatouille generously with salt, and season with EVOO and fresh herbs if desired.  Place lid or parchment cutout on top.  Transfer to the oven and cook for about 90 minutes.  Check every now and then to make sure liquid is reducing.  If not, removed lid or cartouche and continue cooking uncovered.
Parchment Cartouche:
Cookie tray size parchment paper
Fold it in half
Fold it again to a square
Take a point, and fold a number of times
Looks like a cone.
Do a little triangle cut
Cut circle at bottom of ice cream cone
Unfold to a lid with a hole in the middle

Note:  The greatest thing about this site and recipe is that the chefs add variations to the classic ratatouille... like below.... 

Ratatouille with turnips, rutabaga, parsnips and green apple

Appletouille with yellow, red, and green apples

Breakfastouille with leek, sausage and potato. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Slow Cooker Spicy Eggplant Sauce

May 2016

SmartCooks here.

I don't know who posted this slow cooker recipe for spicy eggplant sauce. But I've tweaked it with anything from meats from chicken to tofu many times.  It lasts me for days and it is fabulous.


Slow Cooker Spicy Eggplant Sauce 

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium eggplant (1" chunks)
1 yellow onion (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (smashed)
3 T tomato paste
1-2 tsp chili flakes
2-28 ounce cans whole peeled plum tomatoes
2 sprigs oregano
1/2 cup basil leaves (loosely packed)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the eggplant in batches, to avoid overcrowding the pan, and season with salt. Sauté until slightly softened and pale golden, about 5-6 minutes. Transfer each cooked batch to the slow-cooker.

Once eggplant is cooked, add a few more tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and sauté the onion for 3-4 minutes, until caramelized, seasoning with salt. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Stir in the tomato paste and chili flakes and cook until rust colored, about 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the slow-cooker along with the cooking oil in the pan.

Pour the tomatoes, oregano, basil and balsamic vinegar into the slow-cooker and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.
Serve sauce with your favourite noodle or store in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. Be creative!