Ratatouille Deconstructed

Last night I made an assortment of grilled vegetables. All of the ones that are in a typical Ratatouille, except the tomatoes. Actually, I bought tomatoes, but decided not to include them because they seemed too special to grill.

My idea was to layer the grilled vegetables, and have a deconstructed ratatouille. I took lots of pictures, but none of them turned out as well as the dish.

It wasn’t bad at all! Here is what I did:

Ratatouille Deconstructed

Zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant sliced lengthwise into 1/4-1/2 inch slices
Red onions, sliced widthwise into 1/2 inch slices
Red pepper, charred, steamed and peeled (or jarred roasted red peppers)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Feta cheese (a nice soft flavorful one)
Herbes de Provence (or some fresh thyme)

Brush one side of the slices of vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Put them on a grill (medium heat) and, while they are cooking, brush the other side with olive oil. Turn the vegetables when they are browning on the first side. Cook until brown on the flip side.

Layer on a platter or in a casserole, as follows (or however you want!): Eggplant, Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Red Pepper, Onions. Crumble feta on top of the vegetables. Rub/sprinkle the herbes on top, then drizzle with a fruity, flavorful olive oil.

Serve at room temperature.


Seafoam Frosted Birthday Cake

Sounds awful doesn’t it? Seafoam frosting? What the heck, I don’t think it is meant to look or taste like seafoam. Bad marketing, I guess.

Because the reality of this frosting is that it is incredibly delicious and luxuriously creamy, but fat free. Compared to most frostings, this one is actually not completely horrible for your health, even though it is so decadent tasting. Still, while there were oooooh’s and aaaaah’s at the table, the consensus was that the girls and S like my mom’s orange buttercream frosting better (the kind with butter and powdered sugar). Nonetheless, the plates were practically licked clean. And, the cake was so darn dramatic looking.

I made a few changes to my usual yellow cake, which is adapted from the Magnolia Bakery recipe for vanilla cupcakes. We were unified in our delight with the changes. The cake was more tender and moist because I added some acid. I was inspired by the chocolate cupcakes that I made a couple of weeks ago – they have apple cider vinegar in them. Those cupcakes are incredibly tender and yet sturdy, with a delicious crumb. So, I added apple cider vinegar with the milk in the recipe for vanilla cupcakes and substituted some baking soda for baking powder to react with the acid.

Here is the other thing: having jam between the layers of a cake makes an enormous difference to the flavor and texture of the cake. Raspberry is our jam of choice.
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Get Well Soon Soup

Carrot Soup
When friends and family have had surgery, my first response has been to make a carrot soup that is like a health tonic. To me, and seemingly to those for whom I’ve made it, it is the first meal that makes them feel better. I even have one friend, for whom I made this, that doesn’t like carrots and still craved a second bowl of this soup.

So, today, I made carrot soup. For me. I’m going to be having some surgery and will have a road to recovery that does not include cooking. I won’t be able to lift more than 5 lbs. for a while. And, I won’t be able to bend my back….so chopping and rolling and bending over to breath in the fragrance of a pot on the stove are all out.

But, I’ll be back and good as new as soon as I can be. Then, there will be menus galore and lots of conversation to report on from our dinner table.

Get Well Soon Carrot Soup
AKA Orange Velvet

1 large onion, sliced thinly
2 tbsp. butter
6 large carrots (about 1 ½ lbs.), peeled and cut into ½ inch slices
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 can low sodium chicken broth (or 2 cups homemade chicken broth)
Approx. 2 ½ cups Water

Pepper, salt, cayenne to taste

Saute onion in butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat until onion is starting to brown. Pour in the broth and heat until boiling. Add carrots and potatoes. Add water to cover the vegetables by about 1/4 inch. Stir and cover the pot. Turn down heat and simmer until all the vegetables are very tender – about 20 minutes.

Puree the soup, in batches, in a blender, until very smooth.

Add seasonings as desired.

Serves 4 generously.

Experimental Entertaining

Generally, when we have friends for dinner, I make something that I’ve made before. I don’t like to treat my guests as guinea pigs. Sometimes, you make dud dinners and I usually don’t like to risk it. Last Wednesday night, however, we decided to have dinner at our house at the last minute (5-4-Dinner) and decided to use completely new recipes.

I neither poisoned our friends nor did I put a strain on our relationships. Yea. In fact, we bonded over Cambodian Summer Rolls , as an appetizer, and Pan Fried Trout with Fresh Herb Salad and Roasted Cauliflower. For dessert, fresh berries with World Peace Cookies (o.k., I’ve made those before).

All three of the recipe links above are, in my opinion, close to flawless.

The first two come from Cooking Light magazine. I know. Light? Generally, I do cook healthy, but I don’t cook “light”. But, in the summer magazine clean-up, I ripped out a few recipes from issues of this magazine. Why did I have any issues of Cooking Light? Well, it all stems from the school fundraiser. Magazine sales. I hate those types of fundraisers and have decided to try to avoid letting our kids sell to friends or family. Instead, I buy myself magazines and send them to people as gifts. I thought I’d give Cooking Light a try, for the sake of the school.

Shrimp RollShrimp Roll PlatterShrimp Roll Prep

First, the Cambodian Summer Rolls. I am a big fan of Vietnamese Shrimp/Pork Salad Rolls and these looked very similar. The recipe includes Shrimp, Rice Noodles, Basil, Mint and Red Leaf Lettuce, wrapped, burrito style, in rice paper (that has been smeared with a smidge of Hoisin Sauce). Then, this roll is dipped in a sauce of low sodium soy sauce, water, lime juice, sugar, garlic, ginger, cilantro and chili paste.
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No Measurements, No Recipes

Fresh Berries
My brother-in-law made an interesting comment to me regarding our divergent cooking styles. It turns out, that because of this blog, he thought that I cooked from recipes whereas he cooks without them. In reality, I use recipes as guidelines, and much of what I have posted (except for breads and sweets) I have measured along the way so that I could post a “recipe”. So, for instance, I generally don’t use measurements for meatballs, or tomato sauce, or even frogs legs chicken (now that I know how to make that by heart!).

On the otherhand, because I have wanted to try new preparations, I have been using more recipes and ideas from magazines and cookbooks than I have in the past – like for the turkey burgers with tomato jam, and the Vietnamese Chicken Salad. I’ve definitely expanded my repetoire of meals because of trying new dishes. Which is a good thing, I think.

Veggie PrepAmerican RatatouilleSimple Dinner

When I haven’t been trying out new recipes this summer, I have been cooking with ingredients that we have on hand, or with inspiration from the bounty of the summer months. I’ve been buying most of our food from the Farmer’s Market – everything is so fresh and bright at this time of year. Without the girls at home, S & I have been eating a lot more vegetables as a percentage of the food on our plates – a good thing. Most vegetables have been unadorned, save for a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper – if that.
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A Turkey Burger Success!

Turkey Burger Dinner
The last time I tried turkey burgers, I had a total flop of a dinner. I was determined to try again, knowing so many people that love turkey burgers.

In my paring down of the piles of cooking magazines, I ripped a page out of Bon Appetit, from August 2008. Just one year ago. The recipe is called “Turkey Burgers with Tomato Jam, Olives and Feta”. I don’t know whether it would have sparked my interest, normally, but I read through the recipe and the combination of ingredients appealed to me. The recipe says that it is also good made with ground lamb, which I love. Rrrrrrip, in the “keep to try” pile.

The tomato jam wasn’t really a jam. It was a thick sauce. The flavor, when I stuck to the original recipe was a little dull and, well, not very jammy. So, I added more sugar and some crushed red pepper – sweet and heat. I was pretty happy with the result, but not crazy about the texture. I may fiddle with this one, because it was a good complement to the burgers. I think maybe I should puree the “jam” or make it with crushed tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes. Hmmm.
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Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Fish Sauce
Make this!

Vietnamese Chicken Salad is delicious! No batteries while I was cooking or eating and thus, no photos of the delicious salad. But you need to have fish sauce – pictured above.

This salad was reminiscent in flavor to Green Papaya Salad. But, without the effort of trying to find green papayas and shred them. I don’t know whether this salad is “authentic”, but it is healthy, delicious and very easy to prepare.

I used this recipe for Vietnamese Chicken Salad from Cooking Light magazine, exactly, except that I used purple cabbage because I had it in the house. L would love this salad. J would probably turn up her nose, but might deign to try it because she craves Vietnamese cuisine. The recipe says that it serves 6 (215 calories per serving), but that may refer to relatively small, non-main course portions. I made about 2/3 of the recipe and S & I polished it off for dinner. That means you are eating a lot of bulk, raw vegetables. You feel quite full, but the salad is very light.

If you have never purchased fish sauce, it can be found in the International aisle with Thai foods. It lasts pretty much forever in the refrigerator and is great with stir fried noodles. The brand above is not meant to be an endorsement. That was simply what was available!