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eat local challenge: ratatouille to the rescue!

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By Jen White · June 14, 2013 · 0 Comments ·
For my second local-food recipe this week, I've gone as simple as you can, when it comes to dealing with all the squash, eggplant, and tomatoes we have running around here right now: ratatouille.  There's nothing better for taking advantage of our currently booming crops like this simple, homey, ultra-satisfying melange of eggplant, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and herbs.  Moreover, ratatouille is highly adaptable and very versatile! You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks; you can eat it as a main dish, over rice or potatoes, with cheese or without, or as a side dish to just about anything (I busted out some roasted chicken for this one, but sauteed shrimp or baked fish, or even grilled sausages would be super). You can also add or subtract ingredients as you wish, but keep in mind that this is basically a quick-cooking stew of soft, mildly flavored, yet colorful vegetables, so you might not want to add, say, beets. They'd just bloody everything up.

Because most of the vegetables used in ratatouille are rather "shyly" flavored, you'll want to use a good dose of herbs for flavor.  Rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano are all typically French and typically perfect in ratatouille.  You'll also need salt, and vinegar or wine really helps brighten things up at the end.  If you're not opposed to a non-local ingredient, you can throw some kalamata olives in there and boost the flavor quite a bit. Cook ratatouille as long as you like for the desired consistency: I like the eggplant to get really soft and velvety but I like a little bite left in the squashes, so I throw everything in together and just let it work itself out. But if you like more assertively textured eggplant, you might want to add it after the squash gets going for a bit.

after cooking about 10 minutes, everything together

after cooking about 20 minutes. It looks like there are olives in there, but that's really just the bits of skin I left on the eggplant.

ratatouille

  • 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, or other oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled if desired, diced in 1" cubes (I peel half the skin off so I can keep some purple color)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 or 5 summer squash, any variety (I used 1 zucchini, 2 yellow crooknecks, and 1 large white pattypan), diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, in any combination)
  • 1 teaspoon cane vinegar or 2 teaspoons white or red wine
  1. Heat a large saute pan with high sides over medium-high heat and pour in the oil. 
  2. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant, red bell pepper, squash, and garlic, along with 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Stir and saute for a few minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until things start to get soft.
  3. Add the tomatoes and herbs, stir well, and continue cooking over medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. It will stick a little no matter what.  When things are getting really soft, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking another 10 minutes, or until the texture is to your liking and everything is tender.  Add in the vinegar or wine at the last second and stir to combine.
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning; you may need more salt (I used about 3 teaspoons total).

serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish

eat local challenge: a market in a bowl

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By Jen White · June 1, 2013 · 0 Comments ·
Hello NOLA locavores! For today's lunch idea, I've concocted a simple, restorative soup that showcases a rainbow of fresh market vegetables. Soup is one of my favorite things to eat for lunch, and is a great way to get lots of nutrients and stay hydrated.  I've also been thinking of those doing the Eat Local Challenge who might be wondering how they can get a locally sourced meal during a workday lunch hour--make some soup on the weekend and take it to work for several days! And if you don't have a microwave at work for heating up soup, look up recipes for chilled soups like gazpacho, cucumber-yogurt, or even curried corn chowder. I bet you'll find something that floats your boat.

I made a chicken stock for this soup, but if you don't think you'll have time for that, just grab some pre-made chicken stock at Cleaver & Co. It's made from local chickens so it's acceptable for the challenge!  And if you don't want chicken at all, just make a vegetable stock, or buy one (it might not be local but hey, everything else will be).  Feel free to substitute different vegetables or herbs according to what you've got.  This is a fairly light soup, so for a meal, I'd add some cheese and bread or a salad with fruit and nuts.

If you want to make a chicken stock but don't know how, here's the method I used. First, I roasted a chicken I bought at Hollygrove Market. I rubbed butter all over it and pushed some butter under the breast skin; seasoned all over and in the cavity with salt and pepper; and stuck some onion chunks, lemon quarters, and thyme sprigs inside the cavity. I tied the legs together, stuck the wingtips under the body, and roasted (uncovered) at 400 for 10 minutes, then reduced the heat to 375 for 60 more minutes. It's done when the juices run clear at the thigh bone.

I let the chicken cool a bit, then tore all the meat off the bones and set it aside to use in the soup later. I threw the whole chicken carcass, with skin (minus the lemons from the cavity) into an 8-quart soup pot. I added a few carrots, a few celery stalks, an onion, a tablespoon of peppercorns, some bay leaves, and thyme sprigs to the pot, then covered it all with water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 3 hours, adding more water halfway through if necessary to end up with 3 1/2 quarts of stock.  Strain through a sieve and return to the soup pot.


summer market chicken soup

  • 3 1/2 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter
  • 2 leeks, washed well and thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow squash, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded kale, loosely packed
  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 2 bay leaves
  • thyme sprigs, about 4
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • snipped chives, for garnish

  1. Heat the chicken stock in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks and carrots and saute for a few minutes. Add the bell pepper, zucchini, squash, and garlic and saute until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the contents of the saute pan to the stock, along with the kale, chicken, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a simmer and let the flavors meld for about 10 minutes at a gentle simmer. Check seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper.
  4. Top each serving with chives.

makes 6 large servings

5 easy pieces, part 4: greens with andouille

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By Jen White · November 30, 2012 · 0 Comments ·
There's a fantastic recipe called "Voodoo Greens" in The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine by Chef John Folse that produces the most amazing greens I've ever had.  The recipe calls for no fewer than 6 types of meat and sausage, 8 types of greens, and takes hours of simmering, but the liquor that accumulates in the pot is highly addictive. We've made Voodoo Greens before to go along with a big pot of black-eyed peas for New Year's, and I've seen friends drink the greens juice straight from the bowl.

I want a bowl of meaty greens sometimes without the hours of work, though.  This is a shortcut method for a side dish that works well with fish, pork chops, meatloaf, or chicken, or as something to toss with freshly cooked pasta.  You can also use it as an omelet filling (just make sure you drain off the juice).  Get green!

greens with andouille

  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage, casings removed, sliced in quarter-circles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 to 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 large bunches of greens (I used mustard and collards), stems trimmed and leaves chopped or left whole, as desired
  • red wine vinegar, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium high heat and pour in the oil.  Saute the andouille for about 5 minutes, until browned.
  2. Add the garlic and stir for a minute. Pour in 2 cups of chicken stock and start adding the greens a few handfuls at a time, until they wilt down enough to all fit in the pot.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and simmer for 35 minutes to an hour, until the greens are very tender.  Keep checking the liquid level and add more chicken stock if necessary to keep the greens from drying out and burning.
  4. Season to taste with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and Tabasco.

serves 4 to 5 as a side dish

MORE EASY PIECES: part 1: smoked salmon breakfast pizza; part 2: roasted potatoes and turnips; part 3: butter bean hummus

5 easy pieces, part 3: butter bean hummus

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By Jen White · November 29, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

I started making hummus from scratch last year, when I discovered the organic dried chickpeas in bulk at the neighborhood Rouse's.  I love to make it, but let's be honest: chickpeas take forever to cook, especially when you want them really soft, for hummus.  But you can make a serviceable hummus out of just about any dried bean or pea: black-eyed peas, lima beans, black beans...and butter beans! While all of these might be tasty, the prettiest ones are going to be made from white or very light-colored beans.  I've made black bean hummus before, and it turns out kind of blue-gray. Not untasty, but not winning any beauty contests.

Butter beans, a.k.a. large limas, are perfect for making a from-scratch hummus because they cook very quickly--just about 45 minutes in gently boiling water.  You can also use canned, of course, just as you would use canned chickpeas for hummus.  I like the fact that butter beans are a Southern cooking staple, too.  Try some! 

Use your own favorite hummus recipe, or if you don't have one, here are some amounts to get you started.

butter bean hummus

  • 4 cups cooked butter beans, drained & liquid reserved (or 2 15-ounce cans)
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • juice of 1 to 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • salt to taste
  • sumac, paprika, or cayenne pepper, for garnish
  1. Drop the garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely minced. Add the butterbeans, lemon juice, a few tablespoons of bean liquid or water, and tahini, and process until pasty.
  2.  With the motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until a creamy mixture is formed.  Season with salt and additional lemon juice, if necessary.
  3.  Sprinkle the top with sumac, paprika, or cayenne, and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

makes 2 cups

MORE EASY PIECES! Part 1: smoked salmon breakfast pizza & Part 2: roasted potatoes and turnips

the secrets of the old: pasta with breadcrumbs and sweet onions

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By Jen White · January 13, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Yesterday I read a great article on alternet.org that my friend Meredith highlighted on her blog, The Boiled Down Juice: it's called Compost Cuisine, and it's full of really interesting ways that a few chefs in California are using "whole vegetables" in the same way other chefs use whole animals, or in other words, using all parts of the animal, from head to tail.  They're doing things like stuffing squash stems and slow-cooking kale stems until they're soft like pasta, and reducing lemon and carrot peels into flavor-packed "ash" in the oven.  I don't know if I'm up to ashing my vegetable peelings, but it's fun to see what possibilities there are in cooking things that we would otherwise throw out, or if we're more sustainability-minded, throw in the compost pail.  It's good to find creative, delicious ways to use up what's old.

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grillades and grits: get your brunch on!

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By Jen White · December 30, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

If you've never had or heard of grillades and grits, then I apologize for not mentioning them earlier.  They're one of the two most wonderful things to eat for brunch in New Orleans (shrimp and grits being the other).  I've never been to anyplace in town for brunch that didn't offer one or both of these goodies.  Grillades (gree'-awds) are made of beef, veal, or pork; I haven't encountered a rabbit version yet, but I won't be surprised when I do.  The beef is a thin, flat cut of top round or chuck--something that can withstand a long, slow cooking.  It simmers in a pot with the trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper), garlic, and a little jalapeno--not traditional, but I really like it--until the rich broth thickens and intensifies, so what you get is a powerfully flavored beef "stew" that is perfect over creamy cheese grits.  This is a great Louisiana recipe to try if you're hankering for some thick, rich goodness but you don't feel up to stirring a roux, because you don't have to.  The small amount of flour used in the browning of the beef will produce all the roux you need.

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the leftover's leftovers, or the cajun frittata

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By Jen White · November 28, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

We didn't even cook a Thanksgiving dinner at our house, and we still have mountains of leftover bits and pieces in the fridge! Part of the reason is turkey gumbo, or what I like to call the best leftover turkey invention EVER (here's Paul's recipe from my hibernating soup blog).  But after the gumbo's been cooked, eaten, and frozen in Tupperware, there's a good chance you still have some veggies and sausage (or turkey or ham) lying around, looking forlorn.  It's frittata time.

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nap-time bolognese: feed your inner starving artist

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By Jen White · November 3, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Rainy, gray November days beg for something warm and fortifying, and this is certainly both.  You might not be ready to run a marathon afterward, but you'll be ready for a marathon sleep.  Cheers to that!

Sauce Bolognese is perfect on fettucine, penne, or ladled over gnocchi, with lots of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano (that's the real stuff) grated over the top.  One of its traditional uses is as the sauce component of lasagna, as in Lasagna Bolognese--but you could also turn it into a baked ziti, or a soup, or even a very cheeky chili. It's also highly adaptable, so feel free to add veggies or substitute other meats (or non-meats) as you wish.  In other words, you have permission to get artsy with your food.  Just another perk of living in the best restaurant city in the universe: a great tip from a neighbor about using veal, which was spot-on.

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rudy at galatoire's: a meditation on salad

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By Jen White · September 14, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

This gorgeous woman is my great-aunt Valentina Wilkinson Sanford Duckworth--or as we like to call her, Aunt Rudy.  She's 99 and a half, and has spent most of her life in New Orleans.  She's pictured here with her boyfriend Joe Minacapelli of Slidell.  My grandmother, Frances, was Rudy's youngest sister; they had another sister, Florence, who passed away a number of years ago. Rudy is the oldest and the last surviving, and she recently moved back to the New Orleans area after a long stint in Cleveland, Oklahoma, where she moved to open a needlework business with Frances.

The needlework business was sort of a "retirement project" for the sisters, and they did well with it for about 10 years, but I don't mean to imply that once Rudy left New Orleans for a small town in Oklahoma, her life somehow quieted down. In fact, once she joined up with Frances, Rudy started to travel the world. My grandmother had taught foreign languages in high school, and had become the kind of French teacher who took a group of seniors to Europe each summer. She'd caught an insatiable travel bug, and when the needlework store started taking off, she and Rudy booked passage to Europe, Scandinavia, the U.S.S.R. (it still was, then), China, Australia, Israel, and places in between, with the dual itineraries of heavy-duty sightseeing and textile purchasing.  But let me not forget eating--they loved to try the local specialties, no matter how unusual. So when Rudy talks about restaurants, she's speaking with a wealth of experience, from cooking during the Depression to 13-course meals in Moscow--but you can tell that her favorite memories are from times she had in the grand restaurants of New Orleans.

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what's creole, what's cajun, and what's jambalaya?

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By Jen White · September 8, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Because New Orleans (and all of Louisiana) is such a melting pot, and because Cajun and Creole dishes often have similar roots, including French, Spanish, Italian, African, Haitian, Cuban, German, and Native American, some of the distinctions between what's Creole food and what's Cajun food can be hard to make. In his book My New Orleans, chef John Besh explains that Creole gumbo pays tribute to a "rich variety of cultures and ingredients, whereas Cajun gumbo evolved as the essence of peasant food, a way to feed a large number of people making the very best of whatever meager ingredients were at hand," and John Folse's Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine extolls Creole cuisine as a "more sophisticated cousin" to Cajun cooking. Explanations like these work perfectly when comparing elegant Creole dishes to rustic cast-iron Cajun stews, but the waters grow murkier near a pot of jambalaya.

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