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eat local challenge: ratatouille to the rescue!

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By foodorleans · 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

a ripe old time: lighter strawberry ice cream

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By foodorleans · April 6, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

My grandfather, Kent Walker (or Pops), was famous for two things he made every year: peanut brittle, and peach ice cream.  I remember the first time I was at my grandparents' house and realized all the kitchen hubbub was because they were making ice cream, when I was about seven.  Making ice cream! In this strange wooden contraption that made a lot of noise, and for some reason required a bunch of salt.  You've never seen a kid's eyes grow wider. I mean, in my mind, ice cream was magically deposited in ice cream parlors and grocery stores by the angels. I had no idea that mere mortals could produce something so wonderful just by mixing some cream and sugar together.  My life was changed.

These days, we are so completely spoiled by our newfangled ice cream makers, with no need for ice, salt, elbow grease, or earplugs.  I've had a Cuisinart machine for several years, and I hardly ever use it.  I think if Pops were here and he ever opened the freezer to see the Cuisinart bowl sitting in there, perfectly chilled and ready to go, he would scold me for not making ice cream every chance I could.  So this week, I got old-fashioned, and did something that I hardly ever do: I made ice cream.  Not some simplified version with condensed milk, either, but the real deal, eggs and all.  The strawberries are so beautiful right now, I just couldn't think of anything I wanted more than a cold, creamy, berry-filled treat.

Even so, I did want to make something that wouldn't bust the buttons off my jeans, if you know what I mean.  So I used mostly milk, a tiny bit of cream, and a lot less sugar than I normally would. You know what? I love it.  It's not super sweet, and it doesn't taste like anything you get in a carton at the store, which is usually super-ooper sweet and fake pink.  If you like a simple bowl of strawberries and cream in the spring, you'll like this.  I would applaud anyone who chooses to crumble some shortbread cookies into the mix as well.

In the summer, when the heat is deadening and peaches are big and bruising, we'll make it Pops' way.

lighter strawberry ice cream

  • 2 cups milk (I used whole)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup minus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pints strawberries, rinsed and hulled

 

  1. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and cream until hot but not boiling.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl.  When the milk is hot, slowly pour about half of it into the egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly, to temper the eggs.
  3. Return the pan to the stove, and slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Cook, stirring, about 7 to 10 minutes, until slightly thickened (it will coat the back of a spoon thinly).  Do not boil.  Turn off heat and stir in vanilla and salt.
  4. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a medium bowl to strain out any cooked egg bits.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
  5. While the custard chills, chop ten strawberries into 1/4" pieces.  Place the remaining strawberries in a food processor or blender, and pulse until pureed.  Set aside.
  6. When the custard is cold, pour it into the bowl of an ice cream maker, and process according to manufacturer's directions--I churn the plain custard for 20 minutes.  When the custard is soft-serve consistency, pour in the strawberry bits and puree, and churn another 5 minutes or so, until well-mixed.
  7. Pack ice cream into a freezer-safe container with a tight-fitting lid, and let firm in the freezer for a couple of hours.  Once it's frozen solid, you'll want to let it sit out at room temperature for about 15 minutes before scooping it.

 

Makes 2 quarts

 

 

 

Tagged with: light, summer, ice cream, strawberry

somewhere there's a picnic: extra-crispy fried chicken

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By foodorleans · April 4, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

Hopefully, in about 48 hours when the floods have subsided, we'll head out for a picnic.  We'll pack up some fried chicken or buy some crawfish or pick up a coupla po-boys, but whatever the food is, we'll grab some shade to enjoy a few hours of the last precious non-heatstroke-inducing sunny days in New Orleans.  Gosh, I sure hope this rain stops soon!

Fried chicken has got to be the quintessential picnic food, and all over the country, too--not just the south.  Everybody loves it, it travels well, it's easy to eat out of hand, and it's usually really, really good.  When I get a hankering to fry up some chicken, Paul does his happy dance and begs for me to fry about 30 chickens.  He could probably eat it all!  We've tried lots of recipes over the years, but I recently unearthed a couple of tricks (read: secrets) that help it come out pretty heavenly and super duper crispy:

  1. Dredge your chicken dry-wet-dry, and put an egg yolk in the wet batter.  True!
  2. After frying, bake all the chicken at 350 for about 40 minutes, so you won't bite into any undercooked pieces. It's true! This is Ina Garten's method, and it saves me all kinds of grief.

 

When it comes to seasoning the dry flour and the wet batter, there are no rules.  You can make it garlicky, herby, extra extra spicy, or even...mustardy?  Try anything!  I'm always happier with my chicken when I'm afraid I've overseasoned the flour, so I would advise you to just go for it.  GO FOR IT.  You might just have the most heavenly picnic in history.

extra-crispy fried chicken

for the wet batter

  • 1 cup flat beer (or water)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • lots of ground black pepper
  • several shots of Tabasco

 

for the dry flour

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • lots of ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

 

  • 3 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken parts (I used 6 drumsticks and 4 thighs)
  • several cups of vegetable oil for frying

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350, and set a baking rack over a sheet pan to hold the chicken once it's fried.
  2. Make the wet batter: Combine the beer and egg yolk well in a small bowl.  Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and Tabasco in a medium bowl, whisking well.  Slowly pour the beer mixture into the flour mixture, stirring thoroughly to remove any flour lumps.  (If this mixture gets too thick from sitting out, thin with a tablespoon of water.)
  3. Make the dry flour: Combine all the ingredients, whisking well, and divide between two medium bowls (one bowl will be for the wet chicken).
  4. Heat 1" of vegetable oil to 365 in a medium to large pot (I use an 8-quart pot) with high sides.  If you don't have a frying thermometer (I don't), test the oil by dropping in a crouton-sized piece of bread--any old bread will do.  If it starts sizzling immediately and turning into an actual crouton, it's good to go.  If not, it's not hot enough--or it's too hot if the bread starts to burn right away.
  5. While the oil heats, rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. If you like, you can season the naked chicken first, with salt, pepper, cayenne, or what have you.  Dredge the chicken first in dry flour, then in wet batter, then in the other bowl of dry flour.  Set aside until ready to fry.
  6. Add chicken to the hot oil in batches to avoid overcrowding; I fry 4 pieces at a time.  Fry for about 15 minutes per batch, turning over after 8 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.  Remove to the baking rack and let rest while you fry the other batches.
  7. When all the chicken is fried and on the baking rack, place the baking sheet in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a knife.  Let cool about 5 minutes before eating.
  8. See? I told you it was crispy!

 

Makes 8 to 10 pieces, serves 4

P.S.: Even with this amount of Tabasco and cayenne, the chicken wasn't too spicy.  So if you want red-hot chicken, I would definitely increase those amounts!

Tagged with: Crispy, cayenne, fried, summer, Chicken

blueberry lemon cake of great happiness

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By foodorleans · August 21, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Meet my favorite blueberry cake.  It's got a great texture thanks to chopped almonds scattered throughout, it's not overly sweet, and it's really easy to make--you don't even need a mixer.  If you like blueberry muffins in the morning, this cake makes a great substitution, but it can also be tonight's dessert thanks to its pretty sugar-sprinkled top.  And I'll go ahead and tell you that it works beautifully with vanilla ice cream, although you probably already guessed that.

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surviving the summer

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By foodorleans · August 19, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Although we had a relatively mild July here in New Orleans, August is really digging its hot little heels in.  With a little over a month of dawn-to-dusk swelter in store, I thought I'd offer up some cooling treats (and words) to keep us all going.

In New Orleans, summer means cold sweet things.  Get to Angelo Bracato's and dive into some gelato!  Even a bracing espresso goes down easy after a scoop or two.  I resoundingly recommend the apricot gelato, followed closely by their heady version of zabaglione.

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on sustainability, and garden-friendly falafel

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By foodorleans · August 14, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

I've been thinking a lot about sustainable kitchen practices, by which I mean not just the foods we're eating and cooking, but how we're shopping, planning (or not), growing, and storing.  For years, I've been a big believer in planning an entire week's meals as a way of saving money.  But sometimes I think that holding too fast to a planned menu can actually cause food waste; if you purchase what you imagine to be a week's worth of food at one time, but you end up not needing that much, what do you do with the excess? And what happens if the meals you planned to make don't store well once prepared?  I don't have easy solutions to these questions, other than trial and error, and an idea that's new to me: maybe a little less planning is a better way to go.

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little crispy bits: salad with fried okra croutons and buttermilk dressing

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By foodorleans · August 8, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

I love little fried bits of things--shrimp, hushpuppies, onion rings, green tomatoes--but I've found a new favorite thing to satisfy that crunch-crunch, home-fried crispy urge.  It's fried okra.  Growing up, I never used to go for it, while the rest of my family inhaled it by the handful, especially when it came from my Southern-cooking grandma's kitchen.  I think okra had too much of a deep, earthen,  brown taste...it was bitter, like Brussels sprouts. It seemed, to my palate accustomed to raspberry Zingers and spaghettios, almost burnt.  Of course now I can't seem to get enough, and I think it's the oddness of okra that I find so wonderful.  There's really nothing else quite like it.

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what to do with so much goodness: peaches & herb fruit crisp

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By foodorleans · August 3, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

This week was our first visit to Hollygrove Market and Farm, right in the city.  Hollygrove offers a CSA (community supported agriculture) box filled with freshly picked goods from farms within a hundred-mile radius of New Orleans, and I'm sure many of you are taking advantage of these types of boxes in your own areas.  They really are a great way to support local food growers and to learn how to cook with what's in season.  Two things I love about Hollygrove's operation are that they offer two boxes each week, on Tuesday and Saturday (sometimes slightly different), and you don't have to subscribe--just come get it when you want it (or order home delivery).  Also, you can pick up other vegetables and fruits a la carte at the market, as well as organic meats, coffee, dairy products, and some interesting pantry items.

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summer's last stand: shrimp and okra stew with a secret

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By foodorleans · August 1, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Before the intense heat of this summer drives us all inside to eat nothing but cold sandwiches and ice cream, and before every last tomato has been incinerated by the sun, I want to share a special creation with you that we concocted at the beach: shrimp and okra stew with a secret.  The secret is chipotle pepper. (Italics is the typist's whisper).  Not that chipotle peppers in adobo sauce haven't been popularized in recent years--they're showing up in everything from hot wing sauce to salad dressing--but they're not indigenous to New Orleans cuisine.  But they really put this shrimp and okra stew over the top, I tell you!  Wowza!

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un petit tour de france: ratatouille and rice gratin

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By foodorleans · July 23, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Yesterday, I was inspired once again to buy local, seasonal produce and see what I could make with it.  The inspiration came from this wonderful French documentary, Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution (more on that below*).  When I got to the store, I wasn't set on a French menu by any means, but I just did this staring thing I've been doing lately--I stand in front of the produce wall and stare straight ahead.  I soften my eyes and don't try to focus on anything, and see what colors stand out to me.  This is not unlike the way I look at a painting by Monet or Renoir--there's that Frenchiness again.  This time, eggplant and squash called to me.  And that one plump red bell pepper, all alone.  So I was struck with the solution of ratatouille, and just went all-out French and bought a whole chicken to roast.  Why the heck not?

[veggies roasted and ready for layering]

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