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Ratatouille fresh from the garden

100_0433The quintessential vegetable casserole is what the French call ratatouille.  It’s sort of the comfort food of summer gardeners.  There are many variations but I kept mine very simple with only zucchini, tomato, onion, cabbage, garlic and 100_0442herbs in a creamy Gouda cheese sauce.  Nothing says summer like vine ripened tomatoes and I’ve recently found myself up to my ears in them 100_0444thanks to my friend Gayle.  She and her husband put in at least six ten foot rows each year.  The yield this year is off the charts.  We’ve had lots of good rain this spring and it seems to have been spring for half the summer here in St. Louis.  Only recently have we had the traditional high humidity and heat.  That’s what those tomatoes love.  So just now those juicy fruits are going strong on hearty vines.  Even the ones in pots on my porch are 100_0447producing well.  Every windowsill has at least six tomatoes glowing red in the sun.

100_0449I chose five medium and very ripe ones along with half of an overgrown zucchini to make this dish.  First, I preheated the oven to 375° then I 100_0451sliced everything uniformly and arranged the vegetables in neat rows of alternating vegetables.  In a skillet I made a roux with olive oil, garlic, a hunk of chopped cabbage, a diced onion and a couple of tablespoons of flour, salt, pepper and freshly chopped thyme and parsley.  I cooked it all down until it bubbled into a golden brown.  A cup or so of milk went in a little at a time and was whisked together until it thickened.  Gouda cheese which is sharp like cheddar and melts very well was shredded along with  a bit of leftover cheddar, added to the skillet and was whisked in as well.  The sauce became nice and creamy and I poured it over the tomato and zucchini.

100_0454For a topping I pulsed a few slices of bread in the food processor with a pinch more of the herbs from the garden , pulsed in a dash of olive oil and sprinkled the top with the crumbs.  Into the oven it went for about 45 minutes until the top was crisp 100_0457and golden and the sauce bubbled up the sides.  Before we could dig into this casserole, it needed to cool down quite a bit before it could be served.  100_0464We survived the wait and boy, was it worth it!

You could use a wider variety of vegetables in this dish.  Often mushrooms Green peppers and eggplant are sliced and arranged in layers too.  Fresh herbs from the garden like basil, thyme oregano, tarragon and parsley can be added…what ever suits your taste.  I went the simple route and worked with what was abundant at the time.  I will have the opportunity to try more of a variety the next time.  My peppers are getting bigger and I just bought some porcine mushrooms.    Stay tuned!100_0467100_0505

Aioli!

100_0419The tomatoes are ripening on the vines like crazy this year and I’m up to my ears in those yummy ripe summer fruits.  One of the things I wait all year for is a fresh tomato and mayonnaise sandwich.  I wanted to make one today that would be more than special and made my own mayonnaise or “aioli”.  To begin I gathered some extremely fresh ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • one farm fresh organic egg
  • 1 section of garlic
  • the juice of one lime
  • salt and black pepper to taste100_0421
  • 1 good size leaf of basil
  • a pinch of sugar
  •  a splash of vinegar

In a tiny food processor I cracked a tiny egg that was no more than a day old and refrigerated immediately after being laid by a healthy free-range hen (temper your eggs in a double boiler if you are worried).  Next I added a two teaspoons olive oil and blended it with the egg in a few pulses.  I did this several times adding a bit more with each blending.  It was a creamy mixture so I began to add vegetable oil pulsing between 100_0423additions until just under 1/2 cup was used.  I now had a thickened and paler colored emulsification that needed some flavor.  I pulsed in the rest of the ingredients in one at a time to make a rich blend of flavors.  The basil I used was a variety called “Lettuce Leaf “

100_0426So now, what to put it on?  Well there’s only two window sills full of the ripest juiciest tomatoes you could wish for, so I grabbed the prettiest one, sliced it, toasted a bagel and spread it with this beautiful rich aioli.  It was like eating a slice of paradise! 100_0430100_0431

 

Best Mac and Cheese Ever

Marconi and cheese is the favorite food of my daughter.  I used to make it from the little blue box mix until I read the list of no less than twenty ingredients, not including the milk and butter you add which are probably the most natural things in it.  Today I made mine with only fourteen.  To be fair the macaroni contained seven of those 100_0402ingredients.

So to make a rich, tasty, creamy and REAL sauce only seven things are required

  • 100_04032 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • salt to taste (I used about a teaspoon total)

100_0407I start by boiling 1/2 pound of macaroni noodles in  plain water for 12 minutes and set it aside to 100_0410drain.    Then I melt the butter add the flour and cook it together in a nice heavy sauce pan.  Once this forms a pasty bubbly mixture I slowly add cream and stir constantly with a whisk.  Adding the cup of water, I lower the heat to medium and stir until it comes back to a boil and thickens into a creamy 100_0411bechemel sauce.  Salt is added to taste, then the cheeses (I grate my own cheese to leave out the anti-caking ingredients) and the sauce is whisked again until the cheeses are completely melted.

Now,  the drained noodles go into to the creamy sauce and are stirred together until every noodle is coated.  I check the 100_0412seasoning, add another pinch of salt and it is ready to eat.

Admittedly this is a pretty decadent comfort food.  I don’t make it often but my daughter was craving it.  Since she’s such a peanut I gave her a nice big bowl of it for lunch.   I feel so much better about it when the ingredients are real and wholesome.  Not only that but lunch included a side salad of home grown lettuce and tomatoes with a sprinkle of the grated cheese and dressed with lemon juice and pepper.  I don’t think I’m putting anyone in danger of malnourishment…not on this diva’s watch!  100_0415100_0417

A Rabbit in Chicken’s Clothing

I come from pioneer stock so eating game doesn’t bother me but it was a big step to actually purchase a rabbit at the farmer’s market with my husband a few months ago. The poor thing was forgotten about for months in the freezer but last night without anyone seeing it I thawed it and butchered it in pieces that looked similar to a cut-up chicken.  My husband, who is always a bit squeamish about eating foods that aren’t normally purchased at the supermarket, took a huge stride when I convinced him to buy that rabbit. He said that he had heard that it was a lot like chicken from some reliable sources and would be willing to try it some time.  Well the time had come!  Now to cook it without a negative reaction…

100_0357I didn’t want to make an issue of the rabbit in front of my daughter either, because being an eleven year old who often falls in love with anything cute, furry, and having adorable little whiskers, there might have been a reaction akin to the one when Bambi’s mother died…it wasn’t good and there was quite a bit of howling as I recall but she was four years old then.  There is hope in this venture.

I then had to set up a bit of a ruse making a bigger deal out of the new method of cooking cabbage on the grill that I had seen someone do on Facebook.  Jeff was, to my relief, really interested in this process so I asked him to start up the grill for me…you know…doing the man stuff of which he is always pleased to avail himself (God, I love him! (my prayer of praise)).

100_0358I was starting to feel a bit guilty at this point being a deceptive diva, but  by keeping him focused on the cabbage steaks I was able to covertly prepare the pieces of rabbit by soaking them in a bit of cream and rolling them in flour seasoned  with salt, pepper and a little garlic powder.  I 100_0359seared them on all sides in a large skillet with the bottom covered in extra virgin olive oil.  At this point Jeff came into the kitchen with a smile at the aroma of good food cooking.  I smiled back as I poured a little cream over 100_0361the meat in the pan, then about a cup of water and a bit more salt, knowing with a certain weight that he was completely unaware of what was going on.

 

 

 

 

100_0365I covered the pan, put it on a simmer, and let it go for about 25 minutes just bubbling away.  We then went out to the grill to check on the cabbage which was coming along nicely.  Some of the edges that loosened were getting a bit charred but for the most part the centers were getting nicely caramelized by the butter and seasonings that were spread on them prior to grilling.   We couldn’t help tasting the pieces that unfurled and they were wonderful!  I will do this again over the summer for sure.  We removed the cabbage when it was beginning to get soft.  It took about twenty minutes or so 100_0368browning on a medium setting of flame and being gently turned a couple of times.

So back to the kitchen I had corn on the cob boiling away next to the rabbit.  I turned off  all the heat and uncovered the rabbit.  It was simmering in a beautiful gravy that had thickened because of the flour that I rolled the meat in earlier.  The moment of truth was near.  I plated up a leg portion for both Jeff and Julia and I took the forelegs which resembled wings, my usual choice when eating “chicken”.

100_0362After saying grace we began eating.  The cabbage was delicious and Jeff and Julia began eating their rabbit without even knowing that it wasn’t really chicken.  It was so hard to hide my guilty smirk.  I couldn’t do it anymore!  I asked how they liked the “chicken” and they both said,  “Mmm, really good!”

At that point the game was up (no pun intended).  I told them the truth and they responded well.  They examined the100_0369 meat with some curiosity and nods of approval.  Now my guilt was released and to my delight they kept on eating.  The rabbit really was delicious and we went on enjoying it without further ado.

Jeff really does have a discerning taste and I’m surprised he didn’t catch on.  He admitted that there was something different but he just figured it was how I cooked it.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fool him with deer meat and I don’t even want to fool him at all but I admit, after this I’m tempted to try…he he.

There’s an “App” for That

100_0327Need a quick appetizer for that surprise invitation to the barbecue?  Here’s an “app” that takes just a little over half an hour and you probably have the ingredients in your bread box, the pantry and the ‘fridge.  You’ll also need a small bowl and a 9″x9″ baking pan.  A pie plate will also do. The ingredients are as follows:

  • Several slices of day old bread
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 12 oz jar of quartered artichoke hearts
  • 1 box frozen spinach thawed
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • a sprinkle of garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

First preheat the oven to 400°.  Drizzle the bread with the oil, cut it into bite size pieces and bake for about 15 minutes or until crispy and toasted.  While that bakes, drain and cut up the artichokes into smaller bits.  Place the thawed spinach into a cloth or a sheet of paper toweling and squeeze out as much liquid as possible into a small bowl 100_0330and set it aside.  Do the same with the artichokes.  You may use the same toweling and will get out a bit more moisture even 100_0334after draining.  Place the vegetables into the baking pan along with the 100_0335mayonnaise, Parmesan and seasonings and stir it all together.  If your mixture is too dry, add a bit more mayonnaise along with a few tablespoons of the reserved liquid.  When it becomes a spreadable mixture, smooth the top over evenly, remove the bread from the oven and switch it with the spinach and artichoke dip and bake it until warmed through. 100_0340 It may even be a bit browned on the edges. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

Now you’re ready for the barbecue, the pot luck supper, or the trip out to the winery’s picnic.  This little appetizer is hearty enough to even be lunch…and that’s just what it was for me and my daughter today.  I encourage you to give this one a try.100_0342100_0346

It’s Only Quiche

Quiche has a long history dating back to the late 1300′s and maybe earlier.  Quiche, a French word actually is of German origin and called “Küeche“, in English, cake.  In English cuisine, recipes for quiche appeared in an early cook book of the day written by the chefs of King Richard II called “The Forme of Cury”.  These custard pastries were made with meat or fish in a custard and baked in a pastry.  Today we add cheese and other vegetables like onion or spinach.

Whether in King Richard II’s time or today, all I know is that quiche makes a breakfast everyone in my family enjoys and I can make one on a Saturday morning in about an hour with things I already have in the pantry and ‘fridge.  If there are eggs, cheese, meat, vegetables, flour, butter or shortening and spices this can happen.  Today I used:100_0161

  • 6 farm fresh eggs
  • 4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese (about a cup)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup broccoli chopped in very small pieces
  • 1/2 cup cubed meat (I used ham)
  • a few dashes each: salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley flakes
  • 1 pastry shell in a deep dish pie plate

First, preheat the oven to 375° and prepare a pie crust either store bought or using the method (this makes two shells) in the link in the last ingredient.  In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs and combine all the other filling ingredients.  Pour everything into the prepared pastry shell and carefully transfer to the oven’s top rack and bake for 50 or 60 minutes or until the eggs are set.  It’s OK  if it is a bit jiggly but no liquidity.

Allow this to cool for about 15 minutes and the eggs will continue to set.  Slice up the desired servings and enjoy.100_0167

Paleo ‘Taters

My sister in law made these when we visited them in Houston on Valentine’s Day and I absolutely fell in love with this side dish.  I could even make a meal out of it if 100_0134others 100_0131didn’t have to have some too.  What makes these “potatoes” Paleo, is they are potatoes at all but cauliflower.  Toss in some bacon, cheese, and sour cream and you’ve got a carbless companion to any roast or steak.  I made everything in one large frying pan using these proportions:

  • Three slices of bacon
  • 1 cup water
  • One large head of cauliflower
  • one tablespoon butter
  •  3/4 cup sour cream
  • 4 oz shredded cheddar cheese (about one cup)

100_0137100_0139First fry up the bacon until crispy and crumble it in small pieces.  Drain off the fat leaving one tablespoon in the pan.  While the bacon is cooking, steam the cauliflower in the water and butter (I do it in the microwave covered and on high for 3 or 4 minutes) until it is nice and tender.  Pour off the excess water and place it in the pan with the bacon fat.  Mash the cauliflower until it is the consistency of mashed potatoes…with lumps of course.  Stir in the sour cream, season with salt and pepper, maybe some freshly minced garlic if you have it and top with the cheese and bacon.   Place a lid on the pan until the steam of the cauliflower causes the cheese to melt and dig in!

If you are trying to trim down for bikini season using a low carb diet this dish will allow you to have it all…you may never want real potatoes ever again!   100_0140

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