God, I’m really terrible at getting posts out on time lately. My work load is rather large this semester, and I don’t expect it to let up. I will try to be more punctual about my posts, but when it comes right down to it, my grades take precedence. But I digress.
I’ve been in a particularly veggie mood lately, and decided to play around with making some Ratatouille. Everybody knows about Ratatouille from the Pixar movie by the same name, but in fact, that version of Ratatouille is a fancier version though up by Thomas Keller called Confit Byaldi. The truth is, Ratatouille has much humbler origins. Like many of the great comfort foods, Ratatouille came into being out of the kitchens of Provence. The question “what can I do with these random vegetables?” has been an important question for many impoverished cultures for centuries, and strangely enough, it has produced some of the best food known to man.
This dish is usually made by stewing eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic together in a pot for a while with some herbs (basil or marjoram usually). While this method develops great flavor, the texture leaves something to be desired. By making a sauce with the tomatoes, onions, and garlic, we can develop all the great, savory flavor. But if we saute the other vegetables separately they will retain their freshness and texture. This allows for a dish with a wide range of flavor and textures. Ratatouille is great with anything from grilled lamb to fish. I highly recommend serving it alongside a starch of some sort, bread being the first choice.
-1 medium eggplant, finely diced -2 zucchini, finely diced -1 green bell pepper, finely diced -1 red bell pepper, finely diced -1 onion, finely diced -5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced -1 28 oz can of tomatoes (San Marzano if possible) -handful of basil leaves, chiffonaded -Kosher salt -black pepper -olive oil -herbs de provence
In a medium pot over medium heat, add a bit of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sweat the onions until translucent. Then add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and break the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, add some olive oil. Once hot, add the zucchini and eggplant. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence. Cook until tender. Set aside. Repeat the process with the bell peppers.
Add the sauteed vegetables to the sauce along with the basil and stir to incorporate and heat through. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
It finally feels like fall. The rain is falling as plentifully as the leaves, and people are starting to get slightly grumpier. I’m able to wear sweaters all the time now, and I’m also able to eat apples almost all the time. Apples really are one of my favorite fruits (I guess it comes with the territory, growing up in Washington). There is no better way to celebrate the coming of fall than with a baked apple dish of some sort. I would try doing a classic American apple pie, but I just know that it would end terribly. There is no way my pies will ever turn out like my mother’s. But this doesn’t mean defeat. The French have invented a way to make a baked apple treat that even an idiot like me can do.
Tarte Tatin has to be one of the closest things to apple pie in existence. This dish has been a classic for nearly 100 years. The idea of making upside down tartes has been around in French cooking for a long time, but this specific recipe/method is said to be developed around the late 19th century by the Tatin sisters. It is almost always made with apples, although it can be made with other fruits like pears, plums, peaches, and even tomatoes. A caramel is made, apples are sliced and placed in the caramel to cook on the stove, and then a crust is put over the whole tarte and it is baked until the crust is golden brown. After this, it is inverted on a plate and made to look as pretty as possible.
When choosing apples for a tarte tatin, there are a few things to be aware of. Ripeness, as always, is a paramount concern. As we have discussed in previous posts, the best way to ascertain ripeness is by smell. If the fruit smells fruity, then its ripe. Firmness is also important, as we want the apples to hold their shape as they cook. The traditional apple for this application is Granny Smith, so that’s what I’m using. If you want to be a blasphemer and deviate from a well-documented and widely practiced tradition, you can use other apples that have a robust flavor and hold their shape well. What kind of apples are those? There are tons, but you’ll just have to experiment yourself, you unholy apple user. Granny Smith is really the best way to go; it’s never failed in making apples pies or tarte tatins. Okay, maybe it’s failed every once in a great while, but that’s just user error. To recap: for a tarte tatin, you need fragrant, firm Granny Smith apples.
But what have apples ever done for us? Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system, and public health, apples can provide a lot of good for us. The principle health benefit is the high levels of antioxidants that apples have. Apples also have a fair amount of fiber and have been shown to lower the chance of heart disease and possibly prevent deterioration of cognitive function. Other than the core and seeds being slightly poisonous, there is nothing about eating apples that is not beneficial. Even more reason to make this tarte tatin.
-1 cup sugar -3 tablespoons butter -4 granny smith apples -1 lemon -1 12 inch sheet of pastry dough (make it yourself or use puff pastry) -1 egg
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Place in a bowl and toss with the juice of half the lemon. This prevents them from browning as you cook your caramel.
In an oven safe skillet on medium low heat, add 3/4 cup of sugar. It will melt and become a nutty brown after about 5 minutes. The brown should be about as dark as a dark brown roux. At this point, take the pan off the heat and add the butter in chunks, stirring constantly. Once the butter is incorporated, arrange the apples in the skillet in a nice pattern. Put the skillet back on the heat to cook the apples in the caramel for another 10 minutes. They should be done when the apples are tender and the caramel is bubbling over the apples.
While the apples are cooking, roll out your pastry dough on a well floured cutting board. The dough should be quite thin. Beat an egg to use as eggwash later.
After the apples are done cooking in the caramel, take the skillet off the heat and lay the crust over the top, tucking the sides in. Cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to come out. Brush the crust lightly with eggwash.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling on the sides of the pan. Invert on a plate and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut and serve.
“Aioli? What’s that? Isn’t it, like, the thing around the nipple?” Yes indeed, I am surrounded by people who don’t know what food is. I know, I should expect it, but I keep forgetting I have to expect it. So for all of you who were wondering the same thing as one of my friends (who, to retain what dignity they have left, will remain anonymous), and even for those of you who have a working knowledge of Aioli, this is for you.
Aioli is one of the best sauces to grace this earth. And where does it come from? France of course! Nobody but the french would put that many vowels next to each other, add one consonant, and call it a word. But this is not a haute Joel Robuchon sauce, it’s a humble one made in Provence, a region of France that is tradionally quite poor and rural. Nobody knows exactly who invented this sauce, but I have my bet on an old French woman who loved garlic.
That’s really what Aioli is about: garlic. Essentially, Aioli is a mayonnaise with garlic in it. What’s in Aioli? It’s quite simple. Just garlic, egg yolk, lemon juice, oil, and a little salt. Sometimes people add Dijon mustard too, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The idea is to make a paste out of the garlic and then mix it with the lemon juice and egg yolk. These two ingredients act as emulsifying agents. When you add the oil, you drizzle it in very slowly so that it combines evenly. If you just dumped it in, it would not emulsify and create the smooth, creamy sauce we know and love. Traditionally, this whole process is done with a mortar and pestle, but it can be replicated with a whisk and a bowl, using a knife to mince the garlic and then make a paste out of it by pressing the garlic on the cutting board with a little coarse salt. For measurements and specific methodology, go watch Chef John from Foodwishes make it: Here’s a link.
So that’s it, in a nutshell. Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise that originated in Provence. What can you use it for? Well, that’s a whole new question.
The french usually use it to supplement grilled vegetables, meats, or fish. It goes wonderfully in a salad dressing, on a sandwich, or as a dip with some carrot sticks. I use it on burgers in place of mayonnaise, and it makes it so delectable. It’s so easy to make and so delicious! I really encourage you to make some for yourself and keep it in your fridge to snack on.
There has been a lot of rumbling over the past few years about a new movement hitting Paris. Some of my favorite food writers have been covering the recent developments, and I’ve been keeping my eye on a few of the main players in this revolution. It’s certainly a momentous occasion for the cuisine of Paris, and it will probably spread it’s influence across the rest of the western culinary world (at least).
About a decade ago, the Michelin Star earning restaurants in Paris began to take a dive. Not as many people were going to them anymore, and the effort needed to keep themselves up to the very high Michelin standard was breaking their backs. The executive chefs tried to hold on, but the sous chefs saw that it was a losing situation. One by one, they dropped out of the Michelin circle.
Now there are a lot of Michelin level sous chefs that have branched out. Their new style? Bistro dining, with prix fixe (fixed price) menus. These chefs run their new restaurants on a small scale, with the minimal amount of chefs in the kitchen and only a few people in front of house. With a fixed price, the chefs can focus more on keeping the integrity and natural flavors of the main ingredients. The menus are usually changed daily and depend on what is in season and fresh at the market. This means a greater focus on letting the quality of the ingredients take the lead, not the methods. The chefs have toned down the fussiness that French food is so known for in favor a simpler approach. And of course, with all their training and years in the kitchens of Michelin ranking restaurants, these guys know what they’re doing. The profit margin may be slim, but these chefs are in it to return the food to the people.
You could expect to pay about 40 euros for an amazing five course meal at most of these places. That’s quite a steal when you consider how fresh the ingredients are and what care and attention is being given to every ingredient. You’re getting a scaled down version of a meal served in a Michelin ranking restaurant for a fraction of the price. And the atmosphere is very casual. The entire aim of this movement is to return the food to the people. It’s certainly working. Most seatings at these small bistros are packed, and it’s extremely hard to get a seat without a reservation about a month in advance. The people love these Bistros, and more of them continue to pop up. It’s a beacon of hope for people who like good food without the typically French pretentiousness, and it seems to be the new direction that French food is taking.
The big names in French cooking still live on, but Joel Robuchon is now not only the world’s greatest chef, but he’s also the origin of more than a few of the new Bistros popping up in Paris. I’m certainly looking forward to what this new culinary movement has to offer, and I’m also looking for cheap tickets to Paris; I want to experience the revolution as it occurs.
Oh hello bathroom scale, my mortal enemy. It’s your old friend, Kevin. I have been struggling to attain a normal weight for most of my life, but after years of no diets and no exercise, it’s time for that to change. I have decided that I will put myself on a diet and start exercising a bit.
Now I know what you’re thinking: diets are stupid. I agree. But I think I’ve found one that works. It’s French, which counteracts the stupidity, and it’s called the Montignac Diet, after Michelle Montignac, the creator. It’s the same basic principle as the Atkins diet, but not as horrible. I’ve done a bit of research on this diet and here’s what it boils down to:
-No processed sugar -No caffeine -No carbohydrates high on the glycemic index -No beer -Fruit can only be consumed over 20 minutes before a meal or 2 hours after a meal -Limit your intake of dairy -Drink all the wine you want -Pasta is okay if cooked aldente -Anything that contains “Wheat” in the name is okay -Lean meats are ideal, but fatty meats are okay -Dessert can only be cheese
The diet is based off the glycemic index. The lower on the glycemic index the better. On the Montignac website, there is a glycemic index with everything on it. It’s translated from French, probably using Google translator, so don’t expect grammar perfection. It’s riddled with lots of French food, so if you’re a French foodie, it’s perfect for you.
I absolutely love it! Cheese is like heaven to me, so I have no problem, and I’ve never really been altogether fond of beer, so I just drink wine. The thing that has shocked me the most is how much snack food I usually eat is carbohydrate or sugar based. Pringles and fruit snacks are out, grapes and pistachios are in. I recently got on the bandwagon and started using agave nectar instead of honey, and besides being delicious, it’s Montignac approved.
I have no idea how long I will keep this diet going, but it probably won’t be too long. And have no fear, I will continue my duty as a foodie. Well, this ends day one on the Montignac diet, and I feel pretty damn good about it. Bathroom scale, you may have met your match.