Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Cooking in a Castle" - [Tour de France Ride] Ratatouille

Date I made this recipe:  July 22, 2012 (The end of the Tour de France)

Cooking in a Castle – The Royal Recipes of France by William I. Kaufman
Published by:  Bonanza Books
© 1965
Recipe:  [Ride] Ratatouille – p. 118

Well, today marks the end of Le Tour de France 2012 and thank goodness for that!  Even my husband, the most avid fan there is, was breathing a sigh of relief.  A three-week bicycle race is just a little much—I mean all the spills, chills and excitement lead to exhaustion and we’re just arm-chair spectators!  Can you imagine actually biking the thing?  I cannot.

Biking, and well, actually, most outdoor sports are not my thing.  When I was a kid, my bike was a one-speed (me!) Schwinn.  But my hubby has taken to bike riding like a duck takes to water and so every year, without fail, we watch…and watch…and watch.

This year’s Tour winner was Bradley Wiggins from Britain.  I feel like I’m a game show announcer when I say that “this is Bradley’s first tour win and Britain’s’ first win since the dawn of time”…or the first year of Le Tour – whichever comes first.  But poor Bradley—every time the British announcers talked about “Bradley Wiggins,” I couldn’t help but have myself an Eliza Doolittle moment from My Fair Lady and sing “Just you wait, Bradley Wiggins, just you wait.”  I’m glad I have a patient husband.

So Bradley won and there was much British rejoicing…in that most understated way they have.  Ahem.  There were also loud cheers for the man known as “The Manx Missile” – Mark Cavendish, another Brit who charged ahead in the last seconds of the last stage of the Tour – Le Champs-Elysees, - to win that stage.  A few days earlier, Mark came up out of no where to sprint to the finish line, causing one of the front runners to wave a hand in disgust with an expression of “Aw, crap, not HIM again!” on his face. I think that was my favorite moment of Le Tour.

Any who, as always I do learn a lot of things about the Tour from watching the stages and talking to Andy, my personal guide to all things “Tour.”  So to start, there are 20 stages to the tour, some of which go through the mountains, some of which are flat (and suited for sprinters) and some of which are time trials.  The last stage, stage 20, is a circle tour of Le Champs-Elysees in Paris.  Since this is the last stage, most riders are taking it easy, hoping not to crash and many of them drink champagne on their final laps out on the road, although once they cross the Champs, it’s all business, all the time and the champagne goes away. .  I could be all about biking if I could sip champagne while riding.

So, bear with me as I try to explain the complexities of this sport:  each stage has a winner in the sprinter category (green jersey) and, if applicable, the King of the Mountain (white and red polka dot jersey).  The “best” young rider jersey (white) is awarded to a rider under 26 years old based on the lowest combined times for all stages.  This year’s white jersey went to American Tejay van Garderen.  The coveted yellow jersey, signifying the tour’s overall leader is also awarded to the person with the lowest combined times regardless of age.  This year’s winner of the yellow jersey and therefore the Tour was the aforementioned Bradley Wiggins.

Now then – complicating things just a bit is a group of riders called the “peloton.”   The peloton is a group of riders who all end up crossing the finish line more or less together.  Sometimes the overall tour leader (yellow jersey) rides with the peloton, sometimes not.  But anyway, the most important thing you should know is that the riders in the peloton are all awarded the same finish time.  So if Bradley Wiggins, for example, didn’t speed across the finish line first but ended up in the peloton (usually less than a minute behind the stage winner), then he and everyone else gets awarded the same finish time and therefore the same number of points.  So—clear as French mud, right?  It has only taken me I don’t know how many Tours to figure this all out – barely.  I’m now at the point where I can identify some of the riders so I consider myself quite the expert! 

Besides watching the cyclists, the high entertainment of this three-week event is watching and listening to race announcer, Phil Ligett.  Phil is from England and like most English residents their pronunciation of different words has me in stitches.  Phil, for example, absolutely butchered one of the riders first names, Luis (pronounced lew-eeees) by calling him Louis (Lew-is).  No.  No in whatever language you want – no.  But time and time again, there was Phil with his “Lewis.”  There was also a Swiss rider with an Italian last name that he mauled each and every time he said it.  But still in all, I love Phil.  There’s just something about him that’s just adorable.  By the way, the one year he talked about foods bikers eat and used the British pronunciation of “banan-er” for banana had me doubled over laughing. I mean, I’m sorry, but does anyone see an “er” in that word?

Okay, so the riders were off and running first through Belgium and then hither and yon through France and as you might expect, they rode by (in a burning hurry) many French castles.  And this, children, is how I tied everything in this blog together!

Cooking in a Castle – The Royal Recipes of France – is a new acquisition for me.  I bought it for pennies on the dollar at the Bloomington Crime Prevention Association mega book sale in June.  I just like books that seem interesting and of course, are inexpensive as well.

The first part of this book consists of French recipes that were French royalty favorites while the second part of this book includes chateau photos and even has a map showing where they all are with a bit of history about each one.  Add a bit about French wines (well, bien sur!) and notes for tourists about each castle and voila, you are ready to roll. (That said, my husband and I are jaded travelers and to us, if you’ve seen one chateau, you’ve seen them all.  But don’t let us stop you.)

Recipes in this book ranged from lobster (tres, tres cher) to ragout of duck to simple strawberries (with liqueur, naturellement!).  Since it is still hotter than Hades in Minneapolis, I went with a very simple but delicious ratatouille. 

I was first introduced to ratatouille by my French friend, Edith (pronounced “Ay-deet”).  She and her grandmother made it for me and some friends when they visited me many years ago, and then when I went to Provence to visit them, I just had to have some more.  I’ve seen various and sundry vegetables used in ratatouille, like zucchini and mushrooms but I stuck to the book’s recipe with one exception:  I cut the vegetables into cubes instead of slicing them as directed as that is what I am used to.  Flavor-wise, I doubt it made one bit of difference.

As the recipe says, ratatouille is one of those great dishes that can be eaten hot or cold and I’ve had it both ways.  This was super-simple to make and great to eat.  The next day, I got creative and used it as a pasta sauce and it was tres bon!  (As an aside, I can’t help but think of a Steve Martin comedy routine from years ago – “You Na├»ve Americans” - where he talked about visiting Paris and it went something like this:  “[The French word for] eggs is ouefs.  Butter is buerre.  It’s like those French have a word for everything!”)

And that concludes Le Tour de France 2012:  coming up in mere days – the 2012 Olympics.  So move over honey, and hand me the remote because there’s swimming to watch!

A bientot, France!!

Ratatouille – yields 12 servings
Olive oil
2 pounds eggplant, peeled and sliced
1 pound squash, peeled and sliced
1 pound green pepper, sliced
2 pounds tomatoes, quartered but not peeled
4 or 5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 onions, sliced
1 large bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, tarragon, celery, bay leaf)
1 teaspoon tarragon, chopped
Salt and pepper

Saute lightly in olive oil the eggplant, squash, and green pepper in deep saucepan.  Add tomatoes, garlic, bouquet garni, and tarragon.  Cover.  Simmer over low heat for one hour.  Serve hot.  In the summer it can be served cold.

Ann’s Note:  I didn’t make a bouquet garni (i.e. all spices tied up in cheesecloth) but threw in a handful of parsley, thyme, tarragon and two small bay leafs; I was also out of celery so no celery.  The flavors were fine and actually enhanced the ratatouille.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Alice's Restaurant Cookbook" - Braised [Orange Almond] Chicken

Date I made this recipe:  July 15, 2012

Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook by Alice May Brock with a recorded introduction by Arlo Guthrie
Published by:  Random House
© 1969
Recipe:  Braised [Orange Almond] Chicken – p. 69-70

Think of today’s cookbook discussion as a Jeopardy category selection:  “Famous American Folk singers for 100, Alex.”  Because today, we’re going to focus on Woody Guthrie, son Arlo Guthrie and Alice May Brock, inspiration for the song, Alice’s Restaurant.

But first, it’s quiz time! (Hint:  some of the answers are in the text below!)

1. Which of these had a birthday on July 10, 2012?
  1. Woody Guthrie
  2. Arlo Guthrie

2. Which of these had a birthday on July 14, 2012?
  1. Woody Guthrie
  2. Arlo Guthrie

3. The most famous folk singer this country has ever had is:
  1. Woody Guthrie
  2. Arlo Guthrie

4. Who wrote and sang Alice’s Restaurant? (also known as Alice’s Restaurant Massacree?)
  1. Woody Guthrie
  2. Arlo Guthrie

5. Who wrote and sang This Land is Your Land?
  1. Woody Guthrie
  2. Arlo Guthrie

6. Who sang Hobo’s Lullaby?
  1. Woody Guthrie
  2. Arlo Guthrie

Answers will be at the end of this quiz but first, a “gimme:” Arlo Guthrie sang the song Alice’s Restaurant something this gal remembers hearing as a child.  The one lyric I remembered out of them all was “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant.”  And apparently you could!  Sad to say, and to the chagrin of my parents on long car trips, I never did learn the rest of the lyrics.  Nothing like hours and hours of turnpike time spent repeating the same phrase over and over…and over!  (“You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant…You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant…You can get…”)

When I read that both Arlo and Woody celebrated July birthdays, I just knew that I had to make something out of my newly-acquired (last year in NYC at Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks) copy of Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook. (And I tell you what I seem to have a knack for having just the right cookbook on hand for every occasion!)

Alice May Brock, Arlo Guthrie’s inspiration for his famous Vietnam War protest song, Alice’s Restaurant (full title: Alice’s Restaurant Masacree), a song that played for 18 minutes (!), came to be a restaurant owner by happenstance. (By the way, I had no idea that song was a war protest song until I Googled it.  I tell you, the things you learn….) As it says in her biography on the cookbook’s back cover page: 

“Worked as a librarian at the Stockbridge School…Bought a church…Sang Songs…Fooled around…Cooked good good food with a smile and other expressions…Bought a crummy diner…Turned it into a crazy-yummy-cozy restaurant…Got tired…Got divorced…Got famed by Alro Guthrie, an old friend who wrote the song “Alice’s Restaurant,” which inspired Arthur Penn to direct the movie Alice’s Restaurant – about Alice and Ray (ex-husband) and Arlo and the Scene…”

Ah yes, the “Scene.”  Although it’s not quite clear from that comment what the “Scene” was, I think we can chalk it up to the vibe, the energy or just the lifestyle of the 60’s.  Arlo and Alice were definitely an embodiment of the “Scene.” The “Scene” was pretty wild as were the times as the Vietnam War was anything but popular. But let’s not forget the other scene – the folksong scene – with Woody at the helm writing and singing his own brand of protest songs.  According to Wikipedia, one of Woody’s famous songs early on in his career was “This Machine Kills Fascists.”  I love that title – it’s so…succinct!

But the most famous song of all, and I think we can agree on this is “This Land Is Your Land.”  As a singer, I can tell you that this song is in the perfect range for everyone and the words aren’t hard to remember, unlike the Star Spangled (Mangled) Banner!  And every once in a while, there’s a push on to replace the SSB with this song but it always falls flat and that’s too bad.  This song was one of the favorites of my Girl Scout years and was approved by every troop leader under the sun; I’m guessing though, that the “fascist” song would not be popular.

So okay, Woody was a folk singer, Arlo became a folk singer and in July, Arlo turned 65.  Wow!  And days later, it was noted that had he lived, Woody Guthrie would have been 100.  Hopefully years from now, kids will still be singing these songs in remembrance.

And as to Alice, well, in her spare time, she put together this cookbook with a little bit of this and a little bit of that in between.  I love her photos and artwork—so retro!  I was all set to make “Alice’s Famous Chili” but that darned heat spell of ours just kept going and so I switched it up to Braised Chicken cooked in orange juice, almonds, raisins and cinnamon and it was yummy and so easy, too!

The thing that I liked about this cookbook is that Alice often gives you variations for example: Basic Braised Chicken or Braised Chicken Paprikash or Braised Chicken with Wine or Braised Chicken with Bacon and Cream or “orange” chicken like I made - so easy, so good. 

By the way, note that this cookbook comes with a recorded introduction by Arlo Guthrie…and by “recorded” I mean that there’s vinyl cutout to be played on a record player (yes, that old thing) that includes two “songs” – Italian-Type Meatballs and My Granma’s Beet Jam.  I’d listen to it except I’d have to remove it from the book and that ain’t happening.  Well plus, I’d have to invest in a turntable and mine are all long gone (and I mean long gone!). 

For those of you scratching your head about what I mean by “vinyl cutout” let me just say that it in the 60’s, it was very popular for companies, especially kids’ cereal companies, to press these vinyl 45’s on the back of boxes.  You’d then cut out the record, put in on your turntable and voila!  I know I am not alone when I say that one of my favorite “cut-outs” was Bobby Sherman singing “Julie, Do Ya Love Me?”  Good times, people, good times.

And that concludes our trip down memory lane with the Guthries and Alice!  Now let’s not all run at once to YouTube to check out some of these songs, okay?

Braised [Orange Almond] Chicken – serves 6 to 8
2 cut-up broilers or fryers (Ann’s Note:  I bought two packs of chicken breasts, about a pound each and that was plenty)
1 stick of butter
Salt and pepper
1 cup orange juice
Grated orange rind (from one orange)
½ cup seedless grapes (if desired)
Shot of cinnamon

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter; brown the chicken on both sides.  Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer over a low flame for 30 to 45 minutes, until the chicken is almost falling from the bones.

Add the orange juice, grated rind of one orange and top with almonds browned in butter.  You can add up to ½ cup of seedless raisins and a shot of cinnamon, too.

Ann’s Note:  I served this with rice and green beans and it was very refreshing on a hot summer’s day.

Quiz question answers:
    1. b – Arlo Guthrie turned 65 on July 10, 2012.
    2. a – Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 on July 14, 2012
    3. a – Woody Guthrie is probably the world’s most famous folk singer. 
    4. b – Arlo Guthrie sang Alice’s Restaurant
    5. a – Woody Guthrie wrote This Land Is Your Land, considered by many to be the embodiment of the American spirit.
a and b - Trick question!  Both Woody and Arlo sang this piece along with other folk greats, Pete Seger, Emmylou Harris and the Kingston Trio

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Tastes of Liberty" & Summer Feasts - (4th of July) Hot Potato Salad w/Bacon & Watermelon Granita

Date I made these recipes:  July 8, 2012

Tastes of Liberty:  A Celebration of Our Great Ethnic Cooking, Bob Betz, editor
Published by:  Chateau Ste. Michelle (Washington state wine producer)
ISBN:  0-941434-75-3
Recipe:  Hot Potato Salad with Bacon (Warmer Kartoffelsalat Mit Speck) – p. 56-58

Summer Feasts by Molly Finn
Published by:  A Fireside Book, published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
ISBN:  0-671-55453-0
Recipe:  Watermelon Granita – p. 265-266

I had something very pithy to say about these recipes and about the Fourth of July but given the extremely hot weather we’ve been having, I think that my brain just incinerated.  Really.

On the 4th of July, Minneapolis set a new record temperature of 101 degrees.  Or was it 102?  Whatever it was, it was damned hot - as in “Feelin’ hot, hot, hot,” a popular 80’s song by Buster Poindexter.  And because it was so damned hot, and because we had party plans that day, I didn’t make a 4th of July recipe on the 4th.  So sue me.

The next day, the 5th of July, my community band played a concert in south Minneapolis at a park without a band shell and without any shade.  My section, the clarinet section, was facing west and the lower the sun got, the hotter I got (“hot, hot, hot”) and I nearly had myself a Wizard of Oz “I’m melting, I’m melting” moment.  The more we played, the more I listed like a ship taking on water.  At one point, one of our jazz ensembles played, providing a brief interlude, and I exited, stage left, to go sit with the audience and pull myself together.  It was so tempting to pack up and go home before I got really ill (not that I wasn’t having visions of ambulances anyway) but that would involve me putting away my clarinet and my stand and my chair (BYOC is required for many venues) and that would have likely interrupted the performance (ya think!) and so there I sat.

Given that the concert started at 7 p.m., I really didn’t have time to cook dinner on Thursday nor would I:  the temperature only dropped to a balmy 94 degrees instead of a scorching 101…or 102 depending on who you ask.  In other words, we got a break in the weather! Party time!!

Friday came and went as did Saturday and the temperature was still on “scald” but by Sunday, I decided that I could risk using the stovetop and made the German potato salad and the watermelon granita (Let’s hear it for FREEZER recipes!).  We also used the stovetop to cook some burgers, it being too hot to even pull out the grill.  Hey, sacrifices must be made and so we made them.  It’s the American way.

By the way, about a week or so ago, when the weather started warming up, I selected a few recipes to make, one of which was a pork loin that required oven cooking.  I mentioned this to my husband, Andy, who gave me the look a mother gives a child when he or she is just being dumber than dirt (or like Ricky Ricardo’s famous comments to Lucy “You crazy or sumpin’?”) and said “NO oven.”  And so that was that.  I am very happy to report though, that the temperatures are now in the mid 80’s and that’s good enough for me to fire up the oven should I decide to make the recipe.

Given that I intended to make something to celebrate the 4th of July, I went through the shelves and found this book, Tastes of Liberty: A Celebration of Our Great Ethnic Cooking.  This book showcases foods “brought” to the Unites States by different immigrant populations when they came over to the United States, passing by the Statute of Liberty on their way to Ellis Island.  So there you go—liberty, 4th of July – it all works.

Out of all the food choices, the recipe for the German Potato Salad caught my eye because it triggered fond memories of family picnics by the shores of Lake Superior when I was growing up.  As previously mentioned in one of my blogs, my parents used to pack up various foodstuffs in an old, wooden apple (or peach) basket with wire handles and off we’d go down the hill, round to the corner to the beach to have a picnic.  If we didn’t bring a classic American potato salad, we brought along a can of German Potato Salad.  Dad would open the can with a can opener, along with a can of pork and beans then plop the two cans in the bonfire we made from Lake Superior driftwood along with some burgers or hot dogs and we would have ourselves a feast.  (By the way, if you try this at home, be sure to open the cans before putting them on the fire or you will have one hell of an explosion on your hands.  And it may put someone’s eye out.  Just sayin’…)

Since Andy is not fond of American potato salad (nor is he fond of putting an eye out), I made this recipe to go along with burgers and then the watermelon granita.  It may seem a little un-American or un-picnic-y for your tastes but it works for me and that’s all you need to know.  Plus, stovetop time was minimal and would have been less had I microwaved the potatoes but I was fine with using the stovetop and just upped the air-conditioning while I was cooking.  Yes, the 4th of July is about celebrating that “pioneer” spirit that built our country and so while yes, I could have toughed it out by not ramping up the air,  there’s no need to get ridiculous about things in a time of severe weather crisis.

So hot potato salad it was, now I just needed to find something to go with it for a true 4th of July post-celebration and found the recipe for the watermelon granita. Watermelon is the perfect summer food and just screams “4th of July!!” And wouldn’t you know I had just purchased a package of sliced watermelon a few days earlier.  But while the potato salad rocked my world, the granita left me disappointed by its very flat taste.  And the damned thing is the recipe was so easy so how did it derail?

Well, I was warned:  the recipe said that the flavor would be much less intense when it was frozen and so be generous with the lemon juice and salt.  But when it comes to recipes, I am often a Scrooge in thinking “less is more” rather than “distribute the riches.” And given that I made half a batch, I used only a ¼ teaspoon of salt and it still tasted like a salt lick (to me, anyway)!  Bleh.  But oh well, we had our watermelon (cue the sparklers) plus, if you add a bit of vodka, I’m thinking you would have one sensational slushie!  (And by the way, and speaking of slushies, Andy and I stopped by a Dairy Queen not long ago and can someone tell me what the hell happened to Mr. Misty??  Because I want answers, people!  Oh sure, they have something called an Arctic Rush but it’s not the same, damit!)

So anyway, here you go, better late then never.

Hot Potato Salad with Bacon (Warmer Kartoffelsalat Mit Speck) – 6 to 8 servings
2 pounds medium boiling potatoes
½ pound sliced bacon, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup rich homemade beef broth
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)

Place potatoes in 3- or 4-quart saucepan and add water to cover by 1 inch.  Heat to boiling over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until potatoes are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.  Drain and let stand 10 minutes.  Pare potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch slices and place in large serving bowl.  Cover to keep hot.

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from skillet with slotted spoon and sprinkle over potatoes.  Discard all but 3 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet.  Add onion to drippings and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes.  Stir in vinegar, broth, sugar, salt and pepper and heat to boiling.  Blend about ¼ cup hot vinegar mixture with egg yolk in small bowl and blend yolk mixture into vinegar mixture in skillet.  Cook 1 minute and remove from heat.

Pour hot vinegar mixture over potatoes and toss lightly until thoroughly mixed.  Serve hot or cool to room temperature.  Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Watermelon Granita – serves 6-8
4 pounds watermelon
Juice of 1 large lemon (3-4 tablespoons or more)
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Make this ice only with delicious, ripe melon.  Cut the melon from the rind and remove the seeds.  Cut into 1-inch chunks and puree it in the food processor or blender.  If you are using a blender, before turning it on, press the watermelon down in the container with your fingers to make enough juice to puree the melon.  Put the puree in a metal bowl and season it to taste with lemon juice, sugar and salt.  Remember that its flavor will be much less intense when it is frozen, so don’t be afraid to use plenty of lemon juice and salt. (Ann’s note:  I made half a batch of this and only used ¼ teaspoon salt and it was still too salty for my taste.)

Freeze the mixture using one of these two methods:

1)      To make the granita by hand - Put the puree in a metal bowl in the coldest part of the freezer.  After about an hour, when the granita starts to solidify, stir it with a large fork, scraping the frozen puree from the bottom and sides of the bowl and mashing it in well.  Repeat this every half-hour or so, using a fork or potato masher, until the granita has completely crystallized.  There should be no large lumps – only crystals.  –OR-
2)      To make granita in the food processor – Freeze the fruit puree, using 2 ice-cube trays.  When it is frozen solid, just before serving, process as many cubes as you need.  Put the cubes in the processor (not more than one ice tray at a time) and, using the metal blade, process the ice until it is fine, smooth and free of lumps.  You will have to turn the motor on and off a number of times – do this rapidly or you will soon have a liquid puree again.  Serve the ice immediately and store the unused cubes in plastic bags.