One of my favorite stalls at the farmers market is run by two young women who always have friendly greetings and interesting offerings. They have bunches of several varieties of basil along with many other herbs. Earlier in the season they had garlic scapes, fava beans, and a wide variety of Asian vegetables. They have bins and bins of tomatoes. But they also have an amazing selection of eggplants: not just the big purple tear drops that my grandmother grew but also white, variegated, Japanese, Italian, long, and green varieties. On my last visit I found eggplants that I had never seen. They were labeled as “Indian”, but their distinctive characteristic was that they were only about the size of a hen’s egg. They looked so cute that I bought them, although I wasn’t sure what I would do with them. You could stuff them with shrimp, Cajun-style, for individual servings. You could make an eggplant tapenade, but that would subvert the whole idea of miniature vegetables. I guess you could steam them and serve them by themselves. Of course, if you think of eggplant you think of ratatouille, so I bought some tomatoes, squash, peppers and onions as well.
I have long thought of ratatouille as a dish that is delicious but labor-intensive. That’s because the first time I ever prepared it years ago I followed Julia Child’s recipe exactly. Each vegetable was cooked separately and slowly to maintain its shape and color before combining with all of the other ingredients and then simmered gently to meld the flavors. In short, Julia’s version is not a dish that you start when you get home from work. The mystique has even been amplified by the wonderful Disney Pixar film, Ratatouille. In the movie, the signature dish prepared by the rat was an elaborate layering of slices of eggplant, squash, tomato and pepper. Beautiful to behold. And if you go to the web these days there are several versions of the recipe that use a similar artful arrangement of vegetables. Again, not something you would whip together before the evening news.
I think of a farm family sitting at their dinner table in Provence. I suspect they enjoy a good ratatouille but I doubt that it is in delicate layers. For that matter, a good shakshuka in Israel or bibimbap (add some beef and rice) in Korea may employ the same or similar ingredients without a lot of fanfare in their preparation. In other words, ratatouille should be easy to make and still be wonderfully delicious. This recipe just tosses the vegetables together, uses mushrooms, and adds a poached egg – definitely not authentic ratatouille, but a good way to use miniature Indian eggplants.
Salted zucchini rounds
Vegetable mix ready for braising
Not Exactly Ratatouille with poached eggs
Not Exactly Ratatouille
- 6 small Indian eggplants
- 2 small zucchini
- Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 small white onions
- 6 medium mushrooms
- 4 small ripe tomatoes (about 4-5 inches in diameter), halved
- 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and slice into ¼ inch thick rings
- 1 small can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
- ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 eggs, poached
- Trim the tops of the eggplants and slice them in half lengthwise. Do not peel. Slice zucchini in ¾ inch rounds. Sprinkle the cut vegetables generously with Kosher salt and place in a large sieve over a bowl for 30 minutes to draw out water, Blot dry with paper towels. Over a high flame, grill the vegetables for a few minutes until lightly browned with grill marks (if desired). Remove from the grill and set aside until ready for assembly.
- Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or lidded oven-proof vessel over medium heat. Add the grilled eggplant and zucchini along with the onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, green pepper, tomato sauce, wine and seasonings.
- Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 300°F. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are fragrant and tender. If there is too much liquid, remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking to reduce. Adjust the seasoning and serve, topped with 2 poached eggs for each serving.
The local farmers’ market has just gotten going seriously for the season. A couple of weeks ago there were only a few stands with limited choices. Now there are several rows of canopies and lots of choices. There are spring vegetables: asparagus, green peas, leaf lettuce, and radishes. The big stars, though, continue to be citrus of all sorts. There are fruits that are seldom seen outside of Southern California. Pomelos as big as grapefruits! (That’s supposed to be a joke. Pomelos are often bigger than grapefruits, and on top of that they are thick-skinned close relatives.), blood oranges, many varieties of clementines, and my favorite – Meyer lemons.
The Meyer lemon was originally found in China and thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It was brought to California and popularized by a guy named – you guessed it – Meyer. When Meyer lemons were found to be symptomless carriers of a virus that destroyed other citrus trees, the lemon trees were chopped down wholesale, not to be grown again until a virus-free strain was discovered. Now they are widely available.
Meyer lemons are beautiful. They are larger than other lemons with a dark yellow-orange skin and a beautiful fragrance. They are sweeter than the usual lemon, but they are still more sour than an orange. They are juicy and usually contain a number of seeds, so they really lend themselves to cooking with the juice and/or zest.
What could be a better use than in a Bavarian cream? Bavarian cream is a classic dessert. Julia Child devotes pages to its many variations. At the same time, Bavarian cream is really just another classic – crème Anglaise – doctored up with flavoring, meringue, and whipped cream all stabilized with gelatin. One more step is to put the Bavarian cream into something to hold it. Charlottes lined with lady fingers are common, but a pie shell works just as well and is a lot easier.
So, that’s what I wound up doing with the beautiful Meyer lemons I found at the farmers’ market.
Meyer Lemon Bavarian Cream Pie
- 1 prepared 9 inch pie shell (purchased or use your favorite recipe) in a glass pie pan
- 2 ripe Meyer lemons, juiced and zested
- 2/3 cup sugar, divided
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 envelope (¼ ounce) unflavored gelatin
- 3 egg whites
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- Bake the pie shell according to instructions and set aside.
- Juice and zest the Meyer lemons, straining and reserving ½ cup of the juice. Set aside the measured juice and zest.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar and egg yolks until well combined.
- In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until it comes to a simmer. Gradually pour the heated milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan over low heat.
- Stirring frequently to avoid curdling of the bottom, heat the mixture gradually over low heat until it thickens enough to coat the spoon. Check frequently with a thermometer to avoid exceeding 170°F. The yolks will curdle at a higher temperature, and you will have to start over.
- Meanwhile, pour the reserved lemon juice into a medium bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let the gelatin bloom for at least 5 minutes. Pour the hot, thickened egg mixture over the gelatin and lemon juice. Stir for several minutes to make sure the gelatin is dissolved.
- Set the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice and water. Stir constantly until the mixture is cool. Then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another bowl. Stir in the reserved lemon zest.
- Beat the egg whites with a rotary mixer until they form stiff peaks. Stir in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until the sugar is completely incorporated. Fold, by thirds, into the custard mixture. Folding gently, making sure the meringue is completely incorporated.
- Whip the cream into soft peaks. Fold in, making sure the mixture is completely combined.
- Pour the completed custard into the reserved pie shell. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
- Serve plain – or better – with whipped cream.
- The unflavored gelatin is a key part of the recipe: not enough and the Bavarian will not set while too much and it will be rubbery; not properly bloomed and it will never completely dissolve; if it is not completely stirred in, the cream may separate. Gelatin comes in several forms. The most common is granular, packaged in small packets, but there are also liquid as well as sheets that are used by professional bakers. I don’t know what equivalents might be.
- Be patient! Don’t try to rush the custard with high heat. You will end up with scrambled eggs.
- It is very important to strain the thickened custard mixture. No matter how careful you are, there will be bits of curdled yolk that will take away from the smoothness of the finished custard.
- Obviously, stir in the zest after you strain the custard.
- You can add a little liqueur if you like. Limon cello is the obvious choice – 1 or 2 tablespoons.
- You shouldn’t try to rush the chilling; otherwise the Bavarian might not set up properly. Overnight is best; four full hours might work in a pinch.
- The need for bowls and saucepans is intensive. You should definitely set up mis en place for your ingredients and plot out a strategy for cookware. A scanning thermometer is very handy.
Summer is winding down, and so is our local farmers’ market. Apples and pears fill baskets of all sizes. The air is bathed with the singular smell of roasting chiles. That smell always anticipates the fragrance of burning piñon as nights cool off and fireplaces are lit. Nearly every vendor has piles of potatoes of all shapes, colors, and sizes. This last week I bought fresh-roasted green chiles which I used for pork posole for my visiting son and fingerling potatoes with no particular fate in mind for them.
I considered creamed potatoes with green peas, which is a long-time family favorite, I decided against that because I would still have to come up with a protein. Then I thought of Burgundy beef or, in its French guise, boeuf Bourguignon. The first time I ever had Burgundy beef was in my internship days. I was making $75 a month, so any cheap or free food was always welcome. Most of the hospitals still had staff meals, so they served as the house staff’s main source of sustenance. In general, the food was less than gourmet. One of my colleagues was dating a dietetics intern who worked at the VA hospital. She always knew the menus in advance, and the VA food was by far the best. We would make sure to go to the VA when the menu was especially good, and we always were sure to make Burgundy beef night.
At the time we were mystified about the name, certain – especially with the VA – that it didn’t refer to Burgundy wine. What a surprise when a couple of years later, my new bride and I were watching Julia Child on our 14-inch black and white television set in our basement apartment. Julia made what we considered to be a very fancy French dish. boeuf Bourguignon. We realized that it was our old VA standby, Burgundy beef. We tried out Julia’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. It was the most delicious stew that either of us had ever had. But like most Julia recipes, it was not straightforward, requiring multiple steps to get each ingredient cooked just so before everything was combined.
This is an easy version that is still pretty good. I used a braising pan in the oven, cooking the stew for about 4 hours at low temperature, but a slow cooker would work perfectly. Julia Child’s recipe doesn’t call for green peas. She suggests them on the side, but I tossed in some frozen peas at the last minute for color and a boost of the healthy index. The most important thing is to make it easy on yourself.
Boiling onions need to be blanched and peeled
Burgundy beef in the braising pan
Four hours of cooking
Ready to eat
Easy Peasy Burgundy Beef
- 1 pound stir-fry beef, cut into 1 – 2 inch chunks (Choose your own kind of beef. Stew meat is fine; filet would be over the top.)
- olive oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 6-8 stems of fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 8 ounces white button mushrooms (one fiberboard basket)
- 10 boiling onions, blanched, outer skin peeled, root and stem ends trimmed and pierced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in obliques
- 1 rib celery, cut in triangles
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (optional)
- Over high heat in a braising pan, brown the beef in olive oil. Stir in the flour to coat the beef. Cook until the flour is lightly browned and the oil is absorbed.
- Add the beef stock, red wine, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, mushrooms, onions, carrot and celery. Return to the boil and cover.
- Transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 215°F. Braise for 4 hours, until the potatoes are cooked through and the beef is tender. Stir occasionally, and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- About 10 minutes before you are finished cooking, stir in the peas. Serve.
When you are down-sizing and decluttering as we are right now, you open a lot of boxes that haven’t been opened since the day they were packed. You also dust off a lot of things that have been lurking on a high shelf in the garage. The most common response to a new discovery is probably to ask why in the world did you save [fill in the blank] in the first place. There are some items that you are pleased to see, and that bring back fond memories. The initial response is usually to keep such treasures even though the more reasoned reaction should be to toss them out or at least give them away.
There is another category of stuff: things that you want to try out or take on another spin before you make a decision. We found one of those in the garage. We had already brought it with great care from the family farm several years ago, and we had even used it several times before banishing it to the garage.
It was my mother-in-law’s Sunbeam Carousel Rotisserie Broiler, complete with a pamphlet of recipes and illustrations of happy chickens, pigs, and cows. I’m not sure how old the broiler is, but I would guess that it came from the 1960s. You can buy one on eBay or from Amazon, complete with original box, for $90-125. Mom-Mom’s is in remarkably good shape. The electrical cord, although old and without any of the modern safety features, is not frayed. The broiler turns and heats up when you plug it in.
The process for broiling chicken with this device is amazingly simple: Truss the chicken as you might for roasting it in the oven. If you’ve never trussed a chicken, Julia Child describes a method in volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Jacques Pepin describes three methods in his classic, La Technique. Two of those methods require a trussing needle, but the task can be done simply with kitchen twine. Put your favorite flavorings in the body cavity before you truss it. I used butter, lemons and freeze-dried lemon powder. Slather the bird with melted butter. Put it on the rotisserie, legs down. Put on the lid, and plug it in. The suggested cooking times are even printed on the metal and glass-domed lid, so you don’t have to do much thinking. You can use a roasting thermometer if you prefer. For that, you will need to unplug the rotisserie, take off the lid, and preferably use an instant-read probe thermometer.
We had a five-pound chicken in the freezer. That’s about as big a bird as you can cook with the rotisserie. The chicken cooked to a beautiful golden brown and was juicy and delicious.
One thing is certain: if we spend as much time with every re-discovered treasure in our garage as we have with the rotisserie broiler we will never get down-sized or decluttered.
- Rinse and pat dry with paper towels a good-sized chicken, making sure that the bird has been completely defrosted and the gizzard, liver, heart, and neck have been removed from the body cavity.
Good-sized roasting chicken
- Remove the first joint of the wings with poultry shears.
Cut off the first joint of the wings
- Salt and pepper the body cavity generously, and, if you like, stuff it loosely with sliced lemons.
- Holding a piece of kitchen twine in your fingers, stretch out both arms. Cut the string to that length.
- Find the middle of the string and catch it under the tail. Cross the string to both drumsticks. Wrap the string around both drumsticks and pull tight so that the drumsticks come together and the body cavity closes.
- Pass the two ends of the sting up the sides of the bird. Then turn the bird over and fasten the wings against the body with loops of the string in the bend of the wing. Make sure the wing is held tightly against the body. Tie the two ends of the string together and trim off long ends. The bird should be a compact packet that will fit on the rotisserie spit safely.
Wings tied firmly against the body. Loose ends of the string need to be cut.
Drumsticks tied together and the opeining to the bdoy cavity pulled closed
Carousel Rotisserie Broiled Chicken
- 5 pound chicken
- salt and pepper
- melted butter
- Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Season the cavity with salt, pepper, sliced lemons and melted butter
- Remove the tips of the wings of the chicken at the first joint. Truss the chicken with kitchen twine according to instructions above. Make sure that the chicken is a compact bundle so that it can turn freely in the rotisserie without brushing against the heating element. Brush the whole surface generously with melted buter. Add ½ cup water or chicken stock to the drip pan that holds the spit and basket. Put the chicken, legs down, on the spit. You may need to use the basket accessory to stabilize the bird. Cover with the domed lid. Turn on the broiler by plugging it in. Make sure the chicken turns freely and clears the burner element.
- Broil for 15-17 minutes per pound, checking through the dome frequently
- When the chicken is done, unplug the rotisserie; remove the chicken from the spit being careful not to burn yourself; remove the string and lemons if you are using them; let rest for 5 minutes; carve and serve. .
Cooking times posted on the lid of the Carousel Rotisserie Broiler
The basket accessory may be useful to stabilize the bird
Ready to start broiling
Lid in place and heating element in full glow
The finished roasted chicken
I have been boiling eggs for 70 years, and I have made all the mistakes. For a long time, I would put the eggs in cold water, turn the heat to high, and let them boil away until I thought they were done – sometimes for as long as a half hour. The results were always the same: rubbery whites, tough yolks and a thick shell of green on the yolks. I just thought that was the way boiled eggs were supposed to be.
Eventually I learned that a well-boiled egg required scrupulous timing and careful temperature control. Those two changes improved my hard-boiled eggs, but I was still plagued by peeling the little gems. Sometimes, the egg would peel perfectly, but the next time with the same cooking conditions – I thought – great chunks of white would come off with the clinging shell. I read all sorts of treatises on eggs that guaranteed a “perfect” method for removing the shell. They all failed. Some talked about freshness of the egg being key. Others talked about chilling or heating. Sometimes the “no fail” method worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Julia Child, in her informative little book, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000), cited a method that she got from the State of Georgia Egg Board. The technique was very elaborate. You boiled the eggs, chilled them, brought the boiling water back up to temperature, boiled the eggs for a few seconds, and then chilled them again. I had a hard time remembering the instructions Even when I was sure that I had followed it exactly, the method sometimes worked, sometimes it didn’t.
Recently, I read of a technique, again “no fail”, in which you add baking soda to the boiling liquid. The explanation for the method is that the alkaline baking soda hastens congealing of the white and separates it from the membrane that lines the shell. I confess that I have not tried the method, but I am a bit skeptical that the baking soda penetrates the shell. Still…
The method that I have used at least a dozen times with unfailing success has appeared in the magazine, Cook’s Illustrated and in a report on the internet. The method benefits from ease and reliable guidelines. I wouldn’t presume to write about the science behind the method. For one thing, I wouldn’t understand it; for another, there’s a good chance that the explanation has just been made up. If you try cooking hard-boiled eggs by this technique, let me know your results.
- Bring the eggs to room temperature. Set them out of the refrigerator at least 2 hours before you plan to cook them.
Eggs at room temperature
- Pierce the large ends of the eggs with an egg piercer. This will let air escape from the air sac within the egg so that the egg will not crack while cooking. If you don’t have one of these handy gadgets, you can buy one at Amazon for $2-10.
Two styles of egg piercers
- In a saucepan that has a tight-fitting lid and is large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, add about 1 to 2 inches of water and a steamer basket that will hold the eggs above the level of the water.
Saucepan with steamer basket
- Bring the water to the boil. Place the eggs in a single layer in the steamer basket. Cover. Adjust the heat so that the water continues to boil but not so vigorously. Immediately start the timer.
Eggs in the steamer basket ready to be cooked
Tightly covered pot steaming away
- I cook the eggs for exactly 15 minutes, but I live at 7,000 feet above sea-level where water boils at 198°F instead of 212°F at sea-level. There, the cooking should take less time – perhaps as little as 10 minutes. – but you will have to do a little experimentation, depending upon the altitude where you live.
Cook the eggs for 15 minutes at 7,000 feet above sea-level
- When the timer goes off, transfer the eggs to a large bowl filled with ice and water. Cool the eggs for the same length of time as the cooking.
Eggs chilled in ice water for as long as they cooked
- Peel the eggs by cracking them all over on a hard surface. Then, under a thin stream of cold running water, peel the eggs, one at a time, beginning at the large end. You should be able to peel the eggs easily and with a smooth surface.
The shell peels off in large, smooth pieces
The perfect peeled egg ready to be sliced
Delicate golden yolks with no green ring!
I have been making hollandaise sauce in a blender since reading about it in Mastering the Art of French Cooking over forty years ago. After all this time I learn that I have been doing it wrong. That’s probably because Julia Child wrote that any 8-year-old child could follow the recipe. (How’s that for an ego-squelcher?) She also said that the sauce would not accept as much butter nor be as good as the sauce you made laboriously over a steaming water bath. My hollandaise always turned out a little runny, but I thought it was a butter thing and just the way it was. Nothing could be further from the truth. From watching too much TV on the Food Network, reading Michel Roux’s Eggs and Harold McGee’s Keys to Good Cooking, and playing with my new Vita-Mix, I have discovered several mistakes I have made over the years. By correcting them, I have been able to make the hollandaise of my dreams and fool-proof. It has become so easy to make and so delicious that I have become a serial saucier, putting hollandaise on asparagus, artichokes, and tonight I’m thinking of hamburgers.
HERE’S WHAT I’VE LEARNED:
1.) The eggs must be at room temperature. This is very important. If you are even thinking about making hollandaise in the afternoon or evening, take the eggs out of the refrigerator in the morning.
2.) Too much acid (lemon) and the sauce may not emulsify and will be runny. For three egg yolks use one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. If you want a more lemony flavor, you can always add some more juice after the sauce has come together.
3.) A little mustard will help the emulsification just as it does with vinaigrette and hand-made mayonnaise.
4.) Clarified butter is the gold standard, but plain melted butter, preferably unsalted, will work. Just don’t pour the milk solids that settle on the bottom into the blender. You can melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat or in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. The measuring cup may give you better control as you pour the butter into the blender. In either case, be careful not to brown or burn the butter. Let the melted butter sit for a minute or two so that the solids settle to the bottom, but the melted butter should be warm when you add it to the sauce mixture.
5.) Patience. If you just dump the melted butter into the blender, it may not come together. A slow drizzle over several minutes – just as you do with the oil in making a vinaigrette – is best. You can actually see and hear the changes when the sauce emulsifies.
So, there they are: secrets of the ages revealed. And here’s a basic recipe for hollandaise sauce made in a blender.
Blender Hollandaise Sauce
- 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
- pinch cayenne (to taste)
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, mustard, and cayenne to the container of the blender. Cover with the center plug of the lid removed. Blend on one of the higher settings of your machine.
- When the mixture is completely blended, very slowly pour the melted butter into the mixture by drizzles. This should take at least a couple of minutes. Stop adding butter when the solids at the bottom reach the lip of the butter container.
- Serve immediately. Otherwise transfer the sauce to a bowl and keep it warm in a larger bowl of warm water for no more than 30 minutes.
When I wrote recently about Julia Child’s recipe for ratatouille, I reported that she suggested serving it with pot au feu. I was looking for something simple, but the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking served twelve to sixteen people and called for 4 pounds of beef, 4 pounds of pork, 4 pounds of chicken, 2 pounds of sausage, and vegetables. That was more than I wanted to tackle.
I had more in mind boiled beef, which sounded fairly simple and something that would not overpower the ratatouille. There is a traditional Creole dish, known as bouilli. It has been served for decades in most of the old-line restaurants of New Orleans. Perhaps the best known version is served at Tujague’s, which was established in 1856 and claims to be the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans. (The famous Antoine’s Restaurant dates to 1840.) Tujague’s sits on Decatur at the corner of Madison, a block from Jackson Square. Like the rest of the French Quarter, the restaurant survived Hurricane Katrina. It is still serving bouilli. I first enjoyed it in 1962. At the time, I thought it was pretty ordinary – stringy beef served in a watery broth. Since then, I guess my taste buds have matured, or at least changed. Bouilli was exactly what I was looking for to serve with ratatouille.
This is not Tujague’s authentic version of boiled beef. For one thing, theirs is made with brisket. I am also certain that they use some secret herbs and spices that I don’t know about. Still, I think that my version makes a good, if a bit bland, foil for the Mediterranean flavors of ratatouille.
Beef and vegetables in broth starting the slow boil
Bouilli with vegetables and ratatouille
Bouilli (Boiled Beef)
- 2 pounds beef pot roast (chuck or round)
- 1 quart beef stock
- water as needed
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in half crosswise
- 2 ribs celery cut in thirds
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 medium turnips, peeled and quartered
- bouquet garni of whole cloves, parsley, bay leaf, fresh thyme, garlic
- 12 whole black peppercorns
- salt to taste
- Place beef in a soup pot and add broth and enough water to cover the meat.
- Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce to the simmer for 3 to 4 hours or until the beef is tender.
- Remove the beef rom the broth, slice, and serve with some of the broth and the vegetables, if desired. Serve horseradish on the side.
- Strain and reserve, chilled, remaining broth for other uses.