Ratatouille With Spicy Harissa Sauce and 92 Point Matthews Syrah

Ratatouille ingredients:
1 Japanese eggplant
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1 zucchini
1/2 red bell pepper
2 ripe tomatoes
1/2 tsp. basil
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/8 tsp. cumin
splash of red wine
1 bay leaf
Harissa ingredients:
1 Tbsp. chili powder
3 cloves garlic, mashed
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground caraway seed
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 slices bread
approximately 2 oz. grated Parmesan
Chop eggplant into rough 1" cubes, place in a colander and sprinkle on all sides with salt. Let sit for 1/2 hour so some of the liquid "sweats" out of the eggplant. Heat a pot of water until boiling then add the tomatoes (you can slit the skin of the tomatoes to help peel them). When the skin of the tomatoes begin to peel off, remove them to a bowl to cool, then peel and mash them. Heat the oil in a wide skillet or saucepan and cook the onions and garlic in it over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels and stir the eggplant into the skillet. Cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the peeled tomatoes, zucchini, bell pepper, herbs and splash of wine. Adjust the heat to simmer for 30-40 minutes. Stir the ratatouille occasionally and cook until the vegetables are soft but not mushy. Remove the bay leaf and adjust seasoning to taste (you will probably not need to add additional salt as the eggplant will retain some salt).
In a bowl, mix the harissa ingredients well and set aside. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan on the bread and toast them until golden brown. Cut into triangles for a nice presentation and use a squeeze bottle to apply lines of harissa to your plating of the ratatouille. Enjoy with the luscious 2006 Matthews Syrah given a 92 Point rating by Wine Spectator. Serves 2.
WEEK #4 CULINARY SCHOOL ADVENTURES: This week's country was Italy--land of fabulous food and wine. Just the thought of it brings back sensuous gustatory memories--the fecund, earthy aroma of the Tuscan land that is captured in each ruby glass of noble Brunello, the plates of fresh fish and risotto at Il Porticciolo with the waters of Lago Maggiore spangled with lights in the evening, and the magical summer festa in my Italian friend Luciana's garden with a feast of fresh produce and fish--which precipitated the birth of this blog. (see July 3, 2008 post for recipes) Even the snobbish French conceded in Larousse Gastronomique (the seminal encyclopedia of cuisine) that Italian food is the most imaginative in Europe and, in fact, the mother of European cuisine. We learned this from our textbook, along with the history of Catherine de Medici. She was married to Henry II of France in 1533 and brought her chefs with her, along with new foods such as broccoli, peas, artichokes, and the tradition of fine pastries and sauces. She also brought the Italian love of opulent table settings with embroidered linens, perfumes, sugar sculptures and luxurious silverware and glasses.

The teams' task was to prepare handmade Ravioli di Melanzane E Pomodori (Eggplant and Sundried Tomato Ravioli), Pizza, and Pollo Alla Cacciatora (Chicken Caccitore). Our team also made almond butter cookies. I frenched the chicken (see here for YouTube video) and gave it a splash of brandy.
Once again, there was amazing creativity--one team deep fried their ravioli and topped it with sugar, lemon zest and caramel sauce. Another made chicken scallopini as an extra dish--it was my favorite. Nestled on a bed of tender, hand-cut noodles, the chicken was crispy and topped with a line of sundried tomatoes and capers.


Coq au Vin and Week #3 Culinary School adventures

CULINARY SCHOOL: This week's Culinary School class covered French cuisine. Our teams had to make Coq au Vin, Ratatouille, and Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin in a little over two hours. The textbook recipes are just a springboard for us to dive into creative interpretations of the dishes. So, one team made their ratatouille in an innovative fashion--towers of the grilled vegetables that would normally go into a classic recipe, piled high and topped with a tasty tomato sauce. I made ratatoille cooked in butter and served with a harissa sauce of chili, garlic, salt and olive oil. (note: see Feb. 24, 2010 entry for recipe).
Teammate Kyle made his awesome Coq au Vin (the recipe below is my own tried and true home recipe) that wowed the other student judges. It's bit hectic getting one's dish prepared in the intricate dance of a commercial kitchen with a dozen chefs weaving past each other to get to the stoves, ovens and sinks, so there was no time for me to get his exact ingredients but the potatoes were braised in a separate cream sauce and the chicken was nice and juicy. Our team won a Gold Medal again this week! My favorite dish out of all the class dishes was Marguerita's version of the Tarte Tatin. She formed individual tarts with melt-in-your-mouth pastry and plated them with brandied whipped cream--top notch!
2 small roasting chickens cut into eighths
approximately 1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. thyme, in two parts
1 tsp. marjoram, in two parts
1/2 Tbsp. garlic salt
1/4 lb. butter
3 Tbsp. cognac
1 dozen pearl onions, peeled
1 dozen button mushrooms
2 cups dry red wine
1 bay leaf
1 dozen fingerling potatoes of approximately the same size
spray olive oil
2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. ground rosemary
Arrange your oven racks so you can accommodate a baking sheet and a heavy, lidded pot (like a Dutch oven). Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Mix the flour with 1/4 tsp. of the thyme, 1/2 tsp. of the marjoram and the garlic salt. Dredge the chicken parts in the flour (discard any leftover flour mixture). Melt the butter in the pot over medium heat then brown the chicken on all sides. Pour the cognac into a separate bowl, then into the pot (not directly from the bottle to the pot) and flame it by lighting it with a long handled match or bbq lighter--be careful not to get burned as the cognac will suddenly flare up for a few seconds. Add the pearl onions, button mushrooms, red wine and bay leaf, then stir, cover tighly and put in the oven.  To make the potatoes: peel and tourne them, if you want a more French presentation, or leave the skins on for the vitamins and mineral nutrition. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with the parsley and rosemary. Place on an oiled baking sheet and put in the oven an hour after the Coq au Vin went into the oven. Turn the meat over in the Coq au Vin pot so the meat is braised in the juices evenly. Continue baking the coq au vin for another 45 minutes, turning over the Coq au Vin once more and the potatoes once during that time. Remove the potatoes when they are cooked through and lightly browned. Serves 6-8 people. Pair with the 2005 Curtis Heritage Cuvée.
For a more elaborate recipe using mirepoix and no flour--see 10/18/11 post.
To take the "Modern Food: Design and Theory Class",  I'm required to take Food Safety which is everything you didn't want to know about food borne pathogens. (it would be so much easier to still believe in the "ten second rule")
Test your knowledge:
1. what is FAT TOM?
2. can you safely eat a baked potato that has been on the counter all day?
3. if you cook fish thoroughly, does that mean it can't make you sick?
Basically, there are bacteria and viruses everywhere--in the air we breathe, the water, the soil. They normally don't cause problems because our immune systems can destroy them if they enter our body, but when our immune systems are weakened or the pathogen population has proliferated, then we get sick. FAT TOM is an acronym for: Food, Acidity, Time, Temperature, Oxygen and Moisture. Pathogens thrive when the PH balance is neither too alkaline nor too acid (PH between 4.6 to 7.5); when the temperature is between 41 degrees (refrigerators are below this) and 135 degrees;  when there is sufficient moisture (over 85% is optimal for growth) and when there is oxygen (though botulism can grow without oxygen in food such as garlic/oil mixtures and improperly canned food). Time is a huge factor. For instance, Salmonella won't grow much for the first two hours poultry or dairy is at room temperature, but after that, Salmonella growth is explosive and the population will be doubling every 20 minutes. After four hours, foods sensitive to Time and Temperature pathogen growth should be thrown out! Not all foods fall into this time and temperature sensitive category--for instance, crackers are alkaline in PH and low in moisture, so they don't foster pathogen growth. Uncooked rice is similar--but cook rice (adding moisture and changing the PH) and it becomes vulnerable. Fish, ground meat and chicken are particularly dangerous if handled or cooked improperly because their meat is porous, allowing bacteria to move into the center parts. Slabs of beef, such as steaks, are dense. If the outside is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill bacteria (as on a grill) then the inside can safely remain rare (ground beef has to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees).
Fish is doubly problematic because it can harbor parasites. I think of the years when I used to go out fishing with my boyfriend and make ceviche from our fresh catch. Even the lime juice and salt won't kill the parasites on the interior parts of the fish pieces. I'm so relieved I never had the symptom mentioned in the textbook: coughing up worms! One interesting bit of information is that Japanese sushi fish is always flash frozen then rethawed to avoid parasites. Sushi bars in the US are often owned and run by non-Japanese who have not been trained well. I'm half Japanese so I recognize Korean sushi chefs (most Americans can't tell the difference). I've even seen a Hispanic sushi chef and when I queried him, heard what I was sure of from the outset--that he was never trained in the Japanese method. In Japan it takes years of training, sometimes ten years, before an apprentice can move up to making sushi--in the meantime he makes the rice and learns from the master how to inspect and treat all the ingredients so no one contracts a parasite or illlness. I never eat sushi unless it's from a Japanese chef I trust. Anyway, toxins in seafood cause illnesses like Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. They're not bacteria or viruses but substances created by bacteria or by the fish themselves or by the algae they have been eating--they can't be smelled or tasted or cooked out. The only way to avoid these toxins is to buy fresh fish from reputable sources who buy from fishermen working in unpolluted water, something becoming more difficult in this stressed planet. Buy good quality food from reputable sources, keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. And never pick up food from the floor--your shoes could have stepped in dog doo outside and tracked a trace of it onto the floor that's too small to be seen by the naked eye--drop something that picks up the Hepatitis A and pop it into your mouth? I don't think so!
Center For Disease Control: Food borne illness
USDA Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill
*the most complete and organized site for Food Safety: TLC Food: Food Safety Tips


Roasted Vegetable Tart and Week 2 Culinary School

For the crust:
3 cups flour
7 oz. cold butter, cut into chunks
1/2 tsp. salt +
6 Tbsp. sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
about 3/4 cup ice cold water
For the filling:
1 medium beet, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 Japanese eggplants, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1/2 Tbsp. rosemary
1/2 Tbsp. thyme
1/2 Tbsp. oregano
spray olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
4 Tbsp. milk
8 oz. goat cheese at room temperature
6 oz. whipped cream cheese at room temperature
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Spread the cubed eggplant onto a double thickness of paper towel and sprinkle all over with salt, turning the cubes to coat all sides lightly. (This drains some of the water from the eggplant) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Process the flour and butter together in a food processor until they are mixed and crumbly. Turn onto a lightly floured board. Add the salt, cheese and the smallest amount of the cold water needed for the the dough to just come together in a rough ball. Put the ball of dough into plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.
Continue preparing the Vegetables:
Spray a baking pan with olive oil and spread the cubed beets on one part, spray with oil, then sprinkle with the rosemary. Spread the cauliflower florets on another part of the sheet and spray with oil. Roll the eggplant up in the paper towel and gently press to remove any liquid that has "sweated" out, then spread the eggplant cubes on the remaining area of the pan and spray with oil. Sprinkle the cauliflower and eggplant with the thyme and oregano. Put in the oven and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes, until beets can easily be pierced with a fork. Remove the baking sheet and set aside to cool. Roll out the dough into a circle on a piece of parchment. Slide the parchment onto a clean baking sheet. Mix 4 oz. of the goat cheese, the cream cheese and Parmesan in a bowl with a spatula. Spread the cheese mixture onto the circle of dough, leaving an inch space around the edge. Place the vegetables onto the cheese in stripes for a decorative effect. Turn up the edges of the dough and pinch together (see photo). Taste a bit of vegetable with the cheese mixture and sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper if desired. Separate the remaining 2 oz. of the goat cheese into small bits and sprinkle on top of the tart. Mix the egg yolk and milk together.  Use a pastry brush to coat the exposed areas of the dough with the egg mixture. Place the tart into the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Serves 6.
CULINARY CLASS WEEK #2: Lots of fun! Each week, we cook recipes from a different country (or group of countries). Week #1 was Great Britain: England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales--so our dishes were Cornish Pasties, Cod Cakes and Scones. This week covered Spain and Portugal: empanadas, gazpacho, and paella. There were 12 students--perfect for four teams of three. I formed our empanadas like the rustic tart above--with cumin seed in the dough, stuffed with pork loin cubes cooked in orange juice, garlic and cumin, and plated it with an olive tapenade made with capers and garlic. One of my team members Marguerita, made a beautiful gazpacho, nicely presented with crispy pastry triangles topped with various gaspacho condiments, such as thin sliced pepper. Each team presents their dishes with a description of the ingredients and cooking techniques, we taste all the dishes, then vote on the best team effort (voting for our own not allowed). Our team won Gold Medals! (just like the Olympics) Chef Van Hecke posted photos here.


Post Zinfandel Weekend and School Of Culinary Arts

Last weekend at ZAP, someone told me it is the single largest wine event in the world with 9,000 attendees.
I don't know how to verify that, but I can tell you that the Saturday event had a convention-like hum during the press/trade hours, but when the Zinfandel afficionados were let in there was a roar and din for the rest of the afternoon that made it impossible to hear anyone who wasn't shouting in your ear. It was crazy! But fun! Zinfandel has grown up and is a far cry from the insipid factory produced white Zinfandel that gave the grape a bad name. Now small-lot, Estate winemakers with vineyards in prime Sonoma, Napa, Lodi and Mendocino real estate are making wonderful, complex, jammy, structured wines.

Saturday I was working the Touring and Tasting table giving away magazines,
so only had the chance to scurry off and have a few sips, but was impressed, especially with all the Seghesio Zins: the 2008 Sonoma, the 2007 Old Vine and the 2007 Cortina, Dry Creek Valley. Many of the best Zins came from the Dry Creek appellation (just north of the Russian River), like the 2006 Dry Creek Old Vine (their 2007 Heritage and 2007 Summer's Ranch also good). Speaking of Old Vine, I wonder if that may be one reason some Zins are so delicious. Zinfandel has been planted in California for almost 200 years and not only are there very old vines yielding highly extracted wines but Zinfandel has become identified so much with California that some call it "America's vine and wine".  A benefit for those of us watching our budgets is that the Zin price points are lower than Cab, and an extra benefit (or so I experienced) is that the Zin "audience" seems to be friendly and unpretentious. Anyway, I hope to be at ZAP again next year!

On another note, I'm taking cooking classes at the School of Culinary Arts at Santa Barbara City College. I'm not taking the full course, but petitioned to take the Modern Food: Design, Style, Theory with Vincent Van Hecke, chef at the Valley Club of Montecito. Each week we cook dishes from a different country. Next week is Spain and Portugal, so I came up with my version of the favorite empanada with a sauce that's essentially a thick gazpacho with Manchego cheese:

1 /12 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
 1  egg, stirred, in two parts
1/8 cup ice water
3/4  Tbsp. white vinegar
Sift flour with salt into a large bowl, then quickly cut in the butter until the lumps are the size of peas. Use a pastry blender or two dinner knives-- with one in each hand and the knives crossed in the middle of their blades, cut the butter by closing the blades together so they act like a pair of scissors. Whisk together 1/2 the egg, water, and vinegar in a separate bowl. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. Avoid overmixing or being slow and letting the butter melt, otherwise the dough will be tough and not flaky. With floured hands, gather the dough together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour along with the bowl containing the rest of the egg.
1 half chicken breast with rib and skin
1 bay leaf
1 baking potato, quartered
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Put potato, chicken and bay leaf into pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken and put it in a bowl inside a larger bowl of ice to cool the chicken so you can remove the meat. Chop into 1" pieces. When the potatoes are just done (don't overcook), remove them to a bowl to cool inside the ice bowl. When cool, remove the peel and cut into 1" cubes. In a pan, saute the onions until translucent. Mix the chicken, potatoes, onion mixture, garlic, and cumin in a bowl. Taste and add the salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough and egg out of the refrigerator and divide the dough in two. Roll out each part of the dough into a long oval on a floured board. Mound half of the chicken mixture on one half of the dough, dip a finger in water and run it around the edge of the dough, then fold the empty side over the chicken mixture and press the edges together. Poke the empanada with the end of a sharp knife to make holes where steam will escape. Repeat for the other empanada and brush the remaining egg on the tops. Put the empanadas on a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of parchment paper in the oven and cook 35 minutes or until golden brown.
Optional Manchego-Tomato Dipping Sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped onion
1 clove garlic
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 lemon
2 Tbsp. parsley leaves
1/4 tsp. salt
dash pepper
1/2 cup finely grated Manchego
Mix all the ingredients, except the parsley and Manchego cheese, in a blender on "liquefy" until smooth. Add the parsley and pulse until it is cut into small bits but not blended completely--you will see flecks of the green parsley. Use a spatula to transfer into a saucepan and add the Manchego. Heat over medium flame until warm and serve with the empanadas along with the French-oaked 2007 Greenwood Ridge Chardonnay. Serves 2.

CULINARY ARTS CLASS WEEK #1: This week was our first class cooking in the School of Culinary Arts commercial kitchen and I have to say I was nervous! I'm used to cooking in my kitchen alone with ample time; the class is run like "Top Chef" where each team cooks three recipes in an alloted amount of time and is judged by the class. Luckily Chef Van Hecke gave me a break since I didn't know where anything was or how to fit in--I was an extra member for one of the teams and had to make something supplemental to the three dishes, which were a Scottish pastie (last week's region was the British Isles), cod cakes and scones. My team made some lovely pasties with flaky crust that I garnished with a parsley/tomato relish (more on this later),  scones that Jesse plated beautifully with a spiced tea and my pineapple/raisin compote, and cod cakes with aioli. When I first started, I let my nervousness get the best of me, at one point, I looked down at my cutting board which was a mess of parsley and tomato for the garnish. Chef looked over my should just at that moment and pointedly asked how I was doing. "I've gotten off on the wrong foot", I gasped. "Well, we learn from our mistakes." he replied and it prompted me to take a deep breath, say my prayers and get myself organized.  Fortunately, the class liked what I prepared, so I felt like I'd passed the initial test, though I still managed to do something dumb out of ignorance. Not knowing the protocol for washing dishes, I put a dirty dish with food scraps into the rinse basin and was reprimanded by one of the students, and rightly so, for as I realized, with thirteen cooks running around a kitchen with hot pots, sharing the equipment and facilities under time constraint, anyone getting in the way or messing up the system takes away from the efficiency of everyone else. There's plenty of opportunity for me to make a mistake in the future, so I'm determined to think things through in the future and remember mise en place: to get all my ingredients assembled and prepped before starting to cook so my workspace can be clean and neat. Anyway, the class is nerve-wracking but exhilarating. I definitely feel in my element being with others who are crazy about good food. Yesterday morning my daughter found me at the computer looking at pictures of food. She rolled her teenage eyes at me and said "Mom, only YOU would be looking at food at 6 in the morning." I haven't been able to confirm this yet as I don't really know the other students in my class, but I'm sure there are kindred spirits who are thinking about and researching food in their free time as well!