Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Let me eat cake(s)!

Another birthday has come and gone.  What kind of cake did I want?  Strawberry Shortcake?
Or Tiramisu?
Lucky me!  I didn't have to choose.  The Ex-Ex came home yesterday afternoon carrying boxes filled with huge slices of cake made by Nichole Anderson, pastry chef extraordinaire at Nantucket Grill and Bar at Sutton Station here in Durham.   And let me tell you, they are both excellent.  I have eaten some of both.
We went to Q Shack for dinner.  This place is a big hit with the sons.  And with me, too.  The pork barbecue is so tender.   "BBQ tender as a mother's love" is their motto.  And very good hushpuppies and creamed spinach, too.

My gift this year?  A panini sandwich maker--
It looks all nice and shiny, but I have already experimented a little.  I made lunchtime sandwiches today for the boys with it.  (They are working outdoors at my school this summer on the grounds crew and they come home hungry and hot at noon.)  Nothing too daring for their picky palates-- ham and parmesan cheese.  I had a loaf of homemade bread that worked well.  For me, though, I tried pesto and mozzarella with the last two pieces of the bread.
It went very well with the leftover gazpacho in my refrigerator.  Kind of an different spin on tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, n'est-ce pas?
When the Ex-Ex gave me his card, I realized the difference in our eyesight.  We are both 52.  He wears glasses only to read (he is forevermore leaving them in the car when we go out to dinner and I patiently read the menu to him-- at least I try to be patient.  I really do.).  I have bifocals, in the form of both glasses and contact lens.  I see very well up close, but not so well at a distance.  I got my first pair of glasses in 7th grade and contacts in college.  Back to the birthday card.  The front--
I laughed as I read it...
You are awesome.  You smell good.  You're funny.  You like sports.  You're kind to animals.  You're strong.  You're cool to hang out with.  You're a good friend.  You like burgers.  You're having a birthday.  You could be president.  You've got good taste in friends.  You've got ideas.  You're not cheesy.  You rule.  You're a good driver.  You clean up nice.  You're fun to know.  You're a righteous dude.  You are not unattractive.  You can name three state capitals.  You've got a good heart.  You make people happy.  You chew with your mouth closed (most of the time).  
I have never been called a righteous dude before and expressed that thought.  I got a blank stare in return.  Yep, you guessed it.  He bought the card without wearing his glasses.  He had no idea that there was anything written on it except the big black words.
Here's the inside--
Too funny.

Bon appétit et bon anniversaire!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

'Maters and gazpacho

What a lovely sight from a recent Saturday morning Durham Farmers' Market.  When I was a little girl, I was actually allergic to tomatoes (or 'maters if you live in the Appalachian Mountains!)-- they made me all itchy.  Luckily, that wore off.  Is there anything better than a tomato sandwich in the summertime?  White bread, mayo, juicy tomato (just one huge slice if you are lucky enough to have one that big) and maybe cheese if you feel the desire.  You can sprinkle on a little salt, too, if you want.  I could eat that for breakfast.  (And I would right now if I had one of those tomatoes sitting in my windowsill.)
I used up all my tomatoes yesterday making Gazpacho.  My first attempt ever.  And I am quite proud of it, truth be told.
I peeled and seeded the cucumber, peppers and tomatoes.  Diced the onion, smashed and minced the garlic.  Put it all in a big pot and used my immersion blender to smooth it out.  What a great truc.
Added olive oil, sea salt, pepper and bread crumbs and blended some more.  Taste, taste, taste.  Little more salt.  Snipped up some basil leaves from the jardin potager that is growing in the BFF's backyard.  Blended a little more.  Put it in the refrigerator for a few hours.  And voilà...
A little Parmesan, some homemade bread and there's a nice, chilled summer dinner.  A gourmet Frenchie might also serve some melon and jambon cru, Prosciutto ham being the closest translation I can figure out for that.
I have lots of leftovers and will need to be creative in the next few days in order to get the eaters who live with me to try it.


8 tomatoes
1 cucumber
2 peppers (I used yellow and orange)
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
Olive oil-- I used probably 1/2 c.
1 c. (120 g) bread crumbs
Water, if needed
Salt and pepper, to taste
Basil, optional

Peel and seed the tomatoes, cucumber and peppers.  (I still use Chef Érick's method of roasting peppers and tomatoes over a gas flame just enough to break the skin- they then peel easily and you don't loose any of the flesh.)  Seed and dice them.  Dice the onion and mince the garlic.  Blend to make smooth.  Add the bread crumbs, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Blend again.  Add some water, if it is too thick.  Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.  Blend again.  Add basil or other herbs, if using and blend once again.  Refrigerate until chilled.

Bon appétit, les tomates!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The world's best job?

Sometimes I think I am the last person to discover something everyone else already knows about.  And sometimes I resist books, movies or whatever, just because everyone is talking about them and I am certain that whatever it is, it can't possibly be that good.  Okay, so I am just a little bit stubborn, I guess.  But this time it seems everyone is right.  I have finally found David Lebovitz.  I read his blog now, word for word and I even read all the comments because they are really amazing, too.  His photos are so gorgeous that they make my mouth water (if you don't believe me, just click on the link and see for yourself!).
Does he have the world's best job or what?  He worked in the pastry department at Chez Panisse in California, he has written or been featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles and television shows.  He writes best-selling cookbooks (desserts are his specialty), and lives in PARIS. Ah oui.  He lives in the same city as La Tour Eiffel.  He eats and drinks and blogs about it.  And he is really funny, too. 
I do know that no one has the perfect life.  I came to that realization in my mid-thirties when I figured out that I was not the only person whose life was not an episode of "Leave It To Beaver" or "The Brady Bunch."  But, hey, I think M. Lebovitz just might have it figured out...
And as soon as I am brave enough to actually try to make one of his recipes, I will blog about it and take a few photos.
Oh-- he also mentioned anchovies from the beautiful French town of Collioure.

How nice to reminisce...

Bon appétit, David!  Keep eating and blogging, s'il vous plaît!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Finding my cool

My July article is in today's Durham Herald-Sun.  It all started with a Durham Find Your Cool t-shirt and meeting Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham, Inc.

Read on...

Bon appétit to all who helped with this one...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sunset Beach

A Sunset Beach sunset as seen from the rooftop deck of our rented house...
This is the last summer of the old drawbridge over the Intracoastal Waterway to the island.  The new bridge is slated to open this fall.
College age-son with his toes in the Atlantic Ocean.
And here is Camp Engebretsen--

I am proud to say that we are the only ones with an authentic boules game going on... everyone else is playing bocce

My job today was to take photos and, more importantly, keep the seagulls from swooping down and stealing the cochonnet.
We saw a guy flying his kite.  Very impressive display--

Dinner tonight was Frogmore Stew--
Thanks to Uncle Beano, the BFF's brother, for sharing his recipe.  Not much was left after the six of us finished.
The table is best set with newspapers.  Before--
The cook enjoyed a lovely glass of rosé while chopping and stirring.  (Cool photo of the Ex-Ex, huh?)
Bon appétit et bonnes vacances!

Friday, July 16, 2010


Today, as I was looking through my photos, the color red caught my eye much the same way that green did back in June.  This is a sign the Ex-Ex and I saw in downtown Durham one night as we were strolling around checking out some of the night spots.  (We love bulls in Durham, much the same way as they do in Arles, France-- could that be why I felt so at home there??)
This is how we spent a recent Friday night... a movie from redbox at Harris Teeter, Jimmy John's subs and Sweetwater Blue (not red!) beer.
This is one of the cute little red tomatoes from my deck.  The Ex-Ex was being funny.  He didn't even eat it.  I did.
The Stars and (red) stripes at the Durham Bulls game on July 4.  We won!
Fireworks from after the game--  "...and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air..."
My red Dutch oven with onions softening in olive oil to be used in ratatouille.

Another shot of the American flag's red stripes, this time from the recent Toby Keith concert at Walnut Creek (you can see his cowboy hat in the right bottom corner).
But if you want to see him up close and personal--
Wasn't it nice of him to dress in a red shirt just for me (the BFF will swear he did it just for her, of course)?
Red tomatoes from the Durham Farmers' Market.
A glass of red Côtes du Rhône with High Rock Lake in the background.
And now the star of this week's show-- red cherries.  I love them.  They are my favorite fruit.  Grandma Bell had a cherry tree in the back yard and I ate so many of them it is a wonder that I did not "founder" on them.  (That is a mountain saying which translates to eating so many that you get sick and can never again eat another one.)  Luckily, I did not do this and love them to this day.  I found them for only $1.99 a pound at a local grocery store and bought a couple of pounds.  High school-age son loves them, too, and likes to eat them even with the stem and pit still attached (he does not eat the stem and pit, though, thank goodness).  College age-son loves cherry pie.  My wonderful mother-in-law, the Ex-Ex's mom, started making the college age-son a cherry pie for his birthday when he was very young.  Needless to say, he is very fond of cherry pie.  The rest of us rarely get any.  We usually have to settle for pumpkin pie since his birthday is around Thanksgiving.
Anyway, I had these beautiful red cherries in my kitchen, getting very ripe.
I made cherry scones, using the lavender scone recipe (listed on the side of my blog home page), without the lavender.  You could add some almonds and / or almond flavoring, if you wish.  Scones are a wonderful breakfast treat.  I have made them often this summer with whatever fresh fruit just happens to be in the house-- peaches, strawberries, blueberries, etc.
We are leaving for a week at Sunset Beach tomorrow and I just could not waste the cherries.  So, I was inspired to make a lovely French dessert-- Cherry Clafoutis.  It is a cherry custard baked delight.  Not too sweet.  Fresh cherries make it so sinfully good.  If you have never tasted it, now is the time.  Fresh cherries won't be around much longer...

Cherry Clafoutis
(serves 6)
from My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, for the dish
1-1/2 lb. sweet cherries, pitted
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1-1/4 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar, for serving

Heat oven to 350F.  Butter a shallow oven-proof dish.  Spread the cherries in the dish.
Put the flour and sugar in a large bowl, mix together, and make a well in the middle.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs; add the milk and vanilla and whisk to combine.
Slowly pour the liquids into the dry ingredients, beating constantly until all the liquid has been added and you have a smooth batter.  Pour over the cherries.
Bake for 40 minutes, until the batter is firm to the touch and golden on top.  Sift with confectioners' sugar on top and serve just warm.

Bon appétit, les cerises!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ratatouille and La Bastille

Rémy, from Ratatouille

The storming of the Bastille prison took place July 14, 1789, 221 years ago today.  The Bastille is where the king would put people who could not pay their taxes.  When the prison was taken over by citizens of the Third Republic, rumor has it that only 7 were actually there.  The prison was dismantled, so it no longer stands.  King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were in power then and I guess you know what happened to them... off with their heads.  When you are in that neighborhood, you can see the outline of the prison on the streets and sidewalks.  The July Column stands in the middle of the square, a monument to the Revolution.

It's a great neighborhood to visit, in the 12th arrondissement.  The (new-- well, relatively speaking- it was inaugurated in 1989) Opéra de la Bastille is there now, all glass and modern.
I could sing La Marseillaise for you, but I will just show you the sculpture, named for the national anthem, that is at the Arc de Triomphe.
So, how have I spent the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille?  Quite a bit of cooking, which makes me very happy, unlike the face above (I use this picture in class to illustrate how I feel when I have been asked a question about something I have just answered...).
I found a recipe in the 2010 Summer Entertaining edition of Cook's Illustrated, my new favorite cooking magazine.  Really, this magazine is amazing.  The writers go into the whys of their recipes without making it too scientific or technical.  I read these magazines from cover to cover.  I found this one at the grocery store yesterday.  It didn't come with my subscription (I am eternally grateful to Sharon and Charles Maxfield for this gift-- I need to write another thank you note!), but I was more than happy to pay for it.
My new recipe?  Ratatouille, one of my summer favorites.  And this recipe is the best I've ever used.  It keeps the flavors separate and the vegetables don't get all mushy.
First the eggplant, l'aubergine-- sprinkled with salt and left to stand to remove some of the water in it.
Next, the zucchini, les courgettes--
Then come the onions, les oignons--
And, of course, bien sûr, the garlic, l'ail--
Tomatoes, les tomates--

And, fresh from my deck garden, parsley, basil and thyme, le persil, le basilic et le thym--
(chopped up with my really cute mezzaluna or hachoir).
Olive oil is the only other ingredient.
When I arrived in Arles in June of 2007 to work with Chef Érick, my French kitchen vocabulary was non-existent.  No kidding.  He sent me off the first night to fetch une louche.  I had no earthly idea that he needed a ladle.  I stood there wandering if I should just play ignorant and bring him any gadget or  truc, or just go ahead and admit that I was clueless.  I decided to go with the latter.  A smart move.  He could probably guess from the look on my face that I had no idea what he was saying anyway.  It just had not even dawned on me that I should actually learn some new vocabulary words before going to work with him.  Nothing like on-the-job-training to teach you some really useful new words.  Survival French.
Alors, revenons à nos moutons... Let's get back to our sheep... the French expression for getting back to the matter at hand.  Maybe it comes from a Molière play?  Non, I just googled it and it comes from a 15th century play, La Farce de Maître Pathelin, written by an unknown author.  I remember reading the play in college, but I thought it was my old friend Molière.
Let's get back to our ratatouille.  Do not be scared of the steps involved in this recipe.  It is very easy and well worth the time and effort.  The Ex-Ex, my most discerning eater, ate two helpings of it for dinner (and he swears that he hates hot tomatoes...).

makes 7 cups, serving 4-6 as a side dish

2 large eggplants (about 2-2 1/2 lbs. total), cut into 1-inch cubes
Table salt
2 large zucchini (about 1 1/2 lbs. total), scrubbed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 tsp.)
3 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound, very ripe beefsteaks are recommended), peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes (I peel mine by holding them over the gas flame just enough to break the skin so that they can be easily peeled; you can also do this by putting them in very hot water and then peeling them)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper

1.  Place eggplant in large colander set over large bowl;  sprinkle with 2 tsp. salt and toss to distribute salt evenly.  Let stand at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours.  Rinse eggplant well under running water to remove salt and spread in even layer on triple layer of paper towels; cover with another triple layer.  Press firmly on eggplant until it is dry and feels firm and compressed.
2.  Adjust one oven rack to upper-middle position and second rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 500F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil.
3.  Toss eggplant, zucchini and 2 Tbsp. olive oil together in a large bowl, then divide evenly between baking sheets, spreading in single layer on each.  Sprinkle with salt and roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until well-browned and tender, 30-40 minutes, rotating baking sheets from top to bottom halfway through roasting time.  Set aside.
4.  Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering.  Add onion; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown, 15-20 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes and cook until they release liquid and begin to break down, about 5 minutes.  Add roasted eggplant and zucchini, stirring gently but thoroughly to combine, and cook until just heated through, about 5 minutes.  Stir in parsley, basil and thyme; season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Rosé wine would have seemed a logical choice-- summer vegetable dish with herbs-- and I have a bottle chilling in the refrigerator.  But I was in the mood for a Côtes du Rhône red tonight.  I chose Ferraton Père et Fils 2008 Samorëns.   A great choice from Wine Authorities.
Et comme dessert?  I don't have dessert very often, but there was a bar of chocolate in my pantry calling my name...
(I always kept a stash of Lindt bars in the cupboard in Arles, too.  I made frequent trips to Monoprix to replenish my supply.)

Bon appétit, la belle France et bonne fête!  Vive la France!