Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ridiculously Good Oven-Baked Ratatouille

What I like most about this Mark Bittman-inspired Ratatouille recipe, is that the fresh vegetables are baked, not fried, thus making it more of a Tian of Provencal Vegetables.  It's absolutely delicious, and the recipe could not be easier!

I start with 1 Bermuda onion, 1 Anaheim pepper, 1 poblano pepper, 2 Italian eggplants, 2 zucchini, 2 Roma tomatoes, and 5 heads of garlic.  First, I slice the onion and peppers into long, thin strips.  Next, I slice the eggplant, zucchini and tomato lengthwise into 1/4-inch  slices, and finally, I peel and slice the garlic into very thin slices.

I also chop about 1/2 cup of Italian flat leaf parsley.

In a casserole, I start layering the vegetables, starting with half of the onion slices,...

... followed by half of the sliced eggplant,...

... followed by half of the sliced the tomatoes, half of the pepper strips, and half of the zucchini slices.

Then I add half of the sliced garlic and half chopped parsley, as well as sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste...

...and repeat.

I drizzle 1/4-cup of very good extra virgin olive oil over the top, cover, add a bit more salt and pepper, and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, pressing down the vegetables with a spatula every 1/2 hour or so until the vegetables are soft and completely cooked through.

The finished dish is divine, served hot, cold, or room temperature.  We love it along side rice or bulgur, and it also makes a great starter.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The BIG Ice Cube -- It Rocks the Cocktail!

We usually dine at home, and I seldom find myself in a bar, so I know I am late to the party when it comes to discovering the BIG ice cube.  But I must say, what a marvelous innovation!  My first encounter with the big ice cube was earlier this year when I was dining at A-Frame in Culver City with my friend Jessica.  I ordered a Manhattan while waiting at the bar, and when the bartender placed in front of me a beautiful cocktail served over one giant ice cube, my eyes lit up.  I just thought it was fantastic, and so smart! Clearly what I had in front of me was a drink that would stay very cold for a long time without becoming watered down, since the volume to surface area ratio of one big ice cube was obviously much lower than that of multiple small ice cubes, or God forbid, a whole bunch of crushed ice.

A few weeks after discovering the big ice cube at A-Frame, I stumbled upon it yet again (to my delight) in a neighborhood bar where my friend Sue and I popped in for a birthday drink.  After these two encounters, I was spoiled and found myself snubbing my nose at establishments that do not serve their cocktails over a big ice cube.

Well last week, to my delight, I discovered that trays for making big ice cubes at home are now widely available.  (I found mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond.)  I had been contemplating our Thanksgiving menu and wanted to include an elegant seasonal cocktail -- the big ice cube would definitely be making an appearance.

* * * * *

So after a bit of experimenting this afternoon (please excuse the typos!) I settled on an unsweetened vodka cranberry cocktail and a sweet vodka Gravenstein apple juice cocktail -- two simple, straightforward drinks that feature classic autumn/Thanksgiving fruits.  The vodka I chose was a quinoa derived vodka from France, marketed under the Fair label, which I thought was very cool.

The first drink features a shot of vodka and a splash of unsweetened cranberry juice, garnished with fresh cranberries and served over one or two big ice cubes. 

Alternatively, a shot of vodka poured over a big ice cube infused with fresh cranberries might be your preference.

The vodka Gravenstein apple juice cocktail served over a petite crimson gold apple-infused ice cube and garnished with the same tiny apple is both sweet and refreshing.

It's easy to get carried away with these oversized cubes.  I went to town freezing all sorts of items from my refrigerator, and thought all of them were cocktail-worthy!  Below I have pictured big ice cubes infused with blackberries, fresh mint, lemon, cranberries, and green apple slices. 


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bulgur Pilaf -- Better than Brown Rice!

In case you haven't heard, bulgur is better than rice, even brown rice!!  I promise you.  Compared with brown rice (the "healthy" stuff), bulgur has fewer calories, less fat, more protein, more iron, and a lot more fiber.  Also, bulgur tastes great.  If you are not already a bulgur fan, here is a very simple recipe for Bulgur Pilaf that is sure to win you over.  

I start with one cup of medium grain bulgur (Bulgar No. 2, or even No. 3 if you want a toothier grain), as well as 2 medium sized tomatoes, 1 white onion, 1 Anaheim pepper, and a big handful of Italian flat leaf parsley.  (Note if your bulgur brand does not have a number on it, it's probably number 2 or 3.  What you don't want to use in this recipe is fine bulgur (Bulgur No. 1), as the texture is too fine for this dish.)

First, I rinse and strain the bulgur really well.

Then I slice the onion into long thin strips, chop the tomatoes into medium sized chunks (and sprinkle a bit of salt on them), and slice the pepper into small ringlets (removing any seeds and membranes).  

Next, I sauté the onion and pepper in about a tablespoon of good olive oil for a few minutes until tender.

Then I add in the tomatoes and sauté for another minute or two.

Next I add 2 cups of liquid.  I like to use one cup of tomato juice or vegetable juice and 1 cup of vegetable broth, but you can also use chicken broth, or even water.  Once the liquid comes to a boil, I carefully stir in the bulgur, and then tightly cover the pot and turn the heat to a very low simmer.  The bulgur should simmer over a low heat, undisturbed, until all the liquid is absorbed (about half an hour or so).

While the bulgur is cooking, I chop up the parsley and set it aside.

Once the bulgur absorbs all the liquid it should be tender but not mushy (just like rice, only better!).  At this point, I remove it from the stove, and I stir in the chopped parsley and about a teaspoon of red pepper.  The red pepper is totally optional, but I recommend it if you want a little kick.  

Finally, I season the bulgur with salt and pepper, and serve it warm.

A perfect grain for vegans, part-time vegans, and non-vegans alike, Bulgur Pilaf is wonderful served all on its own for lunch, and it makes a great dinner side dish, especially when complimented with a big dollop of really good plain yogurt!