Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Steve’s Ratatouille

I made this dish several times, using different ingredients with mediocre results, and finally realized that the key to good ratatouille is the technique. It isn’t enough to simply throw the vegetables into a pot as you would a soup or stew. They must be subjected to a hot dry heat, traditionally by sautéing. However, always looking for the easy way to accomplish anything, I decided to try roasting instead as it’s easier, makes less mess and in my opinion, works as well or better than sautéing.

The ingredient list is an amalgam of a number of different recipes I’ve encountered, and seems (in my experience) to yield the rich, savory results that I’d been seeking. However, this is one of those dishes that you can experiment with to your hearts’ content, adding more of this and less of that or throwing in something completely different. The central component to all ratatouille recipes is eggplant, tomatoes and usually some kind of squash such as zucchini.

  • 2 large eggplants, peeled and diced into 1” cubes
  • 1 large zucchini squash, cut in ½ inch slices
  • 3 anchovy filets, mashed
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2 28-oz cans whole or diced tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 each red and green bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 dried Ancho pepper, crushed & chopped
  • 1 T chopped fresh basil or 2 T of pesto
  • 1 T chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 T chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 3T Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper

Toss zucchini and peppers in 2 T olive oil. Add eggplant and continue to toss until all are coated with oil. Spread onto two jelly-roll pans, sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper and place in a 500 degree oven. As black spots appear on the vegetables, turn with a spatula until all the vegetables have softened.

While roasting the vegetables, sauté the onions in olive oil on high heat until slightly caramelized, then add the garlic and continue sautéing until the garlic is fragrant – about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and deglaze the pan with the red wine.

Add the anchovies, dried pepper, tomatoes, thyme, basil, and roasted vegetables, and bring to a simmer, adding a cup or two of water until the vegetables are just barely covered. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until flavors have blended and all vegetables have cooked down into a thick stew. Add the balsamic vinegar at the end of the simmering, or add a few drops to each bowl to taste.

142 Calories per 300 g serving


Pro-Choice should encompass more than your stand on abortion

A recent article in the LA Times by Meghan Daum re-frames the discussion about the choice to be a parent or to remain childless in an interesting way. Ms Daum takes exception to the usual discussion of the issue in terms that are easily characterized by the overly judgmental as “selfishness” on the part of those who choose to remain childless. She makes the point that there is another, and perhaps more common factor in this decision – a couple’s evaluation of their desire and ability to take on the responsibilities of parenthood.

In a world in which some constantly harp on the need for strong family values and personal responsibility, it seems to me that far too many people choose to have children who have no business being parents – and this is NOT something that can be determined by one’s socio-economic standing.

My wife and I recently took on the responsibility of raising a puppy – our first since our previous family dog came into our household at the age of 8. Having successfully raised two children, I have no illusions about any real parity between raising children and raising a dog. However, the experience has caused me to realize that there are people that are not willing to make the commitment to properly train and care for a dog. The instructor in the obedience class we just completed admonished one of our classmates that she was being a “mom” to her dog, when she needed to be a parent.

Interesting distinction.

Personally, I have occasionally wondered about couples who are childless by choice, but it has been a result of the joy we have experienced as parents, and the knowledge that we have been equal to the task. But knowing as I do how challenging the task can be (neither of our children were “easy” kids to raise, believe me) I have to respect the decision of those who are not confident of their ability to acquire the skills (mostly through trial-and-error) necessary to raise children.

I’m glad that this discussion is continuing, and hope that the thoughts of people like Ms Daum will allow more people to feel free to make the choice to remain childless. I also hope that those who choose to raise children recognize that it is a choice, and not an expectation or obligation. I like to think that we’ll have  more happy and well-adjusted children and fewer damaged adults walking around as a result.


The Dry Vodka Gimlet

I posted a while ago on the pleasures of a good cocktail. A dry vodka gimlet is one of my favorites and one that doesn’t seem to be all that common, so it’s a good idea to know how it’s made so you can offer some assistance to the occasional bartender that may be unfamiliar with it.

The dry gimlet is very simple, with only two or three ingredients. It’s also very strong (deceptively so) so you need to either serve it in a small glass, or take my advice re sipping and savoring very seriously.

4 parts vodka
1/2 – 1 part Rose’s sweetened lime juice
A dash of unsweetened lime juice, or a squeeze of a fresh lime wedge

Stir or shake well and serve over crushed ice

Rose’s lime juice is very powerful, hence my advice to make this cocktail on the dry side. Vary the amount of Rose’s to taste. Top-drawer vodka is a good choice as it makes up so much of the volume. I like to let it sit for a minute or two to allow it to chill well and let the ice melt a bit.

This can be shaken well with ice and served “up” in a martini glass with a couple of curls of lime peel, and looks gorgeous with it’s pale green shimmer. However I recommend serving “on the rocks” for the best experience.

If you like the taste of lime as much as I do, you’ll probably enjoy this cocktail.