Posts by Paige

Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar

Posted on June 24, 2015

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

I grow a lot of eggplant this time of year.

It’s overwhelming really.

Because eggplant isn’t for everyone.

Or at least it isn’t for everyone in my household. [Ed. note: Unless I trick them into eating it.]

I happen to love it.

But I’ve been looking for new things to do with it. One reason: I have a lot. The other: Our household has had to eliminate dairy and eggs from our diet at least for the near term. So one of my many summer projects involves figuring out how to do this. It’s a little more complicated than I had imagined, but we’re muddling through it.

For now, that means no cheese with my evening glass of wine. [Ed note: I also happen to love cheese.]

Some might feel defeatist about this, but I am not one of those folks. And fortunately, eggplant has stepped in to fill this so-called cocktail hour snack void. One of my favorite French food writers, Clotilde Dusoulier, has a wonderful recipe for Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar in her The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from my Parisian KitchenIt’s a great, savory spread for crackers or flatbread, and Dusoulier says you can even use it in sandwiches or scooped over a bowl of rice.

I am thinking about cheese a little bit less these days, thanks in part to this tangy treat.

Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar

from Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from my Parisian Kitchen

Ingredients:

2 lbs small eggplants

2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers (I used a couple more than this)

12 brine-cured black olives, pitted

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

fine sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

hot sauce

Method:

1. Roast the eggplants a few hours in advance or the day before. Use a knife to pierce three or four slits in each eggplant and slip the garlic slivers into the slits. I had trouble doing this, so I roasted the eggplant without the garlic slivers and it still turned out fine.

2. Place the whole eggplants on a lightly oiled baking sheet and insert in a cold oven. Turn oven to 400 degrees and roast the eggplants, flipping them halfway through, until completely soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool completely. If roasting the day before, put the eggplants in an airtight container and refrigerate.

3. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and scoop out the flesh and garlic cloves with a spoon to get as much flesh as possible. It’s okay if a little of the skin comes with it. Put the eggplant and garlic in a food processor or blender.

4. Add the olives, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, a pinch of salt, a good grind of black pepper and a dash (or two) of hot sauce. Process until very smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Your end result should look something like this (crackers and rose not included):

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

 

Click here for other eggplant recipes from NYT Cooking.

Match Race

Posted on June 22, 2015

Seabiscuit was an undersized, crooked-legged horse who was a champion napper. After years of floundering in the lowest ranks of horse racing, he was snapped up by a trainer and owner who understood him and who handled him so well, that he became an inspiration to a country that needed to see that the little guy could win.

Seabiscuit was a little horse with a big heart.

I’ve always loved this story and I have a bad habit of forcing Laura Hillenbrand’s masterful Seabiscuit: An American Legend on anyone who says they haven’t read it.

But I also turn to Hillenbrand’s book (and the above video of Biscuit’s historic match race with the Triple Crown winner War Admiral) at times when I need to remind myself that I have everything I need to cross the finish line, perhaps even by a couple of lengths. It is not easy, but as I’ve learned this past spring, it also helps to have a fantastic jockey…or at least some savvy people in your corner who can help you find the right, well-packed path.

I have no way of knowing how certain things will or won’t unfold. But I’ve dog-eared this account of what Seabiscuit’s jockey George Woolf did the night before his mount was to blaze around the track at Pimlico, leaving War Admiral far behind. Seabiscuit didn’t do well in the mud, but Woolf was determined to find a way to overcome that.

Hillenbrand writes:

A lone figure walked out onto the Pimlico dirt, clutching a flashlight. It was Woolf. The rainwater had not fully drained from the track, and he was concerned that Seabiscuit might struggle over the dampness. “Biscuit likes to hear his feet rattle” was how he put it. Turning down the lane, the jockey weaved back and forth, sweeping his flashlight beam from side to side, hunting for the driest, hardest path.

At the top of the homestretch Woolf stopped, testing the footing. In the soil beneath his feet, he could feel a firmer strip, the print of a tractor wheel that had lately rolled over the surface. The path was obscured by harrow marks. Walking the full length of the track, Woolf found that it circled the entire oval, a few feet from the rail.

He knew what he would have to do when the bell rang the following afternoon. “I figures to myself,” he said later,” “’Woolf, get on that lane and follow it.’” In the darkness of the last night of October 1938, George Woolf walked the course until he had memorized the path of the tractor print. Then he quickly stepped off the track.

“I knew it,” he said later, “like an airplane pilot knows a radio beam.”

— from Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Has there ever been a time in your life when someone has stepped in to show you the right, and well-worn path, for whatever reason? If so, when was that time, who was that person, and what was the ultimate result? Or, is there a story you turn to in order to get you through certain times in your life or projects that may bedevil you? What is that story and why does it appeal to you? Let me know in comments.

Postscript, August 12, 2015: Many thanks to Jane Dystel and Miriam Goderich for helping me find that tractor print. Now I’m off to the races and I couldn’t have done it without their guidance and support.

Quand Meme

Posted on April 6, 2015

A French Resistance leaflet from August 1940 on Gallica.fr. Though the number of resisters was not great in the beginning of World War 2, tracts like these provide fascinating insight into the lengths to which some Frenchmen were willing to go to push back against the Nazi occupiers and persuade their neighbors to tune into the BBC to hear General Charles de Gaulle. Pass it on…

Gnocchis a la Parisienne

Posted on January 27, 2015

One of my favorite scenes from the 2007 animated film “Ratatouille” is when snooty food critic Anton Ego experiences the above Proustian moment. He’s in a Parisian restaurant that has become a huge deal again, thanks in no small part to a street rat with a flair for flavor. Ego doesn’t know the business about the rat yet, which is one of the many reasons why this particular scene is so great.

But that’s not really why I’m writing this post.

I’m writing this post because of a David Lebovitz recipe that inspires the same sort of nostalgic overwhelm that Ego experienced. Lebovitz adapted a friend’s signature “Gnocchis a la Parisienne” dish, which is rich with cheese, Mornay sauce and these little dumplings made from pate a choux.

This is for my mother, who fell in love with the meal when I first made it and has been wanting the recipe ever since.

It is also for my dear friend Michelle, who recently purchased the perfect Le Creuset baking dish in which to make it.

But it’s also for anyone in search of a great go-to dinner full of basic ingredients you probably already have in your pantry or refrigerator.

Are you ready?

Here we go.

Gnocchis a la Parisienne
from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories
Serves 6

Ingredients

For the pate a choux
1 1/4 cups of water
7 tablespoons of unsalted butter; room temperature, cubed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons dry mustard or mustard powder

For the Mornay sauce
5 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole or low-fat milk, warmed
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
1 3/4 cups Gruyere (or you can substitute Emmenthal or Comte)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

1. To make the pate a choux, heat the water, butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Dump in all the flour at once and stir the mixture briskly for about 2 minutes, until the dough forms a smooth ball. Remove from the heat and scrape the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Lebovitz says if you don’t have a stand mixer, you can leave the dough in the saucepan.) Let the dough sit for 3 minutes, stirring it every so often to release some of the heat. Here’s what it should look like:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

2. With the mixer on medium-high speed, or by hand, add the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the dry mustard and beat until the dough is completely smooth. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside. Prior to covering the dough, you should have something looking like this:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

3. To make the Mornay sauce, melt the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, letting the mixture bubble. Stir constantly for 2 minutes, until the paste is thickened. Do not let it brown. Gradually whisk in the milk, beginning slowly and stirring constantly to avoid lumps.

4. Decrease the heat to low and cook the Mornay for 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the sauce is about as thick as a milkshake. Remove from heat and add the salt, cayenne, and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere or whatever other Swiss-style cheese you decide to use. Stir until the cheese is melted.

5. Butter a shallow 2 1/2-to 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle half of the Parmesan over the bottom and sides. Spread 1 cup of Mornay sauce over the bottom of the baking dish like this:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

6. Line a large dinner plate with a few layers of paper towels. Bring a pot of salted water to a low boil. Either using two soup spoons — one to scoop up some of the dough and the other to scrape it into the boiling water — or a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, scoop up about 1 generous tablespoon of dough and drop it into the water. Working in batches, poach 8 to 10 gnocchi at a time. Let them poach for 2 minutes, then retrieve them from the water and drain them on paper towels. They will not be fully cooked inside. Repeat until all the gnocchi dough is poached.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 F with the oven rack in the top third of the oven.

8. Once the gnocchi are parcooked, place them in a single layer on top of the Mornay in the baking dish, like this:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

9. Then spoon the remaining Mornay over the gnocchi in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining cheese (both Parmesan and Swiss-style) on top of that.

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

10. Put the dish on a foil-covered baking sheet and then bake for 15 minutes. Then increase the oven temperature to 400 F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the top is well browned. This could probably be browner, but you get the spirit of the thing (and the spirit is pretty delicious):

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

Let cool a few minutes and then serve with a green salad. This is good comfort food, good dinner party food and good family fare that kids will enjoy. It’s become the sort of meal my husband and child ask about if I haven’t made it in a few weeks and I hope you come to enjoy it as much as we do!

Great Writing Advice from Author John Green

Posted on December 5, 2014

“Don’t make stuff because you want to make money—it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous—because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people—and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.”

Coco the Spy

Posted on December 3, 2014

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

On Monday, French historian Franck Ferrand said that documents locked away in French Ministry of Defense archives since World War II proved without a shadow of a doubt that Coco Chanel spied for the Nazis. Although her affairs with high-ranking German officers have been known about for years, this is the first time a French broadcaster has said that she actually gathered intelligence for occupying forces. Three years ago, American author Hal Vaughan’s book Sleeping with the Enemy shed the first light on the story with documents he culled from various archives in Paris, London, Berlin and Rome.

Ferrand spoke in a France 3 documentary called “The Shadow of  a Doubt” and said that Chanel used the code name “Westminster” — a reference to the fling she had with the Duke of Westminster in the 1920s — when she passed information to the Abwehr, Adolf Hitler’s secret military intelligence agency. The documentary went on to claim that the designer used her influence with the Germans in an effort to reclaim her perfume business, which had been sold to a Jewish family in 1924.

Ronald C. Rosbottom’s acclaimed history When Paris Went Dark shows how the French faced difficult choices during the Nazi occupation. The France 3 documentary illustrates this further with the information about Chanel. But it also questions the roles of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier, whose careers thrived due to Germany’s policy of promoting French popular culture during the war.

It has been a good year for fresh looks at this complicated historical period. France 3’s historical drama “A French Village” has also been acclaimed for the realism with which it depicts Frenchmen during the Occupation. If only I could stream it here in the States…

No-Bake Granola Bars

Posted on November 28, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

Confession: I have been buying oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit to excess this past year. Of all the fatal flaws a person could have, this is probably not the worst. And yet, my husband has been dropping gentle hints about how maybe I can find something to make with all this stuff…so it will, you know, disappear from the pantry, and (in my mind) make room for more of it, or (in his mind) make room for the homemade beer he is forced to ferment in his office closet.

Domestic bliss, right?

But yes, I have a seeds/nuts/oats/dried fruit problem. It began earlier this year when I had romantic notions about making healthier snacks for the household. It ended (sort of) when I blew up my food processor trying to make some sort of raw candy bar out of cashews, chocolate chips, coconut and I-forget-what-else.

“Is that smoke coming out of the food processor?” my nine year old asked.

“No,” I told her, before sniffing the air and realizing that yes, it was indeed smoke…and…oops…my food processor was no longer working.

So much for those candy bars.

dates

Photo: Paige Bowers

The dream died there, if only for an instant. Ever since that ill-fated evening, I’ve been eating oatmeal and dried fruit and/or nuts and honey for breakfast, which means the unrelenting need to have these products on hand has not ceased (in my mind alone). But today, I decided to go back to this healthy snack idea. I decided to make chewy granola bars. I found a great David Lebovitz recipe on his website and adapted it a little bit to reflect the ridiculous amount of seeds and almonds (slivered and otherwise) that I have in the pantry. After toasting the oats and such and leaving them out to cool, I added dark chocolate chips and chopped dates to the mixture just to keep the flavor simple.

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

Then, I combined almond butter with raw honey and a pinch of salt to create the oozy, chewy sauce that binds it all together.

mixture

Photo: Paige Bowers

I added the sauce to the contents of the picture above, mixing it in with my hands to get it fully incorporated. After that, I smoothed the mixture into a parchment-lined baking pan. This is what it looked like:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

I froze this for thirty minutes, then took it out and sliced it into bars. Mine didn’t look pastry chef perfect, but they tasted fantastic.

Here they are:

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

 

Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read

Posted on November 13, 2014

Photo courtesy of MediaBistro and InformationIsBeautiful.Net

Photo courtesy of MediaBistro and InformationIsBeautiful.Net

Mediabistro‘s GalleyCat blog just posted this interesting graphic about nonfiction books everyone should read. It’s from designer David McCandless, who created it for his new book Knowledge is BeautifulI’m a bit of a nonfiction dork, so I was interested to see some of the titles he included. What do you think about the books on this list? Which ones have you read? What did you think about them? And, is there anything that you think he left out? Let me know in comments!

Ballets Russes Program

Posted on October 23, 2014

Gallica.fr has a new feature on its site that allows you to embed some of its digitized treasures on your blog, etc. I’ll be experimenting with ways to use that feature here from time to time. In the meantime, I found this neat old Ballets Russes program from 1920 that may be of interest to the folks who just took my Lost Generation class at LSU a few weeks ago. Take a peek and let me know what you think in comments.