One kid's adventures in gastronomy


A ratatouille by any other name…

Uncle Norman sent Mama a link for his favorite winter dish, which happened to be called “Dad’s Ratatouille.” Mama thought it sounded good and that I might like it too.

Each version of ratatouille Mama’s ever made is time consuming. Her first attempt, back in the ’90s, has a notation in the margin of her cookbook: “Takes more than an hour to chop everything.” While you don’t have to cook each vegetable separately, as in this recipe, it does help to ensure each one is thoroughly cooked. This version had Mama sautéing each vegetable in olive oil over medium-high heat, creating a nice char, before adding it to the Dutch oven lined with sweating onions and garlic. After filling the house with varying amounts of smoke, and putting the whole thing in the oven, she asked Uncle Norman, “Can you explain to me why it is I’m making ratatouille in the middle of winter?” His response: “You’ll know when you taste it.”

You might be wondering, as I was, what ratatouille is. Mama calls it is “a celebration of summer vegetables.” It’s often considered a peasant dish, and in southern France is most certainly eaten as an appetizer or side dish, warm or cold. (Mama, however, always eats it as a main dish, serving it over brown rice or quinoa.) A hunk of crusty bread goes a long way, too. What makes it so succulent and stewy is the addition of slow-cooked eggplant (which we like to call aubergine) and tomatoes, but other key ingredients include summer squash, peppers, and fresh herbs. Hence, Mama’s question to Uncle Norman.

Did I mention I don’t like tomatoes, not even spaghetti sauce?

But this conversation got Mama thinking…about ways to make an equally good winter version of ratatouille. Why not roast butternut and acorn squash to take the place of the summer varieties… maybe add some cremini and shiitake mushrooms to take the place of the eggplant (although it wouldn’t be so terrible to keep the eggplant—it’s ubiquitous year-round). And instead of fresh tomatoes (or regular ol’ canned tomatoes, as she used here), maybe a can of fire-roasted tomatoes. Or forget the tomatoes and use V-8 instead of stock, as she did here, or maybe an oaky red wine (not that I would know). Peppers—that other most ubiquitous of veggies—should most certainly be organic (always), and roasted, too. But why use peppers at all? Peppers add a sweetness, so why not substitute beets, especially golden ones in addition to red? I love beets! And while we’re at it, throw in some turnips, carrots, and sweet potatoes! Leeks! Brussels sprouts! Cabbage! All roasted with savory and sage! Mama also mused that instead of frying the veggies, she could make it easy on herself and roast them at a high heat, say 450°. If you’re a fan of grilling, as Mama is, try that (yes, even in the winter, as my GeeGee does, Carharts and all).

And the verdict? It was delicious. The vegetables were soft, and the flavors melded so I didn’t even taste the tomatoes or the peppers. It was creamy and practically spreadable, and I loved it with the brown rice. I didn’t really care for the skin of the eggplant, though, and neither did Mama, so she would definitely peel it off the next time (or get a better char on it). I surprised myself by having 3 helpings, it was that good. I had to fight off Papa for the leftovers. (Luckily, I always win such a showdown.) Mama declared it one of the better incarnations she’s made; she attributed it to the rosemary. And though she didn’t mind reducing the liquid after baking the ratatouille, she wasn’t sure it was really necessary. She’s keen to try her winter version, though, so stay tuned.

I can hardly wait…unless I decide I no longer like vegetables.

Love, Jude

Ratatouille so good, I had to ditch the spoon and just dig in.


It all started with vichyssoise…

…the idea for this blog, that is

At the market today, Mama spied some “beautiful leeks” and thought about what she could make with them. “I’m feeling uninspired today,” she sighed as she pushed the cart among the produce bins. Then she mumbled something about organic potatoes, plopped a bag of them in our cart, and an idea was born.

I haven’t been partial to potatoes. Garlicky, buttery, salty, fried, or even cooked in a pot pie… I just haven’t taken to them. Mama started me on locally grown, organic, mashed fingerlings last summer. This was before she read that you shouldn’t give young babies potatoes because they belong to the nightshade family. Or something like that. Perhaps my finickiness was a self-preservation technique. Not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last, I’m sure.

So what made Mama think I’d like vichyssoise, or potato-leek soup, is beyond me. But made it she did. She showed me how to trim the leeks, using just the white and light green parts, then run them under the tap to rinse out any sand.

These leeks sure are dirty.

These leeks sure are dirty.

Then she sliced them into little half-moons (moon is one of the words I know!)…

The leeks don't have to be sliced too-too thinly. Stop when you get to the very green part.

The leeks don’t have to be sliced too-too thinly. Stop when you get to the very green part.

…and sautéed them in butter until they were soft, but not browned. She was adamant that they not brown, but still, some of them did.

Try to keep any color out of the leeks by gently sweating them.

Try to keep any color out of the leeks by gently sweating them.

So she deglazed the pot with homemade vegetable stock and scraped up any brown bits from the bottom. Once the stock was brought to a boil, she added the peeled and chopped potatoes and simmered them until they were soft. Then she took out a silly tool—a handheld blender! She whirred it through the soup, pureeing the vegetables until they were silky smooth. Some salt, pepper, and heavy cream to finish, and the soup was done.

Don't be intimidated. Mama made a quadruple batch for a soup swap. Doesn't it look silky?

Don’t be intimidated. Mama made a quadruple batch for a soup swap. Doesn’t it look silky?

Though vichyssoise is traditionally eaten cold, it is the middle of winter after all. Mama served it to me warm, and she let me sit at the table, instead of in my high chair. Papa supervised, since I’m sort of all thumbs with a spoon. The soup was delicious. Creamy, and slightly oniony, and even a bit potato-y, it was velvety and soft, like new fleece pajamas. I had two bowls, and Mama showed me how to sop up the last bits with a piece of bread. Yes, please!

Mama posted this photo on Facebook, to show what a big boy I’ve become, and a friend suggested I start a blog. Mama’s never been very keen on blogs, but she agreed to help me out (see above re: “all thumbs”). I hope you enjoy what’s to come…as I most surely will not! I’m a baby, and it’s my prerogative to not eat whatever is placed before me.

Love, Jude

Not only am I enjoying my first bites of vichyssoise, but I’m feeding myself with a spoon while sitting at the table. Such a big boy!

Vichyssoise (and yes, do pronounce the last “s”)

1 leek, rinsed and thinly sliced (use just the white portion for a “purer” soup)
1 Tbsp butter
1 qt veg or chicken stock
1 lb potatoes, peeled and rough chopped
1 c heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste (use white for a “purer” look)
Garnish with chopped chives, if desired

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, sweat the leeks in the butter over medium heat until soft, stirring occasionally so as not to brown them. Deglaze the pot with the stock. Bring to a boil, add the potatoes, reduce heat, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Puree in the pot with an imersion blender (or carefully in a blender) until smooth. Add the cream and seasonings. Serve cold or hot.

To make a more traditional vichyssoise (Mama’s vegetarian), omit the butter and cook a couple strips of bacon, cut into pieces, or lardons, with kitchen shears. Once fat has been rendered from the bacon, remove the bacon and cook the leeks in the fat. Crumble the bacon for garnish.

Yield: About 1½ quarts