September – In the Kitchen

This summer’s release of Ratatouille, presented an opportunity to inspire our three children to eat something new. The movie tells the story of a Parisian rat named Remy, who possesses a particular talent for cooking. And Ratatouille – a Provencal peasant dish of sautéed and baked vegetables – features heavily in the picture’s finale.

While their memory remained fresh, I purchased ingredients, made ready the sauté pan, and heated the oven. Alas, cooking for kids is rarely a resounding success. After clearing their plates I got one yes, one definite maybe, and one full-blown involuntary gag and hurl. Of course, I am not daunted. Exposure to fresh foods will always reap future benefits, even if today’s meal goes in the rubbish.

GOOD GADGETS

Ice Cream Cone Dishes & Spoons, Sets of 4

Assured to not only excite the kids, but also fitting for informal entertaining, these hand-painted chocolate-dipped durable stoneware ice cream cones come with bright pink, yellow, green and blue interiors. The companion spoons are polished stainless steel with stoneware handles in matching colors. Dishwasher safe. Dishes: $39.00; Spoons: $24.00. www.williams-sonoma.com

BOOKS THAT COOK

How to Feed a Teenage Boy.
By Georgia Orcutt. Celestial Arts.

Georgia Orcutt goes for the jugular in the opening paragraph of her excellent new book: How to Feed a Teenage Boy. She points out that unless the widespread teenage consumption of unhealthy food ceases, they will be the first generation with a life span shorter than that of their parents.

A sobering thought, and one that motivates the author into setting forth both a comprehensive and practically driven sortie into what is a very real problem. Having two young boys myself, I found the nutritional specifics, the well-informed shopping practices, and in-home organizational ideas particularly relevant. More than 150-targeted recipes complete what is an excellent cookbook.

CHEF SHORTCUTS

Peeling and Seeding Tomatoes
Peel tomatoes by dropping them in boiling water and leaving them for about 45 to 60 seconds, depending on ripeness. Pull them out with a slotted spoon when you see the skin separate from the flesh. Allow to cool, and then peel with your fingers.

To seed tomatoes, cut them in half through their equator. Gently squeeze out the juice and seeds while giving the tomato a sharp downward shake. Use you finger to remove any remaining seeds. Some chefs will place tomatoes under cold running water to hasten this process, but I prefer not to do this because flavor will be lost.

NEAT EATS

Ratatouille
This recipe originates from the southern Provencal region of France, and contains a healthy spread of mixed vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and green peppers – that are sautéed and then roasted with herbs. The sautéing and consequent browning brings out the sweetness in the vegetables, and so may appeal to the taste buds of your children. If you’re thinking, “Not for my kids!” go with the extra incentive of showing them the Pixar movie before serving.

Throw it together with some grilled chicken, or any grilled meat for that matter. It is just as good served cold the next day.

Ratatouille
Ingredients (Serves 5)

4 oz Zucchini
4 oz Eggplant
4 oz Onions
1 Green Pepper
1 Clove Garlic
8 oz Tomatoes (canned may be used if necessary)
1 ½ oz Olive oil (more if needed)
¼ cup Parsley, chopped
1 Bay leaf
Good Pinch Thyme
To taste Salt
To taste Pepper

Procedure

Prepare the vegetables: Cut the zucchini into ½-inch slices. Peel the eggplant and cut into large dice (3/4 inch square). Slice the onions. Remove the cores and the seeds of the peppers and cut into 1-inch dice. Chop the garlic. Peel and seed the tomatoes and cut into large dice. Leave canned tomatoes whole; they will break up during cooking.

Sauté the zucchini in a little of the olive oil until it is about half cooked. Remove from pan. Sauté the eggplant in olive oil until half cooked. Remove from pan. Sauté the onions and peppers until half cooked. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.

Combine all vegetables and seasonings in a brazier or heavy saucepan. Cover and cook in a slow oven (325 degrees) for about 25-30 minutes until vegetables are tender but still firm. If the vegetables are too juicy, cook uncovered on a range top for a few minutes to reduce. Be careful not to scorch the vegetables on the bottom.

Adjust seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

Personal chef, owner of Sunshine & Ravioli, and father of three children living in Charlotte, NC.