Quick Ratatouille for Two

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Ratatouille was made famous in the movies, although its origin as a French Provencal peasant dish means you can make it as a weeknight dish. This version does not need a recipe, just use summer vegetables you have on hand or even better from your own garden. For those who prefer an exact recipe see the instructions below.

In a large saute pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and add in your aromatics such as garlic and onions. Sweat the vegetables until tender and slightly caramelized.

Add in some rough chopped eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in olive oil as needed if the pan becomes dry.

Caramelize the vegetables and saute until partially cooked.

Add in diced ripe tomato, thinly sliced bell peppers, bay leaves, and chopped basil.

Simmer the vegetable until tender. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve over pasta, as a side dish, or as the main entree.

Quick Ratatouille for Two by Chef Susan Brassard



2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 vidalia onion, small dice
1 Japanese eggplant, medium dice*
1 zucchini, medium dice
1 summer squash, medium dice
1 large ripe tomato, medium dice
1 small bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped basil
2 bay leaves
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

In a large saute pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and add in your aromatics such as garlic and onions. Sweat the vegetables until tender and slightly caramelized.

Add in some rough chopped eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in olive oil as needed if the pan becomes dry.

Caramelize the vegetables and saute until partially cooked.

Add in diced ripe tomato, thinly sliced bell peppers, bay leaves, and chopped basil.

Simmer the vegetable until tender. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve over pasta, as a side dish, or as the main entree.

* If using a larger variety of eggplant, peel the eggplant before chopping.

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, August 4, 2019.

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Roast Chicken Dinner in an Instant

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The rising increase of devices such as the Instant Pot and other similar devices in our kitchens has left many novice cooks scratching their heads. Many of these have been purchased on the spur of the moment, received as a holiday gift, or with the intent to eat more real foods at home. Whatever the reason may be, these devices are nothing to fear. Today I decided to experiment with a whole roasted chicken dinner for our Sunday supper.

Mise en place all ingredients before starting.

I have kept the recipe simple for the beginner cook (see below), including a small organic fresh chicken weighing in at 3.5 lbs., a pound of fresh green beans, 1.5 lbs. of small whole potatoes, olive oil, chicken stock, Kosher salt, ground black pepper, and Herbes de Provence.

Seasoned raw chicken.

First, you want to set your Instant Pot to the saute-more setting for a nice hot bowl. Next, season the chicken with a generous rub of olive oil, Kosher salt, fresh black pepper, and the Herbes de Provence. Saute the whole chicken on both sides to get a golden brown crust.

Carefully remove the chicken and insert the metal rack in the bottom of the pot. Place the chicken onto the metal rack.

Chicken Stock being added to the pot.
Add in potatoes, green beans and a generous pinch of salt, pepper and the herbs.

After placing the chicken on the rack, add in one cup of chicken stock and the potatoes and green beans around the chicken. Season the vegetables with a generous pinch of salt, pepper and the Herbes de Provence.

Meat/Stew setting, adjust to 25 minutes.

When all ingredients are added into the pot, secure the lid and close the vent. Set the pot to the Meat/Stew setting and adjust the time down to 25 minutes. After the timer beef at the end of the 25 minutes of cooking, allow the pot to naturally vent for 15 minutes.

NOTE: this time will need to be adjusted depending on the size of the chicken.

Roasted Chicken in an Instant

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A perfect Sunday supper

Read all instructions prior to starting for a successful Instant Pot adventure.

Ingredients


– 3 1/2 pound whole fresh chicken
– 1 pound fresh green beans, snipped
– 1 1/2 pounds small whole potatoes
– 1 cup chicken broth or stock
– 1-2 TB olive oil
– Kosher salt, as needed
– Fresh ground black pepper, as needed
– Herbes de Provence, as needed

Directions


1. Set the Instant Pot to the saute/more setting to pre-heat. Assemble all your ingredients. Generously rub the chicken with the olive oil, Kosher salt, black pepper, and Herbes de Provence. Place in the pot and brown the skin on both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side.
2. Remove the chicken, insert the metal rack into the bottom of the pot, and return the chicken to the pot on top of the rack.
3. Add in the cup of chicken stock to the pot, place the potatoes and green beans around the chicken. Season the vegetables with additional salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence.
4. Secure the lid to the pot, make certain the vent is closed. Set the pot to the Meat/Stew setting, adjusting the time down to 25 minutes.
When the pot completes the cooking cycle it will make a beeping sound. Let the pot rest for 15 minutes. The clock will continue to count the time and display L0:15. Open the vent after 15 minutes to allow any remaining steam to release, open the pot when the float valve drops down.

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, January 13, 2019.

Fairy Godmother of Thanksgiving

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It is the time of year to come together with family and friends to share a meal and be thankful for what we have. Yet, the meal we envision is one that comes from the mid-1800s, not the first Thanksgiving gathering in 1621.  Discussion with students in my high school Food Studies classes this week revealed how little they, and many others know about the first meal shared between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, or the dream of Sarah Josepha Hale.  The first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts lasted three days without the turkey as the centerpiece of the table.  According to the Smithsonian.com, the meal featured wild turkey, goose, swan, passenger pigeons, duck, and the main meat was venison.  Notable side dishes accompanied the meal including corn porridge, small pumpkins, eel, lobster, shellfish, and root vegetables.  But wait…this means there was no sage bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie!

Norman Rockwell, Freedom From Want, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, 1943
Norman Rockwell, Freedom From Want, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, 1943.

The imagery of the Thanksgiving celebration is often born out of examples such as Norman Rockwell’s oil painting Freedom From Want that was featured in The Saturday Evening Post.  The picture was published on March 6, 1943, and offers us a glimpse into this multi-generational family.  The large roasted turkey is the centerpiece of the meal, with condiments of cranberry gelee, celery, and a large fruit bowl.  The table is set with a white linen cloth, china, silverware, glasses of water and a covered tureen with decorative trim.  

Sarah Josepha Hale
 Hulton Archive—Getty Images

Sarah Josepha Hale, born in New Hampshire in 1788, was an American author and the editor of Godey’s Lady Book.  From 1837 to 1863, Sarah petitioned many American Presidents and Governors to declare a national day of thankfulness during the month of November.  Growing up in New England, Sarah understood the importance of the fall season representing the harvest of our year’s labor and why the first Thanksgiving meal of the Pilgrims and Native Indians gave cause to celebrate and reflect on those things we are thankful for throughout the year.  The editorials show her relentless pursuit of a national Thanksgiving day as a way to unite the country:

1848
THANKSGIVING DAY. — The observance of this hallowed day is another strong link in the chain that binds the states in brotherhood. We are more than glad, we are grateful that the suggestion, emanating from our “Lady‟s Book,” has been so kindly received. We suggested, early last year, that the Day of Thanksgiving should be observed on the last Thursday in November, throughout the nation. Of course, the appointment of the day rests with the governors of each state; and hitherto, though the day of the week was always Thursday, that of the months had been varied.  But the last Thursday of last November was kept as Thanksgiving Day in twenty-four of the twenty-nine states — all that kept such a feast at all. May the last Thursday of the next November witness this glad and glorious festival, this “feast of the ingathering of harvest,” extended over our whole land, from the St. Johns to the Rio Grande, from the Plymouth Rock to the Sunset Sea.  
http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/pdf/SJH_Editorials.pdf

Turkey being deep fried.  

The meal we eat today has evolved from the writing of Sarah Josepha Hale, who recommended many recipes and meal ideas during her time working for Godey’s Lady Book.  So whether you are serving deep-fried turkey, Turducken, ham, or venison, you are still honoring the traditions of the day.  The day is about thankfulness, especially being thankful for whatever food you may have to share with loved ones.  Remember to also thank Sara Hale for making her dream of a national Thanksgiving a reality and giving us this wonderful food-centric holiday.  

Sources:  

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-thanksgiving-511554/

http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/pdf/SJH_Editorials.pdf

http://www.dailyartmagazine.com/norman-rockwell-thanksgiving-art/

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, November 21, 2018

Ham in Pastry – A Recipe of Ancient Rome

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This past summer, I participated in a graduate course on Roman Society & Culture at Fitchburg State University.  I selected this class in particular because the description mentioned exploring the topics of food during the Ancient Roman period.

Ham in Pasrty 

The recipe I selected for our final class of the week was a delectable Ham in Pastry.  The original recipe offers limited instruction, as do many “cookbooks” of early history.  I used my expertise to analyze the recipe and create what I believe is an accurate representation of Apicius’ vision. 

A Taste OF Ancient Rome.

The recipe originates from the works of Apicius, the oldest know recipes to have survived the period of antiquity. Marcus Gavius Apicius was the original “foodie” and collected detailed receipts of Roman cuisine, presented in categories with elaborate preparations.  

Simmering the scored ham in Italian red wine and Olympians white figs from Greece. 

The preparation was complex, although a labor of love. While the ham simmered with the red wine, bay leaves, and figs for about an hour I prepared the pastry crust.  

High gluten flour, salt and olive oil. 
Completed dough paste. 

The dough while light and tasty is merely a vessel to protect the moisture of the ham.  The mixture of flour, salt and olive oil is quite crumbly yet adheres well to the surface of the ham. 

Ham and figs after one hour simmering. 
Figs stuffed in the score marks and glazed with honey. 
Stuffed and glazed hams covered in the pastry crust with bay leaf embellishments. 

The hams were removed from the wine bath, stuffed with the bribed figs, and then generously glazed with local honey. The crust must be molded to the ham and sealed at the bottom to encase the moisture.  Bake until golden brown, cool to room temperature and serve. 

Recipe source:  A Taste of Ancient Rome by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa. 

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, November 18, 2018

EGGSACTLY…HOW BIG IS THAT EGG?

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So you decided to go back to basics, and that now includes raising your own chickens for fresh eggs.  Maybe, you just buy a dozen farm fresh eggs from the local farmer’s market or from the honor box in your neighborhood.  However you come upon those fresh local eggs, there lies a dilemma as to how to calculate the size of each egg.  You could use a modern digital scale, although where is the fun in that?

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This wonderful Acme Egg Grading Scale was a find at the Brimfield Flea Market,  with a patent dated June 24, 1924.  At almost one hundred years old, the scale still works beautifully.  The sizing ranges from 19 to 30 with fins that extend in a fan style as the eggs increase in weight.  The egg-shaped cup on the right gently cradles the egg being weighed.

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This would have been a much-needed tool for the small farmer with a variety of hens.  Using a scale such as this would have made it faster and much more accurate for farmers to grade their eggs.  Small eggs ranged from 19-21, medium 21-24, large 24-27 and extra-large 27-30.  A necessity on the farms of the 1920s, today a fun piece to appreciate eggsactly as it is!

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, August 10, 2018

The Smithsonian Learning Lab Explores Asian Pacific American History

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On the sunny and chilly Saturday, April 7, 2018, about two dozen people gathered to explore the stories, history and culture of Asian Pacific Americans who came to Lowell, Massachusetts.  Representatives from the Smithsonian Institution, UMass Lowell Center for Asian American Studies, and the Tsongas Industrial History Center came together for a teacher workshop with Lowell educators from grades K-12.

The day’s events included:

  • A viewing of Bridges: Southeast Asians’ American Journey video and an discussion with Phitsamy Uy.
  • Teaching with Artifacts:  Unpacking the Cambodian “Luggage” in the Yankees and Immigrants program with Kristin Gallas

  • Panel discussion about Southeast Asian Refugee/Immigrant Experience in Lowell with:
    • Phitsamay S. Uy, Associate Professor of Education and Co-Director of the Center for Asian American Studies, UMass Lowell
    • Samkhannn C. Khoeun, Academic Advisor at Middlesex Community College’s TRIO-Educational Talent Search
    • Kennis Mor, UMass Lowell Student and Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association Board Member
    • Rev. Ko Ko Yay, Volunteer Pastor, Lowell International Church
  • An introduction to the Smithsonian’s Digital Learning Lab with Ashley Naranjo and Tess Porter
  • An opportunity to create a collection of artifacts digitally in the Smithsonian Learning Lab
  • My collection Asian Pacific Cuisine is listed below:
  • A wonderful lunch from a local Cambodian restaurant Simply Khmer located in Lowell, MA

Many of my students in the culinary program and my food studies course are of Asian Pacific heritage.  This workshop opened my eyes greatly about the peril the people of Cambodia and nearby regions faced leaving their homeland and creating a new life in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The City of Lowell has the second largest Cambodian population in the country.  Many of those who were relocated themselves, or descendants of refugees are now coming together and joining forces to preserve the historic stories and ways of their ancestors.  This includes events such as teacher professional development, the Asian American Cultures Festival, Taste of Lowell Southeast Asia, and the Lowell Southeast Asia Water Festival.

Personally, I chose to attend this full day workshop as a way to connect to the Asian Pacific students in my classroom at a new level.  In my International Foods course we explore foods from regions all over the world, including a unit on Asian Cuisine.  The information I gathered from the panel speakers, video, question & answer session and the Smithsonian Learning Lab gives me new resources for exploring Asian Cuisine and culture.  Photos of the students cooking projects can be viewed from the collection link below.  I am already planning to add these resources and create more collections for students to use as a part of our curriculum.

 

Chef Susan Brassard is culinary arts and food studies instructor at Lowell High School and an adjunct professor at Newbury College, in the culinary arts department. She holds a Master’s degree in Gastronomy from Boston University and is working on a CAGS in Occupational Education and History at Fitchburg State University.   Her research focus is Cookery Receipt Collections, Domestic Manuals and early colonial American housewares.  

Sources and Links:

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, April 8, 2018

Brighton Meat Press: A Brimfield Treasure

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As a culinary historian, I am always drawn to vintage cookery books and kitchen tools that tell a story of that period in time.  On my last visit to the Brimfield flea market, I came across this amazing Brighton Meat Press on a table in an obscure section of the market.  The gentleman had a mere folding table with a few kitchen wares on display.  After a short negotiation, I was able to purchase the meat press for only $20.00 and thus began my research for more information on this beautiful cast iron piece of history, later finding them for sale upwards of $165.00.

The press was manufactured in the late 1800s by the Logan & Strobridge Iron Co. in New Brighton, Pennsylvania.  The press is just over 5 pounds and measures 8 inches tall and 4 1/2 inches wide. The press consists of 3 piece including the base with a twistable threaded rod, a cup to collect the juice with a pouring spout, and the top press plate.  The Logan & Strobridge Co. crafted a variety of these products geared towards making women’s work in the home easier.  They produced many manual coffee grinders, fruit presses, ice shavers, and meat grinders.

What exactly is a meat press and why would this have been found in late 1800s household?  The answer to these questions came from much research to find the reasoning behind it’s  intended purpose.  The meat press was used to extract the juices of meats to feed infants, invalids, convalescents and nursing mothers.  The concoction generally created was known as “Beef Tea” and unlike today’s versions of beef broths, the beef tea contained far superior nutrients from the meat and believed restorative qualities. This vintage meat press would have been used to press out every last drop of nourishment for the sick household member or the soldier recovering from wounds, such as those in the care of Florence Nightingale.  Beef tea was often prescribed by physicians through the early 1900s for patients experiencing inflammatory diseases and digestion problems. As you can read in the excerpt below the beneficial effects were assumed yet they were unable to confirm how the tea exactly helped the ill.  It has become a general consensus that the beef tea was far easier to digest and get nutrients from, rather that the often unpalatable cooked meats available at that time.  Often it was believed that meats required hours of boiling, which left the meat unflavorful and tough to chew and difficult to digest.  These beef teas when prescribed were often served at every meal.

To Make Beef Tea. (The Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton)

1858. INGREDIENTS. — 1 lb. of lean gravy-beef, 1 quart of water, 1 saltspoonful of salt.

Mode. — Have the meat cut without fat and bone, and choose a nice fleshy piece. Cut it into small pieces about the size of dice, and put it into a clean saucepan. Add the water cold to it; put it on the fire, and bring it to the boiling-point; then skim well. Put in the salt when the water boils, and simmer the beef tea gently from 1/2 to 3/4 hour, removing any more scum should it appear on the surface. Strain the tea through a hair sieve, and set it by in a cool place. When wanted for use, remove every particle of fat from the top; warm up as much as may be required, adding, if necessary, a little more salt. This preparation is simple beef tea, and is to be administered to those invalids to whom flavourings and seasonings are not allowed. When the patient is very low, use double the quantity of meat to the same proportion of water. Should the invalid be able to take the tea prepared in a more palatable manner, it is easy to make it so by following the directions in the next recipe, which is an admirable one for making savoury beef tea. Beef tea is always better when made the day before it is wanted, and then warmed up. It is a good plan to put the tea into a small cup or basin, and to place this basin in a saucepan of boiling water. When the tea is warm, it is ready to serve.

Time. — 1/4 to 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. per pint.

Sufficient. — Allow 1 lb. of meat for a pint of good beef tea.

MISS NIGHTINGALE says, one of the most common errors among nurses, with respect to sick diet, is the belief that beef tea is the most nutritive of all article. She says, “Just try and boil down a lb. of beef into beef tea; evaporate your beef tea, and see what is left of your beef: you will find that there is barely a teaspoonful of solid nourishment to 1/4 pint of water in beef tea. Nevertheless, there is a certain reparative quality in it — we do not know what — as there is in tea; but it maybe safely given in almost any inflammatory disease, and is as little to be depended upon with the healthy or convalescent, where much nourishment is required.”

 

 

The Brimfield antique flea market is held three times a year in Brimfield, Massachusetts.  This outdoor flea market hosts near a mile of various vendors and private sellers.  The flea market is held every May, July and September for a 6 day period each time. For more information visit their website at https://brimfieldantiquefleamarket.com/

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, July 10, 2017