Friday, August 28, 2009

Ratatouille

One of my favorite summer dishes is ratatouille. I like it so much, in fact, that I was sure I had already posted on it. So, if this topic seems all-too-familiar, feel free to just move along.

WARNING: This recipe takes a long time. There's just no way to avoid it; you'll need a couple of hours. However, most of that time is spent sauteing, so can do other kitchen chores during the cooking. In addition, making a double batch doesn't really take more time, so at the two hours of work leaves you with about a gallon of food. In my household this equals at least three dinners, plus one or two stashed in the freezer.

Now, the good news. This recipes is rich, with many ingredients cooked separately in lots of olive oil, and only combined at the end. This means that you can taste distinct pepper and tomato flavors, but it all adds up to something extraordinary. And you can eat it for three meals in a week because there are so many ways to change it up. We eat it on top of pasta, or cooked on a pizza crust. You can also put it on puff pastry, use it as an omelet filling, or top it with fish or chicken. Sometimes I add Parmesan or goat cheese.

With no further ado, assemble these ingredients:
9 T. olive oil
salt
1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 medium oniono thinly sliced
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 pound red or green bell peppers, cut into 3/4" chunks
2 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 pound zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup chopped garlic (6-8 cloves)
1 pound tomatoes, cut into 1" chunks
1 T. lemon juice
A few drops of hot sauce
1 t. basil, thinly sliced
2 T. chopped parsley

Toss the eggplant with salt and let it drain in a colander while you chop everything else. Now you're going to cook all the veggies, one at a time, each with 1 T. oil and a sprinkle of salt. When each is cooked, add in the corresponding fresh herb, then scrape it all into a bowl.

First, the onions on medium heat for 15-20 minutes, until deep brown. Add the thyme at the end:
Next, the peppers on medium high, until they start to brown (5 minutes), then another 10-15 minutes on lower heat until soft. Add the rosemary at the end:
The zucchini is cooked on high heat, so that it browns in 5-7 minutes. (No herbs for this one.)
Next, blot the eggplant and cook it in 3 T. oil on medium heat. They should be a bit browned. I don't have a picture for this part, because the last time I was cooking this I was making it for someone allergic to eggplant. So you'll have to use your imagination.

Lastly, on medium-high heat, cook the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes for 3-5 minutes:

Now you should have all the veggies dumped into a big bowl. If you have time, drain everything in a colander set in a bowl, and then boil down the 1/2 cup of liquid you get to about 1/4 cup and add it back in. Season to taste with the basil, parsley, hot sauce, and lemon juice. (Those last two ingredients are critical.) You'll get this:


Otherwise known as summer in a bowl.

Cheats that you can get away with: (1) Adding all the chopped herbs at once, at the end. (2) Leaving out 1 or 2 fresh herbs because you're missing them. Cheats you can't get away with: (1) Trying to cook more than one veggie at a time. (2) Using all dried herbs or leaving out the fresh lemon juice.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hmmm.

I just had a surreal, or at the very least, a novel experience. A man was walking around our neighborhood with his two kids, knocking on doors and begging. Now, I'm pretty accustomed to the homeless asking for money at intersections or by the grocery store, but this is the first time someone had come to my door. (And to be perfectly frank, I was happier to see him than the strangers who offer me a new religion.) I told him that I couldn't give him money, but I could give him food. He actually took the food, and asked for some water, which makes me think he might actually be legit. It's kind of a hassle to carry around food if all you really want is money for booze. I gave him some dried fruit and nuts because I thought that would transport well. It's the first time in a long while that I've been embarrassed by our lack of prepared food in the house. You can't exactly give someone your leftover summer squash or raw onions from the cupboard, and since we don't ever drink soda or bottled water, I couldn't give the kids anything to take with them - I had to carry out glasses and a pitcher of ice water. You just don't think to lay in a stock of portable foodstuffs for situations like this.

In any case, I'm extra grateful this afternoon for my house, my bed, my food, and most of all, the feeling of security that I'm not even usually aware of.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The school year approaches

Yesterday I saw the first advertisement for back-to-school sales and it caused my stomach to clench up into a compact mass. When I was a kid, I was painfully shy and the very idea of school starting made me physically ill. I liked learning, but I hated new situations. The four or five times I was starting at new schools were especially bad, and those back-to-school sales were the harbinger of the month of stomachaches that were approaching. Now it only takes a moment to remind myself that I'm not the same person I was when I was seven and then I feel better.

I can't believe I've decided to spend my career in academia.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bits and bobs

I don't have enough material for a coherent post, so you'll have to do with this collection of random tidbits.
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My writing buddy and I had another writing session this past weekend. These weekends are really productive, but I am finding that too many in a row robs me of the ability to do serious work during the week. This last weekend came right after my conference, which meant I headed into it wiped out. I managed to get lots done, but I don't think I cracked a smile the whole time. (Sorry, writing buddy!)

To combat the burned-out feeling, I took Monday off and did some thrift shopping and beach-sitting. We've recently discovered a beach on the Cheasapeake Bay, which makes getting to the beach a 45 minute drive instead of a three hour event. The sand isn't as white and they don't have wild horses, but listening to the water is still just as relaxing.
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I'm planning to graduate next spring, and I was contemplating what joys will come my way as a postdoc. Besides the obvious (knowing that I've learned a lot, getting the opportunity to continue researching in a field I love), I'm looking forward to moving to a house with a dishwasher. That doesn't seem too much to ask, does it? Preparing three meals a day, even for just two people, produces a fair number of dirty dishes and makes a dishwasher seem like quite a luxury.
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Lastly, if you're looking for a way to kill a few minutes, check out this. It's a graph of how people spend their time in America, from a survey done last year. The results are presented hour by hour, and I found it especially interesting to compare the days of different demographics.