Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ratatouille and the Abyss

I felt like cooking today for the first time in a couple weeks. Clementine helped me choose the menu out of my new cookbook.

I discovered Mark Bittman this summer through this article in the NY Times 101 20-minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics.

I thought my cooking with the kids could benefit from inspiration and speed.

Here's what we chose:

Salmon with Pinot Noir Syrup
Broccoli with Beurre Noisette

And not from this cookbook:
Potato Gratin
Pumpkin Pie

This menu had two new sauces for me. I can't believe I've lived 40 years without making a beurre noisette. So simple, so good.

The other new sauce was the Pinot Noir Syrup. It is a flavor of gastrique: A sauce based on caramelized sugar. In this case we put a half cup of sugar in a frying pan and heated it until it melted and browned. This is good chemistry fun. Then we pour in 2 cups of pinot noir.

Sizzle! Yikes, caramel turns to rock hard candy, freezing whisk in pan.

Greta (who is 3) wandered through the kitchen and said, "Why are you guys in here cooking like Ratatouille?"

My mom stirred the pinot noir until the sugar redissolved off the whisk and spoon, until it became dark and thick and syrupy. Bittman calls for doing this in the oven, but we had pumpkin pies in the oven, so we did it on the stove, after I talked to my cookbook for a while.

Why are you telling me to do this in a 450 degree oven? Working in an oven is awkward. Are you thinking its easier to set the temperature in the oven? The heck with you. I'm not doing this in the oven. Maybe you do it in the oven because you have a crummy stove? I used to have one that looked just like that. The oven was even worse, though.

A phantom Mark Bittman failed to appear in the manner of Auguste Gusteau and tell me his reasons. Maybe because he's not dead. Worked fine on the stove.

Clem made the gratin. Mmm cheesy goodness. There is nothing like potatoes and cheese. She got the seasonings just right, too.

Earlier Greta had said, "Is today the last day?"
I said, "Before what?" I'm thinking before Thanksgiving.
"Before the end of the earth."
"No! Why?" Wondering how on earth she started thinking about that.
"I want it to end."
Sighs. "I just don't like it."

This probably has to do with that conversation in the car about how the formation of a black hole inside our galaxy could cause a gamma ray burst that would fry all life on earth. Still, it is hard to hear a 3 year old casually wishing for the end of the world.

At three my other two kids were breaking my heart with, "I don't want to die, mama. I want to live forever."

Me, too. Looking up gamma ray bursts I came across this: Ten Ways the Earth Will End. Gamma rays: 1 in 14,000,000. Death of the sun, galactic doom, death of the universe. The chances of these are: not in your lifetime, but inevitable. Sigh. Even if it is billions of years away I try not to think of the eventual death of the universe.

Dinner post mortem: None of the kids tried the pinot noir syrup despite its flashy preparation. But Ev ate salmon, gratin and broccoli, Clem ate gratin and broccoli and Greta ate broccoli.

I liked the pinot noir syrup. Rich, dark and sweet, but with the sprig of rosemary stewed in it, it was just begging to be served with a pork loin. It wasn't quite right with the salmon.

I overcooked the broccoli, but the beurre noisette and a squeeze of lemon were very nice.

Clem and her Gran made the pumpkin pie. It was the Chez Panisse Desserts recipe which calls for half-and-half instead of sweetened condensed milk. It was light and neither as sweet nor as spicy as a conventional pumpkin pie, but delicious. The kids had it with whipped cream.

We had it with whipped cream and a splash of bourbon.

The bourbon gives the pie an edge.
And takes the edge off being forced by a three year old, yet again, to stare into the abyss.


Barbara said...

My girls are making a pumpkin pie as I type, trying to get me to leave them alone. Maggie (7) is determined that this is her project.

My favorite sauce for salmon is a buerre blanc made with lemon juice...even easier than buerre noisette since you just melt the butter.

Susan said...

Buerre blanc! Fantastique. We were just listening to From the Mixed Up Files in the car. This reminds me of how Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler calls her mac and cheese Nouilles et fromage en casserole. Saying it in French just gives it that je ne sais quoi. Good luck to Maggie and her pie. :)

AM said...

This is making me so hungry! And thanks for the cookbook trip. (And for suggesting the oven->stove swap - useful in other situations.)