With the last days of summer right around the corner, there have been dinners on the patio after dinners on the patio. Friends, neighbors, just us. It’s been lovely. Truly. A balm for the soul. Summers are a bit harder on me than any times of the year. Summer is the time when we have entire months back home devoted to vacationing. Just that. It’s another mind set. Another way of doing things. And while I knew my family was gathering at our chalet in the Alps or just moving about France, I worked straight through the summer.
Every morning this summer, I would sit on the patio here in Alabma and listen to the sound of cicadas, a light breeze brushing my cheeks. A tease really, often quickly replaced with smoldering heat and humidity. I’d often close my eyes and I could almost feel home. I could almost hear my nieces running around in the garden, jumping off into the pool, laughing wildly with their friends, and the cicadas. Always a sign of being home.
And warm evenings with lots of grilling involved.
One thing I try not to do all summer long is turning the oven on. Where we are now, it basically heats up the whole dining and living area, bringing the smoldering heat inside for hours. So off to the back deck we go! Lots and lots of fish, meats and vegetables did end up being grilled, charred, slow roasted and smoked. Finger licking good stuff.
One thing I grew up eating were steamed artichokes and vinaigrette. While vegetable soup was a staple starter in our house, my mom would often make steamed artichokes during the summer. As well as her proscuitto and melon salad. But that’s for another time… With nostalgia tugging at me these past few months, I took it upon me to take familiar dishes that reminded me of time spent with loved ones and gave them a more current flair. Current to the temperatures, our way of living in the heat and our tastes at this moment.
Grilled baby artichokes with chimichurri sauce became an easy side our starter to many a dinner, shared with friends or just the two of us. They require a bit of prep and maybe a bit messy if eaten with a fork and knife which in my opinion is a plus… Just grill, grab and dip… They make a great snack too when watching a movie on a lazy Sunday evening or during any sport related weekend.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you have noticed that I very seldom do product reviews or promotions. Part is because I am seldom solicited to do so. Part is because although I am asked every so often, I either don’t like the product I am offered or I don’t think it fits this blog. But there are the rare times when something piques my interest, and the people asking for my collaboration do not take my opinion, time and readers for granted.
Through my relationship with Martha Circle, the folks at Truvia hired me to develop and shoot a recipe for their New Year Healthy You campaign. I would probably have passed on the offer if it weren’t for my own current use of this stevia based sweetener and my desire to develop more and more recipes with it for a couple of family members who could benefit from it such as my mother who will be visiting soon.
Even if I eat healthy almost every day of the week, there are always those periods of time when a few extra pieces of chocolate add up, that one little extra sliver of cake passes my lips and that extra creamy bite of macaroni and cheese just calls my name. Sometimes, it’s simply too much work and general lack of organization and the first things to take a backseat are proper homecooked meals.
Food that is healthy and good for you does not have to be bland and boring. I have learned that along the years of cooking for family members with health issues as well as my own desire to keep my health optimum. Whether you need to pay attention to sugar, fats or carbohydrates in your cooking, there is always a moment when you feel something is a lacking or not working right yet. For me, it was sugar. Or the desire to reduce it without losing taste or texture in the dishes I’d cook.
Enters Truvia. A natural sweetener made from the stevia plant. Although I have used stevia based sweeteners for a while, I became a Truvia user in the last year or so when my mom and I decided to try it in her favorite cake recipe. Maple syrup, honey, molasses are usually our sweeteners of choice but draining on the budget (especially if you bake or cook often) and not as portable as little packets of Truvia when you travel.
We followed the direction on the box as far as dosing: 3/4 teaspoon of Truvia equals 2 teaspoons of sugar and not only did the cake texture turned out fine but there was also no strange aftertaste. This is a huge deal when a savory recipe calls for a pinch of sugar such as in marinades, sweet and sour dishes, etc…
One of the dishes I like to make to get back into healthy habits after the holidays is a sweet and savory seafood salad with shrimp infused with a lemon, parsley and garlic marinade and served on top of zucchini, squash and carrots cut very thinly into ribbons. The marinade needs that little bit of sweetness to break down the acidity of the lemon marinade and Truvia works perfectly there (I use raw honey usually). A pinch and you are set. It dissolves quickly without over powering the rest of the ingredients.
I love making this dish with all sorts of different seafood (mussels, clams, scallops) and different vegetables. Same goes for the herbs. I always have parsley on hand but cilantro, tarragon, thyme and even rosemary work great here. Keep it light, easy, super fresh and full of flavor. Something that makes you feel good when you prepare it and light and healthy when you sit down to eat it.
Disclosure: Through Martha Circle, Truvia hired me to create and photograph one recipe and I was sent a jar of their product to do so. The rest – my opinions and words – are my own. Lemon Parsley Shrimp With Ribbon Vegetable Salad
Serves 4 as a light lunch or 2 as dinner
1 pound medium shrimp
3 tablespoon olive oil
zest and juice of one medium lemon (about ¼ cup juice)
¾ teaspoon Truvia
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup flat leaves parsley, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large zucchini
1 large yellow squash
2 carrots (peeled)
Shell and devein the shrimp, rinse under cold water and place them in a non-reactive bowl. Refrigerate while you make the marinade.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, zest and lemon juice, Truvia, garlic clove, chopped parsley, salt and pepper until well combined. Set aside 2 tablespoons and pour the rest over the shrimp and toss them to make sure they are well coated in the marinade. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
In the meantime, make the ribbon vegetable salad:
In a non-reactive bowl, peel the zucchini, yellow squash and carrots lengthwise with a vegetable peeler to obtain long ribbons. Stop before you reach the core. Discard the core or keep to make vegetable stock later.
Toss with the reserved marinade. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and sear the shrimp for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Discard the marinade used for the shrimp. Remove the shrimp from the pan and let them cool off on a plate.
Plate the vegetable ribbon salad on a large platter and top with the shrimp and serve.
I have to say that I am enjoying the extra bit of time given by my mom cooking some dinners while I can work on the usual, the new and/or the collaborated. Spring has me "springing" but as I proofread I am also in the "oh my God this is not good enough" phase….forgive my freaking out!!! Fortunately mom is here to bring my sanity back with a bowl of warm soup, a piece of cake or her delicious ratatouille.
It’s not often you see or will see again a savory recipe on this site but when I asked mom what she wanted to make for a guest post, she immediately replied "Je pourrais faire ma ratatouille!" (I could make my ratatouille!). "Pourquoi pas une tarte ou un gateau plutot?" (why not a tart or cake instead?). She admitted being more of savory cook than a baker and made me blush by saying that she already uses my recipes for baking so no need for a redo. But after a little nudging from you guys, we are also going to make a tart before they leave and we will do it completely together.
Indeed, for the ratatouille, I pretty much shot the veggies in their raw and cooked form while she did everything else. I went to teach a class and when I came back the house was foggy with the wonderful smells of her ratatouille. A whiff of it is enough to let my mind wander home. There is no particular or nostalgic moment associated with it. She made it everyweek. I grew up on it like others do on collard greens or lasagna. It’s us. It’s simple. It’s home. I keep telling her that hers is special. It’s mom’s. It’s good.
I wanted her to write about it with her own words but she left me the duty instead (I guess too busy playing cards with B. and my dad!). Mom will be the first one to tell you that every cook in Provence (where the dish is said to have originated) and in the world has a different recipe for it and a different method of cooking. She laughs out loud when she hears other cooks complain "did you see how he makes his ratatouille? Heresy!" She says the only heresy would be to cook something that you end up not eating.
She was told by reference cookbooks back in the day that "the" ratatouille recipe was made with each vegetable cooked separately then all added together then braised. Mom does what most homecook does: cooks all the vegetable in layers in one pan. As I was writing quantities down for this post she came over my shoulder and said "the only rule I follow from those old stuffy book is to add the vegetables in the pan by alphabetical order. That’s important". Ah well, yes mom, but that does not work from French to English! The spices also can be different from household to household. Ours traditionally include thyme, parsley, oregano, a pinch of lavender and basil and some "Quatre Epices". I ran out of the first and last one for the photo shoot but they did make it to the finished dish.
Mom also added "tell you readers that I have no diploma in ratatouille making. This is simply the one that has been handed down from generation to generation in the family. I would not want to sound presumptuous about such a simple dish". How sweet can she be?!! I should warn you that we like ours on the soft and stewy side and it’s not really the best thing for a beauty shot but I hope the pictures did mom’s version justice.
Here is what I love about ratatouille, hers, mine and all the other ones in between: it can be a side dish, a bruschetta topping, a main meal with a fried egg on top (known as piperade), or a vegetarian meal with a sprinkle of parmesan or Gruyere. It makes a lot and that’s perfect for a gathering of friends. So without further ado…
1 medium onion (peeled and diced)
1 eggplant (peeled every other strip and diced)
3-4 zucchini (peeled every other strip and diced)
1 red bell pepper (we used orange because no red ones at the farmers market)
1 green bell pepper
1 can good quality tomatoes (we used one 14oz can of fire roasted tomatoes)
5 garlic cloves (we like ours unpeeled and whole but some don’t…do as you prefer)
Herbes de Provence
Or a mix of thyme, parsley, oregano, lavender, all spice and a pinch of basil
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
In a large saute pan set over medium (and I mean the largest you have that you can put a lid on), sautee the onion in a bit of olive oil until translucid. Add the diced eggplant and sautee until it becomes golden in color. Add a dash more olive oil and add the zucchini, then the peppers, tomaotoes and canned tomatoes. Add the whole unpeeled garlic cloves, the spices, salt and pepper. Do not stir. Cover with a lid and let stew for aout 15 minutes. At this point the vegetables will have reduced a bit in volume from cooking and you will have room to stir and mix the herbs with the rest of the ingredients in the pan. Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer for at least 30 to 40 minutes. Uncover and let simmer 20 to 30 minutes on low until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated.