Food memories . . . and forgetting

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When I was a kid,  my mother would make elaborate meals for company and then forget to serve something. That always seemed kind of odd to me until I forgot to serve  a key side dish one Thanksgiving. I knew the turkey was missing a certain zest . . . and I’ll avoid the painful pun but, yup, it was the cranberry orange sauce.

Who am I kidding?  I’ve been forgetting to serve food for years and so I try to remember to write a list (and remember to check it) when I am hosting on a special occasion.

The great Lisa T., my partner in Middle East crime (or at least shenanigans) will never let me forget the time I made a great tomato sauce for gnocchi and told my guests that it made sense to shop at the expensive greengrocer because all the produce was so good and nothing got wasted . . . and only as I was speaking did I remember that I had never put out the side dish that would take the meal from okay to va va voom.  The dish I forgot that day was lemon basil ratatouille, one of the recipes from the book that  introduced the use of fresh and vibrant flavors into my cooking: the Silver Palate Good Times cookbook.  For those of us who reached adulthood in the mid-eighties,   the first Silver Palate book was our grown-up cookbook, but my mom gave me the Good Times book so that’s what I used.

Another feature of my early adulthood was pot luck dinners and lemon basil ratatouille became my go-to  dish.  I liked to make it because (1) people loved it, (2) it was a little different from what other people made (i.e. not a recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook), and (3) it could work as a meal by itself if the other pot luck food was not great.   My version has evolved a little over the years.

lemon basil ratatouille copyright REG

lemon basil ratatouille copyright REG

 Silver Palate Lemon Basil Ratatouille the Blue Dot Way

About 1 ¼ cups of olive oil (I’ve tried to cut back but the eggplant soaks up a lot of oil)

1 large eggplant, unpeeled & cut into 1 inch cubes

1 large yellow onion chopped coarsely

2 medium size zucchini or summer squash (or one of each)

2 cups fresh basil leaves coarsely chopped

1 medium size shallot chopped finely

¼ cup of lemon juice (juice of one lemon)

Grated zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons of chopped preserved lemon

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat ¾ cup of the oil (or less, if you can get away with it) in a heavy skillet or chef’s pan over medium high heat.  Add the eggplant slices and sauté, turning occasionally until they are golden.  You may need to add more oil and you may need to sauté in batches (but don’t sweat it if the eggplant isn’t fully cooked through because it goes into the oven for a long time). Place cooked in baking pan–I use a 9 X 13 Pyrex pan.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Quickly sauté the onion and zucchini in ¼ cup of olive oil for a few minutes and place in pan with eggplant.  Add chopped shallot, chopped basil leaves, lemon juice, zest, preserved lemon, salt & pepper to the vegetables and stir it all to mix (you can use your hands or tongs).

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for an hour.

Serve hot or at room temperature as a side dish, a filling for crepes or even as a party dip.

8 generous portions.

P.S.  My mother was an early adopter of ratatouille thanks to her worship of Julia Child (whom she once met and told “You changed my life”). Mom made  Julia’s ratatouille throughout my childhood and one day when I was around 16, I actually agreed to try it and discovered that it wasn’t gross.

At this point, I’ve forgotten that there was a time when I didn’t love ratatouille.

Getting personal, mothers & daughters, Ottolenghi and the Dessert Queen or Here at last is my food blog

Although I am addicted to the Epicurious app and other peoples’ blogs, I hesitated to blog myself and just dabbled in posting the occasional recipe on Facebook. Two concerns kept me from blogging:

1) I am not a great photographer and all the best blogs have mouth-watering pictures;

2) I am a consultant and sometimes people google me and I want them to think of me as a professional and not the writer of one of those food blogs with recipes and personal stories.  Of course, I love food blogs with recipes and personal stories so how could I write any other kind of blog?

And then I had two aha moments that made me overcome my objections:

Aha No. 1:  My daughter is a great photographer. . . and she agreed to join me in this blog adventure by photographing and even styling the food.

Aha No. 2:  A colleague gave me her recipe for Rosemary Lemon Olive Oil cake. Actually this wasn’t just an aha moment; as I dithered about my professional versus my domestic self, everything seemed to fall into place when  someone I knew through work  shared a recipe whose  ingredients synthesize so many aspects of my cooking/baking life.  You see, having lived in Israel for many years, I—like the great Yotam Ottolenghi—often begin cooking with olive oil, lemon and aromatic herbs and spices. Usually those ingredients are for a savory dish.  The “aha” really came through with Rosemary Lemon Olive Oil cake which represents me:  I began as a baker who cooked meals so that I could earn the right to bake dessert.  In fact, way back when, a dear friend dubbed me the Dessert Queen. These days, I’m more of a cook than a baker (and will often share recipes for quick, healthy dinners that I make as a working mom) but baking remains my passion.  And so, I’ll confess, it might have been even more than an aha moment—if I were a little more spiritual, I’d call it a sign when I was given a recipe that told my cooking/baking journey by using a cook’s ingredients for a savory dish in a sweet dessert.  This insight allowed me to let go of my inhibitions and realize that most of my colleagues know that I love to cook, bake, and eat great food.

rosemary lemon cake 

In that spirit, I am starting off my blog with . . . 2 cakes. That’s right, I’m not just giving you the recipe for Rosemary Lemon Olive Oil cake; I’m also giving you the recipe for the cake it reminded me of—my mother’s Komice bread, a Hungarian tea cake that my mother made often and included in her cookbook, By Special Request .


Rosemary Lemon Olive Oil cake

4 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

grated zest and juice of a lemon

1/2 cup regular or extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking power

1/4 tsp. salt

2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves stripped off and chopped

a few more sprigs of rosemary to decorate the top (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs for about a minute until frothy. Add sugar and beat for a few minutes more until mixture is thick and pale. Add lemon zest, juice and olive oil and beat again. Combine flour, baking powder, rosemary and salt in another bowl, then add to egg mixture. Stir by hand until just combined.

Pour into prepared loaf pan (sprayed or lined with parchment). Lay decorative rosemary on top. Bake for 45 minutes, until golden.

serving rosemary lemon

Family Komice Bread

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ lemon ( zest  and juice)

1 ½  cups all-purpose flour

¼ c.up coarsely shopped walnuts (large pieces)

Line loaf pan with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs until fluffy and gradually add sugar. Beat well until batter falls in ribbons. Add lemon juice and zest.  Gradually add flour stirring slowly; beat batter for another 4-5 minutes until very thick. Stir in nuts.    Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for one hour.

Mom wrote: “This cake is very firm, somewhat like a dry pound cake. It is very thick and not at all like a sponge cake so don’t think you’ve failed if it is heavy.”