Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sara Mearns' Final Curtain Food - Mac-N-Cheese, Ratatouille and Strawberry Shortcake

While the New York City Ballet was in Copenhagen, I asked Sara Mearns if she would be interested in participating in my "FINAL CURTAIN FOOD" blog series.  With a big smile, she answered "Yes."  However, she kept her choices to herself.  After returning from Europe, it took us a while to get our schedules together but we lucked out this week because Sara's Mom (I called her Mama) was in town.  Mama wasn't only going to join us for dinner but she was going to make and teach me two of Sara's choices. Interestingly, these were Sara's Grandmother's recipes.  I felt honored to have the energy and love of food of these 3 generations around us.

So, Sara's FINAL CURTAIN FOOD was Mac-N-Cheese, Ratatouille, and Strawberry Shortcakes.  As soon as she told me her choices I wondered if she was a vegetarian, as there was no protein (meat/fish) in the meal.  Mama noticed that too and agreed with me.  Fun enough, Sara is not a vegetarian but these  are her favorites dishes and that is what the evening is all about.  However, there was mention of a roasted chicken from when she visited family in England that she was obsessed with.

When Michael and I arrived to Sara's Hell's Kitchen apartment, we were immediately greeted by Rocky the dog.  Mama was busy in the kitchen and finishing up the preparation for the Mac-N-Cheese.  She explained that the recipe was quite simple.  She was right but after tasting the finished product, I can state that it had the perfect ratio of ingredients and love...It was so yummy.

One of the greatest things about cooking with Sara's Mom was the charming stories about Sara as a child.  Mama told me that when Sara would go to a salad bar she thought veggies were shredded cheese and ranch dressing.  I found this so cute and endearing.  Wow, Sara has come a long way because her choice of veggies tonight was Ratatouille.  As soon as she mentioned Ratatouille, I started researching different recipes.  I decided to make to different versions.  The 1st was the traditional Provencal version and the other was the recipe based on the hit Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille.  I wanted to make both for her and have her choose which one she liked best.

The last dish was Strawberry Shortcakes and again we were lucky this evening because not only did Mama made it but she brought hand picked strawberries all the way from South Carolina.  I mean she went to a farm and handpicked them herself! It is actually a deconstructed version of Strawberry Shortcake.  Sara was a truly wonderful hostess and assembled each plate for us.  The dessert was a perfect end to this meal.  My favorite moment was seeing Sara take a spoon full of the this dessert's 3 components (cream, cake and berries) because as soon as she finished, she gave me the biggest smile I have ever seen.

I had a lovely time getting to know her better.  She is a delightful young women and artist.

Me Giving Sara a Quick Cooking Lesson

 Ratatouille's Ratatouille

Making Mac-N-Cheese & Traditional Ratatouille Provencal

Mama and Her Strawberry Shortcakes

Our Hostess with the Mostess Making Sure the Dessert is Served Properly

The Evenings Guests
Left to Right
Mama and Me, Sara and Mark, Sara and Me, Michael and Rocky 
By The Way...Sara like the Traditional Ratatouille...sorry Disney



          Two kinds of shredded Cheddar (chefs choice)
          5 tablespoons butter
          4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
          4 cups milk
          2 teaspoons salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start off by creating a bechamel.  In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and set aside until ready to use.

In a pasta pan heat water until it is at a rolling boil.  Add Macaroni and cook until it is almost al dente. 

In a casserole dish, add 1/2 the cooked macaroni and pour 1/2 of the bechamel over it and sprinkle 1/2 of the two cheeses and then repeat the process again creating a second layer.

Place in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden on top.

Ratatouille’s Ratatouille

As envisioned by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 cup tomato puree (such as Pomi)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small eggplant (my store sells these “Italian Eggplant” that are less than half the size of regular ones; it
worked perfectly)
1 smallish zucchini
1 smallish yellow squash
1 longish red bell pepper
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.

Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the edges intact, like a tube.

On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.

Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You may have a handful leftover that do not fit.

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and
pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.

Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside. (Tricky, I know, but the hardest thing about this.)

Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.

Ratatouille Provencal

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups small diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups medium diced eggplant, skin on
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup diced green bell peppers
1 cup diced red bell peppers
1 cup diced zucchini squash
1 cup diced yellow squash
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set a large 12-inch saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the eggplant and thyme to the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the green and red peppers, zucchini, and squash and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for a final 5 minutes. Stir well to blend and serve either hot or at room temperature.

Strawberry Short Cakes

1 quart (4 cups) strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/3 cups Original Bisquick® mix
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup whipping cream 


1.  Heat oven to 425°F. In large bowl, mix strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside.
2.  In medium bowl, stir Bisquick mix, milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and the butter until soft dough forms.              On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by 6 spoonfuls.
3.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat whipping cream with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.
4.  Serve shortcakes topped with strawberries and whipped cream.

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