The soul is healed by being with children.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

This earthy red bistro fare has a zealously pungent fragrance that wafts throughout the kitchen—which is softened by a buttery finish. It has long been a house darling.

My oldest, who actually is a professional chef (unlike the hacker that I am), used to prepare this when he was a child. Years back, a national magazine even published a small photo op story about him making this dish at the house. My son made certain everything was perfectly mise en place for the photographer before he went upstairs to shower. He prepped so thoroughly that he improvidently turned on the flame under the sauté pan before retiring to primp. A fire was avoided, but needless to say the photographer was greeted by a smoke fogged kitchen which had to be ventilated with window fans before proceeding. In the end, he pulled it off. Tout est bien qui finit bien.

CHICKEN WITH RED WINE VINEGAR

1 (3 1/2 to 4 lb) free range, organic chicken—rinsed, patted dry, cut into 8 serving pieces, at room temperature
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T butter
3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 T tomato paste
1 C good quality red wine vinegar
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and well chopped or one can peeled San Marzano tomatoes, well chopped
3/4 C chicken stock
3 T garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, and finely minced

2-3 T fresh tarragon, chopped

Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. With smashed garlic cloves in a large, heavy skillet, heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides. With a wooden spatula, massage the garlic cloves over and “into” the entire pan surface. Then, brown chicken in batches, turning over once, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Remove crushed garlic cloves before they brown.

When all the chicken has been browned, remove from the skillet and pour out all but one tablespoon of cooking fat. Sauté the minced garlic for one minute—do not burn or the sauce will be ruined. Return the chicken to the skillet, along with the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and tomato paste. Very slowly, pour in the wine vinegar. Over medium high heat, reduce the vinegar roughly by half, turning the chicken from time to time to coat, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Cover and simmer gently over medium heat until all of the juices and aromatics mingle nicely, and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter and very loosely tent with aluminum foil. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.

Meanwhile, boil sauce in roasting pan over high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to somewhat over a cup, then remove from heat and swirl in remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Season with salt and pepper—the sauce should be peppery. Pour sauce over chicken and top with fresh tarragon.

Serve with a pinot noir, Rhône red or even a chilled rosé de Provence.

France is every man’s second country.
~Thomas Jefferson

Daube is a sublime, rustic meal brimming with aromatics. Daube actually refers to both a method of cooking and a type of dish (much like tajine). The original daube referred to a food preparation in which meat and other foodstuffs, wines, vinegars and herbs were slowly cooked in a terrine or pot. The ingredients are layered inside the pot, with slow cooking meats — usually beef or lamb — at the bottom, vegetables and aromatics on top. It’s not surprising to learn, then, that the word “daube” comes from adobar, which in the langue d’oc (language of the Occitan) means “to arrange” or “to accommodate.”

The recipe allegedly originated in 18th century Saint-Malo, (Breton: Sant-Maloù), a walled port city on the coast of Bretagne in northwestern France. Then, they were a speciality that included artichokes, celery, pork, goose and beef…once cooked, the meat and vegetables were removed to be eaten without the sauce and often cold, in jellied form. Pots of daube were sent all over France, and the dish ultimately migrated to herb plentiful Provence where scores of these farmhouse recipes abound.

BEEF DAUBE WITH ORANGES & OLIVES

4 lbs boneless beef (different cuts—round, chuck, shoulder), excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 2-3″ cubes

1 bottle of dry red wine
3 medium carrots, peeled, roughly cut
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
8 fresh thyme sprigs
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1 large fresh rosemary sprig
1 strip orange peel

2 ounces pancetta, diced
1 large onion, peeled and chopped or a similar amount of shallots, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
Grated zest of 4 oranges
2 C pitted green and black olives
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C capers, rinsed and drained

Combine first 12 ingredients (beef & marinade) in large bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature 2 hours or refrigerate overnight.

If refrigeratered, bring marinade to room temperature and remove beef; pat dry. Reserve marinade. Cook pancetta in a heavy pot or dutch oven over medium low heat until fat is rendered, 5 minutes. Add chopped onion and garlic. Sauté
until onion is translucent, 6 minutes. Transfer to large bowl.

Heat olive oil in same pot over moderately high heat. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add beef to pot; cook until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes per batch. Do not crowd the pan and remain patient so the meat retains its flavor and moistness. Transfer to bowl with pancetta mixture.

Reduce heat to medium-high. Gradually whisk in reserved marinade. Bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits.

Add beef mixture and any accumulated juices to pot. Cover tightly; simmer until meat is tender, about 2-3 hours. Stir occasionally to evenly coat the pieces of meat with the liquid. During the last 30 minutes, add the orange zest and olives. The sauce should be glossy and slightly thick.

With a slotted spoon or tongs, remove and discard the herb sprigs, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, garlic cloves, cloves and orange peel.

Skim fat off surface. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper and strew capers over the top.

Serve over buttered noodles or other pasta with a red Gigondas or Cotes du Rhone.

Oozing with lusciously sweet fruit, topped with a crispy, golden crust. Fresh, hard cold vanilla bean ice cream à la mode.

3 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples, stemmed, peeled, cored, sliced 1/2” thick

1 C firmly packed golden brown sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Split 2 vanilla bean seeds or small dash of pure vanilla extract
1 T lemon juice

1 C all purpose flour
1 C sugar
1 C (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 450° F

Butter 13″ x 9” glass baking dish. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in large bowl. Add apples and lemon juice and toss to coat. Transfer apple mixture to prepared baking dish.

Combine flour, 1 cup sugar and butter in medium bowl. Using pastry blender or fingertips, blend ingredients until coarse meal forms — until soft, tender and workable. Spread flour mixture evenly over apples.

Bake crisp 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F. Bake crisp until apples are tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Rice Pilaf

February 24, 2009

Perhaps the most significant staple foodstuff of the world’s human population, rice is the seed of a monocot plant Oryza sativa. Rice cultivars consist of two major subspecies: the sticky, short grained japonica or sinica variety, and the non-sticky, long-grained indica variety. Archeaological evidence suggests that rice was cultivated in China as long ago as 7,000 BC. Later, the widespread cultivation of rice was broadly introduced into Mesopotamia and what is now southwestern Iran in the 5th century BC—thus making rice available to the tables of Central Asia and the Middle East on an unprecedented scale. Pilaf is a dish in which a grain, such as rice, is lightly browned and then cooked in a seasoned broth…a staple in the world’s kitchens, including this one.

RICE PILAF

1 1/2 C long grain rice
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 medium onion, peeled and minced
3 C chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of dried thyme, crumbled between finger & thumb
1 bay leaf

Heat the butter in a small saucepan. Add the onion and saute for 2-3 minutes on medium heat, stirring. The onion should only sweat, and not become brown. Add the rice and mix well, so that all grains are coated and they become somewhat translucent. Add the broth and the seasonings. Bring to a vigorous simmer, then cover tightly and cook for 20 minutes. Do not uncover the pan during the cooking process. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes, still covered. The rice is done when small dimples appear on the surface, sometimes called “fish eyes.” Discard bay leaf, fluff with a fork and serve.

Ratatouille

February 24, 2009

Ratatouille is an evocatively hued Provençal sauté of an olio of vegetables — traditionally garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers, squashes, and herbs — which likely originated in Nice during the 18th century.  The word for this stew derived from the  from the Occitan ratatolha and the tail touiller means “to stir up or toss food” in French.  Approaches to ratatouille often differ from kitchen to kitchen.  Some chefs simply sauté the vegs together, others carefully layer them in a casserole and bake in the oven, while a third group sautés the vegs separately so they remain recognizable then recombines them and finishes the dish with a slowly simmer in a pot. 

My particular preference is to serve it cold after an overnight layover in the refrigerator which allows the various flavors and scents to mingle. Although often served as a main course, ratatouille goes swimmingly well with grilled meats and a crusty baguette.

RATATOUILLE

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled, sliced 1/4″ thick
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C water

1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 zucchini, sliced crosswise 1/4″ thick
2 yellow squash, sliced crosswise 1/4″ thick
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
2 T red wine vinegar
4 medium ripe red & yellow tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped

2 T capers, rinsed and drained
2 T pitted Nicoise olives, chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped

Salt and pepper the eggplant lightly and toss in a bowl with 3 T olive oil. Transfer to a baking dish and add water. Cover and bake for 40 minutes, until soft

Meanwhile, heat 3 T olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender and slightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring, until they are both nicely browned. Add the wine vinegar and cook one minute. Place this mixture in a bowl.

Add the remaining 2 T olive oil to the pan and sauté the squashes, turning until they turn brown, then place in the bowl with the onions and peppers. Add the already baked eggplants to the bowl. Pour off any excess liquid remaining in the baking dish. Mix in tomatoes with the other vegetables and place all in the pot. Add the bay leaf and garlic and bring to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. The ratatouille should not be soupy, so pour off excess liquid into a sauce pan and reduce until it thickens; then pour the reduced juice over the vegetables. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add capers, chopped olives, parsley, and basil. Remove from heat and let cool. Discard bay leaf and season to your taste with salt and pepper.

Serve cold, warm or hot.

Beef Broth a/k/a Stock

February 24, 2009

Back to fond. Rich, fullbodied broths form the essence of savory soups and sauces. (See Chicken Stock post). While this broth takes some time to cook, the liquid will reduce and become more concentrated with flavorful gelatin. Broths should be brought slowly to the simmer and should not boil vigorously. As the temperature increases, proteins in the meat and bones will rise to the surface as broth—they should be skimmed away.

Broth can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 4 to 6 months.

BEEF BROTH

6 pounds meaty beef soup bones (shanks or short ribs)
2 T canola or vegetable oil

3 medium carrots, chopped coarsely
3 celery ribs, sliced
2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
6 quarts of cold water

3 bay leaves
1/2 C dried mushrooms
8 to 10 whole peppercorns
3 to 4 sprigs fresh parsley
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut away as much fat as possible from the outside of the bones. Dig the marrow out and reserve for other purposes (I adore it on roasted bread, in a pasta, etc). Left in, the marrow melts in the broth and becomes part of the fat that is skimmed away—a waste of a precious thing. Cut the meat away from the bones into rough cubes.

Toss the meat and bones in the oil, then place them in a large roasting pan. Roast uncovered, for 45 minutes to brown. Add the carrots, celery and onions. Roast 15 minutes longer.

Drain fat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat, bones and vegetables to a stock pot or large Dutch oven. Deglaze the roasting pan with a little water scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan.

Pour deglazed pan juices to the stock pot. Add enough cold water just to cover. Slowly bring to a simmer and skim off the froth that rises to the surface. This should be done several times until the surface is relatively clear. Add the remaining ingredients, partially cover the pot and gently simmer for 4 hours. If necessary, add hot water during the first 2 hours to keep ingredients covered.

Discard bones and save meat for another use. Strain broth through a cheesecloth-lined colander or a chinois sieve , discarding vegetables and seasonings. Alow broth to cool to room temperature. Pour in jars or bowl.

Ave, Caesar!…Salad

February 23, 2009

It is better to create than to learn. Creating is the essence of life.
~Julius Caesar

While the Hollywood/Bollywood celebs indulgently hailed one another at the Oscars last night, we saluted a Caesar salad. Too long forgotten in the repertoire (as happens with some food denizens), it has made a hearty comeback in my kitchen. As with many culinary experiences, Caesar salad allows you to be simultaeously transported from World War I Italy to Tijuana, Mexico to star laden, prohibition era southern California.

Cesare Cardini was born near Lago Maggiore, Italy, in 1896, and emigrated to the states after World War I. He resided in San Diego but operated a restaurant in Caesar’s hotel located on the Avenida Revolución in Tijuana (in order to circumvent Prohibition). Purportedly, his renowned salad was created on a busy 4th of July weekend in 1924, and Hollywood celebrities soon flocked to the restaurant to sample his fare.

Caesar salad also began to make an appearance in western Europe courtesy of Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson (mistress and ultimately wife of Prince Edward VIII of Wales, former King of England). She partied in San Diego and Tijuana in the 20s, ultimately meeting the Prince of Wales at the Hotel Del Coronado. Mrs. Simpson occasionally visited Caesar’s venue, demanding that the maestro himself toss his creation at her table. Legend has it that Madame Simpson was the first to cut the lettuce into smaller pieces rather than indulging in the finger food Caesar had intended.

Caesar used only the romaine hearts, the tender short leaves in the center, and presented them whole. Initially, the salad was tossed and dressed at the table, then arranged on each plate so that you could dine on whole leaves with your fingers.  A wondrous fray of contrasts — salty, cold, crunch, heat, biting, croutons, fruit, cheese, egg.

CAESAR SALAD

20 crisp romaine lettuce hearts, washed and dryed
1 C toasted croutons

2 plump large garlic cloves, peeled
2 fine anchovy fillets in olive oil
1/4 C or more extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
1 large egg, coddled

Freshly ground black pepper
1 whole lemon, halved and seeded
Worcestershire sauce
3 T parmigiano-reggiano

Croutons: Cut bread slices up into small cubes. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of a chef’s knife, sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and mince well. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic and mash again with the knife, rubbing and pressing to make a soft purée. If necessary, use a mortar and pestle to further mash your friends to a paste.

Scrape the purée into a heavy skillet, add another tablespoon of olive oil, and warm over low medium heat. Add the croutons and toss for a few minutes to crisp them, infuse them with the garlic oil, then remove from the heat.

Egg: To coddle the egg, bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer. Pierce the large end of the egg with a pushpin to prevent cracking, then gently lower into the water to avoid breakage and simmer for precisely 1 minute. You may wish to carefully put the eggs into ice water to retard further cooking.

Salad: Rub the wooden salad bowl well with the anchovy fillets. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the romaine leaves and toss to coat. Sprinkle them with a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper, toss once or twice, then add the lemon juice, a few drops of the oil from the anchovies, the Worcestershire, and toss again. Taste for seasoning, and add more, if needed.

Crack the coddled egg and drop it right on the romaine leaves, then toss to break it up and coat the leaves. Sprinkle on the cheese, toss briefly, then add the croutons and toss for the last time, just to mix them into the salad.

Quinoa—An Incan Staple

February 19, 2009

Attention to health is life’s greatest hindrance.
~Plato

Praise to Alice Waters and Katrina Heron for their NY Times Op-Ed piece, No Lunch Left Behind, commenting on the sorry state of our nation’s school lunch tables.

So, a post from the culinary health nurse seems in order.

Quinoa is an amino acid fecund, high fiber seed that has a fluffy, creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a somewhat nutty flavor when cooked. Not only is quinoa high in protein, it supplies a complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. I could wag on about its other nutritional benefits, but it’s good food, so enough.

Often considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach or Swiss chard.

This recently rediscovered annual herb has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Andes and was referred to as “the gold of the Incas”—which sounds perversely ironic given the wholesale pillage, slaughter and conquest of the Incan peoples by Spaniards seeking precious gold in the 16th century.

A plant that is very hardy and drought resistant, it bears clusters of seed on top of the plant that can range in color from white, orange, red, purple, to black, depending on the variety. The ancestral seed color of quinoa is black with the other colors having been attained from mutations and botanical breeding.

The seeds are coated with a bitter tasting saponin which is removed by rinsing the quinoa several times in water to remove the saponin dust.

Quinoa resides comfortably in salads, soups and as a side.

QUINOA WITH HERBS

2 cups quinoa

1/2 C shallots, finely chopped
2 1/2 c water
3/4 t sea salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 t dried thyme
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

3/4 C pine nuts, lightly toasted

Place quinoa in large, fine mesh strainer. Rinse under cold running water several times until water runs clear.

Heat oil in heavy, large saucepan. Add the shallots and saute on medium heat until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the quinoa, stirring, then add 2 1/2 cups water, salt, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to boil; then reduce heat to medium low, cover tightly, and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Remove from heat and fluff quinoa with fork. Stir in pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Mix in basil.

Green Beans (Haricots Verts)

February 19, 2009

Supposing everyone lived at one time what would they say. They would observe that stringing string beans is universal.
~Gertrude Stein

A mistreated garden icon…too often served in a mudane, overcooked fashion.

Haricots verts are the longer and thinner French variety…a touch more delicate and possessing a slightly more complex flavor. The cooking time on green beans varies according to pod girth, so sample during the process to assure they are perfectly crisp and tender when served.

GREEN BEANS WITH SHIITAKES

6 T unsalted butter
1 t fresh thyme, chopped
8 ozs fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 lbs fresh green beans, washed and ends trimmed
2/3 C chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add shiitake mushrooms and thyme; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to bowl.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in same skillet. Add shallots and garlic and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and toss to coat with butter. Pour broth over green bean mixture. Simmer until liquid evaporates and green beans are crisp and tender, about 10 minutes. Gently stir in shiitake mushrooms. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

GREEN BEANS WITH PINE NUTS & TARRAGON

1 lb green beans, washed and ends trimmed
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed

2 T fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1/2 C toasted pine nuts

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Put green beans in large pot of boiling salted water. and cook until just tender and crisp, 3-5 minutes. Drain beans in colander and plunge into ice cold water to halt cooking and retain the green hue. Promptly drain on cloth or paper towel—otherwise, the beans will become soggy. Set aside.

Heat olive oil and butter in large skillet. Add garlic and sauté until just lightly browned, then discard the clove. Add beans, tarragon and pine nuts; sauté until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

GREEN BEANS WITH WALNUTS

1 pound green beans, washed and ends trimmed
3 T walnut oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 C roasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Drop green beans in a heavy pot of boiling, salted water. Cook uncovered for about 3-5 minutes; drain thoroughly, then drizzle with walnut oil, season with salt and pepper to taste and toss with chopped nuts. Serve immediately.

Roasted Asparagus with Feta

February 18, 2009

It seemed to me that these celestial hues revealed the delicious creatures who had merrily metamorphosed themselves into vegetables and who, through the disguise of their firm, edible flesh, disclosed in these early tints of dawn, in these beginnings of rainbows, in this extinction of blue evenings, the precious essence that I recognized again when, all night long following a dinner at which i had eaten them, they played, in farces as crude and poetic as a fairy play by Shakespeare, at changing my chamber pot into a jar of perfume.
~Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Given its variable nature and year round availability, asparagus is likely the most beloved green at our table. Whether steamed, boiled, sauteed, grilled or roasted, asparagus are finger food heaven and marry well with nuts, cheeses, vinaigrettes and some sauces. Do not dare deign to use a fork or knife with these darlings.

Asparagus officinalis is a perennial flowering plant species from the lily family. These delicate spears were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and a recipe even appears in one of the oldest surviving cookbook, Apicius’s De re coquinaria (3rd Century AD).

Asparagus shoots evolve into stalks several feet high, sometimes growing 6″ to 10″ in a single day. Some one half of the world’s asparagus is harvested white, which is accomplished by covering the spears from light, thus inhibiting chlorophyll production. This produces a more delicate and sweet version, but is also more fibrous—usually requiring peeling before cooking. A portion of each green or white asparagus spear’s bottom end is inedible, so simply bend the stalk until it naturally snaps.

Asparagus is seductively low in calories and sodium, and contains no fat or cholesterol…while remaining a hearty source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and rutin.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH FETA

2 lbs medium asparagus, bottoms snapped off
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 C good quality feta cheese

2 t fresh lemon zest

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Toss asparagus with oil, salt, and pepper in a large shallow baking pan and arrange in single layer. Roast, shaking pan once about halfway through roasting, until asparagus is just tender when pierced with a fork, 8-12 minutes—but, with 2 minutes to go, sprinkle asparagus with cheese. When done, top with lemon zest and serve.