Scones

May 23, 2009

Scones supposedly originated in Scotland and were closely related to the griddle baked flatbread, known as bannock. The origin of the name scone is rather vague—some say the name comes from the Stone of Scone, where the Kings of Scotland were crowned; others contend that the name is derived from the Dutch word schoonbrot meaning “fine white bread” or from the German word sconbrot meaning “fine or beautiful bread;” another school speculates that scone is rooted in the Gaelic word sgonn, a “shapeless mass or large mouthful.”

As an aside, I prefer buttermilk.

SCONES

2 C all purpose or cake flour
1/4 C sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
6 T chilled unsalted butter, cut into pads

1 large organic, free range egg
4 T cold buttermilk or whole milk
4 T cold heavy whipping cream
1/2 C dried currants or other dried fruit (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F

Sprinkle baking sheet lightly with flour. Combine 2 cups flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. It is important that the butter be cold so when it is worked into the flour mixture it becomes small, flour coated crumbs, not a smooth dough. Do not overwork the dough—it should be like pie dough. Work the dried fruits into the dough.

Whisk egg, milk and cream in small bowl. Combine egg mixture with dry ingredients, stirring with spoon until moist. If dry, add some more cream. Gather dough into ball. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Shape dough into a round about 3/4 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or small wine glass, cut rounds of dough. (Alternatively, you may simply cut the dough into triangles.) Gather the scraps, reshape the dough, and cut out more rounds or triangles. Arrange rounds on baking sheet. If desired, brush with an egg wash.

Bake scones until tops are lightly golden and a toothpic inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with butter, honey or jam.

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Garlic Soup

May 22, 2009

GARLIC SOUP

Duck fat, long a staple of the kitchens in Gascony, imparts deeply opulent flavors to any dish. Many chefs revere the use of duck fat with potatoes in so many preparations.

(Gascony is a historical and cultural region of southwest France—east and south of Bordeaux—that was formerly part of the province of Guyenne and Gascony…a keenly gastronomic domain)

3 T duck, goose or chicken fat
6 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, rinsed, green tops discarded, whites finely chopped
30 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled

7 C chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Bouquet garni: several sprigs of fresh parsley and tarragon and several bay leaves, twined
Nutmeg, grated

5 organic, free range egg yolks
4 T olive oil

Baguette slices, toasted
Chives, for garnish

Over low heat in a large stock pot, melt the fat over low heat, then add the garlic. Cook while stirring occasionally, without browning, until the garlic has become very soft, about 30 minutes or so. During the last 15 minutes of this step, add the leeks so they sweat and soften too.

Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, bouquet garni, and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes. Discard bouquet garni.

Blend the soup either with an hand immersion blender or by allowing the soup to cool slightly and pouring it into a blender or food processor. Blend until the soup is completely puréed.

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl while drizzling in the olive oil. Very slowly and cautiously add hot soup to the yolks a small amount at a time while still beating the eggs. When you have added a cup or so to the eggs, slowly pour the remainder of the egg mixture into the soup vigorously whisking while you do so. Heat the mixture gingerly being careful not to allow the soup come to a boil which would curdle the eggs.

Place a toasted baguette slice in the bottom of each bowl and pour the soup over top. Serve, garnished with chives.

Marsala is a fortified wine produced in the region surrounding the its namesake city on the coast of Sicily. The wine is made using a process called in perpetuum, which is similar to the solera system used to produce Spanish sherry. In this continual technique, wine is drawn for bottling from sets of barrels which have been topped off with wine from the next set in the rack. Each barrel is subsequently fininshed with wine from the next set of barrels along the solera. When the last set of barrels is reached, new wine that is just entering the solera is added. So, years into the life of a solera, a complex and mature sherry results which combines the best of both worlds—the mature depth and strata from the older wines with the fresh crispness from the youthful ones. Not unlike most generational processes.

There are a number of varieties of Marsala wines which are classified in accordance with their age. This ranges from Fine, which is aged for less than one year, to varieties like Vergine e/o Soleras Stravecchio e Vergine e/o Soleras Riserva that are aged for at least 10 years.

Marsala is a seaport located in the Trapani province which features a low coastline, and is situated is the westernmost point of the island. Formerly called Lilybaeum, Marsala was the principal stronghold of the Carthaginians in Sicily, and was founded in 396 BC by the survivors of the nearby Phonecian island of Motya, whose city had been destroyed by the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse.

The Saracens, who ruled Sicily during the tenth century, gave Marsala its current moniker which is derived from the Arab Marsa Allah “port of Allah” or perhaps Marsa Ali “port of Ali” as the ancient harbor of Lylibaeum was immense.

The English trader John Woodhouse is often attributed with introducing local Marsala wine to an even wider audience. In 1773, Woodhouse landed at the port of Marsala and sampled this regional fortified wine, which was aged in wooden casks and tasted similar to Spanish and Portuguese fortified wines which were then the rage in England. He risked dispatching a considerable consignment of wine to England to sound out the market. Given the positive response, the merchant set up his own company in Marsala.

A more cost conscious but equally delectable version of this recipe can be made by substituting boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

SCALOPINI AL MARSALA (VEAL MARSALA)

2 C chicken broth
3 T finely chopped shallot
6 T unsalted butter
12 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
2 t fresh sage, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 C all purpose flour
6 veal cutlets
1/2 T dried sage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 C dry Marsala wine

1 C heavy cream
2 T fresh lemon juice

Fresh sage, chopped
1/4 C capers, drained (optional)

Bring broth to a boil in a 2 quart saucepan over high heat, then boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20 minutes.

Cook shallots in 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until shallot begins to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms, 2 teaspoon sage, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown. Set aside, tented.

Pound veal until thin but not torn, season with dried sage, salt and pepper; then dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Sauté veal in 3 tablespoons butter and olive oil until browned but not entirely done, then set aside. Do not overcook as you will return the veal to the pan later.

To deglaze, add Marsala to skillet and boil over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add reduced broth, mushrooms, and cream, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened. Return veal to pan and complete the thickening process. Add lemon juice and a couple more tablespoons Marsala. Serve with chopped fresh sage sprinkled over the veal. The capers are just a reflection of my addiction to these pungent little berries.

Serve with linguine or toasted orzo (see Toasted Orzo post).

…the American paradox: a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthily.
~Michael Pollan

A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper’s Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley.

Last night, we attended his lecture and book signing of his biting and informative James Beard Award winner, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. He closed with these remarks (paraphrased):

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”

“Do not eat food which has been advertised on television”

“Do not eat food that your grandmother would not recognize as food”

Sage advice.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH YOGURT & MINT

6 local, organic lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2″ thick
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and slightly crushed
Fresh mint leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T herbes de provence

3 T Dijon mustard
1 T soy sauce
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2 C plain organic yogurt
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped

Fresh mint leaves to garnish

Rub the lamb chops with an open garlic and mint leaves, and then season with salt and pepper and herbes de provence. In a bowl, mix together the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, yogurt, garlic and chopped mint leaves. Spread the mixture over the lamb on both sides and marinate in the refrigerator for around 4 hours.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Bring the lamb chops to room temperature. Grill the lamb for 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Let the lamb rest for at least 5 minutes, then serve garnished with mint leaves.

Dirty Rice

May 19, 2009

Somewhere lives a bad Cajun cook, just as somewhere must live one last ivory billed woodpecker. For me, I don’t expect ever to encounter either one.
~William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways (1982)

Decades after the ivory billed woodpecker was considered to be extinct, researchers found evidence that the majestic bird may still exist. In February, 2004, a lone kayaker spotted this species in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, an encounter that led to an extensive scientific search for the bird.

Since then, researchers combed the wetlands to collect evidence they believe confirmed the continuing existence of this creature, and it was allegedly sighted more than a dozen times by experts and searchers. Then the trail went somewhat chilly. While the search continues, additional proof of this elusive bird’s emergence from extinction has been the topic of debate.

Cajuns were a regional peoples who originated in southern France, emigrating first to eastern Canada in the early 17th century, and then settling in a colony called Acadia. Refusing to give up their language and religion and unwilling to pledge allegiance to England, the Acadians were deported. In what has been called the Great Upheaval of 1755, Acadians were uprooted by the British and were driven from their homes in the New World. They migrated southward. Now, Cajuns are an ethnic group primarily living in southern Louisiana who are descendents of these exiles from Quebec, the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), and parts of New England. Many settled along the swamplands and waterways of Louisiana and resorted to their traditions of fishing, trapping and farming—making use of the bountiful natural resources there.

Cajuns retain a unique dialect of the French language and a single, prideful cuisine. The food is rustic, home-style, and adaptable to fresh local ingredients.

The aromatic mix of green bell peppers, onions, and celery is often called The Holy Trinity, even though I have blasphemously added red peppers (color) and jalapenos (heat) to this recipe.

DIRTY RICE

2 t cayenne pepper
2 t sea salt
2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t sweet paprika
1 t dry mustard
1 t cumin seeds, ground
1 t dried thyme leaves
1 t dried oregano leaves

2 T canola oil
1 lb chicken gizzards, chopped
1/2 lb ground pork, coarsely ground
2 bay leaves

3/4 C yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C green peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 C red peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 C jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 C celery, finely chopped
1 T plump garlic, peeled and minced
3 T unsalted butter
3 C chicken stock
1/2 lb chicken livers, chopped
1 1/2 C long grained rice

Combine the first 8 seasoning ingredients in a small bowl.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, cook the canola oil, gizzards, pork and bay leaf until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the seasoning mixture, then the onions, celery, peppers and garlic. Add the butter and stir occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and stirring throughout, for about 8 minutes. Add the stock until and stir occasionally so that the bottom of the pan comes loose, about 8 minutes. Stir in the chicken livers and cook about 2 minutes.

Add the rice andt stir well, reducing the heat to low, for 5 minutes. Cover and remover from heat until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve.

…the taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex….For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate…entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better.
~Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Some misled foodies have asserted that mouse au chocolat has become hackneyed, banal, and instead opt for the more eccentric desserts on a menu. Check error on their box scores. This lustrous, chocolate-intense dessert has never become trite to me. No way, no how. We are talking chocolate.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, named by the famed 17th century Swedish naturalist, Linnaeus who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. Translated from the Greek theobroma, “food of the gods,” they are small, understory trees that demand rich, adequately drained soil and bear small white beans. These environmentally particular trees only grow within about 15 degrees of either side of the equator.

Most things sensual reside in the recesses of our gray matter. Because of chocolate’s reputation as a subtle aphrodisiac, the renowned Italian libertine, Giacomo Casanova, ate chocolate before bedding his many mistresses. Centuries later, a study of Harvard graduates showed that chocolate consumers lived longer than abstainers. Their longevity may be explained by the high polyphenol levels in chocolate which reduce the oxidation of low density lipoproteins and thus reduce the risk of heart disease and even cancer. So, the antioxidants produced by chocolate purportedly increase HDL (“good”) cholesteral levels, and release polyphenols which are a form of antioxidant. Chocolate is also rich in flavonoids, a compound shown to promote several beneficial effects in the cardiovascular system, including decreasing oxidation of LDL cholesterol (a harmful process that allows cholesterol to accumulate in blood vessels); inhibiting aggregation of blood platelets (which contributes to the risk of blood clots that produce stroke and heart attack); and decreasing the body’s inflammatory immune responses (which contribute to atherosclerosis).

Chocolate has also been described as a “psychoactive” food. It affects the brain by causing the release of particular neurotransmitters which are molecules that send signals between neurons.

Some trials have even suggested chocolate consumption may subtly enhance cognitive performance, increasing scores for verbal and visual memory. Eating chocolate also increases endorphin levels, lessening pain and decreasing stress. To go a step further, a chemical found in chocolate, trytophan, causes the release of serotonin which serves as an antidepressant. The ultimate comfort food?

Chocolate has a distinct tendency to absorb surrounding odors, so take care to store it well covered or sealed. Otherwise you will taste a mousse which is flavored with its disaffected food neighbors.

MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT

8 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate (85% cocoa), coarsely chopped
1/4 C strong coffee

6 T unsalted butter, softened
4 large egg yolks

4 large egg whites
6 T confectioners’ sugar

2 C heavy cream, chilled
1 t vanilla extract

Melt chocolate and coffee in a double boiler over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Beat the softened butter into the the melted chocolate, and then, one at a time, whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly blended.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. While beating, stir in the sugar by tablespoonfuls. Beat them until shining and stiff peaks are formed. Fold the chocolate mixture and egg whites together.

Beat the cream and vanilla in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form, and then gently fold into the chocolate, butter and egg mixture with a rubber spatula. Do not overmix, but make sure that the mixture is well blended and that white streaks have disappeared.

Spoon mousse into stemmed glasses, ramekins or a serving bowl and chill, covered, at least 8 hours. Serve atop crème anglaise or topped with freshly whipped cream.

When you make his sandwiches, put a sexy or loving note in his lunch box.
~Anne Rice

PANINI

Maybe with the current economic woes and ever expanding disparities in this country’s burgeoning two class chasm, it may be timely to discuss just a simple two ply sandwich…or even a panino. They share an affinity.

Before my panini palaver persists, I have to preface. Even though they are often dissed as nothing more than a portable meal, making a really damn good sandwich or panini demands every bit the same nurturing that many other fine dishes deserve. Unless you fail to thoughtfully coddle them, sandwiches do not merit that “lunch bucket–not cuisine label,” something to be gobbled hurriedly at your desk or in the car. Au contraire! Rather, choice sandwiches are memorable art forms, both inside and out…

A panino is a sandwich made from a small loaf of rustic bread which is cut horizontally on the bias and customarily filled with cured meat, cheeses and greens. The literal translation of panino is “roll” or “stuffed bread,” with the plural being panini.

As with much of food history or gastronomic anthropology (as those phrases are loosely used here and elsewhere), the story of the sandwich is muddled. Such an abundance of cultural variance, criss crossing civilizations, endless definitional nuances, and often bewildering oral traditions…humanity’s comings and goings. The concept of bread as a focal point to the eating experience has been present for eons, so historical precision is elusive (see Pizza & Calzone Dough).

The first recorded sandwich was purportedly assembled by the scholarly rabbi, Hillel the Elder, circa 100 B.C. He introduced the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between matzohs eaten with bitter herbs…a sandwich which is the fond of the Seder and bears his name.

During the Middle Ages, thick slices of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used instead of plates. Derived from the French verb trancher, which means “to slice or cut,” meats and other victuals were piled on these bread platters, eaten with fingers and sometimes with knives as forks had yet to find prevalence. The thick trenchers absorbed the juices, the greases, and rather primitive sauces, and afterwards the soaked breads were thrown to the dogs or offered as alms to the poor. With the advent of the fork, finger food became impolite which rendered the trencher outmoded.

The first Italian recipe that vaguely resembled a panino was that for panunto (greased bread) described by Domenico Ramoli at the end of the 16th century—he even got nicknamed by his dish.

While references to “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese” are found throughout English drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a delay in the evolution of the sandwich ensued. Thankfully, the concept was finally revived in the 18th century by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was First Lord of the Admiralty and patron to Capt. James Cook who explored New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Polynesia; he even designated the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandwich Islands. Rumor holds that Montague was so addicted to gambling that he steadfastly refused to pause for meals and instead ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. While legends vary, it remains beyond quarrel that the word “sandwich” bears the name of John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

The sandwich was introduced to the states by the English import Elizabeth Leslie in the 19th century. In her cookbook, Directions for Cookery, she authored a recipe for ham sandwiches, which have evolved into an American tradition in many sizes, shapes and forms.

With the demand for haste emerging in the last century, sandwiches—from simple to elegant–have risen to become a staple of western civilization, for both rich and poor. Panini have slowly evolved from being basic worker’s fare to become trendy morsels on the food scene.

On panini preparation: brush the outside of the panini with extra virgin olive oil and fill it with whatever whets your palate—cheeses, cured meats, herbs, etc. As with pizzas and pasta, do not overload the sandwiches as the bread should be allowed a place at the table too. Proportions = “perfection.”

Should you own a panini grill, by all means use it. If not, use a ridged grill pan and place another surface, such as a small cutting board or another pan on top of the panini as they cook. Place a weight on the board or pan to press down the panini, causing those signature ridges and thinning the sandwiches overall. Turn and repeat. The panini should be cooked to golden brown with grill marks and the innards pressed narrowly…usually slightly oozing with luscious cheese.

Recipes will follow on a subsequent entry, as I may have already overstayed my welcome with these ramblings. In the meantime, consider:

pesto, arugula, watercress, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, tapenade, mozzarella, brie, gruyere, talleggio, fontina, pecorino, goat cheese, proscuitto, serrano, coppa, soppresatta, and pancetta, arugula, chard, basil, radicchio, baby spinach, extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil or salt, garlic oil, ciabatta, pain au levain, or baguette artisanal breads.

P.S. Use your imagination, as the possibilities prove endless.