Savory (& Savvy) Pork

January 29, 2010

I will astonish Paris with an apple.
~Paul Cezanne

Although it serves well in other seasons, roast pork seems true winter fare. Affable victuals cooked with frosted panes and views of snowy roofs. But, wholly aside from the Rockwell images, pork is flat ambrosial…whether cured, roasted, seared, grilled or otherwise.

The venerable and ironically omnivorous domestic pig, Sus domesticus, is one of the more ancient species of livestock—dating back some 8,000 years. Pigs are even-toed ungulates: hoofed animals whose weight is spread evenly by more than one toe. Like ballerinas, ungulates use the tips of their hoofed toes to sustain their body weight while ambulating. Pigs, giraffes, rhinoceri, hippopotami, camels, moose, all en pointe.

Pigs happen to be one of the more socially adept and sage farm species. They are exceptionally adroit animals who adeptly grasp new routines, and their cognitive skills are almost unparalleled in the animal world. Pig acumen is damn awesome. They can cleverly jump hoops, stand and bow, utter linguinstic sounds on command, herd sheep, open cages, and play video games. The pig genome compares favorably with the human genome in many respects, especially with males.

Much like humans, pig teeth have an enamel coating which makes them stauncher and less vulnerable to disease. They masticate and ruminate their chow, having a digestive system that is similar to humans which cannot readily digest unground food. Think more of the swine in Snatch and less of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.

ROAST PORK LOIN WITH HERBS, APPLES & HONEY

3 lb boneless pork top loin roast, trimmed and tied
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut in slivers
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

6 medium leeks, whites only, halved lengthwise
Fresh thyme sprigs
Fresh rosemary sprigs
2 heads fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil

4 apples, cored, peeled and cut into 6 slices each
4 T unsalted butter

1 C cognac or brandy
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
4 T unprocessed, organic honey

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fat side up, stud the pork roast with garlic slivers. Rub the surface first with softened butter and then liberally with salt, pepper, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cradle the pork on a rack in a heavy roasting pan. Strew the leeks, sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and halved garlic heads in the bottom of the pan, drizzled lightly with olive oil.

Roast until medium rare, about 1 hour, basting. During the last 20 minutes, bathe with cognac and apple cider vinegar and drizzle with honey. A thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F when the pork is medium rare. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, tent the pork loin with foil on a platter, and let rest for at least 15-20 minutes. Keep in mind that when the roast is removed from the oven and is resting before carving, it will continue to cook some more, allowing the juices to come back to the center of the roast.

Remove and set aside the leeks, garlic, and herbs. Place pan on stove on medium high and reduce sauce, adding cognac, vinegar and honey to your liking. If you are not facing an appointment with your cardio specialist that week, even treat yourself to some heavy whipping cream on the finish. Reduce sauce until it thickens and coats a spoon.

In the meantime, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the apples in a single layer, and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 5-10 minutes. Drain, and tent with foil to keep warm.

To serve, remove and discard the string. Carve the pork into rather thick slices and serve with apples and leeks nestled alongside, drizzled with sauce.

Everything cooked for a lover is sensual.
~Isabel Allende, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

One variation on a fried rice theme…a motif limited only by your leftovers, pantry and creativity. As some food is best with bare toes plunked in the sand, somehow bowls of fried rice should be savored while adorned only with giddy, knowing grins and chopsticks in the wee hours. Well, this time of year maybe amorously draped in white linens. Nothing wrong, and most things right with intimate garb and grub.

DUCK & GINGER FRIED RICE

2 C long grain rice
4 C chicken or vegetable stock

2 C roasted (or confit) duck meat, skinned, boned and cut into pieces
2-3 T soy sauce
1 T dry sherry
1 T sesame oil
1 T hoisin sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

2 T peanut oil
1 T duck fat
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
4 thin slices peeled ginger

2 shallots peeled and thinly sliced
2 t red pepper flakes
3 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
1 C small mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced (optional)

4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

3-4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Egg yolks (optional)

Use leftover rice, or…place rice and stock in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low, cover tightly and continue cooking 12 to 15 minutes, until stock has evaporated and surface is pitted with “fish eyes.” Remove from heat, allow to cool in a bowl and then place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or even overnight.

Toss duck meat with soy sauce, sherry, sesame oil and hoisin, and add black pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a wok or large, heavy deep skillet, heat peanut oil, duck fat, smashed garlic and sliced ginger over high heat until sizzling. Do not burn. Remove garlic and ginger and discard, then add shallots and red pepper flakes and sauté until translucent and almost golden, stirring occasionally. Add minced ginger, garlic, peas and mushrooms and cook a couple of minutes more. Add rice and cook on medium heat until rice is heated through, stirring throughout. Fold in duck meat mixture and sliced scallions until heated. Make a deep, broad well in the center of the rice, and then add a splash more oil and when hot add eggs. Scramble the egg lightly, then let it set without stirring so it sets and stays in big pieces. Fold in the rice and gently toss until until well blended. Season with soy sauce to taste.

When serving, make a hollow in each mound of rice and carefully drop in an egg yolk. Then, garnish with cilantro.

…dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening.
~Art Buchwald

This Provençal comfort food exudes the melodious aromas of poultry, olives, fennel and capers that so often waft from the region’s kitchens and tables.

Capers (Capparis spinosa L.) are perennial bushy shrubs that bear fragrant white to light pink petals, and fleshy leaves renowned for the delicious immature buds which are commonly prepared pickled in salt and vinegar. Native to the Meditteranean basin, the thorny caper bush is well adapted to the sun soaked, sandy and sometimes nutrient needy soil found in the region.

Intense manual labor is required to gather capers, for the buds must be picked each morning just as they reach the proper size—before they open. Merchants categorize capers by size with the smallest non pareil often being the most desirable. However, somewhat larger buds from Pantelleria, a hot dry wind-swept speck of a volcanic island south of Sicily, are also highly prized.

Freshly picked caper buds are not an especially savory lot, but their piquancy increases after sun-drying, salting and brining. Deceptive by size, these charming, petite morsels are tart, zestful and bring earthy, tangy, citrus dimensions to dishes. A pantry without capers should sense remorse. Capers are packed in glass jars in coarse salt or vinegar brine, and so it is incumbent to thoroughly rinse before use.

BRAISED CHICKEN WITH WINE, CAPERS, OLIVES, FENNEL, & SHERRY VINEGAR

1 (3 1/2 to 4 lb) chicken, rinsed, patted dry, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

1 dried bay leaf
2 rosemary sprigs
1 C high quality green olives, pitted (such as picholine)
1 C capers, drained and well rinsed
4 fennel branches, roughly sliced into 2″-3″ pieces
2 C dry white wine
1 C chicken stock

1/4 C sherry wine vinegar

3 T fresh tarragon or flat parsley, roughly chopped

Season the chicken liberally with salt, pepper and a couple of pinches of herbes de Provence crumbled between finger and thumb. In a large heavy deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter and garlic over medium heat. But, do not allow to brown. With a wooden spatula, massage the garlic cloves into the entire pan surface. Then, place chicken in pan, skin side down; the skin should sizzle some when the pieces contact the surface. Brown chicken in batches, turning over once, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Remove crushed garlic cloves before they brown. Set aside browned chicken on a dish or platter, loosely tented.

Reduce the heat to medium or medium low, and add the onions. Sweat onions until soft and translucent, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Return the chicken to the pan, and add the bay leaf, rosemary, olives, capers, fennel, wine and stock. Cover and simmer slowly until chicken is tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the chicken to the dish or platter, and tent loosely with foil. Also remove bay leaf, rosemary sprigs. Raise heat, fortify sauce with sherry vinegar and boil down rapidly until sauce begins to just lightly thicken and coat a spoon. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking.

Serve over rice, pasta or thick noodles.

To MLK — Pecan Pie

January 18, 2010

The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history.
~Bertrand Russell

Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. A minister whose nonviolent social activism exposed white American hypocrisy and kindled the way for the civil rights movement. A member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He conferred with President John Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon Johnson. He rubbed elbows with the powerful and walked with the common man. He was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times. Awarded five honorary degrees, he was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963. At the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now to the darker side. Hoping to prove the Reverend was under the influence of subversives, Communists and other sources of obsessive paranoia, the FBI kept the civil rights leader under constant surveillance. The almost fanatical zeal with which the agency pursued King is disclosed in a paper trail of tens of thousands of FBI memos which detailed concerted efforts to derail King’s efforts in the civil rights movement.

The Bureau even convened a meeting of department heads to “explore how best to carry on our investigation to produce the desired results without embarrassment to the Bureau,” which included “a complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.”

In 1963, a month before the March on Washington, the megalomaniacal, capricioius FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover filed a request with then Attorney General Robert Kennedy to tap King’s and his associates’ phones and to bug their homes and offices. Oh, how that whitest of white Hoover destested King. Sadly, Kennedy consented to the technical surveillance, granting the FBI permission to break into King’s office and home to install the bugs, as long as agents recognized the “delicacy of this particular matter” and did not get caught installing them. All ordered with a voyeuristic proviso — Kennedy was to be personally informed of any pertinent findings. Speaking of, was Hoover really a cross-dresser or was that unsubstantiated rumor about the king of rumormongers with his “secret files” on potentates? And as a man that made it his business to blackmail homosexuals, who was this closeted lifelong partner of Hoover’s, agent Clyde “The Glide” Tolson?

Martin Luther King was also a man who adored pie, particularly pecan. As do I. Celebrate his sadly shortened life with a slice.

PECAN PIE

Pastry (Pâte Fine Sucrée)
2 egg yolks
6 T ice water

2 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
3 T granulated white sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1″ bits

Filling
1 C dark brown sugar
2/3 C light corn syrup
1 T rum or bourbon
4 T unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/4 C heavy whipping cream
1/4 t sea salt
2 C pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Pastry:
Gently whisk the yolk with the water until it is well blended.

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10-15 seconds. Pour water and yolk mixture through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Knead the dough for less than one minute and your work surface and then gather into a ball.

(Alternatively, place the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl and combine. Add the butter and work with your hands, mashing it through your fingers to have everything blend together. It will form into small lumps or a cornmeal like consistency after 1 or 2 minutes. Pour the yolk mixture into the bowl and mix vigorously with your fingers until all the ingredients are assembled together into a ball.)

Divide the dough in half, flattening each half into a thick disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After chilling, unwrap and place one dough on a floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour too. Roll the pastry with light pressure, from the center out. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, add some flour and keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll from the center of the pastry outwards. Turn the dough over once or twice during the rolling process until it is about 11″ in diameter and less than 1/4″ thick. Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9″ pie pan by draping it over the rolling pin, then moving it onto the plate and unrolling it. Once in the plate, press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the excess dough to about 1/2″ all around the dish, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Brush off any excess flour and trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie pan.

Refrigerate the pastry, covered with plastic wrap, for about 30 minutes before pouring in the filling.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.

Filling:
In a large saucepan, heat the brown sugar, syrup, rum, and butter until boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool until tepid. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. When the boiled syrup has cooled, beat in the eggs, salt, and cream.

Remove the chilled pastry crust from the refrigerator and evenly distribute the chopped pecans over the bottom of the crust. Then pour the filling evenly over the nuts. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pie will come out clean, about 50 minutes. If you find the edges of the pie crust are over browning during baking, cover with foil. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice or whipping cream.

If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.
~George W. Bush

Some foods naturally have genial, soulful connections. Think proscuitto and figs. Jocund flavors who jive…acid, tang, tart, sweet, pungent, bitter, twang, vim, pepper, fruit, earth…all meeting on one plate. This crisply textured and vibrant medley does not disappoint. A salad with spizzerinctum.

Endive, Cichorium endivia, is a slightly bitter, leafy vegetable which belongs to the daisy family and the chicory genus. One variety of endive, escarole, has broad, pale green leaves and tends to be less bitter than its curly cousin, frisée.

Should you complain about President Obama, lest we forget George “W.ar” Bush. In a parting shot at that Gallic crew who refused to support his ill conceived invasion and conquest of Iraq, the Bush administration imposed a 300% duty on Roquefort (Occitan: ròcafòrt) as one of his final acts in office. Designed as a tariff retaliation for an EU ban on imports of US beef containing hormones, the ever bellicose president decided to punish the thousands of people who herd select ewes in the harsh terrain of some 2,100 farms, all of whose livelihood entirely depended on Roquefort. Boy George and his wars on everyone and everything—from french fries to the Taliban. “(T)he answer is, bring ’em on”…one conflictual kid, even at the ripe age of 64.

As the quantity is minute, bring on your finest cold pressed, unfiltered, extra virgin olive oil.

RADICCHIO, ESCAROLE, PEAR, WALNUT & ROQUEFORT SALAD

1 C whole walnuts

Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
4 medium beets
Balsamic vinegar
Honey

1 Bosc pear, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 head of radicchio leaves, roughly torn
1 head curly escarole, cored and halved crosswise
Freshly ground pepper
1 C Roquefort cheese, crumbled

Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F

Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for a couple minutes, until fragrant. Let them cool, then coarsely chop.

Trim ends off beets, and rinse. Halve and then arrange them in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and lightly splash them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of honey, and cover dish tightly with foil. Roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes or so, depending on the size of the beets. When done, they should be firm, but a fork should slide in readily. Allow beets to cool uncovered, peel and slice into roughly hewn juliennes.

In a small bowl, toss the sliced pear with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. In a large bowl, toss the radicchio and escarole with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Mound the salad on plates and top with the beets, pears, walnuts and Roquefort. No need to salt as the Roquefort brings a salty tang to the mix. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Two Resolutions: Quinoa

January 11, 2010

No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.
~George Bernard Shaw

Now that the bubbly clinking and sloppy midnight kisses with bosses and wives have become faint memories, the time has come for many to pursue and accomplish those well intentioned yet often unattainable resolutions for the upcoming year. That annual ritual of setting goals for the new year—an effort to start afresh and recast our role in life—is now in the past. Now, we have to endure the tedium of making good on them. Lose weight, live for the day, find a mate, stop smoking, exercise more, cease biting your nails, get a promotion, find a job, quit your job, get a tattoo, have more sex, travel exotic, sleep more, drink less, bungee jump…and the list goes on.

Other primeval civilizations, including Babylonia, celebrated the vernal and autumnal equinoxes with revelrous festivals as a means of ringing in a new year. The western tradition of new year’s resolutions began in ancient Rome when worshippers offered resolutions of good conduct to the deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and guardian of doors and entrances. Always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back, Janus could look backward and forward simultaneously—an innate skill sorely lacking in today’s politicians. When the Roman calendar was reformed, the first month of the year was renamed January in homage to Janus, establishing January 1 as the day of new beginnings. So, at midnight each December 31, the Romans envisaged Janus looking back at the old and forward to the new. Retrospect and foresight at once.

Unfortunately, studies have suggested that new year’s resolutions are often a pointless exercise. Few of us achieve them, and most revert to our previous bad habits. We break our carefully crafted resolutions of self-renewal and denial, and become dispirited, even despondent in the process. Some research has suggested that some 80% of adult Americans completely give up on their new goals by Valentine’s Day (especially the ones about finding mates or lovers). Many of those who fail neurotically focus on the downside of not achieving their declared goals.

Neither new year’s resolutions nor “how to’s” are my bag. And do not expect me to sermonize about “health food.” But, it has been suggested that those who do attain their resolutions usually choose specific and deliberate objectives which have staged or shortened deadlines and commonly treat occasional lapses in the plan as just temporary setbacks. A suggestion for those who absolutely demand resolutions for 2010? Shun the traditional deprivation diet with its woeful success rates and focus instead on eating well. Eat to savor, not to diet. Prepare a simple inventory of healthy foods, preparations and menu options…including a list of wellness foodstuffs (e.g., beets, swiss chard, legumes, nuts, avocados, blueberries) that you enjoy but have not been eating. Food that is vibrant and light, full of nutrients but not spartan or bland. Incorporate them as staples. Then, buy, cook, eat and repeat.

Well textured and slightly nutty flavored quinoa fits that 2010 resolution bill. And stylish to boot, with all those self enthralled Hollywood waifs scarfing up this mother seed of the Incas. From the plant Chenopodium quinoa, quinoa are actually seeds related to their hale and hardy cousins, beets, chard and spinach. Protein rich quinoa’s fully rounded amino acid profile is especially well endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. It is also a superb source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, riboflavin and phosphorus.

Now, on to my flagitious potato pancakes tonight.

QUINOA & CHICKPEAS

1 t cumin seeds
1 t coriander seeds
1 t red pepper flakes

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
2 sprigs thyme

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

1 C canned chick peas, rinsed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat, and add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Toast in the pan, stirring or shaking the pan, until they begin to smell fragrant, and transfer to a bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add red pepper flakes and coarsely grind by pulsing in a spice or coffee mill. Set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and thyme. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to reach a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs. Set aside.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, cumin, coriander and red pepper, and stir together for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the cooked quinoa and chick peas. Stir over medium heat to heat through, several minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Mold the pilaf into ramekins or timbales and unmold onto the plate.

QUINOA WITH LEMON & HERBS

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
1 bay leaf

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
3/4 C fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 t lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and bay leaf. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to create a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Season to tasted with salt and pepper, and serve.

This curry was like a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that I’d once heard…..especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging “Joy.'” It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal.
~Anthony Burgess

Lens culinaris is a bushy annual legume, well adapted to semi-arid, cool conditions and cultivated for its lens-shaped seeds which are usually smaller than an eraser head. Low in fat and protein/iron laden lentils have a mild, nutty, and fairly terrene flavor. Given their nutritive vigor, they form an intergral part of global diets, especially in the Indian subcontinent with its abundant vegetarian populace. Vegan comfort food.

The rainbow coalition of lentil shades is dazzling: black, beluga, brown, green, orange, maroon, crimson, pink, red, tan, yellow, white, black & white. A common red lentil is the Red Chief which is a lovely salmon pink in dried form, but turns golden when cooked. As lentils are rather submissive by nature, they are suited to more dominant, assertive spices, such as sense-evocative curries.

Dried lentils may be stored in an airtight container for up to a year in a cool, dry place…a pantry sine qua nons.

RED OR BROWN LENTIL CURRY

2 t cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1/4 t mustard seeds
1 T black peppercorns

1 t turmeric
1 t red pepper flakes

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 T canola oil oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 T curry paste

1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

2 C vegetable stock
1 1/2 C dried red or brown lentils
1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
Sea salt

Basmati rice, cooked
1 C fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Spread lentils out on a large plate to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. Then, place lentils in a strainer, and rinse thoroughly under cool running water.

In a small heavy skillet, combine the coriander, cumin, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Toast over low medium heat, shaking the pan until very slightly browned but not burned, 2-3 minutes. Cool and then add to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind to a fine powder. Add the turmeric and red pepper and pulse the grinder a couple of times until well mixed. Set aside the curry spice powder.

Saute onion in oil in a heavy medium sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just turning golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeño or serrano chile and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Add the curry spice powder (above) and curry paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in stock, lentils, coconut milk, cinnamon stick and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Serve over Basmati rice with cilantro scattered on top.

Pourboire: Cauliflower florets can be added for the last 10 minutes of the simmer.

Bocage country could be a nightmare, you could only see as far as the next field and in the lanes, only as far as the next bend.
Harvey Smith, of the Royal Engineers

Maybe part upbringing, pinches of observing, or just a zeal for history…but, I am still “studying” that abhorrent human endeavor called war. Although ever coveting peace and diplomacy, always innately inquisitive about conflict, strategy and the human suffering inflicted by wars. Probably a little incongruous. So, please bear with me, as this chapter came to mind when posting about Calvados.

Intimate documentary footage has recently emerged on the home screen depicting the battle for Normandie. Beginning with an amphibious invasion in early June, 1944, the campaign did not end on the heavily fortified beachheads, but raged into late August. Several days after the sand was secured, the Allies moved inland in several directions, including toward St Lo and the lethal bocage—where German 7th Army garrisons and SS Panzer divisions lay in mortal wait.

On peaceful days, the Norman bocage was a pastoral checkerboard of lush meadows dotted with apple orchards from which the local brandy, Calvados, was crafted. Each rectangular meadow was surrounded by thick hedgerows to block the winds from verdant pastures and plump cattle.

During war though, the bocage formed a lethal labyrinth of defensive barriers. Some hedges were eye level bushes while others were densely matted walls of earth and briery hedge, some 10 feet high and stippled with trees. Many were impassable for tanks, and communication between troops in the fields was limited. Slender lanes, crisscrossing and bending throughout, created ambush points and access to fields far away from regular routes.

The bocage concealed pockets of elite German infantry, including the vaunted 3rd Parachute Division. The hedgerows nested snipers, shielded point blank machine gun ambushes and concealed small arms fire…with only the entrenched defenders intimately acquainted with the lay of the land. Oncoming troops often found themselves exposed, naked in the open field. Close combat raged in thickly vegetated mazes bordering open space and replete with deadly incoming from concealed Tigers, the feared 88mm and mortars.

Typical tactics were ineffectual in the bocage. Hemmed in by hedgerows, platoons lost their sense of direction during skirmishes. Confusion and disorientation reigned. Agonizing missions rampant with carnage. Some of the fiercest fighting in the war took place in the bocage whose hedgerows and lanes formed killing zones not unlike those devised by trenches in World War I. As with the Great War, left behind were battlefields rife with dead and ruin. Shattered farmhouses and villages slumped as memorials to abolition. Tangled wire littered the fields and hedges, all barren of life but teeming with the stench and waste of war. Broken guns, downed tanks, bits of clothing, empty helmets, spent shells, and the sad remains of life.

And that was the abridged digression. Sorry, but seems such short shrift to me.

Calvados, a French apple brandy which is labeled for the terroir of the same name. Calvados, a notable apple and cider producing region, is located in Basse-Normandie in north France which borders the English Channel. The brandy is made from carefully culled apples, and it is not unusual for a producer to use over 100 different varieties in crafting this velvety hooch.

Like other chosen French food and drink, Calvados is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations. Calvados Pays d’Auge (AOC) is made through a two-step process called double distillation. Using a traditional alembic pot still, apple cider is heated causing the alcohol vapor to rise and collect and then ultimately course down through a coil and drip into a cold tank. On coming into contact with the coolant, the vapors condense into a liquid. The vapors at the beginning and end of first distillation process (heads and tails) which are and will be redistilled with the next cider, are eliminated to obtain the petite eau (small water). The heads, too high in alcohol, and the tails, lacking harmony, are carefully removed and distilled over again to perfection. Then a second heating occurs to further distill this petit eau. As before, the heads and tails are again separated off to preserve only the heart of distillation called the bonne chauffe. This staged process imparts complexity and concentrates the most delicate aromas and bouquet of the spirit, retaining only the finest components and eliminating the mediocre.

After distillation, the end product is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. As with many things in life, the longer it is aged, the smoother the end product.

VEAL SCALLOPS WITH CALVADOS & APPLES

3 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2″ slices
5 T lemon juice

10-12 veal scallops (1/2″ thick)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dried sage
2 C flour

2 T butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C tablespoons calvados
1 1/2 C heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 170 F

Place apples in a bowl, add lemon juice, mix thoroughly so apples are thoroughly coated. Set aside.

Season veal scalloops with salt, pepper and a few pinches of sage. Then dip in the flour on a deep plate or dish, shaking off any excess. Heat butter and olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. When hot and shimmering, add veal, spaced well, and saute until lightly brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. You should cook the veal in batches so it is not crowded and do not overcook or they will become shoe leather. Err on the low side of doneness. When the veal is cooked, arrange on a platter, loosely tent and place in the warm oven.

Add apples with lemon juice and Calvados to the pan. Scrape up all pan encrustations & cook over medium heat to deglaze for about 3-4 minutes. Add cream and continue cooking until the sauce has reduced by half and coats a spoon, about 8-10 minutes. Adjust seasoning to your liking with salt and pepper. Plate the scallops with apples artfully adjoining, spoon sauce over and serve immediately.

It isn’t necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.
~Groucho Marx

Had to share last evening’s carnivore carnevale.

Bleu d’Auvergne is an appellation d’origine contrôlée or “controlled term of origin” (AOC) blue cheese from the fairly isolated, craggy Auvergne region in south-central France. The cheese is crafted in a traditional manner from cow’s milk, in both pasteurized and raw versions, and features an even spread of blue veins. Bleu d’Auvergne is produced in the Massif Central between Puy-de-Dôme and Cantal and then is aged for 4 weeks in cool, humid caves. There, an often revered cave man, an affineur (cheese ager), stores newly made cheeses in the caves, carefully monitoring and nuturing the growth of flavor producing molds.

Bleu d’Auvergne’s moist, sticky rind conceals a soft paste possessing a grassy, herbaceous, and heady, pungent tartness. Yet, this bleu remains milder, creamier, less salty and more approachable than many Roqueforts. Gentler on the wallet too.

Multi-aliased Kansas City strip steaks (a/k/a KC strips, strip loins, boneless loins, shell steaks, New York strip steaks, or NY strips) are purloined from the short loin of the bovine. The name emerged during the heyday of the now defunct Kansas City Stockyards located in the downtown “West Bottoms” when that beef cut achieved some notoriety. Some have even asserted that New York regionally pilfered, or perhaps rechristened, the name of the already invented Kansas City strip steak. A gastronomic who cares.

The short loin is a portion of the hindquarter of beef immediately behind the ribs and before the flank—containing part of the spine which includes the top loin and the tenderloin and yields the porterhouse, t-bone and strip steaks. Think of this flavor ridden, well marbled morsel as a porterhouse or t-bone where both savory bone and succulent tenderloin triangle have been, how do we say genteely…castrated?

STRIP STEAK WITH PORT, HERBS & BLEU D’AUVERGNE

2 boneless KC strip steaks, cut 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 rosemary sprigs

1/4 C cognac or brandy

3/4 C port
4 rosemary sprigs
1 C chicken broth
1/4 C bleu d’auvergne
1/2 C heavy whipping cream

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F

Generously salt and pepper the steaks on both sides, then lightly sprinkle with herbes de Provence (crumbled between fingers and thumb).

In a large, heavy oven proof skillet, heat the olive oil and butter with rosemary sprigs and smashed garlic over medium high heat until shimmering, but not smoking or burned. Stir the rosemary sprigs and garlic around a couple of times as it heats, to infuse the butter and oil with their fragrance. Then, remove and discard the garlics and rosemary.

Place the steaks in the pan and cook until nicely browned, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Depending on thickness, they should be nice browned and rare at this stage. Remove the steaks to an oven proof dish and place in the heated oven until they reach your desired doneness, again dependent on meat thickness. Let rest, tented, while preparing sauce. Douse with cognac or brandy and carefully ignite with a match to flambé very briefly—until the flame extinguishes.

Meanwhile, turn the heat up and deglaze the pan with a generous splash of port, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add rosemary sprigs and broth, and cook down for several minutes. Whisk in bleu d’auvergne and following that, add the whipping cream and cook down using a flat wooden spatula to combine well. Add remaining port to fortify the sauce, allowing to cook down until the sauce is velvety and coats the spatula well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Carve meat across the grain on a bias into 1/2″ slices and spoon sauce over each serving as well as serve a sauceboat on the table.

Deep Blue Tacos

January 4, 2010

In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.
~Albert Camus

Gazing out the window at shivering naked trees, grey skies, white blanketed roofs and frigid readings, I cannot help but pine for warmer climes, gentle ocean breezes, radiant sun, scimpier attire and sand between my toes. Food is my ferry…and who needs clothes with central heating?

Many gastronomes posit that the fish taco emerged when Asians introduced Baja natives to the practice of deep frying fish. When this battered fried fish was combined with tortillas and traditional Mexican toppings, the fish taco was born. Damn brilliant. Rumor has it that modern fish tacos emerged in the 1950s in one of two Bajan fishing villages, Ensenada (on the Pacific) or San Felipe (on the Sea of Cortez). An ongoing rivalry has ensued, with both cities claiming to be the true “home” of the fish taco…sold from quaint stands by street vendors who produce simple, venerated comida rápida.

The hottest chile grown in central America or the Caribbean (10 on a scale of 10), the habanero is named after Havana, where it is believed to have originated. Later introduced to the Yucatan peninsula, the habanero is the most intensely spicy chile of the Capsicum genus. Unripe habaneros are green, but the color at maturity varies varies from orange to red—with white, brown, and pink ones occasionally seen.

Most habaneros rate 200,000 to 300,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units), which is some 30 to 50 times hotter than its cousin, the jalapeño. In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacologist, developed the first systematic laboratory approach used to measure a chile’s pungency. Named the Scoville Organoleptic Test, human subjects taste a chile sample and evaluate how many parts of sugar water it takes to neutralize the heat of the chile so that its pungency is no longer noticeable.

Flat with a shiny green color, the jalapeño is a small to medium sized chile that is prized for the hot, burning sensation that it produces on the back end. It is a sweet, medium heat (5 on a scale of 10), so the chile is used in sweet dishes such as well as savory ones. Jalapeños can be found fresh, roasted, pickled or smoked (when it is called a chipotle). The heat level varies from mild to somewhat hot depending on the methods of growth and preparation. It is named after Jalapa, the capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Please use a sustainable fish species to help restore our oceans.

FISH TACOS

Juice from two freshly squeezed limes
1/2 C yogurt
1/2 C crema (Mexican sour cream)
1 habanero chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Alaskan Pacific cod or halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2″ strips
Canola oil, for frying

1 C all purpose flour
2 t salt
1 lager beer

10-12 flour tortillas

Red cabbage, thinly sliced
Radishes, thinly sliced

Cilantro leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped, for garnish
Salsa verde (see Red, White & Green Flautas, November 14, 2009)

Make a white sauce by mixing the first nine ingredients, aiming for a slightly runny consistency. Set aside.

Make a batter by combining flour and salt, and then whisking in beer.

Heat canola oil in a heavy high edged skillet or Dutch oven 2″ deep over medium high. Using a thermometer, heat oil to 375 F. Dip fish pieces in the beer batter and carefully slip into hot oil. Fry unto fish turns golden, turning once so it browns evenly. Then remove to paper towels to drain.

Before filling the tacos, heat the griddle or large, heavy skillet to medium low heat and cook for about a minute until bubbles start to form and they become pliable. Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.

Place the freshly fried fish, cabbage and radishes inside the tortillas and drizzle with white sauce. Top with a light drizzling of salsa verde and chopped cilantro. Fold and devour.