Celerity is never more admired than by the negligent.
~Cleopatra

The iconic Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra VII, committed suicide in 30 BC. She had had her day in the sun, but then faced those dogged Sartrean existential questions of suicide and those damned ideations. According to legend, she died from a self-inflicted venomous bite from an asp—a snake now known as the Egyptian cobra.

German historian and professor at the University of Trier, Christoph Schäfer, has recently uncovered evidence to dispute the age old tale. Professor Schäfer alleges that the nacissine queen was unlikely to have subjected herself to that long, miserable and disfiguring death from an asp’s venomous fangs.

He travelled to Alexandria, consulting ancient medical texts and conferring with herpetologists, who advised that cobra bites cause a brutal death that covers the body in unsightly welts and takes several days. Eww! she thought. Wanting to remain prim and beautiful to the finish—a pretty stiff—Cleopatra opted for the kinder and gentler effects of drugs, several of which were available in her time. So instead of succumbing to a poisonous serpent, Schäfer posits that she likely took a cocktail of opium, hemlock and aconitum, a common concoction that led to a painless death within just a few hours and thus preserved her vanity.

Despite the Egyptian backdrop there is enough of a teutonic tinge to this to still make a wiener schnitzel recipe à propos. And more fare from your local egg slut.

SCHNITZEL A LA HOLSTEIN

4 veal cutlets, about 1/2″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 C all purpose flour
4 farm fresh large eggs, beaten
3 C bread crumbs
1 C canola oil

4 farm fresh large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 high quality anchovies, rinsed and dried

4 T unsalted butter
2 fresh lemons, juiced

Fresh parsley leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped
Capers, rinsed and dried
Peel from 1 fresh lemon, finely grated

Lay the veal slices out on a heavy cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. Using a mallet, pound the meat until thin but not torn. Season with salt and pepper.

Place flour, eggs, and bread crumbs in three separate shallow dishes. Dredge the veal in the flour, shaking off excess. Then, dip into the beaten eggs, allowing excess to drip off. Finally, loosely coat in the bread crumbs. In a heavy, large skillet, heat canola oil to medium high heat. Carefully place the veal pieces into the oil, but do not crowd. There should be enough fat in the saucepan so that the schnitzel float in the saucepan and do not touch the bottom. Cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side, turning once. Remove and keep warm tented on a platter, discarding some of the excess oil from the pan yet leaving enough to fry the eggs. You may also consider frying the eggs in a separate skillet with new canola oil.

Crack the eggs into the same skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook until easy and sunny side up, occasionally basting. The yolks should ooze on the plate. Carefully remove and set aside eggs on paper towels. In the same pan, add the butter and squeeze in the lemon juice, while whisking. Cook some until reduced to a glaze.

Place a cooked egg on top of each veal schnitzel on plates. Top the eggs with 2 anchovies each in a criss cross fashion. Drizzle sauce over the veal, then top with eggs, parsley, capers and grated lemon peel.

Mesclun, Berries & Feta

June 28, 2010

My salad days—When I was green in judgment.
~William Shakespeare

Blithe, lithe designer greens.

Mesclun is a diverse blend of young, dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence. The traditional amalgam included precise proportions of wild chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive. Modern iterations may fuse spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, chicory, mustard greens, endive, fennel, dandelion, frisée, mizuna, mâche, purslane, radicchio, sorrel, and even edible flowers. A treat for the eye, mesclun touches upon varied tastes and textures: bitter, sweet, tangy, crunchy and silky. When tart blueberries, brisk feta cheese and nuts are added to the mix, the medley becomes nearly symphonic.

Mesclun derives from the Provençal words mesclom or mesclumo, which are rooted from misculare, a Latin word meaning “to mix.”

MESCLUN, BLUBERRIES, FETA & HAZELNUTS WITH CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

1/2 C hazelnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
Large bunch of mesclun (about 12 C loosely packed)
1 C fresh blueberries
1 C Greek or French feta cheese, crumbled

Champagne vinaigrette

In a large wooden bowl, gently toss greens with champagne vinaigrette, hazelnuts and blueberries. The vinaigrette is meant to lightly coat, not drench the mesclun. Arrange on plates, and top with crumbled feta.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens you are serving.

Pourboire: You are the maestro here as always, so freely substitute other toasted nuts such as almonds, pine nuts, walnuts and create any olio of available greens or differing vinaigrettes.

The function of muscle is to pull and not to push, except in the case of the genitals and the tongue.
~Leonardo da Vinci

So, mea culpa, mea culpa. I took a little time away from here. No need to dwell…just needed a brief life break. It feels good to be back on the prowl. With batteries now recharging, I am thinking about World Cup gastropub grub using a dramatically underrated bovine cut: tongue. Butchers who curtly discard tongue as unwanted should be banished to a life of negative valence and eternal shame.

This may seem like insipid fare to some, but with a luscious lager or crisp white it is truly tonic-clonic stuff. I know from experience.

GRILLED TONGUE SANDWICH WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE & HORSERADISH

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
3 T white or red wine vinegar
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
4 tarragon sprigs
2 bay leaves

Tarragon mayonnaise
Horseradish
Capers, drained, rinsed and dried (optional)
Arugula (optional)
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Artisanal bread, such as ciabatta or baguette, sliced transversely
Extra virgin olive oil

In a large heavy pot, cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water). Bring to a gentle boil and reduce heat to a simmer. After a few minutes, skim the froth off the surface. Simmer, uncovered, until tender for 2 1/2 hours or so. The tongue should be just short of completely done as you will be grilling the slices. But, it must be sufficiently braised to allow you to skin it.

Remove tongue, and briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain, dry and then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle. You can do this braising and skinning process a day or two ahead.

To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut thick slices on the bias.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it—about 3 seconds for medium high.

Brush one side of the bread with olive oil. Grill the tongue and the bread briefly—just enough to imbrue the meat with the grill flavor and create marks. Slather bread with tarragon mayonnaise and horseradish. Season with salt and pepper arrange the grilled tongue, strew capers over the meat and top with arugula. Close and savor.

Tarragon mayonnaise:
2 large fresh egg yolks, room temperature
1 T dijon mustard
1 T fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

2/3 C canola or grapeseed oil
1 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Separate egg whites from yolks. With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, tarragon, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick and creamy enough to hold its shape.

…try the mustard — a man can’t know what turnips are in perfection without mustard.
~Mark Twain

An aside too often neglected.

True to form, the turnip (Brassica rapa) is a root vegetable of unknown origin. While it was firmly established as a domestic crop in Hellenistic and Roman times, evidence of earlier ancestry is rife with speculation. A root without established roots. Neither baby momma nor baby daddy have been firmly ID’ed.

Turnips display in a wide array of colors: red, purple-tipped, pearl, golden. Despite the rumors, they are far from plebian. For too long, turnips were treated with culinary disdain…shunned like an unwelcome relative at the table. They are earthy delights which surely deserve higher status in that sometimes damnable gastronomic caste system.

Turnips were originally called “neeps,” from the Latin word for turnip, napus, which also gave rise to the French word navet. (For reasons that seem incongruous, navet is also a pejorative French term for a bad film.)

Roasting roots makes them much more intensely flavored than boiling, frying or even steaming. The natural sugars begin to caramelize and yield sapid results. However, because of my inbred kinship with cream and cheese, my money is on au gratin.

ROASTED TURNIPS & TARRAGON

8 turnips, washed, peeled with roots and tops trimmed

4 T unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 T Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 T fresh tarragon leaves finely chopped
2 T Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 400 F

In a bowl, mix the softened butter, mustard, garlic, tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large, heavy pot, blanch the turnips for about 2-3 minutes in boiling water then transfer into an ice bath. Drain thoroughly and pat dry.

With a pairing knife, deeply score incisions on the turnip tops. Work the butter mix into the incisions and all over the outside of the turnips as well.

Arrange the turnips on an oiled sheet pan without crowding them. Roast the turnips until slightly browned and softened, about 25-30 minutes. Pierce with a fork to check doneness. Season again to taste with salt and pepper necessary. Garnish with chopped tarragon.

TURNIPS AU GRATIN

2 C heavy cream
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, smashed
3 thyme sprigs
Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 fresh, plump garlic clove, peeled
4 T unsalted butter, cut into small bits
2 lbs turnips, washed, peeled and thinly sliced
2 C gruyère cheese, grated
Sea salt and freshly grounded black or white pepper
Nutmeg, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 375 F

In a heavy sauce pan, combine the cream, garlic, thyme, and cayenne. Bring the cream to a gentle boil and then remove from heat. Allow to rest for 20 minutes. Then, remove and discard the thyme and garlic.

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Arrange one half of the turnips slightly overlapped in a single layer. Dot with butter and sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Add a second layer of turnips in the similar manner with cheese, cream and season with salt and pepper. Top with a slight grate of nutmeg.

Bake until golden, about for 35-40 minutes. Should the gratin begin to turn overly brown, cover with aluminum foil.

Allow the dish to rest at least 15 minutes before serving.

Cumin Roasted Carrots

June 8, 2010

The day is coming when a single carrot freshly observed will set off a revolution.
~Paul Cezanne

A little sidework.

Native to upper Egypt, cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is the seed of a small flowering umbelliferous plant. Cumin “seeds” are actually the tiny, compressed dried fruit of this annual herbaceous plant which belongs to the parsley family. Unassuming by nature, it is an almost timeless spice with a distinctive warm aroma due to its exuberant oil content. Cumin seeds resemble caraway seeds (Carum carvi), being oblong in shape, longitudinally ridged, and yellowish brown in color. Cumin, however, are lighter in hue and have minute bristles barely visible to the naked eye.

This is one old seed. They have been dated to the second millenium BC in what is now known as Syria. The Romans and Greeks used it medicinally and even cosmetically to induce a pallid complexion. In the classic world, cumin symbolized greed. So, the avaricious Roman emperors, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius (his adoptive son), each came to be known behind closed doors as Cuminus.

During the Middle Ages, cumin became recognized as a symbol of love and fidelity, finding its way into the pockets of optimistic brides and grooms. Well, that works half the time…or less.

CUMIN ROASTED CARROTS & ROSEMARY

10 slender carrots, with tops
Extra virgin olive oil
3 t cumin seed, pan roasted and lightly crushed
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 rosemary sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh Italian parsley, stemmed and chopped for garnish (optional)

With rack in the lower third, preheat oven to 400 F

Place cumin in a small, heavy skillet and roast over medium heat just until the essences are released. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Roughly crush with a mortar and pestle.

If the carrots seem too thick, cut them in half lengthwise; if not, leave them whole. Cut greens off carrots but leave small lengths of the green tops attached (for effect). Arrange carrots and garlic on a baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and season with the crushed cumin seeds, salt and pepper. Strew the rosemary sprigs around the carrots. Toss so the carrots are well coated. Roast until tender and slightly golden brown, about 25 minutes or so, turning once or twice. Cooking time does vary with carrot size, so just monitor color and texture. Remove and discard garlic cloves and herbs before serving.

Plate and lightly sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Words do not change their meanings so drastically in the course of centuries as, in our minds, names do in the course of a year or two.
~Marcel Proust

With steady overdoses of dissonance — the BP gulf cataclysm, insecure financial markets, Wall St avarice, rampant unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, endless wars, species depletion, global warming, political antagonism, and the like. Anxiety, animus, and acrimony all run amok, urged on by the madding crowd. Makes me apoplectic sometimes.

Little wonder the Scripps National Spelling Bee is such a welcome relief and maybe a cause for optimism. Youth, words, and a gathering of beautiful minds…and sometimes helicopter parents.

The Bee entails arduous vocab prep over countless hours and seemingly endless regional competitions. It is an honor born of toil to even be chosen for the national contest. There, contestants, oversized placards hanging from their necks, try not to fidget in their chairs as they await their turn. One by one, each is given a word with meticulous pronounciation, and if requested, the definition, origin and sentence use. Standing solo before the mike, contestants nervously form letters to spell that word, followed by either applause and ebullience or the knell of dashed hopes. There are so many pitfalls…an “a” used instead of an “e” or “i;” uttering a double consonant rather than a single one; forgetting a soft “c” after an “s;” confusing Greek with Latin or other etymologies. Each speller has their own quirks and rhythms, and the drama is palpable. Tense teens form words like revirescent, congener, laodicean, poilu, schadenfreude, effleurage, pfeffernuss, onomatopoeia, sesquipedalian, appoggiatura, guerdon, logorrhea, succedaneum, until a winner is crowned. This year, stromuhr (an instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow), was le dernier mot, assiduously spelled by the champion, Anamika Veeramani.

This lamb tajine sounds the usual polyphony, but also has a nectarous tinge due to the bees’ honey, oranges, and cinnamon.

LAMB TAJINE WITH CURRANT COUSCOUS

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers (red & green), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
2 T sweet paprika
1 T turmeric
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground cardamom
1 t saffron threads
1 T ginger, peeled and minced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lbs boned lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry

2 C chicken stock, barely simmering
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
2 oranges, freshly juiced
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 C honey
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 C prunes, pitted
2/3 C dried apricots

Sesame seeds
1/2 C blanched almonds, roasted
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Combine the chopped onion with the chopped jalapeños, paprika, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, saffron, ginger, bay leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil. In a large bowl or heavy ziploc bag, combine this marinade with the cubed lamb shoulder. Coat well and marinate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

In a heavy, large Dutch oven, sauté the lamb over medium high heat until browned, about 8 minutes or so. Add hot chicken stock, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Then, add onions, orange juice, chickpeas, honey, cinnamon, cinnamon stick, prunes, and apricots. Simmer until the lamb is very tender, about another 20-30 minutes. Remove lamb and spoon onto a mound of warm couscous in a shallow bowl. Pour the sauce over the top and garnish first with sesame seeds, then almonds and finally mint.

Couscous with Cumin, Coriander & Currants

1/2 T cumin seeds
1/2 T coriander seeds

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 C couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock

1/2 C black currants, plumped in warm water and drained

In a dry heavy small skillet over medium heat add cumin and coriander seeds. Toast briefly until essences are released, about 2 mintes. Do not brown deeply or burn. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Then, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the roasted seeds. Set aside.

Heat stock in a small heavy saucepan to a low simmer. In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Then, add the couscous, cumin and coriander. Stir well to coat the couscous with the spices. Add the hot broth and stir with a fork to combine well. Cover and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Uncover, add the plumped currants and fluff again gently with a fork.

A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.
~James Beard

By no means is this merely chick shtick.

The fetching bounties of spring and asparagus still abide, so take advantage. This savory tart bares the simplicity of those roasted green spears coupled with a provocative cheese and flaked pastry. At first blush, it may seem lame that the recipe calls for a frozen puff pastry, but that was by design and born of empathy. It was a call between that fret not vs. woe in the kitchen. I am not meaning to dissuade, but am just offering some realistic advice. Crafting a pâte feuilletée from scratch is a rather arduous task and can be rife with risk—even demanding a personal pastry chef at your beckoned call. No such luck here.

ASPARAGUS TART

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry (pâte feuilletée), thawed
2 T Dijon mustard
2 C gruyère cheese, shredded
1 1/2 lb medium thick (+) asparagus, woody bottoms trimmed off
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

Preheat oven to 400 F

On a floured work surface, roll the puff pastry out into a 16″ x 10″ rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet. Score pastry 1″ in from the edges to mark an interior rectangle. Using a fork, pierce pastry inside the markings at 1″ intervals. Bake until only light golden, about 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool some.

Brush the mustard around the inside rectangle. Strew the shredded gruyère over the mustard. Arrange the asparagus in a single regimental layer over the cheese, alternating ends and tips. Season with salt and pepper. Brush the uncovered outside edges of the pastry with olive oil.

Bake until the asparagus is tender and the pastry is golden brown, about 18-20 minutes. Allow to rest and serve either warm or at room temperature.