Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.
~Sir Winston Churchill

Admittedly, my ancestry is prodigally open minded (or should the word “mindless” be used) — Scottish as well as other genetic variants.  A mutt, of sorts.  So, perhaps a native dish were posted here, at least one that swaddles an egg in meat and then is topped with this heavenly “mole.”  This proves to be a slight twist on a gastropub meal, one that appears disparate with both Scot and Mexican fare.  Not really.

The eggs seem self evident to someone Scottish, but the pipián verde sauce may be unknown or elusive to some home cooks.   Sometimes called pumpkin seed mole, the finished sauce is often spooned over fish, chicken, enchiladas, or rice and the like, but when used judiciously the sauce can be sublime with eggs (especially with sausage). Chiles de árbol are those smaller, potent red chiles occasionally known as a bird beak or rat’s tail chiles. They can be found in most groceries, so there is little need to pull any trades.

One has to adore giddy caresses which are not merely iconic, but ageless — heart theft food.

SCOTCH EGGS

6 large local, pastured or free range eggs

1 C hearty, good quality, artisanal sausage

1 C all purpose flour
1 C  fresh breadcrumbs
3 beaten local eggs

Extra virgin olive + canola oils in equal parts, several inches deep, for frying
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Place eggs in a saucepan and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover for some 6-7 minutes, and remove from heat, so they are sort of medium boiled, somewhat soft and not hard at all. Carefully drain, then place in a bowl with ice water to cool. Gently crack shells and carefully peel under cold running water. Place eggs to dry on a tea towel or paper towels.

Place flour in a wide glass bowl, beat eggs in another and then place crushed breadcrumbs in another wide shallow glass bowl. Divide sausage into 6 equal portions. Pat a portion of sausage into a thin patty over the length of the palm. Lay a boiled egg on top of sausage and gently wrap the sausage around egg, sealing to envelop.  Gently shape and coddle the meat around the eggs with your fingers. Repeat with remaining sausage and eggs.  Season with salt and pepper.

Then, roll the sausage encased eggs first in flour, shaking off any excess, then carefully drop into the beaten eggs and finally the breadcrumbs to batter them lightly and set aside to rest for a moment before frying.

Carefully fry in olive and canola oils which are heated to about 300 F for just a few minutes (about 4), to get the sausage lightly golden and crispy. Cool the sausage & egg mix on paper towels.

Serve with pipián verde sauce which could be prepared a day or two ahead of time (see below).

Pipián Verde 
8 chiles de árbol (“tree chili” tr. from Spanish), fresh

3 fresh smaller heirloom or plum tomatoes
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/3 C unsalted peanuts
1/3 C sesame seeds
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground allspice

1 small canned chipotle peppers
1-2 bay leaves
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1 T sea salt
1 T light brown sugar
1 T apple cider vinegar

Cilantro leaves, fresh

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles de árbol, and set a naked skillet over high heat for 5 minutes, then toast the chiles until they are fragrant, approximately 4-5 minutes.

Return the skillet to medium high heat. Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic, and cook, turning occasionally, until slightly charred. Set aside the mix to cool.

Again, return the skillet to medium low heat. Place the pumpkin seeds, peanuts and sesame seeds in a heavy skillet, and sear until they are toasted and fragrant, approximately 2-3 minutes. Put the seeds and nuts in a bowl, and stir in the cinnamon, cloves and allspice.

Put the chiles and some liquid in a blender with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, the nut seed mixture and the chipotle.  Purée until smooth.

Add the extra virgin olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed skillet, and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the purée and lower the heat, and stir, cooking the mixture down to a thick paste. Add the broth and bay leaf to the paste, and stir, then season with the salt, sugar and vinegar, and reduce for another 15 minutes or so, until it becomes creamy. Lower heat to a bare simmer and discard bay leaf.

Slather the sauce in a very distinct moderation over halved eggs + sausages, top with fresh cilantro, and serve with tequila drinks.

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The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.
~T.S. Eliot

Again the cold weather is upon us, so the time has come to deceive, to create illusions of reality, in our kitchens.

Are our buns, hands, soles and toes really nestled in sandy beaches somewhere on this earth? Are we contemplating the vastness of cerulean seas and cobalt skies dotted with cirrus clouds?  Must be…right?  What a remarkably silly, selfless yet sybaritic trompe-l’oiel!  At the same time, these are food paeans to our tribal past.

Now, some find boudin noir or Créole repugnant because the process traditionally contains pork blood. Well, so do filets, porterhouses, shoulders, briskets, strips, rib eyes, loins, tenderloins, sirloins, flanks, chops, tuna, liver, rumps, chuck, blades, tri tips, shanks, et al. — many humans simply choose to ignore that bloody carnal embrace. Yes, Virginia, there is red ink, congealed or not, in them thar cuts. Their will be blood and/or myoglobin. Then again, boudin noir is not for everyone.

But, being an offal aficionado, this dark hued savory charcuterie (much like pâtés, rillettes, galantines, ballotines, confits, foie gras, jambons and friends) is revered and regaled here. If most homo sapiens are omnivorous, honor should be bestowed upon the animal that graces our tables by eating the deceased from nose to tail. Again, the “blood” in boudin noir is cooked as with many other cuts.

Consider serving this renascence next to a small splash of smashed or mashed potatoes or even fried or poached eggs and sliced sautéed chiles or a simple baguette and unsalted butter and top the sausages on a mesclun salad with a vinaigrette and some root vegetables. Better yet, choose to present shortly after dining on accras de morue (cod fritters — a post found here on February 11, 2010) and sauce chien with a glass of Viognier or Côtes de Provence rosé or une bière blonde.  As with most plates, the choices seem endless.

Often savored sautéed or grilled, boudin noir may seem quotidien, but is simply seraphic.

BOUDIN NOIR

4-5 blood sausages (from fine butchers — local + high quality)
1-2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sprigs of rosemary and thyme

1/3 C Calvados (apple brandy)
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
2 t Dijon mustard
2-3 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced somewhat thin

Grating of fresh nutmeg
Cinnamon stick
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 200 F.

Prick sausages in several spots with sharp knife or fork. Sauté over medium low heat in butter and olive oil (shimmering olive oil but the butter not browned) with rosemary and thyme, about 5-8 minutes, turning occasionally. Discard rosemary and thyme sprigs. Remove sausages from pan and place on heavy dish, tented, in very low oven while preparing sauce.

Remove and discard some of the excess fat from pan, turn heat to high and deglaze with Calvados, allowing to boil for about 30 seconds, then add apples, cooking them for a minute or so. Add the cream, mustard, nutmeg, cinnamon stick, salt and pepper. Reduce cream and mustard and friends by half and finally ladle over or under the boudin noir, removed from the oven. Discard the cinnamon stick, by the way.

 

Life calls the tune, we dance.
~John Galsworthy

A member of the cruciferous part of the cabbage family, bok choy, brassica rapa — included are Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, kale, mustard greens, cabbage, collard greens.  Bok choy are nutrient rich with omega-3, beta carotenes, vitamins A, K & C, anti-inflammatories, potassiums, folates, flavonoids,  and antioxidants, among others.

But, more than that, bok choy is delectable.  Often cream colored and green, the vegetable does not form a head and has moist hearty stems, and has smooth, glossy leaves that cluster together which are begging to be taken apart and sautéed.

BOK CHOY

1-2 T soy sauce, preferably shoyu
3-4 T oyster sauce
2 T rice vinegar (unseasoned)
Pinch of raw sugar

1-2 T peanut oil
2 T plump fresh garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t ginger root, peeled and minced
4-6 bunches of baby bok choy, with ends trimmed
2-3 T chicken stock

Combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, raw sugar and rice vinegar in a glass bowl and set aside.

Heat peanut oil in a heavy skillet placed over medium high heat until oil shimmers. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger, then bok choy, and stir fry for about 2 or so minutes. Add stock to the skillet, then cover and allow to cook for a couple minutes more, until bok choy has softened some at the base. Toward the end, drizzle with the soy-oyster-sugar-vinegar sauce.

Remove bok choy and friends from the skillet and turn onto a platter or separate plates/bowls.

Za’atar (زَعْتَر‎) is an aromatic and ancient spice and herb blend found in North African, Middle Eastern and other Mediterranean rim cuisines. Since BCE days, it has been dubbed zaatar, zahatar, satar, zahtar, zatar, and za’atar. Alternatively said to be a type of wild thyme, a type of savory, a type of hyssop, or a type of oregano — it may be better stated that za’atar refers to members of the herb genus Lamiaceae (which includes each). While the history is occasionally blurred, as with many gastronomic delights, za’atar differs regionally and from kitchen to kitchen, sometimes even concealed.

Za’atar has a sunny, zesty flavor with deep nutty, woodsy, and herbal accents. The medley is not only sprinkled onto food to season but is also used in marinades with roasted or grilled meats, fish and vegetables and in recipes as a spice. A versatile soul, it is also sublime atop cheeses, flatbreads, pita, breads and pizzas or infused in olive oil or yogurt.

Sumac (from the family Anacardiaceae), which can be found at food specialty stores, has a vibrant, citrusy flavor that enlivens the other herbs.

Simply put, there is little excuse for not always having a jar of za’atar in the pantry.

ZA’ATAR

2 1/2 T sesame seeds, toasted

3 T dried sumac leaves
2 T dried thyme leaves
1 T dried oregano leaves
1 t sea salt, coarse

Add raw sesame seeds to a dry, heavy skillet over medium low heat. Shake the pan back and forth until fragrant, but not taking on color. Immediately pour the toasted sesame seeds from the pan into a bowl to prevent them from scorching.

Once the sesame seeds have cooled, add all of the ingredients to a spice blender, food processor fitted with a blade, or mortar and pestle. Pulse several times to blend and slightly break up, but not obliterate, the herbs and salt. Be able to recognize the sesame seeds in the blend. Transfer to a jar with an airtight lid and store in a cool, dark place.

Pourboire: Sometimes marjoram leaves and toasted cumin or fennel seeds are added to the mix. Just depends upon the region and personal likes.

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
~Marcel Proust

Another remembrance rekindled.  This time from La Table de Fès, an inauspicious restaurant morocain on la rue Sainte-Beuve in Paris’ 6eme arrondissement, festooned with a painted teal & white facade and a curtained, rather dark interior with woodwork and simple white clothed tables.  A room teeming with the aromas of intoxicating Moroccan spices.  The chicken tajine with preserved lemons, braised vegetables, and couscous there were beyond superlative, nearly peerless.   In this quaint haunt, the quirky plump proprietress took us on an engaging imaginary voyage over Moroccan landscapes by way of our plates.  While the 20eme is home to many north African immigrants and chez Omar is considered quite branché (“in”), fond memories of sublime food were born at La Table de Fès.  Not just a place, but a new way of seeing.

Little doubt that I will fail at replicating this enchanting dish, but here goes…

CHICKEN TAJINE WITH PRESERVED LEMONS & OLIVES

1 medium cinnamon stick, broken some
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 t whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
1 t red pepper flakes

1/2 T turmeric
1/2 T paprika dulce or agridulce

3 T+ extra virgin olive oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 t fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 C fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 large pinch saffron
4-6 chicken leg-thigh quarters, trimmed of excess fat

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 preserved lemons (see below)
3/4 C green and red olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 C currants, plumped in warm water, then drained
1 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine

Toast cinnamon stick, peppercorns, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom pods, and pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over low heat until fragrant. Allow to reach room temperature, then in a spice or coffee grinder since devoted to spices, blend until fine. Place in a small bowl and add turmeric and paprika and mix well.

In a large baking dish or casserole, mix the oil, spices, garlic, ginger, cilantro, bay leaves and saffron. Add chicken, rubbing, massaging the marinade over all the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or preferably overnight.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and reserve marinade and bring to room temperature. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or tagine or large casserole over medium high heat add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put in chicken pieces until lightly brown on both sides, about 5 minutes each. Add onions and cook until translucent and just starting to lightly brown, about 4 minutes. Scoop out flesh and discard and then rinse the preserved lemons. Cut peel into strips and add to pan. Add reserved marinade, olives, currants, chicken stock, and wine. Cover and cook over medium heat until chicken is done, about 30-35 minutes. Discard bay leaf and taste to adjust seasoning.

Place chicken on a platter or individual plates. Spoon juices with the preserved lemon, olives, and onions over chicken and serve accompanied by plain couscous or couscous with apricots (see below).

Preserved Lemons

6 lemons, scrubbed and cleaned
3 C+ sea salt
Cold water

Fill the bottom of a large, hinged glass jar with 1 cup of salt. Slice off the end of each lemon.  Cut the lemons into quarters lengthwise twice, but do not slice all the way through, so the lemon remains intact on one end. Open up the lemon and pack copious amounts of salt inside. Arrange three of the lemons on top of the first layer of salt and then add a second cup of salt. Add the last three lemons and then pour in the last cup of salt on top of the lemons. Press down the fruit so the juices release and then fill the rest of the jar with water just until it covers the lemons. Tightly close the jar and store in a cool, dark place for at least one month until the lemon peel has softened. Occasionally turn the jar upside down and gently shake so the salt redistributes.

When ready to use, just remove the pulp and use the peel only. Make sure to rinse off the almost translucent peel to remove excess salt before adding to the dish. Preserved lemons can be stored for up to 4 months in the refrigerator.

Couscous with Apricots

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small or medium yellow onion, peeled and minced

1 T turmeric
1 t coriander, toasted & ground

1 cup couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock, slightly simmering
1/2 t lemon zest

2 T green onions, sliced
1/4 C dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 C whole almonds, toasted & coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil. Sauté onion in oil until soft and translucent. Add the turmeric and ground coriander and sauté gently over low heat until slightly fragrant. Add the couscous then the warm chicken broth. Stir with a fork to combine, add lemon zest and cover. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then uncover and add the green onions, almonds and apricots. Fluff again with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.

Curried Mussels

May 5, 2009

Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus.
~Peter Ustinov

CURRIED MUSSELS

2 T canola or peanut oil
1 stalk lemongrass, crushed
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
3 T Thai red curry paste
1 C white wine, preferably somewhat sweet or fruity
13.5 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1 T fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 lbs. mussels, debearded and scrubbed
4 T fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
4 T fresh basil, chopped

On medium high, heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven until hot but not burning. Add the lemongrass, garlic, curry paste, white wine, coconut milk, nam pla, and lime juice and bring to a simmer, whisking until well blended. As always, do not burn the garlic. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and let steam until opened. At the end of the cooking process, finish with the cilantro and basil.

Beets & Radicchio

April 17, 2009

An appeasing and colorful aside to pizza…served on endive boats, you can jettison flatware entirely.

Despite our Fearless Leader’s aversion to them, beautifully hued beets boast a subtle, earthy flavor and are supremely nutritious. With the scientific name of Beta vulgaris, they are vegetables from the amaranth family which has been cultivated for some 4,000 years. Beets are herbaceous biennial plants with stems growing to 2-6 feet tall bearing nearly heart shaped leaves. They belong to the same family as swiss chard and spinach.

Beyond their divine flavor and ruby tint, beets are quite the health food—loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. (By the way, besides the deep red variety, there are beautiful golden beets, and pink and white striated Chioggia beets.) The greens have a higher content of iron compared to spinach. They are also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, sodium and iron.

So far, of the 55 varieties of vegetables in the new White House garden, beets have yet to make the grade. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama will convert.

The time to buy beets is June through October, when they are most tender. Look for unblemished bulbs with sturdy, unwilted greens.

Radicchio is a zesty and spicy leaf chicory which has been relished since ancient times. Consider using radicchio on the grill as it mellows with heat.

BEETS & RADICCHIO

2 pounds medium red beets, scrubbed, ends trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, to toss
Red wine vinegar, to toss
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled, minced and mashed to a paste
1/2 C red wine vinegar
2 C extra virgin olive oil
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped
1 head radicchio, cored and roughly cut
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 C fresh beet leaves, chopped
4 ozs fresh firm goat cheese, roughly cut into cubes
2/3 C pine nuts, toasted

2 heads endive leaves, cleaned

Preheat oven to 400 F

Line an adequately sized baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss together the beets, some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place beets in a the dish and cover with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake until tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Check throughout the latter part of the cooking process to see if the beets are cooked until tender, but still al dente. They are done when easily penetrated with a fork. Slip off skins. Transfer to a small bowl and cool. Cut into thin half moons by cutting across transversely and then vertically.

In a small bowl, whisk together with 1/2 cup red wine vinegar with the mashed garlic and tarragon. In a narrow stream, add 2 cup olive oil to emulsify, making a vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Separately toss beets and endive leaves with vinaigrette to coat. Set both aside. In an open bowl, combine radicchio, parsley and beet leaves. Toss with vinaigrette so it is gently dressed. Add beets, goat cheese, pine nutes and toss gently. Serve on open endive leaves. If additional vinaigrette is needed, very sparingly drizzle over the top.