Quesadillas & Secret Laws

October 19, 2016

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
~Benjamin Franklin

Unfortunately, this is posted just beyond the cusp of National Hispanic Month this year (September 15 – October 15, 2016). Yet, quesadillas are welcome at our table at whatever the day or hour.

Now, imagine that your second language is English.  Better yet, that your cradle language is English. Either way.

Still, there are “secret laws” that are unsettlingly passed without public consent or approval to anyone and all. We have been taught endlessly that Congress publicly enacts statutes candidly, but when the secretive panel known as the Foreign Intelligence Survey Court (FISA) permits the surreptitious collection of phone records, interrogation or torture procedures it somehow becomes the law of the land. Intelligence agencies issue rules and regulations on national security issues are very often not published and not made known to the public and remain “classified.” These include, inter alia, intelligence gathering and the detention, interrogation and torture of suspected terrorists.

Secret laws deny each individual the ability to comprehend constraints imposed by official conduct. In short, perilous secret laws disallow constituents to challenge accountability or to demand any form of legal or legislative transparency. Law and fact soon become an addictive blur in a what is otherwise known as a democratic society with supposedly open courts, judges, prosecutors and legislators. Now, each may act with impunity and without the thoughts, acumen, judgment or oversight of citizens — individually or collectively, before, during, or afterwards.

The last time I looked, the preamble to the United States Constitution began with “We the People” — one of our Constitution’s guiding principles, to make no mention of the due process and confrontation clauses explicitly stated in the Bill of Rights.

While quesadillas may sometimes have directed ingredients, truthfully they are an amalgam of fine leftovers here — so, whatever is recently in the fridge or pantry are fair game (so long as you do not overload), e.g., brussels sprouts, asparagus, tongue, tripe, shredded pork butt, chicken or lamb, gizzards, livers, whatever greens, leeks, green onions, thinly sliced radishes, cheeses of any and all types, fresh or dried oregano, coriander, herbes de provence, thyme, fennel seeds, chipotle peppers, chiles of any species, garbanzo beans, hominy, new potatoes, fennel bulbs, edamame, chinese peas, snow peas, peas, salmon, mackerel, sardines, shrimp, squid, mussels, et al.

QUESADILLAS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 T unsalted butter

1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 T brandy or cognac
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ozs spinach or arugula, stems removed
2-4 ozs or so, cilantro, stems removed

1-2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced

Spoonful of salsa verde

Goat cheese or chèvre, grated or broken into small pieces
Gruyère cheese, grated

8 or so flour tortillas

1-2 T extra virgin olive or canola oil
2 T unsalted butter

4 local, farm fresh eggs (1 per quesadilla), fried

Place a heavy, medium to large sauté pan over medium high heat and add 2 T extra virgin olive or canola oil and 1-2 T unsalted butter. When oil and butter shimmer, add mushrooms and as well as salt and pepper. Sauté, adding brandy or cognac until mushrooms release liquid and begin to evaporate and mushrooms begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

Combine mushrooms, greens, chilessalsa verde, and cheese in a bowl. Place a large nonstick, heavy skillet over medium to medium high heat, and add extra virgin olive or canola oil and unsalted butter until it begins to shimmer. Do not allow to burn. While pan heats, place a large spoonful of mushroom, greens, chiles, salsa verde, and cheese mixture into each tortilla and place other tortilla over the filled one so as to make a sandwich. Place tortillas in preheated heavy skillet and cook, turning once, until tortillas are nicely browned on both sides and cheeses are melted.

Top with a large, fried egg.

Serve promptly.

Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one’s arms around a side of beef.
~Tom Stoppard

One time, a velveteen skinned, stranded sea lion came to me on a beach much like a tired, whining and throaty barking hurt dog. We were both, well all, naked (as if that matters), and we did not know what to do as cell phones were inoperable due to canyons and obtusely did not know what the recovery timing was then.

He/she was not totally emaciated and did not appear close to death, so the dance was confusing and misguided for both of us. Whether to pet, touch, caress or simply feel or hug — never a good time to be bitten by a potentially sickened sea mammal. But, there appeared a cry for help. I had read about the starving sea lion population, particularly those who needed nursing that had “washed up” on the Channel Islands and California coasts. It seemed apparent that this sea lion was a victim of the consequences of climate change and rising ocean temperatures — confused, somewhat gaunt and forlorn. I could not even tell how old she/he was due to my ignorance. Later in the day after staying nearby she/he walked away, and the sea lion was hopefully rescued, rehabilitated and ultimately released.

Then again, who really knows?

CARPACCIO

8 or so ozs lean beef, such as tenderloin or top round, trimmed of fat, sinewy membrane, or silverskin (connective tissue)
1 T capers, rinsed
Arugula leaves and/or micro-greens, washed and spun dry
Extra virgin olive oil

Parmigiano reggiano, shaven into curls
Lemon wedges

Chill the beef (and platter) in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes. Cut beef against the grain into thin slices with a very sharp knife, trimming away any fat or gristle. Put each slice between layers of heavy duty plastic wrap or waxed paper and gently pound beef flat with a meat mallet to a thickness to about 1/16″ (about paper thin). Refrigerate flattened slices in plastic, until chilled, almost frozen.

Peel plastic from each slice and invert onto a chilled platter and top each slice with capers and arugula and/or micro-greens. Drizzle each portion with olive oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper.

Garnish atop carpaccio with shaven parmigiano reggiano and lemon wedges, squeezed, and serve promptly.

Buon appetito!

Pourboire: other times, carpaccio is slightly covered in pickled shallot, fine anchovies, garlic, chopped red onion, sliced grilled fennel, chives, even cherry heirloom tomatoes. Your call, but I prefer simplicity.

There is nothing better than picking up sun warmed tomatoes and smelling them, scrutinizing their shiny skins for imperfections, thinking of ways to serve them.
~José Ramón Andrés Puerta(a/k/a José Andrés)

So little to be said about this sublime salad from the Island of Capri, found in the Tyrrhenian sea off the Sorrentine peninsula, on the south side of the gulf of Naples — a timeless tricolored culinary classic (sometimes).

INSALATA CAPRESE (CAPRESE SALAD)

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 lb fresh mozzarella (di bufala if possible), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 C packed fresh basil leaves

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a platter, alternately arrange fine quality tomato + mozzarella slices + basil leaves, overlapping them. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: subtly shower with aged balsamic vinegar in lieu of extra virgin olive oil or better yet with the EVOO even though the two will not meld. Then again, add a few slices of fresh avocado or eggplant or try substituting arugula (with fresh oregano), kale, swiss chard, pesto, or watercress for your green.

TOMATO COULIS

1 lb red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut
Sea salt, to taste

1-2 TB extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Raw sugar (turbinado)

Peel, seed, and slice the tomatoes into 2-3″ wedges, and drop in a food processor fitted with a steel blend or simply a blender. Process or blend on high speed with cut garlic until smooth. Pulse the food processor or turn the blender to low, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt, wine vinegar and raw sugar in dribbles as needed and pulse or blend low. Do not strain and refrigerate, if necessary, until ready to serve.

Commonly, tomato coulis is served underneath grilled, roasted or sautéed meats, fish or vegetables or even used as a dip for fritters, sandwiches or other finger fodder. Just a slightly subtle divergence from an earlier post.

Sandwiches, Anew

April 2, 2010

Too few people understand a really good sandwich.
~James Beard

Stated otherwise, Mom always reminded us that “a sandwich is always much better if someone else makes it for you.” Something about inspired, yet minimal, textural play, fine bread, and a good schmear with no shortcuts. A gift of sorts — a labor of love, knowledge, devotion and that pampered touch, I suppose. Mom always seemed to choose her aphorisms judiciously so they tended to ring true. They have born repetition more than I could count.

These may not be the precise lobster rolls she so coveted during trips to coastal Maine, but hopefully they assimilate distant cousins. Probably just some no frills freshly trapped boiled or grilled lobster, mayonnaise, simple seasonings and a toasted bun would even suffice.

Mom was an almost unparalleled tomato zealot and egg sandwiches were a house staple, so the BELT (bacon, eggs, lettuce & tomato) is simply a natural. The basics to create an incandescent BELT are: fresh eggs, ripe heirloom tomatoes, slab artisanal bacon preferably from heritage pork (The Berkshire, The Tamworth, The Duroc, et al.).

As for the last sandwich, tins of sardines and kipper snacks commonly adorned our pantry. Maybe they were period pieces—food stashed for that ominous Cold War nuclear armaggedon we ever awaited, cowering under our school desks. Now, beyond their gentle sea flavors, canned sardines are known for their nutritional omnipotence. One nutritionist dubbed sardines “health food in a can.” Health food advocates assert that they do nothing less than:

• Prevent heart attacks and strokes
• Build healthy cell walls
• Improve cholesterol levels and help to lower triglycerides
• Lower blood pressure
• Protect brain development and improve cognition and mood
• Improve memory problems associated with aging
• Alleviate inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis
• Provide essential support for joint and skin health
• Slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
• Maintain blood sugar balance, thus reducing risk of diabetes

Both impressive yet sadly ironic given that the Stinson plant in Maine, the last sardine cannery in the United States, is shutting down this month. For those who may wish to extend life expectancy or slightly slow the aging process, buy a case of these wunderkind. That even goes for those who think enhanced health care coverage is “armaggedon” too. More sardines and less orange skin dye may help you in the long run, Rep. Boehner. A nearly comical faux terror alert carrot facial hue. Is that cream applied head to toe or just above the collar? ~Sincerely, I am Curious Yellow

For the aioli recipes, chose from any of those in the Aïoli, Aïoli, Aïoli (and Rouille), 01.25.09 post.

LOBSTER ROLLS WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE

2-1 1/2 lb whole live lobsters
Sea salt

2 T finely chopped red onion
3/4 C tarragon mayonnaise
1 T dijon mustard
2 T coarsely chopped tarragon leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Hot dog buns (preferably top loading) or petit pain (french roll), sliced open
Extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter, softened

Prepare a large ice water bath. Immerse lobster in a large pot of boiling salted water, until they turn bright red, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, plunge the lobsters into the ice water for a few minutes, then drain.

Twist off the lobster tails and claws and remove the meat. Cut the lobster meat into 1/2″ pieces and pat dry, then transfer to a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour.

Gently combine lobster and next seven ingredients in a large bowl.

Split the rolls and brush with olive oil or butter. Grill, open side down, until golden, around 40 seconds. Fill each roll with some of the lobster salad and serve immediately.

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.

Pourboire:  consider using marscapone and heavy whipping cream in lieu of tarragon mayonnaise…a difficult choice, but such is the kitchen.

BELT (BACON, EGG, LETTUCE & TOMATO)

4 thick slices good quality slab bacon, sliced

2 thick slices of ciabatta or other rustic white bread, toasted
1-2 T aioli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 fresh heirloom tomato slices
2 butter lettuce leaves

1 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs

In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread aioli on both slices of bread. Season with salt and pepper on the top piece.

In a heavy, nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Add the eggs and fry over moderate heat, turning once, until slightly crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes. The yolk should still be runny. Assemble the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, bacon, then eggs, and close with second bread slice. Serve promptly.

SARDINE ‘WICH

2 tins boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil
3 T aioli
1/4 C cornichons, drained and finely chopped
2 T capers, rinsed and drained

Ciabatta, sliced and toasted or grilled
Aioli
1 avocado, seeded, peeled and sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 C fresh arugula
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove sardines from tin, draining oil. Transfer to a small bowl, and combine with aioli, cornichons, and capers.

Lay out ciabatta slices and lightly paint each with aioli. Then top with sardine mixture, avocado, tomato, arugula, and egg. Salt and pepper to taste, and then finish each with an aioli painted slice of bread.

Ripeness is all.
~William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act V, Scene II

Even setting flavors aside, this presents a brilliantly hued palette—reds, yellows, greens, white.

Avocados (Persea americana), also known as palta or aguacate in Spanish, are evergreen trees native to South and Central America which are classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae, joining cousins cinnamon and bay leaves.

The word “avocado” comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl (“testicle”) which is a reference to the shape of the fruit. So, there is little wonder that the avocado has long been said to have aphrodisiacal qualities. The avocado is colloquially known as the Alligator Pear, reflecting its shape and leathery skin.

While there a number of varieties of this fruit, the creamy, rich Hass cultivar, grown in California, makes up over 75% of the nationwide avocado crop. Their edible yellow-green flesh has the consistency of butter, and a subtle, nutty flavor. They are about the size of a pear and have pebbly brown-black-green skin when ripe.

Nutritionally, avocados are a robust source of vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate copper and potassium. Avocados contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that helps reduce cholesterol levels. They also greatly enhance your body’s ability to absorb those prized carotenoids that vegetables provide.

Lest I forget…tomorrow in the Tour, a deceptively difficult stage in the Vosges from the spa town of Vittel to the Alsatian wine capital of Colmar.

AVOCADO & BEETS WITH CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

3 medium red beets
3 medium golden beets
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

1 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Endive or arugula

2 firm ripe avocados

Good quality fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 F

Trim ends off beets, and rinse. Arrange them in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and lightly splash them with red wine vinegar and olive oil, and cover tightly with foil. Roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the beets. Allow beets to cool uncovered, then peel, slice into rounds and then halve the rounds.

In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, and shallot. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. While whisking, season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Toss the beets gently with the vinaigrette and arrange them on a plate with some endive or aurugula with the sliced avocado garnish with crumbled goat cheese and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Remember: dress lightly.

Pourboire: Avocados do not ripen on the tree, but only after they have been harvested. Ripen them for a few days before use, by putting them in a brown paper bag at room temperature, until there is some yield to a gentle touch. To hasten ripening, add an apple or tomato to the bag. A ripe, ready to eat avocado is slightly soft but should have no dark sunken spots or cracks.

Never refrigerate unripened avocados because they will not ripen in cold temperatures. Once ripe, keep them in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. But leaving them an extended time in the refrigerator will cause them to darken and lose their flavor.

To cut, grip the avocado on one side with one hand. With a large, sharp chef’s knife, cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed. Gently twist the two halves in opposite directions to expose the pit. Fold up a kitchen towel and use that to hold the avocado half with the pit. Firmly, yet gently tap the pit with a knife with enough force so that the knife edge wedges into the pit, but not so hard as to cut all the way through it. With the edge of the knife, twist the pit out of the avocado and discard.

Now, either scoop out the avocado flesh whole with a spoon and slice, or slice the avocado into segments. Gently make length long slices in the avocado flesh. Then use a spoon to scoop out the sliced avocado segments.

The ultimate in canning. A traditional Gascon farmhouse method of preserving duck, goose or pork, confit comes from the verb confire which means to conserve by enrobing meat in fat. The result of this patient process is a flavorful, rapturous deity that will make you swoon…eyes rolled back in your head, only to flatline in bliss.

DUCK CONFIT (CONFIT DE CANARD)

8 duck leg thigh quarters
Sea salt
2 T shallots, peeled and minced
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6 bays leaves
6 juniper berries, crushed
1 T dried thyme
1/2 T ground black pepper
3 qts rendered duck fat

1 whole plump head of garlic, sliced in half crosswise

Rinse the duck and dry with paper towels then trim off excess fat, leaving the skin intact. Season the duck generously with salt. In a small bowl, mix the shallots, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, thyme and pepper. Generously season each leg thigh quarter with this dry mixture, then refrigerate overnight.

In a very large, heavy pot slowly heat the duck fat just enough to melt it and add the duck pieces, and the surrounding garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, thyme, and pepper. Place both garlic halves into the melted duck fat. The duck pieces must be completely submerged. Preferably, the pan should be large enough to hold the pieces in one layer. Raise the heat just enough to maintain a barely percepeptible gentle simmer and cook the duck uncovered for about 1 1/2 hours. Do not allow the fat to boil or the meat will be fried, not gently cooked. To test for doneness pierce the duck meat with a metal skewer. If the juice flows clear and offers little resistance to the skewer, the duck is cooked.

Gently remove the duck pieces and arrange them in a large glass dish. Ladle the duck fat over the leg thighs until they are well covered by a layer of fat. Cool the duck, then cover well and refrigerate for several weeks before using.

Well refrigerated, confit can last for months. When ready to serve, allow the confit to reach room temperature, then lift as many pieces as you will need out of the fat, leaving some of the fat on the duck.

Room temperature: serve over a frisée or arugula salad with dried fruits, toasted nuts, fine olives or thinly sliced red onions and a subtle vinaigrette.

Hot: sauté in a heavy skillet over medium high heat until the skin becomes crispy and golden brown, about 4-5 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels and serve with with par boiled potatoes that are then fried in duck fat and a green salad or haricots verts.

Other ways to use this tender, unctuous meat is to remove from from the bone and shred for use in a salad, pasta, pizza, filling a crêpe, arranged on top of a potato gaufrette, or making rillettes (an appetizer made with shredded duck meat and duck fat).

A Return to Paninis

May 28, 2009

A touch of closure. This post is meant to partially deliver on an earlier promise from A Word About Paninis & Sandwiches that “recipes will follow on a subsequent entry.” Because many sandwiches, including paninis, are built in a rather similar fashion, these recipes are grouped in a communal manner. So, the common ingredients and basics are described first, followed by individual suggested fillings. But, the possibilities are nearly endless.

PANINIS

Ingredients:

Rustic bread, such as Ciabetta or baguette, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Imaginative “fillings” (see below)

Basics:

Brush the outside of the each piece of bread with olive oil. Fill with whatever combination or permutation soothes your soul—or simply build with your usual suspects. Again, when constructing paninis keep the quantities within reason. With paninis, you are not creating thick, fat sandwichs.

Heat the panini grill and press sandwiches until golden brown.

If you do not possess a panini grill, heat 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 pronounced grill marks and the insides pressed narrowly with slightly oozing luscious cheese.

Fillings:

Thinly sliced, roasted pancetta, arugula and mozzarella
Coppa, pesto, and provolone
Sauteed mushrooms, arugula, caramelized red onions and fontina
Soppressata, basil pesto, and mozzarella
Tapenade, arugula and fontina
Portabello, goat cheese, spinach, and truffle oil
Serrano, arugula, caramelized red onions and manchego
Coppa, sundried tomatoes and taleggio
Proscuitto, spinach and gruyere
Finocchiona, pesto, fontina and truffle oil
Proscuitto, tomato pesto and camembert
Soppressata, tapenade and asiago
Serrano, watercress, and brie
Proscuitto, fig jam and fontina
Proscuitto, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and gruyere
Serrano, sundried tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella
Fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella

Buon appetito!