On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that ninety-five years ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began. In that dark moment of history, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.
~Barack Obama, April 24, 2010

Apricots were originally cultivated in China or India, depending on the source. They arrived in Europe through Armenia, which explains the scientific name Prunus armenaica. While this small, densely canopied tree first arrived in Virginia in the early 18th century, its appearance in the Spanish missions of California several decades later marked the real arrival on North America’s center stage. As the climate on the west coast is perfectly suited to apricot culture, these pastelled gems are grown primarily in sunny orchards there.

A drupe similar to a small peach, flesh tones range from yellow to orange, and even tinged red on the side most exposed to the sun. A single seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell which has three ridges running down one side. The skin can be glabrous or display short pubescent hairs—some catholic priests’ dreams. (Just this week, northwest Jesuits agreed to pay $166 million to more than 500 victims of sexual abuse, many of whom were American Indians and Alaska Natives who were debased decades ago at boarding schools and on the safe grounds of remote villages.)

Apricots are a good source of vitamins A and C, and also provide needed dietary fiber and potassium.

In the mood, once again, for my luscious little pearly friends known as Israeli couscous. This version is chocked with texture: the distinct pop of couscous, the nutty crunch of almonds, the tender chew of sweet apricots and currants. An apotheosis when nestled up to roasted or grilled meats.

ISRAELI COUSCOUS WITH APRICOTS, ALMONDS & CURRANTS

Sea salt
2 C Israeli couscous

Extra virgin olive oil
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 t cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1/2 C sliced almonds, toasted
1 C chicken stock

1/2 C dried apricots, diced into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 C black currants, plumped in warm water and drained
4 scallions, both white and green parts, cut thin on the bias
Fresh mint, minced

Bring a saucepan or pot of generously salted cold water to a boil over high heat. Add the Israeli couscous and cook until cooked through, about 6-7 minutes. Strain from the water and reserve.

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper and cum, then bring to medium high heat. After a few minutes, add the almonds to toast them in the oil. When the garlic is golden and aromatic, remove from the pan and discard. Do not brown or the garlic will become bitter. Add the cooked couscous and chicken stock. Season with salt and cook until the stock has reduced by half. Add the apricots, currants, scallions and mint. Stir to combine well and serve.

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I am Sam, Sam I Am

January 29, 2009

Do you like green eggs and ham? Would you like them here or there? … Would you like them in a house? on a train? in the rain? with a goat? on a boat? You may like them you will see…

P.S. to an earlier post about developments in the White House culinary staff (Obama Fare—Gratin Dauphinois).

Sam Kass, a private chef who cooked for the Obamas while they were living in Chicago, will now serve them in the White House.

A Chicago native, Mr. Kass, 28, graduated from the University of Chicago and received his formal training at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe. He later worked at Avec, a Chicago wine bar serving Mediterranean food.

Mr. Kass then founded Inevitable Table, a private chef service in the Windy City that purports to be a “link to clean, healthy food.” The services advertised include cooking and shopping “mainly from local farms,” buying wines from “small sustainable wineries,” and offering meals for children and private parties.

Not to worry White House executive chef, Cristeta Comerford—a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama said Mr. Kass will not be the only cook preparing the first family’s meals, but “he knows what they like and he happens to have a particular interest in healthy food and local food.”

Mr. Kass’s appointment again underscores the Obama family’s commitment to healthy, local and sustainable foodstuffs. Is an organic vegetable and herb garden on the White House grounds in the offing? Imagine the bounty from the White House kitchen waste alone which could reaped to create an official presidential compost bin. A science project for Malia or Sasha?

I do so like green eggs and ham, thank you, thank you, Sam I am…

GREEN EGGS AND HAM

Pesto

3 cups fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 C pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/3 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil into a food processor or blender. Blend in pulses until the paste is fairly smooth, adding more oil if it is too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; set aside.

Bruschetta & Proscuitto

1 loaf Tuscan bread or baguette
1 head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 thin slices of proscuitto di parma or san daniele del fruili
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat broiler, placing rack 6″ from the element

Slice the loaf of bread, on the bias, into 3/4-inch slices. Place bread in oven on sheet pan and broil until golden brown on both sides, approximately 2 minutes for the first side and 1 to 1 1/2 for second side. Remove to a platter and rub each slice of bread with the garlic and then brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; set aside.

Heat olive oil in skillet and sauté proscuitto briefly, 1-2 minutes.

Poached Eggs

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature
Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated or shaven

Fresh eggs are mandatory as they will gather compactly around the yolk, resulting in a rounder, neater shape.

Fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure they are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex, whirlpool. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

To assemble: put a slice of bruschetta on a plate, toppped by a slice of crisp proscuitto; then place 2 poached eggs on top. Spoon a tablespoon of pesto over each egg. Finish with grated or thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

*Free range, organic eggs: Organic eggs are produced from hens that consume a special feed in which all of the ingredients are free from commercial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Free range chickens usually have a covered shelter and access to an outside scratch yard. They are pasture-fed, also foraging for worms and bugs, which are ideal for their health and immunity systems.

…I do, I like them, Sam I am.