I wasn’t really naked.  I simply didn’t have any clothes on…
~Joséphine Baker

Gotta love her guile — “I was not really nude, but was clad in nothing.”

Well, welcome to zany Bastille Day (July 14), and the chaos that ensued on le Tour de France on Mont Ventoux today — with the yellow jersey farcically running up the mountain on more than ludicrous shoes with rigid carbon fiber soles and underneath clips. Well done, childish and irresponsible spectators. Mayhem, where it should not be.

I deeply adore lamb shanks, as you might note from just perusing this site.

These opulent, yet bourgeois, lamb shanks somehow remind me of and even obsoletely yearn for  Joséphine Baker’s savory, almost sugary brown legs, loins, oh so fine buttocks and breasts, and my country’s (France’s) mutual passion with her.  I do have an American passport, but call France “home” especially during these baffling and bewildering Drumpfesque days.

Of humble beginnings in St. Louis (born Freda Josephine McDonald), she was a hit in New York City, but sailed to Paris and became a divine, silken, and often sensual even erotic, African American captivating dancer.  Mlle. ou Mme. Baker hit her apex, her pinnacle in Paris and perhaps was bisexual.  She also performed for troops and was even a spy for her adopted land, France, during World War II. She hid weapons and smuggled documents across the border, tucking them beneath gowns and other undergarmets.  After the war, she was bestowed upon with the Croix de Guerre, Rosette de la Resistance, and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

Before and after she also took Europe by storm, was adored by so many, often referred to as the Black Venus, Black Pearl and Creole Goddess.  Ernest Hemingway dubbed her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  Who could forget the Danse Sauvage or the bananas and plumes she so scantily and exotically wore?  Due to rampant racism at home, Joséphine Baker became a legal denizen of France, speaking two tongues, and ultimately gave up her American citizenship. There, she became perhaps the most renowned ex-pats of France.

With so many children (she preceded and far exceeded Angelina Jolie — Joséphine had 12 children.  Baker raised two daughters, French born Marianne and Moroccan born Stellina, and 10 sons, Korean born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese born Akio, Colombian born Luis, Finnish born Jari (now Jarry), French born Jean-Claude, and Noël, Israeli born Moïse, Algerian born Brahim, Ivorian born Koffi, and Venezuelan born Mara, the group of 12 that was called the Rainbow Tribe along with a harem of monkeys, a chimpanzee, a parrot, parakeets, a pig, a snake, a goat, several dogs and cats and a pet cheetah.  Mme. ou Mlle. Baker (depending on when and with whom you spoke) even benevolently employed some one half of the citizens of the nearby village and had a restaurant built in the neighboring countryside.

Even though Josephine Baker was believed to be then the richest woman in the world, she underwent the shame of bankruptcy at a later stage in life despite help from Princess Grace of Monaco and Bridgette Bardot.  This beloved and dazzling parisian artiste was rudely foreclosed upon at Château des Milandes near Dordogne in the Périgord region by creditors, and she was exploited by so many others.  She was literally locked out of her beloved home by the new owner, little doubt un nouveau riche. Soon afterwards, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Alas, we all die — but, we commonly do not have statues, bas reliefs, sculptures, plaques, places, halls of fame, piscines, parcs, boutiques, hotels, photos, films, and are lavished with so many honors, commendation letters, medals, processions, parades in our honor, named and created for us, upon our demise.  Joséphine Baker did them all.

GRILLED LAMB SHANKS

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1 – 1 1/4 lb each
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C cognac or brandy
1 C port
1 C or so, chicken stock or broth
6-8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1 T balsamica di modena
1-2 dollops of whipping cream or crème fraîche

Combine lamb shanks, port, stock, salt and pepper and garlic in a Dutch oven with some olive oil. Turn heat to medium high or high and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook placed downwards, turning about every 30 minutes, until shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove shanks, tent them, and strain the sauce.  Skim fat from top of sauce and preheat a charcoal grill so it makes you restrain your hand from the grill at about 3 seconds: so, medium high.   Then, place the braised shanks on the grill, rolling and moving, until nicely browned and crusted, with a total cooking time of about 15 minutes.  While grilling, heat the sauce from the previous braising by simmering quietly with a dollop or two of whipping cream or crème fraîche, and add red vinegar (balsamica di modena).

Serve sauce with shanks, eat with risotto, egg noodles, smashed potatoes or polenta, and they all go swimmingly well with a fine French côtes du rhône, bourgogne, bandol or Oregon pinot noir.

Pourboire:  nor should callous carnage and chaos ever exist again on the Promenade des Anglais, a storied boulevard on Nice’s coast during France’s national holiday, Bastille night.  Une vraie honteun énorme calamité.   Tant d’enfants sont tués et estropiés.  Quel dommage, pour ne pas dire plus.  Je suis tellement attristé — mon coeur vous tend la main. Mon dieu!

Very much unlike Joséphine Baker, you will be remembered forever as nothing but a psychotic, murderous butcher, especially of children…whatever your name is or will be.

 

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The fennel is beyond every other vegetable, delicious. It greatly resembles in appearance the largest size celery, perfectly white, and there is no vegetable equals it in flavour. It is eaten at dessert, crude, and with, or without dry salt, indeed I preferred it to every other vegetable, or to any fruit
~Thomas Jefferson

If fennel is good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it is good enough for you…and for gracing your pizzas, bruschettas, crostinis and tarts and for nestling up to your roasted or grilled meats, poultry, fish and so on and so forth.

Jefferson was a scientist, philosopher, statesman, author, architect, musician, naturalist, zoologist, botanist, farmer, bibliophile, inventor, wine conoisseur, and mathematician…and in his spare time was the President of the United States, Vice President, Secretary of State, Minister to France, Governor of Virginia, and founder of the University of Virginia. Oh, and he wrote the Declaration of Independence. What have we accomplished this week?

It is self evident that Jefferson sallied forth to pursue the eclectic and exotic in all facets of his public life (and private dalliances, too).

Much like with garlic, braising and roasting causes fennel to undergo an almost radical transformation. The sometimes intense and lingering licorice flavor of raw fennel softens and cedes to much more voluptuous, sweet, nutty and herbal aromas and flavors with the bulb’s characteristic crunch turning soft and silky. See Beet & Fennel Salad—Undeservedly So

BRAISED FENNEL

4 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed of stems and fronds, cut into 1 1/2″ wedges
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3/4 C dry white wine
3/4 C chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375

Over medium low, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Lay fennel wedges in the pan. Saute until golden on the bottom, about 8 minutes, then turn and repeat on the other side. If necessary, brown in batches. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the fennel in a single layer in a baking dish. Add the wine and chicken broth, transfer the dish to the oven, and braise until tender, about 30-40 minutes. Remove and season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

ROASTED FENNEL

3-4 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed of stems and fronds, cut lengthwise, then into 1/2″ slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400

Coat fennel with olive oil with hands, season with salt and pepper, and then sprinkle with some balsamic vinegar. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil. Arrange fennel in dish and roast for 30-40 minutes, until the fennel softens and begins to caramelize.

The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.
~Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Cover your eyes, vegans. This is meat, plain and simple, gnawing-bone-in-hand-Henry VIII stuff…a cruel image for some. To you, my apologies in advance.

For me, a pure and simple apotheosis. Lamb shanks are mentioned at my table much in the same exalted tones reserved for a local farmer’s fresh scrambled eggs, seared foie gras, roast pork belly, crispy skinned roast duck, rarefied pungent cheeses, foraged wild mushrooms and roasted bone marrow—all on “My Last Meal” short list. Just the names of these dishes are sweet nothings when whispered in my ear, and are sure to get me hot and bothered.

Once I experienced these succulent shanks as a child, they became the birthday meal request each year (usually roasted, sometimes attentively grilled). The long held passion I have for them is not unlike that profound and ceaseless lust you feel about the scent of an unrequited love. A yearning that stirs to the core…a kind of “can life exist without” lamb shanks?

The braising method below takes advantage of the high percentage of connective tissues that lamb shanks possess, slowly breaking them down to create juicy, tender flesh with tiers of evocative flavors and intoxicating aromas.

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

Preheat oven to 450

1 T allspice berries
1 T whole cloves
1 T nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T ground cinnamon

4 1-1 1/4 lb lamb shanks, not trimmed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T brandy or cognac for deglazing

1 C or more of port
4 C or more chicken stock

1 C heavy whipping cream (optional)

Grate the nutmeg. In a coffee mill or spice grinder, grind the allspice and cloves. Combine all of the spices in a bowl, stirring to mix.

Season the shanks with salt and pepper and then rub the spice mix all over the surface.

Place the shanks, standing heavy side down and narrow end up in a large, heavy Dutch oven or roasting pan. Roast in the oven, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Transfer lamb to a platter or baking dish and tent. Place the pan on the stovetop on medium heat and deglaze briefly with the brandy, scraping up cook bits on bottom. Then, return the lamb to the pan, again standing on end. Add the port and stock. Cover the pan and return it to the oven. Braise until the meat is quite tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and again transfer to platter and tent. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve (chinois), then return to pan. Cook the braising sauce down until reduced and coats a spoon, adding cream and some more port to fortify throughout should you desire. The shanks and slow braising liquid produce a glistening, luxurious sauce.

Serve with the sauce in a boat and smashed potatoes, egg noodles or polenta. Of course, do not forget a lofty Cotes du Rhône, French Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir.

Whatever is in the heart will come up to the tongue.
~Persian proverb

Unlike politics or religion, food allows us to set aside preconceived notions in kinder, gentler ways. In this way, tongue could be considered a poster child.

It befuddles me how many carnivore cultures find the hips, flanks and chest of a bloody butchered animal to be much more appealing than the tongue, a part of the creature which even provokes a truculent reaction in some—much like the revulsant ewws! from deep fried tarantulas or raw grubs. These are the same offended folks who regale in processed franks which happen to be crammed with unknown mechanically separated meat,* sodium phosphates, dextrose, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, and other “if-you-can’t-say-it-don’t-eat-it” ingredients. So there is no confusion, I do share their passion for a good dog.

Thankfully, Mom introduced me to this exquisitely mild and tender flesh while I was young so as not to bear the usual prejudices. Whether in a sandwich with horseradish cream, in a frisée salad with a Dijon vinaigrette and chopped olives, on a taco with salsa verde, tongue is not only vastly underrated, it is a royal treat. No challenge to cook, economical, versatile, tender, delectable. What else can you demand from a food?

Regardless of the animal (whether beef, calf, lamb or pork), do hold the truth to be self-evident that the smaller the tongue the better. When purchasing, fresh tongue should be pink or pale red in color.

BRAISED TONGUE

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
1 C+ red wine
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 plump, fresh garlic head, divided into cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves

Cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water) and wine. Bring just to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off the froth on the surface after a few minutes. Simmer, covered, until tender for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove tongue, and briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain, then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle.

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

Mechanically separated meat is a paste, batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.

Pourboire: If desired, sauté the onions, carrot and garlic until the onions are translucent before adding the broth and wine.

Eat leeks in March and wild garlic in May, and all year after physicians may play
~Old Welsh Rhyme/Proverb

The leek, Allium porrum, is a member of the onion family, but the flavor is much more refined, subtle, and sweet than the standard onion. Thought to be native to Mediterranean and/or Asian regions, leeks have been cultivated at least since the time of ancient Egyptians and are depicted in tomb paintings from that era. The Romans worshipped leeks, and Emperor Nero consumed so many he earned the name Porrophagus (leek eater) among his other more deservedly derisive nicknames; he posited that eating leeks would improve his singing voice.

Together, leeks and daffodils form the national emblem of Wales.

Leeks have long graced European tables in varying forms. During the last century, leeks began to curry favor in America, and are now an ever more utilized and prized culinary element now readily available in markets throughout the year.

In France, the leek is known as un poireau, which is ironically also used as a derogatory term meaning “simpleton”—a far cry from the truly sophisticated character of this critter.

Leeks are cultivated in spring, summer, autumn and winter months. They thrive in cooler climes and are tolerant to frost, which explains their popularity as a winter vegetable. However, late spring baby leeks are preferred here as they have yet to have become too fibrous—an affliction which occassionally plagues the larger, late season plants.

During the growing process, sandy soil is piled up around the base of the leek to encourage a long, thin, white base. This method makes them a dirt sponge, so cleaning them thoroughly is crucial or your guests will be treated to a gritty dish. Remove any tired or damaged outer leaves. Trim the rootlets at the base and cut off around a half to two thirds of the dark green tops. Slice the leeks down the center and rinse under cold running water to remove all dirt and sand, being careful to get in between the leaves; then drain on paper towels.

Overcooking leeks will render them slimy and mushy. So, they should be cooked until tender but still exert a little resistance when pierced.

Below are indoor and outdoor versions of this green jewel. In later posts, I will address other ways to play with this green, such as leek soup.

BRAISED LEEKS

6 large leeks
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 T extra virgin olive oil
1 C shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T thyme leaves or 1/2 T dried thyme
1/2 C dry white wine
2 C chicken stock

Preheat oven to 400

Peel any bruised outer layers from leeks. Trim rootlets, leaving root end intact. Trim off tops on diagonal, leaving two inches of green. Cut in half lengthwise. Rinse thoroughly in cold water to remove internal grit. Dry on paper towels.

With cut sides up, liberally season with salt and pepper. Heat 3 T oil in heavy saute pan over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Place leeks cut side down in pan without crowding them. Cook in batches, if necessary. Sear 4 to 5 minutes, until lightly golden, and then turn over to cook 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer, cut side up, to a gratin dish that will fit leeks.

Pour 2 T oil into pan and heat over medium heat. Add shallots, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until just beginning to color. Add wine and reduce by half. Add stock, and bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Pour over leeks, without quite covering them.

Braise in oven 30 minutes, until tender.

GRILLED LEEKS I

4-6 leeks
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare, clean and slice leeks as above.

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 to 3 seconds before the pain demands you retract (see On Grilling).

Place leeks cut side down diagonally on grill for several minutes until lightly browned. Turn leeks over again on the diagonal and grill for a few minutes more until brown. Remove and lightly salt and pepper (as they are preferred au naturel here, I omit this seasoning step.)

GRILLED LEEKS II

2 C white wine
2 C stock
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
2 T butter
4-6 leeks

1 C olive oil
1/4 C red wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

Prepare and clean leeks as above, but do not slice.

In a heavy saucepan, saute garlic and shallots in butter for a minute or so—do not burn. Bring white wine and stock to a simmer, and then add leeks and braise for 10 minutes; remove and let cool, then slice lengthwise. Whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar and garlic in a large bowl, and the leeks and let marinate 1 hour.

Meanwhile, 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 to 3 seconds before the pain demands you retract (see On Grilling).

Place leeks cut side down diagonally on grill for several minutes until lightly browned. Turn leeks over again on the diagonal and grill for a couple minutes more until brown.