Braised Duck + The Series

October 25, 2016

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.
~Michael Caine

The World Series begins tonight — with a connection to the past, the two teams with the longest title droughts in the same game (parenthetically or asterisk laden) the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs have gone over a century without a series win, and the Indians with many decades without winning in unfulfilled seasons. Times of anguish without a taste. One of the most touted series ever — history and the game is here, it waits for no one. By the way, it is the aces, Kluber (Indians) vs. Lester (Cubs) that will take the mound in Game One.

I must admit to adoring the Cubs, as my childhood was suffused with Chicago, and then watching those fans delirious with their team in the field and later in Wrigleyville, tears streaming and beers and shots in hand, after the NCLS game clincher. I was fortunate enough as a grasshopper to meet Billy Williams, now still barely holding on, as well as Ernie Banks (and his no. 14 in diamonds) and Ron Santo, now both gone. I have experienced ivied and bricked Wrigley Field with men fans donned in suits and fedoras and women adored in finery during daytime games as well as Jack Brickhouse who bellowed “Hey, Hey” to signal Cubs’ home runs. As Williams has been quoted, “they’re somewhere celebrating now,” and these legends should be proud given their regular season winning percentage of 103-58.

The Cubs have superb starting pitching, assume a keen approach at the plate, use the field well, value divine defense, and have a sublime bullpen to boot. Sound familiar? — yes, Virginia, I have seen us win. Then again, the Indians also have supreme starting pitching, run the bases well and have a glorious bullpen too.

Nothing against Cleveland, but despite the “old-school look” of upper socks, the Cubs have earned one. Then again, the Indians play at home.

BRAISED DUCK

1 whole duck (around 4 lbs — preferably Pekin), cut into 8 or so pieces, plus liver reserved & trimmings coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried herbes de provence
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Refrigerate well dried, cut, seasoned pieces overnight in a ziploc bag. Turn a couple of times.

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 (28 oz) san marzano tomatoes, cut well
1 C dry red wine
4 C chicken broth
1 piece of cinnamon stick
3 pieces star anise
2 bay leaves, dried
4 thyme sprigs

2 lbs small plums, pits removed and halved
1 lb turnips, quartered or more
1 lb parsnips, sliced & halved
1 carrot, peeled and roughly sliced
1-2 T butter

1/2 C Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
3 T chives, finely chopped
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped
1 t lemon zest, grated
1-2 t extra virgin olive oil

Place a heavy, wide skillet with extra virgin olive oil, butter and fresh garlic cloves over medium high heat. When the pan becomes shimmering and hot, add the duck so as not to crowd — likely in a couple of batches — 5 minutes per side. Set aside, tented in foil on a baking dish or platter.

Pour off all but 2 T of duck fat into a ramekin and cover (for a later day). Add tomatoes, stirring well, then add wine and broth and bring to a nice simmer. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Transfer duck to a heavy, large Dutch oven and pour the broth mixture & herbs/spices over the duck.  Cover and simmer for about 40 or so minutes, until duck is quite tender.

Heat butter and duck fat in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add reserved plums skin side down as well as turnips and parsnips and sauté for a minute or so, until lightly browned, then turn and cook on skin side for a minute more.

Transfer duck to a warmed platter and spoon over the sauce. Garnish with sautéed plums, turnips and parsnips.  Mix together parsley, chives, walnuts, lemon zest and olive oil. Sprinkle this mixture over the top and serve.

Jean Harlow + Salmon

August 3, 2016

Underwear makes me uncomfortable, plus my parts have to breathe.
~Jean Harlow

Admittedly, so true.  But, my girlfriend a bit reluctantly hunted for and bought bras yesterday…does that mean those parts do not breathe? (Because thus far I have not been endowed with man boobs, thankfully.)  So, I know not, but bosoms can become sweaty during these sultry days. There is nothing wrong with not donning a thong, but sometimes those boulders need some exhale and want some uplift.

The radiant platinum Blonde Bombshell (née Harlean Harlow Carpenter) in Kansas City, Missouri, and as Jean Harlow tragically and mysteriously died as a socialite in Beverly Hills, California, at 26 years of age, of a cerebral edema and urimea (some have opined that she was a victim of medial malpractice). Yes, she did endure small bouts of polio, meningitis and scarlet fever as a child. But, as many Hollywood legends, Jean lived fast and was rode hard: in 10 short years, she made 36 films, appeared as the first actress on Life magazine’s cover and, little doubt, played somewhat apathetically in between.

Did she really shun undergarments? Well, of course. Perhaps “the Baby” knew to go totally commando from living in her home clime or in high school in Chi-town, and then others on the West Coast found the practice of wearing nothing underneath seductive. You have seen her nipples and camel toe.  Maybe we all just felt them sublime, catching her scents from afar…and the blessed Jean swathed in her white satin revealing gowns, sometimes sensuously scanty, red lacquered lips, make-upped baby blues, porcelain skin, and dyed platinum blonde hair.

I mean admit it — underwear, and shorts, etc., smell so much more intoxicating when already worn by the lady beforehand. Plus, she was notably indiscreet, sexually alluring, and her persona was humorous, comedic by nature. (Think Sarah Silverman with true blonde locks on top.) Then again, think how Jean went to the lengths of icing her nipples so they protruded through her gossamer gowns. Yikes, girl!

Anyways, as mentioned earlier, we do love to eat au naturel or at least discalceate  — because food just tastes genuinely better barefoot, especially in the sand or water, especially if you masticate and quaff gently, quietly. Try it once, at least, with perhaps the simple recipe below. Revelatory, much like Jean.

SALMON FILLETS + ANCHOVIES + GARLIC

3 T unsalted butter, softened
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

anchovy fillets, good quality
2-3 plump, fresh, peeled garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t sea salt, fine ground
Freshly ground black pepper

4 (8 or so oz) skin-on salmon fillets

4 T drained capers, patted dry

1/2 lemon, cut and seeded
Flat Italian parsley, freshly chopped

Heat heavy, ovenproof skillet to medium high and add butter and olive oil. In a small bowl, mash together anchovies, garlic, salt and pepper.

In the same large ovenproof skillet, melt about half the anchovy mix. Add salmon, skin side down. Cook for 3 minutes over medium high heat to brown and crisp the skin, spooning some pan drippings over the top of the salmon as it cooks. Add capers to bottom of pan and transfer to stove again. Sauté until salmon is just cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove pan from stove and add remaining anchovy mix to pan to melt. Place salmon on plates and spoon pan sauce over the top. Squeeze the lemon half over the salmon and garnish with chopped parsley.

Serve with a crispy white or rosé in small plates or shallow soup bowls.

Open Faced Mia Bella

February 9, 2016

The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal. 
~Victor Hugo

In some senses, one can concur with Hugo’s immaterial ideals, but what about an artisan’s bread, eggs, Italian cheese and salted and cured ham together?  They tend to belong en masse and are fetchingly archetypal.  And before bread, paradigms? Doubtful.

Sleep — humans spend some 35%-38% of each day slumbering.  It just does not seem congruent, or even affable, to have so few studies over the years that delve into the subconscious or sleep habits with some 50-70 Americans having been affected by disorders of some type. Some 80% of workers suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, likely not taking into account sometimes falsely alleged criminals, prisoners or spies.  The first thing that is wrested from someone by the “correctional and rehabilitation” institution is sleep.  Then, with sleeplessness a person often confesses, whether the act was committed or not.

These are not merely dormant times of our daily, passive lives spent too frequently as consensual slaves at cubicles and/or before screens and shift work, often relationless and without any conception of life. Instead, these are somnolent times that rend habits which can profoundly alter our physical, physiological, electrical and mental health.

Now, some studies have been published in the journal Science by the Nedergaard lab which proposed that the daily waste produced by the brain (which uses about 20% of the body’s energy) was cleansed and recycled toxic byproducts by sleep alone.  The noxious trash, the junk is cleared of our so-called “glymphatic” systems of our brains by merely reaching deep sleep.  The brain, it seems, clears itself of neurological waste while we slumber.  It seems the interstitial spaces, the fluid area between tissue cells, are mainly dedicated to removing our neural rubbish accumulated when awake, while we naturally sleep — uninterrupted.  (Interstitial derives from the Latin interstitium meaning “interstice” or “an intervening space.”) Without good sleeping tendencies, these toxins remain in the brain, and one logically posits will produce significant cerebral damage in the future.

So, let your body unwind, release tension with latent exercise toes to head focusing upon relaxation, darken the bedroom, keep bed mates or others informed, manage caffeine and alcohol intake, adjust temperatures to a cooler level, and simply cultivate good sleeping habits.

Sleep well and tight.

A Simple Egg Sandwich

2 ciabatta slices, about 1 1/2″ thick, with, after smearing with softened butter, the top side is also slathered in guanciale or pancetta juice

2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

Guanciale or pancetta sliced somewhat thin, but not paper thin, and barely cooked in a skillet to cover bread.

4 local eggs, poached or fried, so the yolk runs
Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced, to cover bread

Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded, to complete

Cut the fresh ciabatta and cook on both sides in the broiler, one buttered on the top side (to melt) after cooking the bottom.  Later, slather the slices on the top side in guanciale (preferably) or pancetta juices after cooking one of the two in another heavy skillet.  Then, place the gently cooked guanciale or pancetta on the ciabatta bread because they will be broiled in the next step.

Poach or fry the eggs, softly, then drain them, while you arrange the tallegio cheese atop the meat and bread and broil briefly until just melted.  Put the eggs on, and finally finish with fresh chiffonaded (thin ribbons) basil leaves.

So, to review the arrangement:  1) toast ciabatta –> 2) melt butter atop –> 3) guanciale juices –> 4) guanciale slices to cover –> 5) tallegio to cover –> 6) eggs –> and 7) basil ribbons.

Pourboire:   You may also consider using 4 thinner slices of ciabatta and create a panini with the same or similar ingredients without the toasting and buttering steps and with full basil leaves (not chiffonaded) or arugula leaves.  Then, olive oil and cook on a sandwich press or grill pan.

Chicken + Tomatoes + …

December 26, 2015

If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.
~Grandma Moses

If you can, wait for heirloom tomato season.

This is just basic fodder and should become a seminal staple — thrifty yet damned delish. It all may seem primitive, unadorned, but this dish, although humble, is not meager in the least.

4-6 local (unfrozen) chicken thighs with skin on and bone-in
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 T dried tarragon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

6 T peeled and finely sliced shallots
3 T plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 28 oz canned tomatoes, drained and chopped (or better yet, a glass container of heirloom tomatoes from a recent harvest)

1/4 C red wine vinegar (aceto di vino rossa)
1/4 C fine capers, drained or unsalted, depending how prepared
1/4 C chicken broth
2 bay leaves

1 C dry white wine, like Gavi, Orvieto or Verdicchio
1-2 T good tomato paste

1/4 C fresh tarragon leaves

Pat thighs dry well with paper towels.  Allow to reach room temperature and gently dredge the chicken thighs with sea salt, black pepper and dried tarragon. Drop the smashed garlic into the olive oil and butter in a large heavy pan over medium high. As the oil and butter begin to shimmer, discard the smashed garlic and sauté the chicken thighs, skin side down, until lightly browned. Turn and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Remove and tent the bird pieces with foil.

Then, make a sauce with the shallots and garlic, cooking briefly, for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, wine, tomato paste, bay leaves and stock until it all cooks down some, stirring with a wooden spatula to dissolve the pieces in the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce, and return the chicken to the skillet, then cover with a lid bringing the mix to a simmer for about 18-20 minutes or so. Discard the bay leaves.

To serve, strew with fresh tarragon leaves and place over pasta, orzo, rice, you name it — grain or green.

Pourboire:  if desired, add dijon mustard and/or crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream to the sauce or use differing seasonings on the chicken.

Tortas de Huevos (Egg Tortas)

December 20, 2015

A man’s social rank is determined by the amount of bread he eats in a sandwich.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was much like our usual grist while camping in the gentle chaparral overlooking The Big Blue with infused fragrances of eucalyptus and rosemary. So, as with many other meals, it does bring back both fond yet conflicting memories.

Despite my indifference and sometimes general disdain about “religious holidays,” this dish would be so exquisite on that eve or next morning. One might as well eat, drink, and abound in this brief slice of life on earth, right?  So, keep this mock celebration of whatever or whomever (whose total lack of exactitude of birth in day or year astounds) a pagan or epicurean one.

Torta is a regional variety of flatbread which is a sandwich of sorts with divergent fillings that has existed from Spain to Portugal to Central America to Mesoamerica to Mexico to South America to the Caribbean and the Phillipines (most places Latin)

In essence, one makes scrambled eggs, then scoops them over bread with a slurry of cheese and other condiments already slathered on fine bread and finally topped with avocado (which happened to be indigenous to the region). Simple enough, yet really pleasing, especially with a fluent champagne that has a killer balance yet retains silky vibrancy.

Enough said?  Because this is holla good grub, a gastronome’s gem.

TORTAS DE HUEVOS (EGG TORTAS)

10 large, local eggs
A dollop of heavy whipping cream
White pepper
Dried thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of cayenne pepper
3-4 T unsalted butter

1 can chipotle chiles en adobo, drained
1 can black beans, drained

Tortas or Ciabatta rolls, cut almost into halves

1 1/2 C Chihuahua queso, grated

2 Haas avocados, peeled, pit discarded, thinly sliced

Chipotle salsa

Preheat oven to 350 F

Whisk the eggs with the cream, white pepper, thyme, sea salt and black pepper, cayenne until well combined.

Purée the chipotles en adobo sauce in a food processor until smooth and then afterwards the black beans until smooth.

Spread a thin layer of the chipotles en adobe over the bottom of each torta or ciabatta roll. Top with a layer of puréed black beans divided between the tortas or ciabatta rolls.

Melt the butter in a 12″ heavy non-stick skillet over low to medium heat because the eggs toughen rapidly. Pour in the egg mix and gently scrape the sides and bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula. Once the eggs have barely formed soft curds, and they are somewhat moist, remove the pan from the heat.

Divide the eggs between each torta or ciabatta roll. Sprinkle on the Chihuahua queso and cover with the top of the roll. Wrap in foil and place in the oven, baking for about 7-10 minutes until the cheese has melted and the torta or ciabatta has warmed. Unwrap each bun, remove the tops and place slices of avocado over the interiors of the sandwiches.

Serve with a side of chipotle salsa.

Bread + Eggs + Chipotles + Beans + Queso + Avocado.  Now, assemble with salsa nearby.

A potato expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
~Victor Hugo

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a faintly anise flavored herb in the family Umbelliferae which includes carraway, cumin, and fennel, et al. Growing annually from 16″-24″ it has hollow stems and delicate, wispy leaves, demanding hot summers and lofty sunshine with well drained fertile soil.

Containing no cholesterol and low in calories, dill is rich in volatile oils as well as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, ß carotene, and vitamin C. This is not to mention that dill contains minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Dill’s benefits also come from two types of healing components — monoterpenes, such as carvone, limonene, and anethofuran and flavonoids, such as kaempferol and vicenin. Needless to say, dill herb is one of the most healthy, functional foods in the chain.

Too bad dill is not consumed for these reasons in this house — scents and sapidity rule — apparently though, the benefits come from the back side. Nevertheless, both “recipes” are darlings of our kitchen…simple starch staples yet glorious (good) grub.

BOILED NEW POTATOES + DILL

1 lb various hued small, new potatoes (“B” size)
1 T sea salt

4 T (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

Dill leaves, fresh and chopped, in amounts to your liking (or rosemary leaves)
Truffle and salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium to large heavy pot, combine hand culled potatoes. Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by about 1″ and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add salt, then reduce to a vigorous simmer. Cook potatoes just until fork tender, about 20 minutes, depending upon size.

Add butter and garlic to the pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, swirling the pan and basting as needed so that the until the potatoes are well glazed, about 5 minutes.

Tear the dill leaves, and with the pot off the heat, stir them gently into the potatoes. Add truffle and sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve next to resting grilled or roasted meats, greens of choice and some more unsalted butter on the table in a ramekin.

BAKED RUSSET POTATOES

4 large baking potatoes, such as russets

4 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chives
Sour cream or crème fraîche

Gruyère cheese (optional)
Dill leaves, fresh and chopped (optional)
Lardons (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F

Scrub potatoes with a brush under running, cold water, then dry well. So they do not explode in the oven, pierce the skin of each in three places with a fork.

Place the potatoes in the oven, and roast for about 1 hour, depending on the size of the potatoes, until they are fork tender.

Remove from the oven taking care not to burn fingers, slice them open down the middle, and slather with butter and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Again, put some more unsalted butter on the table for those who wish to partake.

I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.
~Nicolas Kurti, physicist and chef

Kepler 425b, one of the closest, yet older, cousins to our own earth, has been found. (Perhaps the orb age is a celestial topic upon which both seculars and Christians can finally, somewhat agree.) A so called exoplanet which is some 60% larger than our world was discovered by the Keplar spacecraft, some 1,400 light years away in the habitable zone — where water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. It revolves around a bright star in about 385 days, and the temperatures are suitable for liquid although the jury is out whether the planet has a mountainous surface or is gassy like Neptune. Both Kepler 425b and its star (G-2 type) closely resemble the earth and our sun.

Many opine that this exoplanet will have a bulky atmosphere, rocky crust and restless volcanoes with more gravity than we experience. Does Kepler 452b sustain life?

Awe inspiring.

Admittedly, the under-served, lifted and puffy soufflé with its molten interior is almost sacred.

MUSHROOM SOUFFLE

2 T finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 1/2 T unsalted butter

1/2 lb mushrooms (wild fungi such as cèpes, porcini, oyster or chanterelles or, if too expensive, buy cultivated such as crimini, shitake and button)
2 T unsalted butter

2 1/2 T unsalted butter
3 T all purpose flour
1 C whole milk
1 bay leaf

1/4 t pimentón
1/2 t sea salt
Nutmeg, a small grating
White pepper, a healthy pinch, preferably freshly ground
Cayenne pepper, a small pinch

4 large local egg yolks
5 large local egg whites
1 C gruyère cheese, grated

Gruyère cheese, grated, for topping

Preheat oven to 375 F

Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in saucepan. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and purée. Set aside.

Butter the surface of an 6 cup soufflé dish. Add the grated parmigiano-reggiano and roll around the dish to cover the sides and bottom, knocking out the excess.

Heat the milk with bay leaf in a heavy saucepan. Once hot, discard bay leaf and set aside the milk.

In another heavy saucepan, melt the butter, then blend in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a smooth loose paste. Stir over medium heat until the butter and flour come together without coloring more that a light yellow, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Let stand a few seconds and then pour in all of the hot milk, whisking vigorously to blend. Return to medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon; bring to a gentle boil for 3 minutes or until the sauce is quite thick. Whisk in the pimentón, salt, nutmeg and peppers and remove from heat again. Add the mushroom mash and mix well with the whisk.

While off the heat, add egg yolks one by one into the milk, herb and mushroom sauce, all the while whisking.

In a separate bowl, using a hand or stand up mixer wither fitted with a whisk, whip the egg whites until glossy and peaked. Stir in a quarter of the egg whites into the sauce with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once they are assumed in the sauce, fold in the remaining egg whites and the gruyère cheese. Turn the soufflé mixture into the prepared mold, which should be about three quarters full. Sprinkle a small amount grated gruyère on top.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown, and the soufflé has puffed about 2″ over the rim of the mold. (Do not open oven door for 20 minutes.)