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.

Ubiquitous Caper Salsa

May 28, 2016

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:  it goes on.
~Robert Frost

This salsa can be drooled over whatever, whether edible flora or fauna.  Imagination and creativity are all that need come to the table (comme d’habitude).

CAPER SALSA

1 C capers, non-pareil, rinsed and patted dry

2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 1/2 lemons, grated
1/4 C lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and minced
2/3 C parsley or cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

1 C chèvre or other goat cheese, crumbled

In a bowl mix together capers with the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic and parsley. Then, whisk in the goat cheese. Ladle onto…

Lentils & Walnuts

June 14, 2012

God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them.
~Franz Kafka

Not to be confused with other nuts or wingnuts…those outspoken, irrational people with deeply ingrained, deranged, flagrantly ignorant political beliefs, e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, Fred Phelps and their ilk. The lunatic fringe.

Rather, walnuts are edible seeds harvested from deciduous trees of the genus Juglans, especially the Persian walnut a/k/a English walnut, Juglans regia. Walnuts are rounded, single-seeded stone fruits enclosed in a leathery green, fleshy, inedible husk. Inside the husk is the wrinkly, hard walnut shell, which encloses that kind kernel, which presents as two halves separated by a partition. Walnuts, like all seeds, are living organs which respirate. After harvest, the seeds continually consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide, so storage is crucial.

The common walnut is native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, extending from western China, into the ranges of Nepal, through present day Afghanistan and Iran, and finally Turkey. Alexander the Great introduced the tree to Greece and Macedonia, so it became known as the Persian nut. Later, ancient Romans imported the walnut tree into nearby conquered lands, such as Gaul and Brittania, where it has thrived since. Some espouse that North American walnuts assumed the moniker English walnuts, since they arrived in the colonies aboard English merchant ships.

The potential health benefits of walnuts cannot be understated — abounding with nutrients, particularly proteins, vitamin E, and essential fatty and phenolic acids, tannins, and flavonoids. They are also rich sources of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. A so-called superfood.

LENTILS & WALNUTS

2 C green lentils (preferably du Puy)
1 1/2 C cold water
2 C vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 fresh thyme sprigs

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Splash of sherry or red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Walnut oil, to taste
3/4 C walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3/4 C artisanal chèvre (goat cheese), crumbled

Put the lentils in a medium, heavy saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme. Pour over water and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 20-30 minutes. If the liquid is not totally absorbed, simply drain off any excess through a fine colander. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic for another 1 minute, then deglaze the pan with just a splash of sherry vinegar. Remove from heat. Toss the cooked lentils with the onion mixture, and then season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with walnut oil, add the walnuts, toss with crumbled goat cheese and serve warm.

This is a culinary ode to St. Barts—that emerald, beach fringed French isle in the Caribbean with its luxurious villas, sophisticated bistros, stunning vistas, harrowing runway, and oil coated nude bodies. Here, you bide the time reclined, barefooted, scantily clad, discussing dinner during a lunch overlooking the azure sea framed by a cobalt sky with the always present puffy white clouds…with multilingual banter and the clink of wine glasses… did I forget to mention bathed in ocean breezes with your toes in the sand?

Anthony Bourdain is right on when he says food just tastes better in naked feet.

In a diplomatic master stroke with undoubtedly some collusin involved, France purchased St. Barthélemy from Sweden in 1878. Some Swedish influences remain, including the name of the its quaint capital port, Gustavia, and the blonde haired, blue eyed populus. But now, the island is part of the overseas département of Guadeloupe, and the French savoir faire exudes.

The goat cheese salad is pervasive at the local restaurants, with good cause. But, perhaps to satisfy that darker and wilder urge for offal, I admit to daily ordering the boudin noir and fabulous frites (blood sausage and fries).

Bon appetit chef Sonja Lee (formerly of St. Barts, now in Oslo)

GOAT CHEESE SALALD

2 C fresh baguette breadcrumbs
2 T fresh thyme, minced or 2 teaspoons, dried
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 sliced rounds of soft good quality fresh goat cheese
2 eggs, beaten

2+ T plus champagne vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 cup walnut oil
3 T walnut oil
8 C mixed baby greens or mesculun
2 heads Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices

1/2 C chopped walnuts

Create two separate open dishes, one with breadcrumbs and the other with beaten eggs. Season goat cheese with salt, pepper and thyme. Dip cheese into beaten egg, then into breadcrumbs, coating completely.

Whisk vinegar and mustard in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine mixed greens, Belgian endive and pears in large bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add walnuts and sauté until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium. Working in batches, add coated cheese rounds to skillet and cook until crisp and brown on outside and soft on inside, about 2 minutes per side.

Toss salad with enough dressing to coat. Divide among 4 plates. Arrange 2 cheese rounds in center of each salad. Sprinkle with walnuts.