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.

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.

 

I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.
~Frank Lloyd Wright

Just horrific, blatant madness. Enough has been enough — a churlish and cowardly National Rifle Association, a despicable and misleading Wayne La Pierre, a dysfunctional, pugnacious and pandering Congress and a meddling and fawning usual majority of the Supreme Court who all huddling together create this arrant bedlam. Irrational.  Each of you know without any doubt that our country is awash with guns, an absolute disgrace, a contagion of non-hunting firearms. Feckless thoughts and prayers forever from Congress? Do you not even comprehend that that those words are flat empty?  C’mon man.

Some 90 people die from gun violence each and every day in this self annointed pre-eminent (not really) of nations. This number does not even include that over 270 souls are maimed by gunshot wounds each day nor does it parse out the vast numbers of children that are crippled (20) or killed (9) by gun violence daily. A cowardly slaughter occurs followed by typically incoherent, often pathological, statements from asinine donors, imbecilic gun lobbyists, gullible politicians, naïve citizens and others. Do the right thing, at least sometimes.  This is not nuance, which would be more aptly defined as a “subtlety” or “tinge.”

Gun bloodshed has been rampant for years. The utter reality is that there are now over 300,000,000 guns in shaky and often mentally unstable civilian hands either kept openly or surreptitiously by a third of households across this country. This number does not even include the vast arsenals of ammunition, shells and massive clips which have now become prodigious. A recent study showed that many guns were sold without a single background check. Moreover, there is absolutely no support for the claim that owning more guns deters, drops or reduces violent crime. No studies have supported that fallacious and invalid reasoning. Instead the opposite has been proven — rampant gun ownership correlates with and causes more homicides and harm to others and selves. Actually, Congress has even capitulated to lobbyists by refusing to allow the CDC or others to amass evidence of gun injuries and deaths. We keep tabs on car wrecks, cancers, foods, drinks, the flu and not guns? Really?

Just so you know, some 42,500,000 American adults (or 18+% of the adult population) suffer from some documented mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia — for which little or no treatment is received in this country. This does not even take into account people whose metal illness is not documented or should simply not be brandishing firearms. Criminals, of course, go underground through straw purchases or unlicensed buys, for inherently dangerous demons of death.

In other developed nations in the western world, gun homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings pale in comparison.  For instance, in Japan, persons die from guns at rates far less than an American chances at death by a lightning strike.  In Scotland, the chances of dying from a storm are greater than that of the very rare gunshot wound.  And so on, for more advanced western democracies…

Remember the easily debunked myth that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people?” I call nonsense (expletive deleted) on that one. Is it much more cogent to assert that “mentally ill, insane or unstable people freely and easily armed with guns and abundant ammunition kill or mutilate their victims.”  One sad state of affairs.

This makes no mention of mass shootings which now occur more than once a day according to a recent compilation of news reports. Mass shootings are sadly defined as ones where at least four or more people are left dead or injured.  Just consider the recent horrific past — at a movie theater in Aurora, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a manufacturer in Minneapolis, a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, a Fort Hood army center, near the campus of UC Santa Barbara, at a movie theater in Louisiana, a military center in Chattanooga, at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, on the campus of Northern Arizona, at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and now the carnage at a social services center in San Bernardino, California.

How long will it take for you to get off your bald headed, pale faced, nasty-tongued, flat keisters, Congress members,  while the victims’ blood palpably streams down your hands, arms, and sleeves?  Yet, you lick boots, cater to a lobbying body as daft and inane as the NRA?   It might be suggested that you get off your bums. Right now, or you will face the wrath of mothers, fathers, lovers and family members again and again.  In case you did not take note, this insanity is far beyond an epidemic stage — there is no counterpart anywhere for a supposed developed nation.

And please do not give me that Second Amendment absurdity. The Bill of Rights reads as follows: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Whatever happened to the first two provisos, and the days of single loading, tamped down powder one-shot muskets and before assault rifles and extended, high (almost immense) capacity magazines?  In Heller, a firearm unconnected with service in a militia was used for lawful purposes, such as self-defense within a home. An extremely narrow reading of Second Amendments rights at best, and of course authored by Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

To quote Chief Justice Warren Burger, who was appointed as a conservative justice by President Richard Nixon, the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime,” and later proclaimed that “the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to have firearms at all.” In the last quarter or less century though, special interests (often paunchy members cloaked in SCOTUS black robes, with callous and scathing remarks, by slim majority votes) have sadly prevailed.

Speaking of, the same Richard Nixon, and later Ronald Reagan, proposed gutting the market of Saturday night specials, considered banning handguns altogether and simply refused to cater to gun owners who feign some inarticulate interest in assault and hand weapons. The NRA, of course, was opposed to these actions given its historically recent opposition to any gun control or restrictions.

Several previously Oval Office recordings and memos show a conservative who was often willing to feud with the NRA, even though “trusted” presidential aides fretted about political consequences.

“I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house,” Nixon commented. He asked why “can’t we go after handguns, period?” He added, “I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it.” But, he implored “people should not have handguns.” Finally, Nixon flatly declared that “guns are an abomination.”

The lack of gun control has become a national shame. Despicable, deceptive stuff. Wall Street, Congressional hacks, the Supremes, et al. are allowed to strip those of their constitutional right to a jury trial (by arbitration) yet imagine if they these same dark folks in cloaks took away the same by barring gun ownership.

The failure of our elected few (hostages taken by the NRA), corrupt lobbyists (the NRA), and the Supreme Court to simply refuse to protect innocent victims from guns, ammunition and explosives is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Thankfully, grub overcomes guns.

FARFALLE WITH CHICKEN, SHALLOTS AND BLUE CHEESE

1/2 lb shallots, peeled and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black and pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

1-2 lbs dark hued chicken (thighs)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T dried thyme
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
Chicken stock
2-3 T cognac or brandy

1 lb dried farfalle
Sea salt and water

3/4 lbs blue cheese, such as bleu d’auvergne, in small chunks
A few dollops of crème fraîche and/or heavy whipping cream

Parsley leaves, chopped
Capers, drained
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Toss shallots in a deep, heavy skillet with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and olive oil. Then, add seasoned (salt, pepper, thyme) chicken thighs and brown. Add stock and finally some cognac or brandy. Toward the end, add crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream or both.

Remove and cut chicken into 2 1/2″ pieces.

While cooking farfalle according to instructions in a separate pot, add bleu d’auvergne and pasta al dente to skillet and cook until finished, adding chicken pieces.

Strew with parsley, capers and a sprinkling of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

Yes, this is cherubic Carter pasta (sorry about the gun polemic, but it is vital).

For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously…
~Henri Cartier-Bresson

Laden with an inborn visual/spatial nature (a decided southpaw), I have an admitted obsession with photography. This love may seem incongruous given the lack of food images on A Lay Cook’s Musings. The inconsistency was again brought to mind by a conversation with a friend and then more recently with the opening of an exhibition of the revered 20th century photographer: Henri Cartier-Bresson. Currently at New York’s MoMA is an exhibit entitled The Modern Century which is the first retrospective of Cartier-Bresson in the states for three decades. The exhibition later travels to the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

To pretend to canvas the artistic life of this complicated and intensely private pioneer would be futile in this limited space. Formally trained as an oil painter and devotee of literature and philsophy, Cartier-Bresson was influenced by the surrealist movement which had a rapacious appetite for photography. He ultimately switched from brush to camera and captured searing images across continents and countries for decades.  Around the beginning of World War II, Cartier-Bresson was captured and held in a German prisoner of war camp for three years before he escaped in 1943. To the chagrin of the outside world Cartier-Bresson was presumed dead, and ironically MOMA was preparing a memorial exhibition for him. Thankfully, he emerged. After the war, along with the venerable Robert Capa and others he founded Magnum, a photographers’ cooperative which enabled photojournalists to reach a broad audience through periodicals such as Life magazine while still retaining some control over their work. To name a few, Cartier-Bresson photographed wars, civil unrest, urban landscapes, couples, overs, children, life…and was an accomplished portrait artist. His body of work included candids of Henri Matisse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gandhi, Albert Camus, Truman Capote, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Jeanne Moreau, and Susan Sontag. He formally stopped shooting in the ’70s to devote his efforts to drawing, but still quietly continued to take photographs until the end of his life.

Cartier-Bresson reputedly refused to crop or manipulate his photographs, instead printing the whole negative. There were even two rubber stamps used on his press prints with Magnum. One warned that the photo should not be altered by cropping while the other cautioned that the image should not be used in a way that violated his craft’s context. His instinctive sense of proportion meant that he rarely, if ever, would even need to crop or alter a print. In order to assess shape and composition, he would even eye proofs upside down. How each Cartier-Bresson photograph is a full frame just as it originally emerged from one of his beloved 35mm rangefinder Leicas just stuns.

Cartier-Bresson possessed an uncanny lucid eye, capturing vital moments which were framed with exquisite visual architecture. His subject was culture and about how the landscape of human theater was shaped. He had an innate sense of composition, gained through his training as a two dimensional artist coupled with acute interpersonal insight. Sometimes Cartier-Bresson’s work is intensely penetrating, while in other pieces he is more subtle, charming, playful. No matter the genre though, sensibility, humanity and candor coalesce in his arresting images.

Now, you would think that this retrospect of the maestro’s work would entice me to start posting cuisine photographs on the site. To the contrary, it furthers my leaning that overly interlarding often banal step-by-steps on food sites is not always comme il faut as some may assume or assert. Their overuse sometimes results in a manicured, lustrous, primped food fashion look—preset and preordained in a picture book way. Sort of the lust of the eyes — glossy food porn. Do your favored fine dining establishments, whether opulent or informal, present menus portraying shiny images of the prep or the finished product?

By no means is this some indictment of all food site photos as they often are enticing and do serve culinary purposes. But, as was touched upon in a post here earlier last year, there seem to be unrecognized limitations to food show and advantages to food tell. Apparently, I remain steadfastly irresolute and forever irrevelant on this one.

I never could ascertain Cartier-Bresson’s favored meals, but seem to recall a spirited interview with Charlie Rose years ago where they shared some cognac and another chat where they split a bottle of wine. So, please pardon my assumptions in choosing this appropriately iconic French fare. (For all I know, he detested garlic and found chicken unpalatable).

POULET MISTRAL (CHICKEN WITH FORTY GARLICS)

1 3 to 4 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed

1/4 C or so cognac or brandy

40 or so plump, fresh garlic cloves
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1/2 C dry white wine
1/2 C chicken stock or canned broth

Sliced baguette, toasted or grilled

Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Add olive oil, butter and garlic cloves a deep, heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat. When fats are hot but not smoking, add chicken pieces skin side down and cook until skin turns an even, golden brown, about 5 minutes. If necessary, work in batches to achieve spacing. Turn pieces and brown them on other side for an additional 5 minutes, then remove to a tented platter or baking dish. Carefully add cognac, promptly light and allow to flame until it extinguishes in the pan.

Reduce heat to medium. Bury the garlic cloves under, around and between the chicken which has now been re-added to the mix to assure the cloves settle in one layer in the bottom of skillet. Strew the thyme sprigs and bay leaves in the pan as well. Sauté, shaking or stirring pan frequently, until garlic is lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add wine and stock, scraping bottom of skillet to deglaze.

Cover and continue cooking until juices run clear when a thigh is pierced by a fork, about 12-15 minutes more. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves.

Serve chicken with garlic and pan juices. Squeeze the root end of the garlics’ papery husks and spread like butter onto the bread slices.

Pourboire: Should I repeat Julia Child’s mantra about browning? —
(1) The meat should be thoroughly dried
(2) The oil in the pan should be quite hot
(3) Do not crowd the meat in the pan

Savory (& Savvy) Pork

January 29, 2010

I will astonish Paris with an apple.
~Paul Cezanne

Although it serves well in other seasons, roast pork seems true winter fare. Affable victuals cooked with frosted panes and views of snowy roofs. But, wholly aside from the Rockwell images, pork is flat ambrosial…whether cured, roasted, seared, grilled or otherwise.

The venerable and ironically omnivorous domestic pig, Sus domesticus, is one of the more ancient species of livestock—dating back some 8,000 years. Pigs are even-toed ungulates: hoofed animals whose weight is spread evenly by more than one toe. Like ballerinas, ungulates use the tips of their hoofed toes to sustain their body weight while ambulating. Pigs, giraffes, rhinoceri, hippopotami, camels, moose, all en pointe.

Pigs happen to be one of the more socially adept and sage farm species. They are exceptionally adroit animals who adeptly grasp new routines, and their cognitive skills are almost unparalleled in the animal world. Pig acumen is damn awesome. They can cleverly jump hoops, stand and bow, utter linguinstic sounds on command, herd sheep, open cages, and play video games. The pig genome compares favorably with the human genome in many respects, especially with males.

Much like humans, pig teeth have an enamel coating which makes them stauncher and less vulnerable to disease. They masticate and ruminate their chow, having a digestive system that is similar to humans which cannot readily digest unground food. Think more of the swine in Snatch and less of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.

ROAST PORK LOIN WITH HERBS, APPLES & HONEY

3 lb boneless pork top loin roast, trimmed and tied
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut in slivers
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

6 medium leeks, whites only, halved lengthwise
Fresh thyme sprigs
Fresh rosemary sprigs
2 heads fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil

4 apples, cored, peeled and cut into 6 slices each
4 T unsalted butter

1 C cognac or brandy
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
4 T unprocessed, organic honey

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fat side up, stud the pork roast with garlic slivers. Rub the surface first with softened butter and then liberally with salt, pepper, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cradle the pork on a rack in a heavy roasting pan. Strew the leeks, sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and halved garlic heads in the bottom of the pan, drizzled lightly with olive oil.

Roast until medium rare, about 1 hour, basting. During the last 20 minutes, bathe with cognac and apple cider vinegar and drizzle with honey. A thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F when the pork is medium rare. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, tent the pork loin with foil on a platter, and let rest for at least 15-20 minutes. Keep in mind that when the roast is removed from the oven and is resting before carving, it will continue to cook some more, allowing the juices to come back to the center of the roast.

Remove and set aside the leeks, garlic, and herbs. Place pan on stove on medium high and reduce sauce, adding cognac, vinegar and honey to your liking. If you are not facing an appointment with your cardio specialist that week, even treat yourself to some heavy whipping cream on the finish. Reduce sauce until it thickens and coats a spoon.

In the meantime, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the apples in a single layer, and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 5-10 minutes. Drain, and tent with foil to keep warm.

To serve, remove and discard the string. Carve the pork into rather thick slices and serve with apples and leeks nestled alongside, drizzled with sauce.

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.

Duck—Monogamous or…?

April 23, 2009

It is to be regretted that domestication has seriously deteriorated the moral character of the duck. In a wild state, he is a faithful husband…..but no sooner is he domesticated than he becomes polygamous, and makes nothing of owning ten or a dozen wives at a time.
~Isabella Beeton

Is domestication at the root of multiple partners? Does this polyamorous feathered wall of shame really include Donald, Daffy and Howard the Duck…even the Ugly Duckling once he reached manhood?

However unfettered their mating proclivities may be, ducks are supreme eating with tender flesh and skin that gleams and crackles. I am admittedly addicted to fatty, crisp duck skin which should be considered neither one of my shortcomings nor character defects.

Domesticated ducks have a long history on the world’s tables. During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Era (907-960), cultures in China became the first to raise ducks in captivity for food use.

Although there are varied species of ducks, all commercially produced ducks are descendants of two types––mallard and muscovy. The white feathered, full breasted Pekin (Long Island) duck, known for its dark, succulent meat, is the most commonly reared duck in the United States. Pekin ducks (which in this country are predominately bred in Long Island, NY) are all progeny of three ducks and a drake that arrived from China on a clipper ship in 1873. Some specialty breeds have become more popular in recent years, notably Muscovy and Moulard ducks.

(Why does Long Island keep getting parenthetical treatment?) Well, at least blog “style” rarely demands footnotes or endnotes, id, ibid, op cit, etc.

This dish will permeate your home with blissful citrus, roasted poultry, honey and wine vinegar aromas for days to come. A house favorite.

ROAST DUCK WITH CITRUS, HONEY & CIDER VINEGAR

1 duck (3 to 4 lbs), liver reserved & trimmings (neck, heart,
wing tips) chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried thyme

6 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into diagonal slices
1 small onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Grated zests of 2 oranges, 2 limes and 1 grapefruit

1-2 T honey
4 T apple cider vinegar
½ C cognac or brandy
4 T unsalted butter, chilled

Preheat oven to 425 F

Remove the fatty glands from the upper side of the bird’s tail. Season the duck inside and out with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the liver in the duck and truss with string so it will retain shape. Place the duck on one side in a large heavy roasting pan with a rack, and set it in the oven with the breast side facing toward the back. Roast, uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn the duck on the opposite side and roast for 10 minutes more. Turn the duck on its back and roast for 10 minutes more.

Remove the roasting pan and strew the chopped trimmings, garlic, carrot, onion and thyme under and around the duck. Remove the trussing string. Return the pan to the oven and roast the duck for a total of 13-15 minutes per pound (the time varies on the size of the bird—more time per pound for a smaller duck, less time per pound time for a larger duck). Baste several times while roasting.

(The duck is done to medium rare if the juices from the fattest part of the thigh run faintly rosy when the skin is pricked, and when the duck is lifted and drained, the last drops of juice from the vent are pale rose. The duck is well done when the juices run pale yellow.)

Once done, transfer the duck to a platter which is propped up at one end at an angle with breast side down and tail in the air; reserve contents in roasting pan. Tent loosely and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. Remember, the bird will continue to cook as it rests.

Put the zests in a fine mesh sieve and lower into boiling water for 2 minutes to blanch. Rinse under cold water, drain and set aside.

Place the roasting pan with the trimmings over high heat. Cook until nicely browned, about 1-2 minutes. Drain and discard the liquid in the pan, add the honey and cook 1-2 minutes more. Deglaze with several tablespoons of vinegar for about a minute, then add cognac and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve place over a clean pan and press down on the trimmings. Add any juices that have drained from the duck as it was resting. Bring to a soft boil over high heat, and add another couple of tablespoons of vinegar, and reduce a minute or less more. Remove from the heat and add the chilled butter, a few pieces at a time, whisking so that the butter melts gently to slightly thicken the sauce. Stir in the reserved zest.

Carve the duck and arrange on a platter or plates. Spoon some sauce over and pour the remaining into a sauceboat. Serve with a fine red Rhône, French burgundy or Oregon pinot noir.