The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.
~Julia Child

Shall the talk be about food or something else? I am torn now.

Peut être, since my youngest son is now in France, it is time for me to talk about Julia. Each day I am graced with awakening early and each night bedding late to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II, and times in between with each one bearing the name on top of Julia Child. Each tome stares me in the face close to my laptop screen and always smilingly so — thank you, Anastasia. By her writings and intervening WGBH television appearances, the 6’2″ Julia Child, with her warbly tongue and sometimes maladroit gestures was ever tactful and frolicsome. Julia and her cohorts Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, Paul Child (whom Julia met at the OSS and married) and always had a couth palette (and Jacques Pépin) simply changed cooking in America. They forever altered my mother and others and somehow randomly permeated me.

Thank you to all and others.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WINGS (AILES DE POULET MAROCAIN)

4 lbs chicken wings, wingettes and drumettes intact

1 T coriander seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T mustard seeds,slightly heated and ground
1 T cardamom seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T cumin seeds, slightly heated and ground

1 T sea salt, finely grated
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T turbinado or raw sugar
1 T light brown sugar
1 T pimenton
1 T turmeric
1 T cinnamon powder
A touch of vanilla extract
1/2 T cayenne
2 limes, juiced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

2 T apple cider vinegar
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 C fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 C honey
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Preserved lemons, at least 2 or 3, insides spooned out gutted), sliced

Heat the coriander, mustard, cardamom and cumin seeds in a dry medium heavy skillet over low medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder devoted to the task. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Then, put those 4 (coriander through cumin seeds) and the following 12 ingredients (sea salt through extra virgin olive oil) on the wings in a large ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight, turning a few times.

Then, add the 6 next ingredients (apple cider vinegar through preserved lemons) to a heavy sauce pan and allow to very slowly work to a simmer reducing to 1/2 or so and, after cooling to room temperature, allow this to marinate with the wings for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F at the lower part of the oven and prepare a well foiled pan.

Pour off most of excess marinade. Cook the entirety — the chicken wings + marinades — turning a couple of times, with the exception of the yogurt sauce, scallions, jalapenos,and cilantro (see below), of course, for about 30-40 minutes or so, until nicely yet slightly browned.

Scallions, cleaned and chopped
Jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and chopped

Sauce
1 1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 T honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Then, top the wings with chopped scallions, jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced, and cilantro leaves, chopped.  Drizzle very lightly with, then dip in yogurt sauce.

Now feed (with toppings and yogurt sauce in a bowl) to les enfants and the elders — in the proper wing way, whatever that may be.

Advertisements

Beef Roast(s) & Lists

December 14, 2015

The list is the origin of the culture…we like lists because we don’t want to die.
~Umberto Eco

Admittedly, I have been a daffy list maker since early youth (as you may already know from reading these posts — well, if you have even been perusing). My mother taught me how to compile ceaseless lists as she was an avid maker, and then it became eerily second nature to me. Occasionally, I feverishly scrawled notes next to the bedside table and often have scribbled them before meetings and calls.  Some of my quirks no doubt could have been sadly passed on to my children and mates. Then again, perhaps it has helped for me and others to make haphazard notes, offhand outlines, draft questions, occasionally “fluidly” write, proofread copy, and finally edit. In some senses, listing could prove a vile habit, but at other times making them appears highly efficient. Thanks, Mom.

Not sure lists avoid death, though.

KC STRIP LOIN OR BONE-IN RIB EYE ROAST

2 T sea salt & truffle salt
Black peppers, slightly roasted
2 T coriander seeds, slightly roasted
1 1/2 T herbes de provence

5-6 lb Kansas City strip loin roast, tied at 2″ intervals or bone-in rib eye roast, tied between ribs
8 cloves garlic, minced

1 stick of soft, unsalted butter

2 bunches (not sprigs) rosemary
2 bunches (not sprigs) thyme

1 lbs medium parsnips, peeled and cut
1 lbs medium carrots, peeled and cut
1 lbs medium turnips, peeled and cut

Chanterelles, enoki and shittake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Horseradish sauce (an aside which can be prepared while the beef roasts or the oven preheats)
1 C crème fraîche
2 T Dijon mustard
3 T grated horseradish
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together crème fraîche, Dijon mustard, horseradish and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and then refrigerate (and/or…)

Aïoli (see January 25, 2009 post for 3 recipes)

Coarsely grind peppercorns, coriander in an electric mill. Combine with herbes de provence and sea salt in a small bowl and sprinkle mixture evenly over roast. Add the minced garlic and massage well all over.  Wrap beef tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Bring to room temperature unwrapped before roasting and cover well with soft, unsalted butter.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Put herbs + branches, parsnips, carrots and turnip slices and set roast atop.

Roast the beef, uncovered, for about 1 hour. Check with an internal thermometer after 45 minutes. For medium rare (at most), take the roast out of the oven when the thermometer registers 115-120 F (as you already may know, residual heat will cause roast to continue cooking as it rests).

Sauté chanterelles, enoki and shittake mushrooms briefly in butter in a heavy pan.  They can be arranged upon the roasts or root vegetables after the meat is done.

Remove and tent with foil, allowing meat rest for 20 minutes because the temperature should rise to about 125 F or so.

Slice the beef (to your liking) into 1/2″ or more thick pieces and arrange on a warmed platter or on plates. As far as the bone-in rib eye, cut at the bone/ribs.

Put the roasted vegetables, garlic and mushrooms in bowls and pass the horseradish sauce and/or aioli separately. Serve with twice baked potatoes or new potatoes and dill and greens, whether a vegetable or salad.

Finish by sprinkling with a green herb, such as tarragon and/or thyme leaves — then bonhomie, baby.

And to all, a good night.

The Donald + Pig Ears

December 10, 2015

Perhaps the less we have the more we are required to brag.
~John Steinbeck

I have long delayed comments on The Donald, but this diatribe simply cannot wait further. No need to tweet here.  Humanity needs to arise despite his fatuous, dégoûtant, and vulgar presence.

The Donald’s paranoid xenophobia, his ethnic disparagement, his irrational bigotry, his racist rants, his limitless enmity (all the while saying he loves thee and everyone adores him — not!), his bellicose behavior, his shameless histrionic comments, his ideological dearth of reality, his lamentable fascism, his endless marination of misogyny, his open fat-shaming assaults, his admitted sexual assaults, his fearful contemptuous demagoguery, his utter lack of policies, his sightless reversal of courses (and blatant lies, deceit), his trash talking bullying and invectives, his lack of simple humility, his nonpologies of grabbing women’s genitals, his unmitigated narcissism is truly extreme, really hyperbolic.  Just insulting, crude, undignified, and dour — not befitting of anyone holding the office of the Presidency of the United States.

And to even think that he has serious supporters, even mild or occasional adherents? Do some even pretend to truly want a hubristic, unfit carnival barker to govern as president?  He is a slipshod celeb, a deplorable clown, not someone who should hold any civic or constitutional office. His relentless vitriol on Twitter is flatly embarrassing. It is that a pure combination of arrogance and ignorance?

The Donald is a revulsive fool who loves feckless fear, antagonistic acrimony, speaks to irrationality, and above all is addicted to his own popularity. You should be ashamed, collaborators, each of you that gives one whit about the democratic process, are often sadly uneducated, lack historical context and take the Donald as a serious candidate. The Donald is a brutish, bulling Duck who waddles aimlessly and loves hearing himself quack. He bespeaks an “empathetic and historical loser.”

Actually, I hope and pray that imperious red + gray combover will carry the Republican nomination and lose woefully, much later, and then a lady will finally inherit the White House — one who is more wisely oriented towards negotiation, not fevered prejudice, saber rattling or war. A loose, inhumane cannon. Condemn the Donald and do not elect him unless you crave for the world to implode. You know precisely who he is…

Perhaps, The Donald’s fear or scorn of African Americans, Mexicans, Latinos, women, the disabled soldiers’ parents, Vietnam vets, sexual harassment victims and Muslims is based upon his silly dismay or confusion or fond reminiscence of his own German (or is it Swedish now?) immigrant heritage. Maybe, it is simply their skin, sex and hair color which differs vastly from The Donald’s.  Who knows what goes on under that desperate reddish-orangish rag and clown fish mouth that spews hatred, countenances violence, spreads petulance and irascibility?

Now, some fellow Republicans have finally noted his small hands (he does appear to have openly splayed smaller digits) which often leads to a minute member regardless of how far he can purportedly drive a golf ball, but he never said he could catch and shoot…but, it all seems far from bizarre where has this has all gone, or perhaps others who support him have the same afflictions?  Sorry for you.  As baffling as this lurid “locker room talk” seems, we should be seriously debating presidential policies.  Then again, perhaps the Donald wants to unravel the GOP.

Of course, he has very few, if any, stated political agendas.  Now, he has demonstrated a thirst and penchant for violence against others, including his opponent and any protesters and has spoken definitely on air about his lewdness, immorality, crudeness and indecency. It is time to awaken, folks. “Mark my words, believe me.”

As Seneca the Younger once remarked, “people take pleasure in giving power to the indecent,” some two millenia before John Steinbeck or even Uncle Joe Stalin, P.T. Barnum, Il Duce, Robert Mugabe, or other authoritarian regimes, and certainly the Donald.

It was not just words, Donald — and I hope everyone knows that.

Now, onto something much more soothing.

PIG EARS

Pig ears, a few (local and high quality)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 T dried thyme
2-3 thyme sprigs
1 T coriander seeds
Grating of nutmeg

2-3 C chicken stock and cold water
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced thinly
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisanal noodles with a tab of butter

Pig ears should be procured from a local farmer. Look for fresh clean smooth ears without marring or stains, and if bristles still exist, singe or shave them.

Marinate them an evening ahead. A healthy dose of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, minced garlic cloves, dried thyme and a sprig or two of thyme leaves, coriander seeds, and a dash of nutmeg.

Cook them in stock, rinse, and then cover with stock and water. Add sliced carrots, sliced and peeled onions, bay leaves and sea salt with black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then put the heavy pot in a low oven, below 200 F for some 10 hours, or until you can easily pinch thumb and finger through them and feel little resistance. Allow the ears to cool completely.

Now, the finish which should be crispy.

In a 450 F oven, roast the pig ears, so as to avoid the spatter of frying them. Put them between pieces of parchment or waxed paper, and weigh them down with another sheet pan, and cook until just slightly brittle, about 15 minutes and slice.

Then, serve them over mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisan noodles with a tab of butter and freshly ground black pepper.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
~Søren Kierkegaard

Around 380 BCE, in a book of The Republic, Plato presciently wrote the myth of the Ring of Gyges, in which a noble shepherd pocketed a “magical” ring found on the hand of a corpse in an abandonned cave that rendered him invisible to suit his whims. Gyges (sometimes pronounced jahy-jeez and other times jee-jeez) used this newly found trinket to infiltrate the royal household, and was even invited by the King of Lydia to secretly view his queen in the buff. He then could not help but seduce her and abruptly assassinated the king, ultimately usurping the throne. The basic notion behind Plato’s fable is that anonymity and disinhibition can corrupt even the most virtuous folks. So, if social reputation and sanctions are removed (now e.g., cowering behind a screen) moral character with any sense of empathy or contrition simply disappears too.

The once ancient Gyges effect with its namelessness, facelessness and/or faux appellation worlds appertains today in the form of trolls, thoughtless naysayers, online ragers, discord sowers, cyber-harassers, ranting yelpers, yik yakkers, social media/app abusers, inflammatory commentators, aggressors, droners, truculent ones, hackers, cyberbullies, belligerents, hate mongers, disrupters, and keyboard antagonists (to name a few). They all tend to enter a universe without filters or open discourse, actually pretending that there is not a real human enduring their assaults. To them, these are merely raging words on a formerly blank screen where there is just a desire for impact, for contemptuousness or resentment without any shared humanity or sense of responsibility. Shameless, in so many ways. Whatever happened to compassion and empathy?

A kind suggestion. Instead of hiding behind a screen of whatever sorts, please look intently in a mirror — a cold, hard stare — and closely conceptualize your face before even thinking about ranting online or elsewhere. Then instead, perhaps gently make a bowl of rice or some dessert. Be cool, be calm and savor each scent, each bite. So, “feed” a troll contrary to common advice.

But then, ponder while munching — how do we see real faces again?

BASMATI RICE & CORN PILAF

2 C Basmati rice

4 T unsalted butter or ghee (divided)
2 t garlic, minced
1 T ginger, grated
1/2 t turmeric
Pinch saffron
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
8 whole cloves
1/2 t black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 C corn kernels, freshly shaven off of ears

Sea salt
1 C golden raisins
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

2 T cilantro, chopped
2 T scallions, chopped
1/4 C roasted cashews

Put rice in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Swish with fingers, then pour off water. Repeat 2-3 times, until water runs clear. Cover again with cold water and soak 20 minutes, then drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter or ghee in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom, and stir to coat. Let sizzle a bit, then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter or ghee, the rice and the corn, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 1 minute. Add raisins and chicken or vegetable broth and bring to brisk simmer. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and let cook 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes off heat. Fluff rice and transfer to serving bowl. Strew rice with cilantro, scallions and cashews. Consider serving with raita. (See the August 5, 2012, post for a raita recipe or just simply type raita into the search box on the right hand side of the screen).

A man must keep his mouth open a long while before a roast pigeon flies into it.
~Danish proverb

Le grand débat: white or dark?

Dark meat is composed of muscle fibers that are termed “slow-twitch.” These muscles contract slowly and are used for extended periods of activity, such as casual walking, thus needing a consistent energy source. The hemoprotein myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle cells, which then uses this oxygen to extract the energy needed for endurance and slower repetitive activity. A strongly pigmented protein, the more cellular myoglobin that exists, the darker the meat and the richer in nutrient levels.

Dark meat is flusher than white in minerals such as iron, zinc and selenium, as well as vitamins A, K and the B complex — B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) B6, B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). Taurine is also found abundantly in dark meat — a nutrient known to aid in anti-inflammation, blood pressure regulation, healthy nerve function, and the production of bile acid (which breaks down fat).

Myoglobin’s color varies depending on the meat’s internal temperature. For instance, with rare beef, the myoglobin’s red color remains unchanged. But, above 140 F, myoglobin loses its ability to bind oxygen, and the iron atom at the center of its molecular structure loses an electron, forming a tan-hued compound called hemichrome. Then, when the interior of the meat reaches 170 F, hemichrome levels rise, creating that characteristic brownish gray metmyoglobin often seen on shoe soles.

White meat is comprised of “fast-twitch” muscle fibers which contract swiftly and are used for rapid bursts of activity, such as jumping or sprinting, and so absorb energy from stored glycogen, a multibranched saccharide of glucose residues. When raw, white meat has a translucent look. When cooked, the proteins denature and recombine, and the meat becomes opaque and whitish to sight. It is admittedly lower in saturated fat and calories, so it has been promoted as the healthier alternative even though white meat has fewer nutrients than dark, is more difficult to digest and contains no taurine. Often obscenely slim on taste, diners often compensate for the dryness and whiteness with sauces, gravies or dressings which render white meat more fatty and less nutritious in the long run.

So, the process of deciding between dark and white will likely prove an alimental impasse. Aromas and flavors should reign instead, and you likely know where my vote lies. By all means though, of course, please make your own call (without presenting ID).

On to the birds. Squabs are simply fledgling domesticated pigeons, typically dressed about four weeks after hatching and even before they even have flown. Thus, they are much easier to snatch before slaughter. They have been bred for centuries, dating back to early Asian and Arabic cultures and now are found on tables across the globe. The term derives from the Scandinavian svkabb which means “loose or fat flesh,” as squabs are dark, tender and moist — often almost silky to the palate.

Damned delectable, dark and sensual critters.

ROAST SQUABS

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into sixths

4 squabs, about 3/4 lbs each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
4 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
4 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 T coriander seeds, roasted and ground

4 medium turnips, peeled and halved
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 T olive oil

4 T red wine, such as a zinfandel or burgundy
2 T cognac or brandy
1/2 C chicken broth
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Season the cavities of the squabs with salt and pepper. Inside each, place a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, a bay leaf and a clove of garlic. On the outside, rub with softened butter and season with salt, pepper and coriander. Tie legs together with kitchen twine so they do not spread.

Put squabs in a large, heavy roasting pan, breast side up. Strew the turnips, parsnips, carrots and apples around them. Brush the turnips, parsnips and carrots with olive oil. Cook 15-20 minutes, basting the squabs and vegetables fairly often with juices and turn the vegetables at least once.

Remove the apples, set them aside in a bowl and keep warm by loosely tenting with foil. Add the wine and chicken broth. Cook 10 minutes longer, basting often and occasionally scraping the bottom of the pan. The birds should be cooked slightly pink in thickest part of the thigh, about 130-145 F with a meat thermometer. Please beware that if squab is cooked beyond medium rare, the flesh becomes overly dry and the flavor livery. Overturn a soup bowl and place under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is inclined.

Lift the squabs with a carving fork at an angle and allow the juices to flow into the pan. Remove and discard the herbs and garlic cloves. Put squabs on the tilted serving platter or cutting board breast sides down and tails in the air, loosely tented.

Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on top of the stove. Bring the sauce beginnings to a simmer, add the cognac and then the butter, and blend together, stirring with a wooden spatula and scraping. Add some chicken broth and cook further. With a slotted spoon, remove the turnips, parsnips and carrots and place in a tented glass bowl.

Cut twine, and only if desired, carve the squabs in halves and serve with turnips, parsnips, carrots, apples and bathed lightly in sauce. Accompany the squabs with puréed or smashed potatoes or polenta or rice pilaf and a green du jour.

Pourboire: Other methods that come to mind would be to braise the squabs in wine and broth or place the squabs first on their sides and cook in a sauté pan, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 15 minutes and then turn squabs breast up and transfer to the oven, roasting for only 5 minutes or so.

What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.
~Salvadore Dali

Nearly peerless Middle Eastern street food, gracing joints, trucks, carts, stands, stalls, markets and kitchens across the globe. Falafel (فلافل) is a fried ball or croquette made from chickpeas, fava beans or both, often pocketed in pita or wrapped in flatbread known as lafa. Whether standing alone or housed in a sandwich, they are routinely served as part of a meze, a mingling of small plate apps.

Of disputed ancestry, these fritters may have originated in Egypt, possibly savored by early Christians called Copts as a substitute for otherwise forbidden meat during Lent. The dish later migrated northward to the Levant (now comprising most of modern Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Israel) where chickpeas often trumped favas. Others posit that falafel was concocted during Egypt’s Pharaonic rule or perhaps even first emerged on the Indian subcontinent. As usual, confused culinary lore. Befuddled history aside, there is no denying the warm spice and crunch of these fried balls and how they play on the soft pita, fresh vegetables and nutty tahini sauce.

FALAFEL

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water

Chicken stock and water, in equal parts
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Sea salt

1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds

1/2 C cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1/2 C fresh flat parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C breadcrumbs
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
1 T lemon zest
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
Flour
Sea salt

Grapeseed or canola oil, for frying

Tahini Sauce
3/4 C tahini
1/4 C Greek yogurt
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch paprika
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Pita bread, warmed
Lettuce, cored and chopped
Fresh tomatoes, cored. seeded and diced
Red and/or yellow onion, finely chopped
Peeled, diced English cucumbers

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the tahini, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic and cayenne. Purée until smooth, and while the machine is running, add the olive oil and about 1/2 cup water. Season the sauce with salt. Taste and season, if needed. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

In a dry sauté pan, toast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat until they are very aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Pulverize in a spice grinder until they are a powder. Set aside.

Drain the chickpeas from the soaking water and place in a large, heavy saucepan. Toss in the garlic, bay leaf, carrot, celery, thyme and onion. Add equal parts of stock and water to the pan until the chickpeas are covered by about 2-3″ of liquid. Put the pan on high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and tender, about 45-60 minutes. Drain the chickpeas from the cooking liquid and remove the veggies, bay leaf and thyme and discard. In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas until they look coarse and grainy but are not fully puréed — too smooth, and the batter may fall apart when cooking.

Transfer the pulsed chickpeas to a large glass bowl and add the cilantro, parsley, breadcrumbs, cayenne, garlic, lemon zest, onions and ground coriander and cumin. Gently stir to combine, and taste the mixture to determine if the mix needs seasoning. Form the mixture into balls the size of walnuts (about 1 1/2″ balls) and gently press down some to almost, but not quite, make patties. Lightly dust with flour on both sides and pat off excess. Place the “patties” on a cookie sheet, cover with parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, about an hour or more.

Add about 2″ of oil to a large, deep sauté pan or Dutch oven. Heat the oil over medium high and then add the falafel in batches and fry on both sides until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon or spider, gently remove them from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve falafel in pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and Tahini sauce.

Mustard — Good only in Dijon. Ruins the stomach.
~Gustave Flaubert

The word mustard derives from the Anglo-Norman mustarde and Old French mostarde. The term evolved from the Latin mustum, (must or young wine) as Romans mixed the unfermented grape juice, with ground mustard seeds (called sinapis) to make “burning must” or mustum ardens.

Dijon, once a Roman settlement, is now the capital city of the Côte-d’Or département in Bourgogne (Burgundy), a région in central eastern France. Once ruled by the infuential ducs de Bourgognes, it lies about 1h 40 southeast of Paris by TGV rail. By the 13th century, Dijon had became the gathering place for fine mustard makers and has since become known as the mustard capital of the world. Dijon mustard originated in 1856, when Jean Naigeon first substituted verjuice, the acidic juice of unripened grapes, for vinegar in the traditional recipe. The mustard is crafted from finely ground brown or black mustard seeds mixed with an acidic liquid (vinegar, wine, and/or grape must) and sparsely seasoned with salt and sometimes a hint of spice. No artificial colors, fillers or other additives are allowed.

Dijon mustard is customarily pale yellow in color, smooth in consistency, but fairly sharp in scent and flavor. Nose burning, nasal clearing, eye watering Dijon forte (strong) awaits you at pommes frites stands across France.

As for tomorrow. That woefully amateurish event, Valentine’s Day, is again upon us…when florists are deluged, chefs are beset, servers are frazzled, chocolatiers are harried and lovers are just barely that for one day. So, eschew that trite restaurant night and instead indulge that Hallmark moment at home. Shun the cloying mundane and think passion, ardor.

Open with seared scallops with apple cider vinegar or gougères — follow with rib eye steak au poivre or chicken dijon, puréed potatoes or risotto and haricots verts or asparagus with garlic — and end with hand crafted chocolate truffles or mousse au chocolat. Start with a glass of Champagne, then couple the app with a Chardonnay or Rosé de Provence and the entrée with a red Côtes du Rhône, Bourgogne or Oregon Pinot Noir. Just a traditional thought or two…the choices are boundless.

With that menu, candlelight, choice tunes, lively banter, and no dish detail, a night’s kiss may become a tad more carnal. Old school romance is still in vogue.

Cin-cin!

CHICKEN DIJON

1 T coriander seeds

2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried tarragon

1/2 C shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-2 T cognac or brandy
1 1/2 C chicken broth

1/2 C Dijon mustard
1/4 C crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Chopped tarragon

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds until fragrant. Allow to cool then transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and let cool. Grind until coarse.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and tarragon. (Lightly sprinkle the tarragon on the skin side only.) In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat until shimmering, but take care to avoid burning the butter. After pressing them into and around the pan, discard the smashed garlics. Add the chicken to the skillet skin side down and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden brown all over, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a platter and tent.

Pour off some of the residue oil and juices from the chicken. Add the shallots to the same pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the brandy and allow to cook off, then add the broth and ground coriander and bring almost to a boil. Add chicken, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Turn the chicken once while cooking.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, crème fraîche and 1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon. Whisk the mixture into the skillet and simmer the sauce over moderate heat, occasionally stirring until thickened, about 5 minutes. While simmering if it appears the sauce needs thining, add some heavy whipping cream. Return the chicken to the skillet and turn to coat with the sauce and heat.

Serve the chicken ladled with sauce, then garnished with chopped fresh tarragon.