I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth.
~Ovid, Metamorphoses

This month is so blessedly confusing. William Shakespeare turns 400 this month, who wrote incredulous prose, theater and poetry,  (some scholars opine April 23 as his birth + death both), Elizabeth II who still endures (born April 21, 1926) not only navigated WW II but the British Empire fall, spells 90 years today — then my daughter, one of my sons and my bed mate, well, have sort of met “milestones”…Yikes!  How to celebrate.

I have had the honor to meet the steadfast, tight lipped, dutiful Queen Elizabeth II and actually the baby blue eyed, amiable Queen Mother at the elegant Badminton Trials outside of Bath, England, with its dearth of dog breeds and horses (courtesy of the royal life boaters’ urgences), and obviously happened on to my piquant “bookmark” via others and sometimes alone. My children and their children, both presently and to-be…the season has all been bewildering.

The exalted Bard is a tad ancient even though his works are ineludible — his dramas and comedies are just damned astonishing. There is so little space here to expound upon his pervasive work, so apologies in advance to all for any short shrift. Much like Shakespeare’s quote in Merchant of Venice: “You speak an infinite deal of nothing.” 

Perhaps probably should have saved Scones (May 23, 2009), Dickens & Tikka Masala (February 7, 2012) or Scotch Eggs, Sort of (January 7, 2016) for this page. You no doubt get the English drift. Oh, well. But please do not be disappointed because it all remains good grub.

I must say though, that rognons are sublime…had them three times in a row in Paris, all at the same resto, once watching the sous-chef carving an exquisite lamb shoulder roast for ma femme who appeared decidedly perplexed (with good cause).

The past intrudes — as it should.

KIDNEYS ON TOAST

8-10 lamb or veal kidneys, or so
3 T all purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper

2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3-4 fresh garlic cloves, plump and fresh, peeled and smashed
1-2 fresh shallots, peeled and sliced

3 t Dijon mustard
3 t soy sauce or apple wine vinegar
3/4 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white or red wine

8 slices artisanal bread, such as ciabatta, toasted
Parsley leaves, chopped
Orange zest

Eggs, local and fried or poached

Remove gristle, nerves, core and internal membrane from each kidney, leaving the halves intact. Rinse well and pat dry. Combine flour, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper on a plate and mix well. Coat each kidney in flour mixture, and shake well to remove excess. Then again, season the kidneys directly with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper and then dip them in flour (my choice).

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and add butter, oil, plus garlic and shallots. Once butter has melted and has begun to bubble, but has not browned, discard garlics and shallots, add kidneys and cook until browned, about 2 or so minutes. Flip each kidney and brown on other side, about 2 or so minutes.

Add dijon mustard, soy sauce, stock and wine to skillet, whisking some. Simmer kidneys until done, about 2 minutes. Remove kidneys to glass bowl cover with foil and allow to rest. Once stock has thickened, remove pan from heat and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, after tasting.

Slice each kidney to your liking and place on toast. Top with cooked eggs.

Serve dribbled with sauce and adorned with chopped parsley and orange zest.

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Tri-Tip Awakened & Aroused

August 28, 2012

A fome é o melhor tempero (Hunger is the best of the spices).
~Portuguese proverb

Fusion cuisine is said to blend the culinary traditions of two or more disparate cultures or regions, e.g., those timeless mélanges of Moorish-Spanish or Vietnamese-Chinese-French or Saracen-Sicilian-Italian or the Malay-Indian-Arab-Chinese-Spanish-Japanese origins of Filipino dishes.  Cookery melded, kitchens merged, and cooks intermingled to create hybrids that emerged as one or so food styles.  Despite current myths, fusion has ancient roots as humans have been sharing and expanding gastronomic traditions for centuries.  Much to the chagrin of the suffering vanquished, fusion has often been the result of invasion, conquest, occupation and settlement in society’s endless quest to seize distant lands and peoples, then impose and interbreed food cultures — altering culinary landscapes. 

Imperialism and colonialism have now morphed some. More an outcome of “globalization,” fusion has lost some punch, becoming almost banal given the blurring and overlapping of culinary borders and the decay of regional boundaries. The globalization of food production, while superficially providing many of the world’s cuisines now stifles local farms and crops, sterilizes the soil, renders the food system less sustainable, and often strips the land for grazing to enhance short term mega-agribusiness profits. This leads to ecological collapses, malnutrition in many nations, and the overfeeding/wasting of unbalanced foods in developed countries. The world is entering a long-term, politically destabilizing food crisis if we continue our ways. Much like marketing was in the later half of the last century, water and food insecurity will likely be the bane of this century.

Sadly, exploitation has become more subtle, yet more pervasive, making globalization almost synonymous with the imperialism of yore. The iconic faceless pith helmets of the old world now have been replaced by the often empty dark suits and ties that grace our boardrooms. Some corporations advocate a certain consumer culture, in which the usual goods, promoted by global marketing campaigns exploit basic material desires and create like lifestyles. Homogeneity and monoculture run rampant and diversity fades. So, all of us wear the same threads and eat the same grub. Other institutions have used a more directed thrust, rendering cuisine (and other goods) more efficient, caculable, and predictable, yet less healthy, as exemplified by the pandemic spread of dreary fast food chains across the globe. These monotonous fast food principles have come to dominate sectors of society. McDonaldization.

What have we wrought?

Back to the days. As early as 50,000 BCE humans used aromatic herbs and spices to flavor their food. In the ancient world, camel caravans trudged from Calcutta, Goa and the Orient to the spice markets in Babylon, Carthage, Alexandria, and Rome. Traders eventually used ships which sailed along the Indian coast, past the Persian Gulf, along the coast of South Arabia, and finally through the Red Sea into Egypt — always facing inclement seas, robbery, shipwrecks, and piracy. The immensely profitable spice trade was long cornered by Arabians until the 13th century, when Venice emerged as the primary trade port for spices bound for western and northern Europe, making the region extremely prosperous. Later, spices were commandeered and monopolized by the wayfaring Portuguese who first circumnavigated Africa and thus created an empire. Portuguese power began to wane until England and Holland came to the fore. The Dutch organized trading posts and took control of the spice trade until they were crippled in a seemingly endless war with England which ultimately gave the British control of spice cargoes via the British East India Company. Now, spice growers export their goods through houses and merchants.

Considered sacred by most Hindus, beef is considered taboo in many Indian states.  But, peoples of other religions and certain Hindu sects eat the red stuff. It can even be found on menus in southwestern states, such as Goa and Kerala. On California’s central coast though, once home to Spaniards and Mexicans and the “birthplace” of tri-tip, this cut is thought nearly sacrosanct.

A brief, roundabout ethnic and geographic journey from spice to meat to grill, but well worth the miles and the wait. The inspired aromatics and spry flavors of this tri-tip (or any such cut) are flat sublime.   

SOUTH ASIAN TRI-TIP

1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds
1 T green cardamom pods
1 T whole cloves
1 T mustard seeds
1 t cinnamon stick, broken

1 T turmeric
1/2 t cayenne pepper

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 tri-tip steaks or roasts (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs each)

Lemon curd, for basting (optional)

Heat the coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, mustard, and cinnamon in a medium heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic and just lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool some, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder or coffee mill devoted to the task. Transfer to a bowl with the turmeric and cayenne pepper and mix well.

Rub the meat with halved garlics then salt and pepper rather generously. Sprinkle the tri-tips with the spice mixture and rub in well. Strew minced ginger over the steaks and press into surface. Allow to stand in the fridge for about 2-4 hours. Make sure the meat reaches room temperature before grilling.

Prepare grill to medium high heat.

Grill the tri-tip for about 10 to 12 minutes per pound, turning every 6-8 minutes or so, until medium rare. Baste with lemon curd several times on both sides while grilling. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the steaks, the size of the ‘cue and the heat of the grill. The internal temperature should reach near 130 F. Because tri-tip is so lean, cooking beyond this point will render it tough.

Let stand for at least 15 minutes before carving. Consider serving with raita, a mesclun salad with fresh or roasted figs and vinaigrette along with warmed naan. Just a thought.

Please Sir. I want some more.
~Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens

Happy birthday, Mr. Dickens.

Today, Britain marked the birth bicentenary of Charles Dickens with a wreathlaying at his grave in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The church congregation included what may have been the most prodigious gathering of the revered novelist’s descendants. Simultaneously, a street party and ceremonies were held in his native Portsmouth. Ralph Fiennes, who will star as Magwitch in the adaptation of Great Expectations, read a moving extract from another of Dickens’ most beloved novels, Bleak House. The venerated Victorian author was an almost incomparable inventor of character, both ordinary and grand. His prolific pen authored numerous novels and other writings, all resonating with humanity and compassion. A deft storyteller, Dickens skewered wretched and greedy affluence, depicted the misery of poverty, and explored such varied themes as needed educational reform, sordid workplaces, class diparity, dismal childhoods, and destructive guilt, loneliness and despair. No slight to Shakespeare, Chaucer and esteemed ilk, but this is Dickens’ day.

Most know that Dickens coined “scrooge” (miserliness) and “uriah heep” (insincerity), but he is also the creator of “pecksniffian” named after Seth Pecksniff, a character in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit. The definition: hypocritically affecting benevolence or high moral principles (e.g., pompous politicians).

Over six decades after the end of British colonial rule in India, the works of Charles Dickens continue to be studied and taught across the sub-continent. The issues he addressed in his works–caste inequity, social injustice and poverty–repercuss in the modern world.

India had long ago exported the flavors of chutney, mustard, pepper, and curry to loyal (and perceptive) followers in the isles. Since imperial times, Indian fare and British gastronomy have been inextricably intertwined. About the time of Dicken’s birth, the first Indian restaurant opened in London and by the time of his death, curry was well entrenched in the country’s cuisine. This is not to say Dickens had a penchant for curry even though food passages abound in his novels.

Indian restaurants began to really proliferate in London in the 1960’s — flock wallpaper and spicy hues, tablas, biryanis, naan, and vindaloos, with piped sitars and seductive curry aromas wafting throughout. Decades later, foreign minister Robin Cook even proclaimed chicken tikka masala, arguably the most favored curry there, “is now a true British national dish.” No, not Sunday roast or Yorkshire pudding or fish and chips, but CTM.

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 t mustard seeds

2 t dried chili flakes
1 T ground turmeric
2 t garam masala
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 2 1⁄2″ piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and finely chopped
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into chenks
1 1/2 C Greek yogurt
Sea salt

3 T unsalted butter
2 small to medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 T paprika
2 t coriander
1 t cumin
1 t mustard seeds
1 can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 t garam masala
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 C heavy whipping cream
1/2 C plain yogurt

Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Basmati rice
Naan

Soak bamboo skewers in water.

In a dry heavy bottomed skillet, heat the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over medium low heat for a couple of minutes. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds and set aside for the sauce later. Grind the mustard seeds for the chicken marinade with red pepper flakes in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. In a food processor or blender, purée turmeric, cumin, coriander, mustard, garam masala, garlic, ginger, jalapeños, and slowly add water until a loose paste forms. In a bowl, stir together half of the paste, yogurt, and salt thoroughly. Rub into the chicken and marinate, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. Reserve the remaining paste for later.

Remove chicken from the refrigerator so it reaches close to room temperature. Prepare charcoal grill to medium heat. Thread the chicken pieces through skewers. Grill chicken until just done, about 2 minutes per side, then arrange on platter and tent with foil. Do not worry if the chicken is slightly undercooked, as it will cook more in the sauce.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a heavy saucepan over medium high. Add onions, paprika, and reserved coriander and cumin. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6–8 minutes. Add remaining paste, tomatoes, garam masala, and cinnamon and cook another another 10 minutes. Stir in cream and yogurt, and chicken bring to a slight boil and reduce to a gentle simmer until thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt to your liking.

Serve with basmati rice and naan.

Pourboire: should a charcoal grill not be an option, simply broil, sauté or roast the chicken during that step and then continue with the remainder of the recipe.

Lamb, Chard & Ricotta Lasagna

December 28, 2010

Language is the archives of history.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Admittedly, it’s been much too long since pen has touched paper here. But, fear not—there are plenty of contrivances in the kitchen to unleash. The hearty number below is for those hunkering down in the white chills back east and across the pond.

Lasagna (pl. lasagne) is somewhat dual faced—both a form of pasta and the actual casserole made with that noodle. The pasta is broad, long and well suited to supine layering. The American version is usually rippled lengthwise on the edges while the true Italian noodle is customarily flat.

Not unlike ourselves, lasagna has a slightly fractured history. One school asserts that lasagna derives from the Greek word λάγανον (laganon), a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips, a word that still describes a Greek unleavened bread. Other linguists focus on the vessel itself and posit that the word lasagna comes from λάσανον (lasanon) meaning “chamber pot.” It follows, they say, that lasanum which is the Latin word for “cooking pot” became the precursor to today’s lasagna concept.

Seemed like a fairly benign etymology, until about a decade ago when the English laid claim to lasagna’s origins. You can only imagine the profound insult felt in the streets of Rome…that arms waving vitriol. Apparently, researchers claim that the court of Richard II was savoring lasagna as early as the 14th century. When pouring over the Forme of Curry, one of the first written cookbooks, they found a recipe for loseyn, pronounced “lasan.” In Middle English it reads something like this: Take a gode broth and do i an erthen pot, and do payndemayn and make pof paft with wat, and make pof thynne foyles as pap with a roller, drye it harde and feepe it i broth take Chefe ruayn and lay it in dish with powdo douce. and lay pon lofeyns ifode as hoole as poo mizt and above powdo and chefe, and fo thwyfe or thryfe, & sue it forth.

Did not the Romans occupy the English Isles for several centuries a millenium before Forme of Curry was compiled?

Back to the boot. It goes with saying that lasagna is a distinctly regional dish in Italy—a traditional Ligurian rendition differs from that found in Rome. Varying versions abound throughout home kitchens and restaurants here, there and elsewhere. For instance, this recipe does have some meat but does not have tomato sauce. So, beware those who use the phrase “authentic lasagna.” Just craft one with innards to your liking.

As with pizzas, paninis, and pasta, please avoid overburdening the lasagna between layers as the noodle should still play the leading role.

LAMB, CHARD & RICOTTA LASAGNA

1 lb lamb, freshly ground
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano, crumbled between fingers and thumb

2 1/2 C whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs thyme

6 T unsalted butter
5 T flour

Small grating of nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 lb red-ribbed chard, stemmed and rinsed
3/4 lb green chard, stemmed and rinsed

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 C shallots, peeled and chopped
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves
3/4 lb fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 lb fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb dried lasagna noodles
Sea salt

8 oz semi soft cheese, such as Italian Fontina, Gruyère or Comté, freshly shredded
3/4 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated

16 oz whole milk ricotta

Preheat oven to 375 F

Drain the ricotta in a sieve positioned over a bowl about one hour. Discard liquid and set ricotta aside.

Lamb
Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil and smashed garlics. Stirring occasionally sauté lamb until medium rare, about 3-5 minutes. Remove and discard garlics. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of oregano to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Sauce Béchamel
Bring milk, bay leaf and thyme to a quiet simmer in a heavy, medium sauce pan.

In another heavy, medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly with a for 3-5 minutes to make a blond roux. Do not allow the roux to brown. Remove bay leaf and thyme from milk, gradually add to the flour and butter mixture, whisking until smooth. Then add a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until it coats a spoon, whisking throughout, about another 8-10 minutes. Set aside on a very low burner and keep gently warm for assembly later.

Chards & Mushrooms
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch chard for one minute, then drain, pressing out the water in a towel as you would with spinach. Chop coarsely. Heat olive oil and butter in heavy medium skillet. Sauté first the shallots and garlic for a few minutes, and then mushrooms for a few minutes more, until shallots and garlic are softened and the mushrooms are just tender. Add blanched, chopped chard and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir again, allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Assembly
In a large pot of boiling and generously salted water, cook the lasagna until al dente. Drain well and dry, then layer the sheets carefully between clean paper towels for later.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the chard and mushroom mixture with the lamb.

(1) Spread one third of the béchamel on the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Arrange the lasagne side by side, slightly overlapping, completely covering the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the chard-mushroom-lamb mixture over the pasta. Then spread some ricotta in an even layer atop. Strew half of the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano over the ricotta.

(2) Repeat layers by arranging in an overlapping layer of lasagne in the pan. Then, add the remaining chard-mushroom-lamb mixture. Again, spread ricotta evenly over that layer. Then, add the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano. Spread another one third of béchamel sauce over the cheeses.

(3) Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets in a slightly overlapping fashion on top and spread with béchamel sauce once again.

Cover lasagna with aluminum foil, place dish on a large baking sheet, and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.

Dirty Rice

May 19, 2009

Somewhere lives a bad Cajun cook, just as somewhere must live one last ivory billed woodpecker. For me, I don’t expect ever to encounter either one.
~William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways (1982)

Decades after the ivory billed woodpecker was considered to be extinct, researchers found evidence that the majestic bird may still exist. In February, 2004, a lone kayaker spotted this species in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, an encounter that led to an extensive scientific search for the bird.

Since then, researchers combed the wetlands to collect evidence they believe confirmed the continuing existence of this creature, and it was allegedly sighted more than a dozen times by experts and searchers. Then the trail went somewhat chilly. While the search continues, additional proof of this elusive bird’s emergence from extinction has been the topic of debate.

Cajuns were a regional peoples who originated in southern France, emigrating first to eastern Canada in the early 17th century, and then settling in a colony called Acadia. Refusing to give up their language and religion and unwilling to pledge allegiance to England, the Acadians were deported. In what has been called the Great Upheaval of 1755, Acadians were uprooted by the British and were driven from their homes in the New World. They migrated southward. Now, Cajuns are an ethnic group primarily living in southern Louisiana who are descendents of these exiles from Quebec, the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), and parts of New England. Many settled along the swamplands and waterways of Louisiana and resorted to their traditions of fishing, trapping and farming—making use of the bountiful natural resources there.

Cajuns retain a unique dialect of the French language and a single, prideful cuisine. The food is rustic, home-style, and adaptable to fresh local ingredients.

The aromatic mix of green bell peppers, onions, and celery is often called The Holy Trinity, even though I have blasphemously added red peppers (color) and jalapenos (heat) to this recipe.

DIRTY RICE

2 t cayenne pepper
2 t sea salt
2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t sweet paprika
1 t dry mustard
1 t cumin seeds, ground
1 t dried thyme leaves
1 t dried oregano leaves

2 T canola oil
1 lb chicken gizzards, chopped
1/2 lb ground pork, coarsely ground
2 bay leaves

3/4 C yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C green peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 C red peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 C jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 C celery, finely chopped
1 T plump garlic, peeled and minced
3 T unsalted butter
3 C chicken stock
1/2 lb chicken livers, chopped
1 1/2 C long grained rice

Combine the first 8 seasoning ingredients in a small bowl.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, cook the canola oil, gizzards, pork and bay leaf until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the seasoning mixture, then the onions, celery, peppers and garlic. Add the butter and stir occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and stirring throughout, for about 8 minutes. Add the stock until and stir occasionally so that the bottom of the pan comes loose, about 8 minutes. Stir in the chicken livers and cook about 2 minutes.

Add the rice andt stir well, reducing the heat to low, for 5 minutes. Cover and remover from heat until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve.