WOTY + Sprouts & Chickpeas

January 4, 2017

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
~Rudyard Kipling

A seduction of souls? After rather ardent discussion and debate, the Oxford Dictionaries bestowed upon us the Word of the Year 2016: post-truth, an adjective which loosely translated means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Post-truth beat out alt-right, glass cliff, hygge, chat bot, adulting, etc.

Not surprisingly, the recent United States’ presidential election and the EU referendum (Brexit — meaning British Exit) in the United Kingdom, spiking from peripheral usage to becoming a mainstay in elemental political commentary. Some words really seem as puny as the Orange Clown’s fingers and his again long haired, scruffy and far right Breitbart cohort — a news website which serves as a “platform” for the alt right.

Here are some hors d’oeuvres for famished guests.  But, beware of this bar grub — it may overwhelm them before the main course.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH OLIVE OIL & FISH SAUCE

Water + Sea salt
Brussels sprouts, trimmed at ends
High quality extra virgin olive oil
High quality Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm Phú Quốc)

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a roiling boil, then add sea salt until it smells and tastes like the middle of the sea.

Add the brussels sprouts and cook for about 10 minutes, until just cooked through, and still fairly firm.

Drain the sprouts over the sink, then onto a shallow bowl and while hot lightly immerse them in high quality olive oil and high quality fish sauce — nước mắm Phú Quốc. Allow the sprouts to cool to room temperature for about an hour or so (much like olives). Serve promptly.

CHICKPEAS WITH OLIVE OIL & ZA’ATAR

2 C chickpeas, rinsed
1 T high quality extra virgin olive oil
2 T homemade za’atar
1 t sea salt

Make za’atar (for now and later, unless you already have some on hand):

2 1/2 T sesame seeds, toasted

3 T dried sumac leaves
2 T dried thyme leaves
1 T dried oregano leaves
1 t sea salt, coarse

Add raw sesame seeds to a dry, heavy skillet over medium low heat. Shake the pan back and forth until fragrant, but not taking on color. Immediately pour the toasted sesame seeds from the pan into a bowl to prevent them from scorching.

Once the sesame seeds have cooled, add all of the ingredients to a spice blender, food processor fitted with a blade, or mortar and pestle. Pulse several times to blend and slightly break up, but not obliterate, the herbs and salt. Be able to recognize the sesame seeds in the blend. Transfer to a jar with an airtight lid and store in a cool, dark place.

Now, drain and spread chickpeas on a paper towel, and allow to dry for an hour or so. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 F.

Line a heavy rimmed baking pan with parchment paper, and spread chickpeas evenly. Bake in the center of the oven until crunchy, about 30 minutes, stirring and rotating every 10 minutes with a wooden spatula.

Place hot chickpeas in a shallow bowl, and drizzle with fine olive oil, za’atar and sea salt.  Allow to cool some to room temp, and then serve promptly also.

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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.

We are like travelers using the cinders of a volcano to roast their eggs.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now, as is the French inkling, I started by doing claufoutis with cherries and blueberries, so they would become desserts.  This time, they tend to go more poignant.  Apparently, I adore eggs in most forms.

I began reading (unlike the Donald claims to actually does read, but really does not) The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar just the other day in part because Trump has assaulted Mexicans so many times in the past, calling them without any knowledge whatsoever “rapists, drug dealers, murderers, criminals.” Sometimes, we are goaded by others to look at someone who feigns to read, and yet who continues to make outlandish, deplorable, and unfounded statements about other cultures.

The Barbarian Nurseries is a rare, inspiring and sprawling novel that brings the city of Los Angeles (and even Earth) to life through the eyes, flesh, dreams, reveries, solitude, ambitions of a Mexican immigrant maid, by the name of Araceli.  The first chapter is called The Succulent Garden about how a lawn mower would not start for the angry and frustrated landowner, Scott the techi, whose maid watched from the window, apart — but Pepe, an earlier magician of gardeners, now since fired, had no problem with the same mower starting ever so sweetly with a wily, deft touch, sweaty and brown, sinewy and glistening biceps.

SAVORY CLAFOUTI, FLAN, CUSTARD (YOU NAME IT…)

3/4 C whole milk
3/4 C crème fraîche
4 large or 5 medium farm fresh, local eggs, preferably laid by hens raised on pastureland
2 1/2 T all purpose flour
2 T fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 T fresh dill leaves, chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 C Gruyère cheese, grated

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh leeks, white and light green parts (cut off ends and leaves)
2 C fresh corn kernels
1-2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh bunch Swiss chard leaves, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 C Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Honey, a dollop
Cayenne pepper, dried
Thyme, dried

Heat oven to 375 F

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, crème fraîche, eggs, flour, chopped parsley & dill, sea salt and pepper until smooth. Whisk in 3/4 cup Gruyère cheese.

Heat olive oil in a heavy oven safe skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in corn, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook until garlic is fragrant and corn is tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add chard leaves and cook until they are wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Season the mixture with sea salt and black pepper.

Pour crème fraîche admix over the corn and chard mixture, and then sprinkle the remaining Gruyère and the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until the “egg custard” is lightly set, about 40 minutes.

Serve sparsely topped with a dollop of honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper and thyme.

Jean Harlow + Salmon

August 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALMON FILLETS + ANCHOVIES + GARLIC

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

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

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

4 T drained capers, patted dry

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

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

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

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

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

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks to pathetic peer pressure and the omnipresent, often misguided, social media ambitions, FOMO has taken on a peculiar meaning in the 21st century: Fear Of Missing Out.  It seems to be a pernicious attempt at aggrandizing adult childhood by going out almost forcibly, bereft of funds for clothing, heels, food and drink — to some shallow event, whether it be a film or theater opening, club, restaurant, cafe, bar to view the shit show of vacuous, edgily dressed people pushing, prospecting, shoving, grinding, forever using outside voices, queuing up to dreadful separate bathroom lines (boring), heaping on bouts of drama, shame and often rejection.  All this folderal which costs an arm and a leg.

You must know already what OCD denotes.  If not, search on DSM-5 which equips clinicians with criteria for diagnosing mental disorders and dysfunctions.  A hint: obsessive compulsive disorder = OCD.

There are sound reasons to remain a homebody, whether alone, with lovers, friends or others.  They include good grub, wine and beer for feasible prices, casually watching movies, cable or TV, saving stacks of mula on tight clothes, Jimmy Choo(s), indulgent often disappointing food and exorbitant drinks — relaxing with fewer distractions, dressing with a soft tee with no bra, hair up and sweats or yoga pants donned ever alone, a reasonable bedtime and behind (whether with self or …), and no post drunk coitus and tomorrow’s awkward awakening.  Oh, and bare feet as not only does it feel liberating, the toes are such a delectable appetizer and/or dessert, and the fare becomes much preferred, as one well knows. No regrets, even more appeal, crack food to boot and a bar tab you can afford.

PIZZA WITH CHEESES

Preheat oven to 500 F with stone inside

Extra virgin olive oil to coat large bowl

1 C warm water (105 F to 115 F)
1 envelope active “rapid rise” dry yeast packet
1 T organic honey
Small glass bowl

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

1/2 C mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 C taleggio cheese, shredded
1/2 C gruyere cheese, shredded

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and diced

1/2 C parmaggiano-regianno cheese, grated

1/2 C torn basil leaves

Pour warm water into small bowl and then stir in yeast and honey until they dissolve. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam and/or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil. Mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic — or transfer to lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth. Kneading helps develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dish towel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and 1 1/2 hours for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls and let rest, sometimes overnight.

Place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12 inches in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim.

Then, transfer to a pizza paddle which is either covered in cornmeal or heavily floured so it can slide off easily into the oven. Lightly brush the top with olive oil. Then add the three cheeses and garlic toppings, which were shredded, peeled, and diced in advance.

Gently shake the paddle attired with the already topped dough to make sure the pizza is loose enough to slide onto the hot stone. With a flip of the wrist, slowly slide the pizza from the paddle onto the stone and cook until slightly browned and crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Once removed, immediately grate fresh parmiggiano-reggiano on top. Add basil leaves, slice and serve.

A highbrow is the kind of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.
~A.P. Herbert

Merguez, which has Bedouin and then Tunisian and Moroccan antecedents, has some assorted Arabic spellings:  (mirkas (ﻤﺮﻛﺲ), pl. marākis (ﻤﺮﺍﻛﺲ),mirkās (ﻤﺮﻛﺎﺱ), markas (ﻤﺭﻛﺲ) and mirqāz (ﻤﺮﻗﺲ).  After the French invasion, occupation and colonization of the Maghreb (“sunset” or “west”) which are the lands west of Egypt in coastal North Africa, the lamb/mutton or beef piquante sausage naturally spread to France and elsewhere.  The Maghreb was cordoned off from the rest of the continent by the immense Sahara Desert and peaks of the Atlas Mountains also their ports, often built by Phoenicians, look out on the shimmering Mediterranean Sea.  The area was conquered and settled by the Spanish, Italians, French, Arabs, Ottomans, Vandals, Carthaginians, Romans, Phoenicians, Berbers, Islamics, Turks, to name a few at differing times.  Sadly, there is nothing like conquest to make cuisine sublime.

Merquez is often served grilled, with tajines and stews, next to couscous or lentils, and in baguettes or buns with pommes frites — now, the latter is a scrumptious charcuterie and street food both.

Not that there exist constraints or restraints by any of these culinary means — with the exception of personal imagination.

A must.

MERGUEZ

1/4 C+ extra virgin olive oil
4 pounds spinach, stems removed, washed and dried well

2 medium onions peeled and cut into small cubes
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 T fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 T harissa
Freshly ground black pepper
2 t  quatre epices (recipe follows)

2 C water
2 C chicken stock
A splash of dry white wine
1/2 lb dried garbanzo or cannellini beans, drained

2 lbs fresh merguez sausage
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300 F

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring throughout, until all the spinach has wilted and browned slightly and all the liquid has evaporated, about 20-30 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, mint, cilantro, harissa, black pepper, and quatre epices and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Pour in 4 cups water and stock and a dollop of dry white wine to the mix above, then add the garbanzos or cannellini beans. Stir, bring to a quiet simmer, and cover. Braise gently in the oven for 2 hours, or until the beans are nearly tender.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 T extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sear the merguez on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain well.

Stir the lemon juice into the beans and place the seared merguez on top. Cover and continue to braise until the beans are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 30 minutes more. Season with salt to taste.

Quatre Epices
1 T allspice berries
1 T whole cloves
1 T nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T ground cinnamon

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. Use as needed, then store remainder in a tight, glass container in the cupboard.

Bon appetit!

To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all.
~Oscar Wilde

So sorry for those already in the know — but for those who have yet to discern, here is a little primer, my good and yours too.  But, apologies to the unfamiliar also.  These are not nonpologies without contrition, as we so often hear. They are true sorries.

Guanciale is an Italian salted and cured (not smoked) meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks whose moniker is derived from guancia, which likewise means “cheek.”  A specialty of Umbria and Lazio, its texture is more docile than pancetta, yet it is silky and has just a slightly more rigid flavor.  It is often cured for a week, then hung to dry for about three weeks or so.  One of those nose to tail things.  Often used in egg or cream sauces with pasta, guanciale is projected below with green tomatoes, et al.

Sublimely blissful grub.

CHICKEN WITH GREEN TOMATOES, CHILES & GUANCIALE

3-4 lbs bone in chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 t or so broken oregano for the skin side

2 bay leaves

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
8 ozs guanciale, diced

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 good quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 jar green tomatoes and chiles

8 ozs mozzarella cut into pieces
1 C high quality olives, black and green (warmed)
Lemons, quartered

Basil leaves, freshly and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

In a large oven proof, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium high until shimmering. Add guanciale and cook, stirring frequently, until just slightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer guanciale to a paper towel lined plate.

Add chicken pieces to skillet and sear, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large paper toweled plate. Pour off most all of the oil, keeping some.

Add garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes to skillet and fry 1 minute. Stir in green tomatoes and chiles and cook, breaking up green tomatoes and chiles with a wooden spatula, until the sauce thickens somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Return chicken, green tomatoes and chiles and bay leaves to skillet and transfer to oven and cook, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink and runs somewhat yellow to a fork, about 30 minutes.

Scatter mozzarella over chicken, tomatoes and chiles and adjust oven temperature to broil along with olives. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2-3 minutes.

Garnish with cooked guanciale, olives, quartered lemons and juice, and roughly chopped basil before serving.

Soul satisfying — sort of a pizza without dough, although you could serve a flatbread or some form of cooked dough, underneath.