I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.
~Rita Rudner

When walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with my youngest son this spring, we could not help but notice the slew of padlocks in varying shapes, sizes and hues each etched with initials, maybe an image and sometimes brief vows.  Apparently, the keys had been hurled into the East River while the padlocks remained hooked on the bridge as symbols of perpetual locked in love.  We even took pics of them.  At first, it seemed cute but in retrospect, it seemed a tad odd.  Then, when we celebrated my oldest son’s and fine woman’s nuptials last weekend, th0se images recurred yet hopes were revived and thoughts about love, like the wine, flowed freely.

Apparently across the pond, on Paris’ most iconic bridges, such as the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archevêché, visitors have similarly affixed padlocks to the metal railings and fencing.   Once done discreetly by night, many began acting brazenly in broad daylight, two by two and sometimes more, filming faces in front of  colorful locks, and videoing the throwing of  keys into the Seine. Natives and local politicians alike expressed concerns about aesthetics and the architectural integrity of the festooned bridges.  Although many denizens consider the locks an eyesore, others find them charming. One night, someone actually cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges and discarded them.  But in just a short while, the locks reappeared, this time more conspicuously than ever.  For many tourist couples, these locks and the keys tossed into the romantic river that courses the City of Light were symbols of that often elusive everlasting amour, of abiding adoration.  Pas là, pas de tout — as many French find such declarations less than amorous.  To use lock and key as a metaphor for eternal affection seems strangely antithetical there and bespeaks of confinement. 

In Paris (and elsewhere), love is understood to be tinged with risk. That sounds a touch incongruous, as little in this world is more difficult yet more valuable than love…the very boon of humanity, and there can be nothing more bewitching or treasured.  At the same time though, love can be fragile and unsettling, and early romance can be clothed in uncertainty.  Love can be hazardous, sometimes on the brink of agony, and often vulnerable and insecure.  Even damned lonely.

So, the notion that love is locked up forever by tossing that key in the drink, is thought a vacuous rite, a childish fantasy that can even enslave.  Soulful love is not to be imprisoned or controlled, and the goal is not to entrap or ensnare one another.  Rather, love’s sublime fragility should be embraced with each urging the other to be free.  Love is to be shared simply and fervently, without pride — where each is gazed at head to toe often in poor lighting and yet somehow, despite conspicuous faults and frailties, each passionately embraces and patiently cherishes one other.  True lovers do not just appeal to the eye, they look beyond into mind and imagination.  Empathy, which derives from the Greek empatheia (“passion”), should reign and must be rekindled throughout the shared voyage. 

Above all, avoid getting too serious about things like love locks.  Mates must always laugh together, as when humor is lost, so is footing.

Ok, so enough sap and on to food.  For lovers should ever delight in the sensual and revel in lust.

SEARED FOIE GRAS WITH WHITE WINE REDUCTION & APPLES

3 T unsalted butter
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3 T apple cider vinegar
1-2 T honey

4 – 6 oz slices of fine grade foie gras, about 3/4″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 C good quality late harvest white (the rest chilled for a toast)
Equal parts of orange, lime and grapefruit zests
1/4 t fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/4 t fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T unsalted butter, cut into smaller pieces

4 slices brioche, 1/2″ thick

Melt the butter in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the apples, apple cider vinegar, and drizzle with honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, turning once, until the apples are golden, soft and tender, about 5-8 minutes. Drain, arrange on a platter, tent with foil, and set aside.

Gently score the foie gras slices with a diagonal pattern on one side only. Season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium high. In batches, place foie gras slices in the pan and sear until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside to rest.

Pour the excess pan drippings out of the pan, reserving about 3 tablespoons of drippings for the reduction. Deglaze the pan with the grapefruit juice over medium high heat, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula. Simmer until the juice is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, orange, lime and grapefruit zests, rosemary, thyme and simmer for about one minute or so. Add the butter, remove from the heat, and whisk until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler.

Using a 3″ round cookie cutter, cut the brioche into rounds and place them on a baking sheet. Toast under the broiler until golden brown on each side.

To assemble, place the brioche toasts in the center of serving plates. Lay the foie gras slices on top of the brioche. Arrange the golden, almost caramelized apples around the foie gras toasts, and drizzle the reduction sauce over the top of the foie gras.

Serve by candlelight, clothing optional, with a grand Bordeaux and loving partner.

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Chilled Asparagus

May 8, 2009

…my greatest pleasure was the asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk—still soiled with the earth of their bed—through iridescences that are not of this world.
~Marcel Proust, Du Côté de Chez Swann, vol. I of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu

Is it overly evident that (eons ago) my favorite professor was a renowned Proust scholar? On reflection, he may have been partially responsible for my prolonged asparagus addiction. I have a passion for many foods, but a particular fondness for cold asparagus whether served with varied vinaigrettes or this juxtaposed citrus and garlic dressing.

CHILLED ASPARAGUS WITH CITRUS & GARLIC

2 lbs thick asparagus, bottoms snapped off
Water
Sea salt

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 grapefruit
3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 T parsley, coarsely chopped
3 T mint, coarsely chopped
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Bring water to a boil in a large stock pot and add a liberal dose of salt. Put the asparagus into the boiling water and cook briefly until crisp, less than 2 minutes. Remove and immediately plunge into an ice and frigid water bath for a couple of minutes, stirring some. Make sure the ice bath is sufficiently cold as you want to halt the cooking process abruptly.

Remove and immediately drain asparagus on towels, then transfer to a large baking dish or large platter. Add the lemon zest and juice, orange zest, grapefruit zest and juice, garlic, parsley, mint, salt and olive oil and gently toss. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator, allowing all of the flavors to meld. However, do not allow to chill too long as the spears can become a bit soggy.

Champagne Granita

May 7, 2009

Granita is simply a frozen dessert made with water and a syrup base, much like sorbet. These icy, granular delights are infused with a range of flavors such as coffee, green tea, bitter almond, lemon, mint, orange, and seasonal fruits and berries. A sweet, clean (cold yet ardent) adult snow cone finish after a luscious meal.

CHAMPAGNE GRANITA

1 C sugar
1 C water
1 lemon
1 grapefruit
1 bottle champagne

Mixed berries dipped in lemon juice, then sugar
2 lemons juiced, on plate for glasses
1 C sugar, on plate for glasses

Simple syrup: combine the sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and place in the refrigerator until cold, about 1 hour.

Using a microplane, lightly shear the skin of lemon and grapefruit, removing only the outer surface of the peel. Squeeze out the juice and remove the seeds from both fruits.

Pour the champagne into a 9 x 12 baking dish. Mix in the simple syrup, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and grated zest. Place mixture into the freezer. After 30 minutes, stir gently. Freeze mixture until firm, stirring every 2 hours, for about 6 hours. The granita can be made 2 days ahead, covered and frozen. Before serving, fluff the granita by gently whisking the frozen mixture with a fork.

Dip mixed berries with lemon juice and then sugar. Moisten rims of frozen martini glasses with lemon juice, then dip rims in sugar. Mound granita in glasses. Garnish with sugared berries and serve immediately.

A Cupboard Not Bare

January 19, 2009

Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
~Chinese proverb

Before traipsing into the kitchen or addressing the grill, some thought needs to be given to the provisions on hand. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect all ingredients to be locally fresh throughout the year, but the time constraints of daily life often demand an impromptu table. Having a well supplied (and periodically restocked) pantry is simply essential for home cooks to produce remarkable meals without a last minute forage at the neighborhood market. Some cupboard items can even prove superior to the fresh versions in certain seasons or preparations while others only come in pantry form.

The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to be fairly comprehensive for the lay cook. Of course, you will tailor your pantry to suit your palate and home cuisine. However, before you reject this list due to storage size restrictions alone, please keep in mind that almost all of these items are carefully housed in the cabinets of our minimalist urban kitchen with a small frig.

Oils –- extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable, white truffle, avocado, walnut, sesame

Vinegars — red wine, balsamic, champagne, apple cider, sherry, port, rice wine

Spices & Herbs — black peppercorns, white pepper, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, cayenne pepper, salt (sea, gray, kosher), herbes de provence, fine herbes, ras el hanout, za’atar, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, tarragon, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, savory, celery seed, mustard, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, pimentón, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, curry powder (homemade) & curry paste, fenugreek leaves, garam masala, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon (sticks/ground), chipotle chile powder, ancho chile powder, star anise, sesame seeds (black, white), allspice, anise seeds, saffron threads, wasabi powder, rubs (i.e., asian, ancho chili, dried mushroom, rosemary & pepper, tandoori, basic barbeque), local hot sauce(s), barbeque (preferably near home) sauces

Grains & Pastas — rice (white long grained, wild, brown, jasmine, basmati), polenta, risotto, pastas (potentials: taglilatelle, linguini, spaghetti, penne, lasagne, orzo, tortellini, orcchietta, capellini, farfalle, capaletti, cavatappi, cavatelli, fusilli, gnocchi, macaroni, papparadelle, ravioli, vermicelli), couscous, Israeli couscous, rice (cellophane) noodles (vermicelli–bun & sticks–banh pho)

Asian –- soy sauce, shoyu, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, hoisin sauce, red, yellow & green curry pastes, mirin, sake, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs, kochujang, gochu garu, konbu

Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles

Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini, creme fraiche, pickles

Canned tomatoes (san marzano + homemade), stock (homemade/canned)

Legumes –- lentils (several colors + lentils du puy), garbanzos, cannellinis, white beans, black beans, navy beans

Booze — red & white wine, cognac (brandy), port wine, Madeira, sherry, eau de vie

Baking — flour, sugars (white granulated, raw cane, light brown, confectioner’s), baking powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, yeast, cocoa, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)

Flavorings –- almond extract, vanilla beans, vanilla extract, Tabasco, Worcestershire

Dried fruits — currants, apricots, figs, prunes, currants

Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, unsalted peanuts

Honeys (local, raw, unprocessed), mi-figue mi-raisin, raspberry and strawberry preserves, apricot jam, pure maple syrup, peanut butter

Dairy –- whole milk, unsalted butter, eggs, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream

Fruits –- lemons, oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes

Cheeses –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta, fontina, manchego

Meats proscuitto, serrano

Spreads tapenades, caponata, hummus