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.

Et voilà, mon passé n’est plus qu’un trou énorme. (And so, my past is nothing more than an enormous hole.)
~Jean Paul-Sartre

Out of my windows, I have already watched the repair of two separate sink holes which could really swallow cars and apparently were created by faulty storm sewers and water mains.

Aged structures such as bridges, roads, dams, storm sewers, water mains, energy, schools, railways, aviation, waterways, levees, waste, drinking water — each of these systems are so old, and in such dire need for overdue funding, repair or replacement that America’s report card from our own American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) stands at a D+. There are some one in nine bridges in this country that are structurally deficient. These are our own experts.

Two years ago, there was a need for some $4 trillion to fully inspect and work on these crumbling projects (in the last month, the House has passed a bill which creates merely a $300 billion budget for these critical priorities). Public health and safety demand re-structure, but unfortunately our Congress lags woefully — those faceless lives and limbs just do not matter. Sadly heartless and indifferent, there has been little empathy for suffering or public health in our Capital.

In August, 2007, alone a large portion of the interstate bridge in Minneapolis horrifically crashed into the Mississippi River during the traffic rush leaving some 13 killed and 145 injured. After recent heavy downpours in South Carolina, many dams collapsed and 19 people died in the flooding. During this spring, an Amtrak train derailment killed eight and injured hundreds more. Driving underneath or over old bridges, or on potted roadways or watching ancient water mains gush thousands of gallons over our roads are flat stunning.

My eldest son made something like this dish sweetly for us, as I have before and afterwards too — but this is a decidedly different version. Yet, still so sapid and scrumptious.

SAVORY PANCAKE(S)

1 C+ all purpose flour
1/2 t sea salt and the same of freshly ground black pepper
8 large local eggs
3/4 C whole milk
2 T fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 T fresh tarragon leaves, minced

6 T unsalted butter
1 C Gruyère cheese, grated
Coarse sea salt

Heat oven to 425 F

In a large glass bowl, whisk together flour, salt and pepper. In a separate glass bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Whisk wet into dry until just combined. Stir in thyme and tarragon.

Melt the butter in a heavy ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Let the butter cook until it almost browns, about 5-7 minutes, then swirl skillet so that butter coats bottom of pan.

Pour the entirety of batter into the skillet and scatter cheese and coarse sea salt over the top. Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes and serve.

A potato expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
~Victor Hugo

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a faintly anise flavored herb in the family Umbelliferae which includes carraway, cumin, and fennel, et al. Growing annually from 16″-24″ it has hollow stems and delicate, wispy leaves, demanding hot summers and lofty sunshine with well drained fertile soil.

Containing no cholesterol and low in calories, dill is rich in volatile oils as well as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, ß carotene, and vitamin C. This is not to mention that dill contains minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Dill’s benefits also come from two types of healing components — monoterpenes, such as carvone, limonene, and anethofuran and flavonoids, such as kaempferol and vicenin. Needless to say, dill herb is one of the most healthy, functional foods in the chain.

Too bad dill is not consumed for these reasons in this house — scents and sapidity rule — apparently though, the benefits come from the back side. Nevertheless, both “recipes” are darlings of our kitchen…simple starch staples yet glorious (good) grub.

BOILED NEW POTATOES + DILL

1 lb various hued small, new potatoes (“B” size)
1 T sea salt

4 T (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

Dill leaves, fresh and chopped, in amounts to your liking (or rosemary leaves)
Truffle and salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium to large heavy pot, combine hand culled potatoes. Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by about 1″ and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add salt, then reduce to a vigorous simmer. Cook potatoes just until fork tender, about 20 minutes, depending upon size.

Add butter and garlic to the pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, swirling the pan and basting as needed so that the until the potatoes are well glazed, about 5 minutes.

Tear the dill leaves, and with the pot off the heat, stir them gently into the potatoes. Add truffle and sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve next to resting grilled or roasted meats, greens of choice and some more unsalted butter on the table in a ramekin.

BAKED RUSSET POTATOES

4 large baking potatoes, such as russets

4 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chives
Sour cream or crème fraîche

Gruyère cheese (optional)
Dill leaves, fresh and chopped (optional)
Lardons (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F

Scrub potatoes with a brush under running, cold water, then dry well. So they do not explode in the oven, pierce the skin of each in three places with a fork.

Place the potatoes in the oven, and roast for about 1 hour, depending on the size of the potatoes, until they are fork tender.

Remove from the oven taking care not to burn fingers, slice them open down the middle, and slather with butter and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Again, put some more unsalted butter on the table for those who wish to partake.

I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.
~Nicolas Kurti, physicist and chef

Kepler 425b, one of the closest, yet older, cousins to our own earth, has been found. (Perhaps the orb age is a celestial topic upon which both seculars and Christians can finally, somewhat agree.) A so called exoplanet which is some 60% larger than our world was discovered by the Keplar spacecraft, some 1,400 light years away in the habitable zone — where water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. It revolves around a bright star in about 385 days, and the temperatures are suitable for liquid although the jury is out whether the planet has a mountainous surface or is gassy like Neptune. Both Kepler 425b and its star (G-2 type) closely resemble the earth and our sun.

Many opine that this exoplanet will have a bulky atmosphere, rocky crust and restless volcanoes with more gravity than we experience. Does Kepler 452b sustain life?

Awe inspiring.

Admittedly, the under-served, lifted and puffy soufflé with its molten interior is almost sacred.

MUSHROOM SOUFFLE

2 T finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 1/2 T unsalted butter

1/2 lb mushrooms (wild fungi such as cèpes, porcini, oyster or chanterelles or, if too expensive, buy cultivated such as crimini, shitake and button)
2 T unsalted butter

2 1/2 T unsalted butter
3 T all purpose flour
1 C whole milk
1 bay leaf

1/4 t pimentón
1/2 t sea salt
Nutmeg, a small grating
White pepper, a healthy pinch, preferably freshly ground
Cayenne pepper, a small pinch

4 large local egg yolks
5 large local egg whites
1 C gruyère cheese, grated

Gruyère cheese, grated, for topping

Preheat oven to 375 F

Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in saucepan. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and purée. Set aside.

Butter the surface of an 6 cup soufflé dish. Add the grated parmigiano-reggiano and roll around the dish to cover the sides and bottom, knocking out the excess.

Heat the milk with bay leaf in a heavy saucepan. Once hot, discard bay leaf and set aside the milk.

In another heavy saucepan, melt the butter, then blend in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a smooth loose paste. Stir over medium heat until the butter and flour come together without coloring more that a light yellow, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Let stand a few seconds and then pour in all of the hot milk, whisking vigorously to blend. Return to medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon; bring to a gentle boil for 3 minutes or until the sauce is quite thick. Whisk in the pimentón, salt, nutmeg and peppers and remove from heat again. Add the mushroom mash and mix well with the whisk.

While off the heat, add egg yolks one by one into the milk, herb and mushroom sauce, all the while whisking.

In a separate bowl, using a hand or stand up mixer wither fitted with a whisk, whip the egg whites until glossy and peaked. Stir in a quarter of the egg whites into the sauce with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once they are assumed in the sauce, fold in the remaining egg whites and the gruyère cheese. Turn the soufflé mixture into the prepared mold, which should be about three quarters full. Sprinkle a small amount grated gruyère on top.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown, and the soufflé has puffed about 2″ over the rim of the mold. (Do not open oven door for 20 minutes.)

A Horizontal Culture

September 24, 2015

Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.
~George Bernard Shaw

Since Pope Francis addressed and postured (rightly so) before the chambers of discontent, the 114th U.S. Congress, please allow me to again pontificate about cheese.

Ricardo C. Rodríguez de la Vega, PhD. is a bespeckled, seemingly unassuming professor and evolutionary biologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and University of Paris-Sud, who enjoys savoring the wares at local fromageries (cheese shops) along with his colleagues. Been there, done that, but not in such a scientific manner. There are sound reasons for this repetitive behavior…well, besides the sublime aromas and delectable pungencies. These scientists are attempting to reconstruct the genetic natures of molds used to make cheeses.

So, to craft Roquefort, cheese makers use Penicillin roqueforti and mix them into the fermenting curds and then drop the loaves into limestone caves. The resultant mold spreads throughout and not only gives the cheese its characteristic blue stripes but also the singular saltiness. On another note, cow’s milk, soft brie is inundated with Penicillin camemberti or candidum which diffuses over the outside of the cheese and thus becomes the bloomy rind — which I flat adore.

But, turns out that it is more just than the human induced mold. These same live molds drew, unknown to their captors, from new varieties of dioxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from even distantly related species, also known as horizontal gene transfers. So, a cheese organism will grab some DNA from foreign species and absorb it into its own genome. A heavenly exercise in evolution.

PARSNIPS AND TURNIPS AU GRATIN

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves + 1 stick of unsalted butter

1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 lb turnips, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 C Gruyère, grated

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Thyme

1+ C cream

Heat oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin dish with a crushed garlic clove and then butter the dish well with the end of a stick of butter.

Layer the parsnips, turnips and cheese in a gratin dish, sprinkling every other layer with salt, pepper and thyme.

Carefully and slowly pour in cream.

Roast in the oven until the root vegetables are tender and easily pierced with a fork, some 45-50 minutes.

Pourboire: speaking of, why do Americans persist in wrapping soft cheese beforehand in cling wrap when waste is notably prevalent, and other cultures gently place cheese, just after slicing, in waxed or parchment paper? Oh, and serve at room temperature, especially with soft cheeses.

Chard & Serrano Tartines

October 7, 2014

Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly and love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything. That makes you smile.
~Mark Twain

Thanks for the break — it was sorely needed.

The time away did bring to mind when my then wife suffered a dreadful case of jet lag upon arrival in Paris. After leaving the airport, we taxied directly to the hotel to register and check our luggage. Since it was a little after lunch, we promptly headed to a cozy bar à vin (wine bar) for a brief bite. After one glass and ordering some morsels, I noted one of her eyes began drooping and the other was half shut. As much effort as she mustered, and even with donning her glasses, she simply could not correct those big brown peepers. So, we had to eat and drink hastily in order to get her back to our room for a nap. It was truly comical, especially in retrospect. For whatever reason, I have yet to endure the same malady. Then again, time will tell.

Although not requested, I did note that this rather small, yet stylish, wine bar with undoubtedly a tiny kitchen had a savory tartine on the menu. Donc, voilà un petit quelque

SWISS CHARD AND SERRANO TARTINES

2 T extra virgin olive oil (divided in two)
1 C swiss chard, washed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 to 1 C serrano ham, sliced a tad thicker than the usual paper thin

4 thick slices artisanal, rustic bread, such as ciabatta or pain au levain
Aioli or homemade mayonnaise
Dijon mustard

Gruyère or Taleggio cheese slices, to cover

Drizzle olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat until just simmering. Add chard, season with salt and pepper, and cook until just wilted, about a minute or so. Drain and cool somewhat on paper towels and then rinse and wipe out the pan.

Now, in the same lightly oiled skillet cook the serrano over medium high heat until barely crisped, again for a minute or so. Remove and drain on paper towel.

Lay the bread slices on a sheet pan and toast lightly on both sides under broiler. Then, brush lightly with aioli or mayonnaise and dijon mustard. Divide greens among the four toasts and lay out the serrano on each slice.

Neatly top each toast with slices of gruyère or taleggio and broil for a few more minutes, until just nicely browned.

Pourboire: Tartines can be topped with other grubbery, such as spinach, baby bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, kale as well as other types of ham or bacon such as proscuitto or fine bacon lardons and a variety of melting cheeses such as fontina, brie harvarti or some cheddars and perhaps some sliced and sautéed mushrooms, or smoked salmon, or even a poached egg. Space does not permit, so just use the best judgment rule and take a peek at the fridge.

Gruyère & Walnut Scones

February 9, 2012

The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
~Thomas H. Huxley

To those who still cling to blind faith, failing to relentlessly test assumptions and rejecting rational inquiry, here are just a few of the more egregious beliefs that have been disproven and no longer enjoy acceptance in the scientific community…

The earth is the center of the universe and all celestial bodies revolve around it. The universe is static, neither expanding nor contracting. The earth is not spherical, but flat. The earth is a hollow sphere containing light and housing an advanced civilization. The earth was created by a divine being 5,000 years ago and is not some 4.5 billion years old. The theory of evolution is wholly false and imaginary. The human body contains four balanced humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. The functions of all living things are controlled by a “vital force” or “life spark” and not by biophysical means. Life is generated spontaneously from inanimate matter. People are born with a tabula rasa (“blank slate”) bereft of innate traits or genetic proclivities. Modern alchemy, in which ordinary metals are turned into gold, is on firm footing. All combustible objects contain a special element called phlogiston that is released during burning. Global warming, the increase in atmospheric temperatures that results in climate changes due to anthropegenic causes, is a conspiratorial hoax. Santa Claus and the tooth fairy exist.

That is an extreme short list which does not even touch a host of fictions, but you get the drift. Empirical knowledge trumps raw faith.

When pandering to worldly warmth, please share these savory scones–best nestled up to a mate, with a bowl of hearty soup and a glass of vin rouge.

GRUYERE & WALNUT SCONES

1 1/4 C walnuts

2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 C Gruyère or Comté cheese, shredded
1 1/2 t fresh thyme leaves, stemmed and chopped

1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
4 T buttermilk
4 T heavy whipping cream
1 T honey
1 T Dijon mustard

Gruyère cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 F

Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasted. Allow to cool, remove to a cutting board, chop and set aside.

In a large bowl combine walnuts, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and rub in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. It is important that the butter be cold so when it is worked into the flour mixture it does not become a smooth dough. Do not overwork–it should be like a pie dough. Add the Gruyère and thyme thoroughly but gently.

Make a well in center of the dough mixture. In a small bowl combine egg, buttermilk, cream, honey, and mustard and add to the flour mixture, stirring with a spoon until moist. If overly dry, add some more buttermilk and if too wet add more flour.

Gather dough into a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough by folding and gently pressing it for about a dozen times. Shape dough into a round about 3/4″ thick. Using a cookie cutter or small wine glass, cut rounds of dough. (Alternatively, you may cut the dough into triangles.) Gather the scraps, reshape the dough into the same thickness, and cut into more rounds or triangles. Arrange on a baking sheet about 1″-2″ apart and sprinkle the top of each with just a little more Gruyère.

Bake scones until tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.