You’re enough to try the patience of an oyster.
~Lewis Carroll

Since the early 17th century, the sometimes covert, yet prestigious l’Académie Française has been printing official dictionaries and regulating the French language which was not really unified until around World War I (1914-1918). Before the early 20th century tribal, provincial, and regional tongues and texts flourished in France. Recently, l’Académie proposed some spelling reforms (les réformes orthographes) by barring some uses of the beloved circumflex (accent circonflexe) sometimes dubbed “le petit chapeau” or Asian conical hat that adorns the top of certain French nouns and verbs.  Indicated by the sign ^, it is placed over a vowel or syllable, almost giving a poetic flair to the word, sentence, paragraph via pronouncement — even meaning (e.g., mûr “mature” mur “wall”).

These spelling changes were approved by the body in 1990 and then promptly forgotten or ignored.  Apparently, very few took notice then.

The notion was to generally ban circumflexes over the letters “i” and “u” (e.g., boite and brule) with some exceptions.   This linguistic move met with genuine public outrage, sober and sometimes furious discourse and even a popular movement called je suis circonflexe. One of the phrases often heard in the uproar was nivellement par le bas (“a dumbing down”) by removing the circumflex from certain letters.    The purist pressure mounted until l’Académie rendered its proposals for circumflex omissions optional.

The accent circonflexe is one of the five diacritical marks used in the French language and can also be seen in Turkish, Afrikaans, Romanian, Bulgarian, Slovak, Portuguese, Swedish and Vietnamese writings.  The other four diacritics in French written script, besides l’accent circonflexe, are l’accent aigu (marché), l’accent grave (très), la cedille (garçon) and le tréma (aïoli).

Circumflexes are applied in the “nous” (we) and “vous” (you) passé simple (simple past) conjugations of all verbs, and in the “il” (he) conjugation of the imparfait subjonctif (subjunctive imperfect) of all verbs.  Over time, silent letters were also dropped so those lost souls (especially “s’s”) have a circumflex over the preceding vowel even though the missing letter reappears in some derivative words (e.g., forêt vs forestier).  Some 2,000 words utilize circumflexes in the French language (about 3% of the native lexicon).

Even though the school texts make the circumflex spelling changes discretional, it appears that le petit chapeau may still reign and will still sit atop such words (letters) among so many others:

âcre, âge, âme, apparaître, arrêt, bâtard, bâton, bête, bien-être , bientôt, brûlée, bûcher, château, connaître, côté, coût, crêpe, croître, croûte, dépêche, dîner, diplôme, disparaître, enchaîner, enchâsser, enquêter, être, extrême, faîte, fantôme, gâteau, gîte, goûter, hâte, honnête, hôpital, hôte, hôtel, huîtres, impôt, intérêt, jeûne, maître, mâture, même, mûr, nôtre, pâté, pâtissière, pêche, plutôt, poêle, prêt, prôse, prôtet, ragoût, reconnaître, rêves, rôti, symptômes, tâches, tantôt, tempête, tête, théâtre, traître, vêtements, vôtre, forêt, fraîche, fenêtre…

This is by no means a final adieu.  There is little doubt circumflexes will be imposed here — both are correct, n’est-ce pas (avec ou sans)?


16 T unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature or nearby
4 T fresh herbs, minced (tarragon leaves and stripped, cored fennel bulbs)
2 t lemon zest, freshly grated
2 T lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1-2 t cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 dozen (24 or so) fresh, “local” oysters

Place the softened butter and the remaining herbs, lemon and spices to a medium size bowl. Use a large spoon to cream (or place into a food processor fitted with a metal blade) the ingredients together until well blended. Serve immediately or preferably store in the frig.

If you save the butter for later — which likely should be done — wrap it up in plastic wrap in the shape of a log and refrigerate overnight until stiff. To use, just unwrap and slice discs from the chilled butter log and bring to room temperature on waxed or parchment paper.  Then, place on warm oysters and then re-grill briefly, as below.

Place the oysters on a medium high grill, flat side up.  (Remember to hold your open palm about 3″ above the hot grate, and medium high is reached when the pain demands you retract it in 2-3 seconds.)

Cover with hood and cook until they open, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the oysters to a platter, carefully keeping the liquor inside. Remove the top shells and loosen the oysters from the bottom shells. Top each oyster with a pad of compound butter and return the oysters in their bottoms to the grill. Again, cover the grill and cook until the butter is mostly melted and the oysters are hot, about 1 minute.


2 dozen (24 or so) “local” oysters
Equal amounts of fish or chicken stock and water

1 C dry white wine
1/2 C tarragon leaves
1/2 C thyme leaves
2 t cayenne pepper

Bring water and stock to a boil in a heavy stock pot. Place oysters, wine and herbs in a steaming tray until done and shells start to open, about 3-5 minutes — quickly pull them off the heat and shuck.


Oh, Baby! Artichokes

September 16, 2011

You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all, just as an intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.

~Luis Buñuel

While memory is often altered to suit self and others (as if life then stands explained), we carry our youth through life. Our early impressions doggedly remain, however spun later to placate others. Sometimes correcting unjust misperceptions or often simply revising the past to fit the present. Thankfully, food has stasis and lacks this kind of delusion. Food adorns a plate honestly without demand or compromise, and sometimes even dominates conversation, imagination. I have been smitten by these green thistles since childhood…at first infatuation, then a torrid tryst and finally an abiding love that has perservered. And at least with artichokes you can rinse and carve away the bitterness.

Despite the misnomer, luscious baby artichokes are not infants. Rather, they are fully mature perennials that grow closer to the ground than their rotund partners, sheltered by fronds overhead which effectively stunts their growth. Artichokes are meticulously planted and harvested by hand. At full blossom, the plants spread to some 6 feet in diameter and reach a height of 3-4 feet. The fields are maintained in perennial culture for some 5-10 years with each cropping cycle launched by cutting back the tops several inches below the soil to stimulate development of new shoots. Sometimes called “stumping,” this is timed to initiate a new harvest.

These tender baby morsels are coveted by chefs thanks to their ease of prep and plating beauty, whether sautéed, roasted, braised, grilled, steamed, or fried. Unlike with larger globes, the inner fuzzy choke does not develop making the plant almost fully edible.

Usually available throughout the year they have a peak spring season, and then a smaller crop is reaped in autumn. Select small, tightly closed, firm, heavy, evenly green artichokes. Avoid dry looking thistles that are browning or too open or gaping.


Juice of 1 lemon
Cold water
12 baby artichokes

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
4 fresh sage leaves
1/4 C fresh tarragon leaves, loosely packed
1/2 C fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
Small pinch of red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated
1 T capers (optional)

Rinse the artichokes under cold water. This will remove the natural thin film that can give the choke a bitter taste. Then, snap off the outer layer of leaves until you reach the pale, yellow-green layer of petals—sort of half-green at the top and half-yellow at the bottom. Trim off the stem and pare all remaining dark green areas from bases as they can prove bitter. Cut about 1/2″ off the tops of the artichokes and then cut them in half lengthwise.

To prevent browning, soak the trimmed artichokes in cold water acidulated with lemon or vinegar. This also loosens dirt that may have settled between the leaves. Drain the artichokes well and press between kitchen or paper towels to remove most of the water.

Place a heavy, large sauté pan over medium high heat, then add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. (Please be aware that the water residue will cause spatter when the artichokes are added to the hot oil.)

Add the artichokes in batches to the heated olive oil and toss quickly to sear. Add the garlic, herbs, red pepper flakes, black pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the artichokes are tender, caramelized and slightly crisp at the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Do not burn the garlic—it should be light golden. Season with salt, very lightly sprinkle with grated parmigiano-reggiano, and strew with a few capers.

Herbs & Capers

July 9, 2011

The mind is its own place.

I began to write about how this week Colts tight end John Mackey died from frontal temporal dementia the result of multiple cerebral trauma; how cyclist Chris Horner suffered a severe concussion from a Tour crash on a narrow, ditched road forcing his confused withdrawal; how over decades hundreds of thousands of now forgotten soldiers have sustained grave head injuries, coming home afoot or in boxes. All of that rattled gray matter. The altered consciousness, amnesia, flashbacks, dizziness, seizures, ringing ears, double vision, skewed dreams, agonized psyches, malaise, deprived sleep, anxiety, woeful depression…and more. So much more than a dismissive “shake it off” or simplistic alert + oriented x 3.

Instead, my memory safely drifted to sunflowers. During a recent stage in Normandie, the peloton swept by a field teeming with these flowering heads. But, the yellow radiant blooms were turned away, shyly shunning the cameras. Yet somehow, almost bewitchingly, the brain adjusted and turned the hidden lemon flowers toward the mind’s eye. Despite reality, my mind embraced a yellow pallette.


1 C ciabatta or baguette, crusts removed, torn into pieces
3 T sherry or champagne vinegar

3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

1 C fresh flat leaf parsley
3 T basil leaves
1 t fresh thyme leaves
1/2 t fresh sage leaves

4 T capers, rinsed and drained
1 egg yolk

1 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the bread and sherry or champagne vinegar, and toss together, and allow sit for 10 minutes or so

Turn on a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and add the garlic. Chop more finely, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you pulse the processor. Add the herbs to the processor, and pulse several times until contents are finely chopped. Add the bread, capers and egg yolk to the bowl, and pulse the processor on and off until well blended, about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides again, then turn on and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drizzle over grilled or roasted meats, fish, breads, and even pasta.


Savory (& Savvy) Pork

January 29, 2010

I will astonish Paris with an apple.
~Paul Cezanne

Although it serves well in other seasons, roast pork seems true winter fare. Affable victuals cooked with frosted panes and views of snowy roofs. But, wholly aside from the Rockwell images, pork is flat ambrosial…whether cured, roasted, seared, grilled or otherwise.

The venerable and ironically omnivorous domestic pig, Sus domesticus, is one of the more ancient species of livestock—dating back some 8,000 years. Pigs are even-toed ungulates: hoofed animals whose weight is spread evenly by more than one toe. Like ballerinas, ungulates use the tips of their hoofed toes to sustain their body weight while ambulating. Pigs, giraffes, rhinoceri, hippopotami, camels, moose, all en pointe.

Pigs happen to be one of the more socially adept and sage farm species. They are exceptionally adroit animals who adeptly grasp new routines, and their cognitive skills are almost unparalleled in the animal world. Pig acumen is damn awesome. They can cleverly jump hoops, stand and bow, utter linguinstic sounds on command, herd sheep, open cages, and play video games. The pig genome compares favorably with the human genome in many respects, especially with males.

Much like humans, pig teeth have an enamel coating which makes them stauncher and less vulnerable to disease. They masticate and ruminate their chow, having a digestive system that is similar to humans which cannot readily digest unground food. Think more of the swine in Snatch and less of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.


3 lb boneless pork top loin roast, trimmed and tied
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut in slivers
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

6 medium leeks, whites only, halved lengthwise
Fresh thyme sprigs
Fresh rosemary sprigs
2 heads fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil

4 apples, cored, peeled and cut into 6 slices each
4 T unsalted butter

1 C cognac or brandy
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
4 T unprocessed, organic honey

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fat side up, stud the pork roast with garlic slivers. Rub the surface first with softened butter and then liberally with salt, pepper, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cradle the pork on a rack in a heavy roasting pan. Strew the leeks, sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and halved garlic heads in the bottom of the pan, drizzled lightly with olive oil.

Roast until medium rare, about 1 hour, basting. During the last 20 minutes, bathe with cognac and apple cider vinegar and drizzle with honey. A thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F when the pork is medium rare. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, tent the pork loin with foil on a platter, and let rest for at least 15-20 minutes. Keep in mind that when the roast is removed from the oven and is resting before carving, it will continue to cook some more, allowing the juices to come back to the center of the roast.

Remove and set aside the leeks, garlic, and herbs. Place pan on stove on medium high and reduce sauce, adding cognac, vinegar and honey to your liking. If you are not facing an appointment with your cardio specialist that week, even treat yourself to some heavy whipping cream on the finish. Reduce sauce until it thickens and coats a spoon.

In the meantime, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the apples in a single layer, and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 5-10 minutes. Drain, and tent with foil to keep warm.

To serve, remove and discard the string. Carve the pork into rather thick slices and serve with apples and leeks nestled alongside, drizzled with sauce.


It isn’t necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.
~Groucho Marx

Had to share last evening’s carnivore carnevale.

Bleu d’Auvergne is an appellation d’origine contrôlée or “controlled term of origin” (AOC) blue cheese from the fairly isolated, craggy Auvergne region in south-central France. The cheese is crafted in a traditional manner from cow’s milk, in both pasteurized and raw versions, and features an even spread of blue veins. Bleu d’Auvergne is produced in the Massif Central between Puy-de-Dôme and Cantal and then is aged for 4 weeks in cool, humid caves. There, an often revered cave man, an affineur (cheese ager), stores newly made cheeses in the caves, carefully monitoring and nuturing the growth of flavor producing molds.

Bleu d’Auvergne’s moist, sticky rind conceals a soft paste possessing a grassy, herbaceous, and heady, pungent tartness. Yet, this bleu remains milder, creamier, less salty and more approachable than many Roqueforts. Gentler on the wallet too.

Multi-aliased Kansas City strip steaks (a/k/a KC strips, strip loins, boneless loins, shell steaks, New York strip steaks, or NY strips) are purloined from the short loin of the bovine. The name emerged during the heyday of the now defunct Kansas City Stockyards located in the downtown “West Bottoms” when that beef cut achieved some notoriety. Some have even asserted that New York regionally pilfered, or perhaps rechristened, the name of the already invented Kansas City strip steak. A gastronomic who cares.

The short loin is a portion of the hindquarter of beef immediately behind the ribs and before the flank—containing part of the spine which includes the top loin and the tenderloin and yields the porterhouse, t-bone and strip steaks. Think of this flavor ridden, well marbled morsel as a porterhouse or t-bone where both savory bone and succulent tenderloin triangle have been, how do we say genteely…castrated?


2 boneless KC strip steaks, cut 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 rosemary sprigs

1/4 C cognac or brandy

3/4 C port
4 rosemary sprigs
1 C chicken broth
1/4 C bleu d’auvergne
1/2 C heavy whipping cream

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F

Generously salt and pepper the steaks on both sides, then lightly sprinkle with herbes de Provence (crumbled between fingers and thumb).

In a large, heavy oven proof skillet, heat the olive oil and butter with rosemary sprigs and smashed garlic over medium high heat until shimmering, but not smoking or burned. Stir the rosemary sprigs and garlic around a couple of times as it heats, to infuse the butter and oil with their fragrance. Then, remove and discard the garlics and rosemary.

Place the steaks in the pan and cook until nicely browned, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Depending on thickness, they should be nice browned and rare at this stage. Remove the steaks to an oven proof dish and place in the heated oven until they reach your desired doneness, again dependent on meat thickness. Let rest, tented, while preparing sauce. Douse with cognac or brandy and carefully ignite with a match to flambé very briefly—until the flame extinguishes.

Meanwhile, turn the heat up and deglaze the pan with a generous splash of port, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add rosemary sprigs and broth, and cook down for several minutes. Whisk in bleu d’auvergne and following that, add the whipping cream and cook down using a flat wooden spatula to combine well. Add remaining port to fortify the sauce, allowing to cook down until the sauce is velvety and coats the spatula well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Carve meat across the grain on a bias into 1/2″ slices and spoon sauce over each serving as well as serve a sauceboat on the table.


Much Virtue in Herbs, little in Men.
~Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

Time to make hay while the herb sun shines.

Revisiting the frittata (see Frittata—Veloce e Frugale, 01.23.09) is a natural given my egg worship—reaching almost pentecostal fervor—coupled with the summer gardens and local markets brimming with fresh herbs.

My adoration of cheese could be described as decidedly catholic. Here, the object of my affection is fontina, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, which comes from the Val d’Aosta region in the Italian Alps near the borders of France and Switzerland. Dense, smooth and slightly elastic, Fontina has a straw-colored interior with minute round holes and a rich, almost sweet, earthy nuttiness. It melts gracefully.


1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil

8 large organic, free range eggs
Dollop of heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Trace pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 C fresh parsley leaves
1/2 C fresh basil leaves
1/2 C fresh arugula leaves, cut into ribbons
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 T fresh sage leaves, chopped

1/3 C fontina Val d’Aosta, freshly grated
1 C parmigianno-reggiano, freshly grated and divided in two equal parts

Preheat the broiler.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl, add the cream, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper; then beat lightly with a wire whisk. Add the herbs and half the parmigiano-reggiano, then whisk some further to combine those ingredients.

In a heavy 9″ ovenproof non-stick omelet pan or skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat, swirling to coat the bottom and sides evenly. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the frittata mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook slowly, stirring the top part of the mixture, but allowing the bottom to set until the egg mixture has begun to form small curds and the frittata is browning on the bottom (4-5 minutes). With a spatula, gently loosen the the frittata from the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining parmigianno-reggiano and the fontina.

Transfer the skillet to the broiler, placing it about 5″-6″ from the heating element, and broil until the frittata browns lightly on top. It will puff up and become firm in about 3-4 minutes, but watch carefully as ovens differ. However, take care to not open the oven too often during the process as the resulting drop in temperature affects the cooking process.

Remove the pan from the broiler, give it a slight fresh grating of parmiggiano-reggiano, and let it cool for at least couple of minutes, allowing it to set. Next, either slide or preferably invert the frittata onto a flat plate.


Ras El Hanout (رأس الحانوت‎), which means “head of the shop” in Arabic, is a complex and distinctive mixture of multiple spices and herbs. The recipes vary according to the individual spice blender, but it remains basic to the cooking of North Africa, commonly used with meat, game, poultry and couscous. Ras el Hanout can be purchased commercially at specialty stores, but also can be made at home depending on spice availability. This recipe does not include the highly exotic, nearly impossible to obtain, ingredients such as ash berries, belladonna leaves, cantharides, orrisroot, galingale, and monk’s pepper.

A pantry must.


1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 T allspice berries
1 T cardamom seeds (removed from pods)
1 t anise seed

1 T black peppercorns
1/2 T white peppercorns
6 whole cloves
1 T ground ginger
I T turmeric
1/2 T sea salt
3/4 T ground cinnamon
1/2 T cayenne pepper
1/2 T grated nutmeg
1 t dried lavender

Heat the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, allspice berries, cardamom seeds, and anise seeds in a heavy skillet. Dry sauté them until aromatic, about a minute or so. Do not brown or burn. Mix together with the remaining ingredients in a bowl, then transfer into a food processor, spice mill or mortar and pestle and process until finely ground. Take care with the food processor or spice mill to grind in pulses, so the rapidly moving blade does not burn the mixture during the process.