I wasn’t really naked.  I simply didn’t have any clothes on…
~Joséphine Baker

Gotta love her guile — “I was not really nude, but was clad in nothing.”

Well, welcome to zany Bastille Day (July 14), and the chaos that ensued on le Tour de France on Mont Ventoux today — with the yellow jersey farcically running up the mountain on more than ludicrous shoes with rigid carbon fiber soles and underneath clips. Well done, childish and irresponsible spectators. Mayhem, where it should not be.

I deeply adore lamb shanks, as you might note from just perusing this site.

These opulent, yet bourgeois, lamb shanks somehow remind me of and even obsoletely yearn for  Joséphine Baker’s savory, almost sugary brown legs, loins, oh so fine buttocks and breasts, and my country’s (France’s) mutual passion with her.  I do have an American passport, but call France “home” especially during these baffling and bewildering Drumpfesque days.

Of humble beginnings in St. Louis (born Freda Josephine McDonald), she was a hit in New York City, but sailed to Paris and became a divine, silken, and often sensual even erotic, African American captivating dancer.  Mlle. ou Mme. Baker hit her apex, her pinnacle in Paris and perhaps was bisexual.  She also performed for troops and was even a spy for her adopted land, France, during World War II. She hid weapons and smuggled documents across the border, tucking them beneath gowns and other undergarmets.  After the war, she was bestowed upon with the Croix de Guerre, Rosette de la Resistance, and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

Before and after she also took Europe by storm, was adored by so many, often referred to as the Black Venus, Black Pearl and Creole Goddess.  Ernest Hemingway dubbed her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  Who could forget the Danse Sauvage or the bananas and plumes she so scantily and exotically wore?  Due to rampant racism at home, Joséphine Baker became a legal denizen of France, speaking two tongues, and ultimately gave up her American citizenship. There, she became perhaps the most renowned ex-pats of France.

With so many children (she preceded and far exceeded Angelina Jolie — Joséphine had 12 children.  Baker raised two daughters, French born Marianne and Moroccan born Stellina, and 10 sons, Korean born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese born Akio, Colombian born Luis, Finnish born Jari (now Jarry), French born Jean-Claude, and Noël, Israeli born Moïse, Algerian born Brahim, Ivorian born Koffi, and Venezuelan born Mara, the group of 12 that was called the Rainbow Tribe along with a harem of monkeys, a chimpanzee, a parrot, parakeets, a pig, a snake, a goat, several dogs and cats and a pet cheetah.  Mme. ou Mlle. Baker (depending on when and with whom you spoke) even benevolently employed some one half of the citizens of the nearby village and had a restaurant built in the neighboring countryside.

Even though Josephine Baker was believed to be then the richest woman in the world, she underwent the shame of bankruptcy at a later stage in life despite help from Princess Grace of Monaco and Bridgette Bardot.  This beloved and dazzling parisian artiste was rudely foreclosed upon at Château des Milandes near Dordogne in the Périgord region by creditors, and she was exploited by so many others.  She was literally locked out of her beloved home by the new owner, little doubt un nouveau riche. Soon afterwards, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Alas, we all die — but, we commonly do not have statues, bas reliefs, sculptures, plaques, places, halls of fame, piscines, parcs, boutiques, hotels, photos, films, and are lavished with so many honors, commendation letters, medals, processions, parades in our honor, named and created for us, upon our demise.  Joséphine Baker did them all.

GRILLED LAMB SHANKS

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1 – 1 1/4 lb each
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C cognac or brandy
1 C port
1 C or so, chicken stock or broth
6-8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1 T balsamica di modena
1-2 dollops of whipping cream or crème fraîche

Combine lamb shanks, port, stock, salt and pepper and garlic in a Dutch oven with some olive oil. Turn heat to medium high or high and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook placed downwards, turning about every 30 minutes, until shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove shanks, tent them, and strain the sauce.  Skim fat from top of sauce and preheat a charcoal grill so it makes you restrain your hand from the grill at about 3 seconds: so, medium high.   Then, place the braised shanks on the grill, rolling and moving, until nicely browned and crusted, with a total cooking time of about 15 minutes.  While grilling, heat the sauce from the previous braising by simmering quietly with a dollop or two of whipping cream or crème fraîche, and add red vinegar (balsamica di modena).

Serve sauce with shanks, eat with risotto, egg noodles, smashed potatoes or polenta, and they all go swimmingly well with a fine French côtes du rhône, bourgogne, bandol or Oregon pinot noir.

Pourboire:  nor should callous carnage and chaos ever exist again on the Promenade des Anglais, a storied boulevard on Nice’s coast during France’s national holiday, Bastille night.  Une vraie honteun énorme calamité.   Tant d’enfants sont tués et estropiés.  Quel dommage, pour ne pas dire plus.  Je suis tellement attristé — mon coeur vous tend la main. Mon dieu!

Very much unlike Joséphine Baker, you will be remembered forever as nothing but a psychotic, murderous butcher, especially of children…whatever your name is or will be.

 

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To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.
~Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

EGG NOODLES WITH SWISS CHARD, MUSTARD & COLLARD GREENS

So often, things you learn to cherish have been so long overlooked—yet they often hovered right under your nose. For me, Amish country noodles are one of the new found delicacies that fall squarely into that category. Where had you been all these years? My passion for these hearty durum wheat and egg noodles almost went unrequited, but finally has been stirred. Now, I feel an obligation to share the love for this side thang.

To make this beloved tryst complete, sautéed chard, mustard and collard greens are commingled, mated with the noodles. Introduce succulent braised lamb shanks or fleshy coq au vin for nestling, candlelit chiaroscuro, some sonorous Luther V. serenades and voila!…you have a perfectly seductive “cooking Amish au naturel” meal. Unless, of course, you are one of those lingerie fanatics in which case a seductive silk chemise may be your apron du jour. Some food for the mood.

1 lb thick Amish country egg noodles
3 C water
4 C chicken broth
2 T sea salt

1 small bunch collard greens (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons
1 small bunch mustard greens (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons
1 small bunch swiss chard (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 t hot red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmigiano-reggiano, fresh grated

In a large, heavy pot over high heat, bring water and broth to a boil. Add sea salt, noodles and return to boil. Cook until just al dente, about 10-15 minutes, depending on noodle size.

Bring large stockpot of water to a boil; add greens. Cook for 15 minutes and drain well. Then in a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the greens and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften and become wilted and tender, about 10-15 minutes. During the cooking process, season with the salt and pepper to taste. They should be peppery.

Drain the noodles well and add to the greens, tossing until they are married. Serve, lightly topped with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

…rooted in Africa, watered by Islam and rustled by the winds of Europe.
~King Hassan II

Al Maghreb means “furthest west” or “where the sun sets,” as when the Arabs first arrived in northern Africa in the 7th century, the lands of present day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia were considered to be the outermost western region in the world.

Morocco is situated on the northwest coast of Africa at an intersection of and bordered by Algeria and Western Sahara, the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea…its northernmost tip nearly touches the Iberian peninsula. So, it is little wonder that these lands display a captivating cultural mosaic with traditional cuisine borrowing culinary influences from the indigenous Berbers, invading Arabs, as well as more recently French and Spanish colonialists.

Generous hospitality and custom are the touchstones of Moroccan entertaining, and it often centers around food. Guests are often treated to an abundant tiered feast served at a low communal table covered with brightly colored cloths while seated on pillows. The central meal is usually served at midday. A ritual of handwashing over a basin is performed before serving with perfumed water sprinkled on the right hand as Moroccans eat using the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand only. (Food eaten with your fingers tastes better, remember?) Savory homemeade bread is also offered for use as a utensil.

The resplendent meal is served in several profoundly aromatic courses and culminates in a palate cleansing mint tea.

This succulent lamb dish and the accompanying couscous makes immediate use of the recently posted recipe for Ras El Hanout (08.11.2009)…certainly by now some has made its way into your pantry. The complex, colorful aromas created by the luscious fresh lamb, varied spices and dried fruits will pervade your abode through the night.

MOROCCAN LAMB SHANKS WITH DRIED FRUITS & COUSCOUS

4 1-1 1/4 lb lamb shanks, not trimmed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 T Ras El Hanout (North African spices)

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, halved across and then quartered lengthwise
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T tomato paste
1 C dry red wine

1 28-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
3-4 C chicken stock
1/2 C dried figs
1/2 C dried apricots
1/2 C pitted prunes

Preheat oven to 450 F

Season the shanks with salt and pepper and then rub the Ras El Hanout spice mix all over the surface, massaging it into the meat some.

Place the shanks, standing heavy side down and narrow end up in a large, heavy Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. Roast in the oven, uncovered, for 1 hour. Transfer lamb to a platter or baking dish and loosely tent.

Place the Dutch oven or pot on the stove over medium high, and deglaze briefly with a little red wine, scraping up cooked bits off the bottom. Reduce to medium heat and add olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking the onion and carrots and a couple minutes or so later the garlic and season with salt and pepper and a pinch of Ras El Hanout. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about a total 4 to 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and wine and cook another 4 or 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, chicken stock and dried fruits to the casserole; and then nestle the lamb shanks in the liquid. Cover the pan and return it to the oven. Bring to a simmer and braise, basting occasionally, until the meat is quite tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and again transfer lamb to platter and tent. Strain the sauce into a bowl, gently pressing on the vegetables and skim off any fat. Reserve the vegetables for serving. Return the sauce to the Dutch oven or pot and boil over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 10-15 minutes. Keep sauce warm.

Mound the couscous somewhat off center of each large dish or platter. Arrange the lamb shanks atop the reserved vegetables slight atop and to one side of the couscous and spoon over with sauce. Have a bowl of Harissa (04.02.09 post) on the table for passing should some want heat.

COUSCOUS WITH ALMONDS, CURRANTS AND HERBS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T green onions
1 T Ras El Hanout
1/4 C whole almonds toasted, coarsely chopped

1 c instant couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock, warmed
1/2 t lemon zest

1/2 C black currants, plumped in warm water and drained
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

In a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat add olive oil. Reduce heat to low and add the green onions, Ras El Hanout, and almonds and sauté gently until softened and slightly fragrant. Add the couscous then the warm chicken broth. Stir with a fork to combine, add lemon zest and cover. Let sit for 10 minutes, then uncover and add the currants, mint and cilantro. Fluff again with a fork. Toss gently to combine.

The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.
~Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Cover your eyes, vegans. This is meat, plain and simple, gnawing-bone-in-hand-Henry VIII stuff…a cruel image for some. To you, my apologies in advance.

For me, a pure and simple apotheosis. Lamb shanks are mentioned at my table much in the same exalted tones reserved for a local farmer’s fresh scrambled eggs, seared foie gras, roast pork belly, crispy skinned roast duck, rarefied pungent cheeses, foraged wild mushrooms and roasted bone marrow—all on “My Last Meal” short list. Just the names of these dishes are sweet nothings when whispered in my ear, and are sure to get me hot and bothered.

Once I experienced these succulent shanks as a child, they became the birthday meal request each year (usually roasted, sometimes attentively grilled). The long held passion I have for them is not unlike that profound and ceaseless lust you feel about the scent of an unrequited love. A yearning that stirs to the core…a kind of “can life exist without” lamb shanks?

The braising method below takes advantage of the high percentage of connective tissues that lamb shanks possess, slowly breaking them down to create juicy, tender flesh with tiers of evocative flavors and intoxicating aromas.

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

Preheat oven to 450

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

4 1-1 1/4 lb lamb shanks, not trimmed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T brandy or cognac for deglazing

1 C or more of port
4 C or more chicken stock

1 C heavy whipping cream (optional)

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.

Season the shanks with salt and pepper and then rub the spice mix all over the surface.

Place the shanks, standing heavy side down and narrow end up in a large, heavy Dutch oven or roasting pan. Roast in the oven, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Transfer lamb to a platter or baking dish and tent. Place the pan on the stovetop on medium heat and deglaze briefly with the brandy, scraping up cook bits on bottom. Then, return the lamb to the pan, again standing on end. Add the port and stock. Cover the pan and return it to the oven. Braise until the meat is quite tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and again transfer to platter and tent. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve (chinois), then return to pan. Cook the braising sauce down until reduced and coats a spoon, adding cream and some more port to fortify throughout should you desire. The shanks and slow braising liquid produce a glistening, luxurious sauce.

Serve with the sauce in a boat and smashed potatoes, egg noodles or polenta. Of course, do not forget a lofty Cotes du Rhône, French Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir.