I am Sam, Sam I Am

January 29, 2009

Do you like green eggs and ham? Would you like them here or there? … Would you like them in a house? on a train? in the rain? with a goat? on a boat? You may like them you will see…

P.S. to an earlier post about developments in the White House culinary staff (Obama Fare—Gratin Dauphinois).

Sam Kass, a private chef who cooked for the Obamas while they were living in Chicago, will now serve them in the White House.

A Chicago native, Mr. Kass, 28, graduated from the University of Chicago and received his formal training at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe. He later worked at Avec, a Chicago wine bar serving Mediterranean food.

Mr. Kass then founded Inevitable Table, a private chef service in the Windy City that purports to be a “link to clean, healthy food.” The services advertised include cooking and shopping “mainly from local farms,” buying wines from “small sustainable wineries,” and offering meals for children and private parties.

Not to worry White House executive chef, Cristeta Comerford—a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama said Mr. Kass will not be the only cook preparing the first family’s meals, but “he knows what they like and he happens to have a particular interest in healthy food and local food.”

Mr. Kass’s appointment again underscores the Obama family’s commitment to healthy, local and sustainable foodstuffs. Is an organic vegetable and herb garden on the White House grounds in the offing? Imagine the bounty from the White House kitchen waste alone which could reaped to create an official presidential compost bin. A science project for Malia or Sasha?

I do so like green eggs and ham, thank you, thank you, Sam I am…

GREEN EGGS AND HAM

Pesto

3 cups fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 C pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/3 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil into a food processor or blender. Blend in pulses until the paste is fairly smooth, adding more oil if it is too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; set aside.

Bruschetta & Proscuitto

1 loaf Tuscan bread or baguette
1 head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 thin slices of proscuitto di parma or san daniele del fruili
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat broiler, placing rack 6″ from the element

Slice the loaf of bread, on the bias, into 3/4-inch slices. Place bread in oven on sheet pan and broil until golden brown on both sides, approximately 2 minutes for the first side and 1 to 1 1/2 for second side. Remove to a platter and rub each slice of bread with the garlic and then brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; set aside.

Heat olive oil in skillet and sauté proscuitto briefly, 1-2 minutes.

Poached Eggs

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature
Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated or shaven

Fresh eggs are mandatory as they will gather compactly around the yolk, resulting in a rounder, neater shape.

Fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure they are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex, whirlpool. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

To assemble: put a slice of bruschetta on a plate, toppped by a slice of crisp proscuitto; then place 2 poached eggs on top. Spoon a tablespoon of pesto over each egg. Finish with grated or thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

*Free range, organic eggs: Organic eggs are produced from hens that consume a special feed in which all of the ingredients are free from commercial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Free range chickens usually have a covered shelter and access to an outside scratch yard. They are pasture-fed, also foraging for worms and bugs, which are ideal for their health and immunity systems.

…I do, I like them, Sam I am.

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In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.
~Julia Child

Peering over the edges of my laptop, I watch images of the movers frenetically moving the Bush’s out of the White House. As a crippled, even historically disgraced, presidency departs, the effervescent champagne of hope has begun to flow here–admittedly coupled with tears of joy. Is it not metaphorical that Vice President Cheney will be wheelchair bound while watching the inauguration of new leadership? Not unlike the heartless slumlord Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. Fear not, as a lengthy political rant is not in the offing (however tempting). Let’s just leave it with the simple optimistic thought that President Obama not experience driving a car for a good eight years.

On to food. Speculation that the White House kitchen would likewise undergo change has now been dispelled. It was recently announced that Cristeta Comerford will stay on as the first family’s executive chef, a post she has held since 2005. I suppose that makes her the Robert Gates of the White House kitchen cabinet.

Trained in French technique, and specializing in original American and ethnic cuisine, Ms. Comerford clearly passed muster with Michelle Obama, who remarked in a transition team statement: “Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation…(and) also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate her perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families.” Maybe this cooperative and President Obama’s public commitment to sustainable foods will lead to composting, buying local, selecting seasonally and growing an organic vegetable and herb garden on the White House grounds. (That ranks right up there with the bowling alley being converted into a basketball court. I mean that—finally, a president that can drop the rock)

So, what food should grace the White House table? A simple suggestion.

While this does not seem to be a “health food” as that term is bantered about and sometimes misused, there are ample reasons for this choice. It is a delightfully soulful, even “soilful” food, a specialty of the Dauphiné region of alpine France—a country (along with other friends and allies) whose firm historical, cultural and gastronomic ties with America will now be finally reestablished. The recipe also imports a play on words as the word “dauphin” meant the heir apparent to the French throne in the 17th & 18th centuries. We also have read Michelle Obama’s well publicized macaroni and cheese recipe, and this side dish is strikingly similar…close kith with potatoes in lieu of pasta.

This is a more basic version of gratin dauphinois. A short cut of sorts. The mother recipe usually involves gently simmering the potatoes in whole milk (10 minutes) before assembling them in the baking dish. Depending on the mood, sometimes you rustically leave some skins on, other times they are peeled nude. Some cooks believe that the potatoes should be rinsed of starch while others savor the earthiness imparted by the starch. This is one of the beauties of cooking—your individual palate has the free will to choose.

This basic gratin recipe can be lusciously transformed by using zucchini, fennel, squash and turnips, depending on season and availability.

GRATIN DAUPHINOIS

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted

2 lbs. baking potatoes, preferably russets, peeled and very thinly sliced
(with mandolin or knife—your choices on rinsing and peeling)

2+ C grated gruyère cheese
1+ C heavy cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin/baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Arrange one half of the sliced potatoes slightly overlapped in a single layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Salt and pepper. Add a second layer of potatoes with cheese, cream and season with salt and pepper. Lightly grate some fresh nutmeg on the top stratum to finish.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until crisp and golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.

Pourboire: Immediately after removing from the oven and before resting, lightly drizzle with truffle oil.