The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.
~Julia Child

Shall the talk be about food or something else? I am torn now.

Peut être, since my youngest son is now in France, it is time for me to talk about Julia. Each day I am graced with awakening early and each night bedding late to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II, and times in between with each one bearing the name on top of Julia Child. Each tome stares me in the face close to my laptop screen and always smilingly so — thank you, Anastasia. By her writings and intervening WGBH television appearances, the 6’2″ Julia Child, with her warbly tongue and sometimes maladroit gestures was ever tactful and frolicsome. Julia and her cohorts Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, Paul Child (whom Julia met at the OSS and married) and always had a couth palette (and Jacques Pépin) simply changed cooking in America. They forever altered my mother and others and somehow randomly permeated me.

Thank you to all and others.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WINGS (AILES DE POULET MAROCAIN)

4 lbs chicken wings, wingettes and drumettes intact

1 T coriander seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T mustard seeds,slightly heated and ground
1 T cardamom seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T cumin seeds, slightly heated and ground

1 T sea salt, finely grated
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T turbinado or raw sugar
1 T light brown sugar
1 T pimenton
1 T turmeric
1 T cinnamon powder
A touch of vanilla extract
1/2 T cayenne
2 limes, juiced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

2 T apple cider vinegar
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 C fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 C honey
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Preserved lemons, at least 2 or 3, insides spooned out gutted), sliced

Heat the coriander, mustard, cardamom and cumin seeds in a dry medium heavy skillet over low medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder devoted to the task. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Then, put those 4 (coriander through cumin seeds) and the following 12 ingredients (sea salt through extra virgin olive oil) on the wings in a large ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight, turning a few times.

Then, add the 6 next ingredients (apple cider vinegar through preserved lemons) to a heavy sauce pan and allow to very slowly work to a simmer reducing to 1/2 or so and, after cooling to room temperature, allow this to marinate with the wings for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F at the lower part of the oven and prepare a well foiled pan.

Pour off most of excess marinade. Cook the entirety — the chicken wings + marinades — turning a couple of times, with the exception of the yogurt sauce, scallions, jalapenos,and cilantro (see below), of course, for about 30-40 minutes or so, until nicely yet slightly browned.

Scallions, cleaned and chopped
Jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and chopped

Sauce
1 1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 T honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Then, top the wings with chopped scallions, jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced, and cilantro leaves, chopped.  Drizzle very lightly with, then dip in yogurt sauce.

Now feed (with toppings and yogurt sauce in a bowl) to les enfants and the elders — in the proper wing way, whatever that may be.

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When a match has equal partners, then I fear not.
~Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Why have pork and cabbage always dated so swimmingly? What or who has wed this enduring union? No matter where the sod — Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Nicaraguan, Slavic, Mexican, Russian, Fillipino, Italian, Malaysian, Salvadoran, Scandavanian, Korean, Spanish and so many more — cuisines have embraced this classic, balanced pair. Perhaps at first shrouded, this later less timorous, now nearly brazen, affair between swine and this leafy green has unfolded. While they both comprehend and consent to the polyamorous nature of their bond, both free to rendezvous and nestle with others elsewhere, they are such the match when coupled.

Cabbage is a biennial, dicotyledonous flowering plant from the family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae), related to related to kale, broccoli, collards and Brussels sprouts. It is distinguished by a short stem upon which is crowded a mass of leaves. The cultivated cabbage is derived from a leafy plant called the wild mustard plant, native to littoral regions in the Mediterranean. Others claim that that wild cabbage was first brought to Europe around 600 BCE by Celtic wanderers. The elder half, pigs were domesticated as early as 13,000 BCE in the Tigris River basin…quite the age discrepancy for a couple these days.

Pork and cabbage have natural affinities for one another. The tart, crisp cabbage accentuates the succulent, rich pork allowing the flavors to mingle and mellow. Then, on the back end the pork juices permeate the hearty cabbage until a like harmony is reached. A sort of magical choir of food between the two.

Some have even asserted that the couple just aims to seek neutrality on the plate as cabbage is somewhat alkaline (pH 7.5), while pork is more acidic (pH 5.5). Sort of a Jack Sprat, opposites attract thing. Sounds a touch numerical for a loving pair, but who ever knows what makes things click? It does seem ironic, though, that “cabbage” is slang for a fool or simpleton while pigs are considered so savvy, clever.

PORK LOIN ROAST & CABBAGE

5 lb pork loin roast, bone in, brined

Freshly ground black pepper
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T duck fat

Brine
8 C cold water
1 C sea salt
1 C raw sugar
1 C chicken stock
1/4 C apple cider vinegar

6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1 T black peppercorns
1 T multi-hued peppercorns (red, white, green)
1 T mustard seeds, toasted
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
2 bay leaves
4 full thyme sprigs
4 sage leaves
4 rosemary sprigs

Cabbage Mix
1 head green cabbage, halved, cored and sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored, peeled and sliced
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 fresno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 jalapeno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 T caraway seeds, toasted
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Juice of 4 oranges

1-2 C chicken stock

1 whole garlic clove, sliced transversely

Finish
3 T Dijon mustard
2 T apple cider vinegar
2-3 C dry Riesling or Pinot Gris, preferably Alsatian

Orange zest
Cilantro leaves

Toast mustard and carraway seeds in a small heavy skillet until just fragrant. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine all brine ingredients in a large deep pot. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the salt, sugar and liquids are thoroughly mixed. Pour into a large bowl or deep pan and allow to cool completely. Once the brine is fully cooled, drop the trimmed pork into a container which will keep the meat fully submerged. Should the pork tend to rise to the surface, weight down with a heavy plate or lid. Allow to brine several hours, much preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Remove pork from brine, rinse thoroughly and dry well. Season with pepper and carraway seeds. Heat a large, heavy roasting pan with olive oil and duck fat over medium high and and rub cloves into the pan surface for a minute or two. Discard garlics and then, sear pork loin on all sides until nicely browned. Remove pork from pan and place onto a platter or rimmed baking sheet.

Meanwhile, in a very large bowl combine and toss the cabbage, fennel, onions, chiles, toasted caraway seeds, salt, pepper and orange juice.

Over two burners, deglaze the pan with chicken stock over medium high to high heat, using a wooden spatula to scrape the bottom. Add the cabbage mixture and with the garlic halves placed on the side, top with the seared pork. Place uncovered into the oven and roast, basting throughout, until the internal temperature (plunged in the flesh away from a bone) reads between 140-145 F, about 1 hour.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven and place onto the stovetop. Carefully remove pork from pan and set aside on a cutting board, loosely tented, and allow to rest. Turn heat to high, then reduce to medium high, add mustard and apple cider vinegar to cabbage mixture in the pan and stir to combine thoroughly. Then add wine and reduce.

Carve pork into separate rib servings, arrange each on plates over a nest of cabbage. Spoon the sauce over and around the pork and then garnish first with a hint of orange zest then cilantro leaves.

Mustard — Good only in Dijon. Ruins the stomach.
~Gustave Flaubert

The word mustard derives from the Anglo-Norman mustarde and Old French mostarde. The term evolved from the Latin mustum, (must or young wine) as Romans mixed the unfermented grape juice, with ground mustard seeds (called sinapis) to make “burning must” or mustum ardens.

Dijon, once a Roman settlement, is now the capital city of the Côte-d’Or département in Bourgogne (Burgundy), a région in central eastern France. Once ruled by the infuential ducs de Bourgognes, it lies about 1h 40 southeast of Paris by TGV rail. By the 13th century, Dijon had became the gathering place for fine mustard makers and has since become known as the mustard capital of the world. Dijon mustard originated in 1856, when Jean Naigeon first substituted verjuice, the acidic juice of unripened grapes, for vinegar in the traditional recipe. The mustard is crafted from finely ground brown or black mustard seeds mixed with an acidic liquid (vinegar, wine, and/or grape must) and sparsely seasoned with salt and sometimes a hint of spice. No artificial colors, fillers or other additives are allowed.

Dijon mustard is customarily pale yellow in color, smooth in consistency, but fairly sharp in scent and flavor. Nose burning, nasal clearing, eye watering Dijon forte (strong) awaits you at pommes frites stands across France.

As for tomorrow. That woefully amateurish event, Valentine’s Day, is again upon us…when florists are deluged, chefs are beset, servers are frazzled, chocolatiers are harried and lovers are just barely that for one day. So, eschew that trite restaurant night and instead indulge that Hallmark moment at home. Shun the cloying mundane and think passion, ardor.

Open with seared scallops with apple cider vinegar or gougères — follow with rib eye steak au poivre or chicken dijon, puréed potatoes or risotto and haricots verts or asparagus with garlic — and end with hand crafted chocolate truffles or mousse au chocolat. Start with a glass of Champagne, then couple the app with a Chardonnay or Rosé de Provence and the entrée with a red Côtes du Rhône, Bourgogne or Oregon Pinot Noir. Just a traditional thought or two…the choices are boundless.

With that menu, candlelight, choice tunes, lively banter, and no dish detail, a night’s kiss may become a tad more carnal. Old school romance is still in vogue.

Cin-cin!

CHICKEN DIJON

1 T coriander seeds

2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried tarragon

1/2 C shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-2 T cognac or brandy
1 1/2 C chicken broth

1/2 C Dijon mustard
1/4 C crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Chopped tarragon

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds until fragrant. Allow to cool then transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and let cool. Grind until coarse.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and tarragon. (Lightly sprinkle the tarragon on the skin side only.) In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat until shimmering, but take care to avoid burning the butter. After pressing them into and around the pan, discard the smashed garlics. Add the chicken to the skillet skin side down and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden brown all over, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a platter and tent.

Pour off some of the residue oil and juices from the chicken. Add the shallots to the same pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the brandy and allow to cook off, then add the broth and ground coriander and bring almost to a boil. Add chicken, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Turn the chicken once while cooking.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, crème fraîche and 1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon. Whisk the mixture into the skillet and simmer the sauce over moderate heat, occasionally stirring until thickened, about 5 minutes. While simmering if it appears the sauce needs thining, add some heavy whipping cream. Return the chicken to the skillet and turn to coat with the sauce and heat.

Serve the chicken ladled with sauce, then garnished with chopped fresh tarragon.

The cruelest prison of all is the prison of the mind.
~Piri Thomas

Petit and piquant, piri piri (also known as bird’s eye or African red devil) is a cultivar of Capsicum frutescens, which is both a wild and domesticated chile pepper.

Piri piri rolls off the ever seductive Portuguese tongue which did not so gently settle into the lush, tropical lands of the República de Moçambique (Mozambique). Not unlike most European-African incursions, Portugal began to colonize these lands in the early 16th century. Mozambique’s natives and natural resources, particularly gold mines, sugar and copra plantations, endured serious exploitation. Indigenous peoples were subjected to harsh conditions, punitive laws, and restricted rights all the while “settlers” were lured to a land claimed to be flowing with milk and honey. Sadly, a familiar tune.

Independence from this colonial yoke was finally achieved in 1975, yet Mozambique was soon ravaged by civil war, economic woes and famine. Relative peace was reached, ending sixteen years of brutal strife and allowing the country to begin drifting toward some form of stability. Still, the civil war that devastated Mozambique’s economy and infrastructure left it one of the world’s poorest nations.

Ironically, Portugal’s PM, José Sócrates, has now requested a financial bailout for his own country, north and west of its former colony.

The country’s name was derived from Mossa Al Bique or Mussa Ben Mbiki who was a renowned, local Arab trader of yore. I must assume that had to be one in the same person.

Shrimp piri piri has been anointed as Mozambique’s “national dish.” But, what does that phrase connote in a world rife with regional and familial dishes, cross cultures, conquest, occupation and colonialism?

This piri piri swerves some from the basic, but is well worth the diversion.

SHRIMP PIRI PIRI

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

1/2 t black mustard seeds
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
6-8 red bird’s eye chiles, seeds and ribs removed, chopped

1 t cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1/2 t ground turmeric
1 t garam masala
1/2 t ground clove
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t sea salt
Pinch of raw sugar
1/2 C apple cider vinegar

1 lb shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and deveined, tails intact

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Lime quarters

In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened slightly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2-4 minutes longer.

Add the cumin, turmeric, garam masala, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, salt, sugar, and vinegar. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and, when the mixture is cool enough, purée in a food processor or blender until smooth. If necessary, add more oil to achieve the desired consistency. Set aside and allow to cool. Then, pour over the shrimp and cover in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté, stirring and shaking the pan, until the shrimp are done, about 2-4 minutes. Serve promptly with cilantro and limes.

Ovine Hankerings

July 28, 2010

Strife will not cease till the wolf and the lamb be united.
~Aristophanes

Damn I love lamb. Shamelessly so. It is simply hard to conceal my carnivorous lust for these delicate creatures…it never flags or falters. To me, lambs are the Brahmins of the red meat caste system.

Domestic sheep (Ovis aries) are quadrupedal, ruminant members of the even-toed ungulate order Artiodactyla. One of the earliest domesticated animals, sheep have been raised for fleece, meat and milk since Mesopotamian days, some 10,000 years ago. While often imaged as freely roaming virginal white flocks wandering from one bucolic, verdant slope to another, sheep actually display a wide array of hues—from pure white to dark chocolate brown and even spotted or piebald. There are hundreds, some even say thousands, of sheep breeds which are raised on varied lands across the four corners of the earth. They hoof it on every continent except Antarctica.

The English word “sheep” is derived from the Old English word scēap, while the word “lamb” is rooted in the teutonic word lamba.

Foodwise, the term “lamb” generally describes the meat of sheep offspring from the time it is weaned to one year old. Unlike some other farmed stock, lamb has a seasonal element. Sheep have cycles of breeding, roaming, grazing, and birthing that dictate when sheep and lambs go to slaughter. Ewe ovulation is naturally prompted by the shortening days of autumn, so the birth of lambs, whose gestation period is five months, is meant to coincide with warmer days and the first fresh grass of spring. Genuine spring lamb is born, not killed, in the early spring and slaughtered at between 3-5 months old. Lambs are weaned off milk some four months after birth, at which point they graze and fatten on whatever their habitat offers. Local pasture grasses, marsh grasses and coastal herbs, rosemary, thyme, wild fennel, clover and balsam, wild garlic transubstantiate lamb meat. So, they are what they eat—a lamb’s regional diet imparts distinct, yet subtle, aromatic dialects on the back end.

Please don’t be overly complacent and limit your lamb imagination to loin chops or legs. Break from the routine occasionally and think shoulder, shank, kidneys, tongue, ribs, sweetbreads, sausage and so on.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH TAPENADE BUTTER

Tapenade Butter
1 C Niçoise olives, pitted
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 T capers, drained, rinsed and patted dry
2 high quality anchovy fillets, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 t freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
Freshly ground black pepper

12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Combine all ingredients, except butter, in a food processor bowl and blend by pulsing with metal blade until smooth. Then add the softened butter and blend further by pulsing until smooth. Adjust seasonings to your tastes. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and stir well. Then wrap the spread tightly in plastic wrap in the shape of a log (about 1 1/2″ x 10″) and refrigerate until firm, usually overnight. To use, just unwrap and slice from the butter log, allowing the slices to soften again some before serving over the warm lamb chops. Alternatively, slowly melt the butter in a small sauce pan and drizzle over the lamb chops.

Grilled Lamp Loin Chops
6 lamb loin chops, bone in, about 1 1/2″ thick
1 plump, fresh garlic head, sliced crosswise
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T herbes de provence

Freshly grated lemon zest

Rub the lamb chops with the open garlic head, and then season with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it. Three seconds is medium high.

Meanwhile, bring the lamb chops to room temperature. Grill the lamb until medium rare, about 5-6 minutes on each side. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Let the lamb rest for at least 5 minutes, then serve still warm, topped with tapenade butter slices.

Finish with a light grating of fresh lemon zest over the tapenade butter and lamb chops.

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