Great art is horseshit, buy tacos.
~Charles Bukowski

But, don’t judge your tacos by their price.
~Hunter S. Thompson

They are both gracefully dead, in their own ways.  However, they gave tacos a good name before they left, as should be the case.

More important, both Bukowski and Thompson cast ripe books, short stories, verses, screenplays and journalism that left the imagination brimming, eloquently reeling, and sometimes in utter disarray. The lives of everyday folk, countercultures, writing as drudgery, altered minds, alcohol and drug use, prurient depravity, vivid taboos, dark binges, expressive depression, broken renewal, anguished desolation, inherent absurdity, flirtatious promiscuity, and often such unrecognizable tongues…laureates of supposed lowlifes, yet intimate and not at all shameful souls were their subjects.

Although one died more slowly of leukemia, the other passed suddenly from committing suicide with a .45 within a decade or so of one another.  Is there really a difference between how they departed?

Eye rolling rapture follows.

TACOS DE POLLO (CHICKEN TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C chicken stock
A pinch or so of sea salt

Sauce
1 small to medium yellow onion, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 t ground cumin, toasted and ground or dried
Adobe sauce from a small can of chipotle chiles

Pollo (Chicken)
1/2 each parts of water and chicken stock to cover birds
2-3 chicken thigh/leg quarters, later shredded
Sea salt and a hint of freshly ground black pepper
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 t dried oregano, broken

Flour tortillas, warmed

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chiles and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup stock and 1 t sea salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée and then pour into a medium glass bowl.

Season the birds on each side in salt and just a little pepper and cumin on the skin side.  In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, over medium high heat, place bay leaves, thyme sprigs into the mix. Add the chicken skin side up and cover with 1/2 water and 1/2 stock, simmer for about 25-30 minutes, then shred off the bone with fingers or fingers and a fork. Strain and reserve the chicken stock.

In a small heavy saucepan, heat olive oil and/or canola oil, yellow onion, sea salt, garlic cloves, cumin and adobe sauce. Sauté, then add the chicken stock derived from cooked chicken and cook until thickened.  Add chicken and sauté a bit longer, until the meat glistens some.

Wrap 6 or so flour or corn tortillas  in foil and place in a preheated 325 F oven for 15-20 minutes, so they become soft and warm.

Serve chicken in warmed tortillas with the tomatillo salsa forming a base and quickly add the following to your liking to each taco, many of which should be in bowls on the table or counter (but, please do not overload tacos — just choose a few fillings, at most):

Radishes, sliced
White or red onion, peeled and chopped
Green cabbage (Brussels sprouts, possibly), cored and thinly sliced
Black beans (frijoles negros) , drained
Refried beans (frijoles refritos), slightly cooked
Salsa roja and/or salsa verde (red and/or green salsas), warmed
Gochujang (hot pepper paste) and/or (soybean paste) ssamjang (both at Korean markets)
Fried eggs
Queso fresco, crumbled
Crema, just a few dollops
Fresh chiles of any variety, sliced thinly
Lime wedges
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″slices
Cilantro leaves (not stems)

Pourboire:  many advocate the use of 2-ply tortillas by placing one tortilla centered directly upon the other, then filling the inside one.  Both warmed, of course.

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The Donald + Pig Ears

December 10, 2015

Perhaps the less we have the more we are required to brag.
~John Steinbeck

I have long delayed comments on The Donald, but this diatribe simply cannot wait further. No need to tweet here.  Humanity needs to arise despite his fatuous, dégoûtant, and vulgar presence.

The Donald’s paranoid xenophobia, his ethnic disparagement, his irrational bigotry, his racist rants, his limitless enmity (all the while saying he loves thee and everyone adores him — not!), his bellicose behavior, his shameless histrionic comments, his ideological dearth of reality, his lamentable fascism, his endless marination of misogyny, his open fat-shaming assaults, his admitted sexual assaults, his fearful contemptuous demagoguery, his utter lack of policies, his sightless reversal of courses (and blatant lies, deceit), his trash talking bullying and invectives, his lack of simple humility, his nonpologies of grabbing women’s genitals, his unmitigated narcissism is truly extreme, really hyperbolic.  Just insulting, crude, undignified, and dour — not befitting of anyone holding the office of the Presidency of the United States.

And to even think that he has serious supporters, even mild or occasional adherents? Do some even pretend to truly want a hubristic, unfit carnival barker to govern as president?  He is a slipshod celeb, a deplorable clown, not someone who should hold any civic or constitutional office. His relentless vitriol on Twitter is flatly embarrassing. It is that a pure combination of arrogance and ignorance?

The Donald is a revulsive fool who loves feckless fear, antagonistic acrimony, speaks to irrationality, and above all is addicted to his own popularity. You should be ashamed, collaborators, each of you that gives one whit about the democratic process, are often sadly uneducated, lack historical context and take the Donald as a serious candidate. The Donald is a brutish, bulling Duck who waddles aimlessly and loves hearing himself quack. He bespeaks an “empathetic and historical loser.”

Actually, I hope and pray that imperious red + gray combover will carry the Republican nomination and lose woefully, much later, and then a lady will finally inherit the White House — one who is more wisely oriented towards negotiation, not fevered prejudice, saber rattling or war. A loose, inhumane cannon. Condemn the Donald and do not elect him unless you crave for the world to implode. You know precisely who he is…

Perhaps, The Donald’s fear or scorn of African Americans, Mexicans, Latinos, women, the disabled soldiers’ parents, Vietnam vets, sexual harassment victims and Muslims is based upon his silly dismay or confusion or fond reminiscence of his own German (or is it Swedish now?) immigrant heritage. Maybe, it is simply their skin, sex and hair color which differs vastly from The Donald’s.  Who knows what goes on under that desperate reddish-orangish rag and clown fish mouth that spews hatred, countenances violence, spreads petulance and irascibility?

Now, some fellow Republicans have finally noted his small hands (he does appear to have openly splayed smaller digits) which often leads to a minute member regardless of how far he can purportedly drive a golf ball, but he never said he could catch and shoot…but, it all seems far from bizarre where has this has all gone, or perhaps others who support him have the same afflictions?  Sorry for you.  As baffling as this lurid “locker room talk” seems, we should be seriously debating presidential policies.  Then again, perhaps the Donald wants to unravel the GOP.

Of course, he has very few, if any, stated political agendas.  Now, he has demonstrated a thirst and penchant for violence against others, including his opponent and any protesters and has spoken definitely on air about his lewdness, immorality, crudeness and indecency. It is time to awaken, folks. “Mark my words, believe me.”

As Seneca the Younger once remarked, “people take pleasure in giving power to the indecent,” some two millenia before John Steinbeck or even Uncle Joe Stalin, P.T. Barnum, Il Duce, Robert Mugabe, or other authoritarian regimes, and certainly the Donald.

It was not just words, Donald — and I hope everyone knows that.

Now, onto something much more soothing.

PIG EARS

Pig ears, a few (local and high quality)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 T dried thyme
2-3 thyme sprigs
1 T coriander seeds
Grating of nutmeg

2-3 C chicken stock and cold water
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced thinly
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisanal noodles with a tab of butter

Pig ears should be procured from a local farmer. Look for fresh clean smooth ears without marring or stains, and if bristles still exist, singe or shave them.

Marinate them an evening ahead. A healthy dose of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, minced garlic cloves, dried thyme and a sprig or two of thyme leaves, coriander seeds, and a dash of nutmeg.

Cook them in stock, rinse, and then cover with stock and water. Add sliced carrots, sliced and peeled onions, bay leaves and sea salt with black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then put the heavy pot in a low oven, below 200 F for some 10 hours, or until you can easily pinch thumb and finger through them and feel little resistance. Allow the ears to cool completely.

Now, the finish which should be crispy.

In a 450 F oven, roast the pig ears, so as to avoid the spatter of frying them. Put them between pieces of parchment or waxed paper, and weigh them down with another sheet pan, and cook until just slightly brittle, about 15 minutes and slice.

Then, serve them over mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisan noodles with a tab of butter and freshly ground black pepper.

The only difference between (people) all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind, even as there is between trees of the same species. Wherein is the cause for anger, envy or discrimination?
~Mahatma Gandhi

Pot-au-feu translates as “pot on the fire,” which is hearty French peasant fare. Granted, there is no raw beef, ginger, cardomom, cinnamon, mint, Thai chilies, basil, fish sauce, noodles (banh pho) or differing condiments and sauces as are found in phở (See February 3, 2009). Also, those seductive noodle sucking sounds are sadly lacking in pot-au-feu. But, given their culinary roots, cultural links, and France’s occupancy, colonization and even decimation of the Vietnamese peoples (preceded by China, followed by Japan and then the US) — it would not be surprising if feu slowly morphed into phở. Both words seem suspiciously harmonious to the ear. However, some etymologists dipute this assertion, especially given the stark culinary dissimilarities between the two dishes and due to some vague historical references.

POT AU FEU

1 lb beef shoulder or brisket
6 pieces of oxtail, cut 1 1/2″ thick
6 beef short ribs
1 veal shank, bone-in

6 whole cloves
2 onions, cut in halves
6 leeks, white part only
2 small celery roots, cut into quarters
2 medium turnips, cut into quarters
1 head garlic, cut transversely
4 medium carrots, cut into 4″ lengths
1 bouquet garni (2 sprig of flat parsley, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, and 2 bay leaves, stringed together)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 new red and white potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 cabbage head, cored and cut into 7 wedges

1 baguette, sliced
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

1/2 lb cornichons
1 C coarse sea salt
1 C hot Dijon mustard

In a large pot, combine the beef, oxtail, short ribs, and veal shank, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and as soon as the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Set the meat aside and throw out the water. Clean the pot and then put the meat right back into the pot.

Push cloves into each onion half and add the onions to the pot, along with the leeks, celery roots, turnips, garlic, carrots, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper and cover with cold water.

Bring the pot to a slow simmer, gradually, and let cook over medium low heat until the meat is tender or around 2 1/2 hours. Skim the cooking liquid with a ladle periodically to remove scum and foam. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until soft. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Remove the beef (shoulder or brisket) from the pot and slice into thick pieces. Remove the veal shank from the pot and cut the meat off the bone, again into ample pieces. Retrieve the marrow from the veal bone.

Pour some broth into serving bowls along with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese with thick slices of toasted baguette. Arrange the meats, marrow, and vegetables on a serving platter and ladle some cooking liquid over and around. Serve the rest in a sauce boat.

Put the cornichons, sea salt, and Dijon mustard into bowls on the table.

My mother never breast fed me. She told me she liked me as a friend.
~Rodney Dangerfield

Please consider that these words are uttered by an avowed chicken addict. While lamb, pork, beef, offal and friends often beckon in this kitchen, chicken invariably rules. However, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be the bane of a cook’s existence. They are insipidly dry, tough, tasteless, often stringy and uninspiring — often sapping the very passion to cook. Yawners on a good day, a cook’s torment on others. One renowned chef questions whether these bland and skinned boring bosoms should even be considered a valid part of a chicken’s anatomy. So, a word to the wise: nestle up to succulent, dark meat like thighs, legs, backs, as they are ever sublime.

POLLO AL PIMENTON

4 chicken leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 T pimentón agridulce
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T duck fat
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 T pimentón agridulce
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C Spanish fino sherry
1/2 C chicken stock
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Splash of high quality sherry vinegar
1/4 C crème fraîche

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and pimentón. Heat the olive oil and duck fat with the smashed garlic cloves in a large, heavy sauté pan to medium high and brown the chicken, skin side down until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and brown the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Remove chicken, tent with foil in a dish and drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan.

Lower the heat and add the red pepper, onion, fennel and pimentón. Cook until soft, but not browned, about 10-12 minutes, adding the garlic for the final minute. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and then add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and return the chicken to the skillet. Cover the pan, and cook, turning the chicken once or twice, until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil. Turn up the heat and boil liquids down to a sauce consistency, adding the sherry vinegar toward the end. Cook further for a couple of minutes, then reduce the heat to low, whisk in the crème fraîche until the sauce thickens, adjusting the seasonings to your liking. Plate, then ladle the sauce over the chicken and serve.

…continued from the previous post (before these mates become separated). This by no means relegates these luscious, humble beans to a side for huevos rancheros. Please don’t pity these promiscuous souls, though. They are far from chaste or monogamous—sharing the plate and forming the base for so many dishes. Frijoles refritos get around for good reason.

Refried beans should be kept warm by spooning them into a bowl seated in a pan of hot water over low heat. If they become a touch dry, stir in a little broth.

FRIJOLES REFRITOS (REFRIED BEANS)

2 1/2 C dried pinto or pink beans
1 T bacon drippings or pork lard
1 T vegetable or canola oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 qts water

1-2 t sea salt

On a baking pan, sort through the beans, removing any stones or debris. Slide the beans into a colander and rinse.

Then, pour the cleansed beans into a deep, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add water and remove any beans that float. Add the drippings or lard, vegetable or canola oil, onion, and bay leaf then bring to a rolling boil, promptly reducing the heat to keep the liquid at a very gentle simmer. Cover with the top just slightly ajar and simmer, adding water as needed to keep the liquid level roughly the same, until the beans are thoroughly tender, about 2 hours.

Stir in the salt and simmer for about 15 minutes longer to allow for absorbtion, then taste and adjust. Remove and discard the bay leaf. The beans may then be mashed and cooked for frijoles refritos.

2 T bacon drippings
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 t cumin seeds, roasted and then ground

4 C undrained, cooked beans (see above), slightly warm

Sea salt, to taste
1/2 C queso fresco or queso anejo, crumbled

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until nicely golden, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cumin, cook for a minute or so, then spoon in about 1/4 of the beans, leaving the bean broth behind for later. Mash the beans into a coarse purée.

Add another large spoonful of beans, mash again, and continue until all the beans have been added and coarsely mashed. They should not be smoothly puréed—rather more textured like smashed potatoes.

Add a cup or so of the bean broth and stir over heat until the beans are still a little soupy as they will thicken while resting. Taste and season with salt, if needed.

Sprinkle with the crumbled queso fresco or queso anejo.

My father was grounded, a very meat and potatoes man. He was a baker.
~Anthony Hopkins

From obscure origins, but no less comforting fare. One hypothesis? For generations, these potatoes were prepped at home and then treated to the even heat of a local baker’s oven. This theory loses water, though, when you consider that this same dish is often created stove top by first simmmering the potatoes in broth and then finishing them with caramelized onions in a skillet.

A recipe not capable of a baker’s precision, the key to pommes de terre boulangère is maintaining that proper ratio between the stock and potato/onion filling—not too soupy, not too dry. The aim is some browned crust on the surface with silky, succulence below deck.

BAKER’S WIFE POTATOES (POMMES DE TERRE BOULANGERE)

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
1 t herbes de provence
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs waxy potatoes (e.g., Yukon Gold), peeled and thinly sliced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs, stems removed

1 C chicken stock
1 C beef stock

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and cut

Preheat oven to 400 F

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent but not browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Mix the stocks. Rub the cut garlic clove and then butter on the surface of a casserole. Then, spread half of the onions in the bottom of the dish. Arrange a layer of sliced potatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, and scatter with thyme leaves. Strew another layer of onions on top and then a final layer of potatoes. Season again with salt and pepper. Gently pour the combined stocks over the mixture until it covers the potatoes.

Transfer dish to oven and bake until a knife inserts easily and all the liquid has been absorbed, about 1 hour. If needed, cover with foil to avoid excess browning. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The universe is but one great city, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other.
~Epictetus, Greek stoic philosopher (55-135 AD)

Stated otherwise, the city is but one great universe, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other. I am officially citified, a committed and content urbanite. The caste driven trappings of sprawling suburbia are gladly things of the past. From an elevated vantage I contemplate the urban aesthetics of sharp geometry, polygons, cubes, facets, shadows, hues, lights, lunar scapes. Autumn palettes, naked winter light, shrill sunrises breaking the horizon, seductive twilights, soupy skies, spring forwards, and summer street hiss all unfold before me. Church bells peal by day, and trains moan at night. And humanity, and more humanity heaps by. A story stashed behind each window and sometimes played out on gridded streets, sidewalks and random alleys at arbitrary times.

Each day, I awake to the world from on high here. It is a humble place with ample views and a simple kitchen. Swaddled in a warm nest right at treetop level I overlook a bustling, closely knit yet isolated, ethnically robust, ‘hood far from the homogeneous crowd. Not viewing experience from the ground upward as before, but looking down and across from my tree house…roofs of varying heights and shades, birds huddling in frigid air on sills, cats foraging, sirens blaring, faces passing, street scents, gentle showers, electric skies, chatter, piercing sounds of passion, then occasional silence. A vassal’s vertical oasis, a gentle place to embrace.

So, give me your lonely and homeless to my humble table.

Which brings me to two soulful sister au gratins.

POTATO & TOMATO AU GRATIN

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

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, sliced 1/4″ thick, well drained

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme, stemmed and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Alternately arrange one half of the sliced potatoes and drained tomatoes slightly overlapped in a single layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Add a second layer of potatoes and drained tomatoes with cheese, cream and season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until 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.

POTATO & CARAMELIZED ONION AU GRATIN

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, et al.), peeled, and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t sugar
3 T fresh sage leaves, stemmed and finely chopped

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted
1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375 F

Over medium high, heat olive oil and butter in a large, heavy sauté pan. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, another 30-35 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sage. Let cool slightly.

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Layer and overlap one half of the sliced potatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and spread one half of the onion mixture over the overlapped potatoes, strew with cheese and drizzle with the cream. Repeat by again overlapping another layer of potatoes, spread with remaining caramelized onions, cheese and cream. Season again with salt and pepper.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until 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: For a change of pace, consider other fine melting cheeses, such as emmenthal, manchego, tallegio, asiago, fontina, mozzarella, bleu, chèvre.