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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…(A)nd many such good inventions are on earth like the breasts of a woman: useful as well as pleasing.
~Friedrich Nietzche

Speaking of hanging fruits, what is the story with a woman’s boobs and nipples?

Milking mothers either have to cover their functional breasts to avoid stern stares or, more rudely, are sometimes summarily banished or even ashamedly depart from rooms while lactating with child. Maidens and cougars must hide their bazookas on the beach, but man boobs or not, men do not.  Just another example of our boorish species, we are even more concerned when female breasts do not belong to young women or do not appear globule, ample and nips ever pert. Nubs and warts are out and gazangas, not hangers, are in. Real women’s bodies — not sculpted babes apparently those with guts, boobs, and butts. Oh, the hoi polloi. Are there any reasons for such degradation? Prejudices? Fears? Anxiety? Oppression? Obstinacy? No freakin’ idea.

Chests should always be treated similarly — women’s bared nipples are forbidden, men’s are now not, even though some 75 years ago almost all states prohibited “shirtless” men. So sad and disgraceful, women and men are still not considered the same in so many states and in so many ways. An almost vitriolic form of sexual censorship.  Second class treatment for such beauteous females. Much like women’s suffrage (1920) and a $10 or $20 bill (Harriet Tubman or Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson?). And the backside of whatever bill? In my opinion, an insulted woman’s glaring bare buttocks would prove à propos. Womansplaining is in need.

Apparently, women’s naked breasts can even be unleashed almost like unholstered weapons. Consider Lady Godiva who convinced her husband to lower the taxes of medieval England by traipsing naked through the streets on horseback or even Marianne, the revered symbol of liberty who was depicted by Delacroix bare breasted hoisting the flag in one hand and a bayonet in another, leading others over fallen bodies…images and tales both before and thereafter.

The motion picture association (MPAA or CARA) has imposed its suppression and righteousness over history, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17, the current supposed “rating” system.  A woman’s buttocks or breasts are apparently cool, but a man’s full monte seems verboten. Some chaste actresses even go to the extremes of donning merkins (undercarriage wigs) to cover their unveiled vulvae.  A bizarre planet to inhabit.

Now, there is Free the Nipple, an open breast equality movement which attempts to address the scenes where a woman may not allowed to be topless, sparking some dialogue. Why should we have such discourse? Breast freedom on all tips seems so completely au naturel.

Even more concerning is the Blur Man Group from of all cable channels, Naked & Afraid, whose staff covers and opaquely blurs crotches and women’s breasts/nipples entirely, frame by frame, to make the contestants suitable for broadcast. Recognizing a nipple from several football fields seems rather strange. Up close and personal is more the norm. C’mon, man, the title of the show is Naked & Afraid, connoting “naked” directly. How disappointing, as nakedness should reign supreme.

So far, this article makes meager mention of genitals, female & male — as this writer simply wholly detests bathing attire and adores nudity. (This is in a land where some 70-80 million dogs and some 90 million cats are household pets buck naked year round — these numbers do not even include so many undomesticated scavengers.) There are so many secluded venues where yours truly has been gratefully denuded. Some say we all have nipples and genitals, right? There should be no shame at baring all, as one should be used to “private” parts. The cows are out of the barn, thankfully.

DUCK BREASTS WITH PORT, COGNAC, CHERRIES & HONEY

2-3  duck breast halves, 6 ozs each
2 T unsalted butter
2 fresh garlic cloves, smashed

1/3 C shallots, peeled and minced

1/2 C chicken broth
10 fresh sweet red cherries, halved & pitted
2 T port
2 T cognac
2 T local honey

1-2 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Place duck breast halves between plastic wrap. Pound with a mallet to evenness (about 3/4″). Score skin in 3/4″ pattern. Cover, again with plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours, perhaps overnight.

Melt unsalted butter and garlic in large, heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Discard garlic, and do not burn. Add duck, skin side down, to skillet and cook until skin is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn duck breasts over, lower heat to medium, and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to board or platter, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour off most of drippings from skillet, but keep hot. Add shallots to skillet and stir over medium heat, about 30 seconds, and again do not burn.

Add broth, cherries, port, cognac, and honey. Increase heat to medium high and cook until sauce is reduced to glaze, stirring often, about 3-4 minutes. Whisk in butter. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice duck and fan out on plates. Spoon cherry sauce over and serve (preferably over creamy polenta, noodles or rice and perhaps fresh sweet peas as an aside).

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?

STRIP STEAK WITH PORT, HERBS & BLEU D’AUVERGNE

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.

My idea of heaven is eating pâté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets.
~Sydney Smith

Is there a food stuff that causes more audible moans than foie gras? And these are the genuine, euphoric, bone deep type—not the staged purrs of a cleavaged Giada undulating under hot lights popping risotto balls and sucking her fingers.

Foie gras has been the subject of a recent food fight, courtesy of animal rights advocates…almost like the new fur. The controversy rose to the level of having these delicacies outlawed in the Windy City in a move much akin to a ban on sex or wine. A two year prohibition on serving these heavenly morsels, which was openly flaunted by restauranteurs, was repealed by an overwhelming vote. There seems to be nothing more entertaining than the ever shifting dramas orchestrated or stumbled upon by Chicago’s aldermen.

Most American foie gras is gleaned from Moulard ducks which are a cross between the Muscovy and Pekin species.

SEARED FOIE GRAS WITH FIGS, PORT WINE & LAVENDER HONEY

1 whole duck foie gras, about 1 1/2 pounds, slightly chilled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter

1 T extra virgin olive oil
6 fresh black mission figs, halved
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
6 tarragon leaves, chopped
1/2 C port wine
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 T orange juice

2 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 T lavender honey (warmed) or raw unprocessed honey
1/2 t orange zest
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rinse the foie gras and pat dry with paper towels. Carefully pull apart the 2 lobes of the foie gras and with your fingers remove the veins that are lodged between them. Cut away any extraneous fat and green spots and pull away any membranes. On the inner side of the small lobe, carefully pull away the large vein that runs through the center and remove any smaller veins that branch out from it. With the larger lobe, locate the larger central vein and remove it with any attached veins.

Using a sharp knife dipped in boiling water, slice each lobe into 1″ medallions. Score the top of each medallion in a diagonal pattern and season with salt and pepper. Add the butter to a heavy skillet over medium head and sear the medallions for 30-45 seconds per side. Please be careful not to overcook or you will be rewarded with a puddle of expensive melted fat. Remove to a platter lined with paper towels to drain and tent.

Lower heat to medium and pour out a bit of the rendered duck fat. Add the figs, cut side down, then add the shallots and tarragon, cook until figs are brown, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with port, apple cider vinegar, and orange juice, cooking about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and vigorously whisk in butter, honey, orange zest, salt and pepper. Spoon over foie gras slices which are arranged over a slice of grilled or toasted toast and surrounded by figs.

If you want a subject, look to pork!
~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

In case you have not noticed, I adore dried fruit coupled with meat.

The pork loin runs the length of the pig from shoulder to hip. It entails the shoulder blade at one end, the hip and tenderloin at the other, and the ribs in the middle. The center cut of a boneless loin is the leanest—often folded, then tied.

PORK LOIN, FIGS & APRICOTS

3 C port
2 C chicken broth
8 dried figs, coarsely chopped
6 dried apricots, coarsely chopped
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 cinnamon sticks
3 T honey
6 T unsalted butter, cut into pads, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 T olive oil
2 T fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1/2 C dijon mustard
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 T each of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 T dried rosemary, pinched between thumb and forefinger
1 (4 1/2 lb or so) boneless pork loin

1/2 C port
1/2 C chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 425

In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the port, broth, figs, apricots, rosemary sprigs, garlic and honey. Boil over medium high until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Discard the herb sprigs and cinnamon sticks. Whisk in the butter. Season to taste, with salt and pepper.

Stir the olive oil, rosemary leaves, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl to blend. Place the pork loin on a rack with a heavy roasting pan and rub with salt, pepper and dried rosemary. Spread the oil mixture over the pork to coat completely. Basting occasionally, roast until the thermometer registers 150 degrees, about 45 minutes total.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let the pork rest at least 20 minutes.

Over medium high heat, deglaze the roasting pan with port and later add the chicken broth into the roasting pan, stirring in browned bits. Stir in the fig & apricot juices and bring the pan juices to a vibrant simmer and reduce until somewhat thick, coating the wooden spatula. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.

Carve straight down like a loaf of bread into 1/4″ thick slices. After arranging the on plates, spoon the fig & apricot juice over the pork slices.

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