Nemo Me Impugn Lacessitt (No One Impugns — or Attacks — Me With Liberty)
~Royal Dynasty of Scotland & Order of the Thistle (To Name Just a Few)

As expected, things have just gone totally south, no pun intended. Very worrisome with both sloppy and aggressive behavior and tirades. Where unmitigated, inauspicious chaos and dysfunction reigns.

Already, the now self-anointed Emperor Donald has threatened to send troops to Mexico; vainly tried to veto the Patient Protection & Affordable Health Care Act (passed by both the House and the Senate after public comments) which provides healthcare access to over 18 million women, men, children and the poor; said on national television that Mexico & Iran had serious problems — perhaps he should look in the mirror as the U.S. has real issues. But, you already know he does gaze intently at his mirrors in his robe with his hormoned red hair and tanned, powdered face.

Then, he degraded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, an enduring ally of the states, and in a hissy fit as is his wont, promptly chose fisticuffs to settle whatever differences they had (c’mon man) and terminated the telephone conversation; he overtly lied to the People and press about the size of his inauguration crowd; defying Court orders, he threatened to send federal troops to Chicago and also was planning to defund the entire state of California — by many accounts, the sixth largest economy of the world; this makes no mention of the cast of characters that he has proposed to fill his cabinet, many of whom detest the office/agency/departments (or even could not name) that they intend to inhabit.

During that very same time, the Donald signed some form of executive order, without any other opinions offered, that prohibits the entry of refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations (none who has knuckled under to a “Trump property or inane golf course”) each refugee was thoroughly and meticulously vetted by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the State Department, national intelligence agencies all of which independently check each and every refugees’ biometric data against security databases. Even green card holders, given permanent United States residency and pure voting rights in local and state elections, were first hit by the ban, on national security grounds.

Naturally, there have been an onslaught of briefs filed against Trump’s actions: “(n)ot only ill-conceived but poorly explained”…from a brief filed by many previous National Security Advisors; (his actions also) “violate(s) immigration laws and the U.S. Constitution”…and “hinders the ability of American companies to attract great talent; increases costs imposed on business; makes it more difficult for American firms to compete in the international marketplace; and gives global enterprises a new, significant incentive to hire new employees outside the United States…” from an amicus curiae brief filed by quite a few tech companies, such as Microsoft, Apple, et al.

The Tweeter-in-chief’s actions are morally repugnant and patently illegal. A blanket immigration prohibition, not only has founders of the Constitution rolling in their proverbial graves, it is flat discriminatory based upon Congress’ half-century refusal to bar refugees from inclusion based upon “national origin.” Remember such people, Emperor Donald, as the Italians, Irish, Jews, African Americans, Native Americans, Germans, Mexicans, Mesoamericans, Indians, Cubans, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans and their kith and kin?

Trump attempts to wiggle out of the conundrum by invoking some obscure 1952 congressional action, still asserting that he has some form of “discriminatory power,” whatever that means, all despite his claims of the “one of the highest IQ’s” ever on earth. Do you not distrust whomever bombastically brags about just how smart they are? Embarrassing and quite often doubtful.

By the way, where are your tax returns, IQ tests and results, your P&L statements, and what do you really read (besides paragraphistical snippets)? An elementary to middle school whining president is what we get as our fearless leader? Now, we can all see how you became so shameful to your parents that they shipped you up the river to military school.

Not only does his reasoning run afoul of the due process and equal protection clauses (yes, Donald, 4th, 5th and 14th amendments, respectively) but also the 1st Amendment’s ban on the government’s establishment of religion. Remember, that Donald quoted his fervent protection of the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution before Republican Senators — a clause that simply establishes an electoral college. Trump does not know nor care about his constitutional precepts. Has he even heard of etiquette or comity? Does he not know about impugning the qualifications of jurists and judicial independence? Does he have no knowledge of our system of checks and balances? A president who has little respect for the rule of law? Apparently not, on all counts.

By the way, Mr. Trump and his father, Fred Trump, and Trump Properties were accused of massive bias by the Justice Department and New York City Commission on Civil Rights for violating the Civil Rights Act. By both actions and words, he has displayed a lengthy history of bigotry, misogyny and prejudice.

An enfant sauvage, an orange, sloppy, bullying, feral child at the helm.  His only response has apparently, of course, been a crude, puerile, bunkered tweet that personally denigrates and insults a “so-called” federal judge who was appointed by GW. Speaking of GW (&Nixon), the Donald is an admix of incompetence and arrogance — but worse. It is not about being “a bad person” it concerns ineptitude. What really does Trump even knows, thinks or grasps, and please halt thy incessant during or after-hours unpresidential tweets.

So far his administration has been a soap opera, or more properly put in Trump’s words, a very sad reality TV show.

Oh well, on to more soothing grub…the word for “pot pie” made it into our lexicon somewhere around 1792.

RABBIT “POT” PIE

Preheat oven to 375 F

Pastry
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
12 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 T shortening
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

6 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water, mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Equally divide and form into two evenly sized thick disks, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

Remove from the fridge. If the dough is too firm to roll, allow to rest at room temperature for a few minutes. Lightly flour a work surface and the rolling pin. Lightly dust the top of a disk of flour and roll into a round about 1/8″ thick. Roll outward from the center, rotating the dough, and adding flour as necessary to avoid sticking. Fold the dough in half and transfer to a pie plate easing the dough into the corners and up the sides.

Roll out the second dough disk, again about 1/8″ thick. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate until ready for further use.

Béchamel
3 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
3 C whole milk, slightly simmered

1/4 C chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 T fennel seeds,seared and finely ground
2 thyme sprigs
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt and white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook slowly over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes to make a blond roux. Remove the roux from the heat, pour in the warmed milk and whisk vigorously until smooth. Then add the stock, thyme, bay leaf, fennel seeds, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and simmer gently, whisking often for 30-40 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme.

Filling
1 C red potatoes, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 C parsnips, peeled and cut 1/2″ diagonally
1/2 C carrots, peeled and cut 1/2″ diagonally
1/2 C celery, cut 1/2″ diagonally
1 small leek, cleaned and finely diced
1/2 C crimini mushrooms, cut into thirds
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
2 1/2 – 3 C roasted rabbit meat, shredded
1/2 C all purpose flour

2 eggs, beaten (for wash)

Put the potatoes, parsnips, carrots, celery, leeks, mushrooms and onions in a large saucepan with water to cover with bay leaves, thyme sprigs, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat and simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes.

In a chinois, drain the vegetables, discard the bay and thyme, and spread on an edged baking sheet. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Strew the simmered vegetables, peas, sauteed mushrooms and rabbit over the bottom of the pie shell. Then, sprinkle with flour. Season again with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour the béchamel over the rabbit and vegetables.

Moisten the pie shell rim with some of the beaten egg. Carefully cover the filling with the top crust and press the edges of the dough together to seal. Trim away any excess dough that overhangs the rim. Brush the top dough with egg and cut three small vents in the center of the top dough with the tip of a paring knife.

Bake until the crust is a rich golden brown, about 50 minutes or more. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 20 minutes, then serve.

After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.
~Mark Twain

Contrary to the usual, I will make a comment or so about my world. This past weekend, our ever comely daughter was betrothed to her long time mate near a cabin in a tranquil alpine meadow. The young groom was handsome no denying that — but that once girl was a ravishing, resplendent bride handling all with winsome white grace. No doubt I am partial, yet she was still flat stunning.

Families and singles of all ilks, kinds and ages (including our divine year old grandchild) trekked up the mountain, donned in their finest, milling about and conversing often with elbows cocked and drink in hand. My oldest son presided over a solemn, yet joyful, ceremony which united the two. Well, they were already connubial partners of sorts, so my middle son offered a prayer. Faces beamed with pride in the crowd. As the wedding party gathered near twilight, does and fawns even flocked to frolic and forage in nearby fields, intrigued by the evening’s happenings.

Pastoral, idyllic…and then the reception began.

Given that American Pikas (Ochotona princeps), closely related to rabbits and hares, are one of the more common species inhabiting the talus fields of the Rockies, and since last night’s committee meeting chat turned to rabbits, coniglio alla cacciatora came to mind. Densely furred, minute pikas have curious vegetal gathering techniques, devoting a sizeable portion of every day to garnering grasses, leaves, flowers, thistles, and the like. They maniacally dash out into their talus fields and gather mouthfuls of vegetation and pile it into tiny little hay bales to dry in the sun. Once dried, they bring it into their underground burrows for storage and eats during the lengthy alpine winter seasons.

(This rabbit chatter is not meant to foment any immediate procreative notions, you two.)

CONIGLIO ALLA CACCIATORA (RABBIT CACCIATORE)

8 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb crimini and/or shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly julienned
1 medium carrot, thinly julienned

1 – 3 to 3 1/2 lb rabbit, cut into 8 pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 C dry white wine
1/2 C fine tomato purée or seeded fresh heirloom purée
1/2 C chicken broth
1 T red wine vinegar
1 bouquet garni of fresh rosemary, oregano, and thyme sprigs

Chopped flat leaf parsley or basil chiffonade

If shiitakes are used, they will need to be stemmed and sliced. In a large heavy skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and smashed garlic over medium high heat. Once simmering add mushrooms, remove and discard the mushrooms then cook, stirring sometimes, until mushrooms are lightly browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.

In a large deep heavy skillet or heavy Dutch oven, heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring occassionally, until vegetables are softened, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl. Discard garlics and wipe out the skillet or Dutch oven.

Season rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Add more olive oil until heated to a simmer, add rabbit pieces and cook in batches, turning pieces several times until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes per side. Set rabbit pieces aside and lightly tent.

Add reserved mushrooms to the pan, and then add the wine. Increase heat to high and cook until liquid is reduced some, about 10-12 minutes. Add tomato purée and stir to combine. Add the broth, red wine vinegar, reserved vegetables, rabbit, bouquet garni and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium-medium low and briskly simmer, covered, stirring occasionally. Cook until rabbit is very tender, about 30 minutes. If necessary, remove the rabbit to a lightly tented platter or dish and increase heat the thicken the sauce.

Serve the rabbit on a festive platter or in separate shallow soup bowls over fresh pasta, then top with the sauce and finish with chopped parsley or basil chiffonade.

Pourboire: Some call for dredging the meat in seasoned flour (salt, pepper, paprika) before browning and braising. As usual, if rabbit does not suit your palate you can easily substitute a free range chicken.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction.
~Blaise Pascal, from Pensées

DUCK RAGOUT WITH POLENTA

While the precise date for Easter is a matter of contention, the celebration is a moveable feast, in that it does not fall on a specified date in Julian or Gregorian calendars. Rather, the day for celebration is determined on a lunisolar calendar—the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal moon) following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox—even though this does not comport to ecclesiatical strictures. Polemics on the nearly endless theological, philosophical, mythological, and even biological controversies surrounding this rose from death holiday will serve little good here. Not that I fear expressing valid doubt; it’s simply a question of venting space.

Since childhood I have however pondered about the duck’s entry into the Easter fray, given that it is bunnies that really lay eggs, right? You know, that common marsupial form of the family Leporidae…or how bunnies, eggs and scavenger hunts are related to the celebration of Jesus dying on a cross and then resurrecting a couple of days later. Apparently, the egg bearing bunny evolved from the fertile Saxon goddess named Oestre, the pagan goddess of spring and personification of dawn. The goddess saved the life of a bird whose wings had been frozen by the snow, making him her pet and some even say her lover. Filled with empathy at the bird’s inability to fly, Oestre morphed him into a snow hare and bestowed upon him the gift of being able to run so rapidly that he could evade hunters. Still sensitive to his early aviary form, she also gave the male hare an ability to lay brilliantly hued (now pastelled) eggs one day each year.

We now know this tale may have been mischievously invented by a monk who became known as Venerable Bede. While research has failed to unearth much mention of Oestre earlier, Bede mentioned her in connection with the pagan festival Eosturmonath in a book authored in 750 CE. So, was the Easter bunny a literary forgery?

Myths built upon myths, all leading to marketing mirth.

A derivative of the French verb ragoûter, meaning “to stimulate the appetite,” ragoût is a thick, deeply intense stew of meat, poultry, fish and/or vegetables. Its northern Italian kin, ragù, is a sauce that often contains ground meats, pancetta, tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, and wine.

As befits its name, this fare is far from taciturn.

4 duck leg-thighs, excess skin trimmed
3 T extra virgin olive oil

3 ribs celery, trimmed and finely diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

4 premium anchovy filets, rinsed, dried and minced

6 juniper berries
1 1/2 C dry red wine, such as a Zinfandel or Rhône
1/2 C apple cider vinegar

3 T tomato paste
2 C chicken stock

1 T fresh sage leaves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sautéed or fried sage leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil, and when it begins to shimmer, add the duck legs, skin side down. Cook until the skin is nicely browned and the fat has begun to render, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the legs over and brown the other sides, some 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove and allow to rest.

Add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic to the pot, and stir to combine. Cook until the onion has softened and has just started to color, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Clear a space in the center of the pot and add the anchovies, then swirl and press them in the fat until they begin to dissolve. Stir further to combine. Add juniper berries, wine, cider vinegar and duck legs, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, approximately 15 minutes.

Add tomato paste and stir to combine, then enough chicken stock so that the combination takes on a saucy consistency and just barely covers the duck. Increase heat to high and bring just to a boil. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook until the meat is almost falling off the bone, about 90 minutes.

Remove duck from pot and allow to cool slightly. Peel off skin, dice and reserve. Shred meat off bones and return to pot. Place pot on stove top over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add duck skin, sage, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Strew shredded duck over polenta, spoon over sauce, and top with a couple of sage leaves.

Serve in shallow soup bowls, paired with creamy polenta.

Polenta

2 C whole milk
1 C heavy whipping cream
1 C chicken stock
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 C polenta
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk, cream, stock, and thyme over medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Discard thyme sprigs and garlic cloves. Reduce heat to low, slowly add the polenta and cook, stirring constantly, until creamy and thick, about 5-8 minutes. Gently stir in the parmigiano-reggiano.

Pourboire: the sauce and legs can be stored separately overnight in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top of the sauce and may be easily skimmed off when you are ready to heat it through the following day. You may even find this method preferable. Also, give strong consideration to serving the ragoût over delicate gnocchi.

First catch your rabbit.
~Isabella Beeton

As a food, rabbit is much too often misunderstood and shunned. Rabbit is lean, fine grained, mild flavored, and highly nutritious—a source of quality protein but lower in fat, uric acid, cholestoral, sodium and calories than many other meats. Chicken can be substituted should you have a phobia about devouring these furry friends.

This braising method produces a supremely gentrified and succulent dish that goes well with new or mashed potatoes. The recipe is replete with instances of the Maillard reaction…browning, browning, everywhere.

BRAISED RABBIT WITH PRUNES & WINE

1-3 lb rabbit, rinsed, patted dry and cut into 8 pieces, reserving innards
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lb bacon, cut into cubes
20 cippolini or pearl onions, peeled

2 T flour
2 C dry red wine
1 C chicken stock
2 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme

2 C large pitted prunes (or unpitted)
1/4 C sugar
3 T apple cider vinegar

Chop the reserved innards (usually heart and liver, sometimes kidneys) very finely into almost a paste. Sauté the bacon in a heavy, large Dutch oven or pot until crispy. Pour all of the liquid fat into a heavy skillet. Add the onions to the skillet on medium high heat and brown all around; then add onions to bacon in pot.

Season the rabbit with salt and pepper. In the used skillet, add some olive oil and working in batches, brown the rabbit on both sides—approximately 4-5 minutes per side on medium high heat; then add to the pot. Mix the flour with 1/2 of the wine and add to the pot. Pour in the remaining wine, stock, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, and chopped innard paste and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about one hour. Add the prunes and simmer 10 minutes more.

Combine the wine vinegar and the sugar in a saucepan and cook on high heat until it caramelizes. Pour this mixture directly into the braising rabbit olio and stir gently. Simmer for 10 more minutes.

Serve with a French burgundy or pinot noir from California or Oregon.

Paella

February 13, 2009

A morsel eaten selfishly does not gain a friend.
~Spanish proverb

Too long overlooked by a broader audience, Spanish gastronomy is at the forefront of the Western food cosmos. With its broad range of dishes, flavors and ingredients from the simple and rustic to the refined, artful and elegant, Spain is becoming the food destination. This “newly discovered” and somewhat overdue appreciation is likely due to the influx of tapas and paella restaurants as well as the famed chefs such as Ferran Adrià at El Bulli with his outside the box techniques. Like maestro Adrià, several of his countrymen also covet the prestigious three star designation awarded by the Michelin Guide.

Historically, paella was born from the fusion of Roman and Arab culinary heritages. Despite systematic, and often brutal, efforts by Christian clergy to systematically quash Moorish history and identity, much of the Iberian cuisine and culture has been heavily influenced by the Muslim conquest and a several century rule of Spain. Beginning in the 8th Century, the Moors developed a highly civilized land they called Al Andalus.

Outside some of the more obvious Moorish contributions—magnificent architecture, spendid landscaping and fountains, the introduction of paper, music, advanced academics, mathematics and sophisticated astronomy—the marked influence on cuisine is also indisputable. The Moors cultivated olives and oranges and also brought rice, cumin, saffron, almonds, peppers and other spices to Spain.

Now perhaps the most widely known dish in traditional Spanish cuisine, paella is often cooked over an open wood and vine fire in a broad round two handed paella pan. Paella pans of several sizes are available at cooking stores (one of my favored haunts), but it also can also be made in a large sauté pan. The dish is served right out of the pan at the table, family style, sharing the bounty with all.

Controlling the fire—the heat intensity—is paramount. The dish should not be disturbed during the process or you will cause the rice to cook unevenly. The idea is to cook the rice underneath to form the classic crust called soccorat on the bottom.

Several versions of paella exist often depending on region and available meat, game, fish and seasonal produce. The one constant, the leading lady, is the rice which should be the short grain variety, preferably Valencia, Bomba or Calasparra…even Arborio. Long grain rice simply is a “no no”.

PAELLA

4 chicken leg thighs, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons pimenton or sweet paprika
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced

4 jumbo shrimp, peeled, but with heads and tails on
2 lobster tails, cut into medallions
Several squid, cleaned and rinsed
12 mussels, cleaned and scrubbed

4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, diced
1 (16-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand crushed
1 t sea salt
1 t sugar

1 cup valencia or arborio rice
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 bay leafs
1/4 C dry white wine
3 cups stock
1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
Fresh cilantro

Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry. Mix the oregano and paprika with some salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the pieces of chicken and marinate for 30 minutes or more.

Heat the olive oil in a paella pan or wide shallow skillet over medium high heat. Place the chicken in the pan, until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add the chorizo and continue to cook until the oil is a vibrant red color. Temporarily remove the chicken and sausage to a platter.

Sear the lobster tails and shrimp for one minute over high heat. Add the squid to the pan and sear for 15-20 seconds. Set aside.

Make a sofrito—saute the garlic, onion, and tomatoes sprinkled with some salt, pepper and sugar; cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Remove and set aside.

Return the chicken and sausage to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Pour in the white wine and cook until it is reduced by half, about 1-2 minutes. Add the sofrito and cook 3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Crush the saffron and add to the pan along with the bay leaf. Season with salt.

Fold in the rice, carefully spreading it evenly around the pan. Cook for 5 minutes on high, stirring and gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. The rice will float about in the pan.

Nestle in the reserved shrimp, lobster, and mussels. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a slow boil for 10 minutes. Near the last couple of minutes of this cooking process, scatter the squid and peas on top. During this entire stage, do not cover, disturb or stir or the rice will cook unevenly.

The stock should be absorbed by the now fluffy rice and there should be a nice shimmer to the top of the paella. Remember, the ideal paella has a toasted, caramelized rice “bottom crust” called socarrat. Allow to rest off the heat for 3-5 minutes, garnish with cilantro, then serve.

Pourboires: mix it up with other ingredients to change the character of the paella, including green beans, broad beans, zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, mushrooms, serrano ham, chicken livers, rabbit, clams, snails