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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Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
~Julia Child

BLUEBERRY CLAFOUTI (CLAFOUTI AUX MYRTILLES)

This is just a riff on an earlier clafouti take that appeared on a May 9, 2009, page but now is directly aimed at blueberries only, a perpetual fav. A more historical and geographical glimpse of clafouti is found there.

(As always, reference can be made by simply typing in clafouti in the “Search” box found on nearly the upper right of the main page; just below the Categories and just above the Recent Posts.  It is the means by which damned near everything can be found on the site.)

Blueberries, a super food, are considered one of the healthiest, both low in calories and high in nutrition.  From the genus Vaccinium, it is a perennial flowering shrub that produces berries that are hued blue to purple — indigoed — with a flared crown at the end and covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax. At first, the berries are green in color.  There are two most common types, highbush, which are most common and lowbush, which are smaller in stature, synonymous with wilder, and more fecund with antioxidants.

To my chagrin, it seems blueberries have adapted titles that resound like a female grooming brochure or study.  To somehow even think that hair “down there” is somehow contortedly unhygienic or those who inexplicably opt for that prepubescent look or those who urge their mates to do the same…quelle honte, quel dommage.

Blueberries contain fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, antioxidants (improving brain function), flavonoids, anthocyanins, reduce DNA damage, neutralize free radical damage, improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, have anti-diabetic effects, prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), lower blood pressure and protect LDL lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) from oxidative damage.

Need I say more?

Well, have a happy 4th.  Whatever that means — so few years this republic, this democracy, this oligarchy or otherwise and so much violence over our time. Really, exactly When Was America Great — name some dates (even an era), bro?  Your ongoing silence, M. Donald, speaks volumes as does your silly red hat, under that asinine red/white/grey/orange comb-over that can tweet something irrational at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night. I await your prompt response — it has been days now, almost a fortnight, likely more. Apparently, you have no answer.

2 T blueberry eau-de-vie or 1 T cognac or brandy
2 T light brown sugar

1/3 C granulated sugar (divided)
1/3 C turbinado cane sugar (divided)

1/3 C unsalted butter, softened
2 lbs seasonal blueberries

3 large, pastured eggs
6 T heavy whipping cream
6 T whole milk
1/4 C cornstarch or all purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Combine the blueberry eau-de-vie and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl to dissolve along with the light brown sugar.

Add the blueberries and butter and toss to blend. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven. Bake until the fruit is hot, and set the blueberries aside to cool to room temperature.

Lower the oven to 350-375 F

Whisk the eggs until frothy with a mixer, adding the remaining sugars. Then add the cream, milk and cornstarch (preferably) or flour and mix until well blended. There should be a smooth waffle-like batter.

Place the blueberries in a baking dish in a single layer. Slowly pour the batter over the fruit, filling just to the brim. Bake until until golden, some 35-40 minutes. Set aside, and turn broiler to high.

Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar on top sparsely yet evenly.  Place under the broiler until the sugar is caramelized.

Serve the clafouti directly from the skillet in preferably in wedges or actually unmold and place on a platter. To unmold, make certain that the clafouti is free from the sides of the pan, and if necessary, run a sharp knife around the edge to release it.  Serve warm.

Lentils

February 12, 2009

Lentils are friendly—the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.
~Laurie Colwin

Lentils are those pungently earthy members of the legume family—which are plants in the pea family that split open naturally along a seam revealing a row of seeds. Some archealogical digs have suggested that legumes may be the oldest crop known to humanity. Lentils are commonly found in dried form and possess superior nutritional qualities with high levels of protein.

The green lentilles from Puy, in the rocky Auvergne region in France, are considered the caviar of lentils. The arid climate, abundant sunshine and volcanic soil conditions offer a flinty, nutty flavor which has garnered the beans an Appelation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)…a quality label recognized by the French government bestowed upon products meeting specified standards.

LENTIL SOUP

1 C dried lentils
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz pancetta, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 14 oz can san marzano tomatoes, diced
2 rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 t freshly toasted coriander, ground
1 t freshly toasted cumin seeds, ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar

In a bowl, first drain and rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve.

Toast and grind coriander and cumin seeds.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, cook the pancetta in olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes; then add the onions. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the celery, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, cumin and lentils. Stir well, ensuring the oil coats everything well.

Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, allowing the soup to cook for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove the bay leaves before serving, and salt and pepper to taste. Kindly drizzle some fine red wine vinegar over each bowl.

LENTIL SALAD

1 1/2 C lentils
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 oz Virginia ham
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
Water to cover

1 qt chicken stock
1 bay leaf
a few springs of fresh thyme
Sea salt
2 oz Virginia ham, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
Freshly ground pepper

2 T red wine or sherry vinegar
2/3 C walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and remove any foreign matter.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and and cook the onion and ham over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Transfer the lentils to the same heavy Dutch oven, then cover with cold water, which should cover the lentils by at least 3-4 inches.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and drain in a fine mesh sieve.

Return the lentils to the pan, add the stock, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf; bring to a gentle boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Skim off the surface. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes.

Combine the mustard and vinegar and whisk to blend. Add the walnut oil and shallots, and continue to whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the bacon in a large nonstick skillet and cook over moderate heat until done. Set aside on paper towels.

When the lentils are done, drain them well, then toss with the vinaigrette. Remove bay leaf and thyme. Let stand until the lentils have absorbed the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with diced bacon. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm.

Categories’ Translations

January 22, 2009

Admittedly, a paranoia induced entry. In a late night, overwrought effort to be cute, some of my Categories titles may be rightly dubbed obscure. So, to assure the utter transparency that is ever much in the political vogue these days (a more accurate word might be “translucence”), the literal interpretations follow:

Ab Ovo — Eggs

Asides — Vegetables, Side Dishes

Between the Sheets — Sandwich fare

Dough & Yeast — Pasta, Pizza, Calzone

Fine Fowl — Poultry

Fish Out of Water — Fish, Shellfish

Gadgets & Toys — Cutlery, Cookware, Tools, Utensils

Going Green — Salads

Soupçon — Soups

Mulling over Mammals — Meats

Ruminations — Random Thoughts, Ideas

Silk Pantries — Pantry, Cupboard items

Small Pleasures — Appetizers, Hors d’oeuvres, Amuses gueles/bouches, Tapas

Sweet Teeth — Desserts

The Holy Grill — Grilling, Barbeque

Into The Kitchen Window

January 21, 2009

We owe much to the fruitful meditation of our sages, but a sane view of life is, after all, elaborated mainly in the kitchen.
~Joseph Conrad

Despite my earlier palaver (albeit genuine and sincere) about The Table, it is openly admitted that this site is all about The Kitchen, where your culinary universe is truly created. Ranging from the intimate, meditative moments of solitary preparation to the almost melodic cacophony of the sizzle, splatter, chopping, clanging, whisking and the chatter at a triaged dinner party, The Kitchen is a microcosm of your ever changing world and even the world’s cultures. Not to be forgotten are the sublime, varied scents and aromas permeating The Kitchen coupled with the hued tableau of fruits, meats, vegetables gracing the counters and stove tops.

The Kitchen also serves as a place of learning as your body of culinary scholarship expands through experimentation, improvisation, advice, lore, clues, cookbooks, websites, blogs(?)—all muses inspiring at differing creative levels. Immerse yourself in this wisdom, simply take the plunge in this both mundane and sacred cuisine room, and you will cook with a unity of purpose unencumbered by fear. Even in The Kitchen, knowledge is power.

The Kitchen can be home to many memes — sometimes defined as cultural units or patterns of behavior that are passed from one generation to another by imitation, emulation, repetition (not genetically); they are the cultural counterpart of genes, and what better place to receive, create and pass on your tribal memes than The Kitchen.  A means to search for and tap into ancestral memories.

A space common to all of your kith, The Kitchen embodies the cultural dynamics of domestic life: how, what and when you acquire, prepare, cook, serve, eat, preserve, and store food; what utensils, cutlery, furnishings, and appliances you use on the day to day or for special moments—reflecting human ingenuity’s meeting with the problems posed by daily necessity and the desire for social comfort.

Fret not if your space is tiny, as a no-frills, “microkitchen” still cooks exquisitely. Tiny kitchens foster mystical idea rooms.  A high tech, lewdly expensive, expansive cook space does not make an admirable cook. Just be selective with the basics and replace your perceived inadequacies with savvy and moxie. After all, cooking is just cooking, right? As Mario Batali once noted, “only bad cooks blame the equipment.”

How to accouter The Kitchen, your kitchen? Well, it all varies on your available space, culinary comfort level, what you tend to cook, etc. Some basics follow which are subject to personal bends and tendencies. As with Silk Pantries, this list is not meant to be either exhaustive nor suggestive of absolute necessities. Rather, it is intended to offer some ideas for you to ponder over, accept or reject based upon personal likes and surroundings. I try to avoid overwrought, rube goldbergesque kitchen thingamajigs as they tend to be relegated to the far reaches, never to be seen again. Throughout this ongoing project, posts will discuss more specifics about materials, preferences, uses.

GADGETS & TOYS

Blades — Knives (8”-10” chef’s, bread, 8” carving, 7” santoku, 5”-6” boning, 5”-6” sandwich/utility, 3”-3 ½” paring) carving fork, shears, mandolin (slicer), 12 bladed apple corer, sharpener, honing steel, cutting boards, knife block or magnetic strip, mesh cutting glove

Spoons — Metal/wooden/slotted spoons, ladles, spider, metal/wooden/silicone spatulas, balloon whisks, tongs

Vessels — 7 ¼ qt. Dutch oven, large roasting pan & rack, 2 & 4 qt saucepans, 6 qt sauté pan, 9” &11” non stick skillet/fry pan, 2 ¼-3 qt saucier, 12” grill pan, 8-12 qt stock pot, large wok

Plug Ins — Food processor, Kitchen Aid, pasta machine/attachment, drying racks, waffle iron, coffee (spice) grinder, immersion hand blender, rice cooker, ice cream maker

Miscellany — Salad bowls, pizza stone and paddles, salt & pepper grinders/shakers, cruets, mortar & pestle, food mill

pastry & basting brushes, pasta drying rack, baster, dough whip, potato masher, nesting bowls, mixing bowls, baking sheets, pastry bag, tortilla warmers, food scale, silpat, cake pans, cake rack, wooden rolling pin, silicone rolling pin, jellyroll pans

casseroles, baking dishes/au gratins, loaf pan, muffin tin, pie plate, tarte pan, ramekins, soufflé dishes

colanders, sieves (fine meshed chinois, china cap & medium perforated), cheesecloth, funnels, grater, microplane, thermometers (candy & meat), blow torch

shellfish shucker, heavy rubber or “chain mail” glove

peeler, zester, citrus reamer

timer, measuring cups & spoons, can opener, oven mitts, salad spinner, spatter screen, latex gloves, hot pads/trivets, hot mitts, pasta drying racks, olive pitter, egg slicer, apple corer

tool crock

Hooch — Corkscrew, champagne bucket, shaker, wine stopper, strainer, cocktail stir, muddler, stainless steel toothpicks

The Table

January 15, 2009

The pleasures of the table are of all times and all ages, of every country and of every day; they can be associated with all the other pleasures and remain the last to console us for the loss of the rest.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The Table presides over your cuisine.

Even though food discussions often naturally begin at the market and then progress from the kitchen to plate, I feel the final resting place for your victuals deserves first mention.

Derived from the Latin “tabula,” meaning “plank” or “tablet,” The Table is sometimes relegated to that utilitarian flat surface in your home. Despite this drab definition, The Table serves a variety of functions. In its simplest form, The Table is a flat geometrically shaped slab top supported by legs. Yet add to that basic board candles, color, dishes, glasses, a sumptuous feast of food, bread and wine, and The Table becomes transformed into a theater set. Add the personae around (or even under) The Table from differing generations, traditions, families, intellects, social strata, cultures and backgrounds…then it morphs into a social sanctuary, a topless yurt for nomads with no reservations with the common goal of savoring your food in the simple company of humanity. Ambivalence and lethargy rarely reside at The Table; rather it becomes the grand leveller.

The Table has cradled young and old—ever teeming with laughter, tears, passion, glee, anger, celebrations, disunions, harmony, with both contentious and soothing words. Over several decades, my same table has been serving me a vivid, streaming kaleidoscope of remembrances. My fortune.

The Table not only recalls but creates memories…individual and communal…which will transform your life.