Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
~Søren Kierkegaard

Around 380 BCE, in a book of The Republic, Plato presciently wrote the myth of the Ring of Gyges, in which a noble shepherd pocketed a “magical” ring found on the hand of a corpse in an abandonned cave that rendered him invisible to suit his whims. Gyges (sometimes pronounced jahy-jeez and other times jee-jeez) used this newly found trinket to infiltrate the royal household, and was even invited by the King of Lydia to secretly view his queen in the buff. He then could not help but seduce her and abruptly assassinated the king, ultimately usurping the throne. The basic notion behind Plato’s fable is that anonymity and disinhibition can corrupt even the most virtuous folks. So, if social reputation and sanctions are removed (now e.g., cowering behind a screen) moral character with any sense of empathy or contrition simply disappears too.

The once ancient Gyges effect with its namelessness, facelessness and/or faux appellation worlds appertains today in the form of trolls, thoughtless naysayers, online ragers, discord sowers, cyber-harassers, ranting yelpers, yik yakkers, social media/app abusers, inflammatory commentators, aggressors, droners, truculent ones, hackers, cyberbullies, belligerents, hate mongers, disrupters, and keyboard antagonists (to name a few). They all tend to enter a universe without filters or open discourse, actually pretending that there is not a real human enduring their assaults. To them, these are merely raging words on a formerly blank screen where there is just a desire for impact, for contemptuousness or resentment without any shared humanity or sense of responsibility. Shameless, in so many ways. Whatever happened to compassion and empathy?

A kind suggestion. Instead of hiding behind a screen of whatever sorts, please look intently in a mirror — a cold, hard stare — and closely conceptualize your face before even thinking about ranting online or elsewhere. Then instead, perhaps gently make a bowl of rice or some dessert. Be cool, be calm and savor each scent, each bite. So, “feed” a troll contrary to common advice.

But then, ponder while munching — how do we see real faces again?

BASMATI RICE & CORN PILAF

2 C Basmati rice

4 T unsalted butter or ghee (divided)
2 t garlic, minced
1 T ginger, grated
1/2 t turmeric
Pinch saffron
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
8 whole cloves
1/2 t black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 C corn kernels, freshly shaven off of ears

Sea salt
1 C golden raisins
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

2 T cilantro, chopped
2 T scallions, chopped
1/4 C roasted cashews

Put rice in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Swish with fingers, then pour off water. Repeat 2-3 times, until water runs clear. Cover again with cold water and soak 20 minutes, then drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter or ghee in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom, and stir to coat. Let sizzle a bit, then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter or ghee, the rice and the corn, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 1 minute. Add raisins and chicken or vegetable broth and bring to brisk simmer. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and let cook 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes off heat. Fluff rice and transfer to serving bowl. Strew rice with cilantro, scallions and cashews. Consider serving with raita. (See the August 5, 2012, post for a raita recipe or just simply type raita into the search box on the right hand side of the screen).

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.
~William Faulkner

Over the past few years, this site has become some form of writing, albeit ramblings or recipes. That medium allows me to fictionally, even idiomatically, lead those beloved, downy lambs to slaughter.

To do so, first ascertain a venue and gather the tools of the trade. Create a block and tackle from an overhead beam or improvise some sort of frame from scaffold poles. Then, garner a gambrel (an a-frame for hanging carcasses), meat hooks, a sharp 6″ blade, a small hook-shaped knife, a butcher’s saw, and a shotgun. Later comes separation, the act, hoisting the carcass, skinning, evisceration and butchery. The bloody details, angles, etc., are purposely spared, so precise imagination must suffice.

In the end, at the juncture of animal and human worlds, emerge blessed lamb chops. Numinous provender for us omnivores.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH YOGURT & SAFFRON

Lamb marinade:

1 t saffron threads
2 T warm water

2 C plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1/2 C fresh lemon juice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh black peppercorns
2 t orange zest
2 t honey

8 rib lamb chops, doubled (each 2″ thick)

Saffron baste:

1/2 t saffron threads
1 1/2 T warm chicken stock

3 T unsalted butter
3 T fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chutneys (optional)

Prepare the marinade. Place the saffron in a large, deep glass bowl and grind to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Add warm water, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Then, add the yogurt, lemon juice, onion, garlic, peppercorns, orange zest and honey to the dissolved saffron and mix well. Pour over and marinate the lamb chops in a large heavy plastic bag and allow to rest, turning occasionally, in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the grill to medium high. As a reminder, hold an open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands retraction. Two (2) to three (3) seconds = medium high.

Meanwhile, prepare the saffron basting sauce. Place the saffron in a small, heavy saucepan. Add warm stock, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the butter and lemon juice to the dissolved saffron and stir over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is blended and heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove the chops from the marinade, bring to room temperature on a cutting board, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the lamb chops on the hot barbeque grate and then grill, turning once, until cooked to your liking (about 5-6 minutes per side for medium rare). Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Brush the chops a couple of times as they cook with the saffron basting sauce.

Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes on the cutting board, then transfer the chops to plates and serve promptly, preferably with dollops of differing chutneys to the side.

Erotica is using a feather, pornography is using the whole chicken.
~Isabel Allende

Bouillabaisse is an iconic, magical Provençal fish stew which is derived from the Occitan compound word bolhabaissa, consisting of the the verbs bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (to simmer). While Greek and Italian culinary historians also lay claim to bouillabaisse, the simplicity of regional poached fish in an aromatic broth make a true origin difficult to pinpoint. Made in so many quaint port villages in Provence and laden with local Meditteranean fish, citrus, saffron and aromatic Provençal spices and herbs, bouillabaisse is both kitchen and fresh catch variant.

Admittedly, this is a fish soup guised in fowl clothing. But, this is no loss as many of the same robust, sublime scents and flavors linger. This recipe benefits from being made one day in advance…allow to spoon.

CHICKEN BOUILLABAISSE WITH ROUILLE

1 3 lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces*
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T fresh garlic, finely minced
1/2 C yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 C fennel, coarsely chopped
1/4 C carrot, coarsely chopped

1 can (14 ozs) San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 1/2 C dry white wine
2 C chicken stock
Splash of anise liquer–Ricard or Pernod
1 t saffron threads
1 t grated lemon zest
1 t orange zest
1/2 t fennel seeds, crushed
1 1/2 t herbes de Provence
1 bay leaf
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 kielbasa sausages, roughly sliced into 1/2″ pieces

Chopped tarragon leaves

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic and carrot, and stirring often, sauté until onions are tender and translucent, about 8 minutes.

Add the chicken, tomatoes, wine, stock, Ricard, saffron, lemon & orange zests, fennel, herbes de Provence, bay leaf and potatoes. There should be enough liquid to just cover the meat. Cover and bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until chicken is tender, about 25-30 minutes. Add the kielbasa and cook some 5 minutes longer. Remove bay leaf and correct seasoning.

Serve the bouillabaisse in warm soup plates over steamed rice with a spoonful of rouille drizzled over and tarragon strewn atop. Pass the rest of the rouille and cooking liquid separately.

Rouille

1/4 C chopped red bell pepper
1 red chile pepper

1 medium potato, cooked (see above)
4 large, plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 egg yolks
1 t dried thyme

1 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Simmer red bell and chile peppers in salted water for several minutes until tender. Drain well. With a mortar and pestle, pound simmered chiles, cooked potato, garlic, cayenne, egg yolks and thyme to form a smooth paste. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil until the rouille reaches a mayonnaise consistency. Season to taste.

*Pourboire: There are a couple of schools about the chicken prep. One espouses leaving the skin intact on a cut whole chicken and sautéeing the chicken to a light, crispy brown in olive oil and butter prior to poaching. Another suggests using leg-thigh quarters and simply skinning them before the poaching process sans sauté. A third says leave the skin on period. Rarely do Hobson’s choices inhabit a home kitchen.

What makes the English people sprightly is the liberal use of saffron in their broths and sweet-meats.
~Sir Francis Bacon

The plants and flowers of ancient Greece culture abound in mythology, and magical saffron is no different. According to one tragic tale, the handsome mortal Crocos fell deeply in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax. Although his overtures were at first flattering, she later became bored and rebuffed his continued advances, transforming him into a passionately tinted crocus flower. Another tradition relates that he was metamorphosed by his friend Hermes, who had accidentally killed him in a game of discus. The three drops of Crocus’ blood that spilled on the ground transformed into a small flower with brilliant red stamens.

Saffron comes from the three delicate and thready stigmas of the saffron crocus. It takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand cultivated stigmas to create a single pound of this cherished brilliant orange-red colored and pungent bitter-honey flavored spice which helps explain why it fetches astronomical prices.

This elegant dish, Risotto alla Milanese, seduces with its delicate, creamy flavors and may be served as a first course, a side or a main dish.

SAFFRON RISOTTO (RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE)

6-7 C chicken stock
Pinch of saffron threads (about 1/2 t)

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
1/2 C dry white wine
1 1/2 C Arborio rice

Sea salt to taste
3 T unsalted butter
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, grated

Parmigiano reggiano, grated, for serving

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep it at a bare simmer while you prepare the risotto. Add the saffron to the stock, stir and infuse.

In a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the onion until softened, but not browned, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the rice, and stir until coated well and it begins to turn shiny and translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the wine and then ladle in 1 cup simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, about 1-2 minutes. Add another ladleful of stock, and stir regularly until all of the stock is absorbed. Let each ladleful of stock be almost absorbed before adding the next, allowing the rice to be covered with a thin coating of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 16 to 18 minutes. The risotto should be smooth and creamy yet still retaining a slight al dente texture.

Remove from heat and add the butter, parmigiano reggiano and a pinch of salt, stirring well. Divide the risotto among shallow soup bowls, grate some parmigiano reggiano over the top and serve.