Open Faced Mia Bella

February 9, 2016

The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal. 
~Victor Hugo

In some senses, one can concur with Hugo’s immaterial ideals, but what about an artisan’s bread, eggs, Italian cheese and salted and cured ham together?  They tend to belong en masse and are fetchingly archetypal.  And before bread, paradigms? Doubtful.

Sleep — humans spend some 35%-38% of each day slumbering.  It just does not seem congruent, or even affable, to have so few studies over the years that delve into the subconscious or sleep habits with some 50-70 Americans having been affected by disorders of some type. Some 80% of workers suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, likely not taking into account sometimes falsely alleged criminals, prisoners or spies.  The first thing that is wrested from someone by the “correctional and rehabilitation” institution is sleep.  Then, with sleeplessness a person often confesses, whether the act was committed or not.

These are not merely dormant times of our daily, passive lives spent too frequently as consensual slaves at cubicles and/or before screens and shift work, often relationless and without any conception of life. Instead, these are somnolent times that rend habits which can profoundly alter our physical, physiological, electrical and mental health.

Now, some studies have been published in the journal Science by the Nedergaard lab which proposed that the daily waste produced by the brain (which uses about 20% of the body’s energy) was cleansed and recycled toxic byproducts by sleep alone.  The noxious trash, the junk is cleared of our so-called “glymphatic” systems of our brains by merely reaching deep sleep.  The brain, it seems, clears itself of neurological waste while we slumber.  It seems the interstitial spaces, the fluid area between tissue cells, are mainly dedicated to removing our neural rubbish accumulated when awake, while we naturally sleep — uninterrupted.  (Interstitial derives from the Latin interstitium meaning “interstice” or “an intervening space.”) Without good sleeping tendencies, these toxins remain in the brain, and one logically posits will produce significant cerebral damage in the future.

So, let your body unwind, release tension with latent exercise toes to head focusing upon relaxation, darken the bedroom, keep bed mates or others informed, manage caffeine and alcohol intake, adjust temperatures to a cooler level, and simply cultivate good sleeping habits.

Sleep well and tight.

A Simple Egg Sandwich

2 ciabatta slices, about 1 1/2″ thick, with, after smearing with softened butter, the top side is also slathered in guanciale or pancetta juice

2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

Guanciale or pancetta sliced somewhat thin, but not paper thin, and barely cooked in a skillet to cover bread.

4 local eggs, poached or fried, so the yolk runs
Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced, to cover bread

Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded, to complete

Cut the fresh ciabatta and cook on both sides in the broiler, one buttered on the top side (to melt) after cooking the bottom.  Later, slather the slices on the top side in guanciale (preferably) or pancetta juices after cooking one of the two in another heavy skillet.  Then, place the gently cooked guanciale or pancetta on the ciabatta bread because they will be broiled in the next step.

Poach or fry the eggs, softly, then drain them, while you arrange the tallegio cheese atop the meat and bread and broil briefly until just melted.  Put the eggs on, and finally finish with fresh chiffonaded (thin ribbons) basil leaves.

So, to review the arrangement:  1) toast ciabatta –> 2) melt butter atop –> 3) guanciale juices –> 4) guanciale slices to cover –> 5) tallegio to cover –> 6) eggs –> and 7) basil ribbons.

Pourboire:   You may also consider using 4 thinner slices of ciabatta and create a panini with the same or similar ingredients without the toasting and buttering steps and with full basil leaves (not chiffonaded) or arugula leaves.  Then, olive oil and cook on a sandwich press or grill pan.

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Gruyère & Walnut Scones

February 9, 2012

The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
~Thomas H. Huxley

To those who still cling to blind faith, failing to relentlessly test assumptions and rejecting rational inquiry, here are just a few of the more egregious beliefs that have been disproven and no longer enjoy acceptance in the scientific community…

The earth is the center of the universe and all celestial bodies revolve around it. The universe is static, neither expanding nor contracting. The earth is not spherical, but flat. The earth is a hollow sphere containing light and housing an advanced civilization. The earth was created by a divine being 5,000 years ago and is not some 4.5 billion years old. The theory of evolution is wholly false and imaginary. The human body contains four balanced humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. The functions of all living things are controlled by a “vital force” or “life spark” and not by biophysical means. Life is generated spontaneously from inanimate matter. People are born with a tabula rasa (“blank slate”) bereft of innate traits or genetic proclivities. Modern alchemy, in which ordinary metals are turned into gold, is on firm footing. All combustible objects contain a special element called phlogiston that is released during burning. Global warming, the increase in atmospheric temperatures that results in climate changes due to anthropegenic causes, is a conspiratorial hoax. Santa Claus and the tooth fairy exist.

That is an extreme short list which does not even touch a host of fictions, but you get the drift. Empirical knowledge trumps raw faith.

When pandering to worldly warmth, please share these savory scones–best nestled up to a mate, with a bowl of hearty soup and a glass of vin rouge.

GRUYERE & WALNUT SCONES

1 1/4 C walnuts

2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 C Gruyère or Comté cheese, shredded
1 1/2 t fresh thyme leaves, stemmed and chopped

1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
4 T buttermilk
4 T heavy whipping cream
1 T honey
1 T Dijon mustard

Gruyère cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 F

Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasted. Allow to cool, remove to a cutting board, chop and set aside.

In a large bowl combine walnuts, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and rub in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. It is important that the butter be cold so when it is worked into the flour mixture it does not become a smooth dough. Do not overwork–it should be like a pie dough. Add the Gruyère and thyme thoroughly but gently.

Make a well in center of the dough mixture. In a small bowl combine egg, buttermilk, cream, honey, and mustard and add to the flour mixture, stirring with a spoon until moist. If overly dry, add some more buttermilk and if too wet add more flour.

Gather dough into a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough by folding and gently pressing it for about a dozen times. Shape dough into a round about 3/4″ thick. Using a cookie cutter or small wine glass, cut rounds of dough. (Alternatively, you may cut the dough into triangles.) Gather the scraps, reshape the dough into the same thickness, and cut into more rounds or triangles. Arrange on a baking sheet about 1″-2″ apart and sprinkle the top of each with just a little more Gruyère.

Bake scones until tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of scented urine.
~James Joyce

There has been ongoing lively discourse over the comparative attributes of charcoal and gas grills. Now, debates have been emerging around the country about whether is is greener to grill over charcoal barbeques or on gas grills. Which patio toy produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions in the long run?

In an article published in the The New York Times, Tris West, an environmental scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, calculated emissions from the two grilling methods. He concluded that since charcoal is derived from wood products— trees that absorb atmospheric carbon as they grew — burning it on the grill approaches a “net zero” result in terms of carbon emissions. By comparison, gas grills use propane which is a fossil fuel that adds to greenhouse gas accumulations. However, West cautions that the polemics become a tad more complicated because burning charcoal may release particulates into the atmosphere.

The good news is that your choice won’t effect any significant change in mass carbon emissions. By West’s estimation, the total amount of carbon dioxide released from barbecue grills on July 4 is on the order of .003 percent of the annual U.S. total. Has the discussion now returned to its origins…an issue of flavors and scents?

Cuisine is both an art and a science: it is an art when it strives to bring about the realization of the true and the beautiful, called le bon in the order of culinary ideas. As a science, it respects chemistry, physics and natural history. Its axioms are called aphorisms, its theorems recipes, and its philosophy gastronomy.
~Lucien Tendret, from La Table au pays de Brillat-Savarin

Why has browning been such an ultimate culinary goal of so many recipes whether on the stovetop, oven or grill? Although now it seems so basic and intuitive, as with most cooking techniques, there is a chemical explanation.

Several causes of browning exist, which may act separately or in combination at various temperatures. One of the more fundamental and common reasons is the Maillard Reaction, a non-enzymatic chemical response which occurs in foods which contain both proteins and sugars. Maillard derived aromas are extremely complex and many components are formed in trace amounts by side reactions and obscure pathways. This particular phenomenon bears the name of Louis-Camille Maillard, who happened upon it when trying to ascertain how amino acids linked up to form proteins. From research undertaken in the early 20th century, he discovered that when heated sugars and amino acids were combined, the mixture slowly turned brown. Curiously, it was not until shortly after World War II that scientists associated the direct role that Maillard’s original chemical findings played in creating robust aromas and flavors in food.

The Maillard Reaction usually occurs when the denatured proteins on the surface recombine with those natural sugars present in that food. Usually the result of heat, a chemical reaction occurs between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, forming a multitude of interesting but poorly characterized molecules responsible for a broad, intricate range of scents and flavors, ultimately changing the pigmentation of food—the browning effect courtesy of Monsieur Maillard (1878-1936).

Mise (En Place)

January 15, 2009

Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.
~Lin Yutang

This modest quest was born of the reflections of a common cook, a layperson (non-expert) roaming the kitchen.

Sharing my journeys with you from market to kitchen to plate is meant to inspire, dispel misconceptions, quell unfounded fears and place confidence in your hands. Just cook and embrace, saporously so. As food is a basic human need, why not make it exquisitely pleasing to the palate, even creative? It only makes sense that the modest art of cooking should be rewarded by the divine art of eating. Because, face it, sometimes we simply want to eat.

The recipes that follow are only meant to suggest and are by no means a mandate. Plus, to assume there exists only one species of a dish can often be folly — many classics are flat protean with almost as many versions and descents as there are kitchens.

This site is not a harbor for what some have dubbed arrogant food even though that finds a deserved place in other kitchens and written or online works. Humble, rustic and eclectic fare may be more appropriate words here…or perhaps just love what sates you at the time.

Because a meal is simple does not render it any less savory or elegant. Here, there is no need for formal training or experience, yet an inquisitive, inventive character and passion for food may serve you well. Together through recipes and basic techniques, we will explore some of the varied facets of food and along the way visit some culinary lore, history, science, culture, art, geography, language — and even meander through a few fond memories.