After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.
~Oscar Wilde

Most of us have all been there. La famille, je vous hais (de temps en temps), especially when these days, uncomfortable conversations emit from the table. You might imagine the awkward talk that was uttered between Trump and Romney at Jean Gorges.

Now, we know the Curse of the Billy Goat has perished ending an over a century (some 108 year drought) spell of haplessness as the Cubs finally won the World Series in Game 7 of 2016 in a rather surreal extra inning ending. But, a “W” is a “W,” and as a native Chicagoan I am elated and intensely wished to be at a local watering hole in Chitown — have been to Final Fours before and found that neighborhood venues were the best.  The food is often better, not to mention there are replays galore, both behind the plate and elsewhere in the field.

A reveler here.  Damn, the Cubs won! One for the ages. No room for pessimism now — an epic season, series’ and games.

Ben Zobrist’s run scoring double in the rain delayed 10th inning marathon, and Joe Maddon as well as a glorious cast behind them made sure. Must admit that Zobrist (the World Series MVP) and closer Mike Montgomery used to be Kansas City Royals so the result was even sweeter.

This happened to be regular fare on “Turkey” Day, partially leased from Julia Child, and plan on serving the same this Thanksgiving. No turkey, not traditional, but goose as the main course with apps and sides as the real deal.

Goose fat (the same with duck) is remarkably superb as a basting medium, so be sure to render the fat from inside the bird. Once rendered, the leftovers will keep for weeks in the fridge too. A sublime brown goose stock, for sauce, is made with the chopped gizzard, neck, heart, and wing tips, so make sure that this offal is kept, not discarded.

A 9 lb. goose takes about 2 hours to cook while a 12 1/2 lb. bird just takes about 30 minutes longer.  Your best bet is to choose a 9-11 lb. honker. A 9 lb. bird takes about 2 hours at 425-350 F and an 11 lb. goose takes about 20 minutes longer. Cook until the drumsticks move slightly in their sockets and when the fleshiest part is tined with a fork, the juices run a pale yellow.

Note: do remember that goose is roasted much like duck except that goose has the skin pricked and is basted with boiling water and/or wine and/or goose and/or chicken stock (or a mix thereof) every 15 minutes or so.

ROAST GOOSE WITH FOIE GRAS & PRUNES (OIE ROTI AUX FOIE GRAS ET PRUNEAX)

Thaw goose to room temperature. Dry well.

Goose stock
Chopped goose neck, gizzard, and heart
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 T rendered goose fat

Prepare brown goose stock in advance. In a heavy medium saucepan with olive oil, place chopped goose neck, gizzard, and heart as well as sliced onion, carrot and rendered goose fat, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.

Allow to simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours or so, skimming as necessary. Strain through cheesecloth and a chinois, and the stock is ready to use.

Preheat oven to 425 F

Prunes
40-50 prunes
Soak the prunes in hot water for about 5 minutes and pit. Simmer prunes in a covered saucepan for about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain for goose now and reserve cooking liquid for later.

Goose Liver Sauce
1 C dry white wine
2 C brown goose stock
Goose liver, minced or chopped
2 T shallots, peeled and finely minced
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 C port wine

Simmer white wine and goose stock slowly in a covered heavy saucepan for about 10 minutes, with the wine or stock for about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and reserve.

Simmer the goose liver, shallots, unsalted butter and port wine in a small heavy skillet for about 2 or so minutes and scrape into a small mixing bowl. Put both together with a whisk.

Foie Gras
1/2 C of foie gras or similar pâté
Good pinch or more of allspice and thyme
3-4 T stale bread crumbs, freshly zapped in the Cuisinart or blender
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauté goose liver and shallots in butter, using a small, but heavy skillet, for about 2 minutes and then scrape into a mixing bowl. In the same skillet, boil the port wine until reduced to 2 T, then scrape into the mixing bowl with the goose liver.

Now, blend the foie gras and spices, et al., into the mixing bowl with the sautéed goose liver. Sometimes, carefully place the foie gras, bread crumbs and goose liver into center of the prunes, then stuff.

Prunes Anon
Prune cooking juices
1/2 C port wine
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

(See below*, for finish)

Goose Fat
Chop lose goose fat from inside the goose carcass and chop into 1/2″ pieces. Simmer in a covered heavy saucepan with about 1 C water. Uncover the pan and bring to a boil. Once finished, the fat will be a pale yellow, use some to bulb over goose and then strain some of the liquid for goose now into a jar for use later.

The Goose
1 – 9 to 11 lb. goose, room temperature and dried well
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cover sparingly with pancetta slices, for moisture and flavor.

Boiling water and/or wine and/or chicken stock (or a mix thereof), for “braising” or “bulbing” every 15 minutes so as to keep the bird moist during the roasting process.

Salt & pepper the cavity of the goose and stuff loosely with prunes. Skewer the vent and secure the legs and neck skin to the body with trussing string. Prick the skin over the thighs, back and breasts, then dry thoroughly and set the bird breast up in the heated roasting pan.

Brown the goose for 20 minutes or so and then turn on its side (breast side to the rear) and lower heat to 350 F to continue roasting.

Do not forget: baste every 15 minutes or thereabouts with boiling water, stock or wine, sucking the excess goose fat with a bulb baster.  At the halfway mark, turn goose on the other side, yet continue basting.

When done, discard trussing strings, place the pancetta into a glass bowl, and set the goose on a carving board or platter to rest. As with all meats and poultry, this step is truly important.

Below* — In the interim, tilt the pan and spoon out the fat, leaving behind the brown juices. Pour in the the prune cooking juices and port. Boil down, until the liquid has reduced and correct seasoning.  Take off heat and swirl in the the softened butter, then pour into a sauce boat, sort of au jus.

After resting, serve by pulling or severing off legs, thighs, back and what remains of wings and slicing the breast somewhat thin but more thick than a turkey, then coating with goose and prune sauce.

Remove prunes, foie gras, port wine, spices and herbs for dressing into a bowl.

Below’s menu is nothing like the “first” Thanksgiving given the murderous raids, scalping, beheading and slave trading of indigenous ones, “heathen savages,” by white folks — no, not really warm & fuzzy. Later, African Americans, because they were too busy serving white people on Thanksgiving Day celebrated the holiday somewhat later, often in January to accord when Abe uttered the Emancipation Proclamation. There is a common thread here: conquering whites and their profound prejudices.

As an aside despite a couple of journals written by whites during the “original Thanksgiving feast,” no mention is made of turkey being served.

A PROPOSED “MODERN” THANKSGIVING MENU:

Appetizers (Da bomb)
Gougères and/or Arancini with Balsamico di Modena & Aioli
Deviled eggs, of varied ilks, but local pasture raised (duck rillette, proscuitto, caviar, for instance)

Beef tartare and/or sushi(purchased on the way home from your favored fish artist)and/or oven roasted oysters and/or Pa Jun (savory Korean pancakes)
Varied cheeses & proscuitto/serrano platter, local homemade pickles, capers, cornichons & toasted artisanal bread

Seared scallops with apple cider vinegar or calamari au vin or octopus tapas or tuna and avocado ceviche or moules marinieres and/or lobster bisque or oyster & brie soup

Main & Side Courses (Somewhat Non-Traditional Fodder)
Roast Goose (Oie Roti aux foie gras et pruneaux) or Coq au Vin or Braised Lamb Shanks or Braised Beef Short Ribs and if you go chicken, lamb or braised short ribs, try the sauce with the root veggies
Prune & Foie Gras “Dressing” with the goose

Caponata alla Sicilina
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Currants and/or Walnuts
Roasted Shallots
Smashed or Puréeed Potatoes or Gratin Dauphinois or Potatoes Aligotes with Comté ou Gruyère or Rice Pilaf or Arroz a la Mexicana
Oyster Casserole with pie crust, crème fraîche, leeks, bacon, thyme & gruyère (if you did not use oysters above)

Desserts (One Fine Finish)
Fresh pecan or date pies, bars or cookies and/or seasonal fruit crisps and/or
mousse au chocolat or chocolat truffes — always dependant upon guests

This list does not take into account egg nog with rum and other liqueurs, older charonnays, pinot noirs, zinfandels, red meritages and cognacs throughout the day — always remember, though, in vino veritas.

Whatever is chosen, deep sighs for souls, still.

Pourboire: Admittedly, I often braised the goose about half way up with red wine and stock (much like coq au vin), throwing in some root vegetables yet still keeping the prunes and foie gras inside. Then again, you can go the route of Calvin Trillin of the New Yorker Magazine who once commented that “turkey was something used to punish students for hanging around on Sundays,” and treat your guests to pasta carbonara (with guanciale and perhaps some pancetta) or lay out a medley of differing pizzas. You know they may be tired of poultry (turkey too). They will likely be grateful.

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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).

History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
~Mark Twain

These bosoms need little augmentation or enhancement — well, besides a few spices.

MAGRETS DE CANARD (DUCK BREASTS)

2 duck breasts, each about 1 lb, always equal
Salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2 T raw sugar, divided in half
1 C shallots, finely chopped

Zest and segments from 2 oranges or blood oranges
1 C dry red wine

1 T red miso

Heat oven to 200 F.

With a sharp knife, score the skin side of the duck breasts in a crisscross pattern but do not cut into the flesh. Season with salt and pepper. Heat an ovenproof heavy skillet to quite hot. Place duck breasts in pan, skin side down, and sear until browned, at most about 2 minutes. Remove and reserve 1 tablespoon of fat, discarding the rest. Return duck to pan, skin side up, and place in oven for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Place reserved duck fat in a heavy skillet on medium high.

Toward the end of roasting, sprinkle breasts with half the raw sugar and cook a couple of minutes, until the pieces start to brown but remain crisp, then remove to a platter or board.

In the meantime, reduce heat to medium low in a heavy pan or skillet, add the shallots and sauté slowly until very tender. Stir in both the orange zest and wine. Simmer gently until the wine is reduced by half. Stir in remaining raw sugar and the miso. Season with salt and pepper and then set aside.

When duck is finished, allow to rest, then slice the breasts on the bias and arrange on a platter. Briefly and barely the reheat wine sauce and fold in the orange segments. Assure that the salt and pepper is to your liking and spoon sauce over and/or under the duck breasts.

Chicken + Tomatoes + …

December 26, 2015

If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.
~Grandma Moses

If you can, wait for heirloom tomato season.

This is just basic fodder and should become a seminal staple — thrifty yet damned delish. It all may seem primitive, unadorned, but this dish, although humble, is not meager in the least.

4-6 local (unfrozen) chicken thighs with skin on and bone-in
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 T dried tarragon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

6 T peeled and finely sliced shallots
3 T plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 28 oz canned tomatoes, drained and chopped (or better yet, a glass container of heirloom tomatoes from a recent harvest)

1/4 C red wine vinegar (aceto di vino rossa)
1/4 C fine capers, drained or unsalted, depending how prepared
1/4 C chicken broth
2 bay leaves

1 C dry white wine, like Gavi, Orvieto or Verdicchio
1-2 T good tomato paste

1/4 C fresh tarragon leaves

Pat thighs dry well with paper towels.  Allow to reach room temperature and gently dredge the chicken thighs with sea salt, black pepper and dried tarragon. Drop the smashed garlic into the olive oil and butter in a large heavy pan over medium high. As the oil and butter begin to shimmer, discard the smashed garlic and sauté the chicken thighs, skin side down, until lightly browned. Turn and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Remove and tent the bird pieces with foil.

Then, make a sauce with the shallots and garlic, cooking briefly, for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, wine, tomato paste, bay leaves and stock until it all cooks down some, stirring with a wooden spatula to dissolve the pieces in the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce, and return the chicken to the skillet, then cover with a lid bringing the mix to a simmer for about 18-20 minutes or so. Discard the bay leaves.

To serve, strew with fresh tarragon leaves and place over pasta, orzo, rice, you name it — grain or green.

Pourboire:  if desired, add dijon mustard and/or crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream to the sauce or use differing seasonings on the chicken.

I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.
~Frank Lloyd Wright

Just horrific, blatant madness. Enough has been enough — a churlish and cowardly National Rifle Association, a despicable and misleading Wayne La Pierre, a dysfunctional, pugnacious and pandering Congress and a meddling and fawning usual majority of the Supreme Court who all huddling together create this arrant bedlam. Irrational.  Each of you know without any doubt that our country is awash with guns, an absolute disgrace, a contagion of non-hunting firearms. Feckless thoughts and prayers forever from Congress? Do you not even comprehend that that those words are flat empty?  C’mon man.

Some 90 people die from gun violence each and every day in this self annointed pre-eminent (not really) of nations. This number does not even include that over 270 souls are maimed by gunshot wounds each day nor does it parse out the vast numbers of children that are crippled (20) or killed (9) by gun violence daily. A cowardly slaughter occurs followed by typically incoherent, often pathological, statements from asinine donors, imbecilic gun lobbyists, gullible politicians, naïve citizens and others. Do the right thing, at least sometimes.  This is not nuance, which would be more aptly defined as a “subtlety” or “tinge.”

Gun bloodshed has been rampant for years. The utter reality is that there are now over 300,000,000 guns in shaky and often mentally unstable civilian hands either kept openly or surreptitiously by a third of households across this country. This number does not even include the vast arsenals of ammunition, shells and massive clips which have now become prodigious. A recent study showed that many guns were sold without a single background check. Moreover, there is absolutely no support for the claim that owning more guns deters, drops or reduces violent crime. No studies have supported that fallacious and invalid reasoning. Instead the opposite has been proven — rampant gun ownership correlates with and causes more homicides and harm to others and selves. Actually, Congress has even capitulated to lobbyists by refusing to allow the CDC or others to amass evidence of gun injuries and deaths. We keep tabs on car wrecks, cancers, foods, drinks, the flu and not guns? Really?

Just so you know, some 42,500,000 American adults (or 18+% of the adult population) suffer from some documented mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia — for which little or no treatment is received in this country. This does not even take into account people whose metal illness is not documented or should simply not be brandishing firearms. Criminals, of course, go underground through straw purchases or unlicensed buys, for inherently dangerous demons of death.

In other developed nations in the western world, gun homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings pale in comparison.  For instance, in Japan, persons die from guns at rates far less than an American chances at death by a lightning strike.  In Scotland, the chances of dying from a storm are greater than that of the very rare gunshot wound.  And so on, for more advanced western democracies…

Remember the easily debunked myth that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people?” I call nonsense (expletive deleted) on that one. Is it much more cogent to assert that “mentally ill, insane or unstable people freely and easily armed with guns and abundant ammunition kill or mutilate their victims.”  One sad state of affairs.

This makes no mention of mass shootings which now occur more than once a day according to a recent compilation of news reports. Mass shootings are sadly defined as ones where at least four or more people are left dead or injured.  Just consider the recent horrific past — at a movie theater in Aurora, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a manufacturer in Minneapolis, a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, a Fort Hood army center, near the campus of UC Santa Barbara, at a movie theater in Louisiana, a military center in Chattanooga, at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, on the campus of Northern Arizona, at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and now the carnage at a social services center in San Bernardino, California.

How long will it take for you to get off your bald headed, pale faced, nasty-tongued, flat keisters, Congress members,  while the victims’ blood palpably streams down your hands, arms, and sleeves?  Yet, you lick boots, cater to a lobbying body as daft and inane as the NRA?   It might be suggested that you get off your bums. Right now, or you will face the wrath of mothers, fathers, lovers and family members again and again.  In case you did not take note, this insanity is far beyond an epidemic stage — there is no counterpart anywhere for a supposed developed nation.

And please do not give me that Second Amendment absurdity. The Bill of Rights reads as follows: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Whatever happened to the first two provisos, and the days of single loading, tamped down powder one-shot muskets and before assault rifles and extended, high (almost immense) capacity magazines?  In Heller, a firearm unconnected with service in a militia was used for lawful purposes, such as self-defense within a home. An extremely narrow reading of Second Amendments rights at best, and of course authored by Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

To quote Chief Justice Warren Burger, who was appointed as a conservative justice by President Richard Nixon, the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime,” and later proclaimed that “the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to have firearms at all.” In the last quarter or less century though, special interests (often paunchy members cloaked in SCOTUS black robes, with callous and scathing remarks, by slim majority votes) have sadly prevailed.

Speaking of, the same Richard Nixon, and later Ronald Reagan, proposed gutting the market of Saturday night specials, considered banning handguns altogether and simply refused to cater to gun owners who feign some inarticulate interest in assault and hand weapons. The NRA, of course, was opposed to these actions given its historically recent opposition to any gun control or restrictions.

Several previously Oval Office recordings and memos show a conservative who was often willing to feud with the NRA, even though “trusted” presidential aides fretted about political consequences.

“I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house,” Nixon commented. He asked why “can’t we go after handguns, period?” He added, “I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it.” But, he implored “people should not have handguns.” Finally, Nixon flatly declared that “guns are an abomination.”

The lack of gun control has become a national shame. Despicable, deceptive stuff. Wall Street, Congressional hacks, the Supremes, et al. are allowed to strip those of their constitutional right to a jury trial (by arbitration) yet imagine if they these same dark folks in cloaks took away the same by barring gun ownership.

The failure of our elected few (hostages taken by the NRA), corrupt lobbyists (the NRA), and the Supreme Court to simply refuse to protect innocent victims from guns, ammunition and explosives is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Thankfully, grub overcomes guns.

FARFALLE WITH CHICKEN, SHALLOTS AND BLUE CHEESE

1/2 lb shallots, peeled and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black and pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

1-2 lbs dark hued chicken (thighs)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T dried thyme
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
Chicken stock
2-3 T cognac or brandy

1 lb dried farfalle
Sea salt and water

3/4 lbs blue cheese, such as bleu d’auvergne, in small chunks
A few dollops of crème fraîche and/or heavy whipping cream

Parsley leaves, chopped
Capers, drained
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Toss shallots in a deep, heavy skillet with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and olive oil. Then, add seasoned (salt, pepper, thyme) chicken thighs and brown. Add stock and finally some cognac or brandy. Toward the end, add crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream or both.

Remove and cut chicken into 2 1/2″ pieces.

While cooking farfalle according to instructions in a separate pot, add bleu d’auvergne and pasta al dente to skillet and cook until finished, adding chicken pieces.

Strew with parsley, capers and a sprinkling of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

Yes, this is cherubic Carter pasta (sorry about the gun polemic, but it is vital).

Fools make feasts and wise men eat them.
~Benjamin Franklin

Provence — a poetic, mystical southern land which extends from the French Alps on the upper edge, bordered by the bank of the lower Rhône River on the west, abutting the Italian border on the lower east and finally falling into the Mediterranean Sea to the south.

Where villages-perchés seem to cling to bluffs, where marchés quietly demand that you explore serendipitously, and where the sun kisses you throughout the year. The clarity of light, the luminosity is nearly unsurpassed…not to mention the sprawling vistas, microclimates, cobblestone streets, earth tones tinted in brilliant ochres, sparse yet gentle landscapes, lavender fields, from squat olive to narrow pine and cypress trees, an achingly azure shimmering sea with pristine shores and grottoes. There is a feeling of isolation there. An evocative feast for the senses.

Grande destinations include Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Carcassone, Gordes, Arles, La Camargue, Eze, Grasse, St. Tropez, Cassis, St. Raphael, La Luberon, Vence (to name a few). Remember, the papal capital was in Avignon and seven successive popes were housed in France, not Rome. Provence only joined France in 1860, so think Italy too.

Then again, there are some places like the Marseille ghetto with its infamous high rise slums and notorious drug related violence and gang wars. Best avoid (or repair) those.

POULET PROVENCAL et SALADE DE MESCLUN

6-8 bone in, skin on, chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
3 T olive oil
3 T unsalted butter

Herbes de Provence (see below)
1-2 lemons, quartered
10 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
12 Niçoise olives, depending upon size
4-6 medium shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine
1/4 C pastis

1-2 T fresh local honey

8 sprigs of thyme, for serving on each plate

Preheat oven to 400 F

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow bowl, and lightly dredge the chicken, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Heat and swirl the oil and butter in a large roasting pan on the stove, and place the floured chicken in the pan, skin side up. Season the chicken on the skin side with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, olives, and shallots around the chicken, and then add the chicken stock, white wine and pastis to the roasting pan.

Put the loaded roaster in the oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes, and baste several times with pan juices. Continue roasting and basting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, adding the honey scantily during the last 15 minutes in a slow drizzle — until the chicken is quite crisp and the meat shows yellow juices when pricked. Allow to rest for about 8 minutes before serving.

Serve on plates or on a platter with warmed pan juices spooned over the chicken, garnished with thyme sprigs. Present with a mesclun salad with blueberries, French feta cheese, hazelnuts (June 28, 2010) and champagne vinaigrette (see below again).

Herbes de Provence

No doubt you can find herbes de Provence with your spice monger or even at the market. But, you can always and ever easily prepare your own.

3 T dried thyme
2 T dried savory
1 T dried oregano
3 t dried rosemary
2 t dried marjoram
1 T dried lavender flowers

Combine herbs, and store in an airtight container at cool, room temperature.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t local honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a glass bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens (ideally mesclun) you are serving.

As you may recall, mesclun is a varied amalgam of dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence.

An Alsatian bend on that rustic quintessential coq au vin, joining other not so lesser locals like coq au vin jaune (Jura), coq au pourpre (Beaujolais nouveau), coq au Champagne, and so on. Variations on a theme and emulation abound in cuisine — in other places, too. A word to fellow chicken trollops: this is good grub.

COQ AU RIESLING (CHICKEN WITH RIESLING)

6 thick slices pancetta or bacon, cut into lardons

4 chicken leg-thigh quarters, rinsed and well dried
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 T brandy or Cognac

2 C dry Riesling wine
1 C chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs

2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 C fresh crimini mushrooms, quartered
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2+ C crème fraîche

Fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

In a large, heavy deep skillet, fry the cut bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. In a heavy, deep skillet or Dutch oven add butter and olive oil over medium high heat. When it is lively hot, but not smoking, lay in the chicken skin side down. In batches and without crowding the pan, cook until nicely golden, about 4-5 minutes per side. Set cooked chicken aside in a platter or casserole dish, tented loosely with aluminum foil.

Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook for one minute more. Drizzle with brandy and flambé by striking a long match and carefully lighting the fumes. Allow to sit until flames extinguish.

Place the chicken back into the pan. Pour adequate wine and stock to cover the chicken. Cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter or casserole dish and tent loosely. Discard the thyme and bay leaf and reserve the liquid.

In the meantime, place heavy skillet with butter and oil over medium high heat. When the butter is well heated but not browned, add the mushrooms and toss well so they absorb the butter. Season with salt and pepper and continue tossing until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.

Cook the reserved liquid from the chicken/brandy/wine down to a sauce consistency. Then, whisk in the crème fraîche — the sauce should ultimately become glossy and coat a spoon well. Adjust seasoning to your liking. Return the chicken to the pan along with the lardons and mushrooms. Simmer a couple of minutes to blend the flavors and heat.

Plate separately and ladle some sauce over or serve on a platter, country style. Scatter with chopped tarragon and serve with buttered artisanal noodles, mashed or smashed potatoes+turnips+celeriac or rice pilaf, and a favored seasonal green or even a side of braised cabbage.

Pourboire: instead of shallots, try 3-4 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut in half lengthwise then sliced into half moons.