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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BEC (Bacon + Egg + Cheese)

August 15, 2015

In my next life, I want to live backwards. Start out dead and finish with an orgasm.
~Woody Allen

Transcendent finger food.

Not too unlike a BLT, croque, panini or that alleged lowly grilled cheese sandwich, a BEC (Bacon-Egg-Cheese) sounds rather mundane. But, much like its more venerable predecessors, a BEC is often anything but banal. Not merely relegated to sometimes portable breakfast menus, but also a lunch and dinner (or even later) plate with a simple side. BECs can prove to be simply sublime — eye-rolling, shallow panting, deep breathing, heart bursting, rouge chested, thigh clenching, toe curling, oozy fingered, nasal dripping, raw pleasures, rhythmic passions, eager hormones, tablecloth grasping, intense looks, open moans, declared raptures, blissfully orgasmic, dances in your mouth — un petit mort grub. Where have you been all my life, oh gluttonous soul?

If not, just have your mate or lover(s) cook BECs for you. Often, sharing provender is more intimate and toothsome that way.

BEC (Bacon + Egg + Cheese)

Bacon
6 slices superior bacon

Bread
Artisanal bread, sliced, toasted on both sides and buttered on one side, or
English muffin, sliced, toasted on both sides and buttered on one side, or
Bagel, sliced, toasted on both sides and buttered on one side, or
Torta, opened, toasted on both sides and buttered on the inside or

Cheeses
Gruyere, Taleggio, Fontina, Manchego, Monterey Jack, Cheddar (White or Yellow), sliced thinly

Eggs
6 local medium or large eggs
Extra virgin olive oil (a small dollop)

In a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat, turn until crisp about 8 minutes. Transfer to drain on paper towels.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy non-stick skillet with EVOO and from a small saucer drop in 3 eggs on two occasions and right before the yolk begins to set, slide on the cheese slices and cover so the cheese melts. But, please do not overcook the egg yolk — it should gush at first bite.

Arrange with bacon on the bottom slice of toasted bread, then eggs and cheese over the bacon and finally top with bread.

Pourboire: just use your kitchen imagination and consider a variety of breads and cheeses as well as pancetta, guanciale, sausage, and eggs whether poached or scrambled with some fresh or dried herbs. Each permutation is a variation on the theme of BEC.

Undoubtedly the desire for food has been and still is one of the main causes of political events.
~Bertrand Russell

Perhaps nothing arouses my appetite more than cheese, a passion that borders on the obsessive, even compulsive. Cheese stirs the nub of my food soul and plunges me into deep rooted, over the edge cravings. So, after so much luscious Asian fare recently, withdrawal symptoms are encroaching. A cheese binge is in my near future. Seems I’m now unapologetically and thankfully suffering a relapse. My yearnings demand that I seek out and indulge in those hedonic usual suspects like mac & cheese, pizza, gratin dauphinois, panini, bread gratin, frittatas, calzone, cheeseburgers and friends. Or those simple, divine pairings of bread and cheese. My lust is indiscriminate — blissfully indentured to cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milks, divergent origins, and differing textures.

These hankerings are just another example of how that enigmatic and insatiable gray matter controls impulse. Neural processes are directly linked to all things sybaritic, from whetting your appetite to quenching your thirst to sating sexual urges. When incited, the mind is motivated to search for those things we need, crave, and desire whether corporeal or intellectual.

The nucleus accumbens, a part of the primitve limbic system, plays a pivotal role in arousal, whether that high is derived from food, sex or drugs. If you ache for a certain food, if your urges are kindled, you are sparking the nucleus accumbens with a surge of electrochemical activity which courses throughout your nervous system. Then, you tend to act on that yen.

Each cerebral hemisphere is fitted with one nucleus accumbens, located in an area called the medial forebrain bundle (MFB) which is composed of a complex grouping of axons endlessly conducting nerve signals. Working in concert with other pleasure centers, this region plays a crucial role in the reward circuit, based chiefly on the release of essential neurotransmitters: dopamine, which promotes desire, and serotonin, whose effects include satiety and inhibition. Because it mediates punishment and reward, the area has been often studied for its role in addiction, as in cheeseaholism. Also coming into play are the amygdala (imparting agreeable or disagreeable colorations to perceptions), the hippocampus (the font of memory), and the insula (thought to play a role in active pleasure-seeking). A constantly firing cerebral amalgam of arousal.

The first recipe is tapas fare, and the second a basic which so depends on the bread and the cheese…so simple, yet ever so delectable.

FRITO QUESO (MANCHEGO)

1 C all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 C fresh bread crumbs or panko
3/4 lb Manchego cheese, cut into 1 1/2″ to 2″ cubes

Canola oil

Sea salt
Honey or lavender honey
Pimentón agridulce (moderately spicy paprika)

Divide the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs into 3 separate dishes. Dip the cheese cubes into each ingredient to coat: flour –> eggs –> bread crumbs.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, pour enough oil to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 375 F.

Add the breaded cheese to the hot oil, in batches, and deep fry until the cubes are golden and crisp on the outside, oozing on the inside.

Remove the cheese from the oil and drain on a rack or paper towel lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Transfer the cheese to a serving dish, drizzle with honey, and lightly dust with pimentón.

THE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

Unsalted butter, softened
8 slices artisanal bread
10 ozs Taleggio cheese, rind removed, at room temperature, divided into equal portions

1-2+ T unsalted butter

Spread butter onto one side of each slice of bread. Top buttered side of half of the slices with cheese, then arrange remaining 4 slices of bread on top, buttered side down, to make sandwiches.

Melt remaining butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, then arrange two of the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown on the first side, about 3 minutes, pressing down gently with a spatula. Flip sandwiches, adding another tablespoon of butter to skillet. Continue to cook until golden brown on the second side, about 3 minutes more. Repeat process with remaining butter and sandwiches. Serve warm.

Pourboire: While the basic grilled cheese is my fav, you can add proscuitto, sliced apples, olives, caramelized onions, cooked bacon, sautéed peppers, capers, braised radishes, arugula, eggs, avocadoes, sautéed mushrooms, etc., are all welcome between the sheets. Just keep the fixings to a minimum.

When you make his sandwiches, put a sexy or loving note in his lunch box.
~Anne Rice

PANINI

Maybe with the current economic woes and ever expanding disparities in this country’s burgeoning two class chasm, it may be timely to discuss just a simple two ply sandwich…or even a panino. They share an affinity.

Before my panini palaver persists, I have to preface. Even though they are often dissed as nothing more than a portable meal, making a really damn good sandwich or panini demands every bit the same nurturing that many other fine dishes deserve. Unless you fail to thoughtfully coddle them, sandwiches do not merit that “lunch bucket–not cuisine label,” something to be gobbled hurriedly at your desk or in the car. Au contraire! Rather, choice sandwiches are memorable art forms, both inside and out…

A panino is a sandwich made from a small loaf of rustic bread which is cut horizontally on the bias and customarily filled with cured meat, cheeses and greens. The literal translation of panino is “roll” or “stuffed bread,” with the plural being panini.

As with much of food history or gastronomic anthropology (as those phrases are loosely used here and elsewhere), the story of the sandwich is muddled. Such an abundance of cultural variance, criss crossing civilizations, endless definitional nuances, and often bewildering oral traditions…humanity’s comings and goings. The concept of bread as a focal point to the eating experience has been present for eons, so historical precision is elusive (see Pizza & Calzone Dough).

The first recorded sandwich was purportedly assembled by the scholarly rabbi, Hillel the Elder, circa 100 B.C. He introduced the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between matzohs eaten with bitter herbs…a sandwich which is the fond of the Seder and bears his name.

During the Middle Ages, thick slices of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used instead of plates. Derived from the French verb trancher, which means “to slice or cut,” meats and other victuals were piled on these bread platters, eaten with fingers and sometimes with knives as forks had yet to find prevalence. The thick trenchers absorbed the juices, the greases, and rather primitive sauces, and afterwards the soaked breads were thrown to the dogs or offered as alms to the poor. With the advent of the fork, finger food became impolite which rendered the trencher outmoded.

The first Italian recipe that vaguely resembled a panino was that for panunto (greased bread) described by Domenico Ramoli at the end of the 16th century—he even got nicknamed by his dish.

While references to “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese” are found throughout English drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a delay in the evolution of the sandwich ensued. Thankfully, the concept was finally revived in the 18th century by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was First Lord of the Admiralty and patron to Capt. James Cook who explored New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Polynesia; he even designated the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandwich Islands. Rumor holds that Montague was so addicted to gambling that he steadfastly refused to pause for meals and instead ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. While legends vary, it remains beyond quarrel that the word “sandwich” bears the name of John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

The sandwich was introduced to the states by the English import Elizabeth Leslie in the 19th century. In her cookbook, Directions for Cookery, she authored a recipe for ham sandwiches, which have evolved into an American tradition in many sizes, shapes and forms.

With the demand for haste emerging in the last century, sandwiches—from simple to elegant–have risen to become a staple of western civilization, for both rich and poor. Panini have slowly evolved from being basic worker’s fare to become trendy morsels on the food scene.

On panini preparation: brush the outside of the panini with extra virgin olive oil and fill it with whatever whets your palate—cheeses, cured meats, herbs, etc. As with pizzas and pasta, do not overload the sandwiches as the bread should be allowed a place at the table too. Proportions = “perfection.”

Should you own a panini grill, by all means use it. If not, use a ridged grill pan and place another surface, such as a small cutting board or another pan on top of the panini as they cook. Place a weight on the board or pan to press down the panini, causing those signature ridges and thinning the sandwiches overall. Turn and repeat. The panini should be cooked to golden brown with grill marks and the innards pressed narrowly…usually slightly oozing with luscious cheese.

Recipes will follow on a subsequent entry, as I may have already overstayed my welcome with these ramblings. In the meantime, consider:

pesto, arugula, watercress, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, tapenade, mozzarella, brie, gruyere, talleggio, fontina, pecorino, goat cheese, proscuitto, serrano, coppa, soppresatta, and pancetta, arugula, chard, basil, radicchio, baby spinach, extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil or salt, garlic oil, ciabatta, pain au levain, or baguette artisanal breads.

P.S. Use your imagination, as the possibilities prove endless.