Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.
~Frank Lloyd Wright

From the advent of the ancient Roman Empire (around 30 in the “before common era” or b.c.e.), neither humans, nor other flora and fauna, have experienced the extensive tidal flooding on coastlines.  In all probability, this dire situation, undoubtedly created by human activity, will worsen this century and next.  In the absence of carbon emissions, sea levels would be rising less rapidly.  But, assuming human discharges continue at the same high ratio, the oceans could rise by some four almost five feet by 2100 — that would prove disastrous by anyone who has visited or even lived near coastlines.

Already, the Marshall Islands are disappearing (a site of the battle of Kwajalein atoll in WW II).  The rising seas regularly flood shacks with salt water and raw sewage and saltwater and easily encroach sea walls .  The same will happen here and elsewhere. The losses and damages will be prodigious across the board.  As the burning of fossil fuels increases heat trapped gases in our atmosphere, the planet warms, and ice sheets melt into the oceans.  A warming, climate changed earth is not abstract.

It is simple physics — ice melts faster when temperatures rise.  Really?

Oh, and please do not allow the oil industry, chieftains of fossil fuels, off the proverbial hook. Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco, Sohio as well as Standard Oil of California and Gulf Oil, (the predecessors to Chevron) knew many decades ago of climate change, yet spent many millions and numerous exorbitant studies in a shameful smiling and deceptive handshaking campaign denying the same.

Also, to spin otherwise with “scripture” and an equally gimmicky snowball, Senator, is flatly immoral — mere showmanship and patent obfuscation. Displaying a snowball on the floor was his disturbing ruse to deny the existence of global warming.  Such an unwanted steward of the environment and so contrary to the evidence. By the way, do you have children and grandchildren, perhaps even great grandchildren, who get to shoulder your politically motivated, anti-scientific views and burdens?  Or are you just an angry octogenarian who does not care a whit or simply another paid for politician? Or maybe you just reject out of hand the Department of Defense report that unequivocally finds that climate change poses a national security risk and that global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability?

But, here is the real thing — organic chicken, binchoton charcoal, so the yaktori is both crispy on the outside and tender inside, homemade tare sauce, fresh and seasonal veggies and sake.

On to something more enticing, beguiling…焼き鳥

CHICKEN YAKITORI

2 lbs chicken gizzards, cleaned and trimmed
6 pieces boneless thigh meat, cleaned and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces

1 1/2 C cold water
1/4 C kombu
1/4 C bonito flakes

1 C fine soy sauce
1/2 C mirin
1 C high quality saké
1/4 C raw sugar (turbinado)
garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4 C grated fresh ginger

Scallions, thinly sliced lengthwise, for garnish

As stated above, cut chicken thighs into 1 1/2″ pieces and place with whole gizzards into a shallow dish.

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the water and kombu to a gentle simmer. Add the bonito and return to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 3 minutes.  Strain the kombu and bonito broth into a medium saucepan.  (This step can be axed if you are in a real hurry, but they provide more dimensional aromas and that umami sapidity to the dish.)

In that same medium heavy saucepan, add broth to the soy sauce, mirin, saké, raw sugar, garlic and ginger. Bring to a simmer and cook for around 10-15 minutes, at least until until slightly thickened. Reserve a few tablespoons of sauce for serving. Pour remaining sauce over chicken, place in a sealed plastic ziploc bag, and refrigerate overnight.

When using wooden skewers, soak in water for an hour or so. Preheat barbecue grill with binchoton charcoal to medium high heat. Bring the meat to room temperature and then thread chicken pieces onto skewers, and grill, turning halfway, for a total of about 10 minutes for gizzards and about 6-8 minutes for thighs.

Serve yakitori drizzled with reserved and tare sauce and garnished with fresh scallions and varied vegetables.

Pourboire:

Tare recipe
1/2 C chicken broth
1/4 C mirin
1/4 C soy sauce
2 T sake
3/4 t (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 plump fresh garlic clove, crushed
1 scallion, chopped lengthwise

 

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A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.
~David Hume

The proof has been divulged, and thorough knowledge should follow, right?  Seems logical and quite simple, almost acutely rational.  Sometimes or always, though, or really are we constrained by our psyches or basic instincts or neural circuits or are we harnessed and have visions or dreams or torments which guide us?  Or does humanity deal with prompts, insights, anxieties, kisses, primes, embraces, seductions, or even prefrontal cortices? Should we judge by, discard, or empathize with others’ conscious or subconscious or unconscious or neural thoughts? Or should we cognitively assay or attempt reason at all? What to do?

Don’t know, yet, but perhaps should…in any event, both beef arm and pork butt, alas not tri-tip (the bottom of the beef sirloin), were cooked this week.  Apparently, the kiss principle.

Chuck arm roast comes from the muscular shoulder of the beef steer, a slightly leaner cut of pot roast.  So, not unlike pork “butt,” the cut is sublimely delectable, tender and proves likewise inexpensive — not in the least faraway from succulent Santa Maria tri-tips even though it does come from a different part of the animal.  Although pork shoulder takes longer to shred depending upon poundage, in each beef event, you can both cook slow and low in the oven (2-3 hours @ 300 F), braise in stock and/or water over the stove top simmering calmly for a couple of hours, grill over the barbecue (20-25 minutes or so) or finish at high heat (something like 400 F+) in the oven after ‘cuing, if necessary to bring to a close. No doubt there are other approaches to this rather thick flesh.

Comme d’habitude, my preference is to grill with soy sauce only – that rich umami concept with the presence of glutamate and five ribonucleotides and so on, and it doubles down for prompt home chow, especially when it is somewhat chilly outside. But, that never means that marbled arm roast should not be whirled at by other methodologies.

Perhaps, more stubborn than first intuited, but now it may be overly belated to psychoanalyze me.   Too late.

GRILLED ARM ROAST

Arm roast, about 2-3 lbs, room temperature
High quality soy sauce, preferably shoyu

Have your butcher cut a fresh arm roast.  Spread the beef with shoyu all over, somewhat sparingly, and massage then allow the arm roast to sit in the spare umami juices for just a couple of hours.  In the interim, light the coals until they are medium to medium high (around 3-4 seconds to the hand test). Grill roast to desired doneness, as cooking time will vary upon thickness of the meat and the heat of the grill.  Medium rare is preferred, but to each her or his own, no judging or empathizing.

Allow the meat to rest, somewhat amply, before serving.  Serve with olive oil slathered veggies, such as mushrooms, chile peppers, asparagus, etc. and a toothsome red.

To perceive is to suffer.
~Aristotle

This is not meant to be some hefty harangue or diatribe on writing. To the utter contrary. But, it does seem like the revered trait for writers is not will, bravado or grit, but rather vibrant prose, empathetic and fluid storytelling, rich and beloved character creation.

A blank screen or paper alone can be daunting (have been there and done that), leading to lengthy stares, dire anxiety and idle fingers. Then comes disjointed prose, inapt words or topics, insipid imagery, worthless metaphors, and feeble punctuation. Writing, as with many art forms, is just really arduous labor; a brutal, almost crippling, job.

So, a poetic lilt, even just an enlightened brief passage or paragraph, lifts souls and so often makes us return to re-read, even aloud. Think of Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, John Barth, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, David Mitchell, Joseph Conrad, Leo Tolstoy, Umberto Eco, Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Victor Hugo, T.S. Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, John Updike, Kingsley Amis, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Stendahl, Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, André Gide, Jorge Luis Borges, et al. — this is just a smattering of prose writers and does not even mention the magical creations of preeminent poets. But, their words and perceptive imagery can flat illuminate your universe. By arranging selective words, creating characters, telling stories, and placing punctuation or not on a page, skilled novelists, poets and playwrights reveal their minds and extend ours. Even when disruptive to our psyches, their heedful art has unearthed and unveiled human nature, the bare bones of our biology, our anthropology. Alexithymia untethered, so thank you all so much.

So, why do I write about food and stuff? Well, repasts and convo are damned pleasing, and one of our primary hobbies happens to be cooking. The ruminations just came along for the ride. So, the blog seemed a fit, a natural, making little mention of Mom’s Joy of Cooking with her handwritten notes staring at me. Besides being a logophile, my mother gave me a sense of ardor, one of passion, even a feeling of the absurd. Enough of that, as I am not worthy.

Rapturous fare below.

ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH EGGS & HERBS

3 lbs root vegetables, cut into rough wedges (local multi-hued carrots, rainbow beets, new potatoes, turnips, white and red radishes, fennel bulb(s), zucchini, celery root — some peeled, other’s not)
1-2 plump, fresh garlic heads, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 bay leaves, dried

Local eggs
Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herb leaves (rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender) torn and chopped
Capers, drained

Heat oven to 400-425 F.

Toss local vegetables with olive oil, garlic(s), sea salt, black pepper, and bay leaves in a heavy pan. Let stand at room temperature. Then roast, stirring thrice or so until slightly browned, about an hour. Discard the bay leaves.

Serve with fried eggs just sautéed in olive oil and partially cover the roasted vegetables, with egg spaces here and there, ground black pepper, then strew with fresh herbs and capers atop.

A vivid and savory tapestry.

In America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind.
M.F.K. Fisher

Often time is limited. So, when mulling over ideas for a hastily drawn home meal, my thoughts invariably turn to a simple grilled steak or mixed grill on the barbeque. Involving just thirty five minutes of primarily hands off grill preparation and about 10 minutes active cooking time, steaks are fairly tough to surpass…especially if olive oil brushed veggies and baguette slices join the fray. An instant sumptuous feast.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus, once remarked that when you masticate (preferably with your mouth closed), food eventually breaks into four basic shapes. Sweet morsels are “round and large in their atoms.” Salty fare land as “isosceles triangles” on your tongue. Bitter is typically “spherical, smooth, scalene and small,” while sour is “large in its atoms, but rough, angular and not spherical.”

When taste buds were microscopically “discovered” in the 19th century, tongue cells appeared as minute keyholes into which food might lodge, and it was deduced that there were only four different keyhole shapes—one for each basic taste.

However, a new taste, umami, was identified almost 100 years ago, by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University. He had sought to scientifically identify an official fifth taste, which was recognized for centuries in dashi and kombu. Dashi, meaning “boiled extract,” often forms the base for Japanese soups. So, although the concept of umami is ancient, the nomenclature is relatively recent.

In 1908, Dr. Ikeda succeeded in extracting glutamate (an amino acid) from kombu and discovering that it was the main active ingredient in this edible seaweed. He coined the term “umami” to describe the flavor with the closest English equivalent being “delicious” or “savory”—even “yummy” is used occasionally. Umami is a not so easily recognizable subtle taste that occurs naturally in many vegetables and dairy products as well as in meat, fish and seafood. Even foods without broth—such as mushrooms, tomatoes, proscuitto, anchovies and aged cheese—are loaded with glutamate and the essences of umami. This makes little mention of nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce) which simply exudes umami.

Umami results from the presence of glutamate plus five ribonucleotides including inosinate and guanylate. Glutamate is naturally present in some degree in most foods; inosinate and guanylate are present in many foods, and another nucleotide, adenylate, is abundant in fish and shellfish.

Soy sauce, a fermented sauce made from soy beans, roasted grains, water and salt is inherently rich in umami. Originating in China, soy sauce was introduced in Japan by Buddhist monks in the 7th century, where it is known as shoyu.

From childhood, I was weaned on grilled steaks bathed in soy sauce, but they were also sprinkled with seasoned salts and peppers. In the ensuing eons, I began to experiment with a variety of pre grill steak dressings, whether they be moist or dry (see Dry Rub A Dub, infra.), landing on nothing more than a bare soy sauce bath (no other seasonings) as the one truly preferred coating. At first, this may sound uninspired, but to the contrary it draws out the luscious simplicity of the meat with a rich umami touch.

GRILLED STEAK

2 1 3/4″ thick Kansas City Strip or Ribeye steaks, bone in or boneless
Premium quality soy sauce (preferably shoyu)

Have your friendly local butcher freshly cut some nicely marbled steaks. Place steaks in a single layer in a glass dish. Pour soy sauce over sparingly, turn steaks to massage and coat all over, taking care not to drown the meat. Allow to rest about 1 hour before cooking, turning a couple of times. The meat should be nearing room temperature before grilling.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about 2-3 inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread. Count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it, about 2-3 seconds for medium high.

Grill steaks to desired doneness, about 4-5 minutes per side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the steaks, the size of the ‘cue and the heat of the grill. For the touch test, gently put the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. Press the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm with your opposing index finger. Voilà, medium rare.

As always, let meat rest before serving so that the juices migrate throughout.

Serve with olive oil slathered grilled vegetables (such as mushrooms, peppers, Japanese eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus) and olive oil brushed grilled baguette slices and a silky red.

Green Beans (Haricots Verts)

February 19, 2009

Supposing everyone lived at one time what would they say. They would observe that stringing string beans is universal.
~Gertrude Stein

A mistreated garden icon…too often served in a mudane, overcooked fashion.

Haricots verts are the longer and thinner French variety…a touch more delicate and possessing a slightly more complex flavor. The cooking time on green beans varies according to pod girth, so sample during the process to assure they are perfectly crisp and tender when served.

GREEN BEANS WITH SHIITAKES

6 T unsalted butter
1 t fresh thyme, chopped
8 ozs fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 lbs fresh green beans, washed and ends trimmed
2/3 C chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add shiitake mushrooms and thyme; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to bowl.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in same skillet. Add shallots and garlic and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and toss to coat with butter. Pour broth over green bean mixture. Simmer until liquid evaporates and green beans are crisp and tender, about 10 minutes. Gently stir in shiitake mushrooms. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

GREEN BEANS WITH PINE NUTS & TARRAGON

1 lb green beans, washed and ends trimmed
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed

2 T fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1/2 C toasted pine nuts

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Put green beans in large pot of boiling salted water. and cook until just tender and crisp, 3-5 minutes. Drain beans in colander and plunge into ice cold water to halt cooking and retain the green hue. Promptly drain on cloth or paper towel—otherwise, the beans will become soggy. Set aside.

Heat olive oil and butter in large skillet. Add garlic and sauté until just lightly browned, then discard the clove. Add beans, tarragon and pine nuts; sauté until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

GREEN BEANS WITH WALNUTS

1 pound green beans, washed and ends trimmed
3 T walnut oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 C roasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Drop green beans in a heavy pot of boiling, salted water. Cook uncovered for about 3-5 minutes; drain thoroughly, then drizzle with walnut oil, season with salt and pepper to taste and toss with chopped nuts. Serve immediately.

Lamb Chops with Charmoula

February 4, 2009

Charmoula is a lively, fragrant North African herb and garlic concoction which enhances the natural flavors of vegetables, meat, poultry and fish either as a sauce or marinade. It is equally comfortable ladled over asparagus as over grilled swordfish.

LAMB CHOPS WITH CHARMOULA

1 8-bone rack of lamb, trimmed and frenched,* carved into 8 individual chops
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter

*Frenched is when the meat at the tips is trimmed and cut away, exposing the ends of the bones.

1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds

1 C fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 C fresh mint leaves
1 C fresh cilantro leaves
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, pealed and cut in halves
1 T sweet paprika
1 t sea salt
1/2 t cayenne pepper

6-8 T extra virgin olive oil
juice and zest of 1 fresh lemon

Heat skillet over medium heat, then add cumin and coriander seeds; toast until aromatic and slightly darker so as the release the essences, about 2 minutes. Transfer seeds to food processor along with parsley, mint, cilantro, garlic, paprika, salt and cayenne pepper. Pulsing the processor on and off, blend until a coarse paste forms. With maching running, gradually add 4-6 T of olive oil in a slow, narrow, steady stream; continue blending and add 1/2 of lemon juice.

Stir together and retain chilled in a bowl a couple tablespoons of the mixture and the remaining lemon juice and zest to serve over the finished lamb chops.

Season lamb chops with salt and pepper; then, the rest of the charmoula should be liberally lathered over the lamb chops and then placed covered in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. A heavy plastic bag could be used for this coating process. Remove lamb and retained charmoula in bowl from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before cooking.

Melt butter and olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, carefully place lamb chops in pan and saute around 3 minutes on each side, until medium rare. Do not constantly turn the meat or you will damage the connective tissue and mar the surface. Remove and allow lamb to rest for at least 10 minutes, then when served, top with retained charmoula.

A Sermon: Shop Local

January 30, 2009

…as in, a long tedious speech, particularly on a moral issue. It may sound trite, but our individual ecological efforts, each and every day, week, and year will make a collective difference to our Earth—so we become part of the solution and not the problem. Like life, this Earth is not a dress rehearsal. So, both environmental and culinary reasons abound for shopping in your own backyard.

Our Daily Bread is now grown and processed in fewer and fewer locales, often requiring extensive travel to reach your table. Although this production method may prove more feasible for larger suppliers, it remains harmful to the environment, consumers and rural communities. In buying local, your community is supported and fresher product adorns your table.

Transit
The average grocery store shelves produce which often travels nearly 1,500 miles between farm to home, and some 40% of fruit is harvested overseas. Those plants, fruits, seeks, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves and flowers that now grace the table were former transients—over land, sea and air—-for as long as 7 to 14 days. Local victuals are usually savored soon after harvesting, requiring fewer preservatives or chemical ripening agents. The trip from farm to palate doesn’t extend for days or weeks.

Vast amounts of fossil fuels are expended to transport foodstuffs with the accompanying release of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other delightful pollutants—joining hands, nefariously wafting into the troposphere. As a necessary evil, processors use unfriendly paper and plastic packaging to stabilize food for longer periods. These wrappings wind their way into already congested, greenhouse gas spewing landfills.

Apart from the environmental harm that results from processing, packaging and transporting foods, the industrial produce and livestock farms and packing plants are themselves often the birthplace of air and water pollution.

Nutrition
Extended travel and storage often means lost nutrients—so choosing local, fresher products proves a healthier choice. Also, the preservatives necessary to stabilize foods during long trips are not always substances you may want to ingest as part of your meal.

Larger agribusiness farms also tend to use more pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones, all of which can be damaging to both the environment and human health. On the other hand, local foods from small farms—especially organics—usually use fewer pesticides and fertilizers, undergo minimal processing, are produced in relatively small quantities, as they are distributed within a few dozen miles of where they originated.

Community
According to the USDA, over five million farms in this country have disappeared in this country since 1935. Family farms are rapidly going out of business, not only causing rural communities to dissipate, but resulting in a loss of food quality. The U.S. loses two acres of farmland each minute as cities and suburbs spread into the surrounding communities. By supporting local farms near suburban areas and around cities, you help keep farmers on the land, and, at the same time, preserve open spaces to counteract the environmental downside of urban sprawl.

Labels
Beyond the local market issue, there are a number of other labels and designations to keep in mind, including organic, biodynamic, and sustainable. Organic food is regulated by the U.S.D.A. and must meet certain standards to be certified as such. While there is debate over the value of the U.S.D.A. organic label and how much it corresponds to the initial aims of sustainable architecture, you can usually assume that any food bearing the U.S.D.A. organic label is free from artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Biodynamic farming likewise avoids pesticides and fertilizers which renders a sustainable system in which everything on the farm is reused or recycled. There are a myriad of other words used to define sustainable agriculture, but in its basic form, it strives to sustain rather than degrade the environment while also being econonomically viable.

For a local market in your area: www.localharvest.org