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.

I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth.
~Ovid, Metamorphoses

This month is so blessedly confusing. William Shakespeare turns 400 this month, who wrote incredulous prose, theater and poetry,  (some scholars opine April 23 as his birth + death both), Elizabeth II who still endures (born April 21, 1926) not only navigated WW II but the British Empire fall, spells 90 years today — then my daughter, one of my sons and my bed mate, well, have sort of met “milestones”…Yikes!  How to celebrate.

I have had the honor to meet the steadfast, tight lipped, dutiful Queen Elizabeth II and actually the baby blue eyed, amiable Queen Mother at the elegant Badminton Trials outside of Bath, England, with its dearth of dog breeds and horses (courtesy of the royal life boaters’ urgences), and obviously happened on to my piquant “bookmark” via others and sometimes alone. My children and their children, both presently and to-be…the season has all been bewildering.

The exalted Bard is a tad ancient even though his works are ineludible — his dramas and comedies are just damned astonishing. There is so little space here to expound upon his pervasive work, so apologies in advance to all for any short shrift. Much like Shakespeare’s quote in Merchant of Venice: “You speak an infinite deal of nothing.” 

Perhaps probably should have saved Scones (May 23, 2009), Dickens & Tikka Masala (February 7, 2012) or Scotch Eggs, Sort of (January 7, 2016) for this page. You no doubt get the English drift. Oh, well. But please do not be disappointed because it all remains good grub.

I must say though, that rognons are sublime…had them three times in a row in Paris, all at the same resto, once watching the sous-chef carving an exquisite lamb shoulder roast for ma femme who appeared decidedly perplexed (with good cause).

The past intrudes — as it should.

KIDNEYS ON TOAST

8-10 lamb or veal kidneys, or so
3 T all purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper

2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3-4 fresh garlic cloves, plump and fresh, peeled and smashed
1-2 fresh shallots, peeled and sliced

3 t Dijon mustard
3 t soy sauce or apple wine vinegar
3/4 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white or red wine

8 slices artisanal bread, such as ciabatta, toasted
Parsley leaves, chopped
Orange zest

Eggs, local and fried or poached

Remove gristle, nerves, core and internal membrane from each kidney, leaving the halves intact. Rinse well and pat dry. Combine flour, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper on a plate and mix well. Coat each kidney in flour mixture, and shake well to remove excess. Then again, season the kidneys directly with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper and then dip them in flour (my choice).

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and add butter, oil, plus garlic and shallots. Once butter has melted and has begun to bubble, but has not browned, discard garlics and shallots, add kidneys and cook until browned, about 2 or so minutes. Flip each kidney and brown on other side, about 2 or so minutes.

Add dijon mustard, soy sauce, stock and wine to skillet, whisking some. Simmer kidneys until done, about 2 minutes. Remove kidneys to glass bowl cover with foil and allow to rest. Once stock has thickened, remove pan from heat and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, after tasting.

Slice each kidney to your liking and place on toast. Top with cooked eggs.

Serve dribbled with sauce and adorned with chopped parsley and orange zest.

Woman & A Gam of Lamb

March 26, 2016

There are no good girls gone wrong — just bad girls found out.
~Mae West

It is the day of egg dyeing, and the eve before hiding and hunting those orbs.  That paschal thing.   So, hens, as should always be revered.

Each day, our bedside table is graced with a hardback copy of Woman, An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier, the Pulitzer Prize winning author who sometimes writes for the New York Times.  Doubtfully, will it ever leave.

The volume is a searing, exuberant, captivating, guileless study of perhaps the most sublime species that has resided on this planet: women. They are such divine beings — their visuals, scents, minds, essences, intimacies, secrecy, candor, features, mischief, intricacies, enigmas, and so forth.  Damn, women are people, get it?

The book explores the anatomy of the human female biology including chromosomes, breasts, clitorises, orgasms, vaginae, uteri, ovaries, hormones, metabolism, brains, and psychologies, to name a few.  A worthy and appealing read.

ROAST LEG OF LAMB

1/3 C fennel seeds, roasted briefly under gentle heat, then ground

1 large lamb roast, bone-in leg (usually 8 lbs or so)
12 Italian anchovies packed in jars in olive oil, drained
4 T Dijon mustard

6 fresh rosemary sprig leaves, plus more for garnish
6 thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

6-8 oz unsalted butter (1 stick or less), softened to room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
1-2 fresh lemons, cut in half
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, cut transversely

2 C dry white wine, plus more dollops for jus

Heat oven to 425 F

Use a paring knife to make about a dozen incisions, each about 2″ deep, through the fat that covers the top of the meat. Using a blender or processor fitted with a steel blade, blend the anchovies and the mustard, the rosemary and thyme leaves and the garlic cloves into a chunky paste. Using fingers, press paste deeply into cuts.

Mix the butter and ground fennel seeds into a paste. Smear this mixture all over the surface of the roast. Season liberally with freshly ground black pepper (do not salt given the anchovies and dijon).

Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan, fat side up, and squeeze the lemon halves+ over. Place the sliced garlic in and pour the wine around the roast into the pan.

Roast 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F and roast until internal temperature reaches 130 F (for medium rare — about another 60-90 minutes). Throughout the cooking process, baste every 15 minutes or so with the wine and drippings in the pan, adding more wine as needed to keep from scorching.

Then remove pan, take rack from the pan, and let the roast rest on the rack for at least 15 minutes or so, tented with foil. The lamb will continue to cook, and the internal temperature will rise to about 140-145 degrees.

To make pan sauce, remove a few tablespoons of fat by tipping the pan and spooning off the top layer. Put the pan over medium heat until the liquid simmers. Taste and whisk in more wine, about 1/4 cup each time, until the consistency is to your liking. But, do not let the mixture become thick or syrupy — it should remain a jus.

Carve lamb into 1/2″ slices, vertically and arrange on a platter, decorated with rosemary and thyme sprigs. Serve jus in a boat with a deep spoon.

L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. (We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians).
~Massimo d’Azeglio

Unification (Risorgimento) was a 19th century political, and socio-cultural movement that aggregated a patchwork of unique states of the peninsula into a single kingdom of Italy. Although many scholars dispute the dates, it is likely that conservatively the process began with the downfall of Napoléon Bonaparte followed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna and ended in 1871 when the country’s capital moved from Florence to Rome…except for the Vatican which became an independent state inside the city. In between that half century, much happened throughout Italy. (I could not begin to discuss the entirety of the movement here.)

For centuries, the Italian peninsula was a politically, culturally and linguistically fragmented conglomeration of neighboring states. Local dialects and regional power conflicts abounded. Although Italy still remained splintered through the mid 19th century, the concept of a united country then really began to take root. With nationalist fervor ignited, pervasive arisings occurred in several cities, mostly advanced by adherents such as professionals and students and often directed at Austrian rule. Giuseppi Garibaldi, a native of Piedmont-Sardinia, also cobbled together the then southern peninsular states into the unification process. With French resources appropriated to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Napoléon III ordered his troops out of Italy. Then, the final thrust for unification was orchestrated by an adroit diplomat, Piedmont-Sardinia’s Prime Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour. Through many struggles — regions, nations, leaders, peoples, wars, revolts, skirmishes, and strifes — Italian risorgimento was finally achieved in 1871.

Italy celebrates the anniversary of risorgimento each semicentennial (every 50 years).

The risotto rendition below is a tad tardy for this farmers’ market season, but likely there still will be some heirloom tomatoes making their final curtain call. Certainly, though, the same recipe can be used during next year’s iteration (and afterwards) when fresh corn ears, ripe heirlooms and basil leaves together grace the stalls. Thanks, locals.

RISOTTO WITH CORN, TOMATOES & BASIL

2 medium to large, local sweet corn ears

8 C chicken stock, seasoned

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 C dry white wine, e.g., sauvignon blanc
3-4 T unsalted butter, cut into tabs
Freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

3 T fresh Italian basil, cut into chiffonade

Remove corn kernels from cobs and set aside the kernels in a bowl. Simmer the cobs in stock for 20 minutes. Remove from stock and discard. Bring back to a gentle simmer over low heat, with a ladle at hand.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or Dutch oven until shimmering and not smoking. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and arborio rice and cook, stirring, until grains of rice separate and begin to slightly crackle, a minute or so. Stir in heirloom tomatoes, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until tomatoes have reduced slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add wine and stir until it has evaporated and has been absorbed by the arborio rice. Begin adding simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time. Stock should just cover the rice and should be simmering, not too slowly but not too aggressively. Cook, stirring often, until just nearly absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this mode, adding more stock and stirring when rice appears to dry. You do not have to stir continually, but often and vigorously. After 10 minutes, add corn and continue for another 10 minutes. When the process is complete, the arborio rice will be just tender but al dente (chewy to the teeth), which is about in 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary.

Add another partial ladleful of stock to the arborio rice. Stir in butter and parmiggino-reggiano for about a half minute and remove from heat. The admix should be creamy. Top with basil and serve somewhat promptly in shallow soup bowls with spoons.

…dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening.
~Art Buchwald

This Provençal comfort food exudes the melodious aromas of poultry, olives, fennel and capers that so often waft from the region’s kitchens and tables.

Capers (Capparis spinosa L.) are perennial bushy shrubs that bear fragrant white to light pink petals, and fleshy leaves renowned for the delicious immature buds which are commonly prepared pickled in salt and vinegar. Native to the Meditteranean basin, the thorny caper bush is well adapted to the sun soaked, sandy and sometimes nutrient needy soil found in the region.

Intense manual labor is required to gather capers, for the buds must be picked each morning just as they reach the proper size—before they open. Merchants categorize capers by size with the smallest non pareil often being the most desirable. However, somewhat larger buds from Pantelleria, a hot dry wind-swept speck of a volcanic island south of Sicily, are also highly prized.

Freshly picked caper buds are not an especially savory lot, but their piquancy increases after sun-drying, salting and brining. Deceptive by size, these charming, petite morsels are tart, zestful and bring earthy, tangy, citrus dimensions to dishes. A pantry without capers should sense remorse. Capers are packed in glass jars in coarse salt or vinegar brine, and so it is incumbent to thoroughly rinse before use.

BRAISED CHICKEN WITH WINE, CAPERS, OLIVES, FENNEL, & SHERRY VINEGAR

1 (3 1/2 to 4 lb) chicken, rinsed, patted dry, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

1 dried bay leaf
2 rosemary sprigs
1 C high quality green olives, pitted (such as picholine)
1 C capers, drained and well rinsed
4 fennel branches, roughly sliced into 2″-3″ pieces
2 C dry white wine
1 C chicken stock

1/4 C sherry wine vinegar

3 T fresh tarragon or flat parsley, roughly chopped

Season the chicken liberally with salt, pepper and a couple of pinches of herbes de Provence crumbled between finger and thumb. In a large heavy deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter and garlic over medium heat. But, do not allow to brown. With a wooden spatula, massage the garlic cloves into the entire pan surface. Then, place chicken in pan, skin side down; the skin should sizzle some when the pieces contact the surface. Brown chicken in batches, turning over once, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Remove crushed garlic cloves before they brown. Set aside browned chicken on a dish or platter, loosely tented.

Reduce the heat to medium or medium low, and add the onions. Sweat onions until soft and translucent, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Return the chicken to the pan, and add the bay leaf, rosemary, olives, capers, fennel, wine and stock. Cover and simmer slowly until chicken is tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the chicken to the dish or platter, and tent loosely with foil. Also remove bay leaf, rosemary sprigs. Raise heat, fortify sauce with sherry vinegar and boil down rapidly until sauce begins to just lightly thicken and coat a spoon. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking.

Serve over rice, pasta or thick noodles.