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.

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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.

‘Tis an ill cook who cannot lick his own fingers.
~William Shakespeare

Breasts may receive all the attention. But, boring breasts candidly need a rest. On the other hand (so to speak), thighs should take home the praise in terms of sublime flavor, savory succulence, delectable simplicity, forgiveness, and even economy. Dark meated, myoglobin rich, luxurious thighs are the shit — sweet temptresses, in my humble. Plus, ’tis the season for figs.

THIGHS WITH PAPPARDELLE, FETA AND FIGS

4-6 boneless chicken thighs, free range

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
White pepper, a pinch
Cayenne pepper, a pinch
Fresh rosemary leaves, diced
Fresh thyme leaves
Fresh sage leaves, diced
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Extra virgin olive oil, to just cover

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

3/4 C feta cheese
1/2 C capers, drained

Thyme leaves
1/2 C red wine
10 fresh figs (whether Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota or Calimyrna), diced
1 1/2 T local honey

Artisanal pappardelle

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a rolling boil and then liberally add sea salt.

Place the chicken between a thick wooden cutting board and plastic wrap. Firmly yet gently pound each thigh until thinner but also uniform in thickness. Season with salt and black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, rosemary, thyme, sage and garlic. Cover with some olive oil and place the chicken in a large ziploc bag for about 2 hours, turning a couple of times.

Remove chicken and discard marinating garlic. Add two pads of butter, a touch of olive oil and smashed garlic to a large, heavy skillet and once sizzling, but not brown, discard garlic and add chicken thighs and saute about 5 minutes per side. Early on the second side, add the feta until it becomes warm at least and tent well or place in a low preheated oven. Right before serving thighs, add capers.

Then, to the same skillet add red wine, figs, and later honey until cooked. Meanwhile, cook artisanal pappardelle noodles for until tender, about 3 minutes, in boiling water. Carefully strain through a colander.

Serve chicken thighs plus feta and capers over pappardelle with cooked figs on the side on plates. (Feel free to eat the thighs with your fingers.)

‘Tis hatched and shall be so.
~William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

Likely due to post-Easter lags in sales, May has become Egg Month and delectable asparagus usually abounds then, so be accoutered with a huevos revueltos recipe. Revueltos are moist and creamy scrambled eggs mingled with such friends as sautéed mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, squash, potatoes, jamón, serrano, chorizo, squid, anchovies, sea urchin, lobster, shrimp, et al.

Unlike the usual scrambled eggs, they are sautéed with olive oil (not butter); their flavorful friends are added before the eggs (not afterward); and finally, the eggs are not whisked with a dollop of cream beforehand and often enter the pan just with the yolks broken.

Savor this Spanish gem, more often at lunch or a late dinner.

HUEVOS REVUELTOS

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 C artisanal bread, cut into 1/2″ cubes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 ozs diced or julienned jamón or serrano ham
1 or 1 1/2 lbs thin asparagus, cut on the bias in 2″ lengths
1 bunch green Spring onions, chopped
1 t garlic, peeled and minced

8 large local farm eggs, lightly whisked (or simply with yolks broken)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of pimentón

2 T Italian parsley leaves and/or other herb of choice, roughly chopped

Put olive oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium high heat until shimmering but not smoky. Add peeled garlic cloves and allow to sizzle and turn until just lightly browned on all sides, then remove and discard. Add bread, season with salt and pepper, lower heat to medium and gently fry until lightly browned and crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove bread and set aside to cool.

Add jamón or serrano and cook lightly. Add asparagus, season with salt and pepper, and cook greens through until firm, about 3-4 minutes. Add green onions and minced garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Crack eggs into glass bowl and season with salt, pepper and pimentón and lightly whisk or break yolks only. Pour into pan onto remaining ingredients and cook, slowly stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until soft and creamy, about 3-4 minutes. Add parsley and/or herb(s), top with fried bread, and serve promptly.

Here is my journey’s end, here is my butt,
And very sea-mark of my utmost sail.

~William Shakespeare, Othello, Act V, Scene II

Todd Essig’s recent essay in a Psychology Today blog offered some cogent reminders. The American mode of eating lacks vitality and has over time become unhealthy to mind and body in an almost Dickensian industrial way. Snarfing down wrapped, heat-lamped, bland, processed fast food on the run is just not good for the psyche, soul or waistline. Seems like that should be a more self-evident truth to most. (On the other hand, it does embellish agribusiness lucre on the front end and placates pharmaceutical greed on the back.)

Essig suggests that this simple human necessity, food, really demands savoring which begins with foraging at a local market, exchanging with vendors and ends with collective mirth at the table. Paying heed to those steps from the local farm to the table enhances the sensuous delights inherent in a meal. Social animals that we are, it seems there are basic psychological benefits to a more engaged eating process. You don’t say? In short, he rightly embraces “culinary mindfulness”—more engagement, more laughter, more intimacy, more gratification.

Speaking of, little could be finer than a pleasing derrière. Just nearby, a vast billboard even boldly proclaims: I like big butts and I cannot lie. I could go on about my penchants, butt… Now, despite the label, pork butt is not even derived from the ass end, and is instead carved from the pig’s shoulder. Sorry to disappoint, fellow buttocks’ inamoratas. Butchered from the dorsal region near the spine through the shoulder blade, this cut has adopted other aliases over time. Boston butt = pork butt = butt = shoulder butt = pork shoulder = shoulder roast = country roast = shoulder blade roast, and so on.

Choose butt with a smooth, firm, white fat heading and a decent amount of marbling throughout the meat. Butt should be reddish pink in color with a rather coarse grain.

The notion here is a weekend cook, low and slow. Unlike tender cuts like pork loin or pork tenderloin, a pork butt is really not there if cooked to internal temperatures of 140 F or even 170 F. To be rendered affably tender, a pork butt should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180-205 F measured in the thickest part of the meat. For sliced pork, cook towards the lower end of the spectrum and for fall-off-the-bone pulled pork choose the higher of this temperature range.

Nestled in a warm tortilla with the right friends, it makes for a close your eyes moment.

ROASTED PORK BUTT (SHOULDER) & SALSA VERDE

Pork Butt
7-8 lb pork butt

1 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground black pepper
2 T dried cumin seeds, roasted and ground
2 T dried oregano
1 T dried sage
1 T dried Ancho chile powder

2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 garlic heads, peeled and sliced transversely

Preheat oven to 250 F

Combine salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, sage, and dried chile powder. Mix well to make a dry rub.

Rub the pork well first with the smashed garlic and then thoroughly massage the dry rub into the butt. Discard smashed garlics. Place pork into large roasting pan and roast until the internal temperature reaches 195 F, about 9 to 10 hours.

From time to time, baste the meat with a bulb. Six hours or so through the cooking time, spoon some of the reduced basting liquid over the pork. Repeat basting process a few more times throughout the remaining cooking time. During the final two hours, arrange quartered onions and sliced garlic heads in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Remove from oven, place on a board or platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Shred the cooked pork with fingers and forks, pulling apart the meat. Discard fat and put shredded pork in a large bowl for serving.

Serve with salsa, garnishes and warm tortillas.

Basting Liquid (optional)
Juice from 4 fresh oranges
Juice from 1 fresh grapefruit
Juice from 2 fresh limes
1 C chicken stock
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 dried chile, seeded and coarsely chopped

In a small saucepan, combine orange, grapefruit and lime juice, stock, garlic and chile. Turn to medium low and simmer until reduced just by one third. Remove from heat and set aside.

Salsa Verde (Green Salsa)
1 lb tomatillos (10-12 medium), husked and rinsed
8 large garlic cloves, peels left on
1-2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 C cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt

Preheat broiler

Spread tomatillos, garlic, onions and chiles on a baking sheet and put under the broiler. Broil for about 5 minutes, until you see blackened, charred spots on the vegetables. Flip them over and roast until they become darkened, juicy, and soft.

Transfer these roasted ingredients and some of the cilantro into a food processor, and blend into a coarse purée. Add a little bit of water if necessary to attain your desired consistency. Add salt to taste, and the rest of the cilantro leaves. Set aside in a bowl.

Garnishes
Lime wedges
Red onions, peeled and finely minced
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Avocados, peeled and sliced
Chipotle crema
Salsa fresca
Queso fresco, crumbled

The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.
~William Shakespeare, from Mark Antony’s funeral oration in Julius Caesar

Sorry for the brief interlude, but I felt an urge to rest the pen. Please do not assume that raw materials are lacking as my WordPress “Dashboard” is backed up with unrequited recipes that are begging to bust loose. This is one of them.

Last night, we plowed through untilled ground: roasted bone marrow. Now, I have savored these scrumptuous apps quite a few times over the years at restaurants, and if I spy them on a menu it is nearly guaranteed they will be ordered. But, I have never prepared them at home, and now am left with absolutely no clue why these delicacies have been so rudely shunned in this kitchen. So many things fall through life’s cracks.

Step 1 of the roasted marrow process involves a chat with your butcher about cutting or rather sawing these bones to your specifications. At first blush, this would seem easy enough…but here it does present a certain challenge as the local grocery presents a tale of two butchers. One butcher, who will go by the name “M,” is affable, courteous and wholly accomodating while the other, “R,” is rude, hostile, and far from obliging. Asking R to carve a ribeye or strip to your liking (i.e., perform his function as a butcher) is akin to asking Ebeneezer Scrooge to donate funds to your favorite charity or insisting that Rush Limbaugh cast his vote for a homosexual African American Democrat. Simply put, when he is at the helm, R casts a pallor on one of life’s more beloved experiences—hunting and gathering at the store—while M unabashedly suggests, even pleads, that he custom cut for your night’s meal. To our good fortune and those of our guest’s bellies, M (and not R) was manning the meat department yesterday. So, we walked out with freshly cut bones for the evening’s appetizer and service with a smile. For his graciousness, I intend to pass this recipe on to M as he adores cooking too. I doubt R would care to read this post, so he will not be favored with a copy.

Heed my words. If you fear this offal known as bone marrow, you are sorely mistaken. Marrow is one of those opulent gifts at the table…rich, silky, buttery, and immensely subtle in character and flavor. There is supreme, toe-curling stuff interred in these bones making it one of those rare last bite on death row dishes.

PERSILLADE A LA MOELLE (BONE MARROW WITH PARSLEY AND GARLIC)

12 — 3″ segments veal marrow bones

1 bunch flat leaf parsley leaves, stems discarded and chopped
3 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 small to medium shallots, peeled and finely minced
2 T capers, rinsed and drained

2 T extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Grilled or toasted bread, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 F

Put the bones in a roasting pan and place in oven. Roast until marrow is loose and beginning to separate from the bone, but not drizzling out or melted, about 15-20 minutes depending on bone thickness. So, keep an eye on the roasting process so the marrow does not exceed the tipping point.

While bones are roasting, chop the parsley and gently mix with garlic, shallots, lemon juice, capers. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Brush the sliced bread with olive oil and grill or roast.

Remove marrow from oven and serve on plates with bread next to the persillade. At the table with small spoons or forks, scoop the marrow out of the bones onto the toast and top with a small dollop of the persillade.