Braised Artichokes, Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Mint

Braised Artichokes TGF - 1

So what’s up this week?  Braised Artichokes with Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Mint.  Spring has arrived, and with it truckloads of fat green globe artichokes.  No groaning (Oh, god, not artichokes, they’re such a pain…).   No, they’re not, and if we learned anything at all from recent  events it’s that the small gestures we take for granted are more precious than ever.  You only know what you’ve got when it’s gone, so start snapping those leaves off.  

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce-1

Well, it had to end some day, our last taste of the Bue Zones: Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce.  Contrary to all of the clichés about Californians, in reading Dan Buettner’s description of Seventh Day Adventists in our final Blue Zone, in Loma Linda California, I was put in mind of the genial self-effacing mainstream Mormons of Jonathan Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.  They’re enthusiastic, they volunteer, they care about each other, always willing to pitch in and lend a hand.  In short you’d be happy to have them living on your block.  Except that they’d live way longer than you; actually, they live longer than just about anybody.     

Casado – the Blue Zone lunch

Lunch in the Blue Zone - Casado-1

We’re back on course to the next Blue Zone* – the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica!  Casado – the married man’s lunch is our take on a Nicoyan central meal of the day, protein and salad along with a foundation of black beans and rice seasoned with a particular Costa Rican twist.

The Nicoya Peninisula is a 80-mile long thumb of land that juts into the Pacific from the northwest corner of Costa Rica.  Among a certain type of backpacking tourist the peninsula is famous for its many beaches which ring the coastline.  But the Blue Zone of the Nicoya Penisula does not include the coast – it is the interior, home of large national parks, still quite rural, and with many inhabitants living traditional lifestyles either as independent farmers or as sedentary agricultural workers finding employment on larger farms, and raising corn, beans, and other vegetables (including two forms of taro) in their own family plots.  Until recently the Nicoya Peninsula was relatively isolated, reachable only by ferry until 2003, which saw the opening of the Taiwan Friendship Bridge.

At first glance the Nicoyan diet may not seem that remarkable–rice, beans and tortillas–along with a lot of fruit. But at 60 a Costa Rican man has about twice the chance of reaching 90 as one from the U.S., and this from a country whose medical budget is about 15% of that of the U.S. Nicoyans are some of the healthiest, most long-lived people on the planent. Say hello to Casado – beans and rice with all the fixings.

Okinawan Stir-Fry with Bitter Melon, Sweet Potatoes and Turmeric Poached Eggs

Tofu Stir-Fry with Bitter Melon, Sweet Potatoes and Tumeric Poached Eggs TGF-1

If you’ve been plaguing yourself with the question When, oh when, will I ever learn to cook bitter melon?  then fret no more, relief is at hand, the stars finally have aligned for you this week.  We’re offering our take on the Okinawan dish of Champuru, a Tofu Stir-Fry with Bitter Melon, Sweet Potatoes and Tumeric Poached Eggs.  By the time you finish this recipe you’ll be a bitter melon whiz, and when people ask about that cool new flavor you’ve introduced into your stir fries you can say, Nothing, really, just a little goya.  Oh, you might know it as bitter melon.   

Welcome to our third post on from one of Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones*, the Japanese island of Okinawa.  

Affogato Corretto

Affogato Corretto TGF -2

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single espresso in possession of a good head of crema must be in want of a shot of grappa.  This shot of grappa “corrects” the espresso, resulting in an espresso corretto.  It is also a truth universally acknowledged that a single espresso in possession of a good scoop of ice cream (which combination is known as an affogato) must be in want of a shot of grappa. This “correction” brings forth an affogato corretto.  As a different writer, bearded and burley, might have observed, it’s a damn fine way to drink a damn fine espresso.

Shirred Eggs with Spinach, Mushrooms and Toast Soldiers

Shirred Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms TGF -1

When Jody said, “Hey let’s do Shirred Eggs with Spinach, Mushrooms and Toast Soldiers,”* I responded with an enthusiastic, “Huh?”  Something stirred in the part of my brain where meal descriptions from Dickens and Wilkie Collins rattle around with episodes of Jewel in the Crown, Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, reasonably accurate associations because Googling shirred eggs brings up the original 1896 edition of Fanny Farmer.  She explains that shirred eggs are baked; the name derives from the dish used in the preparation, an egg-shirrer, a shallow gratin dish for baking the eggs.  Did you catch that?  …are baked  …for baking the eggs.

That’s it, the whole circus?  I mean, shirred means baked?

Brandade de Morue with Peppers, Olives and Arugula

Brandade with Peppers, Olives and Arugula-1

I like fresh cod, but I LOVE salt cod, especially like this: Brandade de Morue with Olives, Peppers and Arugula.  Brandade is what the French, who love adding cream and shallots to everything just to see if anyone’s heart explodes, is what happens when the children of Gaul get their mitts on some morue (salt cod).  It has a rich satisfying flavor without being overwhelming, a great texture, and is terrific with uncomplicated red wines.  Successful marriages have been based on less.  It’s a standard in our house–we eat it by special request (birthdays), on Christmas Eve, and whenever somebody says, Gee, it’s been awhile since we’ve had brandade.  

Puglian Barley Salad with Pecorino Cheese


“Hot-buttered groat clusters!”  –Firesign Theater.

One of the pleasures of travelling is tdrawing close to the seemingly familiar only to suddenly discover it strikingly different, like this Puglian Barley Salad with Pecorino Cheese.  Looks ordinary.  But the taste – not like barley on this planet.  Many of the more forward thinking participants in Italy’s agritourismo movement are attempting to preserve regional variations on farm products that for one reason or another have fallen from grace or never gained the favor of larger commercial ventures. Barley is a case in point–in Puglia, where it’s often hulled, rather than pearled, it’s chewy.

And chewy barley is a delight.

Torchio Pasta with Squash Blossoms

Oh, the birds and the bees, you gotta love ’em, especially if you enjoy eating things like this week’s dish, Torchio Pasta with Squash Blossoms.  After Jody’s rant last week about the tyranny of seasonality, we’re presenting another dish that is, well, seasonal.  But move fast, the season for squash blossoms is here and gone in the blink of an eye and you’ll have to wait another year for the opportunity to enjoy their delicate flavor fried, stuffed or, as we do here, expressed in a light pasta sauce.

Grilled Mussels with Coconut Curry Broth

Grilled Mussels with Coconut Curry Broth–what more is there to say?  Last summer we did a piece about grilling clams.  Mussels–and oysters–work the same way.  You pop them on a hot grill and wait.  When they open, they’re done.  We’re talking about very lightly grilled seafood here.  As you can see from the pictures, Jody first made the coconut curry broth.  Then we grilled the mussels (no, really, we grilled the mussels).  If you’re deft with a pair of tongs you can get the mussels off the grill and into the coconut broth with minimal loss of mussel juice. Toss the mussels with the herbs and the coconut broth and Bob’s your uncle.