Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hello, Gorgeous!

Yahoo! We finally made it to the highly anticipated Academy Awards Oscar Night and a much needed reprieve in the year thus far. We had gamely turned the corner on new years and shouldered our way through January enduring that utterly jolting re-alignment with life. It’s exhausting facing reality. I breathed a weary ‘adios’ to January and gleefully rejoiced February's arrival. Hallelujah! Oscar Night is in the wings and accompanying it: another fabulous eatfest!

Yes, indeed! Lest we forget the occasion, in overview the 2009 Awards were showcased at the classy 3,332 seat Kodak Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. It was a night of style and wit. As usual the Oscar competition ran neck-and-neck with the banter of haughty fashion moguls wagging viciously over who most deserved the evening's Best/Worst Dressed Categories. There were a few good moments, particularly Ben Stiller’s spoof of Joaquin Phoenix’s recent bizarre interview. Most unforgettable was the stellar collection of previous academy award winners lined up in tribute to this year’s Best Actor and Actress nominees and winners. It was a global year; we had plenty of international winners, as indicated by Best Film awarded to Mumbai’s Slumdog Millionaire, a clear runaway favorite.

Getting down to the real action, in honor of our sinking economy I scaled back and kept the fare pretty simple. The headliner, my favorite indulgence: Chicken Liver Pâté. Of course, there was crisp Lavosh and plenty of fresh veggies and olives for frantic nibbling as the suspense grew. Half way through I passed steaming cups of an incredible Rice and Cabbage Soup. Don’t let the name fool you, this stylish creamy risotto-like potage is the perfect foil to an assertive Pate. It’s filling, but just the ticket for a night of noshing.

All of the above can be prepared well ahead. I’m a big lavosh fan, my cracker of choice is topped with tons of seeds and flavors. It was an utter revelation when I discovered how simple these are to create – especially considering the hefty price they demand at the market! One trick I’ve discovered is to be certain the dough forms a very soft ball. Although a small amount of yeast is required, these are quick to make and only require a brief resting period before rolling out the dough. Bake them off, cool briefly, and break into chunks and store airtight.

I am addicted to chicken livers! At least once a month I crave them and I must have my fix. I can completely relate to the bloody scene in Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow wildly ravages raw chicken livers while blood oozes down her face. My sentiments exactly! Granted, I prefer mine cooked a bit beyond raw - but there’s nothing worse than overcooked chicken livers.
I have prepared this pâté for years and continue to adapt it. Back in the day, butter was a hefty item here, plus a few glugs of cream. Over time I have continued to pare this down, now the addition of mushrooms increases the moisture content and enhances the flavors beautifully. Of course, not overcooking those lovely livers will allow moisture to remain in the pan reducing additional liquids and/or fat when pureeing. A few dashes of bitters work well as a nifty substitute for brandy. Allow the flavor to mellow and blend by preparing it at least a day ahead.

Chicken Liver Pâté
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 medium onion, chop
1/4 pound mushrooms, cremini or other, slice
2 cloves garlic, mince
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 pound chicken livers, clean, trim and drain in strainer
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon bitters or a splash brandy
1 bay leaf or fresh herbs for garnish

In medium sauté pan over medium, heat 1 Tbsp butter; cook the onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove to holding plate. Add mushrooms and sauté til liquid is cooked off, remove from pan.

To pan add 1 tbsp butter, the mushrooms, garlic, 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper and sauté until liquid is released and mushrooms are soft. Remove to holding plate.

To pan add additional 1 Tbsp butter when bubbling add livers, the seasonings, the bitters or brandy, 1/2 tsp salt and red pepper flakes. Cook til livers are lightly cooked and barely pink; about 5 minutes. Allow to cool briefly.

Puree in blender with onions and mushrooms, thin as needed with beef or chicken stock, cream, milk or water. Adjust flavors, it should be highly seasoned. Chill covered in crock or oiled mold. Allow flavors to develop at least overnight or longer. Garnish with bay or fresh herbs.

Serve with crackers or crostini, olives, gherkins, crudités: radishes, celery, red peppers, cucumbers, endive.

Seeded Lavosh
Inspired by Lora Brody's Pizza, Focaccia, Flat and Filled Breads for your Bread Machine

1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups flour or more if needed
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3/4 cup warm water, plus 2 tablespoons
2-3 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons assorted seed mixture: 1 Tbsp. each: caraway or fennel, poppy, sesame seeds; 1 Tbsp coarse salt, 1 Tbsp. Montreal Pepper Seasoning, or to taste

In bowl of mixer combine all ingredients and mix with dough hook until dough comes together in smooth soft dough. Transfer to floured surface and divide in half and let rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly flour the backs of 2 baking sheets. Using plenty of flour, roll out one roll at a time slowly to length of cookie sheet. Brush each lightly with water and sprinkle with topping. Bake breads 10 to 15 minutes - browned in some areas and crispy in other with bubbled air pockets. Cool and break into manageable pieces. Makes 3 to 4 dz pieces.

Rice and Cabbage Soup
Red, White and Greens, by Faith Willinger (The Italian Way with Vegetables)
1/2 medium cabbage
2 medium carrot, chopped
2 sprigs parsley
1 teaspoon savory, divided
2 cloves garlic, divided
14 ounces can chicken stock
6 cups water
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice, preferably
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

To make a light vegetable broth: bring stock and water to a boil, lightly chop and add rinsed cabbage outer leaves, carrot, parsley, half of the savory, and garlic. Add the salt and pepper and simmer 15 -20 minutes.

In soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil, then the onion and sauté til tender, add the remaining garlic and savory. Wash the remainder of cabbage, core and cut leaves into strips and add to pot, reducing heat to low and cook until wilted. Add 6 cups of the broth and bring to simmer.

Add the rice and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for 15-25 minutes, til rice is cooked al dente. Add broth to thin. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6 as first course. ~~

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tribute to Tom Jones: Trencher Chicken

As an aficionado of finger food, what could be more perfect than bonding with your partner and sharing a meal without utensils? Let’s just say, we are simply removing all the encumbrances and getting down to bare basics.

For years I collected cookbooks and related sources on what is now popularly referred to as ‘Food Porn’. ‘Aphrodisia’ is my preferential term, albeit far less sensational - it conjures up food that promotes Love and Beauty, from the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. Of course, we still have the same end in mind: we’re talking about the vehicle and the methods we use to get there. It’s personal, it’s about the process. The whole package.

In support of Food Porn, nothing could be closer to the case than the literary and cinematic classic Chicken Scene from Tom Jones, one of my all time film favorites. Here, the womanizing fop and the pretty damsel have an out of body experience over a succulent roast chicken. The couple lustfully eye each other while erotically devouring a plump juicy bird with their hands – clearly in lieu of each other. Wholly mackerel, Andy!

Which brings me to the main course of the whole package: Trencher Chicken aka Chicken in Bread Crust. Back in Shakespeare’s day, when utensils might have included a hunting knife, or maybe a wood spork, food was often served on a trencher, a board possibly of bread and also the handy edible plate. In honor of St. Valentine, I offer you Trencher Chicken, a complete meal (in a bun) including vegetables.

A final note: due to the nature of the occasion the preparation steps are simplified. Who wants to be exhausted from cooking a fabulous meal, when the meal is the thing? In that spirit, I happen to have a half chicken on hand, so that is what I include here (for this event, it’s plenty for two people, really ;-). If you elect to follow in the footsteps of Tom Jones and use a whole chicken, proceed per instructions and bake up to 2 hours. Bon appétit!

Trencher Chickenaka Chicken in Bread Crust, a moist and flavorful meal; a recreational dining selection
1/2 recipe pizza dough

1/2 whole chicken, or @ 3 1/2 lbs halved
1 tablespoon olive oil, approx.
salt and pepper
1 whole onion, cut into large chop
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot, cut into thick rounds
2 small red potatoes, cut into 3/4" pieces
1/2 green pepper , seeded, cut into large chop
1 tablespoon thyme, or 1 1/2 tsp dry
salt and pepper
1 egg, for wash plus 2 tsp water

Bring the pizza dough to room temperature or prepare and let rest.

In large pot, heat oil to medium high, add the halved chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from pan, add vegies and thyme, reduce to medium and saute to wilt, 8-10 minutes. Season and transfer to shallow dish and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 325, lightly oil shallow baking pan about 10x14".

Roll out the dough to form approx. 15" square, a little thicker in the center. Place the cooled vegies in the center of the dough, set the chicken on top, bring the dough up and around the chicken by pulling up one corner at a time until 3 of the corners meet on top, pressing together. Bring the fourth up and over the others, sealing it together, making neat packet. Carefully lift the wrapped chicken onto baking pan and brush the bread with egg wash. Bake until bread is puffed, golden and cooked thru about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let sit for at least 20 minutes - up to 1 hour. Use a serrated knife to assist in cutting to bread. Serves 2.

Note: a light sauce can be made with the pan juices. Add a handful of sliced mushrooms, 1-2 cups chicken stock or water to pot, stir to release any residue in bottom and simmer 30 minutes or as time allows. To thicken combine 1 heaping tbsp cornstarch in 1/2 cup water and stir into pan, simmer and allow to thicken.

Inspired by Susan Herrmann Loomis’, French Farm House Cookbook. ~~

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hungry & Grumpy? Try a Spanish Tortilla

Recently I came home later than usual only to discover I had not planned dinner. A big blank mist settled over me and my refrigerator as I poked about, looking for morsels and tidbits to satisfy the hungry, grumpy diner in me. Harrumph. It looked like eggs and maybe a potato.

Memories of Spain’s fantastic potato tortillas - frequently served as a tapas treat, came filtering back. Ah, yes, that’ll do ‘er! With a nod to the Spanish version which requires plenty of oil for frying, artful tossing in the pan, and attentive baby sitting, I instead opt for a gentler approach - one with the least effort and room for error. I begin by preheating my oven for an easy finish.
On further reconnaissance I unearth an onion, a few straggling cremini mushrooms and a couple ever present jalapeno peppers. This is looking more promising! Also there’s just enough marinated salad to round out the plate, along with a slice or two of dark bread – and a couple a spoonfuls of Romesco Sauce, gratefully salted away for such an occasion.

I can’t say enough about Romesco Sauce, if you haven’t tasted it, you owe yourself the distinct honor and pleasure of giving it a try. I treasure my supply of smoked paprika, which as far as I’m concerned, makes this a world class sauce. Similar to the French rouille, I actually prefer romeso for its depth and assertiveness. It’s all purpose at my house; I even use it as a base for pizza!

In the amount of time it takes to preheat the oven, the onion, garlic and veggies are sautéed, the potatoes are nicely pre-cooked and ready for their addition to the pan. I give my old standby quiche dish a light spritz with oil and begin assembling the tortilla. Done! Into the oven with just enough time to clean up the counters, handle a couple of odd chores, and return for a quick adjustment to low broil - and a gorgeous finish.

A recreational dining stalwart, I find the Spanish Tortilla extremely adaptable. Instead of mushrooms try sausage and/or other fresh vegetables. Serve it hot - or at room temperature, the Spanish preference. It’s good anytime, breakfast, lunch, dinner or in-between, and of course it’s the perfect candidate for brunch, picnics or potlucks. For that extra pizzazz, don’t forget the Romesco Sauce.

Dinner won’t be a mystery tomorrow night!

Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Mushrooms
Highly versatile and good anytime

2-3 medium potatoes, peeling optional, cut into 3/4" chunks
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium green pepper, or 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded chopped
10 cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 3 slices each
½ tsp. each dried sage and oregano
salt and pepper
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup each grated cheddar and jack or meltable cheese of choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray a quiche dish, pie plate, or similar ovenware. Place potatoes in small pot, cover with salted water, bring to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes, until tender when poked. Drain. Combine eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile in a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add onion and toss til fragrant; add garlic and green pepper, cook about 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook to soften. Toss in the potatoes season with sage and oregano or 1/3 cup fresh parsley if available, and heat to combine flavors.

Spread the potato mixture into the baking dish, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and pour the egg mixture even over the potatoes. Sprinkle with the cheddar and jack cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the eggs begin setting around the edges. Change the heat to broil setting, about 400 degrees for possible. If not, lower the rack to move the dish further from away heat source. Broil for about 5 minutes or until center is set and the top begins to brown. Serves 6 ~~.

Romesco Sauce

An all purpose standby, good with vegetables and any earthy grilled foods

1 slice country bread, trimmed, toasted or dried, 1/3 cup crumbled
½ cup water
1 cup red peppers, roasted, cut into chunks
1/2 cup almonds, whole, blanched and toasted
5 cloves garlic, minced fine, about 1 T
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika, smoked
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or lemon juice
1/3 cup water (approx.) or any pepper liquid if available
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup olive oil

Soak the bread in about 1/2 cup water to soften, squeeze with hand to remove liquid and form a smooth dough-like panade.

In blender combine red pepper, nuts, garlic, paprika and pepper flakes and pulse to puree. Add the bread and sherry. With motor running, gradually add 1/3 water of pepper liquid to incorporate, then add the oil slowly, process until smooth and thick.

Adjust seasoning with salt and additional vinegar as needed. It should have a slight edge from the vinegar, but not overpowering. If too thick, thin with more liquid.

Chill and let flavors mellow. Stored in fridge, it will keep for 4 -5 days or longer. Can be frozen up to 1 month, by why bother? Yield: approx. 2 ½ cups.

Note: If Spanish paprika is unavailable: soften 1 dried mild pepper - New Mexico or pasillo chile along with chile pequin, in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and reserve the liquid for later and cool, remove any stems + dash smoke flavoring. ~~

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Olé, Posole!

I wish you could smell this burbling cauldron of Posole. Succulent pork bites, onions, and assorted peppers all melding together in a spicy sauce heady with chilies, garlic, oregano and cumin. Shades of chili con carne, no beans! It’s almost time to add the pièce de résistance: hominy, and perhaps later a light sprinkling of cornmeal for extra thickening.

Simmer away my beauty: a tour de force worthy of Super Bowl Sunday or any other spectacular occasion!

For me, it’s all about the hominy aka posole or pozole - there’s something here that pushes my buttons. From the nutrition angle it’s sadly lacking: corn kernels that have been stripped of their bran and germ.

Hominy is addictive, while living in South Carolina I couldn’t get enough of it. Grits, or ground hominy, is standard fare there - at breakfast, lunch or dinner it’s used very similar to potatoes. In a sense, hominy plays well with others. It’s compatible, durable, has its own strength and character, but does not dominate.

I’ll let the Posole rest overnight. As with many hearty dishes, it’s even better the next day. Then, I’ll have plenty of time to set out a selection of toppings for dressing up the Posole according to personal whim and fancy.

There will be chopped tomato, green onion, cilantro, some avocado or guacamole, grated cheese and lime wedges to perk it up, and my old standby, Cabbage Salsa. Of course there will be chips and salsa and flour tortillas for ripping and wrapping. Oh, zippity do dah!

Red Chile and Pork Posole1 cup water, boiling
4 dried chilies, pasillo, jalapeno, ancho any combo
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed
3 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut - into 2" cubes, or tenderloin
4 c hominy , yellow or white, two 16 oz cans drained, rinsed
1 medium onion, cut into small chunks
1 small anaheim chili pepper, cut up
2 tablespoons cornmeal, optional
1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce, or Cabbage Salsa (see Condiments)
3/4 cup sliced radishes
3/4 cup sliced green onions
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese

Combine the boiling water and chilies and allow to soften about 20 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid. Stem and seed the chilies. In a blender or food processor, puree them with the reserved soaking liquid along with garlic, oregano and cumin, salt.

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately-high heat. Add the pork and cook until it begins to brown. Add onion and 1 or more anaheim or any other pepper type preferred. Stir in the chile puree and water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer over moderately-high heat, reduce the heat and cook at a bare simmer, partially covered, until the meat is falling-apart tender, 1-3 hours, depending on cut. Half way through cooking process add hominy. If desired thicken with cornmeal if desired, stir occasionally to avoid burning.

To serve: Ladle Posole into bowls and offer accompaniments.
Offer toppings: Cabbage Salsa or shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, sliced green onions, tomato, cilantro, lime wedges, avocado, grated jack cheese. Serves 6 ~~

Note: substitute equal amount of fresh chicken pieces and cook until tender


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