Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Parts: The Pâté

A day as crisp, jewel-like, and surprising as a pomegranate kernal drew ECG and me outside this morning.  We walked out our front door and into the arroyo.  The sky sang.

Following the trail of animals and other explorers, we wound our way down to the water, the small rivulet hidden from view from above by tall stands of mule fat and willow, hedged in by buckwheat.  Though we had walked many times down here, we'd never spent much time by the water.

We crossed a narrow part of the shallow water and walked along the edge, following it up towards the mountain and protected forest, a fire-grazed forest now closed to public access while it heals.

We spent a lot of time looking at the ground.

After an hour so, we realized we were far from where we started, and we had to figure out a way to get back across the water, preferably without dunking our shoes into mud and sludge.  Instead of being an annoyance, exploring a means to cross the water was a pleasure.  We considered hopping along strategically placed rocks, finding another log and dragging it over, or just wandering until we found another log bridge, which is what we eventually found.  All the while, we stopped whenever we saw anything interesting, in other words, frequently.

Today, the other side of the water was right where we needed to be.

Pâté with Pomegranate Seeds

I adapted this recipe slightly from Martha Stewart's recipe found here. I have made this a couple times before, each time trying to make the pomegranate gelée for which the original recipe calls.  But, it is extra work, it doesn't reliably set, and magazine-photo-shoot aside, it doesn't look as nice as it should, not nearly as nice as the delicious pâté on the bottom demands. So for a Thanksgiving appetizer this year, I threw the pomegranate gelée out and went for the real thing.  A generous sprinkling of pomegranate seeds over the pâté added something much better than the jelled juice:  it gave it extra explosions of tart-sweet to turn the smooth, savory spread into something different and more special.

You will need:

1 cup butter

3/4 pound chicken livers, rinsed and patted dry

1/2 pound crimini mushrooms

1/3 cup chopped shallot

3 large cloves garlic, smashed and minced

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

2 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup white wine

1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 cup pomegranate seeds

Crackers or toast points for serving.

To make the pâté:

In a large frying pan on medium heat,mMelt 1/4 cup butter. Add livers, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until livers are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, the wine, and thyme. Lower the heat a bit and let cook another 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are very soft and the wine has reduced substantially.  Let the mixture cool enough to handle.

Transfer mixture to a food processor. Add the remaining butter and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt; process until smooth, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a 7 inch souffle dish or other comparable dish, and refrigerate until cool, at least an hour.  Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the top and serve with crackers or toast.

Not only is this a great appetizer, it also makes a fantastic breakfast slathered on a baguette on a cool morning just after Thanksgiving.

Finally, here is today's shot of "the big project:"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Parts: Fried Sage Leaves

We're planning a whole day of Thanksgiving festivities, starting in the early part of the day with nibbles and beer or champagne. As these tiny suckers prove, we like to gild the lily around here.

Fried Sage Leaves
Over low heat, fry a handful of fresh and very clean whole sage leaves in a few tablespoons of butter. Watch the pan carefully: while you want the butter to brown, you do not want it to blacken. After 30 seconds to a minute, the leaves should be brittle and toasty, but not burned. Remove the pan from the heat immediately and carefully lift the fragile leaves, placing them on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

I dare you to eat only one of these.

As for the project update, here is what my hands look like tonight, after spending every last minute of available daylight outside working:

I'm more excited about it by the hour.

The Parts: The Butter

Part of the fun of Thanksgiving is the excesses. Yes, there is too much food for anyone, but even better, there are treats that we're not willing to put the time into every day.

Some people love their sweet potatoes with marshmallows, or candied with apples and cinnamon, but at our house, our favorite way to eat the buggers is simply roasted with butter and salt. And that's how I'll serve them on Thursday. How can I dress that up for a holiday?

Don't dress up the sweet potato, dress up the dress: add sequins, pearls, diamonds. Add a flattering ruche or detailed embroidery. In other words, dress up the butter.

Flavored Butter, 3 Ways

Mix 1 stick of softened unsalted butter with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon caramelized honey (use any honey you can get your hands on as you won't be disappointed), and 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle. Stir together until completely combined, scrape into a serving container, and refrigerate until use.

Mix 1 stick of softened unsalted butter with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked grains of paradise (if you don't have grains of paradise, use black pepper). Stir together until completely combined, scrape into a serving container, and refrigerate until use.

Roasted Garlic
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and once hot, roast a whole small head of garlic drizzled in olive oil and wrapped tightly in tinfoil for an hour. Remove the head of garlic and let it cool. Squeeze the guts of each clove into a small mixing bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon salt, and mash the mixture into a paste. Mix in 1 stick of softened unsalted butter, and stir together until completely combined. Scrape the mixture into a serving container, and refrigerate until use.

And for those following along with "The Big Project," here is this post's picture of a part of it. It's coming along, don't you think?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Parts: The Salad Dressing

Busy times around here: we've been working on a huge project.

Hopefully, this week I'll be able to show you the project, near completion. In the meantime, I'll be posting the "details" of my Thanksgiving menu.

The Salad: Shredded savoy cabbage and apple with garlicky-red wine-Worcestershire dressing, aka Rose's Vinaigrette.

Rose's Vinaigrette

From Martha Stewart Living, December 2009. I made this last week for the first time, and have made it already a second time. It's a lovely dressing, deeply flavored, and just the right balance of savory, sweet, and biting.

You will need:

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To make the dressing:

In a clean jar, mash together the shallot, mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.

Pour in the vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil. Cover tightly and shake well to combine and emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Culture Clash

A childhood friend turned 35 this weekend, and I flew up to Oakland to help him celebrate. We spent the day before the party cleaning his apartment and cooking. He had planned a theme party, a white-trash-meets-crystal-and-china party, one that was attended by many, many fascinating people. The air in the penthouse apartment was smeary with bacon fat, steam rose in the candlelight from boiled peanuts, lentil and ham hock soup filled crystal compote cups. It was beautiful. It was funny. I had a great time.

I was so happy to come home.

This weekend:


This weekend:


This weekend:


Fall Quick Bread
Last night, I made the house smell even homier by baking this subtly sweet, softly spiced quick bread. Gorgeously crusty on the outside, the inside has a tight, moist crumb and calls for a smear of butter or better yet, a breakfast dollop of labne drizzled with honey.

You will need:
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons toasted oat bran
3 tablespoons flaxseed meal
3 tablespoons old fashioned oats
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup diced dried fruit (I used apricots and white peaches)
2+ cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey

To make the bread:
Grease a large loaf pan and preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toss the first ten (all the dry ingredients) together into a large bowl and stir with a fork until the ingredients are evenly mixed. As you would in biscuit or pie dough, rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers, lifting handfuls of mixture and rolling it over your thumbs to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture. Once there are no more large chunks of butter and the mixture looks "sandy," stir in the dried fruit, two cups of buttermilk, and the honey. Stir together completely. If the dough is still dry (it should be a moist, soft dough), add a healthy splash of buttermilk to moisten, and stir to combine.

Scoop the dough into the greased pan, place the pan in the center of the oven, and bake 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Let the loaf cool, slice, and spread with something yummy.