Monthly Archives: October 2010

Preparing for No Thanksgiving

Spiced Chardonnay Chicken Liver Pate 3

Last weekend, we turned our lives off. It wasn’t really intentional, to be honest. We packed everything up for a weekend of lazing and hiking on the Olympic Peninsula – everything except our computers – but when we arrived at our rental house, our telephones didn’t work either. For 36 hours, we suspended time. We spoke to no one but each other. My husband and I each read a book, and our son slept soundly through the nights. It was, by every definition, a vacation.

I also took a little break from cooking. I know it sounds crazy, for me to take over a rental kitchen with not much more than the makings for a simple pasta sauce and sandwiches, but after the doughnut book, it was just what I needed.

The house peeked out over Freshwater Bay and the Straight of Juan de Fuca, which separates the Peninsula from Canada. It had a sprawling living room, and a kitchen that would comfortably fit the cook and ten onlookers. I was in the middle of a fantasy about hosting a Thanksgiving there one day when it hit me: This year, I will not be cooking for Thanksgiving. I came home wanting to do nothing but cook for a crowd.

Every year, my family celebrates Thanksgiving somewhere different. It’s traditional in its pure lack of tradition. There’s usually Ken’s Eggnog (which would normally be made this weekend), but everything else is up to the cook. But I am always in someone’s kitchen, somewhere.

This year will be different. This year, my grandfather is hosting in Colorado, which means Thanksgiving will be catered. I’m confident it will be delicious, but there will be no menu planning. There will be no grocery shopping. There will be no oven scheduling. There will be no sneaking garlic into the mashed potatoes while Grandma’s not looking. There will be no forgetting to put the sugar in the pumpkin pie filling, or still-frozen turkey stock, or last-minute market runs for more butter.

In theory, this is fine with me. My oven broke (again) this week, which means I could be fighting with repairmen for a few weeks. No one needs to roast a turkey in an oven that’s 100 degrees off. And we’ll get to see much of my extended family, which is always great.

But honestly, part of me is struggling. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not the turkey, it’s all of the above – planning, shopping, scheduling, cooking, problem-solving – that I love. It’s all of the things some people hate about Thanksgiving. Frankly, I’m a little nervous. Cooking Thanksgiving is a yearly ritual I can’t imagine living without.

Spices for Pate 2

When Edible Seattle asked me to cook up some bites for an event at a Seattle Eileen Fisher last night, I figured it was my chance to get the ritual out of my system. I made polenta squares with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and crispy shards of kale. There were wild mushroom tartlets. I wanted to make a version of the chicken liver pate that seemed more popular than anything else on last year’s Thanksgiving table, one infused with spices and white wine. The only problem, I discovered, was that I had no idea where I’d found the recipe. All I remembered were the shallots and some cognac . . .

So I started from scratch. Chicken liver pate seems fancy, but it’s astoundingly simple to make. (If you’ve never done it before, know that the most difficult part is buying the livers. They can be intimidating, but treat them just as you would chicken, trimming away any tough parts.) I tossed them into a simmering mixture of chardonnay, star anise, allspice, clove, cinnamon, and pepper, along with garlic and shallots. I transferred the cooked mixture to a food processor, along with an amount of butter that you might want to keep secret, and found myself with a silky spread fancy enough for pre-Thanksgiving appetizers. Or hungry shoppers. Or writers with with the 10 a.m. munchies.

The best part? The recipe made much more than I anticipated. So I served hordes of hungry shoppers, and I still have a little pot left over for myself. I might just have to throw a party.

Spiced Chardonnay Chicken Liver Pate 2

Spiced Chardonnay Chicken Liver Pate (PDF)

Here, chicken livers are simmered in chardonnay, with cinnamon, anise, allspice, and cloves, then whipped into a mousse-y pate perfect for spreading on crackers or baguette slices. It’s easy, and a little work goes a long way—this recipe makes enough for 4 pots of mousse, each of which should satisfy a crowd of 6 to 8 before dinner. Serve with cornichons and pickled onions.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 large ramekins

2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 cups dry chardonnay
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole allspice berries
3 whole cloves
3 whole black peppercorns
2 pounds chicken livers, fat and veins trimmed away
3/4 cup water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 16 chunks
Sea salt
Ground white pepper

Combine the shallots, garlic, chardonnay, and spices in a large, wide saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the garlic is soft. Add the chicken livers and 3/4 cup water, bring back to a simmer, then cook for about 5 minutes, turning livers once or twice, or until they’re barely pink in the center. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the livers and onions to the work bowl a food processor, picking out any spices as you see them. Carefully remove the remaining spices, then add the rest of the liquid and onions. Puree the liver mixture until smooth.

With the machine on, add the butter one chunk at a time, and puree until smooth, scraping the sides of the work bowl as necessary. (The mixture will seem thin.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pass the mousse through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, then transfer to 4 large ramekins or bowls. Let the mousse cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight, covered with plastic wrap, and serve chilled.

Mousse can be cooled, then double-wrapped and frozen up to 2 weeks before serving. To serve, thaw for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge.

5 Comments

Filed under appetizers, chicken, gluten-free, recipe

Phoenixed

Vinegar-Braised Onions 3

Madame Jacqueau, the woman I lived with in Paris my junior year in college, used to say that things always come in threes. She used it when talking about almost anything—short waits for the metro, major avalanches, well-roasted chickens. Literally, in French, she was saying that there’s never a second without a third. Today, I do hope she’s wrong.

I have agreed to write two cookbooks.

Wait, let me try that again: In the last six weeks, I have agreed to write and have written one cookbook. I have agreed to write another book, which is completely unrelated, by May.

The first, which I literally just submitted, is a book I’ve been working on in conjunction with Mark and Michael Klebeck, the owners of Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts. It will be published by Chronicle Books next fall. It’s a doughnut cookbook, with fifty recipes and loads of great tips. Suffice it to say that over the past six weeks, I have tricked neighbors and friends into believing I started a doughnut factory in my house. I have worn pajamas more than anyone should. I have purchased more powdered sugar (for glazes and icings) than any human should see in one lifetime. Finally, for at least a week or two (until the edits come back), I can turn off the deep fryer. In fact, I’m feeling like I might be on the precipice of a health kick. (Okay, starting soon. We made wings and onion rings last weekend.)

It was hard, writing a book in six weeks. But it’s done. And it was actually a little thrilling.

I’m most thrilled, though, about the next one: I’ll be writing a cookbook with a big handful of essays about Seattle’s Pike Place Market, to be published by Sasquatch Books in the spring of 2012.

More than anything, it just seems fitting. The week my husband and I flew to Seattle for the first time, in March of 2006—me for a conference, him for a job interview—I decided Seattle was right for us in front of that iconic market sign. Then I walked into the market with a friend, and my husband called, telling me he’d been offered a job. I wandered around aimlessly, probably looking a little bewildered. This will be my home, I thought.

When I moved here, and started Hogwash, I picked Rachel, the market’s pig, for my masthead, because she’d been there that day, the day I became a Seattleite. Just sketching out the chapters and brainstorming recipes ideas, I feel like it’s suddenly 100% true: Seattle is my home.

I’m admittedly just as excited about the essays as I am about the recipes. (More so, maybe.) I think it could be difficult, without getting too mundane and repetitive, to communicate the magic of any place people habitually give up describing, instead saying “it’s really amazing,” or “you just have to go,” with a big, body-slumping huff. These will not be wedding toast essays. They’ll be wicked fun.

You could say it’s been a busy few weeks.

But there’s more.

Last week, my piece on preparing to live gluten-free (which, as you know, it turns out I didn’t have to do), from Leite’s Culinaria, came out in Best Food Writing 2010, a yearly collection of fantastic food writing by people I admire and ache to emulate. I was thrilled, and seriously humbled, to be in the same pages. My mailbox also brought a copy of the November issue of Cooking Light, where my recipes appear for the first time. (Side note: Make the posole. It should appear online soon.)

Basically, I’m being blasted with good things from all directions, and it feels fabulous.

I’d have to say, though, that despite all of this writing stuff, the highlight of the last few weeks has to be last Saturday morning. I participated in a fundraiser for lupus—the goal was to raise awareness and money, and to get the word out that there hasn’t been a new drug developed specifically for lupus released to the market for more than 50 years—and instead of doing the fun walk, I did the fun run. I ran a 5K.

I’ve never been a great runner, or even a good one. But in college, I used to do it, just for exercise, and as a way to spend time with friends. Since being diagnosed with lupus, I’d sort of lost the running thing. It made my joints ache, and it took the kind of mental stamina I didn’t have, when I had to think positively so often when it hurt to walk, or open a jar, or hold the hairdryer. But since starting a new drug after my kidney scare last spring, I’ve been feeling remarkably buoyant. So somewhere along the line, I decided to run.

Of course, they kind of tricked me into the 5K. The website advertised a 2.5-miler, which, if you’re mathematically inclined, you’ll realize is almost three quarters of a mile shorter than a 5K. I “trained,” if that’s what you want to call it, by running a total of about ten times in the two months preceding last Saturday, culminating the previous Sunday with a nonstop two-miler. The morning of the run, I happened to check the website, and balked at the increased length. But it was too late to back out.

People came from all the corners of my life: My parents flew in from Boise. My grandmother took the train up from Portland. My sister (the one who ran a half marathon two weeks ago) showed up with matching purple-and-white headbands she’d crocheted the night before. There were writer friends and editor friends and my husband’s work friends and college friends and mommy friends and just plain friend friends. And they all came for me. When I said “I think I can,” they came to tell me that I could. And I did. Their presence felt, in a word, warming. And being able to run that far (with a weensy bit of walking, I’ll admit) was extremely heartening. I think it feels better to run again than it ever felt to run when I’d always been able to do it.

My sister, incidentally, also introduced me to a new verb this weekend: to be phoenixed. According to her sources, that eyeball-searing burst of roasted air you get when you open a hot oven with your face too close to it—you know how it burns almost unbearably for just a second or two, and makes your necklace hot around your collarbones?—is called a phoenix. So, grammatically, one turns one’s head to avoid being phoenixed.

It’s fantastic, isn’t it? And completely new to me. It’s the hot version of the way your nose hairs freeze when you step out in to the snow on a -20 degree day. (Why didn’t you tell me about this word?)

I think it’s the perfect way to describe the run. There was so much warmth coming my direction that I almost had to look away.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

Here’s a recipe perfect for when there’s just too much going on. They started with inspiration from Gluten Free Girl‘s recipe for Balsamic Onions, from her new book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. But the original recipe required stirring, and let’s face it, there are days when stirring seems like an awfully energetic and time-consuming activity. (Really, it’s the simplest recipe. But I needed a nap.)

My version is just onions, braised slowly in the oven with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and water—but after hours on low heat, they’re blasted in a hot oven, so all the excess liquid evaporates and they morph into sweet, tart caramelized onions that you never really had to stir or watch in any way. (I did indeed get a nap.)

Be careful, though: For that last little bit, they’re in a very hot oven. Turn your head when you open it, or you’ll get phoenixed.

IMG_3927

Vinegar-Braised Onions (PDF)

My first instinct was to call these Candied Onions, because when they emerge from the oven, they’re sticky and sweet, but the idea of putting candy on a sandwich deterred me. However, they do go with just about anything. Thus far, I’ve eaten these slow-roasted beauties with chicken, in an omelet with goat cheese, on toast, in a sandwich, and with a spoon. I can’t imagine there are many things they won’t improve.

If you have a casserole dish that looks too new, this is what you need to make in it.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 large servings, if eaten as a side dish

1 giant yellow onion, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/2” slices
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Arrange the onions in a heavy baking dish. (I found it worked well to keep the onion slices together as I cut them, then shingled the slices in the pan, keeping the individual sections of each slice together.) Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and pour the vinegar and water over the top.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, then bake for 2 hours. Remove the foil, stir the onions, and bake another hour or so. Increase the heat to 450 degrees and roast another 10 or 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are dark and sticky. Serve warm.

18 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, lupus, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian