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.
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.
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
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.