Monday, December 31, 2012

chicken liver pâtè and pickled cherries

no doubt you've resolved to start eating better or you're about to begin some new fitness regimen for the new year. that's all well and good, and you should (although you look great now!). but maybe there's still room for pâtè in your newly virtuous life. 

even if there isn't, if you act fast you can have it this year. or it will still be there in february when you start backsliding (well, not you. other people who lack your willpower).

plus, even if pâtè isn't your thing, you should still make the pickled cherries because they are good in other stuff. like... sandwiches? on a cheese plate? even (stay with me here) over ice cream (maybe that's too much)? 

these are stupid-easy and well worth your time. i used frozen cherries, because pitting them is not fun and i didn't have time. however, i think they suffered a bit in terms of texture (they're a little soft, though still totally good), so if pitting cherries is your jam, by all means use fresh.

above are the spices used - crushed red pepper, cloves, coriander seeds, and star anise. mix these, 1/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup red wine vinegar, and 1 cup of water and bring it to a boil. let it boil for 30 seconds or so, then pour it over a pound or so of frozen cherries.

you actually should probably do this in a more heat-proof container, but the glass jar worked for me. then just refrigerate for a day or so (or at least a couple of hours). delicious! they look very pretty when you put them in a bowl with some of the star anise pods.

they are also a good match for the pâtè. somehow the unctuously rich pâtè goes extremely well with the sweet & sour juiciness of the cherries. they cut the richness a little and add some texture to the whole thing.  

if you've never made it, pâtè is probably a bit daunting. however, it's actually quite easy and cheap to make and tends to be pretty impressive as well, making it a home run for dinner parties or fancy cocktail snacks.

unfortunately the first thing you have to do is clean the livers. gross, but necessary. get all of the weird sinewy things and other stuff out of there. then heat some butter in a medium/smallish pan over medium heat until it begins browning. add chopped shallots and four sprigs of thyme and cook them for a minute or so. then add the livers and some salt, pepper, allspice, and brandy. cook everything for 7 or 8 minutes or until the livers are still just a tiny bit pink in the middle.

let things cool, take out the thyme, and blend with a little cream in a food processor until it's very smooth. if you want it to be more rustic, you can serve it as-is, but i think it's better to press the pâtè through a mesh strainer to ensure that it's smooth. it only takes a minute to do and it's much better - just use a spatula to press it through.

you can serve it immediately or (preferably) let it sit in the fridge for a little bit to let the flavors meld. it's great with crackers or little toasts or the like. adding some cornichons or other pickles to the mix is not a bad idea either.

even if your new year brings resolutions of better living, i hope there's room in there for a little bit of indulgence once in a while. moderation in everything, right?


pickled cherries:
1 pound frozen or fresh sweet cherries
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon whole cloves
5 whole star anise pods
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1/3 cup sugar (can use more - this will not be terribly sweet)
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water

5 tablespoons butter
4 sprigs of thyme
2 medium shallots
1/2 teaspoon salt
12-15 grindings black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
3/4 pound chicken livers
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 cup heavy cream

Thursday, December 13, 2012

apple-oat cake

this isn't one of those showstoppingly lovely tiered cake creations, all perfect smooth crumb-free icing looking down from an ornate pedestal. it's more along the lines of a slightly slumpy ugly duckling cake. however, it's the one that ends up getting enjoyed more in the end, with its soft, sweet apples, delicate crumb, and endearingly cheerful air of just wanting to be pals.

i made this for my good friend's bachelorette party/shower/dinner party thing. now that we are all Mature Ladies in our early 30s, a dinner and a couple of drinks and some low-key hanging out are more the general speed than cheesy veils with novelty accessories and ill-advised trips to LaBare (i should say, however, that i've never actually been to LaBare, so i'm only guessing that it would be ill-advised). 

anyway, the cake made for a sweet and wholesome end to a sweet and wholesome evening.

this looks like a lot of apples, but these little beauties are quite small. all together, there were about 2 1/2 cups, once sliced. these are little jonagolds, and were very good, but any kind(s) of decent baking apple will work. maybe your farmer's market has some?!

so peel and core them, then cut them into fairly thin slices - maybe like 1/8 of an inch or so (but it's not that big a deal - just eyeball it). then toss them with a little acid so they don't oxidize too much. i often use lemon juice, but this time substituted apple cider vinegar to great effect. i think something like balsamic would be gross (?) but champagne vinegar would be nice. or stick with lemon juice. 

i have a bunch of steel cut oats and never really get around to making oatmeal out of them. i decided to make some oat flour to use in the cake because it seemed autumnal somehow. you could, of course, use all regular flour or use whole wheat flour instead of oat or you could even buy oat flour already floured, in case you don't want to run your food processor for 10 minutes.

flour takes longer than i'd expected.

i just let it grind for a minute or so, then pulsed it a bit, then let it go back to grinding. finally the oats achieved a flour-like texture, although it was definitely still a little grainier than store-bought flour. it wasn't a problem in the cake, though. 

the good thing about using the food processor is that you can just add the other dry ingredients to it and mix them all together there, effectively breaking up any gross baking soda lumps.

i guess you should turn on the oven to preheat at 350. now's as good a time as any.

as for the wet, just whisk (or beat with a mixer) 3/4 cup oil, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons bourbon or applejack and 1 egg. you could probably use less sugar, too (i found it pretty sweet, but i like non-sweet desserts, so ?). i also want to try making it with some applesauce or maybe apple cider/juice that's been reduced and concentrated - i could have used a little more apple flavor in the final product, although everyone else thought it was plenty apple-y.

then mix in the dry ingredients, trying not to overstir. add the apple slices and fold them into the batter, trying to keep them relatively intact. 

i used an 8-inch high-sided pan that i buttered and lined with parchment paper as diagrammed in the chocolate-pear cake post. 

you can use other pans - you may have to adjust the cooking time, however. in this iteration, it took about 55 minutes, but ovens vary, etc. basically it should be done when the center is obviously set, it pulls away from the sides of the pan and the top is a rich golden-brown.

somewhere in this cooking time, it would be smart to stick a pan of pecans in to toast so that you have something nice to put on top of the cake. they just take 5 minutes or so, so don't burn them.

the cake takes a while to cool, so let it hang out on a wire rack or something. i ended up topping it with a kind of caramel-y praline-y topping that i made, but unfortunately i didn't write down what i did. and now it's been like a month and i can't remember. BUT i think that any caramel topping would be great, like this or this. or you can leave the topping off and congratulate yourself on your good health and moderation-based sweets attitude. everyone is very impressed.

once the cake's coolish, slap some caramel on there, toss the pecans about with wild abandon, and sprinkle a good pinch of nice flaky salt over everything. 

the more rarefied tastes of the highbrow food-besotted have already deemed salted caramel passé, but in fact it remains very delicious, so who cares if it's on applebee's menus now?

if you happen to have a little tiny bit left over the next morning, the apples and whole grains make a pretty convincing case for having it for breakfast. just fyi.

apple-oat cake
(quite adapted from this, which was itself adapted from a 1973 recipe in the new york times)

3/4 cup oat flour (3.25 ounces steel-cut oats = 1/2 cup)*
3/4 cup regular flour*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup oil**
1/2 cup granulated sugar***
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons bourbon or applejack
1 egg

5 small jonagold apples (~2 1/2 cups, sliced)
1 tsp apple vinegar

8" round pan
45 minutes to an hour

*i've also used all whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular + oat, and it was very good.
** you can definitely use less oil and add some applesauce to make up for it - like 1/3-1/2 cup oil + applesauce (or microplaned apple) to make 3/4 cup total
***you can also cut down on the sugar. this is how i made it initially, but now i'd probably use maybe 1/4 cup granulated sugar instead.
****a note on spices - some people like them in cakes like this (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). i am not one of those people. but i guess you could toss some in if you like gross things.

listening to: zaz! i have no idea what she's saying, and the kids in this video are a little creepy, but it's fun music to have on while you're cooking.