January 29, 2013

Liver is Sexy

I remember Twitter chatter a couple years ago between some local chefs about Valentine’s dinner menus.  One person asked why lobster seems to be the go-to for Valentine’s Day dinner.  Someone else replied that it was because being in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day is like being boiled alive.

I’ve also never understood the fascination with eating lobster on Valentine’s day.  Sure, it’s an expensive ingredient, but lobster is fairly brutal to prepare (it does involve murder after all) and a little messy to eat whole (if you steam them, there’s a lot of water that leaks out when you break them apart at the table).

Besides, I’ve never considered going out to eat much of a “sexy” activity.  It’s much more erotic to cook a meal for your lover at home (see my tips for preparing the perfect dinner).

My idea of sexy food is probably much different from most people’s.  Strawberries with whipped cream is out; dark chocolate tart is in. Red wine is out; a ginger-laced cocktail is in.  Seafood of all types is out; bone marrow is in (the innermost part of a body, eating bone marrow is like eating an animal’s soul).

After reading Julie Powell’s Cleaving, I discovered the sexiness of liver.  Yes, that’s right…LIVER.  Don’t believe me?  Read the beginning of Powell’s book and judge for yourself:

February 13, 2008

This is really not what it looks like.

The work is most often a delicate thing, and bloodless. In the year and more I’ve been doing this, I’ve gone whole days with no more evidence of my labors by evening than a small bit of gore on my shoes or a sheen of translucent fat on my hands and face (It’s excellent for the skin, I’m told.) So this is unusual, this syrupy drip, my arms drenched up to the elbows, my apron smeared thickly with crimson going quickly to brown.

I reach down into the plastic-lined cardboard box one more time, coming up with an organ weighing probably fifteen pounds, dense and slippery dead weight, a soaked blood sponge. I slap it onto the cutting table with a sound like a fish flopping down on the deck of a boat; the risk of dropping it on the floor is not inconsiderable. The box is a deep one, and one of the times I reached to the bottom of it my face brushed up against the bloody lining. Now I can feel a streak of the stuff drying stickily across my cheekbone. I don’t bother to wipe it off. On what clean surface would I wipe it, after all? Besides, it makes me feel rather rakish.

I take my scimitar from the metal scabbard hanging from a chain around my waist. For most work I use my boning knife, an altogether more delicate thing, six inches long, slightly curved, with a dark rosewood hilt worn to satin smoothness by all the fat and lanolin that has been massaged into it. That little knife cracks open a haunch joint or breaks down muscle groups into their component parts like nothing else. But with this heavy, foot-long blade I can, while pressing firmly down on the flesh with my right palm, slice straight through the liver in one dragging stroke. Thin, even slices. With the boning knife I’d have to saw away to get through that bulk of organ meat, making for torn, jagged edges. And you wouldn’t want that. You want the blade to slip easily through. Smooth. Final.

More than a year ago, when I first told my husband Eric that I wanted to do this, he didn’t understand. “Butchery?” he asked, an expression of mystification, perhaps even discomfort, screwing up his face.

His suspicion hurt me – there was a time, just a few years before, when there was no trace of it in his heart. I knew I deserved it. But it was just so strange to have to try to explain; strange to have to explain anything to Eric at all. I’d known him by then sixteen years, almost literally half my life. I knew him when he was a beautiful, shy, blue-eyed teenager in baggy shorts, a stretched-out sweater and worn Birkenstocks, with a dog-eared paperback jutting out of one rear pocket. And almost at the beginning I picked him out, decided he was the one I needed. It took most of a school year to snatch him up from out of the swarm of pretty girls that seemed always to be circling – he so oblivious, he so sweet and gentle – but I managed it. God, I was invincible when I was eighteen. When it came down to it, I pretty much got whatever I went after. Want, Take, Have, that was my simple motto. And I was right – to take him, I mean. From the beginning we were interlocking puzzle pieces. From the beginning we nestled into the notion that our two lives were to be irrevocably woven into one.

I now slice off eight pretty burgundy flaps of liver. The cut organ releases a metallic tang into the air, and yet more blood onto the table. Changing out knives now, I delicately excise the tight pale ducts that weave through the slices. Perfectly cooked liver should be crisp on the outside with a custardy-smooth center. Nothing tough or chewy should get in the way of that sensual quintessence. Six of these slices are for the gleaming glass and steel case at the front of the shop; the last two I set aside, to wrap up and take home after work for a Valentine’s Day dinner tomorrow. Once, I thought the holiday merited boxes of chocolate and glittery cards, but in these last few, eye-opening years, amid the butchery and wrenches of the heart, I’ve realized life has gotten too complicated for such sweet and meaningless nothings; I’ve even learned I’m okay with that.

January 24, 2013

Clementine Bars

What do you do when you have a bowl full of sad-looking clementines going mushy on the counter? 
Make dessert. Duh.

Clementine Bars
recipe from Felt & Honey 

For the crust:

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
pinch of kosher salt

For the filling:

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons flour
5 tablespoons clementine juice
zest of 2 clementines
2 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
Powdered sugar, for dusting

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • To make the crust: cream the butter & sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the bottom & slightly up the sides of a 13x4-inch rectangular removable bottom tart pan (or an 8-inch square baking dish). Chill.
  • Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack while you mix the filling.
  • In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, baking powder, & flour. Whisk in the clementine juice, zest, & eggs and blend well. Pour the mixture over the baked crust & bake again until set, about 20-25 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes clean. Let cool on a wire rack.
  • When cool, lightly dust with powdered sugar & cut into bars.

January 16, 2013

Homemade Ramen Noodles

One of the perks of working at a cooking school is being able to audit classes. Last night, I took a class with Chef Brendan Noonan to learn how to make a traditional bowl of ramen from scratch.


At first, I thought that making ramen from scratch was just too time-consuming to do at home. But now I realize that it's not really all that difficult, and many elements (like the tare, broth, and meats) can be made in advanced. I think this would be a fun thing to make on a weekend when friends are coming over for dinner.

My ramen started with raw shiitake mushrooms & green onions, sliced and placed into the bottom of a large, wide serving bowl. I added chopped Asian greens (like bok choy), chunks of orange-braised pork belly, a roasted duck wing, an egg (Usually poached, but I added it raw. Next time, I'll either poach or just add the yolk, as the white never cooked and remained kind of snotty in the bowl. Eww.), and a couple tablespoons of tare seasoning.

The tare is made by roasting 1 pound of "bones from any tasty critter" until caramelized. Remove the bones and deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of sake, then add 1/2 cup of mirin (a sweet cooking rice seasoning), and 1 cup of soy sauce. Simmer on low for 1 1/2 hours, strain & chill.

Once the noodles were cooked (recipe for homemade ramen noodles is below), I added them to the bowl then ladled in some homemade broth.

To make the broth, bring 5 quarts of water to a simmer. Turn off the heat and add 2 ounces of kombu (edible kelp) that's been rinsed. Let steep for 1 hour, then remove the kombu. Add 5 pounds of meat & bones (we used chicken backs, but you can use anything) and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and skim the white, frothy "scum" that comes to the top of the pot. Add the shiitakes & green onions and simmer very slowly for 5 hours. Strain.

And then I slurped to my heart's content.

Alkaline Ramen Noodles

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sodium carbonate *
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup cold water

* To make sodium carbonate, spread baking soda on a sheet pan and cook in the oven at 250 degrees for 1 hour.
  • In a medium bowl, dissolve the sodium carbonate in the warm water, then add the cold water. Add the flour and mix with a spoon to a crumbly dough. 
  • Turn onto a work surface and knead for a full 5 minutes. This dough is tough & the kneading with be strenuous, but keep with it for the full time.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic and rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  • Knead the dough for another full 5 minutes. 
  • Wrap the dough again and refrigerate for at least an hour (but not more than 2 days). 
  • Let the dough come to room temperature before rolling. Cut into smaller pieces and use a pasta roller to roll out the dough, passing it through the widest setting twice & each narrower setting once. Keep the noodles well-floured so that they don't stick. 
  • Cut the dough to the desired thickness (we used the spaghetti cutter on the pasta roller). 
  • Cook for 2 minutes in salted, boiling water. Serve immediately.

January 12, 2013

Sour Citrus & Feta Bruschetta

Well, now that the Christmas season is over, it is officially "time to get ready for Valentine's Day."

I hate Valentine's Day.

In fact, for the past couple years I've thrown an Anti-Valentine dinner party where we eat unromantic dishes...garlicky, oniony, spicy, sour, bitter, salty, messy, & stinky foods. My favorite appetizer to put out is a big hunk of blue cheese with a "Love Stinks" sign. Anything with a face still attached is always welcome.

The first year I made Angry Lobster, and my guests had to murder their own crustacean. Last year, I made Pasta Puttanesca, a pungent sauce with anchovies, olives, and capers...for the whores.

This year, my theme is "Let's Fork!" I am asking guests to bring an appropriately un-love-ly appetizer to share. I'm thinking of making pissaladiere and chicken liver pate. But, I have so many other ideas...red foods (like beet pasta) and black foods (like crostini with spicy homemade ricotta & black lentils) are on the top of my list.

Here are some other ideas for the perfect "Anti" dinner:


Sour Citrus & Feta Bruschetta

1 firm pink grapefruit
1 firm clementine
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon minced tarragon
1/2-inch-thick baguette slices, toasted
  • Remove the peel and white pith from the clementine. Working over a skillet, cut between the membranes to release the sections. Cut the grapefruit in half & cut out the sections as well.  Squeeze the juice from both fruits into the skillet. 
  • Add the shallot, vinegar and mustard seeds. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until most of the juice has evaporated and the fruit has started to break down, 2 minutes.
  • Let the relish cool to room temperature, then stir in the tarragon and season with salt. Spread the relish over the toasted bread.

January 6, 2013

Quick & Easy French Baguettes

Browsing around on Foodgawker last week, I came across a recipe for "Quick and easy French bread, or the best thing ever." Since I do think that French bread is the best thing ever, I decided to give it a try (with a few small modifications)...my first attempt at baguettes. Just as the title states, the recipe is pretty dang easy; I had hot, crispy baguettes in just over an hour from start to finish.

This dough is simply mixed by hand and rises quickly. Two tools that I suggest are a non-stick, perforated baguette pan (for pretty, crispy loaves) and a Danish dough whisk (easier than a wooden spoon but won't get all gummed up with dough like a regular whisk).

Baking bread makes me so very happy...giddy, in fact. It was one of those "Look what I made!" moments. I just want to cuddle with these precious little loaves. Is that weird?

French Baguettes

makes 2 loaves

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast (2 packages) *
3 cups all-purpose flour

*NOTE: Make sure to use "Rapid Rise" or instant yeast. If you use regular "Active Dry" yeast, your bread will be slighly doughy inside.
  • Mix the water, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top & let sit 5 minutes. Stir.
  • Stir in 1 cup flour with a dough whisk or a wooden spoon, then mix in one cup more at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.  
  • Turn dough onto a well-floured surface (I like using a silicone pastry mat).  Coat hands (and the dough, if needed) with more flour to prevent any sticking & shape the dough into a log. Cut in half and gently roll each piece to form longer loaf shapes. 
  • Lay each loaf onto a non-stick baguette pan or a sheet pan lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. 
Pre-baked & unrisen: The dough is kind of craggily; don't be alarmed.
  • Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Spray the loaves with warm water (to create a crispy crust) & sprinkle with a tiny bit of kosher salt. 
  • Bake 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven & transfer the loaves to a cooling rack.

January 5, 2013

Top Ten Posts of 2012

My friend & fellow food blogger Kim recently posted her "Best of 2012" featuring her most popular posts of the year...which prompted me to look at my top ten posts. While most of them were ones that I chose as my favorites of last year, there were a few surprises.

Zombirella's Frankencake

And the most popular post of 2012, with nearly 13,000 views, was...