Archive for December, 2011

Foie gras terrine

28 December 2011

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The first memory I have of foie gras is a conversation with my parents. We were in the car. I don’t remember whether I was 8, 10, or 12, but I think we were visiting friends in the Périgord, one of the prime foie-gras producing regions in France.

My parents were explaining foie gras: Duck or geese are force-fed excessively until their livers become abnormally large. These livers are prepared most delicately and the result is terribly delicious, a rare delicacy to be savored with due appreciation for what goes into its making.

I was appalled, and had no idea what the dish actually was. Foie gras, a French regional specialty? I pictured a sort of liver stew, and swore solemnly never to eat it. Quite honestly, forsaking liver stew forever didn’t seem like such a sacrifice. Had I known.

Later, much later, I ate foie gras, of course, and was compelled to admit that my parents were right.

Now I make foie gras terrine once a year, for Christmas eve. Have all my scruples disappeared or have I discovered many shades of grey? Am I willing to forsake anything for pleasure or have I been convinced that producing foie gras is not as barbaric as it sounds?

Just as I don’t eat meat or chicken raised industrially and buy eggs from pastured hens if I can, I always get foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras. I believe they raise happy ducks. I am sure some will disagree.

***

More than usual, the raw product is crucial here. In New York the best source of good foie gras is Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

The tricky part about preparing foie gras is deveining the lobes. I learned it from my mother, who learned it from a friend, but I found this good video online. It’s in French but the images are self-explanatory.

This recipe is very slightly adapted from one by the French chef Michel Guérard. It uses many aromatics but in very small quantities, so the taste of the foie gras is enhanced but not overpowered.

2 raw foie gras livers about 1 1/2 lbs (600 g) each

1 quart (1 liter) whole milk

16 g (2 level Tbsps) finely ground (in a mortar) fleur de sel or unrefined sea salt

3 g (1 1/2 tsps) freshly ground white pepper

1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg

1 pinch freshly ground allspice

1 tsp finely ground sugar

2 cl Madeira

2 cl dry Sherry

2 cl Armagnac

*

When cold the foie gras is quite hard, so in order to devein it it needs to soften a little. Pour the cold milk and about half as much hot water in a large bowl (the liquid should be warm). Put in the raw foie gras and let it soften for about an hour.

Remove the livers from the milk, place them on a large board, and, working carefully with the blunt side of a sharp knife, remove the veins from the liver. To do this, start at the big knot of veins and carefully follow the veins, removing as much as possible to avoid any blood stains in the liver.

Place the deveined livers in a shallow dish and sprinkle with the spices and alcohol. Let marinate for a few minutes or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator (I have done it both ways and would be hard pressed to say definitively which is better. I’d make it depend on what is more convenient, logistically).

Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C) and place a large shallow pan filled with 1  inch (2.5 cm) of water at 150°F (70°C).

Place the livers in the terrine, and the terrine (without the lid) in the pan of water. Cook for 40 minutes, checking regularly that the water stays at 150°F (70°C) the whole time.

Once cooked, the liquid fat should have risen over the livers and cover them by about 1/2 inch (1 cm).

Close the terrine and let it cool at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours, then transfer to the refrigerator.

Foie gras must be made at least 24 hours in advance, is best after 3 to 4 days, and will keep for about 8 days.

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Related posts

Chicken liver terrine

Christmas cookies | Swiss Aniseed Chräbeli

21 December 2011

While I don’t shy away from de-veining a foie gras or beating the heavy dough of the yearly Stollen for 10 solid minutes, the idea of forming sticky wet dough into dozens of tiny elaborately shaped cookies never particularly appealed to me. I used to find cookies too fiddly.

But time passes, I change, and how else to have lots of homemade cookies at Christmas time? So last year I embraced cookies, and I must admit I’m enjoying making them — a lot.

There is a strong Christmas cookie making tradition in Germany, where my grandmother came from, and Switzerland, where my grandparents lived and where we spent every Christmas until I was 9. So the cookies I crave at Christmas are Lebkuchen and Zimtsterne, Linzer and Chräbeli.

Chräbeli are scented with anis. They have a very specific shape that reminds me of a branch, though the Swiss refer to them as ‘feet.’

***

Makes about 40 cookies. Translated and very slightly adapted from La Mia Cucina, with thanks to Jennifer for pointing me in its direction.

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups (200 g) powdered sugar

2.5 flat Tbsps anis seeds

1 tsp Kirsch

1/4 lemon zest

1 pinch salt

2 cups (250 g) flour

***

With a whisk, beat the eggs and powdered sugar for a good 10 minutes.

Optionally, heat a small pan, remove from heat, and add the anis seeds just to warm them up.

Combine the anis seeds, Kirsch, and lemon zest with the egg/sugar mixture.

Add the flour little by little. Once all the flour has disappeared, cover the bowl and let rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour. **The dough must be sticky but not runny. If it doesn’t hold together in a loosely shaped ball in the bowl, add just enough flour before setting to rest.**

Prepare a cookie sheet with buttered parchment paper.

Divide the still slightly sticky dough into 2 parts, and form into a thick roll; divide each of these into 4 pieces, and roll each piece into an even, long stick about 1/2 inch (1 cm) in diameter. Form each of the four sticks into 4 cookies and place them onto the buttered parchment paper. To form the cookies: cut the stick into 4 pieces 1 3/4 in (4 cm) long, then with a clean, sharp knife, cut 3 angled incisions halfway into the cookie to form the ‘branches’ (or ‘feet’), then bend into a half-moon shape.

Let the cookies rest for 10 hours in a cool place with an even temperature and no draft.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).

Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until the top is slightly hard to the touch, but not yet turning brown. **Do not open the oven for the first 10 minutes.**

Store the cookies in a tin in a cool place for up to a few weeks.

*

Related posts

Stollen

Christmas cookies | Almond and currant (Corinth raisin) cookies

Parsnip and butternut squash soup with sage

14 December 2011

It’s about how easy it is to make soup, or rather — and I may be the one here most surprised at reading this — how easy it is to make soup with broth, when no broth is around.

I’ve mentioned before how I like soups that don’t require the use of broth, and I have already surreptitiously written about at least four soups that don’t require any broth because — at the risk of repeating myself — I’d rather not use store-bought broth if I can help it, and chicken broth doesn’t usually last long in this house. But somehow I had disregarded vegetable broth.

This soup has taught me that I can make great vegetable broth at a moment’s notice, pretty much simultaneously to making the soup.

All the broth requires is a few vegetables roughly chopped into chunks, thrown into a large pot, and generously covered with water. This takes no time at all. Then as the broth simmers away happily on its own, there is plenty of time to to pour a glass of wine, peel and chop the vegetables destined for the soup, and sweat them in some oil for a little while. By the time the broth needs to be poured in, it is ready.

***

The broth

The vegetables and quantities below are indications. I used rutabaga for the first time in this broth and loved the depth of flavor, but it’s by no need obligatory.

4 celery ribs

2 medium carrots

2 medium onions

1 medium rutabaga

Olive oil

Few sprigs parsley

2 bay leaves

3 quarts (3 liters) water

Trim the celery stalks and wash off the dirt; trim and wash the carrots. Cut the vegetables roughly into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces. Wash and trim the rutabaga and cut into pieces approximately the same size. Peel the onions and cut each half in three.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil, add the vegetables, and cook over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the parsley and bay leaves, cover with 3 quarts (3 liters) water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes, skimming off the foam as it rises.

Drain the broth through a fine mesh sieve before using.

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The soup

The soup should be very creamy, though it contains no cream (in fact it’s vegan unless using crème fraîche as garnish). The key is to blend it thoroughly (a good 4 to 5 minutes) until it becomes perfectly smooth and velvety.

It is liberally adapted from the pumpkin, butternut squash, and parsnip soup in The New Low-Country Cooking by Marvin Woods.

2 medium onions

2 carrots

3 leeks

6 parsnips

1/2 butternut squash

Olive oil

2 quarts (2 liters) vegetable broth (recipe above)

Small handful fresh sage leaves

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

Crème fraîche, pumpkin seed oil, and more sage leaves to garnish (either one of these or all three – optional)

*

Peel, wash, and coarsely chop the onions, carrots, leeks, parsnips, and the butternut squash.

In a large soup pot, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot. Add the onions and cook until they softens, stirring occasionally – about 10 minutes. Then add the leeks and the carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes longer. Add the parsnips for another 5 minutes, then the butternut squash.

Add enough hot vegetable broth to cover the vegetables by a good inch. Once the soup simmers, cook for about 30 to 40 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.

Finely chop the sage leaves.

In batches, scoop the vegetables and most of the broth as well as the sage into a food processor or blender (fill it up to only about 2/3 and hold the lid down tightly, or the steam released will make it pop up). **Do not pour in all the broth with the vegetables, keep some to adjust the consistency of the soup once everything is blended.**

Season with salt, pepper, and a little freshly grated nutmeg.

Serve garnished with crème fraîche and pumpkin seed oil, and a few sage leaves fried for 1 or 2 minutes in a little olive oil.

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Related posts

Pumpkin leek soup

Cream of cauliflower soup with salmon roe

Happy New Year (Lentil soup with cumin)

The many dessert of Thanksgiving (Best award-winning pumpkin pie)

The many desserts of Thanksgiving (Best award-winning pumpkin pie)

2 December 2011

I’ve come to realize that I am not a person of habit, I seem incapable of a routine (though I have tried). I am, however, stubborn about traditions.

Every year, on December 1st, I hang an advent calendar over the fireplace for my children — twenty-four hand-sewn little bags filled with chocolates and small toys; it’s just the beginning of the Christmas celebration. On the eve of December 6th, I lay out cookies and milk, salt and a carrot for St Nicholas and his donkey; on the 24th, we feast on foie gras and unwrap presents while nibbling cookies and clementines. In February, I make crêpes for La Chandeleur. In spring, I dye eggs for Easter. I cherish these rituals; they shaped my childhood and I wish to perpetuate these memories. And of course, traditions are always good excuse for a party.

And so every year, on the fourth Thursday in November, we invite friends for Thanksgiving, and there is turkey and cranberry sauce.

This year we were twelve adults and at least as many children, seated around a single long table. I made the same meal as last year, with a different soup to start. And, like last year, each guest brought a dessert. In the past, the timid offering of one pumpkin pie, one pecan pie, and perhaps an apple crumble were usually picked at somewhat wearily, but pulling out a huge spread of desserts (after a small digestive pause) has the unfailing ability to revive the party.

My deepest thanks to everyone for the apple pie, the pecan pies, Mamyvonne’s chocolate cake, tiramisus, profiteroles, pavlovas and more sweet bites, as well as Thomas’s (as he won’t tire of telling anyone willing to listen) “award-winning” pumpkin pie (the award in question being a company bake off — but still).

It was a merry dinner, which, rekindled by an unreasonable amount of desserts, extended with dancing late into the evening.

Two days after Thanksgiving we drove out to Montauk for the day. It brought back memories of another Thanksgiving trip to the beach, some ten years ago. Back then there was leftover pumpkin pie eaten from the hood of the car in a deserted gas station on the way to Cape Cod; an unusual bed and breakfast in Provincetown, memorable in unexpected ways; long walks on the deep yellow sand where seals lolled in the low November sunlight; silly shortcuts through the icy water and tears of pain from thawing feet; two days of glorious weather and the drive back to New York in the pouring rain.

This year in Montauk, the children found smooth stones and carried huge glistening rocks for hours. A fisherman teetered on a rock swept over by rippling waves. We followed a path through the thorny brush that withered away into damp reeds. It was so warm we might have jumped into the sea.

Different years, new friends, interwoven memories.

***

Best Award-winning Pumpkin Pie

The story behind this overemphatically named pumpkin pie goes like this: my mother used to make it for Thanksgiving. When she handed me the recipe, she titled it “Best Pumpkin Pie,” and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Some years ago the pumpkin pie became Thomas’ Thanksgiving prerogative. One year he entered it in his company’s bake-off and won first prize — unanimously, he claimed. It is the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted. It isn’t cloyingly sweet or overspiced. It has a clear crisp lemony taste that is completely delicious.

1 unbaked sweet pie crust

A little over 1 lb (500 g) of dense, flavorful pumpkin or squash such as hubbard, kabocha, butternut or a mixture of two different kinds, which must yield a little under 1 lb (425 g) of pumpkin purée

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 heap tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 ground cloves

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Juice and rind of 1 lemon

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

***

Prepare the pie crust, roll it out into the pan, and keep it in the refrigerator while making the batter.

To make the pumpkin purée: remove the skin and seeds from the pumpkin (or squash), cut the flesh into large wedges, and steam for about 20 minutes until soft. Blend or press through a food mill to obtain a thick, smooth purée.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Combine the eggs, sugar, salt, spices, lemon zest and juice and beat well. Stir in the pumpkin purée. Add the cream and beat well.

Pour the batter into the pie crust and slip into the hot oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F (175°C) and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. The pie is ready when a knife inserted in its center comes out clean.

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Related recipes

Thanksgiving (Cranberry sauce)

Pumpkin leek soup

Quince and apple tarte


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