Sunday, October 28, 2007

Love and Liver

Today I am going to invite you into my kitchen for a cup of tea or kombucha, or whatever your pleasure . . . I just don't have any soda on hand, having not made any in a while--more on that another day. By the way, that photo at the top of the page is from my kitchen: local mangos, much used mortar and pestle handed down from my dad and all. Anyway, I wanted to talk about my recent workshop, and to give you a recipe for pate that all of the participants requested. I have been meaning to do this for a while but life intervened (my son's first regatta, which will give rise to a post about eating while we travel--but here I am distracting myself . . .)

For the workshop, I wanted a lunch that would demonstrate some of the principles of traditional diets I would be discussing during the day. I also wanted a sort of seasonal meal that would not be difficult to prepare. We ended up with an Autumn soup, crackers, chicken liver pate and a salad. We also had a variety of saurkrauts and kimchi that I had brought to show the final result of some ferments, as our hands-on project that day was sauerkraut making.

So now, do as my sweetheart does when I am cooking, pull up a chair to the doorway of my small kitchen while we talk and I start cooking.

A soaked grain cracker: Two or three days before I need crackers, I soak grain flour (in this case it was rice and cornmeal) with whey and water to cover. After 24 hours, I add eggs, coconut oil, baking soda to get a sort of cornbread batter, which I bake in a 9 x 12 pan. No, I can't tell you exactly how much of anything--that's not the recipe I promised you! (If pressed by my loyal readers, I will come up with one later . . .) When the bread is done baking, usually in 40-60 minutes, I let it cool, then slice it thinly into cracker-sized pieces which I arrange on sheet pans and place in a warm oven (about 150-200 degrees, depending on whether I can watch them). The simplest timing is to let them stay in the warm oven (lowest temp) overnight. That's it. Kind of like biscotti, they take a while, but each step that involves actual labor is short and easy. The longest step is the slicing--no big deal, really, just go slowly. I save all of the crumbs (there are always lots in gluten-free baking) in a bag in the freezer--very handy for whatever uses breadcrumbs. I also do a quicker version with coconut flour and some nutmeal instead of the soaked grain.

A basic soup (incorporating bone broth): I make all simple soups with the same general structure--saute veggies starting with onions, add softer veg, add broth, simmer. Puree, if desired. Season and accent with herbs or yoghurt, etc. This is great for leftovers and even quick stews. So the Autumn soup goes something like this: Saute onion and garlic. Add some quartered and cored apples (no need to peel). Add some winter squash chunks or even precooked (I used some pumpkin-like squash that had been baked with the bread--cut in half, seed, place face down on a sheet pan with a bit of water and bake til you can poke it with a fork easily. Then just scoop out the flesh. This is great as a side dish with lots of good grass-fed butter.) Add some broth--chicken usually, but experiment! If I have some leftover white wine, that might go in. I like to throw in some thyme if it's around. I sometimes add curry spices, like garam masala or whatever I am in the mood for. This simmers for a few minutes--until the veggies are tender, or longer if I am tied up with another project. I puree with a stick/immersion blender--a tool I find invaluable for soups. Then I add salt and pepper or whatever is missing. How do I know? I taste! Over and over. It drives one of my kids nuts that I do that, but you really can't cook well without tasting. Period. You learn over time what you like, what's missing, what would help round out the flavors. Sometimes it's a bit of lemon juice or a dribble of honey. Sometimes it's a bit of tamari or miso, or even fish sauce, each of which adds something very different from salt alone. Sometimes I can't tell, and I go looking for tasters, asking opinions (which I generally take, but I reserve the right to make the final decision). Really, recipes are just a skeleton, a framework on which to build a dish. The process might appear so loose, but it's really just flexible--if you lack an ingredient, find a substitute or leave it out. Play with your food!

My basic green salad (Live enzymes and micronutrients galore): Cut or tear the washed greens into a nice salad bowl. Add any vegetables and/or fruits. Add any cheese and/or crispy nuts or seeds. I almost always add chopped garlic. The simplest dressing I make is to drizzle everything with olive oil, add a squirt of flax oil (to add omega 3's and a nutty flavor), add the juice of a lime or lemon and a big pinch of good sea salt. Toss the whole thing well and serve. I did this whole process in five minutes at the workshop, at our worktable so everyone could watch. Sometimes I make a simplified version of Sally Fallon's Creamy Dressing (from Nourishing Traditions): in a small jar I put olive oil and wine vinegar, mustard if I think of it, salt and a bit of cream (raw and/or cultured if I have it). Shake. Herbs are nice, so's pepper if you feel like it. Add crumbled blue cheese for, you know, Blue Cheese Dressing.

The pate (about as nutrient dense and full of good fat as it gets): First off, this may be the simplest thing you ever make that ends up being so elegant. It's pretty cheap too. It can be frozen in small containers--double wrap and defrost in the fridge. Oh, and it's full of the good stuff: minerals, vitamins, fat-soluble activators. And taste--even liver haters have been known to eat this. It may rank next to bacon as the gateway meat. So try a batch! Stop throwing out those livers that come with the great pastured chickens you are buying; save them up for this pate . . . Full honors for this recipe go to a wonderful and quite traditionally focused book, Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pepin, which teaches how to cook basic French family fare--the foods Pepin's mother used to make.

Chicken Liver Pate a la Jacques Pepin (with a few notes of my own)
1 pound chicken livers (preferably pastured and/or organic)
2/3 cup sliced onions
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves, crushed
1/4 tsp. thyme leaves
1 cup water
2 tsp good sea salt
1 1/2 cups (3/4 lb) butter, softened (preferable organic, grassfed and/or raw)
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Cognac or Scotch (optional, but it does add something that takes this beyond my grandma's chopped liver)

Put the livers, onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, water and one tsp. of salt in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover and cook at a bare simmer for 7-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for five minutes. Place the solids in the food processor with a metal blade (I have done this in a blender, but it's a bit trickier--you have stir it often until there is enough puree at the bottom, and maybe add some of the butter earlier to help the liquifying). As you process, you add the butter piece by piece, letting each incorporate. If the mass looks like it is breaking (like when mayonnaise breaks--it looks curdled), chill for about an hour before finishing. Add the rest of the salt (taste first, add what you need, keeping in mind that once it chills it will taste less salty), the pepper and the Cognac. Process until creamy and totally smooth. Pour into a mold or individual ramekins. This can be decorated with bits of vegetable matter (tomato skin, blanched scallions) and sealed with an aspic, but that part is maybe more trouble than it's worth for everyday. If you want to know how to do that, get the book (or email me).

In the spirit of never letting anything go to waste (that traditional or hunter-gatherer value) I often take the poaching broth and add some chopped greens and bits of whatever veg is on hand, maybe poach an egg in it and call it soup. A nice filling lunch for the cook!

At the end of the workshop one lovely woman came up to me and confided that the most important thing she had learned was that we must share food, eating together with others, and that we put love into the food--that is ultimately what makes it nourishing. And I thought I was just teaching them how to choose and cook healthy food.

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