what to do with a pig liver

pate ingredients

I’m generally not a huge fan of liver, but when someone hands you a package of liver from one of their pigs, which you know was a happy, well-taken-care-of pig of great quality, you make sure to cook with it. I find myself hoping that if I keep trying it, I’ll eventually like it, so I decided to try my hand at pâté.

I found a recipe in my parents’ copy of The River Cottage Cookbook for a very straightforward-sounding country pâté, really just a liver-based meatloaf. We invited some liver-loving friends over to dinner, and a few days ahead of time I got out the meat grinder and put it together.

pork liver

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socca!

socca with roasted tomatoes and onions

Well! Waaaay back a couple of weeks ago I was going to tell you about our first attempt making socca, and then my blog vanished out from under me. Better late than never, so here it is: chickpea flour pancakes (socca) with caramelised onions and roasted tomatoes, adapted from the book Plenty. I have no idea why we’ve never made socca before, it’s simple and tasty and makes a great vehicle for vegetables or pizza toppings. I’ve seen recipes that have you pour the batter into a hot skillet, then put it under the broiler to give it a bit of char. I was using the oven to roast tomatoes, so I just flipped the pancakes and finished them on the stove, which worked fine.

socca batter

The batter was just chickpea flour, water and an egg. The recipe in Plenty wants you to whip the egg white, but I didn’t see any other recipe call for that and it sounded unnecessary, so I skipped it.

socca

The pancakes, being made of legumes rather than grain, are very tender and brittle, but I found that by making them fairly small (6-8 inches) they were easy to flip.

ready to roast

The tomatoes were sweet, small greenhouse tomatoes from Hedlin Farms. They were very good roasted until just a bit concentrated and scattered over the onions. We’re looking forward to putting all kinds of things on socca this summer.

a very French dinner

it was French night at supper club

It was French night at Supper Club.

salmon rillettes

herbed goat cheese tart

We started off with two different French aperitifs: Lillet Blanc and Pastis. There were salmon rillettes made by Linda, topped with pink peppercorns and served with cornichons and caperberries. Georgiann’s herbed goat cheese tart was a great success, made with Gothberg Farms chevre. If there hadn’t been so much good food to come I could have happily made a meal out of just these two dishes.

first course

Our first sit-down course was made by Jenise: a delicate vegetable terrine and a small pastry that turned out to contain a mushroom stuffed with foie gras. Good lord.

vegetable terrine

While the foie gras pastry was rich, salty and knock-your-socks-off good, the terrine was beautifully subtle as well as gorgeous to look at. One layer had pureed watercress, and another had mushroom duxelles to connect it to the pastries. Carrots and snap peas adorned the center. It was served on a light salad with a shallot dressing, I think.

crevettes a la provencale

The next course, made by Roger while we ate our terrine, was crevettes a la provencale: prawns on a bed of tomatoes and olives. A nice change of flavor from the first course, bold and rustic, it went well with the French red country wines that had been opened and led us into the main course.

untrussing the chickens

the main course

This was chicken ballotine, roasted beets, and petatou. Linda and Mike made the ballotine, boning out two whole chickens and stuffing them with bacon, spinach, croutons and gruyere, then tying and roasting them. A real showpiece of a dish, it was fun to look at as well as eat. Georgiann did the beets, which were tossed with champagne-raspberry vinegar and orange juice. And Jon made the petatou, which was a major production but well worth it.

petatoupetatou

We found the petatou recipe in Tony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook (a hilarious read as well as a great reference for classic bistro cooking) . Essentially a potato and olive salad topped with goat cheese and broiled, it made a fabulous side dish with the chicken. It was enriched with reduced cream and egg yolk, which helped bind the potatoes together for molding, but I can see that it would be wonderful simply made up to the point of adding the cream and served as a cold salad instead of the broiled timbales. This was one of the most delicious things we’ve ever done with potatoes – I’ve copied out the recipe below if you’d like to try it yourself.

carrots

Linda also made some carrots with olives, from a Jacques Pepin recipe. Like everything else on the table, it was beautiful.

dessert wine

Finally, everyone found room for a slice of my tarte tatin, which we washed down with pineau de charentes and coffee. Apparently I ate my slice without even considering taking a picture, but I did do a post on it a while back. This version was made with an extra-short buttery pie crust and Jonagold apples. There were no leftovers.

molding the petatou

Petatou

From the Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain. The recipe claims it makes four servings, but we doubled it and (using a 2″ biscuit cutter) got close to 15 servings. Depends on what you’re using for a mold and how tall you make them, I suppose. Leftovers are delightful.

  • 2 pounds red potatoes
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pound nicoise olives, drained, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 oz fresh goat cheese (chevre)

Cut the potatoes in half, place in a pot and cover with water. Add 2 Tbsp of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until tender (about 20 min), drain and cool. Remove the skins and dice the potatoes, putting them into a large bowl. Add the olives, thyme, olive oil, and the vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss gently.

Put the cream in a small pan and bring to a boil – watch out, it boils over fast! Reduce it by half, stirring to prevent scorching. In another bowl, lightly beat the egg yolk. When the cream is ready, beat it into the egg, whisking constantly. Add all but 4 Tbsp of this mixture to the potatoes.

Preheat the broiler. Using a biscuit cutter or other ring mold, form the potato mixture into cylinders and arrange them on a baking sheet. Cut the goat cheese into circles and lay a piece on each potato tower. Drizzle the remaining cream mixture over the top, and broil until golden brown. Serve with parsley oil (below).

Parsley oil (for garnish)

  • 2 Tbsp parsley leaves
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Chop the parsley quite fine, and put it in a bowl or jar with the olive oil. Stir or shake well. Spoon around or over the finished petatous before serving.

Parisienne gnocchi

dinner

What are the holidays for if not to take on elaborate cooking projects that involve plenty of butter? Exactly. This week I decided to try out a gnocchi recipe from Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s tome on bistro cooking. Instead of the more typical potato or ricotta gnocchi, this is a Parisian dumpling made from pâte à choux, the same dough that makes gougères and cream puffs. It was much easier than I expected, although we did have to walk down to the kitchen store for a pastry bag, as we didn’t appear to own one.

squash

Once the gnocchi are cooked and chilled, you could use them lots of different ways, or freeze them for later. This particular recipe combines pan-fried herbed gnocchi with squash, fresh sage and shiitake mushrooms. Keller wants you to use butternut squash, which is certainly easy to work with, but you could use any sweet squash. We had delicatas and what I think are Carnival squash, or perhaps Little Dumpling, that we bought at the farmer’s market in October – I used a delicata. They’re very mild, but I like how they do in this sort of recipe.

wine

We served our gnocchi with a simple pork chop and a very nice aged Italian wine. It was delicious and festive – I’d definitely recommend it for a holiday dinner. And since I’d made a full recipe, there were plenty of leftovers…

breakfast

…which made a very, very fine breakfast with an egg on top. Mmmmm. Buttery.

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Duckfest, day three

flavor of the moment

On the third and final day of Duckfest, we made confit, rillettes and pâté.

bagels

cinnamon rolls

When we got to the farm on Sunday morning, the table was well laden with leftover bagels, plus a few sheets of freshly made cinnamon rolls.

Kate making confitmaking confit

As we ate breakfast, Kate was beginning the process of rendering the duck fat we’d collected off the carcasses the previous day. She was careful not to get the fat too hot – just enough to melt most of it off of the solids, but not enough to crisp them up.

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Duckfest, day two

watering the ducks

On the second day, we slaughtered ducks.

Or, to be more precise, some of us slaughtered ducks, and we all plucked, butchered and ate them.

As you might expect, there are some slightly graphic photos in this post (although I left out the worst ones) so proceed at your own risk.

misty meadow

The day began cool and misty.

making bagels

fresh bagels

Friday breakfast at Duckfest

We met at the farm for strong coffee and vast quantities of freshly made bagels with homemade butter and smoked salmon. The bagels were fantastic – Neal’s wife is an amazing baker.

in our uniforms

Garbing ourselves in fetching outfits and accompanied by extremely excited farm dogs, we went out to the duck shed and listened to Neal expound on the finer points of humane slaughter.

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Duckfest 2010 (day one)

soon to be confit

Despite growing up around livestock (my family raised dairy goats, chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep and rabbits at various times), I’ve never had much to do with the process of turning a live animal into food. I’m not particularly bothered by the idea of eating animals, as long as they are raised well and killed humanely. All of our food comes from other living things, whether plant or animal. However, it’s a little different when you’ve met the animal you are going to eat, and even more so when you are present at, or responsible for, its death.

Jon and I have been buying more and more of our meat locally, and currently have pork, beef and lamb in our freezer from Skagit and Snohomish County farmers. We haven’t yet found a good source for chickens or ducks, but we’re working on it. But the more we buy whole animals straight from the farm, the more we realize how little we know about actual slaughter and butchering practices, and how to get the most from an animal. I don’t picture us raising animals for meat (not on our current property, anyway), but I really feel that knowing our meat from the ground up makes us better cooks.

Duckfest

Hence Duckfest, a workshop designed for just this sort of situation. We spent the first weekend of 2010 on Shaw Island in Puget Sound, learning to slaughter, butcher and cook ducks. The class was put on by chef and farmer Neal Foley, aka Podchef, and by chef, teacher and author Kate Hill, who graciously came out from her farm and cooking school in Gascony to demonstrate cassoulet and confit making. I love her book (sadly out of print at the moment), and I’ve been wanting to visit her school for a long time, so this was a wonderful opportunity – a taste of France just a few miles from our house!

time to start cooking

The workshop lasted three days. We ate a vast amount of amazing food and took far too many pictures, so to spare my patient readers I’ll be writing it up in three installments. Here is day one (Cassoulet):

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cassoulet 2009

cassoulet

As of last year, I decided that cassoulet would be my New Year’s Day tradition, beans being good luck and all. Cassoulet 2008 was thrown together with leftover pork roast and andouille sausage – it was very tasty, but I wanted to experiment a bit. I found a good-looking formula for cassoulet on Kate Hill’s blog, and followed the instructions loosely.

cassoulet

I was going to use duck confit this year, I swear, but the co-op sold out of the stuff, then closed early on New Year’s Eve. We made do with sausage and a small slice of uncured ham. I didn’t have any ham hocks or bacon to flavor the broth, either, so I used some of our good roasted turkey stock from Thanksgiving. The final result wasn’t particularly meaty (or fatty), but the beans had a wonderful deep flavor – they soaked up every bit of broth I gave them. I didn’t use any breadcrumbs for the top, but the crust turned out fabulous. Continue reading

a first attempt at tarte Tatin

tarte Tatin

For some unknown reason, I had never tasted tarte Tatin until recently, and it was a revelation. I like apple pie, but often find it a bit bland. Tarte Tatin is not at all bland: the apples are soaked with caramel, chewy around the edges, and the crust has a wonderful shatteringly crisp quality that I’ve never encountered in a regular fruit pie. As soon as I tasted it, I vowed that I would try making one myself.

Braeburn

The basic concept really isn’t too complicated, and there seems to be some flexibility, based on the difference between the various recipes I looked up. The foundation is a caramel sauce made with sugar and butter, the apples are laid on the caramel, and pie crust is laid on the apples before baking, then the whole thing is turned upside down before serving. I found variations involving cooking the caramel in a separate pan, then mixing it with the apples, but I went with an approach of cooking the butter, sugar and apples together in a skillet, without stirring, until the sauce caramelized with the juice from the fruit. Continue reading

Peter's squid salad

squid salad

We had a class at Gretchens with chef Peter Belknap the other night, the theme of the evening being “French Riviera.” Of course, there was cream sauce involved, and plenty of cheese and breadcrumbs as well. But one dish that I thought was particularly fun was a salad of white beans, pasta and squid with a mustardy dressing. I love squid, but I never cook it at home (my few attempts, many years ago, were rather rubbery). This was a nice presentation, and the flavors and textures worked well together. I may have to give cooking squid another try.

squid

I got to prep the squid – apparently having small fingers is an asset in this business. This was frozen, cleaned squid without the tentacles, very easy to work with.

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