Monthly Archives: December 2007

Giblet Pasta Sauce: It’s Offally Good!

Okay, okay, I’ll lay off the puns. But first let me tell you the story of my quest to like offal.

I have always wanted to like offal. When traveling, it’s awful to be the Picky American. The French guy I dated was so proud to proclaim “Elle mange tout,” to all his family and friends. I was safe with him as he didn’t like offal either, but I always felt like he was lying. I don’t eat everything. Well, okay, I never met a vegetable I didn’t like.  I grew up on the bounty of the ocean, devouring the cheeks, eyes, and brains of whole fish.  But the organs of land-dwellers have always been my downfall.

My mother hates offal, and thanks to her feelings about force-feeding children, she never made us liver, heart, kidneys, or tripe.  I have had liver in a fiery curry in Sri Lanka, and tripe as a part of the dim sum menu at Chinese restaurants, and I have to say, I hated both. The liver had a dirty taste that even the curry couldn’t cover, and the tripe….there just are no words for how much I hate tripe.
However, I have always held the belief that picky eaters have been too long rewarded for dysfunctional behavior.  If a child can be taught to like well-prepared brussels sprouts, then surely I could learn to like offal.  It was just a matter of choosing recipes carefully and cooking offal in tiny increments.

I chose this recipe for poultry gizzard and heart because it requires mincing the offal into tiny pieces, which would become indistinguishable once cooked with the chopped portobello mushroom in the sauce. Still, my courage nearly failed me at the meat counter. As the attendant explained that gizzard is the muscle covering the stomach of the chicken, I silently wondered if it would be in poor taste to foist the leftover sauce on Kassie and CJ if I didn’t like it.

I needn’t have worried. Although chopping the gizzards  requires strong nerves and a very sharp knife, the reward is a full-flavored, rich sauce.  Hearty and almost beefy in taste, this sauce demands a full bodied red wine.  Leave lots of time, as the heart and gizzard, the toughest muscles in the chicken’s body need a long, slow simmer to tenderize. Make in large batches as the sauce gets better with age.

Now I only have to get my mother to try it.

Giblet Pasta Sauce

8 oz chicken gizzards and hearts (you may use the giblets of other poultry as well)
1/2 c olive oil
1 1/2 c chopped portobello mushrooms
3/4 c chopped carrots
3/4 c chopped celery
3/4 c chopped yellow onion
1 oz pancetta, minced
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 c chopped canned tomatoes
1 bay leaf
pinch dried chili flakes
1/2 c. full bodied red wine
small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Heat olive oil in large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add gizzards and hearts and cook until they brown lightly. Add mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, and pancetta. Add 1/2 tsp salt. Let sizzle stirring occasionally, then add garlic and stir again. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes, bay leaf, chili and red wine. Bring to boil, then lower to the barest simmer. Partially cover, and let cook until giblets are tender about an hour and a half. Check occasionally to make sure that the sauce isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add tiny amounts of water as needed.

Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sauce may require a pinch of sugar or a teaspoon of tomato paste.

Serve with pasta and a grating of parmesan.

Source: Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

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Holiday Pâté

This Christmas, for the very first time in my life, I am hosting my family for Christmas. My parents arrived about a week ago, followed soon after by my sister. I thought the long-awaited end of the semester would provide ample opportunity to post recipe and after recipe here, but it turns out, the opposite is the case. Even with my parents taking it upon themselves to shovel snow and feed my cats at 7:30 every morning, organizing a household is hard work. Since they arrived, I have made a nourishing Moroccan harira, a fiery Malaysian panang curry, various pastas, and light-as-air chocolate crisp cookies. The problem is that I’ve photographed none of it. I had good intentions, but the idea of clearing a space in the mess (my family’s arrival coincided with an explosion of stuff that covers every surface in the house) and finding my camera right before dinner just seemed like so much trouble after a whole evening of cooking.

Luckily, right before they arrived, I made this pâté for a potluck. At some other time, I will tell you about my quest to learn to like offal. Suffice to say, I have succeeded with this pate. One pound of liver from free range chickens (at a cost of a whopping $2.00) made enough pate for the potluck, for a casual dinner the next night, and pre-dinner munchies for my family for the past week. Sexy, silky, and lightly spiked with cognac, this pâté will be welcomed at any New Year’s Eve party. Make it at least three or four days early, as the liver flavor mellows with time. But be careful not to make it too early, as the pâté may be too tempting for your loved ones to resist.

Pâté de Foie de Volaille

8 oz chicken, goose, or duck liver
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 tsp cognac
salt and pepper, to taste

Place livers in saucepan with 1/2 c. water, one of the shallots, half of the clove of garlic, and the herbs. Bring to a boil, then cover, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until the center of the livers are the barely pink.

Saute the remaining shallot and garlic in 2 tbsp of the butter until golden. When liver mixture has cooled, drain water, and process with in food processor until finely ground. Add butter, two tablespoons at a time until smooth and well blended. Add sauteed shallots, garlic, and cognac. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chill for three to four days. Serve with cornichons and toasted pieces of baguette.

Source: Jacques Pepin’s Pâté

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Curl up with a Cup of Chai

Ah, winter. The magic hush of the first snowfall. Snowflakes blowing across new fallen snow like powdered sugar across a freshly frosted cake. The refreshing -15 degree wind that greets me like a lover’s kiss on the front doorstep every morning as I leave the house. The sun zooming across the sky, racing to the horizon by 4:30. The long nights.

BWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You didn’t fall for that, did you? I hate winter. I hate shoveling, frozen finger tips, frozen toes, the dirty slush that pools on the floor of the bus. I hate having to keep my mouth shut when the winter-loving Minnesotans get excited about the first snow-fall, or when my colleague chirps, “Cold enough for ya?” at me first thing in the morning. If I could hibernate and miss the whole damn season, I would.

Unfortunately, it seems my lot in life to go farther and farther north each time I move. As if the long New England winters weren’t bad enough, I’ve now moved to a place famous for harsh, long winters.

I was doing okay until the first snowfall. But then I realized that unlike in Boston, where the snow melts between snow falls, the snow on the ground is here to stay for five long months.

My general grumpiness about the weather was much relieved by a discovery last week on Rambling Spoon: Freshly brewed chai. Because I’m one of those lactose-intolerant people who never seems to have Lactaid on hand (especially when traveling) I never had chai in India. Chai in western coffee shops tends to be over-spiced and sickeningly sweet, especially when prepared with soy milk. But Karen’s description of chai on the streets of Calcutta, brewed simply with ample fresh ginger and a subtle kiss of cardamom had me. Where had this chai been all my life?

Real chai is the perfect thing for Minnesota winters. It’s almost worth the long, dark walk from the bus stop through the frozen landscape just to come home and put a pot of chai on the stove. Simmering the spices over the stove fills the house with the warm scent of ginger, which makes me feel like my mom is preparing a cup of ginger tea. Ginger and cardamom are both warming herbs in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines, and somehow, chai prepared this way tastes much hotter than the actual temperature of the liquid. It’s like taking the warmth of the tropics into my body. The ginger and cardamom blast the cold right out of my fingers and toes, warming me up for the rest of the evening.

So if winter has you down, I prescribe the following remedy: Smash up some ginger, crack open a pod of cardamom, and put a pot of chai on the boil. Curl up with the latest issue of the New Yorker and your snuggly-est cat. And try to enjoy the moment, because it’s going to be a long, long winter.

Home Brewed Chai

Do not use your finest leaf-tea here. In fact, this is the perfect time for “dust tea,” cheaper tea that’s been swept off the tea room floor. Avoid tea bags, though, as ounce for ounce, they are actually a lot more expensive than any loose leaf tea.

Some insist that tea should never be boiled, and with your finest, loose-leaf tea, I absolutely agree. In this preparation, when I’m already using second or third rate tea, I like the stronger flavor that comes from boiling as an accompaniment to all that milk, sugar, and ginger.

1/2 c. water
3-5 thin slices ginger, either smashed in a mortar and pestle, or crushed with the flat of a knife
1-2 pods cardmom, split in half (if you’re using a mortar and pestle, go ahead and grind it with the ginger)
1 c. milk (I use lactose-free milk)
sugar to taste
1 heaping teaspoon tea

Boil water, ginger, and cardamom for 15 minutes. Add milk, and return to a simmer. Bring to a boil, add tea, and simmer five minutes.

Strain into your favorite mug, curl up with a good book, and make the most of the winter.

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A Picturesque Thanksgiving

I have no excuse for waiting so long to post pictures of my family’s Thanksgiving festivities, other than that I seem to have disappeared into the vortex of grading, exhaustion, and general holiday time-suck that seems to engulf most professors every December.

I considered not posting these at all, since Thanksgiving has by now receded far into the distance, and Christmas is looming large on the horizon. But the pictures are so lovely, and the food looks so delicious, that I couldn’t resist sharing.

Okay, so maybe I don’t have any pictures of the actual meal. The lighting was off, and people weren’t really happy about waiting to eat until I had captured that perfect shot. But the following day, I managed to get twenty-five frames of this fabulous plate of shrimp. They are in season in the fall in North Carolina, cheap, plentiful, and enormous, caught off the shrimp docks less than ten minutes away. I am so spoiled by shrimp from home that I actually don’t eat frozen shrimp at all. Sauced with onions, garlic, ginger, curry leaves and chile powder, these shrimp were the best thing I ate all weekend, and considering all the good food around, that’s saying a lot.

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