Monthly Archives: July 2016

CHOPPED CHICKEN LIVER

We found a container of frozen chicken livers in our chest freezer. Susan thought that was an invitation to make chopped chicken liver to spread on toast for a light dinner during our current heat wave. That sounded like a good idea. We have several recipes, but I wanted to try something that was possibly more “authentic.”

I turned to Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, which is an up-to-date, authoritative cookbook that has become a consistent go-to. She had a recipe for chopped chicken livers from Russ and Daughters on East Houston Street on the Lower Eastside. What could be more authentic than that?

Between them, our two girls lived in New York City for a number of years. Actually, for much of the time  they lived close to Manhattan. Carol lived in Hoboken while it was “cheap”. Now the hipsters have moved in, and it is no longer cheap. Every day she rode the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority close to her job at the McGraw-Hill building.

Sarah lived in Hoboken for a time, too. She took the PATH to the World Trade Center. Then she moved to a couple of places in Queens, including a walk-up in Long Island City. The apartment was directly over an auto body shop, but it had a definite advantage. If you crawled out of the kitchen window you could enjoy a “terrace” that was actually the roof of the auto shop. There were no guard rails, so there was danger of falling into the salvage yard behind the garage, protected by two snarling, leaping, unchained German shepherds (They’re called “junk yard dogs”). When you were out on the terrace, but only if you balanced on a chair, you could see the tallest spires of a bit of the Manhattan skyline. I think New York realtors call that a peek-a-boo view. I don’t think the neighborhood is in danger of gentrification.

Years later, I saw the movie, Julie and Julia. I am convinced that they used Sarah’s apartment for one of the sets for that movie.

Eventually, Sarah and Evan moved to the Red Square Apartments on East Houston on the Lower Eastside. To this day you can recognize the building by the clock with random numbers and the 18 foot statue of Lenin with his arms outstretched in the direction of Wall Street. This neighborhood has undergone gentrification. Sarah and Evan probably couldn’t afford to live there anymore. There are multiple high-rise condominium buildings along with a fancy new grocery store AND a giant Whole Foods.

This is a long-winded introduction to tell you about the culinary delights of East Houston. There is more than one Punjabi takeout for the taxi drivers. There are several tiny but well known restaurants with long lines for Sunday brunch. But the jewels of eating are on the south side of Houston. The most famous is undoubtedly Katz’s Delicatessen, saved from threatened destruction during the gentrification process. The place is not to be missed. Just remember to follow precisely the instructions for diners before you start the process, especially in keeping track of your bill. You will be rewarded by one of the largest, most delicious pastrami (or whatever meat you choose) sandwiches you have ever had.

Then there’s Yonah Schimmel for knishes. The place goes back more than a hundred years, and I think it has not been renovated in a hundred years. Honestly, I am not a big fan of knishes, but this is the real thing, and just like an IHOP pancake it will stick to your ribs all day long.

My favorite food stop, though, is Russ and Daughters, specializing in smoked fish, caviar, herring, and related delicacies. It, too, dates back to more than a hundred years ago. It looks like it was updated in the 1930s, with art deco signs and lettering, straight out of a black and white movie with Nick and Nora Charles. The phalanx of servers is intimidating and definitely no-nonsense, but they turn out to be friendly (as much as you can expect), fast, and efficient. Besides their lox, they are famous for their chopped chicken livers. Here’s an interpretation of their recipe:

Chopped Chicken Liver

I thawed one container of frozen chicken livers, about one pound. I rinsed them and blotted them dry. Then I fried them in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, about 3 minutes on each side, and set them aside on a plate. Using a sharp chef’s knife, I chopped them coarsely. (You can use a food processor, but then the delicate livers will turn to mush.)

I hard-boiled three eggs, chilled them, and peeled them. Using a fork, I mashed them coarsely.

I diced two large yellow onions. Then I caramelized them in a sauté pan in 2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, about 40 minutes.

Finally, I combined the sautéed chicken livers, mashed eggs, and caramelized onions. I adjusted seasoning with salt and pepper, and chilled in the refrigerator for an hour before serving with rye flat breads.

I’m not sure my recipe is authentic, but it turned out to be very tasty.

 

 

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FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING

On July 16, 2011 I published my first post on From the Family Table. It was about a fresh green pea soup made with pea pod stock. So, this is the fifth anniversary of my blog. During that time I have published 353 posts and nearly as many recipes. Looking back on that first effort I am struck by the amateurish image and the clumsy narrative. I think – at least I hope – that things have gotten better.

Five years ago my two daughters were at low points in their careers, and so I thought that working together on a cookbook might give them a break that they needed. We agreed on cooking with corn as a theme as there didn’t seem to be any books quite like that. (I soon discovered that the premise was wrong.) I started reading about the history of corn and collecting recipes from wherever I could find them, including the original editions of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook (by Fannie Farmer) and the Joy of Cooking. I learned a great deal. Cornbread alone provides enough material for a thick cookbook. In fact, it already has – several times.

In the meantime, the careers of both girls took off. Sarah became caught up in opening a new restaurant, and now she’s working on her own cookbook. Carol took on added responsibilities in her office, and now she is busy and happy with family and professional activities. Needless to say, their interest in the cookbook project faded. At the same time I was buying and reading books on food styling, food photography, and book publishing. One of the books made a strong recommendation that in this modern world a blog was required for recognition. Recognition, of course, was needed to provide credibility with editors and publishers. I had visions of book contracts, photo shoots,  and maybe even a TV spot or two.

Five years have passed, and to date nothing has happened with the corn cookbook,  I don’t have any book contracts, nor have I gotten any solicitations from the Food Network. What I have gotten is a lot of satisfaction in writing and imaging  the food that I make or enjoy in a restaurant. More importantly, I have made friends all over the world. And even though I have never met most them, I have gotten to learn about their families and their adventures, marvel at their cooking skills, and share in some of the joys – and disappointments – that go with living life. I’d like to thank all of them – I wish I could do it personally – for their readership, their gracious comments, and their generosity.

I’m not sure how much longer I can think of new things to write about. It gets harder the longer I write and the older I get. But I’ll keep doing it as long as I continue to enjoy it. Thanks again to all of my internet friends. I plan to celebrate the day with cake and candles. Oh, and maybe a glass of nice wine while I sit in my back yard and enjoy the sunset.

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CFS: CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK WITH MASHED POTATOES AND CREAM GRAVY

Who doesn’t like CFS (chicken-fried steak)? Our older daughter, Carol, for one.  That is a surprise since she has roots in East Texas and Shreveport (There are credible claims that Shreveport is actually just an extension of East Texas)

She loves steak, but she believes that all that bread stuff just spoils a good piece of meat. I certainly agree with her point of view when some fancy pants restaurant does a chicken-fried rib eye or tenderloin. In that setting, I just want the real thing.

Chicken-fried steak, on the other hand, is a food of the people: a piece of round steak usually tough as a boot unless it is cooked for hours can be turned into a fork-tender delicacy through systematic pounding, breading, and frying. It becomes a distant relative of the more elegant Wiener schnitzel and veal alla Milanese.

Then there are the required accompanying mashed potatoes. They serve as the base for pouring on the cream gravy. In many a roadside diner they come from a box or are  lumpy, having sat for hours in a steam table. Really good mashed potatoes raise the  stakes (No pun intended) to something bordering on ethereal.

Finally, there is the cream gravy. No self-respecting CFS appears on the table without a good lacing of cream gravy. Unfortunately, many versions of cream gravy resemble, in both taste and consistency, library paste. In fact, you could probably use it as such when  it gels on the plate in a white, immobile blob. But again, there are few things as tasty as a well-made gravy studded with bits of crispy crust and a rich flavor from the fond of the cast iron frying pan.

My mother – who had never been to Texas until I was an adult – made a great CFS. She had her own little secrets. She pounded the floured raw meat with a saucer. She used crushed saltine crackers for the breading. And after browning the meat in a hot skillet with plenty of oil, she simmered the steaks for a half-hour or longer until the meat was tender. Then she raised the heat to get a crisp, brown exterior. I’ve never mastered those final steps, so this version relies on thin steak to be tender.

For mashed potatoes, I have used Sarah’s recipe as printed in the San Francisco Chronicle. For the gravy, I have used the decades-old recipe from our family cookbook.

Steamed broccoli with btter makes a good vegetable accompaniment.

RECIPES

Chicken Fried Steak

Ingredients

  • 1 pound round steak, thinly sliced (cubed beef should NOT be considered an acceptable substitute)
  • salt and pepper
  • all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg (I wound up using a double yolked jumbo)
  • 1 sleeve saltine crackers
  • peanut oil for frying

Method

  1. Trim any fat and silver skin from the steak and, if necessary, cut into serving-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Dredge the pieces of steak on both sides with flour. Using the edge of a small plate or saucer, pound each steak in one direction and then at 90°. Turn over, and repeat the pounding process.
  3. Combine the buttermilk and egg in a pie plate, mixing vigorously to make sure the egg is completely incorporated. Individually, dip each floured steak in the mixture and then transfer to a second pie plate filled with crushed cracker crumbs.
  4. Coat both sides of each steak generously with the cracker crumbs, making sure that the meat is completely covered. Transfer to a drying rack.
  5. When you are ready to cook the steaks, heat the largest cast iron skillet that you have over a medium-high flame. Add about 1 inche of peanut oil (canola is also good) and heat until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. If you have a thermometer, heat to 350°F.
  6. Add enough steaks to fill the pan. Fry for a few minutes on one side until browned, about 5-10 minutes. Then turn and fry on the other side. If you are cooking in batches, transfer to a warming plate in a 170°F oven until all of the meat is cooked. You will also need to keep warm while you make gravy.
  7. Make gravy according to the following directions. Then serve immediately while still warm with mashed potatoes and cream gravy.

Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (about 5-6 medium potatoes), peeled and quartered
  • salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, softened
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with heavily salted water. Bring to the boil. Then reduce to a brisk simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are pierced easily with a kitchen fork. Overcooked is better than undercooked. Drain.
  2. Transfer to a potato ricer in batches. Rice the potatoes into a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir the potatoes with a wooden spoon until excess water is boiled out, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Combine the milk and cream in a small pan and heat until they are just at a simmer.
  4. Add the butter to the potatoes and stir until completely incorporated. Stir in the milk/cream mixture slowly while stirring until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately. If you are serving with chicken-fried steak, you will want to make a well in the middle of each serving to hold some of the gravy.

    Yukon gold potatoes

    Yukon gold potatoes

Cream Gravy

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • pan drippings from fried steak
  • ¼ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a jar with tight lid (a pint Mason jar works well) combine the milk, cream, chicken stock, and flour. Cover and shake until the ingredients are well mixed. Set aside.
  2. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil from the pan used to fry the steak. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping loose any brown bits.
  3. Over medium heat, stir in the milk mixture, shaking it first to make sure it is well mixed.
  4. Stirring constantly, incorporate any loosened brown bits and bring the mixture to a low boil, continuing to cook until the gravy is thickened. If too thick, dilute with a little bit of milk. If too thin, stir in a bit of Wondra flour, stirring vigorously to prevent lumps. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Be sure to make a well in the middle of the heap of mashed potatoes on each plate to get some extra gravy; Put some gravy on top of the steak, too, if you want to feel real down-home.

    A traditional down home plate

    A traditional down home plate

 

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SANTA FE STYLE CHICKEN AND WAFFLES

Chicken and waffles has become a trendy dish often featured in trendy restaurants. Supposedly it had its origins in soul food. There are definitely clues that reinforce that attribution: fried chicken and waffles is apparently a stand-by in Baltimore, there is a temple of the dish in South Los Angeles, and at least two places in Harlem have built their reputation on fried chicken and waffles. Honestly, I have never understood the enthusiasm. I love fried chicken as much as the next person, and waffles can be a terrific breakfast or dinner. But crisp fried chicken and sweet-sticky maple syrup together just doesn’t sound like a combination I want to give a try.

Turns out there is another version of chicken and waffles. It traces its origins to the Pennsylvania Dutch area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The dish is essentially the filling for chicken pot pie served on top of a waffle. To me, that is an interesting concept, and one that sounds like it might be delicious. My mother’s family traces its origins from Pennsylvania Dutch country through Wisconsin, Iowa, and eventually South Dakota. My wife’s family hails from Wilmington, Delaware, just a short drive to Lancaster. I don’t remember chicken and waffles ever showing up on either family table.

That made me think that maybe a Southwestern version of chicken and waffles incorporating some regional ingredients would make a good alternative to either of the better known traditions. Blue cornmeal waffles seemed like a good starting place. Green chiles and piñon nuts would serve as tasty additions. To brighten up an otherwise monochromatic dish, I topped it all with pico de gallo. For that, you probably have your own recipe. If you don’t, I’ve added one without the kick (There is a serious medical reaction to capsaicin in our household) but you are encouraged to zip it up to your own tastes.  So here it is: Santa Fe Style Chicken and Waffles with blue cornmeal waffles and green chile chicken sauce. If you can’t find blue cornmeal at your local store, you can order some from Talon de Gato farms. Otherwise, substituting yellow or white cornmeal is perfectly acceptable.

RECIPES

Blue Cornmeal Waffles with Pine Nuts

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blue cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • ½ cup pine nuts

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In a separate medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, maple syrup, and melted butter. Whisk in the separated egg yolks until completely incorporated
  3. In a small bowl, beat the separated egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold into the batter in thirds.
  4. Stir in the pine nuts.
  5. Spoon into a heated waffle iron using slightly more than the amount recommended by the manufacturer. Bake until golden brown. Bake the remaining batter.

Green Chile Chicken Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (chicken fat if you have it)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 ounces canned chopped green chiles (choose your heat)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock + more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 whole chicken breast, cooked and shredded

Method

  1. In medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, cover and sweat the onions for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so as not to brown.
  2. When the onions are translucent, stir in the green chiles and cook, uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the flour and cook for 5 additional minutes to remove the raw flavor of the flour. Add the chicken stock, stirring to remove any lumps. The sauce should be about as thick as a medium white sauce.
  4. Add the oregano by crumbling it between your hands over the pan. Add cumin and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir in the shredded chicken and simmer for 15 minutes more, or until the mixture is heated through.

Pico de Gallo

Ingredients

  • 1 large ripe tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3 scallions including green tops, chopped
  • ½ onion, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped green bell pepper (substitute jalapeño for more heat)
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper
  2. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve.

Assembly

Place two waffles on each plate. Top with about 1½ cups of the green chile chicken sauce. Garnish with pico de gallo. Serve immediately with more optional Cholula sauce, if desired.

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