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Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Liver with Balsamic Reduction


When I eat meat, I try to eat as much of the whole animal as possible.

The day after Thanksgiving, I use the turkey carcass, preferably with some meat left on the bones, and the neck and giblets to make a nutritious stock.

And if I haven't already served the liver on Thanksgiving or used it to make paté, I make this dish the day after, to use it while it's fresh and to put something new on the table if we're eating leftovers. And unlike other holiday dishes, it takes just a few ingredients that I always have on hand.

This easy and elegant first course has been known to turn liver-skeptics into liver lovers. I used balsamic vinegar to make the sauce because it appeals to many palates, even when liver does not. But you can deglaze the pan with another liquid instead: port wine, red wine, cognac or turkey stock.

Liver is a good source of protein, B vitamins, vitamin A, and minerals like iron, selenium, phosphorus and zinc. But like any animal product, it can also contain heavy metals and environmental contaminants. It is not necessarily due to the nature of the organ (the liver acts as a filter for the body but it is not a sponge; it changes toxins in the blood into excretable compounds). Contamination is usually a result of the way the animal was raised, so always choose livers (and eggs, meat and dairy products) from animals who were raised on pasture, fed their natural diet, and never exposed to pesticides, antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals.

This recipe serves 2 or 3 people. If you will be feeding more, serve liver slices on whole wheat toasts, drizzled with the balsamic reduction. Or roughly mash the cooked liver with a little bit of room temperature grass-fed butter and the balsamic reduction, and serve it as a spread. 

Turkey liver(s) at room temperature
Extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
Aged balsamic vinegar

Trim away any connective tissue from the liver. Season the whole liver, in one or two pieces, generously with sea salt and peppercorn.

Warm the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the liver and sauté it for 3 minutes on each side. Do not overcook the liver; it should still be slightly pink inside. It will be done when the outside has browned and it feels firm yet slightly tender in the center. If it feels soft, cook it longer. Once it's done, transfer the liver to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Add 2 splashes of balsamic vinegar (or one per serving), enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Swirl it around to incorporate any brown bits stuck to the skillet or stir it with a wooden spoon. Simmer until the vinegar reduces and thickens, just a minute or two.

Thinly slice the liver and arrange it on a serving dish. Pour the sauce over the top and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cranberries With Orange and Cognac


Need a last minute host or hostess gift? This one is perfect: flavorful, healthy and home-made. Cranberries are full of antioxidants and research studies have shown they can help protect cells against cancerous changes, prevent plaque from forming on teeth, increase good HDL cholesterol, prevent urinary tract infections, and kill H. pylori bacteria that play a prominent role in the development of ulcers and stomach cancer.

Home-made cranberry sauce is so different from store-bought varieties that are packed with sugar. This version is naturally sweetened with orange juice and a touch of cognac makes it something really really special. When a holiday favorite like this is so easy to prepare, there is no excuse for serving it out of a can.

It's easy to whip up the night before and so very versatile. If your hostess has already planned the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner, she can drizzle a spoonful into the bottom of each champagne flute and fill with sparkling wine for a Cranberry Kir Royale, the perfect holiday apératif. Or she can save it to stir into yogurt or oatmeal, making breakfast a breeze, or serve it at another meal to accompany chicken, duck, pork, halibut or grilled tofu triangles.

If your orange is not organic, omit the zest. If you don't have cognac or prefer your cranberries without it, substitute additional orange juice, red wine, or a splash of water if you need more liquid.

This recipe yields 2 cups.

12 oz fresh cranberries
1 organic orange, zest and juice
Pinch sea salt
1/4 cup cognac (or substitute brandy)
2 tbsp maple syrup or honey

Add the cranberries, orange juice, orange zest and sea salt to a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries have burst, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the cognac and continue cooking over low heat, uncovered, about 5 minutes more, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to the desired consistency. Use the back of a spoon to mash any remaining whole cranberries.

Stir in the maple syrup and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve the cranberry sauce hot or at room temperature. If you're making it ahead or giving it as a gift, transfer the sauce an air-tight jar container and store it in the fridge until show time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Celeriac Leek Soup with Crumbled Blue Cheese

This simple soup is an easy but elegant starter. Make it ahead and serve it up on Thanksgiving for an unexpected yet seasonal first course.

Celeriac is an unusual root vegetable. It has a gnarled exterior and a green leafy top. Inside, the flesh is clean and crisp and white, and it's flavor is slightly nutty and reminiscent of celery. Look for bulbs that weigh in under a pound and have a firm stalk end. To prepare celeriac, cut off the top and bottom, then slice off the rest of the peel. (Because the peel has an uneven texture, I find it easiest to do this with a knife.)

I picked fingerling potatoes for this recipe because they were irresistible at the farmer's market this week and because their creamy texture works well with this soup. You can substitute another variety of potato if you wish, but make sure to leave the peel intact because that's where all the nutrients and fiber are found.

I garnished this soup with a wet and creamy Bleu D'Auvergne, but you could use another variety of blue cheese if you wish. You could substitute crumbled goat cheese if you prefer, but the striking flavor of blue cheese is a perfect compliment for this nutty but mild soup.

If you don't like blue cheese or don't eat dairy, garnish it instead with pine nuts lightly toasted on the stove top or grains of cooked wild rice. For a vegan version, substitute extra virgin olive oil for the butter and use vegetable broth as the cooking liquid.

-2 tbsp grass-fed butter
-3 medium leeks or 2 large leeks, white and tender green parts, about 5 cups chopped (reserve the tough green tops for soup stock)
-Sea salt
-2 celeriac bulbs, trimmed and diced, about 2 heaping cups
-1 dozen fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-cm chunks (similar in size to the diced celeriac), about 2 heaping cups
-5 cups cooking liquid: chicken stock, duck stock, vegetable broth or bean broth
-1 bay leaf

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté until soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the celeriac and potatoes and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the bay leaf and cooking liquid, more if needed to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove the bay leaf and purée the soup with an immersion blender or by transferring the soup in batches to a stand blender (in this case, cool the soup a bit before blending and cover loosely to prevent a heat explosion).

Serve immediately or cool completely and transfer to an airtight container in the fridge for future use.

Garnish each bowl with crumbled blue cheese.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fresh Dried Herbs


Store-bought, dried herbs in a bottle are often bland and who knows how long it's been since they were fresh. Once ground, dried herbs quickly loose flavor. So it's no wonder they are scorned by chefs and can quickly accumulate in the back of your cupboard before you even remember when or why you bought them.

A better alternative, if you don't have a year-round herb garden, is to buy them fresh and dry them yourself. Before they disappear from local farmer's markets, pick up the herbs you'll need most this winter. Use what you can while they're fresh and dry the rest:
  1. Line a shallow baking dish with a cotton or paper towel and arrange fresh herb sprigs on top in a single layer. Cover them loosely with another cotton or paper towel. If you are short on space to dry them or pans to dry them in, you can place multiple single layers of herbs and towels in the same dish, as long as they are loosely packed and there is plenty of room for air to circulate (they may take longer to dry). Set them aside at room temperature in a dry place where they will not be disturbed.
  2. Once the herbs are completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store them in an air-tight jar. Label the jar with the contents and the date.
  3. Before you use them in soups, sauces and marinades, grind the whole dried leaves in a spice grinder or crush them with a mortar and pestle to release the essential oils.
When you're ready to use them, if the label shows that it's been several months since you dried them, chew on a leaf to make sure they're still fresh. If they no longer taste good, neither will the dish you plan to use them in, so throw them out and start again.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beef Stewed with Pumpkin and Cider

Now that Halloween is over, you can cook up those (uncarved) pumpkins you've been using as decoration.

This dish is full of complex flavors: savory, spicy and slightly but naturally sweet, thanks to the apple cider.

Many of the herbs in this recipe are medicinal. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne and turmeric all have anti-cancer actions (they inhibit angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels necessary for the growth of tumors). Cayenne and turmeric are also powerful anti-inflammatories. Cinnamon supports good digestion. And garlic is good for the immune and cardiovascular systems.

Once herbs and spices are ground, they can quickly lose freshness and flavor. So I like to buy them whole whenever I can, and grind them as I need them. If you only have ground spices, substitute a similar amount for this recipe. (For example, use 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin instead of 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground). The difference will be minimal.

Because this recipe calls for several herbs and spices, if you are missing one or a few, the others should be sufficient. I used three different fresh herbs - rosemary, thyme and oregano - because I already had them on hand. If you don't have fresh herbs, you can substitute a couple of dried bay leaves and this dish will still be a winner.

When preparing the pumpkin, reserve the seeds for roasting (see the note that follows this recipe). There is no need to peel the pumpkin. The outside is edible, but can be a bit tough. Once thoroughly cooked, the flesh easily falls away from the peel.

Slow-cooking works well with inexpensive cuts of meat, which may start out tough but become melt-in-your-mouth tender after a couple of hours in a low oven. Season the meat in advance if you can; 24 to 48 hours is ideal.

½ tsp cumin seeds, or substitute ground cumin
¼ tsp coriander seeds, or substitute ground coriander
¼ tsp cardamom seeds, or substitute ground cardamom
½ tsp peppercorns, or substitute ground peppercorn
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 pound grass-fed beef for stew, cubed, at room temperature
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
2 cups fresh-pressed apple cider, unsweetened
2 cups beef stock
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 parsnips, cut into chunks
Several fingerling potatoes
10 Cipollini onions, blanched in boiling water for one minute, then peeled and trimmed (or substitute 1 large onion, cut into wedges)
1 large sprig rosemary
Several sprigs lemon thyme
Several springs oregano
1 small pumpkin, cut into chunks, seeds reserved for roasting

Grind the cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds with the peppercorns in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Add them to a large bowl with the sea salt, cinnamon, cayenne, allspice and turmeric. Stir to combine and toss with the beef cubes until thoroughly coated. Set the seasoned meat aside while you prepare the other ingredients or if seasoning the meat in advance, transfer it to an airtight container in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the beef and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides. Add the apple cider and stir to incorporate any brown bits at the bottom of the pan.

Nestle the fresh herbs into the middle and add the carrots, parsnips, potatoes and onions. Pour the beef stock over the vegetables and place the pumpkin pieces on top, flesh-side down, to steam.

Bring the mixture to a simmer on the stove top, then cover tightly and transfer to the oven. Bake for 2 hours.

To serve, arrange the vegetables and meat in shallow bowls. Strain the broth to remove any stray leaves from the herbs, then ladle it over the top.

Alternatively, remove the flesh of the pumpkin from the peel and mash. Arrange the mashed pumpkin on individual plates, place the other vegetables and beef cubes on top, and spoon some sauce over everything. The mashed pumpkin will soak up the sauce.

To roast the pumpkin seeds:

Remove and reserve the seeds from the pumpkin. Discard any stringy material. Rinse and drain the seeds. Transfer them to a baking sheet, toss them with olive oil, and sprinkle them with sea salt. Roast them while the stew bakes, stirring them every 10 minutes, until crispy, about 40 minutes.

You can use the roasted seeds to garnish the stew, but because they quickly become soggy, I prefer to save them for a snack.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cranberry Beans with Rosemary and Garlic


Fresh beans are fantastic. Dried beans are good too, but I like to buy them fresh when they're in season. Fresh shell beans are easy to prepare and cook much faster than dried varieties.

Beans are a healthy vegetarian protein and full of fiber. They can help balance blood sugar, regulate the digestive tract, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Just like their pods, uncooked cranberry beans are white with splashes of red. The spots disappear as the beans cook, turning them white or a light purple color.

If you don't have cranberry beans, you can make this recipe with another variety of fresh shell beans (but cooking time may differ). You can also substitute dried beans if you don't have fresh ones, but make sure to soak them first (and the cooking time will definitely differ). Avoid canned beans unless the cans are labeled "BPA-free."

In this recipe I used smoked bacon from pasture-raised pigs, but if you prefer, you could substitute another bold and salty flavor like anchovies or cured olives. I also used an orange heirloom tomato, but any fresh, ripe tomato will do.

This dish is a good example of how meat can be used as a condiment in a protein-rich dish, rather than the main ingredient. A little bit of bacon goes a long way.

2 cups shelled fresh cranberry beans, about 2 pounds whole beans
2 sprigs rosemary, plus more to garnish
2 bay leaves
2 slices pasture-raised bacon, chopped, or 2 tbsp grass-fed butter
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic, grated, or more
1 large tomato, chopped
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn

In a sauce pan, cover the beans, rosemary and bay leaves with a  generous amount of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until they become tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the beans to cool in their liquid (which may be strained and reserved as stock for soup).

Add the bacon to a large skillet over medium heat. Allow the fat to start rendering while you chop the onion. Once the bacon starts cooking and some fat has rendered, add the onion and sauté until soft. Stir in the garlic and continue cooking until it becomes aromatic (less than a minute). Stir in the chopped tomato, a pinch of sea salt and ground peppercorn.

Strain the beans and reserve the cooking liquid. Discard the rosemary and bay leaves. Add the beans to the skillet and continue cooking until they warm through and the tomato breaks down to form a sauce, about 15 minutes. If the beans become too dry, add some of the reserved bean cooking liquid.

Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Transfer to a serving dish. Finely chop the rosemary reserved for garnish and sprinkle it over the top, or arrange the reserved sprig on the dish with the beans as a garnish.