Monday, May 08, 2006

The Dinner With No Theme

Last Sunday, I had too many ideas for my own good. Mostly because none of those ideas fit with one another. This particular Sunday Night Dinner that was my pleasure to prepare was only somewhat thematic. The outliers are rather obvious, as you will see. Is that redundant?
As a start to the meal, I decided it time to expose my open-minded, lovely friends to the food that I grew up eating... in another country, in another time. Yes, dear reader, I made my friends eat offal. Sort of. I made chicken liver pate, a Russian bastardization of the French dish (a very common theme in both the Russian cuisine and language). This is something that every woman in my family makes. Each has their own approach. I, naturally, learned from my Mom. So, without further ado:

You are looking at the chicken livers, in a pot of cold water, about to be boiled. They only look scary, I promise. Raw chicken liver has the most peculiar texture - it is silken and soft and flowing. Once cooked, it becomes solid, much smaller in size and gray and if overcooked, rubbery and grainy. Not good. After two frantic phone calls to my grandmother (the first grandmother to pick up the phone), I learned that one must stop the cooking as soon as no more blood seeps out of a cut in the liver. Ok. This is creepy, I will admit. But worth it, I think. Following a very thorough rinse in cold water, the liver is ready to be buzzed in the food processor with hardboiled eggs, sauteed onions, salt, pepper, and of course, butter. Once chilled, it is ready to be spread on bread or eaten straight (only if you are Russian, I suspect). The pate was very creamy and light - much more so than pates made with beef or veal liver, as is common among the above-mentioned Russian mothers and grandmothers. The liver flavor was mild and somewhat muted, balanced by the butter and the onions.

My brave, brave friends gave it their best shot. Jonathan was a very good sport, but I have a lot of pate to finish. By myself. Must be an acquired taste.

So, onto the soup. I somehow ended up with an indecent amount of carrots in my fridge, some courtesy of Boston Organics, the rest due to my own forgetfulness and miscalculation. I decided to use them up in a chilled carrot soup, flavored with ginger, lime, and cayenne - a combination I first experienced while cruising in the Caribbean. Ha. Jealous? You should be. In retrospect, chicken liver followed by ginger carrot whatever was probably not the best idea.
The soup follows the general soup outline: saute the onions, then add the carrots. Cover with chicken stock (I used to make my own but then realized I would rather spend my time trying to graduate), add ginger and lime zest, and cook till tender. Buzz with an immersion blender (yes, I have a problem with kitchen appliance thingies), add a bit of cayenne and lime juice. Chill and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche. The taste was not what I expected, but not in a bad way. I tasted the lime first, ginger last with the carrot somewhere in the middle - not very pronounced. The creme fraiche really rounded out the flavor, muted the lime and added a great creaminess to the soup. So much better than sour cream! I am a creme fraiche convert.

Upon serving the soup I had the thought that the day all my plates match is the day I will consider myself a full-fledged grown up. That day is not coming any time soon. The plate you are looking at now, the one with the blue rim, is approximately 17 years old. My parents and I got these plates when we first moved to the country. I think they were given to us. Long story. They are chipped and cracked and very sad but I can't get rid of them. Just can't. They are a bit of my family. I apologize for the increasing cheesiness - I get sentimental when I am really tired (like now). Or drinking (I wish). Or both (this coming Friday's gin party).

The next part: brisket. An entirely unremarkable, bizarre recipe (and product) that involved ketchup. Never again. Strange American Jews cook with ketchup. Sort of tied together with the chicken liver, no? My attempt at Jewish food. The only part of the brisket deal worth mentioning is the meat itself, purchased at Whole Foods - the greatest place on earth. I suspect Lisa, and now Anthony, would argue in favor of Central Market in TX. I am not in Texas so I make do with Whole Foods. I am not a great fan of raw red meat. Or cooked red meat, to be honest. When I brought the Whole Foods brisket meat home I was very pleasantly surprised. It smelled really good! Creepy again, right? Raw meat smelled good. It was so fresh and so pretty that I had to take a picture. This is big for me! I wasn't unhappy with having to touch it.

Almost done with this post, I swear. If you are still reading, you must be a) very bored or b) very kind. There are about a million things that I should be doing right now and none of them include expounding on the joys of raw red meat. So! The side dishes with the unremarkable brisket : roasted brussel sprouts and baked potato something like au gratin.
I boiled the potatoes, peeled and sliced them in rounds. The recipe called for pouring milk over the potatoes in a buttered dish and sprinkling the top with parmesan cheese. Boring, no? I decided to get more flavor into the milk by infusing it with thyme and garlic. The following picture is unnecessary and gratuitous but I like it. It's pretty.
After a trip to the broiler, may I present, the potatoes:

Pretty, huh? The thyme flavor imparted by the infused milk was very subtle, but noticeable- I chose not to sprinkle the herb directly on the potatoes as I am not a big fan of chewing straight thyme. The milk made the potatoes creamy while the cheese allowed for the browning on top. I think next time I will add more cheese to make a richer crust. This approach to potatoes would work really well with rosemary or tarragon (new obsession of mine) or anything else, really, provided that you're not looking for huge, front row center herb taste.
So, all is left to cover is the dessert. Key lime pie is the easiest thing I know how to make and, thus, (notably, however - Lisa) that is what I went for. Having walked about 10 miles that Sunday morning (oh. did i not mention that the walk for hunger was that morning? yeeeaaaa not so much with the entire 20 miles, but walking about 10 was enough to make me very sleepy. or maybe it was the beer afterwards... Lisa is a bad influence. In a good way) easy was the way to go. The recipe is one I have had a while, from the FoodTV website. Will post the link as soon as I figure out the whole hyperlink business.

So, not the most cohesive of dinners, but still ok. Parting thoughts: Biggest regret - temporary loss of partner in food-obsession to a wedding in Charlottesville. Ick. Charlottesville. Biggest hope: Dinners will get better. More thematic, more interesting, more tied together, less brisket-laden. Biggest accomplishment: Conquering red meat! Or conquering touching it, anyway. Cooking it well is a different quest entirely.

Done! I am finally done with this post. If you are still reading - thank you! And take a nap. You've earned it.
I promise to relax with the pictures next time I post. But I just got my new camera and I have to play. I am now in the 21st century, right Anthony? Next step : those weird cyborg-like Bluetooth ear piece things. Not. Sorry Jonathan.


Anna said...

you are awesome! we love you!

Jonathan said...

Is there nothing more beautiful than a slab of raw meat? I think not. Little by little, you should try working red meat into your diet, kosher of course. Pretty soon, you'll be eating steak frites (onglet) in no time, and craving beef carpaccio.

Jonathan said...

Don't be hatin' on the bluetooth. Pretty soon, you'll be dictating your blogs into a bluetooth piece that will automatically translate it onto the website for do you like them apples?

Anna said...

Considering how long it took me to get a digital camera, I wouldn't hold my breath with the bluetooth :)

Jonathan said...

When Prada and Armani come out with their signature bluetooth earpieces, then you'll know it's for real.