Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Chicken Liver Pâté or "French Peanut Butter"

When I was growing up, my family would very frequently go to France for the summer.  It was my birthday, the French independence Day, and my maternal grandparents and maternal aunt and cousin lived in Paris.  My parents and my sister and I would rent a room or two in the apartment building where my grandparents lived, and we spent glorious days together exploring the city and eating good food.  There is still - and always will be - a fond place in my heart for the neighborhood of Marie des Lilas.
There was a butcher shop that sold pâté de foie and jambon and we often got this to eat with a baguette; the perfect breakfast.  (There was also milk and yogurt, jam and nutella, and always my mother's favorite President butter.)  For years, as a child it never occurred to me to think about what pâté was; I just thought it as the French version of peanut butter.  It was creamy, it was savory, it was delicious on bread.  Later on, I learned that it was essentially pureed liver.  Now, my mother had always seasoned and baked the gizzard and liver that came with whole chicken when we bought it, and I had no problem eating them when I knew what they were, so this mystery now solved didn't phase me in the least.  The only thing I learned that day was that I really loved eating liver.
I still have a tremendous fondness for pâté - I can rarely resist ordering it when it appears on restaurant menu - and eating it has a sweet sort of nostalgia for me in that it reminds me of my second home; the place of my childhood summers.
For some reason, it took me years to dare to try making it own my own.  I had some strange belief that it would be difficult, or that I would somehow be terrible at making it.  Instead, I've found it to be ridiculously simple and delicious when made at home.  The hardest thing is finding the chicken livers.

Chicken Liver Pate
1 large shallot
7-8 tablespoons of butter
approximately 1lb chicken livers, preferably organic if you can get them
1/4 teaspoon flaky salt
75ml (or roughly 1/3 cup) sweet white wine
dash of allspice
tiny splash of balsamic
freshly ground black pepper

Heat a knob of butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until caramelized.
Add the remainder of the butter and livers and cook until the livers are just starting to brown on the outside.
Add the wine, salt, allspice, balsamic, and black pepper and lower the heat to simmer lightly until the livers are no longer bloody when pressed.  They should still be pink on the inside.  If you're a little worried about undercooked livers (as I often am), cooking them a little longer doesn't change much.
Tip into a food processor OR use your handy dandy immersion blender to blend the livers.
Optional: (And I'll be honest, I really don't think it's worth the extra time or things to wash because it doesn't change that much of the texture)  Pass through a sieve into a serving dish.
Level out the top of the puree and chill for at least an hour before serving.  Delicious with fig jam or onion compote.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Homemade Masala Chai

"Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else." -Richard Siken

The greatest thing that I have learned in these months here in Seattle is how to take care of myself.  I have always been good about what I considered the basic things, like feeding myself, making sure I got enough fruits and vegetables, and dressing appropriately for the weather, but I often assumed that happiness and mental health were things that just happened.  That I should just let the cards fall where they may.  But in the past year, with all the tremendous changes that have happened, I have come to realize how simple and important it is to create joy, to foster a sense of peace and gratitude inside my own heart.

I left a very different life on the East coast and I followed a job.  I moved to Seattle chasing an idea, a hope that this place that I fell in love with years ago at twenty-one might become home, that it might give me something that I hadn't found anywhere else.  In settling down here, I discovered the beauty of gratitude.  I feel lucky to have been fortunate enough to find work among people that I respect and trust, to make friends that care about me and support me, to fall in love again with someone who prioritizes our partnership like it is his second nature.  My gratitude fuels my joy in the simple things.  Being so content enables me to give love wholeheartedly, to my patients, to my friends, to my family, to my partner.

Food is love - I say it now like I've said it so many times before - and as I feed my body, so too have I learned to feed my soul and to care for my heart.  On days when I am stressed or down, I do something about it.  I call the people I love; I drive to the ocean; I build a fire and lie down in front of its glow and read; I drink tea in bed and listen to music.

There's something to be said about the appeal of a hot drink on grey day, whether that grey is coming from the weather or a state of mind.  For those times, I love masala chai.  When I was growing up, my mom used to buy "Chai Tea" bags which she steeped in the microwave and then served to us with vanilla ice cream.  It was one of my favorite treats.  In college, one of my good friends was Indian, and I went home with her one weekend.  Her mother made tea for us on the stove, with real spices.  I loved how the smell of it permeated the house, and the cups, made with generous amounts of honey and milk, were a delicious breakfast treat.

I learned then that "chai" is actually just a word for tea, so "chai tea" is fairly redundant.  Most of the time, what Westerners are referring to is masala chai.  It's easy to make, and I adore having a big pot on the stove and letting the smell of the warm spices fill my apartment.  Though recipes vary, this is one that I love for its spice and heat.

Masala Chai
5 cups water
2-3" fresh ginger
3 inches of cinnamon bark, broken
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns (I generally use black, but I've read that white may be better)
3 star anise, broken
15 cloves (about 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
5 black tea bags (or 5 teaspoons loose black tea)
1/3 cup raw sugar or honey
1 cup milk (I've used skim and 1%, but it's your choice)
optional: additional milk for serving

In a medium pot, bring the water, ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise, cloves, and cardamom to a boil.
Once boiling, add the tea bags and steep for 10 minutes.
Remove the tea bags.
Bring the mixture to a boil again.  Once boiling, lower the heat.  Add the sugar or honey and 1 cup milk and simmer on low heat for 25-30 minutes.
Strain out the spices.
Serve with more milk if desired.
You can store your chai tea in the fridge for several weeks.  It reheats well.