Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Party Pâté

I don't know about you, but I grew up eating liver and onions quite frequently (and being force fed cod liver oil - NOT in pill form). I guess having your copper and iron content so far off the charts that you bled pennies was all the rage in nutrition way back when. Whatever. I survived. And never ate liver again...Until I learned that one didn't have to only eat beef liver and that it could be blended with copious amounts of butter and spread on toast. (Probably the opposite of healthy.) Ever been to Marlow & Sons for the mound of deliciousness that they serve? Get thee to the restaurant stat! Or make it yourself. I never knew it was so easy. Simmer, puree, season, serve. That's it. But you can't be squeamish about the natural state of the chicken liver. You will have to handle it for a hot second in it's raw state. But then you'll appreciate the deliciousness that you create that much more! I made a batch for Christmas Eve dinner but was just thinking that it would be the perfect app paired with some bubbly for a New Year's Eve party. How can it already be New Year's Eve? (Almost New Year's Eve???) I'm still writing 2010 on my checks! (The 12 times a year that I write one!) OK I'm breaking into the Champagne a few days early...

Chicken Liver Pâté
Adapted from Jacques Pépin via Food & Wine

1 pound chicken livers, well-trimmed
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt
1 cup water
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Cognac or Scotch whiskey
Freshly ground pepper
Toasted baguette slices, for serving

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken livers, onion, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are barely pink inside, about 10 minutes.

2. Discard the bay leaf. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the livers, onion and garlic to a food processor. Process until coarsely pureed. With the machine on, add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until incorporated. Add the Cognac, season with salt and pepper and process until completely smooth. Scrape the pâté into 2 or 3 large ramekins. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pâté and refrigerate until firm. Serve chilled and sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.

Make Ahead: The pâté can be covered with a thin layer of melted butter, then wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Better Butter Cookie

I finally got my tree up. I mean, between the never ending holiday parties (my soon to be scheduled liver transplant if I don't stop attending), physical therapy and getting myself to work on time, how can I be expected to decorate my home with shubbery in advance of the X to the Mas? Well, after hoisting my one foot wonder onto a cake stand and tuning in to Cameron Crowe's documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty (for the 18th time - just another holiday classic), I got to decorating. (It took more time to wrestle my stash of holiday decor out of my closet than to actually decorate.) And now I'm thinking about reneging on my previous post about not making cookies. Just this once. Sometimes you have to bring something to holiday parties other than another random bottle of 1996 Chateau Talbot Grand Cru Classé Saint - Julien. Am I right? When it comes to cookies, the more butter the better. Dori Greenspan's Sable (aka French butter cookie or Breton biscuit) recipe is the perfect butter cookie. Trust.

Dori Greenspan's Master Recipe for Sables
(from The New York Times)

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter (preferably high-fat, like Plugra), softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted before measuring
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour For the decoration (optional):
1 egg yolk
Crystal or dazzle sugar

1. Working in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and continue to beat until smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 egg yolks, again beating until well blended.

2. Turn off the mixer, pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse the mixer about 5 times at low speed for 1 or 2 seconds each time. Take a peek; if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, stir for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. If you still have some flour on the bottom of the bowl, stop mixing and use a rubber spatula to work the rest of it into the dough. (The dough will not come together in a ball -- and it shouldn't. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy dough. When pinched, it should feel a little like Play-Doh.)

3. Scrape the dough onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long (it's easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log). Wrap the logs well and chill them for at least 2 hours. The dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

4. When ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and keep it at the ready.

5. To decorate the edges of the sables, whisk the egg yolk until smooth. Place one log of chilled dough on a piece of waxed paper and brush it with yolk (the glue), and then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with sugar. Trim the ends of the roll if they are ragged and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.

6. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top. Let the cookies rest 1 or 2 minutes before carefully lifting them onto a cooling rack with a wide metal spatula. Repeat with the remaining log of dough. (Make sure the sheet is cool before baking each batch.)

Lemon Sables: Before mixing the butter and sugar together, pour the sugar in a bowl with the grated zest of 1 to 1 1/2 lemons. Work the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the mixture is moist and aromatic, then cream it with the butter in the mixer.

Parmesan Sables: Replace sugars with 3/4 cup very finely grated Parmesan added to the beaten butter. A few grains of fleur de sel may be gently pressed into the top of each sable before the baking sheet is slipped into the oven.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Coffee Cookies

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I've already been to my company holiday party and strung some Christmas lights (on a friend's tree - I have yet to decorate). Clearly I need to get baking! (And should probably start my holiday shopping...) Instead of making my usual 37 dozen cookies, I'm going to go the minimal route and just bake as needed which is to say...not very much. I just end up eating the cookies I don't bring to the office so why go crazy? These shortbread cookies are fab not only because they are delish but because the recipe makes so few cookies, you won't find yourself eating them for days on end or trying to pawn them off on everyone you encounter, including the not-so-subtle mail carrier who leaves a holiday note in your mailbox. (Really??) The chocolate espresso kick reminds me of my favorite candy, Pocket Coffee, the best candy invention of our time. Incidentally now is the time to stock up as they are a seasonal candy and are only shipped during cold weather months (hint hint). Maybe I should hang a stocking or two just in case.

Mocha Shortbread
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely ground coffee beans, preferably espresso
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Stir in the coffee, and set aside.

2. Beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, and beat well. Add the flour mixture, and beat until combined.

3. Pat the dough into an ungreased 8-inch round cake or springform pan lined with parchment paper. Bake until firm, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the shortbread from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes, then cut into wedges. Let cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar before serving.