October 25, 2013

Gigantes & Briam Burgers

This is really more of a serving suggestion than a recipe, per se.

Remember the Briam that I enthused about last summer? Well, I started with the notion that I would make a veggie burger, using ground chickpeas in a sort of falafel-inspired patty, but when I realized that I also had leftover Gigantes, I thought I'd make the patties with those, instead.

The Gigantes are rather soft, so, in the absence of any aggressive thickener, such as chickpea flour (and with the vague notion of keeping the patty gluten-free, although the bun pictured here is not), once I mashed the beans up, the resultant patties were very soft, almost bordering more on hummus than on falafel. However, they were delicious, and they added a nice hit of protein to this sandwich to make it more satisfying to eat, and of course to add staying power. You could, of course, replace the bean patties with any patty-like interior that you like - keeping the Greek theme, ground lamb would be fantastic.

The Briam is also fairly soft, but retains enough texture to keep the pieces (mostly) in the bun, and so that you get at least some textural experience from the specific vegetables as you bite your way through the sandwich. This particular batch of Briam was a bit more eggplant-intensive than my usual, so the softness is an asset (leathery eggplant doesn't make good sandwiches, oddly enough). I highly recommend toasting the bun, not only for flavour, but to add much needed structure to the whole enterprise.

Because the patty was so soft that it practically became a spread on the bun, and because of the generous amount of olive oil already in the Briam, no other spreads or dressings were needed for this sandwich. I added some slices of feta to the bottom half, simply because I had it available, and the sharp, salty taste contrasted nicely with the mellow vegetables.

It's always good to make more Briam than you need; it keeps well for a few days, is delicious hot or cold, and can be pressed into service as a side dish, condiment, or sandwich filling/garnish at will. Next time I have some leftover, I'll definitely be thinking about this sandwich, and scheming to build an even better Gigantes patty, or perhaps a nice, crispy flat disc of falafel.

October 18, 2013

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Bacon Fat Biscuits

I'm not sure, but this might encompass all of the above principles: reduce the amount of groceries purchased (no extra purchase of solid fat for baking); reuse the fat drained from cooking bacon; recycle the fat into an entirely different dish. Okay, those last two are kind of similar, but I'm giving it points because the re-use is not for the same dish or type of cooking, and because it's actually incorporated into the recipe as opposed to simply being a cooking medium (the usual fate of reused fats, if I'm not mistaken). It's economical and delicious!

The biscuits shown above were made with unstrained bacon fat, which is why they are a bit flecked in appearance. To get a less speckled effect, you can strain the fat through a fine sieve (or possibly cheesecloth) to get a more homogenous, lard-white colour. I also was using (solid) bacon fat that was a little on the soft side, which actually seems to inhibit rising a bit; these could be taller.

You can do a straight-up substitution of whatever butter/lard/shortening etc. that you currently use for biscuits, but if you don't have a biscuit recipe, here's one to try:

Bacon Fat Biscuits

Makes 9 biscuits, or tops an 8 - 12 inch pot pie, depending on how thick or thin you want your topping.

Total prep and cooking time: 25 minutes

2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup rendered bacon fat, in solid form (chill until firm)
3/4 cup milk - I use 1% milk

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients - to be fair, I don't really sift, I aerate them with a whisk, but do whichever pleases you most. Add raisins, herbs, cheese, or any other additional flavourings at this time. Using a pastry-blender or a fork (and a lot of patience) cut in the bacon fat until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of fat are about corn-kernel sized. If your bacon fat is frozen hard, you can do this step in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.

Create a well in the middle of the mixture and pour the milk in all at once. Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly and briefly until the dough comes together in a ragged mass. Quickly dump it out onto a clean counter, and knead very lightly and briefly until the flour is incorporated. You may need to add a little extra flour, but probably not. Go cautiously - too much flour makes tough biscuits.

Pat out the dough into a rough rectangle, and slice into the size of biscuits that you want. Place them on an ungreased cookie-sheet and bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they have gotten tall and golden.

If you are using the biscuits as a topping for pot pie, pat out the dough into the shape and size of your stew-pot. Stab the biscuits with a fork to make a few air-holes, and lift the entire thing (no cutting necessary) onto the bubbling hot stew. Place in the 450 F oven, and bake uncovered for about 25 minutes. It does take longer when the biscuit is cooked over a stew.

Bonus Tip: freeze your bacon drippings in a spare measuring cup until you have enough, or create a form out of tinfoil wrapped around your 1/3 cup measure, and store it (covered) in the freezer until it is full.

These would be awesome for Biscuits and Gravy, don't you think?

You can use the same technique to make pie crust, of course. Some of my friends will remember the potluck to which I brought sour cherry pie with a bacon fat crust, the leftovers of which were served with my friend Rodney's homemade gelato for breakfast.

October 08, 2013

Venetian Chicken Livers - Fegato di Pollo alla Veneziano

So! We've found a place to live, and will be moving in on November 1. My kitchen should be arriving shortly thereafter, and I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to cook once again. Seriously, boiling eggs in an electric kettle may technically count as cooking, but crikey! What I wouldn't give for a simple skillet dinner right now...

In the interim, I've found a couple of photos in my archive from dishes we cooked earlier this summer, and so I plan to trickle those out until I'm cooking again. This one is from late June.

I apparently need to get more iron into my diet. I do take iron supplements - as much as my poor system can handle, but it's not enough to correct the serious deficit that I'm running, so I am finding ways to squeeze more red meats and offal into my diet. Yes, I know that there are plenty of vegetable sources of iron (I'm eating those too); I simply need all the iron I can get.

Liver is a rich source of easily absorbed iron, even poultry liver, so it seemed obvious to me that we should take a crack at a classic Venetian recipe for chicken livers with fettuccine. My husband was the cook this time, and I was the lucky person who simply had to show up and eat. This dish comes together very quickly, so make sure your prep is done before you start cooking.

Venetian Chicken Livers - Fegato di Pollo alla Veneziano
Adapted from Claudia Roden's Food of Italy

Serves 2

Fresh fettucini (2 servings)
225 grams fresh chicken livers, cleaned and sliced into medium-large chunks
1 - 2 shallots, sliced pole-to-pole into strips
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
pinch white pepper
3 tablespoons red (or dry white) wine (approximately)
¼ cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

Prepare the pot with water for the pasta, and get it ready to drop the pasta (fresh pasta only takes about three minutes to cook). If you must use dry pasta, obviously start the pasta first, and adjust the timing accordingly. Warm some pasta bowls and have them standing by.

Clean and slice the livers, removing any grotty bits of sinew or connective tissue, and set aside. Slice the shallot(s) and garlic and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat until the butter foams and subsides, and then add the livers in a single layer. Sprinkle with the salt and white pepper, let them sear briefly to get a tiny bit of colour on them (about a minute). During that minute, drop your pasta into the boiling water, and make sure there's a colander or sieve ready to receive it. Give the livers a quick stir to flip them over, and push them to the outer edge of the skillet. Add the shallot strips and garlic into the bare centre of the skillet (you can add another bit of olive oil if it looks dry). Sauté briefly, and then gently stir the livers through the onion mixture. Add the wine (or a splash of vermouth) to deglaze and create a bit of a pan sauce, scraping up the bottom of the skillet. Continue to cook gently until the pasta is ready (in the other pot), and then turn off the heat under the livers.

Drain the pasta and portion into the warmed pasta bowls. Spoon the livers mixture over the pasta, being sure to pour any collected juices from the pan over each serving, and top with parmesan and parsley. Enjoy with a nice glass of wine.

If I recall correctly we utterly failed to remember to add the garlic, but it wasn't missed so it's clearly an optional ingredient (a Venetian may disagree with me). I do think that the next time I make this I might top it with a lemon gremolata, rather than just the parmesan and parsley, because I think it would beautifully - the sharpness of the lemon zest and raw garlic cutting through the richness of the dish. I'll be sure to report if that's the case.

October 03, 2013

Minor Update

I am in Germany!

My kitchen, however, is still afloat somewhere in the Atlantic (more or less) until we manage to find an apartment to rent.

I hope to be cooking again soon...

Wish us viel Glück; we could use it!