Chicken Livers with Polenta

livers 8This is our perfect comfort food. Feeling tired? Long day? Feeling sad and just need a warm hug? Chicken livers cooked with sausage or bacon, caramelized onions, tomatoes and stock that gets velvety as it reduces. Spoon this over creamy polenta, find a quaint english mystery show on Netflix… and chill.

We make this with bacon or sausage, depending what we have on hand. You can leave out the salty fatty pork component if you would like, but why? You can use wine or beer, but its just as good without. If you like mushrooms, you can add mushrooms. Feel the need for some healthy greens? Chop up a little kale and add it to the mix. The polenta is simple, quite basic, I usually add a little grated parm to the polenta, but it’s really good with smoked cheddar. Use whatever cheese you have on hand, or leave the cheese out all together. If you are avoiding dairy you can sub olive oil for the butter and skip the cheese.

Make sure you start the polenta before you start the livers because the longer the cornmeal has to cook the better.

Polenta

polenta 14 cups water

pinch of salt

1 cup cornmeal

2 tbsps butter

1/2 cup shredded parm, (or other cheese)

s+p to taste

 

  1. Put water in a heavy bottomed pot. Add salt, bring to a boil.
  2. Whisk the water to create a whirlpool, slowly pour in the cornmeal whisking the whole time. The mix should be the consistency of heavy cream. Don’t worry, it will thicken. Don’t keep adding cornmeal until it is thick, thats too much cornmeal.
  3. Bring cornmeal back to a boil and then turn down very low. Let simmer, stirring occasionally. If it gets too thick, add more water. If you have the patience, let this simmer for 45 minutes. The longer it cooks, the less gritty the cornmeal and the silkier the texture.
  4. Right before you serve, whisk in the butter, grated cheese and check the seasoning. You could also add chopped parsley, basil or other fresh herbs.

This is a great side dish for braised meats, chicken cacciatore or saucy sautéed vegetables. Try it with just a dollop of mascarpone and some chopped basil.

Chicken Livers

1/2 lb sausage or baconlivers 1

1 large onion, diced

1 clove garlic, miced

pinch of chilies

1 lb chicken livers

1 cup flour (optional)

1/4 cup wine or beer, optionalsliced garlic

2 cups chicken or beef stock

1 large tomato, diced

1/4 cup chopped green onions

s+p to taste

livers-4.jpg

 

 

  1. if you are using sausage, I like to use a mild italian sausage. If you like a little more heat, by all means, use a spicy sausage. If you are using bacon, slice it thick and cut it into 1/2 inch strips (or lardons).
  2. sauteé onions and sausage in a large heavy skillet until sausage is brown. add garlic and chili flakes and sauté one minute longer
  3. dust the chicken livers with flour. (if you are trying to avoid gluten, you can use corn flour or my favourite, chick pea flour. or you can skip this step altogether. The flour just helps give the livers a nice brown crust and thickens the sauce a bit)livers 5
  4. push all the sausage and onions to one side of pan. Shake any excess flour off the livers and place in pan. Now ignore them, walk away, don’t mess with them. People often spend too much time fiddling with food. If you keep fussing with the livers they won’t brown properly, you will tear the meat and make a murky grey mess. Leave the livers alone until the one side is nice and crisp and well browned. Then flip them over.
  5. livers 6Add the wine or beer if you want,  and reduce. Add the stock and reduce until sauce is creamy. Toss in  tomatoes and green onions and check the seasoning. Chicken Livers are best when just a little bit pink inside, if you over cook them they get chalky in texture.
  6. Serve livers on the polenta. Enjoy with a nice medium bodied red, like a valpolicella or a tempranillo or a dark malty beer.

Want to try something different? Check  Food 52
for this fun recipe for Buffalo Style Chicken Livers

Soup

zucchini2The turn in weather this week has me dreaming of soup and big mugs of tea and fresh baked bread slathered in butter. With our current tilt toward eating healthy, I’m getting the soup and tea. In fact, as I write this, I have peppermint tea in Alex’s ceramic mug. He loves this mug because it has a nice big handle, making it easy to grip with his big man hands (sausage fingers?) I love the mug, too. A little bit for the same reason but also because it’s his mug and I like drinking tea from it and feeling that quiet connection.

In addition to all the tea you can stand to drink, from any kind of mug, soup is considered a reasonably healthy choice, with some caveats. No cream. Minimal potatoes. Not too much bacon (or any, really). That’s about it, I think. Making soup flavourful and healthy is actually pretty straight-forward and you still feel satiated and full of love from it. I also like to make less-healthy soups which my daughters truly enjoy. And it makes me happy to feed them something so full of love and warmth.garlic

In case you haven’t noticed, I love soup. Which I find kind of funny because as a kid, I would have nothing to do with soup. I pretty much thought it was nonsense: a bowl of mystery textures waiting to torture me. Fortunately, I slowly moved through this particular neurosis and have come to fully embrace soup. I have soup preferences, mind you. For example, smooth soups are okay but chunky soups are the best. As Annie, a frequent customer at my cousins’ restaurant in Riding Mountain used to say in her thick Ukrainian accent, “I like tick soup, lots of juice”. It’s true, I do. I like my soup with lots going on it. And our youngest kid totally gets this and loves soup. She would eat it for every single meal. So, I make a lot of soup. And I think I’m pretty good at it. My dear friend Harry Paine, a brilliant cook among his other great skills, used to tell me my soups looked horrible but always tasted divine. He said I had the ability to make something out of nothing. I made 2 soups this week and I’m going to share the recipes – one is healthier than the other but they are both fabulous so enjoy!

cropped-onions.jpg

 

Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek soup

2 tbsps olive oil

3 large beautiful leeks, thinly sliced cross-wise – as you near the dark green parts, peel back the tougher bits and keep slicing, until it’s all tough parts.

3 lbs potatoes, cut in half and then thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

stock to cover – about 1.5 litres

chili flakes

salt and pepper

1 whole lemon – zest the rind and juice it

  1. Put the sliced leeks in a colander and push the rings apart. Leeks hold a lot of dirt from growing so you want to take a few minutes to make sure they are well rinsed.
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a big soup pot. Add the leeks and saute til soft. Add the potatoes,garlic, chili flakes and saute for a few minutes, getting a bit of char happening on some of the potatoes.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock and scrape the bottom of the pot to pull up all the yummy bits stuck to the bottom. Let simmer for 40 minutes, uncovered.
  4. Add lemon zest and lemon juice. Taste to decide if it needs more salt or pepper.

Sometimes, I will throw a can of corn into this soup because I know my girls love it and it adds a bit of colour. You can add it at any point.

Tomato Lentil Soup

lentil soup1/2 lb diced bacon or turkey bacon or diced sausage (this is totally optional – if not using bacon or sausage, you will need some canola or olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan before sautéing the veggies)

1 white onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 ribs of celery, sliced (including the leaves, they are so good, especially in soups)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 zucchini, diced

1 cup cut green beans (or cabbage or cauliflower)

1 big can diced tomatoes or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes

2 cups cooked french lentils (brown or Puy – just not red lentils – boil them in stock, herbs and a tsp of butter until they are al dente)

1/2 tsp chili flakes

salt and pepper

chopped fresh basil or flat leaf parsley or both (and as much or as little as you like)

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

  1. Fry the bacon in the soup pot until crispy – depending on the size of the pot, you may need to do this in batches. If you put too much bacon in at once, it kind of struggles to get crispy – leave space between the pieces. If using bacon, start with a cold pot and heat it at medium high, this avoids the bacon burning or being burnt and soggy: truly a bacon disaster.
  2.  Once the bacon or sausage is nice and crispy, remove it from the pot and set aside. Drain off most of the fat, just leaving a coating on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Saute the onions over medium high heat until soft and just starting to turn brown, add celery, carrots and garlic. Add chili flakes, salt, pepper. Cook for another 1-2 minutes then add the zucchini. Continue to saute for a few minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, green beans and lentils. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Add the chopped herbs and the balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash with Shitake and Apple Appetizer

1 butternut squash

apple

1 cup shitake mushroom tops

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tart apple

lemon juice

olive oil

salt and pepper

1.I love how butternut squash has 2 parts, the top is shaped like a zucchini and is solid flesh. the bottom is round and is hollow, filled with seeds. This recipe uses both those parts. Try to find a squash with a skinny top so that when you slice it, it is a good appetizer size. To prepare, cut he top  and bottom off the squash. Cut the squash in half separating the skinny part from the round part. Peel the skinny part and slice into 1/4inch thick coins. Cut the round part in half and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the top coins in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes, until it starts to brown. Bake the bottom part for 30-40 minutes until soft.

2.slice shitake mushrooms tops, sauté in a little oil with garlic, add soy sauce and remove from heat.

3. Scoop the squash out of the bottom half of the squash, puree in a food processor until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper

4. slice apple into little matchsticks, toss with lemon.

5. To assemble, drop a teaspoon of warm squash puree onto each squash round. top with shitake mushrooms, garnish with apple matchsticks. This dish tastes like early autumn. Depending on how big the squash is, you should get around 12 canapes. You will probably have leftover puree which you can use for a veggie side dish or as the base of a soup.

Yam, Kale and Ground Turkey Hash

 

Yam, Kale and Ground Turkey Hash

yam schmammer1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalepeno, diced

1 very large or 2 regular yams, diced

4 cups of kale, stripped of stems and chopped

1lb ground turkey

2 tbsps chili powder

1 tbsp cumin

2 tbsps oil, divided in 2

Salt and pepper to taste

At medium high, heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan, add chili powder and cumin, let cook for 1 minute. Add the onion and saute until cooked through. Add garlic and jalepeno, cook for 1 minute.  Meanwhile, steam the yams in the microwave on high for 5 minutes with ½ cup of water. Drain off the water and add the yams to the onions. Cook for 5 minutes then add the chopped kale.

In a separate pan, heat up 1 tbsp of oil and add the ground turkey. Saute until cooked then add to the sweet potato mixture.

I wasn’t sure how this dish was going to go but it was delicious! So good. And I feel it is entirely in the spirit of the meal plan.

Nourishing Narratives

naturally-nourished.jpg

I love cookbooks. You could say I collect them. Someday I would love to open a Chef’s Library (fully licensed of course). I read cookbooks instead of novels, I’ve always said I have too short an attention span for a novel, a cookbook is like a collection of short stories. Tasty short stories.

I have an interesting relationship with cookbooks. They come to me at different times, I flip through them, look at the pictures, read a couple recipes. Sometimes I will become obsessed with the book right away, I’ll read and re-read it, try recipes, seek out more information about the author. Other times, the cook book isn’t really where I am at in that moment. And I will put it away, almost forget about it. And then, at some future moment I’ll remember and rediscover that book and fall in love with it. I had that with Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton. I received it for Christmas one year, flipped through it and put it away. This past winter, I was looking for ideas, pulled Prune off the shelf, and Bam!, I was hooked. I wanted to make everything in the book and I didn’t want to make anything that wasn’t in the book.

Some books are great collections of recipes. Others are great inspirations. Some are both. The French Laundry, but Thomas Keller, is a great coffee table book. It has great recipes, most of which you will never make, but it is punctuated by beautiful little stories of his career as a young chef. I often encourage my cooks to read the story about the rabbits. But I also love books like the Mennonite Heritage Cookbook or cookbooks put out by church guilds and community clubs. These have low production values but are filled with great recipes. They often assume you know how to cook, they use instructions like “add enough flour to make a soft dough” and “cook until done”. But if you want five different recipes for million dollar relish, these are the books for you.

I am often asked, “what is your favourite cookbook?” Sometimes I will say which ever one I am leafing through at the time. But if pushed, I will list two books. The first is always The Joy of Cooking; not the new one, but the old one. You know the one, the one with the hand drawn illustration of how to skin a squirrel. This book is dense with recipes. There is pretty much a recipe for anything you might want to make. But these were recipes for a leaner time. If I am making a dessert out of Joy , I always double the amount of chocolate it asks for. But I particularly love the ‘About’ sections: here the book will give you detailed description of how ingredients work and the techniques behind types of recipes. Anyone interested in cooking would benefit from studying this tome. The other is The Zuni Cafe. I don’t know if I have every made a recipe out of this book, but every time I pick it up, it inspires and educates. I love the stories she tells of working for the Troisgros brothers or of Alice Waters in the early days. I am particularly excited by her lengthy and rule breaking treatises on such subjects as salt or making stocks. Whenever I am struggling with a menu or a dish, I return to The Zuni Cafe.

 

So, whenever I get an idea in my head of some new food adventure I want to go on, I always start by seeking out a new cookbook. This summer Danielle and I decided to embark on a “Eating Clean” plan. Danielle’s personal trainer gave her an incredibly boring meal plan. It was nutritionally complete, not too onerous to follow, but dull and we knew we wouldn’t be content with just eating yams, broccoli, boneless chicken breasts and eggs. If it was going to work for us we had to make it tasty. So, down we go to the nearest bookstore. After flipping through a pile of healthy cookbooks, we landed on Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton (Random House, 2017). The recipes in this book fit in with the vegetable intensive lifestyle we lean toward and were embarking on. But more than that, it is a beautiful book with great pictures. It is filled with some gorgeous and creative recipes: charred green beans with romesco sauce, celery leaf salad with balsamic eggplant or cauliflower steaks with charmoula and eggs.

We bought the cookbook on Thursday and we had to bring a dish to a cocktail party  on Saturday. So, we decided to make a dish out of Naturally Nourished. After flipping through the book, we landed on “Baked Feta with Olives, Peppers and Tomatoes”. It looked like a great sharing appetizer. Serve it with some of my fresh baked sour dough and it should be a hit.

The recipe is simple, quarter cherry tomatoes (or you could coarsely chop bigger tomatoes), dice red peppers, pit and chop olives. Toss all this together with oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper. Then you crumble feta into the bottom of a crock or casserole dish. Top the feta with the tomato, olive mixture and bake at 400F (200C) for 25 minutes. Then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with coarsely chopped Italian parsley and serve with bread or pita.  We topped it with oregano flowers from our garden. When we made it, we found it super tasty, but the feta never got soft enough to be a dip. I think a lot depends on what feta you use. If your feta is fairly soft and creamy, it will work fine. If it is on the harder/drier side, I would suggest whizzing it in a food processor with a little heavy cream or cream cheese and then putting into the dish. This dish is a great appetizer, but if you served it with a piece of grilled chicken and some brown rice you would have a delicious dinner.


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