Official Chefdom, and Thanks

I'm feeling overwhelmed. It's been almost a month since my last post, which is, frankly, unacceptable. I've done approximately no writing and no recipe sharing in the past 27 days, and I'm not happy about it. I mean, even if no one actually reads these little posts, it makes me happy to have them here, dotting the internets with pictures of risotto and tales of apple tart.

At any rate, I have almost a month's worth of news to share, so you may want to settle in.

Firstly - and this is kind of a big one - I, uh... I graduated from the culinary program at FCI last week.

...YAY official chefdom! You're looking at a real, live chef here, people. It's true! Okay, so you're not really looking at me, but trust me, I'm a chef. At least, I have a ridiculously tall hat and a laminated diploma that confirms it. ...Laminated, you guys.

Yep, after a month spent in the level six kitchens, churning out stuffed calamari and venison and clam consommé, and then after a day spent completely freaking out/taking the final exam (during which I had to make clam consommé and pear tartlettes, among other things), the powers that be (ahem, the folks down at the French Culinary Institute) declared me worthy of chefness. Yes!

Soooo yeah, I'm kind of excited about that. I'm also kind of sad that it's over. I mean, it's not really over - I have another six whole months in the pastry program (a regular chef I may be, but a pastry chef I am not. Yet.), but it's not the same.

Which brings me to news item number two: yesterday was my first day in the pastry program. So far things are going well - I successfully managed to make a bunch of tarts (banana cream tart, pear & almond tart, fresh fruit tart, yadda yadda yadda tart), but, as I mentioned, it's not the same. I miss my old classmates. I miss Nadine and Steve and Rodney and Tina and Big Rob and Dave and everyone. Sigh. At least I know I can find consolation in pastry cream.

Next is news item number three, which isn't really a news item so much as a major national holiday. Yeah that's right, I am talking about Thanksgiving. Thaaaanksgiviiiiiiing! Ahem, yes. It was on Thursday. I know Thursday was six days ago and you're probably tired of talking about giving thanks and family and mashed potatoes, but it's my very favorite holiday (by a landslide. A huge one.) and I'd like to discuss it further. Besides, what kind of food blogger would I be if I wrote nary a word about the most gluttonous holiday of them all?

So yes, Thanksgiving. Mine involved a raucous game of football,

numerous pies,

a video camera, a pan of stuffing that was accidentally dropped on the sidewalk, a delicious batch of macaroni and cheese (to replace said stuffing), a turkey carve-off, a rogue batch of whipped cream, and, of course, a lot of Gramma's chopped chicken liver. All in all, another wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with much to be thankful for, including:
  • my family
  • electric mixers
  • tall chefs hats
  • old classmates
  • new classmates
  • chicken liver
  • Grandmas

Finally, we come to item number four: this year, six days after Thanksgiving, what are you, invisible reader, thankful for? I, as a chef (!), would like to know.

Gramma Inez's Chopped Chicken Liver

Remember that time I wrote about offal, and how darn awful it is? Well, this one doesn't count. This is my Gramma Inez's Chopped Chicken Liver, a staple at every Thanksgiving since the beginning of time, and a shining beacon in the world of organ meats.

If you're feeling a little wary of a recipe that involves chicken fat, chopped livers and hard boiled eggs, it's okay. I'll admit, it's not my normal, everyday fare, but, smeared on a crispy cracker, with a glass of wine in hand and my family chattering around me, this stuff is downright delicious. Creamy and salty, with a nice crunch from the cracker... happiness in an appetizer. Still feeling skeptical? Fine, I won't make you try it. ...More for me. Thanks, Gramma!

  • 2-3 Tbsp chicken fat (schmaltz)
  • 2 lbs chicken livers, rinsed and dried with paper towels
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 10-12 eggs, hard boiled
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • paprika, to finish

In a large skillet, melt the chicken fat. Add the two large onions and cook over medium low heat, until onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken livers, and cook over medium heat until the livers are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the liver mixture is done, transfer it from the pan to a large mixing bowl. Using two table knives, chop the chicken liver mixture into pea-sized pieces. Add the hard boiled eggs and continue chopping, until the mixture is thoroughly diced. You can use a food processor to chop and mix all of the ingredients, but you're looking for a grainy, chopped texture, so be careful not to completely purée your livers. Mix in the remaining 1/2 onion (uncooked), and more salt and pepper, to taste.

Grease a bowl or round jello mold with more chicken fat. Pack in the chopped liver, and chill in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can just skip the molding part and pile the chopped chicken liver onto a platter. If you go with the mold method, unmold the liver by running a sharp paring knife around the edges of the mold and turning it out onto a large platter. If the mixture sticks to the mold, don't worry, it's easy to patch up. And in all honesty, it's hard to get chicken liver looking that pretty, anyway, so don't worry about any unmolding mishaps. Just dust the unmolded chicken liver with a bit of paprika, surround with table crackers, and serve to a room full of hungry Jews (...or non-Jews who are into things like chopped chicken liver. I mean, it's possible... right?)

Serves about 20, as an appetizer.


The Last Level

Level six! Level six! Level! Six!

Yeah. I've made it to Level six at school. Level six, for those who are counting, is the last level in the culinary program at the FCI. The last level! Gah. In a few short weeks it'll be au revoir, culinary program, and bonjour, pastry!

It's all very overwhelming to think about but, to be honest, I haven't really had much time to think about it. I've been busy sweating over searing pans of venison and beef, trying desperately to clarify pots full of clam consommé, attempting to keep my fingers away from the bubbling oil frying our cod cakes (apparently my fingers just can't stay away, which is unfortunate, because it's freaking hot) and getting surly, french looks from our surly, french chef.

Chef M. is very tall and very serious, and likes to say things like "zere is nuh-zing worse den 'ard beans. Make sure you cook zem all de way tru guys, eh? What are you, crazy?" To which you reply "No, Chef. Yes, Chef." This will prompt him to then say something along the lines of "Who is ze best? I am. I run zis place." Level six is great.

Here, we have a Seared Fish Combo in a Clam Consommé:

And here, Pan-Seared Venison with White Bean Ragout, Bacon, Cipollini Onions, and Caramelized Apples with Lemon-Ginger Jus:

And here, something a little less schmancy:

Pantry Pasta

With all of the new Level six recipes to learn and my internship with Liddabit Sweets still going strong, I haven't had much time to venture out to the grocery store lately. After a long day of searing off beef tenderloin and making double batches of caramel, I found myself home at 8pm, hungry for dinner and staring into a practically empty refrigerator.

Sometimes, this game is fun. What can I make with an eggplant, half a box of crackers, a jar of coarse mustard and a rind of cheese? Sometimes I'm too tired to play, and I end up eating half a box of crackers for dinner. Tonight, though, I decided to skip the box of crackers and do something about the Sicilian-herbed olives and half jar of crème fraiche sitting in my fridge. This is the something I came up with.

Note - I'm not including amounts in this recipe, because I threw it together, all willy-nilly-like, and I don't think it's important to know precise measurements for this type of meal. Add however much butter and lemon and crème fraiche (and whatever else you feel like throwing in there) you like - just taste as you go, and adjust to your liking. Feel free to add red pepper flakes or some parmesan cheese to your pasta - I would have, if I'd had them around.

  • Orecchiete pasta
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • butter
  • crème fraiche
  • fresh lemon juice
  • fennel seeds
  • Mt. Athos olives with Sicilian herbs (I found these at Whole Foods)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • chopped parsley

Cook your pasta in boiling, salted water to al dente. Drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Drizzle olive oil over pasta, and stir in a bit of butter. Add the crème fraiche, lemon juice, and fennel seeds, and stir to create a light, creamy sauce. Add the olives and pepper, to taste, and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.