Sunday, March 30, 2008

New Domain and Weekend Update (3/31/08)

I finally switched the blog over to its own domain. Barefoot Plumies is now officially The old URL will be redirected but might be a good idea to update your bookmark. You'll also notice a new custom bookmark icon (supported by most browsers).

I can't believe that April is already upon us. Whew, where did March go? Not too much to report on the weekend except that 4 of my old knives are now very sharp (sharpened using the Edge Pro Apex)!! They are not krazy keen, paper slicing sharp but sharper than they've ever been. But I did get the Wusthof Grand Prix II santoku paper slicing sharp! I'll work on the rest since now there's a standard to compare to. That was pretty much the whole weekend. Hope you had a good one. Have a terrific week.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

(Aloha) Friday Ramblings

Aloha Friday!! My latest new toy came yesterday. It's the Edge Pro Apex. I've been oogling over Japanese knives for a few months now and in order to help maintain the krazy keen sharpness of these knives, I thought I'd better learn how to sharpen knives the correct way. Rather than trying to learn the freehand method, I decided to go with the Apex. There are a lot of information out there about Japanese knives and sharpening knives. Just Google it.

So far, I've only practiced on my old Chicago Cutlery Chef's knife. Not krazy keen sharp yet (or razor sharp if you will). But I'm going to practice more this weekend. I'm told the learning curve varies so I'm not discouraged yet. Besides, I've got forum friends always ready and willing to answer any questions I have (thanks, Captain Buzz!). And if UPS is on time, I should have a couple of Japanese knives waiting for me when I get home from work. I'll post on those later.

Other than that, not much else to report on. I got my second order for a personalized pet fleece blanket yesterday. Wow, wonder if I should just quit my day job and just sell pet items...ah, it's nice to have dreams! Maybe if I stop playing with knives, I'll look into, maybe.

We've watched a lot of movies lately.

  • Hitman starring Tim Olyphant was entertaining (you have to accept it for what it is).
  • The Painted Veil - I could have passed on it.
  • The Invasion (2006 remake of The Body Snatchers) was okay, not as good as the Donald Sutherland version.
  • I Am Legend was extremely depressing for me (if you watch it, you'll know why).
  • Dan in Real Life was good, started a little slow but was good overall.
  • Can't understand all the hoo-ha-ha about Atonement. This movie was about 100 minutes too long; interesting ending though.
  • To Kill a King should have been more aptly titled "To Burn a DVD."
  • Halloween (2007) was just so-so. Just a slightly different take on the old story.
  • Goya's Ghost was pretty good (I watched it myself). Personally, I think Natalie Portman has really improved her acting skills since her Star Wars Episode 1 days. She did a terrific job as the little girl in The Professional.
  • Ratatouille was very cute. Sure, you can say that the topic was right up my alley but it was cute, nonetheless.

Don't have any new recipes planned for this weekend except maybe I will experiment with my chicken fingers using panko and baking it. So have an Aloha Friday and a wonderful weekend. Now go and eat well.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Poway Firefighters Speak Out

I don't know why I keep reading news articles because I always end up being infuriated or frustrated about something (most often both). In the last week or so, a story broke about how Poway firefighters might have abandoned some homes in High Valley during the Witch Creek fires. In truth, it was a City Administrator that ordered the firefighters to back down and stay out of High Valley.

SD Tribune quoted City Manager Rod Gould that he did in fact make the decision to keep firefighters out of that area after consults with division chiefs. He explained that "if we didn't have enough resources to protect the rest of the city, and if High Valley goes up, we would not protect High Valley,” Gould apparently stands by his statement and would "make the same decision again and again" because he didn't want to send in an already depleted resource to High Valley. Deputy Mayor Bob Emery said it wasn't worth risking firefighters' lives.

Okay, I support Emery's point that we shouldn't unnecessarily risk firefighters' lives but let's not forget the nature of the job is risky to begin with. Yes, certainly there are levels of risk and I certainly wouldn't risk sending men in if the risks are too high or if efforts would make little to no difference. Also, if the City knows that the narrow two-lane High Valley Road have always presented a potential danger to big firetrucks, why hasn't the City done anything about it? Does this mean that High Valley residences have no choice but to figure out how to deal with fires themselves? Well, no, according Gould because it's dangerous. Instead, Gould wants to discuss new fire-prevention measures such as using fire-resistant building materials, tighter vegetation management, and use of mobile emergency pumps to boost water supply during firefighting. Um, if you're not sending firefighters up to High Valley and not allowing residences to protect themselves, who is going to operate these emergency pumps? And who is going to pay for replacing fire-resistant building materials or managing the vegetation?

Mike Swanson, a 30-year Poway Fire Department veteran who retired in December, told his side of the story. He said he and 5 firetrucks sat outside of High Valley for "hours and hours" wondering why they were given orders to stay out of High Valley. They kept asking why they couldn't go fight the fire, especially in the first crucial 5 1/2 hours.

I certainly don't pretend to know all the operational details and crucial moment by moment decisions that need to be made in emergency situations like the Witch Creek fire. But I also don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that it's important to listen to all levels, especially the field crews to make the best decision, as Swanson stated. Yes, Gould had consulted with division chiefs but he doesn't say what their recommendations were. Let's hear from the division chiefs and their conversations with their captains.

And the fact that Gould and other City Administrators were more than happy to keep quiet and let the firefighters take the brunt of the anger and blame from local residences seems underhanded by my standards. It wasn't until some firefighters broke the silence in order to protect the good name of the Poway firefighters that Gould finally came out and owned up that it was his decision. In my book, Poway firefighters are the best and they have done a spectacular job year after year, risking their lives to protect those who live or work in Poway.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

CAB's Chili

This recipe adds beans as the last step. The reason is to prevent overcooking and splitting of the beans. If you prefer Chili con Carne or if you're entering a Texas chili cookoff, skip the beans (unless you want to be hung by your toes in front of an angry Texan mob). Also, I don't really brown the ground meat because I find that it makes the beef tough and dry. I use the same method as my bolognese sauce because the result is a very tender and flavorful meat.

This chili recipe has 2 spice dumps (typical chili recipes can have 2 or 3, some even up to 5!). The first dump is to penetrate the meat. The second is to flavor the gravy. No matter how many dumps you use, don't put the cumin in until the last dump to prevent it from getting bitter (from overcooking). Also, don't overstir the pot while simmering or you'll break down the meat too much. Just an occasional stir will suffice.

Step 1:
1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, finely diced
7 medium white mushrooms, chopped fine
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chicken or beef broth (I prefer beef)

In 4-Quart pot, heat oil on medium-high heat. Brown the onions and mushrooms, stirring frequently, until brown bits form on the bottom of pan (~6-20 minutes). Add 2 tablespoon of the broth to deglaze, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pot. Add ground beef and cook until it loses it raw color (no more pink). Stir to break up the meat.

Step 2 (Dump 1):
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce (Hunt’s preferred)
3 cups chicken or beef broth (I prefer beef)
3 oz of canned or jarred jalapeno pepper rings with 1 Tbsp of juice
1 ½ tsp onion powder
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp chili powder

Add all ingredients to the pot. Cover pot and cook for 1 hour on just high enough heat to give you about 8-9 bubbles on the surface (this is about a medium heat on my stove). Give it and occasional stir.

Step 3 (Dump 2):
1 tsp Cayenne powder
2 tsp cumin
¼ tsp Hungarian paprika
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp brown sugar

Add ingredients to the pot. Leave covered, bring to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Keep an eye out on the amount of gravy. If it looks like it's starting to dry up, add 1 cup more broth. If serving as Chili con Carne, skip Step 4 and serve.

Step 4:
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp of honey

Add ingredients to the pot. Leave covered and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve.

I usually like to have my chili with a side of corn bread with honey butter. I admit that I don't make corn bread from scratch but I make my own honey butter by whipping a stick of butter with lots of honey (to taste, of course). I like Betty Crocker's Corn Bread and Muffin mix. It's delicious and costs less than a dollar per pack. Can't beat that!

One last note, I am going to play around with different types of chili powder (there's a whole lot of them out there) and see how the taste changes. I'm going to look for a combo that provides good depth and richness, as well as good heat when you take the first bite and then a great aftertaste (or afterburn if you prefer).

Let me know if you have a TNT (tried-and-true) chili recipe to share.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce and Sweet Potato Fries

Last night's dinner was chicken fingers with honey mustard dipping sauce with a side of sweet potato fries. All 3 items were first timers and according to the Mister, this meal was out of the ballpark! Oh yeah, I noticed something yesterday while I was making dinner. Apparently I can't operate a camera while I'm cooking. Is that like walking and chewing bubble gum at the same time? So you guessed it, no pictures again, sorry.

I made the fingers similar to that of my fried chicken recipe, except I did a double dip. I wanted to see if double dipping (actually, double dipping and dredging) would create a nicer crust. It turned out really good. I might add more spices next time since I think an extra kick would go really well with the honey mustard sauce.

Since I had the electric wok all set up for frying, I decided to finally use the sweet potatoes I had lying around. Gave me a chance to use my Bron-Coucke mandoline. The fries turned out thinner than I had wanted but it still fried up nice on a test fry. The fries were really good, even cold. They didn't crisp up as much as I would have liked but maybe an extra minute or two would have done the trick. Tasty nonetheless (the Mister was going to town on them).

The following recipe for the chicken fingers estimates 1 chicken breast per person. If you're feeding big appetites, make about 1.5 chicken breasts per person. The prep areas were similar to other fry foods. The "raw" area consists of 1 bowl of flour and 1 bowl of buttermilk (for the second dipping). I didn't use a raw resting area since I added the strips directly after the second dredging. The "cooked" area was a resting area (draining rack over a baking sheet) for the cooked fingers.

3 boneless chicken breasts, each breast cut into 4 equal strips
4 cups (1 quart) buttermilk
4 cups all purpose flour
Vegetable shortening for frying (you can use Canola oil)

Chicken Seasoning ingredients:
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place chicken strips into a plastic container and cover with 2 cups of buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oil to 350 degrees. Use enough oil to come up at least half way up on the chicken strips.

Drain chicken strips in a colander. Combine Chicken Seasoning ingredients. Liberally cover the chicken strips with seasoning. Dredge strips in flour and shake off excess. Dip strips into buttermilk and then back into flour. Shake off excess flour.

Carefully place a few strips into heated oil. Don't overcrowd the pan or fryer. Fry chicken strips for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve with honey mustard for dipping (see below).

CAB's Honey Mustard Sauce ingredients:
2 Tbsp mayonnaise (I recommend Best Foods)
4 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp yellow prepared mustard
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Horseradish
Pinch of salt and pepper

Whisk ingredients together. Let stand for at least 15 minutes. Can be refrigerated but let it come to room temperature before serving.

Sweet Potato Fries:
I par-fried the sweet potato fries first, then fried them again after the chicken fingers were done.

Cut the sweet potatoes into about long 1/4" strips. Cover the SP strips with water until all the SP are cut. Drain and then rinse the SP strips under cold running water until water runs clean (this is to remove excess starch). Thoroughly pat dry the strips.

Heat up oil to 325 degrees F. Add fries, about handful at a time, to the hot oil. Fry and stir occasionally until potatoes are soft and limp. It will turn a blond color, about 3 to 6 minutes, depending on the thickness. Use a spider to carefully remove fries from the oil and set aside to a drain area (mine is a draining rack over a baking sheet). Rest for 10 minutes or up to 2 hours.

At this point, I made the chicken fingers since I wanted the fries to be hot.

When ready to serve the sweet potato fries, reheat the oil to 350 degrees F. Transfer the par-fried sweet potatoes into the hot oil a handful at a time. Fry again, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer back to drain area. Sprinkle salt or other seasoning at this time. Serve immediately.

Yes, it was a lot of fried foods but dang, this was good. I certainly wouldn't make this all the time (moderation is the key, right?) but I'll definitely have to make this again soon.

Postscript: I recently did a double fry on the chicken fingers when my timing was off. You can read about it here.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Simple Bolognese Sauce

My version of the recipe is based off of Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking." But over the years, I'm changed a few things to it, which is more suited to my taste as well as time. Hazan's recipe calls for simmering for at least 3 hours and sometimes, that's just not possible. So I've made some adjustments using some techniques from other recipes I've tried to help build a full flavor that appealed to me without the extra time. This recipe also makes enough for leftovers, which I like to freeze into serving portions (for 2 usually).


  • 1 lb of ground chuck (can substitute with ground beef around 80% lean, don't go too lean)
  • 4 oz cremini (brown) mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, diced very fine
  • 1 celery stalk, diced very fine
  • 1 carrot, diced very fine
  • 1 small onion (about 2/3 cup), chopped fine
  • 5-6 medium garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press and like a lot of garlic)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomato
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomato, undrained, optional (see Postscript below)
  • 1 can tomatoe sauce (I like Hunts)
  • 1 Tbspoon fresh or 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • Salt to taste (I like to use Kosher)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup good white wine
I use a food processor to finely chop the mushroom, celery and carrots using several pulses. The pieces should be about 1/8" in size but not pureed.

Heat oil and butter in large sauce pan over medium heat. Cook onion until translucent and then add mushrooms, carrots, and celery. Cook until vegetables are soft, around 6 minutes. Stir frequently. Add garlic, pepper flakes and tomato paste, cook until fragrant and tomato paste begins to turn darker, about 1-2 minute. I really like the addition of tomato paste to bring out the flavor. This is a trick I learned from Cook's Illustrated.

Add meat, a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Stir to break apart the meat, and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until the meat loses raw color (no more pink). DO NOT brown the meat. From what I've learned, in traditional Italian bolognese sauce, meat is never browned. If the meat is starting to brown, turn down the heat just a tad and stir more frequently.

Add the milk and let it simmer, stirring frequently, until milk "bubbles away" (as Hazan puts it). Add the wine and let it simmer until it evaporates. Add in the crushed tomatoe, tomato sauce, and stir to combine. Bring it to a simmer and turn down the heat to simmer gently with the lid OFF for about 1 hour. Bubbles should break through the surface intermittenly. Stir occasionally.

If you want to simmer longer, stir from time to time and monitor the liquid level. If the sauce begins to dry out and the fat separates, stir in about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of water as necessary. Make sure that the water completely evaporates before cooking stops. Personally, I only go as long as about 90 minutes and have not had to add any water.

If the sauce tastes too acidic, stir in a pat of butter, which will give the sauce a smoother taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.

What to do with this sauce? It can used in any recipe that calls for a meat sauce. I typically like it with linguine and have also used it in baked rigatoni and lasagna. Tonight, I'm making lasagna with it.

Leftover sauce will be frozen in a freezer bag. Great for last minute meals. Leftover can also be stored in the fridge for about 5 days.

I will update this recipe with any future adjustments that I think will enhance the sauce.

Now I'm going to go and eat well. Hope you do, too.

Postscript: I recently started adding 1 can of Hunts Diced tomatoes (something CI includes in one of its many bolognese recipes) and I really like the chunky texture the diced tomatoes adds to the sauce. But because of the extra liquid it adds, I've started to cook it for 2 hours to get the same reduction as without the extra liquid. The biggest difference that I found is that it tastes more tomato-ey, fresher kind of taste because of the tomato chunks. I think I like it this way with long pasta, like linguine. I prefer the original recipe (without diced tomatoes) for lasagna and baked rigatoni. Give it a try and see which one you like best.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spam Musubi

I have been on a Spam Musubi kick lately. (Spam, spam, spam, spam, wonderful Spam!) And with any kick comes with more research on the subject. What I found interesting was Wikipedia's description of Spam musubi as having salted rice. Of all the recipes, blogs, and websites that I've read, none of them spoke about salting the rice to make it musubi rice (vs. sushi rice). But the description of musubi in Wikipedia is an "unseasoned" block of rice. Huh...just goes to show you that anything on Wikipedia has to be taken with a grain of salt. Speaking of salt, it would be interesting to know where the person who wrote about Spam musubi got the salt reference.

Speaking of Spam, even the DSC show on KGB had a recent segment where Cookie and Boyer cooked up some Spam and Eggs for Dave because he never had it before. You can see a slide show of the beautiful breakfast that Cookie whipped up.

When the Mister travels, I'm always looking for simple dishes to whip up for myself. So it's not surprising that I've resorted to Spam musubi as my staple this week. I've been known to get so lazy at times that I'll resort to eating a whole can of garbanzo beans just so I don't have to cook. I was even too lazy to whip up a batch of hummus. Now that's lazy. But I did make some penne pasta with asparagus and anchovies on Sunday that will last the entire week. But I can't have the same dish for lunch and dinner 5 nights in a row. So Spam musubi will be the filler. Ahhh, Spam musubi.

I recall having Spam as a kid but it was not a favorite of mine. Mom would cook it up with some eggs. Again, eggs weren't a favorite of mine as a kid. We never had Spam musubi because, well...apparently Spam musubi wasn't introduced until the 1980's. By then, we had already moved to the mainland.

I finally tried my first Spam musubi not too long ago all because of a wrong order. I was starving and feeling a little adventurous, I ordered a Spam musubi at a local plate lunch eatery. Actually, I ordered a Portuguese sausage musubi but the lady taking the order got it wrong. I didn't correct her and thought, what the hey. I'll try Spam. Goes to show you how hungry I was. And there it was. This beautiful brick of rice, with a slice of fried Spam snuggling up to it, all tucked in with a strip of nori blanket. My first bite, a bit of saltiness of the Spam followed by a taste of sweetness, almost teriyaki-like in flavor and the sweetness of the sticky rice. It was delicious. I couldn't believe I enjoyed it so, even with the tough nori, it was delicious. Heck, even the Mister liked it. I knew then that I would have to add Spam musubi to my recipe collection.

There are plenty of Spam musubi recipes on the Internet and they are all pretty close. Some add a type of sauce, usually sweet, others keep it plain, and some will even add furikake. I like mine with a simple teriyaki sauce. It's made with 1/4 cup Aloha Shoyu, 1/4 cup sugar (brown if you prefer), and 1/8 cup part Mirin, reduced down to a slightly thick consistency. Some recipes call for equal parts of Mirin but that's a little too much for me. But give the different sauces a try and see which you like best.

I had a leftover Spam musubi for breakfast this morning (with a side of oatmeal, need something to battle that artery clogging fat). I nuked it in the microwave for about 45 seconds and it brought the rice back from spending a night in the fridge. The nori, however, didn't fair well, as expected. It was soggy and fell apart upon picking up the brick. But it was pretty darn good for a leftover. Of course now I'm going into the musubi coma (is it too early in the morning to get a kanak attack?) but then again, it could also be because of the stupid daylight savings time. I better go get another cup of caffeine before the boss catches me asleep at my desk.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday Nothings

It's the Monday after Daylight Savings Time (DST) and I am exhausted. I hate DST. Although it didn't help I had to get up at 3:30 PDT (which would have been 4:30 PT) yesterday. And for those people who say they love daylight savings because they get an extra hour of daylight, I want to know what kind of math you were taught in school. If the sun rises and sets at a particular interval of time (given the variable of the time of the year), moving the clocks ahead or back will give you exactly the same amount of sunshine as before the time change. Blah blah blah about what time you get up.

And this whole thing about DST saving energy may be as effective as CFLs are at saving the environment [insert sarcasm here]. Well, okay, maybe daylight savings isn't as potentially harmful to people (when broken), but it doesn't eliminate the fact that many studies have shown that DST actually increases the use of energy.

I bet there are still people who don't know that the concept of DST was first suggested by Benjamin Franklin during a visit to Paris, as a satire. He wrote that fewer candles would be used if people got up earlier and went to bed earlier. There have been studies over the years about whether DST is truly energy saving and most conclusions have been no, some even saying that DST ends up costing more. In particular, a study by the University of California Santa Barbara found that DST increases energy use. It was based on a study of households in Indiana. Indiana DST estimated that the state’s residents would save over $7 million in electricity costs each year. Since the switch, researchers have found Indianans actually spent $8.6 million more each year because of DST, and increased emissions came with a social cost of between $1.6 million and $5.3 million per year.

Why? Some theorize that home air conditioning has caused the increase due to more daylight toward the end of a summer’s day that causes people to more likely turn on their air conditioners when they come home from work. Sounds like jumping over a dollar to pick up a penny, if you ask me. And if this is true, DST doesn't make sense in places that are warm. It would only make sense in cooler climates since air conditioning would not be as prevalent. So maybe DST would make sense in those places.

Another study of energy was conducted in Australia that came to similar conclusions as UCSB's study. I also don't buy the California Energy Commission's tout that "less electricity would be used for lighting and appliances late in the day" during DST. CEC "claims" that with the hour shift that households plan more for outdoor activities in the extra daylight hours so we're not home sucking up energy. Well, at least they did clarify their statement that "the amounts of energy saved per household are small..."

As for me, I think that statement is very true in my household. We get up pretty early so we have to turn on the same lights no matter what time of the year. The only big difference is when we have to turn on the lights in the family room in the evening. That's 2 bulbs worth.

All in all, I just wish California would pick one time and stick with it. Some researchers said that DST isn't effective in the colder months (Nov-Feb). And if time shifts either way doesn't effect energy costs during those months, then why not just stay on DST then?

That's enough ranting for a Monday morning. Have a wonderful week and hope that you weren't late for work this morning. I'm going to go get me some more caffeine.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

What am I, Chopped Liver?

Thankfully, yes!! And I wouldn't want it any other way! Although the idiom usually has a derogatory connotation (something along the lines of being perceived as being of little value or worth), chopped liver has found its way into my heart (and stomach) as well as the rest of the family. Gosh, and we're not even Jewish. Granted, we each like some kind of liver dish, ah, that is well prepared liver dish, so it wasn't too hard of a stretch for chopped liver to make it onto our favorites list.

The history of chopped liver is a bit...choppy (sorry). But it's been a staple in Jewish families for many centuries and there is a good reason why. Forget that it's organ meat (if you haven't indulged in organ meat, you don't know what you're missing). Think of chopped liver as Jewish foie gras, or Jewish pâté. Would it be more acceptable if it was called Chopped Pâté de Foie Gras, or would you have still gone "blech?" I would guess that you wouldn't "blech" it if you like liver. Really.

Some of you might recall that I briefly mentioned chopped liver in previous posts. So now, I'm (finally) posting the recipe. I came across a chopped liver recipe when I was searching for various recipes that used Madeira wine. I thought, huh (I really did think "huh"), I like liver, I like Madeira wine, I like cooked onions, and if it turns out not so good, I'll give it to the Eating Machines cuz they'll eat anything (really, they do). Yeah, that will work! So here it is.


  • 2 lbs chicken livers
  • 1/2 C rendered chicken fat (also called schmaltz)
  • 2 cups diced yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup Madeira wine (I had sweet so that's what I used)
  • 3 extra-large eggs, hard boiled, peeled, and cut into chunks
  • 1/4 C minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
A quick note about schmaltz. Chopped liver tastes the best (and more authentic) when using schmaltz. I tried this dish the first time with Canola oil since I didn't have any fat to render. It turned out good. But the second time I made it, I made schmaltz and the taste was much richer, made a world of difference. Even one of the Eating Machines said it was better. The other one? Well, she was too busy eating. See below on instructions on how to render fat.

Drain the livers and saute in rendered chicken fat (reserving 3 tablespoons of it for the onion) over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, turning once. The livers should be just barely pink inside. I cut open the thicker pieces to make sure they're cooked to just barely pink. Make sure you don't overcook the livers or they will be dry. Put cooked livers into a large bowl.

In the same pan and still on medium-high heat, saute the onions in 3 tablespoons of the chicken fat for about 10 minutes until brown. Add the Madeira to deglaze the pan. Scrape the pan to get all the bits off the bottom of the pan (that's where a lot of the flavors are). Cook for about a minute. Pour the onion mixture into the bowl with the livers. Add the eggs, parsley, thyme, kosher salt, and black pepper to the bowl. Toss to combine. Now chop all the ingredients by hand to a coarse texture. Remember, coarsely chopped!

I use my food processor to do the chopping but be careful not to over-pulse it. The result should not be a puree or pâté like consistency. If you're going to use a food processor, do it in 2 batches. Use the steel blade and pulse only about 6 times/batch. Repeat with remaining mixture. Check it for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Then chill before serving on crackers, matzo, or crusty bread. I like to eat it on baguette sliced about 1/2" thick, slightly toasted. You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. But note that it tastes the best on the first day.

Rendering Fat:

You should render fat on low heat, cooking slowly. The fat should be in single layer in the pan. If you have a cast iron pan, now is a great time to use it and your pan will love you for it. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fat, but don't be surprised if it takes 30 minutes or longer. But keep at it and you'll be rewarded! Turn the fat pieces every now and then and keep cooking until all the fat pieces are shriveled. Throw the shriveled pieces away, let the rendered fat cool. Next, strain the fat either through 2 layers of cheese cloth or a double layer of paper towels in a sieve. I've used the paper towel in a funnel method with good results. Now you can put the fat in a canning jar and freeze until you need it. You can even freeze rendered bacon fat.

Well, there you have it. Next time you hear someone say, "What am I , chopped liver?" You should reply, "You should be so lucky." Now go and eat well.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Fried Zucchini with Panko Crust

This past Saturday was new recipe experiment day. The in-laws were over for cocktails and to try a new recipe, fried zucchini in panko crust. As a starter to keep them tied over until the zucchinis were done (gotta keep those eating machines well fed), I made some chopped liver earlier in the day. I mentioned chopped liver in a previous post here. I'll add the recipe in an upcoming post. Onto the fried zucchini.

I searched for a recipe that used panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) since I liked the idea. I opted for panko instead of a standard batter (I'm still searching for a good one) or tempura batter. You can find panko in most grocery stores. Here's the recipe that I ended up using.

Canola oil, for frying (you can also use peanut oil, olive oil, or shortening)
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan
1 1/2 cups panko
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
4 medium zucchini, cut into 3-inch long by 1/2-inch wide strips

In a large frying pan, use enough oil to come up about 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F. I used an electric wok rather than a frying pan since it allows me to set to exact temperatures (350 degrees Fahrenheit). I double checked the temperature using my digital temp gauge since I've never really callibrated the electric wok. Who would have thunk I would use the Mister's electric wok for so many things? More on that later.

Prepping the work area:
For dredging, I had a 3-bowl set-up: 1 for corn starch, 1 for eggs, 1 for panko mix.

I also had an area set up for the zucchinis to rest after dredging. This consisted of a cookie sheet fitted with a cooling rack. The resting will help the zucchini to set the crust. None of the recipes called for this but resting is a step for good fried chicken so I thought, why not?

Combine panko, Parmesean, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.
Whisk eggs in a medium bowl.
Working in batches, dredge in the following order:

  • Coat the zucchinis with corn starch, making sure to shake off the excess.
  • Dip the zucchini in the eggs, coat completely and letting the excess egg drip back into the bowl.
  • Coat the zucchini in the panko mixture. I patted on the panko mixture to help it really adhere to the zucchini (which it's important to make sure the zucchini is completely covered with egg). It's all about the crust!
  • Place the zucchini strips on the rack and repeat until all of the zucchinis are coated. If you don't have a rack, place them on a baking sheet.
Once the oil reaches 350 degrees F, again working in batches, slowly put the zucchinis into the oil. It's important not to put too much in at one time to prevent the oil temperature from dropping drastically. (I put the zucchini on a Chinese spider and slip it in gently.) You can also use a slotted spoon.) Gently move the zucchinis around to prevent sticking to each other. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Make sure you turn them a couple of times while cooking to get even browning. Use a slotted spoon or a Chinese spider to transfer the fried zucchini onto paper towels to drain. Be careful, they will be very hot so avoid the temptation to sneak a taste until after they've cooled down a bit.

Serve with blue cheese or Ranch dressing. I served it with both but most of the family likes blue cheese over Ranch.

Results? The panko crust turned out perfect and the zucchini was just soften, not mushy. It got all thumbs up and this one is a keeper. The only adjustment I will make the next time is adding a little bit more salt, probably a full teaspoon. I might try frying in shortening (like Crisco) also to see if it helps to reduce the "fry" smell in the house.

So a side note about the electric wok. This was one of the very first fancy "cookware" that the Mister had purchased as a young bachelor years ago. It's the only cookware we still have of his from those days. I actually made fun of it the first time I saw it since the thought of an electric wok seemed so...odd (okay, I admit, it seemed white bread). Well, egg in my face when I first came up with the idea to use it for Chinese hot pot, and now, a deep fryer. Who would have thought his wok would turn into such an essential cooking tool now for me. And to think I married him for the dental plan...well, okay, maybe for a few more reasons.

Have a wonderful week. Now go and eat well.

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