Friday, October 21, 2005

The Political Post

Breakfast of champions
We here at anapestic want, above all else, to be considered in the know. True, we have elected to express ourselves almost entirely through the medium of turgid culinary prose, but we would not want you to think that we aren't up with what's going on, that we aren't au courant. Our principal difficulty arises when, having used a term like au courant, our collective mind (resistance really is futile, you know) wanders off to thinking that we also want to be à la mode, and that leads to visions of either us or, fortunately, yummy apple pie, being covered with ice cream, and when we say apple pie, we don't mean just any old apple pie, we mean the Platonic ideal of apple pie, made with fresh autumn apples graced with little more than sugar, some grated lemon peel, and a soupcon (we love the word "soupcon" in spite of ourselves: we have never pretended to virtue) of cinnamon baked in a thick, tender, flaky all-butter crust that, after having been simply but appealingly crimped with our very own hands, has been cosseted with a protective donut of aluminum foil so that -- despite its having been exposed to the initial high heat necessary for the proper browning of the crust -- it achieves a rich golden brown with no scorching, the very sort of pie that served warm (but not hot) causes the vanilla ice cream to soften into it so that people eat it in an appreciative silence broken only by the occasional bewildered acknowledgment that there are parts of our country where people actually eschew the ice cream not in favor of unadorned apple pie glory but in favor of something that more properly belongs on the inside of a grilled cheese sandwich.

But we're here to discuss politics, not apple pie, so let's pretend for the moment that our mind did not wander from our task, which is, as you will doubtless have gathered, to discuss the merits of chicken liver mousse made with rosemary.

It goes without saying that my entirely perceptive and intelligent readers will have made the connection between politics and chicken liver mousse made with rosemary, but in the unlikely event that, thirty or forty years hence, some unfortunate graduate student in Internet Studies is constructing a dissertation entitled Deservedly Unknown Food Bloggers of the Early Twenty-First Century: a Study in Edible Futility, I will elucidate.

Few subjects these days loom larger in the political mind than planning for and responses to natural disasters. I could, of course, stick to disasters that have already happened. I could, with equal ease, discuss disasters that have not yet occurred but that are considered likely to occur in some form or other in the relatively near term. But does it not make more sense to plan for the disasters that we are relatively certain will not come to pass? (This, reader, is a rhetorical question: you are not allowed to answer "no," no matter how sensible it might appear to do so.) And what disaster would create a culinary dystopia so horrific as to be virtually unimaginable? Precisely: a world without herbs.

But I (it appears that I abandoned the whole "we" thing some time back; I refer you yet again to Mr. Emerson's statement about consistency and little minds) do not wish to throw you into the slough of despond without a ladder (or whatever one uses to climb out of a slough). Even unfortunate Pandora, having released a truckload of hurt on an unsuspecting world, was able to look down and see hope in her box. So in our little disaster planning exercise, I leave you one herb. I even leave you the herb that I would be most loath to do without. (It's my notional disaster, and all of you cilantro enthusiasts can just suck it up; I didn't take away your lime or your hot peppers, did I?)

Anyway, here's your disaster recovery plan.

Better Chicken Liver Mousse

6 T. unsalted butter
1 c. diced onion
1 t. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1/2 t. dried thyme 1
1 pear, peeled, cored, and diced 2
6 prunes, halved
1/4 t. peppercorns, crushed 3
4 whole allspice, crushed
3/4 t. kosher salt
1 pound chicken livers, picked over and patted dry
1/4 c. cognac
2 T. heavy cream4
1/2 t. dijon mustard
1/2 T. additional cognac
Clarified butter, melted

In a skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions, and cook on low heat until they are soft and translucent.

Increase the heat to medium. Add the rosemary, thyme, pear, and prunes. Cover the pan, and cook for three minutes.

Increase the heat to high. Add the livers, peppercorns, salt, and allspice, and cook for three more minutes, tossing or turning the livers so that they get cooked on all sides.

Add the 1/4 c. of cognac. Ignite the cognac5, and let it cook until the flames subside. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

When the liver mixture has cooled enough for you to handle it, transfer it to the bowl of your food processor; process until smooth. Add the cream, mustard, and last half tablespoon of cognac, and process again.

No double boilers were harmed in the making of these mousses.Pack the liver mixture into whatever containers you want to store it in. Smooth the top. Then carefully spoon the melted clarified butter over the mousse until you have a layer at least a quarter-inch thick on top. Cover the containers with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

1Hire a lawyer and sue me. Even after the notional mass herbicide of 2006, a limited supply of dried herbs will still be available, though, obviously, at vastly increased prices. The particular vial of thyme that I will have had to acquire to make this mousse will have cost me my third child. The dealer will have been plenty annoyed when he will have learned that I (will still) only have two children, but he will have ought to have asked (how do I get myself into these tense-related disasters?) beforehand. Arguably, I will have implied that I have at least three children, but these will have been difficult times when morality will have become an unaffordable luxury. The spice herbs must flow!

2My pear was night very ripe (i.e., rocky), and I'm not sure that it added much, if anything, to the flavor of the mousse. It seemed like a good idea at the time, however. I might try an apple or a riper pear the next time. Or just more prunes.

3I couldn't locate my mortar and pestle last night, and the quantity of spice that I was using was too small to grind in my spice grinder. A sensible person would just grind 1/4 t. of black pepper and use 1/8 t. of ground allspice. Or grind a larger quantity of pâté spice and keep it around.

4The heavy cream got added at the end because the mixture was so thick that my food processor was not getting the crushed pepper and allspice fine enough. If you follow the advice in note 3, you could omit the cream. Though if you do that, I'd recommend starting with 8 T. of unsalted butter.

5I ignite my cognac by tipping the skillet towards the flame. If you don't want to do this (and it is a bit scary), or if you are using an electric oven, just use a match. Bring the match to the side of the skillet so that your hand is not over the skillet when you light it. Depending on how quickly after you pour the cognac you ignite it, the flames can be quite spectacular, and you don't want to get burned. I've never had a problem with flambeing, but be careful. Also, you'll want to make sure that your stovetop is not crowded before you set your food on fire. After the fire, the livers will look kind of weird and red on the outside, but don't worry about it: they're fine, and everything will look normal after you puree them.

This is, for the most part, the chicken liver mousse that I wanted. I had originally planned to pack it into two containers of equal size and to put some toasted pistachios in with half of the mousse, but when I was shopping last night after choir practice, I forgot the pistachios because I hadn't written them down on my list when I made it. I think they would have been very nice in the mousse, but it's very nice as it is. I could perhaps have used a bit more salt, but it is, of course, difficult to gauge how much salt something will need after it's been chilled while it's still warm or at room temperature. I also wish that I'd read one of the comments in the last post before I'd made the mousse because a boiled egg pureed along with everything else would have been a great addition. But, again, I'm happy with the mousse I've got, and that custard and egg white based monstrosity I wrote about in my last post is nothing but a bitter memory.

(And that reminds me. In the name of all that's holy, pick over your livers before you use them. I almost always find that the ones I've bought are just find, but this time, I did see a strand of green that was unmistakably bile, so I pulled it off and discarded it. Bile is the WMD of chicken liver mousse.)

I know that my readers will be devastated to hear this, but I have decided that in the future I shall once more eschew politics. It's just too tiring a topic, and I'm perfectly happy to live in denial, secure in the false knowledge that fresh herbs will always be available at the local Giant. Besides, if I decided to do a post about the Miers nomination, I'd have to bone a whole chicken, and I'm just not in the mood.


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