Hello, Gorgeous!

Yahoo! We finally made it to the highly anticipated Academy Awards Oscar Night and a much needed reprieve in the year thus far. We had gamely turned the corner on new years and shouldered our way through January enduring that utterly jolting re-alignment with life. It’s exhausting facing reality. I breathed a weary ‘adios’ to January and gleefully rejoiced February’s arrival. Hallelujah! Oscar Night is in the wings and accompanying it: another fabulous eatfest!

Yes, indeed! Lest we forget the occasion, in overview the 2009 Awards were showcased at the classy 3,332 seat Kodak Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. It was a night of style and wit. As usual the Oscar competition ran neck-and-neck with the banter of haughty fashion moguls wagging viciously over who most deserved the evening’s Best/Worst Dressed Categories. There were a few good moments, particularly Ben Stiller’s spoof of Joaquin Phoenix’s recent bizarre interview. Most unforgettable was the stellar collection of previous academy award winners lined up in tribute to this year’s Best Actor and Actress nominees and winners. It was a global year; we had plenty of international winners, as indicated by Best Film awarded to Mumbai’s Slumdog Millionaire, a clear runaway favorite.

Getting down to the real action, in honor of our sinking economy I scaled back and kept the fare pretty simple. The headliner, my favorite indulgence: Chicken Liver Pâté. Of course, there was crisp Lavosh and plenty of fresh veggies and olives for frantic nibbling as the suspense grew. Half way through I passed steaming cups of an incredible Rice and Cabbage Soup. Don’t let the name fool you, this stylish creamy risotto-like potage is the perfect foil to an assertive Pate. It’s filling, but just the ticket for a night of noshing.

All of the above can be prepared well ahead. I’m a big lavosh fan, my cracker of choice is topped with tons of seeds and flavors. It was an utter revelation when I discovered how simple these are to create – especially considering the hefty price they demand at the market! One trick I’ve discovered is to be certain the dough forms a very soft ball. Although a small amount of yeast is required, these are quick to make and only require a brief resting period before rolling out the dough. Bake them off, cool briefly, and break into chunks and store airtight.

I am addicted to chicken livers! At least once a month I crave them and I must have my fix. I can completely relate to the bloody scene in Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow wildly ravages raw chicken livers while blood oozes down her face. My sentiments exactly! Granted, I prefer mine cooked a bit beyond raw – but there’s nothing worse than overcooked chicken livers.
I have prepared this pâté for years and continue to adapt it. Back in the day, butter was a hefty item here, plus a few glugs of cream. Over time I have continued to pare this down, now the addition of mushrooms increases the moisture content and enhances the flavors beautifully. Of course, not overcooking those lovely livers will allow moisture to remain in the pan reducing additional liquids and/or fat when pureeing. A few dashes of bitters work well as a nifty substitute for brandy. Allow the flavor to mellow and blend by preparing it at least a day ahead.

Chicken Liver Pâté
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 medium onion, chop
1/4 pound mushrooms, cremini or other, slice
2 cloves garlic, mince
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 pound chicken livers, clean, trim and drain in strainer
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon bitters or a splash brandy
1 bay leaf or fresh herbs for garnish

In medium sauté pan over medium, heat 1 Tbsp butter; cook the onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove to holding plate. Add mushrooms and sauté til liquid is cooked off, remove from pan.

To pan add 1 tbsp butter, the mushrooms, garlic, 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper and sauté until liquid is released and mushrooms are soft. Remove to holding plate.

To pan add additional 1 Tbsp butter when bubbling add livers, the seasonings, the bitters or brandy, 1/2 tsp salt and red pepper flakes. Cook til livers are lightly cooked and barely pink; about 5 minutes. Allow to cool briefly.

Puree in blender with onions and mushrooms, thin as needed with beef or chicken stock, cream, milk or water. Adjust flavors, it should be highly seasoned. Chill covered in crock or oiled mold. Allow flavors to develop at least overnight or longer. Garnish with bay or fresh herbs.

Serve with crackers or crostini, olives, gherkins, crudités: radishes, celery, red peppers, cucumbers, endive.

Seeded Lavosh
Inspired by Lora Brody’s Pizza, Focaccia, Flat and Filled Breads for your Bread Machine
Dough
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups flour or more if needed
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3/4 cup warm water, plus 2 tablespoons
Topping
2-3 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons assorted seed mixture: 1 Tbsp. each: caraway or fennel, poppy, sesame seeds; 1 Tbsp coarse salt, 1 Tbsp. Montreal Pepper Seasoning, or to taste

In bowl of mixer combine all ingredients and mix with dough hook until dough comes together in smooth soft dough. Transfer to floured surface and divide in half and let rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly flour the backs of 2 baking sheets. Using plenty of flour, roll out one roll at a time slowly to length of cookie sheet. Brush each lightly with water and sprinkle with topping. Bake breads 10 to 15 minutes – browned in some areas and crispy in other with bubbled air pockets. Cool and break into manageable pieces. Makes 3 to 4 dz pieces.

Rice and Cabbage SoupRed, White and Greens, by Faith Willinger (The Italian Way with Vegetables)
1/2 medium cabbage
2 medium carrot, chopped
2 sprigs parsley
1 teaspoon savory, divided
2 cloves garlic, divided
14 ounces can chicken stock
6 cups water
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice, preferably
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

To make a light vegetable broth: bring stock and water to a boil, lightly chop and add rinsed cabbage outer leaves, carrot, parsley, half of the savory, and garlic. Add the salt and pepper and simmer 15 -20 minutes.

In soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil, then the onion and sauté til tender, add the remaining garlic and savory. Wash the remainder of cabbage, core and cut leaves into strips and add to pot, reducing heat to low and cook until wilted. Add 6 cups of the broth and bring to simmer.

Add the rice and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for 15-25 minutes, til rice is cooked al dente. Add broth to thin. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6 as first course. ~~

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