Layered Liver Torte

I tried this unusual appetizer for the first time right after I got married.  It was one of my mother-in-law’s signature dishes. She taught me how to make it - of course I tweaked it a bit, can’t really help it - and it has firmly entrenched itself in the “old country foods” lineup on my holiday table.  So here’s the recipe for those brave souls who want to try it.  

You will need

1 1/2 lb of beef or calf liver, cleaned and de-veined

4 large onions

3 large eggs

½ cup of flour

Mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

1 lb of mushrooms caps (Portobello or white) – optional

Serves 8 

 

Chop onions and sauté in olive oil until golden-brown, if desired add finely chopped mushrooms and continue sautéing until all the liquid from mushrooms evaporates and they are soft.  Set half aside, take the other half and put through a meat grinder together with the liver (use fine ground setting).  Add eggs, salt and pepper and mix well.  Add flour in small increments until the mixture has the consistency slightly thicker then pancake batter. Keep in mind that the amount of flour mentioned above is a guideline, more or less may be needed to achieve desired consistency.  

 

Pre-heat the frying pan (best size is 6” or 7”) with olive oil. Ladle some of the mixture on the pan to form a layer about 1/3 of an inch thick. Fry on one side until the edges turn brown then carefully flip and finish frying, transfer on the serving plate, spread mayonnaise on top and evenly distribute a portion of sautéed onions.  If the ‘pancake’ falls apart finish frying it and transfer on the serving plate in pieces re-shaping them into a circle.  Repeat with the remaining batter.  This quantity usually makes 3 or 4 7” layers.  When the torte is assembled ‘frost’ it with the mayonnaise and the remaining onions.   Serve in slices, warm or room temperature.  Can be made up to 24 hours in advance. For individual size servings make layers the size of silver dollar pancakes (use egg poaching rings for best shape) then continue as described above.   

 

Mayonnaise can be combined with or replaced by sour cream if desired.  

 

Tongue

Tongue is a long-standing staple in our home. Holiday table or everyday meals, we absolutely love it.  Preparing tongue is very simple, as long as you know a few tricks - and I am going to teach you all of them.

First, make sure the tongue is fresh.  The best way is to get it from the butcher, but some supermarkets carry it too.  Good sized beef tongue will weigh about 3-4 pounds. 

Rince the tongue in cold water.  Place in a large pot, add in a parsley root. large carrot and unpeeled onion (you can use celery root, I just don't like the favor of it, purely personal quirk) Cover with cold water, make sure the water is at least two inches above the tongue  - tongue has to cook a long time and I'd rather not add water half way through if it boils out. Throw in a bay leaf or two and - this is my first trick - a few cloves or allspice.  It won't affect overall taste of the finished product by making it too flowery or spicy,  but it adds greatly to the aroma and flavor.

Set to cook - high heat first, once it comes to boil reduce flame and continue on gentle boil for at least 1.5-2 hours, depending on the size of the tongue.  I add salt and pepper at this point. Skimming is not necessary, unless you are planning to use the broth (it can be used as stock in soups and stews), and even then you can just strain it.  I generally don't bother. 

At about 60-minute mark you may need to turn the tongue over to make sure it cooks evenly.

After 90 minutes start checking the tongue - it should be fork-tender.  Once you are sure it's ready turn off the heat and take the tongue out into a large bowl.  Here comes the second trick.  Cow's tongue is covered with thick rubber-like skin.  It needs to be removed while the tongue is hot, otherwise it fuses back on and you have to carve it off with a knife - losing the edible parts of the tongue and making it look unappealing.  So put the hot tongue in the bowl, set the bowl in your sink and open cold faucet.  Let the cold water run into the bowl next to tongue, but not directly on it. Put on a pair of gloves and start peeling.  Stick your hands under water to cool off every now and then.  If you have fish bone tweezers use them to grab and pull the skin.  It usually comes of in large strips so the whole process should take no more than five minutes. It seems daunting but once you get the hang of it there's nothing to it.  My mom taught me to do this when I was ten.

Take your peeled tongue, pat dry with paepr towel and wrap in plastic wrap or foil. Let cool, slice and serve with your favorite condiment - we like it with horse radish or mayo. 

Last trick – use the tip of the tongue to slice and serve.  The thick end part is delicious but doesn’t look as pretty, however it is great julienned and added to salads – with radish or tomato and onion.

Enjoy!

 

Chopped Liver

This is a staple of Jewish cooking - the famous - or infamous - chopped liver.  I do not keep a kosher home so this recipe features butter, but if you need to make it for a dairy-free meal it can be easily replaced with oil. This will go well with crackers, matzo or a slice of nice warm homemade bread (check out the breads section for some awesome recipes!) The description below tells you how to create a pretty display with the chopped liver stuffed in eggwhite vessels - but feel free to experiment! 

For this recipe you will need: 

1 lb chicken livers, cleaned and rinsed

2 large onions

1 large carrot

6 hard boiled eggs (yolks only)

1 stick of butter

Boil the carrot until soft, set aside.  Chop the onions.  On the sauté pan melt half the butter and sauté onions until golden-brown.  Add the chicken livers and continue sautéing until the livers are cooked through.

Cut hard boiled eggs in half, remove yokes and set aside the whites.  Put livers, onions, boiled carrot, yokes and the rest of the butter in the food processor, salt and pepper to taste and pulse until smooth. 

Spoon the mixture into empty hard boiled eggs, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.  If desired can also be served with flat breads or crackers as spread.

If you are making a dairy-free meal, sautee the onions in oil instead of butter and omit second half of the stick - there will be enough moisture in the mix without it.  If you still feel it's too dry add a few tablespoons of chicken broth or stock. 

Prunes Stuffed with Walnuts

This traditional side dish was served in my family as long as I can remember. It's a perfect sweet addition to the heavy meat course like brisket or pot roast, it goes well with the Thanksgiving turkey for a little twist on your holiday table - or if you really want to, you can serve it as a dessert. Whenever I host a dinner party, a holiday gathering or just a family get-together this is usually the first dish my guests zero in on - and I never have any leftovers!  There are many ways to make these but this recipe is from my grandmother so that's how I've been making it. It can easily be made in advance so you can save some time the day of the party. 

To make these amazing prunes you will need:

1 lb pitted prunes

1 to 1 ½ cup of walnuts chopped in large pieces

1 container of sour cream (about one pound). Creme Freche works well too

¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar

1 tbsp of vanilla extract

 

Blanch prunes with boiling water, drain.  Stuff each prune with a large piece of a walnut, set aside.  Whip sour cream with sugar and vanilla. Pour over the prunes, toss, place in serving bowls and chill well before serving.  Serve with meat or poultry.  

To add a little kick, you could sprinkle a little rum or cognac on the prunes right after you've blanched them, while they are still warm - but please keep in mind who is attending your party and avoid liquor if you plan on entertaining kids.  

Brie En Croute A La Moi

I saw a TV chef make it once and it stuck in my mind - I love Brie, and how can you go wrong with puff pastry and nuts and jam? Seriously! The chef I saw - who shall remain unnamed - made it to look super complicated. I liked the idea but didn't like the complexity of it.  So I started playing with the accoutrements for this recipe, tried out different baking temperatures and in the end came up with this recipe.  The description below is for one large wheel, but it coulld easily be made as individual small appetizers -  just think how impressed your guests will be!  

For this recipe you will need:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (package comes with 2 sheets)
1 tablespoon butter
½  cup (or more) mixed chopped pecans, walnuts and pine nuts (or use single type of nuts if preferred)
1 large wheel Brie (16 oz or more)
1/2 cup apricot or any jam of your liking
2 egg yolks, beaten with a splash of milk

 

Preparation:

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Defrost 1 sheet of puff pastry for approximately 15 to 20 minutes and unfold (place remaining sheet in freezer for later use). Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Sauté nuts in butter until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Add jam to the nuts, mix until the jam is melted, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Gently roll pastry with a rolling pin to increase the size of the sheet 1 to 2 inches in each direction. Brush both sides of the sheet with beaten egg. Center the wheel of Brie on top of the pastry sheet, spread jam and nut mixture on top of the cheese. Bring all four corners of the sheet together above Brie and twist slightly to form a "bundle." Tie gathered pastry with kitchen/cooking string (tie string in the form of a bow), arranging pastry until you are satisfied with the "bundle" shape. Brush the entire “bundle” with the remaining egg wash. Place "bundle" on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until pastry is golden brown.

If you want to make individual sized portions, use puff pastry squares (usually come 10 in a pack and are perfectly sized for the purpose) and pick miniature brie wheels or cut large one in several pieces. 

 

Roasted Peppers with Garlic

This dish is a very good appetizer or accompanement to a meat or poultry main course, it is also a very good way of preserving the peppers when they are in season.

12 multi-colored sweet bell peppers

Dressing:

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed

½ cup sunflower seed oil (good olive or grape seed oil can work too)

1-2 tbsp sugar

¼ cup  white vinegar

Salt, pepper to taste

 

Red, orange and yellow peppers work best for this recipe, green are a little too tough and woody. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Wash and dry the peppers and place them on foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil.  Roast for 20-30 minutes or until they soften significantly and start to blacken.  Transfer into a bowl, cover with foil and let cool completely.  Very important to keep them covered as the steam will soften the skin allowing for easier peeling.

Once the peppers are cool, peel of the outer skin and remove stems and seeds.  The peppers will be full of liquid, you need to preserve that – this pepper “juice” is the main flavor component of the dressing.  Best way to do it is peel and clean peppers over a bowl that will catch all the drippings and then strain the debris out, leaving clear liquid.

Mix the dressing and the liquid collected from the peppers, adjusting the seasonings to taste.  Place peppers in a deep dish and pour the dressing over.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.  You can also use the same process but place the peppers in sterilized jars, cover with the dressing, seal and process in boiling water for 10-15 minutes to preserve for the wintertime.