Monday, August 8, 2011

Don't be distracted

This was a particularly busy weekend for Jeff--he had two handbell concerts and a handbell dinner celebration, and he also had to work overtime on Sunday to help relocate his office. Each time he left the apartment I put forth some sort of vague proposition toward imagined productivity--"Okay, cool, I'll clean up around here while you're gone" or "Oh, yeah, maybe I'll do a little laundry this morning."

But, well, you know me.

So my original cooking project for the weekend was to prepare this chicken liver mousse from Frances. A duck liver mousse had been a highlight on a previous visit (and is the current teaser picture on their website, served with APPLE BUTTER), so I was overjoyed when the recipe showed up in the Chronicle a few weeks later. On Saturday afternoon I went out to buy some supplies for that. And, well, you know how things can just snowball? Oh, look, Mission Meat Market sells chicken backs--maybe I should buy some for stock. Hey, we still have some eggplant leftover from the farm box--how about some baba ghanouj? Four hours later Jeff was home from handbells, down on his hands and knees in the bathroom, scrubbing off all the dirt that I had spattered everywhere while unpacking my camping tarp, and I was in the kitchen pushing chicken livers through a sieve. I am awesome.

So maybe I didn't do so well with my chores on Saturday night. But that mousse I made? Sure was excellent. Probably one of the best things I've ever thrown together in the kitchen. I served it with some extra-crunchy baguette slices, tarragon balsamic cherries that I pickled last month, and a little arugula salad in a mustard vinaigrette. Having my hand in every element of the dish was pretty instructive as far as why this is such a classic pairing--eating the liver mousse alone (off of a spoon, off of the food processor blades, off of your fingers), you really do feel that for all its astoundingly smooth richness, it's missing something crunchy. Then you get that crunch and--oh, how about something sweet? How about for something sour? I learned something today.

As it became clear that my weekend would be consumed by some sort of weird obsessive-compulsive cooking ritual de lo habitual, I put out an APB for an impromptu dinner party Sunday night. I have to say that I felt a little awkward when our friend Nghi showed up in gorgeous Chanel flats--not because I was underdressed at my own dinner party, just because "sweep the kitchen floor" was another household task that never quite rose to the top of my to-do list, and I wasn't sure if it would be less gross for Nghi to get those flats dirty or to stomp around barefoot. Hopefully I made up for the mess by serving a bean soup based on a recipe from Ubuntu, a tremendously fancy "community-focused restaurant and yoga studio" in Napa. In fact, I think it is the only Michelin-starred combination restaurant and yoga studio in the world. Or, at least, it's the only one where a salad costs $16.

Speaking of pricing, I'm not quite sure which would cost more--replacing Nghi's Chanel shoes or dinner for three people at both Frances and Ubuntu--but I do know that the soup turned out really well. The bracing aroma of rosemary, chili, and two heads of garlic was so enticing that when I dove into a tupperware full of the soup for lunch this afternoon, my coworker Colin headed over to the fridge, deadpan: "Okay, I have to eat something now because that smells so good." Maybe slip an expletive in there too.

Another totally essential thing that I did this weekend: I took a tour of six grocery stores to see which of them the best place to buy produce near my apartment. No, really, this is how I spend my life. Conclusion: while I don't think that I'll be giving up the occasional evening-commute visit to Berkeley Bowl anytime soon, I really dig a lot of things about Rainbow Grocery on Folsom, particularly these adorable baby fava beans that I found this weekend. I did a little fritto misto with them, or perhaps a fritto solo, and tossed them with some most excellent sun gold tomatoes (my single favorite food in the entire world), also part of my haul from Rainbow. The baby favas weren't quite exploding with concentrated fava flavor as I had hoped, but dipped into a little fennel-spiked creme fraiche, well... how bad can that be?

This entry was brought to you by the colon.


Recipe roundup...

Chicken liver mousse as served at Frances, recipe reported by the esteemed San Francisco Chronicle
Fritto misto batter and potted bing cherries with balsamic vinegar from Ad Hoc At Home
Rustic Rancho Gordo "Yellow Eye" bean soup as served at Ubuntu, the recipe reported by the New York Times


  1. What does the liver mousse taste like? It looks good but I had a bad experience with fried chicken livers at Bob's Southern Bistro in Boston back in college and I haven't been able to bring myself to re-try the stuff since...

  2. Mostly it's just a rich, meaty spread for you to put on some toast. This one uses half a pound of livers and a quarter pound of bacon, so it's almost like spreadable bacon. It does pick up a little bit of a mineral funk from the livers, but just barely.