Recipes should never begin with, “……stringy membranes removed with a small knife”
Menu No. 11: Chicken Liver Mousse with Toast Points; Beef Broth with Leeks, Lemon and Thyme; Mushroom Dumplings; Blood Oranges and Pomegranates
Say what now? Would you ever put those things together if you were sober?
Prep Schedule: Make mousse and chill, toast bread and cut into triangles; cook dumpling filling and cool, make pomegranate juice; serve mousse while bringing a pot of water to boil; simmer broth and fill dumplings; assemble dessert just before serving.
Chicken Liver Mousse:
Believe it or not, this is not my first visit to the chicken liver mousse rodeo, having been bamboozled into making it for an office Christmas party our first year in Richmond. Although the older board members (and the director) loved it, I was so skeeved out by the process that I vowed to never make it again. Needless to say I didn’t eat it. I used a Julia Child recipe then, so at least we can see how they compare. The Husband loves him some organ meats, so he was in charge of eating and rating it. I should have had him make it, too.
I got my livers from a local poultry farm (free-range, y’all). The livers were shockingly large. I don’t want to start any rumors, but I think these chickens were fed on some corn and grain that had gone a bit sour, if you catch my drift.
Martha’s recipe is quite simple: rinse, dry and then sauté 1/2 lb chicken livers in two tablespoons neutral oil until outsides are brown but middles are pink. I think I overcooked ours a tad, but the thought of medium rare livers does not appeal. The livers were removed from the pan, and a shallot was sautéed with three sprigs of thyme until the shallots softened. The shallots, liver, 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 teaspoon of dry sherry (or Madeira, port or Marsala) and a teaspoon of salt were mixed up in a food processor until smooth. Then it chilled for 30 minutes.
Note that I am still real camera-less:
Results: The Husband said it was good, but very salty; salty enough to prevent him from eating much of it. It was more like a pate than a mousse. We don’t have currant jelly, so he tried it with blackberry and fig jellies, and the fig was a hit with the way the chicken liver was seasoned. Note that we didn’t do toast points, but toasted baguette slices. We have no need for sandwich bread in these parts.
Martha’s mousse wasn’t as good as Julia’s chicken liver pate recipe, which calls for sautéing the livers in butter, a lot more booze (cognac), and heavy cream. In fact, Mr. Squeaky Peanut had to add some pepper and a bit of cream to make Martha’s batch more flavorful. But he was impressed that she got him to like a sweet jelly with the chicken liver flavor, as previously he had resisted all attempts to pair a sweet with a liver. All I cared about is that it seemed less traumatic this time, although trimming the stringy membranes was not as pleasant as you might think.
“Beef” Broth and Mushroom “Dumplings”:
The recipes are a bit misleading, since you have to make the “dumplings” to put in the beef stock, so the two recipes make one dish.
The broth consisted of beef stock, water, celery, leeks, carrots, fresh thyme and lemon peel, simmered just until the carrots were tender, about ten minutes.
The dumpling filling involved sautéing 6 oz of cremini mushrooms and onions in butter. (Why 6 oz, Martha, when the mushrooms come in 8 oz packages? What good is 2 oz of leftover mushrooms?) The mushrooms were then mixed with a bit of cream cheese, fresh thyme, chives and pepper. At the last minute I added some garlic powder to give it more flavor. Then the mixture was stuffed inside wonton wrappers. Martha said the recipe would use exactly 16 wrappers, but I got 20 “dumplings” out of it, which is fine because I still have a millionty wrappers left over. It was a bit tedious to assemble them, and I found myself wishing I was making up some empanadas instead. Sigh.
Behold the dumpling assembly line :
By the way, I have a real problem with her calling these things dumplings. Dumplings, to me, are singular units consisting of flour or potato dough, not something in a skin. She should have called them pockets. Or pillows. Or pouches. Or puffs.
The mushroom pillows were boiled for three minutes, until the wrapper cooked, then were to be served immediately, in the broth.
ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh, I’m sorry. But just thinking about this meal put me to sleep. The broth was so bland and weak that The Husband didn’t even think it had any meat broth in it, which was funny because I tasted the stock before I mixed everything together and it was plenty beefy. It’s as if the vegetables sucked out the beefiness. It tasted like some water that someone waved some meat over.
Look how pale it is!
I was supposed to remove the lemon peel and garlic cloves before serving the soup. I guess I did a hell of a julienne job on the lemon peel because it was nowhere to be found in the broth! Could it have melted? It would have made more sense to put it in a little cheese cloth bundle or a tea ball. But at least Martha’s way you could turn it into a game with your guests: whoever finds the most lemon peel wins the centerpiece!
The dumplings were also problematic, because once I put them in the hot soup, they continued cooking. By the time the soup was cool enough to eat, the mushroom pillows had turned into an amorphous mush. The Husband labeled them as “gross.”
Every soup I’ve ever made has been better than this one.
Since Martha says that the mushroom pouches can be served by themselves as an appetizer or entree, we tried some without the broth. They were better that way, but that’s a relative term. They still needed some more seasoning, and a super sauce to make them at all interesting. They were very simple.
Fruit + booze.
Ok, here’s the deal: blood oranges and pomegranate seeds, with a sauce of a bit of Grand Marnier and pomegranate juice poured over top.
Truth be told, I went to two stores and couldn’t find a pomegranate. Good-bye winter fruits! So, I just got the blood oranges and some Pom juice, and left out the seeds. (FYI, Trader Joe’s sells a pretty big bag of frozen pomegranate seeds, but I didn’t want to buy that when I only needed 2 tablespoons). It tasted like a blood orange with a bit of juice splashed on it. I don’t think the pomegranate seeds would have added enough to make it special. I just don’t get the point of these types of desserts. Why not eat the orange and be done with it?
This menu is near the end of the Winter meal chapter and is the perfect embodiment of late winter ennui: Grey days, dirty snow, weak broth and mushy mushroom pillows…
Bright side: This would be a great menu to serve if you have to entertain a group of simpletons.
Chicken Liver Mousse: A- If it had been less salty, it would have scored higher, but he gave it props for the whole new world of jelly + mousse it opened up to him.
Beef broth: D-
Dumplings: By themselves= C. In the soup=D