Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fried Chicken Liver

Sometimes I ask my friends to do ridiculous things, and bless them, they go for it.   So the other night I turn to my friend Jon and I ask him to make me fried chicken livers, but to make them pretty.  I'm sure the other food photographers out there on the internet are laughing right about now.  You see, fried food isn't pretty.  It's delicious, crunch, savory - yes.  Beautiful? Generally, no.  But Jon is a wizard of frying things, and totally delivered on the promise of some lovely fried chicken livers.

They don't get any more photogenic than that folks! Seriously! Look it up!

There are few things better for me than standing in the kitchen while Jon fries things and Lauren makes sauces.  I am perfectly capable of frying and sauce making - but those are skills that Jon and Lauren respectively own.  I can't even compete, and I don't even want to.  Sure, I never really learned the trick to frying.  And even though I know how to make Lauren's Kale Caesar salad, I never do it myself if she is around!   I have my skills though - you won't see Lauren or Jon baking any bread or making pies.   I am our groups resident baker.  I feel sorry for people who have friends that don't cook, because I absolutely love the division of labor we've got going on here.   We can all feed ourselves perfectly well, but the quality of the food we make together is exponentially better.  And isn't that what family and friends are for?
This was mutually our first attempt at preparing fried liver.  As it turns out, liver is pretty simple to prepare.   People tend to shy away from eating organ meats and liver.  They think of liver as the body's toxins filter and assume that the liver must be full of stuff they shouldn't eat.  While it's true that you should only consume liver from organically raised animals (otherwise you probably will be consuming a bunch of antibiotics and chemicals), the liver does more than just filter out toxins.  It has too many jobs in the body for me to list them all, but one of its tasks, apart from being a filter, is to store and assimilate fat soluble vitamins like A, E, D and K.  It's also chock full of vitamin B-12, folate, riboflavin, selenium, niacin, iron, and phosphorus just to name a few.   Nutritionally, the downside to eating liver is that it is very high in cholesterol. 

For our adventure we approximately followed this recipe from one of my favorite sites on the web Serious Eats (though we mostly just let Jon do his thing.  He is the Fry Master).  Here are a few things we took away from the process:
  • Pretty much every recipe out there will tell you to soak liver in buttermilk, lemon juice or vinegar.  Letting the liver soak in something slightly acidic takes away the bitter flavor of liver.   That bitter flavor is stronger in livers from lager animals like cows.  Because chicken livers have a milder flavor, this step isn't vital.  We saw recipes that called for soak times of up to 12 hours, and think this is probably more appropriate for those larger, more strongly flavored livers.  We soaked our chicken livers in a buttermilk/hot sauce mixture for about an hour and a half and they were awesome. 
  • Batter all the liver before you start frying.  Some fried foods need to hit the oil immediately after being breaded, so you have to bread as you go.  The liver held onto the Panko crumb really well, and according to Jon, it was a total pain in the ass to try to batter it mid-fry.  Learn from our hardship.

We ate ours like buffalo wings - with Crystal hot sauce and coleslaw on the side.  Lauren whipped up a batch of homemade mayo and she divided to make a garlic/cilantro/ranch flavored dipping sauce and a coleslaw dressing.   My mouth is watering just thinking about it.   

(I just realized this post makes it sound like I stood in the kitchen and did nothing!  I did the prep work of trimming the livers and preparing the coleslaw.  It really was a group effort!)

Monday, February 25, 2013

All About Eggs

Not sure if you should get the organic cage-free eggs, or the free-range omega-3 eggs, or the vegetarian brown eggs?   Do you need jumbo eggs or will medium eggs work?  All the labels on eggs in the store can be hard to decipher, here's what you need to know before you buy eggs.

Packing Dates 

Freshness of the eggs is one of the most important factors when it comes to the quality and nutrient content.   Eggs inspected and graded by the USDA will have a three digit number representing the date they were washed and packed stamped on the carton. The Cook-It-Quick food safety website says "The number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year (the "Julian Date") starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a "sell-by" date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 45 days from the date of pack."

Egg Sizes

The USDA grades egg size by weight, calculated by the minimum acceptable weight per dozen.  Sizes of the eggs may vary but the weight should be consistent.  Most recipes call for large egg which are at least 24oz per dozen or about 2oz per large egg. Here's a handy chart made by the American Egg Board:

Egg Grades grades reflect the quality of the eggs as determined by USDA standards and inspection.  There are three grades of eggs - AA, A and B, with AA being the highest quality.  The quality is determined by inspecting both the shell and the interior of the egg for defects such as discoloration, cracks, and irregularities. The USDA website says US grade AA eggs "have whites that are thick and firm; yolks that are high, round, and practically free from defects; and clean, unbroken shells."  Grade A eggs are different from AA eggs in one way, instead of "thick and firm" whites they have "reasonably firm" whites.  Grade A eggs are what is most often sold in stores.  Grade B eggs are typically not sold in stores, but are used to make egg products.  If you do find Grade B eggs being sold, they are fine for general cooking and baking, but not ideal for poaching or other uses where the visual of the egg is important.

Egg Colors 

There's no nutritional difference between different color eggs.  The coloring is determined by the breed of the chicken - white eggs are laid by white chickens, brown eggs are laid by red chickens, and blue eggs are laid by a special South American breed of chicken called the Arucana. Brown eggs generally cost more because the chickens that lay them eat more.  Blue eggs are not available in most places in the U.S.A.
 Yolk color can vary depending on the feed of the hen.  Organic pigments called carotenoids determine the color of the yolk, the main two yellow carotenoids in eggs being lutein and zeaxanthin.  There are also carotenoids in eggs that have a orange or red color.  Eggs sold in US stores will pretty much always be golden yellow, but don't be freaked out if they are darker.  This chart won't affect how you buy eggs, I'm just a nerd who loves charts.
 The egg white will be slightly more opaque and thicker when the egg is fresh.  As the egg ages the carbon dioxide dissipates and the white will become more clear and watery. 


Most eggs are produced by chickens in cages.  Caging has many benefits for the producers - automation reduces the amount of physical labor, workers are exposed to less dust and ammonia, minimized contact between the hen and their feces and the eggs and the hen significantly reduces the chance of bacterial infection of the eggs, and it increases production.  Unfortunately, caging has many negative side effects for the hens - not being able to move around and engage in normal chicken behavior causes diseases of the body and behavioral problems in the chickens, to the extent that many caged chickens have the tips of their beaks cut off, so they don't attack each other through the cages.  Cage eggs are the cheapest, but many people have ethical problems with their production so there is a growing market for eggs from chickens raised in less factory like settings.

Cage Free/Barn Laid

A cage-free egg is from a chicken that was raised indoors, but was allowed to roam around within an enclosed space.   Hens are protected from predation and inclement weather, and still can engage in normal chicken behavior and socialization.   There is a slightly higher chance of infection because the chicken feed can come in contact with their feces.  Cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, natural behaviors that caged hens cannot engage in.  However, cage-free does not necessarily mean cruelty free.  Many cage-free hens are raised in flocks of thousands, never go outside, and like the hens in cages, some producers clip their beaks and, although most producers no longer support the practice, some still use starvation to force molt their birds. Cage-free is terminology designed to quell consumers concerns - it sounds better than "high-density floor confinement" which is the industry term for it.


In the United States, eggs marked as "free-range" can be slightly misleading.  When most people imagine a free-range chicken roaming around the yard hunting and pecking, what they are actually imagining is a different farming practice called "yarding".  While "free-range" has a legal standard for meat production, there are no guidelines for free-range eggs.   All that is required for an egg to be marketed as free-range is for the chickens to have access to an outdoor range.  There is no standard for how large the range is, or how much pasture the chickens get, or how much time outside they spend.  Many free-range chickens are provided a small, fenced in, gravel covered area immediately outside the barn door, and are kept indoors for a significant part of their lives.  Over time the ground the chickens have access to becomes polluted and acidic from a build up of chicken waste, causing damage to the local ecology.


Because of the ambiguity of the term "free-range" farmer Joel Salatin has reintroduced the term and technique of pasture-raising chickens at his family farm in Virginia, the Polyface.  Pasture-raised birds remain outside on pasture at all times, confined to a portable pen and given a covered area to protect them from the weather.  When waste begins to build up, the chickens are moved to another part of the pasture.  The Polyface farm has been praised for being humane and ecologically sound, and the practice has spread to other sustainable farmers.  There is some evidence that pasture-raised hens produce superior, more healthful eggs than factory hens.  According to tests, pasture raised chicken eggs may have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta-carotene than what is considered the normal nutritional content of an egg as determined by the USDA.  This is probably due to having a more varied diet consisting of more natural, foraged foods such as green grasses and insects. 


Pasteurization is the process of killing dangerous microorganisms in food by applying controlled heat for a short time.  Until recently, heating egg to the temperature required for pasteurization would cook the egg.  In the 1990s the process for pasteurizing eggs in shell was developed and patented, and currently National Pasteurized Eggs Inc. is the exclusive provider of pasteurized eggs in the USA.  The process can be duplicated at home by use of a temperature controlled water bath.  Pasteurized eggs are recommended for applications where the egg won't be cooked, for example in mayonnaise.  In fact, the USDA won't allow sale of any food products with unpasteurized raw eggs.  Pasteurized eggs are sold clearly marked with a red "P" stamp.

Fertilized vs. Unfertilized 

The only real difference between a fertilized and unfertilized egg is that a rooster has been involved.  Hens will lay eggs whether they have mated or not, and the vast majority of eggs sold are unfertilized.   Most hens at commercial farms are never around roosters.  Fertilized eggs are more likely to come from a free-range farm.  All eggs sold as food within the United States must be refrigerated, and the refrigeration halts any embryonic growth within the egg.  Some people claim there are additional health benefits to eating fertilized eggs, but nutritional studies have found no discernible difference.  Eggs sold in the US go through a process called candling in which a light is shown through the shell, revealing imperfections in interior - this process screens out defective eggs and highlights irregularities, so you don't have to worry about cracking open an egg and finding a half formed chicken inside.  Eggs are normally harvested and refrigerated within a few hours of being laid, and it takes about 21 days for a chicken egg to fully develop and hatch.

Nutrient Enhanced 

There are many specialty eggs on the market that are nutrient enhanced, the more common types being low cholesterol eggs, eggs enriched with omega-3s and eggs enriched with lutein.  All of these changes to the eggs nutritional content are effected by changing the feed of the chicken.   Chickens producing "low cholesterol" eggs are fed an all-vegetarian diet high in protein, fiber and vitamin E.   Chickens producing omega-3 enhanced eggs are fed diets rich in omega fatty acids like flax seeds, insects, greens, and fish oil.   There is controversy as to whether these more expensive eggs are worth the price tag.  Neither low cholesterol or omega-3 enhanced eggs have proven health benefits over regular eggs.  Lutein enriched eggs are made by feeding the chickens food supplemented with marigold extracts.  Lutein is vital for eye health and diets rich in it have been shown to help with age related vision loss, especially macular degeneration.   Studies have shown that the lutein in lutein enhanced eggs is more bioavailable than lutein from supplements or other sources.   Nutrient enhanced eggs are not necessarily from humanely farmed animals, the label has nothing to do with the conditions in which the chickens are kept.


The term "vegetarian eggs" may be a bit confusing, but what it comes down to is that the eggs are from vegetarian chickens - that is, chickens that where given no animal byproducts as part of their feed.  Chickens are not natural vegetarians, left to their own devices they will supplement their diet with grubs and worms and insects.  The market for "vegetarian" eggs arose from the Mad Cow disease (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) scare.  Contraction of TSE is linked to cannibalism and eating infected brain tissue, and at the time of the outbreak many chickens where being fed chicken parts along with their normal soy, corn and grain diets.   A egg labeled vegetarian did not necessarily come from a farm with humane conditions for its chickens.   The easiest way to keep a chicken on a strict vegetarian diet is to place it in a battery cage, perhaps the most inhumane way to raise the animals.  Free-range chicken eggs may be sold as "vegetarian" by farmers who don't provide any animal by products in their feed, even though those chickens are supplementing the provided feed with foraging for bugs.


Much like the "vegetarian" label, the "organic" label on eggs is misleading, and for the most part a marketing gimmick.   Typically the only difference between and organic egg and a regular egg is that the chickens were given organic feed, and hasn't been given artificial hormones or other chemicals.  Chickens fed organic food are often still housed in large sheds packed in with a thousand other birds. 

Other Eggs (non-chicken)

Sometimes you can find other kinds of eggs available, more often at farmers-markets than at super-markets.   Duck eggs are bigger than chicken eggs, and very nutritious.  They have a harder shell than chicken-eggs and a longer shelf life if stored properly.  Duck eggs are naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Duck eggs are rumored to be better in baked goods where the higher quantity of albumen in the whites makes cakes and pastries fluffier than when using chicken eggs.  Quail eggs are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world.   They are much smaller than chicken eggs and have spotted shells.  Quail eggs are much more nutritionally dense than chicken eggs.   Many other types of eggs are edible, but most of them aren't typically sold.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kale Caesar Salad

Kale Caesar Salad
Caesar salad has been a lifelong food love of mine.  Throughout childhood, I used to request it specially for my birthday dinners.  My mom made it other times of the year too, and it always felt like an occasion.  Creamy, tangy, bite of garlic, and that almost unplaceable saltiness.  Of course, my mother made her dressing from scratch, including garlic croutons, and mixed the dressing right in the bowl, the traditional way.  Many restaurant Caesars have since been a disappointment to me.  

The texture of "dino" kale is our favorite for holding in the caesar dressing.
It never occurred to me to learn how to make Caesar salad until a couple of years ago when one of the city's best food trucks went bricks-and-mortar.  They had a kale Caesar on the menu and I took the gamble.  Though when the menu advertises the use of boquerones and warns about raw eggs, it's probably going to be good.  Using kale as the greens sidestepped my issue with salads generally, which is that lettuce is nutritionally void.  Water and cellulose?  What’s the point?  Anyway, the salad was really good. And I was pretty confident I could recreate it at home.

My interest in Caesar renewed, I acquired my mother’s recipe, and true-to-form, did not follow it.  She steeps crushed garlic in extra virgin olive oil the day before, then brushes it on stale bread to make croutons, but that is simply too much planning for me.  This recipe does not include croutons because of a food sensitivity, and while I think the salad is great without them, they would be great with them too, or with your favorite chopped nuts or seeds.  Whatever you do, do not leave out the anchovies!  The salad won’t end up tasting fishy, but it absolutely won’t be Caesar without those salty little fish.  Anchovies are a relatively cheap and good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, niacin, selenium, iron, calcium, and phosphorous (nutritional info here).  Just in case you want to eat any of those things.
Garlic and anchovy, a match made in salad heaven.
 The key to using raw kale is to give it a good massage as you work in the dressing.  Just squeeze, mash, and rub for about 5 minutes, or until the kale is about a third of the original volume.  You should not squeeze so hard that you are juicing the kale--if you start seeing any green liquid you have gone too far.  Aside from the nutritional advantage, using kale in place of lettuce allows you to dress this salad ahead of time.  Slightly wilted kale does not taste weird or feel slimy, and is actually a little easier to digest.  I have eaten leftover kale Caesar the day after making it and it was still delicious.  Try that with your romaine!  You can use any kind of kale that you like, but I prefer lacinato ("dino") kale because the dressing gets caught in all the little crevices. (Check out different kale varieties)

Kale Caesar Salad

1 bunch kale, ribs removed and torn into pieces
1 clove garlic
1 anchovy fillet
1 tsp. powdered or Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (or to taste)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground black pepper, to taste (my taste is to smother it, coarse-grind-style, but your mileage may vary)
Garlic and anchovy paste
 Mash the garlic clove and anchovy fillet together in a mortar and pestle until they form a fine paste.  Put all the ingredients into a large bowl (I usually go in the order listed above), then massage and toss until the kale is reduced in volume and the dressing is well mixed and creamy.  
Ready to get your hands dirty?
Since your hand will be covered in dressing, I probably don’t have to tell you to check the seasoning.  Between the Parmesan and the anchovy, I have never had to add salt, but it’s always good to check the acidity and overall balance.  If it’s overly acidic, a little more oil or Parmesan will balance it out, but be careful not to add too much oil or the dressing will separate.
Massage it!

If you or someone you’re feeding has a sensitive digestive tract that has trouble with raw greens and/or garlic, you can absolutely lightly steam the kale (though massage and a little marination time should yield the same results), and use roasted garlic or garlic-infused olive oil.  Garlic oil is super easy: crush two cloves of garlic in a bowl and pour 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil over it, cover, and let sit overnight.  If you do try this, let us know it worked out in the comments!
Kale Caesar Salad 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pies I've Known

The always beautiful lattice top pie.

Marinated Squid Salad

The fact that squid season coincides with winter is one of the things that makes winter bearable for me.  I freaking love squid.  I'm going to have to level with you guys though, I've never met a kind of seafood I didn't like.  Seriously, I go nuts for the stuff.  I have recently realized that I can't just indiscriminately gobble down anything from the ocean.  Human activities have a huge effect on aquatic ecology and it's important to make informed buying decisions when purchasing seafood.

My favourite resource is Seafood Watch.   They are an awesome group based out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium dedicated to finding a sustainable balance.  Their website says "Scientists estimate that we have removed as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and cod from the world's oceans. In 2003, the Pew Oceans Commission warned that the world's oceans are in a state of "silent collapse," threatening our food supply, marine economies, recreation and the natural legacy we leave our children."  Wow, that blows.   But there is something we can do!  I always carry my handy regional pocket guide when going to the fish market.  These guides put out by Seafood Watch, available for download or through an app, show what seafood is the best choice, what are good alternatives, and what should be avoided.  

I'm in luck, here on the west coast squid is on the "good alternatives" list.  Squid is generally considered to be very hard to over fish.  They breed abundantly, have fairly short life cycles (approximately 9 months), and quickly adapt to changes in their environment.    Here on the west coast we had a bumper crop of squid this year, so many that California ended its squid season 4 months early after fishers caught the maximum allowed weight. 

I normally buy my squid pre-cleaned, just because it is less of a hassle.  If you want to go for it with whole ones, cleaning them is a fairly straightforward process.  If you are used to cleaning fish this probably won't gross you out - if you aren't you might want to get the pre-cleaned ones because this is going to be messy.  Instead of explaining the whole process here I am just going to give you guys this link.  Good luck! 

The key to cooking tender delicious squid instead of gummy, bland, rubber band squid is timing.  You either have to cook squid very briefly, for under 2 minutes, or, if you pass that thresh hold and it gets gummy, you have to cook it for over 30 minutes to re-tenderize it.  Some dishes call for a long cooking time, but for the marinated squid salad I made all you have to do is slice the heads and parboil it.   Drop the pieces of squid in boiling water, leaving them in just until they turn opaque, about a minute.   When you take them out of the boiling water, put them immediately into ice-water, or run cold water over them to stop the cooking process.  If you don't do this the squid will keep cooking and very quickly turn into rubber bands.

This recipe is out of the book Fuel Up by dietician and sports nutritionist Georgie Fear and was originally posted on his blog.   Check it out for yourself here.


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