Saturday 24 November 2007

Recipe: Chicken Liver Terrine

This is definitely a recipe for this time of year - partly because of its hearty-trencherman-fare-keeping-out-the-cold quality, and partly because we're approaching the period when suddenly you find you have an extra three or four (or five or six) bodies for lunch or dinner, especially during that ramshackle period between Christmas and the New Year, when a rather more ad-hoc approach to meals becomes the order of the day, and a terrine of this kind in the fridge will definitely come in handy. I know it seems ridiculously early to be mentioning Christmas, but in fact this is a dish which should be kept for at least two weeks before being eaten, and is fine at three and even four weeks, too. I suspect it would last even longer, if necessary, but I've never been in a position to find out - over time, the flavours strengthen, and as the terrine dehydrates, it becomes firmer and therefore easier to serve. Whenever I come across them, I read with derision the cautious comments from Health and Safety 'experts' that a terrine can be kept for several days .......with clearly no knowledge whatsoever that in in the past, the whole purpose of this kind of dish was specifically in order to be able to feed off it during the winter months; it falls within the same category effectively as dried sausage and cured ham...(which is a whole different story, and one for another day)

For Twelve.

Ingredients: 7 tablespoons Cognac; 3 tablespoons Port; 3 tablespoons Sherry; 2 cloves Garlic, minced; half a Cup of finely chopped fresh Parsley; 1 level teaspoon of dried Thyme; 1 pinch of Nutmeg; 1 level teaspoon of Sugar; 2 heaped teaspoons of Salt; a dozen grinds of Pepper from the mill; 500g Chicken Livers, roughly cut up (check to see that there are no 'green' bits that need to be removed - but frankly, I can't remember the last time I had to do this, given the quality of livers now generally sold); 200g Pork, cut into 1cm x 2 cm dice (you can use either Pork belly for this, or a Pork Steak or piece of loin - whatever is most readily available); 200g minced Pork or Veal; 200g rindless Bacon, for lining the terrine mould (or I use slices of Pancetta for this, if I'm making it in Italy).


1. Combine Cognac, Port, Sherry, Garlic, Parsley, Thyme, Nutmeg, Sugar, Salt and Pepper in a large bowl. Add Chicken Livers, diced Pork and Sausage meat, and stir with a fork to mix thoroughly. (At this stage, Michel Guérard, whose recipe this was before I mucked around with it for my own purposes, would have you let everything stand for at least 24 hours before proceeding. I see no point in this: if you are leaving the terrine for a week or so before eating it, the flavours will mingle perfectly at that stage, when the texture of the terrine is also sorting itself out).

2. Line the terrine mould* with slices of Bacon or Pancetta, making sure you leave enough over to be able to cover the top of the terrine once all the ingredients have been added.

3. Fill the prepared mould with the Meat mixture, then cover the top with the remaining slices of Bacon or Pancetta. Bake in a bain marie, in a 220 degree C oven, for one and a half hours, uncovered. The top will become a deep crispy brown, and the smell as it cooks will fill the entire house!

* Although for years I've lusted after one of those porcelain terrines with a lid, none has ever actually come my way, and generally, I've made do with a succession of loaf tins for this purpose; recently I graduated to a Le Creuset silicone terrine mould, which worked wonderfully until I stupidly managed to put the tip of a knife through the side of it. It has since been replaced.....but take note of the fragility of this particular piece of kit!

Thursday 22 November 2007

And a Pisan Day......

Raining. It often does here - which begs the question why all those Inglesi consumptives arrived in the nineteenth century, in search of warm dry air for their damaged lungs. One of the standard local sights is the senegalese street vendors, who manage somehow - and instantaneously - to switch their stock-in-trade from CDs and cigarette lighters to all kinds of umbrellas at the first sign of a raindrop. Impressive. And because it's such a common occurrence, the Pisani don't let it put them off their stride one bit, but just carry on as normal, except with the protection of large umbrellas. Borgo Stretto and the marketplace in Via Cavalca are transformed into a version of that impressionist painting Les Parapluies - Renoir, I think - with a multitude of the things thronging the streets, all in bright colours and every kind of stripe and tartan and pattern you could imagine.

To Maurizio, for a Pork Loin. I stood and watched as he expertly boned and rolled it - something that almost never happens in a butchers in London, where you rarely get to see work like that actually being done, and in fact the butchers on show are really only acting as shop assistants. His speed and efficiency is almost balletic, there is no wastage whatsoever in the process, and the delicacy with which he strings the boned loin makes me embarrassed to think of the ham-fisted way I tie up similar cuts of meat at home, when I've had to open them up to stuff them!

Then to Antonella for Radicchio and Apples. She talks me into the mutant Radicchio - the one which has chaotic, primeval-looking tendrils rather than the more normal round or long variety - on the basis that it has a much more assertive bitter-sweet flavour than the others. She's right - but they also cost a lot more, so the choice isn't as obvious as you'd think.

And finally to Claudia, where I'm briefly tempted from my planned purchase of Casarecci by the mountain of deep yellow Pappardelle she's serving to the signora two ahead of me in the queue, and I consider the option of Pappardelle with some of her wonderful ragu, the sight of a bowl of which in the vitrina has my mouth watering. I have plenty of time to ponder, as the elderly lady before me is having trouble understanding the euro coinage - even after all this time, it isn't unusual to see people of that age who haven't managed to get their heads around the move away from the lira - and in the end Claudia accepts a handful of small change in settlement of a larger bill, in order to help her out. And by that time, I've decided to resist temptation, and to stick to the original Casarecci plan. Tomorrow is another day, after all......

Back home, for the first - and very welcome- cappuccino of the morning, and to put a batch of almonds into the oven to roast. If the rain eases off, then I can get out into the garden to clean the leaves from the lily pond, and to plant Hyacinth and Narcissus bulbs in pots for the terrace...and if not, then it's a question of hunkering down beside the fire, and attacking the remainder of this year's Booker longlist.

The Brancolis will be here for dinner this evening, and to spend the night, passing through en route to the airport, as they depart until early next spring. It should be a bucolic affair.....

Tonight's dinner:

Casarecci, with melted Butter and Parmesan

Pork Loin, pot roast with Radicchio, Pancetta and Garlic

Tartes aux Pommes - served with cream (as long as the luggage which was yesterday kidnapped by Gatwick baggage handlers actually turns upon this afternoon's flight!)

Sunday 18 November 2007

A London Day.......

Glorious sunshine, a hard, crisp frost, and an intensely blue sky. The four-footeds love it, and spent a deliriously happy half hour first thing in the morning running around chest-deep in the piles of autumn leaves in Kensington Gardens - much of which stayed attached to their coats and was transferred indoors in due course, to be discovered subsequently in every corner, and behind every chair. No squirrels left to chase at this time of year, but plenty of opportunity to lose yet another tennis ball (the third in a fortnight!).....

Leaving the dogs dozing contentedly in front of the fire, we then set off for Buckingham Palace - not the front door, but the side one, for another visit to the outstandingly good exhibition of the best renaissance pictures from HM's collection. Impossible to recommend it highly enough. My parents traveled up to Town for the occasion, and it was no hardship to accompany them to the gallery for a second bite at this particular cherry. Del Sarto, Giulio Romano, Titian, a particularly beautiful little Mazzolino, even a Vasari which I liked ( normally I wouldn't)......and the overall quality so spectacular that it even prompted a degree of relative sniffiness about the Parmigianinos and Corregios..Yes, it really is that good!

Thereafter, to Elizabeth Street, for lunch in the Ebury Wine Bar.

Elizabeth Street these days has become something of a second-mortgage food mecca: Jeroboams, for outrageously expensive cheese, has come to rest there (I remember when Juliet Harbutt first opened it in South Kensington in the eighties, and it was a wonderful discovery, and became a regular stopping-off point on a Saturday morning, ......), and Baker & Spice has also finished up there, having left Walton Street and spent a rather odd, but brief, period in the doldrums just off Sloane Avenue. Still staffed by braying Sloanes, doubtless.....but their puff pastry (sold uncooked, in large slabs) has always been exceptionally good. Then, a few doors down is the retail outlet for The Chocolate Society, with a quaker-ish simplicity that makes the place look like an offshoot of the WI - difficult to square it with the famously irascible Alan Porter, whose dream-child the Society initially was, and whom I remember from numerous chocolate events in various countries in the nineties. And I notice that Poilane ....which surely has to be the most expensive bread shop in the World...has now opened a shop just along from Baker & Spice. The Duchess of Devonshire used to have a shop here to sell surplus produce from the Chatsworth Estate, but I expect the rent ended up being too much for the Devonshire coffers!

And nestled amongst all this edible treasure trove is the Elizabeth Street Clinic (for four-footeds) which has quite different connotations - it was here that an earlier four-footed was rushed as an emergency case one Sunday evening, several decades ago, when, as a puppy, she'd jumped out of a third floor window in Cornwall Gardens and caused serious damage both to herself and to a Mercedes parked outside - both equally badly dented in the process.
I recall going to pick her up the next day, when she was out of surgery and clamouring to go home, and I walked her carefully along Elizabeth street, a sticking plaster rakishly adorning her forehead; even that experience didn't dim the allure of the contents of the rubbish bins, so I suspect that we were talking good quality scraps even in those days. Always a dog of great discernment, that one......

Tonight's Dinner:

Crab-cakes, with Lime Mayonnaise

Roast Lamb (back to Italy tomorrow, so making the most of the opportunity); braised Celery

Chocolate & Hazelnut Mousse