Spanish Chorizo

Memories of flaming sausage.

If you ask anyone in my family of origin, they’ll probably say the happiest time for us as a family was the four-year period we spent in Spain. My dad had shore duty, my parents had more money than they were used to, and the living was relatively easy.

I have mentioned some of my Spanish food faves already: Spanish tortilla, paella, etc.  Usually, when I mention these foodstuffs, people at least know what I’m talking about. Here in San Diego, though, mostly only foodies know what I mean when I say “Spanish chorizo.”

chorizo2

Spanish chorizo is very, very different from Mexican chorizo, which is what people are used to around here. Mexican chorizo is very loose — like ground meat at fridge temperature and practically liquid once cooked. Spanish chorizo is more the texture of pepperoni or other hard/dry sausages.

The really weird part to most people, though, is how we cooked it. Basically, mom would pour Everclear over it and light it on fire. Talk about a fun lunch! Besides the fun of watching it flame, it was a quick meal that didn’t heat up the kitchen, so it was mostly a summer food for us.

I almost didn’t post this because it’s really just a method and a memory, but it’s really good, and it’s nice to have some simple warm-weather meals to share.

chorizo1

The steps are so simple:

  1. Put Spanish chorizo on a heatproof plate or pie tin
  2. Douse it in Everclear or other highly alcoholic liquid (in a pinch, brandy is fine, but you don’t need anything expensive)
  3. CAREFULLY light it and let the alcohol burn off
  4. Let it cool for just a minute or two
  5. Slice the charred chorizo and eat it on good bread with as many sides as you want: veggies, olives, roasted red peppers, etc.

I’m a little sad that you won’t have the nostalgia to go with it. Or do you? Do you have foods like this in your history? I’d love to hear about them!

 

Chopped liver

Chopped liver like my mom makes. Mainly because my mom made it with me.

To Mom and to me, cooking is like breathing. I know that cooking is a skill that has to be taught, but both of us have been cooking for so long that it feels like we’ve been doing it all our lives. So I understood what she meant when I walked in with my camera and notebook to learn to make chopped liver and she shook her head.

“People think making my own chopped liver is such a big deal, but it’s practically the easiest thing in the world to make.”

It never occurs to her how daunting a recipe with several steps, even easy steps, can seem to a non-cook, and before I started this blog in 2009, it really didn’t cross my mind much, either. For the blog’s sake, I take photos and jot down quantities, but I don’t remember when I learned how to tell how long to cook something or how much onion to use, and I don’t write those things down in my normal day-to-day life. Knowing how to achieve the taste and texture I want feels like a part of me, and that’s mainly because Mom has been letting me help with the cooking since I was able to stand on a stool in the kitchen.

When I was planning what to cook for my first recipe back after a long break from blogging, I looked over the list of Mom’s recipes, the ones I’ve already done here, and was surprised not to see chopped liver. I grew up on the stuff, and it’s one of those things that is never as good in a restaurant or store as it is homemade. I think many of us have those things that we only like done a certain way, and the livers are like that for me.

While we made these this morning, Mom told me about a time when a friend of a friend from Israel was visiting and Mom made chopped liver for her. The woman from Israel was so happy to have some food that reminded her of home, and today, I’m feeling that, too.

If you haven’t had chopped liver before, it may remind you of pâté. Pâté is delicious and fancy, but chopped liver is, well, chopped liver. It’s cheap and homey and casual and the perfect thing to eat on toast as an easy, quick meal. Mom likes it best on rye toast. I am more likely to use white toast or crackers (or just a spoon).

If you’re a novice cook and you like chopped liver, this really is a great starter recipe, and it’s something different to add to your hors d’oeuvres repertoire. There’s nothing difficult about it, and I’ll even help you with shortcuts and substitutions. Plus, the quantities are forgiving. Just make sure your livers are fresh and you’re good to go.

 

Chopped Liver

Equipment:

Either a meat/food grinder or a food processor
A frying pan (nonstick isn’t necessary)
A large bowl

Ingredients:

1 pound of fresh chicken livers
1/3 cup schmaltz. If you don’t have schmaltz, you can use oil or butter. There’s also a mayo alternative — see note
1 large onion, chopped (the pieces should be small enough to fit into your grinder chute or processor bowl)
3 hard-boiled eggs (if you’re not sure how to boil an egg, Elise will help you out)
2 or 3 good-sized slices of white bread. We used home-baked today; if your bread is especially soft, you might want to use an extra slice.
salt to taste

Directions:

Mom's antique grinder

If you’re using a meat grinder (also known as a food grinder), set it up with a coarse disk on it. If you’re using a food processor, a regular metal blade is what you want. If you have neither, this can absolutely be done by hand with just a knife, but expect it to take quite some time, and that’s really just a last resort.

frying chicken livers in schmaltz

Heat schmaltz in a frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken livers without draining. Cook and stir over medium heat until the livers are firm, around 5 minutes. Cut into one of the livers and make sure most or all of the pink color is gone. If not, cook a couple more minutes and test again until they’re cooked through. A tiny bit of pink is okay, but if the livers aren’t firm, they’ll end up soupy once they’re ground up.

chopped onions

Remove the livers from the heat and place all the ingredients near the grinder or food processor.

frying chicken livers in schmaltz

With a slotted spoon, remove the livers from the schmaltz and run through the grinder or pulse in the food processor until coarsely chopped.

running chicken livers through a grinder

Put the bread slices into the schmaltz to soak it up while you grind the onions and eggs.

Pan of bread soaked in schmaltz

Next, grind the rest of the items in this order: onions, eggs, soaked bread.

grinding the onions

hard-boiled eggs being ground in a grinder

 

bowl of ground ingredients for chopped liver

Mix everything together. Test the texture and salt to taste. I usually don’t need much salt, if any. Some people like it saltier.  Remember that the livers will firm up in the fridge, so you want the texture to be a little thinner and looser than you’re hoping they’ll be when they’re cold. If the livers are too soft for your taste, add more bread. If they’re too dry, add a little schmaltz.

Jar of chopped liver

Note: In a pinch, you can skip the schmaltz and use a good brand of mayo. In this case, cook the livers in a small amount of oil or butter, process all the other ingredients in the grinder or food processor, and then mix the ground ingredients with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of mayo, to taste. The flavor is similar, but not as good as with schmaltz.

Bucatini and sausage casserole

bucatini casserole

One of the dangers of cooking the way my mom does is that using up leftovers sometimes makes more leftovers, in an endless cycle. Over the years, I have had to break myself of some of her habits. There are things I don’t do that my mother does. Some of them are:

  • saving a small amount of vegetables from a dinner
  • saving any amount of food that we don’t like or won’t want as leftovers (most fish, for instance, just doesn’t keep well, in my view)
  • saving any leftovers in the fridge that don’t get eaten within three days

Don’t tell my mom that, okay? (Mom, you didn’t hear that, okay?)

One thing I do that mom does, and I have to keep it in check, is make a new dish out of the leftovers from something else. This casserole is a good example. A night or two ago, I made bucatini with a simple sauce of Italian sausage, mushrooms, and a jar of good tomato sauce. Contrary to my habit (and completely in line with my mom’s principles), I made more than we would eat, on purpose, because my kid was coming over to dinner, and I wanted her to have plenty of yummy food (and even to take some home if she wanted). What that ended up meaning was way too many leftovers.

bucatini casserole

We could easily have eaten that same pasta, just heated up, but I was in the mood to cook, so I tossed the pasta in a baking dish, mixed in some green olives (stuffed with anchovies, but any olives would have worked), topped it with some French-fried onions (bought at Ikea) and a shake of grated Parmesan cheese, and baked at 350F until the top was brown and the pasta was heated through (I’d say about 30-45 minutes). Essentially the same dish, but the crunchy topping made it feel like a new thing. Fortunately, we were hungry, and there’s none of this dish to try to figure out what to do with tomorrow.

Mom’s kind of burger

Classic American burger.

Just a quick post today. The burgers I made would make my mom’s mouth water. Rare, lean beef. Toasted buns. Lots of veggies. (Cheese on James’s, but not on mine. I don’t usually do cheese on burgers.)

SO delicious. The kind of food I grew up on. Just a quarter pound of lean ground beef for each burger, sprinkled with salt/pepper/garlic and seared in a hot pan. Served with oven fries (from fresh russets, tossed in oil and roasted in a single layer in a 400°F oven) and plenty of ketchup to dip the fries in.

cheeseburger, oven fries, ketchup

Yum.

Cheesepalooza: Whole-milk Ricotta

Sorta-homemade lasagna with actually-homemade ricotta

I’ve been resisting making this post for a week and a half, for two reasons:

1) My photos didn’t come out all that well, and
2) My ricotta didn’t come out all that well. I couldn’t get it to set up properly. Cooking from the Market’s buttermilk ricotta is much more reliable for me, and the texture is right, while this was rubbery.

This is the first recipe in Cheesepalooza, though, and I have lots more chances to get it right. Besides, the resulting lasagna was ASTOUNDINGLY good, so hey, success!

Here’s the cheese draining on the faucet:

homemade ricotta draining

And here’s the lasagna after I ate all my dinner, went “Oh, shoot! I need a photo!” and put a little more on a plate to photograph.

sorta-homemade lasagna, one slice

It was so darn good, we managed to polish off that little more, too. SO good. And way easy, because I only sort of homemade it. You don’t even really need a recipe. What I did was bought four sheets of fresh pasta (two regular, two spinach) and layered them with jarred sauce, the homemade ricotta, and sliced whole-milk mozzarella. I ran out of mozzarella at the end (I used a pound), so I added some shredded cheddar on the top layer. This went together in maybe five minutes, and then I baked it at 350, covered, for about a half hour, then uncovered it and baked until everything was hot and bubbly. SO good!

And now here’s the worst pic of all. This doesn’t do this delicious thing justice, I promise you.

sorta-homemade lasagna

[Edit: Here’s a photo of an old batch of ricotta, made with the recipe linked above:]

ricotta in a strainer