Sunday, December 23, 2012

Chicken liver paté: #SundaySupper is home for the holidays

Every family has its own holiday traditions. For example, my husband and I have had a fake banana on our Christmas tree since we first started living together more than 20 years ago. It's a little cracked now, but it still goes up on the tree every year. Another tradition we have is to buy one new ornament per family member per year. As time has passed, we have collected lots of fun things, which we love to unpack every year and exclaim, "Oh yeah, I remember that one! And this is one of my favorites. And so is this!" The tree gets more and more crowded every year, and that's just how I like it.

Of course, many of those traditions revolve around special foods. As a child, one of the holiday foods I looked forward more to anything else was my mother's chicken liver paté. It is still one of the best things I have ever tasted, even though it's hideous to look at. The first time I saw my mother making the stuff, I said it looked yucky. She told me, "Sometimes the best-tasting food is the ugliest. Try it before you make any judgments." So, with great trepidation, I did. And loved it.

Unfortunately, this post is not about her recipe, which is a secret process and recipe she invented and guards as though it could topple regimes. I have made attempts to duplicate it, trying several recipes that require baking in the oven in a pan of water (which is how my mother's recipe is made), but, although good, they just aren't worth the effort. In the last few years, I have turned instead to this much simpler recipe, which was adapted from a recipe in Allt om Mat, a Swedish food magazine. It's delicious, easily doubled (or even tripled), and easy to freeze. I always make a huge batch of the stuff and freeze about half. It never lasts long enough. It's especially good served with some sweet gherkins, but simply slathered on bread or crackers works just fine. Some of the butter may separate out during cooling, but you can mix it right back in to the paté. (Note that you will need a food processor or blender to make this.)


  • 1 lb frozen chicken livers, partially defrosted
  • 5 slices smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 stick butter (4 oz)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1-2 Tbsp brandy (optional)


  1. Melt the butter in a deep pan or a large pot over medium-low heat. 
  2. Add the diced bacon and onions and let the onions soften in the butter for about 10 minutes. (Keep the heat low to medium. You don't want the onions or the bacon to brown.)
  3. Roughly cut the partially defrosted chicken livers into pieces that are about an inch in size. Add the livers to the onions, butter, and bacon in the pan. Add salt, herbs, and brandy (if using). 
  4. Bring the mixture to a slow simmer and then let it simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
  5. Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes. Then blend it until very smooth in a food processor or blender. (Let the machine run for a good, long time so that the mix is evenly smooth.)
  6. Taste the paté for seasoning. Add salt if needed while the mix is still hot and liquid.  
  7. Pour the mixture into containers to chill. It will set up on cooling. Spread the paté on bread or crackers and enjoy. 
This week, #SundaySupper is sharing all kinds of special family treats for the holidays. Check out all the goodies and don't forget to participate in the chat on Twitter by following the hashtag #SundaySupper at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, 12/23/12. Also feel free to share your favorite holiday recipe on the #SundaySupper Pinterest board. 


Appetizers & Snacks


Main Dishes



The posts are more than recipes. They are also wonderful stories of holidays and traditions. Please take the time to visit and read each heartwarming one.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pork and beans with Alton Brown's pickled pork for #SundaySupper

I hadn't intended to participate in this week's Sunday Supper, which is all about favorite chef-inspired dishes. I was busy, overwhelmed, and trying to keep up with the regular day to day. I just couldn't think of a chef's recipe that I would want to do. The research seemed daunting. And then I got the reminder email about posting #SundaySupper recipe titles to the group. And I smacked myself on the forehead. Just that morning, I had started pickling some pork, using Alton Brown's recipe. Uh, oh yeah, duh. Silly me. Serendipity strikes again.

I haven't cooked that many celebrity chef recipes even though you could call me a cooking show addict. I especially enjoy the shows where they pit chefs head to head: Top Chef, Iron Chef, Next Iron Chef, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star. Love 'em. My husband and I try to come up with ideas for the mystery basket. Ideas that we have never tried, unfortunately.

One food show that was particularly important to us was Alton Brown's Good Eats. It taught us so much about the precise methods of cooking just about anything you could think of and make it good. The show also covered food history, culture, and science. For geeks like us, it was irresistible. And it was funny. AB was such a goof on that show, so much so that we were surprised to learn about his extraordinary skill and professionalism as a producer (which we discovered on The Next Food Network Star). (And I also enjoy his natty Southern gentleman style.)

However, more important than the specific lessons in cooking various items of food or the history and science was the insight that to cook really well requires precision, knowledge of the ingredients, knowledge of the techniques. This may seem obvious, but it isn't. In some ways it was a revelation: To get superior results, you have to understand how different kinds of pans heat food differently, that some foods need to be cooked at low temperatures for a long time and some need high heat for just a few seconds, and so much more. Understanding the differences and learning to apply patience or be careful about timing really does make a difference. It was exciting because there was room for growth. It's still exciting because the only way to go is toward continual improvement if you are willing to learn.

Another key to learning as a cook is to take risks and experiment, to try things that don't sound good or to try new methods. This dish is a perfect example. The first time I heard of pickled pork, I had doubts. It didn't sound good to me at all. Sounded kind of scary actually, like those giant jars of pickled eggs you see sometimes. Thankfully, my husband went ahead and tried it about a year ago (I am in no way to be commended for my kitchen courage in this story, but the mad scientist definitely is); cooked long and slow with some beans, tomatoes, onions, and herbs, the pork transformed into a rich, filling dish perfect to take the edge of a cold night's chill. You won't believe the rich smell that rises when you remove the lid from your Dutch oven.

This dish is not difficult or labor-intensive to make but it takes a lot of time. The initial pickling of the pork takes three days, then the dish itself needs to simmer 2 to 2 1/2 hours. But it's worth it. You will divide the pickled pork in half and freeze the unused half for another day. The pork and beans, served over white rice, last a few days (unless of course, you go back for seconds and thirds, as we did last night).

For the pickled pork recipe, head over to the Food Network's website for Alton Brown's recipe. I followed this nearly exactly (skipped the celery seed; didn't have it, didn't want it). For the rest of the recipe, read on:


  • 1/2 batch of Alton Brown's pickled pork, drained (drain and freeze the other half for another use)
  • 2 1/2 - 3 cups cooked beans (1/2 lb dried beans, cooked); I used cranberry beans, you can use pintos, white navy beans, cannelini beans.
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, briefly chopped in a food processor
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp salt (or more to taste, but add near the end of the cook time to avoid oversalting)
  • 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp whole-grain mustard 


  1. If you use dried beans, Pick-A-Pepper just turned me on to a great, no-soak method of cooking beans that cuts cooking time to 2 hours (at most) and leaves you with soft, creamy beans. I went ahead and cooked a whole pound at once and froze the second half in leftover cooking liquid.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven until it shimmers. Add the chopped onions, cook until they are soft and just starting to brown a bit. 
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir them together gently until evenly distributed. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the oven. 
  5. Leave it in the oven for 2 hours. Taste to test the seasoning (careful, it will be very hot). Add salt to taste. Remove from the oven. 
  6. Let it cool while you cook some white rice to serve it over. Then eat it and love it. And try to avoid going back for seconds. I dare you. 
Please check out all the other great chef-inspired dishes on offer from #SundaySupper. Lots of tasty dishes and inspiration are on offer:

Starters or Snacks:

The Main Dish:

Amazing Sides:

Sweet Endings:

Wine Pairings: 

Please join the Sunday Supper group via Twitter for #SundaySupper throughout the day on December 2, 2012. In the evening, Sunday Supper members will meet at 7 PM EST for the weekly #SundaySupper live chat. All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, or you can follow us through TweetChat. Also check out and pin to the #SundaySupper Pinterest board, which has more than 1,600 pins with all kinds of tasty dishes.