Nourish Yourself in the New Year: Love Your Lists

Originally, I was just going to write about keeping a par stock list to keep track of your (fabulously efficient) pantry. But then I looked around my own kitchen and realized I have three lists working synergistically to help me keep the basics well-stocked and use what I have on hand to turn out healthy meals. Here’s how I use them and how they work together.

par-stock-lists-post1.    Par Stock — In professional kitchens, chefs keep what’s called a “par stock,” which basically means a minimum level of essential ingredients. I’ve adapted this practice for my own kitchen with a laminated list of the ingredients my family can’t do without: olive oil, garlic, milk, bread, etc.. Then I go through the list to check the status of each ingredient before heading out to the store. Working with a par stock virtually eliminates those annoying “uh, oh, we’re out of olive oil” trips.

2.    Produce List – There’s always something in the fridge. If you’ve been to the farmers’ market, it’ll be full of veggies. If you’ve roasted a chicken over the weekend there might be some extra breast meat. The trick is keeping track of everything you have so you’ll use it before it spoils. I’m an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of person, so this was a real challenge for me before I found a simple solution . . . in black and white, right before my eyes: a chalkboard. Now, when I come back from the market or if I’ve just picked a crop from the garden, I jot down what I’ve put in the fridge on the blackboard by the kitchen. I love to sit down, sip a cup of tea and let my mind wander to concoct meals out of what’s written on the board.

3.    Cupboard List — My grains, pulses and legumes are on a shelf above eye-level so, in the spirit of my produce chalkboard, I’ve added a white-board to the inside of the cupboard door to keep track of how much quinoa and rice and red lentils I’ve got stashed up there.

The idea is to form a system of lists that keeps your basics stocked while capturing the ever-changing contents of your fridge and cupboards so you know what you have to work with at a glance. The payoff? Big savings on time, money and effort come mealtime . . . and a healthier approach to boot.

Braised Chicken and Chickpeas with Smoked Paprika

This recipe works wonders with the Valu-pak of frozen chicken thighs you bought last month at Costco (or was that me?). If you don’t have smoked paprika on hand, just use a twist of freshly ground black pepper. Or experiment with other combinations of spices in your pantry. Serve over brown rice, whole wheat couscous or bulgur to soak up the flavorful juices.


3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 pounds chicken thighs and legs
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I recommend Muir Glen)
1 cup chicken stock
2 (14-ounce cans) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained

Place flour in a plastic zip-top bag. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, and drop half in the flour. Seal bag and shake until well coated. Remove, shake off any excess and transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan and brown well on all sides, working in batches if necessary so you don’t overcrowd the pan, about 6 minutes total per batch. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add onion to Dutch oven and sauté 4-5 minutes or until tender and slightly browned. Pour in vinegar, scraping pan to loosen browned bits on the bottom, and cook 1 minute or until liquid evaporates.

Add tomatoes and chicken stock to pan. Stir in chickpeas and bring to a boil. Place chicken on top of chickpeas and sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt and paprika. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and chickpeas are tender.

Serves 8

Knife Skills 101: Choosing and Using a Knife

The knife:  No other tool is so elemental, so representative of the cook than the well-honed blade. It is, in essence, the extension of a cook’s hand and in every culture a kitchen is simply not a kitchen without one. Yet few tools in the contemporary American home are treated so casually. If you’re one of those home cooks who has a handful of knives, purchased God-knows-when, stored in a drawer with the can opener and that gadget you got for Christmas, it’s time to change your ways.

Let’s get over the first hurdle right off the bat: yes, good knives are expensive. I suggest, though, that unless you happen to be a carpenter there will be no tool in your life that you will use more often, and that your knives should command a certain respect, even reverence. A well-made knife, well-cared for, is something you will leave to your grandchildren and they to theirs – a once in many lifetimes purchase.

knife-skills-postThe Lineup

There is disagreement among chefs as to how many kitchen knives are absolutely necessary. One school holds that you need a different knife for each specific task. A few chefs believe they can do any job with just one or two. I fall squarely in the middle. While I own perhaps 30 knives, I consider just four of them to be indispensable and another to be nearly so:

Chef’s knife — The “chef’s” knife, or French knife, is the one that probably comes to mind when you think of a kitchen knife. It has a wide hilt and a straight, sharp edge that tapers to a point.  Chef’s knives range in length from 6 to 14 inches, but an 8- to 10-inch blade is sufficient for nearly any task.

Boning Knife — A boning knife is smaller, with a 6-inch blade roughly as wide as the handle and a straight edge that curves up toward the tip.

Paring Knife — The paring knife is smaller still, 3 to 5 inches long and narrow as the handle, and is used for finer, more intricate work.

Serrated Knife — The serrated knife comes in many shapes and sizes, but I prefer one about 8 inches long that’s offset to prevent scraping one’s knuckles on the cutting board.

The Desert Island Knife — Then there’s the knife that has been essential in Asian kitchens for centuries and is now gaining is gaining popularity in the West. What the Japanese call a “santoku” has come to be known as a “snub” in professional American kitchens because of the rounded shape of the tip. It is versatile and light, and in the “desert island” scenario, this would be the knife I would choose.

The Brand

Saying, “A knife is a knife” is like saying, “a car is a car.” Sure the car will get you there, but how safely, how comfortably, how efficiently? Just as you choose a car that fits your needs and style, you’ll want to choose the brand of knife that’s right for you. In most professional kitchens you’ll find chefs who swear by one of three brands: Henkels, Wüsthof-Trident, or Global. Those who like the German knives, the Henkels and the Wüsthofs, like them for their classic style, their balance, their long lasting edge and their weight. These knives are fairly hefty and, for some, that’s a good thing. Conversely, the Japanese Globals are much lighter and thinner, and are made from one piece of steel from handle to tip. This not only adds strength, but is also more sanitary since there are no little crevices to hold bacteria. The folks at Wüsthof have recently followed suit with their Culinaire line, honed from single pieces of high carbon stainless steel.

In general, which of these three you choose is a matter of taste; try each and decide which feels best. (One important factor to keep in mind, though, is that while Henkels and Wüsthofs are guaranteed for life, the Globals have no guarantee at all.)

Keeping the Edge

Keeping a knife sharp is vital. I recommend using a three-stone sharpening system (my favorite is the one made by Norton Abrasives available, among other places, at and a good steel. The sharpening stones—one coarse, one medium and one fine—you’ll use every few months to really hone the edge. The steel, on the other hand (the metal stick you see chefs rubbing against their knives at the roast beef carving station during Sunday brunch), you’ll want to use every time you pull your knives out to removes the burrs and the wire edge that can be produced from hard use. Make sure you a steel coated with industrial diamond dust; it will last forever and all the care it needs is an occasional wash with warm soapy water.

Cutting Surfaces

Now that you’ve got nice, sharp knifes you need a suitable surface to cut on. I recommend hardwood because it gives the knives something meaty to bite into—which makes it safer for you and healthier for the knives. Hardwood does require a bit more care, though. After using, wash your board with an antibacterial soap (by hand, never in a machine) and dry it right away; a little water won’t hurt, but a lot of water and heat will ruin the wood. If the crevices on the board get too deep, give it a light sanding (once a year ought to do it) and you’ll have a fresh surface.


Once you’ve chosen the right blades and the right board, there’s the small matter of knowing how to use them. We’ll be back with Knife Skills 102: The Basic Cuts in a bit (you can also see videos of mincing and dicing in Kitchen Tips Video Clips), but for now let’s cover the basics of safe slicing. The golden rule is to curl your fingers back towards your palm and keep the blade of the knife flush up against the stretch of fingers between your first and second knuckles. It’s awkward at first, but with practice becomes almost second nature.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Roasted Root Veggies

This basic recipe  for roasted winter root veggies is one we turn to again and again with different mixtures depending on what’s at the market. I love how, after about 15 minutes, the kitchen is perfumed with a deep, sweet scent that lingers well past dinner. These seasonal winter vegetables are super versatile too. Serve them with anything–or on their own–or fold them into pasta or a frittata. And it’s a perfect recipe to practice your knife skills.


Failure to Cultivate: A Response to Caitlin Flanagan on School Gardens

Not sure how many of you saw, but recently in the Atlantic there was a scathing commentary by Caitlin Flanagan condemning school gardens. NOURISH Evolution Contributor, Kurt Michael Friese, wrote a beautiful rebuttal on Civil Eats (a worthy site to visit for anyone who wants to explore sustainable agriculture and food systems and how they shape our world), and was kind enough to share it with us here. Thank you, Kurt!

get-connected-postIn the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine, Caitlin Flanagan has written a surprisingly harsh critique of the popular and growing movement to include gardens in our public schools. In a nutshell, she states that pursuing this activity over and above the three R’s will turn our children into illiterate sharecroppers. Right from the start, though, she gets it wrong.

She has the reader picture the son of undocumented migrant workers entering his first day at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, home of the well-known Edible Schoolyard project, “where he stoops under the hot sun and begins to pick lettuce.”  Her callous disrespect for labor only begins there, but the real problem with her argument lies in her stubborn refusal to accept that a good idea may have sprouted from an ideology other than her own.  She goes so far as to describe it as:

    …A vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt)

Ms. Flanagan has chosen to ignore the core purposes of these gardens, only one of which happens to be cultivating a respect for hard work, and only one other of which is a healthy respect for real food.  While she notes that the work of the garden has migrated into each of the classrooms, she ignores the obvious point that this demonstrates: There is nothing taught in schools that cannot be learned in a garden.  Math and science to be sure, but also history, civics, logic, art, literature, music, and the birds and the bees both literally and figuratively.  Beyond that though, in a garden a student learns responsibility, teamwork, citizenship, sustainability, and respect for nature, for others, and for themselves.

The disdain for the left-of-center viewpoints of those who started the Edible Schoolyard is evidenced in her description of Chez Panisse, the restaurant of Edible Schoolyard’s founder Alice Waters, as “an eatery where the right-on, ‘yes we can,’ ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people can tuck into a nice table d’hôte menu of scallops, guinea hen, and tarte tatin for a modest 95 clams—wine, tax, and oppressively sanctimonious and relentlessly conversation-busting service not included.”  Flanagan’s attempt at snob-bashing populism and appeal toward the sensitivities of those on the right is misplaced, however, because these school garden ideas, while begun in this particular case by those with left-leaning tendencies, actually hold appeal across the political spectrum.  They not only encompass a love of nature and the kind of touchy-feely sensitivities that give conservatives the willies, but also the bedrock principles of tradition and ownership and self-reliance that would be equally at home at a hippie commune or a tea party rally.

While it is rightly noted that the grades at the school quickly improved, the contention that “a recipe is much easier to write than a coherent paragraph on The Crucible” is not only insulting to professional chefs and food writers (like, well, me), but also is patently false.  There is a world of difference between writing a recipe and writing one well, as anyone who as ever come across the words “but first” in a recipe will attest.  The more important point though is the one that Flanagan glosses over: that the passion for learning developed in a garden, driven home by the lightening-bolt of awareness when a kid bites into a vine-ripened tomato she grew herself, is worth essays on ten plays even if Arthur Miller or Shakespeare wrote them all.

Where the argument really goes off the rails though is when Ms Flanagan posits:

    Does the immigrant farm worker dream that his child will learn to enjoy manual labor, or that his child will be freed from it? What is the goal of an education, of what we once called “book learning”? These are questions best left unasked when it comes to the gardens.

Not “enjoy,” Ms, Flanagan, respect.  This, as I mentioned, is where her disdain for manual labor, something that everyone on the planet (beneath the upper 2% or so of income earners) contends with every day, becomes instructive.  It is predicated on the idea that labor is something to be freed from, ostensibly through strict adherence to “book learning.”  Worse, it perpetuates the misguided dogma of the last several decades that distances us from our food and insists that cooking is a chore, like washing laundry or windows, which should be avoided at all costs as if it were beneath us.  This in turn not only makes her seem elitist herself, but also leaves Ms. Flanagan’s ideas of education as merely a means to create consumers, rather than citizens.

What follows in the essay is a misuse of statistics that boggles the mind, where she blames a decline in math and English among Latinos at MLK on the gardens.  In legal-ese (and Latin) this is referred to as a Post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, “It follows therefore was caused by.”  Another example of this would be that since all addicts were once babies, then mother’s milk leads to heroin addiction.

This is followed up by an argument that the rampant increase in childhood obesity and early-onset diabetes is not caused by a lack of access to healthy food nor the prevalence of sugary, fat laden food in schools.  Rather she cites, ironically, George Orwell, to argue that it’s because poor people prefer that food.  Please.  And for the record, her research into two grocery stores in Compton as proof that poverty and food deserts do not go hand-in-hand is blindingly shortsighted.

There are more errors of reason, but let me cut to the chase.  Ms. Flanagan sums up by saying this:

    (W)e become complicit— through our best intentions—in an act of theft that will not only contribute to the creation of a permanent, uneducated underclass but will rob that group of the very force necessary to change its fate. The state, which failed these students as children and adolescents, will have to shoulder them in adulthood, for it will have created not a generation of gentleman farmers but one of intellectual sharecroppers, whose fortunes depend on the largesse or political whim of their educated peers.

The belief that we will create better citizens by teaching to the test (an idea she advocates for repeatedly and vociferously) is one that will lead to a generation of closed-minded automatons incapable of learning, thinking, or fending for themselves.  We are far better off with a generation of Citizens who understand that sustenance comes not from factories or laboratories but from the soil and from hard working hands, both of which deserve the respect garnered from experience.  We need Citizens who are healthier than the generation before them; throughout most of human history the rich were fat and the poor were skinny, yet today in America it is quite the opposite.  Fixing that requires direct experience and interaction with our food, something no schoolroom lecture can provide.

This is not advocacy for some weird Maoist Great Leap Forward where everyone must leave the cities and go farm.  It is knowledge of one of the truest clichés known: You are what you eat.  And as one of Ms. Flanagan’s carefully-book-taught computer programmers would point out, Garbage In – Garbage Out.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Build a Healthy Pantry

Let’s be honest. Come 5:30, how many of us throw open the fridge and hope something will shout, “I’M YOUR DINNER!”? Then, disheartened, we close the door and resort to pizza or take-out or Lean Cuisine . . . again. Having a well-stocked pantry can help you break that cycle by giving you the ability to transform whatever looks back at you from the fridge into a wholesome, home-cooked meal. Here’s how to build a pantry to nourish a healthier you.

pantry-postCooking oils. No matter whether it’s a head of broccoli or leftover chicken thighs in the fridge, a drizzle of oil in a hot sauté pan can transform it into something magnificent. Choose healthy oils like extra-virgin olive oil, expeller-pressed canola oil and peanut oil as your basics. Others, like walnut and toasted sesame oil, are great as finishing oils for adding depth of flavor.

A variety of vinegars. It may sound extravagant, but I heartily advocate for a half-dozen vinegars in your pantry. Sure it’s an investment initially, but the shelf-life of vinegar (unlike oils) is virtually infinite. My ideal spread includes good white and red wine vinegar, Champagne vinegar, balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar and sherry vinegar. You’ll be amazed how the variety zips up your vinaigrettes (and your desire to make homemade dressing). And don’t be afraid to use them in sauces or even as a braising liquid.

Whole grains and dried beans and legumes. Wholesome, quick-cooking starches like whole grain pasta and couscous, bulgur and farro make a substantial base for a variety of dishes in under half an hour. Dried beans can be soaked and cooked in about the same time using a pressure cooker, and many legumes, like lentils, cook in about 20 minutes on the stove top.

Canned beans and veggies. These are your secret weapon for rounding out a meal. Whip up a quick pasta sauce with diced tomatoes, turn a simple sauté into a hearty dish with canned beans, add a splash of coconut milk to a stir-fry to keep it from becoming ho-hum.

Stock. I go through about a quart of stock a week. I use it to deglaze sautés and stir-fries, I use it to stretch oil-based pasta sauces, I use it to braise anything from chicken to endive, and as a base for quick soups. I find having chicken, beef and mushroom stock (for vegetarian options, I prefer mushroom stock over vegetable stock, which can taste like smushed carrots to me) on hand leaves me well-prepared for whatever the fridge presents.

Basic aromatics. If you eschew the Champagne vinegar, fine. If you skip on the bulgur or mushroom stock, that’s OK. But don’t let your pantry go without at least one head of garlic, one onion and shallot, and a knob of fresh ginger at all times. Those are like the primary colors of your pantry palette.

Spices. If the aromatics are your primary colors, spices are the rest of the rainbow. Yes, grinding (and oftentimes toasting) your own spices is preferable to shaking them out of a jar, but in all honesty, I don’t do that unless I have an abundance of time. Instead, I rely on small jars (so they stay fresh) of basic spices like cumin, coriander, cayenne (I noticed when I was organizing my spices recently that a disproportionate number start with C . . . hmmm), chile flakes, cinnamon, curry powder, bay leaves, fennel seeds (which I do take time to crush in my mortar and pestle), nutmeg and oregano. If you want to expand a bit further you could include cardamom (like a heady, perfumed cinnamon), juniper berries (great with duck and pork), turmeric, fennel powder, five-spice, allspice and star anise. Beyond that there are a slew of other spices and mixes, like various chile powders, sumac and zaatar. As a general rule, if a spice smells musty or dusty, toss it.

Salt. I’m a sucker for salt. It may sound simplistic, but having a medium-grained crystal salt (like kosher salt) to cook with and a separate, coarser salt to sprinkle on almost as a condiment has changed everything in my kitchen. And I continue to learn about how different finishing salts—red Hawaiian, black Cyprus, pink Brittany—each have a distinct flavor and texture that can be used to enhance a dish. If your market carries various salts in bulk (which, pinch me, mine just started doing), I encourage you try a few. At the very least, stock kosher salt and a simple finishing salt like Maldon.

Nuts. Nuts, like beans, are another one of those satisfying, protein and fiber-packed add-ons. I like to keep peanuts, walnuts and pecans on hand, which can span from stir-fries to salads.

And . . . A few other also-nices are a jar of raw, unfiltered honey (a staple in many of our vinaigrettes); dried chiles and mushrooms; and a variety of cooking wines like dry red and white, marsala, mirin (sweet rice wine), sake and Shaoxing rice wine.

White Bean and Kale Ragout with Turnips and Sausage

This ragout is meant to be a throw-together-fast-on-a-weeknight kind of meal. If you have sweet potatoes instead of turnips, use them. If you have Swiss chard in the fridge but no kale, sub it instead. You may be surprised by how much flavor you can coax, with the help of a well-stocked pantry, out of the ingredients you have on hand.

white-bean-kale-turnips-ragout-recipe1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Italian chicken sausages, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups de-stemmed, chopped kale (about 1 bunch)
1/2 cup chicken or mushroom stock
2 (16-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute onion and turnips for 8 minutes, or until bronzed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add sausage and garlic to pan. Cook for 2 more minutes, then add kale and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender.

Serves 4

Be Slim and Satisfied

Or, more accurately, satiated. Satiety is what we feel when we’ve had enough; it’s what makes us stop eating and what keeps us full. As we amass more and more scientific research on the subject—on both sensory-stimulated behavior and physiological mechanisms—a more complete picture is emerging on just how our appetite is controlled.

Sensory stimuli related to taste and smell are part of the satiety equation. Three sensory phenomena act in concert to make food less appealing to us—both what we’re eating and what’s left on our plates—after we’ve had our fill. Another aspect is a particular hormone released by our GI tract to tell our brains we’re full. The bulk of the research being done on satiety, in fact, focuses on how to stimulate this “satiety hormone” to trick the brain into feeling full; which, quite frankly, troubles me. At least one study, supported by a handful of major pharmaceutical companies, concluded that drugs that “exploit the body’s satiety signals” will play a crucial role in the future.

Personally, I’d rather we focus on becoming more aware of the innate signals our bodies are giving us and the foods that are naturally satiating.

slim-satisfiedBack in 1995, Susanna Holt, Ph.D, found that certain foods will fill us up faster and make us feel full longer. Through her studies, Holt developed what she called a Satiety Index. She fed subjects 240-calorie portions of 38 different foods, had them rate their appetite on a 100 point index (with white bread being 100) every 15 minutes for two hours, and measured the amount of food they ate at a buffet after that period of time. The results showed that satiety varied greatly from a croissant (at 47 on the index) to boiled potatoes (323) to oatmeal (209).

Between this original study and a later, similar one limited to different kinds of bread (also conducted by Holt), two factors seemed to correlate quite highly to satiety: energy (or caloric) density and Glycemic Load (GL). The energy density of a food refers to how many calories are packed into a given weight. For example, ounce per ounce kale has far fewer calories than chocolate, which means you have to eat much more kale—by weight—to get to the same amount of calories you’d get from a small amount of chocolate. Setting aside other factors, sheer volume alone means you’ll feel a lot fuller on 240 calories of kale than you will chocolate.

Glycemic Load, on the other hand, has to do with how great of a rise in blood sugar a particular food triggers. Foods with a high Glycemic Load, like pancakes from a box mix (at 38 on the GL scale), trigger a more dramatic rise in blood sugar than foods with a low Glycemic Load like lentils (which  scored a 5). This lines up with Holt’s note in her latest study that breads that were “difficult” to eat—the bulkier, grainer breads that required more chewing—had a higher satiety factor. In other words, foods that are highly refined and don’t require much work on our parts, externally or internally, don’t satiate us as much.

Do you notice a recurring theme here on NOURISH Evolution? Inherently healthy food also helps us maintain a comfortable weight. This was a revelation to me as I discovered different facets of this canon with each piece I wrote for various publications, and it’s a revelation I’m hoping to pass on to others—to come to in their own way, in their own time—through the articles here on NOURISH Evolution.

Finding Childhood Memories in Chopped Liver

Proust had his madeleines. I have chopped liver.

Few foods trigger such strong childhood memories as the chopped liver my grandmother made when I was growing up. The recipe had long been in the family, ferried over by her mother on steerage passage from Kiev. Our family lacks any sentimentality, much less culinary history, so the exact recipe has been lost to the ages. It’s easy enough to re-create, though, since it was a basic concoction mixed by Jewish mamas for generations: Sauté chicken livers and onions in schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), run it through a meat grinder, and season with salt and pepper. Grandma often folded in chopped hard-cooked eggs. Then she packed it into a rinsed-out margarine tub and delivered it to us with a loaf of rye bread.


I took to chopped liver right away, loving its rich, gamy quality (though as a preschooler, I misheard the name and called the stuff “chopped litter,” a moniker Grandma happily adopted). I can almost certainly say I was the only kid at Loma Portal Elementary who hoarded sandwiches of chopped liver on rye, withholding them from lunchroom black market swaps (not that my classmates were clamoring for them). To this day, I love any kind of pate, from humble chopped liver to fancy pate de foie gras.

Chopped liver–affectionately called Jewish pate–is a type of forcemeat, which is a broad category that covers any finely ground mixture of meat, poultry, or even fish with spices and other ingredients. Forcemeats are used either to stuff other items, such as sausage casing or ravioli, or served on their own. They’re part of a time-honored tradition of using off-cuts (offal), including organ meats like liver. Although forcemeats can use expensive ingredients like foie gras, they typically employ cheap items like chicken livers, which you can pick up for less than $2.50 a pound at the supermarket.

Forcemeats usually are made with copious amounts of fat, which makes them rich and luscious, as well as caloric, and insanely high in saturated fat. Modern home cooks have made some changes when it comes to chopped liver–swapping schmaltz for canola oil, for example. I’ve made some other modifications to Grandma’s chopped liver, like using a food processor instead of a meat grinder, which gives it a finer quality, and employing a mix of liver and chicken thigh meat to trim the saturated fat. I’ve also added a touch of brandy and toasted walnuts to lend it some French flair. But the result is still redolent with the flavor I first grew to love and offers liver’s impressive nutritional benefits (lots of vitamin A, plenty of iron).

A modern version for a grown-up girl . . . but I still wouldn’t trade it for anything.

alison-thumb-frameA longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health.

Chicken Pate with Brandy (Chopped Liver)

This recipe is based on chopped liver — a k a “Jewish pate” — but combines liver with skinless, boneless chicken thighs and substitutes heart-healthy canola oil for traditional chicken fat in a version that’s much lower in saturated fat than my grandma’s specialty. I’ve also added a touch of brandy and toasted walnuts to take this a little upmarket. Spending a few minutes thoroughly cleaning and trimming the chicken of excess fat and sinew ensures a smooth pate; sharp kitchen shears make quick work of this task. Serve as an appetizer with crackers, toasted rye or French bread, along with cornichons, a robust mustard and dry white wine.

chicken-pate-chopped-liver-recipe2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 pound chicken livers, cleaned and trimmed
1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes or until tender. Sprinkle livers and chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add livers to pan and cook 2 minutes on each side or until seared on the outside and light pink on the inside (do not overcook). Transfer livers and onions to work bowl of a food processor.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan. Add thighs to pan and cook 2 minutes on each side or until done. Add thighs to food processor with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and brandy.

Process until smooth and stir in walnuts. Spoon pate into a shallow 2-cup dish or individual ramekins. Chill at least 1 hour before serving.

Serves 6