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Indulge, Indulge! (October 17, 2001)

No matter where you live or who you are, it's been a tough couple of months. Life really is too short, and too often precarious, so we say, it's high time to indulge yourself and your family and friends – and do it as often as possible. Start with this small but glorious new book, Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras, Recipes for Divine Indulgence, by Katherine Alford. Nicely illustrated and a good read as well, this cookbook contains wonderful recipes using at least one of those three ultimate reward foods in each one.

On the menu today:

Buckwheat Popovers with a Trio of Caviars
and Crème Fraïche

Author Katherine Alford says, "For many, a stack of yeasty buckwheat blini is the only accompaniment for caviar. When I want the taste of buckwheat, I pull out my popover pans and whip up this batter. Popovers are great for brunch or impromptu entertaining, because there is no waiting for yeast to rise or having to be anchored at the stove flipping pancakes. You can sit down with your guests and enjoy warm popovers smeared with caviar. Heating the milk and butter before baking assures an impressive puff. These are also delicious with a smear of foie gras and a bit of truffle butter."

We say, "Fabulous!"

Makes 12 mini or 6 large popovers

1¼ cups milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup bread flour (not bread machine flour)
¼ cup buckwheat flour
¼ tsp fine sea salt
3 large eggs at room temperature
2 Tbsp shortening or lard, or 1 Tbsp each melted butter and oil
2 ounces salmon roe
2 ounces golden whitefish roe
2 ounces North American sturgeon caviar
1 cup crème fraïche

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

the driest white wine you can find, preferably with bubbles – Brut champagne or Chablis Grand Cru or Muscadet sur lie.

Preheat the oven to 450°F for large popovers and 425°F for mini popovers. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Place a nonstick or well-seasoned popover pan in the oven to heat. Put the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat over medium-low to melt the butter. Remove from heat and set aside. Sift the flours and salt together into a medium bowl. Whisk the milk mixture into the flour. Beat in the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Set aside. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and add about ½ teaspoon shortening, lard, or melted butter and oil to each cup. Return the pan to the oven to heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and divide the batter among the cups. Bake for 20 minutes. Without opening the oven door, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until browned. Remove the popovers from the oven and poke each with a knife to release steam. Serve immediately with the caviars and crème fraïche.

Figs Stuffed with Foie Gras Mousse

Katherine Alford's comment on this remarkable pre-first-course: "I was once told that a successful amuse-gueule – little treats served before a meal – is like the opening line of a novel: It should catch your attention and set a tone for things to come. When fresh figs are in season, I serve them stuffed with foie gras as the 'Call me Ishmael' of a celebratory feast." Believe us, this little dish will really make them sit up and take notice!

1 pound fresh Black Mission or green figs
2 ounces prepared or homemade foie gras mousse *(see below)
2 tsp verjus, or 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar diluted with 1 tsp water
1 tsp sliced almonds, toasted and finely chopped *(see below)

Trim the stem end of the figs. With the tip of a serrated apple corer, a melon baller or a grapefruit knife, cut a small round out of the bottom of each fig and reserve. Carefully scoop about one third of the flesh form the center of each fig and reserve.

In a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a handheld mixer, beat the foie gras mousse or prepared foie gras until it is light, like a buttercream icing. Put the mousse or foie gas in a pastry bag and pipe it into the figs. Plug each fig with a reserved round piece of fig. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until the mousse or foie gras is firm. In a small pan, heat the reserved fig flesh with the verjus or vinegar mixture until liquefied. Press through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the seeds.

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

something sweet - a Sauternes or a Late Harvest Riesling.

To serve, cut each fig in half lengthwise and brush the cut side with the glaze. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and serve.

Toasting nuts:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until brown, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size.

Foie Gras Mousse

Making a mousse is a great way to use up small pieces of foie gras. If you want to extend the yield from this recipe, add 4 Tbsp room-temperature butter when creaming the foie gras. If making your own mousses seems daunting, you can buy already prepared mousse.

Serves 4 to 6

6 ounces grade B or C duck foie gras, cleaned
2 tablespoons Cognac, Armagnac or Sauternes
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock
2 springs thyme
2 gratings nutmeg
1 tablespoon minced summer or black winter truffle (optional)

Combine the foie gras, brandy or wine, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Drain the foie gras marinating liquid into a small saucepan. Add the stock and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 minute to make a poaching broth.

Put the foie gras in the hot broth, cover and turn off the heat. Poach for 5 minutes, or until the foie gras has an internal temperature of 115°F. Remove the foie gas from the broth. Transfer the broth to a small bowl and set over ice to cool it to room temperature. Return the foie gras to the cool liquid and refrigerate for 1 hours.

Remove the foie gas from the liquid, pat dry and puree the foie gras along with any rendered fat in a food processor until smooth. If the mousse gets a broken curdy look to it, add about 1 tablespoon of the poaching liquid to stabilize the emulsion. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the nutmeg and truffle if desired. Transfer the mousse to a ramekin. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving.

Sesame-crusted Foie Gras
with Pomegranate-glazed Peaches

Sesame seeds provide a crunchy contrast to the silken texture of foie gras and add a Middle Eastern touch. Traditional flavours of the eastern Mediterranean, such as pomegranate molasses, aromatic spices and onions blended with sumac are all a wonderful complement to foie gras. Sumac is a purply-red berry that is ground to a powder and used in Lebanese cooking for its lemony taste. Although only a small amount of the spice blend called Baharat is called for here, make a full batch. (Like sumac, it is also available commercially.) With a batch of Baharat, the sumac and a bottle of the pomegranate molasses in your pantry, you'll have the beginnings of other terrific Middle Eastern meals.

Serves 4 (only 2 in our house!)

½ onion, sliced into paper-thin rounds
½ tsp kosher salt, plus salt to taste
2 tsp ground sumac (available in specialty markets)
1 Tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp minced fresh mint
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 Tbsp water
4 unpeeled ripe peaches, halved and pitted
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon Baharat spice blend (recipe follows)
¼ cup raw sesame seeds
4 medallions grade A or B foie gras, 3 to 4 ounces each
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rub the onion slices with the ½ teaspoon salt and set aside in a small bowl for 10 minutes to soften. Rinse the salt off the slices and pat dry with the paper towels. Mix the onion with the sumac, parsley and mint. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler. Mix the pomegranate molasses with the water and set aside.

Brush the peaches all over with the olive oil and place on a small ovenproof pan, cut side up. Sprinkle the peaches with the Baharat. Turn the peaches over again and broil them 4 to 5 inches from the heat source until the skin blisters and blackens a bit, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the peaches over and broil the second side until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Brush the peaches lightly with some of the pomegranate molasses mixture. Return to the broiler for about 1 minute, or until browned. Remove the peaches from the broiler. Let cook and pour the cooking juices from the fruit into the pomegranate molasses.

Put the sesame seeds in a pie tin or on a plate. Season on side of each foie gras medallion with salt and pepper to taste. Press the seasoned side of the foie gras into the seeds to crust one side.

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

a sweet white wine – Ontario Vidal Icewine or a Vendange Tardive Gewurztraminer from Alsace.

To serve, divide the peaches and onions among 4 warmed plates. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Place the medallions of foie gras in the pan, crusted side down and cook until the sesame seeds are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Season the medallions with salt and pepper. Turn with a flat spatula and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the foie gras softens but still has some resilience. Drain any excess fat. Transfer the medallions to a paper towel to drain briefly. Place the medallions on the plates and drizzle with the reserved pomegranate mixture. Serve immediately.

Baharat Spice Blend

Makes about 2 tablespoons

½ tsp while cloves
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
2-inch piece cinnamon
Seeds from 6 green cardamom pods

In a spice mill or mortar, combine the ingredients and grind to a powder. Store in a tightly sealed jar.

We wish to thank Raincoast Books for allowing us to publish these recipes from Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras, Recipes for Divine Indulgence, by Katherine Alford.

Photography by Ellen Silverman

Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.




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