Happy New Year!
It’s the time of year when we all have to sit back, reflect on the past 365 days, cringe at the weight we gained over the holidays and make a bunch of healthy eating resolutions we will keep for precisely 16 days before we say, “Screw it” and go out for Mexican food after a rough day at work.
We just got back from a holiday trip to Mexico with friends where we ate too much, drank too much, and came back bloated and full of self-loathing (Ah, holidays). Fortunately, I convinced our trainer Anna the Horrible to help us with our New Year’s fitness challenge this time, so hopefully we’ll make it past the 16-day mark because this time we have greater incentive. Here’s the deal: We want a 3-month challenge. There are four of us who train with her, all of whom want to lose some weight before the summer so we don’t have to go swimming in t-shirts, puffy coats and parkas. We will weigh in with her this week and she will set aggressive goals for each of us for the three month period. If/when we succeed in our goals, our reward will be that we get to set up a workout for her to do, including all the most torturous exercises she makes us do—VersaClimber, throwing a goddamned bajillion pound medicine ball at the wall while doing squats, medieval torture positions to be held while doing a Plank, etc. While she does these things, we will sit in the private training room, comfy on padded yoga mats, EATING FRIED CHICKEN. (I thought this was a brilliant incentive, if I do say so myself). After some negotiation, she agreed. What we don’t know yet is what the penalties will be for those who DON’T make it, other than having to join her in the workout.
David and I are weighing in with her on Friday, which leaves us only a couple of days left to eat real food. With this in mind, I made a New Year’s Day delicious hangover dinner last night from a couple of different sources. First, from the Mozza Cookbook, we made Chicken Crostone (It’s supposed to be guinea hen, but who has that lying around—HELLO) in a chicken liver and pancetta sauce. It’s one of those slow braises which takes a while to make, but the active time is pretty minimal. It was rich, delicious and completely comforting on a cold, dark, hung over Seattle night.
Next, I made a recipe I found this weekend while bored-bored-bored on an airplane, surfing the web for Italian chef websites. It’s a rosemary cake, which is pretty typical for northern Italy, with a lavender glaze. Two of my favorite herbs in one dessert? SOLD! The recipe came from a website called La Tavola Marche. (Out of respect for their blog, I won’t post the recipe here, but you can get it by clicking this link).
Both dishes came out great, but were tough to photograph. There was little light left by the time I ran outside to take a photo glazing the cake, and the frosting looked a little bit nasty so I couldn’t help myself. I’m immature. Sue me.
Bukcake or Cakekkake?
The chicken wasn’t done until it was pitch black outside (which is about 4pm) so by the time we had dinner there was no way to take a natural light photo. Oh, and the chicken, the sauce and the bread on which it rests are all shades of beige or brown. This is basically my way of saying DON’T JUDGE. The photos are crap but the dishes were both relatively simple, hugely satisfying, and absolutely delicious.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and good luck with your new year’s resolutions. I’ll still be thinking of these recipes next week when we are dining on air with a side of dust and a slice of lemon (all of which are part of a healthy Gluten Free diet).
Guinea Hen Crostone with Liver and Pancetta Sauce
Adapted from the Mozza Cookbook, by Nancy Silverton
- 8 guinea hen thighs* (we used skin-on chicken thighs)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Flour for dredging
- 1/4 cup olive oil, more as needed
- 2 1/2 cups diced pancetta
- 3 cups diced Spanish onion
- 12 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 4 cups dry white wine
- 4 cups chicken or guinea hen stock, plus an additional 1 cup for the crostone
- 1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) cleaned chicken livers, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
- 2 lemons, zest removed in long strips, and juiced
- 4 (2-inch thick) slices peasant bread, such as ciabatta, each slice about 7x3- inches
- 1/4 cup whole celery heart leaves, for garnish
- 1/4 cup whole Italian parsley leaves, for garnish
*Note: You'll probably have to buy guinea hen whole legs rather than thighs. In this case, cut the drumsticks off and make a stock with them, just as you would a chicken stock. Use in the recipe instead of chicken stock.
With a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, pat the guinea thighs dry. Season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge in the flour and pat off all excess flour. Meanwhile, heat a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat for one minute, and then add the olive oil. It should be hot but not smoking by the time you are done flouring the guinea thighs.
Brown the thighs, skin side down first, adjusting the heat and adding more oil so that the meat sizzles at a nice pace. Cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, and then turn the meat and cook another minute or two to color the other side. If your pan is small, cook the thighs in two batches. Transfer the thighs to a plate.
You will now need a 4-quart straight sided saute pan or an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. This pan should be wide enough to have the thigh pieces fit in single layer and deep enough to hold at least 4 quarts of liquid (a stock pot will work in a pinch). Put this pan over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the pancetta and sweat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and sweat for another five minutes or so, so that the onions are soft and translucent. Add the rosemary, sage, and a small pinch of pepper. (The pancetta should add enough salt to the sauce so don't worry about salting yet.) Sweat for one more minute. Add the wine, 4 cups of the stock, livers, capers, vinegar, and lemon juice. Add the reserved guinea thighs and bring the braise to a simmer. There should be well more liquid than is needed to cover the meat. This is a good thing, as this dish is all about having plenty of sauce and it will reduce as you cook it. Simmer until the guinea is fork-tender and the meat pulls away from the bone easily, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Carefully remove the thighs and reserve on a plate.
Turn up the heat and boil the sauce, stirring from time to time to make sure it isn't sticking and burning, until it reduces by half. To thicken it slightly, use a blender to puree 1 cup of the reduced sauce and add it back to the pan. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add a couple drops of lemon juice if needed. Salt is probably not needed, but use your judgment for final seasoning.
The dish can be made up to this point a day ahead.
To finish, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Put the bread slices in a small baking dish that has been generously coated with olive oil. Ladle the remaining 1 cup of stock evenly over all of the bread. Set two thighs on each slice, skin side up. Toast in the oven until the bread has turned a crispy golden brown on the bottom, about 10 minutes; use a spatula to check and be careful as the toast tends to stick. Reheat the sauce.
Remove the thighs from the toasts, and carefully remove the crostones from the pan and turn them over so that the brown side is up.
To plate, set one slice of toast on each plate. Remove the thigh bone from the meat and place the meat from two thighs on each toast. Spoon some of the warmed sauce over each thigh and a little more to run off the crostone. Garnish with celery leaf (inner yellow leaves only), Italian parsley leaf, and long strips of lemon zest.