Fred Cracks (And a Chicken Liver Recipe)

1. Fred Cracks

The beloved Fred, my Yankee Doodle Dandy, turns 48 today.

We celebrated last night by going to the Durham Bulls game. It was a wonderful night even though we lost. And we even managed to stay within our Weight Watchers goal for the day, mostly because we went for a walk beforehand to make sure we’d have enough points for the beer.

But Fred’s struggles were becoming evident.

“That wasn’t so bad!” I chirped as we went to bed. “You got to have two hot dogs, a cup of popcorn, and two beers for dinner. That’s amazing!”

“I’m hungry,” he sighed. “Do you know that the wings I used to eat for lunch at Twain’s would use up all my points for the day?”

And this morning, he hit bottom.

I had just poured my morning coffee in happy anticipation of drinking it on our screened-in porch on this glorious day off. Fred was sipping a Diet Coke. (Even before Weight Watchers, he drank about 3 -4 Diet Cokes a day, the residue of earlier weight-loss efforts.) Knowing his struggles, and ever eager to be helpful even though he gets to eat the equivalent of nearly three candy bars more than I do every day, I thought I would make a suggestion. Looking at the Diet Coke, I asked, “How are you doing with drinking your water?”

Fred’s face suddenly took on the look of someone who’d just been told his dog had been run over. “They want us to drink water?” he whispered.

“Yes,” I said. “Six glasses a day. Of course, it can be any uncaffeinated beverage.”

Fred turned slowly and then sat down, trying to absorb this latest blow. And then it came out:

“WILL THEY TAKE EVERYTHING FROM ME? I’m living on celery and water here! What will they do next–take me to The Federal and make me watch people EAT PORK SANDWICHES AND GARLIC FRIES WHILE THEY’RE SWILLING HENNEPINS? GOOD GOD!”

2. Chicken Livers

Despite our struggles, we are actually beginning to find things to eat that do not involve celery or disgusting low-fat abominations. One surprisingly good resource is the Best of Weight Watchers Magazine cookbook. It’s not filled with hideous dishes that merely sustitute fat-free sour cream for regular, or tofu for beef. Instead, the recipes are what I like to fancy as European. They focus on fresh, seasonal, luxurious ingredients that don’t necessarily require a lot of added fat, or they encourage smaller portions. More on that later, though, once I try some of the recipes.

For now, I want to turn to a happy moment in our early perusal of our Weight Watchers materials. It was the discovery that cooked chicken livers have only 1 point per ounce. This means that a half pound of chicken livers is only 8 points. I was especially glad of this since we had a pound of them from Rainbow Meadow Farms (also the source of our beloved guanciale).

Now, this discovery may not offer much comfort if you’re used to eating a pound of fried chicken livers, as I used to do at least once a week when I was in college. But still, I figured there must be some decent way to saute them with onions, which would add flavor and volume without a lot of extra calories.

So I turned to James Beard’s American Cookery, my go-to volume when it comes to preparing offal of any kind. And there it was–a recipe for Sauteed Chicken Livers.

I confess I was forced to leave out the 4 tablespoons of butter and 4 tablespoons of oil in the original recipe (which adds up to 24 points, in case you’re interested). Instead, I used two painfully small teaspoons of leftover guanciale fat. Surprisingly, this didn’t add much. Guanciale’s mild flavor is wonderful when it’s a featured component of a dish, but it was completely lost in this recipe. So I’ve substituted bacon in the recipe below.

Beard’s recipe also suggests serving the livers over spaghetti with tomato sauce–so to make up for the lack of fat in this version, I added tomato sauce directly to the livers.

This turned out to be a dish we will eat again, even when we’re not quite so points-restricted.

Chicken Livers with Onion and Bacon

(2 servings, 9 points each)

1 lb. chicken livers, cleaned (NOTE: Most recipes tell you to remove the tendons. I am too lazy to do this, but go ahead if you like.)
2 teaspoons bacon fat
About 1/4 c. water
1 large onion, halved and sliced thin
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp. tomato paste, mixed with enough water to make a thick sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt bacon fat in water in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir. Add tomato sauce and heat until just beginning to bubble. Add chicken livers, salt, and pepper, and cook until chicken livers do not “bleed” (about 10 minutes–longer than many recipes suggest, but I like them well-done).

Suggested but untested variations: Instead of using melted bacon fat, chop two slices of bacon into 1″ pieces and fry in the skillet. Drain all but two teaspoons of the fat and saute your onions in that–I think you would be able to leave out the water in this case. This will add 1 point to each serving.

When you’re maintaining your weight again: I think it would be quite safe to use four slices of bacon instead.

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