Chicken Liver Pizza

We love Rockwood Filling Station deeply and the idea of their chicken liver pizza even more. But I’ve never been entirely satisfied with their version, in which whole fried chicken livers are scattered over the top of the pizza in a grand clash of North Carolina-meets-Italy. The fried livers are too big to munch in a respectable bite of pizza, and there are too few of them to imbue the entire pie with their rich livery goodness.

Last weekend I solved the problem. I chopped up the livers and sauteed them in carmelized onions and spices before adding them to the top of the pizza. I won’t say that you’ll like this even if you don’t like chicken liver, because people who don’t like chicken liver never like chicken liver no matter how it’s served. But I will say that this tastes a lot like sausage, and that everyone needs to learn to like liver a lot more.

I have included a crust and sauce recipe if you need one.

Pizza with Spicy Chicken Liver and Carmelized Onions

Crust (from Cook’s Illustrated: The Best Recipe, p. 333)

I like to keep homemade pizza crust in the freezer, then put it into the refrigerator to thaw a day or two ahead. In this case, “a day or two” turned into a week, and the crust was gluey on one side and stiff on the other by the time I went to bake it. Still Fred declared it the best pizza crust he’s ever had, and even I have to admit it was quite good–thin and crispy, without a hint of sogginess.

1/2 c. warm water, at about 105 degrees
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
1 1/4 c. water, at room temperature
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 c. bread flour, plus extra for dusting hands and work surfaces
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Vegetable oil or spray for oiling bowl

Measure warm water into 2 c. measuring cup. Sprinkle in yeast; let stand until yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add room-temperature water and oil; stir to combine.

Pulse flour and salt in workbowl of large food processor fitted with steel blade to combine. Continue pulsing while pouring liquid ingredients (holding back a few tablespoons) through feed tube. If dough does not readily form into a ball, add remaining liquid and continue to pulse until ball forms. Process until dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.

Dough will be a bit tacky, so use rubber spatula to turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead by hand with a few strokes to form smooth, round ball. Put dough into deep oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch dough down with your fist and turn out onto lightly floured work surface.

Roll out dough to about half desired size. Let rest while preparing other ingredients. Continue to roll out and let rest until dough is desired size. Roll edges in to form edging. Brush with olive oil just before adding toppings.


1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper

Mix together in large bowl. Extra will keep for several days in refrigerator and can also be used as a base for pasta sauce.

Chicken Liver Pizza Topping

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Coarse kosher salt to taste
3/4 to 1 lb. chicken livers, drained and chopped
1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese

Saute onions in olive oil over medium high heat until carmelized, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except cheese. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated, about 10 – 15 minutes. Reduce heat about halfway through cooking time to prevent burning.

Place oven rack on bottom level and slide in pizza stone. Preheat oven to 550 or hottest temperature possible. Place rolled out dough onto pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal. (I use a cookie sheet without edges.) Spread tomato sauce over crust, leaving about 1/4 inch around edges to prevent spillage. Spoon chicken liver mix evenly over crust. Remove pizza stone from oven and slide pizza onto stone. (Imagine you are trying to pull a tablecloth out from under a fully loaded table without moving anything and you might avoid disaster.) Return to bottom rack of oven and bake for 6 – 12 minutes, until edges of crust begin to brown. Add cheese to pizza and cook for 2 – 3 minutes longer, until cheese has just melted. Transfer to cutting board. Slice and serve.

A Beet, a Pickle, and a Potato Walk into a Bar . . .

My explorations of Sundays at Moosewood continue, and thank God I’m I nicer person than I was in the early 1990s. In reading through the section on food from the Southern United States, I came across the very sentence that nearly led me heave the book out the window: “I had to redefine Southern cooking in order to present it without meat.”

Therein lies the major shortcoming of the book. If the cuisine I grew up with has been rendered unrecognizable (the author suggests adding Gouda cheese instead of bacon to give Southern dishes their smokey flavor, an idea that’s only slightly better than shoving a fork into your own eyeball), then I can only imagine how they’ve desecrated the cuisines of Africa, India, and China.

But I’m a calmer person now, content to labor along in abject ignorance of other cultures and willing to accept butchered versions of “authentic” dishes if they are edible. Thus I came across the recipe below for Russian salad–which used a miraculous combination of beets, pickles, and potatoes to clear out the entire supply of oddball items left lurking in my refrigerator.

The recipe comes from the section in Sundays at Moosewood on Finnish cuisine. The recipes, focusing on root vegetables, are fascinating, but there’s still a lot of earnest vegetarianism to overcome. The author of this section is a grad-school dropout who adopted some goats from a Finnish farmer, couldn’t bear to kill them, and started rescuing animals at livestock auctions. I sympathize (heck, I still can’t bring myself to eat veal)–but then, there’s the problem with the fish and the need to take advantage of what’s available in local conditions. Never mind that “the Finns do eat a great deal of fish, as is quite natural in such a watery place”; the author writes: “I don’t eat fish myself or recommend it to others, so I’ve not included fish recipes in this chapter.”

I’ll let the reaction of her Finnish neighbors to the smorgasbord Moosewood put on for them sum all this up: “Knowing how nostalgic Finns can be about their traditional foods, it was with some trepidation that we presented our [vegetarian] versions of some age-old dishes. But all was well. Nothing was too far off the mark or else, with the usual quiet steadiness and reserve of the Finnish folk, they didn’t let on.”

If those Finns had been in North Carolina, they’d have been saying, “Bless their hearts” quietly to themselves.

To honor the fishy Finns, I served the Russian Salad with a mackerel recipe adopted from James Beard’s “Mackerel in Escabeche.” It was a great combination of spicy and sweet, hearty and light. In this case, I DO recommend fish to others.

Russian Salad (Venalainensalaatti) (from Sundays at Moosewood, p. 263)

2 c. cooked, diced potatoes (the recipe says to peel; I did not)
2 c. peeled, diced, and cooked carrots
1 c. peeled, diced tart apple
1 c. minced dill pickles (we used Claussen’s)
1/2 c. minced onion
2 c. cooked, peeled, and diced beets

Cooked beets for Russian Salad, from Britt Farms

1 c. sour cream (or 2/3 c. heavy cream)
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar (we used lemon juice)
Dash of salt, sugar, and freshly ground black pepper

Hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Dressing for Russian Salad

Mix potatoes, carrots, apple, pickles, and onion in large serving bowl. Chill. (I did not.) Combine all the dressing ingredients and chill. (Again, I did not.) Add the beets to the other vegetables just before serving. Fold dressing into salad just before serving. Can also serve dressing on the side or mounded on top of the salad. Decorate with egg slices.

Russian Salad ingredients assembled

Mackerel in Escabeche

3 mackerel steaks, salted and peppered (1 1/2 lb.)
1/4 c. lemon juice (recipe calls for lime)
1/4 c. orange juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tbsp. red pepper flakes
4 small cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
White wine

Mackerel awaiting saute

Saute all ingredients except mackerel, cilantro, and wine in large skillet until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Vegetables in saute

Add cilantro and mackerel.

Mackerel sauteing, just before covering

Cover and cook for about 2 minutes. Turn fish, cover and continue to cook until mackerel is just done, about 5 more minutes. Check after 1 – 2 minutes, and if sauce begins to dry out, add a few splashes of white wine.

Voila! Finland meets Mexico

Return to Moosewood: Vegetable Curry

Efforts to claw my way out of the cooking rut are beginning to succeed, as my old friends, the Moosewood Collective, lent a very helpful hand earlier this week.

I became acquainted with Moosewood during my six-month vegetarian period, which lasted from the fall of 1987 to one day in the spring of 1988, when a Krystal oasis wafted its heady onion-burger scent across a concrete desert of strip malls and lured me back into the dark world of flesh eating, never to return.
Moosewood Restaurant, in Ithaca, NY, was an early vegetarian mecca. Their first two books, The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, introduced me to exotic new dishes such as Welsh rarebit and lentil soup. In 1990, they put out Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, featuring menus focused on foods from a specific region (India, the Caribbean, the American South, New England, etc.)

But the timing was off for me. By the time I got Sundays at Moosewood as a present sometime in the early 1990s, I was living in Madison, WI, where I was quickly wearying of earnest, Birkenstock-clad, dredlock-sprouting vegans and vegetarians. I’d had enough of middle-class white grad students appropriating select tidbits of other cultures in the name of “diversity,” especially when they failed to realized that a hairstyle that looked wonderful on people with thick, curly hair was going to turn into a smelly, matted rat’s nest on them. I was over Moosewood. I didn’t need their sanitized versions of “ethnic” vegetarianism anymore.

So the book sat on my shelf virtually untouched until last week. But having grown up a bit, and becoming more patient with others (even white people with dredlocks) and myself–and being nearly desperate for some new vegetable recipes–I opened up Sundays at Moosewood again.

I was pleasantly surprised. Without meat, of course, many of the recipes aren’t going to resemble what you’d find in the region from which they came. (Vegetarian Brunswick stew? Please.)* Still, Sundays at Moosewood offers a good place to start sampling different cuisines and try out fresh flavors.

*I should note that Fred loves the vegetarian Brunswick stew at Whole Foods. He claims it’s wonderful if you add barbecued pork.

I turned to the section on India first. Each section of the book has a different author, and only two have names that suggest they grew up eating the foods they write about. Linda Dickinson, the author of the section on India, is one of them, and my reservations about the book came surging back when I read her introduction. Her first exposure to Indian food came in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when her roommate made an Indian dinner. I have a sneaking suspicion that she was an enthusiastic participant in the post-Beatles India fad of the 1960s and fear that she still favors flowing batik skirts with Tevas.

Still, Linda, bless her heart, has done a heck of a lot more than I ever will to understand Indian food. I did not actually use one of her recipes but cobbled together the one below from the techniques she suggested. Most important is to heat the spices in the butter first to bring out the flavors.

This dish is probably as “authentic” as vegetarian Brunswick stew–I didn’t even make my own spice mix. But until I decide to get my own Indian cookbook, the wildly complex food of India is probably beyond my ken. This will do for now. Thanks, Linda.

Vegetable Curry

2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tbsp. muchi curry powder (available at Whole Foods)
1/2 c. minced onion
4 small to medium red potatoes, diced, cooked until just tender
3 carrots, minced
1 Mediterranean squash, diced (zucchini and chayote squash would work nicely as well)
3 small cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Milk and sour cream (yogurt would be more appropriate for an Indian dish, but we didn’t have any)

Melt butter in large skillet over medium high heat. Add curry powder and heat until spice becomes aromatic, about 20 – 30 seconds. Add onions and saute for 1 – 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir. Add carrots and squash. Stir, cover, and saute about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in potatoes until well-coated. Salt and pepper to taste. Add milk and sour cream until dish is desired consistency. (I use roughly 1/4 c. milk and 3/4 c. sour cream.) Can serve over rice if desired.

Chickenless Chicken and Dumplings

Faced with a fresh pile of vegetables from our CSA once again, I was forced to turn down an invitation to the Durham Bulls game last night to stay home and cook them. (The unpleasant prospect of sitting outdoors on a cloudy, muggy, rain-splattered evening had nothing to do with it.) And so I felt compelled to Do Something.

My first thought was to make a vegetable pot pie, so I pulled out my handy Cook’s Illustrated: The Best Recipe for some guidelines. But the book magically opened instead onto the recipe for chicken and dumplings.

It’s been years since chicken and dumplings crossed my lips, and what a sad thing that is. They were a childhood favorite (back when the first line of my grandmother’s recipe would have read, “Kill chicken”), but I don’t find myself making them very often. The main reason is that I can no longer call my grandmother to get the recipe because I’ve forgotten it and could never remember to write it down.

Unfortunately my mother cannot be of help here because this is an area of deep division between us. Her mother (my other grandmother) was a proponent of flat dumplings, which are rolled out before they are added to the dish. My father’s mother was squarely on the side of drop dumplings, which are formed into balls and “dropped” in.

The flat/drop debate has raged in our family for decades now with no clear resolution. My mother, usually right about everything, has yet to see the merits of my argument in this particular case. To me, flat dumplings cannot even approach the fluffy perfection of a well-made drop dumpling. Properly done, drop dumplings are exceedingly light, with an inside like a tender, cakey biscuit, all surrounded by a very thin layer of rich, creamy dough. How can a flat, chewy lump even compare?

Still, the biggest obstacle to my making chicken and dumplings last night was that I had no chicken, and I wasn’t going to send even Fred out into a misty, damp evening to get one. Luckily, the Cook’s Illustrated recipe is called “Chicken and Dumplings with Aromatic Vegetables”–and I figured I had the second part of that covered. So I modified the recipe and came up with this dish.

Of course, the dumplings are not quite as light and fluffy as my grandmother’s. But lost recipes are like that–always made better by the fact we can’t have them anymore.

Note dumpling’s fluffy, tender goodness

Vegetable Stew with Dumplings

4 tbsp. butter
1 onion,chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 large zucchini, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 c. frozen peas
6 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
4 c. chicken stock
Cream, if desired

Melt butter in soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add carrots and saute for 5 – 10 minutes. Stir in zucchini and squash. Cover and cook for 5 – 10 minutes, until vegetables are just tender. Make dumplings and set aside. Stir in flour, thyme, salt, and pepper until flour vegetables are coated. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add peas. Add cream if desired. Lay dumplings over top of liquid. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until dumplings are done.

Baking Powder Dumplings (from Cook’s Illustrated: The Best Recipe, p. 162)

2 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter
1 c. milk

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Heat butter and milk to simmer and add to dry ingredients. Mix with a fork or knead by hand two to three times until mixture just comes together. Form dough into balls about 2″ in diameter.