Let’s say money was no object. Let’s say I was wealthy and (perhaps just a little) ostentatious, but in that Richie Rich kind of way where I had oodles of cash but everyone still liked me (foregoing the part where I’m a cartoon character).
If this were the case, I would eat at Recess every week. And I would take friends with me.
There are many reasons for this, including the facts that it’s close to our house and a fixed menu forces you to try things you might not otherwise. But mostly it’s because I trust the chefs at Recess to make good food. You can read a more detailed of our first experience there, here, but in short they are creative without being overly-trendy or inaccessible, they use seasonal ingredients (local when possible), and know how to season food.
But, alas, I am not Richie Rich. And Recess is not cheap. So our visits there will be few and far between, except when good friends of ours have a gift certificate, and decide to share it with us. Then, we’re rich, and full of gratitude.
So we went, a couple weeks ago, on an icy night. Four of us, glad to be out while our children were tucked in bed by babysitters, celebrating a birthday among us, ready to eat whatever the chef was cooking. That night they served pea shoots and pistachios, sweetbreads, Tasmanian trout, and white chocolate with citrus. All courses were pleasing; but the dish that left us practically begging for more was an optional appetizer course of liver mousse.
It’s thanks to Nathan that we ordered it at all. Tim and I are both on the outside of the liver fence, being offended enough by its gaminess that, even after trying multiple times to make my own paté, we just can’t eat it (thankfully my preschooler and toddler love it so it doesn’t go to waste). I don’t know what else to say here. Part of me thinks that I can’t call myself a true lover-of-food if the “food” I refer to doesn’t include liver. There are other things on my don’t-eat list that I stand behind: black licorice, root beer, and cilantro (don’t give me grief on that one, my hatred is shared with one JULIA CHILD). But liver, I should like it. I am, after all, a Big Girl now (which was my sub-conscious whisper of encouragement as the table unanimously agreed to order the mousse).
When the appetizer was delivered to the table, it had been baked in a small, shallow jelly jar, and the surface was covered in a parsley gelée. It was served with little toasts and a small dish of marinated cauliflower and carrots, chopped very finely. Almost nervous from the question mark that loomed, I grabbed a toast, a knife, and cut through the virgin layer of green gelatin to the mousse underneath. The spread was then topped with a dollop of minced cauliflower. I tasted, and waited. Waited for the aroma of livery gaminess to linger unwelcome. But it never happened. It just wasn’t livery. And not only was it not livery, but it was creamy, with a hint of garlic, perfectly dressed with the acid of the marinated cauliflower. When we’d cleaned our plate of the bread and vegetables, Sarah was the bold one, asking for more so all of us could adequately finish the jar of delightful liver mousse.
I couldn’t stand it. I had to know how it was done — so I asked the server to ask the chef. She returned, and told me that after onions, etc. were sautéed in butter, they were puréed with cream and raw chicken livers. Then they were baked in the jars, in a water bath. I came home that night and did a search, and landed on a recipe that exactly described that process (even including the parsley gelée!). This was my moment. This was the time I would make a liver (fill-in-the-blank) and we would eat it. My family would eat it, and we would love it.
I had local, pastured chicken livers in my freezer. I thawed, sautéed, processed, baked. They cooled, I mixed puréed parsley and gelatin, I poured, they set. Then I chopped cauliflower and carrots, and tossed in a vinaigrette. Everything was ready to go, and it looked just exactly like our appetizer at Recess.
And of course you know how this ends, because my title was fraught with foreshadowing. The mousse was livery. Just like every paté I’ve tried to make. Once I gave my verdict, Tim wouldn’t even take a bite. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I can usually shrug off failures in the kitchen — but this one was hard to shake. I think it was less the effort perceived wasted as much as the fact that I still can’t make liver that I find edible. And somehow, deep down, it makes me feel like less of a person.
I know, take it to my therapist.
But. There was this tiny silver lining. The next day, Tim and I were fighting over the leftover marinated cauliflower salad. I’ve got nothing against cauliflower, but it’s not a vegetable we eat with regularity. This is an absolute lovely way to partake. Since the vegetables are blanched, they lose that raw edge — and the vinaigrette, with its tang and mild heat (from red pepper flakes), is held in place by all those nooks and crannies of the cauliflower. It was a delicious salad on its own, but we also used it to top a curry the next night with great results.
And, hey. There’s nothing wrong with discovering a new marinated vegetable salad to add to our repertoire, right? That’s enough for a Friday night, yes?
Who am I kidding. Someone talk me off the ledge here — tell me, how do they make the liver palatable to the game-phobic? Obsessive-compulsive minds want to know.
Marinated Cauliflower Salad
- 1/2 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets (3-4 cups)
- 4 medium carrots, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4″ slices
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 2 Tbs white wine vinegar
- handful finely chopped Italian parsley
Bring salted water (1 tsp for every 2 quarts water) to a boil in a large saucepan. Add chopped vegetables (in two batches if necessary) to boiling water, and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately remove vegetables to a colander (I love a wire skimmer like this one to scoop cooked items from boiling water), and let drain for a few minutes.
In a small skillet or saucepan, add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, and garlic clove. Place over medium-low heat, and cook just until the garlic begins to sizzle. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes.
Pour cooled olive oil into a bowl large enough to hold the vegetables (discard garlic clove). Add the mustard, plus 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Stir vigorously with a fork until the dressing comes together (the mustard helps emulsify the dressing). Add the vegetables, and toss well to coat.
Top with parsley, and add more salt and pepper as needed. Can be made a day ahead, and refrigerated overnight in an airtight container. Let come close to room temperature before serving.