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29 November 2012

Delicious Duck For Beginners

Many years ago, we used to visit a little restaurant that did a rather yummy duck confit with dark cherry puree. I liked it very much -- duck and cherries are a classic combination for a good reason -- but The Husband does not like fruit with meat and hates cherries (weirdo!) so always ate his duck confit with béarnaise sauce.

The restaurant went out of business a few years ago and it's been hard finding another restaurant that serves good duck ... so when I saw boneless duck breasts at The Meat House a few weeks ago, I experienced a significant "A-ha!" moment. Why not make my own duck? And I did. And it was good. Not restaurant-nostalgia good, but pretty darn good for something I'd never cooked before.

My first duck (breast)

Anyway, The Husband really liked it and that's all that matters! I served it with béarnaise sauce, buttermilk-smashed baby Yukon gold potatoes, and buttery tinned carrots (because The Husband digs buttery squishy carrots). The whole meal cost a bazillion-trillion-million Weight Watchers Points+, but was well worth it.
Simple Duck Breasts

Ingredients
1½ pounds duck breast (it looks like a big flap of skin with two palm-sized pieces of muscle)
salt and pepper, as desired

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400F°

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.

Trim the skin around each breast so that it just fits the meat. Score the skin in a criss-cross pattern, being careful not to cut the meat. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Place the duck breasts, fat side down, in the skillet and cook for about 6 minutes -- the skin will shrink quite a lot and there will be a lot of rendered duck fat at the bottom of the skillet. Reserve rendered fat for roasting potatoes or whathaveyou.

Flip the duck breasts over and sear for 1 minute. Put them fat-side-down in a small baking dish and roast for 10 minutes. Let the duck breasts rest for 5 minutes then thinly slice on the bias into ½-inch pieces. (If you have an oven-safe skillet, you can just pop that in the oven and save dirtying a dish).
27 November 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Stuffing Waffles

I found a Rachael Ray recipe for "Leftover Stuffing Waffles" and, since I had a huge amount a leftover slow cooker turkey dressing, I knew I had to give it a try. I love waffles. I love stuffing. Waffled stuffing sounded like definite win.

And, you know, it looked good. I'd followed the instructions exactly -- preheated the waffle iron, liberally brushed it with melted unsalted butter, and packed it with leftover turkey dressing. I put my small oval French oven on top of the waffle iron to press the dressing down nice and tight and let it cook for a full eight minutes. When I lifted the lid, the cooked waffle was golden and crispy on top. It looked pretty darn good.

Waffled Stuffing

But then I tried to take the waffle out ... and it wouldn't come out. Oh, the top layer (all crispy-crunchy goodness) did, but the bottom stuck fast. It was a very sad waffle. Next time I would, as the good woman says, "butter yo shit" and maybe that waffle would just slide right out of the iron.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Anyway, fail waffle still tasted okay! Topped the waffle bits with reheated turkey and gravy and The Husband had no issue with it and cleaned his plate.
25 November 2012

Italian Homework: Rich Hot Chocolate

For "Lesson 10: Italy's Favorite Beverages," the penultimate antepenultimate class in the online Italian cooking course I've been taking through Universal Class and my public library, I was to make one of the beverages discussed in the lesson.

Unfortunately, it was all coffee or alcohol. As I don't drink coffee and didn't want to buy bottles of liquor to make mixed drinks I might not want to repeat, I petitioned my instructor to allow an alternate recipe and she, lovely woman, told I could make Italian hot chocolate.

Chocolate curls
Beautiful pure dark chocolate (54% cocoa) shavings

Ah, but which recipe? "'Nun's Revenge' Fabulous Italian Hot Chocolate" sounded tempting, but so did "Italian Hot Chocolate - Cioccolato Caldo." However, I didn't have Dutch process cocoa or arrowroot powder or orange peel and was just not going grocery shopping the weekend after Thanksgiving. So I ended up making bell'alimento's "Italian Hot Chocolate" with heavy cream and Lake Champlain Chocolate's Old World Drinking Chocolate (only 54% cocoa, but still plenty decadent). And it was fabulously rich and chocolaty! Like drinking a cup of hot runny chocolate pudding sprinkled with crack!

Italian Hot Chocolate
Is it a beverage? Is it a dessert?
A little bit went a long way, yes, so I served the hot chocolate in small teacups instead of the giant mugs we usually use. But, even though it was rich and chocolaty, it was not overwhelmingly so and I finished the cup knowing I'd be happy to drink it again in a day or two. The Husband also enjoyed this Italian hot chocolate very much -- said it was like drinking the hot, liquid center of a chocolate lava cake!

(Really, it's a fabulous recipe and I recommend everyone visit bell'alimento and give "Italian Hot Chocolate" a try. You won't regret it!)
23 November 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Sandwiches

So, lots of Thanksgiving leftovers and, while sandwiches are an obvious way of using them up, I wanted more than the usual stuffing-cranberry-turkey sarnie. I wanted a turkey bahn mi. Or as close as I could get at home with the ingredients I had on hand.

Turkey Banh Mi (Sorta)
I shredded too many vegetables, so made a little salad of the extras.

While it's not really a banh mi, I'm still pretty pleased with this sandwich. Spicy and crunchy and tart and full of carbs and tryptophan!

Banh Mi Inspired Turkey Sandwich

Ingredients
Leftover turkey
Sandwich rolls, halved
Sliced cucumber
Shredded carrot
Shredded radishes
Thinly sliced red onion
Unseasoned rice wine vinegar
Light mayonnaise
Sriracha
Dried cilantro

Directions
Toss your vegetables with enough rice wine vinegar to coat and let sit for about 15 minutes.

Cucumbers in Rice Wine Vinegar
Marinated some of the cucumbers on their own as The Husband is fussy.

Combine mayonnaise, cilantro, and sriracha to taste. Set aside for about 15 minutes.

Spicy Mayo w/ Cilantro
My eyes kept trying to tell my brain I'd made Thousand Island Dressing.

Spread mayonniase blend on both halves of rolls. Layer with vegetables. Sandwichize. Eat.

Turkey Banh Mi (Sorta)
All the colors!
(I made The Husband's sandwich a little differently as I knew he wouldn't like the carrots or radishes. Instead, he had spicy mayonnaise, turkey, marinated cucumber, red onion, and stuffing. He seemed happy enough and went omnomnom).
22 November 2012

Thanksgiving Feasting

Thanksgiving Menu
2012

~*~

~ Simple Heritage Roast Turkey ~
(New York Times November 7, 2007)

~ Southern Living's Slow-Cooker Cornbread Dressing ~
(Southern Living's 2005 Annual Recipes)

~ Garlic Mashed Potatoes ~
(Made early and kept warm in my other slow cooker)

~ Bourbon-Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes ~

~ Peas in Buttery Thyme Sauce ~

~ "Roasted Garlic Creamed Spinach" ~
(From the fine cooks at Whole Foods)

~ Corn with Garlic Butter ~

~ "Golden Creamed Onions" ~
(Diane Morgan's The Thanksgiving Table using frozen onions)

~ Whole-berry Cranberry Sauce ~

~ Floury Rolls and Butter ~

~ Assorted Pickles ~

~*~

~ Mom's Pies ~

~*~

You know you've made too much food when you run out of serving spoons! It was all really very delicious and I'm looking forward to days and days of yummy leftovers, but ... maybe scale Thanksgiving back a bit in 2014? I have six "good" serving spoons and a meat fork. That's seven dishes. That's plenty for six people. Turkey and gravy, stuffing, one potato, four vegetables.

I didn't make as much ahead of time as previous Thanksgiving's, but never felt particularly rushed or out of control. This was our fifth Thanksgiving in this house and I think I've got it down pretty pat. Aside from running mad and Cooking All The Things, of course.

And now there be sandwiches! And soup! And pot pie! And waffles! Omnomnom.
15 November 2012

Improv Challenge: Sweet Potatoes & Honey

I love sweet potatoes so I was very happy to find November's Improv Challenge ingredients were sweet potatoes and honey. I considered many dishes -- including these beautiful tzimmes from the Boston Globe -- but eventually settled on soup, because it's soup weather here. Too many grey, dreary days that cry out for a beautiful bowl of rich, spicy-sweet, orange goodness.

Making Curried Cauliflower & Sweet Potato Soup

I've made Sue Bee Honey's recipe for "Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Curry Soup" twice now -- the first time I used thawed frozen organic cauliflower instead of fresh and just added them to the pot during the potatoes' last ten minutes of cooking time. The second time I used fresh organic cauliflower. While the flavor was better with fresh -- richer and deeper -- it was still good either way and frozen vegetables are certainly a time saver, so don't be afraid to go frozen.

Both times, I omitted the sour cream and cilantro as I don't like cilantro and simply thought the soup was delicious enough without sour cream. And I couldn't find my cinnamon (!) so I substituted Penzeys Baking Spice -- a blend of cinnamon, mace, anise, and cardamom which made the soup even more aromatic and flavorful. Aaaand I used vegetable stock, making this a vegetarian soup perfect for Meatless Monday or whathaveyou.

Making Curried Cauliflower & Sweet Potato Soup

Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Curry Soup

Ingredients

2 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
4 garlic gloves, minced
3½ cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken stock [Emeril's Organic Vegetable Stock]
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon [Penzeys Baking Spice]
2 tsp curry powder [Penzeys Maharajah]
1½ Tbsp honey [local]
16 oz fresh cauliflower florets

Directions
Coat bottom of a large French/Dutch oven with cooking spray. Add the oil and heat until fragrant. Add garlic and onion and sauté until softened and fragrant.

Add the curry powder and cinnamon to the hot pot and cook, stirring, until spices are very fragrant. Add in salt, pepper, sweet potatoes, fresh cauliflower (if using), stock, and honey and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add in the frozen cauliflower (if using) and cook 10 minutes more or until potatoes are tender/easily pierced with a knife. Remove pot from heat and let sit until soup is cool enough to blend without scalding yourself.

Transfer to a food processor or use an immersion blender and puree until soup is creamy and smooth. Return to the pot and thin with more stock, if desired.
An excellent soup full of fabulous flavors! Velvety smooth with the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. It's impossible to just eat one bowl.



Eating the Alphabet: W is for Watercress & Walnuts

November's Eating the Alphabet Challenge was to use U, V, and/or W ingredients. I knew I wanted to use peppery watercress when I saw beautiful green bunches of it piled in with the mint and dill at Shoprite. Not only is watercress delicious, it's full of nutrients like iron, calcium, and Vitamin A and C. I like to eat it in cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, but that's not really exciting and the Alphabet Challenge is all about excitement and pushing boundaries, you know.

So needed a new spin on watercress. Why not salad? Something light and filling and green? I was first tempted by Patti LaBelle's recipe for "Out-of-This-World Watercress Salad," but tomatoes aren't in season, anymore, and I didn't want to ruin what sounded like a perfectly lovely recipe with questionable tomatoes. So I turned to Martha Stewart and she did not disappoint. Her recipe for "Watercress Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes" is delightfully simple and seasonable. If my family was comprised of more adventurous eaters, it's the kind of dish I might start Thanksgiving dinner with. It's very clean-tasting and just looks, to me, like autumn on a plate.

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From all this ...
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... to this!
Watercress Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Slightly Adapted From Martha Stewart
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch-long sticks
3 Tbsp + ½ tsp olive oil
Sea salt and ground pepper
½ cup walnuts
¼ tsp sriracha
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
12 oz watercress, stems trimmed
4 oz fat free feta crumbles

Directions
Preheat oven to 450 °F, with racks on upper and lower thirds. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss sweet potatoes with 1 Tbsp oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast on upper rack, until tender, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently. [Stewart's recipe cooks them longer with less stirring, but mine started to burn so ...]


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Remove potatoes from oven and set aside. On another rimmed baking sheet, toss walnuts with sriracha and ½ tsp oil. Bake on lower rack, stirring occasionally, until golden (about 5 minutes).

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In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, honey, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. [Or put it all in an old jar and shakeshakeshake your dressing]. Toss watercress and dressing together. Serve topped with sweet potatoes, walnuts, and feta. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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This salad best served while the sweet potatoes are still warm -- otherwise they just go kind of cold and chewy and that's not a good thing!

Overall, I really liked this salad.  It was easy, elegant, and completely yum! I'd definitely make it again, but I'll keep a close eye on the oven as some of my sweet potato sticks charred a bit!

If you can't find watercress, I'm sure baby spinach would work fine. Ohhh, baby spinach and blue cheese and sweet potatoes and pecans ...



13 November 2012

Watercress & Cucumber Sandwiches

I used watercress in November's Eating the Alphabet Challenge and had just enough leftover to make cucumber and cress sandwiches. While we ate these sandwiches with tomato tortellini soup they're also just fine on their own or with a little fruit salad.

Cucumber & Watercress Sandwiches

Watercress & Cucumber Sandwiches

Ingredients
3 oz neufchâtel, softened
1 cup watercress leaves & thin stems, rinsed and rung out in a tea towel
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper, as desired
Unsalted butter, softened
Cucumber, sliced thin
Thin sandwich bread, crusts removed
Minced cress, for garnish

Directions
Whiz the first four ingredients around in your food processor or blender.

Spread every slice of bread with a thin coat of butter. Then spread half with a thicker coat of watercress goo. Top with thinly sliced cucumber. Sprinkle with a little minced cress. Top with the remaining buttered bread. Cut into quarters. Eat.
(You could also add a thin layer of radishes to the sandwiches for a little heat and/or add fresh dill to the watercress spread).

Cucumber & Watercress Sandwiches
12 November 2012

Hot Mess O' Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken

So this is not the prettiest thing I've ever made, but it was tasty and easy to assemble. I've almost resigned myself to ugly-delicious slow cooker food as it's the taste and the convenience that are most important ... but then I look at all the pretty pictures in my slow cooker cookbooks and get a bit grumpy!

Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken

Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken Mess

Ingredients
3 frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts
¾ bottle teriyaki flavor stir-fry sauce
½ tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peel
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
16 oz bag frozen stir-fry vegetables, thawed in fridge
15 oz can baby corn, drained

Directions
Combine first five ingredients in slow cooker and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Shred chicken with two forks, stir in thawed stir fry mix and corn, cook on High for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are heated through. Serve over rice.
09 November 2012

Italian Homework: Walnut, Pear, & Gorgonzola Salad

I was all excited to start "Lesson 9: Healthy Italian-Style Salads" in my online Italian cooking class, but then I had a little dental work done and couldn't eat cold, crunchy things for a few weeks. Sheesh. I have preposterously sensitive teeth.

But, except when the wind's blowing northeasterly, my teeth are feeling pretty fine again and so I decided to tackle my salad homework. (Cooking homework is the best homework ever -- if there had been cooking in math class, I would have been a regular teacher's pet and there is actually a lot of math in cooking, you know).

I made "Walnut, Pear, & Gorgonzola Salad," because pears and gorgonzola are just meant to go together. Like peanut butter and jelly or brown sugar and bacon. And, oh my gods, I loved this salad. Loved it. Could happily eat it every day for a week. All the flavors and textures blended together so well and so cleanly that I swear my tastebuds sang with happiness. Salty gorgonzola, grainy pear, crunchy walnuts ... you form a perfect triangle of deliciousness.

You must try this salad.

Making Walnut, Pear, & Gorgonzola Salad
(Ingredients shown are for a single-serving salad)
Easy Walnut, Pear, & Gorgonzola Salad

Salad Ingredients
4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
2 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped [red anjou pears]
½ cup chopped, shelled walnuts
1 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese [reduced fat]

Dressing Ingredients
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
To make the dressing, put all ingredients into a container with a tight fitting lid. Shake well.

Making Walnut, Pear, & Gorgonzola Salad

In a large bowl toss all the salad ingredients, except the cheese, together with the dressing.

Making Walnut, Pear, & Gorgonzola Salad

Place the gorgonzola in a mound in the center of the salad and serve. Goes well with crusty rolls.

Serves 4
Yes, you could substitute your favorite balsamic vinaigrette for the scratch dressing, but why? It only takes a minute to throw together and tastes pretty darn good.

Making Walnut, Pear, & Gorgonzola Salad
07 November 2012

Birthday Noms!

So my birthday was Monday, but we started celebrating it Friday night. Because we could. Also, the election was coming up and Freaked Out People Need Comforting Carbs.

Birthday Fud

Little tarts filled with almond paste and raspberry jam. Quit nice. The Italian bakery does prune-filled ones, too ...

Birthday Fud

The bakery called these croissants -- layers of dough, raspberry jam, golden raisins, and nuts covered in more crushed nuts. Not as awesome as they sound, unfortunately.

Birthday Fud

Cake! Vanilla sponge layered with whipped cream, peaches, and strawberries and then frosted in more whipped cream. Best. Cake. Ever.

Birthday Fud

Sushi, because protein's important.

There were presents, too, and we drove up to Boston to look at penguins and seadragons, but that will have to be a separate post because I have a lot of blurry photos of fish to get to first. Darn fish, with their swimming.
02 November 2012

Waffled Grilled Cheese, Yum!

Waffling grilled cheese is not a new idea -- the internets are full of waffled grilled cheese ideas -- but it is a very good one. The bread gets all crispy-crunchy and the waffled crannies make the sandwich perfect for dipping in soup.

Waffled Grilled Cheese

Prepare your grilled cheese however you like, then lay it on your preheated waffle iron, close the lid, stick a heavy can or jar on top (I used a big tomato can), and waffle for 3 minutes. Remove from waffle iron, admire, break into pieces, dunk in soup ... wish you'd made more than one.

Impromptu Sandwich Press
Who needs a panini press?
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