Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Canard D'Or


 Sorry Donald Duck - you know I love you, but sometimes I just have to move past that and realize that I just straight up love a good duck dish.  I mean, some friends got into a conversation about what animal they would taste like - strange, but true - and my animal just happened to be duck.  A) I 100% agree and B) I'm not mad about it at all - in fact, I'm EXCITED! Because duck is awesome.  Ok, enough of this crazy talk, let's move on to some cooking! I seemed to have seafood-ed myself out on this particular day, so after a little small talk with my fishmonger, I sauntered over to the butcher.  Steak, meh.  Rabbit? Too lazy to prep it (yea, you'll laugh about "too lazy" after this recipe). Veal, just had it.  BEAUTIFUL DUCK BR....leg? Before I was able to talk to the butcher, I started quantifying if I could in fact confit some duck legs in time for dinner.  Survey says no, but fortunately, they had just prepped some duck breasts in the back. Thank the LAWD. And beautiful, Muscovy duck breasts they were. These duck breasts are no joke, and worth every penny!  I've always had the tendency to serve my duck with fruit - whether grilled peaches, in a salad with berries and goat cheese, you name it.  But today I decided to use some veggies that are as close to sugary fruit as you can get...beets! (Yes, I know - oranges are fruits, but work with me here!) Beets - one of my favorite root vegetables!  If only I was able to find a rainbow assortment! Better luck next time - either way, the dish still turned out both visually stunning and delicious! I played a little game in my head called connect the dots of random foods - duck > duck in orange sauce > beets with orange zest > orange zest and fennel > needs a little kick....sauteed beet greens with chili flakes! Yes, things like this happen in my head...and off I went!

“Canard D'Or”
Serves 4
4 six-ounce, or 2 large Muscovy duck breasts
2 T fennel seeds
1 t chili flakes
2 T paprika
½ orange, zested
4 roasted orange slices
2 whole golden beets, greens removed and reserved
Orange Reduction (recipe follows)
Sauteed beet greens
Candied beet chips, for garnish (recipe follows - make ahead!)
Thinly sliced tarragon, for garnish

For the spice rub, combine the fennel seeds and chili flakes in a small sauté pan, and toast over low heat until fragrant.  Remove the pan from heat, and allow to cool – ensure you don’t burn the seeds!  Once they’re cooled, place the fennel seeds and chili flakes in a spice grinder and grind into a relatively fine powder.  Combine this mixture with the orange zest and paprika and reserve. Thoroughly rub the flesh side of each duck breast with the spice mixture, and allow to sit in the refrigerator at least one hour, or overnight.

Next, start preparing the roasted beets and oranges. Preheat the oven to 350F.  For the beets, simply place them into aluminum foil, add about 2 T of water, and fold over. Place these in the oven and allow to roast until fork tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.  The beets will only get sweeter the longer you cook them, so it’s no worry if you go over in time!  When the beets are sufficiently roasted, allow to cool and finish by rubbing the skin off. Reserve.

Roasted Oranges
½ orange, cut in 1/8” slices
1 shallot, thinly sliced
A pinch chili flakes
A pinch salt
1/2 to 1/4C extra virgin olive oil
1 large sprig thyme, broken up

Place the oranges in a small baking dish.  Sprinkle the rounds with salt and chili flakes, ensuring even distribution.  Next, scatter the sliced shallots over the oranges, and add the oil and thyme. Cover with aluminum foil and cook in a 350 degree oven until tender, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool in the oil and reserve for plating.

Orange Reduction
1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
A pinch red chili flakes
2 T fresh squeezed orange juice
1 sprig thyme
2 C chicken stock
1 small sprig rosemary
1/2 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/4  rind of an orange, peeled – no white pith

While the orange slices and beets are roasting, get after the sauce! In a  heavy-bottomed sauce pan, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and allow to heat up over medium heat.  Toss in the shallots, and caramelize – ensuring not to burn them.  Next, add a dash of chili flakes and continue to cook until nicely caramelized. Deglaze with orange juice and continue cooking until the juice has reduced by half. Add thyme sprigs and chicken stock, stirring to combine. Continue cooking until chicken has reduced by at least ½.  Add rosemary and garlic cloves, allowing to cook 15 more minutes on low heat. Finish with orange rind and allow to steep 10 minutes. Strain the reduction and reserve – we will be reheating this later and reducing it even more!

Once everything is ready to go, you can start cooking the duck and the beet greens!

For the duck breast
Spice-rubbed duck breasts
Kosher salt.

When ready to cook, allow the duck breasts to sit at room temp for at least 20 minutes.  Prior to salting and cooking, score the fat side in a criss-cross pattern, making sure not to cut all the way into the flesh.  It’s easiest to use a super sharp knife and lay it almost flat on the fat, pulling the knife toward you.  If the knife is sharp enough, it should go the proper depth.  Next, season the duck on both sides with an ample amount of kosher salt.  In a large non-stick pan, cook the duck skin side down over low heat, allowing the fat to render from the skin. The slower and lower you cook, the more fat you’ll render, and you’ll also finish with a beautiful, golden crispy skin.  Be sure to drain some of the fat while your cooking, leaving only a tiny bit for the duck to cook in - and save this! You can use it to cook potatoes...or anything else really! Allow the duck to cook on the skin side for about 8-10 minutes, until the skin is nice and crispy.  Flip the duck and allow to cook a few minutes more, until it's reached your desired temperature.  I like my duck almost rare in the center, so it's a little less time for me.  Remove the duck form the pan, and allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes, 10 if you have the time!

Sauteed Beet Greens
Approximately 2 cups beet greens, cleaned and roughly chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup thinly sliced sweet onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Crushed Red Pepper (to taste)
2 T to 1/4 cup or so vinegar - I use persimmon vinegar
Olive oil
Sea salt and Pepper

Heat up a large pan over medium heat with olive oil until it shimmers - cook the garlic, onions, and crushed pepper for a few minutes until the onions are translucent, being careful not to burn anything.  Throw in the beet greens, stirring occasionally until they have wilted down a bit.  Pour a tad bit of vinegar over top and stir together - taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.  Reserve


To Plate
4 roasted orange slices
2 large roasted beets, halved and cut into 1/6ths
Orange Reduction (recipe follows)
Sauteed beet greens
Candied beet chips, for garnish (recipe follows)

Alright, now it's time for the really good stuff. Plating and eating! Ensure that your orange reduction is heated up, and allowed to reduce to a nice syrupy consistency.  Place one roasted orange round in the center of each plate, topped with a bit of the beet greens.  Next, surround these by 6 roasted beet wedges.  
Slice each duck breast on the bias - not too thin, but just enough so you get a good skin to flesh ratio - I like about 1/2 to 3/4 inch or so each.  Divide the duck evenly between the plates, and lay the slices on top of the orange and beet greens. Place a few beet chips between the slices, or even just scatted around the plate - however you like! Finish with a nice spoonful of the reduction over and around the duck. I also finished mine with a bit of thinly sliced tarragon, some toasted chopped hazelnuts, and even a sprinkling of beet powder for more color. Why not?

 This dish is worth every second that goes into making it - although, if planned correctly, it's all fits together perfectly! The combination of flavors was straight up harmonious.  The sweetness and acidity of the orange was mellowed out by roasting and given a bit of a savory twist from the herbs and shallots - combining this with the roasted beet allowed the sweetness of each to perfectly balance once another out.  The duck itself was perfectly cooked with crisp skin - the spice rub definitely added a nice bit of heat and flavor (especially the fennel!) to the dish but didn't overpower anything.  The beet greens added a great depth and earthiness to the dish, while the reduction brought out a bit of umami.  And the beet chips!! Oh, those beet chips.  I could eat a thousand of them!! Not only are they beautiful to look at - and as thin as paper (literally, you could see through them) - but the flavor is just out of control.  If anything, just make a few batches of them and you'll be satisfied! 

Candied beet chips
1 large golden beet
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Slice beets very thinly into rounds, preferably on a mandoline. Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Add beets. Reduce heat, and simmer until slightly translucent, about 30 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer beets in a single layer to a nonstick baking sheet, or regular baking sheet with a Silpat. Bake until dry and slightly firm, about 1 hour. Remove from the pan and reserve - these can be saved in an airtight container for a few days - if you don't eat them first! I trust these would be just as good not candied, as well.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

day of the tentacle

Well, we all know about my strong affinity for cephalopods, and today's recipe leaves no exception to that rule! I saw myself some octopus at the market, and the rest is history.  I sometimes wonder if it's possible for someone to have TOO much octopus? I would venture to say no....but if it is possible, I'd be the first to find out.  That being said, I probably won't be slowing my consumption any time soon.  I know, I know - they are one of the most intelligent creatures out there...dare I say clever? Well, they can use other sea creatures shells and RUN ON THE OCEAN FLOOR! (thank you Planet Earth). Or, since they hate paparazzi, they will STEAL your brand new underwater camera and run away with it. I guess I really wouldn't want to be caught in an underwater alley with these guys. But, all danger and cleverness aside, octopus as an ingredient is awesome! Not to mention, it is super healthy - it's a straight up, epically lean protein.  Can't go wrong with that! And if you're squeamish about the tentacle situation, don't worry - it's doesn't have as creepy of a texture as you may think! So give it a try, and you won't be disappointed!

In my experience of eating octopus, I really don't discriminate in preparation - I've stewed it, steamed it, grilled it, braised it you name it! But I really do love the flavor of octopus with a bit of char on it.  Since I don't have the means to grill my octopus, I got my broil on! And the results were fantastic. 

Curry Dusted Octopus with Red Onions, Chickpeas, and Thai Basil
Serves 4 as an appetizer
1 whole octopus, poached (recipe follows)
~2 T curry powder (I used medium-hot)
2 red onions, chopped into 1/8ths
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup whole almonds
Olive Oil
Fresh ground black pepper
1 lemon, quartered
1/4 cup Thai basil, either whole small leaves, or roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 425F.  In a large roasted pan, toss the onion and chickpeas with enough olive oil to coat (a few tablespoons should suffice).  Sprinkle with about 1 t sea salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.  Let this roast for about 30 minutes, shaking the pant every so often, until the chickpeas have started to brown and the onions have softened. Meanwhile, fry the almonds. In a medium skillet, heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil until hot, but not smoking.  Toss in the almonds, and allow them to cook for about seven minutes, until they're nicely browned but not burnt. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate covered in paper towel and allow to drain.  Set aside.

Next, prep your octopus for broiling.  If you were able to purchase pre-cooked octopus, and you only have the tentacles, you're one step ahead! Otherwise, proceed with the following. Remove each tentacle - I left them whole for presentation, but you can cut them into large pieces if you prefer! Also, cut the head portion into large rings.  Right before broiling the octopus, dust each piece with the curry powder.  Remove the onion mixture from the oven and place the octopus pieces over top.  Turn the broiler on, and place the roasting pan back into the oven, about 4-5 inches from the broiler.  Allow to cook for about seven minutes, or until the octopus has a bit of char on it.
To plate, spoon the chickpea and onion mixture evenly amongst four plates, topping each with two tentacles and a few rings.  Divide the almonds evenly amongst the four plates as well.  Squeeze a lemon quarter over each plate, and finally, sprinkle the Thai basil over top. If you are so inclined, you can finish the fish off with a little Maldon sea salt and some more fresh ground pepper. 

So, not only is this dish BEAUTIFUL to look at, but it created the most heavenly smell in my apartment!  Furthermore, the flavor combination was beyond delicious.  The dusting of curry powder gave just enough warmth and heat to the dish, without making it too spicy, and it was just enough to give a mild, underlying curry flavor - almost so discreet that you may not be able to pick out the flavor immediately.  The roasted onions and chickpeas had a great depth of flavor to them, that was only  brought out by the toastiness of the fried almonds.  The Thai basil topped the dish off and took it to an entirely different level.   Seriously, go get yourself some octopus and give this dish a try - it's sure to be a crowd pleaser!

Poached Octopus
1 whole octopus, cleaned (if you're squirmish, you're fishmonger is sure to help out!)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 lemon, halved
8 black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
2 T plus 2 t kosher salt
In a large stockpot, combine all of the ingredients with 1 gallon of water and stir to combine.  Be sure to squeeze the lemons prior to putting them in the liquid!  Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, and let simmer for about 10 minutes so the flavors come together.  Here's the fun part! With some heavy duty tongs, dunk the octopus headfirst into the water three times, leaving it for about five seconds each time. This action lets the tentacles curl up properly! After the final dunk, drop the whole octopus in and bring back to a boil.  Lower the heat once more, and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the octopus is tender.  Remove from heat, drain well, and set aside to cool.  Booya!

'ish just got real.

Monday, March 12, 2012

almost springtime winter salad

Springtime is here!!! Well - weather-wise, at least.  It's a cool 72 degrees outside, with a lot of sunshine...heck, the flowers are already blooming.  So, feeling sprite, I basically skipped my way to the market to pick up some rejuvenating goodies.  Alas, I arrived only to be brought back to reality, recalling that it is in fact only March! Either way, Spring's bounty is soon to arrive! That being said, I decided to stick with some regular winter greens, and make a delicious, exciting...salad? Yeah, you heard me right.  Delicious and exciting.  Hungry man scoffing at the fact that this is about a salad - you can have it as a starter with plenty of other dishes as well, and it's sure to not disappoint.

Kale with Grapefruit, Avocado, and Ceviched Onions
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a starter
~2 cups roughly chopped mixed kale 
1 lime
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 ruby red grapefruit, supremed
1 avocado, halved and sliced
1 lime
Fresh black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lime
3 T olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
Few grinds of black pepper
1/4-1/2 t minced jalapeno (or habanero, if ya nasty)

To start, make the vinaigrette.  Place all of the ingredients in a small jar and shake away until emulsified. The ingredients may separate while you're assembling the rest of the salad, but you can just reshake it before dressing the salad.  

Next, "ceviche" the onions.  I used a mandolin for my onions, so they were super thin - but the thickness is all up to you! Place them in a shallow bowl with the juice of 1/2 lime.  Let these sit - the longer they sit, the less bite there is to the onion. 

When you're ready to plate, get all of your items ready for assembly! Break the grapefruit supreme sections into tiny pieces, and squeeze the remaining 1/2 lime over the avocado.  For a meal, divide the two kales into two big bowls.  I used Red Russian, lacinato, purple curly, and dinosaur kales. Divide the remaining ingredients among the plates evenly.  Reshake the vinaigrette to combine, and drizzle a bit over each salad - be sure to get some of the pepper pieces! Give each a fresh grind of black pepper, and enjoy!

Seriously, bomb salad.  It's refreshing and light, yet satisfying and filling.  And all of the flavors go so well together! There's a great acidity in the salad from the citrus juices, but also a sweetness from the grapefruit, and a bit of butteriness from the avocados.  Any bite that picks up a piece of pepper from the vinaigrette gives an awesome subtle heat too! A must make!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.

Well folks, we're already a few days into March, and I'm back in action! I took a bit of a hiatus (clearly) - I'm in a bit of a work-related transition at the moment, which, when it all plays out will be very good but at the time is a tad bit stressful. It's also not helpful that during winter-time, my window of opportunity to utilize natural light for photography is considerably small, maybe even Wonderland sized, cutting my time down even more!  That being said, the break hath been taken, and I'm back! And thanks to the powers above, because cooking for me is quite therapeutic I must say. SO, why not kick off March with a bit of a healthy soup?  And by healthy soup, I mean BEET SOUP!! I can hear you now...borscht? I mean, kind of, considering it's made with beets.  But it's not made with meat stock, or cabbage, and it surely doesn't take Eastern European in origin.  Needless to say, some may be opposed to this (aka D., who when I told him I was making beet soup, made a face similar to that of a small child told to eat brussels sprouts), but I can assure you it is absolutely delicious, refreshing, and extraordinarily good for you! And it's vegetarian...technically vegan.  

The recipe for the soup itself can remain the same, but I'll be experimenting with garnishes in the coming days with leftovers.  To me, not only are beets delicious on their own, but they also have a great affinity for a TON of different flavors!

Chilled Beet Soup
Makes about 1 quart
2 medium sized beets, peeled and quartered
1 small shallot, peeled and quartered
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
2 t apple cider vinegar
Sea salt, to taste
1/4 C parsley
1/2 C coconut milk
1 ripe avocado
Lime zest and juice
Mint leaves (micro, or just minced)

Put on all black clothes.  Beet-y liquids + anything besides black = Texas Chainsaw Massacre style stainage.  Just a forewarning!  Moving on to the actual recipe:

Place the beets, shallot, and garlic in a steaming dish above about an inch of water.  I only have a bamboo steamer at the moment, and frankly wasn't in the mood to stain the heck out of it, so I simply placed the vegetables in the water itself.  Bring the water to a boil, and steam/cook until fork tender.
Gently place the vegetables and steaming liquid into a high-speed blender or food processor, and pulse together a few times. Add the vinegar and parsley, and pure until smooth.  With the blender on, slowly drizzle in enough coconut milk to reach a smooth, creamy consistency.  I use coconut milk from TJ's that comes in a box as opposed to the generic Thai-company, thicker, goopier coconut milks.  You can use whichever! Obviously the thicket coconut milks will leave you with a thicker, creamier soup.  To each his own!  Season to taste with salt and pepper and chill.

To serve, finely dice 1/4 of the avocado and squeeze a bit of lime juice atop to prevent browning. I placed a bit of finely diced avocado in the bottom of each bowl, and poured the soup over top.  It's a bit of nice showmanship, but hey, it looks good! I finished each with a grating of lime zest, sliced avocado, and mint leaves scattered about.  Easy peasy! 

This soup really is fabulous, in more ways than one! Visually, the soup is stunning - it's a deep garnet color, with a beautiful sheen to it.  The contrast of the green avocado, lime, and mint really pops.  As far as flavor goes, the soup really has a great, fresh, authentic beet flavor to it, even though there are other ingredients.  There are subtle hints of the parsley and coconut, but the beet and acidity from the apple cider vinegar are what really shine through.  The avocados adds a nice toothy element to the dish, while the lime and mint really brighten it up.  Altogether, a grand combination! As I stated before, this soup will be fun to play with.  I think using some microgreens atop would lead to a great presentation, and flavorwise, I might try out a walnut crema and orange flavorings.  Maybe a horseradish yogurt swirled on top.  Goat cheese and sauteed beet greens? Heck, the options are limitless!!