Saturday, August 10, 2013

Duck Breast with Fresh Peaches (and orange liqueur)

So the hubs got a new job almost a year ago now, and his company headquarters is in Washington State - about as far away from Washington, D.C., as you can possibly get without crossing water or Canada. About twice a month is he flies out and leaves me and the cat to fend for ourselves. I could be sad about it, but that's not productive. Don't get me wrong, both the cat and I miss him. But he'll be back. And while he's gone we take advantage and eat stuff that he won't eat. Like thousand year eggs in congee. Or soft-boiled eggs and asparagus. Or braised duck tongue. Or sushi. You get the idea. I could eat this stuff while he's around too, but that would mean cooking two separate meals, and while I love to cook, I love my free time too.

While he was gone this week then, with the FFwD recipe, my single girl meal treat was duck breast. I've always wanted to know how to cook duck breast but never got around to it, so I was happy to see this recipe come up. We are lucky to live in a neighborhood where we have a specialty English butcher. I  picked up a vacuum packed 1lb package of magret duck breast, which was enough for two. At almost $17/lb, I was glad not to have to buy another! It had been a loooong week at work and school, so I invited a friend/coworker over to share. Lisa brought some rosé and a loaf of fresh bread over, I mixed a couple of bourbon cocktails, and we nibbled on Comté cheese and home-made pepper jelly while throwing dinner together. Not bad for a weeknight!

Before she arrived I roasted some cauliflower in the oven, and left it in the 250F oven while getting everything else ready. Please forgive the lack of a mise en place photo, or one of the duck breasts searing in the pot - Lisa and I were having such a good time chatting I just forgot! Besides, I'm not sure I could have taken a decent photo of the duck searing and fat rendering process. There was a LOT of fat spattering, despite the use of the cast iron casserole, and I ended up covering the pot with a splatter screen.
Dorie didn't specify what kind, but I like white peaches better and used them here
 Once the duck was seared, the rest of the process was very quick. Below is the balsamic vinegar and wine sauce coming together. I didn't have the port that Dorie called for, but I did have a bottle of French orange liqueur, Gran Gala, which is much less expensive and slightly sweeter than Cointreau or Gran Marnier. It was so sweet I figured it would be a good stand-in for port. We already know that duck and orange go together well, and with so much vinegar in the sauce, I wasn't worried about the sauce not pairing well with the peaches.

I didn't measure anything - just eyeballed it and tasted.

The duck boobs enjoying a quick turn in the sauce to warm up again before plating.
I think I left the duck in the oven more than 5 minutes - probably closer to 10 - because my peaches were not that ripe and took longer in the pot, but they came out medium-rare and perfect. This was a delicious, quick recipe that I will definitely make again, although I would make sure to have riper peaches, and cut them into smaller pieces to make a more attractive plate in future. I complained, briefly, at the cost of the meat, but then the hubs pointed out that halibut or tuna is $21/lb at the market and we have that about once a month.

The sauce was outstanding. For those of you who don't really drink port wine, I would recommend using a strong, sweet fruit liqueur as a substitute. Aside from orange, you could try cherry, peach, or apricot (if you can find it). If you do try it, make sure to leave a link here and share! Bon appétit!

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Bassine à confiture

The last time I posted about making sour cherry jam was also the first time I'd ever made any jam. That was also the time I set the oven on fire due to an overabundance of caution regarding maintaining sterility of all my equipment. I've come a long way since then, thank goodness.





In the years since that first attempt, I have also acquired my dream piece of kitchen equipment - this beautiful, gleaming French copper jam pot, a.k.a. une bassine à confiture. Even its name is glorious. Just look at it! (Thanks Mei Yee and Kaka for my birthday gift!)

It's so beautiful it merited a second close-up shot. :)
Aside from being good looking, this pot really made the process a LOT quicker. This is due to two reasons. One, copper is a superior conductor compared to what you usually get in cooking pots (aluminum, steel). Second, the wide basin allows for quicker evaporation. These two features together mean that the jam was ready in about 1/3 less time than even when I used my lovely copper-core All Clad stock pot. As I had 15 lbs of cherries to can and it was about 101F outside, this meant that I did not heat up the house nearly as much, and it was waaaay less humid when the whole process was done. Copper pots are not an inexpensive proposition, but if you can afford one and can often, I highly recommend investing in one. To put it in perspective, it'll cost you less than a pair of designer shoes or handbag, and will last much longer.
This year's batch made 18 jars plus a ziplock bag of ~2 lbs of cherries that I froze for future pies. Til next year!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Tzatziki a la French Fridays

This summer we put in two planter boxes at the end of our landing strip of a back yard and filled them with jalapeno plants, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, basil, oregano, and green beans. This week the cucumbers have finally started to reach their full size.
Vegetable planters at the end of our patio "runway"
So what to do with a glut of cucumbers?
The fork is there for scale. Please ignore the one on the far right that I obviously picked too early. It was the first one I picked and I was over-eager. That is, until I saw the two monsters in the middle.
Dorie's tzatziki recipe came at exactly the right moment. We were going to have some friends over for dinner, and with our overabundance of basil, we came up with a "summer bounty" themed meal, with tzatziki and hummus for appetizers, a garlicky classic pesto as the main course, and an open-face fresh blueberry tart (from Rose Levy Berenbaum's incomparable recipe available here) with meyer lemon curd for dessert.

As an aside, this was our fifth or sixth batch of pesto this summer and it was the best yet. The secret? Pan sear the garlic in some olive oil before adding the whole shebang to the pesto, it makes all the difference!

I'd never made tzatziki before and even had to look up how to pronounce it, but now I wonder why I hadn't. It's quick and easy to make from pantry staples - I had everything in the ingredients list except for dill, which was easy enough to fix. I ended up only dicing up 2/3 of a cucumber for 1 cup of yogurt; this was half the amount of yogurt that the recipe called for, but I liked this ratio of cucumber to yogurt better. The remainder of the cucumber I cut into finger-length sticks for inclusion in the appetizer plate with some carrots and celery. I kept the amounts of everything else in the recipe the same, except the white pepper, which was to taste.

As it's a shame to waste perfectly good zest, I also added lemon zest from the lemon that I juiced. One average-sized lemon gave me the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice the recipe called for as well as what I needed for the blueberry tart filling.

The dill, mint, cucumber, and lemon zest all sitting together before the yogurt is added
There just happened to be fancy Greek yogurt in my fridge, but once the dip was mixed up, Dorie's instructions became obvious: if you are going to make tzatziki, please, please, please make sure you use only the best, thickest Greek yogurt you can find. Alternately you can thoroughly drain some good-quality yogurt. Otherwise the tzatziki ends up more like a watery mayonnaise, rather than a nice, thick dip, which is what you want.
The final appetizer spread
The hummus in the back is sprinkled with olive oil and some precious Israeli zaatar that my awesome friend Sarah brought back from Jerusalem for me. We didn't finish all the tzatziki that night, so I was able to taste it again a couple of days later, and yes, it does get better after the flavors have had a chance to meld together. I'll definitely be making more of this before the end of cuke season.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Olive Fougasse

Last week was finals week so grocery shopping was kinda low on my priorities list until after I had handed in my papers and completed my Infectious Disease Epidemiology exam on Wednesday. Then it took me a day to recover my wits so I didn't even look at the recipe until 10pm on Thursday. As a result, I started this on Friday, but didn't bake it til Saturday. That still counts as a French Friday, non? Well, it's done, and here are the results.

My mise en-place, taken before I went out back and clipped some rosemary from the garden.

Yes, this is just a mix of oil and water. I was using Fermipan Instant Yeast, so that had already been added to the dry ingredients.

Dough after ~5 minutes of mixing.
 Dorie was not kidding. This was a really, really, really soft and sticky dough. I kneaded that thing for 10 minutes and it still looked pretty much like the photo. As she had said that it should pull away from the bowl but still be soft enough to pool at the bottom of the mixing bowl, I ended up adding about another 1/2 cup of flour. It might have had something to do with my flour, which was made from hard spring wheat and therefore had less gluten.
A photo of the mixings going in here. By this point both my husband and I were tired of hearing the mixer screaming, so I just mixed it in by hand. It was still tough work though - I wouldn't have wanted to "knead" this dough without a mixer. The consistency is such that the cook basically has to beat the dough like a batter, not actually knead it.
Post-mix ins, ready for its rest.

 I made the full recipe here, so these photos only show one of the two fougasses. As you can see, once spread out they are quite large. These are half sheet pans here. I thought it looked pretty much like the photo in the book - like a leaf, albeit a stubby one - but the hubs took one look and said it reminded him of Predator's face. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

The hubs doesn't like savory things in his bread, so it's up to me to eat this whole thing (the other one went to our neighbors). Verdict? Not my favorite bread, although its perfectly good and the recipe works - I think I just can't help but compare it to focaccia, and then I decide that I like the richness of focaccia better. It's focaccia-like, but with so much less oil in the bread, it's less tender and fragrant than actual focaccia, which is cooked in a sheet pan full of olive oil. The crust is a little crunchy from the olive oil-water mix that is brushed on, and the inside chewy-tender. I had a bite of it today after it had sat out all night and it was still chewy and soft, which is nice. Good for a casual nibble and definitely pairs well with red wine, but if I were to make this again I think I'd just make little rolls so I can freeze them and reheat for a bread basket.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Almond Flounder (ahem, Tilapia) Meuniere

 
 This week's French Friday recipe was Almond Flounder Meuniere, which Dorie described as an adaptation she made from the classic sole meuniere because flounder is easier for her to find at the market. I didn't feel too bad then with the decision I made when faced with a choice of sad-looking, pre-frozen, and badly thawed flounder versus plump, fresh tilapia at the fish counter today. Above is a photo of the finished product, served with a side of Spanish rice and green beans.
See what I mean by plump and fresh? 
 
The almond-flour coating was a breeze to make. I threw all the ingredients into my immersion blender mini food processor attachment and was good to go with a few whirs. Brushing on the egg with a brush instead of dragging the fish through a container filled with egg saved both extra eggs and cleanup.
We chose a deep-sided saute pan, which was helpful in reducing grease spatter
The butter-browning process is like toasting nuts. It can go from not quite ready to BURNED in the blink of an eye, so make sure to keep that eye on that butter! I got distracted and forgot, but thank goodness the hubs was there to remind me, because it looked like this when I looked again:
You can see the browned milk solids well in the top of the photo
Fish is cooked nut-side-down first, then flipped. Had to add another tablespoon of butter on Side 2 to keep the pan from drying out.
Et voila! Below is an action shot of the hubs dropping some green beans inelegantly onto the plate. The beans were parboiled and then finished in the same butter that the fish cooked in. It worked out perfectly, creating a nice brown sear on the beans and did not require getting yet another pot dirty. We had begun the evening debating whether we were too tired to cook, or too tired to walk to a restaurant. The humid weather finally decided us in favor of staying home, and boy, are we glad we did. In the time it would have taken us to walk the ten blocks to a restaurant, we had a restaurant-quality meal at our own table.



French Fridays

Well, hello there. It's been a while. All the Bees have been busy. Kea and I are both back in school, while Lana has started a new job. It doesn't mean we haven't been cooking, knitting, sewing, and so on...we just haven't had time to blog it, which is a shame. I made some mean batches of sour cherry jam and blood orange marmalade this year for example...maybe I'll post about it later. After my finals. Yeah. If I do, Lana should post about her kiwi-lemon marmalade too.

Anyways, I'm back now, and for a reason - I joined the scores of other cooks who dish it up every Friday on French Fridays with Dorie!! I had purchased the book back in December to enjoy during our one-week staycation, after eying it longingly since before it was published (didn't think there was much point in buying another cookbook when I was working crazy hours and going to school). Since then I've been cooking my way sporadically through it and - remarkably for a cookbook these days - met with delicious success every time (except once, with the clafouti. That was such a spectacular failure there must have been a typo somewhere). So I made it official and joined the group. After all, no matter what else is going on in your life, a girl's gotta eat.

First up then, is the Navarin Printanier, aka lamb stew. This is not the first recipe I cooked from the book, but the first recipe I cooked from the book for the French Fridays group. Here's the mise en place:




As you can see, pretty basic ingredients. Just like the majority of the recipes in Around My French Table. But looks can be deceiving.
Veggies getting their color in my Greenpan/wok.
After a quick browning, the veggies go in the pot with some flour, tomato paste, herbs, and beef stock. Bring to a simmer, then stick in the oven and let the dutch oven do its magic.

Apologies for the two pot photos. The second, post-oven shot was the last picture I took before we dug in, and I completely forgot to take a "plated" photo. Besides, stews are not particularly photogenic, and my photography skills are basic, to say the least, but trust me, the navarin was outstanding. Some friends stopped by while this was in the oven and remarked at how wonderful the house smelled. We would have invited them to stay for dinner as there was plenty, but they were vegetarian. Hehe. More for us.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Changes to Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sourdough Starter, Day 1

Guess Kea and I are both back in grad school and have bread on the brain!

Last spring I started a new masters program in Public Health that took up all my non-work time, thus the lack of postings on this blog. Having taken the summer off from school, I've been happily filling all my free time with seeing friends that I ignored, picking up knitting projects I'd set down, and using cooking equipment that had been gathering dust.

One of my goals for this summer is to create a nice, healthy starter so that I can take that next step into breadmaking and tackle sourdoughs again. A few years ago I tried making a sourdough starter by following instructions from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. The starter went through all the textbook phases and was fine, but I was never happy with the bread that I made with it. Looking back, I was still too new to breadmaking, terrified of making any small mistake, and probably set my expectations too high (for myself and my bread). That, plus I couldn't bear throwing away all that starter every time I wanted to refresh it. This time, I am using instructions from Maggie Glezer's "A Blessing of Bread." Her starter instructions are the only ones I have come across that starts off by saying that she uses the minimal quantity of flour and water to reduce waste. Ahh...girl after my own heart! She also reassures her readers that organic flour, distilled water, and (after the starter is established) weekly feedings are all unnecessary, thus taking a lot of the expense and pressure out of the endeavor. What's not to like?

Unlike Kea, I can't complain of the same difficulty in finding good bread. Here in DC we have our fair share of respectable bakeries, but there is an undeniable gratification about making your own bread, and especially one from your very own starter. So for the next few weeks I will be documenting the process of my starter on this blog and hopefully inspire my fellow Bees to try their hand at one of their own, too. Wish me luck!