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.