Monday, January 5, 2009

Christmas Duck, and Happy Holidays!

Hello, I missed you too, my dear reader, and now I am back, if only for a while. Not writing here for over a month does not mean that I wasn't cooking, with all the stress I've been going through lately (I'll tell you when it's over, OK?) I cooked even more than usual, if only
to distract myself from thinking, but had no mood to write. But it was the holiday season, too, so there's some good food to share, and today we'll share the duck dinner we did for Christmas.
On the menu:
- home cured olives marinated in olive oil with garlic and herbs
- roasted garlic and olive tapenade
- walnut bread (from the Farmers Market) with dipping oil
- roast duck stuffed with green apples and prunes
- mixed greens and goat cheese salad, orange vinaegrette dressing
- wild mushroom risotto
- cauliflower in cream sauce
And no, there was no room left for desert, as always.
The olives from my October 2008 post came out very nicely, so after taking them out of the brine and sorting them, I marinated the nice-looking ones in good olive oil with garlic, lemon slices, and herbs from my garden (every jar has a different set of herbs), and used the ugly ones to make a tapenade.
I happened to have a lot of ugly olives (made 3+ 150-gram jars of tapenade), and
of course they had to be pitted. You put a few olives on a cutting board and hit hard with another cutting board, then extract the pit with your fingers. Messy business! But totally worth it.
To roast garlic for the tapenade, take the outer skin off the head of garlic, separate it into cloves, but don't peel them. Cut just a little off the top of each clove to make peeling easier later. Wrap the cloves into aluminum foil with a few drops of olive oil. Roast in the oven at 375F for 35-40 minutes, or on the medium grill (here timing is trickier, you may want to unwrap the hot foil after 30 minutes to check donness). Ready garlic cloves will be soft but not mushy. Just squeeze the flesh out of the cloves and discard the empty skins.
For the fire-roasted pepper, blacken a red bell pepper over a hot grill, under the broiler, or on a gas burner, turning with tongs or two forks to char it on all sides. Place into a covered dish to cool. When cool anough to handle, peel off the charred skin and remove the seeds and the membranes, holding the pepper over a dish to collect the tasty juice. Don't wash - water will remove a lot of the flavor - and don't worry if some skin does not come off, just leave it on.
As you can see in the picture, this time I had not the usual duck from the Chinese market, but a very civilized duck from Safeway. It not only had it's head removed and the neck neatly stuffed in the cavity, but also a tiny pop-up termometer in the breast.
I actually was going to stuff it with buckwheat and mushroom stuffing, and serve caramelized apples on the side. Of course I found that I'm out of buckwheat when the stores were already going crazy before the holiday, and spending 2 hours in line for a pound of grains sounded so much like my Soviet past that I decided not to repeat the experience.
Luckily, I had carnaroli rice, so the apples went in the bird, while the mushroom risotto made the side.

Here are the recipes.
Roasted garlic and olive tapenade
makes about 2 cups
2 cups of black olives, pits in
1 head of garlic
1 red bell pepper
2 Tbsp capers
3-4 anchovy fillets (optional)
1/2 cup good olive oil
salt to taste
Pit the olives (don't worry about the shape, they'll be pureed later!). Roast the garlic, let cool, and squeeze out the flesh. Fire-roast and peel the pepper, cut into large chunks. Puree the olives, pepper, garlic, capers and the optional anchovies in a blender. I like to leave the tapenade somewhat chunky for interesting texture. Slowly mix in the oil, using a spoon. Do not blend, olive oil's flavor changes in the blender! Adjust the salt. If using the anchovies, you probably won't need any salt at all. Serve with country-style bread, or cover with more oil and store refrigerated for a couple of weeks.

Roasted duck with apples and prunes
2-3 servings
1 duck, washed, wiped dry, the innards, extra fat, and neck removed
3 Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into segments
1 cup prunes, pitted
1/2 cup dried cranberries
salt, pepper
Roasting pan with a rack, large needle, kitchen thread, sharp carving knife
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Rub the duck generously with salt and pepper inside and out.
Place the apples, prunes and cranberries into the cavity, stitch the cavity closed.
Cut off the tips of the wings, or make small cuts in the breast skin and tuck the wing tips in to prevent burning. Make 2-3 shallow cuts in the skin of the breast and the legs.
Place the duck on the rack in the roaster and into the oven for about 1-1/2 hour, or watch the pop-up termometer. Remove from the oven, remove the stitches, scoop out the stuffing to be served on the side, carve and serve.
Do not discard the pan juices and fat. Leave them to cool, separate the fat and juice, store separately in the refrigerator for future recipes. Some people believe that duck fat is as healthy as olive oil, and it surely tastes gteat. Use it to sautee mushrooms or potatoes, to cover pate, or to make duck confit.
Or store the fat and reduce the juice to make souce for the bird.
Wild mushrooms risotto
2-3 servings
2 Tbsp olive oil or duck fat
1 cup of mixed mushrooms, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt, pepper
1 cup carnaroli or arborio rice
1/2 cup cheap white wine ($4 Pino Grigio from Trader Joe's is the best, and the leftover is drinkable too)
about 2 cups chicken stock (can be more or less, depending on the rice. If the rice takes more liquid than you have wine and stock, just add some water in the end)
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
3-4 drops of black truffle oil (optional)
In a straight-sided pan or a large saucepan heat the oil over medium heat. Sautee the onions and garlic for a few minutes to softem. Add the mushrooms and some salt and pepper. Sautee until the mushrooms are cooked and the juices evaporate, about 15 minutes. Add rice, stir to cover with oil and mushroom mixture, cook for a minute or two. Add the wine, reduce the heat to medium low, cook, stirring constantly, until all wine is absorbed. Start adding the stock (or water) in small amounts, stirring and adding more when the all liquid is absorbed. After about 20 minutes of cooking, try the rice. The grain should be cooked "al dente", a little firm in the center. Take off the fire, stir in parmesan. Adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Finish with a few drops of black truffle oil (optional, and don't overdo it!).
Cauliflower on cream souce
2-3 servings
1 medium head of cauliflower, separated into florets
1/2 tsp butter
salt, pepper
3 Tbsp sour cream
3 Tbsp mixed grated cheeses
Cook the cauliflower florets in salty water for 15 minutes, or until soft. Drain. Place into a buttered baking dish, add salt and pepper, spread the sour cream over the florets, sprinkle with the grated cheese, place into the oven with your duck for the last 15 minutes of cooking. Or bake in the preheated oven at 375F for 10 minutes.