Monday, March 28, 2011

Simple mixed citrus tart

Blood oranges have a short season, and it's almost over. We have to eat them now.

With their striking color, aromatic rind, and complex, pleasantly bitter-sweet taste they make an excellent addition to savory dishes, like salads, sauces for meat and poultry, and one-pot braises.

Or, mix them with other citrus fruits and bake this colorful tart.

Here, the citrus fruits are not decorated in any way - they stand out and shine on their own. Use a mixture of Valencia and blood oranges, tangerines, Meyer lemons, or anything that's good at the farmers market.

In this simple preparation, the quality of the ingredients make a lot of difference. If you don't feel like making your own puff pastry dough (I know it's painful, I try to avoid making it too), use artisan all butter frozen puff pastry, like Dufour Classic, $11 at Whole foods. A more economical option is to get an artisan puff pastry dough for $4 at Trader Joes. It tastes great, but it doesn't puff up so readily, so the texture may get compromised.

I store a vanilla bean that my friends brought me from Bali in a jar of confectioners sugar, and use this gently perfumed sugar for baking. If vanilla sugar is not available, I wouldn't substitute artificial vanilla extract - too bold a flavor would distract from out main attraction, the citrus. Better skip vanilla and use plain sugar instead.

Mixed citrus tart
Makes 1 12x12 inch tart, serves 9

14 oz sheet frozen all butter puff pastry, defrosted
All-purpose flour, for dusting

4 oz Neufchatel cheese, or light cream cheese, at room temperature
1 egg, beaten
rind of 1 blood orange, grated
2 tsp vanilla sugar or confectioners sugar

5-6 mixed citrus fruits: oranges, tangerines, lemons
2 tsp confectioners sugar

On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry dough to fit 12x12 square baking sheet. Trim the edges. Place the dough on a non-greased non-stick baking sheet. With a tip of a sharp knife, mark a 1/2-inch border around the perimeter of the tart, take care not to cut through the dough.

Reserve 1 Tbsp beaten egg for the egg wash. Combine the remaining egg, blood orange rind, Neufchatel cheese and vanilla sugar. Mix well.

Spread the cheese mixture in a thin layer over the dough, within the marked border.

Cut top and bottom from each citrus fruit, to expose the flesh. Place the fruit on it's end on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut off rind and the white pith in strips, turning the fruit. Slice the fruit into 1/4 thick slices, removing the seeds as you go.

Arrange citrus slices on the cheese mixture, making an attractive pattern. Sprinkle with sugar.

Make egg wash: mix 1 Tbsp beaten egg with 1 Tbsp water. Brush on the tart border.

Freeze tart for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 with convection). Bake the tart until the border is puffed up and browned, about 30 minutes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 21, 2011

Braised duck legs with blood orange and dried figs

In this cold weather dish, the duck legs are sauteed slowly to create crunchy golden skin and melt out most of the fat, then open-braised in wine, stock, and orange juice. Make sure not to cover the duck skin with the braising liquid - this will preserve the crunchy texture.

I did noth thicken the sauce, but served the legs with de-greased braising liquid, for a modern, lighter dish.

If blood oranges are not available (the season is short), use highly aromatic Valencia oranges, or any other kind.

Braised duck legs with blood orange and dried figs
Serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil or duck fat
4 duck legs
1 cup red wine
1 cup chicken or duck stock
12 dried Mission figs
small bunch thyme
2 small sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
5 juniper berries
rind and juice of 1 blood orange + 1 whole blood orange
salt, pepper

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Smoking in the rain: Canadian bacon

Many years ago, when I was growing up (yes, I am old), chicken used to be the lean diet meat, and pork was juicy and fatty, definetely no good for dieting, with the distinct flavor - love it or hate it. I don't want to know what they do to the poor animals now, but the roles have reversed to a degree: the huge chickens that you buy in a grocery store are almost 50% fat (unfortunately, it doesn't improve the flavor), and the pork is lean, and yes, mostly tastless. The good thing is, pork easily accepts flavors during marinating or curing. The leanest cut, pork loin, after curing and smoking becomes wonderful Canadian bacon.

I used Canadian bacon recipe from my favorite Charcuterie book. Since I had 2 smaller pieces of pork loin, and because of the shape of the dish, I cut the brine recipe in half; I've also adjusted the quantities of the ingredients a little, to accomodate my taste for less salty meat, and unlimited garlic. To cure two 2-pound pieces of trimmed pork loin I used
2 liters water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
20 gram pink salt
bunch of sage
bunch of thyme
6 large garlic cloves

The pork spent 2 days curing in the brine, covered and refrigerated. 
I then took the pork out of the brine, rinsed it under cold running water, dried with paper towels, tied in a few places to keep the shape, and let it rest at room temperature while I was busy starting my primitive charcoal smoker. This took a little over an hour of blowing on the charcoals, trying to contain the sparks while not getting burned myself, moving the hot and sparkling smoker farther from the house, running to the store to get more charcoal, moving the smoker closer to the house to protect it from the beginning rain, swearing in four or five languages all the while. Finally, the little no-good termometer on the lid moved to the mark between "warm" and "ideal" and froze there. No matter what I did, it wouldn't go higher.

Not to waste all the heat, I also smoked a couple of shallots, a boiled potato, a head of garlic, and a couple of handfuls of sea salt.
At my smoker's uncertain temperature, it took the pork about 4 hours to get to the internal temperature of 145 degrees. By that time the exterior was covered by beautiful, glossy and aromatic smoked "skin".
I let the bacon cool, removed the twine, sliced it, and vacuum-packed most of it for storage.

The next day I decided that my homemade Canadian bacon deserves homemade English muffins for breakfast. The recipe I used, , calls for shortening - I replaced it with melted unsalted butter.

Also, it took only 4-1/2 cups of flour, instead of 6 in the recipe, to make workable, relatively soft dough - must be due to variations in flour and humidity.

I was very happy with my adjusted recipe, and by 3 pm I already had a perfect homemade breakfast:
Toasted English muffin, Canadian bacon, lightly poached eggs, chives from the garden, Hollandaise sauce made with 1 egg yolk, 1/2 unsalted butter, juice of 1 lemon, salt and freshly ground white pepper; Turkish coffee.
By the time I finished breakfast, it was time to think about dinner.

Slow food.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sonoma County wine road barrel tasting

On a rainy Sunday last weekend my friend KY and I went to our favorite Dry Creek winery for once a year barrel tasting. As long-time wine club members, we've been watching their wine making efforts improve every year. And of course we couldn't miss tasting the future release of their wonderful Bordeaux style blend "The Mariner", out of the barrel. Composed of the classic five Bordeaux grapes, with a different proportion every year, the 2009 version displays beautiful balance and dark fruit flavors, and is although it will be released in 2013 and has a 5-7 years aging potential, it's perfectly drinkable even now.
When we started on the trip we didn't realize that it's not only our winery's event. In fact, most wineries on Sonoma County wine road, that runs through three valleys and wine making appelations: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Russian River Valley - open their cellars to the public and pour the future releases of their wines out of the barrel. It's a marketing opportunity for the wineries, who sell futures for their next releases, and endless fun for the visitors, from serious wine enthusiasts to out-of-state tourists exploring California wine country, to loud parties in stretch limos, out for drinks.
As we were not planning on visiting multiple wineries on this trip, we didn't have too much time, and there was no tasting plan. So we decided to just drive around, enjoy the vistas, and stop in whatever wineries we encounter.
Here is where we been and what we found:
Teldeschi winery didn't have an actual new release barrel tasting. Instead, they were pouring a selection of their library Petit Sirahs from 1998 on.Smooth, respectable, well aged wines.

Eveterre Ridge delighted us with a beautiful, smooth, silky and deep 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. The wine is not yet released, and available only as futures. The previous vintage sold out...
The wood burning oven on the patio overlooking the entire Dry Creek Valley produced flatbreads scented with thyme and rosemary from their garden, to go with the tasting, and everything pizzas for wine club party.
The cozy Rued Winery suprised with a 2008 zin produced from the grapes that grew next to a site of a  forest fire. As a result, the wine has a distinctive smokey flavor that reminded me of my homemade Canadian bacon!
Mill Creek Winery featured several perfectly crafted wines, including one of the best examples of California Sauvignon Blanc, that started with citrus and tropical fruits and ended with delicate honey flavor.