Thursday, January 14, 2010

Duck with Lynn and Steve

And by "duck", I mean this kind:

Not this kind:

Steve and Lynn are the couple we bought our house from, almost ten years ago. They had just had a baby and were bursting at the seams in this tiny little cottage. We happily took it off their hands and have lived here ever since. We met up with them again, of all places, at Ned and Melissa's Christmas Eve party. They wound up living a couple of houses down from them. Small world! Well, smallish town, anyway. When they moved from here, we were moving stuff in and closed a door, and hanging on the back of it was a little tiny baby bath hoodie towel. Itty bitty! So when Lynn pointed to some kid that was eight feet tall and said "That's the baby right there", it took me a minute. We've been here a while!

We enjoyed talking to each other at the party and decided to have them over for dinner so they could see the place and so we could get to know them better. We had a great time, and they oooed and aahhhed over how much some of the stuff they'd planted had grown in ten years. (There's a loropetalum they planted that's probably almost 20 feet tall now.)  We wanted to sit outside for a while, but it's just been too cold. So instead, we drank and ate and talked and drank and ate and talked until late. It was a great evening, and we're very happy to have (re)connected with them.

Mixed Greens with Oranges and Toasted Pecans with Champagne Vinaigrette

Seared Duck Breast with Blackberry Cognac Sauce
Sweet and White Potato Gratin

Almond Confetti and Chocolate Chiffon Cake

Mixed Greens with Oranges and Toasted Pecans with Champagne Vinaigrette

4 cups mixed greens
1 Tbs. chopped shallot, sauteed in 1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
Sections from one orange, peeled.
3 Tbs. champagne vinegar
1 Tbs. orange juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 Tbs. salad oil

Mix vinegar, shallot, orange juice, salt, pepper and salad oil together. Mix greens and orange sections. Sprinkle greens with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss with the dressing, then top with toasted pecans.

Pan-Seared Duck with Blackberry Cognac Sauce

Serves 4
For duck:
4 duck breasts
kosher salt
black pepper

For sauce:
1 shallot, chopped
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup cognac
1 Tbs. maple syrup
3/4 to 1 cup chicken stock
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. flour
1/4 cup heavy cream

For sauce:
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, sautee the chopped shallot in 1 Tbs. of oilve oil until transluscent - about 3 minutes. Add the blackberries and the kosher salt and stir. Pour in the cognac and stir, then add the maple syrup and 3/4 cup of the chicken stock. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the sauce into a heatproof bowl or large pyrex measuring cup, mashing the berries to extract the juice. Discard the solids. Return the empty pan to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the butter and flour and stir until a roux (paste) forms. Add the blackberry and chicken stock mixture simmer over low heat about 15 minutes, to heat through, stirring to incorporate the roux. Add additional chicken stock to thin, if needd. Before serving, stir in the heavy cream.

For the duck:
Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. I do this outside on my gas grill because I do not have a vent-a-hood, and these duck breasts are going to splatter and smoke like a fire at the tire factory. Except it won't smell that bad. If you can do it outside, I highly recommend it. Score the skin of the duck with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern. Salt and pepper the duck on both sides. Place skin-side down in a hot skillet and cook until crisp - about 5 minutes. Turn over and cook the other side, about 2 minutes for rare, 3 minutes for medium. Serve immediately with sauce.

Sweet and White Potato Gratin
Serves 4

1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 large russet (Idaho) potato, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
3 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
kosher salt
black pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup panko crumbs
1 Tbs. butter
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Preaheat oven to 350F. In a medium round high-sided casserole dish, layer the bottom with sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a grind or two of black pepper. Sprinkle with about 1/4 of the goat cheese and 1 Tbs. or so of the parmesan cheese. Make sure to reserve about a Tbs. of parmesan cheese for the top. Top this with a layer of white potatoes, and repeat the sprinkling. Keep layering until you are out of potatoes. Pour in the cream and press the potatoes down with a spatula to help cover them all in cream. Top the casserole with panko crumbs, 1 Tbs. of the parmesan cheese, and the nutmeg. Break the Tbs. of butter into about 4 small pieces and dot the top of the casserole with it. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, until potatoes are tender and top is crusty and golden brown.

The cake was kind of a disappointment. It turned out a lot heavier than I'd have liked and the flavors were just kind of muted. I won't be making that one again.

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