Braised Duck + The Series

October 25, 2016

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.
~Michael Caine

The World Series begins tonight — with a connection to the past, the two teams with the longest title droughts in the same game (parenthetically or asterisk laden) the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs have gone over a century without a series win, and the Indians with many decades without winning in unfulfilled seasons. Times of anguish without a taste. One of the most touted series ever — history and the game is here, it waits for no one. By the way, it is the aces, Kluber (Indians) vs. Lester (Cubs) that will take the mound in Game One.

I must admit to adoring the Cubs, as my childhood was suffused with Chicago, and then watching those fans delirious with their team in the field and later in Wrigleyville, tears streaming and beers and shots in hand, after the NCLS game clincher. I was fortunate enough as a grasshopper to meet Billy Williams, now still barely holding on, as well as Ernie Banks (and his no. 14 in diamonds) and Ron Santo, now both gone. I have experienced ivied and bricked Wrigley Field with men fans donned in suits and fedoras and women adored in finery during daytime games as well as Jack Brickhouse who bellowed “Hey, Hey” to signal Cubs’ home runs. As Williams has been quoted, “they’re somewhere celebrating now,” and these legends should be proud given their regular season winning percentage of 103-58.

The Cubs have superb starting pitching, assume a keen approach at the plate, use the field well, value divine defense, and have a sublime bullpen to boot. Sound familiar? — yes, Virginia, I have seen us win. Then again, the Indians also have supreme starting pitching, run the bases well and have a glorious bullpen too.

Nothing against Cleveland, but despite the “old-school look” of upper socks, the Cubs have earned one. Then again, the Indians play at home.

BRAISED DUCK

1 whole duck (around 4 lbs — preferably Pekin), cut into 8 or so pieces, plus liver reserved & trimmings coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried herbes de provence
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Refrigerate well dried, cut, seasoned pieces overnight in a ziploc bag. Turn a couple of times.

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 (28 oz) san marzano tomatoes, cut well
1 C dry red wine
4 C chicken broth
1 piece of cinnamon stick
3 pieces star anise
2 bay leaves, dried
4 thyme sprigs

2 lbs small plums, pits removed and halved
1 lb turnips, quartered or more
1 lb parsnips, sliced & halved
1 carrot, peeled and roughly sliced
1-2 T butter

1/2 C Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
3 T chives, finely chopped
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped
1 t lemon zest, grated
1-2 t extra virgin olive oil

Place a heavy, wide skillet with extra virgin olive oil, butter and fresh garlic cloves over medium high heat. When the pan becomes shimmering and hot, add the duck so as not to crowd — likely in a couple of batches — 5 minutes per side. Set aside, tented in foil on a baking dish or platter.

Pour off all but 2 T of duck fat into a ramekin and cover (for a later day). Add tomatoes, stirring well, then add wine and broth and bring to a nice simmer. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Transfer duck to a heavy, large Dutch oven and pour the broth mixture & herbs/spices over the duck.  Cover and simmer for about 40 or so minutes, until duck is quite tender.

Heat butter and duck fat in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add reserved plums skin side down as well as turnips and parsnips and sauté for a minute or so, until lightly browned, then turn and cook on skin side for a minute more.

Transfer duck to a warmed platter and spoon over the sauce. Garnish with sautéed plums, turnips and parsnips.  Mix together parsley, chives, walnuts, lemon zest and olive oil. Sprinkle this mixture over the top and serve.

Life itself is the proper binge.
~Julia Child

So, the conservative (J)ustices who reverently, or perhaps irreverently, have hailed their Catholic heritage were conspicuously absent for Pope Francis — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito — should be wearing their usual political cloaks of shame with heads bowed. Please do not tell anyone, dear (J)ustices, that you had other commitments, as you were wholly transparent “no shows” to make an intentional, childish statement.

Are you that politically pugnacious, gentlemen? Will you, as does the House, not branch compromise? Will you value theatrical protest over governance, even as the “judiciary branch?” Will you seriously take a pass on this opportunity to hear words from the leader of your church?

Apparently, this was a “let-them-eat cake obliviousness to the needs of others” moment to quote Justice Scalia. Whatever his old man palaver means.

Even as an agnostic or atheist, you should feel utterly disgraced.

A simple, yet resplendent, meal — thank goodness, we can gracefully slide home.

MISO CHICKEN (TORI MISOYAKI — 味噌チキン)

4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened to room temperature
1/2 C red or white miso
2 T local honey
1 T “plain” rice vinegar (hon mirin)
1 T sake
2 t sesame oil
2 t ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 t garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

8 skin on, bone in chicken thighs

Peanuts or walnuts, chopped
Cilantro leaves

Bok Choy (optional?)

Preheat oven to 425 F

Combine butter, miso, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and black pepper in a large glass bowl and mix well.

Add bird to the bowl and carefully massage the miso, et al., blend into it. Marinate in a large ziploc bag for a couple of hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan and genteelly slip (skin side up) into the preheated oven. Roast for about 40 minutes or so, turning the chicken pieces over twice with tongs, until the skin is golden brown and crisp, and when pricked the juices run pale from the thighs. Serve over rice or rice noodles and top with chopped peanuts or walnuts and cilantro with baby bok choy as a side.

Lentils & Walnuts

June 14, 2012

God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them.
~Franz Kafka

Not to be confused with other nuts or wingnuts…those outspoken, irrational people with deeply ingrained, deranged, flagrantly ignorant political beliefs, e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, Fred Phelps and their ilk. The lunatic fringe.

Rather, walnuts are edible seeds harvested from deciduous trees of the genus Juglans, especially the Persian walnut a/k/a English walnut, Juglans regia. Walnuts are rounded, single-seeded stone fruits enclosed in a leathery green, fleshy, inedible husk. Inside the husk is the wrinkly, hard walnut shell, which encloses that kind kernel, which presents as two halves separated by a partition. Walnuts, like all seeds, are living organs which respirate. After harvest, the seeds continually consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide, so storage is crucial.

The common walnut is native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, extending from western China, into the ranges of Nepal, through present day Afghanistan and Iran, and finally Turkey. Alexander the Great introduced the tree to Greece and Macedonia, so it became known as the Persian nut. Later, ancient Romans imported the walnut tree into nearby conquered lands, such as Gaul and Brittania, where it has thrived since. Some espouse that North American walnuts assumed the moniker English walnuts, since they arrived in the colonies aboard English merchant ships.

The potential health benefits of walnuts cannot be understated — abounding with nutrients, particularly proteins, vitamin E, and essential fatty and phenolic acids, tannins, and flavonoids. They are also rich sources of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. A so-called superfood.

LENTILS & WALNUTS

2 C green lentils (preferably du Puy)
1 1/2 C cold water
2 C vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 fresh thyme sprigs

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Splash of sherry or red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Walnut oil, to taste
3/4 C walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3/4 C artisanal chèvre (goat cheese), crumbled

Put the lentils in a medium, heavy saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme. Pour over water and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 20-30 minutes. If the liquid is not totally absorbed, simply drain off any excess through a fine colander. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic for another 1 minute, then deglaze the pan with just a splash of sherry vinegar. Remove from heat. Toss the cooked lentils with the onion mixture, and then season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with walnut oil, add the walnuts, toss with crumbled goat cheese and serve warm.

Gruyère & Walnut Scones

February 9, 2012

The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
~Thomas H. Huxley

To those who still cling to blind faith, failing to relentlessly test assumptions and rejecting rational inquiry, here are just a few of the more egregious beliefs that have been disproven and no longer enjoy acceptance in the scientific community…

The earth is the center of the universe and all celestial bodies revolve around it. The universe is static, neither expanding nor contracting. The earth is not spherical, but flat. The earth is a hollow sphere containing light and housing an advanced civilization. The earth was created by a divine being 5,000 years ago and is not some 4.5 billion years old. The theory of evolution is wholly false and imaginary. The human body contains four balanced humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. The functions of all living things are controlled by a “vital force” or “life spark” and not by biophysical means. Life is generated spontaneously from inanimate matter. People are born with a tabula rasa (“blank slate”) bereft of innate traits or genetic proclivities. Modern alchemy, in which ordinary metals are turned into gold, is on firm footing. All combustible objects contain a special element called phlogiston that is released during burning. Global warming, the increase in atmospheric temperatures that results in climate changes due to anthropegenic causes, is a conspiratorial hoax. Santa Claus and the tooth fairy exist.

That is an extreme short list which does not even touch a host of fictions, but you get the drift. Empirical knowledge trumps raw faith.

When pandering to worldly warmth, please share these savory scones–best nestled up to a mate, with a bowl of hearty soup and a glass of vin rouge.

GRUYERE & WALNUT SCONES

1 1/4 C walnuts

2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 C Gruyère or Comté cheese, shredded
1 1/2 t fresh thyme leaves, stemmed and chopped

1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
4 T buttermilk
4 T heavy whipping cream
1 T honey
1 T Dijon mustard

Gruyère cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 F

Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasted. Allow to cool, remove to a cutting board, chop and set aside.

In a large bowl combine walnuts, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and rub in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. It is important that the butter be cold so when it is worked into the flour mixture it does not become a smooth dough. Do not overwork–it should be like a pie dough. Add the Gruyère and thyme thoroughly but gently.

Make a well in center of the dough mixture. In a small bowl combine egg, buttermilk, cream, honey, and mustard and add to the flour mixture, stirring with a spoon until moist. If overly dry, add some more buttermilk and if too wet add more flour.

Gather dough into a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough by folding and gently pressing it for about a dozen times. Shape dough into a round about 3/4″ thick. Using a cookie cutter or small wine glass, cut rounds of dough. (Alternatively, you may cut the dough into triangles.) Gather the scraps, reshape the dough into the same thickness, and cut into more rounds or triangles. Arrange on a baking sheet about 1″-2″ apart and sprinkle the top of each with just a little more Gruyère.

Bake scones until tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fennel & Fertile Figs

November 16, 2011

And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they saw that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
~The Bible, Genesis 3:7

A moist, cleft, ripe, dehiscent, succulent fruit. Long a sacred symbol of fertility, the common fig (Ficus carica) is a deciduous tree which was first cultivated in the fecund triangle between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in ancient Mesopotamia. From there, figs spread through Asia Minor and Arab lands ultimately making their way to India and China and thence by way of Phoenician and Greek sailors, throughout the Mediterranean basin. The plants were first introduced to the New World, notably the West Indies and South American west coast, by Spanish and Portugese missionaries in the early 16th century. Figs were then imported to Mexico and coursed up to California where Franciscan missionaries planted them in mission gardens.

The word fig first came into English early in the 13th century, from the Norman Old French figue, itself from Vulgar Latin fica, from Latin ficus—still the proper botanical genus name of fig trees. The Latin word is related to the Greek sykon or σῦκον meaning “fig” or “vulva” and the Phoenician pagh “half-ripe fig.”

The fig sign (mano fico) can prove knotty in some social circles. It is made with the hand and fingers curled and the thumb thrust between the middle and index fingers, forming a clenched fist with the thumb partly peering out. Likely of Roman origin, it was displayed as a positive gesture to encourage fertility and ward away evil. Apparently, demons were so repelled by the notion of eroticism and reproduction that they fled at the sign. In a few locales, this hand gesture is still a sign of good luck, but in many others it is considered an obscene, disparaging insult. While the precise reason for this nuancal dichotomy is unknown, many historians posit that this fist depicts female genitalia (fica is Italian slang for “vulva”) and others see an image of sexual union in the making. How could either be thought obscene? Always consider your audience, I suppose.

FENNEL, ONION & FIG PIZZA

Pizza dough (see below)

2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/2 C yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 t sugar
1 medium fennel bulb, outer leaves removed, cored and thinly sliced
8-10 fresh figs, sliced

Pinch of lemon zest
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 T fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 lb taleggio cheese, rind removed and sliced thinly

Walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted
Parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside hot oven at least 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Add smashed garlic, stirring, until only light brown. Remove and discard. Then, add sliced onions and sugar and stir occasionally, about 5-6 minutes. Add the sliced fennel, reduce heat to medium low, another 5-6 minutes. Cover and cook gently, stirring often, until the fennel and onion are tender, sweet and beginning to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Uncover, add sliced figs and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Add lemon zest, nutmeg, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Stir together gently and remove from heat.

Roll out dough on a lightly corn mealed or floured surface. Lightly brush with olive oil.

Evenly arrange the taleggio slices on the pizza dough, leaving the border uncovered. Arrange the onion-fennel-fig mixture on top.

Bake the pizza, until just golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, finish with toasted walnuts and immediately garnish with a light drizzle of olive oil and a delicate dose of grated parmigiano reggiano.

Pizza Dough

Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T organic honey

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Pour warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast and honey until it dissolves. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil; mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic—or transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth. Kneading helps develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by spoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dishtowel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and about twice that for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls.

Place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12 inches in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is dusted in either cornmeal or flour so it can slide off easily into the oven.

Pourboire: consider crumbling some goat cheese, such as some Bûcheron, over the pie before you slip it into the oven; or bring some sautéed proscuitto into the mix.

If to be interesting is to be uncommonplace, it is becoming a question, with me, if there are any commonplace people.
~Mark Twain

I openly admit to primitive pastry and baking skills. My purlieu lies elsewhere, in a more savory world.

The term “muffin” is derived either from the French word moufflet, meaning a soft bread, or from the German word muffe which is the name for a type of cake. Much like pancakes, it is a two bowl yeast free method where you simply fold the wet into the dry. Please do not overmix—this overdevelops the gluten in the flour which causes tough muffins with tunnels and a compact, almost rubbery texture. Always hand stir the batter until just thick and lumpy.

Symmetrical with domed tops, these muffins are humble homages to those overripe bananas or luscious blueberries peering at you from the counter or fridge. In either event, moist and tender muffins are fine ways to fuel up a morning coupled with a morning cup of joe, or they can be that needed pick me up when you hit that proverbial late afternoon wall…maybe they are an occasional antidote to circadian cycle hiccups.

This may fall short of provocative fare that elicits raves. Then again, things plebeian are not always prosaic.

BANANA OAT MUFFINS

1 1/2 C walnuts

2 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C rolled oats
1 1/2 C granulated white sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 t ground cinnamon
Grating of nutmeg

4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 C unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
6 very ripe large bananas (approximately 1 lb.), mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 t pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F

Place the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

In a large bowl combine the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla.

Lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, and the batter is thick and chunky. Take care not to over mix the batter as totally smooth batter will yield tough, rubbery muffins.

Line two 12 holed muffin pans with paper liners or butter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for five minutes and then remove muffins from pan.

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

5 C all-purpose flour
1 C granulated white sugar
1/2 C raw sugar
3 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
Zest of one orange
Zest of one lemon

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 C buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt
1 1/3 C canola oil
2 t pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 C fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange and lemon zests. Gently fold in the blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract.
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir only until the ingredients are combined. Do not over mix the batter as smooth batter will yield tough, rubbery muffins.

Line two 12 holed muffin pans with paper liners or butter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tins. Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full of batter. Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about 5 minutes before removing from pan.

What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.
~Katherine Hepburn

While brownies may be considered undersexed in technique, when eaten they can be almost lewd.

Some sources trace the origin of the iconic brownie to the 1896 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, written by the esteemed Fannie Farmer—but that was more of a cookie/confection that was flavored with molasses and made in fluted molds. Then in an 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog there was a recipe for a molasses candy dubbed “brownies” which were named after the legendary, magical elves that had become the rage in pop culture then. Brownies were those rarely seen, occasionally mischievous, creatures that lived in houses or barns and finished undone housework in return for food favors.

About a decade later, the first cake brownie recipe appeared in the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book which proved less rich and chocolate laden than today’s brownies. The following year, along came a recipe for “Bangor Brownies” in Lowney’s Cook Book, authored by Maria Howard which added extra eggs and chocolate, creating a more luscious chocolate brownie. Since the early decades of last century, brownies have held a prominent place in America’s kitchens with myriad versions on the same theme.

Intensely chocolate and chewy in texture, this edition demands a scoop or two of fine vanilla ice cream. As always, the key is exquisite chocolate.

BROWNIES

1 C all purpose flour
1/2 t salt

5 ozs gourmet dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), chopped
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 T fine cocoa powder
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 C walnuts, chopped (sort of, optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Butter an 8″ square baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour and salt and set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl placed over a heavy saucepan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool some. Then stir in the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Finally, stir in the flour mixture and walnuts.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan and bake until an inserted toothpick comes out almost clean, about 30-40 minutes. Do not overcook. If anything, undercook them lightly so they remain chewy. Allow to rest before slicing.