Friday, January 29, 2010

Pan-Fried Duck Breast with Orange, Thyme and Juniper Rub

This recipe was so good I made it twice in under a week. Decadent, yes, but the reason for the second go-round is that I wanted to serve it to my parents who were in town for dinner last night. It's one of Anthony Sedlak's recipes from his cookbook The Main, based on the TV series of the same name, and I've got to hand it to the Vancouver chef -- the man knows food.

Everything in this recipe went together wonderfully well -- the juniper, orange zest and thyme rub on the duck breast, the sides of rosemary-roasted plums and roasted celeriac, even the homemade orange relish. Also, as per Anthony's suggestion I used some of the rendered duck fat to fry the celeriac before roasting it, and it was delicious. That and the roasted plums were revelations -- I couldn't believe the sweet, almost floral aroma given off by the plums after they'd cooked for half an hour. Magnificent. My parents enjoyed the meal too -- so much that my mom plans to make this next time they have friends for dinner. Couldn't have asked for higher praise!

Pan-Fried Duck Breast with Orange, Thyme and Juniper Rub

4 duck breasts
1 tbsp black pepper
Zest of one orange
2 tsp crushed juniper berries
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1 tsp coarse sea salt

Lightly score skin side of breasts.

Combine black pepper, orange zest, juniper berries, parsley and thyme in a bowl and mix well. Pat firmly onto flesh side of duck breasts. Let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Let duck breasts stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes. Season generously on flesh sides with sea salt. Place duck breasts skin side down in a large, ovenproof skillet and cook slowly over medium heat until fat renders and skin becomes crispy and golden, about 7 to 8 minutes. Drain pan of excess heat as needed; reserve 2 tbsp of duck fat for the roasted celeriac.

Finish cooking in oven 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest at least 10 minutes in a warm place. Thinly slice against grain before serving.

Serves 4

Courtesy The Main, Anthony Sedlak, Whitecap Books, 2008

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Olive Oil and Orange Cake

I've always been intrigued by the idea of baking with olive oil, which is why I decided to try this recipe of Mario Batali's for Olive Oil and Orange Cake. Wow, it is delicious. Not too sweet, and it could just as easily serve as a morning treat with coffee as an after-dinner dessert.

Mario recommends serving it with whipped cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt. I opted for thick, plain yogurt and some lemon zest. The cool sourness of the yogurt worked incredibly well against the dense, citrus-spiked still-warm cake. I polished off the whole thing single-handedly in under a week.

Olive Oil and Orange Cake

Makes 6-8 servings

6 medium oranges
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil a 9-inch round cake pan.

Using a grater, zest all the oranges, and juice one of the oranges. (Reserve the fruit for another use.) In a small bowl, combine the zest, juice and olive oil. Set aside.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the eggs and salt until frothy and light, about 2 minutes. Slowly beat in the sugar, and continue to mix until pale and thick, about 2 minutes more.

Sift the flour and baking soda together, and gradually beat into the egg mixture. Fold in the citrus zest mixture just until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature.

Courtesy Molto Italiano, Mario Batali, HarperCollins, 2005

Chicken Stew with Polenta, Celery Root and Sage

Ever since blowing a significant wad of dough on my Le Creuset Dutch oven last year, I've been looking for any excuse to use it. Flipping through Mario Batali's cookbook Molto Italiano, I found a recipe for Chicken Stew with Polenta, Celery Root and Sage. Talk about comfort food, and definitely a dish for my flame-coloured beauty.

This was my first time making polenta, and in all honesty I'm not sure I'm a fan. It was nice in the stew but on its own it was a bit bland. Next time I may use half chicken stock, half water instead of all water to give it a bit more flavour. Still, I realize it's supposed to be the starch here and not overpower the other flavours.

On the other hand, I am loving celery root! I've used it in a number of recipes lately and I love its texture and flavour. And as Mario notes, this stew reheats well, so it's nice to make on a Sunday and then have it Monday night when you've come home from work and are in no mood to cook. My favourite kind of recipe.

Chicken Stew with Polenta, Celery Root and Sage

Makes 4 servings

5 cups water
1 cup quick-cooking polenta or fine cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
One 3.5 to 4 lb chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, rinsed, and patted dry
4 ounces chicken livers
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups Barbaresco or other fruity red wine
1 cup basic tomato sauce
8 fresh sage leaves
1 tbsp parsley, chiffonade
1 tbsp lemon zest

In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Pull the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the polenta is as thick as molten lava. Pour into an 8-by-10-inch baking pan and allow to cool.

Season the flour with salt and pepper and spread on a plate. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, then dredge the chicken livers in the flour. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until smoking. Brown the chicken pieces in two batches, then transfer to a plate. Add the livers, onion, and celery root to the pot and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Add the wine, tomato sauce, and sage and return the chicken pieces to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the thighs are nearly cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the polenta into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the polenta to the pot and cook for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, place on platter, sprinkle with parsley and zest, and serve immediately.

Courtesy Molto Italiano, Mario Batali, HarperCollins, 2005

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Arugula Salad With Warm Oyster Mushrooms

Salad is a hard sell for me in winter, when all I crave are soups, stews and rich pastas. But this is one I never turn down, I think because the flavours are so robust. We're not talking watery iceberg lettuce and Italian dressing here, this is sharp, peppery arugula balanced against soft, buttery mushrooms, brought together with freshly squeezed lemon and fruity olive oil. Because there are so few ingredients, try to make sure you're using top quality stuff. Unblemished mushrooms, your best bottle of extra virgin olive oil (my brand is Olio Carli), and of course genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano (not the powdered stuff).

The original recipe I based this on is one of Mario Batali's, but his called for porcini mushrooms which I'm sure would've been wonderful. But it was also very tasty with the oyster mushrooms, and I'm guessing portabellos, creminis, and shiitakes would also work well.

Oyster Mushroom Salad with Arugula

8-10 oyster mushrooms, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 bunch arugula, washed and patted dry
1/8 cup plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for shaving
Coarse sea salt

Heat 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil in a saute pan, then add the mushrooms. Cook until softened, 8-10 minutes.

In a large bowl, place the arugula, 1/8 cup olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss to mix thoroughly. Divide the salad equally among two plates.

Remove the hot mushrooms from the pan and place on the arugula. Using a vegetable peeler, shave Parmigiano-Reggiano onto the salad. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt over top and serve.

Serves 2

Modified from Mario Batali's recipe for Porcini Salad with Arugula, from Molto Italiano, Mario Batali, Harper Collins, 2005.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Farfalle with Mushrooms, Prosciutto and Rosemary

I'm a recipe girl. I browse through cookbooks, find something I want to make, buy the ingredients and follow the instructions more or less to the letter. That's not to say I don't make substitutions and get creative based on what I have on hand on a given day, but when it comes to creating my own dishes the results have typically been less than spectacular. I still recall scraping a disastrous lemon chicken dish -- so overpowering with lemon my lips pucker just thinking about it -- into the trash bin in frustration.

Tonight's dinner was another story -- without a recipe in mind but knowing I had prosciutto, cremini mushrooms and whipping cream in my fridge I decided on a pasta dish. Simple, maybe, but still many places where it could go wrong in the flavour and texture department. Tomato sauces I've done a million times, but I avoid cream sauces because they can be heavy (and of course they're not great for the waistline). Still, tonight I was feeling like something decadent and figured I should at least know how to do a cream-based pasta should the need arise.

I started by browning quartered mushrooms -- about two cups' worth -- in a bit of butter and olive oil over medium heat, adding a splash of water to the pan to prevent them from drying out too much. Once they had some nice colour to them and had shrunk down a bit I added four slices' worth of diced prosciutto along with 1 tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary. I let that cook for a few minutes, turned down the heat slightly, then added 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1/4 cup dry white wine, 1/3 cup whipping cream and the juice of half a lemon. I stirred all that together and let it reduce down until thickened slightly, 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I'd been cooking about two cups worth of farfalle in boiling, salted water, just to al dente. Reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water, I drained the farfalle and then mixed it into my saute pan with the cream sauce. I added some salt and black pepper to taste, and then dished it out. To finish I grated over some Parmigiano-Reggiano, a spritz of fresh lemon juice, and some chopped fresh parsley. And the verdict? Delicious! Creamy without being heavy, and with a really balanced flavour -- the saltiness of the prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the vibrancy of the lemon and rosemary contrasting with the cream. Not bad for an improvised dish, in fact part of the reason for this blog post is so I don't forget it!

I think the key is practice and the refusal to let kitchen failures discourage you. Even recipes aren't foolproof, after all!

Farfalle with Mushrooms, Prosciutto and Rosemary

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups cremini mushrooms, washed and quartered
4 slices prosciutto, diced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
Juice of half a lemon
1/8 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat butter and oil in large saute pan over medium heat, add quartered mushrooms and a splash of water and cook until browned and a bit shrunk down. While this is happening cook farfalle pasta until al denta in salted, boiling water.

Add prosciutto and rosemary to pan and cook for a few minutes to allow the flavours to meld together. Turn down the heat slightly then add the chicken stock, white wine, whipping cream and the lemon juice. Reserve the lemon to squeeze a few drops over the finished dish. Stir all ingredients together and cook until cream sauce has thickened slightly, 5-10 minutes.

Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water to help the sauce coat the farfalle if need be. Mix the cooked farfalle in the saute pan with the sauce. Add salt and black pepper to taste and stir everything together. Ladle it out, and garnish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, and a final spritz of lemon juice.

Serves 2.