Tuesday, October 6, 2009

duck two ways

I'm hanging in there with the savory kitchen and finally had a "Hallelujah!" moment in my Classic Recipes class a couple weeks ago. I'm a self-proclaimed "NO RECIPES" gal but the tables were turned with learning these classic recipes. Inventiveness was not a virtue in this challenge yet sticking to basics and staying true to quintessential recipes.

During our lecture before reaching the kitchen, I was dreading one recipe: Duck L'Orange. Guess what I got? Duck L'Orange. Oh yeah...AND quiche lorraine with a homemade pate brisee in a humid as hell kitchen. Perfect. Attitude aside, I was excited and the adrenaline was pumping.

Other recipes included: Beef consomme, bananas foster, chicken friand, pork piccata, beef wellington, mulligatawny soup and gratin dauphinoise.

Once in the kitchen, I ignored Donald and went straight for the quiche crust. Usually, I combine shortening (for flakiness) and butter (for flavor) but this recipe called for shortening alone. I combined my pastry flour (half cake flour with lower protein and half all purpose flour) with ice water and cold shortening. Dough was combined quickly, plastic-wrapped and thrown in the walk-in freezer.

Meanwhile, I made my custard: eggs, bacon, cream, swiss cheese and salt. After my dough was chilled, I (attempted) to roll it out. First attempt was unsuccessful: I rolled the dough too thick. Second attempt scared me: I had to re-roll the dough more thinly which is a HUGE risk to take...can inevitably end in tough crust. Regardless, I got my crust in the oven, blind baked it, filled my custard and baked it for an hour while I worried about Donald.

My Duck L'Orange recipe called for a whole duck but I only had a duck breast...obviously I couldn't accurately follow the recipe. So, I combined the essential ingredients of the orange sauce (orange juice, orange zest, lemon juice, brandy, champagne vinegar) and started reducing them down. I scored the duck fat down to the skin, dried it with paper towels and seasoned it with salt. Knowing that duck is traditionally served medium rare, I waited until the last minutes to sear Donald.

Once ready, I heated my pan (no fat!) and added the duck (fat side down) to the scorching surface. At this point, my sauce was thickened and ready to add a bit of duck fat. After the fat rendered down on the first side (about 5 minutes), I flipped the duck over in a different pan to finish in the oven. The brown remnants from my searing pan were added to my sauce, strained through a chinoise and reduced further.

While the duck finished, I removed my quiche lorraine from the oven to cool and hauled ass to plate before my deadline. With seconds to spare, I presented my dishes. Success! Great success! I was proud.

The next week, class was a complete 180 from classic recipes: timed cooking. Unlike the previous week, we had no restrictions on flavors but definite time restrictions. Every 20 minutes, our head chef handed each student a random ingredient and a course to adhere it to.

1st course: Amuse Bouche (one bite to "tantalize the senses")
Ingredient: full range
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Raspberry Jalapeno Quenelle, Chile Yogurt, Flash-Fried Corn Chip and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Critique: Overall, very good. Chef thought the pumpkin seeds could have been incorporated better.

2nd course: Appetizer
Ingredient: Arborio Rice...what?! 20 minutes to make and plate risotto? Ok...breathe, Callie. For a second I thought I should grind or fry the rice to make a coating but I quickly changed my mind and attempted a risotto within the time constraint.
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Orange Risotto with Sage and Goat Cheese
Critique: Ugh.........Chef thought risotto was too al dente (expected) and orange overwhelmed. He asked why I didn't do a spin on risotto and I was quickly frustrated. Moments later, I "grinned and beared it" and turned my frustration to aspiration for the next course.

3rd course: Soup or Salad
Ingredient: Shrimp...phew!
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Celery, Chickpea and Walnut Salad with Shrimp and a Tarragon Lime Vinaigrette
Critique: Shrimp cooked nicely, didn't like the celery
4th course: Entree
Ingredient: Spam...wtf?! "I'm not tasting this" I said to myself. As soon as I was handed the "bag o' spam", I sliced it, threw it into the deep fryer then straight to the food processor with scallions, lime zest and salt.
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Spam Wontons with a Cranberry Guacamole and Cilantro Oil
Critique: Flavorful
5th course: Dessert
Ingredient: Mango (under ripe)
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Fried Polenta with a Mango Molasses Whipped Cream, Julienned Mango and Sugared Bacon
Critique: Chefs loved the cream...confused by dish but enjoyed it

Surprise 6th course (announced as we were cleaning): Sandwich with side
Ingredient: anything goes
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Thyme two ways:
Open-faced Pumpernickel, Melted Brie, Roasted Tomatoes, Fried Thyme
Cantaloupe Shooter with Thyme
Critique: My best dish

Despite my busy cooking schedule in class, I also cooked a bit at home using the fabulous local fall produce and artisan breads from Cowtown Farmers Market.

Spiced Scallops with Butternut Squash Risotto and a Jalapeno Puree

After all of my "Risotto drama", I practiced classic risotto and paired it with classic fall flavors: sage and butternut squash. I roasted the squash with sage then added it when my risotto was at the perfect al dente. With the risotto, I seared scallops seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and a bit of cayenne and paired the dish with a jalapeno puree to give color, spice and add freshness.

After the weather turned rainy and chilly the past weekend, I had comfort food on my mind. For a late Friday night dinner for two, I braised short ribs with plenty of time to relax and drink wine in between.

I paired the braised short ribs with yellow corn grits turned upscale with the addition of mascarpone (Italian triple cream cheese) and fresh herbs. The non-traditional element of this plate was the lemon parsley pistou (literally muddled in my mortar in pestle). I formulated this recipe with a sauce meant to add a distinct acidity to the rich dish. It truly balanced it- an escape from your usual "meat and taters."

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Mascarpone Grits and a Lemon Parsley Pistou

1.5 lbs bone-in beef short ribs liberally seasoned with kosher salt, pepper and herbs de provence
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped in large cubes
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in large cubes
3 celery stalks, chopped in large cubes
6 shallots, peeled and halved
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 bottle of red wine (I used a Sangiovese)
2 c beef stock (I use Kitchen Basics, homemade is ideal)

In a hot Dutch oven, sear your short ribs with 2 T olive oil until browned. Remove ribs from pot and set aside. Meanwhile, add your vegetables to the hot pot to caramelize. Once browned, season your vegetables with salt and pepper and deglaze the pot with wine and beef stock. Add thyme sprigs and short ribs back in. The liquid should nestle the ribs but not submerge them. Cover and braise in a 375 degree oven for approximately three hours.

If desired, you can also make a sauce with your braising liquid. When ribs have completed cooking (they should easily slide off the bone), remove them carefully and strain your vegetables and thyme sprigs from the sauce. If sauce appears fatty, gently wipe the top with a paper towel to remove any excess fat. With your remaining sauce, reduce it over medium heat with 3 T brown sugar, 1 T chopped fresh thyme and rosemary and 2 T cold butter. Serve atop ribs and vegetables.

For grits:

4 servings of prepared yellow corn grits
1/2 carton Mascarpone
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 T fresh chopped herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme or oregano would all be appropriate)
salt and pepper to taste

Gently stir ingredients into warm, prepared grits. Serve immediately. Save leftovers in a plastic container to fry the next morning! :)

For pistou:

1/2 c chopped Italian parsley
zest of 3 lemons, juice of 1 lemon
1 T extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Muddle ingredients in a mortar in pestle or pulse in a food processor. Season with salt.

Recipe serves 2 with leftover grits.

Finally, I ended the cold and rainy weekend with a date night at Paco and John in the Hospital District. Armed with ice cold Dos Equis (BYOB!), my boyfriend and I arrived starving. Warmly greeted by co-owner Francisco Islas, we were seated in a warm corner and immediately brought sliced limes for our beers.

We started with the queso fundido con chorizo and were read the specials by Islas' son, Paco. We decided on the roasted duck enchiladas and the pechuga de pollo stuffed with queso fresco, avocado and banana with a poblano cream sauce. The chicken arrived piping hot, perfectly cooked and bursting with flavor. Served with a simple ratatouille and rice, it was a perfect portion. As I happily ate away, my boyfriend rampaged his rich and spicy duck enchiladas. The dish was robust and served with rice, black beans, avocado and radish slices (that I promptly moved over to my plate).

For dessert, we split the homemade flan- one of my favorite desserts. The flan was flecked with vanilla bean, creamy and simple. We could have done without the neon sauce accompaniments but simply pushed them aside and focused on the prize. Next trip- Saturday morning brunch for my beloved Breakfast Torta.


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