When talking to a friend yesterday who called to wish me a happy 30th, she told me about another friend who had done 30 new things over the course of her 30th year. I think that sounds like a good idea, even if it wasn't mine, so I'm going to do that too. Starting with roasting a duck.
I made duck a' l'orange in cooking school, but we started with nice, trimmed duck breasts that we only had to cook and sauce. That was enough of a challenge itself at the time, but that's my only attempt at cooking duck. GC loves duck, so I thought I'd make duck for our Valentine dinner. I intended to get duck breasts and go from there, but apparently no one keeps duck breasts on hand. They have to be special ordered, and two days before Valentine's day is too late. So I got a whole duck and decided to wing it. Duck has a similar anatomy to a chicken, but smaller legs, longer and leaner wings and a much fatter breast (so it can float). And it comes with its long neck attached and tucked inside it's body cavity, which is kind of gross. I hacked off the neck and kept it and the giblets for a duck stock or broth or something later. I cut off the extra flaps of fat and threw them away, though in hindsight, I should have kept and rendered the fat for frying potatoes. Oh well. So, with the duck thus cleaned and prepared, I followed a recipe for Roast Duck with Lavender and Honey. I come across an A+ recipe rather infrequently, but this is definitely one. The skin browned and crisped, the fat absorbed the spice rub and was so flavorful and kept the breast meat moist even though I overcooked them a bit trying to get the legs fully cooked too. If you ever turn thirty and decide to roast a duck, this is the recipe to start with. It's super, and not difficult.
Roast Duck with Lavender and Honey
· 4 tsp. fresh, or 2 tsp. dried, lavender blossoms
· 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
· 1 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
· 1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
· 4 Tbsp. lavender honey or orange flower honey
· 5-to-6-pound duck
Preheat oven to 350°F. Finely grind 2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms, thyme, sea salt and peppercorns in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle. Remove fat deposits and giblets from duck cavity. Trim excess skin and fat from neck area. Rinse inside and out; pat dry. Cutting through skin and fat (but not flesh) of duck breasts, score in crisscross pattern. Rub inside and outside of duck with herb mixture. Place duck, breast up, on rack in roasting pan. Roast 2 hours.
Remove from oven. Increase oven temperature to 375°F. Transfer duck to plate. Pour pan juices into 4-cup glass measuring cup; spoon off fat. Return juices and 1 tablespoon fat to pan. Return duck to pan. Brush with 2 tablespoons honey. Roast duck 20 minutes, basting once with pan juices.
Brush with 2 tablespoons honey; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender. Roast duck until deep golden and thermometer inserted into innermost part of thigh registers 180°F., about 5 minutes longer.
My roasting pan seems to drink up all the juices, or I choose birds that don't give off a lot of juice; either way, I had barely enough to fill a 1-cup measuring glass after the first 2 hours. I just left it all in the pan, juice, fat and all.
While the duck was roasting, I made Wild Rice with Dried Cranberries and Hazelnuts. This was just OK. The recipe called for juice of half of an orange and zest from 1 orange, which I think was a bad call on the part of the recipe creator. The citrus was all wrong. It would have been much better with just the dried cranberries and hazelnuts. GC and I liked it enough to eat what was on our plates, but neither of us were looking forward to leftovers, so we threw the rest out. I'll not share the recipe with you, because you deserve better. I will, however, share a different recipe, one that I made a few weeks ago that was another A+ recipe. Had I served it with the duck, this would have been the perfect meal, but perhaps entirely too delicious.
Bay Leaf and Thyme-Scented Roasted Winter Squash and Garlic
Cooking Light, October 2004
I used one medium butternut squash and peeled the garlic. The squash had browned crisp outside and mushy, sweet inside. Great flavor and smell. Easy to make.
10 c. cubed (2”), peeled butternut squash (~3#)
1 T. olive oil
¾ t. salt
¼ t. pepper
12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
8 fresh thyme sprigs
6 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 450.
Combine all of the ingredients except cooking spray in a large bowl; toss to coat. Arrange in a single layer on a greased jellyroll pan. Bake at 450 for 45 minutes or until tender, stirring after 20 minutes. Discard thyme and bay leaves before serving.
131C, 2.5g fat, 28.6 carbs, 303mg sodium
Along with the wild rice side dish, I served Oven-Roasted Asparagus with Thyme. I used to say that deep-fried and grilled were my favorite food preparation methods, but I'm going to have to add roasted to that list. I love roasted asparagus. It's so easy to make, and tastes great. I threw in some extra garlic to roast along with the asparagus, too. Mmmm....
Oven-Roasted Asparagus With Thyme
1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears
1 large garlic clove, halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400°.
Snap off tough ends of asparagus; remove scales with a knife or vegetable peeler, if desired. Set aside.
Rub cut sides of garlic over a 13 x 9-inch baking dish; place garlic in dish. Add asparagus; drizzle with oil. Sprinkle asparagus with salt, thyme, and pepper; toss gently. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes, stirring once.
Yield: 4 servings
CALORIES 62(38% from fat); FAT 2.6g (sat 0.4g,mono 1.7g,poly 0.4g); PROTEIN 4g; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 42mg; SODIUM 297mg; FIBER 3.7g; IRON 1.8mg; CARBOHYDRATE 8.3g
Cooking Light, SEPTEMBER 1997
And, for dessert, of course there was dessert!, a flourless chestnut chocolate cake. GC came back from his recent skiing vacation raving about a flourless chocolate cake he had for dessert at one of the resort restaurants. I've made one or two flourless cakes before, and thought I'd give it a try again. I've had a can of chestnut puree that I picked up somewhere and have been waiting for the opportunity to use. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I got it, so I can't help you find a can of your own, which is too bad, because this cake is awesome.
No-Flour Chocolate Chestnut Torte
I made this a day in advance, because flourless cakes are generally better the next day. I used Baker's semisweet chocolate squares. I omitted the glaze because I thought it would be too rich, and I used up most of my whipping cream making something else and was too lazy to go out to the store for more. The cake was not nearly as dense and rich as I had expected; it was almost like a thicker baked mousse. I sprinkled powdered sugar on top, which I think was better than the glaze would have been, because it wasn't so rich that I couldn't go back for a second piece!
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 (15 ounce) can chestnut puree or chestnut cream
4 ounces unsalted butter or unsalted margarine
6 egg yolks
6 egg whites
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup whipping cream or brewed coffee (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line a 9 or 10-inch springform pan with a circle of baking parchment.
3. Cake: Prepare melted chocolate.
4. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
5. Using a whisk or in an electric mixer, blend chestnut cream or puree with butter or margarine.
6. Add vanilla, egg yolks and melted chocolate.
7. Blend well.
8. In another clean bowl, with clean dry beaters, whip the egg whites with the salt, just to break up and foam slightly.
9. Gradually, while increasing mixer speed, dust in sugar to form stiff glossy (but not dry) peaks.
10. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into chestnut mixture and work in well to loosen.
11. Gently fold in remaining 2/3 of egg whites in 2 installments, blending well but taking care not to deflate the mixture.
12. Spoon into prepared pan and bake until done, 35-45 minutes.
13. Cake rises somewhat and looks dry and slightly cracked on top when done.
14. Middle should be soft but firm.
15. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove to a wire rack.
16. Glaze: Bring the whipping cream (or coffee) to a boil and add the chopped chocolate all at once.
17. Remove from heat and stir briskly, using a wire whisk, until all of the chocolate melts.
18. Invert cake on a wire cake rack placed on a cookie sheet.
19. Pour glaze over cake, using a metal spatula to spread.
20. Serve with a dollop of cinnamon-scented whipped cream, or pureed raspberries, or garnished with chocolate shavings, or dusted with sifted confectioners' sugar.
So, there you have our Valentine's dinner menu. Except for the wild rice, which was just OK, this was a spectacular meal. And I roasted a duck for the very first time.
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