Braised Dijon Duck

Braised Duck is so simple to prepare that in less than two hours you can have an entree that your most discriminating guests will be glowing with amazement. The flavors you get from braising fowl are incredibly savory and rich. The meat is tender and simply falls off the bone and is so succulent. Prepare in the Dijon style and you will be hitting this out of the ball park.

As a rule, you can count on one duck (approximately 5 lbs.) to serve 4 people. Accompanied by baby French Haricots Verts and small sauteed Yukon Golds and you will have an entree that is fit for any holiday or special occasion. The following ingredients should be on your shopping list:

1 Young Duck, approx. 5 lbs., cut up (see below)
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup of dry white wine
2 cup of chicken stock
1/2 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Several pinches of garlic powder
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

With the whole duck before you, it's time to cut it up so that you have 4 main parts, 2 breasts and 2 thigh and leg combinations. the remainder of the parts will be used to create your stock. Most packages of whole duck will come with the neck, heart, and liver. All these parts will also be used for your stock.

Begin by laying the duck breast side up on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, begin by separating each thigh from the body. Cut along the side until you reach the bone/joint connection to the chest and with your hands, push back until you see the joint. With your knife, cut between the two joints and separate the thigh. Cut away any excess skin that hangs from the thigh and leg and set aside. Repeat the process for the other thigh/leg combination. Important, do not separate the leg and thigh as you want those to remain as one piece.

Next, with your knife, cut along the breast bone that separates each breast. Cut straight through. Spread the chest open and cut through the ribs as close as you can to the back bone. You now have two breasts separated. Do NOT debone the breast, but make sure again that excess skin that hangs out is cut and set aside.

Set the 4 pieces on a cutting board and pat dry. Sprinkle a bit of garlic powder on both sides of each piece.

Gather together all the unused parts - neck, excess fat, backbone, liver, and heart. Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Be sure to spray it with a bit of cooking spray, but don't add any oil or butter to the pan. The duck parts will produce plenty of that. When pan is heated, add all the unused parts and saute for about 15 minutes until nicely browned on all sides. Be sure to flip the pieces every 5 minutes and to watch so that bottom of pan doesn't burn.

Once browned, remove pieces from the pan and pour the duck fat into a heat resistant bowl. Set aside. De glaze the pan with a cup of chicken stock. Add another half cup and reduce heat to low and return the pieces to the pan. Cover and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.

Now prepare for sauteing the breasts, thighs, and legs. You probably are wondering about the wings, still attached to the breast. Well, go ahead and cut the tips off to the first joint and discard. The other two parts of the wing can stay attached to the breast. Or you can completely separate the wing from the breast and prepare along with the other parts. Gather another large frying pan and spray it with cooking spray and add a few tablespoons of the duck fat you had set aside. Heat the pan over medium high heat and add the breasts, thighs, legs, and wings skin side down to the pan. Saute until skin is golden brown, usually about 7 minutes or so, just keep an eye on it. Turn pieces over and continue to saute for another 5 to 7 minutes.

When all sides are golden brown, remove all from the pan and pour excess duck fat into a heat resistant bowl. De glaze the pan with the white wine and the remainder of the chicken stock. Add the onions and garlic, along with the white pepper. Now, remove the pieces from the OTHER pan and pour the stock into the second pan. Stir well and then add the breasts, thighs, legs, and wings back in. Turn them several times to coat all sides. Reduce heat to just above low, cover, and braise for about 90 minutes or until the meat is tender. About every 15 minutes, turn the pieces over.

When meat is ready and tender, remove them from the pan onto a waiting plate. Bring the heat back up to medium. In a glass, add the cornstarch and water together and stir until cornstarch is well diluted. Set aside. Lower temperature as soon as a slow boil returns. Now add the Dijon mustard to the pan and stir until mustard is well blended. Slowly add the cornstarch and water to the stock and stir. Watch as the stock begins to thicken. When it thickens to the point that it can coat a soup spoon, the sauce is perfect.

Remove the pan from the heat and add your butter. Stir until butter is well melted into the sauce. Now taste for proper flavor. Add some of the salt as needed. To serve, place a serving portion of the duck on a plate and spoon some of the sauce over. You may sprinkle a bit of fresh chopped parsley over the portion as a final step if you want. Be sure to serve hot with your choice of side dishes. Enjoy!!

Blueberry and White Chocolate Cheescake and a piano

Pure and simple to make, Blueberry Cheesecake is one of the tastiest cheesecakes to come out of my kitchen. This was a last minute recipe, I had no intention of making dessert on this evening; however, I had some blueberries left in the fridge, a cup of Ricotta that I didn't want to go bad, and two packages of cream cheese that was just lying around for spreading on toast or bagels. Checking the pantry, I noticed what was left over from a package of white chocolate chips. Eureka! Why not do a cheesecake? And that's how it all started.

It was cold outside and a fog was settling in over the river, slowly fading the city lights and obscuring all but the pillars of the bridges as they disappeared into the dark and still water. As I watched the city becoming obscured before me, I tickled the ivory keys of the piano, hoping the scene would provide the inspiration to compose a new song. Nope! It was cheesecake night and the song would have to wait, remembering what I found waiting for me in the kitchen.

I pulled myself away from the piano and gathered all the ingredients I needed from the fridge and pantry and proceeded to compose with food. It was late and a fleeting thought crossed my mind, "do I really want to undertake this endeavor at 11:00 at night?" I was at the point of no return, all the parts of the puzzle lay before me on the kitchen counter top ...

The 2 packages of cream cheese
The cup of Ricotta cheese
The two eggs
The 1/2 cup of heavy cream
The cup of fresh blueberries
The 2/3 cup of white chocolate chips
The 3 tablespoons of flour
The 1/3 cup of sugar
The tablespoon of vanilla extract
The package of ready made pie crust

...It would have taken me as much time to change my mind and put all the ingredients away as it would to prepare the cheesecake. And so I continued.

I preheated the oven to 450 and grabbed an 8 or 9 inch spring form pan. At this point, one inch doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference, I thought. I sprayed the sides and bottom of the pan with baker's spray; however, you probably would use some butter. Either way would work fine. Then I got into arts and crafts and cut a circle the size of the pan bottom out of a sheet of parchment paper and sprayed that as well. I laid it on the bottom of the pan. I then rolled out one sheet of the ready made pie crust and carefully set it in the pan, certain to make sure the bottom was well covered as were the sides. I then placed the pan in the oven for about 12 minutes.

While the pie crust was baking, I placed all the ingredients, except the blueberries, into a large bowl and using a hand mixer, began to blend everything together until smooth. Using a spatula, I carefully folded the blueberries into the mixture making sure they were evening mixed throughout. I set the the bowl aside and checked the oven to see the progress of my crust. It was time to remove it and allow it to cool.

I reduced the oven temperature to 350. Once the crust was cooled, which took about 15 minutes, I slowly poured the cheesecake mixture into the pie crust, making sure the bottom was evenly covered. I grabbed a sheet of foil and covered the outside bottom and sides of the pan and returned it back to the oven. It was going to bake for about 60 minutes until ready. I knew that I would need to check back at about 45 minutes to see the progress to make sure it was not burning. But everything was going to be OK.

I now had an hour to myself to do as I pleased. I returned to the piano and looking out the window, noticed the city had disappeared altogether in that thick blanket of fog. I turned my focus back to the piano and began writing my song, as the aroma of Blueberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake slowly began pervading the room.

Marinated Butter Beans at 1/3 the cost!

A perfect appetizer, Butter Beans are not only good for you, but also rather inexpensive to prepare with few ingredients to gather. These marinated beauties are prepared the night before and served chilled. You may have seen these marinated beans in the salad and olive bar section of your grocery store, selling for shy of $10 a pound; however, this recipe will show how you can achieve a superior duplication for much less than that right from the comfort of your own kitchen. The quantities mentioned will serve as a first course for a dinner party of 8.

2 16 oz. cans of Butter Beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup +2 tablespoons of white balsamic or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Butter lettuce for presentation

Drain and rinse the Butter Beans and set aside in a large bowl. Add the garlic and chopped red pepper.

In another bowl, add all other ingredients and with a wire whisk, beat well until all is blended and a smooth texture is achieved. Add this dressing to the Butter Beans and stir well for about a minute. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

That's all there is to it. For about $6.25, you have prepared 2 pounds of marinated Butter Beans every bit as good (or better) than that found in specialty markets at 1/3 the price! Serve these chilled over a bed of Butter (Boston) lettuce and you'll have your dinner guests satisfied and impressed.

French Haricots meet Oyster Sauce for a savory sensation

Side dishes require more thought than many of us really care to take. One must consider what protein we are going to serve as well as how many sides we want to present. Do we do 2 vegetables, a starch and a vegetable, or simply a vegetable or starch. How will the side compliment the protein? Do we want savory or simple steamed so as not to overpower the other items in the dish. You could go on and on with this; however, just as you want to give considerate thought to what you are putting together, you don't want to make it rocket science either.

One side dish that works very well with most proteins and adds nice color to your plate is the baby green beans often called French Haricots. These small, thin green beans have grown in popularity that offer vibrant color to your dish as well as wonderful flavor. With their growth in popularity, they can now be found in most supermarkets at a very affordable price. Trader Joe's, for those fortunate enough to have one in your area, actually offers the authentic French Haricots imported from France in the frozen section, costing only $1.99 for a one pound bag. It is worth your while to try a bag, as they are absolutely delicious!

Matching very well with baked pork roast or whole chicken, French Haricots with sauteed bacon in an oyster sauce are a must try for your next side dish. Very easy to prepare, your guests will go nuts over this preparation. The ingredients, easy to procure, include:

1/2 pound of French Haricots, ends snipped
1/2 pound of bacon, cut in 1 inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1/2 cup of chicken stock
3 tablespoons of oyster sauce (found in most supermarkets in the Asian section)
1/2 teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and parboil the beans for about 4 minutes. While beans are parboiling, saute the bacon in the olive oil over medium high heat for several minutes. Remove beans from boiling water and drain. Set aside.

Once bacon is browned, remove from pan onto a paper towel. Remove excess oil from pan and return pan to burner. Turn burner to medium and saute the garlic for about 30 seconds and add the chicken stock to deglaze pan.

Add the beans to the pan and saute over medium heat, stirring and flipping frequently. Add back the bacon, pepper, and oyster sauce, and toss. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot. If you want, you may pour a tablespoon of melted butter over beans before serving, as well as a bit of chopped parsley. Enjoy!

...and we're dancing Quiche to Quiche

Oh the joy of Quiche, having had its ups and downs over the years from the "in" dish of the "nouveau jet set" of 30 years ago to the "real men don't really eat it" crowd soon after. Once all the dust settles however, Quiche is the one left standing tall and oh so "Francais". It just goes to show that classics never die. They just take their places in the halls of tradition, Quiche being no exception. And in the end, real men can't resist nibbling at it from time to time.

One thing to be said, Quiche is clothed in many styles, from the traditional Lorraine adorned with bacon or jambon and onions, to the more elaborate outfits of tomatoes, capers, peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and shrimp; however, one thing that they all have in common is their cloak of cheese, lots of cheese! The favorite among these is Gruyere with its rich aroma and depth of flavors, a cheese that knows how to melt perfectly.

It's amazing how easy it is now days to make Quiche at home. There's really nothing to it. The pastry dough, usually the most time consuming part of the preparation can be purchased ready made in any supermarket. These packages come with a bottom and top crust. Both are the same size and since you'll only use one crust, each box contains enough dough to make 2 Quiches. The rest of the ingredients are easy to assemble with minor prep and cooking time.

Lorraine is what made Quiche famous in the West and so today you will learn how to make this classic. It should take no more than 90 minutes from start to slicing, so without further ado, let's begin with gathering the ingredients. This will make a 9 inch pie.

1/2 package of ready made pie dough, thawed
5 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/2 lb. of bacon, cut into 1 inch strips
5 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 cups of grated Gruyere
1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of parsley, finely chopped
2 pinches of nutmeg
1/4 cup of chicken stock (for deglazing)
1 9" spring form pan
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter

You will notice the picture of the Quiche shown above was baked using a spring form pan as opposed to a pie dish. If you have a spring form pan that is about 9" in diameter, use that one. It will give your Quiche a whole new elegant "cheesecake" look.

Preheat your oven to 400F (200C). Grease the bottom and sides of your spring form pan. Roll out the sheet of pre-made pie dough and set it in the pan carefully, allowing the dough to come up the sides of the pan. Pat it down gently and poke holes at the bottom with a fork. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 350F (170C).

While crust is cooling, prepare your other ingredients. In a large fry pan, saute the bacon over medium high heat. Add a bit of the olive oil if needed. Saute for about 5 minutes and remove bacon to a holding dish. Do not discard the pan drippings.

In the same pan, add the onions, garlic, and olive oil and saute over medium high heat. Continue to saute until onions begin to caramelize and turn a nice light brown. Now add the chicken stock to deglaze the pan. Add the butter and continue to saute until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn heat off and set pan aside.

In a large bowl, add the eggs and lightly beat them. Add the cream and other ingredients except the onions, bacon, and cheese. Stir ingredients until well mixed.

Now add the onions to the mixture and stir well. Next, add 3/4 of the cheese and stir well. Now add the remaining cheese to the bottom of the pie crust, making sure bottom is well covered and then sprinkle the bacon over the layer of cheese so that bacon is well distributed throughout the bottom. The cheese and bacon layer will help withhold moisture from reaching the dough, thus making for a crispier crust. Finally, pour mixture over the bacon and cheese. Wrap the outside of the spring form pan with foil so no leakage will occur during baking. Bake at 350 for about an hour or until you can stick a tooth pick in and remains dry when removed. Should your Quiche surface begin to brown to quickly, you can place a sheet of foil over it about halfway, removing it during the final 15 minutes.

When done, remove from the oven and allow to set for about 30 minutes before removing the spring form ring. Touch and feel the surface to make sure it is solidifying during cooling. The crust sides will help keep the Quiche well shaped.

This Quiche can be served will a side salad of frizzy lettuce and butter lettuce leaves. A nice chilled white wine will work well as will a nice Riesling. Enjoy!