Thursday, May 22, 2008

Duck Fat: It's What's for Dinner

Fork is such a good sport, I'm telling you. When I told him I was going to make Duck Rillettes, he went right along with it. It's not for nothing that I've decided to marry this guy. He's okay with eating duck cooked in wine and its own fat spread on toast for dinner! (With a salade nicoise on the side just for the illusion of healthfulness.)

Here's a dish you want to whip out for your friends who used to live in France and are nostalgic for some fabulous French country fare. The rillettes are creamy and delicious, just perfect with a glass of wine or Champagne.

If you are making duck rillettes, you need to do a little planning: there's a 24-hour curing period, and then the braising takes about 3 hours. And definitely do some research on where to buy the ingredients. I wound up on a wild duck chase (ha!) for duck legs that weren't confit. I eventually found fresh Long Island duck legs at Todaro Bros. on 2nd Ave. & 30th St. And the man at the meat counter at Garden of Eden on 23rd St. went in the back of the store and filled up a container of duck fat for me. All the other ingredients were typical--for the wine, I used a Sauvignon Blanc.

My only complaint with this recipe is that the Dijon mustard flavor is fairly strong. Fork and I didn't taste as much of the duck as we'd like. Next time I might tone that down a bit. Because there will definitely be a next time.--S

Duck Rillettes

Total time: About 4 hours, 30 minutes, plus 24 hours curing time
Servings: Makes about 2 cups

2 duck legs
2 T kosher salt
1 small bay leaf, broken
1 1/2 t chopped fresh thyme
1/4 c parsley leaves [I left them as whole leaves]
1/4 t peppercorns
1/4 t coriander
1/4 t dried mint
1/4 c sugar
1 T canola oil
1 white onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 c white wine
2 c chicken stock
1 c duck fat
1/4 c Dijon mustard

1. Place the duck legs on a rack on a baking sheet and rub them with the salt, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, coriander, mint and sugar. Cover loosely with a sheet of parchment paper and allow to cure for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
2. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, sear the duck legs in one tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat until you get a bit of color, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and carrot and sauté until softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce by half, about half an hour.
3. Add the chicken stock and braise the duck legs in the oven, covered, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. (If it begins to bubble, turn down the heat.) Allow the meat to cool, then remove from the braising liquid; the braising liquid can be reserved for another use such as for a soup base.
4. Remove the meat from the bone and place it in a bowl. Place the bowl of duck meat on top of a bowl of ice.
5. In a small pan, heat the duck fat over medium-low heat until it's melted. Slowly pour the duck fat over the duck meat, using a fork to emulsify the duck meat with the duck fat until fluffy and smooth. Add the Dijon mustard and adjust seasoning to taste. Transfer to a serving dish or container; Sara Levine's restaurant serves rillettes in a French canning jar.

Recipe courtesy of chef Sara Levine in the Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sweet, Pete!

My good friend Pete Bakel the handsome, home-run hitting former Oxford Don centerfielder, won top honors on Rachael Ray's contest "Hey, Can You Cook?" a four-week elimination challenge a la Top Chef. For a kicker, Pete was judged the winner by none other than celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. And unlike Ramsay's angry-if-cultivated Hell's Kitchen persona (he's really a softie who loves puppies and children) Pete's a true sweetheart of guy and can't hide it. Hence his nickname on the show: Sweet Pete.

In the end, that sweetness won him the competition. The secret ingredient for the last round of competition was hot dogs, and his challenger, Angie, winner of that day's "quickfire," had won the the advantage of sticking Pete with low-fat turkey franks. She demurred, however, saying Pete had been sweet to her throughout the competition. She gave Pete the far superior Angus hot dogs, brimming with delicious salt, lips, assholes and nitrates. Of course, Pete prepared the dogs with scallop, caviar and creme fraiche.

I'm not at all surprised by Pete's win. I have eaten his food on many occasions and he is indeed a top-notch cook, with both imagination and a perfect palate. One memorable meal: my 33rd birthday. I was planning to stay in that night, just me and a six-pack or two, when Pete dropped in with a big bag of groceries. He whipped up four courses, including an amazing quail and a spicy shrimp pasta with red pepper and orange zest. Another memory, a pheasant hunting trip to my family's home in upstate New York. We bagged quite a few birds that day, minus one that Pete obliterated. He later whipped up a pheasant feast in my mother's kitchen.

Pete left New York for Washington DC some years ago to start a family. We all dearly miss him, so seeing him on TV looking every bit the star chef was fun for all of us. The best part of the show, by the way, was seeing Pete's lovely wife Beth and his adorable kids on set after he won. Oh, and here's some fun Pete Trivia: if not for Beth, Pete would only have 9 full fingers. He sliced off a fingertip one night in the kitchen, but amazingly, Beth, unflappable as always, was able to grab her husband, and his lopped-off finger chunk, and got them both to the hospital, where doctors made him whole again.

You could say Pete's already a winner. But for winning this competition, Pete will go to Paris for training at the Le Cordon Bleu, will have an original recipe published in Rachael Ray magazine (Pete can we be tasters?) and he gets a brand new kitchen with Viking appliances. Congratulations, Pete!--F

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mama's Little Baby Loves Rhubarb

My future mother-in-law has a serious vegetable garden. And while it's still too early for most of her crops to even start growing, one springtime fixture is already here: rhubarb. When Fork's parents came to visit last weekend, they brought a bag full of the stuff, grown from a bush that once belonged to Fork's grandfather. I was pretty excited to have such legendary produce and wanted to make sure I did right by it. I am proud to say I succeeded: this week I made Strawberry-Rhubarb Sorbet and Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins, and both were superb.

The sorbet recipe, from The Perfect Scoop, was so simple. You stew some rhubarb in water and sugar until it's soft, let it cool, then puree it with strawberries and lemon juice. Chill it in the fridge, give it a spin in your ice cream maker, and you've got an icy, tangy, sweet and perfectly pink sorbet. I think I could've cooked the rhubarb for slightly less time, since its flavor was mellow, but the sorbet is still delicious. The muffins, too, were quite tasty. Here's the recipe, from last year's rhubarb season.

I can't wait for more ingredients from the Fork Family Farm to make their way down to the big city.--S

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sorbet

12 ounces rhubarb
2/3 c water
3/4 c sugar
10 ounces fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1/2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Wash the rhubarb stalks and trim the stem and leaf ends. Cut the rhubarb into 1/2-in. pieces.
2. Place the rhubarb, water and sugar in a medium, nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 min., or until the rhubarb is tender and cooked through. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
3. Slice the strawberries and puree them with the cooked rhubarb mixture and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
4. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Recipe courtesy of The Perfect Scoop

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Street Meat for the Rest of Us

There's a popular food truck in my neighborhood called Rafiqi's. It sells gyros and meat-and-rice combo platters that smell very good and have a come-hither sizzle, though I'm too skeeved out by the street meat stigma to actually buy it for lunch. But many of my friends are big Rafiqi fans. I should note they're all men and none of them is particularly health-conscious.

I think I may have come upon a healthy version of Rafiqi's: Indian-Spiced Chicken Burgers. The recipe, from the Everyday Food cookbook, combines dried spices (paprika, cumin, cardamom and cayenne) with fresh seasonings (ginger, lemon, scallion, cilantro), resulting in a snappy dish that is deeply and richly flavored, and not heavy at all. It's healthy, too: you grill boneless, skinless chicken thighs that you've ground up in the food processor along with the spices, using just a little bit of oil on the grill. Once the mini-burgers are cooked, you stuff them into a whole-wheat pita, slide in some cucumber slices, and top it with cilantro sprigs and a dollop of creamy cumin yogurt sauce.

I know I can't knock it 'till I've tried it, but I'll still take Indian-Spiced Chicken Burgers over Rafiqi's any day.--S

Indian-Spiced Chicken Burgers

1 1/2 lbs (4 to 5) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into rough chunks
4 scallions, thinly sliced
3 T chopped fresh ginger (from a peeled 2-inch piece)
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 T paprika
2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 t cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Vegetable oil, for grates
4 (6-inch) whole-wheat pitas
1 cucumber (8 ounces), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 c fresh cilantro sprigs
Cumin Yogurt Sauce: In a small bowl, combine 1/2 c plain low-fat yogurt with 1/2 t ground cumin; season with coarse salt and ground pepper.

1. Heat grill to medium-high. In a medium bowl, place chicken, scallions, ginger, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, 1 1/2 t coarse salt, and 1/2 t pepper; toss to combine. Set aside to marinate, at least 10 and up to 30 minutes.
2. Transfer chicken mixture to a food processor; pulse until roughly chopped, but not pasty, 10 to 12 times. Gently form mixture into sixteen 3/4-inch-thick patties (about 3 T each).
3. Moisten a folded paper towel with oil; grasp with tongs and rub over grates. Season patties with salt and pepper; grill until opaque throughout, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
4. Halve pitas crosswise (toast on grill, if you like). Into each pocket, place 2 chicken patties, cucumber slices, and cilantro sprigs. Serve with Cumin Yogurt Sauce.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Monday, May 12, 2008

Remember This One in July

My ardent interest in Super Natural Cooking continues, this time with a buckwheat noodle salad called Otsu. In Japanese, otsu means something "strange, quaint, stylish, chic, spicy, witty, tasty or romantic." Although that's hardly a specific definition, it actually does a pretty good job of summing up this dish. There's a nice interplay of hot and cool, with a fiery dressing (made from lemon zest, lemon juice, ginger, honey, cayenne, rice vinegar and soy sauce) tempered by refreshing cucumbers, scallions and pan-seared tofu. And, as author Heidi Swanson writes, "Unlike many pasta recipes that leave you feeling weighed down and sluggish, this one makes for a healthy, invigorating, and energizing meal that will quickly become a favorite." I agree: as the recipe makes a substantial amount of food, I wound up eating this for lunch a few days, and can report that eating a portion of it sitting on a bench in the park at 1:00 did not result in me slumped over my desk back at the office at 3:00.

A few notes on the recipe: cooking the tofu until it is browned takes some time. Be patient, because it's worth the extra minutes to get the tofu a slightly crispy crust. Also, the recipe calls for shoyu sauce in the dressing. I substituted soy sauce, and while I know it's not the same (shoyo is apparently more complex), it turned out fine. I also used regular rice vinegar (my bottle doesn't say if it's made with white or brown rice). Again, things tasted great.

I'm keeping this recipe in my file, for sure. I have a feeling it'll come in very handy on steamy summer days, when I want something "strange, quaint, stylish, chic, spicy, witty, tasty or romantic" but just don't feel like eating a hot dog.--S


Grated zest of 1 lemon
Fresh ginger, cut into a 1-inch cube, peeled, and grated
1 T honey
3/4 t cayenne
3/4 t fine-grain sea salt
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c unseasoned brown-rice vinegar
1/3 c shoyu sauce
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T toasted sesame oil

12 oz. dried soba noodles
12 oz. extra-firm nigari tofu
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 small handful of cilantro sprigs, for garnish
1/4 c toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1. Make the dressing by combining the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and shoyu, and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils.
2. Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender, then drain and rinse under cold running water.
3. While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut it into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (½ inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well-seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the ¼ cup cilantro, the green onions, cucumber, and about ⅔ cup of the dressing. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and the toasted sesame seeds.

Recipe courtesy of Super Natural Cooking

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fish Cakes a la Bittman

My friend Kate sent me a recipe a few weeks ago for Broiled Fish Cakes with Ginger and Cilantro, with a glowing recommendation. Apparently her dad had written about them on his blog, and Kate made them and thought they were swell. With a double Bittman two thumbs up, I figured this was something I had to try.

I'd never made fish cakes, but had recently enjoyed some very delicious ones at Arbutus in London, made with mackerel and squid (they called it a burger, but it was essentially a fish cake with a more hip name). This recipe suggested using cod or another mild, delicate white fish, and I went with tilapia. As Mark writes, a mild fish lets you go crazy with the seasonings. In this case, he uses ginger, cilantro and hot pepper, which results in a nice and "zingy" burger that needs only a squirt of lime juice. It's a perfectly tasty preparation that would also probably work with mint and oregano, and maybe a little feta-cucumber mixture on top; or basil and parsley, with a chopped tomato salad on the side. The possibilities are, um... endless!

Anyway. The important thing to note when preparing this dish is to really mash the potatoes. They're the binder--there's not much else holding the fish together--so a starchy mash is key. I left my potatoes a little lumpy, and some of the cakes fell apart (which made them no less delicious, just a little messy). Mark likes to broil his fish cakes instead of frying them (less mess! my dad will love this recipe!) which gives you the added bonus of less fat.

This recipe is definitely going into the regular rotation. Thank you Bittmans!--S

Broiled Fish Cakes With Ginger and Cilantro

Yield 4 servings

1 baking potato weighing about 1/2 lb.
Salt to taste
1 1/2 lbs. fillet of cod or other mild, delicate white fish
1 T peeled and minced ginger
1/2 c minced cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 fresh or dried hot red chile, minced, or 1/4 t cayenne, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 T peanut or other oil [I used grapeseed]
Lime wedges

1. Boil potato in salted water to cover until it is tender but not mushy, 30 to 40 min.
2. Meanwhile, place the fish in a skillet that can later be covered. Add water to cover, salt the water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, turn off heat, and set a timer for 10 min. After that time, use a slotted spoon to remove the fish to a bowl.
3. When potato is done, peel it and mash it with the fish. Add the seasonings along with some salt and pepper, and work the mixture with your hands until it is well blended. Shape into 8 equal burger-shaped patties.
4. Preheat the broiler, and set the rack about 4 in. from heat source. Brush the patties on both sides with oil, then place on a non-stick baking sheet. Broil carefully, until nicely browned on top, then turn and brown on the other side. Sprinkle with more cilantro, and serve hot, with lime wedges.

Recipe courtesy of Bitten