Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Duck Walks into a Bar...

A duck walks into a bar and the bartender says, "Why don't you stay for dinner?"  Seriously, ducks are very under-appreciated at the grocery store.  Why we wait for the holidays to eat them is anyone's guess, and every year I vow to eat more of the little buggers.  Everything about them is delicious, from their crispy skin to their amazing liver.  Even their fat is better than butter!  So, get yourself a duck and prepare to cook it.  The method described here is "Whole Smoked Duck" in a spicy orange marinade.  Let's get started!

You will need:
  • 1 Whole Duck (thawed, 5lb)
  • 2 Tsp each:
    • Chili Powder
    • Kosher Salt
    • Ground Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup each:
    • Chicken Broth
    • Undiluted frozen orange juice
    • Orange Marmalade 
The duck I bought came with a packet of orange sauce.  I used the recipe here instead, because its hard for me to trust packets that don't list ingredients on the labels.  Do you ever wonder what's in that "Gravy Packet" that slides out of a raw turkey?  Yeah, me neither.  It goes straight to the garbage, but I admire them for trying!

Ok, slice your duck out of its packaging and rinse it thoroughly with cold water, then dry it off with paper towels.  Lay it out on a cutting board and have a closer look.  It resembles a strange elongated chicken with stubbier legs, doesn't it?  Note that the breasts are a bit smaller than a chicken's, and there is a bit more fat in pockets all over the bird.  There is more fat on the back of the bird than the breast, so we'll cook it with it's backside UP so the fat can drip down and help season the rest of the bird while it cooks.

Once you've inspected it, place the duck in a bowl and get the marinade ready.  Mix all of the ingredients together in a smaller bowl and then pour them over the duck.  Flip the duck over and over until it's completely covered inside and out.  Park the duck bowl in the fridge for a few hours (uncovered), then take it out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter while you get your fire ready.

Ready your grill or smoker for indirect heating.  This little quacker will lie, breasts down, directly on the grate of your grill, away from any direct flames.  It's a sad day for the duck, but a banner day for YOU!  Bring the temperature around the duck to 225 degrees, tuck a thermometer probe up under its armpit and into the meat of the breast.  Poor girl.  She looks "defeated" doesn't she?  Don't worry, she'll go out in a blaze of glory! 

Leave the ducky inside the grill for about 4 hours at 225.  My duck weighed 5.5lbs so yours may take more or less time, just be sure to watch your thermometer and don't open the grill to peak!  Here she is when her breasts hit 165 degrees!  Note how the skin tightened up and browned ever so nicely?  Ducks are so marvelous!  Cover with foil and let it rest for about 20 minutes before you slice it for serving.

Ok, how glorious is this duck?  The skin is crispy and very rich.  There is a hint of orange with a nice juicy and smoky goodness to the whole thing.  I cut the duck straight down the spine, in half, from top to bottom, then I roughly cut portions from leg, thigh, breast, and wing.  It did not last long!

I managed to save just enough to make a small duck sandwich today, but the rest disappeared in less time than it took to take the green beans off the table and to put them back into the fridge.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Cranberry Chutney

The real "Art" in cooking comes when you manage to take several ingredients that have no business hanging out together, and you convince them to "sing" together in a dish that sounds like a heavenly choir. For example, nobody in a zillion years would ever expect to find cranberries, sugar, onions, and garlic playing blissfully together in the same playground and yet here they are, thicker than thieves!

My friend Barbara passed this along to me and it is nothing short of miraculous.  Poured over a block of cream cheese, or a warm Brie, this Chutney will make any Christmas appetizer table proud:

You will need:
Round 1:
  • 1 Cup of Sugar
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion (small dice)
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic (Minced)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Powdered Ginger
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Cup Water

Round 2:
  • 2 Cups Fresh Cranberries (Chopped)
  • 1/4 Cup Vinegar
  • 1 Cup Raisins
  • 4 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
Round 3:
  • 2 Tablespoons Corn Starch
  • 2 Tablespoons Cold Water
One quick word about the Cardamom and Cloves, if you can't find the ground powdery version of these spices, you can put whole cloves and cardamom pods into a coffee grinder and get "medieval" on them!  Heck, they may even "Christmafy" your next batch of morning coffee!  You're welcome...  Combine all of the ingredients from Round 1 (above) into a pot and bring it all to a boil.  Keep stirring until all of the sugar is dissolved.  Let it boil for about 10-15 minutes.  I know what you're thinking... "Onions, Garlic, and... CLOVES?  SUGAR??"  Yes.  Trust me.

After ten minutes or so, add the stuff from Round 2 (above) into the pot.  Stir it together, introducing the berries to the onions and the ginger to the raisins, etc.  Be their host!  Help them to feel at home with lots of gentle stirring.  Smiles all around... Brown sugar, White sugar, all blissfully getting along.  Stir and boil for a few minutes longer.

After five minutes or so, the raisins will plump up with juice and get all full of themselves.  They'll try to start a fight.  This is typical raisin behavior... Just keep stirring and the froth from the fighting will settle when all of the players realize just how much they need and love one another.  During this "Enlightenment" period, discreetly mix Round 3 (above) together in cup.  When the pot is distracted, pour Round 3 in and quickly stir it together.  This is the glue that will bind them!

Once you have a nice simmering bubbly mixture of Christmas goodness (your house will smell like Santa farted in it), ladle the hot mixture carefully into 1/2 pint mason jars.  Stash the jars in the fridge.  Due largely to the vinegar, this Chutney will last a LONG time.  I've never worried about it much though, because it gets eaten... quickly.

To serve, just pour a cold jar of the Chutney over a small wheel of Brie, Camembert, or Cream cheese and spread on your favorite crackers.  It's fun to watch the expression of your guests as their brains grapple with the sweet vs. savory elements of it all!

They'll keep eating and wondering and savoring and grappling until it's gone....

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cream Braised Venison Roast

Its rare when your phone rings, and a frantic friend on the other line is anxiously holding a knife in one hand, and a deer's hind-quarters in the other asking, "Ken, I understand that there's some kind of 'gland' or something in this deer that I'm supposed to cut out... what does it look like and what do I do?"  I thought, "That's odd, this is Andy's number... but the voice sounds like his wife, Rayna!"  Sure enough, while Andy was in the other room with his boys, playing with their toys, his wife was dressed in a full butcher's apron, trying heroically to butcher a deer that was gifted to her!

The good news was, between my knowledge of deer anatomy and Rayna's swift knife skills, she was able to break the meat down, remove the unsavory bits, and before long, she had some fantastic cuts of roast in front of her!  What is written here is my venison roast recipe, meticulously executed by my friend's wife, cook, and venison butcher, Rayna Williams.  I wasn't in Texas to taste it, but Rayna says it was "Stinkin' Delicious" so I believe her!  She took pictures and I am writing up the procedure, exactly as she followed it!  Great job, girl!

You will need:

  • Big Crock Pot
  • 3-4lb Venison Roast
  • "Better than Beef" broth mix
  • 1 Bottle Red Wine (I like Pinot Noir for this)
  • 1 LARGE container sliced mushrooms, chopped fine and saute’ed in butter till done 
  • 1 ½ Cups chicken broth
  • 1 Bag frozen pearl onions
  • 3 Tbsp butter 
  • 3 Tbsp flour 
  • Heavy pinch of salt / pepper
  • 1 Cup half n half
  • ½ Cup cream
  • Onion Powder
  • 2 Cloves Fresh Garlic

Phase 1: The soup base.

You can use canned Cream of Mushroom soup, but it won't taste nearly as good!!  Get yourself a cast iron skillet and melt the butter.  Toss in the mushrooms and cook them down until they're nice and nutty and done.

Next, toss in the whole bag of pearl onions.  There is nothing better in a roast than pearl onions!  You can buy fresh ones, but you'll have to blanch and peel them and they aren't that much better than frozen so, it's up to you.

Toss in the flour by sprinkling lightly around the skillet.  You'll need to thoroughly incorporate the flour into the dish so "clumping" is bad!  Add salt and pepper here (to taste).  If it seems like you're making a homemade Cream of Mushroom soup, it's because, well, you are!  Think of this as a CoM soup that's heavy on the onions (you need the onions for the roast, so stop complaining).

Finish the soup by adding the dairy and the chicken broth.  Whisk all of this together over Medium Low heat to mix it thoroughly, then bring the heat up slowly to Medium High.  You're going for a "gentle bubble" here, like your mushrooms are floating happily in their own milky jacuzzi.  Open the red wine while you're waiting (you know, so it can breathe... not so you can drink a glass of it to endure the fact that your husband and two boys are making a devilish mess of some other room in the house).

Doesn't this look fantastic?  You'll have to resist the urge to stop here, and serve the soup for dinner.  If you're a huge CoM soup fan (like I am), You can cut the onions by 2/3 and make this dish some other day, adding a bit of crushed garlic, and chopped parsley for added flavor and color.

When you've reached a gentle bubble, pour the entire contents of the cast iron pan into your crock pot.

Phase 2: The Roast!

After you return your pan to the burner, jack the heat up to HIGH and add a smidge of Olive Oil.  When it's good and hot, brown the roast in the pan, turning to ensure all sides develop a nice crust.  Use tongs to gently lay the roast into the crock pot and prepare to deglaze the pan.

With your empty pan smoking on the burner (and the gas still turned on HIGH), pour in a generous portion of the wine, and two cups of prepared beef broth.  Rayna used "Better than Beef" and I love her for it!  This great stuff comes in a jar as a concentrated "goo" and it's fantastic for broth!  Let the liquid sizzle and use a spatula to "clean" your pan of the juicy bits of the roast that stuck to it.  Let it boil and reduce by 1/2.

Pour the liquid into the crock-pot and spoon it all together and over the roast.  Crush the garlic and toss it in, along with a generous sprinkling of Onion Powder and maybe some Thyme.  Add the lid and turn it on LOW for no less than 8 hours!

When 8 hours are up, flip the switch to WARM and let it settle and rest for another hour.  Then, serve it in bowls with some great bread and maybe some roasted potatoes on the side.  It might remind you of Beef Stroganoff, but oh... so much better!  It's a very "rich" dish that you might want to serve over some salted egg noodles or even stuffed into some homemade ravioli! 

If you can get two young boys to settle down long enough to enjoy a Venison Roast this much, you've done something right!

Many thanks to Rayna and her boys (Andy, Kevin, and Colby)!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gobbling Tremendous Turkey!

Talk to your mother and grandmother, and you'll learn a hundred ways to cook a turkey.  As a kid, my mom actually baked one in a brown paper grocery sack!  The internet offers an additional zillion methods.  I am about to offer you a method that will change the way you think about traditional "Thanksgiving Turkey."  If you want a whole, crispy skinned, brown, "Martha Stewart" bird, you'll need to look elsewhere.  If you want a "pull-apart" tender turkey that your friends will ask you for year after year... read on!

Today, you will learn how to "Spatchcock" a bird!  Say it with me, "spach'-kahk!"  Spatchcocking a 20-25lb bird will make it cook faster and with as much moisture retention as a 10-14lb bird!  It's all very exciting...

You will Need:

  • 1 huge brined turkey (I used a 22lb bird)
  • Kitchen shears
  • Temperature probe
  • 1 handful butter
  • Seasoning of your choice
  • Salt and pepper
A quick word about brining... read the label of your turkey before you buy it.  Most birds are pre-brined these days.  Look for a label that says "enhanced" or "treated with salt solution."  Butterball has been doing this for years, but since brining has only become more popular recently, they haven't gone out of their way to advertise it.  So, get yourself a brined bird (or brine one yourself) and prepare to spatchcock it!  Spatchcocking a turkey increases the surface area that is exposed to the heat.  Your turkey will cook in 1/2 the time and will retain much more moisture!

One word of caution before we begin... if you have any phobias or misgivings about touching raw poultry, you'd better get over it.  You're about to go full "butcher" on your turkey.  You're going to get gooey, bloody, and dirty.  It will all be ok, trust me!  You have soap and water and a sink, and it will all be over soon enough!  Now, muster up some courage.  Grab your shears, lay the bird, breast side down, onto a cutting board, and snip out the spine.  Take your time, and cut along both edges of the backbone.  You need strong fingers, so you may need some help with this part.

Now, while the turkey is still sitting with the breast side down, use your hands to flatten or "open" the turkey.  I like to remove the breast bone (or "keel" bone).  This is a thick bone that runs right down the middle of the turkey, between the breasts.  To remove it, you will need to use a filet knife to cut the breast meat away from it, and you'll need some strong fingers to pull it up and out.  Removal of the breast bone it not necessary, but it will make carving much easier, later.

Once the spine is out, the hard work is done.  Cut the "leg-thigh" quarters away from the breasts (this is easy since there are no bones to cut), and cut the wings off as well.  You should have:  one large "twin breast" section, two wings, a left leg-thigh quarter, and a right leg-thigh quarter.  Arrange them in a pan, starting with the breasts first (as shown).

Then add the wings, tucking them up and under the breasts.  Lift the skin up and away from the breasts and jam in some lumps of butter.  Now, season all of the white meat with salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice (I used a pre-mixed cajun seasoning).

Finally, pack in the leg quarters, one at a time, seasoning each as you go. 

Now, set the pan aside and wash your hands, wrists, elbows, and your counter-top.  Take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of wine and have a look at what you've done!  You've prepped a bird, restaurant style, in such a fashion that you'll be able to cook it in half the time, cover it with foil, transport it to your venue, and serve it to the amazement of your guest, all without getting a single other thing dirty!  Relax, the hard part is over!!

The rest is easy.  It's time to slow-cook this bird to perfection.  Jam the temperature probe into the deepest part of the thigh, and set the alarm for 170 degrees.  I put mine in a smoker (next to a ham, to keep it company), and I brought the heat up to 250 degrees.  Yes, TWO hundred fifty.  Why so low?  Well, you've spatchcocked it so much more of the surface is exposed to the heat.  We don't want to blast the outside with so much heat that it begins to lose moisture.  Think more along the lines of "Crock Pot braising" and less "heat blasting."  This 22lb turkey was done in under 5 hours with the roasting temperature set to 250 degrees.

When it's done, pull it out and cover it tightly with foil to let it rest.  Allow 30-45 minutes for a good rest.  Carving is super-duper simple!  Just pull the legs up and they will fall away from the thigh all by themselves.  SUPER tasty!  Separate the breasts and cut them laterally.  Each slice will begin to fall apart! 

My guests (14 of them) simply annihilated this turkey!  It was completely gone and eaten in under 20 minutes!  We didn't need gravy, we didn't need stuffing, and we didn't even need a knife!  The pieces just fell apart and couldn't have been any tastier!