Category Archives: Grains

Duck Stuffed with Farro, Figs, and Hazelnuts

Duck-Farro-Figs2

From the minute I read the title of this lovely recipe I knew I had to give it a shot. It’s a whole de-boned duck stuffed with a hearty mixture of grains (Farro), dried figs, herbs and nuts. Then The bird is roasted and basted till succulent and crispy. A bit labor intensive? Yes. Just take a look at this beauty and you should know that it is so worth it.

FattedCalf-Porchetta

In the Charcuterie is the book by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller, these folks are the people behind Napa’s amazing butcher shop The Fatted Calf. Back in March when we were in Napa for a wedding and a dinner at the French Laundry we also enjoyed a fat plate of the most delicious porchetta at The Fatted Calf. The place is a lovely butcher shop with everything from duck to lamb, beef, pork, goose, goat and veal. The proprietors also sell a variety of prepared foods and lots of charcuterie (confits, terrines, sausages, cured meats…) . Even though we had planned on having burgers that day for lunch we just could not resist grabbing a plate of the porchetta with the crackly skin that the butcher was slicing. It was sublime. Fatty, heavily flavored with garlic and herbs it was a memorable meal. When the book was announced, my friend quickly pre-ordered a copy for each of us. Thanks Sev!

Duck

Duck-Deboned

To make this dish I had too completely debone the duck. I did this by cutting down the spine of the duck and then gently and carefully detached the meat from the bone all around. The key is to do this without damaging the skin. That took about 30 minutes or so, but it’s a process I really do enjoy  and a very cool skill to master.

Duck-Farro-Figs15

For the filling I first prepared the dried figs. I simmered a variety of warm spices and herbs with sugar and red wine to infuse the liquid. That was poured over dried Black Mission figs and the whole thing was allowed to macerate overnight. The figs get plump as they absorb the spiced wine and when I am ready to finish the filling I drained them and cut them into quarters.  I mixed the figs with parsley, breakfast sausage, cooked farro and toasted hazelnuts.

Fig-Farro Filling

I laid the boneless duck on a cutting board skin side down. Then I formed the filling into a thick log and put that on top. I rolled the meat around the filling and basically reformed the duck as best as I could into it’s original shape. I tied the duck with twine to secure everything in place. I scored the skin and then roasted the bird at 375 F, basting it occasionally with its drippings, until a thermometer read 140 F in the center and the skin turned a crispy golden brown.

Duck-Farro-Figs4Duck-Farro-Figs7

Now how to serve this delicious roast? In the recipe we are simply instructed to slice and serve. That really works since the duck and the stuffing make for a nicely complementary meal, but I wanted to add a bit more to it. We had this for two dinners so I played around a bit. The first time around I served it with a bit of blanched broccolini , some leftover farro and a tart mustard vinaigrette.

Duck-Farro-Figs11

Duck-Farro-Figs13

For the second meal, I pan seared the sliced roast not to just heat it up but also to add another layer of flavor and texture. I served it with a bit more of the same greens and added sweet and sour pumpkin. The recipe for the pumpkin is a simple but really tasty one from Mario Batali where pumpkin cubes are cooked in a mixture of garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar and garnished with mint. I also prepared a sauce to go with this dish that is pretty much the same one I served with the Teal dish last year, a reduced spiced red wine sauce to echo the spice and the flavor of the figs.

Duck-Farro-Figs17

Kibbeh Nayeh – Raw minced Beef and Burghul with Spices and Herbs

KibbehNayeh4

Almost more than any other Lebanese dish, I crave Kibbeh Nayeh the most and immediately request that my mom or grandmother make a plate of this iconic dish as soon as I am back home visiting. Growing up this was our typical Sunday lunch. Back then I honestly did not appreciate it as much and would’ve happily wolfed down a plate of pizza or some fried chicken instead. Not now though. Now, I love a properly made raw kibbeh.KibbehNayeh

It really is about the proper ratio of fine, not coarse, burghul (cracked wheat) to meat. Too much burghul makes it too dense and crumbly (even if my grandmother likes it exactly like that). Too little burghul and it’s too much like beef tartar with the wrong texture. It should be served served drizzled with good extra virgin olive oil alongside fresh mint, raw sweet onions and radishes. It is traditionally made with lamb or, in the case of my family, with lean goat meat. Normally though I use lean beef or a mixture of beef and lamb.

KibbehNayeh2

Since this is raw meat it is good to keep in mind some safety considerations. Buy the meat whole NOT ground. Eating raw ground meat from a grocery store (even a high end pricey all natural one) is a bad idea. In beef any harmful pathogens usually are on the surface of the meat. Grinding a bunch of meat together at a grocery store or packing plant ensures that any nasties are mixed in through the meat. So, buy a whole piece of lean beef/lamb and rinse it well. This also removes anything that might be on the surface. Lastly, I like to freeze the meat for a couple of days at least before partially thawing and grinding. Freezing also helps in eliminating anything that might be on the meat. That being said, this is raw meat you are eating. I’ve never had an issue and I’ve been eating similar foods since the age of 10, but you never know.

KibbehNayeh5

Since my meat grinder was in storage at the time I used the food processor. It worked really well as long as I pulsed the mixture instead of letting it spin. The recipe I tried out this time is a bit non-traditional in that it incorporates some herbs in the meat mix as opposed to just meat, burghul, onions and some spices. The recipe comes from the Australian-Lebanese team of Greg and Lucy Malouf’s book MALOUF: New Middle Eastern Food. The book, like all of their other efforts, is filled with beautiful modernized and refined renditions of Lebanese and other middle eastern recipes. The Malouf Kibbeh incorporates green chilies, basil, mint and parsley into the meat, burghul and onion mix. It looks lovely with green speckles in it and has a delicious spicy herby flavor.

KibbehNayeh3

The Recipe 

Kibbeh Nayeh with Herbs and Green Chiles

Adapted from MALOUF

  • 75 gr. Fine burghul (#1)
  • 90 gr. Onion, chopped
  • 1 Green chile, seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 Cup chopped basil
  • 1/3 Cup chopped mint
  • 1/3 Cup chopped parsley
  • 300 gr. beef, lamb or a mixture, very lean
  • 1 Tbsp. (or more) Lebanese spice mix – A combination of cumin, black pepper, dried marjoram, dried rose buds, a bit of cinnamon and allspice (or you can use just some black pepper, chili powder and cumin to taste)

Soak the burghul in cold water to cover for about 10 minutes. Drain well and squeeze as dry as possible.

Grind the onion, chile and herbs through using the fine die on the meat grinder (or use a food processor). Cut the meat into thin strips and mix with the spices and onion mixture. Grind the meat mixture twice to get a smooth paste (or if using a food processor, you would have to pulse it until smooth).

In a bowl, mix the meat and burghul with some salt and a couple of ice cubes. Use your hands to mix everything well until the ice melts. Taste and adjust salt or spice to your liking.

Spread the Kibbeh in a thin layer on a plate. Make dimples or ridges in it with a spoon or fork and drizzle with good olive oil. Serve it cold with fresh radishes, chilies, fresh mint leaves, raw sweet onions and pita bread.

French Laundry: Braised Pork Cheek with Yellow Corn Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables and Sweet Garlic

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables3
A week before our much awaited dinner at The French Laundry (I’ll post something about that at some point…hopefully soon) I wanted to make the family a meal from one of my favorite cookbooks. I thought of it as an appetizer of sorts. Of course my meal was not a 10 course 4-hour extravaganza but only a couple of courses, a main dish and a dessert. When both come out so perfectly delicious though, it really is a treat. In the book there are several recipes for “cheap” cuts of meat, not just pricey and exotic cuts. Chef Keller uses cuts like beef cheeks, tripe, pig head and transforms them into refined three-star plates of beautiful food. This is such a recipe. I’ll post about the dessert in a subsequent post.

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables4

In the book, the recipe is made with veal breast. That’s, more or less, the equivalent of a pork belly on a calf. It’s tough, sinewy and flavorful. It’s also very tough to find at almost any store. I was not about to mail order it so I decided to improvise and see what I have in my deep freezer. I had two excellent pork cheeks in there and I figured these would make a very nice substitute for the veal breast. The recipe, from Keller’s pre sous vide days, braises the meat traditionally (sear, cook in stock with aromatics gently). I opted to first sear the meat really well and then bagged it  with carrots, celery, leeks, herbs, stock and white wine and cooked it sous vide at 82.2 C for about 8 hours. When the meat is cooked I removed it from the bag, discarded all the herbs and vegetables and strained the liquid to make a sauce from it later on. The meat went in the fridge to rest and set.

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables2

To complete the meat portion, I cut the cheeks into 2 inch rounds using a biscuit/cookie cutter. The cheeks are not as nice and even as a veal breast would be. See this post for an idea how the cooked cheeks look in one of the pictures. So some pieces were more even than others. Right before serving, I rubbed the meat with Dijon mustard and then rolled the flat sides in panko bread crumbs. Then I pan fried them well in grape seed oil and got them ready for plating. The meat from pork cheeks is really something special. It has a very deep almost slightly gamy flavor and unique texture. Braising the meat then pan frying it till crispy and luscious on the inside. Cutting the meat into rounds creates a good bit of extra chunks and uneven pieces that I used for the next few days in fried rice and tacos for the best ever crispy carnitas.

The rounds of pork sit on crispy corn cakes, aka polenta cakes. These are fairly classic made with polenta cooked in water and enriched with mascarpone cheese and butter. I then mixed in some chopped chives and poured the porridge in a silicone square cake pan to set. The cakes are finished similarly to these hominy cakes by rolling in flour and pan frying in some butter until browned and crisped.

Polenta

The vegetables in the book (carrots, turnips, celery root, beets) according to the recipe are supposed to be cut into different shapes. The beets into tiny pea-size marbles (parisienne), the carrots into small ovals (turned), the trunips into small fluted shapes and the celery root into small batons. So, I have no parisienne cutter and no vegetable fluter. I also opted not to use the the celery root since I did not have a kitchen brigade doing my bidding. Instead I cut the beets into small coin shapes and the turnips into small cubes. Then I turned the carrots. It really takes some time and skill to turn hard vegetables into acceptable small football shapes. It really makes one appreciate all the work that goes into creating and executing one of those dishes at a place like the French Laundry. It took me about an hour to make maybe 20 carrot ovals and they were by no means perfect.

Vegetables-Garlic1

Chef Keller in the recipe blanches the vegetables separately to cook them. Instead I bagged the carrots and turnips together and separate from the beets (to avoid discoloration since beets really stain)  and then cooked the two packages sous vide at 85C until perfectly tender. To finish the vegetables and plate them they get sauteed in some butter and sugar to glaze them (again the beets are glazed separately) and then they are warmed in a small pot of beurre monte, Keller’s ubiquitous butter-water emulsion. The last vegetable in the mix is the sweet garlic. These are garlic cloves blanched in several changes of boiling water and then slowly poached until very soft and then sauteed in butter to brown them and further flavor them. The garlic and the rest of the vegetables get tossed together at the last minute, right before serving. If I could change one thing about this recipe, it would be that last step of tossing in the beets. Even with all the care and even though the beet coins were mixed in at the last second, they still managed to slightly stain the turnips and garlic a shade of pink. Really I should’ve plated the beets without tossing with everything else.  

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables5

To make the sauce for the dish, the braising liquid is reduced and flavored with chopped shallots and fresh parsley. At the last minute is is enriched with more of the beurre monte. For plating I put a spoonful of the sauce on the plate first and topped it with a corn cake. On top goes a round piece of crispy pork cheek and that gets topped with the glazed vegetables and the sweet garlic cloves. Is it good? Damn right it is. It is a delicious dish that combines comfort with Michelin – star cuisine. The flavors are deep and rich and the textures are amazing. Everyone loved it including the kiddos. It was a bit funny when my 9 year old asked for seconds and requested that the meat be cut into a circle again for plating and my 6 year old now routinely asks if we are cooking more food from “French Laundry”! That’s a lot of pressure. Next is dessert, another French Laundry classic…

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables

Wild Duck, Cabbage, Fried Hominy and Red Wine Beet Sauce

Duck-Hominy-Cabbage2

I’m still working on my wild duck cooking skill and the best result I’ve gotten so far is through removing the breasts and legs and cooking them separately. I’ve made a “quick salad” for my kids and I recently and I basically sautéed everything for different times and then sliced and served on top of a tart green salad. That was very nice and I achieved the well cooked crispy legs I complained about missing in this post. I also managed to get the breasts to be medium with a crispy skin, but some parts were over-cooked a bit and overcooked wild duck is not a very good thing.

Baked Duck Legs

Wild Duck-Legs-Breast

For this dish I took it to the next logical level and did what experienced cooks and chefs always instruct us to do: cook the breasts and legs separately each to their optimum doneness. It’s that “optimum doneness” part that can be a bit tricky while shooting for a crisp skin on such lean small birds. The way I tackled it is to cook the breasts sous vide and the legs baked in a very hot oven. The legs were well-done and crisp and the breasts were a lovely medium rare and a nice rosy color, even after a quick sear in a hot pan to crisp the skin. Before cooking the meat I simply salted it and rubbed it with a bit of thyme the night before and the breasts were packaged in FoodSaver bags with a bit of butter in  there before going in the  water at 55C for about an hour.

To go with the duck I made red braised cabbage and fried hominy cakes. The cabbage is from Gordon Ramsey’s “*** Chef” that I posted about a while back. It’s a very simple recipe of cabbage, butter and vinegar. The end result is delicious and very flavorful, much more than the sum of its parts. The hominy cakes are another direct rip off from Hank Shaw where he also pairs it with duck, canvasback to be exact. I followed Hank’s recipe verbatim and it worked perfectly. The grits cakes held together and had a great crispy exterior and a lovely soft interior. The flavor was mild and it really offset all the other robust flavors in the dish from the duck, cabbage and sauce. The dish needed the texture and the cakes delivered it in strides. The bread crumbs I used were made from a loaf of bread I baked with poppy seeds and that’s why the cakes’ crust has all these little black specs in it. That looked pretty neat and worked well with the sort of Germanic theme of dish.

Hominy Grits Cakes

Hominy Grits Cakes2

The sauce here is based on the duck carcasses. After removing the breasts and legs, I cut up the remaining bones and trimmings and made a stock with them. I wanted the stock to be robust and full of flavor, so I first roasted the cut up oil-rubbed carcasses and sautéed a bunch of aromatics in the drippings in the pan. Then I deglazed the pan with Madeira and sherry vinegar. Everything went in the pressure cooker and cooked at 15 psi for about an hour and half. I ended up with a good 1.5 quarts of amazing duck stock. I used about a cup for the sauce and the rest is now frozen for other applications (possibly an oyster and duck gumbo to use up the last three birds I have in the near future). The sauce is prepared like a traditional red wine sauce made by simmering red wine and aromatics with the addition of chopped fresh beets. I added the beets for color and flavor, another item that to me sounds Germanic as well. After the wine is reduced I added in the duck stock and allowed that to reduce a bit as well before enriching with a bit of butter. The sauce had everything I was looking for a rich color and deep flavor.

Duck-Hominy-Cabbage

Roasted Teal with Delicata Squash, Farro and Spiced Red Wine Sauce

Teal-Farro-Delicata-Spiced Wine

About a month or so ago I finally got all my plans in order and booked a hunting trip with a local guide to see if I can get myself some wild ducks. It’s been many years since I’ve been hunting but finally I get myself a gun, license and practiced some clay shooting at local range to get the rust out of my shooting. In no small way I have Hank Shaw to thank for the motivation. To say his hunting, fishing and cooking articles at his blog and in his book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” were inspiring is an understatement. All in all, I ended up with several mallards that day and a couple of nice teal. Teal are small, about the size of a pigeon and are supposed to be delicious so I wanted to show them off by cooking them whole.

Teal

I roasted them simply by following Hank’s instruction. I first seasoned them with salt and a mixture of orange zest, allspice and thyme. I then baked the birds in a very hot oven to a medium rare. That worked well for the breasts, but honestly I was not crazy about the texture of the legs. They remained a bit tough for my liking and the skin did not crisp as well as I would’ve liked either. The flavor of the teal though was very good. They tasted rich and robust but not too gamy. I’m glad I made a full-flavored sauce to go with them. The sauce is from a Mario Batali recipe in the Babbo Cookbook and it’s not much more than a reduced red wine sauce flavored with allspice and cloves. Batali serves it with venison and a pumpkin caponata.

Teal-Farro-Delicata-Spiced Wine2

I took another page from that recipe and made a much simplified version of that caponata using Delicata squash which is amazingly sweet. I roasted it and then tossed it with sauteed onions, raisins and red wine. To make this more substantial I tossed the squash with cooked farro. The combination was very tasty, like a rustic and comforting risotto.  The flavor of the birds was wonderful with the spiced wine sauce and the earthy squash farro.

Thai Curry Pork, Forbidden Rice and Watermelon

Thai curries are one of my favorite south Asian foods that I don’t cook as much as I should. Every time I make it at home from scratch by pounding (actually, usually I use the food processor and then finish the paste in the mortar) together chilies, lemongrass, shallots, galangal and a host of other ingredients I tell myself that I really should do this at home more often. This time with this dish it is no different. It’s a piece of crispy fatty pork, black sticky rice (I like its other name though: forbidden rice), a nice salad of marinated and seasoned watermelon and a rich red Thai curry paste in coconut milk.

The watermelon salad here was inspired by a post on the Ideas in Food blog. It’s a take on the Thai green papaya salad. That’s usually made by finally shredding unripe papaya when the fruit is still green, crunchy and a little tart. It’s then mixed with mashed garlic, some dried shrimp and fish sauce. To make it more substantial, David Thompson in his book Thai Food, tops it with caramelized pork belly! For the watermelon version here, I used the part of the fruit that has a lot of that white pith closer to the green peel. I cured it by sprinkling the slabs of the watermelon with salt and Thai palm sugar and vaccum packing it in FoodSaver bag. After sitting in the fridge for a good 12 hours, I sliced it thinly and dressed the fruit with fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chopped peanuts.

To make the pork, a tasty shoulder from a free range pig, I seasoned it with salt and sugar and cooked it sous vide for a long time (about 48 hours). Right before plating it, I cut the meat in long thick strips and crisped it in hot lard. Good quality pork cooked like that is tender, juicy and delicious. I enjoyed a couple of pieces on their own before picking the few I was going to actually plate.

The rice got a good soaking and then it was steamed to cook it. The rice ends up perfectly cooked with a nice toothsome texture. The taste is very nutty and can stand up to the strong flavors of the curry and the watermelon salad. This rice also makes a wonderful traditional south east Asian dessert when cooked with palm sugar and coconut milk.

The curry paste is also adapted from Thompson’s Thai Food. His recipe for a traditional red paste includes a lot of dried chilies that give it its red brick color. Since my wife does not like spicy food I cut down the quantity of the chilies significantly and used a large red bell pepper instead. That kind of messes with the balance of the paste and to make up for it I upped the amount of lime juice in there as well as adding a tablespoon or two of paprika. Not very traditional additions, but the paste was very nicely balanced in the end. To prepare the curry  sauce I needed to separate the coconut cream from the milk and use that fat to cook the paste before adding the rest of the milk into the pot. To do that I chill the can of coconut milk so the cream can solidify on the surface slightly. Then it’s a matter of spooning the cream off and heating it in a pan until the oil separates. I added half the paste (the rest went in the freezer for later) and fried it for a few minutes. Then I added the rest of the coconut milk along with a little stock to thin it. That transforms the red paste into a nice deep yellow sauce.

The pork, curry, nutty rice and watermelon with a garnish of chilies and cilantro made for a delicious dish but I still had a good bit of curry sauce and rice leftover. I wanted to use it that same weekend with a fish or shrimp dish. Fresh water fish like catfish or Tilapia work really well here and I used the latter. I cooked the fillet sous vide to the perfect tenderness. I plated the fish on top the black rice in a pool of the curry sauce and several dollops of a green cilantro sauce. The sauce made with blanched cilantro and a little basil, pureed with very little water and Ultratex-3 to thicken it. I did make a little pungent garnish for this one with thinly sliced shallots, lime juice, chilies, and fish sauce. It was every bit as good as the pork dish (well, almost…Tilapia cannot compete with great porcine!). Too bad I did not have my camera when I made this one, so all I got is this phone photo.

Yogurt Flatbreads with Barley and Mushrooms

This delicious vegetarian dish comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty. The chef is much better known in the UK where he runs a chain of “deli” shops that serve a huge variety of creative dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. He also has a weekly column in the Guardian newspaper. The website has a lot of his recipes and the book is actually a collection of these recipes. Plenty has quickly become one of my favorite books for recipes and inspiration. All recipes are vegetarian, very creative and full of Mediterranean (mostly) and exotic flavors.

This dish combines a rich stew of barley and mushrooms with quick flatbreads made with yogurt. The dish is topped with Greek yogurt and -my addition- sour plum paste. The barley mushroom stew is done by separately cooking the barley in plenty of water until tender but still a little chewy. Then I cooked a bunch of fresh mushrooms (brown, white button) with a handful of soaked porcini mushrooms and their soaking water. To that we add thyme and white wine and let the whole mixture cook and meld. Then the barley is tossed in along with chopped parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice.

The flat breads are done from start to finish in about an hour. The dough is a quick bread, meaning it is not a proofed bread dough with yeast. Instead it uses a chemical leavening agent, specifically baking powder. The dough consists of whole wheat and white flour and is flavored with a little chopped cilantro. After leaving it to “rest” for 30-40 minutes, I divided it up into 6 pieces and rolled them into rough circles. I cooked those on my cast iron griddle using a little clarified butter.

After plating the bread and the barley-mushroom stew I topped it with a heaping spoon of Greek yogurt and that aforementioned plum paste. The paste is such a unique and delicious condiment from Barbara Massaad’s book about Lebanese traditional Mouneh. I bought her book when I was in Lebanon a month ago and it is really an amazing piece of work filled with Lebanese pantry items, preserves, pickles, fermented and dried items. It’s the type of regional food that all grandmothers used to put up for winter and some still do. It’s great that Barbara went through the painstaking trouble of recording these procedures and recipes. This is the first recipe I’ve tried from it just because it looked interesting and new to me and because there are a bunch of plums in the market now. It’s really the equivalent of tomato paste but made with plums that are cooked down with nothing more than salt. The taste is tart, fruity and deep. It was great on top of this dish and I’m sure it will add an excellent dimension to meat stews and vegetable dishes.

65-Hour Beef Short Ribs, Vegetable Fried Rice and Glazed Ginger Carrots

In the Momofuku cookbook, the source for this recipe (or most of it at least), David Chang calls it 48-Hour Short Ribs referring to the time he keeps the beef in the water cooking sous vide. He serves it with the reduced marinade/braising liquid from the sous vide bags that the beef is cooked in, braised daikon and scallions. Well, due to some timing issues and because I like the 72-hour short ribs (as recommended by Modernist Cuisine) I ended up cooking the meat for around 65 hours. Sous vide, if you know what you are doing, is very forgiving and this made a fantastic weeknight dinner.

The marinade which doubles as a braising liquid is made by simmering together a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, scallions, carrots, garlic, fruit juices and sesame oil. The marinade is cooled and divided up in the bags with the trimmed beef short ribs. The beef is then cooked for 48 to 72 hours at 60 C (140F) until most of the collagen is melted and the beef has the texture of a tender aged steak. At serving time, I shallow fried the beef in grape seed oil to crisp and brown the exterior. I decided to forgo the braised daikon and opted for a more substantial carb-heavy side for the ribs. I made fresh fried rice loaded with vegetables and eggs. I also cooked carrots sous vide with ginger and then sliced them and glazed them with butter before serving. The rice worked perfectly to complement the ribs and sop up all the sauce. As a garnish, I topped the meat with a few dollops of pickled mustard seeds. They don’t just look really neat but they also add a lovely pop and their tart bitterness rounds out all the rich flavors very nicely.