Lest you think I cooked my devoutly carnivorous boyfriend a
mere salad for valentine's dinner
, there was much more in store. Admittedly, despite my affection for kale, a
kale salad does not a valentine’s meal make. Though I'd told him a few times
that I was planning on an entirely vegan valentine's feast (which he had, in
fact, assured me he would devour without question), my plan was to cook
something out of the ordinary.
|Yes, that is a little heart drawn in red wine sauce. Yes, I am a dork.|
I wracked my brain a couple of weeks ago, trying to remember
the last time I cooked a piece of meat at home (bacon, soup and random meats
cooked in the homes of others excepted).
From my recollection, it had been about four years. Yes, seriously, four fucking years. I am not a big meat eater - this we know -
but this still shocked me. Sure, I’ve
cooked a few pieces of fish here
, but even those were few and far between. Valentine’s Day seemed as good a reason as
any to test my meat-cooking chops again and see just how rusty I’d become. This is not to say that, prior to the last
four years, I’d been a huge meat eater / cooker – I never really have been, and
my meat eating tends to be relegated to restaurants and the homes of family and
friends. Since this was a special meal,
though, I decided to go big, and settled on duck breasts. Duck, done well, is awesome – tender, juicy
and so flavorful that any comparison to its poultry brethren is entirely misguided.
So after our salads, I left Rob for a few moments with
bread and room temperature Icelandic butter sprinkled with crunchy sea salt,
and of course a glass of red, to keep him occupied for the few minutes it would
take me to retreat to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on and plate our
second course. Everything was pretty
much ready – the duck was removed from the fire just before I served the salad,
so it was able to rest while we filled ourselves with roughage. I had prepared the sauce and cauliflower
puree earlier in the day, and had kept them over low heat during kale time, so
those were the perfect temperature. The
only aspect I didn’t time quite well enough was the roasted cauliflower, which
sadly got a bit cold – but it was delicious nonetheless.
Rob admitted as we were eating that he had been a bit
skeptical when I told him I was making duck.
I don’t think he realized it’d been four years since I cooked a nice
piece of meat, but he knew that it’d been a damn long time. As we were eating, he admitted this to me,
and said that he’d been worried for no reason.
I had to agree – the duck was really great – the skin was perfectly
crisp, the meat soft and tender, and the simple flavorings spot-on. The wine sauce was the perfect accent –
leading with wine, deepened by the flavor of duck tenderloins; rich, yet
light. Since the red wine imbued a bit
of sweetness to the plate, I paired the dish with cauliflower, which I find has
a subtle, natural sweetness. I also love
having a range of textures on my plate, so I opted to treat the cauliflower two
ways: pureed for velvety smoothness, and roasted for crunch. The roasted cauliflower, which I took from Smitten
Kitchen, was topped with pomegranate arils post-roasting, which provided for a
tart-sweet-juicy pop; a bit of a surprise texture that also served to highlight
the sweet notes in the cauliflower and tie it together with the sauce. Once plated, I took a step back and felt
pretty proud of myself. It was a
well-composed, pretty, thoughtful and frankly delicious plate of food. And I didn't go bonkers in the process.
Peppered Duck Breasts with Red Wine Sauce
From this New York Times recipe
My duck breasts were significantly smaller than those called
for in the original recipe, so each serving was a full breast. I couldn't finish nearly all of it, but
Robbie cleaned his plate with no problems. Though I thought the duck could have been taken from the heat a good 45 seconds
earlier, Rob thought they were cooked perfectly.
2 duck breasts, about 6 ounces each
1 tablespoon freshly crushed black peppercorns (I laid them
out in a bowl so they wouldn't escape and used the bottom of a glass bottle to
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, sliced thinly
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste ( I like to use the tomato
paste in the tube so that you don't have to open up a whole can for just a
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons medium-bodied red wine
1 cups unsalted chicken broth
1 teaspoons potato or corn starch.
Remove the tenderloins, thin strips of meat on undersides of
the duck breast, and reserve for the sauce. (NOTE: My duck breasts were already
trimmed for the most part, but there were a couple of small strips of meat that
came off with trimming the rest of the fat away, so I used those and a bit of
the extra skin for this purpose. I mean, can you go wrong with extra duck skin?
(FYI - No.).
) With a sharp knife, trim away any gristle from the undersides and
trim any excess fat from the edges of the breasts, preferably without slicing
away the top four layers of skin on your thumb (cooking with a paper towel
bandaged around your finger is inconvenient at best). With a VERY sharp knife,
core the skin in a diamond-shaped pattern, without cutting to the meat. Lightly
sprinkle salt on both sides, then rub 1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns all
over. Sprinkle with the garlic and a few thyme sprigs, cover, and leave at room
temperature for an hour. (For deeper flavor, refrigerate for several hours or
overnight, then return to room temperature to cook.)
Heat 1/2 tablespoon of the unsalted butter in a saucepan
over medium heat. Add the shallot and the reserved duck tenderloins; let them
brown well, stirring occasionally, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and
a small thyme sprig and let them fry for a minute, then add 2 tablespoons of
red wine and the chicken broth. Raise the heat to a brisk simmer and let the
liquid reduce to a bit less than 3/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Strain the sauce
and return to the heat. Add the remaining tablespoon red wine and the brandy
and cook for 1 minute more. In a small bowl, dissolve potato or corn starch in
a tablespoon of cold water, then stir into sauce. Whisk in the remaining 1/2
tablespoon butter. Taste and add salt as necessary. (Sauce may be made in
advance and reheated, thinned with a little broth.)
Remove and discard the garlic and thyme sprigs from the
breasts. Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. When the
pan is hot, lay in the duck breasts skin side down and let them sizzle. Lower
the heat to medium and cook for a total of 7 minutes, checking to make sure the
skin isn’t browning too quickly. With tongs, turn the breasts over and let them
cook on the bottom side, 3 minutes for rare, 4 to 5 minutes for medium-rare.
Transfer to a warm platter and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice crosswise, not
too thickly, at a slight angle. Serve with the sauce.
Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower with Pomegranate and Mint
I didn't really measure anything for this recipe. I drizzled olive oil over the cauliflower
just until it was evenly coated, then spilled out waht appeared to be a teaspoon
of cumin seeds into my palm. I decided to forego the yogurt, since we had a
creamy element on the plate already, and I felt the tanginess would overpower
the other items on the plate. This
recipe, if you can really call it that, is such a keeper. The cumin seeds elevate it from the ordinary,
and the mint and pomegranate give an otherwise earthy dish a load of brightness
and a little bit of spunk.
1 medium - large head cauliflower
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
Preheat oven to 425°F.Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive
oil or cooking spray.
Cut your cauliflower into bite-size florets and place on
baking tray. Drizzle over the olive oil
and sprinkle with cumin seeds, salt and pepper.
Toss to coat evenly. Toss florets with remaining olive oil, cumin seeds,
salt and pepper and spread out on prepared tray. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes,
until the cauliflower is cooked through and well-browned. Keep a watchful eye
towards those later minutes - the line between crispy and carcinogenic is
sometimes a tough one to toe when you're doing a bunch of things at once in the
That said, I LOVE those
near-black pieces. When the cauliflower is done to your liking, remove it from
the heat and sprinkle with mint and pomegranate seeds.
Cauliflower Puree with Feta and Garlic
This stuff is so good, you may never turn to mashed potatoes again. May...
|Yes, I put this in a bowl just to get a picture of it and then put it immediately back into the pot. Again, dork.|
1 head cauliflower, 2 to 2 1/2 pounds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Core the cauliflower and cut it into evenly-sized, about
bite-sized, florets. Pour the chicken
broth into a steamer pot and add water so that you have about an inch of
liquid. Steam the cauliflower over the
liquid until a paring knife inserted into the florets is met with little (but
some) resistance, about 15 minutes.
Remove half the cauliflower from the steamer and place in your food
processor of blender. Transfer the
cooking liquid (about a cup's worth) to a measuring cup, and pour about 1/2 of
a cup of the liquid into the blender / processor. Puree the cauliflower until it's smooth. Add the rest of the cauliflower and the
garlic to the blender. Add a few more
tablespoons of cooking liquid (just enough to allow the machine to process it)
and puree until smooth. Add more cooking
liquid as needed, with the intent of adding as little of possible, as you don't
want your puree to be watery. Once
smooth, add the butter, feta cheese, salt and pepper to the machine and process
until combined. Check for flavoring; you
may wish to add more feta cheese, salt or pepper to suit your taste.
I prepared my puree ahead of time, and let it sit over low
heat. This allowed for a bit of the
excess liquid to evaporate, so we were left with a smooth, creamy, decadent-tasting
puree that was really quite healthy (and really delicious).
Note: If you're hesitant to plunk some raw garlic into your puree, you can place it in the pot with the cooking liquid while you steam the cauliflower. This will imbue the cauliflower with a very faint garlic aroma, and will significantly take the edge off of the garlic before you puree it. You can go halfsies too and keep one raw and one slightly leeched of flavor.