Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Seared Duck Breast with Cherry & Cranberry Red Wine Sauce, Poached Pear and Watercress Salad

Well I'm in London now and very excited to be here. These next few weeks are scheduled to be quite busy so I'm not so sure how often I'll be able to get on here. Still some things have to be done, like figuring out how to eat in a new country! Learning not only how to cook, but also how to shop for ingredients in each country is a real learning experience. Today for instance I was looking for nuts and dried fruit, and apparently I needed to be heading over to the baking section....who knew? Also it seems, at least at the market I was at, that sausage and milk make a convenient aisle. Who knew? 

One of the things I am tentatively most excited about here is that there appears to be a rather common selection of what Americans would consider specialty game meat; venison, pheasant, goose, quail, duck etc. I love game birds especially and have been craving duck for weeks, so when I saw it was about half of what I'd pay in the US, I knew what I was having for dinner.  
Red fruit, pear, shallots, greens, winter herbs,  Stilton, duck breast


Cherry & Cranberry Red Wine Sauce
1 Shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
3 Tbsp Butter
1+ tsp flour
5 cherries
10 cranberries
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
1/2Tbsp fresh thyme
1+ Cup red wine

Poached Pear
1/4 cup Sugar
1.5 cups water
1/2 cups Orange Juice, Fresh squeezed
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
1/2 Pear

Pan Seared Duck 
1 Duck Breast
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Garlic clove, Diced
1/4 Onion, rough chopped
2 hand-fulls of spinach
1 chunk Stilton, Crumbled
2 leaves of fresh Sage
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

Watercress Salad
1 Hand-full Watercress
1 Tbsp Almonds, Sliced
2 Tbsp Cranberries, dried
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Pinch Chopped Thyme
Pinch Chopped Rosemary
Dash Salt
Dash Pepper

Cherry & Cranberry Red Wine Sauce

Add the garlic and shallots to a sauce pan with just one Tbsp of butter, Cook until the shallots begin to become translucent and then add the chopped herbs. Continue stirring until the garlic has started to brown, then add the red wine, cranberries and cherries. Add the remaining butter to a saute pan and once melted stir in the flower, set aside. Once the wine has reduced by more than half, stir in the butter-flour mixture. Once fully incorporated remove from heat and set aside.

Poached Pear

Add water, orange juice, juice from half a lemon, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves to a pot on high heat and bring to a boil. Bring to a simmer and reduce by half. Cut the pear in half and using a paring knife cut out the pit/seeds. I like keeping the stem for display. Cook the pear for just about five to seven minutes, flesh down. After removing the pear, continue to cook the liquid until it begins to thicken a bit and then remove from heat. Slice the pear lengthwise a few times and drizzle a spoon full of poaching syrup over it. Garnish with the cinnamon stick.

Pan Seared Duck

Now I had made a salad with the other breast the night before and stored this breast in garlic, olive oil, rough chopped onion, and fresh rosemary and thyme. You don't need to marinade the breast overnight, but it should be rubbed down in oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.

Duck can be a bit tricky to cook. Overcooked duck is almost a crime, but it's easy to do if you're not familiar with it. Word to the wise, it's better to have under cooked duck than overcooked, besides you can always cook it a bit more. Duck breasts have one side with fat and skin and the other side will be bear. Start cooking the skin side down. It will take a bit for the heat to break down the fat and get to the meat. The skin is good when cooked to be a bit crisp, so it's easy to add heat from this side. Once you do flip the breast pay very close attention to how firm the meat is getting. You never really want to cook duck more than medium rare in my opinion, but some might disagree.

Once the duck is ready, place it on a cutting board and discard the remaining oil until there is just about a tsp or two of juice left. Add the spinach and saute it in this oil (it's flavored with the duck now) and throw in a pinch of salt. Cook just until wilted and then place on the plate. Slice the duck and place it over the spinach. Crumble the Stilton around the base and pour a few spoonfuls of the red wine sauce over the duck. Garnish with rosemary and a cherry.

Watercress Salad

In a bowl mix the vinegar, oil, herbs and salt and pepper. In another bowl mix the watercress, almonds, and cranberries. Just before plating toss the dressing into the greens, and then plate.

Thoughts on this dish

What I love about this dish it that it's rather light but it has all of those warm winter flavors. This blog could almost be called cooking with cranberries so far, but I really do love them this time of year and they add a great flavor to a myriad of things. For instance they are used to completely different effect in the red wine sauce here compared to the salad, and are great in both. Cherries go so well with duck, and the combination of both with Stilton is just one of my favorites. This contrasts really nicely with the very light salad with a nice contrasting vinegar that cuts some of the heavier flavors. The pear is almost like a desert, but again it's another good compliment to the duck and it's something I try to sneak onto many of my autumn and winter dishes when it fits.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Good Bye America, Hello England- Some Thoughts Before Leaving

It's been a busy couple weeks getting ready for departure, this Friday I'm finally flying into London. I've had a bunch of topics I had wanted to talk about but every time I went to write about them I was drifting off to sleep after a long day. So here is a compilation of some thoughts and observations before heading out as well as a rough guide to what is coming up.


People outside America don't seem to understand what Thanksgiving is and why it's really a great holiday. I think Hermione referred to it sounding like a warm up for Christmas. Independence day and Thanksgiving are my two favorite holidays because they involve food and friends and/or family. They're simple, fun and enjoyable holidays. Both happen to also be a bit more secular, don't have too much ceremonial crap built up around them and for people that like to cook both holidays offer a great opportunity to share that with other people.

Getting the chance to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner was a great way to finish up this stint in the US. Something I got in a habit of doing in Nepal was cooking everything fresh and from scratch, and it's a habit I've been happy to keep. That said it is more time consuming and without staff or Hermione to do prep work I spent a serious amount of time cooking everything. Although only cooking for twelve I think I made enough food for closer to twenty. Turkey with herbs and butter, filled with stuffing made with cranberries, apple, pear and, and roasted with a mix of tons of vegetables. For sides there were french beans with almonds, roasted butternut squash, sauteed corn fresh off the cob, cream brushed biscuits, cranberry sauce, apple sauce, fall orchard salad, and pumpkin soup. I also took the opportunity to make spiced cider served optionally with spiced rum and home made eggnog with fresh grated nutmeg. Yum.

Good food, good people, football (the entertaining and strategic American version, not the scoreless flopping version), and a theme that focuses on making us more aware of the good things in our lives and being thankful for what we have, and not what we don't have, makes this a holiday I'll always try and celebrate no matter where I am.

NFL in London

I'll certainly write about this in more detail, possibly as we approach the Superbowl, but the NFL really seems to want to expand into the UK. There's simply no other reason they would host so many games over there, given the difficulty. Will it work? Maybe. If the British saw it as their own they would undoubtedly love it. It's a strategic, subtle and complicated game, all things the English like and can appreciate. It is however American, and thus it will always be inferior to things that are "English". While I don't really care that hardly  a player on the Patriots are actually from New England, I feel that the English would like to see English players take on the Americans at their own game- but this is not going to happen any time soon. A London team would be rostered exclusively by Americans for some time I believe. Then there's teaching an overly complicated sport to people that don't understand that just because a ball isn't moving doesn't mean interesting things aren't happening. Once people understand it's a rather violent game of chess they may come around.

Watching the English

I picked up this book about six weeks ago and have been consistently entertained by it. It's been great to settle down with before going to bed. It also has been quite helpful in confirming that indeed the English are some of the more quirky people on this planet.

Many Americans very mistakenly believe that we are much more culturally similar than we really are. Reading this has really shown just how large the gap is in certain places. That said, being from New England, I feel the gap is far less than if I were from a place like Texas. But then Texas might as well be its own country.

I'll certainly write a more extensive review of this down the line, but it's a really fun and interesting read and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys this kind of thing.

7 Months in America

When I first got back here in late April I really had a bad case of reverse culture shock. I would say that it was far worse than going from America to Nepal. I still do to some point. When Hermione and I went to New York for a weekend we ended up staying in China town, because simply put it was more our style, and we just felt more at home there. I have enjoyed getting to work in a culture again where deadlines are met, people get done the things they say they'll get done, and any kind of food can be prepared because you have access to just about anything you might want to cook with. I've readjusted to the scale of America, where everything from the cars, to the landscapes are big. But I miss the eccentric parts of Asia. I miss some of the chaos, and I miss the lack of total predictability. I miss the fun, America is in many ways a bit more boring, and it's been a long time apart from a lot of my good friends. 

Some Time in London

If the above book reassured me of nothing else it is that England will be in many ways a foreign adventure, possibly not on par with Nepal, but quite a different place. My first few weeks are busy mix of catching up with old friends, getting settled in and celebrating the holidays. Hermione and I already have reservations to check out a really great looking cocktail bar I'm looking forward to write about, and London has a number of great restaurants, bars and clubs I'm looking forward to also visiting. There's trips to Hermione's home town, trips to Oxford, and other places around the country as well. What I'm really looking forward to is just the massive list of really great things to do, it seems that we could keep ourselves quite busy doing things for months and never really get bored. 

Some Time Further Afield 

Despite all that London has to offer, we're already planning a few trips outside of the UK while I'm visiting. In January it looks like we'll be traveling to the French Alps for some skiing. I haven't skied in about twenty or so years, so this should be interesting. In February we are hoping to pop down to Algiers for a long weekend to visit a friend of ours that we met in Nepal. Aside from some of the Roman ruins there I know next to nothing about the country, so that should be interesting. Finally in March, when we've had enough of winter and want to get some nice warm weather and rediscover the beach it may be time to hop over to Thailand. All of this I hope will give me a chance to write about some non-English traveling.