Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Delicious Pain in the Ass

Our Sunday dinner this week was delicious but was definitely a challenge. The menu was:

  • Cocktails
  • Duck a L'Orange
  • Potatoes cooked in duck fat
  • Steamed cauliflower
  • Ice cream

Before we get to the cooking, let's talk cocktails. Mom and Xani had margaritas (same recipe as last time but we remembered to use the good tequila), Dad had a martini (2 parts gin to 1/2 part vermouth, with a twist), and Erin had vermouth on the rocks with a twist and a splash of diet sprite - very refreshing.

Now let's discuss the Main Event: Duck a L'Orange. We used Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook for the recipe, which had some good parts and some not-so-good parts. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Anthony Bourdain, I'm just saying the recipe didn't work exactly as predicted. You know?

And now onto the star of the show, whom we named Ping, a reference to one of our most favorite children's books, The Story About Ping. There were a lot of steps to this recipe, as I'm finding is common in French cuisine. First, trim the duck, season with salt and pepper, and fill with orange pieces. Then truss the bird (just the way you would do a chicken) and place in a 250 degree oven for 30 minutes. Then remove from the oven, crank up the heat to 350, then put the bird back in the oven and cook the bird for 75 minutes.

Three lessons we learned at this point: (1) Bourdain says you can use a sheet pan for this process, but since we knew we would later need to deglaze the pan on the stove, we used a dutch oven (note: you probably could use a sheet pan if you have a gas range, however we are stuck with electric, sadly, so we have to make do!), (2) the duck was not crispy and delicious after 75 minutes - not even close - so we had to leave it in for a LOT longer and even then it was not as crispy as we had wanted it, and (3) Bourdain suggests turning the pan several times during the cooking to get even heat on the bird, but we felt we should have flipped the bird (haha) itself so the bottom (non-breast side) would crisp up as well as the top.

The bird was the "easy" part. Now the sauce is a different story. The sauce took about 4 HOURS start to finish!! First you must make "confited orange peel" (which our Dad scoffs at -- "confit" is a french verb and should not be conjugated as such!). You do this by putting finely slivered orange peel, sugar, and water in a small saucepan and boiling it down to almost nothing, then drain the excess liquid.

Then, in a medium-size saucepan, you begin the base of the sauce with red wine vinegar and sugar, which is boiled down to a thick liquid, and is at this point so hot it is like napalm (Bourdain makes several remarks about how dangerous this step is - is that a challenge, Tony??). Next, add dark chicken stock or duck stock (we happened to have some homemade dark chicken stock that we made a while back - yeah, like that's normal behavior). Simmer the stock, vinegar, and sugar for 45 minutes to reduce. (The picture here is not very good since the sauce was so dark...sorry!) Then, when the duck is out of the oven, deglaze the roasting pan with Grand Marnier (again, major burn risk here!) and pour the liquid and deglazed bits into the simmering sauce. Add the other drippings from the duck, and let reduce by half. At the end, add the juice of half a lemon and half an orange, some butter (of course), plus the confited orange peel, and serve. SHEESH.

In the end, the sauce and the duck were delicious. The duck was adequately crispy (at least on top) and the meat was not dried out at all. The sauce was rich, intense, and delicious. But we worked for like 3 hours on it and ate it in 20 minutes! Sometimes that just doesn't seem fair. This is why you should order duck at a restaurant instead of trying to make it at home.

We collected some of the fat from the duck and used it to make our potatoes. First we peeled the potatoes and boiled them whole (they absorb less water if they are not cut up) until they were not quite fork-tender. Then we drained them, quartered them, and placed them in a pan with hot duck fat. Here, the trick is not to move them around! Resist the temptation to poke, probe, stir, shake the pan, etc. If you move them around they will fall apart; if you leave them alone, they will get a nice crispy side that comes up from the pan relatively easy. After they were all crisped up on several sides, we hit them with a little salt and pepper and chopped flat-leaf parsley.

The cauliflower was just steamed in the microwave, and dressed with butter (of course), salt and pepper. Boring but pleasantly easy compared to the rest of the meal. Here's what it looked like all put together:

We apparently love the Haagen Dazs Extra Rich Light ice cream, since we had it again last night. We have also been trying their Reserve Series, with flavors from around the world. This time we had the Hawaiian honey flavor, which was too sweet, even for Erin who has quite the sweet tooth.

It was another grand ol' time with the parents and Jelly (the wonder dog) this week - stay tuned for our next culinary adventure!

Happy eating,

X & E

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wine in the Woods Gone Wild

By Erin and Xani

On Sunday, we attended an annual wine festival in Columbia, MD (our home town) called Wine in the Woods. Both of us had been before and we were very much looking forward to trying some yummy wines and doing some serious people-watching. Several of Erin's law school buddies were there, in addition to the Vaughans, our dear family friends, so we got to drink a bit with them.

Last year, we stumbled across the best sangria we've ever had EVER, so this year we were determined to find the vineyard again and buy many bottles. Of course, our memories were no good to us (a) because it was a year ago and there were so many vineyards present at the festival, and more importantly (b), we were drunk off sangria when we had it last. Cruel fate!

After much searching, we saw a woman drinking a glass of something that looked just like the sangria from last year! We bolted to the stand where she was, had a taste of the sangria, and confirmed it was the right one - mission accomplished! We tried to buy two bottles but alas, they were sold out! Apparently our idea to buy a bunch was not an original one. However, the kind gentleman who served us our samples told us that the recipe was online and we could make it ourselves if we bought the wine, called Sweet Katherine, from them, and that we did. (Sweet Katherine is a lovely, sweet red wine, which is what makes the sangria so good. I find that most sangria recipes start with some crappy red wine, and that scratchy-ness of the crappy wine comes through in the sangria; with Sweet Katherine, this is not a problem.)

The vineyard is called Elk Run and their sangria is so popular, the recipe is located on the homepage. We will be having our own sangria soon, I'm sure!

Anyway, after our slight defeat with the sangria quest, we decided to get some food since the festival always has a wide variety of delicious treats (for ridiculous prices, of course). We had some trouble deciding where to go, but we ended up getting some West African fare, which included black beans and rice, and some of the best plantains we've ever had. Delicious.

Our friends Bryan and Laura let us sit with them at their blanket, and we had some of Laura's awesome brownies. She claims she puts in chocolate, caramel, sweetened condensed milk, and butter, but we think it was crack since they were so good.

Overall, it was another great time at Wine in the Woods, and we will surely be back next year!

Happy drinking,

E & X

ps. One of the booths there was related to the alcohol laws in Maryland, and Xani having written a piece on the topic, we had to take a picture! Too many lawyers, as usual.

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