Duck Potatoes

I’ve prepared this dish twice now successfully, which I guess means it’s an actual recipe that I came up with.

Duck Potatoes (better name suggestions welcome)

1 duck, frozen
4 red potatoes
1 onion
2 tbsp parsley flakes
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Thaw the duck until it can be quartered, then quarter it. Slit the skin a few times on each of the pieces – don’t cut all the way through to the meat.

Steam the four duck quarters in a steamer basket in a large pot, covered, for 45 minutes or until no pink can be seen in the duck meat. Remove the quarters and allow to cool. Remove the water from the duck fat in the pot either by boiling the water away, using a gravy separator or putting the water and fat in a container and letting it cool in the freezer. Save the duck fat. Harvest the meat from the duck pieces. I always do this part the night before.

Chop about half of the duck meat into 1/4″ pieces. Dice the onion and chop the red potatoes into 1/4″ pieces.

In a large pan, add 1 tbsp of the duck fat over medium heat and wait until it shimmers. Add the onion and a little salt and stir occasionally until the onions turn translucent. Add the potatoes and a little more salt and cook until soft. Add the chopped duck meat and stir, allowing the meat to reheat. Add the parsley flakes, then taste and add any seasoning you desire (I like a little garlic powder).

Once it tastes the way you like, turn the heat off and sprinkle the shredded cheese on top to form a complete coating. Wait for the cheese to melt and serve. Serves 4-6. You can make two of these with the meat from one duck.

Ginger Apple Cobbler

A couple months back, I was invited to participate in a potluck dinner here at work. I provided two dishes, a duck concoction that was okay, but not great, and an apple cobbler.

The apple cobbler was the big hit, so I thought I’d provide the recipe.

The base recipe is here; it’s a simple-to-make drop-dough cobbler. But when I made it for the first time, the apple/ginger pairing just spoke to me. I thought it was far more delicious than apples and cinnamon, so I modified the recipe.

Ginger Apple Cobbler

This recipe will make one 9×9 or 8×11 baking dish worth of cobbler.

FOR THE FILLING:

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg

FOR THE TOPPING:

2 tablespoons butter, soft
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground ginger
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the baking dish.

Mix the apples, sugar, brown sugar, AP flour, vanilla extract, ginger, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. You can mix them directly in the baking dish. The resulting mixture should taste sweet, tart and gingery.

When making the topping, you can use a hand mixer or your food processor if it has a dough blade. Put one egg in the bowl and beat it well. Add the butter, sugar, flour, salt and ginger and beat until smooth.

Taste the topping. It should be delicious and you should be tempted to just eat it right out of the bowl. If not, you did something wrong.

Spoon up some topping and dollop it on top of the filling. You want to get the dollops as even as you can, though it doesn’t have to be perfect. The topping will spread as it bakes. It will also absorb moisture from the filling, which is why you don’t have to put a lot of liquid in it.

Bake for about thirty minutes. When the topping is light brown and firm, remove it from the oven. Let it cool thoroughly before serving or you will burn your tongue off.

Enjoy with vanilla ice cream.

I tripled this recipe for the potluck and served it in one of those big catering pans. Like I said, it was a huge hit.

The Secret To The Most Delicious Thanksgiving Ever…

I decided to make a duck this year as well as the turkey. I’d made this recipe a couple times and holy cow it’s good, so I thought I’d make it for Jamie’s mom, who had never had duck.

The thing about cooking a duck is that if you do it right you’ve got a lot of duck fat left over. Duck fat is deliciousness defined, so I put a little into the potatoes and a lot into the gravy. Result: a dinner everybody raved over – it was my best ever.

So from now on whenever I make a big elaborate dinner, I’m always going to make a duck so I’ll have the fat available to delicify all the other dishes.

Viridian’s Thanksgiving in 24

At around 11 AM Wednesday morning, I found out that I was cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Now, in order to tell you this story, I have to tell you another one.

One year ago, my wife was eight and a half months pregnant with our third child. Her pregnancy had been very difficult, with lots of pain in her back, and she had become more and more miserable as the time passed. Needless to say, she was not in any mood to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. She wasn’t even in a mood to go anywhere, so going to her mother’s for Thanksgiving also wasn’t an option.

Now, just a few months previous I had started watching this show on the Food Network called Good Eats. I’d discovered it while channel surfing when I came across the host, Alton Brown, lying on top of a huge foam piece of lemon merangue pie. I soon became a dedicated watcher, because cooking had always interested me and the show is very funny and presents straightforward, common-sense recipes – none of this “stuffed quail with mango chutney” stuff.

And Good Eats had a special on making Thanksgiving dinner. I’d seen it several times, and thought…well, the recipes I’d tried hadn’t been that hard and had tasted great…yeah, the dinner would be very involved and have lots of steps, but it didn’t look hard – I wouldn’t be trying to make caramel or a soufflé or anything silly like that. It looked doable.

So I decided I was going to make Thanksgiving dinner for my poor pregnant wife. I took tons of notes, and even made up a schedule so that I would know what to do when. The most involved part was the turkey, since I had to buy it on Sunday so it would be thawed on Wednesday so I could brine it overnight and cook it on Thursday.

But the result was worth it – the meal turned out fantastic. We had turkey, cornbread pudding and mashed potatoes. It was so good I couldn’t believe I had cooked it. And my wife mercifully didn’t have much back pain that day, so the day overall was very good…just the kind of break she needed going into the last two weeks of her pregnancy. She raved about the meal to all her friends and relatives, and it became well known that I could make a Thanksgiving dinner. I ended up making the same dinner again a few months later when we had a friend in from out of town.

Fast forward to this year. It had been my understanding all week that we would be packing up the three chilluns and taking them over to their grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Now, my mother-in-law is a wonderful woman (seriously!) but she is getting on in years and is becoming less capable. So Wednesday morning she calls my wife and tells her that she doesn’t feel up to the task of cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. My wife informs me that it’s up to me.

Now, I don’t mind cooking, but this was a bit short notice. Not only would I have to cook the dinner, but we’d also have to get the house clean enough for company. I didn’t know if I was going to have the time necessary to prepare the turkey.

So I went shopping. Needless to say, the grocery store was a madhouse. The sugar/flour/spice aisle was almost completely stripped. Fortunately, I had most of the spices I needed left over from the last time I’d made the dinner. Also, very fortunately, the grocery store still had a good supply of turkeys, and they had turkeys that were fresh rather than frozen, so thawing wouldn’t be necessary. I ended up getting a fresh 15.5-pound bird. I managed to buy everything on my list, sometimes getting the very last one of a certain item, like the stuffing mix I used.

I also went to the hardware store and bought a bunch of cleaning supplies and a five gallon plastic bucket to brine the turkey in.

Now, here’s how brining works: you create a very salty solution with some other seasonings (I use black peppercorns, allspice berries and some crystallized ginger). You soak the turkey in the brine for half an hour per pound, and as the bird soaks, the bird’s cells absorb the salty water. This causes the bird to become more juicy and more flavorful. Thus, a 15.5-pound bird should soak for about seven hours and 45 minutes – in other words, overnight. The problem is that you must turn the bird over halfway through the brine, so I had to set my alarm clock for 3:30 in the morning to flip the turkey. You also must get the turkey out of the brine at the proper time, for if you let it soak too long, the turkey will taste salty. I made that mistake once.

This time instead of slavishly following all of Alton Brown’s recipes, I mixed things up just a bit. While his cornbread pudding is very tasty, it’s also time-consuming to make because it has to be baked for an hour. The turkey was going to be monopolizing the oven, so I needed a different recipe.

Last Thanksgiving, after dinner was done, I was looking through the channel guide and I came across a special called Rachael Ray’s Thanksgiving in 60. I watched it and was intrigued. I thought that she used some very clever tricks to put a Thanksgiving dinner on the table in just one hour, including one where she cooked a stuffing on the stove, then baked it in the oven for a short time to crisp the top, making it taste like it had been baked through. (Longtime fans will know that this is a classic Rachael trick.)

So I did the same thing. I used this recipe. I left out the apples (apples in stuffing? blech), and I didn’t make muffins out of the stuffing…I thought that was kind of silly. But the basic stuffing turned out great, and kept the oven free for the turkey and the apple pie.

I also made mashed potatoes, using six big baking potatoes, two cups of heavy cream, and two sticks of butter, as well as some salt and garlic powder (I forgot to get garlic at the store, can you believe that?) They also turned out great.

But the thing I’m proudest of is the gravy I made. Last year I used a packet. (Give me a break, it was my first time.) Later I tried making sawmill gravy, which didn’t turn out that great. This time I did it right. I made a béchamel sauce in a heavy saucepan, and I deglazed the drippings from the turkey that were left in the roasting pan. I added the drippings to the béchamel and cooked it for a bit to thicken it and it turned out wonderful.

Between making the dinner and cleaning up (which required things like scrubbing crayon off the walls and removing spots from the carpet) I only got about two hours of sleep last night. In fact, when the alarm went off to flip the brining turkey, I hadn’t gone to bed yet.

But it was worth it. The dinner turned out fantastic and everybody had a wonderful time.

Dallas lost, though.