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DIY Charcuterie Returns: Duck Prosciutto

21 Sep

First, a bit of shameless self-promotion:

The Choral Arts Society of Washington (of which I am a member) is performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Frübeck de Burgos and featuring soloists Nicholas Phan (tenor), Laura Claycomb (soprano), and Hugh Russell (baritone). The performances will take place at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on the evenings of September 29th, 30th, and October 1st. Also on the program is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

Please come hear what is going to be a really spectacular show! Tickets are available through the Kennedy Center’s website here: http://www.kennedy-center.org/events/?event=NLCSV#blurb

Secondly, football season is at last in full swing, which is awesome, and also means the return of fantasy football. Let me tell you, team Merchant of Menace is looking pretty good so far (fingers crossed) aside from an injury or two. Here’s this year’s lineup so that I can look back at the end of the season and go “What was I thinking?” But hopefully not. The starters are in boldface:

  • QBs: Matt Ryan, Kyle Orton
  • WRs: Roddy White, Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt, Pierre Garcon, Hines Ward
  • RBs: LeSean McCoy, Tim Hightower, Ryan Mathews, LaDanian Tomlinson
  • TEs: Owen Daniels, Aaron Hernandez
  • K: Sebastian Janikowski
  • DEF: New England

I’ve been luckier than most the first few weeks. My only major downer is Aaron Hernandez going down with a sprained MCL. It could be anywhere from 2-6 weeks before he returns, but I’ll keep him on the bench until I absolutely need the roster spot. It’s a shame; he started off the season really strong.

Now let’s switch gears entirely and talk about duck. How is it that in all of my charcuterie posts from earlier this year that I never got around to sharing the delightful creation known as duck prosciutto? You can even see it hanging in the pictures of the pancetta and soppressata!

But honestly, it’s a good thing that I waited. Really. I’ve made the duck prosciutto from Charcuterie a few times now with my own little changes and have discovered a few things along the way that I think will make your first time trying it more successful. This is definitely the easiest charcuterie project to take on, so if you’re looking for a place to start, you’ve found it.

Duck Prosciutto, adapted from Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

  • One duck breast (I normally use a moulard duck breast weighing in around 20 oz.)
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • Fresh sage and orange zest
  • Cheesecloth and butcher’s twine

First, find a lidded container that will snugly fit your duck breast. I use a small rectangular Ziploc tub, but a 1 qt. oval baking dish covered with plastic wrap would work well too.

Pat the duck breast dry and set aside.

Combine the 2 cups of salt with the herbs and zest to make a cure. You can use other flavors too. Some people like to add crushed juniper berries, herbs de provence, or a combination of hot pepper and brown sugar to their cure. Think about the kind of flavors you like. For my preference, nothing brightens up duck like orange zest and a few torn sage leaves.

Pour one cup of the salt cure into the storage tub or baking dish and place the duck breast on top of it. Pack enough of the remaining cure around and on top of it to just cover the surface on all sides. Cover the container and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Remove the duck breast from the cure and rinse it under cool water. Pat it dry once again and weigh it.

Wrap the duck breast in a layer of cheesecloth and hang it in a cool, dark, and mildly humid place to dry. Ideal conditions are around 60 degrees F. and 60-70% humidity.

Hang for 1-2 weeks, or until it has lost 1/3rd of its original weight. Store wrapped in butcher paper in the refrigerator or vacuum seal for longer-term storage. Serve very thinly sliced with peppery greens like arugula, and fresh tomatoes.

On slicing: To make it easier to slice thin, you can put the duck breast in the freezer for a half-hour or so prior to slicing to make it firmer. And just look at the beautiful color:

Happy Autumn to you all. I assure you that after the Carmina Burana performances, I’ll be back with more fall (football!) recipes.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Busy June, Happy News, and Brand New Recipes!

6 Jul

Boy, have we been busy. First we ran off to Chincoteague for a weekend of fun in what I think may be the most peaceful place in the world.

Two weeks later, we hopped on a plane for a whirlwind four days in New Orleans. The days were sweltering, but the beignets were sweet and the coffee was strong. There is nothing so joy-filled and rejuvenating as a few days with the family.

As if all of that wasn’t enough excitement, somewhere in between (June 18th for precision’s sake) Joe got the wild idea to ask me to marry him. I bet you can’t guess what my answer was…

Of course, I said yes.

And so after a June full of excitement, we crashed over the 4th of July weekend. I spent most of it languishing in the joy of having nothing to do but enjoy the sun, play with the dog, and read.

But what would a summer holiday weekend be without a little outdoor cooking? Some smoky, savory chicken breasts and a bright summer salad of avocado, yellow squash and tomatoes made for a perfect Saturday picnic.

Pecanwood Smoked Chicken Breasts

  • 3.5 lbs. of bone-in split chicken breasts
  • 6 cups water, divided
  • 6 tbsp. kosher salt
  • The zest of one lemon (large strips)
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice berries
  • 1 tbsp. telicherry peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 6-7 chives
  • 4-5 parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1.5 lbs. wood chips (I used pecanwood)

Combine 2 cups of the water with the salt, lemon zest, herbs, and spices and bring to a boil. Set aside to cool for at least one hour. Add the brine to the remaining 4 cups of  cool water in a large plastic tub. Put the chicken breasts into the brine and refrigerate for 4 hours, turning once.

1 hour before grilling, add the wood chips to a bowl of water to soak. Drain, and then place them in an aluminum foil basket.

Preheat a gas grill to 300 degrees F. with all burners on high. After preheating, maintain a temperature of between 275-300 degrees. On my grill, this took one burner set on high. Place the basket of wood chips directly over the heat source. Otherwise, you won’t get any of that wonderful smelling smoke.

Remove your chicken breasts from the brine, pat them dry, and then put them on the grill away from the lit burner. Indirect heat is key for slow smoking. Also, keep your grill lid closed as much as possible. Cook the breasts, turning 180 degrees every 40 minutes until the internal temperature close to the bone is about 160 degrees. It will take about 2-3 hours. Rest 10 minutes and then slice.

Lemony Summer Salad

I really loved this salad. Not just because it gave me a chance to use some of the (excessive) bounty of squash that appeared in my garden while I was in New Orleans, but because of the balance. It’s very zen. You get this bright, tart flavor from the lemon juice and tomato, a little bit of creaminess from the avocado, and a sweet crunchy bite from the summer squash. It played very well with the smoky, salty flavor of the chicken. Best part: five minute prep time.

  • 1 ripe avocado, chopped and treated with lemon juice or citric acid to prevent browning
  • 1 summer squash, matchstick cut
  • A handful of grape tomatoes, sliced
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 or 6 lemon-basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the lemon juice and olive oil and a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Toss with the avocado, tomatoes, squash, and lemon basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a bit of lemon zest.

Happy July to all! Hope you’re enjoying the summer as much as I am. County fair season is coming up, so hopefully I’ll have some interesting recipes to share as I start experimenting with what to make for Arlington’s competition.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Friday Night Comfort Food: Chicken Pot Pie

28 May

In the infamous words of the lovely Chef Carla Hall, “I’ve been thinking about chicken pot pie all week!”

I can’t tell you the last time I had chicken pot pie, and no, I’ve never made one before yesterday. But soon after Chef Hall whipped up a might tasty looking one on Top Chef, I saw Alton Brown make his version on an episode of Good Eats. Ever since, it’s been calling to me like a siren. Juicy chicken and savory vegetables in a creamy, rich gravy tucked away beneath a buttery crispy crust. Yes, please.

There are things about traditional pot pie of which I’m not a big fan. As much as I love chicken and potatoes together, I think there’s enough starch in the crust and gravy to suffice. Secondly, I cannot stand cooked peas. Maybe lightly steamed and shocked in ice water, but otherwise, no thank you ma’am. What I needed was a different green vegetable for both color and deliciousness, some earthiness, and something special to kick up that gravy. No sad, gray gravy here.

Let’s begin! Here’s what you’ll need

Filling

  • 1.25 lb. chicken breast, diced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 5-6 cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 tbsp. dry sherry
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. butter, unsalted
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig parsley, chopped
  • Red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Crust

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2-3 tbsp. ice water
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water)

First, prep the crust. I used a pretty basic pate brisee for this. Just combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and then slowly add in the butter and process using short pulses. The resulting texture should be sandy.

Add 2 tbsp. of ice water and process just until the dough will hold together when pinched between your fingers. Add more water only if necessary and then roll the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour. If you do this in advance, take the dough out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before rolling it out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the diced chicken with a little bit of olive oil and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and then brown the pieces in a large pan.

In a separate pan, warm the milk and chicken stock together over low heat.

Add a small amount of oil to the same pan and sautee the onions, garlic, zucchini, carrots, and mushrooms just until they release their juices. Add the sherry and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Add the butter, allow it to melt and then mix in the 3 tbsp. of flour. Slowly whisk in the milk/chicken stock mixture and then add the parsley, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the mixture reduces and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the chicken.

Pour the filling into a shallow baking dish. This 2 quart oval casserole dish was just the right size. A deep dish pie pan or 8 x 8 in. baking dish would probably work as well.

Roll out the pie dough to the shape of your cooking vessel, only slightly larger so that there is some overhang. Cover the filling and crimp the crust along the edges of the baking dish to secure. Cut some vents in the crust to let out steam, and then brush it with the egg wash.

Bake the pot pie for 30-35 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown

Allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes before digging in. Eat and be comforted.

Hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Clean BBQ? It’s True…

28 May

When Joe and I decided to have folks over for Memorial Day this year, I decided that I wasn’t going to prepare a bunch of food that I couldn’t eat. For one thing, I knew that there would be leftovers and I wasn’t tossing away my grocery money on food that wasn’t in my plan. Furthermore, I thought my guests deserved food and not “food-like products.”

Here I am hanging out with Mr. Stripey ready to grill, so what was on the (mostly) clean menu?

Clean Eating Magazine’s Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and Artichoke Dip served with Trader Joe’s natural corn tortilla chips, chopped carrots, toasted whole grain bread, and sugar snap peas (from Westmoreland Berry Farm—so delicious!).

Dry rubbed chicken legs grilled to perfection and then glazed with a natural BBQ sauce.

Grilled portabella mushrooms, green peppers, and tomatoes tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, kosher salt, lemon-thyme, pepper, and garlic.

Not pictured: Dry rubbed smoked spare ribs that I had hanging out in our freezer for awhile. I was saving them for a special occasion. I warmed them over low heat in the crock pot for a few hours with a bit of cider vinegar and sucanat in the bottom. It made its own sauce and tasted absolutely fantastic!

Chocolate sour cream cupcakes, modified from Clean Eating’s recipe. I replaced the skim milk with unsweetened chocolate almond milk the second time I made these and never looked back. Best chocolate dessert ever.

I also made classic and in no way clean vanilla ice cream using the base for Cliff’s ice cream recipe from the Top Chef cookbook. It was some really great stuff. I used heavy cream and milk that was practically fresh from the dairy and the rest of the eggs that I gathered from the farm. Joe is still savoring the final container of it.

Sunday evening I realized that my berries from Westmoreland were on the verge of over ripening. Not wanting to let them go to waste and having cold/sweet stuff on the brain, I made some frozen yogurt. That vanilla ice cream might be decadent, but this stuff is sweet, tangy, cool, and 94 calories a serving.

Fresh Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

2 cups good quality low-fat plain yogurt (I buy mine from Blue Ridge Dairy Co.)

1 cup pureed fresh strawberries

1/3 cup raw, natural honey

Pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender and then chill in a lidded container in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. This really improves the texture and flavor quality of the final product, so don’t skip the rest period!

Churn for approximately 25 minutes in a countertop electric ice cream maker and then transfer to a lidded container and freeze for at least 3 hours before serving. On his show Good Eats, Alton Brown often says, “Your patience will be rewarded.” Listen to these wise words.

(Makes 6 servings)

I really would have taken a picture of it’s awesome pink color, but it didn’t last long enough! I guess I’ll just have to make it again soon…

Stay local!

-Neen