Wednesday, September 30, 2009


A very popular dish at the Union Square Cafe in New York City, the Roast Lemon-Pepper Duck with Red Wine Vinegar Sauce is truly an exquisite dish. The sauce, paired with freshly-grated lemon zest make a sweet and savory treat for even the most discriminating of foodies.

The lemon-pepper mix is carefully stuffed between the skin and the meat before the duck is roasted, imbuing the bird with its tangy-spicy flavor. An advantage of this recipe is that you can serve perfectly cooked and crisped duck while avoiding last-minute struggles with carving.

The recipe can easily be doubled and would make a fantastic main course for a dinner party! As always, using the freshest ingredients are crucial to the successful flavors of this dinner.

Roast Lemon-Pepper Duck with Red Wine Vinegar Sauce
Serves 2

1 whole duck, about 4.5 pounds
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped bacon
1/2 Tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1 small sprig each of thyme, rosemary, and sage
1 anchovy fillet
1/2 Tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/4 cup Veal stock*
pinch kosher salt

pinch freshly ground black pepper

*If you can not find veal stock, you can substitute a mix of 3/4 cup of beef stock and 3/4 cup of chicken stock. Very important: Use products labeled "stock" not "broth." There is a substantial difference in flavor. Stock is thick and rich, broth is thin. A good stock should turn to a gel when chilled in the fridge. Broth will not gel up, but develop a layer of congealed fat on the surface.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Remove the neck, giblets, and livers from inside the cavity of the duck. Cut the wings at the first joint. Cut the extra large flap of neck skin (if there) off just at the point where the breast begins. Reserve the cut wing tips, the neck skin, livers and giblets for the sauce.

Combine the lemon zest, thyme, pepper, and salt in a small bowl. Beginning at the tip of the breastbone and working back toward the legs and thighs, use your fingers to create a pocket between the meat and skin, gently separating the skin from the body of the duck. Tuck the lemon-pepper mixture evenly into the pocket, covering each breast, leg and thigh. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.

Heat a roasting pan with a rack in the oven for 10 minutes. Place the prepared duck breast side up on the rack and cook for an hour and 10 minutes. Remove the duck from the pan and bring to room temperature. Pour the rendered fat that has collected in the bottom of the pan into a sealable container and save for a future recipe. (Rendered duck fat sells for $9 for a 1/4 cup!)

While the duck is roasting, make the sauce.

To make the sauce, brown the bacon over medium heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pan. Add the duck livers, wing tips, giblets, neck skin, garlic, shallots, herbs, and anchovy and brown over moderate heat for 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Deglaze the pan with the red wine vinegar, stirring to incorporate the flour into the liquid, and boil for 1 minute. Add the veal stock, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, 45 to 60 minutes. Strain the sauce in a mesh strainer, pressing the solids to extract the maximum amount of sauce. Correct the seasonings with salt and pepper and keep warm.

When the duck has finished roasting and has come to room temperature, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the duck breasts and legs from the carcass. Trim off any excess fat around the breast and leg. Heat an ovenproof skillet over high heat and add the duck pieces, skin side down. Cook over high heat until the skin begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Lower the heat and gently crisp the duck skin for 5 minutes. Drain off any excess fat. Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven. Cook for ~10 minutes until the skin is crisp and the meat cooked through and moist.

Serve immediately with the sauce.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eggs Benedict, the breakfast of champions!

A poached egg resting atop Canadian bacon and a crisp English muffin all smothered in a velvety, lemony hollandaise sauce is the quintessential Sunday brunch dish. This little slice of heaven is known as Eggs Benedict.

Legend has it this mouth-watering treat was created in the mid-1890s in New York City as a cure, of all things, for a hangover. Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street stock broker, claimed that he had wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 and, hoping to find a cure for his morning hangover, ordered "buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon and a hooker of hollandaise." (Yes, a hooker, aka a dollop.) Oscar Tschirky, the famed maître d'hôtel, was so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus but substituted ham and a toasted English muffin for the bacon and toast.

It's a general misconception that making this highbrow hangover cure is complicated and requires a lot of ingredients. All you need are eggs, a lemon, some butter, an English muffin, and some Canadian bacon and in no time at all, you have yourself a deliciously filling morning treat.

Eggs Benedict
Serves 2

3 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon cold water
2 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into two 1 Tablespoon pieces
pinch salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
4 eggs
8 slices Canadian bacon
2 English muffins, each split in half
fresh ground pepper

Fill a large saute pan with 3" of water and set over low heat on the back burner.

In a 1-cup glass measuring cup, melt the stick of butter and set aside. Put some water in the bottom of a small saucepan and bring to a very slow simmer to create the bottom of your double boiler. Next take a Pyrex bowl that will fit nicely over the saucepan without touching the simmering water and add the 3 egg yolks to the bowl. Whisk the egg yolks with a wire whisk for about a minute, until creamy. Add the lemon juice, pinch of salt, and water and whisk again for another minute. Add one of the two 1-tablespoon pieces of cold butter, but don't mix in.

Place your Pyrex bowl over the small saucepan of gently simmering water and slowly stir the egg yolk mixture with the wire whisk until the butter has melted and the mixture thickens to the consistency of light cream, about 2-3 minutes.

When the mixture thickens, remove the bowl from the saucepan and begin adding the melted butter in very small increments (1/2 a tablespoon max!), while still whisking. Wait for the melted butter to be incorporated into the mixture before adding more butter. Repeat this until you've reached the white separated butter solids at the bottom. Don't add the solids though as they make the sauce too thick.

Adjust the sauce for seasonings adding more lemon juice if necessary. The sauce should be thick, but still slightly runny. Cover and set aside.

Bring the saute pan to the front burner and adjust the heat so that the water is just at a slow simmer. Once you have the simmer, add the 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar.

Break an egg into a mug and slowly pour the egg into the water. Repeat this for the other 3 eggs, one at a time. Using a slotted spoon, gently move the eggs around to ensure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan but taking care not to disturb the yolks. Allow the eggs to cook for about 3 minutes.

While the eggs are cooking, toast the English muffins and heat up the Canadian bacon. When ready, put the English muffins on a plate, two per plate. Next add the Canadian bacon, two slices per muffin half.

With the slotted spoon, gently remove the eggs from the water and be sure to very gently drain them. Put one egg on each English muffin/Canadian bacon stack. Top generously with the hollandaise sauce and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.

Enjoy! (with a Mimosa!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Bear of a Béarnaise

There's something exciting about creating a sauce that is so thick and flavorful, yet amazingly delicate. The thrill of making a Béarnaise sauce is not only the anticipation of the end result, but knowing that at any moment the sauce could fail with the separation of the emulsion. Add the butter too quickly or heat the egg yolk over too high a heat and the whole sauce is ruined in a congealed mess of clarified butter and egg curds.

All it takes is a little patience and a steady hand and within minutes you have a tangy but sweet and creamy sauce for your steak that will amaze and delight your family and friends.

As Julia Child said, "All you need is the courage of your convictions." This sauce is simple, but you have to be brave when making it!

Sauce Béarnaise
For 1 1/2 cups

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1 Tablespoon minced shallots
1 Tablespoon minced fresh tarragon, or 1/2 Tablespoon dried tarragon
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
2 Tablespoons very cold butter
1/2 to 2/3 cup melted butter
2 Tablespoons fresh minced tarragon

In a small saucepan, boil the vinegar, wine (or vermouth), shallots, herbs and seasonings over moderate heat until the liquid has reduced to 2 tablespoons. Let it cool.

Strain the liquid into a small bowl and set aside.

Wipe out the small saucepan and add about an inch of water and boil over moderate heat. Turn heat to low to maintain a simmer. Add the egg yolks to a pyrex bowl and beat the eggs with a wire whisk until thick and slightly sticky (about a minute). Add 1 tablespoon of the very cold butter to the egg yolks and put the bowl over the simmering water. Stir, but don't beat, the butter into the yolks for about 2 minutes or until it's thicker and creamy. Beat in the other tablespoon of cold butter, then the melted butter in droplets. Do this very slowly or the sauce will separate.

The sauce is done when you have a silky, smooth sauce that is somewhat thick. Simply correct the seasoning and beat in the minced tarragon.

Spoon over your steak or put in a small serving dish.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nu-Q-Lur Chocolate Cake

For the last ten years or so there's been a crazy recipe that would land in my inbox from time to time for chocolate cake baked in a microwave. Normally my snooty, discerning palate scoffs at such pedestrian and blatantly blue-collar attempts at cookery. In my "older age" I seem to be mellowing out and I've reached the point in my life where it's once again okay from time to time to eat macaroni and cheese made from a blue box, indulge in the occasional grilled cheese sandwich and, shockingly, a microwaved chocolate cake.

In my defense, it's not those disgusting chocolate cakes that come in a kit from the store. At least it's a cake baked "from scratch," so my pride is only slightly bruised. Much to my surprise, the cake is pretty decent, especially when paired with a scoop or two of freshly-made vanilla ice cream (recipe to be blogged at a later date). Of course for such a recipe, Breyers will suffice! :)

"Nu-Q-Lur" Chocolate Cake
Yields 1 cake.

4 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (Ghirardelli or Hershey's)
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (or 1.5 Tablespoons oil and 1.5 Tablespoons apple sauce)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt
Cooking spray (like Pam for Baking or just plain Pam, though the Baking one is better)
1 Mug (make sure it's microwave safe or you're going to get burned!)

Coat the inside of the mug with cooking spray. Into the mug add the flour, sugar, salt, and cocoa and mix. Stir in the egg. Pour in the milk, vanilla, and oil and combine thoroughly.

Put the mug in the microwave and cook on high for 3 minutes. Let sit in the microwave for about 3 minutes to cool and then turn out onto a plate.

Serve with powdered sugar and ice cream.

Enjoy! (But don't tell anyone!)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Not quite smarter than the average horn player, but this chicken in the pic-a-nic basket is the best!

On a crisp nearly-Autumn day when school is back in session and there's little chance of your day being ruined by unruly children, one of my favorite things to do is load up a picnic basket full of food and, of course, a chilled bottle of white wine, and head to a park for a picnic.

There are a few "comfort foods" that I enjoy eating while sitting on a blanket in the middle of a grove of trees; one of which is some form of chicken. Sometimes it's chicken salad made into a sandwich with freshly-baked ciabatta bread. Sometimes it's a few pieces of fried chicken made from a buttermilk and cayenne pepper batter. Today it's a simple, yet flavorful spice-rubbed chicken.

This easy to make spice rub contains a few simple ingredients that you'll most likely have in your pantry and the preparation takes only a few minutes. It yields a moist, juicy and slightly spicy main course. The rub covers five pounds of chicken easily and can be halved if necessary. I prefer with this recipe to use only thighs and drumsticks which are easier to eat by hand.

Spice-Rubbed Chicken
Serves 8

5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (a mix of breasts, thighs, drumsticks, trimmed of excess fat and skin)
2 Tablespoons kosher salt (do not use table salt)
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 Tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Use a sharp knife to make 2 or 3 short slashes in the skin of each piece of chicken, taking care not to cut into the meat itself. Combine salt, brown sugar, and spices in small bowl and mix thoroughly. Coat chicken pieces with spices, gently lifting skin to distribute spice rub underneath but leaving it attached to the chicken. Transfer chicken, skin side up, to wire rack set over a rimmed foil-lined baking sheet. Lightly tent with foil and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours.

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. When the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in and roast until the thickest part of the smallest piece registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (approximately 15-20 minutes). Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees and continue roasting until chicken is browned and crisp and thickest parts of breast pieces register 160 degrees, about 5-8 minutes longer. Remove the breast pieces and transfer to a clean wire rack.

Continue to roast thighs and drumsticks until thickest part of meat registers 170-175 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven; transfer to rack and let cool completely before refrigerating or serving.

Monday, August 24, 2009

You say "fritaytuh" I say frittata!

When you've had just about as many omlettes as you can handle and eggs benedict has you hollandazed, try a frittata! It's incredibly simple to make and is ready in no time at all! You can experiment with the herbs and cheeses as you like. No matter what you add, the dish is fool-proof!

All you need a 10-inch skillet, eggs, and any cheese or vegetables you like - or both! For this recipe, I'm making a mushroom and parmesan frittata.

Mushroom and Parmesan Frittata

~1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 pound cremini or portabella mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon brandy (optional)
6 eggs, room temperature
1/8 c. whole milk or heavy cream
4 Tablespoons freshly-grated parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

Heat the oil over medium heat in a 10-inch nonstick skillet that has an oven-safe handle. Swirl the oil to coat the bottom and sides of the skillet evenly. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, gently beat the eggs, cream and cheese together. Set aside when mixed.

Add the mushrooms and saute until they turn golden brown and the liquid rendered from the mushrooms evaporates. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add brandy, if desired, to skillet to deglaze and cook for 1 minute or until the brandy has evaporated.

Preheat your oven broiler.

When the mushrooms and onions are ready, add the egg mixture to the skillet and stir gently with a fork to incorporate it into the vegetables. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the bottom is set but the top is still runny. While the frittata is cooking, gently run a rubber spatula around the edge to prevent sticking.

When the bottom is set, place the skillet under the broiler to cook until the top is golden brown, approximately 1-2 minutes. Do not let it burn!

Finally, run the spatula (or a knife) around the rim of the finsihed frittata and invert it onto a large plate by putting the plate over the skillet and turning it over. Cut into wedges and serve.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Cuckoo for couscous!

On a recent trip to the new Whole Foods in Paramus, I encountered their copious offerings of dried beans and grains. I have come to find that buying these items in bulk is inexpensive compared to their boxed or bagged, or even canned, counterparts. I find this to be especially true of couscous. For under $1, you can get two cups of this versatile "pasta" (couscous isn't really a pasta, but it's remarkably similar).

The nice thing about couscous is that you don't need to cook it. It's a grain that simply needs to be reconstituted. On a warm day like today, the last thing you want to do in the kitchen is cook! Couscous is the answer. All you need to do is boil some water or stock (this can even be done in the microwave if you don't even want to turn on a burner!), add it to the couscous, and in five minutes you have the base of a tasty lunch or light dinner. Just add a few simple ingredients like toasted pine nuts (which can easily be toasted in the toaster oven!) and some dried spices to that and presto! Dinner is served!

Couscous with Raisins, Cinnamon and Pine Nuts

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dark seedless raisins
1 tablespoon unsalted butter*
1 cup dried couscous
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine 1 1/4 cups water with cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, salt, raisins and butter; bring to a boil. Stir in couscous; immediately remove from heat and cover. Let stand 5 minutes, then toss in the toasted pine nuts. Using a fork, fluff couscous and place in a serving bowl.

*If you don't have unsalted butter, it's ok to use salted butter but omit the teaspoon of salt from the ingredients.