Friday, November 25, 2011

All White Salad & Swiss Chard Pancakes (thank goodness for sous chefs!)

Helene's All White Salad & Swiss Chard Pancakes

It’s beautiful and sunny, perfect weather for Helene’s All-White Salad paired with Swiss Chard Pancakes for French Fridays with Dorie Chef’s Choice week.    The story of the Delicabar Snack Chic in the Le Bon Marche department store in Paris brought back memories of our trip to Paris.  Though we did not dine at this particular place, the market was amazing and I could have spent the day dining at each of the little cafes in the department store.  Story is that Helene Samuel wanted a menu with as much color as the room and came up with a slew of salads named for their hues.  This is the All-White Salad (keep in mind as you look at the photos).

Bounty of ingredients ready for Dorie's magic

Helene’s All White Salad is filled with readily available ingredients wherever you may find yourself cooking.  Celery, granny smith apples, white mushrooms and a Napa cabbage set the stage for a refreshing salad that could be used as the starter for a dinner party or the main event for a lunch.  The dressing is basically a mayonnaise and is done within a couple minutes and with very few ingredients – egg yolk, Greek yogurt, fleur de sel, and white pepper, olive oil and lemon juice.

Such great shades of white with the hint of green from the Napa Cabbage

This is really all that the dressing is - only thing not here is the addition of oil & lemon juice

In less than 2 minutes - a tangy, fresh dressing

The salad has the perfect amount of crispy, crunchy items, combined with the sweet tartness of the apple.  The tangy dressing is light and refreshing and compliments the flavors of the salad to perfection.    I added a little Parmigiano Reggiano to my salad (what can I say, I love cheese) which was a very good addition and fit with the all-white theme of the dish.   The recipe makes a very generous amount of salad and if you don’t dress the entire bowl you can have this for a few meals – the apples hold up well when covered and dressed with lemon juice.   It was perfect with the duck breast we had, great with the Thanksgiving turkey and good on its own with the Swiss Chard Pancakes.

Helene's All White Salad

Chef’s choice was only challenging in limiting me to one recipe, and since I did the salad, I thought I could do one more and was eager to the Swiss Chard Pancakes.  I adore savory items, and these pancakes did not disappoint.   Dorie says that the recipe makes about 40 and they freeze well so they would be perfect for keeping in your freezer for last minute guests, as a side to salads, or just a quick treat for yourself.  Since there are only two of us, I decided to take her advice and make the entire batch and freeze the leftovers.

Batter Up!

Anything obvious missing - say flour?

Thank goodness for sous chefs - batter corrected and now with flour!
This is a really simple recipe to make, especially if you read properly and put all the ingredients in.  For whatever reason, I had a brain cloud and couldn’t figure out why the batter didn’t need flour.  After unsuccessfully trying to fry one of my flourless batters, I called upon my sous chef for advice.  I told him the recipe didn’t call for flour and I was at a loss for what to do.  After 30 seconds of reading the recipe he jollily pointed out the second line of 2 ½ cups of flour required.  Still not sure how I missed that 20 times, but grateful for the correction, I started over and had smashing success.

It's amazing how pancakes work so much better with flour

Can't wait to taste these

Since I had forgotten to get parsley at the store I substituted thyme and rosemary for the parsley.  Dorie said this is the sort of recipe that people can use what they have and it will turn out great.  This may be a new way to “clean the fridge” of some of the leftover items.  The Swiss Chard was superb, and added a nice slightly bitter flavor to the pancake, but I can imagine that it would be equally good with kale, spinach, maybe even arugula.

Swiss Chard Pancakes - perfect for unexpected guests

It’s also a great canvas to dress up – we had one with a little crème fraiche and herbs, another with the crème fraiche, herbs and sliver of Parmigiano Reggiano.  I’m imagining a little sprinkle of freshly crumbled bacon could be quite heavenly as well.

Swiss Chard Pancakes & Helene's All White Salad - love it!

Gorgeous!  Tasty too!

As a side note, we also had Duck Breast with Persimmon Sauce.  It is an adaptation of the Duck Breast with Fresh Peaches on page 230 of Around My French Table.  Peaches are not in season but persimmon is and it made quite a lovely and festive holiday dish.  Now that I’ve learned Dorie’s secret to 20 minute duck breast the world is a different place.  Duck is now a semi-regular item in our house and a great substitute for the steak and veal chop dinners.  If you haven’t tried this technique, try it and you’ll be hooked!

Roast Duck with Persimmon Sauce

Perfect for a romantic dinner for two or a dinner party

Even Santa wants some of this duck!

To read more Chef's Choice French Friday's with Dorie experiences:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spicy Squash, Fennel & Pear Soup

Spicy Squash, Fennel & Pear Soup

There is no cold weather dish more ubiquitous than squash soup.  So I was not overly enthusiastic about this week's French Friday with Dorie challenge:  Spicy Squash, Fennel and Pear Soup.  But I was surprised to discover this recipe is pure holiday cheer in a bowl.  It is quick and simple to make, and way better than TJ's soup in a box.  I recommend this soup as a winter first course or, with proper accoutrements, an afternoon's entree.

Ingredients at the ready 

The ingredients establish a festive mood.  The orange squash is the color of Thanksgiving; the fennel adds a distinct licorice aroma reminiscent of hot spiced rum; and who can forget the importance of the pear in the Twelves Days of Christmas?  The roasted squash, fennel and smooth and succulent pears all add an elegant touch to the basic butternut squash soup.  The recipe calls for a large Spanish onion and a green onion or scallion.  Since I had all three on hand, I decided to use them all and kick up the onion contribution a bit.  This combination worked really well in adding a rounded onion profile to the soup.  In addition to the ground ginger, I had a little fresh ginger on hand and added both to a  touch of ground cumin and nutmeg.  Before I knew it, I was throatily singing Christmas carols and became eager to Deck the Halls with something or other.  But the real difference maker was the orange zest.  The fragrant zest of the orange is like a tango of orange blossoms dancing across your palate with a little kick of ginger to keep the dance going.

Onion, Celery & Fennel base

Roasted squash ready for peeling and dicing

Diced squash ready to go into soup base

For the health and calorie conscious, this soup has no cream.  It is made strictly from the vegetables, fruit and stock.  This is a real plus for those who have dairy allergies or are lactose intolerant.
All ingredients are in dutch oven and waiting for stock

Stock is added and soup is brought to slow boil

I love my immersion blender - soup in minutes and no mess of transferring to a blender

We garnished with creme fraiche, roasted pumpkin seeds and a squeeze of lemon that really brightened the flavors of the soup.  It's a gorgeous, velvety, luscious soup that, when paired with the previous weeks' 20 minute duck and the pumpkin stuffed with everything good might be my go-to meal this holiday entertaining season!

Go to to read more experiences with this recipe from my fellow Dorista's.

The pumpkin seeds and creme fraiche add great contrast in texture to the soup

A perfect autumn afternoon in the desert

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lavender Honey & Orange Glazed Duck Breasts

At present, my intrepid sous chef is only concerned about one kind of duck challenge:  the Oregon Ducks’ upcoming showdown with the Stanford Cardinal.   No, he is not an Oregon Duck by education or geography.  In fact, since childhood he has been a USC Trojan fan (and later a USC law school graduate).  But he loves the Ducks’ style of play:  fast, fast and faster. 
I am not a football fan, but I am a fan of great recipes that can be prepared quickly during the halftime of some important college or professional football game. This week’s French Friday’s with Dorie challenge of 20-minute Glazed Duck Breasts fits the bill (pun intended).  During football and Holiday seasons I’m looking for quick and easy meals and rapidly tire of home delivery and drive through.  So the thought of making such a cosmopolitan dish as duck breasts was very appealing.

There are lots of waterfowl in the Palm Springs area owing to the proliferation of water features on the over 100 golf courses and the quintessential backyard pool to cool oneself during the long and arduous summers.  But what is flying, quacking and generally messing sea and land locally is not necessarily found in our markets.  I had once seen duck breasts at Bristol Farms in Rancho Mirage and so there the quest for the Holy Duck Grail began and ended.  Of course, there were no duck breasts available at that time, but the fowlmonger did have a nice 5-pound duck that we could have.  A look of consternation passed between me and my sous chef that was noticed by the fowlmonger.  After some pleading, he graciously butchered the beast into two de-boned filets, two legs and some other parts that were best left with him.  Had we tried this at home, Dorie’s 20-minute recipe would have likely included an unproductive hour of preparation and the risk of losing one or more digits. 

As an aside, Dorie’s recipe did not specify whether the duck breast should be boneless and whether or not fresh was preferred over frozen.  For ease of preparation and speed, I assume boneless is the correct choice, and I always prefer fresh to frozen, except for my margaritas and daiquiris. 

My first duck - The veggies were roasted in duck fat and unbelievably good!
Duck is something I often order at swank restaurants.  However, my only previous foray into cooking duck at home was in September when I could not resist a whole duck from the Bristol Farms in South Pasadena.   I went for inspiration and instruction to my ”cooking bible,” Joel Robuchon’s The Complete Robuchon.  This book has no photos, but provides very detailed instruction on how to cook, and for that reason alone I can commend this book for your cooking library.  The roasted duck was delicious and pretty simple to prepare. 

Scored Duck Breasts - Chef & Sous Chef tied in final score!

My two small, but expensive, duck breasts at the ready, I scanned Dorie’s recipe and was so shocked at its simplicity I had to read it again.  Indeed it was simple, except for one thing.  I had never “scored” a duck breast and did not know how to do it.  The entreaty to my sous chef was met with sarcastic comments about “the Ducks’ score at will” and “I should stick to my own species.”  When he had calmed, he demonstrated the technique on one breast and I did the other.  A good, sharp knife is essential for this task and be sure not to cut into the meat in the process.

After a good scoring, the duck breasts were ready to sizzle in my Dutch Oven.  Dorie mentioned that using a Dutch Ovens helped contain the splattering duck fat.  This was an excellent tip that saved my stovetop from looking like a grease bomb had exploded!  It’s amazing how much fat can come from two duck breasts.  For those without a Dutch Oven or equivalent, a splatter screen is a good alternative.

At the beginning

Flipped for the last 3 minutes in Dutch Oven

Duck Breasts after a 5 minute rest
Over medium-high heat, I cooked the duck breasts for 8 minutes on one side and then flipped them over and cooked for another 3 minutes.  No butter or oil was needed for the duck breasts render enough fat.  When done, I took the duck breasts from the Dutch Oven, loosely wrapped them in tinfoil and let them rest in a pre-heated oven for 5 minutes at 250 degrees.  The resting period gives you time to prepare your accompaniments.

Fresh local oranges, juicy and sweet!
 After the duck breasts had rested in the oven, it was time to apply glaze all over and return them to the Dutch Oven to warm each side for 30 seconds at low heat.  The recipe calls for a glaze consisting of honey, balsamic vinegar and lime juice, simple ingredients that are normally at home.  Turns out I had everything but plain honey, so I had to improvise.  At hand was a lavender infused honey I use in making a cocktail I adore, the San Permis, created and served at Sapphire Restaurant in Laguna Beach.  The San Permis is the perfect brunch substitute for a Mimosa and is made with lavender infused honey, cava (Spanish Sparkling), and Cointreau (orange liqueur).  The drink’s combination of honey and orange liqueur inspired me to substitute orange juice for the lime juice.  The combination of the lavender honey, balsamic vinegar and orange juice is a winner.  It makes a great glaze:  fruity, sweet and fragrant and matches well with the duck breasts slightly robust flavor.  Magnifique! 
Lavender Infused Honey
We earlier had a sumptuous lunch and neither of us wanted a meal with all the trimmings.  So I sliced the duck breasts, added them to an arugula salad and drizzled on some of the sweet smelling glaze elixir that I had fortuitously saved.  The result was spectacular.  An entrée salad made in 20 minutes that was as good tasting as it looked.  The duck breasts were crispy on the outside and moist and pink on the inside.  A perfect complement to the spicy arugula that glistened with a captivating sheen from the glaze. 
Glazing the duck breast
Our duck breast ended up becoming an entrée salad – completely accidental, but a great happenstance that will be made again.  No more mundane chicken salads.  Moist, rich tasting duck breasts that can be made in 20 minutes are a miracle dish for the chef held hostage by football most evenings. 
Magnifique!  Dinner in 20!

The recipe for my inspiration, the San Permis:

San Permis

San Permis at Sapphire Restaurant Laguna Beach
Cava (Spanish Sparkling Wine - Chilled)
1 ounce Cointreau
Lavender Infused Honey (honey, lavender, orange zest)

Coat inside of Champagne glass with lavender infused honey.  Pour in Cointreau.  Top off with chilled Cava.

To read other Dorista's French Friday with Dorie experiences: