Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thai Duck Curry with Shiitakes and Pineapple

You knew I wasn't done with that duck.  I think I used everything but the quack!

Thai curries are a huge favorite of mine, and I decided to create my own.  If you haven't a duck, you could substitute chicken or shrimp.

A friend, recently returned from Thailand, said she loved the food, but after a while it all started to taste the same.  We have Thai food only occasionally, so always love its distinctive coconut/spicy/ginger/lime flavors.

In this curry, the pineapple provides a zingy sweetness, and the shiitakes and duck are good, earthy complements for each other. 

I HIGHLY recommend getting everything chopped and ready to go before you start cooking.  This dish goes together quickly.  I actually prepared the vegetables and pineapple the night before.

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup diced cabbage
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste

1 14-ounce can coconut milk, plus one small can coconut cream or coconut milk
1-1/2 cups duck stock (you can use chicken stock)
1 tablespoon almond butter (you can use peanut butter)
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
2 kaffir lime leaves

2 cups duck meat, sliced from roast duck
15 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved
1/2 cup whole raw cashews

1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup sliced basil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Toss in the onion, pepper, cabbage, ginger and garlic, stir-frying 'til everything has a glossy sheen and has started to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add curry pastes, using caution with amounts.  Curry pastes vary wildly in heat strength.  Stir and fry so that the pastes are distributed throughout.

Add coconut milk, duck or chicken stock, almond butter, pineapple and lime leaf and stir well.  Bring all to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in duck meat, mushrooms and cashews, and cook for 5 minutes more.

Stir in fish sauce, lime juice, basil and cilantro, and return to simmer.  Serve with braising greens and rice, if desired.  Warn people to watch out for the lime leaves!  Their flavor will deepen in the curry if they are left in, which is one reason not to remove them.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pear and Cardamom Breakfast Cookies

A batch of these grain-free delights is easy to make and keep in the fridge, and the cookies are a welcome sight on mornings when you don't feel like spending a lot of time cooking breakfast.  The original recipe called for apple, but my lovely red CSA pears inspired me to try them instead.

Of course, there are many variations and options with fruit and spices for this cookie.  As well, you can leave the fruit in dice and stir it in just before baking, for a fruit-studded cookie, or blend the fruit in for a smoother, sleeker cookie.
Adapted from This Primal Life

If you use use very large pears or apples, ultimately you'll have more liquid and thus a runnier batter.  You want the batter to hold a cookie shape.  If your fruit is very large, considering using half of it, or doubling the recipe.

1 cup almonds
3 dates (optional; the fruit makes the cookies nicely sweet)

Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 tablespoons butter, ghee or oil
1 smallish CSA red pear, peeled, cored and diced

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in small skillet, and cook the pear, stirring occasionally, until it is heated through and no longer crisp.  It can still be firm.  Remove from heat.

In food processor, process almonds and optional dates until a fine meal forms.  Add salt, baking soda and cardamom, and pulse a few times.

Add eggs, vanilla, and pears, including any butter from the skillet, to food processor and pulse just until well mixed.  Alternatively, transfer batter to a bowl and then stir in the pear chunks and liquid.

Drop by large spoonfuls on Silpat-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until browned and firm.  Remove to wire racks to cool. 

Makes 4 large cookies (which is why I usually double the recipe!  They keep well in the fridge.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Delights of Mason Jars

Over on the smart palate, Nancy commented, "And why is it so much fun to drink out of a Mason jar?"  The question niggled at me enough that finally I decided to address it.  I'm always fascinated by trying to figure out why we do what we do.

As with those creepy dessert shooters, I found some strong feelings emerging about Mason jars.  But unlike the icky shooters, most of my Mason jar feelings were positive.  I had fun using a Mason jar for a few days to see what observations I could make about this humble object.

Drinking out of a Mason jar is fun because ... it seems slightly forbidden!  It's a natural response to conventional wisdom's hoity toity "One does not drink out of a jar!" with a kind of triumphant, in-your-face, oppositional "Why the heck NOT, dude!" attitude.  There's a little renegade in all of us, no?

Mason jars evoke, at least for certain people of my generation, security and plenty.  We see cellar shelves filled with Mason jars of cherries, tomatoes, relishes, plums, peaches, pears ... as long as you have a tool to open your jars with, you'll have food, even in a national disaster.  My great aunt used to send home jars of canned venison for us (I confess to always feeling a bit squeamish about it, though).  So just looking at Mason jars, and handling them, brings back all those feelings.  When was the last time a mere drinking glass actually evoked something for you?

Clearly, big business has discovered that Mason jars have draw power.  I've long noticed that homestyle restaurants serve beverages in them.  You can even buy faux Mason jar mugs with handles on them, presumably to fill this blatant need of restaurants and marketers to grab hold of our heartstrings and thus our pocketbooks.

I was stunned to discover a veritable plethora of restaurants in all corners of America calling themselves Mason Jar, even one in (gasp!) Manhattan.  Is it just me, or is there something slightly sinister about using such a homey object to lure us in to consume what are no doubt the farthest things (in terms of quality ingredients and affectionate care in preparation) from homestyle dishes imaginable? 
    Finally, a parting thought to create a springboard for even more thought:  Those markings (1/4, 1/2 etc.) on the sides of the Mason jar are spectacularly inaccurate, if they are referring to cups.  Why would Mason put misleading marks on their jars?  Whatever the reason, it is clear that, like Walter Cronkite, the Mason jar is firmly entrenched in America as a trusted friend.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    Pommes de Terre en Graisse de Canard

    It came to my attention that the French use their duck fat to create gloriously crisp and flavorful fried potatoes.  Why could I not do the same?  We're eating few potatoes nowadays, but in keeping with our "small portions of really good food" theory, it seemed only right to use my local duck fat to fry some of my CSA potatoes.  And they were, indeed, really good! 

    Besides, I've always wanted to write a recipe with the name translated in italics underneath it.  Merci, Babelfish!
    Les pommes de terre locales ont fait frire en graisse locale de canard

    5 small CSA potatoes
    2 tablespoons duck fat
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Peel potatoes, halve them lengthwise, then cut into 1/4-inch slices.  I spread the potato slices out on a large plate and microwaved them for five minutes to get the cooking process started.  My experience with frying raw potatoes has been that they take a very long time to fry to doneness.  Ideally, I like to use oven-roasted potatoes, peeled and sliced, for fried potatoes, but I didn't have time for that.

    Heat duck fat in a large skillet over medium heat.  When fat is hot, place potato slices in the skillet, spreading them out as evenly as possible.  Apply salt and pepper.  Now go away for a while and don't touch the potatoes.  They need a full five minutes or more to get a crispy finish.  Carefully lift a slice or two and check for a golden, crispiness.  If it's there, turn the potatoes in the skillet.  Let them fry another five minutes or so, turn again if necessary to crisp most of the potatoes, and serve hot.

    I could have let my potatoes fry a bit longer.  It's enormously tempting to keep turning them, but they need uninterrupted frying time to get the best crispy effect!

    Makes 6 abstemious servings

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Classic CSA Braising Greens, Three Ways

    By way of the wee memory fairy working her magic on two CSA customers this week, I found myself, as the drop site host, in possession of TWO unclaimed CSA boxes.  I feel bad when people forget to pick up their boxes, but there it is.  I have been instructed that the unclaimed boxes are mine to use or share.

    This week we each had a bag of braising greens, so I have two extra bags ... a real treat, as I have never seen braising greens in the grocery store.  The farmer's e-mail tells us the greens are all Asian varieties:  mizuna, tatsoi, and mibuna.  These greens wilt down significantly when cooked, like spinach.  So I like to mix other vegetables (preferably from the CSA box!) in with them.  This week's bok choy and red onion were perfect candidates!

    There are, of course, infinitely more than three ways to cook greens.  I have given ideas here.  Think of them as the starting point for your own creations. The photo shows the Indian Braise.

    I suspect braising greens might be available in Asian markets, of which we have several in our area.  But if you can't find them, spinach, chard and even sturdy lettuce varieties will work.  Just watch the cooking times so you don't overcook thinner greens.

    Indian Braise

    1 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil

    1 baby bok choy, sliced
    1/2 large or 1 small red onion, halved and sliced
    2 cups sliced cabbage

    1 tablespoon curry powder or garam masala

    12 ounces or so mixed braising greens, sorted and washed
    1/2 cup coconut milk
    1/2 teaspoon red curry paste or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    Salt to taste

    Coconut and chopped macadamia nuts to garnish (optional)

    Heat vegetable oil in large-ish skillet.  Add bok choy, onion and cabbage.  Saute, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften.

    Scatter curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt atop vegetables, stir, and cook, stirring for a minute or so until the spices become fragrant.  Stir in coconut milk and curry paste, mixing well.

    Pile braising greens into the pan, stir well to incorporate them with the other vegetables, and cover.  Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until greens have wilted and become somewhat tender.  Sprinkle coconut and chopped macadamia nuts atop if desired.

    Makes two large or four small servings. 

    Oriental Braise

    To same (or different!) combination of vegetables above, add chopped ginger and garlic when sauteeing the bok choy, onion and cabbage.  Use sesame oil if desired.  When adding the braising greens, stir in hoisin sauce or soy sauce mixed with a little water.  Add crushed red pepper if desired.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

    American Braise

    To same (or different!) combination of vegetables above, using coconut oil or vegetable oil, saute with plenty of garlic.  Stir in raisins, dried cranberries or chopped prunes when you add the braising greens.  Just before serving, stir in a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and some fresh walnuts. Orange peel and orange juice work well with this combination, too.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Box Seven

    I love it when I forget the boxes are coming, and drive up to my house and see them sitting there!  This box reminds me of the one last year with six GIANT red onions.  I was so thrilled that I made this recipe that called for three of them!  We also have apples, squash, bok choy, sage, lavender, and braising greens.  Dinner is gonna be great!

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Roast Local Duck

    Last November, I picked up my turkey from Russ and Laurie at CG Ranch in Benton City.  It was really cold that darkening afternoon.  Later that night, the first snow of the year would blanket the land.  My friend Michele, several other customers and I were standing around waiting as the turkeys were weighed.  Russ's coveralls were bloodstained from dealing with the turkeys.

    Then Russ said, "I have extra ducks if anyone wants one."  Instantly, I knew I had to have a duck.  Visions of a crispy, roasted duck floated before my eyes.  I had never cooked a duck, but in that visceral, rural, meaty moment, inexperience didn't seem any sort of obstacle.  A duck wasn't just meat, it was game meat, something our pioneer ancestors, nay, even primitive man had pursued, slain, roasted over smoky fires, and been nourished by!  (Yes, I know Russ raised the duck, but still.  Ducks have history!) 

    And so the duck, wrapped and tucked in the freezer through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and beyond, was never far from my mind.  I Googled.  I read cookbooks.  I talked to people about ducks.  It seemed that ducks were regarded as problematic.  They have lots of fat.  They should be massaged for quite some time before cooking to soften the fat.  They should be poached before roasting.  They should never be poached before roasting!  They should be trussed.  They should be split.  The wings should be removed.  The wings should be left on and tucked.

    A few days ago, I put the duck in the fridge to thaw, and it did.  I now had no choice but to Take Action.  I found the recipe I thought would see me though, and it did, splendidly.  We enjoyed a luscious duck dinner tonight, and with less work than I had feared. 

    As I write this, I have about two cups of boned duck meat waiting to be made into a curry, about two quarts of luscious, savory duck stock, and a cup and a half of beautiful, golden, rendered duck fat.

    All my duck dreams came true, and I am now a duck fan.  I hope you will be, too.

    I am indebted to the blog The Hungry Mouse for the excellent instructions and photographs.  I followed the instructions except for the following adaptations:

    Rather than scoring the duck's fat, I snipped it in a crosshatch pattern with the tips of kitchen shears.  I cut the wings off, and laid them beside the duck on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.  I salted the duck inside and out, rubbing the salt in.  I did not tie the legs.

    My duck was 3.5 pounds, and I was worried about over-roasting, given the recipe's four-hour roasting time for a larger duck.  So I raised the oven temperature to 325 degrees.  The duck roasted in exactly two hours, and I turned it over once after the first hour.  At the two-hour mark, I tested the internal temperature in a thick part of the meat, and it was 165.  I removed the duck to a small, shallow casserole, basted it with the sauce, and returned it to the oven for just about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.  Shiny, fragrant, crackly, perfection.

    My sauce adaptation included smaller amounts for the smaller duck:

    1/4 cup molasses
    2 tablespoons orange juice
    1/4 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    A 1-inch knob of ginger, minced
    Grated rind of one organic orange

    Combine all ingredients in a small pan and simmer over low heat until reduced to a syrupy state.

    The 3.5-pound duck served two people with nice sliced pieces, and the two drumsticks would probably constitute another serving.  There are also the smaller pieces of meat taken from the bones later.

    Here is my lovely duck fat!  Apparently, it is the French secret to glorious fried potatoes.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    New Zealand Blue Squash Soup with Coconut Milk

    Blithely, I washed my two CSA New Zealand Blue squashes and prepared to split them into chunks. "Why not roast them both!" I thought.  "Efficient!

    After about twenty minutes of splitting, seeding and scraping, Squash A had established a fierce, gnarly dominance over the entire cookie sheet.
    Squash B, vanquished, skulked back to the garage, and Squash A went into the oven.

    Whereupon I went outside to my trusty concrete squash-bashing patio and, with a hammer, broke a coconut into pieces, having already drained its liquid.  Half an hour later I had, at great risk to myself, picked and pried the coconut meat from the shell with a sharp knife.  I had Googled "coconut milk Champion juicer" to find out if I could make my own coconut milk.  Yes! 

    Half an hour later, I had the coconut milk, some lovely shreddy, tasty coconut pulp, and a spectacularly splashed and coconut-speckled kitchen.  I then began on the soup.

    Some may think I spend too much time cooking.  They would not think so after one taste of this sublime soup.  Freshly-roasted, densely flavorful squash ... delicately flavored coconut milk ... the sweetest hint of pungent spices ... the tiny crackle of crunchy coriander seed ... do try it!

    Adapted from Lentil Breakdown

    You could use butternut or other flavorful squash, or pumpkin. You could also use pre-ground spices.  Depending on how freshly ground they are, you may wish to adjust amounts.  I decided a splash of lime before serving would provide a nice counterpoint.

    2- to 3-lb. or so New Zealand Blue or other squash of choice, or pumpkin (to total 4 cups of cooked, mashed squash)
    Olive oil or butter

    1 tablespoon butter
    1 large onion, diced
    1 knob ginger, 1" or so square, minced
    2 cloves garlic, minced

    1 teaspoon cumin seed
    1 teaspoon coriander seed
    1/4 teaspoon cardamom seed
    1 teaspoon salt

    4 cups water or vegetable or chicken broth (I used chicken broth)
    1 14-oz can coconut milk, or 1-1/2 cups labor-intensive homemade coconut milk

    Juice of 1/2 lime

    Cilantro sprigs (optional)

    Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the squash or pumpkin into manageable-sized pieces.  Scrape out seeds.  A serrated ice cream scoop works great for this.  Lavishly oil or butter the cut squash surfaces, and place them on a foil-covered cookie sheet.  Roast, checking occasionally for doneness, about an hour and half.  The squash should have carmelized in places.  Remove, cool a bit, and scrape cooked squash (make sure to get all the carmelized bits in!) into a bowl.  You should have about 4 cups of cooked squash.

    Crush cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds roughly in a mortar and pestle.

    In large pot or Dutch oven, melt 1 tablespoon butter and saute the onions in it until they begin to soften.  Add ginger and garlic, and cook a bit more.  Scatter spices over, and stir, letting the mixture cook a few minutes until it is redolent with spice scent.

    Stir in salt, broth and coconut milk, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste, and add seasoning to your liking.  Depending on your squash's absorbency, you may need to add broth or water.

    Puree the soup.  I used an immersion blender right in the pot to puree the soup, though I didn't puree it to absolute smoothness ... I like a little intrigue in cream soups.  You could also transfer it to a blender in batches.

    Stir the lime juice into the hot soup just before serving. Garnish with cilantro, a sprinkling of coconut, a curl or two of lime peel ... this soup, from beginning to garnish, is very open to adjustment to your personal taste.

    Makes 8 generous servings.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Celery Root Soup

    Lately I've been noticing those interesting vegetables tucked up and back of the more usual, recognizable varieties in the front rows of the produce aisles.  Vegetables are playing a much larger role in our lives now, and, after casting my eye further around the available selection than I normally do, I brought home a hulking, monstrous celery root that nearly fell out onto my toes each time I opened the fridge door.

    Its destiny was fulfilled last night.  This is a delicious soup, despite the unfortunate appearance of a celery root. Or celeriac ... it's the same thing.  Still, how pretty is a potato?  It's all relative.

    This recipe was originally a bisque, but that called for straining it through a sieve, something I am loathe to do to a perfectly good soup.  It seems much to me like cutting the crusts off sandwiches.  Rustic is more attractive than primped, when it comes to food, no?
    Adapted from

    1 celery root, about 1-1/4 pounds, peeled and cubed
    1 large potato or 2 small CSA ones, peeled and cubed
    lemon juice

    3 tablespoons butter
    3 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut in 1/2-inch rounds
    3 cloves garlic, minced

    5 cups chicken stock (I used stock made with my CG Ranch chickens)

    Salt and pepper to taste

    1/3 cup Pure Eire cream
    2 tablespoon green onions, sliced

    As you peel and dice the celery root and potato, place them in a container of water with some lemon juice added to keep them from turning brown.  Discard the lemon water after adding celery root and potatoes to the soup.

    Melt butter in soup pot, and add leeks and garlic.  Saute for 10 minutes or so, until leeks have begun to soften.   Add chicken stock, celery root, potatoes, salt and pepper.   Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

    I used an immersion blender to "puree" this soup, as opposed to putting it in batches in a blender.  Don't over-puree:  Beating with blades releases potato starch and the soup will become gummy. 

    Stir in cream, taste for seasoning, heat gently through, and serve topped with green onions.

    Makes six generous servings.

    Box Six

    A bag of beautiful red pears is hiding out under the salad mix.   I found a big bag of taters, two squash, dried herbs, fresh cilantro, split peas, apples, and a baby bok choy.  I washed the salad greens right away and made Wilted Greens with them, and sauteed the bok choy next morning with shallots and Thundering Hooves sausage, and sprinkled the CSA cilantro o'er all.