Cooking Classes


Pasta with Confit Duck and Savoy Cabbage

Before we talk about food I have to do something special to celebrate New Year's Eve. I am not going to get sappy about the wonderful or difficult or whatever type of year it was in 2009.  Nor will I opine about the promise of 2010.  I want to look again at Susan Boyle!  Didn't she make 2009 wonderful!  I think so.  Let's listen to her one more time.

Susan Boyle on YouTube

I found the smallest Savoy cabbage that I have ever seen!  But since I am cooking for one, it was perfect.  Savoy cabbage is great for making cabbage rolls but you would require a large head for that use.

My friend, Scott, told me he makes a nice duck dish with cabbage.  I thought I would try this recipe.  I am still using my confit, although I don't have very much left.  My dish might be a little shy on the confit but I still wanted to try it and see how the flavours worked.  And I am using penne rather than the suggestion in the recipe.

Pasta with Confit Duck and Savoy Cabbage

Gourmet  | September 2006

Makes 4 servings
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 3 (6- to 8-oz) confit duck legs
  • 2 large onions, halved lengthwise, then sliced (1/4 inch thick; 4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (1 1/2-lb) piece Savoy cabbage, cored and cut into 2-inch pieces (8 cups)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (12 fl oz)
  • 1 lb dried campanelle (bell-shaped pasta) or garganelli
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then sear duck legs, starting skin sides down and turning over once, until skin is golden and some of fat is rendered, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board, reserving skillet. When duck legs are cool enough to handle, remove skin and scrape off and reserve any visible fat, then cut skin into roughly 1/4-inch pieces. Return skin and fat to skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and pressing down on larger pieces, until fat is rendered and cracklings are golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer cracklings with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
While cracklings cook, pull duck meat from legs into roughly 1/4-inch-thick strips, discarding bones and any gristle.
Reserve 2 tablespoons fat in skillet, discarding remainder, then cook onions with 1/2 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Add cabbage and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring and turning occasionally with tongs, until cabbage is slightly wilted, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is very tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
While cabbage simmers, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander.
Transfer cabbage mixture to pasta pot along with butter and shredded duck and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until butter is melted and duck is heated through. Stir in pasta, parsley, and pepper until combined. (If pasta looks dry, stir in some of cooking water.) Season with salt and serve cracklings on the side (for sprinkling over pasta).


Smoked Salmon Chowder

Chowders are so easy to make and so flavourful.  I made my first chowder with smoked fish when I spent two months in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.  Smoked mackerel was easy to buy direct from the producers on the roadside.  To do my weekly shopping, I just had to drive down the road.  I could buy vegetables, smoked fish, eggs and anything in season.

Feel free to substitute other smoked fish, fresh fish or seafood in this recipe.

Smoked Salmon Chowder       Serves 8 for dinner
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 pound potatoes - peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
8 ounces smoked salmon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup half and half cream

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, combine the butter, olive oil, onion, garlic, and celery. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are transparent. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and stir well to make a dry roux. Gradually add the chicken broth and stir until slightly thickened. Stir in the potatoes, dill, tarragon, thyme, and paprika. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the salmon, wine, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Simmer over low heat, uncovered for 10 minutes.
Mix in the half-and-half and continue to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the chowder boil after adding the half-and-half. Serve hot.


Miss Sugar

If she wasn't so darned cute, I wouldn't be happy about her sleeping on my nicely folded black towel!  But what could I do? 

She mats so terribly over the winter and she hates being groomed.  I can keep it up until about December and then I just let it be.  I clip anything that might grow into a big mat, otherwise, I just leave it. 

In March, we begin our slow journey of cutting it all off!  She loves the freedom of no hair.  Believe it or not, these are pictures of the same cat.


Chicken Paillards with Clementine Salsa

I am sure we are thinking the same thing.  First it was Canadian Thanksgiving, then it was American Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and New Year's.  We are very ready to lighten our menus and drop a coupla pounds.  Right?  I think Epicurious was ahead of the game.  This recipe was posted on December 22 and caught my eye right away because I have clementines waiting to be eaten.

But what are paillards?  French paillarde, from Paillard, late 19th century French restaurateur.  It usually refers to beef or veal pounded thin but in this case it is chicken.  This not only shortens the cooking time but it also tenderizes the meat.  This is a great mid-week meal.  I think this salsa would also be nice with fish or shrimp.

 Chicken Paillards with Clementine Salsa              serves 4

4 5-ounce chicken breast halves
4 clementines, peeled, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 serrano chile, seeded, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup fresh clementine juice (from about 6 clementines)

Place chicken breast halves between 2 sheets plastic wrap or parchment paper, spacing apart. Using mallet, pound chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Mix clementines and next 8 ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Salsa can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature.
Uncover chicken; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until slightly browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to platter. Add clementine juice to skillet; boil until reduced to 1/4 cup, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Drizzle sauce over chicken. Spoon salsa over and serve.


Onion and Cider Soup with Roquefort Croutons

Christmas is over but the refrigerator is certainly not empty!  I have a quart of nice apple cider and a bit of blue cheese so when I came across this recipe, I thought it would be great to try.  And, it is quite low in fat, has a little protein in the cheese,  is two servings of fruit and vegetables and a serving of bread in each bowl.  It is a variation of a French Onion Soup.

Onion and Cider Soup with Roquefort Croutons
Gourmet  | November 1991
 Makes about 7 cups, serving 4 to 6 as main course

3 1/2 pounds onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups unpasteurized apple cider
3 cups beef broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons brandy
six 1/2-inch-thick slices of Italian bread, toasted lightly
3 ounces Roquefort or Saga Blue, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

In a heavy kettle cook the onions in the oil over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour, or until they are golden brown. Stir in the cider, the broth, the water, the brandy, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer the soup, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Arrange the toast slices on a baking sheet, sprinkle the Roquefort on them, and broil the croutons under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat until the cheese begins to melt. Ladle the soup into heated bowls and float a Roquefort crouton in each serving.


Merry Christmas to All from Tennessee

The Christmas season begins right after Thanksgiving!  The thought of another big meal is a bit overwhelming.  Perhaps that is why they are not compelled to cook turkey for Christmas.

I have an invitation to join an extended family for Christmas.  Brenda is cooking a ham.  This will be my first Christmas without a turkey (or chicken or duck).  I will be taking tortiere cooked as a log rather than a pie.  No pie plate in my house anymore!  But the log is so much easier to serve for a larger group.  My homemade green tomato relish will taste perfect with this.  I understand that other side dishes will include a cranberry salad, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and more, I'm sure.  There will be two different pies for dessert and I am taking Nanaimo Bars.  That is another Canadian contribution to the meal.

My special Christmas treat is to visit the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina.  It is still owned by the van der Bilts and is the largest privately owned home in the USA.  It is a tourist site though and not occupied by the family.  It is decked out for Christmas and there are candlelight tours.  I had thought I might drive to Atlanta to pick up a friend but that would double my travel time and the weather has not been that good.  It is definitely a white Christmas in North Carolina.  In addition, there is a detour on the main highway due to a rock slide two months ago.  So I am not really looking forward to the drive but it is a 'must do' while I am down here and what a better time than Christmas.

There are definite advantages taking vacations during a recession!  Usually there is a two year wait to visit the Inn at Biltmore House for Christmas.  But this year Wednesday's during December are half price so I have decided to take advantage and stay right on the grounds of the mansion.

My final Christmas invitation is from Miss Ruth who is 93 years old.  Her son and daughter-in-law will be visiting from Georgia and they are making the short trip to Gatlinburg (like driving to Banff).  We will do that on Boxing Day, although they don't call it Boxing Day.  It is just 'the day after Christmas'.  We will hike up to the visitor centre and see the view and learn history, I am assuming.  Then stay until after dark to see all the Christmas lights.   I'm glad I am not doing the driving back in the dark on the narrow, windy mountain road.

I think Christmas is always described best in pictures.  This is a picture album of things I see at home and nearby during this season, my gingerbread house, Nanaimo Bars that I made for my neighbours, the Biltmore and the view from my bedroom window at the Inn at Biltmore.


Gingerbread House

I have never actually ever had the urge to make a Gingerbread House.  Not even when I was a kid.  That's what I love about The Daring Bakers.  The enthusiasm is contagious and then I feel like I should join in.  We have a bit of freedom.  We can make any type of house that strikes our fancy.  I have decided that my personal challenge will be to make this house from ingredients already in my pantry or house or outdoors.

I had already purchased the extra long cinnamon sticks for $3.  All of the batter ingredients were in my pantry.  I used my homemade Raincoast Crisps for the roof tiles.  I used my own candied fruit for decorations.  Dried cranberries and lots of green cardamom pods were in my kitchen.  And I used carmelized sugar to glue the whole thing together.  I further carmelized until almost burnt and used the coloured sugar syrup to give glitter to the roof and trees.  All in all, this cost me about $6.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Knead until fully mixed.  Chill 2 hours or overnight.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney, etc. out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough to about 3/8" thick and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Syrup Glue:
1/4 cup (200g) water
1 cup (200g) sugar

Combine in a small saucepan and heat until you reach the hard ball stage. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, reboil it.


Nanaimo Bars

It is December 20 and I am wrapping a gift for a little boy whose family has been chosen for Christmas giving by the church I am attending.  I also bought a jar of Herbes de Provence for Grizelda, a friend of my housesit hosts.  She loved my chicken with roasted carrots flavoured with the herbes.  I happened upon them and thought it would be a nice hostess gift when I go to their home.

But now I am thinking about Remonia & Rick and Ersie.  They have been such good friends during my stay and I didn't even think of giving them a Christmas gift. 

I want to make something truly Canadian that they will like.  How did Nanaimo Bars come into my brain?  I don't think I have made them since I was a teenager.  But I know they will be enjoyed down here in the South.  If I didn't know better, I would think this came right from Paula Deen, lots of sugar and butter, but this recipe is truly from Nanaimo, British Columbia

Nanaimo Bars
Adapted from Joyce Hardcastle

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp cocoa powder
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
Combine the butter, sugar and cocoa powder in a double boiler and heat until melted. Slowly drizzle the hot mixture into the beaten egg, whisking constantly until thickened. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs, almonds, and coconut. Press the mixture firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ baking pan and chill.
Middle Layer
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tbsp whipping cream
2 tbsp vanilla pudding powder
2 cups icing sugar
Cream together the butter, cream, vanilla pudding powder and icing sugar until light. Spread over bottom layer and chill.
Top Layer
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over low heat. Once cool but still liquid, pour over middle layer and chill in refrigerator until set, about an hour.

Cut into squares using a knife dipped in hot water. For easier (and neater!) pieces, dip the pan very briefly in hot water and then turn out onto a cutting board. Flip over using a second cutting board and cut into squares.


Risotto with Confit of Duck

I am using some of my duck confit with risotto for lunch today.  It is a simple, delicious meal.  This is a basic risotto recipe and you could flavour with almost anything - sauteed fresh vegetbles, some spinach, simply with saffron (for Risotto Milanese).  This is a recipe for one.  I find that risotto freezes quite well and have put it in the freeze in individual portions for a quick meal if you want to make a larger amount.

I have been espousing the virtues of duck fat.  It is liquid at room temperature and imparts a nice earthy flavour.

Risotto with Confit of Duck

2 t duck fat
1 T finely diced shallots
1 t finely chopped garlic
1/3 c arborio rice
1 1/3 c heated chicken broth, approx.
2 T grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c duck confit, shredded

Saute the shallots and garlic in duck fat until almost but not browned.  Add rice and saute until it glistens.  Add about 1/2 c of the chicken stock and simmer until it has been absorbed.  Continue to add chicken stock in small portions until the rice is tender.  Add the duck confit and parmesan cheese and heat until warmed.  Serve immediately.


Duck Rillettes

This refined French appetizer is traditionally made by pounding confit of pork, goose, or (in this case) duck into a silky paste. Now a mortar and pestle is replaced by a food processor and elbow grease by a light touch — rillettes are best if it can be easily spread but not quite smooth

Duck Rillettes

confit made with 4 duck legs with thighs and 4 wings
1/4 c duck fat plus more for capping
freshly ground black pepper

Shred the duck meat, discarding the skin and bones. Place the shredded meat in a food processor and add 1 tablespoon of duck fat. Pulse the machine and add enough of the remaining fat so the rillettes hold together. Season the rillettes with plenty of pepper and serve with toasted country bread. Alternatively, spoon the rillettes into ramekins, top with a layer of duck fat, and store in the refrigerator. They will keep for several weeks.

Magret of Duck with Dried Berry Compote and Spinach Risotto

Duck is one of my favourite meats.  This is the perfect dish for the winter.

The duck breast was quickly seared in duck fat and then put in a 375F oven for about 10 minutes.  Then I put it on a plate and tented it with tin foil for 10 minutes before slicing.  Top with the compote.

Dried Berry Compote            for each serving

In the same pan that I seared the duck, I added a finely diced shallot and 1/2 t finely chopped orange zest.  Saute until transparent.  Add:
2 T mixed dried berries, coarsely chopped
2 T orange juice
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T white wine

Reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated.


How to Use a Whole Duck when You are Cooking for One

I should be stating in most of my recipes that they can all be made when you cook for one.  I am only cooking for one throughout this entire blog, even though I state the amounts for more.  There is no reason you cannot eat well and have very nice food even if you live alone.

I enjoy duck and when I cannot find just the duck breast, whole duck is the only other option.

I found a whole, fresh duck at The Market in Maryville.  The whole duck was only $23.  This is when I start to ponder how to use the whole duck without just simply roasting it.

I decided to cut it apart and make a greater variety of dishes.  Below are the instructions on how to cut it apart.  I will be sharing some more of my recipes with duck over the next couple of days.

Now, how will I cook it?  This is my plan - one half breast with a wild rice salad, one half breast seared and served with dried fruit compote and spinach risotto, one leg braised and served with Morbier grits (or polenta if you are in another part of the world or garlic mashed potatoes), and the other leg and wings in confit.  All the skin and fat will be rendered down for use in making the confit and for other sauteing.  And last but not least, duck cracklings will be made after rendering the fat.  I can use it in a multitude of ways.  My best idea for using the cracklings is in an Iceberg Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese or to garnish any time you might have used bacon bits.

To break this down a little further, the confit can be kept refrigerated for a month.  The braised duck leg can be kept, cooked and refrigerated for 2 days.  You can keep raw duck refrigerated for about 2-3 days as well.  Add that up and you will have duck in 3 different recipes in about 8 days without eating leftovers.  Then the confit and the cracklings can be used up to a month.  The confit can be made into rillettes, a type of coarse pate for crackers.  Or add the confit to pasta, risotto or bake in arancini.  There are no end to ideas on how to use the confit.

These are a few pictures showing how to cut apart a duck.  First rinse and dry the duck.  Remove any giblets that may be in the cavity.

First, remove the wings.  You can find the joint easily by prying the wing back and snapping the joint.  Cut through and set the wings aside.  Remove the wing tips.

Next, remove the legs with thighs attached.  They will be attached to each other by the back.  Just cut through on either side of the back bone to separate the legs.  Duck legs are usually left attached to the thighs.  Trim excess fat and skin.

The breasts are usually deboned.  Run your fingers under the meat and next to the breast bone.  If necessary, use a sharp knife to help remove the meat from the bone.  Cut the breast down the middle to make two halves.  Trim excess fat and skin.


Mexican Christmas Hot Punch (Ponche Caliente)

See my updated recipe Ponche Caliente Updated 

I was invited to dinner last night and was hoping for some nice Mexican food because my hostess was born in Mexico and is a fabulous cook.  Alas, southern cornbread with chunky beef and vegetable homemade soup and a nice green salad were on the menu.  It was beautiful but I was hoping for Mexican.  Then we were offered hot punch.  It is a traditional Mexican hot punch and I was thrilled.

The recipe, loosely, is chopped fruit.  You should use pineapple for sure and can add a mixture of apples, oranges, raisin, prunes or anything that may strike your fancy.  Sweeten with sugar cane, add water and cinnamon stick.  Simmer for 5 minutes.

The other 'must add' is chopped walnuts.  The walnuts make this unique and memorable.  It was lovely.  I found this recipe somewhere online and it is very similar to what we had but has no walnuts.  Add walnuts!

Mexican Christmas Hot Punch (Ponche)

When Christmas time rolls around, in the biggest pot you can get your hands on—like the one grandma used to seal her canning jars in, boil the following items:

½ kilo of peeled sugar cane, cut into 3 inch lengths then split lengthwise into string-cheeze sized sticks.
½ kilo cored, and very coarsely sliced apple.
½ kilo quartered guavas
½ kilo tejocote (tey-ho-co-tey)
½ kilo tamarindo (ta-ma-reen-do) (This is a seed pod with a sour flavor that is common in Mexico.)
1/4 kilo prunes or raisins
1/8 kilo cinnamon sticks broken into large pieces
½ kilo piloncillo (pee-lone-see-yo) (This is a delicious form of brown sugar traditional in Mexico.)

Sugar to taste (If you can’t get piloncillo, I recommend that you use 100% brown sugar for your punch)

Boil until all of the fruit is very soft.

Serve hot with brandy or tequila on the side for those who like a little nip.

Makes 5 gallons of punch

Note: a kilo is 2.2 pounds. If you want to make this recipe in the US, multiply everything by two. The amounts are approximations and you can feel free to change the proportions in any way you would like.

Don’t worry if you can’t get the Mexican ingredients; it’ll still taste delicious!

Leave the skins on all of the fruit, it makes for better flavor and texture. Serve the punch with chunks of fruit. Part of the punch experience is getting at the fruit once you’ve enjoyed the liquid.