19 September 2011

Balsamic glazed duck with lentils

The palate worm struck again.  This time the craving monster wanted duck.  Simple enough--no real curveballs -- just a lovely duck breast with lovely crispy skin with a lovely pink centre.

The only problem?  It's not duck season (for that matter, it may not be rabbit season, either).

Oh, palate worm, you are a sneaky one...making me believe that you can be easily satisfied

I called my favourite butcher and there was no joy--his supplier wasn't able to get any in yet.  Several rounds of telephone tag later and more than 30 minutes on the road and one lovely, plumptious duck breast was in my hot little hands.

So now what?

Part of me wanted to rub it in juniper, part of me wanted to create a spicy masala for it.  Then my mind hovered over orange and cherry.  What to do, what to do...

I thought of the lovely crisp skin...then it hit me.  Even though a lot of duck fat is rendered, there's always a thin layer left (at least when I do it).  That wee bit of richness would do well with a bit of tanginess, tinged with a bit of sweet and punctuated with a bit of a bite.  After some reading and recipe perusing, it was clear this breast should be bushed with a balsamic glaze.

Cooking duck breast is relatively easy, so I didn't really want to make a complicated dish to  accompany it.  Lentils mixed with bacon, sautéed mushrooms and vegetables seemed to be the obvious pairing.

The full meal is really quite simple to prepare (really, if I can do it, anyone can), and once the veggies have been chopped can be pulled together in less than an hour...which, I think, places it within Wednesday night supper party territory (or, in my case, Wednesday night supper territory...with enough leftovers for Thursday lunch).

Balsamic-glazed duck with lentils with mushrooms and bacon
Serves two


For the lentils:
100g (3.5oz/3-4 rashers) rashers of smoked bacon, chopped roughly
Olive oil or butter, for frying
1 shallot, minced
100g (3.5oz/approx 1.33c) sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, diced finely
110g (9Tbsp/0.5c +1Tbsp) dried puy lentils (green lentils)
1 bay leaf
500ml (2c) vegetable broth

For the duck:
1 duck breast
75ml (0.33c) balsamic vinegar
1Tbsp (15ml) runny honey


First...the lentils.

In a pot, sauté the bacon until crispy.  Remove to a bowl.  Sauté the shallots in the bacon fat until wilted.  Add the mushrooms (and a bit of oil or butter if you need it), with a good sprinkling of pepper. Add the garlic with the mushrooms are soft.  Stir for about 30 seconds or until the garlic's scent is released.  Tip the mixture into the bowl with the bacon.

Add about a spoonful of oil or butter (or duck fat!) to the pan.  Soften the carrots and celery in the fat.  Add the lentils and the bay leaf and give it a good stir.  Pour in the stock, bacon and mushrooms and stir well.  Over medium-high heat, bring the pot to a boil and let bubble for about five minutes.  Turn down the heat and let simmer for about 30-45 minutes or until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Stir and balance flavours to taste.

Next...the duck.

While the lentils are cooking, score the skin in a  harlequin (or a diamond) pattern, with the tip of a sharp knife--cut deeply enough to cut the fat, not the meat.  Rub a pinch or two of salt and pepper into both sides of the breast.  

Place the breast skin-side down on a cold, heavy pan.  Turn the hob to low to medium-low heat and let the fat slowly render, while crisping the skin to a golden colour.  This will take about 10-15 minutes.  

Remove the breast to a plate, pour off (but save!) the duck fat.  Brush a tablespoon or so of the fat onto the meat side and return the breast, meat side down to the pan.  Sear over medium-low to medium heat for about two to five minutes.  Remove the breast to a plate and cover tightly with foil (let rest at least five minutes).

While the duck is resting, make the balsamic glaze.  Remove excess fat from the pan and  pour in the balsamic vinegar and honey, add a couple of pinches of salt and a good amount of pepper (enough to satisfy your palate).  Give it a stir.  Over medium heat reduce the mixture by half, until it's thick and syrupy.

Brush the skin side of the duck with the balsamic reduction  (and the meat side, if you wish), and thinly slice the breast.

Serve immediately, laying duck slices over the lentils.


  • Be sparing when adding salt as commercial broths and bacon can be quite salty
  • Don't throw away that lovely duck fat!  Decant to a baggie and freeze it for the next time you roast or fry potatoes.
  • The older your lentils, the longer they will take to soften, so check the lentils after 30 minutes to see how they're doing, and go on from there.

 I'm a quill for hire!

11 September 2011

Chocolate chip pecan toffee cookies

Oops!  I mean Lacey Chocolate chip pecan toffee cookies

Even though it's only been about five or six weeks since I last posted, it feels longer...much longer.  I fully admit to a bit of sheepishness about the length of this past break.  My usual two or so week break stretched to three...and then a month...and then it became...umm...a wee bit longer.

I think I have good reason.  The fact is...I really didn't cook or bake a lot this summer. Between this and that, this food fete and that dinner, most of my kitchen activity seemed to be microwaving or simply pulling a cold drink...erm...salad fixings from the fridge.

That's the way it goes sometimes.

This week I made a very conscious effort to reacquaint myself with my kitchen and create something to write about.  I decided upon chocolate chip cookies.

Goodness knows I've made hundreds of dozens of them over the years.  That should be a nice, easy way of easing me back into the swing of things.


You know what it's like to take a yoga class after not doing a Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana for five years?  That feeling that even the corpse pose is well beyond capabilities?

Okay...maybe you don't.  But I do...and it's weighing heavily as I'll be unfurling my mat for the first time in half a decade on Tuesday.  No...I'm not concerned...overly.

Yeah.  That's what it was like baking these cookies.

I looked at a few recipes, including the Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookie #10 (aka the Toll House Recipe) and a couple of community even cookbooks and came up with another way to build a chocolate chip cookie (because, of course, the world needs another chocolate chip cookie recipe).

It all came together nicely and I scooped out the first tray of cookies.

After eight minutes I took out the first tray of cookies from the oven.

The first tray looked more like crocheted lace doilies by someone obsessed with the popcorn stitch.  Half the tray was one lacy cookie ooze of sugar and butter, held together by the occasional molten pool of toffee and studded with softened chocolate, as well as the just scant amount of flour I used.

Don't get me wrong, they were buttery and soft and nummily sticky with melted toffee bits...but they didn't have  the toothsome weight that I wanted.

Thank goodness I can fix things on the fly.

Based on the amount of dough left, I measured out some flour.  Presto!  Cookies that keep their shape without being too cakey (the bane of My Dear Little Cardamummy's cookies (but you didn't hear that from me)), lovely and chewy and just salty enough to cut through the combined sweetness of the dough, the chocolate and the toffee.

Not bad for my return to the kitchen, I think.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Toffee Cookies
Chocolate Chip Toffee Pecan Cookies 
Yield 3-4 dozen

175g (1.25c/300ml) all purpose flour
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp (2.5ml) salt
115g (0.5c/120ml) soft butter
125g (10Tbsp/150ml) brown sugar
75ml (6Tbsp/90ml) white sugar
0.5tsp (2.5ml) vanilla extract
1 egg
175g (1c/250ml) chocolate chips
100g (0.5c/125ml) chopped pecans
75g (0.5c/125ml) toffee bits

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Moderate. Line cookie trays with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, bicarb and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, both sugars and vanilla for about five minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Mix in the flour until just combined. Fold in the chocolate, nuts and toffee.

Roll into teaspoon-sized balls and place about 4cm (1.5") apart on the prepared cookie trays. Do not flatten.  Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until the cookies have spread and are golden around the edges and on the bottom.

Let cool on the the tray for about five minutes and then transfer to a wire wrack to cool completely.

Note: for the lacey version, reduce the flour by about 35g (0.25c/60ml); when you portion them out, flatten then slightly before baking.

I'm a quill for hire!