Engaging stories of love, joy, comfort and friendship with proven scrumptious, healthy recipes, we celebrate LOVE as the secret ingredient for wonderful food!

Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes

Duck braised with red wine and prunes on a plate.

I took Judy’s advice and served it with sauteed polenta, along with some green beans tossed with olive oil and toasted walnuts.

I have been wanting to tell you about this dish. It is so delicious, silky in texture, totally yummy and best yet, it’s super easy. You just need time, so a weekend is good. This Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes is a recipe from the famed Judy Rodgers, the chef and owner at Zuni Café in San Francisco. She left us way too soon, just a little over a year ago when she was only 57. (cancer) I feel a kindred spirit with Judy. She was also from St. Louis and she loved great basic food perfected. She was known for refined simplicity.

Her Zuni Café cookbook is different. Her recipes read like she is standing next to you, telling you what to expect, variations that may come up and what to do. Therefore, all recipes are very copy heavy, which is a little intimidating and time consuming to get through it all. But the upside is, she is teaching you HOW to cook, with tips all the way through on every possibility that may come up, and why, not just how to cook that particular recipe.

She has a definite fondness for salting the proteins early, even days before. If you think about it and can do it, it really does work. It tenderizes, promotes juiciness, improves texture, and flavors the meat or poultry all the way through.  It’s interesting, that by seasoning judiciously early, you will use less salt overall. As Judy says, “you will eliminate the habit of repeated doses, and accidental overdoses, of “surface salt” at the table.”  

One of my all-time favorite dishes of hers to make, and it is the most popular dish at the restaurant, is her Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. It takes an hour to order at the café, but that hasn’t put a damper on its demand. I’ll have to share that at another time.

Because I love her roast chicken so much, I thought she couldn’t go wrong with duck, right? She did not disappoint. Here is her recipe. I made it with LOVE for our friends Margaret and Wayne during the holidays, using 6 duck legs and increasing the recipe proportionately, and then we got to have another dinner out of it later that week.

Duck braised with red wine and prunes on a white platter.

I decided it needed a little color so I garnished it with some chopped Italian parsley.

DUCK BRAISED WITH RED WINE & PRUNES – serves 4 – a Judy Rodgers recipe

A rich old French dish. If you use the orange zest or the clove, it will have a dramatic impact on the flavor and character of the dish, making it sneakily festive. I like it both ways. (I used both the orange and cloves)

Muscovy, or Barbiere (Barbary), duck has firm, almost beefy, dark red flesh that supports long cooking and generous old-fashioned flavors. Very good with toasted polenta.

Wine: Cabors, Chateau du Cayrou, 1996

For 4 Servings:

4 Muscovy duck legs (10 to 12 ounces each)
Salt
4 cups medium-bodied or hearty red wine, such as Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups Duck Stock or other bird stock or Chicken Stock
2 medium yellow onions (about 8 oz. each), root end trimmed flat, peeled, and cut into 1 ½ inch wedges
2 ounces garlic cloves (about ½ cup), unpeeled
1 bay leaf
2 wide strips of orange zest about 2 ½ inches long, removed with a vegetable peeler, and/or a whole clove (optional)
12 prunes, preferably with pits

Trimming and seasoning the duck legs (for the best flavor and succulence, do this step 2-3 days in advance):
Trim lumps of fat, ragged edges or meatless flaps of skin (it’s worth saving and rendering these: even a few scraps can be enough to flavor a soup). Rinse the duck legs, lay between dry towels, and press to absorb surface moisture. Season evenly all over with salt (we use a scant ¼ teaspoon sea salt per pound of duck). Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Cooking the Duck:
Preheat the oven to 300°.

Reduce the red wine and the stock separately to about 1 cup each. The stock should have body and will be slightly salty. Set aside.

Press the duck between towels to wick off excess moisture. Place a dry 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot enough that the duck hisses on contact, add the legs, skin side down, and leave to set a golden crust, about 10 minutes. The duck will begin to render fat within a few minutes; reduce the heat if the fat starts to smoke. Turn the legs over and brown for just a few minutes on the flesh side, then arrange skin side up in an ovenproof 3-quart sauté pan. Pour off the rendered fat from the skillet; if any appetizing golden bits remain in the skillet, add the reduced red wine to the pan and simmer briefly, stirring to dissolve them. Set aside.

Duck braised with Red wine and Prunes ready for the oven in a Le Creuset pot.Nestle the onion wedges in between the duck legs. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and optional orange zest and/or clove. Add enough of the reduced wine and stock, in about equal doses, to come to a depth of ½ inch; save any extra wine and stock for extending the sauce. Swirl the pan as you bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover tightly, place in the oven, and cook for about 1 hour.

Turn the duck legs over and add the unpitted prunes, making sure they are submerged in the braising liquid; work quickly, so you don’t lose too much heat. (If you are using pitted prunes, add them after 10 minutes more.) Cover the pan tightly and return to the oven.

After another hour (or about 40 minutes if the duck legs are on the small end of the range listed), turn the legs over, turn the heat up to 375° and return the pan to the oven uncovered. When the legs feel just tender and are slightly browned, usually within another 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Turn off the oven and place a serving platter to warm in the oven for a minute or two. Leave the duck legs to rest for about 5 minutes, then carefully lift from the sauce to the warm serving platter.

Skim the abundant fat from the surface of the braising liquid, and taste the liquid. If it seems thin in flavor or texture, set the pan over medium heat and, skimming attentively, reduce to the texture of warm maple syrup. If the sauce tastes too rich, dilute it with a trickle of water. If you seem shy on sauce and you have extra wine and reduced stock, add a little of each, then simmer to bring the sauce to a slightly syrupy consistency.

Serve each duck leg with 3 prunes and a few silky onion wedges and slippery garlic cloves. There should be a few tablespoons of sauce for each leg.

Gran Luchito & Buttermilk Marinated Roast Chicken

Gran Luchito Smoked Chili Paste.The next item from our winter box is the Gran Luchito Smoked Pepper Paste from Chelsea Market Baskets. (They also make the best holiday gift baskets!) The owner, David Porat, sent this to me months ago to try out. I immediately loved it and wanted it in a box, but it wasn’t available until just now. This little jar is packed with potent taste and should be invited in to everyone’s kitchen! It truly is an ingredient, not to be eaten right out of the jar as it is super strong. Mixing it with other things allows you to appreciate the full flavor of these rare smoked Mexican chillies that have all been ethically sourced – nice! I made this Gran Luchito & Buttermilk Marinated Roast Chicken recipe and it is so good!! (There are other recipes here as well.)

You may remember that my husband is not a fan of smoked things, but he LOVES this chicken. The paste also has a bit of agave and some garlic. This recipe is so easy with only four ingredients and again, it’s because the chilli paste is packed with flavor. Just plan ahead to marinate it for 2 days. This way, the chilli flavors really permeate the meat and the buttermilk makes it creamy and silky all at the same time. Do it on a Saturday and you’ve got yourself an easy dinner for a Monday evening. Make it with LOVE and it will overflow with extra deliciousness! 

GRAN LUCHITO & BUTTERMILK MARINATED ROAST CHICKEN – serves 4

One 3.5 lb. whole chicken
1.5 cups of whole buttermilk – preferably Kate’s
1.5 Tbs. of Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Paste
1 tsp. crushed Juniper berries

Two days before serving, wash and paper towel dry your chicken. Using poultry shears, cut along each side of the chicken backbone and remove it. Turn the chicken breast side up and press on the breastbone to flatten the chicken. Using a sharp knife, cut partway through both sides of the joint between the thighs and the drumsticks as well as cut partway through the joint between the wings and the breast. This will allow the chicken to cook much faster.
Gran Luchito Buttermilk Marinated Roast Chicken ingredients.
Combine the buttermilk, Gran Luchito and crushed juniper berries in a small bowl and whisk together. Gran Luchito Buttermilk Marinated Chicken in a bag.Pour this mixture in a ziplock bag and put your chicken in. Close the bag and distribute the marinade all over. Store in the refrigerator for two days, turning the bag over and rubbing the marinade in periodically.

Gran Luchito Buttermilk Roasted Chicken in a pan.On the day you’re serving the chicken, preheat the oven to 450°. Place the chicken with the marinade in a non-stick, ovenproof skillet. (I did this or you can drain it from the marinade as essentially it does make a mess in your skillet but it probably imparts more flavor this way. With the skillet being non-stick, it fortunately cleans up easily.)

Set the skillet over high heat and cook the chicken until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the chicken for 30 minutes, until the skin is browned and the chicken is cooked through. Carefully remove the chicken from the skillet (remember the handle is piping hot so do not grab it unless you have a hotpad on!) and place on a platter. Let the chicken rest for 5 – 10 minutes. Cut it into 8 pieces and serve with LOVE.Gran Luchito Buttermilk Roasted Chicken on a platter from Nov 17, 2014

Cumin and Mustard Roasted Chicken with Fruit

We had some friends over for dinner on Tuesday night. They were coming at 7 pm. I got home at 6:15. I thought that getting home so late might happen so I had set the table the night before and had planned an easy dinner of grilled Cauliflower Steaks with an herb salsa verde as a first course (divine), followed by roasted sumac chicken stuffed with fennel stalks and Parmesan cheese rinds, roasted baby Yukon Gold potatoes and roasted tomatoes with olive oil and Greek oregano. Simple, yet if done right, perfectly delicious and comforting after a full days work on an early fall evening. Paired with a Petit Syrah and we were set!

Grilled cauliflower steaks with an herb salsa verde.

Grilled cauliflower steaks with an herb salsa verde – a great Food and Wine recipe

Now you all have seen my kitchen in our videos. It is a galley that is completely open to the living room. With a small gathering, our guests sit right across the counter from me while I’m cooking, and literally see everything. So all is going well until I start to open the organic chicken package only to discover that it’s not a whole chicken! It is chicken parts, and badly cut at that, yet they had put it together in the package to appear as a whole bird!! Well I was surprised, flustered, and of course, a little ticked off at my husband, as he picked out the meat that shopping trip. (I had to blame it on someone!) So now, in my head, I was scrambling, what was I to do? I was searching for something with great flavor to work with, quick, at that late hour. What did I have? No pancetta, which is a great way to add some big flavor in no time. There was no time to make a tomato sauce, no nice savory jams in the fridge. No mushrooms on hand and no time to caramelize onions. Really, my mind was racing while making small talk to my guests sitting right in front of me!

So I thought to start with a little butter and olive oil, instead of just the oil. Salt and pepper on the skin side, added a sprinkling of cumin on the other side. White wine is always good and then I smeared some Dijon mustard on top. Then I saw this box of dried fruit on the counter to the left of my stove. I had just bought it last week to serve with some lovely cheeses, but that never happened. So I thought, what the heck, let’s try this. I topped each chicken piece with slices of fruit – apricots, apples, peaches, pears and prunes, and then threw the whole thing in the oven for about 17 minutes and voila, it was divine! And the oven was hot – 450 degrees for that roast chicken that wasn’t to be – so the fruit got golden and beautiful and dinner was saved. This new recipe is good enough to share, good enough to repeat, and different too! The only thing was that the roasted tomatoes with oregano sort of no longer went with the other food – but they tasted good with the potatoes!

Has this sort of thing ever happened to you? Please share.Cumin and mustard roasted chicken with fruit.

CUMIN AND MUSTARD ROASTED CHICKEN WITH FRUIT – serves 4

One whole organic chicken, backbone removed, cut into 8 pieces, extra skin and fat trimmed
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
Salt
Pepper, fresh ground
11/2 tsp. ground cumin
½ cup dry white wine
4 tsp. Dijon mustard
16 – 18 slices of mixed dried fruit – apricots, peaches, pears, apples and prunes
1 – 2 Tbs. Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Wash and dry the chicken pieces, all fat and extra skin trimmed off. Salt and pepper skin side.

Warm olive oil and butter on medium high heat. Swirl to combine and when butter stops sizzling, place the chicken in the skillet, seasoned side down to brown and crisp skin for 3 – 4 minutes. While that side is browning, season the top side with salt, pepper and cumin. After the first side is nicely browned, turn chicken pieces over and brown the other side for two minutes, then add the white wine and spread the mustard on top of each piece. Then place 2 pieces of dried fruit on top of each lightly mustard coated piece. Put 2 – 3 pieces of fruit on each of the breasts, depending on the size of the fruit. You want to essentially cover the top of the chicken.

Place the skillet in the oven and roast for 15 – 18 minutes. Check doneness with a thermometer – should be 160 – 165 degrees. Remove chicken pieces to a platter, keeping the fruit on top. Pour any juices left in the skillet on top of the chicken. Let rest for 10 minutes and sprinkle chopped parsley on top and serve with LOVE.

Community Spice Co. Scallops and Roast Chicken Recipes

Janis Callon, Founder and CEO of the Community Spice Company, is out to save the world with flavor using heart healthy, low sodium, gluten free spices. Her goal is to get people to make slow food fast, using her spice combinations and in my opinion, she accomplishes this beautifully. A friend of hers who had a long tenure at Chez Panisse helped her develop the amazing flavors in her line. As a MARY’s secret ingredients box purchaser, you would have received one of these four blends: SNP 400, Mz. Curri, barbi Q, or ka Bobbii. (cute names, right?) I made scallops and roast chicken with two of her blends. Specifically I used Mz. Curri to make a roast chicken with a sauce that my husband said tasted like a complex, fine French sauce! It was so good! You can use any one of these spice rubs on a huge variety of meats, poultry, fish and even vegetables. Anything goes and it will taste great with CSC creations!

With Janis’s Save the World philosophy, when you make an online purchase, you get to decide which charity to support from a list of about 35 different ones they give assistance to. The charities range from food banks to national parks to Doctors Without Borders to Habitat for Humanity to the 911 Foundation. Visit their site for more info and even ways you can use her spices to raise funds for your kid’s school or club, which is a very nice idea.

On to my recipes!Scallops and pancetta with a spice rub white wine sauce.

SNP 400 SCALLOPS AND PANCETTA – serves 2 as a first course 

4 scallops
2 – 3 tsp. SNP 400 rub from Community Spice Company
1/2 of a 1/4” thick slice of pancetta
3 tbs. dry white wine
1 tsp. unsalted butter
Thyme leaves

Wash and dry the scallops. Sprinkle and rub one side with the SNP 400 and pat down on the top of the scallops. Dice the pancetta into 1/4” pieces and sauté in a small skillet on medium-high heat. Push the pancetta off to the side in the skillet and saute the scallops, rub side down first, about 3 minutes. Turn the scallops over and sauté for one minute, then add the white wine and finish cooking for 2 more minutes or until scallops are just a bit firm and done. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the butter. Pour sauce over scallops and garnish with the fresh thyme leaves. Serve with a slice of a good baguette so you can mop up the wonderful flavorful sauce, and be in heaven!

Roast chicken with a spice infused sauce with some asparagus risotto.

Mz. Curri roast chicken with some leftover asparagus risotto

MZ. CURRI ROAST CHICKEN – serves 4 – 5

1 3.75 lb. organic chicken 
Fine grind sea salt
½ package Mz. Curri spice mix from Community Spice Company
1 – 2 parmesan cheese rinds
1/2 cup dry white wine
1.5 tsp. unsalted butter
2 tbs. chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a cast iron skillet or heavy ovenproof skillet in the center of the oven. Thoroughly wash and dry your bird, inside and out. Salt the bird all over the outside and inside the cavity. Place the Mz. Curri mix in a bowl and sprinkle it generously all over the outside of the bird and sprinkle some on the inside as well. Place the parmesan cheese rinds inside the cavity.

When the pan and oven have preheated, take the pan out of the oven and leave a hot pad on the handle immediately so you don’t forget and grab it. Quickly put the bird in the pan, breast side up (it will not stick). Remember this pan is blazing hot so be careful.

Shove the hot pan with the chicken back into the oven and roast for 35 – 40 minutes, undisturbed. Test with a meat thermometer – it should reach 155 degrees. Remove the chicken immediately from the hot pan by grabbing the cavity with long tongs and let it rest on a platter, for at least 10 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile, deglaze the pan juices with ½ cup of dry white wine. Simmer briskly for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the butter and chopped parsley. Top the cut chicken pieces with the sauce.

Serve with LOVE and enjoy!

Chicken & Pepper Kababs with Zukali Cilantro Pineapple Salsa

Zukali Cilantro Pineapple Salsa.Zukali cilantro pineapple salsa with simply7 quinoa chips.Happy July 4th! May you all enjoy a wonderful holiday. The dish below makes for an easy BBQ so you can enjoy the fireworks!

The Zukali Cilantro Pineapple Salsa is so tasty and versatile. It is not too spicy, just a great flavor of roasted peppers and cilantro with a hint of pineapple! As the owner Cesar told me, he loves entertaining and always made these great, different salsas. He was encouraged to go retail with them by his friends. Luckily, he owns a graphic design firm in real life, enabling him to create beautiful packaging. But the goods inside are lovely!

In one of the first uses, I served it plain with the Simply7 Sea Salt Quinoa Chips – a delicious, no-brainer combo from the box!

Zukali Cilantro Pineapple salsa marinating chicken.

 

Then I marinated boneless, skinless chicken breast chunks in it for 30 – 60 minutes, (3/4 cup of salsa worked for 5 chicken breasts), skewered those babies with some red and yellow pepper chunks (peppers in the salsa and fresh peppers – nice!) and Steve, my husband, grilled them perfectly, about 3 – 4 minutes per side on high heat on a preheated grill pan.

Zukali Cilantro Pineapple kababs hot off the grill.

See how pretty they look!!!

Cilantro pineapple chicken on a plate with potatoes and sauteed baby bok choy. Serve them topped with a bit more of fresh from the jar salsa (not the stuff you marinated in), add grilled Yukon Gold potatoes and a nice veggie (sauteed baby bok choy here) and you have a company meal. Delicious, juicy and flavorful! Thank you Cesar!

I also used it to top some simple roasted salmon to make a not so simple entrée. I imagine this would be great on eggs too!

And for those of you who have mates who don’t like fruits with meats or mains (I’m talking you, Margaret), this is not fruity or sweet at all. There is a tiny hint of pineapple but it’s mostly slightly smoky peppers and cilantro and just all goodness. Cesar makes many flavors. You can check out his website. He’s the real deal.

Mother’s Day Dinner with Cornish Hens and Sauerkraut  

We have had a consistent thread running through our celebrations lately, and that is not celebrating on the exact day – but boy do we celebrate! We’ve got our own calendar going! We celebrated Easter Sunday on the Saturday before, Zach’s birthday (which is July 10th – but he’ll be in Europe for the summer) on May 10th and Mother’s Day for us was a week later as we had to travel to Boston for business on the actual holiday. My boys, with the help of one girlfriend, once again made a spectacular meal using recipes from Jamie Oliver, Mark Bittman, and the Chocolate Covered Katie blog. Not too shabby, right?! The standout main dish, unusual but terrific, was Bittman’s Cornish Hens and Sauerkraut recipe.

My boys always ask what I want and I promptly say, “Surprise me!” I like/love nearly everything except processed food and of course they’re not going to go there because after all, they were raised by me. When the older one texted me to ask if I had juniper berries at the apartment, I knew I was in for something great. I LOVE juniper berries – as I love my gin martinis on a Friday night!roasted tomato bread soup

They started with a Jaime Oliver roasted tomato bread soup. It was different (I can always count on that from them) and delicious but was supposed to have used day-old bread which may have been better to add a bit more substance instead of the bread being so fresh as to soak everything up. No matter – that was a texture issue – the taste was fabulous! And since I was really hungry, it was substantial and great! Here’s the recipe – cute name! http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/bread-and-tomato-soup-pappa-al-pomodoro

The next course (yes, we have courses!) was this amazing salad of really unusual ingredients – fennel, red onion, cucumber, radishes and oranges. Yes oranges! They provided a wonderful refreshing burst of flavor!Fennel cucumber red onion and orange salad

Here’s the complete recipe – they did not use the ice cubes.

 INSALATA AMALFITANA Amalfi Salad - Adapted from Jamie’s Italy.

1 bulb of fennel, washed
1 red onion, peeled
1 cucumber
a large handful of radishes, washed
2 tablespoons good-quality herb or red wine vinegar
good-quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black peper
4 oranges, peeled, segmented, and seeds removed

Optional: a small handful of ice cubes

Remove the herb-like tops from the fennel and set them aside. Then trim the fennel at both ends and take off the outer layer. Split the fennel in half and slice lengthwise as finely as possible. Put into a large bowl. Remove both ends of the onion, then halve it and slice it as finely as possible. Slice the cucumber finely into disk shapes. Leave the stems on the radishes as a grip. Then slice a little bit out of the side of the radish so it will be stable on the counter. Slice as finely as possible into disks.

Throw a few ice cubes in the bowl and toss the salad with them for a few minutes. Jamie says that this makes the vegetables get crunchier. I’m not sure why it works, but it really does.

Remove the ice cubes. In a bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of good herb or red wine vinegar and about 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Mix well, and taste. If your oranges are super sweet, you may want some extra vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the salad with the dressing, then add the orange segments with their juices. Sprinkle the reserved fennel tops over the salad right before serving.

And then we had the amazing main course of the Cornish hens with sauerkraut served with some sliced, crispy roasted Yukon gold potatoes.Roasted Cornish hens with sauerkraut and sliced roasted potatoes

CORNISH HENS AND SAUERKRAUTBy Mark Bittman
From the How to Cook Everything Essentials® app

An elegant but straightforward dish and an excellent introduction to sauerkraut. But steer clear of the canned stuff; instead, look for a bottled brand that contains no more than cabbage, salt, and water. This preparation also works well with pheasant, chicken, and duck.

4 Cornish hens, about 1 pound each
4 slices bacon, diced, or 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds sauerkraut
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed with the side of a knife
1 sprig fresh thyme or a pinch dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
Stock or water as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the backbone of the hens by cutting along their length on each side. Separate breast and leg quarters. Cook the bacon over medium heat in a large, deep ovenproof skillet until crisp, about 10 minutes, or heat the oil until it shimmers. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the hen pieces to the bacon fat or olive oil and brown them on all sides. Meanwhile, rinse the sauerkraut in a colander and heat the oven to 300°F.

When the bird is nicely browned, add the sauerkraut, cloves, juniper berries, thyme, bay leaf, and white wine to the skillet. Cook over medium heat until about half of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes; move the skillet into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding liquid as needed to keep the sauerkraut just moist, until the legs are tender and the sauerkraut is slightly browned. Remove the skillet from the oven, then remove the cloves and bay leaf. Taste the sauce, adjust the seasoning, garnish with the bacon pieces (oops – they forgot that) and serve hot or warm.Chocolate mousse garnished with raspberries and strawberries

And for dessert, they made this amazingly rich, decadent chocolate mousse topped with fresh raspberries and strawberries, that had this secret surprise ingredient that not one of us could guess – it was tofu!!! Yes tofu was used instead of cream. Can you imagine?

It was delicious – and no doubt a whole lot healthier for you!

Here it is from the Chocolate Covered Katie blog. She apparently specializes in healthy chocolate desserts. How cool is that?!

http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2012/02/06/chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-mousse/

Chocolate mousse with raspberries and strawberries half eaten

I couldn’t eat the whole thing!

 I know I’m lucky. Hope all you moms out there enjoyed a fantastic Mother’s Day, filled with LOVE too!