Thursday, December 13, 2012

Duck with Figs and Smoked Mozzarella Flatbreads and the world outside my window.

I spend a lot of time at home now.  The building where I normally spend most of my life remains a victim of super-storm Sandy (They are officially not calling it the hurricane anymore, must be some guy from an insurance company who though to down-grade it).  So I spend a lot of time in my home office, in virtual isolation.  Virtual, because that is what my word has become, a collection of electronic communication with the outside world.  My days are spent looking mostly at a computer screen with only a window view for entertainment.  Maybe it is not as exciting as the latest office gossip in the pantry, but it is starting to grow on me.
 I see the resident groundhog (named Jeffery by my son when he was a toddler, it must be that groundhog’s grand-son by now…we call him Jeffery still) make his daily food run.  He is exact in his timing, right on the dot at 9:30 a.m.  I swear, it seems like he is going off to the supermarket or something, coming back about an hour later and squeezing his furry fat behind under the shed.  He must be making stores for the winter sleep.  I feel a sense of kingship with the critter; I amuse myself by making stores in my fridge.  I swear, I must be storing stuff for the winter too, like the wildlife in my backyard.  So if I am not e-mailing or staring outside my window, I make slow roasted tomatoes and duck confit, because I now have 5 hs at home.  I make pizza dough and sauce and freeze it.  A few more weeks of this and I am going to be ready for hibernation.   While I cook I wonder how long do groundhogs live and whether one day he will get too fat for the little sliver of a hole.  He’ll be like Vinnie the Poo and I will have to go rescue him. 
I see squirrels squabbling in the trees, sometimes they make so much racket fighting I want to throw something heavy at them.  Do you know, that squirrels screaming and fighting is even more annoying than when your kids do it?
Now that the leaves are gone are get a full view of the high school behind my house.  I see the kids hurrying to and from class and enjoy the daily announcements (I can hear the loud speaker, so am very versed in all high school activities). I absolutely have no need for a clock in the mornings as the “Good morning, Old Bridge High school!” comes exactly at 7:30.   I find myself pledging allegiance to the Flag every day at 7:31, rain or shine, just because it becomes impossible to ignore the daily loud chant while pouring coffee.   And I guess, I am more trainable than I would like to think.  I also have no need for an outside thermometer as the teenage fashion outside my window provides virtually exact information.  It is what I know call the “Teenage Thermometer”, it works like this:
-          Above 50F the girls are wearing shorts and T-shirts, the boys are tying their T-shirts around their wastes and going bare-back
-          40F to 50F, some girls can be spotted in a light sweatshirt, boys are reluctantly putting their T-shirts back on
-          30F  to 40F, some rebel and start putting pants on, usually not the boys
-          Below 30F, the teenagers are mostly broken, all wearing sweatshirts now, some even carry a coat (notice, I did not say wear!), boys are still wearing shorts.
So I sit here and contemplate how this country manages the birthrate that it has, with all these youngsters freezing off their future reproductive parts… I really need to go back to the office!
Since I realistically cannot wait to use up all my stores in the spring, I made flatbreads out of pizza dough and loaded them up with crisped up duck confit, dried mission figs, slow roasted tomatoes, smoked mozzarella and arugula.  Turned out to be one of the tastiest treats I made in a while.
Duck with Figs and Smoked Mozzarella Flatbreads
2 cups of duck confit meat only, roughly chopped (follow the link to my recipe)
6-7 dry mission figs chopped fine
¾ cup of slow roasted tomatoes ( see Note)
1 cup smoked mozzarella cubed
1 cup fresh arugula
1 tbs olive oil
1 clove of garlic minced fine
Preheat the oven and either the pizza stone or quarry tiles to 500F.  Combine the duck and the figs and crisp up in the skillet for a few minutes.  Roll out your dough, depending on how thin you want the bread, but I would try for pretty thin if you want a crunch to your bread.  Combine the olive oil and garlic and brush the dough with the mixture, concentrating mostly on the edges.

Top with duck and fix mixture, sprinkle the slow roasted tomatoes and cheese evenly - Do not overload!.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until the crust is crispy and the cheese has melted. 

Once out of the oven, top with arugula and let the pizza rest a few minutes. Slice and serve, preferably with a nice wine!
Note: Slow roasted tomatoes -  I like to use small cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes for this.  Cut and seed the tomatoes into 1 inch cubes (if using cherry ones, just split them in half).  Seed the tomatoes well, getting out as much juice as possible.  Spread on an baking sheet covered with foil.  Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, Pepper and a few pinches of sugar and bake at 250F for 2.5 to 3 hrs.  Store in fridge in an airtight container for up to 10 days.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Spicy Lamb Meatballs two ways

When it comes to food and feeding a family on the daily basis it is nice to have a few recipes on hand that are true multitaskers. Something that can be just popped on the stove or into the oven quickly for a nice dinner.  Or a quick appetizer that is good for friends on a Friday night.  Contrary to a popular belief, I don’t feed my family restaurant style food on a daily basis, I too sometimes run into the need to use pre-made frozen meals.  The difference is I make them myself.  When making dumplings, meatballs, pasta, sauce… just make a little more, or a lot more and the next time you have to work late make use of your own freezer for a delicious dinner.  (I sound like Rachel Ray and her 30 minute meals).
Spicy Lamb meatballs
2 lbs of ground lamb (do try to ground the meat yourself, I cringe to think what goes into the already ground up stuff you get from the market – I guess I read too much about where our food comes from)
¾ cup of bread crumbs
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 medium shallot grated or finely chopped
1 tbs of Harissa
1 tsp of toasted cumin
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1 tsp of chili powder
2 tbs of Worstershire sauce
2 tbs chopped parsley
½ tbs of olive oil
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste (take it easy on the salt, the cheese and worstershire sauce are salty as is)
Mix all the ingredients together until they just make a uniform mixture.  Do not overwork or your meatballs will be thought.  Roll meatballs gently, the size of golf balls or slightly smaller.  Arrange on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 350F until nicely browned.  As these bake, depending on the fattiness of your lamb, these may render a lot of fat.  If that is the case, dry the meatballs on paper towels before proceeding with the next steps.
Once your meatballs are browned about 30 min, you can let them cool and freeze them in a zip-top bag until that wonderful night when you do not feel like making dinner from scratch.  It really helps to have these things tucked away in your freezer along with home-made sauce.
Spicy roasted pepper sauce
3 large roasted peppers skins and seeds removed.
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 tbs of tomato paste
1 tbs of harissa
1 tbs of olive oil
1 medium onion diced
4 garlic cloves diced
1 tsp fresh or dried rosemary
¼ tsp of roasted cumin
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1 tsp of turmeric
1 tbs of sugar
1 cup of dry white wine
1 cup of chicken stock
Salt and Black pepper
Run the roasted peppers through a food processor or a food mill until fully crushed.  Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or a heavy bottom pot with a large surface area.  Add the onion and sauté on low heat until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the white wine, harissa and tomato paste, stir and let cook out on medium heat for a few minutes.  Add tomatoes, peppers, chicken stock and all the seasoning.  Stir and bring to a simmer.  Taste and adjust seasoning for salt of needed.  If the sauce is too spicy add a squirt of lemon or if it is too acidic, a bit more sugar.  Simmer on low for 5 minutes.  Add the meatballs, cover and simmer for 30 minutes on very low heat, stirring occasionally.  If using frozen meatballs, there is no need to defrost them, just simmer them in the sauce a bit longer, around 45 minutes. 
The sauce can be made separately and frozen in well covered containers for up to 30 days.
I like to serve these meatballs and sauce simply over brown rice with crispy kale chips on top for crunch and freshness. 
Now, let’s talk about crispy Kale.  Kale is good for you, Kale is your friend and if you happened to frequently experience cravings for salty, crunchy crap from a vending machine, these leaves can become your best friends… no frying required.  If you want an ultimately healthy substitution to a potato chip, you are 30 minutes away from snack heaven. 
Crispy Kale chips.
As much Kale as you like – you can bake up 10 batches at once, depending on the size of your oven
Enough olive oil to coat your palms (usually no more than ½ tbs is needed)
Coarse salt
Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Trim the stems off the kale, leaving just the leaves.  Rub olive oil between your palms than rub each kale leaf between your palms, evenly coating both size with a minimum of oil.  Arrange on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until Kale becomes glossy, crumbly and crispy.  No turning needed.  Let it cool and crumble upon whatever dishes you like for salty, crunchy texture.  Or eat just like that as a snack.  Beats potato chips any time.
There are infinite possibilities on how to serve these meatballs, they can become anything from a star of an main dish to a nice appetizer byte.  Here is how I served them at Thanksgiving… over a spicy beet salad (Follow the link to a recipe), garnished with cool yogurt sauce ( just Greek yogurt, dill, chives and salt) to tame the spice.  All nestled in a byte size lettuce leaf (Small romaine would work here, better than Boston lettuce I used).
The next time you are reaching for a bag of Swedish meatballs, consider the alternatives