Goat Cheese Cures All Ills

Remember that duck I brined? Well, we ate the last of it in a quesadilla. But the idea of salsa with duck disturbed me, so I chopped the duck meat, sautéed it in olive oil for a few minutes, then browned it between two fresh tortillas. The trick was the liberal application of goat cheese. Wow! It really worked. The goat cheese was a bit pungent, so it  balanced out the richness of the duck (I’m not crazy. I left some of the fat). This is an idea that I plan to explore at great length for the next several years. Oh, it went well with an oaky Chardonnay. Who knew?

Apologies To All Three Of You

I made a change in the setup of this blog, streamlining the addresses so that one no longer need the “blog.” in the web address. Unfortunately the change did not occur correctly, so those of you who tried to read the blog yesterday and this morning today were disappointed, or happy, as the case may be. I hope that no one desperately needed a recipe or a pithy comment about the cost of arugula in Iowa. Thank you for being patient.

Iamnotachef (and obviously not a web expert)

An Interesting Food Blog

An old friend, after overcoming his amazement that I have a blog (actually, I think he was just shocked that I know how to write) suggested that I take a look at FXcuisine. The writer lives on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, and is from the Valais, near the Italian border. English is obviously not his first language, but this guy knows how to write about, and take photographs of food. The occasional minor error just highlights the fact that he speaks several languages, and his English is better than that of some native speakers.

“Fooded Out.” When Is Enough Enough?

I love to eat. I love to eat good food. I love to eat to excess. But sometimes, I just get tired of the constant bombardment of food during holidays, or those weird long weekends when friend and family visits overlap, and it seems as if there is a contest to see who can put the most rich food on the table. Sometimes, I just want to sit down with a simple meal, a nice glass of wine, and relax and chat. Why does everything have to be a food brawl? Oh, don’t answer that, because I really enjoy those brawls. But in the rush to overload the table, sometimes we lose sight of the pleasures of good food, good drink and good company.

Today was a good example. But for some reason, a few of us gravitated away from the table and toward a comfortable set of sofa and chairs and sat for an hour or so, speaking of absolutely nothing important, eating nothing and nursing a few glasses of good wine. And it was lovely.

Maybe that is the advantage of a more formal dinner party? The food and drink is brought out at a pace designed to maximize pleasure; gustatory, alcoholic and intellectual, so one’s liver isn’t overwhelmed. I think I will test this hypothesis. Of course I have the perfect dish around which to build this liver-saving meal — Cassoulet!

Duck Brining Update

I wish I could report, breathlessly, that I have found a magnificent way to prepare duck. Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed by the brined duck. I think brining should be reserved for leaner meats such as pork and chicken, where the brine adds moisture. Duck is fatty enough that no additional moisture is needed. The cooking process simply converts the ample solid fat into a lovely, constant cascade of fat basting. I had hoped that the brining liquid, with the addition of some herbs, would add complexity to the duck. But it just made it nicely salted. And that isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t worth the additional work of brining. Perhaps a long brining in a weaker solution would work better, but the equivalent with a chicken made a clear difference, so now I am suspicious of the whole concept.


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Why I Am Not A Chef

We have a good friend who is a classically trained chef, and a professionally successful one too! That is the rare part. Anyone can go to cooking school, but most cooking school graduates do not move on to become top chefs at serious restaurants in New York City. For my wife’s birthday, he gave her a home-cooked meal. Specifically, a “bird dinner,” because my wife loves a good roast chicken. Now, Jim is no longer cooking professionally, so he couldn’t cheat and bring a bag full of amazing ingredients from his restaurant’s kitchen. In fact, the only ingredient that he used that I have never had in my kitchen was truffle oil. Everything else was standard stuff. And the tools? Nothing out of the ordinary, although he did suggest that I get a chinoise. And my kitchen is nothing special. No six-burner stove, no salamandar, no turbo-nuclear-convection oven with the kung-fu grip. So, the playing field was level. Anyone who has any interest in cooking has access to everything he used. Even the menu was, at first glance, completely ordinary, in the sense that there were no bizarre combinations, no arcane and tedious techniques; just good old-fashioned cooking.

But there was a difference between what Jim did in my kitchen and what I try to do. And it wasn’t a subtle or small difference. And that difference isn’t in technique, because no matter how well the greatest technician minces garlic and chops basil and roasts chicken, I can still duplicate his efforts if I have a recipe. I’ll just make more of a mess and take three times as long!  And most competent home cooks can do the same. No, the real difference is that hard-to-measure thing called talent. Jim walked through the market and picked particular foods, not because he was reading from a carefully prepared list of ingredients, but because stuff just looked good, or seemed intriguing. And he put them all together without any grand plan. It just came together without any apparent effort. And that’s not all. Those run-of-the-mill ingredients combined to make wonderful, interesting and exciting dishes. Tuna, leeks and asparagus are not my go-to foods for a great appetizer. Marinated (or brined, or cured . . . I just don’t know what to call it, other than fantastic) tuna on a bed of poached asparagus and minced leeks doesn’t leap to the forefront of my mind. But it sure made me and my wife happy. I won’t even elaborate on the roast chicken. Suffice it to say that the chestnuts went perfectly with the potatoes and sausage! And the pan reduction with lemon? Wow! This kind of stuff just doesn’t occur to me, which is why . . . I Am Not A Chef.

Oh, and the reason Jim isn’t doing this professionally?  He decided that designing and building spectacularly beautiful furniture would be fun. Obviously, his talent isn’t confined to the kitchen.

Fat, Fat And More Fat

One of the drawbacks of duck is the immense amount of fat that commercial ducks have under their skins. Wild duck is a different story, and if any of you have the opportunity to try wild duck, you will see what I mean and you will be in for a treat. Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I am roasting ducks for Thanksgiving and am in the process of aging them. But I trimmed much of the extra skin (and fat) away from the carcasses and was left with more than one pound of duck fat and skin. What to do? My grandmothers knew what to do with this stuff, and I am nothing if not derivative. So I cut the skin into little pieces and rendered the whole mess. Rendering is simply gently heating the fat and skin until the water evaporates, at which point, you are left with duck fat and duck skin. I poured off about a pint of fat, and now I am browning the skin in the remaining fat. In Yiddish, the crispy bits are called “gribenes,” and in English, I guess “cracklins” is the best word. Whatever you want to call them, just make them and, when they are nice and crispy, drain them, sprinkle a bit of salt over them and enjoy!

For the health nuts among my many readers, duck fat is highly unsaturated (at least for an animal fat) and certainly more healthy than butter. And if you want to pan-fry potatoes, there is nothing better.

Oil/Fat Mono-
Saturated Cholesterol Smoke point
  % % % mg/Tbsp °F
Hazelnut 78 10 7.4 0 430
Olive 74 9 14 0 375
Canola (refined) 58 36 6 0 400
Goose 57 11 28 11 375
Duck 49 13 33 11 375
Peanut 46 32 17 0 440
Lard 46 12 40 12 375
Chicken fat 45 31 20 11 375
Palm 37 10 50 0 428
Clarified butter 29 4 62 33 300
Corn 25 59 13 0 450
Soybean 24 58 15 0 495
Sunflower 20 66 11 0 440
Cottonseed 18 52 26 0 420
Safflower 12 75 9 0 510
Coconut 6 2 87 0 350

Brining A Duck?

As is my wont, I will be roasting ducks for Thanksgiving. The turkey is being dealt with by my sister and her life partner, and she has caught brining fever, no doubt from me. But brining a turkey simply makes it palatable. I have no interest in food whose claim to fame is that it doesn’t make me nauseous. The problem is that I am roasting three ducks, and maybe a little variety would be interesting. But brining? Who knows? It may be vile, or fine, or (and I am hoping for this result) the most magnificent bird ever roasted in the history of roasted birds, just like the kiss in Princess Bride. The typical ratio of salt and sugar to liquid is 16:1 in most recipes for turkey and chicken, although, not surprisingly, I have not found an interesting (most seem to be for barbecuing) brined duck recipe. This is half the concentration that I use on pork, which may or may not make sense. I’ll tell you next Friday.

P.S. Cooks Illustrated says that duck does not benefit from brining. The gauntlet has been thrown down!

And here is the result!

Underage Drinking In Restaurants

Frank Bruni, The NY Times food critic, also blogs in the newspaper’s Diner’s Journal. Last week he wrote about the appropriateness of  close-to-legal customers being served alcohol, and linked to an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press. Both are worth reading, but I can’t help thinking that the issue is simple and clear. Regardless of what one might think of our country’s laws governing the consumption of alcohol (and I think they are ridiculous), we have to respect the rule of law. This is not a civil rights issue, where civil disobedience may be appropriate, or in fact the only correct and right behavior. This is about twenty year olds wanting to drink at restaurants.