Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Challenge, the first.

So a couple weeks ago I instituted a challenge system to try and make this blog a little more interesting and challenging for me.  So on a semi regular basis, I'm thinking weekly, I elicit a list of ingredients from some of my friends and then use those ingredients to make a dish.  If it comes out good the challenge is a success, if it comes out bad then its a fail.  This evaluation system may need to be reworked at some point but I'm out of ideas at the moment so it will have to come at a later date.

The ingredients for this week were, thyme, cumin, pearl onions, duck, and brown sugar.  So in the end i decided to kind of cheat and make a pairing of dishes so this week I made french onion soup and duck al'orange.
So, the first thing I did to start off this challenge was to start the soup going, because i figured it would take a while to just chill out on the burners and cook.  This required first skinning and cutting all the pearl onions, which since they are very small it took alot of them to get the requisite amount of onion, and this in turn took a good amount of time.  After they were all chopped I just threw them into the pan and let them caramelize a bit before putting them in the pot with the beef stock and thyme.
The stock did get supplemented several times over the course of the cooking, firstly by the addition of some thick cut hardwood smoked bacon and its accompanying fat, and lastly by the fat that was rendered from the duck breasts as they seared.
After the soup was happily bubbling away I started the sauce to cooking.  This was just a simple affair of orange marmalade, white wine vinegar, cumin, and some peach schnapps.  Mix it up until it is all homogenous and then reduce it down under medium to medium-low heat until it sticks to a spoon and is at the thickness you want.  You should also taste it throughout to make sure it is coming out how you want adding more sugar or liquid as needed to get the desired sauce.
Those pictures are mostly of the croutons I made out of a mini baguette and some mozzarella cheese as I was a bit pre-occupied at this stage of the cooking and neglected my photo-documentation duties.

The duck was the scariest part because they were frozen, that and i had never cooked duck in any way shape or form before this and I had NO idea what I was doing.  I started by putting the duck on a hot pan skin side down, as the instructions on the box told me to do, and yes the duck came in a box.  The thing with ducks are that they are fat fat fat birds and have alot of fat stored in the area between their skin and the meat.  Because of this alot of fat will render out of the meat and will fill the bottom of the pan, I simply poured the fat out of the pan and into the soup to fortify it with yummy duck fat.  Again ducks are very portly creatures and this had to be repeated another two to three times and all the fat had not rendered out, which actually was nice as it made the meat nice and juicy and gave a pleasant texture to the finished product.  I gauged how many times to empty the fat just by checking the skin each time I drained the fat and when the skin was golden and crispy I flipped them over onto the not skin side to finish cooking. 
When all was said and done I put the duck on a place and put sauce over it and then just served the duck alongside the soup.  The two paired ridiculously well, and the addition of the cumin to the sauce added a very interesting dimension to the orange sauce which I think really made the duck extra special, especially since it was my first time cooking it.  All in all I feel safe in saying that this challenge was a great success.

Beef of the Thatched Roof Cottage

So this began as an attempt to make chinese takeout style beef that was supposed to be super super spicy.  In the end it turned out not to be nearly as potent as I had anticipated it would be so it was downgraded from Trogdor level spiciness to beef of the thatched roof cottage.  General Trogdor's chicken actually was realized and will be posted soon, like in an hour or so as this blog has become incredibly backlogged.

So down to the cooking.  I started with some beef, a simple cheap cut which I cubed out into strips with my santoku knife and then lightly floured and then seared to give the outside a crust like texture.

To cook the beef I literally just floured it and then dropped it in a pan of hut butter to sear and get a nice crust.  After that I just piled it all on a plate and then drizzled the sauce over it for presentation.

The sauce was actually alot simpler than I had first thought.  I took a jar of blackberry preserves and combined that in a small pot with some soy sauce, white wine vinegar, and wasabi powder.  I thought that the wasabi powder would give the sauce a pretty good kick but as it cooked and reduced down apparently so did the potency of the wasabi.  Ultimately I just let it reduce until it was thick but still a liquid, if it starts not wanting to pour smoothly off the spoon.  The hardest part of this dish was the haphazard attempt i made at a crushed peanut topping.  Apparently if you put a bunch of peanuts into a plastic bag and then strike them with a frying pan, they band together, forming some sort of blunt force trauma mutual defense pact.  But it added a little pizazz to the finished dish so if you have the time/patience/implements to easily pulverize some peanuts to top the beef, then more power to you.  If not the beef was still delicious.