Duck Confit

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There are a lot of recipes out there for duck confit. It’s a reasonably easy thing to make, for such a rich and luxe product. The one catch is having enough duck fat on hand to make it, and the easy fix? Use rendered pork lard. Another catch is the low and slow cooking time. Not that having the oven on for hours deters me from a recipe, but using the slow cooker for anything is enjoyable for me. I get to forget about it entirely, and work on other things. In preparation for a small party with friends visiting from out of town, I took out a whole duck from the freezer. Usually recipes for duck confit focus on the legs. How could I possibly make duck confit with just two legs? I thought: why not confit the whole thing? And thus, I began.

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1. Break down the duck. You will have two legs, two breasts, two wings, a carcass and some organs. Keep the fat on the breasts.

2. Take the carcass and the wings and roast them in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Eat the crispy (albeit a bit tough) wings with some sriracha-honey. Then take all the parts (including the bones of the wings) and put them in a pot with cold water. Make a stock. Bonus points: make a phô stock. Use that some other dreary day for a nice ramen or noodle soup.

3. You are left with two breasts, the legs and maybe some organs and any bits of fat you may have trimmed. Put these into a ziplock bag with salt and seasonings. The general rule is 1/3 of an ounce per pound of meat. I used a tablespoon and a half of kosher salt, some bay leaf, black peppercorns, and garlic. Leave in the fridge overnight.

4. The next day turn on your cooker, and melt the the oil in it. The fat has to cover the meat so you need a good amount. That’s where a pint of rendered pork fat in the fridge comes in handy. The rest will come from the duck fat rendering. The setting I used was low.

5. Put all the parts gently into your slow cooker (mind is oval shaped, and worked well here, allowing for a single layer). I prefer not to rinse or pat dry as the salt and herbs are so good in the fat. Now let the cooker do it’s business. Check on it every hour to make sure the meat is submerged in oil, and that it’s not bubbling. Keep the lid cracked. About 3 to 4 hours.

6. When it’s done–check the legs, the skin has rendered and the meat pulls away with the slightest motion–turn off the heater, remove the liner from the element if you can, and let it cool. I like to refrigerate it over night to rest.

To serve, remove the meat and heat it up in a cast iron pan so it becomes crackly and a little sticky. The breast meat was great–why wouldn’t you confit it? It was served with an asparagus and ramp timbale, and some pickled ramps. The next day heat up the fat and pour it through a sieve. Keep it in the fridge to make many other dishes delicious (crispy fried potatoes, anyone?). Any fat or organ meat is the bonus to this dish. The fat may be fried up in a pan and will make you the most stunning bar snack you have ever had. See the image below. The organs are primed to be chopped up and added to a risotto or stew.

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The Morel of the Story

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It’s a glorious May day. It’s cool and breezy. I woke clutching my blankets around my shoulders, as a cold breeze blew in the open window above my bed. With a sick child at home for the past few days, I felt a walk was in order to clear out my brain. And, let’s be honest, to look for morels. I knew it wasn’t likely I would find any today, but who cares? The walk is always welcome. The bonus is the mushrooms.

Today’s walk will probably be the last morel walk of the season. I did find some this year–ten to be exact–and I’m thankful for that! Apparently, it wasn’t the best year for them in these parts, due to the very bizarre spring weather we’ve had. It’s been hot and dry, not what morels enjoy, and frankly, not what I enjoy either. I’ve had my sprinkler on, and all of my shorts are in my dresser. It’s been feeling more like July, these days, and while I like July, it does have it’s place. In July.

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I am not a serious mushroom forager, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. There are tons of mushrooms on my property, and I’ve been slowly recording them. Just yesterday I found a few russula mariae in my wood chip pile. And I’ve recently done my very first spore print. I’m hooked.

But morels are different, so mysterious, so delicious. That’s why it’s called morel hunting. They seem rather like wood sprites or gnomes to me, almost mischievous. They like certain environments: dying elm tress, old apple orchards, limestone and shale. But sometimes they are found in places where you wouldn’t expect them at all. Seeing as how I’m less than a beginner, I will direct you to this post by Bill Bakaitis, who is a well known “mushroom guru” in these parts. (Leslie Land’s website is still a treasure to me. I am thankful it’s still there to mine for information despite her passing a few years ago.) Another good read is this article he wrote on eating morels you find in orchards, important because of the possibility of poisons leached into the soil of apple orchards, and thus the mushrooms that might grow beneath them.

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My walk today seemed the perfect location: a dying orchard on a southern facing slope near railroad tracks. Limestone outcroppings every so often. The only thing I didn’t see was a dying elm, but I’m sure there was one somewhere there. (How do you identify a dead elm? I am still figuring out live elm. There are so few around here, and I rarely see them.) As I walked through fields of tall grass and skirted the outrageous amounts of poison ivy, I thought how foraging morels was not for the faint of heart. I walked an outline around the edges of the area, not willing to enter the true thicket of prickers and poison ivy. I really hate poison ivy. Not to mention ticks. As I dipped into canopies of leafed out elderly trees, I kept on finding places that felt a little magical, lined with ground ivy and violets. I knew the morels were out there, and it was perfectly fine that they kept on hiding.

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What’s nicest about morel hunting–well, after the finding of them, that is–is that you really have to slow down and look. And when you are slowing down to look you do see a good many things. Most of which are not morels, but that’s beside the point. You see the shiny leaves of the pin oak, and the soft undersides of the silver maple, and the white wrinkly bark of the poplars. You see the soft long grass waving in the wind, the red and shiny new leaves of the poison ivy that sends out runners everywhere. The details seem to pop out everywhere, and there you are, really looking. It’s great meditation. Indeed, if I found the morels (because I know they are out there) I might not have enjoyed such a nice calm breathing practice.

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Out of the ten morels I found, I ate only five. It felt greedy to take all ten of them. I sliced them up and sautéed them in duck fat. Once I had them on toast and the other time with scrambled eggs. Both were perfect. They are so delicious, that I think doing much else with them would be overkill. But I am willing to keep on trying. If only they would comply.

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Spring Ramblings

IMG_1218 My goal here is to post once weekly, but sometimes things get away from me. As soon as I skip one week, writing the next week is even harder. It’s just a personal goal, mind you, but I do think it’s a good one so as to keep in writing shape. Some days I have several ideas for posts, and then when I sit down to write poof! it’s all gone. Does writing frustrate you like that? Sometimes I think it’s one of the hardest things in the world. I want so badly to write!! But then when I do it’s excruciatingly painful. Then I wonder: am I a writer?? Can I even call myself a writer, for goodness sakes? When all I do is want to write, instead of actually writing. Do you relate? I think you might. I went to lunch with a friend yesterday, and I confessed this worry: am I really a writer? She said I was certainly not the only writer who had that concern. I was thankful for that. And look! All that worrying and here I just wrote a whole paragraph. Huh. So, I’ll just call this one in, and tell you what I’ve been up to in the kitchen. Maybe next week I’ll really have something to say! Like: see those violets above? I spent a ten-minute idyll picking them, and suddenly I had the fantasy that I would candy them. I just used sugar and water, no egg whites–really just simple syrup–and it was time consuming and they didn’t really come out very pretty. A word to the wise? Candying flowers is not easy. IMG_1189 And this right here? Ramps herbes salées, inspiration from Joel and Dana at Well Preserved. I’m not sure you can call what I made herbes salées actually, seeing as how I just blended salt and ramps together. Regardless, it’s amazing. I’ve added it to many dishes, and it makes everything better. Add it to greek yogurt for a great dip, then thin that out with vinegar and oil to make a slaw dressing. You cannot go wrong. IMG_1208 The above is self-explanatory, but below is a slaw of romaine and cabbage with grated asparagus and carrots. I dressed it with the ramps herbes salées dressing. And that’s my new summer drink right there: seltzer with a splash of rosé, a dash of St. Germain, and a rangpur lime twist. I just can’t drink like I used to! IMG_1231 It’s been very, very hot here and abnormally dry for spring, so the garden, while thriving is moving slowly. The asparagus is very slow. But nonetheless, it’s still very exciting! Here’s to more rain! And–see you next week! IMG_1213

Pickled Ramps (or Wild Leeks)

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Can I keep talking about how spring is just blowing my mind? There’s so much going on it’s hard to keep track of. As I went for a walk earlier, I had all sorts of ideas for what I was going to write. But now it’s gone–dispersed in a cloud of lost mind either. Right now it’s all I can do to keep my mind on the computer. I’m out on the porch, the screens are covered with ladybugs, and big fat bumblebees are lazily cruising by looking for flowers. And the flowers! They are out in full force. The Hansen cherry bushes are loaded and pulsing with buzzing insects of every sort. The forsythias are competing with the leafing-out trees in brilliance. As I drive around, all kinds of trees in flower catch my eye: big huge clouds of white or the most delicate of pinks. And then there is the green, of course!

I’ve been walking all over, almost every day, an eye always peeled for ramps. This is such a great time to walk because you can still see in the distance. As soon as the understory fills in, your line of sight drastically changes. That’s pretty much when you can’t spot the ramps anymore. Ramps are everywhere now in the stores and markets, even going so low as $4 a bunch. It makes me sad that I love ramps so much–I wish I could love invasive garlic mustard more dearly. When foraging ramps, I pick only one stalk from a large patch. Grasping it low at the bulb I pull, and the leaves and stem slip out, and the bulb remains. I know the bulbs are delicious too, but I’m happy with the stems and leaves. That way I know the roots remain to be more ramps next year.

These pickles are sweet and garlicky! They are amazing on a snack plate, or piled on a sandwich. I’m going to pair these with duck confit for a special lunch I have planned for early next week–I think their zippy acidity and sweet spice will be perfect for the rich duck.

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Pickled Ramps or Wild Leeks

Makes about a half quart jar.

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup (4 ounces) sugar

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 pound ramps, stems and leaves

Bring all the ingredients except the ramps to a boil, making sure the sugar and salt dissolve. Turn off the heat and let the brine cool just a bit. Then, pour the brine over the ramps in a large glass bowl. Let the ramps sit out for a few hours, and turn the leaves every so often. The ramps will wilt and let off moisture. Put them in a jar, and keep in the refrigerator.

Tarts and Cakes and Joy

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The nicer weather has brought with it numerous things all resulting in joy.  It has brought the reddish-green rhubarb leaves poking up through cracks in the dirt. The pleated strawberry leaves unfolding from dark green to light, opening like tiny fans. The cherry bushes are holding onto their pink blossoms, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I am on constant asparagus and morel watch in my yard. The grass is so, so green. It twinkles in the dew when I walk my son to the bus stop at 8 a.m. Even with this morning’s almost frosty cold, and yesterday’s tiniest flurry of snow, the joy can’t be tamped down!

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With apologies to Robert Frost, in my neighborhood, nature’s first green is red. All the red maple flower buds cast a red haze as they swell, and soon they will drop and cover the streets with red as well. The understory, however, is gold–the spicebushes, the honeysuckle or lonicera bush, and the lilacs leafing out.  I am transfixed by all this beauty. It translates to instant joy and wonder. I am feeling so at ease. Every little thing is all right. Going to bed in the evening is joy–weary from hiking and gardening. Waking up early, and it’s requisite hot cup of coffee, are joy.

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You know what else is joy? Yes, you guessed it. Cakes and tarts. They are so full of joy. Lately, my son has been worried about whether what he is eating is something healthy or not. My answer is that most things are healthy in moderation. Having a mix of things is what is most healthy. It’s good to have a balance of all kinds of things. Even a little cake, which, yes, is not all that healthy. But emotionally, isn’t a little cake good for you? It imparts joy, and isn’t that nutritious? Do you like my philosophy?

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I made this jam tart the other day and it cheered my day, how pretty and easy and tasty it was. Instead of using 12 tablespoons of butter, I used 8 and added 1/4 cup of full-fat Greek yogurt. My son didn’t like it, because of the almonds on top, but I did. So much so that I froze half of it so I wasn’t tempted to eat it all. [Side note: the recipe calls it fregolotta, but the recipes I’ve seen for true fregolotta were much less dressed up and truly more a dry cookie, with much less butter. But I am no expert on fregolotta.]

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Other joys I have bookmarked (most of them from Food52, and many almond-y things):

Almond Coconut Cake (here’s my back of the box discovery: almond bars from Watkins Almond extract)

Almond Coffee Cake

Chocolate Mochi Snack Cake

Calabrian Walnut Cake

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Tamari-Ginger-Sesame Dressing for Greens

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It’s here! Spring is really and truly here, and it’s put a bounce in my step. Most exciting is the little ramp shoots coming out of the ground down by the barn–I planted these last year, and they are already rewarding me with their presence. Ramps are known to be fussy, so my slightly cool and damp spot was a good choice. It probably didn’t hurt that when I had chickens, that’s where their manure would go. The rhubarb is finally poking out, the strawberries are getting green, and the jostaberry bushes are leafing out. My heart is full!

I don’t mean to rush things–this spring weather could last a really long time, and I’d be happy–but I am thinking ahead to summer, and it’s requisite small bits of clothing. Or maybe I’m just all too aware of the extra pounds winter has encouraged on my frame, and how it’s harder each year to shed them! What I’ve been doing is just eating better and moving more. That essential equation to losing weight, right? I make sure to have flavorful things ready in the fridge so I don’t end up frying eggs or making grilled cheese or doing any number of quick and indulgent things that seem to come to mind so easily when I’m hungry. When I look into the fridge I have cooked wheat berries, plump and chewy. On the counter is some cooked jasmine rice, which I leave out because it doesn’t really refrigerate well (unless you want to make fried rice). Other things I like to have on hand are tangy, salty, sour and crunchy fermented goodies, like kimuchi, (Japanese kimchi which I’ve been enjoying a lot lately), or sauerkraut. Rich components I rely on are hard-boiled eggs or avocado or a drizzle of sesame oil.

What else? Hearty greens like kale, collards and chard are my favorite. I wanted to have some greens that were easy to pluck from the fridge. I based this dressing on the Japanese seaweed salad that you find in sushi joints all over. That combination of salty-sweet-gingery-garlicky is my favorite thing! Roughly chop three bunches of greens, blanch them for a few minutes, drain and toss with this dressing. It’s great both cold in a rice bowl or hot in a bowl of broth. And it keeps in the fridge for at least a week.

Tamari-Ginger-Sesame Dressing

1/4 cup vegetable oil, like sunflower or safflower

3 tablespoons of tamari

2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

1 tablespoon of sesame oil

1 teaspoon to tablespoon of sambal oelek, depending on how much heat you want

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine or grated with a microplane

1 knob of ginger, grated

1 tablespoon of honey

Sesame seeds

Mix up all the ingredients. Pour over hot blanched greens and toss with sesame seeds. Keeps in the fridge up to a week.

Roasted Tomato Spread

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Spring has sprung here in the Hudson Valley, and no one is really believing it. Everyone is rubbing their eyes and wondering, is it really true?? Maple sugaring time is come and gone, and I hear tell of wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps, poking up out of the ground. I tell you, I missed the dirt. The smell of defrosting dirt is a lovely thing.

I just got back from a rejuvenating trip to southern Florida. I went with my son to visit my family for spring break. We swam in the ocean! We saw alligators! We walked, and we talked. It was just what I needed to make it through the tail end of winter. Coming home to temperatures above fifty degrees, the swelling buds of daffodils, and a garden with no snow in it has soothed my spirit.  Now it is time to appraise the pantry, filled more with empty jars than full, and the freezer, which is getting lower every day. There is still bounty though, and some things need to be eaten. Like tomatoes. So many tomatoes!

One of my standbys of preserving the summer bounty is oven-roasted tomatoes. It very well may be yours, too, it’s so simple and so good and so versatile. I like the slow method that Food In Jars’ uses, but I tend to be impatient and roast them at 350 degrees for an hour or two. They end up being a little caramelized around the edges, but I like that. Remember how many tomatoes I had at the end of the season in the fall? A lot of them became oven-roasted tomatoes, bags and bags of them are in the freezer. The other day I saw a glimpse of a bottle of sun-dried tomato ketchup on my Instagram feed. And I thought: aha! I immediately defrosted a bag of these tomatoes, whizzed them up with some more olive oil and a few other goodies. I have been slathering it on my sourdough pan-fried toast for days now. I see this being a new constant companion–on pizza, pasta, burgers, turned into a salad dressing, etc. I knew roasting all those tomatoes was a good idea!

Roasted Tomato Spread

Oven-roasted tomatoes, however you do them, about a cup or two

Roughly 1/4 cup of olive oil

About a tablespoon of good red wine vinegar, I used my home brew

some salt and pepper

I kept mine plain, but any kind of dressing up with herbs and garlic would be great. Just put the roasted tomatoes (about a cup or two) into a food processor or Vitamix, add the olive oil and vinegar and pulse until you reach  your desired consistency. For me, this was slightly chunky. This is all about your taste, so there are no set measurements. Add more olive oil if you want it thinner. I would keep the vinegar at a tablespoon, but by all means, taste, adjust and enjoy!

Staying Hungry

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