To Roast a Duckling

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To roast a duckling is an endeavor not meant for the faint-hearted of the kitchen. I’ve cooked duck in the past and it was disastrous- tough, pan-seared breast that I never researched how to make in the first place. How hard could it be, really?

It was the early years of marriage and my sweet husband ate every tough-to-chew last bit of it, while I looked at my plate deciding not to finish the ‘mistake’ on my plate. I knew then he was much too nice- or much too hungry. He argues that a person can be both, and that I must agree with.

Well, that was seven years ago and I have since broken down and learned that it doesn’t mean I’m not a natural in the kitchen if I have to read a recipe or study particular cooking techniques, especially in preparation for roasting poultry and game that are not regulars at our dinner table.

While recently shopping at our favorite Mediterranean grocery store, I scanned the frozen food aisle just to see if anything was new in prepared foods such as pizzas and falafel and meats like halal burgers and sejouk, or spicy sausages. I’m not a fan of frozen foods, but once in a while I do find something useful, especially at this store, which sells only halal products- very exciting in its own right.

Much to my surprise, sitting right next to the halal turkeys, I spotted a smaller frozen bird of some sort. I thought it was probably just another whole chicken but it seemed a tad bit larger so I turned it around to look at the label, not expecting it to be anything I would actually purchase (we already had an entire lamb being prepared for us as we shopped). Sure enough, it was the first frozen halal duckling I had ever seen before. I plopped it into the cart and hoped for the best, hoping I wasn’t kidding myself into thinking I could actually make up for the last bird.

At the checkout, the store clerk commented that the roast duckling would be ‘an extravagant meal’. “Great,” I thought. Just what I needed- not only to mess up the duck, but to waste money and ‘extravagant’ food in the process. “I’m in trouble now,” I murmured to myself.

I spent a couple of weeks letting the little duckling continue its destiny deep in the depths of my standing freezer. I thought about it often, trying to come up with my own recipe in my head, and then came to my senses: “NO! Not again, I will ruin the reputation of roast duckling for my husband forever if I do THAT again! I need the perfect recipe.”

Once again, Julia Child came to my rescue, renewing my hope in ever being able to successfully bring a duck to an edible level. My husband’s only preference this time around was not to make the orange sauce that traditionally accompanies this bird dish. “No problem, I’m sure Julia has a recipe for that,” I thought.

Life has a way of allowing you to surprise yourself once in a while. It just so happens that my newfound love of all things Julia Child ever created has brought me to remember the poultry pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Fortieth Anniversary Edition.

Simply put, “Caneton Roti”, or Roast Duckling, had real instructions I could follow on two pages (274-275), and I had all the ingredients in tow.

I followed the recipe exact, like an apprentice following a master chef in hopes of earning a Le Cordon Bleu diploma at the final exam. If I messed this one up, I would be traumatized. That’s why I chose the easiest of all the duck recipes, and the only one listed for roast duckling, not duck- aren’t they older, anyway?

I trussed it, cut off the wing tips and stuffed its cavity with fragrant herbs, just as instructed. I poured cut onions and carrots at the bottom of the roasting pan and laid him down gently out of the way of the vegetables. No water or broth needed for this baby- it would generate more fat than I could ever imagine. No need for basting, just keep removing the fat.

After a few hours (much longer than the recipe suggested, due to the funny temperament of my oven), it was finally done- successfully. Served with a side of garlicky mashed potatoes, it was worth the wait–and the work–and the need to follow a recipe, at least once in a while.

If you’d like to try this recipe, you can find it in Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 40th Anniversary Edition, Volume One. Alfred A. Knopf. 2001. http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Art-French-Cooking-Fortieth/dp/0375413405

To find your own halal duckling, check out Midamar’s website at: http://www.midamarhalal.com/scripts/products.asp?C=Halal+Chicken. Each duckling costs $15.00.

If you live in the Chicagoland area and want to take a drive out to the western suburbs to buy your halal meats, including a frozen Midamar duckling, check out our favorite spot: Mediterranean Oasis Mart Inc., 357 E Bailey Rd., Naperville, IL 60565; Telephone: (630) 420-9507. Ask for Abu Shoosha- he’ll take great care of you.

Keeping Warm, French Style

This site has been officially moved to a new domain, http://www.myhalalkitchen.com. Please visit there to see what’s cooking!

This winter, I’ve snuggled up to more than my fair share of Julia Child cookbooks and DVDs of her cooking shows, “The French Chef”. So far I’ve seen countless hours of her slapping dough around to make croissants and French bread, demonstrating brutally tedious sauce-making techniques and offering 1960’s style video of her own shopping tours around Paris and the south of France. Nevertheless, I’m addicted to learning from this woman.

As a result, for the first time I’ve made homemade French Onion Soup, following Julia’s recipe verbatim. It turned out perfectly. Even my husband was “warmed” up to the idea of eating enormous amounts of onions and butter and cheese in this hearty dish. He even warmed up to the idea of learning a little something from Julia. I think he’s enjoying himself, ever so slightly, because Julia was a practical woman and a wildly demonstrative teacher who made it easy for us to understand and learn from- something all teachers should be, in my opinion.

One thing I’ve learned from reading other books and blogs about French culture, cooking techniques, style and form is that the French, particularly Parisians, really love to warm themselves up with a hot bowl of soup during the chilly winter months. Check out David Lebovitz’s blog about living in Paris and his article about celery root soup at: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2008/12/celery_root_soup.html

Here’s a quicker version of French Onion Soup than in Julia Child’s book I used (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Fortieth Edition, Vol. 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, p. 43-45). It’s Emerille Lagasse’s recipe found on the Food Network website:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/french-onion-soup-recipe/index.html

Substitute ½ cup red grape juice for the sherry and remember to use only your own homemade chicken and veal stock, made from dhabiha halal animals. If you don’t have that, use a halal canned or carton broth (let me know if you see that in any stores), or a can or carton of kosher stock or broth.

You can also use beef stock instead of chicken or veal stock but the taste will be a bit more “meaty”. And you can also just use one type of stock (i.e. only chicken as opposed to the combination), just make sure the stock is dark. Don’t make this dish if you will only be able to use water- it just isn’t worth sacrifice in taste.

Bon Appetit! Let me know how your soup turns out…

Yvonne

King Arthur Flour comes to Chicagoland

Scanning through the local paper can prove to be a rewarding endeavor for the thrifty cook these days. I found myself lucky to see a tiny ad in the Chicago Tribune about the King Arthur Flour Company coming to Palatine, IL for a free baking class, one of their many free national classes!)

There were actually two classes taking place in the Hotel Indigo that day (Thursday, November 13)- one in the early afternoon called “Sweet & Savory Yeast Breads”, the one I attended; and another in the evening called “Festive Cookies & Pies”. I was fortunate to see the ad Wednesday night, sufficient time to plan my day around this opportunity.

I arrived at the Hotel Indigo early enough to get a good seat near the front where I could clearly see and hear our baking instructor. I didn’t want to miss a thing- sort of a deja vous of my college days attending lectures by famed authors or politicians.

I was kindly greeted by a friendly, slender young woman in a black fleece vest who handed me a booklet entitled “Baking with King Arthur Flour”. At my seat, I perused the book for a few minutes, skimming through the various bread recipes. There were tips and hints on baking and on the last page a valuable coupon towards the purchase of any variety of King Arthur Flour. I made a mental note to hit my local Shop ‘N Save on my way home, knowing full well they carried this brand of flour—and it was on sale this week.

Before the class started, an employee, baker and editor of King Arthur’s bimonthly baking newsletter, The Baking Sheet, Susan Reid, warmed up the crowd by testing our knowledge of baking and even telling a personal story about how she joined the 100% employee-owner company of King Arthur Flour, located in Norwich, VT. She also explained the interesting history behind this company, which dates back to Boston in 1790.

Once the actual program began, all eyes were on the instructor, Carolyn Hack. Her gentle and inviting presence seemed to make everyone comfortable. As planned, she began to introduce the Sweet Bread Dough recipe she was to prepare.  Her witty humor about dough, baking and life garnered everyone’s attention, even the latecomers that filled up the back rows quietly. From Carolyn we all shared in the experience of learning valuable instructions about yeast, water temperature, flour and eventually kneading the dough. Here are just a few of the things I was surprised to learn:

  • Water to proof the yeast should be like the temperature of warm bath water
  • When putting water in your yeast, if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your yeast
  • Yeast is a living thing. You “proof it” in order to see if it’s viable
  • Once the yeast is in water (proofing), you don’t have to get all the lumps out, just get everything wet
  • If your yeast doesn’t proof properly, it could be due to one of the following reasons: the yeast was improperly stored; maybe there was soap left in the container you used to proof; there could be too many chemicals in your water; perhaps the water used was too hard or too soft.
  • It’s very important to measure ingredients properly when baking.
  • If you bake a lot it might be a good idea to get a kitchen scale, for accuracy.
  • Sprinkle flour into your measuring cup- don’t pack it in, otherwise you’ll be using more flour than necessary
  • Don’t sift flour unless your recipe calls for it.
  • Cake yeast has a very short shelf life.

When the dough was finished but not yet baked, she explained some creative ways it could be used. One idea was to make an almond-filled braid out of the dough; another to make a batch of cinnamon swirls. Both ideas sounded delicious. Ms. Hack made these seem so easy to make, I thought even I (the lazy baker) would be willing to give a try to the braided dough recipe.

At the end of the program, the company gave out door prizes to many lucky winners- dough whisks, aprons, and gift cards among them.  Although I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t win any of these, my heart broke when I didn’t win the only King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book given away. And then, just as if the employee-owners read my mind, they wouldn’t let us leave empty-handed. Everyone- yes, everyone- was given a $10 King Arthur Flour gift card, a ¼ oz. package of Red Star Active Dry Yeast and a King Arthur Flour  labeled dough scraper. We even got free samples of whole grain bread on our way out.

A free program, door prizes and even more gifts upon leaving, made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Red Star Yeast company. I must say, not only was I impressed but it made me want to give my business to Red Star Yeast and of course to this quality company, King Arthur Flour, made up of nice people who love to bake, love to educate and are generous with their knowledge and time.  Needless to say, I immediately used my gift card to purchase a King Arthur dough whisk, a tool Ms. Hack taught me was an important baking tool and one that would probably last me a lifetime.

(For a complete list of King Arthur’s free national baking classes, go to: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/national-baking-classes.html

For information on their free online baking classes, visit: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/online-baking-classes.html

If you’d like to order their newsletter, “The Baking Sheet”, go to: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/bakingsheet/bakingsheet.htm

For more information about the King Arthur instructor at this program, go to:

Carolyn Hack: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/national-baking-classes.html#nbc-instructor

Yeast products recommended in this program can be found at:

SAF Yeast: http://www.safyeast.com/

Red Star Yeast: http://www.redstaryeast.com/products.html

 

Marcella Hazan on the Martha Stewart Show

Today I learned about a renowned food writer I thought you should know about: Marcella Hazan- and she appeared today on the “Martha Stewart Show” preparing a Tortelloni Stuffed with Swiss Chard, Prosciutto and Ricotta served with a heavy cream tomato sauce. She also talked about her new book, Amarcord: Marcella Remembers, available online at: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?r=1&popup=0&ean=9781592403882

The base of this dish is prepared with “prosciutto”, an Italian word for ham that has been seasoned, cured or air-dried. It is often used as a fat base for flavoring (thus referred to as “pancetta” or offered in sandwiches as a deli meat or part of an appetizer tray with other cured meats, cheeses and olives.
 
 In this particular recipe, we Muslims can simply delete this item without sacrificing any great taste at all, or we can substitute it with a wonderful halal alternative, such as the Midamar Halal Beef Soujouk, a type of beef sausage. You can find it in many halal supermarkets or online at: http://www.midamarhalal.com/scripts/products.asp
 

Marcella. Hazan is renowned for teaching culinary techniques and methods, which I noticed while watching her on Martha’s show. For example, she says when you drain pastas like ravioli, that you shouldn’t just throw them in the colander, but try to catch them first with a ‘chinese spider’ type of handled colander because the weight of the water will break the raviolis. What a great tip!

You can find these types of colanders online at: http://www.amazon.com/6-diameter-Bamboo-Skimmer-Strainer/dp/B00012F3U4

 

Ms. Hazan is not teaching cooking as she used to in the past at the famed French Culinary Institute but is now retired and lives with her husband, Victor, in Florida.

 

To find the exact recipe mentioned in this post, please click on the link below for the Martha Stewart show:

http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/tortelloni-stuffed-with-swiss-chard-prosciutto-and-ricotta?lnc=38f9cf380e1dd010VgnVCM1000005b09a00aRCRD&rsc=showmain_tv_the-martha-stewart-show

 

You can read more about Marcella Hazan’s interesting background online at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcella_Hazan