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Duck Confit Sous Vide


Guest Author: Woody (with technical help from Liz)

We’ve had good success cooking beef, chicken, and fish sous vide, but we finally decided to tackle duck confit.  The basic idea behind a confit is that duck legs are immersed in duck fat and cooked in a low oven until all of the connective tissue (collagen) is rendered to gelatin.  Then the legs are pulled out of the fat and fried in a pan until the skin is crispy.  This is usually one of those foods that one doesn’t make at home.  It requires a huge amount of duck fat, not a problem for a restaurant that goes through dozens of ducks/night, but far more than would make sense for the home cook to keep around.  While it’s possible to purchase this much fat, we’ve been dying to try making duck confit using a sous vide method.  The benefit here is getting the duck cooked correctly (maximum rendering of collagen without making the protein excessively dry), while using far less fat than the conventional method because the legs are sealed in a vacuum bag with little volume to fill.

Following loosely on the recipe and timing provided in Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure...

Cure 4 duck legs overnight in kosher salt, seasoned with several cloves of crushed garlic, 40 black peppercorns, 4 bay leaves, 10 thyme sprigs. The cure is really important for developing flavor, but helps with food safety as well, because the legs require a long time in the bath.

Wash off the salt.  Dry and place in a vacuum bag.  Add 4oz. duck fat.  Make a bouquet garni with a few of the bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and thyme, rinsed and patted dry from the salt cure.

Bouquet garni at bottom right, looking like a giant spliff…not that I would know what that looks like.

Creative method offered by Keller.  The problem with simply adding herbs and spices to the bag during sous vide cooking is that they  inevitably end up in contact with only one portion of the meat or vegetable.  The flavor is not always uniformly distributed beyond the portion of the food that they are touching.  Keller’s fix is to make a bouquet garni using plastic wrap in place of the traditional outer leek leaves with herbs bundled inside and the ends cut off to allow fluid and flavor transfer.  The herbs and spices do not contact the food directly, but can communicate their flavors via the duck fat in the bag.  This method worked very well and has clear applications beyond duck confit.

Cook for 8 hours at 82.2° C or 180° in the circulating water bath.  Just 8 hours until duck perfection!

Pull legs out of the vacuum bags (careful to save all the duck fat, which can be gravitationally separated from any other juices) and crisp the skin using propane torch.  The torch is faster than pan frying and worked well because the legs were already warm through from the water bath.  The torch also allows the browning of all the good nooks and crannies.  This has become our favorite method for browning meats post-bath.

We ate the confit alongside a potato gratin, and a watercress salad with a sherry vinaigrette, topped with a poached egg.

It was incredibly tasty, and we still have two confited legs stored/preserved in a container of cooled duck fat in the fridge.

We’re planning to use the “leftovers” for a duck and potato pizza, or maybe some duck tacos.

Thoughts…?  Ideas…?  What do you think we should use the leftover duck confit for?

PS:  Cleo really REALLY liked the smell of all that duck fat!

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My eggs came from…New Zealand…??????


While perusing our local Whole Foods Market (aka Whole Paycheck)…I saw these…

Gasp!

Thought: they must be from a farm called “Frenz’s New Zealand – Free Range Egg Co.”  Not actually from New Zealand…the country…right…?  ‘Cause New Zealand is…ummm…I don’t know…a gazillion miles away from LA.  Why would you ever think that you should fly little fragile eggs from an island in the middle of the Pacific all the way to the coast of the U.S. to sell them in a high end market that supposedly tries to emphasize eating locally.  Eggs flown across an ocean are the opposite of local…add to that that eggs are a generic product that is not difficult to harvest or produce.  I’m baffled and disappointed.

Google maps couldn’t even give me directions from New Zealand to Pasadena…that’s how far it is.

As proof of my theory that they are not grown somewhere in THIS country and packaged as if they are from New Zealand – the address is in New Zealand.  In fact, I wonder about how *fresh* the eggs actually are…and no, I’m not going to pay close to $4.00 for 6 eggs and a side jet fuel.

The Slaw Dogs


I thought long and hard whether to include reviews of restaurants, joints, cafes, lunch spots, and places I visit – and then I thought…these places are a significant part of my culinary experience.  I cook at home, I pick up take out, I grab lunch, I grocery shop.  If you are what you eat, then I should share some of my thoughts on my adventures in ordering in addition to my adventures in cooking.

My co-worker and I had once again forgotten our lunches the other day…and we’re faced with the always tough decision of where we should go to satisfy our empty stomachs.  I remembered W emailing me the link to this new Pasadena establishment…and Jennie loves a good hot dog…so we were out of the office and headed to The Slaw Dogs.

(disclosure – cell phone pics – not great photography – but the whole point of restaurant reviews is for someone to read or see enough to be intrigued and try it out…then judge)

There were many options for building your own dog…I like options but I also get a little distracted and confused by all of them.  I don’t know if you know this…but I can be a little indecisive.  However, I perused their website and menu prior to arrival and already had an inkling that I would be ordering the Caesar Dog.  And I did…I’ll get to that in a minute.

We drove up and I realized that it had taken over a space that had previously housed a cheese steak joint…that boasted world’s best Philly cheese steak.  A) We’re not in Philly; and B) “world’s best” and “recently shut down” don’t go together.  The interior has been redone, it felt fresh, clean and comfortable – kind of blackboard meets wood plank barn.  There were only 2 people in front of us, but it still took more than 5 minutes of waiting before we ordered.  The servers are still learning the menu and seemed to have a little trouble tallying up the check…to then use a little hand held calculator to add in the tax and then run my card through the CC machine.  They did have a combo meal – which included a side and a drink.  After all that, I was still a bit shocked by the $11.06 total for 1 Caesar dog combo meal (fries and and iced tea) – but I had hopes that when my Vienna all beef dog arrived piled high with the makings of a Caesar salad that it would all be worth it.  They also have a strange ticket system for keeping track of order numbers – they are in desperate of something like these.  They gave us a yellow ticket; like you might get at Trader Joe’s to enter your name in the raffle since you brought your own bag; or like you might get at a carnival or fair or at a coat-check.  Small yellow ticket = not efficient, easy to lose, hard to see for servers.  I didn’t like it.  Then the food arrived.  Looks delicious.

First though…what is the best method of attack?  Pick it up, cut into pieces, eat all croutons first…?  So I dug into the fries.  Good flavor, most of them were crispy, some a little soft, right amount of salt – they would be better cut a little smaller.  First bite of the Caesar dog was good.  The bun seemed a little small and may have made a more positive impression had it been lightly toasted, the actual dog was very good, and all of the topping was prone to falling right off, especially the croutons.  I appreciate the inclusion of the banana peppers, but would have preferred a dill pickle spear – who doesn’t like a good dill pickle?  Halfway through the dog…the bun was splitting and soggy on the bottom from the Caesar dressing, and while the bun is not the star of the show…it should be a decent supporting actor.  Overall, the taste was good, I would consider experimenting with this combination at home and I enjoyed my lunch – so who can complain, really?

Jennie got the ABLT dog with a chicken apple sausage and no bacon.  She mentioned an issue with the slaw tasting like pumpkin.  I’m new on the “I enjoy cole slaw” train and therefore had no idea what she was talking about…until I tried a piece and, yep…it tasted and smelled just like pumpkin carving.  Weird.  Maybe some sort of cabbage off-gassing…I don’t know…any thoughts…?  With the combo meal, you are also given a small little container with a piece of fudge.  A little surprise is never a bad thing.

Squint…you can catch a little glimpse of the dog hiding under a mess of romaine, Parmesan, croutons, and dressing.   The menu and options are worth exploring; truffle oil, kimchi, curry ketchup, roasted pasilla peppers,  the combinations are endless but I think I might go back to basics on the next visit – Vienna all beef dog and a toasted bun.  Earlier I mentioned the cost seemed high for what we got – really I think they need to re-do their pricing structure.  My Caesar dog was more expensive than the ABLT which included bacon and avocado and tomatoes…all of which are pricier raw ingredients than romaine, packaged croutons, Caesar dressing and a sprinkle of cheese.

Overall…I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 forks.

+ 0.5

Cole’s Smoked Trout Spread


Recipe tested twice and definitely worth a post.  We came up with this one on our own – originally for a Superbowl party…nothing says Superbowl like a small delicate tin of smoked dainty rainbow trout…we thought we’d add some diversity to the gathering.

Very basic ingredients – onion, scallions, mayo, lemon, cream cheese and smoked trout.  You can use any smoked fish…we’re a little partial to the Cole’s Trout.  Make sure to set the block of cream cheese out on the counter to soften up which will ease the mixing process.

We used 3/4 of a brick of cream cheese.  Add the fish to the bowl, we took the time to pull the skin (not visible in the photo) off the fish and used a little bit of the olive oil from the tin in the mixture.  Finely diced onions, a squeeze or two of lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley, minced green onions…mix all together.  If the mixture if too stiff, you can add a small spoonful of mayo, or a little more lemon juice – either one will loosen it up.

Pack the mixture into a ramekin, package for travel, become hit at party for bringing yummy spread.  We ate it on triscuits…but thinly sliced baguette, flat breads, really any cracker would work well.  I don’t discriminate when it comes to crackers.  I like crackers a lot.  Dips, spreads, cheese…all an excuse to eat crackers.

Dinner last night…


Bone-in Pork Chops with a quick Whiskey, Thyme, Shallot pan sauce served with Roasted Brusels Sprout and Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  It was delicious and only took about 45 min. to make – including prepping all the veggies.  This dish will be added to the ‘make again’ category!

Beef Stroganoff


Weekends mean cooking a meal that takes a little more time and involvement…and deserves a little more time to be eaten.  Beef Stroganoff fit the bill for Sunday dinner.

Basically I can’t resist most “comfort food”.  I love it.  I think I could survive on mashed potatoes alone and come by it honestly, since my grandmother used up leftover mashed potatoes by making mashed potato sandwiches.  Yup…bread with mashed potatoes.  Carbs, carbs and more carbs!

The recipe is courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated…one of our favorite cooking magazines.  Typically, beef stroganoff is made with tenderloin…we used shoulder tip (aka steak tips) and had the butcher just slice off about 1.25 pounds for us, which we then Sliced into manageable pieces to marinate and sear.

Once the meat is sliced, poke holes in each piece and on each side with a fork.  The marinade is simply soy sauce…which according to Cook’s, ups the meaty flavor and the juiciness.

I used 2-3 teaspoons and let it marinate for about an hour covered in the fridge.

While the beef was marinating, I prepped all the other vegetables.  Mushrooms first – brushed off and then sliced into quarters.

Look at those mushrooms.  I love them.  I think I could also survive on mushrooms cooked in butter…add those to any dish, and I’m there.

Now here is an unusual step in the mushroom preparation.  I was a little skeptical as well, but I think it was a success.  Mushrooms are full of water, therefore browning them can take quite a while as you have to cook the water out of them first before they’ll begin to brown in the pan.  Cook’s solution is to throw all those beautiful quartered mushrooms into a microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 4-5 minutes, or until they’ve reduced in volume by half.

Upon removing them from the microwave, you pour off the water in the bottom of the bowl and then when you toss them into the hot pan, they begin to cook and brown much more quickly.

Next vegetable – onion.  Dice and set aside.

Next, prepare all ingredients for the sauce.  Clockwise from top left – beef stock, sour cream, white wine, mixture of dry mustard, sugar, cracked black pepper and water, flour and last, tomato paste.  Have these prepped and ready.

Meat – post marinade and pre-sear.  No the meat didn’t absorb all that soy sauce…we took the meat out of the marinade and patted it dry.

Place a pan on the heat and use a tbsp of oil.  I prefer grape seed oil as it has a very high smoke point and a neutral flavor.  Heat the pan to almost smoking and add the meat, making sure to not crowd each piece.  Once the meat is down, resist the urge to move it around a lot as you won’t get a good sear on it if you do.  I don’t remember the amount of time I cooked these…maybe 4-5 minutes on the first side and 3 on the second side.  Remove the meat from the pan and set aside to rest…I cover with a little foil to keep it warm…although for this it doesn’t really matter…and remember the meat continues to cook while it rests.

All the browned bits, aka the best deliciousness ever, are really important.  Technically called the fond – they provide the deep color of the final sauce and immense loads of flavor.  They’re stuck now…but when you add vegetables or any liquid, the pan is de-glazed and it develops into the sauce.  Add the onions and par-cooked mushrooms and cook down until the mushrooms have browned and the onions are soft.

After resting the meat, it looks like this.  Some drippings have accumulated on the plate…which all get added back into the pan.  Once the meat has rested, slice it across the grain into slices that are just small enough to fit in your mouth.  Once you cut into these…you’ll wonder why, in fact, you’re not just eating them immediately…just as they are…because that is how good it looks!  Be patient!

Onions are soft, mushrooms are browned.

At this point, sprinkle the flour into the hot pan and dump in the tomato sauce.  Once you stir it up…it’ll look pasty and chunky.  Continue to stir as you’re trying to cook the flour a bit and get rid of any raw flour taste.  The flour is the thickener and if it is not cooked enough…the suace can end up gummy.

Now is the time to add the mustard mixture, the beef broth, and the wine.  Poof, voila…delicious sauce…golden goodness…and it’s not even finished yet.  Stir it all together to make sure that the flour chunks have incorporated into the sauce.

Here’s the money shot…mmmmm…..beeeeef!  Really – at this point Woody and I almost didn’t bother finishing the dish as it looked so good.  Also, at this point Woody said “If you can cook steaks this well in a pan at home…how come we don’t have them all the time…?”  So add the beef in and stir until it is coated in sauce and warmed through.

Final dish!  You may have noticed a few int he series missing…as we were in the rush to get everything on the table at the same time.  Here’s what you missed…just before you are ready to serve, add in the sour cream…this is the essential ingredient that defines the dish as Beef Stroganoff.  It adds (surprise) a sour, tangy flavor.  Again, stir until it is well incorporated and warm throughout.  Serve on egg noodles or rice, and top with fresh chopped parsley.

And then…it was gone.  So good…and good for leftovers too!  (which is important since we made enough to feed an army!)  Complete recipe will be added to this post soon!

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