Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Struggle Gets Dishy: Just Ducky

Every once in a while I get the urge for new foods. I mean, like, entirely new, I want a new bird or a new animal or a new vegetable or something. Not just something I haven't eaten in a while or tried before and I certainly don't intend to eat bugs and pretend that's awesome or what have you, but an amazing new type of food. Like a new thing that isn't chicken but works like chicken. That would be amazing. 

Of course, I have yet to find such a thing, and given that I'm not taking any deep space journeys any time soon (though not for lack of trying...stupid NASA), I sometimes have to fool myself with foods, I hide them or wont buy them for a long period of time to try to trick my palette into forgetting about them so that when I encounter them again I can almost believe that this is true novelty. I've read about how cats normalize themselves to toys and then lose interest, only to rediscover them with the joy of a new exploration, but I had to stop reading about it, because when you get to the point in the day with you envy your cats it's time to take a long look in the mirror and maybe pour yourself a drink.

This normalizing thing can backfire, though. Because sometimes you re-encounter a food, say, cherries, and then all you want to do for like two weeks straight is shotgun cherries and you even consider a move to Wisconsin because wouldn't that just make perfect sense? This is another point in time when you might want to take a shot of something bracing and shake it off. Just saying. So when Ben and I made duck a few weeks ago, it kind of got me going, and now all I want to do is eat duck. So as it turns out my last duck post shall be one in a series of three. Welcome to the second of three tales of marine ornithological adventures. Get excited. 

Pasta with Duck and Asparagus and white wine:
2 duck breasts
1 pound of asparagus, ends cut off, cut into 2 inch pieces on a bias
2 shallots, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of white wine
olive oil
salt, pepper
As much pasta as you and your family, guests or pets care to consume. 

I'm going to include a lot more photos then usual because A. I like photos and B. I have the photos and C. this is a visually lovely meal, so you deserve to see it frame by frame. 

The issue that I have with duck, in fact, one a lot of people have with duck, is how fatty it is. Duck, especially duck breast, is basically a fatty no friends, which is excellent if you are an aquatic bird who lives in chilly waters and wants to stay alive and execute your biological imperative, but less useful if you are a human being who doesn't want to consume huge amounts of duck fat. And it is, of course, delicious, most things that are horrible for you are. When I was in London last year for New Years, Andrew and I (hi, Andrew!) had a discussion then went like this: Duck Fat? Love it! But my god, we will be the fattest people ever, and we will die alone. Can we take that risk? Well, maybe just this once.....

Or twice. Or 20 odd times. It's fantastic, but it's not for every day. So this recipe, we will cut off all the duck fat and keep it in reserve: 
And this would be a good time to boil it in a small saucepan with a little bit of water and then cool it to congeal. And that will look like this:
This does not look magically delicious. Don't worry, just cover it up and put it in the refrigerator. We will deal with it on another occasion. Fill up a large pot with water and make sure to salt the water generously. Cover the pot and set your burner to medium-high. This will be for the pasta, so make sure to time things out so your pasta is ready when your sauce is. 

Now take you duck, which should look something like this:
Heat two tablespoons or around that neighborhood of corn oil or any vegetable oil in a large saucepan and brown the duck:
Then remove the duck from the pan and set aside. All together, you should be looking at something like this:

Large scary knife is not required, but it is recommend. When the duck has cooled you are going to chop it up and this will look something like this: 
Meanwhile, throw the shallots and garlic into the saucepan over a medium heat:
Once the shallots have softened and are growing golden, throw in the asparagus, the wine, and some parsley. Cover and turn the heat down to low or medium low. Your water should be boiling by now, so cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. I usually use this kind of pasta:
But you should do whatever your little heart desires. I like pasta al dente, and I consider it a great crime against humanity to over cook pasta, but everyone is different. And some people are just better. Once the pasta is done, season the sauce to taste and serve it over the pasta. I like to sprinke on some parsley at this point: 
I also like cheese:
And that will look something like this:
And this is absolutely delicious. 
But you don't have to take my word for it. Go make it yourself, you lazyface. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fall Back, Struggle Forward

I don't know about you guys, but I find this time change business extremely rough. Look, I know it's only an hour, and I've certainly faced worse and greater jumps in the time space continuum (you try flying from London to Dubai to Shanghai being chased all the while by an Icelandic volcano and you just tell me how you like that), but I feel like it's different when you travel. For one thing, you are traveling. so you can justify the lack of sleep and complete confusion as to what day it is by saying, well, everything is foreign here, and time is no exception. Time hasn't actually changed, I'm just one French time,and bound by the laws of cigarettes, or English time, and bound by the laws of tea and class warfare, or Chinese time, and bound by the laws of....never mind, China has no laws, just suggestions. It's much like Italy that way, really...

But this whole hour ahead hour behind thing has really got me rattled. For one thing, I resent the syntax that tells me I'm losing or gaining time. How did I lose that hour? Is there a hole in my time-purse? I was so careful with it, too! Can I replace it? No, it just returns to me in the Fall, like a prodigal son. And I don't even have any children! See, right there, that all sounds like the crazy person who sits outside of your local 7-11 and asks you for change. But I'm not that person. I don't even know where the nearest 7-11 is! (This is a lie. It's on 22nd and Lombard. And it's creepy. Don't go in there.) Time is not a pair of socks or a debit card, you can't just let it fall out of your pocket or lose it in the dryer. But SOMETHING has happened to that hour that disappeared on Sunday morning, and I miss it. I want to put up signs, have you seen this hour? Do people put things on milk cartons anymore?

Or maybe that's just the exhaustion talking. Because why my clock says 4:40pm, my body say 3:40pm. So when my clock says 12:40 in the evening, my body says, silly brain, it's only 11:40, stay up, read, you have all the time in the world! But body, my brain says, the time, I've lost it! You can't lose time, silly brain, that's crazy talk. But, the farmers, my brain queries tentatively....Farmers? Says my body, What farmers? What is this, the feudal system? And then my body and my brain start to fight about the validity of an agricultural based time system in these modern days, and I stay up even later. And then I think about what it would take to reserve myself a spot behind the 7-11.

So I haven't really caught up yet with this whole Spring forward business. But as it grows miraculously lighter, and ever so slightly warmer (never trust a groundhog, people, they get you every time), I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, someday I will finally grow accustomed to this hour forward thing. Though, knowing me, that will be just in time for fall.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Please, Sir, I Want Some Struggle

What do you do when your are home alone? Do you run around naked? Do you dance around to loud music? Do you throw wild parties? Do you re-paint? Or do you, in fact, cook large meals for yourself and a good friend? Can you guess into which category I fall? 

Yeah. I make large meals with my friend Ben. Obviously. Ben and I got together this past Saturday night and prepared ourselves a simple meal of spice rubbed duck breast (Ben) brocolini blanched and sauted with garlic(myself) and curried saffron rice (more of myself). 
And wine. And cheese. And gossip. And maybe I'm crazy, okay, I'm definitely crazy, but it was a really lovely evening! No clubs, cabs or critical hook up moments, no embarrassing statements or stranger danger, just a nice evening with a friend. Because here's the thing, most people I know? Are struggling. At least, most young people I know are struggling. I mean, obviously, I'm struggling, it's right there in the name, but I mean in terms of the nightlife. Between the job situation and the social stuff and the constant fear that you are missing something on TV, things can get a little rough out there. So while my peers may feel the need to fill every evening with a constant stream of activities and location changes (BEN), I really enjoy nights that have one, maybe two main attractions. Honestly, much more then that gives me sensory overload and the extreme need for a snack. I know we have the fountain of youth pouring through our veins and whatever Romantic era metaphor you prefer, but doesn't anyone want to save some of that up for middle age? Every night isn't New Years, guys, you can take an evening off and wear sweatpants. No one will know but me, I promise, and I wont tell. (Yes, I will. Do it anyway.)  I mean, good lord, people, don't you get tired? It's all well and good to say you will sleep when you are dead but....I REALLY like sleeping. 

See? Don't I look happy? All well rested and happy? And with a nice glass of wine instead of a horrible but calorically conscious vodka and soda water? Ben brought, in addition to duck breast, his usual heavy snark, which pairs excellently with my own generous helping of sarcasm, and together we gorged ourselves on olives and political commentary (read, pop culture references) until Ben had to bail to go out for the evening. And me? I nestled my way into my pajamas, curled up with some USA network shows (as one does) and enjoyed my evening off of being 23 years old. 

This is how is all looks before my expert plating. The brocolini is the easiest thing in the world, blanch it, saute it with chopped garlic, sprinkle some red pepper flakes and salt and pepper over that sucker and you are DONE. Ben used a combo of spices and brown sugar with the duck breast, which we pan seared and then finished in the oven. The brown sugar gives it that deliciously crispy crust of caramelized goodness, so whatever combination of things you rub on the duck, make sure it includes brown sugar. In this case, it's like foodie crack, I swear.