Monday, February 20, 2012

Elegant, Intimate Thanksgiving

I did a terrible job of getting this posted during Thanksgiving. We had a small holiday dinner with friends before we all had to spend our actual holiday with extended family and the big, potluck fun for that day. For the four adults and three kids here, we could cook a special menu, a bit less traditional and upscale. If you have a small gathering, this is a great alternative Thanksgiving menu to try.

For the salad course, I recommend the Fall Kale Salad, and for dessert, the ultra-easy (make ahead) and stunning Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Bourbon Pecan Toffee.

Crispy Braised Duck with Cranberry-Port Sauce

Crispy Braised Duck

2 Ducks

1 onion, peeled and quartered

1 clementine, halved, peel on
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped

salt and pepper
¼ cup mulling spices

1 gallon apple juice

Cranberry-Port Sauce

1-1/2 cups of the cooled, skimmed cooking liquid

2 cups port wine

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup cranberry jelly

Prepare the Ducks:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Starting from the large cavity end, gently work your fingers between the skin and meat to loosen skin from the ducks, especially the breast as much as possible. Try not to tear the skin. Prick the skin all over with a fork to allow the fat to drain when cooking.

Stuff the duck cavities with the orange, celery and onion. Salt and pepper them lightly.

On the stove, bring the apple juice and mulling spices to a boil. Pour the boiling liquid over the ducks to tighten the skin. The liquid need to come up at least halfway to two-thirds up the sides of the ducks. You can add chicken stock if you need more liquid. Cover the pan tightly with foil.

Braise ducks:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.  Braise for one hour, remove from oven and turn ducks over, cover again and braise for another hour.

Chill ducks:

Remove from oven. Transfer ducks to a large platter, draining any juices inside ducks back into pan. Pour the cooking liquid from the pan through a strainer into a large bowl. Place the ducks back in the roasting pan and chill both the large bowl of cooking liquid and the ducks, uncovered, at least 4 hours. You want to firm up the duck before the roasting step, and also solidify the fat on the cooking liquid.

Make Sauce:
Remove the bowl of cooking liquid from the refrigerator and skim off the fat. Measure 1 and a half cups of the liquid and add to a large sauce pan on the stove. Add two cups port, 1 cup balsamic vinegar, and 1/3 cup cranberry jelly, and 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard. Whisk and bring to a simmer, uncovered. Reduce over low heat until you get a syrup that coats the spoon, about a half an hour.

Roast ducks:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 500°F.

Remove the roasting pan with ducks from the refrigerator and place in oven. Roast ducks until skin is crisp, about 20-25 minutes.

When done, transfer ducks to a platter and let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Glaze lightly with some of the sauce, serve with remaining sauce.

Pumpkin Risotto
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced pumpkin, ¼-inch dice
4 cups chicken broth
2 shallots, minced
1-1/4 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

On stove, or in a steamer, steam the pumpkin until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside, keeping warm.

Heat the chicken broth in a small saucepan, and keep it warm over low heat.

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat and sweat the shallot until translucent, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the rice, and stir until it is evenly coated with oil, and the grains just begin to turn golden, about 3 minutes.

Add the wine and cook, stirring often, until the rice absorbs the liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir 2 cups of the warm chicken broth into the pot. Now you’re free from stirring for about 8 minutes, until the rice absorbs the liquid. After this step, you need to start stirring frequently.

Add another cup of the warm chicken broth to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed, about five minutes. Add just 1/4 cup of broth next, and cook, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is absorbed, a few more minutes. Taste the rice; if it has reached al dente texture, you’re done. If not, add another 1/4 cup of broth and cook, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is absorbed. Repeat until the rice is done; you may not need all of the broth.

Mix in the Gruyere, gently fold in the cooked pumpkin, and sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve alongside the Crispy Duck, drizzle with the Cranberry-Port sauce.

Serves 4-6.

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