Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sunday Best Duck Confit

First, what is Duck Confit? I know that anything French produces slight intimidation in the home cook, but it really shouldn’t as the explanation of this divine dish is, well, divinely easy. Duck Comfit comes from the Gascon region of Southwestern France and involves salt curing duck legs for several days, and then slowly poaching them in fat. This method preserves the duck allowing you to use the rich, tender meat in other dishes later on. My streamlined recipe is a Sunday cook’s best friend. Cooking the duck in a slow cooker renders the fat and flavors the meat. Finish the dish in a sauté pan to crisp the skin. You can eat the duck right away, or transfer to an airtight container for later use. Pair with a dry, crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc.                                                                                  

So what got me thinking about duck? A recent trip to the Watauga Farmers’ Market led me back to my favorite vendor, New Life Farm and Jenny, the matriarch of the family and foodie extraordinaire. Her special this week is Muscovy Duck, which she touts to be less greasy and more like veal than poultry. We got to talking and the French delicacy, duck confit came up. Jenny mentioned that in between family and farm duties, she planned to embark on a tutorial to cook the classic dish. As it is one of my most favorite things, I too rose to the challenge. I posed the question, could I come up with a recipe that produces delicious duck comfit that every home cook can prepare?

Using my trusty slow cooker, and a packet of Jenny’s fabulous duck portions, I think I may have done it. Check out the recipe below and let me know what you think. You’ll notice in this photo, a duck breast with the leg/thigh portions in the slow cooker.
Using this recipe is not the way to cook the breast. I did it only to produce additional fat, as Jenny had run out of legs by the time I barged up to her stand. To cook the duck breast, slit the skin, season it, and cook the bird skin side down in a sauté pan until the skin is nice and crisp. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook just until the duck is rare (about 135°).

If all of this is just a little much, but your taste buds are in “must have duck confit” mode, go to D’ and order it already prepared!

You’ll notice that I call this recipe Sunday Best Duck Confit. I do this as a sneak peak and preview of my new e-book, Sunday Best Dishes, A Cookbook for Passionate Cooks due out this spring. I’m looking for recipe testers now, so if you like dishes like this one, send a note to and I’ll give you more info!

Sunday Best Duck Confit

Serves: 4
Prep Time: Slow cook the meat up to 5 hours; actual hands on time, about 15 minutes

4 duck thigh/leg pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 large shallots thinly sliced
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

Season the duck with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the shallots and garlic into a slow cooker. Place the duck legs, skin side down on top of the veggies. Set the slow cooker on the low setting for 4 to 5 hours.

Transfer the duck legs and fat from the slow cooker to a sauté pan over medium high heat. Cook until the skin crisps, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Suggestion: To store the duck for later use, place the legs into an airtight container. Cover the meat with the remaining fat. Seal and refrigerate for up to one week. To serve the duck later on, cook it in the remaining fat (or you can add duck fat to the pan). If you have extra fat, it is wonderful for cooking potatoes and vegetables. Use duck comfit as a substitute for pork belly in Pork Belly and Sweet Potato Hash, or as an additional ingredient in Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Strudel.






Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tricks for These Treats

A Candy Maker’s Kitchen Must Haves, Chewy Caramels & More! 
We’re plowing through October, leaving fall leaves in our wake. Is it just me, or is 2012 wrapping up faster than a re-gift? All joking aside, have you thought much about the upcoming holidays? My chewy caramels are not just fun to have on hand Halloween night, but make nice Christmas presents too. Whether it’s now or later, rolls of wax paper showing up at the house can mean only one thing: Mom is making caramels to wrap up like penny store candy!

Not to knock the candy companies, but the incredible sweetness and goodness of homemade caramels cannot be matched, and that’s why this post focuses on tricks for these treats; making them with ease is a matter of two Kitchen Must Haves: 1) a candy thermometer and 2) poultry shears that do double duty cutting through the chewiest of cookies, caramels and bars you’ll be making this holiday season.


I like to use my slow cooker or double broiler when I make caramels—the deeper the pot the better. As your confection bubbles away, you’ll want to stick the candy thermometer in for a reading of around 250 degrees; this is the temperature that allows you to dredge a spoon through. Note: you’ll be looking to see that the track of yummy caramel doesn’t fill back up immediately—then it’s time to spread your treasure into the baking dish you’ve coated in vegetable oil spray and wax paper—or better yet, a Silpat Liner; a priority Kitchen Must Have since I started in the cooking biz. Once the caramel cools, you can cut pieces for wrapping later on, or….

You COULD skip the cooling and cutting, and dip up to 10 apples in the caramel while it’s still hot and melted in the pot. I think offering caramel apples is the ultimate TV viewing snack when ABC puts on its annual It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” I’ve checked TV listings and the exact date is not yet available, but do touch base with me on Facebook to see my near daily notes (and admitted obsession with) sitting down to this sixties classic with an apple on a stick. I think it’s airing somewhere around October 27th this year.
I’ve decided to make a make a day of prepping a half dozen apples or so before show time—and my readers, especially the ones who cook with kids—might want to do the same. It’s got great memory making potential! Whether you prepare the caramel the old-fashioned way, or tear open a bag, the Youtube instructional video you’ll find posted to my Nana Network gives the best dipping and decorating 411 on candied apples you’ve ever seen. I hope you’ll visit the page next time you’re on Facebook, “like us” and submit a fall photo for the contest we’re running until Halloween. The prize is a $25 gift card to Yankee Candle—where candied apple scented tallows are bound to be on sale!   

P.S. Nothing wrong with paying a local treat shop to do all this—I love the Confectionary at Disney that lets you custom create your candied apple! But if you decide to save a ton of $$ and make your own, feel free to write me with your experience. And don’t forget to count the apples in the Charlie Brown special! I think the party dunks for a few…          

Chewy Caramels

Makes approximately 3 pounds of caramels
Prep time: about 30 minutes

2 cups dark corn syrup
1 cup milk
2 cups sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Confectioners’ sugar

Place all of the ingredients into a large deep pan. Heat over medium high heat stirring constantly. Remove the caramel mixture from the heat. Cool to room temperature.

Spray a 13X9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the sprayed pan with wax paper. Spray the waxed paper. Pour the caramel mixture into the pan. Let the caramels continue to cool until they are firm.

Turn out the caramels onto a cutting board. Remove the waxed paper.

Use poultry shears to cut the caramels into ½ inch squares and drop them into a bowl of powdered sugar.

Wrap each one in wax paper twisting the ends.  
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