You know things are bad when the cabbage is the star of the plate.
Menu: Duck in Fig Sauce; Braised Cabbage; Grated Potato Cake; Hazelnut Brittle over Ice Cream (from Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home)
I had been looking forward to this week’s Martha Menu, which was to have been roasted chicken, but I have bronchitis and a lot of congestion, and therefore don’t have much of an appetite and can’t really taste anything. So, I decided to skip ahead to the next recipe, which I didn’t anticipate liking, but thought it sounded right up The Husband’s alley. The path to culinary hell is paved with good intentions, you know.
(If you read last week, you saw that my camera broke. It’s still broken, so I had to use my phone to take the photos, so they will be crappier than ever. Sorry.)
Duck with Fig Sauce: The Husband adores duck. In fact, we have a vanity license plate with a duck pun on it. I don’t care much for it, having only liked it once, when The Husband made a fantastic Guatemalan duck curry.
The recipe calls for two duck breasts, each one pound, for a total of two pounds. At the store, the package of duck breast weighed just one pound, so I got two packages. When I opened the first package, there were two breasts inside, each quite sizable, but they were only a half pound each. Even so, that was a lot of meat. Could she have really meant two 1 lb duck breasts? Where is she finding these Dolly Parton ducks with such big breasts? We decided to just cook one package, and keep the other for a rainy day. Or until he finds that curry recipe.
The cooking of the duck was straightforward: score fat, season with salt and pepper, and let sit for 20 minutes. Then brown, fat side down, for five minutes in a cast iron skillet, and flip and move to the oven to cook at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, when it should read 130 on the meat thermometer. I took them out two minutes early, and they were already at 140. Then they rested while the other dishes were finished, oozing blood all over the cutting board.
Meanwhile, I made the fig sauce, which involved cooking a shallot in some of the duck fat, then adding sherry, fig jam, chicken broth, butter, and lemon juice. The sauce was a very unappealing pea green, and to be honest, it looked like a snotty mess. I didn’t really give the color of the fig jam any thought when I was buying it; I just wanted something affordable that didn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. I ended up with St. Dalfour, which is a lovely light green color. It tasted quite nice on some toast the other day. But! Martha’s photos show that her fig sauce was more of a brown-pink color, so I guess she picked a Mission fig jam that they do not stock in the two stores I visited, looking for a naturally-sweetened option.
Regardless of the sauce’s color, it was entirely too sweet to eat with the duck. We are not fans of mixing sweet and savories together to begin with, and this was entirely too much. The Husband added extra lemon to his sauce, and although that decreased the sweetness, it also lost a lot of the fig taste. We each had one bite, then ate the duck plain.
The duck by itself was just duck. Nothing special. He thought the outer edges, which were a bit overdone, tasted like liver! That’s a neat hat trick, huh? We have the second breast leftover, and I told him I could maybe see eating it covered with BBQ sauce and pretending it was pork. He shook his head at me, slowly and sadly…
Potato Cake: I love potatoes, so imagine my chagrin when I took out my bags of Yukon Gold potatoes and found one had gone all mushy and ick on me. This meant I had to make a half portion of potato cake. So sad. Trader Joe’s has the worst produce. When will I learn?!
The non-rotten potatoes were peeled and grated and then squeezed in cheesecloth to remove the excess liquid. Look how much of it there was! And it’s orange! Good-bye, nutrients……
The potatoes are then salted and peppered in a bowl. I had a juniper berry crisis at this point, and the potatoes sat too long and took on an unappealing grey color from the pepper.
Forging ahead, I patted the potatoes into an even layer in a cast iron skillet, after heating some olive oil, and took it on faith that the bottom would be brown in the 18 minutes Martha said it needed, as there was no way to check until it was flipped over. It worked! I slid the cake out, turned it over, cooked in on the stove for another ten minutes, and then it went in the oven for ten minutes to finish cooking.
The texture of the cake was nice and crispy, without being too oily, but even The Husband, who can breathe and taste normally, thought it was lacking flavor. It definitely didn’t have as much flavor as the shoe string fries we messed up several weeks ago, even though both recipes called for potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. I would try this again with farmer’s market potatoes, and some onion grated into it, since the texture worked well. And hopefully it won’t be grey next time, because that was not appealing, especially not next to the snotty fig sauce.
Braised cabbage: I like cabbage well enough, but The Husband thinks it hardly ever has any flavor, so this was a pleasant surprise.
The recipe involved softening a sliced red onion in hot olive oil, then adding a sliced head of red cabbage, chicken broth, red wine vinegar, and 15 (not 13 and not 17!!!) crushed juniper berries, simmering it all until the cabbage was tender, which took about 30 minutes.
I liked the flavor of this; I thought it could have used even more vinegar, but The Husband assured me that it was tangy enough as is. He enjoyed the juniper berry flavor. He had a giant second helping of this, and as I said before, he rarely likes cabbage dishes. Thank heavens there was one thing we ate that was good!
Dessert: This will show you how delirious I have been the last few days. I put blanched hazelnuts on my grocery list, and bought some. But after I got home I somehow got it into my head that I needed macadamia nuts, and had bought the wrong thing. The Husband had to go to the store for some other things, so he looked for macadamia nuts and didn’t find any. We eventually got some at Trader Joe’s, although they are roasted, not blanched. It wasn’t until I started typing up this review that I noticed that I was supposed to have used hazelnuts. I didn’t even notice when I was reading the recipe as I cooked the brittle! It is a wonder I didn’t burn the house down.
Oh, well. Now we have macadamia nut brittle. This couldn’t have been easier, and thankfully Martha employed the traditional method of making a caramel sauce, rather than the ill-fated method she required for the hideous crème caramel dish. This time, I just had to dissolve 1/2 cup sugar with 2 T water, then use the swirling/brushing sides of pan with a pastry brush method (which wasn’t really necessary) until the mixture turned golden. Then a cup of nuts, vanilla, and French sea salt were stirred in quickly, then it was poured out onto parchment paper to set. They may look like chickpeas in this photo, but they taste like heaven.
I substituted unsalted roasted nuts, since she wanted them to be toasted before brittled. She suggests adding the brittle to vanilla ice cream (Breyer’s makes a lactose-free vanilla, hallelujah!) along with optional bittersweet chocolate chunks. The candy is fine and sweet on its own, but we went ahead and tried it with the ice cream. I don’t think the ice cream adds anything to the brittle, and preferred it on its own so the flavor can really stand out.
I was quite irritated that I wasted the little energy I had today making this mess. I needed a nap afterward, and then I woke up hungry. I am deferring to The Husband’s ratings, since he can taste better than I.
The duck and fig sauce: The fig sauce alone was an F, and the dish as a whole got a D.
Potato cake: C+