Moroccan Chicken

During earlier years of Food Network, the contestants vying to become “the next Food Network star” were actually given a contract to host their own cooking show, usually slotted for Sunday mornings. That was before the network became its entirely competition-based format, where everything has to be done in 20 minutes and somebody always “wins.” I still watch, but I miss the days when more of the chefs (or cooks, in the case of ever-popular Rachael Ray) walked you through the steps of making a meal in what looked like a real home kitchen. They still have some weekend morning “how-to” shows, but the rest of the time, it’s either a big ol’ showdown, or a bunch of chefs talking in bold color about the food at places they visit (I’m looking at you, Guy Fieri). 😉

Speaking of bold color, I’ve been working on restoring some color to things around here in the tail end of a very gray January. The recipe I’m sharing today has been a favorite of mine since the third season of said “Food Network Star,” and I learned it by watching an episode of the show hosted by Amy Finley, the first woman to win the network’s competition.

Amy’s show, endearingly named “The Gourmet Next Door,” showcased elegantly simple French cooking methods, and Amy exuded confidence in the kitchen. I was disappointed, along with everyone at Food Network, when Amy decided not to return for a second season. During her six episodes of TV fame, she managed to get through to me with this simple and really flavorful recipe, which she said was inspired by the foods of French Morocco, on the northern coast of Africa. The bone-in chicken thighs are marinated in a spicy blend of chiles and seed spices—known in those parts as “harissa”—and surrounded by tender and colorful vegetables, plus dried fruit and fried almonds. If it sounds like a weird combination, trust me, you will change your mind after you taste it. It’s spicy and savory, yet sweet with fruit and wholly satisfying.

For now, the tagine will remain purely decorative. I’ll be on the lookout for a real one that I can actually put in the oven.

Traditionally, a Moroccan dish such as this would be prepared in a clayware vessel called a tagine, which looks like the red pot above. The shape of the tagine keeps moisture inside for perfectly tender roasts and stews. I’ve had this tagine on display for several years, but have only recently considered cooking in it, at the urging of my husband, Les. However, after much discussion with my aunt, who spent decades as a clay potter, we concluded that the finish on this one probably makes it purely decorative and unsuitable for cooking. No worries, I’ve prepared the dish today as I always have, in a simple cast-iron skillet.

This dish is pretty and delicious, as spicy as you want it to be, easy to make and a welcome flavor change-up from the usual weeknight chicken dinner. I hope you like it!

Colorful veggies, dried fruit and nuts make this a satisfying, healthful meal.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. neutral oil, such as canola

2 tsp. harissa blend spices* (see notes)

4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1 small sweet onion, chopped into large pieces

1 small zucchini, cut into uniform chunks

1 small yellow squash, cut into uniform chunks

Handful of fresh baby tomatoes, whole

Small handful each dried plums (prunes) and apricots

1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1 tsp. neutral oil, such as canola

1/4 cup whole, raw almonds, unsalted

Cooked couscous for serving


*Notes

Traditionally, harissa is presented as a paste made from fresh whole chiles, and it really tips the scale on Scoville heat units. My dry blend of harissa spices allows for some flexibility in the heat department and includes red chile, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and what I call the “three C spices,” which are caraway, coriander and cumin. The seeds should be slightly toasted and then ground into a rough powder before blending with the other ingredients. If you prefer, substitute a ready-made harissa blend, or use the harissa paste seasoning available at Trader Joe’s (brace yourself, it’s hot). My harissa dry spice blend recipe is listed at the end of this post.

You will need an oven safe skillet with a tight-fitting lid for this recipe. Alternatively, you could make it in an electric skillet with a lid. Or a tagine, if yours is safe to cook in. 🙂


Instructions

Let’s walk through it together in pictures first. You’ll find written instructions below, and keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF version for your recipe files.


  1. Combine the oil and spice blend in a large, deep bowl that is large enough to hold the chicken thighs for marinating. Season the chicken pieces on both sides with kosher salt. Add them to the spice marinade and turn several times to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F, with oven rack in the center.
  3. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When skillet is warm (but not hot), add chicken pieces, skin side-down. Do not move or turn the pieces for about 10 minutes, until the fat is rendered and skin is golden and crispy. Cook the second side about 5 minutes, until browned. Remove pieces to a plate and keep warm.
  4. Add the chopped onions, then zucchini and squash to the remaining oil in the skillet, tossing briefly to coat and lightly sauté them. Salt to taste. Remove skillet from heat.
  5. Arrange the baby tomatoes among the skillet vegetables, then tuck in the dried fruit pieces evenly throughout the skillet. Place the chicken thighs on top of the mixture.
  6. Swirl broth in the bowl that held the chicken pieces, to grab all the flavors lingering there. Pour the broth down the sides of the skillet, so that it flows underneath to the vegetables.
  7. Cover the skillet and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until vegetables and fruit are soft and chicken pieces are tender. Prep the couscous near the end of the cooking time.
  8. Heat teaspoon of oil in a small skillet until it’s quite hot and shimmery. Add raw almonds and toss them about for about two minutes. They will pop and sputter a bit, so be careful. When they are toasty and fragrant, use a slotted spoon to remove them.
  9. Serve the vegetables and chicken over cooked couscous, and spoon the fried almonds over the top.
We’ll keep the tagine in the background, just for effect. 😉

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Harissa Dry Spice Blend

1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to your heat preference)

1 Tbsp. granulated dried garlic

1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (adds bite with minimal heat)

1 1/2 tsp. whole coriander seed, toasted and ground

1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground

1 tsp. caraway seed, toasted and ground

2 or 3 shakes ground cayenne pepper (adjust to your heat preference)


Sourdough Focaccia with Pomegranate & Walnuts

I’m learning more about the Jewish traditions that are part of the tapestry of life for my husband, Les, and this week I was surprised to learn that there are multiple new year occasions worth celebrating. We had the big one, Rosh Hashanah, back in the fall, which we celebrated at our house with a twist on beer can chicken, oven-roasted with a honey glaze. This week marks another “new year,” called Tu Bishvat, an environmentally themed observance that centers on trees and all the good things we enjoy because of them. If you’ve ever sat beneath a tree to escape the high-noon heat, you know how protective they can be. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a fruit-bearing tree, you know the joy of anticipation as you watch the fragrant blossoms turn into sweet, juicy edibles.

Our local temple recently held an online celebration for Tu Bishvat, and it included a fun food challenge, which yours truly could not resist. Participants were charged with creating and virtually sharing a dish made with one of the “seven species” highlighted during this occasion—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates.

The title of this recipe gives away my assignment (pomegranate), and I’m happy to share it as my latest food adventure.

It smells so good from the oven!

What I love about focaccia is that it is an easy bread to make, as long as you aren’t bothered by the sticky, loose consistency of the dough. It’s a high hydration recipe, which is a bread nerd’s way of saying it’s a really wet dough. Kneading by hand isn’t really an option, but there’s an easy technique of stretching and folding the dough, which builds strength and makes it more workable. My focaccia is sourdough-based, because that’s what I do, but you can find easy yeast-risen focaccia recipes online using commercial yeast if you prefer (try this quick and easy recipe from King Arthur Baking Company).

Enjoy!

Sourdough Focaccia with Pomegranate and Walnuts

Adapted from Maurizio Leo’s recipe for Simple Sourdough Focaccia
Makes one 9” x 13” rectangle or two 9” round bread loaves


Ingredients

115g ripe sourdough starter, 100% hydration* (see notes)

460g filtered water, at room temperature

350g all-purpose flour

180g bread flour*

75g white whole wheat flour

11g salt

12g mild-flavored extra virgin olive oil + extra oil for topping

Toppings*

About 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted at 400° F until lightly browned and fragrant

1/2 cup pomegranate arils*

Several sprigs fresh thyme, washed and leaves removed

Coarse or flaky sea salt (I used a specialty salt flavored with chocolate!)


*Notes

My recipe is described with weight measurements because this is how I bake. If you prefer to measure by volume in cups, please consider following the recipe on King Arthur Baking site, where ingredients are listed by weight or volume. If you decide to delve into the world of sourdough, I highly recommend purchase of a digital kitchen scale, as measuring by weight ensures precision and consistent results. You don’t have to spend a bundle for a digital scale. Mine is adjustable for ounces, grams and milliliters, and I picked it up at Walmart for only about $20.

Sourdough starter is considered “ripe” a few hours after feeding, when it has nearly tripled in volume, then begins to fall. It will have a very bubbly surface appearance and a fruity, slightly sour aroma. My starter is 100% hydration, which means it is equal parts flour and water.

Bread flour is higher in protein than regular, all-purpose flour. The protein content gives more strength to bread dough, a benefit that is particularly important with a wet dough. I prefer the King Arthur brand, which is sold in a blue and white bag at most well-stocked supermarkets.

My focaccia is topped with pomegranate arils (which I purchased ready-to-go in the produce department), toasted walnuts and fresh thyme, but there are many other terrific combinations, so use what you like—olives, figs, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, caramelized onions are all fantastic. Try it sometime with roasted grapes and feta cheese. Yum!


If you want to “fancy up” your focaccia, try drizzling it with a reduction of pomegranate juice and balsamic vinegar. Instructions below!

Instructions

Making bread can seem a little intimidating. I know, because it used to be scary for me. But as with any relationship, it takes some time and experience, trial and error to find your comfort with dough. If you want to learn to make bread, focaccia is a great place to begin. There’s no kneading, and it doesn’t punish you if you mess up your timing. I love a forgiving recipe! Have a look at the slides to get the idea, then give it a go with the instructions below. Keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. You’ve got this! 🙂

  1. Combine starter and water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix together into a slurry.
  2. Whisk together flours and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour all at once to the starter mixture. Using the mixer’s lowest speed, beat until all flour is absorbed into the starter, which should only take 1 to 2 minutes. Increase to the next speed and beat for about 5 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky, but gathered up around the beater blade. Remove beater blade, cover the bowl and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
  3. Using the dough hook, and with mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the olive oil and mix until oil is fully blended into the dough, plus about 2 more minutes. The dough will seem impossibly wet and heavy, but don’t give in to the temptation to add more flour.
  4. Transfer the dough to a large, wide bowl and cover, resting it in a warm, draft-free spot in the kitchen for a total of 2 hours. Don’t wander off though, because you’ll need to do some stretching and folding over the course of the first couple hours.
  5. After 30 minutes, using wet hands, grab hold of one side of the dough, keeping it in the bowl. Pull it up and over the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl halfway around and repeat with the other side of the dough, then turn it a quarter way, and repeat with the other two sides, for a total of four stretches.
  6. Repeat the stretch and folds at 60 minutes, 90 minutes, and the 2-hour mark. This intermittent stretching makes a big difference in the strength and condition of the dough, so don’t skip it.
  7. Prepare a pan (or two) for baking by drizzling olive oil into the pan. Transfer focaccia dough to the pan(s) and spread as best you can to fill the pan. Don’t worry if it doesn’t stretch all the way at first. Cover the pan and rest dough for 30 minutes, then spread it again. Use wet hands (or spray them with oil) to avoid sticking to the dough. Give the dough about 4 hours to proof. During this time, you’ll notice quite a bit of puffiness develop—this is good!
  8. Near the end of proofing time, preheat oven to 450° F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.
  9. Using wet (or oiled) hands, gently press your fingertips straight down in a wide pattern all over the focaccia dough. The goal is to make deep dimples in the dough but leave large air pockets in between. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of additional olive oil over the surface, and sprinkle toppings evenly over the dough. It helps to arrange the toppings into the dimples so they are not sitting high on the surface of the bread. You can press them into the dough to accomplish this, but take care to only use your fingertips to keep the bubbly texture going.
  10. Sprinkle top of bread with flaky sea salt. Bake at 450 for about 30 minutes, turning bread at the halfway time for even baking. Use a loose foil tent if needed to prevent over-browning.
  11. Cool the focaccia in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy it warm or cool completely before wrapping and storing.
The focaccia is about 2 inches high, and you can see the pomegranate seeds and walnuts are deeply embedded into the bread.

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Who’s getting fancy in here?

Les teases me all the time about my use of “balsamic reduction,” which is nothing more than quality balsamic vinegar simmered until it’s reduced to half volume. This is not rocket science, but it sure does seem to impress people! For this focaccia, I combined about 1/2 cup pure pomegranate juice (easy to find in the produce section) with a couple tablespoons of real balsamic vinegar from Modena. I happened to have a bottle that is also infused with pomegranate, and you can find it at one of the specialty oil & vinegar shops that have popped up all over the U.S. A reduction can vary in flavor from tart to sweet, depending on the ingredients, and it adds a nice final pizzazz to even a simple dish.

Let me hear you say, “Ooooh, aaah! 😀

Cobb with Artichoke-Crab Cake

A good many years ago, a work colleague from my radio days shared with me about his unusual mental habit of assigning colors to the months of the year—not surprisingly, several of the months were given colors that matched a holiday within the month, such as green for March (St. Patrick’s Day). My buddy gave July deep red, for its blazing summer heat. Orange was obviously the color of October, reflecting Halloween pumpkins and fall foliage. But January? You guessed it. Gray.

He’s right about that. The whole month of January looks and feels gray and lifeless, with the Christmas decorations down, no leaves on the trees, no flowers to enjoy. Gray is bland and boring, the color of a steak cooked in the microwave.

As many millions of other Americans, I let go an enormous exhale this week as our battered country took its first steps forward toward what we hope is a new chapter of compassion, cooperation and unity. The installment of a new president has me feeling hopeful for the first time in years, as if gigantic gray clouds have parted to allow sunshine and color back into our lives. I’m not naïve about politics, and I have seen enough in my years to know that smooth-sailing government is a goal rather than a given, but attitudes and intentions must be positive for progress to happen, and we are overdue. I’m ecstatic and proud about the historic swearing-in of our nation’s first-ever woman vice president (I’ll be raising a toast to her in a day or two here), optimistic about making up lost ground in our relationship with the rest of the world (and the planet), and relieved at the promise of giving science a louder voice than ego in our battle against this wretched virus.

Things are looking up, and I’ve needed something to be excited about after so much gloom.

And so, here begins a fun and color-filled parade of recipes to brighten up your plate. Nutritionists will tell you about the benefits of “eating the rainbow,” for all its varying vitamins, antioxidants and whatnot, and it’s undeniable that bright colors in general make people feel happier. I’m determined to bring that color!

Color my world! 🙂

To kick things off, I’m chasing away the gray with a mostly classic Cobb salad, authentic in the sense that it has all the key Cobb ingredients—avocado, bacon, hard-boiled egg, bleu cheese and tomatoes. In step with my recent celebration of seafood, I’ve swapped out the usual chicken breast in favor of a homemade artichoke-crab cake. I love the flavor of artichokes, with their slight lemony tang, and the pairing with crab has been a favorite for years. To pull the flavors together, I’ve punched up the vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice and a few shakes of lemon-pepper seasoning.

The end result is fresh, bright and cheerful. The flavors all work great together, and the colors are breathing some much-needed sunshine into gray and gloomy January. Enjoy!


Serves: 2 dinner salads with extra crab cakes for another meal
Leftover idea: crab cakes benedict, with poached egg and english muffin, topped with sauce of your choice


Crab Cakes

1 1/2 cups lump crab meat, drained and picked over for shell pieces

1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained well and chopped fine

4 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 cup cracker or panko crumbs (I used seasoned crackers)

1/4 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning (or more if using bland crackers)

Small handful fresh parsley

Lemon wedges for serving

Mix it up!

  1. Combine all ingredients except crab and mix with a fork until mixture is completely blended.
  2. Add crab meat and fold gently about 6 times, just enough to fully incorporate the mixture.
  3. Cover mixture and chill about 2 hours.
  4. Shape crab mixture into 6 equal-sized cakes*, then cover and chill again 2 hours until ready to cook.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake crab cakes about 25 minutes, until set but not dry.

*I misjudged my portions and ended up with a smaller seventh crab cake. Better than trying to re-shape them!


Citrus vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s orange muscat champagne vinegar* (or substitute any light or citrus-y vinegar + a pinch of sugar)

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

3 or 4 shakes lemon pepper seasoning (I used McCormick, which already contains salt)

1 Tbsp. expeller-pressed canola oil + 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

  1. Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and lemon pepper seasoning in a small bowl or measuring glass.
  2. Slowly drizzle canola oil into the mixture, whisking constantly to create an emulsion. Repeat with the olive oil. Cover and allow mixture to rest to “wake up” the seasonings. I typically make my dressings several hours or even days ahead, then bring to room temperature for serving.

Cobb salad

1 full romaine heart, washed, dried and chopped

1/2 cup finely shredded red cabbage (for color :))

1 small shallot, chopped (or substitute red onion)

8 baby tomatoes, halved

1/2 medium avocado, cubed

1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles

3 slices uncured, smoked bacon, chopped and cooked crisp

1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and chopped



Want to make this colorful salad?


If you’re a fan of the crab-artichoke combination, check out my easy recipe for Creamy Crab and Artichoke Dip!


Scallops with Spinach on Bacon Risotto

Seafood has snagged the spotlight here on Comfort du Jour, and today’s post continues that trend, with a scallop and risotto dish that is both elegant and simple (yes, really).

If you have ever watched “Chopped” on the Food Network, there’s a good chance you have seen the elite panel of judges gasp collectively in sheer horror when a contestant announces an attempt to make risotto. Honestly, I gasp as well—not because risotto is complicated or difficult (it isn’t)—but because risotto is a tricky proposition in the very limited time the chef contestants usually have to complete their culinary challenge. Those chef-judges know from decades of experience that risotto in 20 minutes will not likely be successful.

The soft, creamy texture of risotto is achieved by the breakdown of the starch inside the rice grains. There’s a lot of science to explain why, but the upshot is that you need to cook it gradually, stirring all the while, so that the starches release and become a thick, slurry-like coating. Eventually, the grains are softened and the rice seems to be floating in a creamy sauce that doesn’t depend on cream at all, though most cooks add a little at the end. This kind of perfection doesn’t happen in a hurry.

Find an hour to spare this weekend and you can be successful with risotto. I’ve jazzed up this version with smoky bacon and mushrooms, and I also added a touch of cream. Then I draped it with a layer of sautéed spinach and topped it with perfectly seared sea scallops (also easy). It looks and tastes like it came out of a restaurant kitchen, but I’m going to show you how to whip it up in the cozy comfort of your own home.

Time for dinner!

Gather up your tools—you’ll need two skillets and a medium saucepan, plus a ladle and a wooden spoon. See? Not complicated at all. 🙂

Serves: 2
Time to make: 90 minutes
Leftover potential: Oh, yes! (at the end of the post, I’ll show you how we enjoyed the leftover risotto)


Ingredients

3 slices smoky bacon

3 to 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (most of a standard carton)

1/4 cup dry white wine* (optional, see notes)

1 cup Arborio rice* (see notes)

1/2 smallish sweet onion, minced fine

Handful of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Fat handful of fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and chopped

1/4 cup half and half or cream* (optional)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 portions sea scallops, patted dry

2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend, for serving


*Notes

A typical risotto recipe uses a few ounces of wine to flavor the broth, but that isn’t critical. Make up the difference with additional broth, if you wish. If using wine, go with something dry, such as Pinot Grigio. I frequently substitute dry vermouth, as I have a bottle in the fridge all the time. This particular day, I poured in the remnants of a champagne split. Whatever works.

Arborio rice is specifically used for risotto because of its starch makeup. You will likely find it specially packaged in the rice section of your supermarket. In a pinch, choose any white rice labeled “short-grain,” and follow the same instructions. It may not result in the same level of creaminess, but it will be close. It is unusual for me to choose anything other than brown rice, but I will share honestly that I haven’t yet found success with brown rice risotto, although some internet resources suggest that soaking it overnight may help. I’ll save that challenge for another day. 😉

The addition of cream at the end is not absolutely essential, but I love the softness it lends to the finish of the dish. If you are trying to eat lighter, you might try substituting an equal amount of low-fat evaporated milk. It has similar consistency with lower fat and calories.

Before you begin…

Risotto is best served immediately after reaching perfect consistency. This recipe also requires cooking of mushrooms, spinach and scallops. You may want to employ a helper for these additional tasks, unless you are confident you can manage to cook them simultaneously while tending the risotto. You might also choose to cook the mushrooms and spinach in advance, and re-warm them at plating time. Either way, it’s best to have every ingredient, tool and utensil ready to go before you begin.


Instructions

As usual, the images tell the story, but I’ve offered written instructions below, plus a PDF version you can download for your recipe files. Enjoy!

  1. In a skillet large enough for cooking the risotto, begin by cooking the bacon until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel to cool, reserving the bacon fat (or drain the fat and substitute butter or olive oil for the next step). When cool, crumble or chop the bacon into small pieces and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable broth over medium-low heat, and keep it simmering. I usually begin with the full amount of broth, but if you prefer to heat it in batches and use only what you need, that’s OK. Begin with 3 cups, plus wine (if using). Season it with salt and pepper.
  3. In a second skillet, brown up the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil. Transfer them to a bowl, and then sauté up the spinach leaves and transfer them to a separate bowl. If you’re uncomfortable multi-tasking, you can do this work ahead, or ask a helper to work alongside as you cook the risotto.
  4. To the same skillet used to cook the bacon, add the dry Arborio rice to the fat (or butter or olive oil) in the skillet. Over medium heat, stir the rice around with a wooden utensil until it’s completely coated in the oil. Continue to cook until rice has a lightly toasted aroma, which should be only a couple of minutes.
  5. Add chopped onions to the rice and continue to cook and stir another minute, just long enough for the onions to appear translucent.
  6. Use a ladle or small cup to scoop about 1/2 cup warm broth into the skillet. Stir it around in the rice, scraping any browned bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan. When most of the liquid is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup of broth and repeat. Continue this effort until the broth is nearly gone. After about 30 minutes, give the rice a taste. It should feel creamy but slightly firm, similar to pasta that is cooked just beyond al dente. For me, risotto usually takes about 40 minutes total. You may end up using the full 4 cups of broth—I usually do.
  7. In the second skillet, melt the unsalted butter over medium heat. Arrange the sea scallops, allowing a bit of space between them for easy turning. Do not move them around, but allow them to cook several minutes until browned. Turn scallops (only once) to cook the other side. Season them with salt and pepper.
  8. To the finished risotto, add the bacon crumbles and cooked mushrooms. Add half and half (if using) and stir to blend.
  9. Plate a mound of risotto onto serving plates immediately; top each portion with sautéed spinach and parm-romano blend, then scallops.

You’ll probably have extra risotto after plating, and that is not necessarily a bad thing (see below).

Time for dinner!

Want to make this easy-at-home recipe?


Here’s what I cooked up with the leftover risotto

As risotto cools, the starches gelatinize and the mixture becomes somewhat clumpy—similar to the way cold oatmeal sets up, and it isn’t necessarily delicious. Rather than trying to “loosen” it up again (which doesn’t work, by the way), I took a chance on the waffle iron. And wouldn’t you know? It was fan-freaking-tastic.

We had about 1 1/2 cups of cold leftover risotto from our scallop dish. I added 1/4 cup panko crumbs and 1/4 cup parm-romano blend, and stirred until the mixture was uniform. It had a thick, clumpy consistency that was similar to cold cookie dough.

I preheated our waffle iron to 400° F, and scooped the risotto mixture into it and pressed the lid closed. A few minutes later, voila! We had crispy exterior and smooth, soft and creamy interior. It reminded me of arancini, but in waffle form.

I made a quick onion-herb gravy with chunks of leftover roast chicken, and another fab 2.0 dinner was served!

I couldn’t have planned it better than this! And now, I always have a fun way to use up leftover risotto. 😀

Salmon with Fennel & White Beans

There has been a fresh and flavorful shift in our kitchen over the past couple of weeks, and it feels so right! My husband, Les, and I have been eating healthier after the holidays, not for keeping resolutions (we don’t bother with those), but out of simple desire to care for our bodies better after a season of splurging. Seafood has been the star of this menu reboot, and I’ve brought back into rotation one of my favorite all-time recipes, a seared fillet of fish rested on a mélange of tender sautéed fennel with creamy cannellini beans and sweet tomatoes.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess right here that I actually did not use salmon this time, but steelhead trout. This is a sweet and creamy fish, similar in texture (and appearance) to a farm-raised salmon, and when I can get my hands on steelhead trout, I love to swap it into favorite salmon recipes, including the salmon in phyllo dish that I shared in December. But steelhead trout isn’t always easy to find, especially while adhering to the best practice standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council (sustainability means a lot to me). The dish is every bit as delicious when made with your favorite salmon, which is usually much easier to find.

This dish is satisfying, healthful and full of flavor!

It looks and tastes more extravagant than it is, and although I’ve named it “fish with fennel,” it would be better described as fennel with fish, given that the fennel shows up in three different forms—the seeds are ground to a powder for crusting on the fillets, the vegetable is caramelized in the mélange beneath the fish, and the fronds are chopped and sprinkled on top.


Would it surprise you to know that you can have this meal on the table in about 35 minutes, start to finish? It’s true. And Les, who is practically a living nutritional calculator, announced after cleaning his plate that our meal probably checked in at fewer than 400 calories per serving, which is not too shabby for such a flavorful, satisfying meal.

Ingredients

So few ingredients, yet so much flavor!

2 portions salmon*, skin removed (see notes)

1 tsp. fennel seed, ground to a rough powder

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 bulb fennel, sliced* (should measure about 1 cup)

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned, drained well)

1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth + 2 Tbsp. dry white wine* (or all vegetable broth)

15 oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped or minced


*Notes

Any type of salmon (wild sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works well in this recipe, but you might also consider swapping in another fish, such as arctic char or steelhead trout, which I used. If you are not comfortable removing the skin yourself, ask the seafood clerk to do it for you. Learn this task, and you’ll be unstoppable!

Fennel is a less common vegetable, one that you may have passed over in the supermarket for something more recognizable. It resembles something between celery and bok choy, but tastes nothing like either. It is crunchy with a slightly licorice flavor, and it pairs beautifully with all kinds of fish, especially when sautéed or stewed. The seed part of fennel might be more familiar to you. It’s the flavor that makes Italian sausage taste Italian.

If you use wine to deglaze the skillet, make it a dry one, such as pinot grigio. Alternatively, I frequently reach for dry vermouth, given that I always have a bottle open in the fridge. If you prefer to not use wine, just add another splash of vegetable broth, no problem.


Instructions


  1. Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, crush the fennel seeds to a rough powder. Don’t have either? Try putting the seeds into a bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Season the fish fillets with kosher salt and pepper, then sprinkle the fennel powder onto both sides of the fillets and press to fully adhere it.
  2. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmery (but not smoking), lay fish fillets into pan. Cook about two minutes, then carefully turn fillets to cook the other side another two minutes. Transfer fish to a small plate and keep warm. I usually slip it into the microwave while I make the mélange.
  3. Add fennel pieces to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing occasionally, until fennel is caramelized and tender, about five minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, then broth, plus wine. Stir until combined and liquid is simmering.
  5. Add beans and mustard. Toss to combine, reduce heat to low.
  6. Return fish to the pan, resting the fillets on top of the mixture. Cover and simmer on low for about 8 minutes, which is just about enough time to set the table and chop the fennel fronds.
  7. Plate the meal, with fish fillet resting on top of the fennel-bean mixture. Sprinkle the chopped fennel fronds on top and serve.

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If you’re hungry for more seafood, check out these easy recipes from the Comfort du Jour archives.


Scampi with Asparagus

It happens every time. The start of a new year is filled with good intentions, as everyone makes their resolutions to get fit, lose weight, improve their health. This is the reason for all the TV ads for gym memberships, weight loss products and home exercise equipment. It isn’t a terrible idea, of course, but there are simpler (and more sustainable) things we can do to get back into better habits, and most of them begin in the kitchen.

Along with many other people at the end of holiday indulging, I’m tired of so much rich food and find myself aching for fresher, lighter fare. After the heavy flavors of Thanksgiving dishes, it was spicy that I craved. But after the double whammy of Christmas and New Year’s, and all the sweets and booze that came with them, I just want to eat something—anything—fresh. Oh, and easy would be nice, too!

That’s where this recipe comes in, and there’s plenty to love about it. The dish is light and lemony, with big, juicy shrimp and bright, barely-crunchy asparagus. Piled high on a bed of al dente pasta, it looks like it came from a restaurant kitchen, and it tastes like fresh air after all the decadence we’ve plated in this house over the past six weeks.

You don’t have to go to a restaurant for a beautiful, tasty seafood dish. This one is easy to make at home!

Scampi is a simple dish to make, and the main thing to embrace is patience. You will cook the garlic slowly in olive oil over low heat, which allows it to essentially poach rather than sauté. This low and slow approach leads to the soft, mellow garlic flavor that is distinctive in scampi. And yes, it is a fair amount of oil, but remember that extra virgin olive oil is monounsaturated—what nutritionists call “good fat.” The meal will satisfy, and there are health benefits to boot. Sounds good to me!

If you don’t care for asparagus, sub in another crisp green vegetable, maybe some sugar snap peas or fresh broccolini. Or skip the sauteed veggie and serve the scampi alongside a salad. After the holidays, you deserve whatever fresh flavors suit your craving. Make it your own.

Serves: 2
Time to make it: About 35 minutes

Ingredients

2/3 pound fresh or frozen (uncooked) shrimp, 16-20 count* (see notes)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1/2 medium sweet onion, halved and sliced in crescent moon shapes

1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

A few shakes crushed red pepper flakes, if you like it spicy

Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus the zest

2 portions linguine or angel hair pasta

A few shakes of parm-romano blend cheese, for serving

Five cloves is a lot of garlic for two dinner portions, but the slow simmer mellows the flavor. Cut the onions and asparagus into similar sized pieces.

*Notes

The “count” on shrimp refers to its size, and represents the average number of shrimp per pound. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. I have no problem with using frozen shrimp, especially because supermarkets often receive the shrimp frozen anyway. For many reasons, including food safety, fair trade and human rights, I always purchase shrimp harvested in the U.S., and my preference is white gulf shrimp. It’s sweet and juicy, whereas some other types of shrimp can be sharp and briny. Check with your seafood department for flavor recommendations, and whatever you purchase, be sure to thoroughly clean and de-vein it (instructions for this at the end of the post).


Instructions

  1. Place a large, non-stick skillet over low heat. Add olive oil and garlic (plus the red pepper, if using) and leave it alone. When the oil heats very slowly, the garlic gets softer and more mellow, which leads to the flavor we all know in scampi. Rush this step and the garlic will burn, which is definitely not delicious. Expect this low, slow cooking to take about 20 minutes.
  2. Thaw the shrimp (if frozen), and then peel and de-vein each one. If you have never done this before, it’s easy but extremely important, and I’ve provided some images at the end of the post to walk you through it. Removing the peel is pretty simple. Next, use a sharp paring knife to make a shallow cut down the outside curved part of the shrimp, revealing a dark stringy thing. I hate to tell you, but this isn’t actually a vein—it’s a digestive tract. Disgusting, but important to know. Slip the sharp tip of the knife underneath this nasty thing and pull it out. Lay the cleaned shrimp on layers of paper towel and set aside for now. If working ahead, cover and refrigerate.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to boil for cooking the pasta. Season it generously with kosher salt and (once boiling) add the pasta, stirring to prevent sticking. Cook until al dente, according to directions on the pasta box. While this is underway, continue with the recipe below.
  4. After the garlic has poached about 20 minutes, turn the skillet heat up to medium. When oil begins to bubble around the garlic, add the onions and asparagus and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the asparagus is slightly softened but still bright green.
  5. Move the veggies to the outer edges of the skillet and arrange the cleaned shrimp in the center. Cook only long enough for the bottom of the shrimp to become pink and opaque.
  6. Turn the shrimp, season the whole skillet with salt and pepper, and add in the lemon zest. Squeeze the lemon half over the mixture and continue to cook until the second side of the shrimp is cooked. Move all the skillet ingredients to the outer edges.
  7. Using tongs, move the cooked pasta directly to the center of the skillet and swirl it around to coat it with the flavors of the skillet.
  8. Arrange the pasta on serving plates or bowls, hit it with a little parm-romano blend, if you’d like, and top with veggies and shrimp.

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Here’s the down and dirty on de-veining

For goodness sake, do not skip this important step. As noted above, the “vein” in the outer curve of shrimp is actually a digestive tract, and the gunk inside is what’s left of the critter’s most recent meal (yuck). Food safety experts haven’t expressed serious concerns about eating it, but if it grosses you out (as it does me), grab a sharp paring knife and get that thing outta there!


Oysters Rockefeller Pizza

One of my favorite things to do with food is twist up a classic, and this effort is a big-time winner! When my husband, Les, and I began talking about making our annual White Clam Pizza for New Year’s Eve (these conversations begin in October because we are obsessed that way), the gears of my foodie brain started spinning. What would happen, I wondered to myself, if we put all the incredible, decadent, special occasion flavors of Oysters Rockefeller—on a pizza?

Oysters Rockefeller has always been a favorite of mine, an appetizer dish that feels so classic and ritzy and special. So what about a crispy New York-style pizza crust with a creamy base, briny oysters, smoky cooked bacon, earthy spinach, pungent garlic and sharp salty cheeses—oh my goodness, yes—why wouldn’t this be a thing?

Kinda makes you want to bite right into it, huh?

Unlike the white clam pie, which is cooked sans sauce, I felt that this one needed something creamy as a base. Tomato sauce won’t do, because that isn’t a flavor I associate with oysters. It had to be creamy, but not too cheesy. One thing I have learned about fish in general is that most “melty” cheeses do not pair well, but hard, salty cheeses such as Parmesan are perfect. We remembered how tasty the roasted garlic béchamel was on the creamy garlic and mushroom pizza I developed last year—so that’s where I started for the base. Next came some homework to discern the exact right flavors that make Oysters Rockefeller so exquisite. The bacon must be crisp, but not too crunchy. The cheese should be decadent and nutty, but not stringy or heavy the way mozzarella would be. Gruyere is common in the classic appetizer, so that’s a go, and Romano has that nice salty punch. Spinach—obviously a must, and I embellished the flavor of that with a splash of dry vermouth. Finally, a generous scattering of buttery, crunchy garlic panko crumbs when the pie emerged from the oven.

This pizza is a winner. We can hardly wait until next New Year’s Eve!

All the fancy flavors of Oysters Rockefeller, on a fun and casual pizza. Served with Caesar salad and champagne, of course.

This is how traditions are born, friends. Enjoy!


Ingredients

1 ball N.Y. pizza dough (or your favorite store-bought dough, about 11 oz.)


The béchamel base

1 Tbsp. salted butter

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole milk

1 whole bulb roasted garlic

2 oz. gruyere cheese*


The cooked toppings

3 very thick slices uncured smoked bacon* (see notes)

1 small shallot, minced fine*

1 fat handful fresh baby spinach leaves

A pinch of ground cayenne pepper (optional)

2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth)


The cheese toppings

1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese

1/4 cup grated or shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese

A few tablespoons of our favorite parm-romano blend cheese


The garlic crumb topper

2 Tbsp. salted butter

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

1 small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped


The oysters

1 dozen large Blue Point (or similar) oysters, shucked*


*Notes

Gruyere is a nutty, semi-hard cheese that is similar to Swiss cheese. It is a typical ingredient in the topping for Oysters Rockefeller, and I used it twice for this pizza—in the béchamel and also grated on top of the pie. Substitute with Swiss or mild white cheddar if you cannot get it.

The bacon we used was possibly the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. I wish I could give you a brand, but this was a locally produced, heritage pork we found at Whole Foods. It was uncured (nitrite-free, which is a standard in this house) and smoked with peach wood—wow. So, so good. You may not be able to find this exact kind of bacon, but substitute a good quality, thick-cut bacon with smoky flavor and not too much sweetness. This bacon was also hand-cut by the butcher and therefore very thick slices. Once cubed, it measured a total of about 1 1/2 dry cups.

Please remember that shallots are not the same as scallions, but more similar to red or sweet onion.

We agonized for weeks about the oysters, wondering whether we could purchase them fresh in the shell from a local restaurant that specializes in them, but we kept bumping into the same issue—for food safety reasons, no purveyor would sell them shucked but still in the shell. We had two options—either shuck them ourselves at cooking time (this is not for novices, which we are) or buying them already shucked, by the pint. We opted for the latter and they were fantastic. The container had more oysters than we needed for our creation, but don’t you worry—the extras will pop up on a salad or something very soon.


Instructions

I have learned (the hard way), when it comes to special recipes that I’ve never made before, that it is best to work ahead so that stress is minimized at cooking time. For this reason, I have broken the instructions down into segments, beginning with the béchamel base and the cooked toppings. It’s nice to have them done, out of the way and the kitchen cleaned up before the real cooking begins. The pictures tell most of the story, but keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF version of the instructions for your recipe files. I hope you’ll make it!

Béchamel and cooked toppings

This is the same base I made for the creamy garlic and mushroom pizza I introduced back in the summer. A béchamel is one of the simplest and most adaptable things you can make in the kitchen—master this, and you’ll find yourself whipping up all kinds of creations. I only needed a small amount for this Oysters Rockefeller pizza, and I ended up not using all of it. When cooled, the béchamel is somewhat thick and difficult to spread, so check the photos to see how I managed to get it evenly onto the dough.

If you’d like, you can make the béchamel and cooked toppings a couple of days ahead. Be sure to bring all ingredients to room temperature when you’re ready to build the pizza.


This pizza has all the character of Oysters Rockefeller. Truly, a special occasion pie.

Ready to assemble this masterpiece?

There’s a downloadable PDF at the bottom of this post, but I always think the pictures are more interesting. 🙂


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White Clam Pizza

Of all the New Year’s Eve traditions my husband, Les, and I have established together, this pizza is the most eagerly anticipated. We start talking about it weeks in advance of the holidays, and build our entire holiday meal plan around it. Our recipe is drawn from Les’s memories of living nearly two decades in the New Haven, Connecticut area, where Modern Apizza and Frank Pepe’s reign supreme. The region is home to great pizza as well as fresh seafood, and the white clam pie is a terrific mashup of the two.

Topped with salty, slightly chewy littleneck clams and accented with fresh oregano, garlic and a copious amount of fluffy shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese, the white clam pizza meets every expectation for a casual meal, but with special ingredients and festive occasion flavor.


Les and I began this ritual of serving white clam pizza on New Year’s Eve 2018, only three years after we officially became “a couple.” Although we had been dating seven months by the end of 2015, I had been in stubborn denial about my feelings and held onto deep fears about being in this (or any) relationship. I’ll spare you the personal drama (which feels a little silly to me in hindsight) but share that it was a “When Harry Met Sally” movie finale kind of moment that turned it all around for me on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. I had broken up with Les, for at least the fifth time, and when I came to my senses—only about 15 hours later—he had already committed to plans with a friend for New Year’s Eve. It was too late for us to spend the holiday together, but there was great comfort in knowing that the first day of 2016 would be a real and new beginning. He proposed the next summer, and the rest is our history in the making.

Today, New Year’s Eve still feels more like an anniversary to us than our actual wedding anniversary, and because we both enjoy being creative with food, it makes perfect sense that we would build that into our annual celebration. We love pizza in all shapes and forms, so much so that I gave Les a pizza ornament this year for our “Christmukkah” tree, which is also decorated with ornaments representing wine, Star of David, bourbon, bacon and a chocolate-covered strawberry. Oh, and billiard balls. What else can I say? This is us. 😊

Why wouldn’t we have pizza on our tree? ❤

This pizza does not have a red sauce, nor mozzarella or sausage. It is an amazingly short and simple list of ingredients that amounts to spectacular flavor. Use deli-quality cheese and shred it yourself. Get the freshest littleneck clams you can find, or choose another quahog type of clam, as close to littleneck size as possible. Follow the fishmonger’s recommendations for keeping them fresh, and the rest is easy.

As with any good pizza, the crust is crucial. If you don’t already make your own dough, I hope you’ll give my recipe a try, not just for this pizza but for all your pizzas. There is something very satisfying about making the dough by hand, and mine is achieved with the help of my beloved sourdough starter though I offer a yeasted option, too. Either way, the dough is easy enough to make but does require a few days advance, as the ferment takes place in the refrigerator. Let the dough come to room temperature before proceeding and have fun with it!


Ingredients

1 ball of N.Y. pizza dough (or use your favorite store-bought dough)

About 20 littleneck clams (fresh, in-shell)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped (or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves)

2 cups very finely shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese (preferably grated at home)

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling before baking


Instructions

The photos tell the story, or keep scrolling for written steps as well as a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Preheat oven and pizza stone or steel to 550° F for at least one hour. Place rack about 8 inches from the top heat element.
  2. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. You don’t need a lot of water in the pot; enough to just cover the clams.
  3. When water boils, carefully add clams to the pot. Boil 2 to 3 minutes, until clams pop open. Immediately drain clams into a colander, rinse with cold water and cool until shells are easy to handle.
  4. Use the tip of a sturdy knife to pry the clams all the way open and remove them from the shells. Drain clam meats on a paper towel until ready to make the pizza. If you’re working ahead, I’d recommend covering the clams on a plate in the fridge.
  5. Shape pizza dough to a 14-inch round and place it on a floured pizza peel.
  6. Spray or brush pizza dough with olive oil, then season it with salt and freshly ground pepper. Scatter a small handful of Pecorino-Romano on the dough, and then sprinkle the garlic and oregano over the entire dough.
  7. Arrange the drained clam meats over the dough. Toss the remaining Pecorino-Romano over the entire pie, covering the clams and allowing the cheese to get right up on the edges of the dough.
  8. Drizzle the pizza with extra virgin olive oil.
  9. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone or steel and bake about 6 minutes, until crust is golden brown on the edges and cheese is bubbling.
The crust was very thin in the center of this pizza, so the cheese was more golden in those spots. But oh, those perfectly chewy edges!

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Duck a l’Orange

So we were watching Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” recently, and when the visiting chef issued the challenge for his signature dish, duck a l’orange, my husband, Les, looked at me and laid down a challenge of his own.

“You should make that for Christmas dinner.”

There was no typical playful talk, such as “you probably wouldn’t try to make that, would you?” Nope, this time, it was a matter-of-fact statement that activated every fear and insecurity about my kitchen skills, though it’s tough to explain why. I’ve cooked duck before and it turned out great. As recently as Valentine’s Day 2020, just as the COVID crisis began percolating across the world, I served seared duck breast with a cherry-Pinot Noir sauce that turned out so delicious. What was the big deal about duck breast this time? I cannot explain it.

Les knew that I had a package of duck breast in the freezer, and I do love a challenge, so I took the bait. I researched the origins of duck a l’orange and examined interpretations by numerous chefs I respect, and though I felt relatively confident headed into preparation on Christmas Day, I still had trouble with it for one simple reason—poor planning. I’ll spare you the dramatic, embarrassing highlights (there was some panicked yelling involved; pretend you’re hearing a censor’s beep right now) in favor of one important piece of advice: get your ducks in a row (pun intended) before you start cooking the duck breast. Rendering the fat off the duck is essential for crispy skin with tender, perfectly medium-rare meat. And it moves fast.

This recipe is not complicated, and the ingredients are simple. But once you begin cooking the duck, it demands your full attention. Have the side dishes, the sauce, the wine, music, table settings—all of it—ready in advance and this dish will work out fine. It was fancy in a classic kind of way, delicious and totally worth the trouble!

The Serendipity wine was a perfect complement to this dish. Read more about it at the end of the post.

Recipe adapted from this one by Martha Stewart

Ingredients

2 pieces boneless duck breast, patted dry

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup cane sugar

2 Tbsp. orange muscat champagne vinegar* (see notes)

2 oranges, juiced, plus the zest of one of the oranges*

1 medium shallot, minced*

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 Tbsp. salted butter, cold from the fridge


*Notes

The orange muscat champagne vinegar is a Trader Joe’s product, but you may substitute any other variety of citrus-infused vinegar or a regular cider or white vinegar. The main thing is acidity, so substitute what you have on hand, but don’t use anything overly sweet.

Because the zest is used in the recipe, I highly recommend using organically-grown oranges. I used the juice of one regular navel orange, plus the juice and zest of one organic blood orange. Martha’s recipe calls for orange segments also, but I omitted them.

Shallot is recommended for this recipe, but if you do not have them, substitute finely minced sweet or red onion. Do not confuse shallots with scallions, which are green onions. The shape and flavor of the two are distinctly different.


Instructions

The recipe that inspired me listed only four steps in total, but what’s “easy” for Martha Stewart deserves a second look by the rest of us! I’ve broken it down into more specific tasks, to help you be fully prepared for the fast pace of the recipe. First, prep the duck and make the sauce.

  1. Using a very sharp knife, score the fatty side of the duck breast, making diagonal cuts about 1/2” apart over the entire surface of fat. Be careful not to cut into the flesh, as this will lead to overcooking the meat. Season both sides of the breast pieces with salt and pepper and set them aside while you make the sauce.
  2. In a glass measuring cup, combine vinegar, shallot, orange juice, orange zest and chicken broth.
  3. In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pot, cook sugar over medium heat until it becomes a dark amber color. Use a silicone spatula or scraper to move sugar to the middle of the pan as it begins to melt. Do not stir the melting sugar.
  4. When sugar is fully melted and deep amber in color, carefully pour in juice-broth mixture. This will sputter and pop quite a bit. Whisk mixture until it’s evenly blended, and reduce heat to low, simmering about 20 minutes until sauce is reduced to 2/3 cup volume. Give it a quick twist of black pepper, then set the pan aside for quick re-warming later.

Cooking the duck breast

  1. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is warm (not hot), add duck breast, fat side-down and leave it alone for at least five minutes. This allows time for some of the fat to render from the duck breast. Use tongs to hold the duck breasts in place, while tilting the skillet to drain the duck fat off into another skillet or bowl and continue searing until the duck skin is crispy and golden brown, about 10 minutes total. (I used the drained-off duck fat to fry the smashed fingerling potatoes we served with dinner, but I recommend that you have a kitchen assistant to do that. Les handled the potato frying task, in addition to his expert photography of the cooking process.)
  2. When the fat is mostly rendered and duck skin is super crispy, turn the breast pieces over to cook the meat side for about 5 minutes. Internal temperature of the duck breast should be about 130° F for medium rare. Allow breast pieces to rest 8 to 10 minutes on a cutting board.
  3. While the duck breasts rest, place saucepan over medium heat to warm the orange sauce again. When mixture begins to steam and simmer at the edges, remove from heat and immediately add cold butter, swirling it with a fork to blend it into the sauce.
  4. Slice duck breasts into 1/2″ pieces. Fan slices of duck onto serving plates, spoon sauce over the slices and serve.

We served the duck a l’orange with pan-fried fingerling potatoes. Boil the potatoes until fork-tender, then cool slightly and gently smash, or flatten, them with the bottom of a skillet or pan. Set them aside until you’re ready to crisp them for serving. Heat extra duck fat or butter over medium-high heat. Fry smashed potatoes in fat until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

Your eyes do not deceive—the wine we served with the duck a l’orange also has an orange hue. I’ve been curious about these orange-colored wines for at least a year, but did not find one until I visited the website for Grovedale Winery in northeastern Pennsylvania. The wine, called Serendipity, is made from Frontenac Gris grapes. Contrary to its appearance, it does not taste like oranges, though the winery suggests there are notes of candied orange peel on the finish. I found it similar in style and flavor to a dry Riesling, and I cannot describe how perfectly it paired with the duck a l’orange. Grovedale also uses this interesting grape for a late harvest dessert wine, which I purchased and cannot wait to experience. We will be ordering more of this, for sure!


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One more thing…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can trust me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀


O, Bring Us a Figgy Bourbon!

Everyone knows the classic English carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But have you wondered, as I did for so long, what the heck is a figgy pudding? In the traditional carol, the singers on the doorstep become more and more demanding of this figgy pudding, first requesting it (O, bring us some figgy pudding), and then threatening for it (we won’t go until we get some), until finally resorting to justification (we all like our figgy pudding). This must be some good stuff!

I always imagined that a figgy pudding was some kind of smashed up prune-like paste that wobbled and jiggled, but I’ve recently learned (thanks to this recipe by British superchef, Jamie Oliver) that it’s quite different from my Americanized vision of “pudding.” Common in the U.K., where my father’s roots are planted, figgy pudding is actually a sweet, dense fruitcake. Not the artificially colored, sickeningly sweet loaf that could serve as a doorstop and is usually the unwanted prize at an American office party gift exchange. Nope, a traditional British figgy pudding contains chopped dried fruits, nuts, golden syrup, citrus peel and spices. It’s steam-baked in a bowl, then inverted to a platter where it is lavishly bathed in booze (brandy, rum, bourbon—you decide) and set ablaze for a presentation that can only be described as spectacular.


No wonder the carolers demand that figgy pudding be brought “right here!” A boozy, sweet holiday treat—I guess my dad’s people really knew how to party.

My figgy bourbon drink is less dramatic, but still swimming in the warm and festive flavors of Christmas, with spice and fruit and bourbon to spare. The bourbon is lightly sweetened with fig simple syrup, accented with hazelnut liqueur and cardamom bitters, then garnished with a sweet and simple-to-make skewer that includes figs, cranberries, crystallized ginger and a generous twist of fresh citrus peel.

Given that figgy pudding may contain any combination of dried fruits, nuts and spices, the possibilities are very open for a cocktail interpretation. I might just as easily have chosen amaretto rather than hazelnut, or fresh cherries rather than cranberries, or cinnamon sticks rather than cardamom bitters. But this is what my imagination (and my bar inventory) gave me on this particular night.


The fig syrup is central to the drink, and easy to make. Because my dried figs are already sweet, I made a “light” simple syrup, which is 1 cup water to 1/2 cup cane sugar. Heat it to a quick low boil, then stir in several cut-up dried figs and let it steep until cooled. Strain out the fig pieces (reserving them, of course, for garnish purposes) and this syrup will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Going light on the sugar allows the fig to shine more than the sweet. If you prefer a sweeter drink, go with equal parts sugar and water.


Making the cocktail was easy, beginning with the garnish:


Making the Cocktail (makes two drinks)

3 oz. favorite bourbon (we are currently pouring Elijah Craig Small Batch)

0.5 oz. hazelnut liqueur (or amaretto, if you prefer almond flavor)

1.5 oz. fig simple syrup (as described above)

1.0 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice (or maybe Meyer lemon)

2 drops cardamom spice bitters* (see notes)

2 drops cherry or cherry-cacao bitters*

*Notes

I have found some really interesting bitters online, but Total Wine and well-stocked supermarkets usually carry a good variety, too. My goal for this drink was spice and fruit (in keeping with the flavors of a figgy pudding), so these could probably be replaced with orange, aromatic or Peychaud’s bitters. Be creative, but don’t go overboard as you’ll lose the essence of the fig and bourbon. 🙂


It’s warming and Christmas-y, lovely for sipping by an open fire, with or without chestnuts. Or, as it will be at our house, in front of the gas logs. 🙂

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!