Monday, September 1, 2008

Kids Can Cook: Roasted Duck Dinner

I'm sure you're well over the "What's for Dinner?" question. I know I've had days where absolutely NOTHING came to mind and I've had to fight the urge to turn to Chef Boyardee. On this particular day though, I drove to the DeKalb Farmers Market with the kids and said, "Pick out something you've never had before." Well that was fun because we ended up with this restaurant quality menu feeding a family of five, for a grand total of $35:

Roasted duck a la pluot with roasted purple and fingerling potatoes and soy glazed long beans.

Sounds fancy, but tasted fantastic. The kids helped with all of the prep and they were talking about this wonderful meal for days to come.

First we "brined" the duck by giving it a salt water bath while we did all the prep. Then we picked the thyme and marjoram from the stem, a perfect job for little 6 year old fingers, as was cutting the tips off of the long beans.

Next we sliced the potatoes into 1" in pieces, something you can definitely trust a 13 year old to do. He also peeled and smashed a couple cloves of garlic (OK more like 6) and peeled and quartered pearl onions. While the kids took care of that portion of the meal, I peeled the pluots (a cross between a plum and an apricot) and put them in a pot with ginger, cinnamon, allspice and touch of turbinado sugar. A lot of spices, but I used a very light hand for each of them.

Now we didn't actually COOK anything up to this point because we had to go get our three year old from daycare. So once we got back, I rinsed the duck, seasoned it with the herbs by sticking them under the skin next to the meat, filled the cavity with a lemon, some garlic cloves and hit the entire bird with fresh black pepper and popped that bad boy in the oven (no need to salt it as it'd been in a salt bath for 3 hours).

Next the potatoes were dressed with a little olive oil, salt pepper and the last of the herbs and they went in after the duck had been in the oven about 30 minutes.

Finally I turned on the pot with the pluots so they could cook down, and heated a large pot of salty water to cook the long beans. Once they were tender, I drained them and dressed them lightly with sesame oil and soy sauce.
Yes they kind of look like long green snakes, but I think that's exactly why the kids like them!

About half of the pluots went on top of the duck during the last 10 minutes in the oven and made a nice fruity glaze over the crispy skin. I saved the rest as a fruity natural topping for toasted waffles or French toast (YUM!)

Was it good? Heck, any time you can get your kids in the kitchen AND get them to eat a meal of whole foods that includes vegetables and "new" foods, you're looking at a success. Not to mention our meal was delicious. That duck carcass looked like a swarm of locusts had picked the bones by the time we were done with it! Who say's kids can't cook?

Stump the Chef: Pine Nuts

I've created the Stump the Chef category because honestly, I get asked questions during classes and seminars that I don't have the answer to, and I'm not so far gone to think I SHOULD know everything. In fact, some of these are down right funny, like this first example -- Pine Nuts -- which seems to be really obvious, but even though I've been using pine nuts for YEARS I never really gave thought as to their source.

Recently at the Healthy Desserts class down in Warm Springs, I got stumped: What are pinenuts? Do they really come from pine trees? Are they indeed a nut?

I'm surprised I didn't know this, but yes, they DO come from pine trees, although they're really seeds, not nuts. Although all pine tree seeds are edible most are too small to make harvesting worthwhile, and most of the varieties we're familiar with come from about 20 different varieties of pine trees. Pine nuts are native to North America, Asia, the Middle East/Mediterranean/North Africa and Europe. American varieties contain less protein than European varieties, but either way all pine nuts contain more protein than any other "common" nut. Asian varieties tend to have more pine flavor, which is all but absent from the seed of the Stone Pine that most cooks are familiar with. For an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know look at pine nuts click this Wikipedia article.

The harvesting process is interesting and can be messy because you're dealing with unopened pine cones and that sticky tar or "pitch" that comes along with pine trees. Liston Pine Nuts are harvested in Nevada, and they've put out a TON of info about pine nuts, their harvesting and storage with recipes and much more on their website

Pine nuts have a meaty almost creamy texture kind of like a soft cashew but less sweet. They have wonderful mild flavor that is enhanced to a sweet nuttiness when toasted. They have a fairly high oil content so adding them to low fat diet can provide some of that "fat satisfaction" that you may be tempted to acheive from a french fry binge. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips next time you get a salty, fatty craving, top your salad, rice dish or main protein with some toasted pine nuts to give your body what it craves.

If you're allergic to tree nuts, you're probably allergic to pine nuts too. Sorry. They aren't a nut substitute.

Some Life Chef recipes that use pine nuts include Poached Pears with Figs and Greek Yogurt and Summer Greens with Pine Nuts and Lemon.

In many recipes that cause for toasted almonds, pecans or walnuts, try using pine nuts. Store them in the refrigerator if you're not going to use them up immediately. Like many fresh nuts, they can become rancid in warmer temperatures if left out.

I hope that clears up any ambiguity you may have had regarding pine nuts and their uses. I'm still giggling that after all these years I never knew that!

If you have any questions and want to play Stump the Chef feel free to email me. It's a great way for me to keep learning, and a true chef is never "done learnin'."