Duck Confit / Duck Rillettes / Duck Ravioli

ConfitYou know that phenomena when you hear a word for the first time, and out of nowhere it seems that everyone around you has started using that word from that point forward in everyday conversation?  As though you unlocked Pandora’s vocabulary and sent this strange, new word spiraling into the minds of those around you, like the word god you are.  We mortals call this oddity of life “perceptual vigilance”, and the phrase that chose itself to be perceptually vigilant in my mind as of late is the word confit.

The first time I came across this term was around 6 months or so ago, and I ticked my head to the side and mouthed, “con-fit?” pronouncing every ugly syllable, not realizing I was ignorantly pronouncing this French word as though I were a backwoods, Uncle-loving hobo.  The very idea of confit (which is pronounced con-fee, by the way) is enough to send me into a fit of happy sobs.  There are variations of confit to include vegetable and fruit confit, but in this instance we’re speaking of meat, people.  Not only meat, but meat that has been lightly cured and then, wait for it… completely submerged and slowly cooked for hours in its own fat until nearly fall-off-the-bone tender.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Poetry for the tongue, I say.

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Duck Confit / Duck Rillette / Duck Ravioli

ConfitYou know that phenomena when you hear a word for the first time, and out of nowhere it seems that everyone around you has started using that word from that point forward in everyday conversation?  As though you unlocked Pandora’s vocabulary and sent this strange, new word spiraling into the minds of those around you, like the word god you are.  We mortals call this oddity of life “perceptual vigilance”, and the phrase that chose itself to be perceptually vigilant in my mind as of late is the word confit.

The first time I came across this term was around 6 months or so ago, and I ticked my head to the side and mouthed, “con-fit?” pronouncing every ugly syllable, not realizing I was ignorantly pronouncing this French word as though I were a backwoods, Uncle-loving hobo.  The very idea of confit (which is pronounced con-fee, by the way) is enough to send me into a fit of happy sobs.  There are variations of confit to include vegetable and fruit confit, but in this instance we’re speaking of meat, people.  Not only meat, but meat that has been lightly cured and then, wait for it… completely submerged and slowly cooked for hours in its own fat until nearly fall-off-the-bone tender.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Poetry for the tongue, I say.

Confit

Confit in solidified duck fat.

After the meat has been cooked through in the fat, it is then cooled until the fat sets, which acts as a highly effective preservation method in which you can keep the meat at good quality for months.  So it’s not only beautiful, but it’s magical, too.

Given its corpulent, fatty ass nature, duck is one of the best meats to turn into confit. They’re rich with lard and have a flavor that lies somewhere on the spectrum between pork and turkey, which isn’t at all as unsavory as it may sound.  In fact, it’s quite nice.  One minor caveat is that duck confit isn’t cheap to make, which would be the only reason why I don’t fill up my tub and bathe in it.  Not to mention the hunt for rendered duck fat in Tampa Bay was like attempting to find a faction of Wal-Mart fanatics without a debilitating case of crippling halitosis.  That is, to say, it was difficult.

Rillette RavioliWhatever quandaries I was meant to face on this endeavor, I did so without question or qualm and came out victorious… sort of.  After curing my duck legs, I made the novice mistake of not rinsing off the salt cure and instead brushed it off before plopping them into the duck fat.  Once they were done, I took a bite and at once came face to face with a shame that only a slutty nun could identify with.  Shit was as salty as a sea snail’s scrotum, but all was fine and I had my duck fat-laced happy ending.  I transformed the confit into rillette and then turned the rillette into ravioli and the ravioli into dinner.  After all of this manipulation, the intense saltiness dissipated into welcomed brininess, and all was right with the world once more.

Well, except for the duck.

Duck Confit / Duck Rillette / Duck Ravioli

Rillette Ravioli
Duck Confit

Ingredients:

  • 2 duck legs and thighs
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp clove
  • 1 head of garlic with top 1/4 cut off
  • 2 11oz bottles of Rougie duck fat

Directions

  1. Mix together dry ingredients and rub over duck legs.  Sprinkle remaining dry mix over duck legs, cover and refrigerate for up to three days, but ensuring at least one full day minimum.
  2. Rinse legs and pat dry, place in a pan with the head of garlic and cover completely with duck fat.
  3. Cook legs in duck fat over low heat for 2 1/2 to four hours where a temperature placed in the fat constantly reads between 190 and 210 degrees.  The duck will be done when a toothpick easily enters the meat.
  4. Let cool until room temperature and then immediately place in fridge to sit for at least one day or up to a few weeks (it can last much, much longer with proper storage).
  5. Over a double boiler, slowly melt duck fat and remove legs.  Place skin side down onto a thick bottomed frying pan over low heat and heat for 20 to 30 minutes, or until skin becomes crisp and the meat is heated through.
  6. Once done, you can remove the garlic from the duck fat for another use and strain the duck fat back into their containers to be used again.

Duck Rillette

Ingredients

  • 2 legs duck confit
  • 4 cloves of garlic from duck confit batch (or fresh, if preferred)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup of slightly softened butter
  • 2 tbsp duck fat
  • 2 tsp fresh parsley, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Shred meat duck confit into small pieces and combine all ingredients into a medium bowl. Mix well with fingers until well combined.  If it looks like cat food, you’ve done a good job.

Duck Rillette Ravioli

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Lay one sheet of pasta on a flat surface and add 1 tbsp of duck rillet every 2 inches.
  2. Cover with another sheet of pasta and press firmly around the meat and cut out to desired shape.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and remove from heat.
  4. Immediately add ravioli to water and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes or until pasta is cooked through.

Acorn Squash & Chorizo Turnovers and Why Fall in Florida is a Hoax

Acorn Squash & Chorizo TurnoverA few mornings ago I woke up and walked into my kitchen to an all too familiar and abhorrent smell.  I’d forgotten to take the previous night’s trash out, likely because I’d finished off my evening in an energy-deprived cooking stupor, and the stench of chicken carcass was radiating from my trashcan.  The smell reminded me a lot of the summers I spent growing up near the Susquehanna River.  Have you ever been hear the Susquehanna during the hot months?  It’s as though you’re hugged daily by a hobo that’s gone four years without a shower, and whose breath smells like wilted cabbage and bourbon.  It’s horrible and the smell lingers.  The cats were going crazy over the trash smell, and so was I, but for an entirely different reason altogether

I grumbly pulled my super hefty Hefty trashbag from the can and dragged it outside to give it the old heave-ho when my bare legs were wrapped in an unexpected chill and I stopped.  Excitement took over my initial annoyance, because when I looked outward toward the lake my apartment sits on, I noticed that the temperature wasn’t the only oddity; the light was completely different, too.  IT’S FALL, Y’ALL!


However in Florida, Fall is more of a tease than an actual season.  The mornings are clear, breezy, and at a cool 70 degrees, life is beautiful.  Then by 11AM your underwear is sticking to your butt, you’ve developed pit stains the size of papayas and you start seriously considering relocating your shit north of the Mason-Dixon line.  It’s as though Mother Nature lifts her conservative petticoat up on one side to give you a peak at the lace-lined garter wrapped around her milky white thigh — teasing you, tantalizing you, daring you to enjoy the view.  When you reach out to touch it, foolishly thinking it’s finally yours, she shoves her skirt down angrily and glares at you with slitted eyes and an arched eyebrow, shaming you.  It’s Fall in Florida, y’all.

Even so, I was more excited than a nerdy, rhythmic white girl being inducted into an inner-city high school step squad.  Fall means gourds.  Like, tons of gourds!  Fall means pleasantly blustery mornings, Halloween, and gourds, all of which I emphatically support.

Acorn Squash & Chorizo Turnover

Fully planning on enjoying this fleeting preview of Florida post-Summer, I put on my jeans and flip flops (because regardless of what the temperature or date is, you always wear flip flops in Florida) and dashed out the door to pick up something Autumn-y and edible.  The best part of the beginning of Fall is not the anticipation of what Fall is to bring, but the lack of those cinnamon brooms that inevitably show up in every tacky art store and grocery store around the continent.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  They’re these small brooms that the knick-knack loving elderly go ape shit over every year.  And they don’t just give off a slight, sweet, welcoming smell of cinnamon.  No, the smell permeates everything and sends a closed-fisted, forceful punch of concentrated cinnamon straight up your nostrils and emblazons that stench into your cerebral cortex ensuring you never forget that detestable smell, ever.  In fact, you learn to fear it.

Digression aside, I’d planned for weeks to make a filled puff pastry of some sort, but couldn’t decide on something interesting enough to go through with making the puff pastry.  Call me something unpleasant, but I don’t think I really care for puff pastry.  It has this unctuousness that doesn’t evoke the adjective “buttery” as much as it does the phrase “give me a glass of milk, now.”  However, leave it to Fall to inspire some kitchen creativity.  I made my way to the most un-cinnamon smelling grocery store to pick up a few acorn squashes to make acorn squash and chorizo turnovers.

Acorn Squash & Chorizo Turnover

The idea to make acorn squash and chorizo turnovers came to me almost out of nowhere, as though an ethereal messenger delivered it straight to my brain saying, “take this thought, and make it your own.”  But if we’re being completely honest, I had leftover chorizo that I HAD to use up, and acorn squash is one of my favorites, so I suppose it’s only natural that I’d gravitate towards marrying those two in some form of delicious matrimony.

The flavor of the two is interesting, as you get the creamy, buttery and slightly sweetened consistency of the squash mixed with the fiery umami brought on by the chorizo, and you have yourself one bomb ass turnover.  However, my first batch was missing something critical, which at the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  The consistency was off, as was the flavor, and there was a vacancy in the turnover left unfilled until days later when I determined that it was cheese I was missing.  Port is the perfect choice, but on hand all I had was mozzarella which was a tolerable substitute in a pinch.  I wanted a cheese that was not too overpowering to demand attention away from the happy couple performing the Jarabe Tapatio on my tongue.

Standing in my kitchen the following night I watched westward as the sun slowly crossed the horizon drawn by a thick, lush layer of oak trees.  The first of many early descents to come within the following months.  I thoughtfully chewed on my savory turnover, admiring its crispy exterior and satisfyingly smooth innards.  When the sun finally set for good at 8:15 PM, I took a final look outside my window at the world immediately surrounding my neighborhood — the world that was changing before me — and smiled as I thought while lowering my blinds, “fuck those cinnamon brooms.”

ACORN SQUASH AND CHORIZO TURNOVERS

Acorn Squash & Chorizo TurnoverNote: I made my own puff pastry for this, but the recipe is far from perfect so I’m not going to lead anyone astray by providing it yet.

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • Pre-made puff pastry dough
  • 1/2 large chorizo link, or 1 small chorizo link
  • 1 small acorn squash
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of port, mozzarella or other mild cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or melted butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • chopped almonds (optional)
  1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees
  2. Cut acorn squash in half, rub cut with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place cut side down onto a baking sheet.  Place in oven for 35-40 minutes or until soft.
  3. Turn both slices cut side up, sprinkle with cinnamon, and place butter in the center of one side and place the other side of squash on top of it, cut sides together.  Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. In a medium saucepan, heat a very small amount of olive oil over medium heat and add onions.  Sauté for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and then add the garlic.  Continue to cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Add chorizo to the pan and cook until cooked completely through.  Remove from heat and drain excess grease.
  6. Scoop out insides of acorn squash and add to the chorizo mixture, mixing thoroughly.
  7. Roll out dough until 1/8 inch thick and cut into circles or squares.  Fill each square with a layer of cheese, a tablespoon of the filling and some chopped almonds (if using) and fold over, pinching the ends closed.  Note: the amount of filling will differ depending on the size of dough cut out.
  8. Brush the tops of the dough with heavy cream or melted butter and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Acorn Squash

Lambchop Lollipops

Lambchop LollipopsThe first time I ever had lamb I was 13 or 14 or somewhere around that awkward period of my life where I donned a super cool bowl cut and my pimples outnumbered my prospective dates.  I was on a school-sponsored trip to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire with my Social Studies class where many different groups of kids from around the state were congregating at the Renaissance Freak Fest to perform different acts of The Taming of the Shrew to an audience of apathetic passersby.   I played Baptista Minola and was sporting a particularly fetching purple felt robe that also moonlighted as a Crypt Keeper cloak the previous Halloween.

Raw rack of lamb

While watching the other schools’ kids perform it became increasingly obvious that they all took their roles much more seriously than we did.  Though their acting resembled nothing short of cowplop, thus shedding a whole new light on what could be coined Shakespearean bastardization, they more than made up for it with their intricate, homemade fashions with adornments that alluded a guise of Medieval authenticity.  And then there was me in my fucking Crypt Keeper costume.


Our group was a good while from going on stage, and after an hour or so of watching one unremarkable performance after another I grew tired and hungry.  So ambled I did up to the nearest food purveying wench and demanded an explanation of her finest foodstuffs, pronto.  Which of course means I asked politely for a menu because I was much too much of a wussy boy to demand much of anything from anyone.

At this point I’d had a few visits to the Renaissance Faire under my belt, so I knew to expect flavorful slow-cooked brisket and turkey legs that appeared to be ripped from fowl the size of Optimus Prime.  But there was another unfamiliar item that glared at me from below my two favorite Faire foods: lamb sandwich?

Up until that point I couldn’t even pretend to know what lamb was supposed to taste like.  I understood the flavor of pork, chicken and beef.  I’d had all those, but what was lamb anyway?  I knew they were cute little puff balls that baaa’d at you with a burning, torturous cuteness; I knew that Shari Lewis fashioned a successful career with her hand stuck up one particular lamb’s fleecy, white ass for a few decades; and I also once heard the British ate it with something called mint jelly, which sounded about as enticing as a bowl full of farts.

Breaded lambchops, ready for the oven.

I was dubious of this lamb sandwich, but what’s life without a little adventure?  Life without adventure is much like Cheech without Chong: irrelevant and really sad.  So I ordered the lamb and regretted it immediately upon my first bite.  The meat was as gamey as my 14 year old face was oily, and the bread was lathered with — no, completely saturated in — lamb fat.  It was the equivalent of biting into a Crisco burger, and it did a bang up job of thwarting any positive inclination toward lamb meat for a good, long while.

The next time I braved lamb I was at my good friend Shannon’s wedding some 10 years later (who, by the way, coincidentally acted alongside me in The Laming of the Shrew, which makes me wonder what it is about her that sends me scurrying toward lamb meat).    Served during the reception these lamb chops that…I just don’t even know.  They were a melt-in-your-damn-mouth kind of tender with a crunchy savory exterior that, when mixed with the perfectly marbled meat, created an explosion of flavor that made me tingle.  Down there.  And just like that a lamb meat lover was born.

Oh, and for all the inquiring minds out there wondering how we did in our rendition of The Taming of the Shrew?  Let’s just say that if the late Elizabeth Taylor would have caught our performance, she undoubtedly would have walked right up to our Katherina Minola and clubbed her in her straight in her 7th grade mouth.  That’s how well we did.

Basic Lamb Chops

Finished lambchop lollipops

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 8 bone rack of lamb, frenched
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko for an extra crunch
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, minced
  • 1/8 cup olive oil plus 1 tbsp of olive oil and extra to brush rack of lamb
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Let your rack of lamb sit at room temperature for 1 hour and preheat oven to 450 degrees
  2. Combine bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary and olive oil and spread out on a plate.  Set aside.
  3. Cut rack of lamb in half and heat oil in an oven-proof pan over medium heat on the stovetop until hot.  Salt and pepper the rack of lamb and sear in the pan on all sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.
  4. Brush both halves of lamb lightly with olive oil (if needed) and coat on all sides with the bread crumb mixture. Drain pan used to sear the lamb and arrange rack of lamb with the bones of each half crossing over like a teepee, or praying hands (see first picture) before putting into the oven.
  5. Place in oven and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, or until desired doneness.  Remove from oven, cover lightly with foil, and allow to sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

Devoured lambchops

Custard Filled Shortbread

Custard Cake

A few weeks ago I made the brilliant decision to watch Paranormal Activity 2.  I’m normally not one for sequels since they are generally not very well done and seem to be rushed to meet the demand, causing a sloppy product, and this sequel was no exception.  But it was a stormy Florida summer day — which could have been any Florida summer day, really — and it just felt right.

It stopped feeling right really fast.  Halfway through the film I got painfully bored and brought my computer into the kitchen to watch this monstrosity of a movie while I baked.  This kind of detracts from really being immersed into the “suspense” of it, but what else are you going to do when you’re hungry, have adult ADHD and don’t believe in ghosts?

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Custard Filled Shortbread and Me Being Punished for Too Much Dessert.

Custard Cake

A few weeks ago I made the brilliant decision to watch Paranormal Activity 2.  I’m normally not one for sequels since they are generally not very well done and seem to be rushed to meet the demand, causing a sloppy product, and this sequel was no exception.  But it was a stormy Florida summer day — which could have been any Florida summer day, really — and it just felt right.

It stopped feeling right really fast.  Halfway through the film I got painfully bored and brought my computer into the kitchen to watch this monstrosity of a movie while I baked.  This kind of detracts from really being immersed into the “suspense” of it, but what else are you going to do when you’re hungry, have adult ADHD and don’t believe in ghosts?

Custard Cake

My baking recipes by default are usually confectioneries, but when I felt a little ripple of human gelatin wobble in my lower back region, I hesitated.  But if we’re being honest, it didn’t really hinder me from making something sweet (what’s an ounce or two chub anyway?), but I decided to be fair to myself and compromised a little bit.

See, I love shortbread.  It’s has the weighted, biscuity consistency of a proper scone and can be either savory or sweet which makes it versatile in terms of what you do with it.  On this particular day, slathering it with pastry cream and stuffing it with fresh strawberries was what felt most right.

The custard I used for the filling and the glaze is what sweetens the shortbread the most.  It’s made very simply with egg yolks, milk, flour, sugar, half a scraped vanilla bean and a just little bit of unflavored gelatin because a) flour as a lone thickening agent doesn’t work here, so it would be too runny without it and b) I hate horses.  But not really.
Custard Cake
The overall creation was super easy and didn’t take much effort to complete and assemble.  Also, I may or may not have had four slices of the finished product while impatiently waiting for the movie to end (don’t finish what you can’t start, right?), but I wouldn’t ever admit to something like that.  Upon finishing the alleged fourth slice of shortbread a large bolt of lightning struck right outside my kitchen window like a jerk, which made me to jump and bite my tongue and also caused my power to go out.

It’s funny how much quiet you can hear when the hum of generators or air conditioning isn’t clouding up the atmosphere.  It’s also funny how many creepy as shit things you can hear when your power is out, it’s post-dusk, and you just finished watching Paranormal Activity.

Man, I shouldn’t have had that fourth piece.

Custard Filled Shortbread

Custard Cake

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 2 1/2 hours total

Ingredients & Directions:

For the shortbread:

  • 2 1/4 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup butter or shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, half and half or milk
  • 1tbsp vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven at 425 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl mix together dry ingredients.  Using your hands, cut in butter until well-mixed.  The mixture should look like course crumbs at this point.  In a separate bowl mix together egg, heavy cream and vanilla.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet, and stir together until just combined.
  4. Pour batter into a lightly greased and floured cake pan, spreading and evening out mixture with a spatula.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes and place on cooling rack.

For the custard:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, insides scraped or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp flour
  • 1 packet (2.5 tsp) of unflavored gelatin

Directions:

  1. In a medium, heat-proof bowl mix together the salt, egg yolks, flour and 1/4 cup of sugar until well combined, about 2 to 3 minutes and set aside.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, heat up the milk, vanilla and the rest of the sugar until just boiling and remove from heat.
  3. Stirring constantly, SLOWLY drizzle the hot milk into the yolk mixture, making sure to not add too much at once and cook the yolks, until 1/2 the milk is combined with the eggs.
  4. Add the egg mixture to the pan with the rest of the milk and heat over medium high heat until boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil for 3 to 5 minutes or until it thickens and remove from heat.
  5. Dissolve gelatin in 1 tbsp hot water and add mixture to the custard, stirring well.
  6. Transfer to a large bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap so it is touching the top of the custard and allow to cool on the counter.
  7. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or until thoroughly chilled and has thickened up.

Carefully cut cooled shortbread in half, fill with desired amount of custard and serve with desired fruit.

Custard Cake