Cooking at home with duck breast

In the continuing series of ‘Cooking at home with…’, where my good friend Chef Haru Kishi and I engage in a monthly ritual of cooking together in my kitchen, we chose duck this time for our theme protein.  I love and look forward to these days where we choose a theme ingredient, go to the farmers market for inspirations, construct a multi course dinner menu, and cook all day in my kitchen.  Cooking is my form of meditation, and one of the only times that I can empty my mind of distracting thoughts and feel ultimate bliss in a state of nothingness.  Chef Kishi and I have cooked a lot together, sharing lamb saddle, white truffle, black truffle, suckling pig and lobster with our friends.  It’s a treat to be able to cook with somebody who I’ve developed a comfortable rhythm with, who knows his way around my kitchen, who pushes me to be a better cook and always teaches me valuable tricks of the trade.  I had a sudden yearning for duck that particular day, and we headed to the farmers market to see what seasonal ingredients we could prepare it with.

There was an abundance of beautiful and vibrant vegetables at their summer peak, like heirloom tomatoes, squash and colorful beans.  LA Funghi was overflowing with a variety of aromatic mushrooms, and we bought a bag of baby shiitake caps.  Small Gaviota strawberries packed with juicy sweetness and a hefty watermelon called out to us.  When we spotted petch siam eggplants, purple okra, Thai basil and lemongrass stalks, Haru got inspired to make a Thai curry for the duck.  We bought 2 plump Muscovy duck breasts at the butcher shop in the Farmers Market on Fairfax and 3rd, and headed to Thai Town to get ingredients for our curry.  Although we got a little side tracked by a khao kha moo pit stop at Ruen Pair, we managed to accomplish our mission by purchasing Kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, red curry paste and coconut palm sugar at the Thai market.

Garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass went into the pan for a quick sautée to bring out all of its wonderful aromas.  Thai red curry paste, coconut milk and coconut sugar was then added to make a spicy and rich coconut curry.

Green and purple okras and petch siam eggplants were cleaned and trimmed for the curry.

The Muscovy duck breasts that we purchased were enormous- I didn’t know that ducks could get so big.  They were pan seared in their own fat to a perfect medium rare with a beautiful crisp to its delectable skin.

All of the dazzling farmers market vegetables that we purchased that morning were gradually added to the Thai curry- purple and green okra, petch siam eggplants, mexican midget cherry tomatoes, pattypan squash, squash blossoms, bok choy, baby shiitake caps and Thai basil.  Lastly, the seared duck breasts were laid to rest on the vegetables.

Our dinner guests, a chef and a mixologist, arrived just on time to watch the glorious crowning of the curry.  The mixologist made us a round of cocktails using Grey Goose La Poire pear vodka with mangosteen juice, and we sat down at the dinner table to start the meal with a delicious watermelon and heirloom tomato gazpacho that Haru made.  The sweet and perfectly acidic creamy gazpacho, made with sherry vinegar and olive oil, was poured over burricotta cheese and a watermelon cube marinated in blueberry vinegar and orange blossom tea, and garnished with basil ribbons, gold flakes and a drizzle of olive oil.  Simply delicious, this cold and refreshing cup of fruity gazpacho was the perfect way to start a mid-summer dinner.

Italian Yellow wax beans and French green beans were blanched in boiling salt water and tossed with a ground hazelnut and argan oil dressing.  Sweet and juicy nectarines, intensely savory and perfectly fatty slices of jamón ibérico de bellota, burricotta cheese and smoked salt were draped over the beans for a simple salad with complex flavors.

A meal prepared by Haru and I is never complete without a little extra bling, whether it’s shaving ridiculous amounts of truffles on top or garnishing with sparkly gold flakes.  The Thai curry with seared duck breast was finished with seared foie gras morsels and served with Thai jasmine rice.  The dutch oven was brought directly to the table, and we all savored this amazing curry that was packed full of sweet vegetables and juicy duck.

I made a simple lemongrass, mint and black peppercorn granité as a palate cleanser to follow the curry, and we munched on juicy Gaviota strawberries throughout the rest of the evening.  Another fulfilling and perfect day of shopping, cooking, eating and drinking with dear friends- la joie de vivre!

Random trivia:  Did you know that ducks are able to swim in freezing water and stand on ice without any problems because their feet have no nerves or blood vessels to feel the cold temperature?

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Summer baby shower

Summertime, outdoor BBQ, sunshine, cool breeze, champagne, friends, laughter, gifts, food, laying out on the grass…

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All of these wonderful elements came together for my friend Emi’s baby shower that I co-hosted this summer.  I was genuinely excited to throw this bash and make it a special day for her.  Emi, wife of the chef and owner of The Curious Palate, has been my good friend since the 6th grade.  I brainstormed for weeks about the food spread for the joyous occasion.  I wanted to keep things simple and fresh, and I wanted to use farmers market ingredients that were at their summer peak. I also needed to simplify the preparation, garnishing and plating, in order to minimize my time in the kitchen and maximize my time having fun at the party.

For starters, I made a watermelon gazpacho.  I used plump heirloom tomatoes to deepen the flavors, blanched almonds to add texture, Spanish Jerez Reserva sherry vinegar to add a subtle kick, and a nutty French extra virgin olive oil to bring it all together.  Garlic and red peppers were thrown in for some underlying zest.  Garnished with edible flower petals, chopped chives and drops of basil oil that I made the night before, it was the perfect cool concoction for a hot summer day.

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Roasted red and yellow beets were flavored with Jerez Reserva sherry vinegar, olive oil, ginger and slivers, zest and juice of Valencia oranges.  The snapping ginger and citrus flavors balanced out the deep sweetness of the beets, and the vibrant colors of the edible flower garnish really popped out against the crimson background.

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For the main course, we decided to do the obligatory BBQ.  What’s an outdoor summer party without slapping some meat on the hot grill?  I marinated kalbi short ribs in my own secret recipe, and let it absorb the flavors overnight.  Italian zucchini and eggplants cut lengthwise were brushed with olive oil and flavored with fleur de sel.  What a sight to see 3 chicks (the 3 hosts) running the hot smoking grill in heels and summer dresses!  Sorry, no photos of the meat, it went too quickly.  They were tender, succulent, juicy and delicious.

I wanted to do something special, original and cute for dessert.  A store ordered cake with a messy ‘Congratulations’ in chocolate inscription?  Boring.  Cupcakes from Sprinkles?  Been there, done that.  After numerous revisions, I decided to make a playful plate that featured ripe summer white peaches.

I found this interesting fruit called a honeyloupe at the farmers market in Santa Monica.  As you can guess by the name, it’s a cross between a honeydew melon and a cantaloupe.  I used cookie cutters to cut the flesh into star, leaf and flower shapes, and marinated it for a few hours in lemongrass syrup.  Lemongrass syrup is easy to make- boil equal parts water and sugar in a pot with bruised lemongrass stalks for a few minutes.  You can drizzle it over ice cream or yogurt, and it marinates fruits really well.  It also keeps in the fridge for a long time.

I made a chocolate fudge sauce that I painted onto the plate with a pastry brush, and sprinkled the honeyloupe pieces along with edible flower petals and mint leaves to create a shooting star effect.  Using a cardboard stencil that took me only a few minutes to cut out with an exacto knife, I sprinkled a Valrhona chocolate powder teddy bear onto each plate.

I poached the white peaches the evening before in water and sugar with: cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, vanilla beans, honey, star anise, ginger and lemon zest.  To make the peach foam, I puréed some of those peaches with the poaching syrup, then added bloomed silver gelatin sheets before pouring it into my Espuma gun.  For those of you who don’t own an Espuma gun, I highly recommend getting one.  You can turn anything into foam or cream, and it’s so fun to use.  Load it with a couple of CO2 cartridges, and you’re ready to foam away.

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It all came together nicely for a colorful and cute summer dessert plate.

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My friend Emi had a healthy and beautiful baby boy, and I’m already thinking of the desserts that Auntie Tomo can spoil him with.

Random trivia:  Did you know that lemongrass oil enhances milk production in breast-feeding mothers?  It’s also believed that babies who drink this milk will have a better immune system, making them less prone to infections.