Monthly Archives: October 2012

Duck Breast with Figs

My daughter loves roasted duck breast. She gave me a wonderful cookbook, Stéphane Raynaud’s 365 good reasons to sit down and eat, which has a great duck recipe in it.

I made this dish four times in a week and a half. I’d say it turned out well three of those times. The first three times I made this dish I was at my sister’s house.  My sister has a meat thermometer, but I didn’t, so the fourth batch was slightly over cooked. I highly recommend investing in a meat thermometer, it made all the difference.

The funniest part of me making duck not only once but four times, is that my mother, Gran Fran, had us all convinced that cooking duck was a sure way to burn your house down. I remember when we were kids, she called the fire department before she put the duck in the oven, because she was sure all that duck fat would catch fire in the oven. Of course, it didn’t. Maybe I’m remembering this wrong. Even if I am, it has become a story that I love to recall, and it always makes me giggle when I plan on making duck.

This dish will be served on Thanksgiving as a turkey alternative because I’m pretty sure it’ll pair perfectly well with stuffing and sweet potatoes. I figure if I keep making this, I’ll be an expert at it soon, and it’ll just taste that much better!

Duck Breast with Figs

Serves 6

from Stéphane Raynaud’s 365 good reasons to sit down and eat


  • 1 French shallot
  • 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 12 green figs
  • 3 duck breasts
  • 5 fl oz ruby or tawny Port
  • 2 tablespoons creme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)
  • 1 3/4 oz butter
  • salt and pepper


  1. Peel and slice the shallot, chop the parsley and halve the figs.
  2. Slash the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern.
  3. Cook them skin side down in a frying pan for 7 minutes, drain the fat, turn the duck over for 2 minutes then remove to a plate.
  4. Deglaze the pan with the Port and the creme de cassis, add the figs, cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the figs, cook for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the butter, then season with the salt and pepper.
  7. Reheat the duck in the sauce with the figs, garnish with the shallot and chopped parsley.


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Lentil Butternut Squash Walnut and Ham Stew

It’s amazing how little it takes to make lentil butternut squash and ham stew.

My Saturday walk brought me to my local produce market. I picked up a butternut squash, it being Fall and all, and grabbed a few other things. On my way back home, I stopped off at the butcher shop where I spotted this lovely ham hock (see above). As I walked home, I wondered what I might make with the squash, when I recalled the lentils in my cupboard.

I’m not generally a fan of lentils, but I had a big bag of them in the cupboard waiting to be made into something, anything actually, since  in general, I’m not a huge lentil fan. I do really like lentils in Indian food, but had yet to find a way that I enjoyed eating them in a home cooked meal.

When I opened the cabinet to get the lentils out, a bag of curry powder fell onto the countertop. I figured this was a sign of some sort and so, I proceeded to build a dish around the lentils, curry powder and ham hock. The ham hock and beans made me think of my favorite soup, split pea with ham, so I also grabbed some nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon to round out the spices for the recipe.

Roasting the squash with the shallots for awhile, before adding the par-boiled lentils and ham hock, softened it just enough to allow some caramelization to begin, before the stewing began.

I’ve always wanted to try walnuts with squash, so figured it being a time of experimentation, why not do it now? The walnuts kept their crunch and the flavor combination was great.

A combination of slow and low cooking time, and the blend of warm, earthy spices make this stew perfect for the shorter and cooler days that are upon us.

Lentil Butternut Squash Walnut and Ham Stew


  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
  • 2 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup lentils, cooked until soft, 20 minutes in water
  • 1 ham hock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, or 10 whole cloves


  1. Place the butternut squash, shallots, curry powder and olive oil in a heavy ovenproof pan and mix to coat all the squash pieces with oil and spices.
  2. Cook in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes, until the squash begins to soften.
  3. While the squash cooks, heat a pot on high heat, add the ham hock and brown on all sides.
  4. Add the cooked lentils to the ham hock, with enough water to cover halfway up the hock.
  5. Remove the squash from the oven, add the squash to the lentils and ham hock and stir in the walnuts.
  6. Add enough water to cover the mixture in the pot and place in the oven, covering the pot halfway with a lid.
  7. Cook for 20 minutes, stir, return to the oven and cook another 20 minutes.
  8. The stew is done when there is a slight film over the top of the beans, showing some glossiness, but with a  bit of liquid left in the pot.
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Almond Chocolate Cake: A Gluten-Free Delicious Treat

My daughter bought me a beautiful cookbook last Christmas, Stéphane Raynaud’s 365 good reasons to sit down and eat, that included this wonderful gluten-free almond chocolate cake.

This photo was taken before I had really gotten the eggs separated properly. I had to do two rounds to get the egg whites fully clear of yolks.

When she was about five years old, I asked my daughter what kind of cake she’d like for her birthday party. Without hesitation, she announced that she wanted a flour-less chocolate torte. Very clear where she was taking her food cues from, even at that early stage.

I hadn’t yet changed my diet to gluten-free, but always loved the rich, dense quality of a good flour-less torte. I guess I made it often enough that Isabella came to think of this as the norm. Eight years later, she still loves this type of cake. When we were going through the book, and found this recipe, I knew it would be the first thing I made.

It has taken me three-qaurters of a year to get to baking this cake. It was so much fun to try my hand at a completely different version of the flour-less torte than I had ever made before.  The ground almonds (which I didn’t grind quite as fine as I should have) keep the cake together and make the cake taste nutty and delicious.

This gluten-free treat takes some time. Do not rush, you have to whip the egg whites and then the yolks, melt the chocolate and the butter, grind the nuts…all the steps should be done at a leisurely pace. Otherwise, you end up like me: running back and forth between the stove and the mixer, dropping ground almond all over the floor, and getting egg yolks on your camera. OK, maybe not the camera part, because I’m assuming that most of you are not shooting each step as you go. But, I think you get my drift. Enjoy the ride.


Up to this point, I’ve never considered myself much of a baker, but I’m beginning to warm up to it. I love the scientific nature of putting all the right ingredients in the mix and then magically getting a wonderful treat at the end. My favorite part was watching the egg whites froth up into foamy peaks and then settle into this nice soft mounds.

The cake turned out a little soft. I don’t think it was baked wrong, or mixed incorrectly. I do think I should have gone with my first instinct and used a springform pan, or a tart pan with a removable bottom. That way, the cake bottom would have been supported the whole time, instead of trying to transfer it to a plate for serving on it’s own.

A wonderful dessert for Fall, especially if you serve it with a nice berry jam (that maybe you made back in the summer) and a hot cup of tea.

Chocolate Fondant Cake

from Stéphan Reynaud’s  365 good reasons to sit down to eat


  • 9 oz good-quality dark chocolate
  • 9 oz butter
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3 1/2 oz sugar
  • 1 cup gorund almonds
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch


  1. Preheat the oven to 315 degrees F.
  2. Melt the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler.
  3. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  4. Whisk the yolks with the sugar until they become pale and frothy.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture, ground almonds and cornstarch.
  6. Gently fold in the egg whites with a spatula.
  7. Butter and flour a tin (note: I lined a nine inch round pan with waxed paper).
  8. Pour in the chocolate mixture, cook in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
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Pickled Carrots and Scallions

 I made pickled carrots and scallions, based on the flavors of the veggies included in a Vietnamese Bahn-mi sandwich.

It was so simple, I have no idea why I’ve never made pickled carrots (or any other kind of pickles) before.

All it took was a handful of ingredients, a bit of boiling and chopping and a nice big jar. The waiting was the hardest part, but well worth it. The pickles were ready to eat about five days after the pickling began.

I opted not to include the garlic in the final pickle recipe because it turned greenish-the first time I made these, and I didn’t want to encourage anyone to add the garlic, in case it wasn’t safe to eat! (loved the picture, though, so felt the need to include it.)

They are sweet and a bit spicy, due to the peppercorns and scallions. I think next time I’m going to experiment with some red chili peppers thrown into the mix to give it some more kick.

A great first try at pickled carrots!

Pickled Rainbow Carrots and Scallions


  • 4 to 6 rainbow carrots, scrubbed, peeled and sliced into thin sticks
  • 1 bunch scallions, greens cut down, ends removed
  • ½ cup rice wine vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 10 whole peppercorns


  1. In a small pan, bring water, sugar and vinegar to a boil. Reduce heat and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Place the carrot sticks and scallions into a large jar, that has a sealable lid.
  3. Pour the vinegar mixture over the veggies in the jar, making sure they veggies are completely submerged.
  4. Add the peppercorns, seal the jar and place in the fridge for 5 days.


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