December 30, 2010

50 Things I've Learned in 50 Years

Winter Spiced Molten Chocolate Cakes

A few days ago I turned 50 years old, a good point in life for a little self-reflection. It occurs to me that getting on in my life has been aided by far more stuff than this, but these are the narrowed-down essentials that make me smile, that I work on, believe in, or that have somehow aided in my betterment so far. This is by no means an exhaustive list, is in no particular order, and if the next 50 years are anything like the first, this list will certainly evolve.

  1. Remember the person you were when you were five years old. That is the essential, true person you were before you became convinced that you should be someone else. Go back, find her and be her.
  2. Bad times do not last forever, and human resilience is amazing. Trust your resilience.
  3. Give yourself feast days. Eat nutrient-dense, low calorie foods in moderation six days a week, and live a little on day seven. It makes life worth living and you can still face yourself in the mirror.
  4. Feel good and good looks will follow. Place your effort on being healthy in mind and spirit first, and you’ll always be a knockout. When you feel your "Pow-ey Wow-ey" factor sinking, it's time to take a look at your spiritual, mental, physical and social health.
  5. Never be afraid to make a midstream adjustment. Sometimes one is simply called for.
  6. It is better be alone and lonely than to be with someone and lonely.
  7. Listen to your Wise Self. Her quiet, clear voice will tell you everything you need to know. Sometimes life can't be worked out with a pro/con list, and that Wise Self voice comes in pretty handy.
  8. Natural fibers. Cotton, bamboo, alpaca, wool, cashmere, silk and linen. Spend the money.
  9. Get outdoors. Fresh air does you good, even in inclement weather.
  10. Moisturize the eye and neck areas daily beginning no later than the age of 25. You won’t be sorry.
  11. Most rules are generally only flexible guidelines. Rely more on your common sense than the rules.
  12. Wear your good jewelry. Every day. With jeans, or your bathrobe. There simply are not enough dress-up occasions to get your full enjoyment from the special treasures lying in your jewelry box.
  13. Do things that are a little scary once in a while. Facing them shows you what you’re made of and grows you bigger than you thought you’d become.
  14. Martyrdom is so completely unattractive.
  15. The best weight maintenance / weight loss / healthy eating program is to eat, for the most part, food you cook yourself. Studies show this is true across every culture and demographic.
  16. Bring only things into your home that you find useful and or beautiful. That one bit of self-editing is all you need to have an attractive, uncluttered and functional space.
  17. Promise yourself good things and then seek them. Imagine the life you want, then go ahead and live it.
  18. Have one simple show-stopping chocolate dessert in your recipe repertoire that you can count on. See below for mine.
  19. Each person is born with wondrous qualities that would be missing without his/her presence in the world. Approach everyone (including yourself) that way, and you’re likely to get along.
  20. Expect some turbulence every now and then. Hang on loosely and smile. With enough practice you may even be able to throw your arms up in the air and say, “Whee!”
  21. If you think your kids are cool when they’re young, just wait until they are adults. Wow.
  22. Don’t give yourself all away. Make time to read, walk, meditate, knit, swim, hike or whatever it is that feeds your soul. You’ll have more and better stuff for everyone else in the end.
  23. Offering direct and clear communication is one kind thing you can do for others around you. They cannot know what you are thinking unless you tell them.
  24. A relationship reflects the sum of its parts. The work you continue to do on yourself can only make your relationship(s) better.
  25. Giving compliments costs you nothing but contributes well to the world. You never know the positive effects your sweet words may have, so dish them out sincerely and generously.
  26. Fall in love with a person’s essence, then when his or her ideas, thoughts and behavior change you can easily accept those changes as growth rather than an upset to your paradigm.
  27. Don’t sequester yourself from opposing ideas. Open-mindedly listen to “the other” news station once in a while; read “that guy’s” book. You may find your views shifting, but if not, it’s so wonderful to say, “While I may not agree, I've considered your point of view,” and mean it.
  28. Tell people that you love them. Whichever one of you outlives the other will never regret having said/heard the words.
  29. Contrary to what we were told in the ‘70’s, love means occasionally having to say you’re sorry. When you mess up, say so and apologize. It’s the fastest way, if one exists, to reconciliation.
  30. Buy yourself flowers on payday. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you.
  31. Pay off your credit card monthly.
  32. Enjoy the process at least as much as the outcome.
  33. Invest in a good pillow.
  34. Set the table nicely, even if it’s dinner for one.
  35. Get yourself your own toolkit and be handy with it.
  36. The Golden Rule still works and always has.
  37. Start a new project only when you’ve completed the old one.
  38. When doing a task, ask yourself if you can take it any further before ending it. Don’t leave the last bits undone, for yourself, or the next guy.
  39. Hold doors for people. Every little kind gesture makes the world better.
  40. Servicing your car routinely pays off.
  41. Flossing regularly and having a dental checkup every six months pays off.
  42. A very good friend is worth two psychiatrists.
  43. A very good friend listens, but is not afraid to be honest with you when you’re off-base.
  44. Yoga is an exercise that can be done until your last day on earth, no matter your condition. It’s never too late to start.
  45. Limit your daily beverage consumption to water, tea and the like, and your health will improve without making any other changes. Ask yourself how many healthy, fit people you know who drink diet sodas or lattes every day.
  46. Singing off-tune is better than not sing at all. Dancing clumsily is better than not dancing at all.
  47. Most talent is a passionate interest dressed up in lots of hard work and practice.
  48. Mental illness is as real as heart disease or asthma. The stigma will be eliminated when we can agree on this fact.
  49. Exploit every minute of your life as though they are numbered. They are.
  50. I’ll always have a lot to learn.
Fourteen Ounces of Chopped 72% Dark Belgian Chocolate

This is my adaptation of a recipe from Epicurious that I first made for a dinner party in January of 2004, and have made many times since. It is easy to put together, can be made even days ahead for convenience, can be both rustic and elegant, and is versatile in your choice of how to spice or flavor it and with the accompanying ice cream. It can be served inverted onto a serving plate, as shown here, but perhaps looks a little less rustic when served in their ramekins. One last note: I regularly get 10 servings in my ramekins, and have often stretched it to serve 12. I've held these in the fridge for up to two weeks, baking them off as needed.

Winter Spiced Molten Chocolate Cakes
14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 heaping teaspoon ground coriander
1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup AP flour

Additional powdered sugar and cocoa powder for garnish

Generously butter ten 3/4 cup souffle dishes or ramekins. Stir chocolate, butter and all spices in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth, stirring frequently. Cool slightly.

Whisk eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in a large mixing bowl to blend. Whisk in 3 cups powdered sugar, then chocolate mixture, then flour. Dividing the batter equally, fill the buttered dishes to to the top. (Can be made several days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 425˚. Bake cakes until batter has risen above dish, top edges are dark brown, and centers are still soft and runny, about 15 minutes, or 18 minutes for refrigerated batter. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Allow cakes to rest in dished 5 minutes. Using hot pad and holding dish very firmly, place serving plate gently atop one cake at a time and invert onto plate. Dust with powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Serve with ice cream of your choice.

    December 17, 2010

    Keeping the Elves Happy

    Moroccan Quinoa and Chickpea Stew in Baked Squash Bowls

    Just as accountants are buried under mounds of paper in April and road workers are up to their eyeballs in hot tar in July, the hectic time of year for Santa's elves is the last weekend before Christmas. Perhaps you know one or two who are a little stressed.

    Here in our neck of the woods, one of two elves is busy in the woodshop and the other is fiendish on the knitting needles and wrapping gifts, with imminent shipping deadlines looming.

    In order to keep productivity high and the elves from getting cranky, Santa prescribes a nice break for a healthy, nourishing meal highly spiced with warm Indian flavors. The proper care and feeding of the elves makes for the gay and bright Christmas season Norman Rockwell would like to capture, and the one we all want to live.

    How lucky we are to still be using homegrown produce from our summer garden for such a meal. The little sweet red peppers that ripened in abundance in October are wintering over well, and a good handful went into this stew.

    A plump buttercup squash brought up from the root cellar (garage) and mint that is still surviving our morning frosts made their way into this meal too.

    We popped the cork on one of our wedding gifts (thank you again, Paul and Terry!), a bottle of Trinity Vineyards 2006 Oregon Syrah. Its smoky, peppery and cocoa notes worked well with the exotic spiciness of the dish, and its inky depth of fruit gave it nice structure.

    Moroccan Quinoa and Chickpea Stew in Baked Squash Bowls

    1 large buttercup or acorn squash

    One small onion, finely diced
    One small red bell pepper, diced
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    6 cloves garlic, pressed
    2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
    1 cup quinoa, rinsed
    One 14 oz. can ready-diced tomatoes with onion and green pepper
    One 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
    3 large handfuls of spinach, chopped
    About 3 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Preheat oven to 375˚. If using buttercup squash, slice in half horizontally so that both sides will rest in a baking dish. If using acorn squash, slice in half vertically. Scoop seeds out. Place cut sides down in baking dish and bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

    In the meantime, heat olive oil in a 4 quart pot. Saute onions and red bell pepper until onions are soft and turning translucent, about 6 minutes stirring occasionally. Add garlic and stir for another minute. Add paprika, garam masala salt and pepper and stir for another minute to open up the spices.

    Drain the can of tomatoes into a 2 cup measure, fill the remained with water to measure 2 cups. Add the quinoa, the tomato juice/water mixture and garbanzos to the pot. Bring to a rapid boil, cover, and return pot to low heat. Cook for 15-20 minutes until quinoa is tender, stirring and adding additional water to keep moisture loose. In the last 3 minutes stir in spinach and mint. Adjust seasonings to taste.

    Ladle stew into baked squash bowls. Sprinkle with additional mint to garnish.

    Merry Christmas!!

    December 11, 2010

    Chanterelles and Chardonnay

    Chanterelle; such a pretty word to describe one of Oregon's amazing culinary treasures.

    I've never hunted for mushrooms on my own, but understand from friends that finding chanterelles (Oregon's official state mushroom) can be be habit-forming. I imagine, if I am ever so lucky as to go mushroom hunting with a seasoned guide, a rousing day in the damp, cold, brisk air. The misty fog rolling in and around the Oregon coastal forest floor would add a quality of mystery to the experience, and I'd feel like an Indian tracker to come across the first golden bunch, buried beneath yellowed Alder leaves. Chanterelles live in symbiosis with Douglas Fir trees, so it is said to look amidst fir forests to find the bounty. Alder trees also like living with Douglas Fir, so the bright yellow fallen Alder leaves provide a tell-tale path to the mushrooms, even as they camouflage the fungi.

    I also imagine a booted-and-bundled-up mushroom hunting day through the fecund forest to stimulate a great appetite. The dish that would keep me focused on the reward of the day would be a nice gooey, warm mushroom risotto.
    My Baby "hunted" for local chanterelles at the local market yesterday, and scored a bounty. At the market he found not only the famous Golden Chanterelles in abundance, but also the smaller, more delicately flavored Yellow Footed Chanterelles. With the mushrooms as a centerpiece, he created a rich, homey risotto which was really welcome, comforting and satisfying after a long, ward week.

    In his wine-pairing genius, My Baby served the 2007 Amalie Robert Dijon Clones Chardonnay. Amalie Robert is also one of Oregon's treasures, enologically speaking, and every bit as worth seeking out as are chanterelles.

    Amalie Robert Chardonnay continues to be one of my absolute favorites. I've written before about it here (2007 vintage) and here (2006 vintage), and will continue to do so as long as it charms me like it does. Writing about this wine yet a third time in less than a year reminds me of the importance of living in the moment. Ever time we drink a wine, just like every time we hold a baby or make love or laugh out loud is a new time to be appreciated.

    Here is a recipe for Wild Mushroom Risotto that we followed, more or less. Ours was colored golden-orange, as we used boxed vegetable stock rather than chicken stock, for no other reason than that's what our larder possessed. I opt for the stand-there-and-stir method of risotto-making rather than the oven methods touted of late. Tradition, maybe, or that it is a good time to dream. About a mushroom hunt.

    December 6, 2010

    Go Ducks!

    Our local University of Oregon Ducks (if you’ve ever been chased by a duck, this is a more fearful mascot than meets the eye) is not only Numero Uno in the PAC-10, but in the country. Saturday’s civil war game against Oregon had the whole state abuzz.

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
    His truth is marching on.
    That old civil war hymn might be taking things a bit far when we’re talking about a state rivalry, but college football has been known to make people experience godlike rapture and certainly arouses violent passions.

    Please, though, linebackers. Don’t stomp on the grapes...

    It is only appropriate to serve a local wine while cheering on the home team. Sarver Winery, which produces my favorite line-up of Pinot Gris, fills that bill terrifically. For this meal, we chose the Sarver 2009 Barrel Aged Pinot Gris. Made in the Chardonnay style in oak barrels, Sarver's Barrel Aged Pinot Gris has appley and vanilla notes, and is round and lush. I love the way the popping acidity of the Pinot Gris grape gives a little sass to the velvety barrel richness. I occasionally describe wines by giving them names of famous women. This one, I'd call Bridget Bardot, equal to the famous lady in robust sexiness mixed with a little controversial edge. How often have you found barrel-aged Pinot Gris, after all?

    The meal is a redux of the former Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Pizza I'd previously posted, but with some refinements. I had noted the the previous post that the crust recipe was a bit tough and dry for my taste. I fixed that by adding a little more water as I was mixer-kneading the dough. I also drizzled hazelnut oil over the entire pizza before baking for an added subtle flavor note, which was perfect. I also went back to my tried and true oven temperature of 450˚convection. It works well for me.

    Served with a persimmon salad, this was a fantastic way to cheer the Duck's on to a National Championship bowl!!

    Go Ducks!

    December 3, 2010

    Persimmon Salad

    Fruit from our orchard. Lucky me.

    The glum of early winter doesn't lower one's spirits so badly when there are persimmons around.

    I'd never had a persimmon before becoming involved with our land three years ago. I had no idea that that under the waxy smooth skin of the orange beauties lies a succulent, spicy flesh. I've learned that the meat of the fruit is equally good when it is yellowish-orange and still a little firm and crispy or when its full reddish-orange ripeness quivers as it's spooned from the skin. Persimmons, in their full-on ripeness, have a honey-like flavor and texture. In their lesser ripe mode, they are more acidic, but still a lovely thing in every way.

    Persimmons cut into slices or wedges, wrapped in proscuitto, drizzled with excellent olive oil and sprinkled with cracked black pepper is a phenomenal appetizer. Do try it if you can find a persimmon or two.

    But try this salad first. It is perfect in the winter, and will lift your spirits just by looking at it.

    Winter Persimmon Salad
    Mixed greens
    Two or three small persimmons, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced 1/4" thick
    Crumbly white cheese (I used queso anejo here for its brininess, but really any white crumbly cheese would do)
    Hazelnut dressing
    *Handful of chopped toasted hazelnuts

    Hazelnut Dressing
    1/4 cup Sherry vinegar
    1/2 cup l'huile do noisette (hazelnut oil)
    2 teaspoons dark, flavorful honey
    Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

    Put all dressing ingredients in a recycled jar. Screw the lid on tight, and shake until the salt is dissolved.

    Place salad ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle with hazelnut dressing. Toss, and serve.

    *I didn't use the hazelnuts in this salad pictured, as hazelnuts showed up in another menu item. Stay tuned for my next post to see what great dish accompanied this salad.

    November 30, 2010

    Birthday Cake for a Brand New Baby

    Life gets trippy sometimes. For example, my mother and I each have new grandbabies, born three months apart.

    These precious little ones come to each of us via marriage. Mom married a man a few years younger than she; I married a man a few years older than me, which accounts for the fact that we get to share this experience simultaneously. (Another trippy fact: Our husbands are a mere 6 years apart in age.) When our respective husband's children have babies, we get a front row seat to the joy and affection to be shared. And we get special honorifics, too. Mom is her same Grammie that my grown up children have always called her. I get to be GramPam for the first time.

    We each live hundreds and hundreds of miles away from these little people and their moms and dad, so its a bit of a bigger challenge to support and encourage these budding young families; to come play with and rock the precious wee ones to allow their parents to run errands or take a deep and reconnecting breath; to sit the midnight shift when the babies might be feverish in order to allow mom and dad a night's rest; or to have them over for a Sunday dinner to connect, relax, and to together observe and delight in the babies growing into toddlers and then preschoolers.

    I think we each are going to miss that a lot. I just got set up with Skype, and hope that serves as a connection aid, and there's already been a smattering of photos, art and "letters" from our new grandson's big sister, our 3-year-old granddaughter, magnetized to our fridge.

    To celebrate the birth of a grandson this week, I baked a birthday cake. He was born the same week as his mommy and Grandpa Scott's birthdays, too, so it's really a cake to celebrate the birth of them all. It's straight from an old favorite cookbook, Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. This old fashioned tender, buttery cake is highly adaptable, and this time, I've paired it with Flo's smooth and beige-y Maple Italian Meringue to celebrate the season of little Bennet's birth.

    Along with frogs, snakes, secret decoder rings, and jumping off of very tall things, most little boys I've known are drawn to pyrotechnics. In that spirit, I took it a step further and torched the meringue for a touch of toastiness, and to welcome this special little boy with a blaze of glory.

    I wish his mama, mommy and big sis could share some with us.

    Buttermilk Cake with Maple Italian Meringue
    2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
    1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 large eggs, room temperature
    1 cup buttermilk
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
    1 1/2 cups sugar

    Position the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350˚.
    Butter and flour two 8" or three 6" pans and line with parchment.

    Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

    Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk.

    Pour the buttermilk and vanilla into a liquid measuring cup and stir to combine.

    In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter with the paddle on medium speed (#5) until it is light in color, clings to the sides of the bowl, and looks satiny (this should take about 30-45 seconds).

    At the same speed, add the sugar in a steady stream. When all of the sugar is added, turn off the machine and scrape the gritty, sandy mixture clinging to the sides into the center of the bowl. Continue to cream at the same speed for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is very light in color and fluffy in appearance.

    With the mixer still on medium speed, add the eggs a tablespoon at a time. Continue to cream, stopping the mixer and scraping the sides of the bowl at least once. When the mixture is fluffy, white and increased in volume (it should look like whipped cream cheese and the graininess should disappear) take the paddle and bowl off of the mixer.

    Add 1/4 of the dry ingredients, sprinkling over the top of the creamed butter. Fold in with a rubber spatula, then add 1/3 of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat, alternating dry and wet ingredients. With each addition, scrape the sides of the bowl and continue mixing until smooth.

    Spoon equal amounts of batter into each pan. With a rubber spatula, spread the batter, working from the center outward, creating a slightly raised ridge around the outside rim. (This helps to compensate for the usual raised center in baked cakes.)

    Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the baked surface springs back slightly when touched lightly in the center and the sides begin to contract from the pan.

    Cool for 10 minutes before inverting on a cooling rack. Peel off parchment from bottoms and allow to completely cook before proceeding.

    Maple Italian Meringue
    1/2 cup (about 4) egg whites, room temperature
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1 cup pure maple syrup

    In heavy saucepan, boil maple syrup over medium heat. Continue boiling until temperature reaches 230˚. (This temperature is merely a guideline for when to begin whipping the egg whites.)

    As syrup continues to boil, whisk the egg whites on low speed of your KitchenAid mixer until small bubbles appear. Increase speed, and pour in sugar in a steady stream. Continue to whip until stiff but not dry peaks form , about 2 minutes longer.

    When maple syrup reaches 238˚, on medium speed slowly pour it into the whipped egg whites, pouring in a steady stream down side of bowl to avoid splattering.

    The meringue expands as the syrup in incorporated. Whip for about 2 minutes or until fully expanded. Then decrease speed to low and continue to whip for about 5-7 minutes to stabilize the meringue's texture as it cools to room temperature and thickens.

    To assemble:
    Split cake layers in half. Spread about 1/4" of the meringue over each layer. Frost top and sides with remaining meringue. Brown with a propane torch for added drama if you want, but the meringue is fully cooked and doesn't require it.

    November 27, 2010

    House in the Sun Lacquered Duck

    Spicy Lacquered Duck, Sautéed String Beans, Wild Mushrooms and 5-spice Yams

    We have been making unusually colored foods around here lately. Unlike our recent purple bean soup, though, this dark mahogany duck is not a mistake. Lacquered duck isn't some new craft fad that involves dipping a duck in shellac or affixing old postcards and maps to it with mod podge. Lacquering a duck results in a lustrous deep reddish finish similar to a Chinese objet d'art and carries the richest of Chinese flavors. It's juicy meat and crispy skin tastes fantastic, and makes the house smell infinitely better during it's preparation than, say, shellac.
    Our crowning wine tasting adventure in New Zealand provided the inspiration for this meal. Te Whare Ra (tea far-ee ra, meaning House in the Sun in the Maori language), an inspiring boutique winery in Marlborough's Wairau Valley wine-growing district, provided a personal wine-tasting apex for me.

    Te Where Ra's Aromatic Whites

    Winery owners and serious wine makers Jason Flowerday and his wife Anna produce a fantastic portfolio of premiere wines. Have you ever tasted beeswax, buckwheat honey, slate, or hoisin sauce in your wines? These are the kind of nuanced yet clear flavors that come along with the fully-ripe juiciness and zippy acidity found in each of the remarkable Te Whare Ra wines.

    Jason and Anna's whites, Sauvingon Blanc; Riesling "M" (medium bodied, in the Mosel style); Riesling "D" (in the dry style); Pinot Gris; Gewurztraminer; Chardonnay; a lovely blend named Toru (three, in Maori, for the three varietals from which it is made;) and Noble Riesling (a Botrytis dessert wine) provide the most aromatic, balanced, and elegant profile of any white wines I've ever tasted.

    The reds, Pinot Noir and Syrah, were big, deep, highly structured and also very elegant. Jason aptly described the Pinot Noir varietal as an iron fist in a velvet glove, and Syrah as a bigger fist in a bigger glove.

    Customs regulations being what they are restricted My Baby and I from bringing home every one of these gorgeous wines. We'd already purchased several bottles along the way that we felt we couldn't live without, and therefore could only pack one Te Whare Ra wine. Choosing which one, my friends, was the biggest dilemma of the entire trip.

    It was the savory hoisin-undertoned Syrah that immediately conjured thoughts of this duck. It was this Syrah that we couldn't leave behind.

    Spicy Lacquered Duck
    1/2 cup soy sauce
    1/2 cup dark soy sauce
    2 Tablespoons dry sherry
    2 Tablespoons brown sugar
    2 Tablespoons honey
    2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
    4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
    1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    1 5-pound duck, rinsed, giblets removed and reserved for another purpose

    Place the first 10 ingredients (soy sauces through cayenne pepper) in a 2 gallon plastic bag with a zipper top. Squish with your hands to thoroughly mix. Place duck in the bag and roll a few times to coat duck with spice mixture. Place on a large plate in the refrigerator. Turn every few hours for as few as four hours and up to two days.

    Preheat convection oven to 400˚. Remove duck from marinade and drain well. Arrange duck, breast side up, on roasting rack in baking pan. Reserve marinade to small saucepan. Pat duck dry, inside and out, with paper towels. You'll never believe that it will turn so dark and richly colored at this point, but it will.

    Roast duck for 45 minutes. Turn duck over. Roast duck until tender and deep, dark brown, about another 15 minutes. Insert a long wooden spoon into main cavity of duck and tilt, allowing juices into drain into roasting pan. Place breast side up again, and roast for another 10 minutes, or until thermometer inserted into thickest part of the breast reads 155˚, or 180˚ at the leg joint. Allow duck to rest 15 minutes before carving. While the duck is resting, bring the marinade to a rapid boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, to create a highly-flavored sauce to serve alongside the duck.

    Warning: My experience with roasting duck has borne out that it is a good policy to run your hood fan during the process. Highly fatty (and highly flavorful) duck drippings smoke easily. Save yourself a problem and just turn on the fan when you turn on the oven, and leave it on for the duration.

    Served with dry-sautéed string beans (email me and I'll send you the recipe), stir-fried wild mushrooms and sweet red pepper from our garden, and baked yams with 5-spice butter, the duck and Syrah brought back wonderful memories of the Marlborough House in the Sun while creating some new ones in our Oregon House in the Rain. Too bad that it was the only bottle of Te Whare Ra to be had for a long while.

    November 23, 2010

    Deep Dark Chocolate Cake and Champagne

    Our Flourless Chocolate Wedding Cake

    I love cake.

    Over the years, I've created choo-choo train and teddy bear cakes to commemorate first birthdays and engineered conical volcano cakes replete with spewing lava (dry ice) and plastic dinosaurs to entertain six-year-olds. The "I'd rather have pie as cake" request was fulfilled once or twice. Young John had a multi-year stint with peanut butter frosting on a chocolate cake as his favorite. Lacy pink cakes said "Happy Sweet Sixteen", and German chocolate cakes were the once a year preference that signaled that it was Dad's birthday. Countless baby shower cakes, anniversary cakes, and even a few wedding cakes made it in to my cake baking history for dear friends and family. And a plain ol' oatmeal spice cake with burnt sugar topping or the like was often found waiting as a quick snack between school and soccer practice.

    I Really Like This Man

    So who was I to say no when the wedding coordinator at King Estate Winery asked us to come for a tasting to select our choice for wedding cake? We were presented with a variety of selections: Hazelnut cake with vanilla buttercream (a little too much cinnamon for the occasion), white cake or chocolate cake, filled with a variety of estate made preserves and topped with fluffy buttercream (delicious but too "wedding-y" for people our age, we thought.)

    My Baby and I, Taking in Our Guests at Our Reception

    "May we just have your flourless chocolate cake, the one that's always on your menu, served with pistachio ice cream like you do in the restaurant?," we asked. "Three small layers, no fancy frosting but dusted with cocoa and 10x sugar?" Toby, King Estate's talented and artistic baker made a quick sketch. "Like this? Would you like me to add grape clusters from our harvest and little fruits and flowers from the estate to add a finishing touch?"

    Perfect. Almost as cool as the volcano cake.

    And I love celebrating. Throw a little champagne in with the cake, and any moment can become a party.

    Cake Top

    The day after our wedding, we packed up our little wedding cake layer top and a lush bottle of locally produced Domaine Meriwether champagne and drove to San Francisco for an overnighter before catching a plane to New Zealand. In San Francisco, the dense chocolate cake and the bubbles extended our celebration even further, this time a bit more privately.

    What Could Say "Celebrate" Any Better?

    Yesterday, a big box marked FRAGILE FRAGILE FRAGILE arrived on the doorstep. Inside was a wedding gift of 18 sparkling crystal champagne flutes, identical to some special ones we'd sipped champagne from on our honeymoon.

    A Lifetime of Memories, Waiting to Happen

    At a swank New Zealand restaurant, I'd enjoyed the glass almost as much as its contents, and made the following note in my travel journal. "Schott Zwiesel champagne glass: Gentle understated curve of the stem, appropriately restricted rim to capture bubbles. Form and function elegantly intersect."

    Schott Zwiesel, the Elegant Champagne Glass

    So, upon unwrapping the thoughtful gift, what did we do? We popped a cork, of course, filled one of the fine glasses the first of many times ahead, and commemorated yet another wonderful day.

    Flourless Deep Dark Chocolate Cake
    4 oz. good quality dark chocolate (I often use Trader Joe's 72% Belgian Chocolate, sold in 17 oz. bars), chopped
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut in 8th's
    pinch of sea or kosher salt
    3/4 c. sugar
    3 large eggs
    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

    Preheat oven to 375˚. Butter one 8" round cake pan, and line bottom of pan with wax or parchment paper.

    In double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together until smooth, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar and salt. Whisk in eggs until thoroughly combined. Sift cocoa powder over top, and gently fold in, then stir briefly just to combine.

    Pour batter into prepared cake pan. Bake for 25 minutes, until top develops a thin crust. The traditional toothpick or skewer cake testing method doesn't work here. You don't want to dry the cake out, and it will set up once cool, so it's a bit better to under- rather than over-do-it on this one.

    Allow cake to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes. Release any stuck edges with a thin knife, and invert on a rack to complete cooling. Serve dusted with additional cocoa and your favorite ice cream or berry sorbet.

    Wedding photos in this post are credited to William D. Pond. Thank you, Bill.

    November 20, 2010

    Playing House: Final Installation

    Roasted Chicken with Herbs

    Let's face it: You don't need yet another opinion about how to perfectly roast a chicken. A google search reveals 3,750,000 entries under the topic, and every decent basic cookbook includes a roasted chicken recipe. Food magazines have wars over the best methods, and the Times has often over the years enlightened us on the "news" of current chicken roasting practices.
    Portrait of a Nude (Chicken)

    When it comes to cooking, I lean into the adage, "There are 101 ways to skin a cat." What works perfectly for one cook may be a flop for another, depending on a multitude of variables. But this way of roasting a chicken works nicely for me. I'm not promising here that I won't ever do it another way, but this is a solid stand-by method, loosly adapted from ">The Zuni Café Cookbook.

    Dry-Brined Chicken

    This chicken was the delicious anchor to our domestically-oriented "play house" day meal, and the recently released LaVelle 2009 Estate Pinot Gris pulled the whole thing together with panache. The wine has a classic Oregon Pinot Gris profile with big juicy pear and crisp apple on the nose. While it has a nectarlike mouthfeel, it is very dry and crisp on the palate, and merged gleefully with the autumnal elements of our roasted meal.

    Roasted Chicken the Sticks Forks Fingers Way
    • One wildly expensive organic chicken purchased at your local farmer's market from a plainly dressed Mennonite woman and her doe-eyed children, who had probably thought of the hen as their pet just days before
    • Fresh herbs of your choice (I recommend a mix of thyme, sage and rosemary) from your back-door herb pot
    • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
    Necessary Equipment:
    One 10" well-seasoned cast iron skillet

    Wash and dry your chicken. A very dry chicken is imperative to the success this method. Being careful not to tear the skin, slip your finger between the skin and breast of the bird at the butt end. Carefully and slowly, make a pocket over the breast and down over the leg and thigh on each side. Slip in herb leaves at the thigh, leg and breast. Pat the skin down nicely in place, pushing out any air pockets.

    Mix several tablespoons kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste in a small bowl. Pat and rub the salt mixture over the entire surface of the bird. Sprinkle a little into the butt end.

    It is at this point where ">The Zuni Café Cookbook and I diverge, usually because I'm working with a shortened timeline. Zuni allows their birds to dry-brine for up to two days in the refrigerator. I'm lucky to get two hours of brining, which I find to still render terrific results. After its salt massage, I place my little birdy on a paper towel-lined dinner plate to help with the dry factor, loosely covered with plastic wrap, and sit it in the fridge until an hour and 45 minutes before I want to serve it. The longer the chicken sits in the fridge the better (up to 2 days), with the refrigerator environment aiding in drying out the skin as much as possible.

    An hour before putting the chicken in the oven, preheat it to 450˚ along with the cast iron skillet on the middle rack. The combination of the very hot skillet and the very dry skin means that your chicken will not stick to the pan (thereby tearing the skin during the flip and inadvertently releasing all the good juices.)

    When the oven and skillet are good and hot (about one hour of preheating), place the dry dry dry chicken, back side down, into the hot skillet. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully flip the chicken over to its breast. Roast for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and give the bird its final flip. Roast for another 15-20 minutes for the breast to completely crisp up. Remove from oven and allow to rest 20 minutes before carving.

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