Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Spiced honey duck with caramelised sweet potatoes

Mmmm...duuuuuck... Thus spoke my boyfriend at the idea of buying some breasts of this favourite of ours to cook at home. Little did we know that unexpected commitments would come up, disasters would strike (like the day I came back home from work, licking my lips with the idea of duck on my mind, only to find that there was no electricity in the whole neighbourhood. Needless to say, takeaway pizza just wasn't the same and the most infuriating thing was that the electricity DID come back two hours later, the moment I was blindly and fiddlingly trying to open the pizza box), the days would pass and the duck would be still lying in the fridge.


Nevertheless, after an almost week-long odyssey we finally both managed to be at home, and feeling experimental, I decided to try a different recipe this time. I've made duck many times before, always using sweet sauces as I love it this way (my all time favourite used to be this tamarind duck I could get in a lovely Thai restaurant in Norwich called The Sugar Hut... ah, I miss that so!) and I stuck to the sweet principle this time as well, but with some extra spice. My boyfriend was extra helpful and experimental alongside me this time, when he dug out half a monster sweet potato that we had left over in the fridge (from making a batch of these coffee cupcakes for a charity coffee morning at work, in case you're wondering!) and suggested that we make roast sweet potatoes to go with the duck. Yes, sweet potatoes with sweet duck.


However, it worked beautifully, and I was really impressed, so much that this is now definitely my favourite recipe for duck, and I'm sure I'll repeat it again and again. The sweet potatoes were not too sweet (as I thought they would end up being) and although I could have made them into a purée, I like the bite and the chargriled edges (plus saves me some time puréeing and washing the extra utensils!).


Spiced honey duck with caramelised sweet potatoes
Source: Severely adapted from John Burton Race

Serves 2

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 4 tbsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Peel the sweet potato, chop it into cubes and toss with the olive oil, maple syrup, chilli powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a tray. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and bake for 35-40 minutes until soft and caramelised, frequently mixing the potatoes around so they don't stick.

Crush the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar (or put in a strong plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or tin can). Mix in the ginger, Chinese five spice and some freshly ground black pepper.

Clean the duck breasts and score the skin in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife. Season with a little salt. Place the duck skin side down in a very hot pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Pour the fat out of the pan and turn the duck over, cooking it until it is nicely browned.

Reduce the heat and sprinkle the spice mix over the skin of the duck breasts. Drizzle the honey over them and continue cooking, basting them constantly with the melting honey until nicely glazed. Turn the breasts over and when they're ready remove them from the pan and keep warm.

Serve the sweet potatoes topped with the sliced duck and drizzle with the rest of the spiced honey.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Pear and chocolate frangipane tart

It's official. The winter is here. And yet, somehow I feel like I've been saying this since weeks ago. But then again, weeks ago I didn't have to get the "autumn" coat out, neither did I think for a second that I would feel like turning the heating on already (when last year I only turned it on in November!). So yes, something's definitely going on right now. You can call it Autumn, but I'll call it Winter.

For someone who comes from a country with two seasons (Summer=hot hot hot and Winter= mildly cold + snow once every 10 years) living in a place where there is such a strong distinction between summer, autumn, winter and spring is refreshing to say the least. Never had I seen autumn leaf colours in Greece (there's it's one day here, tomorrow on the floor, no in-between stage!) and never had I realised that there are things that just "go" with autumn.

Like this pear frangipane tart. I discovered this a year ago, and it's become one of my favourite feel-good desserts to make when I'm down, or when it's cold outside (which is usually one and the same!). The fact that you serve it warm makes it even more appropriate, nothing better to warm you up inside than something warm that...goes inside your mouth! It's also become one of my boyfriend's favourite desserts, so I get a lot of special requests. Yes, it takes a while to make, but much it's worth it!

Pear and chocolate frangipane tart
Source: Valentine Warner in Olive magazine (November 2009)

Serves 8

For the pastry

  • 250g plain flour
  • 150g butter, fridge cold and cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the filling

  • 3 firm conference pears
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 50g good quality milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 175g softened butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 75g plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 15g flaked almonds

To make the pastry put the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and blend until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the eggs, blend again and turn off when the dough forms a ball. Roll out the pastry between two big sheets of cling film so it doesn't stick (I learnt this trick from Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, and although I can't stand the guy and his cockiness, at least I got something useful out of the show!).

Line a deep fluted 25cm tart tin with the pastry, by carefully peeling one sheet of cling film and gently lowering the pastry into the tin (or the other way around, putting the tin upside down on the pastry and carefully turning the whole thing around, so that the dough falls into the tin). Place on a baking tray, prick the base with a fork and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the pastry case with crumpled baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake like this for 22 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, or until the base is dry. Remove from the oven and leave aside to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C. Peel and cut the pears into quarters. Remove the cores and put the pear quarters into a bowl with the lemon juice, tossing them so they are all covered, so they won't turn brown.

In a mixer blend the butter and sugar until pale and soft. Add the ground almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, eggs and vanilla. Blend well, take the mixer out and stir in the chocolate pieces with a spatula.

Spread the almond mixture evenly over the cooled pastry case, arrange the pear quarters on their sides in a circle around the tart, pressing gently into the almond mix, narrow ends towards the centre.

Bake on the tray in the centre of the oven or 30 minutes. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over and return to the oven for a further 35-40 minutes, or until the pears are tender and the frangipane filling is well-risen and golden brown. Leave to stand for 15 minutes before lifting from the tin. I love this served warm, if you have leftovers you can reheat it in the microwave later on, and serve with some good quality vanilla ice-cream, it's delicious when the chocolate bits are gooey and melt in your mouth.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Orejitas (Sugar and cinnamon cookies)

For those of you who were wondering where I've been for the last few weeks, I had a brief holiday back in Greece to attend my best friend's wedding, see family and friends and get some last sun for the year! Now, the sun part didn't exactly happen as planned, since in the second part of our trip we got rain, clouds and 9-Beaufort winds (I witnessed my first horizontal hanging flowerpot...seriously, it was blowing THAT hard!) but at least we got to get out of the daily routine, and have a bit of a break.

Coming back, I was faced with my partner's excitement about the Mexican Independence Bicentennial celebrations (and his disappointment that he wouldn't be in his country to see them) and I was specially requested to make his favourite Mexican cookies. These are the things he puts on a pedestal the most when it comes to sweets, and the first time I tried to make them I felt daunted at the idea of trying to recreate something so "sacredly perfect", but it ends up that they are extremely simple, and he even prefers my homemade version to his favourite pre-packed ones!

A Mexican friend had suggested a recipe to me at a party, and after a quick look at a video online I was set to create my own version. We both love cinnamon, so my recipe includes quite a bit of that, but then again I can't think of many people who hate cinnamon, so hopefully that's a good thing! Alternatively (when I've got some in my cupboard, as it's hard to find in Britain, I've only been able to get it online), I sometimes use an amazing Sweet rub mix that NOMU (a South African company that makes amazing spice mixes) produces to substitute the sugar and cinnamon. If you can find it, try it, it's the most heavenly thing! (but in this case just mix a few spoonfuls of it with less than the 1 cup of sugar).

Orejitas (Sugar and cinnamon cookies)
Source: dulcis in fundo (Inspired by Cocina de Yolo)

Makes about 40

  • 500g puff pastry (in a block, not the already rolled kind)
  • 1 cup golden granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • A few tbsp of flour
  • A bit of butter for the tray (optional)

In a bowl mix the sugar with the cinnamon. In a big and well-floured surface roll out the pastry into a rectangular shape until it's about 4mm thick. Sprinkle with half the sugar mix and roll out more with the rolling pin, making sure the sugar gets embedded into the dough. Turn upside down, sprinkle the other half of the sugar and embed it again into the dough by rolling further.

At the end of this you should have a 2mm-thick long rectangular dough. Grab one of the long sides and start rolling it tightly with your hands towards the centre, creating a little "snail" shape. Stop when you get to the middle, and roll in the same way from the other side. You'll get a very long tightly rolled together "double snail". With a sharp knife cut off 4mm-wide pieces from the rolled dough, and place them on a very lightly buttered tray (or if you have a very good non-stick one, you can skip the butter). You need to make sure that you place them in the tray very near each other, leaving not much space, otherwise they will grow to immense proportions and "uncurl" (I learnt that the hard way the first time I tried to make them!)

Finally, put the tray in a preheated oven and bake at 180°C for 25-30 minutes. They're ready when they're nicely coloured.
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