Stalking the Waiter

Riffing on foods, flavors and methods, that would be telling.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Eggs as Crepes

Quite a few cultures use eggs to make something resembling a crepe. Sara at The Delicious Life just wrote about one - Omo Rice, a Korean dish that has an egg "crepe" topping a veggie-filled fried rice. Looks very tasty.

I love regular crepes, but these egg crepes are much simpler and quicker to make. It's not too much trouble to make just one or two, and you can't do that with batter crepes. This recipe is for a rolled "omelette." I fill it with whatever I have on hand. The fillings can't be too chunky, and they need to be used sparingly. One of my favorites is ham and asparagus.

For the basic omelette:
2 eggs
1 tsp. ice water
1 tsp. peanut oil (olive or vegetable oil are fine, too)
Optional: herbs, thinly sliced green onions, sesame seeds, finely chopped sun dried tomatoes or olives

  1. Using a fork, beat eggs with ice water. This seems to help emulsify the mixture. You only need to break up the yokes and combine them with the whites. You don’t want them frothy - this adds air and will not give you a crepe-like omelette.

  2. In an 8" or 9", non-stick saute pan, heat oil, making sure it coats the bottom of the pan. If you've got one of those silicon basting brushes, they're ideal for this.

  3. READ BEFORE YOU PROCEED: When the pan and oil are hot (barely a minute) pour in the egg mixture and immediately swirl to coat the bottom of the pan - it will be thin and will cook almost instantaneously.

  4. It’s going to be fairly fragile, so, starting at one side of the pan, use a spatula to start it rolling over itself, then tip the roll out of the pan onto a plate.

  5. Unroll the cooked egg crepe/omelette. Lay a thin layer of fillings in the middle two thirds and roll it up.

  6. Put the open flap side down and serve.

This is one of those dishes where, as they say, "your options are limited only by your imagination." Serve with a small salad of some kind, rolls, rice, whatever seems right. Garnish with salsa, avocado, sour cream/yoghurt, Marinara sauce - whatever suits your fillings.

Stand by for pics. I will lick this problem.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Infused Oils - A Treat for the Cook's Soul

When you think about a special meal you've had or a dish you particularly loved, you see the food, remember its flavors. Aromas are a big part of how we perceive flavors, so they are very evocative and can produce strikingly detailed memories of tastes, situations, people, places, events. So, when you cook, why not work on creating those memories with some intent? Is that cheating? Mmm, perhaps, but they're your memories, too.

Years ago I made a batch of olive oil infused with rosemary and lemon. I used an inexpensive but very fragrant olive oil, fresh rosemary and lemon peel. I cooked with it a lot. It's flavor wasn't strong enough to give the food a flavor of herb and citrus, but, boy, when I was cooking, I was in heaven. And, when guests came over, it drew them to the kitchen like a magnet. For someone who thinks of cooking as a social activity, well, that was great.

Most recipes for infused oils tell you to warm everything. This is because heat helps to release the essential oils from the infusing materials, and incorporate them into the medium oil. But, if you heat the oil, you're compromising its freshness and shelf life. You'll need to either keep it refrigerated afterward or use it quickly.

If you're working with olive oil, especially a good fresh, grab you by the throat olive oil, you don't want to do this. Just sitting in a bottle on the shelf is diminishing the tacopherols in the oil, those great antioxidants intrinsic to olive oil. You want to preserve them; so, what can you do?

Use more infusing materials and "bruise" them thoroughly. Don't mash them up, but make sure they're releasing their scent. They should be very strong smelling before you put them into the oil. Citrus peels you just need to twist (be sure not to get any of the bitter, white pith with the peels) so that you see the beads of oil pop out on them.

If you're using hot peppers, you can slit them open first. The heat is in the seeds and interior membranes. If it's garlic, give each clove a good whack with the bottom of a bottle or back of a spatula. One safety note: If you use garlic to infuse oils, keep them refrigerated and remove the cloves after a couple days. There is a danger of botulism if the garlic is left in too long or isn't refrigerated. I would think that reserving the garlic infused oil for applications where it's cooked would be pretty safe, but I'm not a food safety expert. It might be better, if less natural, to buy food safe garlic oil instead.

You can use food safe essential oils to flavor cooking oils without using heat, making this is a good alternative for any number of flavors/scents you might want to add to oils for cooking or seasoning/dipping. Just be sure that you are getting food grade or food safe oils.

Heat is one of the few things that is adequately transferred by infusing oils. The rest of the aromatics are going to be mostly to give the cook and guests that rush of olfactory delight that comes with great aromas - aromagasm? :G: And why not? It's good for your soul.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ma Po Dofu, Riffing

After that vegan curry the other day, I had a taste for more tofu. More tofu with avocado. They're such a good contrast, smooth and mild against firm and tangy. Before I moved last year, I had an avocado tree in the yard. And they were the smoothest, most divine avocados I ever had. I really miss that. And the lemon tree next to the back deck. And the neighbor's orange tree. And the other neighbors apricot and loquat trees. And my plum trees. You know, I was living right on the edge of downtown San Jose and had more fresh produce available in my and my neighbors' yards than I do now, and I'm living in the country. Something wrong there.

Anyway, in thinking about what to do with the tofu today, I decided that I'd make a modified Ma Po Dofu. Well, that's where it started. Looking at the recipe and seeing Sichuan peppercorns, I thought about Hot and Sour Soup, which also uses them. So, a soupy Ma Po Dofu? Or a Hot & Sour MPD? Then, too, I had neither pork nor beef thawed, but I did have a chicken I had intended to roast. Hmmm.

As an aside, there's a fun article about Sichuan cooking and it's heat here. It's author, Ted Anthony, grew up in Singapore, so was accustomed to very spicy food at an early age. He chronicles his search for the ultimate in mouth numbing pain, in the Sichuan Province of China.

Back to my riffing. What if it were an Italian H&SS? Red wine vinegar or balsamico instead of white cider vinegar? Maybe some egg noodles instead of bamboo shoots. Cayenne instead of white pepper or Sichuan peppercorns? Or red pepper infused olive oil (like this or this, or make your own) instead of Hot Sesame Oil or Chile Oil to float on the top? My mouth was watering. But...but...what happened to my Ma Po Dofu?

I'll tell you what happened. I remembered I had some leftover, cooked, boneless pork loin. I took a piece of that and used the family machete* to cut it into shoestrings - not quite the same as ground pork, but it wasn't bad and I liked the shoestring shape.

* It's huge and was custom made for my mother. I'll put up a pic of it one of these days when I figure the whole image thing out.

Most of these ingredients are available in the International or Gourmet aisles of your supermarket, if you don't have an Asian market nearby.

Tip: When you're using an unfamiliar condiment or flavoring ingredient for the first time, rather than just throwing it in and hoping for the best, taste it first. The best way to do this is to treat it as it will be treated in the recipe. For example, the Hot Bean Paste will be diluted by broth, so, warm a little broth, or even water, and put a tiny dab of the Paste into it. Now, taste the broth. This will let you know how hot it is and any nuances of flavor, e.g., sweet or salty, it might have. Sesame Oil or Hot Chile Oil are usually poured over the finished dish. So, float a little on some warmed broth and take a sip. You'll feel much braver about trying new things if you know what to expect from them.


  • 1 package of firm tofu, cut into 3/4" cubes

  • 2-3 Tbsp. peanut oil

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped very fine

  • 1/4 pound cooked, boneless pork, cut in shoestrings

  • 1 or 2 green onions (scallions) sliced thin, on the diagonal

  • 1-3 tsp. Hot Bean Paste (use Chile Paste if you can't find this, and add a pinch of sugar)

  • 1-3 Tbsp. Kikkoman Lite Soy Sauce

  • 1 can (14 oz.) broth - divided

  • 2 tsp. cornstarch (mixed with 3 oz. of the broth)

  • Garnishes/condiments: Sesame Oil (the dark, toasted kind), crushed Sichuan Peppercorns, sliced avocado

Notes: I like my green onions fresh and crisp, so I add them and the pork at the end, after the mixture has thickened. Likewise, the Sichuan peppercorns may be too much for some folks, so I put a bowl on the table for those who want to sprinkle some on their serving. Sesame Oil does not take well to a lot of cooking, so, I almost always treat it as a condiment. I call for Kikkoman Lite Soy because I really love the flavor of it, and it's less salty than many.

By all means, start on the lower end of the Bean Paste and Soy Sauce measurements if you're unsure of how hot or salty you want this. You can always taste it and add more once you've added the broth. The process goes quickly because the pork is already cooked, so, it's only a matter of heating the tofu through and getting the broth hot enough, long enough to thicken it.

When all ingredients are prepped and measured:

  1. Heat oil in a sauté pan or wok over high heat until it just starts to smoke.

  2. Stir in the hot bean paste and garlic.

  3. Add the tofu and soy sauce, using a spatula or other flat utensil, flip it carefully and keep it moving for perhaps a minute.

  4. Add the broth. It will hiss and steam if the pan is hot enough. If not, bring it to a boil.

  5. Add the broth-cornstarch mixture gradually, keeping it all moving so it doesn't lump.

  6. When the sauce is thickened, add the green onions and shoestring pork.

Serve alongside cooked rice, with a few avocado slices per plate, with the other garnishes available.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Comment Spam

Wow, but those comment spammers are busy little bees. I'm being pretty rigid in what I allow. This is all about the food, after all.

One woman nearly squeaked by with her plug for her site that sells chocolates. Unfortunately, for her, that comment was on the A Haiku for the Waiter post, rather than the one on New Gourmet Chocolates. \;+) Gotta be more sneaky, people.

I certainly don't want to discourage legitimate comments, or be exclusive by only allowing members to comment. So, I'm turning on word verification. I'll see if that helps.

Thanks, B

A Haiku for the Waiter II

O, lovely waiter
insouciant, you grin, wink,
why not a bow tie?

The little devil must have been reading my mind. He's got a new logo.

Eating Vegan

Oh, my goodness. I had to come back and edit this because I forgot one of the main ingredients. If I'd had the pic...TOFU. Yes, there is tofu in this curry. See below for complete recipe.

I was too busy and hadn't yet started this blog when Becks and Posh issued their IMBB challenge last month to create a vegan meal. But I'm going to post this recipe anyway. I don't know why I came up with it in the first place, unless it's because there are just some times when you have to take a break from meat and dairy, but here is my:

California Vegetarian Curry

This is very simple to make. I make a fairly mild curry sauce, but you can make it to your preference. Mellowing the spices in the oil is essential, or their taste will be far too harsh and will not give you the composite flavor you're looking for.

What makes it California, in my mind, is the avocado and the fact that the veggies still have body. If you decide to use miso and haven't used it before, be aware that it is very salty.

Serve over cooked rice - I prefer Cal Rose, but use whatever you like best. I bet it would be great on basic brown rice, too. This serves two reasonably hungry folks, or more if there are side dishes.


  • 1 medium-size garnet yam, peeled and cut into oblongs, about 2"x1/2"

  • 1 whole sweet (Vidalia etc.) onion, peeled and cut into wedges (from top to bottom)

  • 1 whole green bell pepper, cored and seeded, and cut into 1" cubes

  • 1 barely ripe avocado, cut into 1/2" cubes*

  • 1/2 a block of firm tofu, cut into 3/4" cubes

  • Peanut oil, 2-3 Tbsp.

  • Curry spices or prepared Curry Powder, to taste

  • Vegetable broth (Swanson makes a decent canned broth) - separated

  • 1-2 Tbsp. Cornstarch, depending on how thick you like your sauce.

  • Optional: a dab of Miso for a fuller flavor, crushed garlic


  1. Prepare all the veggies (see Note on the avocado).

  2. Heat peanut oil in a saute pan over medium heat.

  3. Add the curry spices/powder and cook, stirring until their raw smell mellows - just a few minutes.

  4. Add yam and garlic (if you're using it), and cook, stirring occasionally until a knife just penetrates the yam. Don't overcook it, or it will turn to mush.

  5. While the yams are cooking, combine 1/4 cup of the broth with cornstarch.

  6. Add the onion, bell pepper and tofu. Continue cooking only until they are heated through - the veggies should still be crisp at this point.

  7. Add the remaining broth (and the miso, if you're using it), stirring to incorporate the curry seasonings.

  8. Give the broth-cornstarch mixture a stir, and add it gradually to the pan, stirring continuously, until it is incorporated and the sauce is thickened.

  9. Taste for salt and adjust, if necessary.

  10. Serve over rice and garnish with the avocado.

* Note on preparing the avocado: Cut the avocado in half, lengthwise and remove the pit. Using a paring knife, cut slices, 1/2" apart at the widest part, from top to bottom in each half, being careful not to pierce the skin. Then cut slices across from side to side, again, 1/2" apart. This will give you cubes, or as cubes as you can get from something ovoid. Put the pit back in and put the halves together - this will keep them from discoloring. When you're ready to put them on the curry, use a large soup spoon to carefully scoop the cubes out of the shells.

I love the contrasting flavors, colors and textures in this dish - the sweet smoothness of the yams, the stronger flavor of the sweet onions, the "coolness" of the peppers, the bite of the tofu, and, for me, the avocado finishes it off perfectly.

My apologies for still not having pics with any of these posts, but I'm having trouble getting my images in. This is such a gorgeously colorful dish that it really needs to be seen. If anyone knows the Blogger secret, I'd be thrilled to hear it. And, yes, I'm using the image button at the top of the post window.

A Haiku for the Waiter

O lovely, Waiter,
A moment of your time, please,
Could you add capers?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Gourmet Chocolates

Two premium, domestic chocolate makers, both in the San Francisco Bay Area (go us!), Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger have announced chocolates with increased cocoa content for today's more demanding consumer.


Ghirardelli is coming out with new, dark baking chocolates - Bittersweet, Bittersweet Chips and Extra Bittersweet, which will have a higher percentage of cocoa, up to 70%, with the increased percentage to be shown on the package. "With an increasing number of chefs and recipes specifying the cocoa percentage of chocolate ingredients, Ghirardelli’s new packaging helps consumers accurately select precise levels of intensity of baking chocolate."

Popular with bakers and chefs for their easy melting properties and satiny smooth texture, Ghirardelli baking chocolates were named "Favorite Dark Chocolate" by Cook's Illustrated last year. The new, more potent chocolates will be available in Safeway, Albertson's and Kroger this Fall. No specific date given, so, they may be there already.

Calling all chocolate chefs: Ghirardelli and Ladies Home Journal are sponsoring a contest to find the "most intense chocolate dessert recipe." There are some very nice prizes, too, so start working on your recipes! It doesn't open until 15 October, and LHJ is being very anal, so that link won't work until Saturday, apparently. Think I'll enter this one, myself, although I'm not really a dessert person.

I'm a long time fan of Ghirardelli chocolate, having grown up with it being the ne plus ultra of chocolate. They've been in business for 150 years, making chocolate from the bean to the bar. My family lived in a flat a couple blocks up the hill from the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, before it became Ghirardelli Square. My mom tells me the aroma of choclate could be maddening when you just had to have some, like in the middle of the night. So near, yet so far.

Their site hasn't been updated to reflect these new super chocolates, so, for more information, contact:
lhenry at baxtergroup dot biz
mtoteda at baxtergroup dot biz

Scharffen Berger

The Berkeley, California chocolate maker is releasing two new chocolate bars: "the Gianduja, a rich and dark chocolate bar with tones of roasted hazelnut, and El Carmen, an exceptional chocolate with red fruit flavors and a smooth, clean finish."

Gianduja is a classic hazelnut and dark chocolate combination. I Googled the name and found sources that said it originated in Switzerland and others which were equally adamant that it was of Italian origin. Who cares? This is Nutella for grownups.

El Carmen is a limited production chocolate, made from cocoa beans from a single Venezuelan farm. There's a word for that, but I'm having a brain fart and can't think of it. Anyone?

Both of these are available from the Scharffen Berger site and their shops.

Yes, even Tarzhay

Not to be left out of the increasing sales of upscale chocolates, Target is debuting a line of their very own boutique chocolates. The new line is called Choxie. Described as being made with the very best ingredients, including the highest quality cocoa, they will be in recognizable forms - barks, truffles, and so on, but the flavors will be anything but standard. Some combinations listed in the article I read are: Chile Limon Truffle Tiles, Toffee Almond Crunch and Chai Tea Truffle Temptations. Priced reasonably, from $1.80 to $12, they're definitely worth a try.

Who'd of thunk it? Target being the place to get your upscale chocolate fix.

Info: choxie at mbooth dot com

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Not to Obssess About Duck, or Anything

I started thinking about recipes last night, as I was falling asleep. I think I do this because I almost always go to bed hungry. I've got to get my sleeping and eating schedules better coordinated. The Cassoulet was way too trad a use for my leftover duck bits. They'd make an excellent gumbo ingredient, though. I've got some Andouille, so I may gumbo those babies tomorrow. What should I use for the sea food, though. Maybe nothing?

I was also thinking about the next duck I cook. I really, really love Peking duck. It's so thrifty the way they use up all the bits, even the just skin parts, by putting them into pancakes or sticky buns with Hoisin Sauce. So, maby I'll do the whole duck the way I did this one, with the Chile Paste rub and, for something a little different, try making baby pitas with rice flour. Theoretically, that should puff like wheat flour, I think, unless it's just too glutinous, and I do mean in the sense of sugar. I'll try that tomorrow and see if it works. Pitas like that, with the sweetness inherent in rice flour, would be delish with something zippy like this duck.

If the rice flour pitas work out, I'll have to think of more things to do with them. Barbecue would go great. Hmmm. Thinking. Ooh, Mu Shu. Instead of those leaky pancakes, put them in rice flour pitas. Now, we're cooking. Or, we, er I, will be...soon.

Trendy Ingredients

I guess I must be hide bound in some ways, because the list of the hot new ingredients from Bon Appetit, courtesy of Epicurious and the food blogger who provided the link (sorry, I closed the window and don't remember who it was), pretty much left me lukewarm. I suppose if you're a restaurant chef or caterer to the stars, this is a reasonable list, but, for me, no.

  • Pea tendrils - pea plants look a lot like sweet peas, the flower. They climb, and they grow little green tendrils to cling to things as they grow. However, a lot of peas are now bred to be bushes, so, very little tendril, unless you get the vining kind. I just wonder what they're doing with all the peas from these vines. There's a heck of a lot more pea than tendril, even on a vining plant. And how do they harvest them? I believe I can rest assured that however it's done, they will be expensive. Now, since I grow peas occasionally, it's nice to know that the tendrils are edible, but I don't think I'd order them in a restaurant.

  • Meyer Lemon - this is new??? Maybe newly fashionable. They're nice lemons. I've often had Meyer Lemon trees where I lived, so I've used them in a lot of recipes, but really.

  • Baby Beets - again, no news there. They were trendy, oh, ten or more years ago. Maybe they're back in fashion now. I do love beets, though.

  • Kurobota Pork - from what I've read, this is just basic old, not bred for leanness pork. It has more fat, hence is moister and has more flavor. But do we need to go to Japan to get it? Couldn't every country that raises pigs (is that the correct term) do the same thing? It would seem logical that small farms everywhere would still have good old pre-engineered piggies to start from. Huh. Or is this Kurobota Pork just reverse engineered, so to speak, rather than being naturally moister and more flavorful???

  • Wagyu Beef - this is confusing, so read this to get a handle on it. Suffice it to say this is another very fat, ultra-marbled meat product from Japan.

  • Heirloom Potatoes - like the baby beets, they've been a fad already, or maybe it's because I'm in California, and we have a lot of farmers markets(?), but they are fun, so, enjoy. I really love the fingerlings, little finger-shaped potatoes that you can eat up in a couple bites.

  • Pomegranate - what can I say? I love them, they're a curiosity, but how long will a fad last when you have to deal with a mouthful of seeds with every bite?

  • Organic Chicken - well, I've had organic chicken. I was raised on the stuff. It's okay. Meh.

  • Black Cod - O...M...G Also known as butterfish. I used to buy this stuff when I was in college because it was dirt cheap. Also very tasty, buttery like it's name. Now it's a hot ingredient, so it will cost the earth. Just like Tilapia. It's a lovely fish. It used to be what poor immigrants from Mexico and points south cooked. Now, it's fashionable, or getting there, and the price is going up. So, what do the people who used to cook with tilapia because it was the only fish they could afford do? I could do a rant on chefs making things trendy, but it takes stores jumping on the bandwagon, greedy bastards, raising their prices, to make it happen. Why can't something fashionable be a reasonable price? So cranky, and I'm not even hungry.

  • Burrata Cheese - this is a fresh cheese, for all practical purposes, made only in Italy. I'm sure there are individual delis or boutique cheese makers who make this elsewhere, but you have to find them before you can get the domestic version. I've never had this, but from what I'm reading, it's like a creamy ricotta core in a fresh mozzarella wrapper. You eat it as you would the mozzarella, an Insalata Caprese for example, but when you cut into it, the center oozes out all thick and creamy. I have mixed feelings about this. :G: They have pics here and here, so you can see what I mean. I'd definitely give it a try if I found it. Maybe minus the tomatoes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Paper Chef #11 - Fall Foods

This is my first ever entry in the food blogging community's frequent comps. This is Paper Chef #11, a monthly event, so it will be one year old next month, it looks like. The topic, as chosen by Stephen of is Favorite Fall Foods. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the ingredients are: duck, nut butter, ginger and pears.

Photos are optional, and, unfortunately, if I have them at all, mine will be late. Yes, my battery charger remains among the missing and the camera battery was low. I did take some shots with my trusty SLR, but that means getting prints and scanning them or doing one of those other magic things to wind up with digital images. Anyway, if they come out, at some point I will append them to this post, with a note to that effect.

I chose a fairly eclectic combination of dishes, but I think they go very well together, and they made a delicious and satisfying meal. The duck, Bosc pears and yams were once seasonal fare available only in the colder months, but, now, we can get them year round. Those of us who live where Summers are hot, though, are less inclined to eat the richer foods before the weather starts to cool. I think this combination of ingredients makes a perfect Fall dinner. Here's my menu.

Spicy Groundnut Soup
Smoky Oven Roasted Duck Breast
Yam Puree with Coriander
Salad of Fresh Greens with Pears

I served a chilled Ch. Ste. Michelle 2003 Gewurztraminer with the soup and main courses. It's typically spicy character and fruity flavors goes well with rich or spicy foods.

The Planning

Although I love groundnut soup, it's not something I often think of cooking, so, thanks to whoever suggested nutbutter as one of the required ingredients. Roasting a whole duck seems like a waste of time, unless you're making something like Peking duck, where the skin is as important as the meat. My duck recipe was similar to Peking Duck in many ways, but without the air drying, and I just didn't want to take the oven time.

I wanted a good partner for the duck, and I, at first, thought of doing a stir fry of sweet fennel, red bell peppers and sweet onions. But this is a Fall meal, so I decided to go with something simpler and more in keeping with the theme - baked, puréed yams. All of the dishes in the menu are rich, so I chose to finish with a light salad of baby/bitter greens with unadorned Bosc pears.

First, A Description of the Meal

We started with steaming bowls of Spicy Groundnut Soup. This is a wonderful soup for cold weather, just rich and heavy enough to take the chill away. Slightly creamy from the peanut butter, it had grace notes from a variety of spices, with heat provided by a dollop of chile paste, if desired.

The main course was a half, sliced, duck breast apiece, with a glistening, translucent sauce made from a white balsamico reduction of the pan juices. As I prepared it, the skin was crispy and a rich, almost mahogany hue, with a spicy bite to it. The flesh was tender with a band of darker brown next to the skin and a hint of smoky sweetness.

On the side, I served a rich, slightly sweet purée of yams. Their mild but complex seasoning made them an excellent accompaniment to the spicy duck breast.

To finish the meal, we had a salad of baby greens, with frisée and radicchio, and slices of perfect Bosc pears. The dressing was light, a little sweet and a little spicy, and the cool sweet flavor of the pear rang clear as a bell with that background. Throughout the salad were crunchy and chewy flavor accents from seasoned bits of rendered duck skin and glacéed ginger.

We were too full to contemplate dessert right after the meal, but, about an hour later, we were ready for a cup of tea and homemade ginger-macademia shortbread. I think I enjoyed the planning and the preparations as much as the meal. Well, almost. I'm so glad I decided to baptize my new food blog by participating in PC#11.

The Process

Spicy Groundnut Soup - I first tasted this soup at a fund raiser for a linguistics organization. Every year, they had an international banquet which was essentially a potluck supper with paying guests. The version of Groundnut Soup I had there is still my favorite. I guess we all prefer the first we taste of something, as long as it's good. It's the benchmark for all other versions.

The soup was between a broth and a puree in consistency, a good place for my textural preferences. Not too peanutty, but with a luxurious feeling in the mouth. Only moderately spicy, it was made to please the greatest number of palates. Because I wanted to emulate that soup, I made my broth using bones from the duck, warming spices, like cumin, turmeric and a tiny hint of cardamom, and garlic mashed with a little bit of salt. When the flavor was where I wanted it, I began whisking in the peanut butter, until I was satisfied with both taste and consistency. Recipes usually recommend that you use an unsweetened peanut butter, but I prefer the smoothness the sweetened variety gives to what could otherwise be almost a curry flavor.

I provided a small dish of Chile Paste with Garlic (right out of the jar) as a garnish for those who wanted a bit more fire. I used this same Paste in prepping the duck, so there were echoes of the flavor in both courses.

Smoky Oven Roasted Duck Breast - I wanted the duck breast to have a somewhat sweet, smoky flavor. This is where my secret ingredient came in. I brined the whole duck, using a combination of salt and brown sugar. The secret ingredient was Lapsang Souchong tea. I added a couple small scoops of the leaves to the brining water. I was aiming for a hint of smokiness, maybe some darkening right under the skin, without turning the whole thing brown and overpowering any other flavor. It was the first time I'd tried this, and, I'm happy to say the result was exactly what I'd hoped for.

My duck was frozen, so I thawed it in the brining solution, overnight. While I preheated the oven, I gave the bird a swipe with a wet paper towel to get off any clinging tea leaves. Then I cut off the wings and separated the breast from the rest of the bird but didn't bone it. I made a mixture of the Chile Paste, more brown sugar, and a little sea salt. I rubbed this over the duck breast and roasted it in the oven - on a rack, with a foil tent over it and a little water in the bottom of the pan. I find this browns and crisps the skin nicely but eliminates the need to baste.

In the meantime: I removed the legs and set them aside with the wings, then peeled the skin off the rest of the duck. This got a good rub on both sides with the chile paste mixture, as well as extra salt. Then, I rendered the skin in a saute pan, slowly, held flat by a bacon weight. This gets out virtually all the fat and leaves you with flat, crispy sheets of deliciousness. I blotted them on paper towels. Then, I crumbled them up into fairly small pieces, as you would crumble bacon.

When the duck breast was done, I removed it to a plate to rest for a few minutes before removing it from the bone. I poured off most of the fat from the pan where I rendered the skin. I deglazed the pan with a white balsamico. When all the bits of fond were loosened, I added the duck pan juices to it. I cooked this down to a fairly thick consistency, perhaps like a heavy oil.

Yam Puree with Coriander - The yams were baked along with the duck. To serve them, I split them and scraped out the softened flesh, added a mixture of butter and olive oil, crushed garlic, a pinch or two of brown sugar, and ground coriander to my taste. It's a fairly sophisitcated rendering of the traditional Sweet Potato Casserole so popular with Thanksgiving turkey dinners.

Salad of Fresh Greens with Pears - The salad was simply a bed of greens, frisée and radicchio foremost, with the sliced pears. I saved a bit of the pan reduction to make a very light dressing with just a squeeze of lemon to thin it. The toppings were the crumbles of spicy rendered duck skin and finely chopped glacéed ginger.

Cook's Treats
Tomorrow, I'll probably make something with the remainder of the duck. I still have the wings and legs, not a lot of meat. I may cook them with some canellini beans, using some of that zippy rendered duck fat, for a cassoulet. Or I might debone the meat, chop it and make potstickers with more of the chile paste mixture I used on the duck skin, and some of the glacéed ginger. Those would be good for the freezer, as a first course for a future dinner. I'll use the rest of the rendered skin on veggies, baked potatoes, potato salad, or just to munch.

Paper Chef #11 - Progress!

Yay! I found a duck today. It's being brined, actually thawing, in my secret brining solution. I now have all my ingredients - the four called for in the comp, and ones I'm adding, so, tomorrow is a big cooking day.

It's late, and I'm really hungry. I don't know why I have no appetite before about 2 in the afternoon, but I'm ravenous all night. It makes it difficult to share meals with people whose stomachs are on a more normal schedule.

Off to bed to dream of succulent duck with crispy skin. If the growling of my stomach doesn't keep me awake.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

More thoughts on Paper Chef #11

I think I literally dreamt of this half the night, but I have a lot of good ideas. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a duck is going to be available, although someone mentioned a local farm that raises ducks and geese. However, I don't think I'm up for quite that experience. I need the remove of a nude thing vacuum sealed in plastic between me and that cute thing with feathers running around quacking.

The rules allow substitutions if one of the ingredients isn't available, though. I'll try calling the rest of the markets in town to see if they mightn't have one in their freezers. If not, it will be chicken, I suppose. Anyway, my ideas are for duck, so that's the way I'm writing them.

For the nut butter I'm going to do a spicy Groundnut Soup, a peanut soup which originated in Africa but also seems to be popular in the South, where they grow lots of peanuts. :G: I'm going to use the pear in a salad, probably with frisée and some other baby lettuces, or maybe radicchio. It may be harvest time, but I live in the California Wine Country, so baby lettuces are readily available in markets, if not in my own garden.

I'm thinking of brining the duck in a secret ingredient for a special Fall flavor. I'm smiling, pleased with myself. If it works out, it will be fantastic. I've done something similar with duck before, and it was a smashing success, so we'll see. The duck course will most likely be only the breast - don't feel like fooling with serving issues for the rest of that very bony bird. Although I do have plans for a cook's treat with the legs. We'll see. We'll see.

I'm also going to get a secret ingredient from the duck to use in my salad. Also, I'm not sure whether it will end up on the duck or the salad, but I'm going to do a white balsamic reduction of the pan juices after I've cooked the duck. Of course, white balsamic doesn't have the caramel color and flavor of traditional balsamic, but it has a nice body and sweetness that will make either a lovely light sauce or give some real body to my salad dressing.

I'll get the ginger in there, too. I already have plans for it. :G: Tomorrow I go for the duck. And hope my camera battery is charged enough for the pics. It's got a very weird recharchable battery that takes a special cord, which I've mislaid. Even if I have no pics, I'll have a tummy full of good stuff to remember it by.

{tags }

Friday, October 07, 2005


My secret is that I'm a picky eater. I'm one of those people who goes into restaurants, checks the menu and usually can't find anything she loves just the way it is. So, it's "hold the..." or "could you have the chef throw on a few capers" or "could you bring me some pepperoncini in their brine with some chopped garlic and olive oil"? That last makes a great "salsa" with fried calamari. It has a nice bite to it that cuts the greasiness of the fried squid. I first had that combo at a VFW Hall "Diner" in Rhode Island. Now, for me, it's the only way to go.

And, yes, I love capers - little zingy bits of sharpness and saltiness that go with so many things - like Pasta Aglio é Olio - so that's a fairly common request from me. I do check out the menu to be sure that capers are something they use before I ask. I mean, I can survive without my capers, but why, if I don't have to?

This blog is going to be a platform for my pickiness and for sharing the results of my search for the perfect meal with the world (or whatever portion of it wanders through my door). Some of the foods will be ultra trendy, but others will be totally casual and comforting. So, onward.

My first post I'm going to walk you through the early stages of my entry for Paper Chef #11. If you want to know more about the PC contests, click here.

The ingredient list:

  • Duck

  • Nut Butter

  • Pears

  • Ginger.

I can see lots of possibilities already. But first, I'll have to see if I can find a duck without going to extremes to obtain it - that would be having to drive 50 miles to the nearest gourmet grocery or pay FedEx overnight charges to get it by, well, tomorrow? Not going to happen.

Nut butter and ginger, of course, make me think of something Asian, like Saté. And a nice, fresh, unadorned pear would be a lovely foil for something rather rich like that - nut butter and duck, heavy, heavy, heavy. It would also work well with something hot. Ginger can provide a lot of heat, by I think it might overpower the duck. Hmmm. I'll have to give this some thought.

Oh, and why did I call this blog, Stalking the Waiter? Two reasons, or sort of one and a friend. I recently discovered the Waiter Rant blog, which I adore. If you haven't seen it before, take a look. He's a waiter in NY, and he writes very candidly about what goes on behind the scenes in a restaurant, and what those polite smiles are hiding as our waiters/waitresses bring us our dinners. Heh. The "friend," is that a diner like myself would drive Waiter up the wall.

And I drink tea. (You'll have to read his blog to get that one.)