Today, after spending a fruitless three hours shopping for comfortable pants for our upcoming vacation travels, I went to the grocery store, then home. I ordered the damn pants online (and got one pair on sale), and then transformed into Martha Stewart. I did five loads of laundry, changed the sheets on the bed, ran to the bank to get $200 to buy a used garden tiller, and made a rather extraordinary dinner. I won’t bore you with the laundry and other stuff, but I must tell you about the dinner.
I made Duck Breast with Cherry-Pepper Sauce, Roasted Potatoes, Broiled Asparagus and Tiramisu. No frozen or premade anything; I did it all myself and it was damned fine, if I do say so myself. And at the risk of lessening the grandeur of my achievement, it was damned easy, too. Here are the recipes:
First, the Tiramisu, courtesy of Epicurious.com:
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese (1 scant cup)
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
2 cups very strong brewed coffee or brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature
2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
18 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers, 6 oz)
1/4 cup fine-quality bittersweet chocolate shavings (not unsweetened; made with a vegetable peeler) or 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.
Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.
Stir together coffee and Marsala in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, soaking it about 4 seconds on each side, and transfer to an 8-inch glass baking dish (2-quart capacity). Repeat with 8 more ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly. Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Make another layer in same manner with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture. Chill tiramisu, covered, at least 6 hours.
Just before serving, sprinkle with chocolate.
• The eggs in this recipe are not cooked, which may be of concern if there is a problem with salmonella in your area.
• Tiramisu can be chilled up to 1 day.
Donna’s Notes: I think there’s too much liquid for soaking the ladyfingers, so I reduce the coffee to one cup (I use instant espresso granules). I also like the taste of the Marsala wine, so I kick that up a bit. In addition, four seconds per side to soak the ladyfingers in the coffee/Marsala mix may seem like a short time, but in my opinion, it’s too long – the ladyfingers get very mushy. I only gave them about a second per side. The recipe above doesn’t result in solid layers of ladyfingers, so if you want more ladyfingers, double it up (you’ll have to use more Marsala/coffeee, too).
About an hour or so before dinnertime, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and prep your
Honestly, this is so damn easy I don’t know why I’m telling you. I bought about five small Yukon Gold potatoes (you can easily use more if you want) and quartered them. Put them on a baking sheet or in a deeper pan if you want, and drizzle olive oil over them – just enough to give them a nice shine once you’ve tossed them (a tablespoon or two should do it unless you’re making a mess of potatoes). Add minced garlic to taste (I used about two tablespoons), plus salt, pepper and dried thyme (rosemary is nice, too). Toss to coat the potatoes and then stick them in the oven. Roast until tender, 50 minutes to one hour.
Donna’s Notes: Because of the business of having to run out and get the $200 for the tiller, plus waiting dinner while John mowed the lawn, I turned off the oven after about an hour and just let the potatoes sit in there. It didn’t hurt them, and in fact, they were improved at the last by the radiant heat from the recipe below:
Rinse your asparagus, snap off the hard ends and discard, and pat the asparagus dry. Preheat your broiler. Put the asparagus in a shallow pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt to taste and then toss so asparagus is evenly coated. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer. Once the broiler is good and hot, put the pan of asparagus under the broiler, for about five minutes, checking occasionally. Turn the pan and let the asparagus cook for about five more minutes. Just before serving, squirt with some fresh lemon juice.
Donna’s Notes: Because I left the roasted potatoes in the oven while I roasted the asparagus, the heat from the broiler gave the potatoes a very nice final crisping and just the faintest charring. Oddly, it was just the right combination of flavors with the cherry-pepper sauce on the duck, and one of those serendipitous things that sometimes happen when you’re scrambling around the kitchen.
Duck Breast With Cherry
-Pepper Sauce (courtesy of Cooking Light.com)
Okay, let me say right off that I made this recipe by the book the first time, but afterward felt that the canned cherries and their liquid just don’t improve this recipe a bit – so I omit them. I think it comes out just fine without them – there’s plenty of liquid in the sauce and the tartness of the dried cherries is played up better without the insipid canned ones. But here’s the original recipe for those who want to try it as written:
1 (14.5-ounce) can pitted tart red cherries in water, undrained
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 (12-ounce) packages boneless whole duck breast, thawed, skinned, and cut in half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup ruby port or other sweet red wine
1/2 cup less-sodium beef broth
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons butter
Drain canned cherries through a sieve over a bowl. Place 1/2 cup canned cherries and 1/4 cup cherry liquid in a blender; reserve the remaining canned cherries and cherry liquid for another use. Process cherry mixture until smooth.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle duck with salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add duck to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from pan; keep warm. Add shallots to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon pepper and next 6 ingredients (through vinegar); cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; add pureed cherry mixture and butter, stirring until butter melts. Slice duck; serve with sauce.
Donna’s Notes: I’ve only been able to find fresh duck breasts at one place, and that’s at Wegmans Food Markets (you can also buy a bone-in half turkey breast there, which is nice when you’re not feeding an army, and they also have some of the prettiest veal shanks I’ve ever seen, at the most reasonable price. I go to the one on Monument Drive in Fairfax).
I put the asparagus in to broil as I started the duck cooking, but in retrospect I would wait and start the asparagus when I’m making the cherry sauce next time. The asparagus was just a touch mushy, although it tasted fantastic.
John and I drank a very nice bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Noir with dinner. We had the dregs of the bottle with our Tiramisu. John is now in an extremely relaxed state in front of the television, and I had enough energy to clean up the kitchen, wash dishes and take the trash cans to the curb before settling in front of the computer to share my Deity status with you. You can do it, too. Just get your collective booties into your respective kitchens and Make Some Magic. It’s easy – I swear.