Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day 1 - Yikes!!

Dear Lord- what was I thinking? It's 5PM, and I'm already exhausted over this meal!!

So here's the plan - I'm having my friends Alysha and David over for dinner as guinea pigs to eat my first project meal and to watch American Idol, since we all vote in an A.I. pool together. (Alysha and David are currently in second and third place, while I am a paltry third from last... Let it be known, though, that I won the pool in '07.)

The menu will be:

Roast Duck (p. 145-6)
Glazed Turnips (p. 347)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts (p. 313)

As for the duck recipe, I need to talk to Martha about a couple of things. First of all, one "whole Pekin duck (5 1/2 to 6 pounds)" is supposed to serve two people? That stressed me out at Fairway, since the biggest duck I could find was 4.83 pounds, and I might be serving four!

(My Fabulous New Boy Friend, who, from now on, will be referred to as FNBF, may also be attending, if his high-pressure, big-budget film schedule allows. I'm referring to him as FNBF in an effort to protect his privacy because I'm not sure how he feels about being discussed in this blog. Also, I think it's funny that it sounds like "effin' BF," which will be a useful nickname if I'm ever pissed off at him. Which seems inconceivable right now, because I think he's so fabulous. Also, I want to mention that I never use the word "fabulous." Only when I'm talking about him. And how I'm going to be cooking this whole year.)

So, my other gripe with this recipe is that it calls for Pomegranate Molasses. Really, Martha? I trolled the aisles of Fairway AND Zabars, two stores very well-stocked with specialty items, looking for Pomegranate Anything (other than juice), and all I could come up with was a jar of Pomegranate Jelly, which I bought. And I don't even like pomegranates!! But I'm trying to honor the spirit of this recipe, so I've decided to use half pomegranate jelly and half molasses and that will have to be that, Ms. S.

As for the portion sizes, I did a little snooping around Martha's website, and it turns out that, according to some other recipes, a five pound duck should serve four, no problem. So I guess that's a misprint. Although, after roasting this duck all afternoon, I have to tell you that I'm pretty sure four pounds of fat have just melted off that bad boy. All I've done so far is make some cross-hatch cuts through the skin and then roast it and poke it and watch that bird drain away. Later, there'll be a glaze (with my makeshift pomegranate molasses, remember?).

As if it weren't enough to be taking on my first roast duck, I'm also attempting to make Martha's Multigrain Bread recipe from her website. I'm newly obsessed with baking, ever since my next door neighbor gave me his extra electric mixer. (Thanks, Michael!!) So between the rising and the pounding and the poking and the rendering, it's been a full afternoon!!

And have I mentioned that my apartment is being renovated?? Not really renovated, per se, but there will be electrical work, painting, and more for the next couple of months, so this is really going to be an adventure!

Have to go start the glazed turnips now - I should confess that I'm not using the Brown Stock but am taking the apple cider option instead. Not because I'm a vegetarian, but because I peeked at the Brown Stock recipe, and it would take me about a day to make it, not to mention four pounds of veal bones. (Where do you even get them?!) I'm sure it's amazing, but it will have to wait. And besides, cider glaze sounds good.

OK! Meal's over, company's gone, dishes are washed, and I have tales to tell...

First of all, the hardest part of this whole cooking thing is definitely the timing. You can read your recipes ten times, plan them all out in your head, figure out when you need to start this, switch to that, etc., but then when you're actually doing it, all that planning goes right out the window. My timing tonight was desperately off! And yet, the food was pretty darn good.

The timing issue with the duck was that I was ready for the glaze before the glaze was ready for me. So I had to take the duck out of the oven, where it sat for 5 or 10 minutes waiting for the glaze to thicken. Not ideal...

Then, I started the turnips late, and they also took a long time to cook down, so the duck and the brussels sprouts (who ever knew that the word was "brussels" with a third "s"?) were all served room temperature. Fortunately, my guests were very easy going and happy to eat luke warm food, i.e. delicious luke warm food.

Some observations:

Roast Duck:

The FNBF didn't show, and it turns out there was the perfect amount of duck for David, Alysha, and me. Ergo, I conclude that a 4.83 lb. duck serves three. The skin tasted fantastic: crispy and salty and sweet from the glaze, and the meat was moist and delicious.

Can we discuss how much fat there is in a 4.83 lb duck? I threw away over two cups of rendered fat from this little guy. Ugh. But I guess that's what makes the skin so delicious. FYI, I wouldn't stress out over trying to find Pomegranate Molasses. Any kind of sweet or fruity gooey substance would work well here.

Jeff: B-
Martha: B+
(great lesson, but points off for the "serves two" typo and for using Pomegranate Molasses as an ingredient)

Unfortunately, I definitely failed the "How to Carve a Duck" lesson. I couldn't find the shape of the backbone and ultimately pulled the thing apart with my hands, and then carved the eventual pieces. Martha would not have approved....

Jeff: D-
Martha: B+
(could have used a few more details)

(Since it's Cooking School, I thought there should be grades. So I'm grading myself on how well I executed the plan, and I'm grading Martha on how failsafe I think the plan is.)

Glazed Turnips

These came out great! As I mentioned above, I went with cider vs. Brown Stock, and the turnips were quite sweet, Alysha thought almost dessert-like. I cooked them in a medium-sized saucepan, which I now think was my mistake - I needed more cooking surface area. As a result, the turnips didn't brown as much as I would have liked, and the liquid took much longer than expected to reduce (timing!!). But the end result was completely satisfying and a great accompaniment to the duck.

Jeff: B-
Martha: A

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Martha has definitely turned me on to roasting vegetables, something I never did BM (Before Martha). And I used to swear by my stove top recipe for brussels sprouts. Now, I am a roasting convert. Alysha commented that roasting them seemed to allow all that is great about brussels sprouts to come forward, without any excess oil or sauce or shlar (as my friend Tracy Christensen likes to call it). I agree. Plus, it's really easy!

Jeff: A-
Martha: A

As for the bread, wow. It is really amazing to bake a loaf (actually, two) of bread from scratch. I used to have a bread machine, which was fun, but to actually mix the dough and then handle it and let it rise and punch it down and shape it and slide it onto the stone, etc. is incredibly fulfilling. And filling. (I'm definitely going to have to work out 2x/day this year.) The bread came out beautifully, very grainy and moist and crunchy and hearty. I hope my next door neighbor, Michael, will like his loaf as much as I like mine. (I've been leaving him goodies on his doorstep to thank him for the mixer.)

FYI, no grades for the bread because it's not a recipe or lesson from Martha Stewart's Cooking School. It's basically extra credit. I always was a teacher's pet... :-)

Who knew this was going to be such an outrageously long posting? If you're still reading, thanks for beginning this journey with me.

Until we eat again...

David and Alysha: Post-duck, pre-Idol


  1. this is hilarious and such a fantastic idea. both the year of adventures and the AI pool. I look forward to following your adventures...!




  2. Hi, it's David! Yes, the famous David that appeared in "Day 1 - Yikes!!" and had the pleasure of eating this wonderful meal!! I don't understand why the glazed turnips got a B-. They were so good!!! I give them an A. If you thought they should be more brown or whatever, I'd accept an A-. OK, that is all. I'm loving the blog! ...and loving the food. :)

  3. Pomegranate molasses! A friend just introduced me to this stuff. I found it at a small chain whole food type market. It's pretty amazing over yogurt and berries or cereal. Anyway... Congrats on the good eats.

  4. Glad you are enjoying the mixer! I know I'm enjoying finding delicious surprises on my doorstep.

    Have fun with this project, it's quite a feat and sounds like you're off to a great start.

    Regarding where to get bones (and specialty meats), I have to suggest Ottomanelli & Sons on Bleecker, just East of 7th Ave. They are great. We get our Thanksgiving birds there as well as meats for specialty meals (suckling pig, crown roast of pork, cassoulet ingredients, etc.) Call a day or two ahead and they'll have it all ready for you when you get there.

  5. Hey y'all - thanks for the comments!

    Emily, just checked out your blog. Cool! If you want to do the AI pool next year, let me know. I'll clue you in when it's starting.

    David - thanks! I liked the turnips too, but I gave myself a B- because I think I missed some important elements. I did give Martha an A though.

    Squigs - Thanks for your well wishes! After I trashed Martha in this entry for calling for pomegranate molasses, I did a web search for it. Turns out, it's an "essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking" and is sold in specialty stores quite readily. Also, I found a recipe for it online.

    Michael - Thanks for the Ottomanelli tip! I think that's where Julie Powell got her crazy butcher ingredients...

  6. It where she went, but I already knew about it when I read the book. They are the best.

  7. I've only just discovered your blog. Did you try an Asian market for the pomegranate molasses?

    In SW France, duck fat is saved and used as a cooking fat. For example, you can cook potatoes in duck fat. It is a healthier fat than butter.

    I believe Martha's book contains a recipe for duck confit in which you could use that duck fat.

    I plan to work my way straight through the book because (sadly, at age 57) I am a beginner cook and because I believe Martha designed the lessons to be completed in order. I'm hoping that completing the recipes in order will also prepare me to conquer that timing issue you encountered. How many times I told my husband that Thanksgiving dinner would be ready at 7 P.M. only to end up eating at midnight!

    I'm going to check out your blog as I go so that I can avoid the pitfalls you encounter. Thank you in advance! I plan to work through the book with my 13-year-old granddaughter so that she will always be in charge of her own stomach!