You know how there are some friends that, no matter how long it's since the last time you've seen them, you can pick up as if no time has passed at all? That was dinner tonight! It was a mini-college reunion, myself and three friends from Northwestern University, School of Speech, Class of '86.
Allyson, who used to be a soap star, now runs The Total Human, a California-based company that offers workshops and retreats around creativity and empowerment and yoga and other cool stuff like that. She's in town to promote her new women's coloring books, which are a great combination of beautiful, spiritual, and whimsical.
Emily is a superstar entertainment manager and my one-time, fantasy fiancée. (By the end of college, I think she figured out that that wasn't going anywhere, and she married someone else. Smart move.)
James is a superstar entertainment lawyer, and I couldn't find any links for him, even though he's a superstar.
Marinated Artichoke Hearts (p. 305)
You might remember that I was supposed to make these for a composed salad a month ago, but I couldn't find fresh artichokes to save my life! Now they're everywhere! So I thought I should put my recent, artichoke-cleaning skills to good use and marinate!
James called these "Roman artichokes," which I'd never heard before.
I cleaned them down to the hearts, boiled them until tender, then marinated them in my favorite Martha dressing, Lemon Vinaigrette. Delicious.
The only thing I could have done better is clean the insides more thoroughly. There were some coarse leaves still attached and a little bit of fuzz.
Meanwhile, if you plan to clean an artichoke, beware of stained hands. The artichoke "juice" turns brown very quickly, and it soaks into your skin! My fingernails and cuticles look filthy, and I've scrubbed!
Jeff: B (should have trimmed and cleaned them better)
Duck Breast with Orange Gastrique (p. 262)
I couldn't understand why the all duck breasts at Fairway weighed 2+ pounds. Martha said to get a 1 pound breast, and all the ducks I've seen have been in the 4-5 pound range, so 2+ lbs just wasn't adding up. Then, when I unwrapped it, I saw that there were two in there! Well, actually four! It was the double-breasted section from two ducks. So I went from thinking I had one giant breast to actually having four little baby breasts.
Similar to the roast duck (Day One!), the skin gets cut in a cross hatch, for extra rendering. The breasts get cooked entirely on the stove, so you're pouring fat out every few minutes. They get turned a few times, until browned and crispy, then set aside to wait for the gastrique.
The gastrique is a new concept for me. I was amazed that I could put sugar alone in a saucepan, leave it on the heat, and it would become liquid. Allyson and I kept re-reading the recipe, looking for the liquid part to add. But in the end, I trusted my girl, Martha. And there it was, bubbling brown sugar. Once I added in the vinegar, I had my typical frustration, which is that my sauce never reduces and gets syrupy in the time that Martha thinks it should. Five minutes becomes ten, and it's still thin! Now, I've learned to just crank up the heat. I added the orange juice and zest, turned up the heat some more, and finally, it showed some signs of thickening.
By the time the gastrique was ready, the duck was fully room temperature, which is OK, but not ideal.
The gastrique tasted pretty good, but I think it would have tasted better without the zest. The zest had been boiled for a few minutes to reduce the bitterness, but it was still too bitter for my palate.
The other thing that didn't work about the duck is that the breasts were rather small, and I couldn't cook them long enough to render enough fat from the skin to make the skin fully crisp and edible. And crisp duck skin is such a treat! Ah well, we trimmed it off. If I could do it over again, I think I would try cooking the duck in a hotter pan to attempt to melt the fat away faster and more thoroughly.
Jeff: B (Fatty duck skin. Boo.)
Sicilian-Style Sauteéd Greens (p. 321)
Martha suggested serving bitter greens with this duck, so I complied! (I love a good pairing hint.)
Allyson helped me with some of the mincing and chopping. (Thanks, Al!)
This is pretty straightforward. In fact, I've made this kind of dish before, with spinach and pine nuts and raisins. This version involved raisins, almonds, and chard, which I've only cooked with a few times. One interesting twist in this recipe is that, instead of discarding the chard stems, Martha had me dice up a cupful of them to add to the dish. I've become so used to Martha having me discard perfectly usable things, I thought this was a notable exception.
This recipe has the trademark splash of lemon juice at the end, which I've come to love. And I have a new citrus press, so making lemon juice just became that much easier!
This was very popular with my guests, by the way. They all agreed that it should go in the "likely to repeat" folder.
On a side note, I'm sad to say that Martha Stewart's Cooking School lost the James Beard Award last night to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Accordingly, I am going to discontinue cooking from Martha's book, and switch over to Mark's.
Just kidding! I'm all Martha, all the time! :-)
Until we eat again...
Emily and the "Roman" artichokes
James looks like he's getting away with something
Allyson was a great sous chef!