Pom Wonderful Pan-Seared Duck

Pom Wonderful, the company that grows gorgeously large pomegranates and makes different varieties of pomegranate juice, is sponsoring a recipe contest and I decided to enter. I developed the recipe below using some of their 100% pomegranate juice as well as one actual pomegranate. I love the pomegranate. When I was growing up, every fall my mother would buy these exotic fruits for me and my sister, and they were a special treat for us girls. We would eat the seeds as if they were candy and would be so sad when winter came and the "love apples" disappeared from the produce aisle. Now, I'm a Latin teacher, and as soon as pomegranates are available, I tell the story of Persephone, daughter of the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres. Persephone was kidnapped by the lord of the Underworld, Pluto, and was forced to eat pomegranate seeds to ensure that she would stay with him in the world of the dead for half of each year. During those months she is away from her mother, Ceres mourns and nothing grows, thus we have the ancient explanation of the seasons. Each year, I find that many of my students have never tried a pomegranate, so I bring in a whole one and a bowl of seeds for them to taste. I was very excited to do something with this fruit other than just eating it, and since I love duck (see earlier "I Heart Duck" post), I thought long and hard about how to make a pomegranate duck dish. The recipe I worked on resulted in a juicy duck breast drizzled in a deep red, tangy-sweet sauce, and the pomegranate seeds added an unexpected crunch to the wild rice. Here it is for you to enjoy:

Pom Wonderful Pan-Seared Duck (for two)

for Marinade:
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup Pom Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice

2 duck breasts
1/2 cup Pom Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

For Rice:
Wild rice
1/2 Pom Wonderful Pomegranate

Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a large Ziploc bag. Score the skin of the duck breasts and place them into the bag with the marinade. Marinate for 3-4 hours. After duck is done marinating, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large saute pan on high heat and place the duck in, skin side down. Pan-sear the duck on high heat for 3-4 minutes each side. Then put the duck in a baking dish and place in the oven for 20 minutes (for medium-rare). While the duck is finishing in the oven, prepare the rice according to the directions. Also make your sauce by turning down the heat on the saute pan and deglazing the pan with 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, being sure to scrape up the fond from the duck. Stirring often, season this sauce with salt and pepper to taste and reduce it on medium-low heat until it becomes thickened (7-8 minutes). Add 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter and continue to stir the sauce, allowing it to reduce until it has a syrupy consistency. When the rice has finished cooking, toss it with seeds from the half-pomegranate. Serve the sauce over the duck with the rice on the side and enjoy your anti-oxident rich meal!


Lasagna - Entirely From Scratch

We finally bought a pasta maker, the old-fashioned, hand-crank kind. The stainless steel is so shiny, I can almost see myself in it, and with a coupon, it only cost around $20, a bargain! Needless to say, we've been very excited to try to make fresh pasta. I thought a good start would be lasagna noodles, because that doesn't involve a lot of cutting and hanging and drying. So the plan was to make lasagne totally from scratch this past weekend.

We were free on Sunday and while I got the traditional first-of-the-holiday-season batch of homemade Chex Mix going in the oven, Chris measured out our flour and broke our eggs and set the KitchenAid to work on kneading the pasta dough. When we had a ball of pasta, we let it sit for 15 minutes to rest and then divided it into six small portions. We cranked each portion through the first setting six times, then through the remaining settings once each. We were left with long, wide strips of pasta that were rippling at the edges, just right for lasagna. We let these dry for 15 minutes then cut them to fit our baking dish.

In the meantime, I made a quick tomato sauce by sauteeing two cloves of garlic, one medium-sized chopped onion, a tablespoon of tomato paste and Italian seasoning. When the onions were soft and browning, I added a large can of crushed tomatoes and some salt and pepper. I let this simmer while Chris opened a bottle of Valpolicella and proceeded to add about a cup to the sauce. The sauce became a deep red color and was much tastier and less tomato-sweet after the addition of the red wine. As the sauce simmered, I made the ricotta filling by mixing one container of ricotta cheese, one cup of shredded mozzarella, 1/2 cup of grated grana (similar to parmesan) and one egg. For seasoning this mixture, I added a dash of nutmeg, a few shakes of dried parsley and of course, plenty of salt and pepper. Finally, I browned a pound of ground beef, making sure all of it crumbled without overcooking it.

Once we had cut the pasta, we placed it in boiling water until it began to float (about 2 minutes) and began to assemble the lasagna. Each layer consisted of pasta on the bottom with a thin cover of sauce, then a sprinkling of beef and several dollops of the cheese mixture. We repeated this until we ran out of ingredients and then did a smattering of mozzarella on the very top. We baked our lasagna for a half hour at 350 until we could see it bubbling.

The lasagna stayed together nicely; it was very easy to cut a piece and not have it fall apart into a mushy mess. It had great flavor and the ingredients were evenly spaced throughout each bite. The top layer of pasta got crunchy, and I attribute this to the fact that we did not cover the dish when we baked it, which I guess we should do next time. We had enough to give my friend J a big piece for lunch and have some again the next night for dinner. All in all, a success, and I look forward to my next homemade pasta adventure - ravioli!


It's CT Restaurant Week!!!

So Chris has been wanting to go to Dish, a relative newcomer on the Hartford restaurant scene. I went there last spring with my friend J but we did not have a great experience, so I've been putting off going again. But this week is CT Restaurant Week, which means restaurants across the state, including Dish, are offering a three-course dinner for $20.08. Last night being date night, we decided it was time for Chris to experience Dish.

At Dish, there were two offerings for each course. For the first course, we both chose the lobster bisque. It was good but a little too buttery, if that’s possible, and it was nowhere near as delicious as the one we had at CAV in Providence, which shot to the top of any lobster bisque competition with the amazing addition of pure vanilla bean extract. For his entree, Chris had linguine with clams – a pretty small portion that, according to him, was “not spectacular.” I had beef medallions in a cabernet sauce with mashed potatoes. There were two pepper-crusted medallions of beef - they were very tender and cooked medium-rare as I requested. The garnet-colored sauce was a nice complement, and the mashed potatoes had peas and carrots mixed in, which at first I thought was weird, but I grew to enjoy.

We both had a rough week with a lot going on at school, so we were tired and got full quickly. The dessert choice was between a deconstructed chocolate cream pie and a red velvet cupcake. We both chose the cupcake, but asked our server to pack it to go. We had visions of enjoying these while watching tv when we got home. In reality, we both went to bed early, so I can't tell you about the cupcakes, although they looked moist and were garnished with toasted coconut.

Granted, last night's experience was better than the one I had with J (you can read about that experience
HERE), but still it was just okay. There are rave reviews out there, but Chris agrees with me that we just don't see a reason to go back, unless it's for the reasonably-priced wine and dessert bar. Of course, even that depends on those cupcakes...


"Fall"-ing into Hibernation Mode

A weekend with nothing planned. It's practically unheard of in our house, and seems to have come at a great time. The leaves have been vacuumed by the city's leaf-sucking truck that reminds me of something from Dr. Seuss; the house is clean enough, although I should probably do a few loads of laundry; I've shut off my cellphone and the ringers on the landline, and nothing is really stopping my husband and me from hibernating for two full days. My personal goal is to stay in pajamas, cook a few decent meals, catch up on my magazines, and watch a couple of Lifetime movies. Chris has added "studying" to his list, since he's taking two graduate courses this semester, poor thing. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Saturday was a perfect day to sleep in. It was warm, yes, but also gloomy and rainy. When I woke up, I watched Anne Burrell's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and was inspired to make an autumnal pork dish. I found a pork loin in the freezer and set it out to defrost. Dinner would be several hours away, but I felt like cooking, so I made an apple pie. I recently bought Ania Catalano's book, Baking With Agave Nectar and found her recipe for "All-American Apple Pie." Although it called for Granny Smiths, I only had one, but I had plenty of Macintoshes, so I used those, and I cheated on the pie crust, using good old Pillsbury. When it was done baking, I put the pie aside and began working on dinner. I sliced a Vidalia onion and put the slices into a large baking pan. I poured apple cider over the onions so they were about 3/4 of the way covered and then seasoned the mix with salt, pepper and a bundle of dried thyme. I chopped some fresh rosemary and garlic and added some dried sage and olive oil to make a rub for the pork loin, which I placed over the onions in the baking dish. I put the whole thing in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes, then broiled it for a few minutes to turn it brown. While the pork was cooking, Chris cut three white potatoes into a small dice and tossed them with 4 ounces of diced pancetta. We cooked these, seasoned with salt, pepper and hot Hungarian paprika, in a cast iron pan, stirring often, until the pork was done. While we let the pork rest, we put the onion/cider mix onto the stove top, added a tablespoon of butter, and let it reduce into a sauce that we drizzled onto the pork. The pork was medium, barely pink in the very center, and very tender and well-seasoned. The "apple-cider sauce" had a nice sheen from the butter and was thick, sweet and tasty, with hints of the thyme and onion adding depth of flavor. The potato-pancetta hash was nicely caramelized, and as Anne Burrell says, "Brown food is goooood." A little while after dinner, we enjoyed dessert. Even with my substitutions, the pie was delicious. The agave nectar, used in lieu of sugar, allowed the tartness of the apples to shine through instead of being overshadowed by sweetness.

On Sunday, we were much less prolific. I spent the afternoon reading over half of a novel, while Chris whiled away the hours on the computer. Around 3, we decided to make our Buffalo-Chicken Pizza for dinner. Overall, it was a very relaxing weekend spent in hibernation mode.


Pumpkin Seeds

While going through the digital photos for our last blog, I noticed the pictures I took of Halloween and realized I never blogged about my pumpkin seeds. Chris and I had bought two large pumpkins and two sugar pumpkins, so I spent the afternoon cleaning them out and getting them ready for Chris to carve, although I decided to carve a little one myself (see photo). I had lots of pumpkin seeds and here's what I do with them.

First, I boil them in a large pot of very salted water. This is so the salt doesn't only sit on the seeds, but gets into them as well. The boiling process makes them look gray, but I care much more about how they taste than how they look! After they've been boiling about 20 minutes, I lay them out in one layer on a cookie sheet and allow them to dry for several hours. When them seem pretty dry, I melt 1/2 stick of butter and mix it with 1/4 cup of olive oil. I toss the seeds in this mixture and then spread them back out in one layer on a cookie sheet. I sprinkle them with salt and bake them for 45 minutes at 375, and when they're done, I have a sort-of healthy, tasty, crunchy, salty snack!

Roasted Cornish Game Hens and Winter Vegetables

Chris and I had Tuesday off - one of the great joys of teaching being the regular and frequent holidays. We had no "outside" plans other than my quick hair appointment, and spent most of the day catching up on our DVR'd "must-see-TV." In our foresight, however, we planned a nice dinner, not necessarily labor intensive, but good for a cold November day when there's nowhere to go. We decided to roast Cornish game hens with a mix of winter vegetables.

First, what do we consider winter vegetables? I let Chris choose, and he did the shopping, some at his favorite Hartford produce shop, Apple Tree, and the rest at the grocery store close to us, Highland Park Market. Chris would have done all of it at Apple Tree, but Chris said they seemed pretty empty, and he's fearful that they are succumbing to the languishing economy and closing shop. Time will tell. In the meantime, he came home with butternut squash, fennel, pearl onions, carrots and celery.

While Chris chopped and prepped the vegetables, I dried and seasoned the hens with herbs de Provence (the blend we like has lavender, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, garlic and lemon peel) and a little bit of salt and black pepper. I stuffed the cavity of each bird with two lemon halves and two sprigs of rosemary. I then browned them on both sides in a large frying pan. I poured some white wine (I believe it was a Pinot Grigio) about 1/4 inch high in a baking dish and sprinkled it with a couple of pinches of herbs de Provence. When the hens were browned, I put them aside, deglazed the plan with some of the same wine and threw in the vegetables to brown and soften. As they cooked, I put in 2 tablespoons of water and placed a lid on the pan so they would steam and cook through a bit.

The oven was preheated to 400 degrees. We layered the vegetables in the baking dish and tossed them gently with the wine. We then placed the hens on top of the vegetables and baked them uncovered on the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes. The fragrance of herbs filled our house and our noses as dinner did its thing. The meat was juicy and infused with flavor from the wine and the herbs. The vegetables turned out to be a delicious mixture, with the fennel giving off its slight anise taste. It was an easy but elegant dinner, one that we're thinking of serving up at our next dinner party.


Marvelous Mussels

My friend J and I often share mussels when we visit a restaurant that has them. If we have a choice between red and white sauce, we choose the white, probably to avoid leaving any stains on our clothing. We had some mussels the other night and it reminded me of the dish Chris and I made for a late-summer neighborhood party we had in August.

Mussels were on sale - two 2-lb. bags for $5. We bought four bags, figuring we could spend $10 and make enough to bring to the get-together. We put half of the mussels in the bottom of a large stock-pot, topped them with one roughly chopped white onion, six whole garlic cloves, some chopped green onion and parsley from our garden, four chopped garden tomatoes, 3/4 stick of butter cut into quarters, some salt and pepper, and then put the other half of the mussels in. We added about 1/2 bottle of white wine (we used Pinot Grigio), the other 1/4 stick of butter and a few more sprinkles of herbs on top and put the lid on. We brought the whole pot to the neighbor's party. Once there, we put the mussels on the outdoor gas burner and let them steam for about 10 minutes, until we could see they were all open. We served them in a large dish with a crusty baguette and some lemon slices. Everyone was so impressed by our culinary prowess that I didn't have the heart to tell them how simple it was.


A Deal at the Delaney House

Chris and I haven't seen my parents in some time, so when my mom invited us to go with them to a restaurant in their area, we made the plans and went last night. Growing up, when I thought of "fine dining," this restaurant came to mind. I can remember my mom getting ready for a "dinner date" with my dad. My sister and I would already by in our jammies and we'd cram into our parents' bathroom to watch her put on a fancy outfit, jewelry from her special bedside table drawer, Lauren perfume (the one in the maroon bottle with gold writing), and of course, high heels. We'd be so excited to hang out with the babysitter (a high school girl who taught us cheers) and we knew we'd be getting some sort of memento from the restaurant when they returned - usually an after dinner mint or something along those lines. It's always the little things. In my mind, although probably not in reality, on these nights they were always going to The Delaney House.

Times have changed, and so has the restaurant. Although it is thankfully still open, and still has a fine dining menu, they have added a more casual bar area called The Mick and some of the weekly specials there have become quite popular. The one we went for last night is cleverly called "Popover for Prime Time," alluding to the large-screen television that takes up one wall of the bar and one part of the generous dinner deal. Held on Wednesdays, this deal offers a prime rib dinner for $17.95. This is a full dinner too - it starts with one of the Delaney's famous light and crispy popovers, leads next into your choice of soup du jour or house salad, then delivers the main meal of a large slice of slow-roasted prime rib, vegetable of the day and a baked potato. They even include a pint of beer to round it off.

Everything was delicious - the soup was tasty and warming; the salads were cold, crisp and fresh; the prime rib was thickly cut, tender, and roasted to a nice medium rare; the vegetables were a mixed sauteed medley and the baked potato, well, it was a baked potato. Sour cream for that and a zippy horseradish sauce for the steak came on the side.

That alone was plenty of food, but we were starving when we got there and had started off with a few appetizers, the standout of which was the "Baked Brie Crostini," toasted slices of Italian bread topped with a raspberry jam, brie cheese and spiced nuts. The plate was drizzled with a balsamic glaze that did wonders for the brie. All I can say is yum. Gorged on food, we still managed to split a unique dessert between three of us - a cream puff covered in chocolate sauce with bananas foster and vanilla ice cream. Again...yum. Dad enjoyed his favorite standby of vanilla ice cream.

I guess my point here is this: Don't be put off by the Delaney's reputation. If you want fine dining, you can have it there, but there's also the trendy, casual fare and specials of The Mick. Obviously, the apps and desserts put us out of "fantastically cheap" range. But $17.95 for the prime rib dinner, with its generous size and high quality, is worth the drive, especially in these econoMICK times.


Awesome Meal - To The Max!

Today is Election Day, and an historic one at that. Amidst the many politically-charged emails I received today was one the foodie in me found most intriguing: an Election Day special - Buy One Entree, Get One Free at any of the Max Group restaurants, which are some of my local favorites. Thinking of their consistently fabulous food made with high-quality, seasonal ingredients, served with professionalism and flair, the pork chops I had planned to grill with who-knows-what on the side disappeared from my mind as I left Chris a voice-mail that we were going to Max's. Having already voted, the current dilemma was - which Max's??

We wanted to be relatively close to home, so that we could get home early enough to watch history in the making, so we chose Max Fish in nearby Glastonbury. Max Fish is set up a bit differently than other Max restaurants, with a dining room, a very large bar area, and a raw bar. In addition to the dinner menu, the bars serve what they call "Shark Bites," which are smaller, lighter and/or less expensive dishes. Rather than wait in the ever-increasing line we sat at the raw bar where we could order off either menu.

Jason was our server and he was very busy. Apparently another server is usually there to assist him, but tonight he was alone, serving 10 bar guests and shucking oysters and clams for the entire restaurant. Although he never stopped moving, Jason was attentive, funny and friendly. He made conversation and suggestions with ease, and we would definitely go back to sit at his bar again.

Chris loves oysters, and asked Jason which of the five available kinds he preferred. Without hesitation, he praised Wellfleets as the "sweetest" and told us how he had recently had gone there to participate in a shucking contest - doing well but being humbled by the more-practiced home team. Chris enjoyed the nice balance of sweetness and brininess these Massachusetts oysters offered.

For his entree, Chris ordered the Char-grilled Mahi Mahi. This seemingly small, but in reality, perfectly sized dish consisted of a 4-ounce piece of fish lightly seasoned, perfectly grilled, and served over green beans and rice in a butter sauce that had a nice toasty flavor with hints of lemon and mustard. The fish was flaky and tender, and the accompaniments were enhancing rather than overpowering. Chris ate every bite and pronounced it "delicious."

I'm not a huge fan of raw oysters, but I did partake in one of Chris' half-dozen. I added plenty of cocktail sauce and lemon, and did find it to be quite tasty, although I still wasn't crazy about the texture. When I was ready to order dinner, I asked super-shucker Jason what he thought of my getting the shrimp and scallop pot pie and he enthusiastically approved. The four or so large shrimp and several small bay scallops were served in a savory cream sauce with chopped herbs, caramelized shallots, diced carrots, and green peas. A perfectly browned, flaky puff pastry crust topped off this masterpiece of a pot pie. I can see myself going back for this entree often, especially as the days grow colder. It was comfort food at its finest.

Each entree cost a decent $15.95, but the added value of the "election offer" made for an exceptional meal at an exceptional price. The service was great, the ambiance exciting, and the night, memorable for so many good reasons. Here's to Election Day 2008 and to being an American in these interesting and exciting times.
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