Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What the duck? Roti, pan sauce, and cookware selection

From Drop Box

With your shotgun, go outside when it's cold, wait for some ducks to fly over, and kill a couple of them.  Don't forget your duck stamps, waders, etc. could go to your local grocery store (or particularly Asian market) and pick up some duck breasts or a whole duck.  The duck breasts can be frozen, that's not a problem.  As with anything frozen, you've got to get the water out of it.  You can do this by letting it sit in the fridge uncovered as the humidity of the fridge is generally pretty low (hence the reason for humidity drawers that prevent veggies from drying out).

Pan-roasted duck breast with glazed baby carrots

Notice the polarity of the duck breasts, one side has the skin, the other does not (if you got something like I used).  The presentation side is the skin side, and has the most flavor.  The subcutaneous fat sits right under the skin, and provides a bunch of flavor as well.  If you watched the Top Chef finale, one of the contestants made fried chicken skin and squash casserole for his first course.  Bold!  Dry rub the duck breasts with about equal parts chili powder, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne.  Preheat the oven to 400. Heat your pan to somewhere around 350-400, which is close to the smoke point of butter and olive oil.  A useful tool for this is an infrared thermometer which you can use to measure the temperature of your pan.  This was a Christmas gift I got this year (thanks Cartwrights!).  If you don't have one, rely on when you see smoke coming from your fat. 

Which pan do you use?
Why do folks pay so much money for clad pans?  Sadly, it may have something to do with one being shinier than the other.  I won't get that far into metallurgy, but some points are worth considering.  Pans that hold heat well won't cool off very quickly when you either take them off heat or when you add something cold.  They're ideal for searing meat or filling with oil for frying (cast iron skillet, enameled cast iron dutch oven).  Other pans are great heat conductors, meaning they take the heat from the flame and efficiently turn that into radiant heat.  When they're off the flame, they cool quickly.  THIS is where you get your money's worth.  The model for this is copper cookware which is great, but costs a fortune and is difficult to clean.  The clad cookware (All-Clad) will frequently have a copper core.  This translates to you as this:  the better the conduction, (1) the lower the flame for the same job and (2) more quickly it cools when you take it off heat.  You want (2) for some applications because it will prevent you from over cooking.
Which pan would you use for the duck, then?  My ideal preparation would involve seared, crispy skin with a consistent doneness throughout.  Either the clad pan or the cast iron would work great.  The clad pan advantage is in making the pan sauce because it heats up and cools off quickly, so that's the one I used.

From Drop Box

The higher the temperature you "set" the skin side when you initially sear the duck, the less you have to worry about uneven cooking.  With varying oils, know the smoke points, heat your pan to high, and put the meat on at the temperature you want.  Realize that a pan with good conduction will cool off slightly when you add the meat, less so with cast iron or warmer meat.  From there, it's just like grilling, take it out of the oven when the juices are clear.  After you quickly sear the skin, put it in the pan and into the oven.  There are a lot of different ways to do this, so experiment.
  • Sear one side, flip, and roast.  This works great because it gets your pan up to the roasting temperature.  It needs only enough time one the burner to get your pan back up to temperature after you added the meat.  The longer you temper (let it come to room temperature) your meat, the shorter your searing time will be.
  • Sear both sides, roast.  This might result in overcooking one side.
  • Sear neither side, roast, and crisp under the broiler afterwards.  May work well, ideally you want your pan to be at temperature so you get even cooking.  Crisping the skin works great, particularly for poultry.
Like with any roasted meat, it needs to rest substantially, so do this on a rack so that steam doesn't build up and overcook the bottom side.  You may think I'm kidding; I'm not.  If you carve too soon, the juices won't have a chance to spread out.  The pan sauce was made by pouring off the excess fat, deglazing with orange juice and reducing until thickened, adding a little butter and salt to get it right, and pouring over served family style.  Accompanying this, I served it with glazed carrots.  You can find a recipe for this on Eric Ripert's website.

From Drop Box

Ratio application: muffins

Did you know that the batter for banana nut bread is the same as it is for muffins?  I didn't know that for a long time, and until recently I had not eaten muffins that were not either store-bought or made from a store-bought package of ingredients.

There's no mystery to this.  This is a little more complicated of a ratio, but a ratio nonetheless.  Think of it as 3 parts:  wet ingredients, dry ingredients, and additives.  You can hand mix it, or do it in you stand mixer, if you'd like, using your whisk attachment.

2 parts liquid
1 part egg
1 part fat.

For my liquid I used milk, for the fat I used melted butter.  4 oz of eggs = 2 large eggs.

2 parts flour
Sugar to taste (about 1 part)
Leavening agent
Good pinch of salt.

For my flour, I  used regular AP flour, the sugar was regular granular sugar, the leavening agent was baking powder about 1 tsp per 4 oz of flour (you knew that was the ratio of flour to baking powder, right?).

1 ripe about to throw away banana, diced
1/4 cup of chopped pecans.

Mix the wet ingredients first until well-combined.  You can sift your dry ingredients in, mix them separately then combine slowly, or throw caution to the wind and just dump the whole thing in.  The quicker you can combine the ingredients, the less tough your finished product will be (thanks, gluten).
Cook them on 325 convection bake (350 regular) until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Variations on the theme
  • For the muffins I substituted Splenda for half of the sugar. Remember that Splenda does not substitute 1:1 for granular by weight, but is intended to do so by volume. That means you need to figure out the volume of your sugar.  Sugar isn't part of the ratio, but added at 1 part is a good start.
  • Other additives can be dried fruits like cranberries, cherries, figs, apricots, candied orange peels, etc.
  • Blueberries go great, classic combination!
  • You can sub a little oil for half of the butter if you'd like without major failure.  I did it on the muffins because I ran out of butter.
  • Especially for things with nuts, think about adding brown butter.  How to make, you ask?  Just add heat to your melted butter, don't burn it! 
  • Why not chocolate and chocolate chips?  Raspberry and white chocolate?  Bacon and asparagus? 
  • For a different texture, try varying gluten flours such as cake flour vs bread flour.  Find your balance of lightness vs texture/crust.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


What's the big deal with salt, anyway?  I have to admit that before I started paying a little more attention to what I was doing, I was one of those people that on occasion would salt food without tasting it.  Now, I don't think I would ever do that, but hey, you live and you learn.  If you go to the gourmet food shop or even your local grocery store, you'll find several varieties of salt that are not interchangeable.  I dug through the pantry and found a few to offer for illustration.

From Drop Box

Clockwise from the top left these are:
  1. Kosher salt
  2. Fleur de Sel
  3. Grey salt from Colima, Mexico
  4. Regular iodized table salt
  5. Kona salt from Hawaii
    Close up pictures illustrate a few points.

    From Drop Box

    When you look at kosher salt up close, there is some irregularity to the size of the crystals. I've heard a lot of theories about why it is the preferred cooking salt of a lot of chefs, I think it has more to do with texture and the ability to better feel how much you're putting in. Believe it or not, with very little practice, you can feel how much a tsp of kosher salt feels like.  It also seems to have a lower salinity which is a good thing because you want to use salt as a seasoning agent, being careful to not overpower the dish.  This is not a finishing salt. More on that, next....

    From Drop Box
    Fleur de sel

    Fleur de sel, on the other hand is fairly uniform in size, beautiful and clear, and works great as a finishing salt. When or why would you use finishing salt, you may ask? The beauty of finishing salt is having a nicely textured, fine crystal of salt explosion while you're eating something. Beware that you'll only be salting the outer surface, so don't use this technique when you have something thick that needs uniform salinity. I use this on grilled bread, vegetable sautee that I have purposely left undersalted, thin meats and fish, citrus, etc.

    From Drop Box
    Grey salt

    The grey salt I have pictured here is nonuniform in size, but has a much more mineral flavor than regular kosher salt. The size differences make it a little less useful than fleur de sel for a finishing salt, but this one does have a similar flavor burst and delicate texture that the other has. Interesting one to try!

    From Drop Box
    Table salt

    Regular table salt. Fine, small crystals that add a uniform salinity to whatever you're seasoning, fit nice in a shaker, and is easy to measure. This type of salt may be easier to use in baking, dissolves readily because of the small crystals. It doesn't have the texture of kosher salt, so it may be a little trickier to take a pinch of it and know what you're getting. Still useful, don't throw it all away, but in my house, it took 20 minutes of scouring through the kitchen to find a salt shaker. I don't set them out anymore. If you're eating my food, you have to trust me that I seasoned it correctly.

    From Drop Box
    Kona salt

    Hawaiian Kona salt is fun because it's black, from the effect of volcanic rock. This makes it a little trompe l'oeil, "fools the eye." Use this as a fake out with white pepper. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out ways to use this, and haven't really settled on anything. The salinity seems a little higher in this one than others, and it has a unique visual effect.

    There are tons of other options out there that I haven't tried, feel free to experiment!

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009


    Great weekend in the ATL with Knothead. Drove up Saturday afternoon, and despite miserable weather, was giddy about eating at Craft. (Yes! Colicchio has a restaurant in Atlanta, seems to be a trend of "celebrity" chefs of late). Because of the horrific traffic near Lenox/Phipps and the fact that it was cold and raining sideways, we decided to drop in early for our 730 reservations and have a few drinks at the bar. When we arrived at 640, they asked if we would like to be seated that's what we did and planned to make a full night of it (much to the chagrin of our waitress, who didn't turn our table over once, ha!).

    First of all, we elected to eat at Craft Bar, not quite as intimate as Craft, and even though we were near midtown, had little desire to be viewed as a "couple". When entering Craft Bar, I was struck by the awesome firepit where lots of tasty meats were being grilled over mahogany and white oak...excellent first impression.

    After much debate, we decided to order single items for sharing in a methodical order, allowing enough recovery time in between sucessive dishes to avoid over bloatation. We failed miserable, but powered through 7 dishes.

    First, we starteds with Risotto balls, listed as a snack. 3 perfectly cripy risotto balls arrived filled with what I believe was a mascarpone cheesse mixture...nice start.

    Second, Pork belly, apple, curry, maple syrup. I can't tell you have good this freaking thing was...I'll be dreaming about this dish for months. I am definitely going to have to find a pork belly purveyor in the near future.

    Third, Sweetbreads, bacon jam, kumquat. All I can say here is, "very interesting". The sweetbreads were perfectly fried and almost pillowy and creamy on the inside. The bacon jam was interesting, but way too salty. I ruined half of my experience with this dish by smearing a huge dollop of this stuff onto my first bite of sweetbread. All I could taste was salt for 10 minutes, and I tried to clense my taste buds by swilling some vino, but alas... I didn't like the kumquat whatsoever. It was candied and tasted too much like an orange slice candy. Got nothing against those things, but I didn't think went with the rest of the dish. Kevin liked the whole thing, and he was reluctant to even taste it.

    Short rib cannelloni. Wow. My favorite of the night. Sounds good, doesn't it! Colicchio is a master of the braise, but it was the sauce that made this truly rememberable. The sauce was a dark sauce, ?veal-based. It was a bit sweet and had red and green peppers. It tasted like a refined version of a gumbo. There certainly was some alcohol as well, perhaps this was the sweet we tasted, Sherry?

    Veal meatballs, pappardelle. This was my least favorite dish. Not because it wasn't good, but because I could make something identical at home on any given weeknight. It was kind of a play on spaghetti and meatballs, the canned kind you'd eat as a kid. The sauce was a similar thick, orange colored sauce as the canned stuff.

    Carrot, oat, ice cream sandwich. If you like carrot cake, you'd LOOOOVE this. Very simple and doable at home. Basically you had "carrot cake" oatmeal cookies with a cream cheese ice cream filling. Fabulous!

    Finally, Smores, homemade graham crackers, homemade marshmallows, fancy chocolate cooked over that fabulous fire pit. Good stuff.

    Arrived at 640, left at 1040, in bed by 11. Didn't eat again until 1PM the next day. Cheeseburger and a Miller at the Falcons/Saints game. Not a bad weekend at all.


    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Are you afraid of the silence?

    Who's going to be the next defensive coordinator at UGA?  The silence is deafening.  I really think we'd be in better position had we made our move last year.  Look at the competition this year, which is significant:  UF and FSU.  These are schools that are recruiting out of our backyard, and we're having to fight with them over a defensive coach, now?  Like MNF, "C'mon, man?!?!?"

    Don't get me wrong.  I've got the utmost faith in Richt about choosing someone that's more than capable of filling the vacancy, but it would be nice to hear something about interviews or at least discussions with someone other than Kirby Smart (forget it, seriously?) and Bud Foster (even bigger pipedream).  CMR is a man of faith, and I guess he's pushing ours to the limit.  The upside is the donation to the Hartmann fund is likely to be less than it was a couple of years ago.  So at least we've got that going for us.  Which is freaking nice.

    I'm still in, lock stock, and barrel.  But I don't have to like it.

    Frankly, I'm nervous, and becoming more nervous with every passing hour.


    Didn't you get it?
    (go 'dawgs, sic 'em, woof woof woof woof woof)

    WTP2 College Football Bowl Pool

    The 5th annual White Trash Porch Party College Football Bowl Pool is up at Fun Office Pools dot com. CLICK HERE to play. Picks are due by Saturday. Forward this link to your friends. More players = more in the kitty. If the link does not work, copy into the address field of your browser.

    Pool Name: White Trash Porch Party 2009-2010 Football Bowl Pool


    Caramelized pecan tart

    Pecan.  The way I see it, there are three ways to say this word, and at least one of them is wrong. I say this being a self-proclaimed authority as I'm from Mitchell County, GA, one of the top pecan-producing counties in the entire country. And when the old-timers down there say PEE-KANS, then by God, that's how you say it.  You can say pi-KAHN ("pin" not "pie") if you'd like. Just please don't say PEE-KAHN.

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. And if you really like pecans, check out this link to my uncle and cousin's farm. (No disclosures to report.)

    From Drop Box

    This is a recipe in two parts. One for the crust, and the other for the filling.
    I've wrestled with the pastry dough recipe for a few months, and I think I've finally found something that works for me. This is fun recipe because it strings a bunch of techniques together all into one, and I think it helps you become a better cook for other stuff. Here are the rules:

    1. Pie dough should be made with low-gluten flour or else it will be tough and shrink (it shrinks?). Low-gluten flour includes White Lily, Swansdown, and King Arthur cake flour. In general, the further north the flour comes from, the higher the gluten, having something to do with the grain variety and cold weather.
    2. There's a tradeoff between ease of use (Crisco or shortening) and flavor (butter). Butter gets too soft at room temperature or more precisely kitchen temperature, and if it forms a dough paste instead of staying flaky, the game's over.
    3. Acids and sugar make for softer dough because of their interaction with gluten.
    4. Add flavorings to your dough depending on what you're making (eg. cinnamon, nutmeg, grated parmesan, etc.).  Use the microplane grater.
    5. Sugar will set harder the higher the finishing temperature.

    Tart-dough (pate sucre) for 10-inch tart pan

    300gm low gluten flour
    200gm butter (or 50/50 Crisco and butter)
    1 tsp of salt
    1/4 cup of sugar

    Pulse this in the food processor until it looks like oatmeal or at worst coarse, wet sand. You can do this in a large bowl with the pastry blender, but it takes longer, and if it's not going well, you may have to take a break and stick in the freezer. Main thing is not letting the butter melt and form a paste.  Since it's winter time, do it outside.

    Add ice water a couple of tbsp at a time until the dough is wet enough to come together. This DOES NOT necessarily mean to pulse it until it forms a ball. Once you can get it together, wrap in plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Normally that would be while you're working on your filling, but not this one. After the 30 minutes, take it out of the fridge, and roll to about 1cm or 1/4 inch or so. Blind bake it at around 400F in your tart shell until just brown, don't forget to put parchment paper or foil down with pie weights (pinto beans that you can reuse).


    1 1/4 cup of light brown sugar
    1/2 cup honey
    1 tsp salt
    1 1/2 sticks of butter
    1/2 - 1 cup of water (optional)

    Put all of this in at smallest a 2.5 quart saucepan, preferably 3 qt, and heat it until it turns amber and starts to foam a little bit, about 10 minutes.

    1 cup heavy cream
    1-2 tsp of curry powder (trust me)

    You'll need a candy thermometer to do this, or some experience making candy. Add your final ingredients, and bring to high heat. If you have a lot of water in there, it may take longer to get to your target heat.

    Here's where you can diverge a little. If you have a candy thermometer, you want the mixture to get to 240F and immediately take off heat. If you don't have a thermometer, you can set up a cup of ice water and intermittently slide a few drops of your candy into the water. It sets immediately, and that's going to be the final consistency. You want caramel (soft ball stage), probably not as chewy as tootsie rolls. Remember, the higher the heat, the harder the candy. Of course you can try this way (from Ian Kelly's biography of Antonin Careme, Cooking for Kings)

    • Freezing his hand first in iced water, Antonin then plunged it straight into the boiling sugar, and back into the cold. A kitchen-boy gasped - CarĂªme's patissier trick never failed to impress. He repeated the process, then took a knife, dipped it into the top of the sugar-lava and then into the cup of water. He brought it straight out, cracking the crystalline sugar clean from the knife and announced in his thick Parisian accent, 'Cassa.' The sugar was cracked and ready to spin. Antonin stood back from the stove with the first spouted pan. He held the base mould at his waist and raised the pan to head height and started to pour. The thread of sugar fell towards the mould, like a perfect skein of hot wax, and Antonin laced it round in one continuous movement.

    When you get the consistency you want, act quickly. Pour the caramel into your tart shell, drop some pecan halves in there (about 1/2-3/4 pound). My picture shows a full pound, which is too much.  You can put the pie back into the oven at high temperature for a couple of minutes. What this will do is harden the top of your candy and the exposed pecans. Don't leave it for more than 5 minutes or so. The caramel will continue to cook making it too chewy.

    Final notes

    • The curry powder isn't necessary but it adds a nice sharp tang to it, just don't add too much.
    • The salt is in it because most everything needs a little salt to add accent to flavor.  According to Thomas Keller, the only seasoning agents are salt and acid.  Pepper is a flavored spice.
    • You can add water to the caramel mixture as you start to use the "wet method."  This may make it take a little longer to get to your target temperature, but sometimes that extra time is nice.
    • The higher the butter percentage of your pastry dough, the colder it needs to stay.  Shortening is easy to use because it's solid at room or kitchen temperature.  Butter starts to melt at 75 or so.  An average kitchen with an oven on is hotter than that.
    • Blind baking is a useful technique because fillings may frequently finish at a different time than the crust.  Most recipes you can cook filling and crust separately, and put them together at the end.
    • If you don't have brown sugar, you can make caramel with regular granular sugar.  I've made it this way and I used molassess instead of honey.  It's a slightly different flavor profile, but still comes out great.  Brown sugar makes it darker (obviously), but the addition of molasses, corn syrup, or honey adds a non-sucrose sugar to the mixture that helps prevent crystallization.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Not As Bad As It Could Be

    No, really, it's not. Truett Cathy should have paid more attention to who was selected for his namesake bowl. The Hello Kiffy machine at UT is being investigated by the NCAA in the middle of recruiting season, for sending ho's to high school games of potential recruits with signs and other "sundries". And that's just since Kiffy took over.

    And on the Dawg front, I was listening to the pre-game show before the UGA vs. St. Johns basketball game tonight (12/9) in Madison Square Garden, and Scott Howard offered this statistic: Georgia Basketball is 10-47 (or maybe it was 42?) in non-neutral away games in the past 6 years - that's a win percentage of 17.5%. There are just 3 t0 5 neutral games per season.
    Just think about the football program having that type of winning percentage, and be thankful Mark Richt has been a 10 win per season coach til this year.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009


    You gotta know that the past few years have been tough for CMR, culminating in agony over the last 2-3 days, despite the win at Tech.  I wonder if the demeanor that we saw from him when he got doused in Gatorade was because he knew he was going to have to do something almost unthinkable and didn't feel like celebrating.

    We'll probably never know, just like we'll never know why he fired both Jancek and Fabris, although either one probably had some probable cause in their bodies of work.  He did say that it was to make more room for CWM's successor, but maybe that was a contingency of someone they already had in mind.

    One thing seems clear to me, though.  Richt is dead serious about moving the Dawgs in the right direction, and didn't make a half-hearted decision.  Does he already have a replacement in mind?  I'm almost positive that he does, or else you wouldn't have seen the move that was made today when he fired Martinez, Fabris, and Jancek.  Who the replacements will be obviously remains to be seen, but they have acknowledged to the fan base that the bar has been raised, and the status quo wasn't cutting it.

    Again, our football future lives in dangerous times, because we're about to be in competition with the biggest dog on the block for a defensive coordinator.  The rumors are that Charlie Strong (DC at Florida) is being considered for head coach at Louisville which would leave that job vacant, but they aren't going to approach him until after the SECCG.  Expect UGA to make a quick and fierce move, maybe even this week.

    The fate of Rodney Garner

    I guess you have to ignore most everything that I predicted last night, because I was just proven wrong by CMR today.  The one thing that hasn't been decided yet is what's going to happen with Coach Garner.  By all accounts, he's a helluva recruiter, bonds well with the kids, and is integral to the program.  But if I had to guess, I'd say that there's something off under the surface.  David Hale reported some interesting stuff about him that suggest if he's not promoted to DC, he's gone.  Could be, don't know, and without inside knowledge of the program, it's hard to say what affect that will have.

    So, hold on to your hats, change is coming.  Of course, there's no guarantee that it will be for the better, but one can only hope.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    From the Munson Archives, circa 2006

    "We are on the 4 1/2 yard line, third-down. You win or you lose here. 12 to 7, Georgia Tech. Mikey Henderson has come in, which means...if we can get the ball to him...speed.... Tech at the moment in a four-man line. we got four receivers out wide, Stafford retreats, looks, pumps, throw... TOUCHDOWN!! TOUCHDOWN!! TOUCHDOWN!! MY GOD A TOUCHDOWN!! TOUCHDOWN!! TOUCHDOWN!!
    (crowd roars and barks) MASSAQUOI!!!!"

    "Dan, did you see this? He did this, he didn't throw, and he just stood there."

    "Stafford is in a shotgun, we want a two-point play. Massaquoi goes in motion. And Stafford now running to the right," (Bobo from the booth next door "There it is!!!") "...fires... and its COMPLETE!!! We caught it 1 yard in, Massaquoi! Now you've got 105 seconds to hang on, don't celebrate now, for God sakes! 15-12, we lead. 15-12, we gotta hang on, 105 seconds, and were too TIRED to hang on!"

    Fortunately, we hung on.  I frequently find myself thinking about how many seconds are left in the game, even in the first quarter.  God, I miss Munson.

    30-24, the Governor's Cup returns to it's rightful home.

    You only need to look at the tape under Washaun's eyes to know that the guys in red and black came ready to play.  Quite simply, they



    Yes, you did.  To the tune of 339 yards.  Maybe that could be the new area code for Tech's campus.
    The good news for Tech is that their pants were the same color before and after they pissed themselves in classic Reggie Ball fashion.  How sweet the taste of Tech's tears- I could live off the stuff if you could bottle it!
    Go DAWGS, thanks for an interesting year that resulted in the bottom of too many bottles.
    Go to HELL Jackets, see ya next year in Athens!!

    Football expectations and predictions.

    • Coach Martinez will not be fired.  He might resign, but he won't be fired.
    • Coach Garner will leave.  Interestingly, he has not signed a contract, and all things point to his having a bad relationship with Damon Evans.  This might hurt the team because of his recruiting and nurturing of several players, but is there already a rift between him and other coaches, players, and/or the administration?  Maybe in the big picture, it will help, but he's going to be hard to replace.
    • Coach Fabris will not leave, but Richt will step up and visibly ramp up the special teams coverage.
    • We're going to struggle to fill the DC spot if it comes vacant.
    • Aaron Murray is going to be the starter next year.
    • Bobo and Searles are quite secure.
    • Bryan Evans is going to get a raise.
    BTW-check out the link to these game pictures by a fellow named Josh Weiss.
    Anyone else with any thoughts about it?