Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dark Days Week 5: A very local Christmas

First of all, happy new year to all! This Little Monkey turns 1 year old today... here's looking forward to a tasty 2012 :)

I managed to have two SOLE-ful meals over the holidays this year, and am quite pleased with how they turned out. We usually do Christmas eve at our place with my mom, which we keep fairly simple (being an only child, the holidays were fairly low-key for me growing up) and Christmas day at B's family's zoo house which is a much more elaborate (and noisy) event.

For Christmas Eve, I chose to make :

To start, butternut squash and apple soup, garnished with cider cream and roasted squash seeds

And for the main course, seared Lac Brome duck breasts with roasted beets and carrots.

My mom contributed the appetizers and the rolls, and I did not require her to stick to the SOLE rules, so we won't count those ;) There was also supposed to be salad, but we all pigged out so much on the appetizers that we left the salad for another day.

The soup was extremely easy to make and I did it in advance, using a Bon Appetit recipe and local apples and squash, along with some homemade stock and local cream. I also made use of the butternut squash seeds to do the garnish, which were tasty, but when added to the soup got a little chewy, so it wasn't quite as impressive as I'd hoped. :P The beets and carrots were simply roasted in the oven and tossed with a bit of duck fat and seasoned. The duck itself was a Lac Brome duck and was, I'm quite proud to say, boned by yours truly. (And, of course, the entire time, I kept hearing Madam Brassart in Julie & Julia saying "Do you know how to bone a duck?") I had purchased two of the little beasts and while it wasn't a walk in the park, I did manage to get the four breasts removed with relative ease (and without mangling the meat!) and separate the thighs and legs for another recipe I'll be doing next week. The rest was set aside to make a nice big batch of stock. If you want to try the same, Alton Brown has a very good video tutorial in the second part of his episode "What's Up Duck?

If you haven't yet tried duck breast, I highly recommend that you do. It is no more difficult than cooking a steak, and the meat is heavenly. I prefer to cook mine on the rare side (as you see above).... just make sure you score the fat so that it can render off, and cook it in a nice, hot cast iron skillet (skin-side down first) for a few minutes on each side. The total time will of course depend on the thickness of the meat. Let it rest, then slice in medallions and serve! And don't toss the fat... it can be used to cook greens (as Alton does) or to cook up some wonderfully tasty potatoes... seriously, these are potatoes that will change your life. 

The next day, we headed to B's family's place and indulged in the usual gift opening and coffee drinking and snacking throughout the morning. The main event is dinner, and being in Quebec, their traditional meal items are a bit different than what I grew up with. While there was turkey to be had, the main dishes were actually Tourtière (which B's mom made) and Ragout de Pattes, which I was in charge of. Now, I've made the ragout before (you can find the post and recipe here), so it wasn't especially difficult to make, just time consuming. The hocks I used were local, organic hocks and were also freakin' *huge*, so I could only cook a couple at a time. Luckily this is a recipe that keeps well, so you can work in batches over a few days. I did the hocks and stock one evening, the meatballs another day (thanks to my mom for her help with those... I've never seem so many meatballs at once), and finally caramelized the onions, added the spices and made the roux (B's mom swears by browning flour in the oven to thicken hers, but I prefer to do it with a bit of fat on the stovetop) the night before, finishing it all on the stove to thicken right before service. Serve with potatoes and enjoy the porky goodness ;) Being a slow-cooking stew, this is a dish that improves in flavor if made in advance, and it freezes well, too. 

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