Tonight was my "impromptu" dinner party featuring the infamous duck. I started getting dinner ready at about 10:00 this morning. First I needed to make the pastry cream. I love pastry cream because it isn't actually made with cream. It is slightly finnicky, but I'd always much rather make pastry cream than eclair cream. Basically you mix the dry ingredients (cornstarch, flour, sugar and salt) with eggs, then you heat up milk and sugar and mix that into the egg mixture. Then you heat that until it thickens, add butter and vanilla and put it in an ice water bath. Voila. I then did some cleaning and cut up most of the veggies I would need for my other dishes. I also defrosted the duck in cold water. I had pulled it from the freezer as soon as it was confirmed that the dinner party was a go yesterday, but it didn't defrost fast enough in the fridge. So it needed an hour in the cold water and it was good to go. I made up the Pesto Orzo Salad and then tackled the duck. Deboning a duck is considerably easier than deboning a chicken - except for the drumstick, but I'll get to that in a bit. Duck meat is much leaner than chicken meat and while ducks have a lot of fat on them, it is clumped together as a thick layer under the skin. When you are cutting up chickens the fat is marbled throughout - a little bit here, a little bit there. I did not, in fact, spatch-cock the duck as I said I would. The first thing I did was I carved the breasts off. This was remarkably easy since the meat was still partly frozen - much easier to cut. I found the center cartiledge between the breasts and carved down from there. I took the knife all the way from there to basically the drumsticks. There's very little "other" meat on a duck. You have wings, breasts, legs... and then fat. The breasts came off in one piece and that took care of the meat on the top of the duck. Next I tried to get the drumsticks off and I couldn't! That was the hardest part of the whole thing. Normally a little twist and the bone pops out and then you pull it right out but maybe it was the lack of fat, maybe it was the duck, maybe it was me, but it took me a long time and a lot of different tactics to get that drumstick apart. I finally got it loose from the carcass with an extra bone sticking out and managed to twist that one off. The wings came right off and I managed to get enough good meat off the back to put in the rice paper rolls. Once all the meat was off I put it in the fridge for the meanwhile and moved on to other things. I made the crust for the fruit tart - 4 sheets of phyllo folded into a large loaf pan, butter spread on each layer and sugar sprinkled on top. It baked great. My sister-in-law came over at around 4 and then the real fun started :) We threw together the Mango Slaw fairly quickly and then I put on the Prune Coffee Syrup. First you cook up some onions and then you add 12 prunes, 10 oz coffee, 3 tbsp honey and 2 cinnamon sticks. Man, my house smelled amazing! Once that was done we made up the Coconut Shrimp which were super tasty by the way. Then I finished off the tart by layering the pastry cream on the phyllo crust, then laying out kiwi, strawberries and blueberries on top. I also threw on a gel glaze - you buy the mix, add sugar and water and it's done in 2 minutes. That brought us to about 5:10 and the next half hour was a blur. I started with the duck breast. We had pulled it from the fridge about half an hour before (recommended so that it doesn't shrink when you cut it). I scored the skin and fat on top in a little checker design so that the fat could seep out. I then cooked it, skin side down, in a tiny bit of oil over medium-high for 5 minutes (no lid) then I turned down the heat to medium-low and cooked it on the same side for 5 more minutes. By the end of that time the skin was nice a crispy. I then flipped it and covered it (thankfully because the grease sure was flying) and cooked it for 5 more minutes and it was perfect. I let it sit a couple minutes before I sliced it, and when I did cut it the middle was perfectly pink and the outside was wonderfully crispy. In the meantime I also made up the balsamic reduction (3/4 c. balsamic vinegar and 1/2 tbsp honey) which was infinitely better than the last one I had made. I did not bother with the l'orange because, well, I didn't feel like it. I know, I know, I made duck and it wasn't l'orange but really, these sauces were much better in my opinion. I then plated the duck and made sure the table was set and moved the ready food out to there. Back in the kitchen I cooked up the duck meat for the rice paper rolls and the vermicelli rice noodles. Once those were ready we rolled them up and got them out of the table. I pulled the shrimp out from the oven (they baked a little long simply because company was late so dinner started late, but that was okay) and I mixed up some fruit puree sodas with sugared rims. Matt's buddy got here just after 6 and we sat down to eat - it was awesome. My sister-in-law preferred the Prune Coffee Syrup on the duck and while I really did like that, I preferred the Balsamic reduction, as did Matt. The Rice Paper Rolls were awesome, we used a teriyaki sauce in them and it went great with the duck. Once all of the duck and shrimp were gone I brought out dessert and that was great too. It's amazing how good something so simple tastes - granted the pastry cream is a bit harder than whipping up a cake mix but I got it all ready before Gabe woke up this morning and then it was just layering things really. My sister-in-law left right after dessert unfortunately, but our other guest stayed until about 9:30 so we got to see his pictures from France (there were a lot of pictures of doors and old men, it was actually quite interesting) and then we talked for a couple hours. It was a busy day, but a good one. And now, my kitchen is a mess (which it sure wasn't this morning), my body is tired (which it may have been this morning) and my duck is gone (which it definately wasn't this morning). I do have the drumsticks left and while I won't get to eat them for dinner tomorrow, I may make them up for Gabe's babysitters tomorrow night - his aunt and uncle from Edmonton. We'll see :) I did indeed preserve my duck fat, or liquid gold as it is referred to in the culinary world, and Matt thinks I'm crazy for keeping it.
I'm in a happy place right now. Gabe is in bed, I can hear the rain just starting to drizzle, I spent the evening enjoying good company and good conversation... oh, and I just polished off the leftover fruit tart! Today was a good day.
Mrs. Vander Leek ;)