Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Stuff and Some Duck Pasta

I've been back in the kitchen a bit more this week. My brains haven't exactly been working overtime with new recipes, so I have been going through the mental Rolodex of blogger recipes I have wanted to ruin try cooking. Earlier this week it was Cathy's Margarita Chicken. I didn't even deviate from the recipe with the exception of using breasts instead of thighs (free range breasts were available at the store so I thought it was better to use them). I realize how much I like tequilia. I must find other ways to use it in recipes.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant with a friend, maybe in an area you don't know, and you just go along and don't even pay much attention to what the restaurant was or where it was, and then you eat something divine, but you can't really return to the place again because you don't remember the name or how to find it again?

No? Okay, so I guess it's just me.

Many many moons ago I was on a trip to D.C. with an ex boyfriend and we stayed in some seedy hotel in Vienna, VA. The morning we left we had a late breakfast in a diner down the street. The diner was heavily advertising a chocolate cake that had won a prize at a local chocolate festival. XBF and I decided to order it. (Hey, I said it was a LATE breakfast.) The base was a brownie studded with PB and butterscotch chips. It was topped with layers of white and dark chocolate mousse. Then it was enrobed in more dark chocolate crisscrossed with white chocolate ribbons to make the cake look like a wrapped package.

I don't remember the name of the diner. I only remember the cake. I know I will never go back there. I don't ever have reasons to go to D.C. with the hubby and I am sure that he would not want to stay in that hotel if we did. I'm sure he'd love the cake though. I wish I could find that diner and see if the deliver.

Let's spring forward about 3 years. I befriended a guy named John on an internet forum. He was really in love with Chinatown. After chatting via email and on the forum he got me really interested in the area. He suggested we try having lunch. He would introduce me to his favorite dim sum place.

The day we met we met up on a corner kind of on the edge of where Chinatown starts. He led me through the streets - all unfamiliar to me - to a bridge. There was a mall attached to that bridge. It wasn't a particularly glamorous mall. There were more stalls than stores. It was sort of like a flea market. At one end we came to a grand staircase that looked almost out of place. At the top was a beautiful Chinese restaurant.

This was my first dim sum experience. The carts came by and the servers pushing them spoke little English. John advised me to "just point to whatever looks good." Plenty looked good! We must have sampled everything. It was a great meal and very reasonably priced. We were charged by the piece, so we could have made the meal as cheap or expensive as we wanted. After lunch, he took me to another place where I tried bubble tea for the first time.

John and I fell out of touch after a while after he left the forum we were both part of. We never had dim sum together again. Since that day I have only had it one other time.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about that place. Top Chef did that dim sum episode that really had me craving dim sum and it jarred memories of that weird restaurant. What was it? What was the name? Where was it? Thanks to Google Maps I could certainly find it again if I had the address.

I looked up John on Facebook. I figured it would be nice to talk to him again anyway and see how he's doing. He doesn't appear to have an account. I decided that the best thing to do was to ask people in the know. I put a posting on Chowhound (although doing stuff like that makes me nervous because you never know how people will respond).

Within minutes I had an answer. The restaurant is called 88 Palace. Chowhounders were able to recognize the place just from my description, although of course I had to deal with those snooty foodies who needed to tell me how bad it was and all of the "good" places I need to try instead. I could find it on a Google map easily.

Of course now that I know where it is doesn't mean I'll go back. I can't really see my husband shlepping all of the way down to Chinatown (he's not a below 14th street kind of guy) just for dim sum. My thought is that it would be a great place if friends wanted to meet in the city, or if I had out-of-town guests looking for an adventure. I'm lucky that I do get one or two of those now and then.

Always great to find a "lost" place. If only I could find more of that chocolate cake!

So what's on tap for orginal recipes lately?

It seems that this is the week when I take most of my inspiration from other bloggers, although in this case, the inspiration led me pretty far away from the original recipe.

After reading about this recipe on We Are Never Full I found myself covered in drool and wish for some foie gras ravioli.

I can't say I was terribly motivated to replicate that recipe though. I just don't hvae the time or patience to be filling ravioli (even though they have a new baby and have way more of an excuse not to do such a thing). Besides my wallet and waistline are both saying that pate and foie gras are not something they would like to go up against.

Still, I could not get the idea of a nice, hearty winter pasta dish, just a little rich, a little luxurious, and containing at least some duck fat, out of my head. How could I make a duck pasta?

I did a bit of googling around and came up with this recipe.

Duck foie gras may be out of my league, but how about some duck confit legs? Duck confit is another thing I'm not likely to make myself. It's not just because of the time factor, but also because I'd go broke trying to procure the amount of duck fat necessary to make it.

Caramelize some onions in duck fat. Add some carrots for sweetness.

This looks good enough to stick your face in with just the duck...

...but some red wine is necessary along with sweet spices.

Serve with a hearty pasta. I used spirals here although I would have preferred penne or rigatoni. They only had shells, spaghetti, or spirals at the store in the gluten-free varieties. I think my gluten-free experiment may be coming to an end. We just can't seem to commit. I try to be gluten-free in my own kitchen (although I will often use regular flour in baked goods when I'm baking for people outside my family), but when we're out all bets seem to be off. I manage to stay off sandwiches much of the time, but not all of it, while Kevin eats them regularly on weekends. Gluten free bread tends to crumble to dust when you bite it making sandwiches hard to eat when you use it. If Kevin truly has intolerances, he's managed to live with whatever issues they cause and I get the impression he'd rather live with it than give up gluten entirely. We have certainly cut back on a lot of refined grain products thanks to this experiment and I think we got that much out of it, so I will certainly continue to think about these things going forward.

Don't forget to top it with some pecorino. This dish was amazing. It made the house smell wonderful and it tasted even better. It's definitely a keeper for cold winter night.

Pasta with Duck Confit Ragu

2 onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbl duck fat
2 carrots cut into small pieces
2 duck confit legs torn into pieces
1 cup red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef stock
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta (use a macaroni type rather than spaghetti type)
Grated pecorino to serve

Melt duck fat over low heat in a large skillet. Add onions and cook slowly until they turn golden and soft (about 30-40 minutes). Add carrots to the pan and cook until they begin to soften.

Add the duck confit to the pan and stir to incorporate them into the mixture. Add the wine, cinnamon, and stock and scrape up any brown bits.

Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.

Season with salt and pepper. You really won't need much salt.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions for time. Drain and serve with sauce.

Top with pecorino.


bellini valli said...

Many times we hare haunted by dishes we tried while travelling. We used to hit the dim sum places every Sunday for brunch years ago...whatever happened to those days.

Polwig said...

Can't help you with the chocolate place maybe will search for it next time in dc but I am never in Vienna. The duck confit looks great

The Blonde Duck said...

I'm always craving dishes from somewhere else!

Sue said...

Interesting story. I have to admit I wasn't sure where you were going with it when you said you were meeting some guy you'd met online. I'm glad it had a happy (and safe) ending.

Yummy recipe.

Emily said...

Mmm duck pasta. It looks very good.

I wish I could recreate that chocolate cake recipe for you. I don't think I could though... I don't know I would make the mousse. I'm going to try googling that cake and see what I can find.

Maybe we could get dim sum when I come into town someday? With Sue, too. :) I'm doing my best to win a trip.

Sue said...

I'm in!!! Hurry up and win!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Val - I ask myself that question a lot. Getting older and becoming a real grownup is no fun sometimes.

Polwig - I can't imagine people having too much reason to be in Vienna - other than that chocolate cake!

Duckie - Sad fact of life, isnt' it?

Sue- You made me laugh. I did make that meeting sound a bit dangerous didn't I? We definitely do need Emily to win!

Em - Sending winning vibes to you...
I think to recreate the cake the brownie bottom would be easy. You would need to make the mousses sturdy enough to mold into the box shape, be layered on top of each other, and stand up to having the chocolate coating cover them (it was probably ganache). That could probably be achieved with gelatin.

Pam said...

Interesting post and I wasn't sure where it was leading either. Ahhh, the memories of some fantatastic foods in restaurants. That cake sounds great!

Table Talk said...

This is a really nice comfort dish to help combat this crazy cold winer we're having!

The Blonde Duck said...

Have a good weekend!

katiez said...

Duck confit is cheap here.... and a good source of duck fat, since that's what it's packed in - not the nice, clean legs you have LOL
Love the pasta dish.
I can relate to the memories of wonderful food in lost places....

CookiePie said...

I loved your story! And that pasta sounds amazing. Girl, I would meet you for dim sum anytime! We also have a cool Chinatown in Brooklyn :)