The Five D's: Duck, Dip, Date, Doc, Duck
Defining a menu based on the letter 'D' is no simple task, yet that was precisely the mandate for Slashfood's D Day event. If daikon, deep-fried, and dulse aren't quite your thing, and they're not necessarily ours, then this task might seem a little daunting. At some point, likely while I was pondering the feasibility of a deep-fried dill and dewberry danish topped with Devonshire cream, I finally had my eureka moment: DUCK!!!
Sweet. Dinner was a somewhat done deal, but, as my wife quickly noted, that still left dessert. Of course, my wife doesn't just raise questions, she answers them. "Dates," she said, "we'll make something with dates."
I should have known she had an ulterior motive. You see, I don't really like dates. She, on the other hand, enjoys them so much we have a large box of them in our cupboard so she can partake of an occasional date snack.
Ideas in hand, we set off to find our dishes. I happened to be at Whitehouse Meats in the St. Lawrence Market on the weekend when I walked right past their magnificent display of delicious duck products: confits, foie gras, magrets, duck fat, and smoked duck breasts (the French have almost cornered the market on edible duck terminology, it appears). The die was cast, dinner was decided, and, with duck confit and smoked duck breast in hand, two of the five D's were born.
With the confited duck leg and smoked duck breast I made quesadillas -- really, really, ridiculously rich, wonderful quesadillas. I filled my quesadillas with either the confit or the smoked meat and loaded on some wonderful aged Canadian cheddar from one of my favourite cheesemongers, Alex Farms. The best part of this dish is that it's very quick to make, especially when you use store-bought tortillas and you have (demand?) help from your two dinner guests (there's no such thing as a free meal in this house). Oh yeah, Dave and Dixon may think I specifically invited them this evening because of a certain letter in their names, and, yes, they'd be right, but that doesn't mean I don't value them as friends (and fine kitchen help).
(Want to see more Hungry In Hogtown duck magic? Check out this duck and blood orange risotto post.)
To gild this lily, there's nothing better than my guacamole, widely touted as the world's finest condiment and weakest excuse for a D (do you deny it's a dip?). Here's the recipe:
3 ripe Haas avocados
2 limes, juiced
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, finely diced (if desired)
1 ripe Roma tomato, seeds removed, finely diced
Cut avocados in half, and scoop halves into a bowl. Immediately pour three quarters of the lime juice over the avocados to prevent browning. Using a knife, chop avocado until it is cut into a mixture that is part small chunks, part mash. Add shallot, jalapeno, tomato, and salt and pepper, and stir ingredients together with a spoon. Add additional lime juice, salt, and pepper as desired. Cover with plastic wrap, placing wrap directly over guacamole, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
What beverage did I pair with my meal on D Day? I'm glad you asked, because I reached for one of my favourite beverages, Diet Dr. Pepper, aka: "Doc." I know, I know. I'm sure you're wondering why someone with a palate as obviously sophisticated as mine would stoop to drinking Diet Dr. Pepper, or any cherry cola, for that matter, when cherries aren't in season. Does the cherry really taste as vibrant, you wonder? Well... yes, it sort of does, and, besides, there's another of the five D's.
As for the quesadillas, they were wonderful. The confit is rich and tender, and just kind of melts into the dish while supplying a little punch of rich meatiness, whereas the smoked duck is intense and strong, almost bacony, really. I think the general consensus was that the smoked duck breast was the better of the quesadillas, but everyone agreed they would happily eat both again.
For dessert, my wife really hit one out of the park. Now, I'm not one to clamour for rice pudding. If you ask me, getting rice pudding for dessert is like getting underwear for Christmas: sure, the spirit is there, but the disappointment is hard to hide. This rice pudding, I have to admit, changed my mind. The recipe, Moroccan-Spiced Rice Pudding with Dates, Orange Flower Water and Honey, comes from Regan Daley's, In the Sweet Kitchen, which, I'll say again, is the finest dessert cookbook I have ever found. The recipe does not appear to have made its way to the web, but it is an adaption of Daley's Warm Sweet Risotto recipe, which includes cardamom, cinnamon, honey, saffron, orange flower water, and our final D, dates. This is unbelievably delicious. There's a whole vanilla bean in this recipe, and that taste really shines through, as do the spices and the orange zest. The real surprise in this dish for me was the orange flower water, an ingredient that I thought I'd never find (but actually found on my first stop at the market, Lively Life International Fine Foods), but immediately recognized as something rather familiar. Orange flower water really tastes and smells nothing like oranges; it is, instead, the predominant, yet elusive, floral tone in baklava and other Arab and Turkish desserts. In fact, the last time I distinctly remember tasting the flavour was at a Tunisian patisserie in Arles, France. Nonetheless, when these flavours combine in this dish, they serve as the perfect finish to a meal that is truly 'D'-lightful.
(ed. That may well be the weakest, most obvious, and most awkward conclusion in the history of blogging. You, the reader, deserve better. Please accept our apologies.)