Sunday, November 22, 2009

Duck a l'Orange and another hike

This is the perfect time of year for hiking in southern California. The heat of summer is gone, but the temperatures are still warm enough for a tee shirt. Besides, I am not good at languishing indoors. I am much better off when I move, getting my blood circulating. Especially on the weekend before Thanksgiving. It will take most of the day to fly to the east coast, and then I'll be with my family. We will be eating, and eating often. We will sit a lot. With any luck, we'll get a walk in. A walk. One. And that will be followed by a meal.

So now is the time to get out and move. And we have a park in San Diego called Mission Trails Regional Park which is an incredible resource. It's probably about 15-20 minutes from my house, and it has 4 mountains in it. I've hiked three of them. The landscape isn't lush - it's more desert chaparral, but depending upon where you enter the park, it can be beautifully quiet.
There are parts of the park which are dedicated to hikers, and parts which are shared with mountain bikers. We did pass several bikers, but only several of them. The rest of the time, we had the place to ourselves. I hiked with D and another friend K - an ex bicycle racer. He told us that he used to bike in the park up the side of one of the mountains until he had to lift his bike and carry it up to the top. To each his own. We went in on the south side of the park, crossed a small dam and hiked uphill. A long, steep hill. Then down the other side to a wash, where we headed north towards the trail which leads to both North and South Fortuna mountains. I knew I wasn't going to make it to the top today, so we looped back before we headed up the steep gravel strewn path. We had several more steep hills - both up and down, and by the time we got back to the car an hour and a half later, I'm sure we had a total of at least 600 feet of elevation changes. That might be an underestimate, but it certainly isn't an overestimate!

One of the good things about hiking for several hours is that it makes me hungry. And when I get hungry on a Sunday, I want to make food for the week. This week will be a short one, as I'm leaving on Tuesday, but I have room in the freezer. And I know that I will not be bringing home any leftovers from Thanksgiving. So I will not get to cook that week of turkey recipes -- the sandwiches made with cranberry sauce and the turkey curry and soup. So I decided that I would make a duck. I haven't had duck in years, I think, and I do love it. That coupled with the fact that I have a friend who just bought a house with orange trees made me decide on duck a l'orange - a tried and true standby.

My necessity for a rich, orange flavor led me to include several sources of it - including some triple sec. You can add any kind of extra kick which appeals to you - either in the form of a liqueur or orange extract or even marmalade.

Duck a l'orange

1 tsp table salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 fl oz orange-flavored liqueur

1 tsp Smart Balance Organic whipped buttery spread, margarine

4 pound(s) uncooked duck with meat and skin

1 1/4 cup(s) apple juice

1/8 cup(s) fresh orange juice

1 Tbsp raw orange peel

1 cup(s) onion(s)

1 clove(s) garlic clove(s)

Wash duck and pat dry. Make slits in the duck skin and poke a mixture of salt and pepper under the skin, as well as rubbing the outside with it. Chop onions and garlic and stuff the cavity of the duck with the mixture.

Place duck on a rack breast side down, splash a couple of tablespoons of Triple Sec over the top, then dot the top with butter and place in a 400 degree oven. Keep your baster handy, as you will be basting this bird often.

At this point you can do whatever other chores need to be done, but don't wander too far. You will need to keep basting the bird, and there will be plenty of fat to do so with. After 20 minutes, turn the bird over, baste again and roast for another 30 minutes. You will want to baste it about every 10 minutes.

Pull the bird out, making sure that all the juices from the cavity run back into the pan. Pour everything from the pan into a large measuring cup and stick it in the fridge. After a while, you'll be able to scrape the fat off the top. You won't be left with much, but that's OK - you can build your orange sauce from here.

Return what's left to the pan and turn on the heat to medium. Grab your whisk and start stirring......Keep stirring.....and when it gets real bubbly, you can add the apple and orange juice as well as the peel. Stir some more. If you notice it's particularly thin, as I did, you can add either cornstarch and water or flour and water - whichever you have on hand. Be sure to mix them together first before adding them to the pan, as this reduces the lumps. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

I heard a story on the NPR the other day about apple farmers in the northeast who are starting to make hard cider. They are trying to bring back a craft which was popular back in colonial times. Have any of you tasted any of this? I'd love to hear about it. I would imagine that this would be a meal which would go quite well with hard cider. As I didn't have any, I savored what I had - a nice Sangiovese. It worked.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Kitchen for an Old Home

Back in 2003 I knew I had to do something about my house. The plumbing was on it's last legs in the bathroom, and I was brushing my teeth in the bathtub. I had thought about remodeling my house - it was 700 sq. feet - but it was only a thought until the plumbing became a real issue.

I live next to a house which could easily be on the cover of Architectural Digest. It has great "bones". It sits down in the canyon and from up here you can't really tell how large it is. It was designed by an architect who lived there when I moved into my house as a renter. He sold it several years later to a man who is also an architect, who gutted the inside and upgraded pretty much everything. By then I had bought my house. I was friendly with both owners, and so when I mentioned that I wanted to remodel my home, they both gave me drawings of possible remodels. I appreciated both gifts enormously, but neither one of them really spoke to me.

So I invited a couple of friends over to dinner, and after wining and dining them, I dragged out the plans I had been given. "What do you think of these?" My friend John said "You need to think of the outside walls of your house as your space, and then ask yourself what you want done with that space." "That's exactly the kind of thinking I was looking for, but didn't get in either of these drawings!" I answered. While John and I were talking about the space and how to think about it, his partner was sitting quietly studying my house. He finally said "You know, this is a lot like the house I built for my mom in Tijuana. Do you want to see what I did?" "Sure!" And I handed him a piece of paper and a pencil. He sketched out the plans for what would turn into my current home.

I moved in with a girlfriend at the end of April of that year, and at the end of September I moved back into my new old home. The house, which was built in 1940, now has a new roof, all new windows, new plumbing, new electrical and new floors. Most of the old plaster remains, including the lovely arches that were part of the interior and which give the house a Tuscan feeling. I have increased the footprint by about 200 sq. ft, bringing me up to a grand total of 900. I now have 2 bedrooms (the master is big enough to walk around the bed when making it - yeah!!) and two bathrooms, having moved the kitchen up to the front of the house off the living room. I am in heaven.

There are people who say that remodeling a home is fun. They claim that shopping for granite and sinks and faucets is terrific. I have heard that. I have actually heard that. But right now I cannot remember who these people were or what planet they came from. They obviously weren't single and working, trying to support themselves. But if I never have to remodel another home in my life, I'd be quite content, thank you very much. It's like trying to squeeze yet another life into an already packed one.

But I must admit that I absolutely love my home - and especially this kitchen. I stressed over the cost of that hand made glass light fixture over the island. But now each time I walk into the kitchen I see happiness hanging over that island, and it makes me smile.

This post is inspired by Penny over at Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. She asked us to post a photo of our kitchens on Wednesday. It's 11pm on Tuesday nite. I think it's close enough for government work!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pork Roast with Persimmons

My friend D and I took a hike today. I mean, it was one serious hike. We started at the glider port in La Jolla, which overlooks the ocean. I cannot believe that I've lived here since 1986 and have never been to the glider port! We hiked down the path from there to the ocean. It's fairly steep, but has steps. We came out on the south end of Black's Beach and headed north, walking all the way to the north end of Torrey Pines. Then we headed up the road and hiked along the top of the cliffs until we got to the north fork of Broken Hills trail. From there, we headed down to the beach again and then walked back to the trail by the glider port.It's interesting how the cliffs are so different on the north end vs. the south end of the beach. On the north end you get vertical cliffs with no vegetation. On the south, the cliffs are more gentle with shrubs growing up the sides. All along the top, there are the Torrey Pines - far fewer than there used to be before the drought weakened them and then the beetles came in and finished the job. But still, there are some left on top, and they are quite beautiful.
The hike up was killer. It was the last of the 8 miles, and just as steep. The stairs didn't seem as friendly. I was self cannibalizing by the time we got to the top, and I was out of water. Fortunately, there's a little place up there which serves sandwiches. We got the last of the grilled salmon on rosemary sage bread and a fresh bottle of water. For $10, we could eat our sandwich and watch the parasailers as they leapt towards the cliff, looking like some strange puppet hanging from a giant, arched nylon wing.

When we got home I was aching, smiling and chilled. A pork roast seemed like the perfect way to warm up, and will provide much of my food for the week. I had purchased some persimmons about a week ago and they were finally ripe. Pork and fruit go so well together, I knew I had to combine the two. I had a 2# pork tenderloin ready to go. Besides, I was inspired by Terry's recent post over at Blue Kitchen. I needed some pork! Not the same dish, but pork nonetheless.

I decided to brine the pork first. Or at least, my version of brining it. I just combined 3 TBS of salt with 2 TBS of sugar, mixed them thoroughly and rubbed them all over the pork. I let it sit for about an hour and a half while I prepared the fruit. This is the method I use when I make gravlox, and it does a nice job of drawing the water out of the fish, so I figured it would do the same for the pork. It did.

While my pork was brining, I cut up an onion, about 4 good sized mushrooms and the persimmons. I used a spray of oil in the pan and added about a tsp. of butter and some minced garlic. I prefer both my onions and my mushrooms cooked well, so they took about 6 minutes or so on medium heat. After about 4 minutes, I added the persimmons which I had chopped coarsley, as well as some thyme.

I got out my large roasting pan, took out the rack and laid down sprigs of fresh rosemary across the bottom. I washed the salt off the pork and then placed one half of the tenderloin - flat side up - on the bed of rosemary. I spooned half the fruit mixture over it, then laid the other half - flat side down - on top, finishing the whole thing off with more of the fruit mixture. A splash of apple cider went over the top. I cut a red cabbage into quarters, and added a couple of potatoes cut in half and into a 350 oven it went for about an hour.

Brining has become one of my favorite things. The tenderloin came out juicy and moist, and the apple cider and rosemary played off each other, balancing sweet and aromatic. The persimmons were sweet but not at all cloying. To borrow a phrase used by Terry, this roast was good. Company good. And the cool part was that I got to soak my aching body in a hot tub while it was roasting....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Breakfast Bread Pudding on cool mornings

The days have turned hot enough to warrant shorts for a hike, but the night time and mornings are cool enough for a sweatshirt. I go out for a run/walk these mornings and smell toast and coffee coming out of the kitchens in the neighborhood. Why is toast such a comforting smell?

I jog through my serene neighborhood and pass people walking their dogs. The liquidamber trees are finally red. Occasionally I will pass someone talking on a cell phone, or a car will drive by with it's driver on her way to drop the kids off at school. But other than that, it is quiet. It almost feels as though the world is holding it's breath, waiting for something to happen.

Twenty years ago today, something did happen. The Berlin Wall came down. I've been listening to the radio all day, and there have been stories of people who were there, walking from east to west in amazement. It didn't seem possible. One young couple who had already fled to the west found themselves like salmon swimming up river. They were heading to the east to tell his parents that they were going to be grandparents. She had gone to the doctor that day and discovered she was pregnant. They were the only ones headed from the west to the east. That, too, seemed impossible.And apparently Mstislav Rostropovitch went to the wall and played Bach on his cello. Can you imagine this? I mean, I can imagine Bono organizing a concert for something like this. But to just show up spontaneously and play without benefit of bodyguards? It boggles the mind. The world has changed in 20 years.

I come home from my run/walk, sweaty and in need of a shower and some breakfast. My friend D made a bread a couple of weeks ago. No recipe (he never uses one) - just threw things together and knocked it out in an hour. He didn't love it. I did. It had currents and walnuts and poppy seeds. I have no idea what that round of citrus looking thing was in it, but it had a citrus-y thing on the bottom. Oh, and some kaffir lime leaves stuck to the bottom as well. I ate it as bread while it was still edible, and stuck it in the fridge when it began to harden. Then I found this recipe for bread pudding on the Weight Watchers site - a mere 4 points on their calculator. I adapted it to my current bread situation. I'll give you the recipe as it's written, but you can substitute any kind of bread, I'm sure. Raisin bread would work great, I suspect.....
4 oz. French bread, day old, trimmed of crust and cubed. About 3 cups.
2 small peaches, pitted and chopped
2 TBS raisins, or dried cherries
1/3C low-fat, ready-to-eat granola
3/4 C 1% low fat milk
2 TBS sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

One day before serving, lightly spray a 1 qt. glass or Pyrex baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine bread, peaches, raisins and granola

Whisk together milk, sugar, egg and cinnamon. Stir into the bread mixture. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to 350F. Uncover bread pudding and bake 30 minutes or until bread is golden.

Kitchen Notes:

The original recipe called for this to be served with warm, reduced-calorie pancake syrup, but I find that totally unnecessary. With the peaches, raisins and sugar, I personally don't need any more sweet taste. Besides, I don't buy low-fat pancake syrup. Or low-fat cheese, for that matter. I will eat less cheese if I must, but I won't substitute the flavor of a full fatted cheese. Sacre Bleu!

I don't have low fat granola. It wouldn't occur to me to buy such a thing. Or 1% milk, for that matter. I used regular granola and low fat soy milk. I didn't need to add raisins, and I only used 1 TBS of sugar. Needless to say, I didn't measure the cinnamon!

For anyone wishing to lose weight, I'm still promoting the Weight Watchers approach. You can eat anything -- it's about portion control primarily. Fiber intake too. I don't worry about following their recipes exactly. (Have I ever worried about following ANY recipes?) Interestingly enough, I heard another story on the radio today which said that research has shown that for those who diet, if they restrict certain foods, those foods act as drugs when they are re-introduced into the diet later. So if you don't eat potatoes, for instance, you will find yourself addicted to them if you eat them later.

So I'll stick to Weight Watchers, have a glass of wine with a dinner of protein and veggies and a half a baked potato. And I'll devour some bread pudding for breakfast. To date, I've lost 8 pounds.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Something so simple...

So my question to you is this: How do you have a food blog, cook, photograph, eat, think about and write about food - and lose weight? It's not that I'm obese - I'm not. But my recent trip with my sister yielded over 400 photographs and about 5 extra pounds. Now, 5 pounds isn't much, I realize. But that was on top of the 5 that had crept up over the last....oh...maybe 3 years. And as we all know, Thanksgiving is around the corner - a holiday devoted to gluttony. And I'm going to my sister's house, and she is a phenomenal chef as well as a superb baker. ("Superb" might be an understatement, actually.) And my entire family loves to eat. And cook. So I'm staring into the headlights of an oncoming train - and that train is called "The Weight Gain Express."

Better to get some of these unwanted pounds off now, I say.

Now, some of you might be asking yourself "How is it that she's talking about losing weight, and yet the photo on the top is of potatoes, of all things! I mean, isn't that the first thing you cut out when you want to lose weight? (Notice that at no time do I say the "d" word here. It's a 4 letter word and I don't like it.) Well, that depends upon how you choose to go about losing weight, and most of us go about it the wrong way. We start with our food intake and then add on the exercise. That's backwards. At least, for most people it is.

I happen to be fortunate to live somewhere where I can go outside pretty much the whole year and get some exercise. Except when it's raining - which it does less and less of every year - I prefer to take walks. Long walks. Like, for instance, walk to a friend's house in downtown San Diego, which is about 3 1/2 miles from my place. Or I'll walk to do my grocery shopping. In that case, the walk is only about 3 miles round trip, but on the way back I'm carrying weights. Last time I did that, I actually weighed what I was carrying when I got home. 23 pounds. (I did curls on my walk home with the bags.)
Years ago I traveled in France with a friend and her mom. When we parted ways in Niece, I took off by myself and went to Arles - a lovely city with a Roman arena, and the place most people associate with Van Gogh. I found myself seated on the patio of a restaurant right across from the arena, and at the next table was a woman "of a certain age" seated by herself. We smiled at each other and she asked "Vous et toute seule?" (You're alone?) "Oui". And she gestured for me to come join her, which I did. I got to practice my French for the evening, as we ate our wonderful dinner, followed by a long walk on a balmy night. She was wearing a knit dress which made it clear that she had a terrific figure, so I asked her if she belonged to a gym. She laughed at the idea. No, she said, I walk. She walked everywhere, and that was her exercise.

So now, back to the potatoes. I decided that since I'm already walking everywhere, doing yoga, even lifting weights from time to time (other than grocery bags, that is), and my bike is in the shop being repaired - I needed to focus on what I was eating. And since I've been slim all my life, I'm not really programmed to do any of those popular kinds of diets. I don't intend to drink a shake and call it a meal - not unless it's a breakfast smoothie. I've examined many of the diets that are out there, and the only 2 that make any sense to me are the South Beach diet and Weight Watchers. I've done South Beach before and it works. That is, until you start adding carbs back into your diet - bread, pasta, potatoes, baked goods etc. -- you know, all those foods that will, eventually, creep back onto your plate. Especially at Thanksgiving and during the holiday season.

Which left me with Weight Watchers. This is something I've done before and it works. You can eat anything - even potatoes - and lose weight. It's a question of how much you eat, rather than what you eat. It's a weight loss program designed for someone who loves to cook and eat and yes, even have a glass of wine. So far I've been on it for two weeks and I've lost 6 1/2 pounds. I've even "fallen off" the wagon and had brownies and salmon spread on crackers and chili con queso on chips at a party one night. That added a pound, but it came off quickly as I got back on track.

This evening I will be enjoying a dish I made from the 4 different kinds of eggplants I bought at the farmer's market this past weekend - bright orange Turkish, a green Japanese, and 2 small, round purple ones - sliced up and added to a pot with onions, garlic, ground turkey, peppers and tomatoes. (I decided to have a "nightshade" meal.) To go with that, I will be devouring the rest of these roasted potatoes. The photograph would have been better if I hadn't eaten several slices before I photographed the dish, but oh well. It was worth it. ;-)

I sliced the potato and put it in ice water to soak while cooking the above dish. When the pot was ready, I drained the potatoes and patted them dry, put a tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl and tossed them with salt and pepper. The oven was preheated to 400 degrees and it took about 50 minutes to roast. Can potatoes really be this sweet???