The Cooking Chronicles: Dinner of Appreciation

In the last two months, we’ve been hosting a series of small housewarming dinners for members of our families. I enjoy cooking, and love sharing food with the people in my life, but I know I have a tendency to over think the meals in my attempt to cater to the tastes of my guests.

I had my parents over earlier this month. They had helped us tremendously with the move – not only in transporting our things, but also letting us use their home as a holding cell for our boxes and furniture in the days before we took possession of the condo. As a result, I really wanted to make them a special meal.

It wasn’t planned, but we began with a simple tomato starter – Jennifer from Sundog Organics had generously given me a Great White Tomato (an heirloom variety) the day before at the City Market, inviting me to try it. It was large enough for me to divide the slices into four servings, which she recommended I serve with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. It was delicious – the great white was free of the tartness I normally associate with fresh tomatoes, and in place of the acid was sweetness.

Great White Tomato

Heirloom tomato starter

My Mum loves duck breast, which I consider to be a special occasion-type food (probably more so because I’ve never before attempted to cook duck breast before). Thumbing through my cookbooks, I found a recipe for seared duck breast with cherries and port in Trish Magwood’s Dish Entertains (a similar but not identical recipe can be found here). We had Greens, Eggs and Ham duck, and cherries from Steve and Dan’s, and rounded out the rest of our ingredients from the grocery store. Rendering out the fat from the meat on a cast iron pan seemed to go quite well, leaving a crisp layer of browned skin and a lake of liquid fat. But after I put the breasts in the oven, the meat went a little grey, and the skin unfortunately lost some of its crackling nature. We also had to roast the duck a little longer than the recipe’s guide of 10 minutes, in order to get the internal temperature to 130F, but the meat was thankfully not overcooked. My Mum liked it! (I should also mention that we served the duck with a raspberry wine called The Other Red from Barr Estate Winery, based in Sherwood Park. It paired beautifully.)

Seared Duck Breast

Seared duck breast

The sauce, on the other hand, didn’t reduce very well (but by that time, I probably wasn’t the most patient cook, and had I planned better, I would have started it before my parents arrived). The cherries and apples softened nicely , but I was expecting something a little more rich than the final product, given the combination of fruit, port, maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar.

Duck Breast and Wild Mushroom Barley Risotto

Duck breasts with quick-cook barley mushroom risotto

We served the duck with quick-cook barley mushroom risotto, which we have made before. My dad especially liked this dish. Mack commented that the plate was awfully brown – to which I agreed – the tomato or Greens, Eggs and Ham mixed heritage greens salads that preceded the main course should have been served alongside the entree for colour alone!

Dessert was honey cake with Alberta rye whisky, a recipe from We Eat Together, using Lola Canola honey and Intelligensia Coffee from our neighbourhood cafe, Credo. I had baked it earlier that afternoon – and being that it was one of those cakes that filled up the kitchen with aromas of cinnamon and brown sugar, it’s a great cake to make just before guests arrive. Though we thought a glaze would give it some oomph, it paired well with a cup of tea.

Honey Cake with Rye Whiskey

Honey cake with Alberta rye whisky

It was nice evening overall. Thanks again Mum and Dad for all of your help!

2 thoughts on “The Cooking Chronicles: Dinner of Appreciation

  1. Like you, I used to think duck breasts were for fancy-schmancy occasions. Not now. I always have some in the freezer to make a weekday night special. Really so simple, though a bit of cleanup with all the fat sizzling.
    Trust San Fran was delicious.

  2. Katharine – agreed, the cleanup isn’t fun. But yes, I have two more duck breasts in the freezer for future experimenting! San Francisco was great – I’ll be writing about it soon!

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