Duck in Green Pumpkin-Seed Sauce (Pipián Verde con Pato)

>> Wednesday, October 31, 2012


This interesting duckling in pumpkin-seed sauce recipe is from central Mexico. It reminds us that pumpkins and other squashes are New World foods, and indigenous people used the pulp and seeds for many different purposes. Nowadays, we mostly think of Jack-O-Lanterns, pumpkin pie, and salted seeds when we think of pumpkins, but the husked seeds are often used in Mexican foods. Another version of the pipián sauce is red, and uses sesame seeds instead of the little hulled pumpkin seeds called pepitas.


Fall is duck-hunting time in Mexico, too. Many species of duck fly to the Southwestern US and into Mexico when the weather gets cold up north. If you're not a hunter, don't have any duck-hunting friends, and you can't find any duckling in the store, any kind of poultry will work well for this recipe. However, the richness of duck breast is especially delicious with the creamy and slightly spicy pumpkin seed sauce.

We turned down the heat in the original recipe from Guanajuato, a state in central Mexico where Angela's ex-mother-in-law lived. Add more serrano peppers if you like.

Ingredients

1 5-lb duck
1 tbsp oil

Pipián sauce

8 medium tomatillos (about the size of a plum)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds, plus 2 tbsp for topping
1/2 cup white sesame seeds
3 tbsp oil
1/2 cup onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 tbsp Mexican oregano, minced
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 serrano peppers, seeded and chopped

Directions

Cut the duck into quarters and pierce the skin all over with a fork. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Fry the quarters, skin side down, until nicely browned (do this in batches if the pieces don't brown easily). Don't turn over the pieces; the fatty skin side will get nice and crispy this way. Once the skin side is browned, drain off the rendered fat and put a lid on the pan. Cook the duck for 40 minutes, or until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile, peel the husks off the tomatillos and scrub off the sticky sap. Cut them into quarters and cover them with 3 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until soft. Allow to cool.

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in another pan, and toast the sesame seeds until they are golden brown. Pour the seeds into a blender. Heat the rest of the oil and toast the pumpkin seeds until slightly browned and fragrant. Set aside 2 tbsp for the topping, and place the rest in the blender.

Add the garlic, black pepper, cilantro, oregano, and serrano peppers to the blender. Pour in the tomatillos and the broth used to cook the tomatillos. Blend until smooth.

Heat the last 1 tbsp of oil in a saucepan. Pour in the sauce and warm it on low heat for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Don't let the heat get too high or the sauce will lose its green color. Little by little, add the rest of the broth, stirring frequently. The sauce should become the consistency of thick cream. If you heat it too much and it gets curdly, return the sauce to the blender and blend it until smooth again.

Salt it to your taste, then add the duck pieces, skin side up. Heat for 10 minutes.

Serve by spooning a cup of sauce onto a plate, then placing a duck quarter on top of the sauce, then topping it with a splash of sauce and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds. This is good with rice; we especially recommend wild rice, grown where the ducks like to nest. You might want to try our Mushroom and Pine Nut Wild Rice Pilaf.

Serves 4-6.

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Paul's Pork Wontons

>> Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This easy recipe for pork wontons is one that my step dad Paul learned when he was teaching agricultural methods in Vietnam during the war. My mom calls them "little porkies".

In this photo, Paul is grilling with his brother in my parents' annual family barbecue, the August Corn Fest. They set up big tables and chairs on the back acre that was once used as an animal paddock, and grill up a couple hundred ears of corn picked from their fields. He's a good griller as well as a cook.

The wontons in the picture below have been steamed. They can be fried, steamed, boiled in soups, or whatever else your imagination suggests. Here is my Dad's recipe.


Ingredients

1 lb. Ground Pork
1/2 cup green onions, diced
2 tsp ground ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
Won Ton Skins
Hot Chinese Mustard
Teriyaki or Soy Sauce

Directions

I take a pound of ground pork and cut into 4 sections. This gives us about 12 to 14 pieces per section. Mix diced green onions, ginger, and garlic into the pork.

Take one wonton skin and wet one side with water, place a dash of ground pork on the center of the wet won ton (amount of pork is determined by you) and then fold the wonton and seal. Place on plate to deep fry later.

The original process calls for rice paper instead of wonton skins. Rice paper comes dry but need to be moistened with water so it can be rolled with ground pork in it.

Deep fry the wonton skins with the pork. I use a skillet with frying oil. Caution: warm oil slowly and do not over heat or the little porkies will come out dark brown and raw inside (that’s a no-no). When lightly brown and floating on the oil, turn them over to cook on the other side for about the same time.

Mix to taste, teriyaki or soy sauce with Chinese Hot Mustard. Dip deep fried wontons into the sauce and enjoy. We serve the cooked won tons with a vegetable stir fry over rice. 

Note: The original sauce is fish sauce with nothing added.
Serves 4.

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Tuscan Marinated Eggplant Salad (Ensalata di Melanzane)

>> Monday, October 22, 2012


Tuscan Marinated Eggplant Salad (Ensalata di Melanzane)


Joe and I spent the first day of our honeymoon in the airport in Rome waiting for a flight to Pisa, where our luggage had gone and where our rental car was waiting. We missed our connecting flight because of slow lines going through Customs. After several hours, and a couple more cancelled flights, we decided to rent a car and drive up to our cottage in Tuscany.




I didn't even make it out of the parking garage before crawling into the back seat and going to sleep. I was struggling with jet lag and exhaustion from weeks of wedding arrangements. I couldn't drive a stick shift anyway, so I wasn't much use in driving the Autostrada.

We were hours late in arriving at the Agriturismo where we would spend the next week. Our hosts at Rosa dei Venti, who operated the hotel and villas on an ancestral working farm, welcomed us with prosecco and a meal they'd made especially for us: an antipasti plate of sausages and cheeses, marinated eggplant salad, a meaty pasta sauce called Ragu di Carne, a stewed rabbit and chicken dish (coniglio in umido alla toscana), an apricot tart, and fresh figs from the tree next to our cottage.




They also brought two bottles of hearty Barbaresco wine, and we toasted everything we could think of. The family's German Shepherd, Azzo, nosed his way into our villa and sat down by the hearth. We tossed him scraps of rabbit and practiced our Italian. Azzo pricked up his ears no matter which language we spoke to him.


Later, we lay out in the grass and listened to the festival in the tiny town of Creti below us, the high-speed bullet trains rushing from town to town, and the sunflower heads rattling against each other in the vast field to the north. It was a beautiful day.


Tuscan Marinated Eggplant Salad (Ensalata di Melanzane)

Ingredients

1 medium eggplant
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped Roma or plum tomato
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh basil, snipped


Directions

Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Heat a dry griddle and sprinkle it with salt. Toast the eggplant on each side until brown and tender, about 5 minutes per side. Finely chop the parsley.

Place the eggplant on a platter. Drizzle with vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil and scatter the parsley evenly over the slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature.

Cut the tomatoes into a small dice and let the juices drain out in a colander or sieve. Stir in the last tbsp of olive oil, the garlic, and the basil. Spoon the tomatoes over the eggplant just before serving it at room temperature.

Serves 4-6 as a side salad, or 8-10 as an appetizer.

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Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

>> Friday, October 19, 2012

This is one of my absolutely favorite comfort foods ever. A good ham is proof that God loves us. I usually make this after serving a big ham for a holiday dinner, because there are always all those good bits and pieces left over, and this is so easy to make after a big fancy holiday meal.

If you don't happen to have cooked a big ham lately, you can use any kind of ham, from lunch meat slices to a can of Spam or a ham butt end. Joe recently brought home a butt (snicker) that our local grocery store had deeply reduced in price. After we sliced up a bunch for ham sandwiches, and cut out the bone for soup, I made a big casserole of scalloped potatoes and ham.

By the way, if you don't have any ham, or are on a very tight budget, the potatoes themselves are a filling and yummy meal or side dish on their own.

Ingredients

1 medium yellow onion
1/3 cup chopped yellow pepper 
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup flour
2 cups fat-free milk, heated
10 medium-sized red-skinned potatoes (I like the smooth, creamy texture of red potatoes for this recipe)
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups chopped ham
Cooking spray
2/3 cup bread crumbs


Directions

Peel and chop the onion. Melt the oil and butter together in a saucepan. Saute the onion and pepper together until tender. Add the garlic. Stir in the flour until it is moistened and sticks to the vegetable pieces. Pour in the hot milk and stir very well until smooth. You might need to whisk the mixture to get any flour lumps out. Allow to simmer.

Scrub the potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch thick slices. Put them into a pot with the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer it until the potato slices are almost tender but still a little hard when you poke them with a fork. 

Drain the potatoes, and pour the cooking broth into the milk mixture. Heat the mixture to a boil and reduce heat and let it simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, or until very thick like pudding or gravy.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray or oil a 9x12" casserole pan. Spread a few spoonfuls of the white sauce in the bottom of the pan. Arrange 1/2 of the potatoes on top, then half of the ham. If you want to get artistic, you can arrange the potato circles in overlapping rows, or "scallops", which is one reason for the name of this recipe.

Pour half of the white sauce over this layer. Add another layer of potatoes and ham, and then pour the rest of the sauce on top. Make sure there is at least 1/2" rim above the food so that it won't boil over in the oven and make a mess. It's OK if you have to discard or freeze some leftover white sauce. There are a million things you can do with it.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes, then remove the foil. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top, then spray them with cooking spray. Cook for 10-20 minutes more, or until the potatoes are tender but not falling completely apart, and the breadcrumbs are nice and browned.

This is great with cooked peas or a fresh green salad.

Serves 6 - 8.

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Mushroom and Pine Nut Wild Rice Pilaf

>> Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The first time I remember having wild rice was when I was visiting family in Minnesota at Christmastime. A snowstorm delayed our trip back to the airport, and I ran to the gate with my little girls panting to keep up, just to meet a closed door and an apologetic flight attendant telling us she was sorry about our missed flight, in that cute Fargo-type accent.

Jenny burst into tears.

The sweet little attendant looked stricken. She booked us on the next flight and upgraded us to first class. We spent the next couple of hours strolling through the airport shops, where we discovered the deliciousness of Caribou coffee and I learned about the cultivation and harvesting of wild rice, the seeds that Native Americans have so generously offered the world. Minnesota is very proud of its wild rice.

Wild rice seems to be a natural pair-up with poultry or fish, so I served this easy rice pilaf with Alaskan pollock baked in white wine, salad burnet, and dill. If you don't have pine nuts, the buttery-sweet flavor of pecans is a good substitute.

Ingredients

1 cup mixed wild rice and brown rice
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms
1 tsp chopped rosemary
2 cups chicken broth

Directions

Toast the rice in a dry skillet until some of the grains are browner. Set the rice aside. Heat the oil in the skillet, then add the mushrooms and onions and brown them on medium-high heat. Stir frequently so they do not burn.

Add the rosemary and chicken broth, then stir in the rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover the pan. Simmer for 40-45 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the grains are tender and chewy. 

Toast the pine nuts in a small pan until they are slightly browned. Don't toast them too much, or they will taste bitter. Sprinkle the nuts on top of the rice before serving.

Makes 4-6 side dishes.

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Red Wine-Marinated Pot Roast

>> Monday, October 15, 2012


Red Wine-Marinated Pot Roast

This red wine-marinated pot roast is an old-fashioned recipe with ties to both Germany and France. The juniper berries and cloves are typical of a German beef roast, while the cloves and bay leaves are more typically provincial French. Joe thinks this is the most flavorful, rich way to cook a pot roast, and the herbs and seasoning make it a bit different. This is perfect for a special dinner party or a nice weekend supper.

Start the recipe one a day ahead so that the beef marinates in the red wine sauce for a good long time. Slowly braise the beef the next day with some hearty fall vegetables like carrots and onions and you'll enjoy the smells wafting from the kitchen all afternoon. I bet you won't even need to call the family to dinner - they'll be sitting there waiting for it.

When we made this pot roast for Sunday night dinner, we used my great-grandma Therese (Hopfner) Detzner's cream-and-gold china. Seems a shame to just store the china in the cabinet all the time.  I'm sure my very German ancestors would have loved this German-inspired recipe, too.

Ingredients

For the Marinade

2 cups dry, medium bodied red wine (try a pinot noir, syrah/shiraz, or cabernet sauvignon)
1/2 cup carrot, cut into matchstick pieces
1/2 cup onions, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, cut into matchstick pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 whole cloves, or 1 tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole juniper berries, or 2 tbsp gin (look for juniper berries in a jar at a Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or  specialty store; keep them in the fridge or freezer for future recipes I will share with you)

For the Roast

3-4 lb nicely marbled boneless chuck, eye of round, or shoulder roast
2/3 cup olive oil
2 large yellow onions
4 large carrots
4 cloves of garlic, minced
6 large potatoes
2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup cornstarch
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Mix together all marinade ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Place the meat in the bowl and turn in over several times to coat it with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook (at least 4 hours, but it is best if it marinates for a whole day).

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Drain the meat, retaining the marinade. Pour 2 tbsp of oil into a dutch oven or large pot. Heat the oil, then sear the meat on all sides until well browned (a few minutes per side, including the short sides and ends). Pour the marinade over the meat, cover, and place in the oven. If you prefer to cook this on the stove, bring the marinade to a boil, then reduce heat as low as possible and allow to simmer. Cook the roast for 3 hours, turning and basting occasionally, and adding a little water if the liquid gets very thick or falls below 2" .

Near the end of this cooking time, peel the onions and carrots. Slice the onions into small wedges. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan, then brown the onions on all sides. Remove them to a plate or bowl. Slice the carrots into 1" wide pieces on a bias. Heat up 2 more tbsp oil and brown them quickly on all sides. Add them to the onions.

Add the onions, carrots, and 2 of the garlic cloves to top of the meat. Do not mix the vegetables into the pot, or they will get brown and mushy. Cook for 45 minutes more.

In the last 30 minutes of the cooking time, scrub the potatoes and cut them into 2" pieces. Heat the last of the oil and add the potatoes. Brown them on all sides, then add the last two garlic cloves. Add 2 tbsp of water and cover the frying pan. Reduce the heat to low and allow the potatoes to cook slowly.

Remove the roast and set it on a carving block. Discard the cloves, berries, and bay leaves. Strain the vegetables out of the pan juices and put them into a bowl to keep warm in the oven. Pour the cooking liquid back into the pan and add the beef broth. Bring to a boil. Stir together 1/2 cup cold water and the corn starch. Slowly pour it into the broth, stirring constantly. Continue to boil until the broth becomes a thick gravy.

Serve hearty slices of the roast with the sides of vegetables and potatoes, and plenty of gravy. Dinner rolls are great for sopping up the extra sauce.

Serves 6-8.

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Heirloom Tomato Soup

>> Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Heirloom Tomato Soup
A few weeks ago, my friend and master chef Talea gave us a pot of tangy, rich tomato soup using the heirloom tomatoes from her garden. The varieties she grew this year have some unusual shapes and colors. One had burgundy stripes and greenish flesh, one has a wavy surface, and one is a brilliant yellow color. The taste is extraordinary.

If you can't find heirloom tomatoes, try to find deeply colored tomatoes that are soft and juicy and give off a tomatoey smell. Many of the big grocery stores buy tomatoes that were picked while still green and then sprayed with a substance that turns them red and prevents them from ripening further, so that they can be shipped anywhere. These tomatoes are flavorless wooden balls that just won't do the recipe justice.

If you grow your own tomatoes, now is the time to collect those last few fall-ripened beauties and whip up a big pot of soup. Is there anything more satisfying on a chilly fall day?

Talea rattled off her recipe to me several times, and I think I've finally captured it here. It is so good.

Ingredients

3 pounds of ripe heirloom tomatoes (or other very ripe fresh tomatoes)
6 cloves of garlic
2 cups sliced yellow onion
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp thyme
1 bay leaf
2/3 cup fat-free cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the stem end out of the tomatoes and cut them in half. Place the tomatoes cut-side down on a baking sheet. Place the garlic and onions on the roasting sheet and drizzle them with the olive oil. Roast under the broiler until tender and browned, turning occasionally - about 30 to 45 minutes.

Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins. Place 1/4 of the vegetables, basil, thyme, and tomatoes in a blender or food processor, along with 1 cup of broth. Puree until smooth. Pour the puree into a soup pot, and repeat with the remaining batches of  tomatoes, broth, basil, thyme, and vegetables. Drop the bay leaf into the pot.

Bring the soup to a boil; reduce the heat and let it simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until it is thickened and reduced. Don't forget to stir it occasionally. Stir in the cream, salt and pepper and heat through without boiling the soup. Take out the bay leaf before serving.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Note: This tastes really good with a couple slices of honey whole wheat bread. You can find that recipe here: Honey Whole Wheat Bread.

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Chicken Peanut Soup (Ghanian Nkate Nkwan, Nkatenkwan, Nkate Nkwanin)

>> Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Chicken Peanut Soup (Ghanian Nkate Nkwan, Nkatenkwan, Nkate Nkwanin)


This chicken stew in peanut sauce sounds like something you might find in a Thai restaurant, where they tend to use peanuts in main dishes. In fact, this stew was taught to my family by our adopted sisters from Ghana. It's a traditional dish there and is super-easy to make, and contains no unusual ingredients.

My parents are amazing humanitarians who have worked for social justice and world peace for decades. Early on, they realized they didn't know much about the often troubled African continent, so they set themselves on a self-study program to learn all they could about the countries of Africa. They believe that helping others starts with education and respect. Today, they know more about the social and political facts in Africa than some citizens of those countries.


About five years ago, Mom and Dad decided they wanted to be a support system for African students studying at the university at Bowling Green, Ohio. They realized how difficult it is for young adults to live nearly halfway across the world from their families and they wanted to be a second family.

That is how Elizabeth and Josephine Effah came into our lives. They are students from Ghana who were studying public health and policy. They are smart, kind, gorgeous, funny, and hard-working young ladies who have become part of our family. They've celebrated holidays and family reunions with us, and Mom and Dad have attended their graduations and other special events. We are truly blessed to have widened our family with new sisters. You can't have too many sisters, am I right?


Elizabeth, Josephine, and her son Myron

Elizabeth sent me this recipe recently. It is a traditional Ghanaian recipe that can vary widely, though the core ingredients of peanuts, chicken, tomatoes, peppers, and onions remains the same. It is spicy-hot and creamy all at the same time.

While researching the recipe, Joe and I learned that the name varies (Nkate Nkwan, Nkatenkwan, Nkate Nkwanin, and other variations). Peanuts are sometimes called "groundnuts" in Ghana. A different tuber called bambara was used centuries ago, but peanuts imported from South America by the Portuguese began to replace those groundnuts.

If you were in Africa, this stew might be served to you with the chicken bones, which you might like to gnaw for those tasty little bits that cling to the bones. You might also get some dumplings or a mound of a mashed potato-like substance; these are called fufu, made of pounded yams, cassava roots, or green plantains. Fufu is common in many central and west African countries. Through colonial slave trade and emigration, it has migrated over to the Caribbean and Central American countries as mofongo and other specialties. In west Africa, this peanut stew might also be served over rice, or with floating balls of sticky rice.

Effah Chicken Peanut Soup

Ingredients

1 large onion, chopped finely
1 green pepper (or orange or red) chopped finely
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
6 cups of water
16 oz. of natural chunky peanut butter (no sugar)
1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

Directions

Mix peanut butter with 4 cups of water and blend with whisk. Begin cooking on low heat, stirring often.  Meanwhile, in a fry pan, mix chicken, onions, and peppers. Cook until chicken is cooked through.  Add to peanut mixture with seasonings and some salt. Add tomato sauce and two more cups of water. Cook with frequent stirring for an hour on low heat. Do not cover. Some like it over rice. It is good without chicken, too.

Serves 4-6.

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