Friday, January 16, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Backtracking to Smoked Duck Cakes and a Twist on the Aristocrat

I've neglected my little cyber corner of the world again. Thanks for those who've asked or dropped me a line wondering what's up. I'm still here. Just juggling priorities around, trying to allocate time appropriately to all my little pet projects, particularly the behemoth that consumes me.

Yes, I'm talking about "the book." I'm on an epic journey of self awareness with that sucker. What I very naively thought would take mere months to complete is chalking up to equal a multiyear project allowing me to fine-tune the art of dalliance. I lollygag around, then work like a nut job. Dilly-dally some more, feel guilty for lack of focus, then pound out more material. Procrastinate again, convince myself I don't have what it takes, re-read something I wrote six months ago, realize it is half decent and vow again to focus daily.

I'm considering psychiatric evaluation.

I'm whining. I realize that. And I know it sounds pathetic, because I can't complain about the position I'm in. These are not third world problems I'm dealing with here. But I'll genuinely speak to whoever's interested: writing a book is the singularly hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It makes childbirth, toddlerdom and Moming to teenagers look like a leisurely stroll through the park on a sunny, 70 degree day in May. So thanks for hanging in there with me, and for all of the support.

I'll have you know that despite my month-long blog hiatus, I spent 80% of that break in pajamas with woolen socks on my tootsies. Because negative degrees, obviously. So while I may need a shrink to help me find discipline and consistency skills, at least I'm comfortable and toasty.

So here I am, well into the new, promising year...the year I've dubbed as THE YEAR that the book will be completed. At least a first draft. I've never looked more forward to editing something in my entire life.

*****

I can't write this post without acknowledging some high school classmates who are going through the hardest test of their lives. Please pray for the DeKeyrel family from my first high school, Rockridge. On Christmas Eve the worst fear for any parent came true for them when their fourteen year-old son died. Like so many others, I literally think about this family and pray for them every single day. My heart continues to break for them, and I know they are pulling strength from God, their friends, family and the tight-knit community that surrounds them with love. Even if you don't know them, please say a quick prayer for them today for continued strength as they battle through their grief.

*****

Before the madness called "holidays" ensued, Mr. Musky and I snuck off to The American Club in Kohler, WI for our 20th anniversary. We lived in sumptuous doeskin robes for the weekend, relaxed under artful, full body massages, lounged in glorious, humid spa conditions and rarely saw the outside world, with the exception of a fancy dinner on night one. We bellied up to the bar and sipped some craft cocktails, then retreated to their five star restaurant, The Immigrant Room, for a memorable, multi-course meal. He already knew that he wanted the 30 day aged prime tenderloin to grace his entree plate, but left the rest of the ordering up to me.

I ordered us a salad before the main course, something that he's not normally up for when we dine out. We have salad o' plenty at home, and he'd rather try soup or a savory appetizer versus "bird food." But the salad at The Immigrant Room took "bird" to a whole new level.

We dined on a smoked pheasant salad. I can't tell you what all was in it, but it was absolutely divine, and the smoked foul starred as the main ingredient. We savored every last bite, longing for more to magically appear on the plate.

Within 24 hours, Nueske's had our business. We pulled our purchase out on a rare December Friday when both kids preferred our company to that of their peers (translation: all friends were busy, leaving them with boring old Ma and Pa).
While cranking some Springsteen Christmas Radio, I set some folks to work while we sipped on a variation of The Aristocrat. Rather than use ginger syrup, I subbed Domaine de Canton - a ginger liqueur. Loved it. Two shots of Hennessey, one shot of Domaine de Canton, one shot of Lillet, shake vigorously and top off with club soda. Garnish with a lemon twist. Even Mr. "I only drink boring Sapphire with water" Musky enjoyed this beverage for a change of pace. Winning...

My man's assignment for the evening involved pulling smoked duck off the bone. We opted for the bigger bird for our cakes and saved the pheasant for a later date. See that little critter down there with the horns?
It's a wine cork gift, complements of my friend Carrie. Do you spy the little white nobby thing coming out of the side? 

Don't ask. I live in a house of perverts.

I called in reserves for cheese grating. How thrilling. Er, chilling, I should say. His demonic look raises the hairs on the back of my neck.
Meanwhile, the fourth wheel opted out of food preparation under the masquerade of playing Santa's elf.
She dolled up a Starbucks cup as a Christmas gift for her college bound girlfriend. 

Naturally, I hunkered down and food prepped myself. If you've never had wild rice, give it a go. I buy mine in the Northwoods, and while we shy away from most grains, we do indulge occasionally on rice. We've found that it doesn't bother our tummies, and sometimes it is a nice way to bind things together or to add that oomph we all love in Asian food. 

Wild rice simmering away, I stood back to enjoy an aaaahhhhh moment. You know - one of the few that actually happen while you hear "Baby It's Cold Oustide" for the eight hundredth time in December. Despite the rat race from November to January, these moments make it all worthwhile. The two of them giggled over her phone. 

What's so funny? An "elf yourself" video Kahley made of Grandma Kahling. Take a look. I'm sorry, Mom.


For the record...my mother is the best sport on the face of the earth. She cannot say a single thing, utter a fleeting thought or sway her hips ever so slightly without someone in my family recording it for posterity. She feigns protest, but secretly I think she's flattered. She knows her hillbilly upbringing, prudent (yet oftentimes inappropriate) advice and off color remarks will live on for generations, thanks to always on video and servers the size of China.

A revelation occurred on Smoked Duck Cake night: Miller is extraordinarily fond of smoked poultry. He panted and whined and pranced around more than usual. The smells emanating from the counter nearly drove him to mouth-watering madness.
After our cocktails we hemmed and hawed over a wine selection to pair with our cakes. Photo bombers never stray far on Apéritif Friday. While Paraduxx would have been fitting, we opted for the Stag's Leap Merlot.

Finally, we dug into some crispy, flavorful, savory goodness.
The cakes were crunchy with a perfectly crisp texture, the smoked duck taking center stage as the star on the plate. I placed each cake over a bed of arugula tossed in a simple lemon vinaigrette. I urge you to try these, even though it means finding smoked duck in your local specialty store or ordering it online. I promise - it really is worth the fuss and is a super special treat. We will definitely order from Nueske's again.

Smoked Duck Cakes
2 cups wild rice
Salt and Pepper
Butter
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano Cheese
6 eggs
Smoked Duck pieces, about 2 cups
Additional butter, ghee, or bacon fat for frying
Arugula with Simple Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Cook the wild rice according to package directions; however, I recommend subbing chicken broth or stock for the water. Add salt and pepper to taste - make sure it is seasoned to your liking. Cool the rice. This step can be completed in advance, and you can keep the cooked rice in the refrigerator.

Melt 2-3 T of butter in a pan and sauté the onion over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and add the cheese. Add the cooked rice, duck meat, and onion mixture. Gently stir to combine.

Melt your frying grease (I used bacon fat for extra flavor) in a pan over medium-high heat. Once the fat is hot, drop 1/3 cupfuls of the rice cake mixture into the pan, being careful to not crowd the pan too much (I got five cakes in the pan at once). Flatten the rice mounds into the shape of a disk with the backside of a spatula. Cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes, then flip when the underside is golden brown. Cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels.

This made A LOT of cakes (15-20?) and could easily be halved. But...they were soooooo good as leftovers. I recommend making them all.

Serve over arugula tossed with a simple lemon vinaigrette.

Simple Lemon Vinaigrette
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (any flavored vinegar will work as well)
1 t creamy dijon mustard
1/4 t salt
1/4 t cracked pepper
6 T good quality extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together the first four ingredients. Continue whisking, and add the oil in a very thin stream. Toss desired amount of dressing with the arugula and top with the Smoked Duck Cakes. Refrigerate any leftover dressing for up to four days.

Give these a try, and Happy 2015 my friends!

XOXO,
Jen




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