Saturday, February 28, 2009

Always Love A Challenge

I am always one for a good challenge, whether it's a game, new adventure or in the kitchen. A couple of weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance who asked me to prepare a duck dinner for ten in late March...and they would like the duck prepared two or three ways. Now just because I had never prepared duck gave me no reason to decline the invitation. So with the confidence of someone that frequently prepares duck, I heartily accepted.

I decided that I would develop a menu showcasing the duck in three courses, appetizer, salad, and entree. (I haven't been watching Top Chef all these years for nothing!) I scoured my recipes and many from the Internet and decided to make Beggar's purses filled with duck, dried cranberries and raisins as an appetizer, duck confit on a bed of wild greens and mushrooms as the salad, and pan seared duck breast with a red wine reduction for the entree. Before presenting this menu to the client, I first ran it past my friend Ahmad Nourzad, the executive chef at Affairs to Remember Caterers in Atlanta. Having received his blessing, I proceeded to 'practice' using a whole duck. Once I was satisfied that the menu was not only tasty, but beautiful, I met with the client. She was ecstatic! She was so thrilled with the menu that she asked me to prepare a menu card to enclose with the invitations.

Trois Fa├žons de Canard

Home of Sharon and Barry Marcum
March 28, 2009

Appetizer Course

Duck, Cranberry and Dark Raisin filled Beggar’s Purses
Gourmet Cheese Selection
Sun-dried Tomato Spread
Selection of Gourmet Crackers

Salad Course

Duck Confit on a Bed of Wild Greens and Mushrooms drizzled with Lemon Vinaigrette

Main Course

Seared Duck Breast with a Red Wine Reduction
Fillet of Beef Tenderloin with a Port Wine Reduction

Butternut Squash Risotto
Haricot Verts seasoned with Lemon Zest and Olive Oil

Dessert Course

Lemon Tart accented with Fresh Raspberries

As I have said in earlier posts, Regis, my husband, is my food critic. He approached the tasting with the mindset that he was not going to like it because he is not usually fond of duck. By the end he not only said that it was superb, but that I could prepare it for him again ! That is the highest compliment. Of course I'll "dress" the plate for the clients but in my test kitchen I am a minimalist. I'll let you know how it goes. From my vantage it's going to be a "quacking" success.

From the whole duck...

to the pieces...

to the final product.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Best Valentine's Day Ever

I had the best Valentine's Day ever this year and it didn't even include my husband. I know this sounds strange so let me give you some background information.

On January 16th I read from my Atlanta USPCA member's board about a client wanting a chef to prepare a dinner for two. Another chef had been contacted but was unable to fulfill the request and placed it on the board for the rest of the chapter. The dinner was to be held on Valentine's Day some 95 miles away from where I live. Both could have been negatives, but not for me. As I read the information about what the client wanted I learned that he would be returning from a tour of duty in Iraq and wanted to surprise his wife. I knew then that I had to be the one to cook for them. It did not matter the distance I would have to travel, that I would not be home with my sweetie on Valenetine's Day or even the money I would earn. It became personal to me as I have a son serving in the Army and is stationed in Iraq.

Through the magic of the Internet we connected and made initial arrangements. Over the next weeks we corresponded about the menu, and our plan began to take shape.

The day finally arrives and I arrive at their home ready to hit the floor running. My client, Ronnie, had taken his wife, Stacie, to visit his family so I could get things in order before they arrived home at 6 p.m.

The table was complete with china, silver, crystal and a vase of red tulips. The appetizers stuffed cherry tomato appetizers where chilling in the refrigerator and the apples were caramelizing in a pan as they arrived. They walked into the kitchen and I introduced myself and told Stacie that Ronnie had hired me to prepare a special Valentine's Day dinner for them. I wish I had my camera handy because the look of shock and utter delight on her face was priceless. It was a moment to save in time.

While Ronnie ran out to pick up wine, Stacie quickly called a girl friend to brag on her husband, knowing that the girlfriend would see that the word got around about their special evening. Stacie was stunned that Ronnie kept the dinner a secret. But the secret he kept and the evening was a stunning success.

I can't express how honored I felt to be a part of a his homecoming. I am reminded each and every day that the personal freedoms I have are due to men and women who choose to serve in the armed forces. I am also keenly aware that the families who share their service members with the rest of the world deserve our respect and thanks too. So to both Ronnie and Stacie I say, thank you.

Ronnie and Stacie's Valentine's Day Menu

Shrimp and Fresh Corn Relish Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
Caramelized Pears over Warmed Camembert served with French Baguette
Artichoke Pancakes with Field Greens, Goat Cheese and Finished with a Lemon Vinaigrette
Salmon Baked in Grape Leaves
Turkish Pilaf with Tomato
Fried Lemon and Zucchini Salad
Profiteroles with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Warm Belgian Chocolate Sauce