During this past Super Bowl, one of the dishes I made was described as a Cherry Balsamic Duck with Spinach & Goat Cheese Panini. It was far & away my favorite dish out of the many that I made that day. The dish actually walked away with the coveted MVP Award and it did get to go to where it was honored with a parade. I placed the recipe in my hall of fame never to be deleted file and then proceeded to obsess about it all last week. It got so bad that I had this conversation yesterday with my wife.
One Track Mind Me: “So since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I won’t get home in time to cook you dinner, what can I make you for dinner tonight ? You name it, I’ll make it.”
My Extremely Better Half: “Really ? You are going to cook dinner for me tonight ? You would do that ?”
Feeling Pretty Good About Myself Me: “Of course I will cook dinner. I always cook a Valentine’s dinner for you. Last year it was either Lobsters or Stuffed Turkey Burgers, I can’t remember. So what can I make for you this year?”
The Woman of My Dreams: “Oh thank you honey. I would love your fish tacos.”
Not Hearing The Answer I Wanted To Hear Me: “Fish Tacos ? Really ? What about the Duck Paninis from last weekend ?”
The Love of My Life Who Didn’t Catch My Hint: “Ooo – those would be good too but we haven’t had your fish tacos in a while and I LOVE your fish tacos.”
Hearing Nothing But Those Would Be Good Too Me: “I will check to see if ShopRite has any duck breasts and then you can decide what I should make. Do we still have any of the dried cherries ?”
(As you can see, communication is key to a successful relationship)
So with my shopping list in hand (with both Duck & Fish Tacos ingredients on it) I headed for the store. I bypassed the produce & seafood departments like they were yesterday’s news as I made a beeline straight for the duck. Last week I had been thwarted by a sale on duck breasts and had to settle for duck legs. This time however, the culinary gods were smiling on me and there were 5 duck breasts just sitting there waiting to jump into my basket. I circled back to the front of the store, once again completely avoiding the seafood counter for fear that I might see a great sale on mahi mahi or snapper or grouper & get sucked back into the fish taco vortex, and grabbed a box of organic baby spinach leaves, a Vidalia onion, a bag of dried cherries, a big slab of goat cheese and a bag of Portuguese Rolls because nothing flattens in a Panini press better than those rolls. I also grabbed a Red Velvet Cake to be used as a shiny distraction for when I got home with bags of groceries that obviously did not include the fixings for some Pre-Valentine’s Day requested By My Wife Fish Tacos.
(As a complete off topic aside, did you know that February 13 is also known as “Mistress Day” since Valentine’s Day belongs to the wife ? I didn’t know that little fun fact until I was sitting on the couch with my beautiful bride while we were watching the Grammy Awards and let me just say, that it is also one of those bits of information it is always good to know AFTER the fact.)
As I did work around the house the rest of the day, I started to feel a little guilty (not really but my lovely wife might be reading) for ignoring the request that was made by my adoring wife for fish tacos. I also got to thinking that maybe Paninis really weren’t “classy” enough for a Valentine’s Dinner so, even though I had a bag of those great Portuguese rolls, I would sacrifice them for a more elegant plated dinner that played off the Panini ingredients. I also decided that we should have sweet potato fries because the orange color would look great on the plate and I also knew that we had a bag of Ore Ida Sweet Potato Fries in the freezer (another thing I learned from the Super Bowl – quit trying to make them myself). My vision was now clear, a Cherry Balsamic Duck & Spinach Salad for my wife and Cherry Balsamic Duck with wilted spinach & sweet potato fries for the kids.
The fist thing I tackled was the sauce that I would eventually cook the duck in as well as use as a dressing for the salad. The ingredients were as follows:
½ large Vidalia onion sliced thin & chopped
½ cup dried cherries – chopped
2 TBS olive oil
¼ cup cherry balsamic vinegar
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Salt & Pepper to taste
While this was cooking & reducing, I set the oven to 400 degrees (mainly for the sweet potato fries) for the finishing touch. I also fired up my grill pan while sprinkling some red Hawaiian sea salt (I always go to the crutch ingredients I can’t live without) & cracked black pepper on the scored duck breasts. When the grill pan was hot enough, I laid the duck breasts skin side down and listened to them sizzle. After a few minutes I turned them over so the breast side would also start to cook. Another few minutes and it was a quick transfer to the sauce pan. Turn & Turn to coat both sides and then it was straight into the oven, skin side up, to finish.
While those were in the oven getting a little color & some crispiness on the skin, I quickly rinsed the on sale organic spinach and set it aside. I also got the plates out. Small plates for the non-salad eaters and low flat pasta bowls for the salad eaters. I also got some crushed pecans out of the cabinet because I would hate to have one of the pompous judges from CHOPPED condemn my salad because there wasn’t a “crunch” to offset the “texture of the meal”.
When the skin was golden brown and the duck looked ready, I pulled it from the 400 degree oven and let the breasts rest on a nearby cutting board. I threw a couple of handfuls of spinach into the pan with the sauce and stirred it all together until the spinach was well cooked and then placed it onto the non-salad plates with some of the cherries & onions from the pan. In the other bowls, I just put the raw uncooked spinach into the bowls in anticipation of the sliced duck breasts. Then I thin sliced the duck breasts and tried to fan them out as artistically as possible on the plates & beds of spinach. A crumble of goat cheese, evenly distributed atop the duck slices in the salad bowls, was followed by spoonfuls of the hot cherry balsamic sauce drizzled over the top. The sauce slowly started to melt the goat cheese. A sprinkle of pecans for garnish & crunch and Voila ! - the forgotten fish tacos were a thing of the past.
Ridiculously simple. Ridiculously elegant. No leftovers. Not even a duck scrap. My lovely easy to please no high maintenance wife afterward commented that this could be a dish that we could serve at a dinner party. I think I scored.
Now if you did want to make Paninis instead, the only real change comes in the plating. Last Sunday all I did was take the duck, spinach, goat cheese & sauce and stick it all between halves of a Portuguese roll and then press it flat. In this case, you get to eat the serving plate instead of washing it.
Come back next time when we talk about something else entirely different. I think.