21 September, 2006

duck, duck, goose

Well, okay, no actual goose. But duck! It was the best dish, so I'm giving you the "recipe", although the salad base can be whatever you wish.

Pan-seared Duck with Crunchy Salad
(serves four easily)

2 boneless duck breasts (these usually come vacuum-packed)
sea salt
2 cups tightly packed baby spinach leaves
1 small purple cabbage
1 small white cabbage
2 red bell peppers
1 avocado
1 dozen small tomatoes
handful chives
dressing: juice and pulp of a lemon, 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, 1/4 cup olive oil, dah balsamic vinegar, tasp Dijon mustard, sea salt

Place the duck breasts on a cutting board (NOT the one you will later use for preparing the salad; always use separate boards for raw meat and veggies). Score the skin in four horizontal slices, till you can just see the meat beneath. Sprinkle the skin with sea salt.

Heat a large skillet till nearly smoking, then put in duck breasts skin side down and sprinkle with sea salt. You would be wise at this point to cover the skillet with one of those grease screens, since duck is very fatty and you (and your priceless Armani jacket) will get splattered. Turn heat down to medium and let duck cook for 8 minutes. Resist the temptation to play with it, poke it, and above all DO NOT pierce it.

Meanwhile, pile the spinach on a large platter. Shred the cabbages finely (I cut them in quarters first to make small shreds) and slice the red pepper into small strips. Halve the tomatoes. Chop the chives. Scatter all this over the spinach. It will be so pretty you'll be tempted to take a picture.

Now, lift the grease screen and turn over the duck breasts. They will sizzle madly, so quickly put the screen back on, and prepare to wait another 8 minutes. Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk enthustiastically, but know that you will have to whisk again just before dressing the salad.

Remove the skillet from the heat and, using tongs so as not to pierce the meat, lift the duck breasts from the skillet and place on a plate. Pour off the fat and reserve in case you plan to fry eggs or hash browns any time soon (you can always throw it away later if you don't use it). Wipe the skillet with paper towels and place the duck breasts back in skin side down, then return to heat. Let the breasts sizzle for about two minutes, then lift them out of the fat and remove them to a fresh cutting board, where they can rest while you pour wine (or in our case, milk) and whisk the dressing one more time.

Now, you have a choice to make. Are you going to eat the delectable skin and completely ruin your resolution to eat less fat, or are you going to remove the skin and have a truly guilt-free dinner? Your choice. I did remove the skin, and let me tell you, we didn't feel deprived. Slice the duck thinly or thickly, whichever you like, and lay the slices over the salad. Whisk the dressing one more time and pour over the duck.

There is something about the rich, tender, pink duck with a bite of crunchy, tangy cabbage and tomato, and silky avocado, and virtuous spinach, that makes this dish just delicious. And so good for you!

Then, the next night we had completely boring, forgettable fancy fresh ravioli from Selfridges. However. With it I made an accidental sauce that turned out to be sublime. It happened out of sheer neglect.

Sage and Butter Sauce
(good for any pasta, but also pork chops, veal scallopini?)

1 stick butter
12 sage leaves
1 tsp sea salt
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Melt the butter in a small skillet and then add the sage, salt and garlic. Shake till nicely dispersed over low-medium heat, then walk away, check your email, fold the laundry, whatever. The point is, totally forget about the fact that you have melted butter sitting over heat. Come back in five minutes or so and find that you have slightly browned butter, and CRISPY sage leaves! I had been planning to lift the leaves out, and have just flavored butter, but no! They were crispy, like potato chips, and so good. The ravioli were just vehicles for the sauce. Some warm baguette rounds were perfect to soak it up.

OK, enough about food. How about that Thai military revolution? I swear, the leaders gave a press conference that the BBC broadcast and translated, and the head guy said, "We apologize for any inconvenience this coup may have caused you." What? I love that. Coups can be so annoying.

Avery's riding is going from strength to strength. Here is her little back, riding away on Sirius, the star pony belonging to Ross Nye's daughter Kirsty, who runs the stable. I love this shot for the perfect Englishness of the setting. She has a new babysitter picking her up today, a girl called Chrisa who stayed here with our housesitter over the summer. I'll be at the first meeting of my screenwriting class, which should be great fun. In a minute I'm going to lie down on the sofa and read "Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting" by Syd Field, which is said to be the bible for this sort of thing. There are several novels, both for children and for adults, that I think would make excellent movies, and I'd like to get my feet wet figuring out how one does that. How does one get the rights to the novel, and then what are the mechanics of turning writing into speaking? I find that often the weakest part of a movie made from a book is the part where the writer had just been expositing about something in omniscient writer-voice, but not having a character speak the words. Then when it's a movie script, where do you put that information? The writer hasn't given you any direction about who could speak it. This is true especially of Jane Austen, I think, whose "Pride and Prejudice" is filled with page after page of necessary information about how the characters feel, yet no one speaks it, it's merely given to you by the author. So when it's made into a movie, all that expository content gets lost and you end up watching the characters do things that aren't shored up by dialogue explaining why they feel the way they feel. I'd like to explore how to do that better.

Then I'll meet up with the babysitter and Avery at riding, and then I have a rare dinner out, all by myself, at the house of a lady interested in art history. Either I will be completely intimidated by all these arty people she has invited, and their rich philanthropist husbands, or I won't.

Oh, and a huge triumph for Avery! She got 96 out of 100 spelling words right, on a terrifically important spelling test at school yesterday. She was simply beaming from ear to ear with pride when I picked her up yesterday. "That's never happened before," Mrs D told her. "Apparently I'm an average 14 1/2 year old," Avery told me, trying for nonchalance but not getting anywhere near it. She's so proud of herself, and so are we. Now if she can just get that sevens times table down...

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