First ingredient: Duck

If truth be told, the subtitle for this post is Christmas Eve dinner for two. I had such good intentions to post, post, post during the holiday break, but there was always something more pressing to do (sip eggnog and brandy, make soup, listen to the radio, snuggle on the couch).
Having wrapped up all our gift and grocery shopping, David and I spent the day before Christmas at home — preparing for the trip to visit his family Dec. 25 and 26 and the arrival of my family Dec. 27.
I wanted dinner to be non-taxing, yet special.
After much inner debate, I settled on duck breast. Having never cooked or purchased it before, I called my local butcher for some information and he led me to King Cole Ducks. The home farm for this large producer is located in the north end of York Region and sells fresh, frozen and smoked duck to the public. I visited the busy store Dec. 23 and bought two fresh breasts for the very reasonable price of $8.
It provided the inspiration for a simple and seasonal yet elegant and delicious meal. We paired the duck with a jammy merlot.

Roasted butternut squash and apple soup with maple allspice sour cream.

Roasted butternut squash and apple soup with maple allspice sour cream
This was a reprise of the soup I served at Thanksgiving. Really, a vessel for more of that maple allspice sour cream. I eyeballed the proportions for the sour cream this time around and it was better than I remember.
I made the soup in the morning, reserved two generous servings to reheat for dinner and packed the rest in the freezer for later.

Mixed greens with gorgonzola and pear

Mixed greens with gorgonzola and pear
A simple salad of mixed baby romaine mixed with a white wine vinaigrette and topped with sliced pear and a generous wedge of room temperature gorgonzola.

Pan-seared duck breast with cassis compote and pan-fried Yukon gold potatoes.

Pan-seared duck breast with cassis compote
This recipe comes courtesy of Bob Blumer.
I wanted a tart fruit sauce to complement the rich duck, but not one that involved buying imported fresh fruit. I had a bottle of cassis purchased at Finger Lake Distilling during a camping trip this summer. It was fate.

2 boneless duck breasts
2 shallots, minced
generous splash of cassis
30 mL (2 tbsp) of black currant jam
generous splash of balsamic vinegar

High heat and a well-seasoned cast iron pan made the duck breasts plump up and sear quickly.

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Using a sharp knife, score 4 (1/2-cm-deep) cuts across the skin of the duck breasts at a 45 degree angle. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat a well-seasoned skillet or non-stick pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add duck breasts, skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes or until skin is brown and crispy. Flip and cook for 2 more minutes.
Remove pan from and transfer duck breasts, skin side up, to a cooking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 6 minutes.
Carefully discard all but 15 mL (1 tbsp) drippings from pan. Return pan to medium heat and add shallot. Stir occasionally for 3 minutes or until shallot begins to turn golden.
Add cassis to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon to loosen up the browned bits left by the duck. Add jam, vinegar and more black pepper, and stir occasionally for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Remove duck from the oven and slice each breast at a 45-degree angle into 1/2-cm-thick strips (properly cooked duck should resemble medium-rare steak). Arrange in a fanlike pattern on warmed plates and spoon sauce overtop. Serve immediately.

Pan-fried Yukon gold potatoes
A classic.

225 g (1/2 pound) Yukon gold potatoes, 1-cm dice
salt, pepper
15-30mL (1-2 tbsp) duck fat

Parboil potatoes until nearly cooked but still firm. Season with salt and pepper
After searing duck breasts, transfer 15-30 mL of fat to hot pan.
Add potatoes and fry to a golden brown.
Serve with pan-seared duck breasts.


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