Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Happy Birthday Duck Breasts with Fresh Figs

Duck breasts with fresh figs (and the most delicious sauce!)
When my children were young, a friend of mine quoted to me, "I used to cook, but now I fix dinner." There's so much truth to that. Daily cooking can easily devolve into a routine of preparing quick, easy food that everyone will eat. With any luck it will also be tasty and nourishing!

My culinary horizons expanded quite a bit as a by-product of startig my food blog to join the online baking group Tuesdays With Dorie, baking through Dorie Greenspan's wonderful book Baking From My Home to Yours. (My daughter ALE jokes that it's not fair that I waited until she left home before I began cooking and baking in earnest. Luckily we visit each other's kitchens often enough that we engage in marathon cooking/baking sessions together.) Although on a weekly basis there are still plenty of thrown-together meals at my home, I love to pull out my books, especially when there's a special occasion afoot.

And what a special occasion this is! Today is Dorie Greenspan's birthday, and in celebration a bunch of food bloggers are getting together to cook Dorie a virtual birthday meal. We're cooking from Dorie's new volume Around My French Table and we've got it all covered, from appetizers to desserts.

As soon as I learned of the virtual birthday dinner party, I knew I wanted to make a memorable main course for a very special birthday party. Two birthday parties, actually! I was cooking virtually for one birthday girl, Dorie, and also cooking really for another birthday girl, my daughter ALE, whose birthday is just two days before Dorie's. Duck breast happens to be one of ALE's favorite things so I zeroed right in on the recipe for Duck Breasts with Fresh Peaches on page 230. Sadly, down here in the Peach State peach season has ended, but Dorie gives a selection of alternate fruits, making it into a year-round recipe. I ended up cooking the duck breasts twice (once with pears and currants and once with fresh figs) and since there are two birthday honorees, I have double reasons to call this "Happy Birthday Happy Birthday Duck Breasts."

Here's the pear/currant version of the duck breast recipe. Sorry for the artificial light photo.
n.o.e.'s notes:

- Holly, of the blog, is publishing a roundup of this fabulous birthday dinner party for Dorie, so check out her post to click on each of the fantastic dishes - everything from appetizers to desserts - that bloggers have cooked up from Dorie's book!

- We have agreed not to publish the recipes from the book, so if you like what you see on our posts, I'd heartily recommend that you buy the book or request it from your library.

- The first version of this recipe I tried was with pears. As much as I love pears, when they are cooked or baked, they sometimes need a little help in the flavor department. Dried fruit is a perfect complement, so I added dried currants to the recipe.

- Dorie specifies large duck breasts - 1 pound each - but also mentions that smaller ones can be used, as long as the total weight is around 2 pounds. I was able to locate the larger duck breast at my favorite specialty market, and used two.

- The recipe's method is quite straigtforward. First the duck is seared, then placed in a warm oven to finish cooking while a simple pan sauce with fresh fruit is made on the stove top. Put the two together, garnish with fresh thyme, and voila!

- I made the mistake of using Asian pears, which I had on hand from my farm box. I realized too late that this was a crisp variety of pear which didn't soften as they cooked. Consequently the duck breasts got a tad overcooked in the warm oven while I waited for the pears to lose their curnch. This is a terrible thing to happen to beautiful duck breasts which had been browned to medium-rare perfection.

- The sauce, however, was delicious. I can see why Dorie loved it so much that she decided to find fruits other than peaches that would work with the recipe so that she could enjoy it all year. I think that Dorie would also love the fabulous pop of tart flavor from the currants I used. The rest of my family didn't seem to mind the barely-pink duck, but I was sad that Dorie's (and ALE's) birthday duck was overcooked.

- As is pretty typical at this time of year, dinner was ready after it was already dark outside, so the only pictures I have of the finished dish are available (artificial) light, never the best option.

- I really wanted this dish to look and taste perfect for Dorie, so I decided to make it again! Not much of a hardship, as we all love duck around here, and the recipe really is a speedy one to make. The second time I made the recipe with fresh figs. The duck breasts were from Whole Foods, and were the small version - each less than 1/2 pound - so I used five of them to get the 2 pounds needed for the recipe.

- This time the recipe went off without a hitch. The figs softened nicely in short order (thanks, figs!) and almost before I knew it we had a lovely duck dinner. And the bonus? I cooked early enough that there was still a bit of natural light on my front porch when the dish was ready to serve.

the verdict:

It turns out that this recipe for duck breasts is not only elegant enough for a fancy birthday dinner, it's simple enough to prepare for a weekday dinner for the family. The sauce is lovely, and complements a wide variety of different fruit. Overall, I prefer cooking the larger duck breasts because I think it's (usually at least!) easier to get them browned properly while keeping the meat tender.

There are two other recipes for duck breasts in AMFT, all following the same browning/warming/pan sauce method. I'm eager to try them all, and will probably not wait for another birthday to roll around before I cook duck again.

Happy Birthday, Dorie! Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipes with us!!

And thanks to Laurie of the blog slush and Holly of for organizing this fun virtual birthday dinner.

To see more Around My French Table goodness, check out the French Fridays with Dorie cooking group, where cooks worldwide prepare the featured weekly recipes from the book. You might even be tempted to join in (you don't even need a blog!)

The Tuesdays with Dorie baking group has been baking through Dorie's book Baking: From My Home to Yours for nearly 3 years. Stop by to check out the group's progress!


Renee said...

I hadn't heard of the virtual birthday! Very cool concept!! I feel a bit apart of it as I spent most of the day in the kitchen making my daughter's birthday cake (and cupcakes and prepping the food) for tomorrow. She turns 1!

Happy Birthday to Dorie and your daughter too!

Katrina said...

Great post, Nancy. This was really fun to be a part of. I've NEVER tried duck. Your post sure makes me want to give it a try!
Happy Belated to ALE, too.

natalia said...

Ciao Nancy ! I almost never had duck but after seeing your wonderful dishes I can't wait to try it ! Happy belated birthday to ALE too !

Leslie said...

What a lovely post to match your two beautiful duck dishes! Duck is one of those things I haven't mastered yet by your photos and description make me want to try it soon. And you are correct, we're on vacation in Paris...until tomorrow. :-)

Audrey said...

This was one of the first dream recipes I bookmarked...if I could cook duck at all, never mind on a weekday, I would feel like I had my own French table. And with figs!! Oooh.

Di said...

Great post, Nancy! (though I'm still frustrated for you about the loss of your original notes) I haven't really liked duck when I tried it in the past, but maybe it's time to try it again. =) Your dish looks delicious.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Totally informative post! Loved it. Ive never had duck, can you believe it? I so badly want to try this recipe out. Thanks so much for joining in on our birthday fun! xo

steph- whisk/spoon said...

this is certainly a special occasion dinner! figs are a perfect compliment to duck. happy birthday to dorie and ALE!

Cristine said...

I have never eaten duck before so I am looking forward to the opportunity when we cook it for FFwD! Looks great!

Marthe said...

Both versions of the duck breasts sound and look absolutely delicious!

I forgot to check if I can get my hands on some duck breasts here, but will definitely check that out now that I've seen what the dish looks like!

Marthe said...

O, forgot: happy birthday to ALE!

mike said...

I am too, in the non-duck world. But now I definitely want to add that to my list. What a beautiful dish and wonderful birthday tribute! I love figs (in baked goods) - so this pairing sounds perfect. I'm sure Dorie was thrilled!

Unknown said...

Duck with figs - I can only imagine how delicious this was. I love duck with cherries, so why not figs? Happy birthday to your daughter, too!

AmyRuth said...

Wow, both versions are beautiful and sound amazing! I love duck although I have never prepared/"cooked" it. (I like that quote too) Hmm something to do with the "fat" content and Lord knows I ingest plenty of fat from the sweets I eat. I may have to trade some of those for this wonderful recipe and based on your post, well worth it. A great party, huh! Happy Birthday to your birthday girl as well.
PS thanks for visiting! :")

AmyRuth said...

One more thought I've had for a long time....once on my blog I even asked how many folks had been to Paris. Wouldn't it be amazing if a trip to Paris could be organized for the TWD group and anyone else who would like to travel. I have never been to Europe much less Paris. Many have and along with Dorie's expertise a fun time could be experienced. Wouldn't that be amazing?!?

Mary said...

Yum. Great post. Happy birthday to Dorie and ALE. I had so much fun cooking along with some of my fellow TWDistas for this celebration.

Kayte said...

Well, I totally missed the whole idea of all of this...oops. Your selection is really great looking...I wish I had a fork. I should have planned to drop by when this was being served.

Jaime said...

looks fantastic! I love duck and the figs look wonderful w/this

dorie said...

Merci mille fois for making my birthday so wonderful. I'm so happy that you made the duck -- I hope ALE was too -- and was interested to read that many people hadn't had or cooked duck. I hope your really good post will get people cooking duck, 'even on a school night'. Again, my thanks -- xoDorie

Monica said...

I love duck and this one got marked in the book... I'm hoping that the FFwD gods chooses it soon.. if not, I'm going to have to sneak it in there somehow.

YUM! It was fun to keep this a secret and the release it out.

Spike said...

looks amazing! Quite a birthday treat for all

Linda said...

I love eating duck...I've just been intimidated to cook it myself. Thank you for sharing your experience with this recipe - now, I'm looking forward to cooking the FFwD duck recipes.

Unknown said...

I also totally missed that there was a birthday celebration going on for Dorie. Wish I had been paying more attention so I could have joined in. Your duck looks so good!! I've only ever had it in restaurants but one of these days I need to try it at home, perhaps with Dorie's recipe :)

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