Red Wine Braised Duck Legs with Mushrooms & Shallots

Red Wine Braised Duck with MushroomsI have no idea how people can even attempt all of the crazy new year’s diets in January.  Sure, the first week of the year, I was so sick of cookies and sweets that I toned it down a little, but now, a couple of weeks later and deep in the throes of a bleak, miserable winter, all I’m thinking about is comfort food.  I’m thinking oatmeal every morning, French onion soup, polenta smothered in melted cheese.  And this time of year, I simply cannot go without a weekly dose of braised meat.  Or red wine, for that matter. 

So, in this week’s edition of “Sarah’s Red Wine-Fueled Braising Adventures”, I’m coming at you with duck legs.  They were braised in red wine with porcini and cremini mushrooms, lots of shallots, and fresh thyme.  The meat was tender and succulent, the skin crackling crisp, and the mushrooms deep, dark, and intense.  It was the kind of splurgy at-home dinner that almost makes long, cold winters bearable.  


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Ham & Gruyère Buckwheat Crêpe (Galette Complète)

Galette Compléte-A Ham & Gruyere Buckwheat Crepe with an Egg

Envision this: you’re sitting on the coach one night, surfing with your boyfriend, and find an unbelievable deal on flights to Paris.  On a whim, you book a trip, with only 2 weeks to work out rest of the details.  You spend most of those 2 weeks just daydreaming about being whisked around Paris, looking impossibly chic with the Eiffel tour looming in the background.  You picture yourself drinking champagne and eating oysters twice daily because, well, the world is your oyster isn’t it?

And then you arrive.  You realize your ticket was impossibly cheap because Paris in November is blustery and gray.  And your bags were lost.  Instead of feeling tres chic, you’re feeling tres hobo in your grimy, rumpled clothes.  But you’re determined not to let any of this get you down.  You’re in Paris after all!

Yes, this was me and Matt a couple of months back.  Our first 24 hours in the city of lights were, uh,  less than sparkly.  We arrived tired, dirty, crabby, and without most of our luggage.  And to make matters worse, my (brilliant) fiancé had decided to shove his coat in our checked bag (who would do that???).  We found our way to our apartment and spent our first few hours of vacation napping and trying de-crabify.  When we woke, I convinced Matt to take a jacket-less walk around our neighborhood to scope things out.  It’ll be fine, I assured him, the wind has probably died down and once we get moving, it’ll be great.

Well, not exactly.  But we made the most of it and walked around, ducking into shops to warm up, peeking in gallery windows, and checking out restaurant menus.  We went out for dinner and practically sleepwalked back to our place, determined to start fresh the next day.

By the next afternoon, our luggage had arrived, we’d had a decent night’s sleep, and our not-so-great first day of the trip was a distant memory, except for this one image that kept popping into my head: I kept picturing a cozy creperie we had passed by on our walk.  I remembered peering through steamed up windows into a tiny dining room with wood paneling.  Everyone inside was eating these gorgeous savory crepes with sunny-side-up eggs.  They were smiling and looked so warm, so happy.  I had wanted to be in there so badly with all of them instead of outside, freezing my derrière off.

Over the next few days, every time a blast of wind cut through me, I’d imagine that restaurant.  I knew it must be very close to where we were staying, but somehow we had not passed it again.  I began to think it had been a hallucination, something my jet-lagged brain had cooked up to try to warm me that first day.

Finally, towards the end of our stay, we found our way back to this creperie and I realized it did indeed exist outside my head.  We walked in, late afternoon, out of the chilly Paris drizzle and each had our very own galette complète.  Thankfully, they were as delicious in reality as they had been in my imagination.  

A galette (at least in this context) is a buckwheat crepe with a savory filling.  Most of the galettes on this cafe’s menu were filled with ham, cheese, and maybe a few veggies, completed with a sunny-side-up egg.  The fillings are loaded into the center of the crepe, then the edges are folded to create a square envelope, framing a brilliantly orange yolk.  We had ours with hard cider served out of tiny ceramic bowls and I knew this would be a treat I’d be trying to recreate as soon as we got home.

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Polenta Bake with Italian Sausage & Lacinato Kale

Polenta Bake with Italian Sausage & Lacinato KaleThis dinner certainly isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but boy, is it ever good on a cold winter night.  Allow me to explain what it is, since it really just looks like a big yellow blob.

It’s an Italian take on a shepard’s pie.  I made a saute of spicy sausage, kale, and tomatoes, topped it with a layer of polenta and a handful of grated cheese, and tossed it in the oven.  The cheese bubbled and melted, the polenta got crispy-crunchy around the edges.  It’s the kind of comfort food that’ll warm your heart, your soul, your stomach, and leave you barely even caring that you seem to be caught in the epicenter of that danged polar vortex. [Read more…]

Roasted Garlic & White Bean Soup with Parmesan Frico

Cannellini Bean & Roasted Garlic Soup with Parmesan Frico There’s been an awful lot of soup in my life for the past few weeks.  Every time I put another pot on the stove, the little voice in my head replays a line from the movie “Juno”.  

“She smells like soup. Have you ever smelled her? I mean, her whole house smells like soup!”

Um, hopefully I’m just being paranoid, but I think I could have been the inspiration behind that whole scene.   The weather has been cold as all get out though and I do what I’ve got to do to stay warm and semi-sane through the winter.  I make soup.  A lot.  And I probably smell like soup.  And my whole house, too.  Oh well, c’est la vie.

My latest batch of soup is a simple cannellini bean soup with 2 whole heads of roasted garlic pureed into it, garnished with Parmesan frico crisps.  It’s hearty and satisfying and pretty healthy at the same time.  The garlic isn’t the least bit abrasive, instead it provides a round, almost sweet undertone to the white beans.  The crisp rounds of Parmesan add nutty, cheesy crunch.  All in all, it provides further evidence that it’s okay to smell like soup, as long as eating it makes you feel good.  At least that’s what I’m going with.

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Braised Lamb Shanks with Citrus-Mint Gremolata

Braised Lamb Shanks with Citrus & Mint GremolataMy little brother is getting married this summer and called me while I was in the midst of making these lamb shanks, asking what types of pots and pans he should register for.  I had to laugh because first of all, when did my baby brother grow up and become so domestic and second, the question was timed so appropriately.  It took me about half of a second to come up with the item to put at the top of the list.

A Dutch oven!!!  You need to register for a Dutch oven, I think I might have screamed.  I don’t think mine has seen the inside of the cupboard since August.  If you scroll back on blog posts from the last few months, you’ll see the tell-tale red handles peeking out all over the place, holding everything from hearty soups to slow roasted pork shoulder to Bolognese sauce.

But, anyway, let’s get back to the lamb.  My latest go-around with the old Dutch oven was braising a couple of shanks last weekend that have now taken the lead for this winter’s best dinner at home.  I braised them in red wine with fennel seeds, red pepper, ginger, and golden raisins and topped them off with a fragrant mint and Meyer lemon gremolata.  The result was amazingly tender meat with Moroccan undertones.  There was a little heat from the red pepper and ginger, a touch of sweetness from the raisins, and a burst of freshness from the citrus-herb gremolata.  

Sound good?  Well, what are you waiting for?  Grab your Dutch oven and let’s get cooking!

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