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Cooking in your own kitchen for date night has this wondrous side result: you get to eat at home. There are no ever-louder-as-they-drink-more folks at the table next door and your comfy jeans are fine to wear all night long.

The love of my life, my fave sous chef in our kitchen.

The wine glasses happen to be the ones you like best, maybe purchased at an estate sale or while on a trip, or even inherited from your great-aunt. Music? Whatever you like, not what the restaurant manager thinks will best go over to all age groups. Hey–you also get to set the table or ask your partner or guest to do the honors while you stir up a little dinner.

Do get the table ready for date night ahead of time or have your partner do it while you cook.

Food? Well, you will need to cook unless you order in, which is perfectly fun as well. I typically cook not exactly off the top of my head (I usually have something in mind), but occasionally I see a meal someone else has made that I want to try. And so it was with this sweet duck dish for our Valentine’s dinner.

I often participate in the SAVEUR Cook Book Club via facebook or instagram, though buying a new (or older) cook book each month can be a bit daunting. Sometimes it’s easy to take part in the group by googling recipes from the book or reading reviews where recipes are often included. This month, the book is ROOTS by Diane Morgan, a favorite writer of mine and while I didn’t spring for the kind of pricey book, I noodled around looking for a few interesting things to cook. There were many ideas, and the one that piqued my interest most was one I didn’t bookmark and then later could no longer find. Sigh. It was some sort of duck breast on parsnip purée and…well, I don’t remember the sauce. And since many people apparently make similar dishes, I did find one I liked by Hector Rice, chef @ THE BLACK DUCK, NYC Crispy Duck Breast on Parsnip Puree with Spicy Cherry Sauce. It sounded sweetly promising– heavenly, in fact, and not too difficult at all. Although there were three things to cook to make the dish, none of them took long and it was a whole meal in one warm shallow bowl–one of my favorite sorts of dinners. My husband Dave promised he’d choose the wine and also grill asparagus wrapped in prosciutto (later drizzled with balsamic vinegar) for a starter–sooooo yummy! I had Dave’s favorite cookies already made, so dessert was a done deal, too. I could totally concentrate on the main course. Which was a good thing… …

…found at my local grocery store.

The first component of the dish was the cream laden parsnip purée, which I promptly nixed as written, giving a decided nod to our hearts. Instead of cooking only parsnips — one of my very favorite vegetables–in 2 cups of heavy cream, I’d add a big floury potato and a nice round turnip to 2 parsnips and simmer the whole shebang in chicken broth along with a good dose of black pepper. A little butter and milk mashed in at the end would work to create the silky texture I desired and I’d be down a whopping 1,600 fat calories. If parsnips aren’t your thing, sub mashed potatoes or a mix of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash.

Next was that spicy cherry sauce — what is it about duck and cherries anyway–that I could nearly use as written, though I’d open a can of sour (pie) cherries in water instead of syrup and sub my best Balsamic vinegar for a cherry vinegar of which I had zip. I adored the idea of the warm bakery spices in the sauce– a whole cinnamon stick and freshly grated nutmeg simply rang out on the page. The final touch of not-too-hot sriracha was all it needed to make the duck sing.

Last, the cooking of the duck breasts (however done they ended up), totally needed my undivided attention since they sautéed for not too awfully long and needed to be hot when served. That said, I knew the parsnips and the sauce could be tended to first and kept warm (or reheated while the duck rested) while I kept my eyes on the prize. The vegetables and the sauce could, if you like, be done the day before and refrigerated until you needed them. Even easier!

Perhaps you’re like me and haven’t cooked a whole big slew of duck breasts in your life. I’ve often eaten them in restaurants where they’re big winners as they are a snap to gussy up and also cook quickly. The last couple of times I’ve “made duck breasts,” it was actually Dave who grilled or smoked them. Before that, my memory was decidedly dim. Just to be sure, I scouted around and looked at a few other recipes for duck breasts. Reading through the directions, though, it seemed there was little to worry about–except perhaps overcooking the small fatty breasts. There was only a cooking on one side, pouring off the fat (keep that for your breakfast eggs), and cooking on the other– just a few minutes in total. In my own head, I was sure all of the duck breasts I had eaten were decidedly pink and juicy, but there seemed to be a few questions lingering about that very thing:

Cooking Duck Breast: Is Medium Rare safe?

The official food safety word from the USDA is that duck breast should be cooked to at least 160°F and preferably to 170°F. If you cook a duck breast to 155°F (assuming that carryover cooking will continue to raise the temperature to 160°F as the duck rests), it will be medium well—safe to eat and still a little pink in the center, but perhaps a tad drier than you might like. If you’re pregnant or if you have a compromised immune system, this is the route you should take.

But if you prefer your duck a little pinker, cook it to 135° or 140°F and enjoy a medium-rare to medium duck breast. It isn’t guaranteed safe, but if you like your duck a little more juicy and tender, you might consider the slight risk to be worthwhile.

-Jennifer Armentrout, FINE COOKING, issue 62

Don’t serve your duck pink?! That’s quackers, say top chefs

Others agree, suggesting that to go past pink is untenable. “Duck should be served pink for the same reasons that red meat should. It’s more succulent and tasty. Duck is a red meat – not white like poultry,” chef Ben Tish of the Salt Yard Group said. “If you’re cooking a whole duck then a temperature prove is useful. Cooking to around 60C (140 F) and holding for 30 secs on a fat part of the duck will give a good, safe result.”

-Josh Barrie, THE TELEGRAPH

The executive decision in my case was to go for the middle ground, which seemed to be at a temperature of just under 140 degrees F-and those babies turned out to be perfectly perfect with Chef Rice’s spicy sauce. Cook your duck as you please, but do try this:

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CRISPY DUCK BREASTS ON PARSNIP PURÉE WITH SPICY CHERRY SAUCE

No difficult techniques to master here, but you’ll need to begin with warming your oven to 200°F and sliding your bowls or plates in to warm. Next, make the parsnip puree, and then cook the sauce. When both of those are done, sauté the duck breasts as they take the least time and require the most attention. Either keep the vegetables and sauce covered and warm or heat them again quickly while you cook the duck so that everything is hot at the table. Plating involves spooning a mound of mashed vegetables into the bowl, topping that with the sliced duck, then ladling the piquant cherry sauce over all.
Servings: 2
Author: More Time at the Table

Ingredients

Parsnip Puree:

  • 2 large parsnips trimmed and peeled, diced
  • 1 large baking potato peeled and diced
  • 1 large turnip trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 32 ounces 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter or more to taste
  • Milk
  • Kosher salt to taste

Spiced Cherry Glaze:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onions
  • 15- ounce can of tart cherries in water drained
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or Cognac
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

Duck:

  • 2 boneless duck breasts with skin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • MAKE THE PARSNIP PUREE: Place the diced vegetables in a 4-quart pot along with the broth and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a good simmer, and cook until very tender—perhaps 20 minutes. Drain and return vegetables to pot. Mash by hand or use a hand held electric mixer, adding butter and just enough milk to make sure the puree is really smooth. Taste first and then season with a pinch of salt if necessary, also adding pepper judiciously as the cherry sauce that will go on top is quite spicy. The clean flavor of the vegetables should shine through here. Cover and keep warm or reheat just before serving. (If you’d like, drain the vegetables over another pot and keep the broth for soup.)
  • SIMMER THE SAUCE: Heat the oil over medium flame in a deep skillet, add the onions, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the onions are taking on color. Add the cherries, a good pinch each salt and pepper, chicken stock, vinegar, brandy, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and hot sauce. Let simmer about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, and mash with a potato masher (or use an immersion blender) until smooth. Set aside until needed, reheating gently, tasting, and adjusting seasonings before serving on top of the duck breasts.
  • SAUTE THE DUCK BREASTS: Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until quite hot. Meanwhile, with a sharp knife, score the fat on the duck breasts into a crisscross pattern (don’t cut the meat itself). Season well on both sides with salt and pepper. Place breasts in the hot skillet fat side down and cook until the fat is quite crispy—perhaps 6 or 7 minutes. Pour fat out of the pan and turn the breasts over to cook another 9 or 10 minutes for medium-rare or until breasts are done to your liking, using an instant read thermometer to determine the temperature. Cook the duck breasts to 130 degrees F for rare (55°C) 135 degrees F (57°C) for medium-rare, about 140°F (60°C) for medium, and 155°F (68°F) for well-done. Remove to a cutting board, let rest two minutes, and slice thinly at an angle.
  • TO SERVE: Divide parsnip puree between two warm shallow bowls or plates and top each with a sliced duck breast. Spoon the cherry sauce over all and serve hot.

Notes

Based on a recipe by Hector Tice, The Black Duck, NYC. Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2019. All rights reserved

How about another option or two for date night?

Pork Chops on Mashed Root Vegetables with Mustard-Mushroom Sauce

or what about:

One-Pan Salmon on Potatoes and Asparagus with Thyme and Chives?


What are you reading or watching?

*We recently printed up a list of the AFI’s (American Film Institute) top 100 films and after checking off which ones we hadn’t seen, have begun a late-winter movie marathon. Last night was CHINATOWN with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. 1974, the year we were married, was quite a film year and I never met a Jack Nicholson film I didn’t like!

*Just started the Israeli tv series, Shtisel (2013-2016) and are only watching one episode a week to make it last longer.

*I got a bit behind in my reading, but am half-way through each of these:

BECOMING by Michelle Obama

ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN by Mahbod Seraji.

I am enjoying one as well as the other; they’re both so well done. Michelle Obama’s book, though, feels as if she’s right there with you telling her story. I’ll be so sad when it ends.


No date at your house? Make this just for you and enjoy the leftovers–or invite a good friend and make a night of it.

Eat together when you can and spend more time at the table,

Alyce

Last summer’s bambies looking for dinner in our front yard last week.