Cooking like a Sicilian

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Getting ready to cook

DonQui has the opportunity to try his hand at Sicilian cooking under the watchful eyes of the chefs from Duca di Castelmonte, near Trapani.

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Duca di Castelmonte

Duca di Castlemonte is an old farm estate now converted into an excellent country restaurant and guest house. 

DonQui Oaty’s first lesson is in making a traditional Sicilian spiral pasta (busiate).

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Roll out a thin finger of dough

This is done by rolling out a thin finger of dough then gently rolling it around a wooden stick to produce an elegant spiral. The stick is first dipped in flour to stop the dough from sticking to it.

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Make the spiral by rolling it around a kebab stick

DonQui takes his time with the first one, learning that it is best to make them quite thin and not too long.

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DonQui begins to get the hang of it

Once he gets the hang of it he is able to produce them with confidence but it is a time consuming process which would be best done with several willing helpers. DonQui is fortunate that the dough (hard flour and water — no eggs) is pre-made for him.

The sauce is a Trapanese tomato pesto. The ingredients (for two) are:

2 pealed garlic cloves
approximately 2 tablespoons of blanched, lightly roasted almonds.
a small bunch of fresh basil (torn up)
a pinch of salt and pepper
a generous glug of olive oil
pulp of 4 red, ripe tomatoes; peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

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Peel the tomatoes by first immersing them in boiling water

To peel and seed the tomatoes: score the skin in quarters, cover with boiling water for about 5 minutes then let cool. The skins will peel off easily. To de-seed, squeeze the tomato over a bowl and the seeds and excess liquid will come out leaving just the pulp.

Method:

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Use a mortar and pestle to make the pesto

Prepare the pesto by first mashing up the dry ingredients and garlic, with a mortar and pestle, until it forms a sort of paste. Add the torn basil and pound together a bit more until well blended.

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After adding the tomatoes and olive oil

Add the tomato pulp and olive oil then mash it all together until well mixed. Set to one side.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water (You don’t necessarily need to use home-made pasta). Drain and tip out into a bowl and mix in the pesto.

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The completed dish

Serve with a good sprinkling of chopped roasted almonds on top then enjoy.

It is one of the most divine pasta dishes DonQui has had the opportunity to taste. In his view it does not benefit from the addition of cheese.

Lucky Couscous

For many people, and the odd donkey, 7 is a lucky number. The recipe that follows must be very lucky indeed as DonQui makes it with seven vegetables and seven spices.

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Couscous with seven vegetables

This is DonQui’s take on a traditional couscous from Fez, adapted from Paula Wolfert’s excellent book: Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. DonQui’s recipe differs from the traditional in two ways.

Firstly he uses no meat while the original contains both chicken and lamb. This is not because DonQui is a vegetarian — he is anything but. Rather it is because he is cooking for just two people, not a vast horde, and very occasionally he likes to experiment with vegetable dishes.

Secondly he likes his vegetables crisp and crunchy while the vegetables in most traditional Moroccan couscouses are cooked to the point where they are soft and soggy. This is because the vegetables (and meat) are used to produce a deep rich bouillon. It is the sauce that is important rather than the the individual ingredients that are used to make it. DonQui’s recipe tries to balance both — crisp, crunchy vegetables as well as a deep rich sauce.

Ingredients (for two people)
1 cup of dry couscous
500 ml chicken stock
500 ml lamb stock
1 small tin (250 g) of chopped tomatoes or 2 fresh large tomatoes peeled and chopped
a bunch of chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
a bunch of chopped parsley
½ cup of dry chickpeas (garbanzo beans) soaked overnight
a handful of raisins
a handful of blanched almonds
salt to taste
harissa to taste
lemon juice to taste
a mix of butter and oil for frying

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The seven spices

½ tsp ground coriander seed
½ tsp ground cumin seed
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp dry ground ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground black pepper
a pinch of saffron threads

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The seven vegetables

DonQui parts from tradition here, using whatever is fresh and available as well giving a good colour balance rather than sticking to traditional Moroccan vegetables. This time he uses:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small courgette (zucchini)
4 baby sweet corn
6 sprigs of tender stem broccoli
3 carrots
a handful of fine french beans
a bunch of broad beans (later podded).

The onion is essential but the other vegetables are entirely up to your taste. Turnip is a traditional vegetable in Moroccan couscous and it adds a nice peppery flavour to the sauce. Unfortunately there were none available in his local shop when he made this dish. Normally he would try to include it.

Notes:
DonQui uses a combination of chicken and lamb stock as the traditional recipe is made with both chicken and lamb. He sometimes uses only chicken stock. Alternatively if you want a vegetarian dish then you could use 1 litre of vegetable stock instead.

To peel fresh tomatoes, place them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for a few minutes and the skins will come off. It is easier if you quarter the tomatoes before peeling.

Method
Note: This dish takes several hours preparation. DonQui usually starts in the morning for an evening meal. Most of the more complicated stages can be done well in advance to leave the final preparations to the last 30 minutes.

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The couscous grains after washing and drying

Prepare the dry couscous by washing and drying as described in step 1 of How to Make the Perfect Couscous. This should be done several hours in advance.

Drain the chickpeas and simmer in boiling water for 1 hour. Then drain.

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Fry the chopped onion and carrot in the bottom of a couscousiere

In the bottom of a couscousiere gently fry the chopped onion in the butter and oil until it begins to colour. DonQui also likes to add one chopped carrot as well.

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Add the chickpeas and spices

When the onion-carrot mix begins to colour but before it burns, add the chickpeas and all the spices. Stir for about a few seconds over a medium heat.

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Add the tomatoes and herbs

Add the tomatoes, salt, coriander and parsley, stirring continuously so that the mix is well blended but does not scorch. The add the stock and bring to the boil.

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Place couscous in the top half and steam

Place the couscous in the top half of the couscousiere and steam over the mixture for 20 minutes as described in step 2 of How to Make the Perfect Couscous. Up to this point everything can be done well in advance and it is better to do so. You can then set everything off to one side and make the final preparations without time-stress.

Thirty minutes before you wish to serve, add the raisins to the mixture in the bottom of the couscousiere and bring back up to the boil. Place the pre-prepared couscous back on top to steam another 20 minutes as described in step 3 of How to Make the Perfect Couscous.

The original 1 litre of stock will have reduced considerably by the end of this stage but it should be enough to continue to steam the couscous while forming a rich broth. If it looks like it is evaporating too much then add a little water.

Gently fry the blanched almonds in butter until they turn a golden brown. Tip out on a plate covered with paper towels to dry and set aside to dry.

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Prepare the vegetables

Meanwhile prepare the fresh vegetables by cutting the larger ones (carrots and courgette) into julienne style batons about 3 cms long. Cut the french beans in half widthwise and slice larger baby corn in half lengthwise. Cut off the thicker parts of the broccoli stalks. Although not essential, broad beans are best if you remove the outer skin of the individual beans after podding. This is best done by blanching for a minute or two, pinching an opening in the outer skin and then squeezing the tender inner bean through it.

When the couscous has steamed for 20 minutes add the carrots to the broth and continue to simmer for 2 minutes more. Then add the baby corn, broccoli and beans, and simmer for 3 minutes. Finally add the courgette for a final 2 minutes. In this way the carrots will have cooked for 7 minutes, the beans and corn 5 minutes and the courgette for 2 minutes. Adjust your cooking times to the individual vegetables and your taste. DonQui likes his still a bit crunchy and these timings give him that.

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Make a well in the centre of the couscous

Tip the couscous out onto a serving platter. Fluff up with a fork (possibly adding a few dollops of butter) and form a well in the centre for the vegetables.

Strain the vegetables, reserving the broth. Tip the drained vegetables into the well of the couscous.

 

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Serve the broth in a gravy boat on the side

Pour the strained broth back into the bottom of the couscousiere. Bring back up to the boil and immediately take off the heat. Add a dollop of harissa and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste and stir well. Taste for seasoning and pour the broth into a serving jug or gravy boat.

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Sprinkle the fried almonds on top

Sprinkle the vegetables with the fried almonds and serve with the broth on the side.

How to make perfect couscous

Moroccan food must be counted amongst the world’s great cuisines. DonQui has been in love with it for many years and he enjoys preparing a Moroccan feast as much as he enjoys partaking in it.

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DonQui’s copy of Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco

His faithful guide to unlocking the secrets of this wonderful cuisine has been Paula Wolfert’s brilliant Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. The pages of his copy are now stained from use and the pages are coming apart. It is from these pages that DonQui discovered how to make delectable tagines as well as the traditional way of preparing couscous.

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Couscous with Merguez and Vegetables

Couscous in the West is rarely prepared properly. Most instructions simply tell you to pour boiling water or stock over the couscous, let it swell for 5 minutes and then loosen the grains with a fork, perhaps adding a little butter. You can make couscous this way and it will be edible but the grains will swell to at most twice their size. Done in the traditional way the couscous grains will swell up to at least three times their original size without becoming soggy or lumpy. The result is a deliciously light, fluffy concoction — perfect for sopping up the deep rich bouillon in which the accompanying meats and/or vegetables are prepared.

 

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Absorbing water in several stages produces a light fluffy couscous

The trick is to let the grains absorb water in three stages, drying out in between and steaming the couscous over the meat, vegetables and spices which will accompany it. You will need a couscousiere to do this. The process is simple but it takes time. DonQui is a great fan of the slow food movement and he is of no doubt the time taken is well worth the effort.

This is how it is done:

First Stage. Washing and Drying

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They dry couscous at first seems to not be enough

Put approximately 1 cup of dry couscous for every two people in a large deep bowl. It will not look like much and DonQui often worries that it will not be enough. Fear not. It will grow to three times as much — or more.

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Swish the grains around in the water

Pour a good amount of cold water over it. DonQui never measures exactly but is should be more than enough to cover the grains and then some. Swish the grains around in the water for a few seconds with your hands (the water will then become cloudy).

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Pour off the excess water

Gently pour off the excess water (no need to use a sieve) leaving the wet grains in the bowl to settle.

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Set aside to dry

Set aside to let the grains absorb the remaining water and then dry. This will take about 30 minutes. You can let the couscous sit for as long as you like. DonQui often does this hours before he intends to start cooking.

 

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Break up the grains once dry

When the grains are dry (this does not have to be done immediately) break up the couscous with your hands so that the grains are no longer sticking together. By this time the couscous will have expanded to about twice the original size.

Second Stage. The First Steaming

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Place the grains in the top half of a couscousiere

Place the fluffed up couscous grains in the colander of a couscousiere on top of the food you are cooking to accompany it.

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Ensure there is plenty of liquid in the bottom half of the couscousiere

You will need a good deal of liquid in the bottom half of the couscousiere as much of it will evaporate in the steaming process.

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Steam for 20 minutes uncovered in a couscousiere

Bring the liquid in the bottom half of the couscousiere to a vigorous boil and steam the couscous on top of it for 20 minutes, uncovered.

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Pour water with a bit of oil over the steamed grains

Tip the steamed couscous back into the bowl and immediately pour about ¼ litre of cold water with a dash of olive oil over the hot grains. Swish the bowl around for a few seconds then let it settle for the couscous to absorb the water. It is best to add the water in stages as too much at this stage may cause the couscous to become soggy.

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Set aside to dry again

Set aside to dry as in the first stage. Once again this can be done hours in advance. By this time the grains will have expanded to three times their original size or more.

Third Stage. The Second Steaming

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Break up the grains before the second steaming

Thirty minutes before you wish to serve, break up the couscous with your hands so that they are no longer sticking together and there are no lumps.

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Again steam for 20 minutes

Once again steam the couscous for 20 minutes, uncovered, in the top half of a couscousiere. In the last few minutes DonQui often adds a few dots of butter.

 

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The finished couscous

Tip out onto a serving platter and fluff up with a fork or two so that there are no lumps.

Either form a mound, over which the meat and vegetables can be placed. Or form a well in the centre for the same purpose. Then enjoy!

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Serve the couscous with food it was steamed over

In his next blog, DonQui will give a recipe for a vegetable accompaniment which he recently cooked in the bottom half of the couscousiere as the grains were steaming. Over time he will add additional recipes.

If you only want light fluffy couscous (for a salad, for example). You could steam the couscous over a simple stock.

 

Chinese Style Ginger Sauce

DonQui is no great expert when it comes to Chinese food. His experience of western “Chinese” restaurants has always left him feeling that he has yet to sample the full delights of one of the world’s great cuisines.

Of late he has been experimenting, trying for himself to discover and understand some of the basics of Chinese cooking. Thanks to the excellent book, Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop and some Chinese ingredients provided by one of his well travelled colts, DonQui is beginning to get somewhere and has started to create his own Chinese-style dishes and sauces.

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Broccoli florets stir-fried with ginger and chilli

The following recipe for ginger sauce goes exceptionally well with broccoli which has been blanched for 2-3 minutes and then stir-fried with ginger and chilli. If using Chinese or tender-stem broccoli the whole stem can be used (cutting off the thicker ends of the stalks). If using ordinary western broccoli (as above) then use only the florets cut small.

Ginger Sauce Ingredients

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Ginger Sauce Ingredients

A good amount of fresh ginger root, pealed and finely chopped — about 2 tablespoons
½ – 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like your sauce)
A good splash of Shaoxing rice wine (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon Chinkiang rice vinegar
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons palm and/or brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like your sauce)
100 ml low salt chicken stock (Chicken stock made from standard stock cubes is far too salty for this sauce according to DonQui. If you do use them then do not add any soy sauce without first tasting)
1 teaspoon of potato flour or corn starch mixed with water for thickening
oil for cooking (DonQui uses a mix of coconut and light rapeseed or light olive oil)
salt to taste
Alternatives
DonQui gets his Shaoxing or Shaohsing rice wine and Chinkiang vinegar from China Town in London. If you cannot easily obtain them the best alternatives are dry sherry and balsamic vinegar respectively.

Ginger Sauce Method

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Stir-fry the ginger and chilli

Gently stir fry the ginger and chilli until they begin to smell fragrant then add the sugar until it begins to caramelise. Add the rice wine and vinegar, mixing well and reducing slightly
Then add the stock and soy sauce, bring to the boil and simmer gently until well blended and reduced by about 1/3. Taste for salt and add more soy or a pinch of salt to taste

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Reducing and thickening the sauce

Add the potato flour/corn starch mix and bring back up to the boil to thicken.
Set aside and warm up when ready to serve. The flavours deepen if the sauce is made well in advance. It is also makes an excellent dipping sauce (cold or warm) as an alternative to a sweet chilli sauce.

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The finished sauce ready for serving

 

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The broccoli florets with ginger sauce together with fried rice

 

Wild Mallard

Duck is one of DonQui’s favourite meats. He is also very fond of game.

Imagine his joy, therefore, at seeing a wild mallard duck at his local butchers. It was too much to resist so he picked it up, took it home and then did a bit of research on how to best cook the bird — this being his first attempt.

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A wild mallard is much smaller than a farmed duck — just about perfect for two people. It also has very little fat. Unlike a domestic duck, there is no need to render the fat and the whole bird can be roasted rather than separating the legs and breasts. Because the bird is so small the best way to prepare it is by browning it all over in a hot pan and then finishing it off in the oven.

This is DonQui’s recipe.

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Ingredients for the roast mallard for two people
1 wild mallard
1 onion quartered
2 carrots roughly chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and halved
1 lemon cut in half
A good bunch of fresh thyme
Salt
Oil and butter for cooking

Accompaniments (all optional)
1 apple cored and left whole with the skin on
Butter, raisins and a splash of rum to fill the inside of the apple
A handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for at least 30 minutes
A good splash of red wine to deglaze the pan
Wild rice
Seasonal vegetables
Cranberry sauce

Method
Take the duck out of the fridge at least one hour before cooking so that it comes to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 200º C. Meanwhile rub sea salt all over the duck, including the cavity. Salt on the skin will help to crisp it as well as adding flavour.

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Place the quartered onion, chopped carrot and garlic in a roasting pan, douse with a little oil and place in the heated oven to roast for 30-45 minutes until the vegetables are nice and dark but not burned.

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As the roasting time for the duck is only 12-15 minutes, DonQui does this in advance to help create a deep rich sauce. Otherwise the vegetables will not imbue the dark roasted flavours to the sauce. Take the vegetables out of the oven once they are nicely roasted and set aside.

Put the soaked wild rice on to boil and then simmer about 45 minutes before serving. DonQui’s method for cooking wild rice is fully explained here. Once cooked the drained rice can happily sit in a lidded pot, off the heat, and will remain warm for at least 15 minutes if you do not get your timings right.

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Once the vegetables are out of the oven, heat a mix of butter and oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Butter will give flavour and the oil will prevent it from burning. Brown the duck on all sides using tongs or a large spoon and fork to turn it. This will take about 10 minutes.

Take the bird out of the pan. Place it on a rack above the vegetables in the roasting pan. Then stuff the cavity of the duck with the halved lemons and sprigs of thyme. This will add flavour to the bird and the lemon will steam it from the inside while it roasts. Add the cored apple stuffed with butter, raisins and rum to the rack.

Put the roasting pan with the duck and apple above the vegetables into the oven and roast for 12-15 minutes. After 15 minutes the meat will still have some pink to it but more than that will cause it to dry out and toughen up. Twelve minutes will be just enough to cook through leaving the meat a little rarer.

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Place the duck on a carving board, cover with tinfoil and a couple of tea-towels (dishcloths) and let it rest for 10-20 minutes. In this time the duck will continue to slowly cook from the inside out. This will even the cooking process which up to now has been from the outside in. If you do not rest for at leat 10 minutes the meat will not be properly cooked.strain.jpg

Cook the accompanying vegetables and make the sauce while the duck is resting.
To make the sauce, deglaze the roasting pan with a good splash of red wine over the roasted vegetables, stirring it all up over a low heat and scraping up the brown bits. Then strain the liquid into a pre-prepared gravy base. As the wild duck has very little fat there is no need to spoon anything off.

DonQui’s gravy base is a variation of his rich sauce. A simple alternative could be chicken stock thickened with a roux of butter and flour.mushrooms.jpg

On this occasion DonQui decides to add some dried porcini mushrooms. As the duck is roasting he pan fries the soaked mushrooms in a butter-oil mix, using the same pan he browned the duck in without cleaning it. Then he adds them to the sauce along with the water they had been soaking in. This gives the gravy a deep earthy taste which perfectly matches the wild duck.

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DonQui serves the duck with the wild rice, fresh kale from his allotment and french beans. Although not seasonal, he had picked the beans in season and froze them a few months ago. They were an excellent additional accompaniment.

As for the mallard — it was utterly delicious. DonQui will definitely try it again. Next time he will not bother with the baked apple. It is a traditional addition to a game bird, and went well with it, but DonQui thought the cranberry sauce was better and there was no need of two different sweet accompaniments.

DonQui advises looking out for pellets when eating a wild bird.  He found three shotgun pellets in this mallard. He takes this as a good sign that the mallard will have been living freely as a wild bird should before succumbing to the hunter rather than the abattoir.

 

Canadian Thanksgiving Feast

Back home from his travels DonQui decides to get cooking again.

Today being Canadian Thanksgiving, he decides to put together a Thanksgiving feast. Central to this has to be a turkey which is a little difficult to find in the UK at this time of year.

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Fortunately his friendly local butchers — Mills & Sons & Daughters are able to find him a lovely small bird. DonQui finds that smaller turkeys have much better taste and with this one at just over 4kg (9 lbs) he won’t be stuck with leftovers for weeks afterwards.

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Another essential for DonQui is wild rice which comes from the great lakes of Canada and the northern USA. Many packets of wild rice in the UK are sold mixed with white rice. This is a silly combination as wild rice requires much longer cooking than ordinary rice. If you want to mix the two they need to be cooked separately or otherwise you will end up with one still too hard or the other too soggy.

Traditional accompaniments would be sweet potato and squash or some other autumnal vegetables. DonQui’s guests had requested roast potatoes and peas. He is happy to oblige even if they are not the most authentic of Thanksgiving side dishes.

Cranberry sauce is another important addition to a turkey feast. This time he uses a store-bought jar although he has made it himself before. Cranberry sauce is quite easy to make and DonQui’s recipe can be found here.

DonQui decides he will stuff the turkey. As this entails quite a bit of work, it is not something DonQui does as a matter of course. Due to the time it takes he prefers to prepare the stuffing the day before, making it much easier on the day. He also pre-prepares the gravy base for the same reason.

Here are his recipes to serve 4-6 people depending on appetites and the desire for left-overs

Stuffing Ingredients
A handful of chopped turkey and/or chicken livers (about 6 whole livers)
Half an onion finely chopped
A good bunch of chopped parsley (about ½ a cup)
A good teaspoon each of fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme (reduce the amount if using dried herbs)
A bit of grated nutmeg
6 slices of stale white bread cut into squares leaving crusts on
a handful of chopped dried cranberries (optional)
a handful of chopped chestnuts (optional)
a splash of milk
salt and pepper to taste
butter for cooking (mix with a little vegetable oil if desired)

Stuffing method

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Gently pan fry the onion in butter until soft and it begins to colour

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Add the chopped livers and stir fry over a low heat until most of the pinkness is almost gone. Add the herbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue cooking over a low heat until well mixed.
Set aside to cool

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Put the cut bread into a bowl

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Moisten with a little milk and kneed it together with your hands until the volume is reduced and the bread becomes almost dough-like but not too soggy. Squeeze out any excess liquid.IMG_0444 2.jpg

Mix in the liver/onion/herb mixture along with the cranberries and chestnuts if you are using them. This time DonQui uses only the cranberries. They add a delightful taste burst to the finished stuffing.  You can start this off with a fork but to get it really well mixed you will need to get in there with your hands.

IMG_0446.JPGWhen it is throughly mixed it should have the look and constituency of a course paté. Set aside for at least a couple of hours or overnight

Preparing the Gravy base.
Place the turkey giblets (neck, kidney and heart but not the liver) along with a roughly diced carrot and celery stalk in a roasting pan along with a quartered onion leaving the outer skin on. DonQui also likes to clip the wing tips off the turkey and add these also. The liver goes in to making the stuffing.

Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place the roasting pan in a pre-heated oven at 160º and roast for about 1 hr until the vegetables have begun to brown but not burn.

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Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry white wine and transfer everything into a large pot. Add water to just about cover, along with a bay leaf and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Simmer the mixture for at least an hour until all the flavours combine. For a deeper taste use chicken stock (or better yet turkey stock if you have it) in place of some or all of the water. This could be cooked up in the roasting pan but DonQui prefers to use a pot. Its narrower base makes it easier to cover the ingredients with liquid.

Strain and reserve the liquid until ready to make the gravy. Discard the solid ingredients. DonQui does this the night before to reduce the number of activities on the day of the feast.

The Wild Rice
Properly cooked, wild rice expands to almost 4 times its dry state.

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Soak a cup of wild rice in 4 cups of water and leave overnight. The grains will burst at the ends, exposing the white insides.

About 1 hour before serving, drain the soaked rice and place in a pot with three times its volume of salted water. For an even better taste substitute about 1/3 of the the water with chicken stock.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender.

The Turkey

Take the turkey out of the fridge at least 1 hour before cooking. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.

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Stuff the neck end (back) of the turkey with the stuffing and close the skin back over it. DonQui tends to secure the neck flap with a wooden cocktail stick but this is not essential.

Place two halved citrus fruits (lemons or clementines) inside the main cavity of the turkey along with sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or thyme. DonQui also adds half an onion (optional). These will steam the inside of the turkey as it cooks and add greater flavour to the gravy.

Warm some butter in your hands then rub and massage it all over the bird. Then sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Cover with tinfoil (aluminium foil). Place in the oven and roast at 180º C for 25-30 minutes per kilo. Remove the tinfoil for the last 40 minutes of cooking. This will give make the skin turn a nice crispy golden brown.

Take the bird out of the oven. Use large tongs, or tongs and a carving fork, to tip the bird up to let the juices from the cavity pour out into your pre-prepared gravy base. Then place it on a carving board, cover with tinfoil and a couple of tea towels (dishcloths) and let it rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours). During this time the bird will continue to cook.

If you are worried whether the turkey is properly cooked, pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a sharp knife or skewer. If the juices run clear then it is done. If you like to use a thermometer (DonQui never does) then the internal temperature should be 65ºC. Be careful of overcooking as the breast will dry out.

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While the bird is resting, get on with cooking the vegetables and finishing off your gravy.

Finishing the Gravy
After pouring the juices from the cavity of the turkey into the gravy base, bring it back up to the boil and let simmer.

Pour off all the fat and oil from the empty roasting pan, place onto the stove top at a moderate head and deglaze the pan with a good splash of white wine.

Scrap up all the brown bits with a wooden spatula and then strain the juices into the simmering gravy base.

Thicken the gravy either with a roux of flour and butter or cornstarch mixed with water. DonQui likes to use a roux and he describes his method of doing this in his recipe for rich meat sauce.

If you do not pre-prepare a gravy base then you should add chopped carrot and celery with a quartered onion to the roasting pan along with the turkey. After deglazing the pan as above add 500ml of chicken or turkey stock and add this to the juices from the cavity of the cooked turkey.

After resting, more juices will have accumulated on the platter or in the runnels of the carving board. Add these to the gravy before serving.

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DonQui was most pleased with the way his Thanksgiving feast turned out.

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The empty plates and dishes afterwards bore testament to the enjoyment of others. All are agreed that the early October Canadian date for Thanksgiving is much more sensible than the US November one. It is, of course, more suitable for northern climes but it also gives a nice separation from Christmas.

Asparagus Salad with Poached Egg

It is time for DonQui to try one of the dishes he was particularly proud of at the Dublin cookery school to see if he has mastered the techniques. Taking advantage of the last of the asparagus season he is preparing an asparagus salad with a few interesting twists.

IMG_0008He is particularly pleased by his efforts as he has had issues with poached eggs in the past. Now successfully manages to poach a near perfect egg. Not just once — but twice in a row!

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Ingredients (for 2 people):

A handful of lardons, or better yet smoked Italian pancetta or German speck. If these are hard to find smoked bacon bits could be used instead.

A good splash of sherry vinegar (2-4 tablespoonfuls). You could substitute red wine vinegar but as it will not be as sweet as the sherry vinegar you may need to add a bit of sugar.

Olive or rapeseed oil for the dressing (a ratio of 2 oil to one vinegar is usually about right)

¼ to ½ teaspoon of black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon of dijon mustard. DonQui is a bit iffy about mustard. When it is uncooked he has an almost allergic reaction to it. When cooked, as it is in this recipe, he has no problem at all.

One or two slices of black pudding (blood sausage for those outside the British Isles – see above photo) with outer plastic casing removed. This is not an absolutely essential ingredient but DonQui likes it and finds it gives substance to the dish. He is fortunate that his local butcher makes excellent black pudding.

A bunch of mixed salad leaves.

6-10 asparagus spears

2 eggs — the fresher the better as fresh eggs have thicker whites which set better when poaching.

a drop of vinegar for poaching the eggs (simple white wine or cider vinegar is best. You don’t need the expensive stuff)

A handful of croutons. These are included in the original recipe but DonQui did not think they added much. In future he will leave them off.

Making the Dressing

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Gently fry the lardons to render out the fat.  If you cook the lardons gently they should not need any extra oil to prevent sticking Take out and set to one side.

IMG_1431They are done when the fat starts to turn golden. By this time they will have shrunk considerably. Take out and set to one side. Pour off the excess fat.

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Gently fry the black pudding (a couple of minutes on each side for a ¼ inch slice) then set to one side. Keep warm if you like. Particularly large slices (like the 7cm one in the above photo) should be cut in halves or quarters. This should be done after cooking as if done before, the soft black pudding will tend to fall apart.

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Throw in the mustard seeds and stir around for a minute or two on a gentle heat.

IMG_1435 Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar.

IMG_1438Stir in the mustard until it is dissolved.

Then pour off into a small bowl. Gradually add the oil to the mixture until it is very well blended. Set to one side and let it cool.

Preparing the Asparagus
Gently bend the asparagus spears until the snap naturally. This will happen naturally between the woody end and the tender tip. Discard the wordy ends.

IMG_0822DonQui prefers to grill his asparagus (2-3 minutes on each side).

Another good way to cook them for a salad is to quickly blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling water, then plunge them into cold water to refresh. This stops the cooking process — bringing out the flavour and colour of the vegetable.

The Secret of Perfect Poached Eggs
Bring a pot of water to the boil while you prepare the dressing. Add a drop of vinegar. This will prevent the eggs from sticking together and helps the white to set more quickly and effectively.

Meanwhile crack the eggs into individual small bowls or ramekins

IMG_1426-2Create a vortex in the water by stirring it around, in one direction, with a whisk. You need to create a proper whirlpool in the water.
Drop in the eggs, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot and leave it alone for 4 minutes.
DonQui had never had any success with poached eggs before trying this method.

IMG_1236 2So far it has worked brilliantly every time.

The Final Dish
Prepare the salad by heaping the leaves into the middle of a plate and dressing them. DonQui has found that adding the lardons to the dressing adds extra interest and flavour. Alternatively they could be mixed in with the leaves before dressing.
Arrange the asparagus, black pudding, and croutons around the leaves.
Place the poached egg on top.

Enjoy!

Variations

DonQui has come to love the rich flavour of the sherry vinegar/bacon/mustard dressing. So he has experimented with other ways to use it after making a batch.

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For this delicious summer salad he uses fine slices of smoked duck breast in place of the asparagus, poached egg and black pudding. The dressing is exactly the same but the addition of a handful of chopped toasted walnuts amongst the leaves and a few fresh raspberries around utterly transforms it (not to forget the duck!). It reminds DonQui of the sort of dish he might expect to find in the south of France.