8 Steps to a Romantic Duck
The temperature's rising. The sap's beginning to flow. The wooly mammals are emerging from their caves and blinking in the bright sunlight. What's a Homosapien to do but celebrate the rites of spring with a loved one (or a potential spring fling).
Chances are that your sense of a romance may have been dulled by cold weather hibernation. Well, the following refresher course in the art of flirtatious dining should help break the ice.
Be focused. Turn off the TV (I know it's been on for the past three months), unplug the phone (and the pager) and lock up the crotch-sniffing dogs.
Be lighthearted. The soft glow of candlelight will transform the simplest meal into an occasion (not to mention cast a flattering light on you). Go one step beyond by using lots of candles to illuminate the entire space you plan to occupy. Avoid heavily scented candles that do battle with the subtler aromas of the food. Beeswax candles emit a pleasant scent that should compliment what's already in the air. For inexpensive candles, head for the mother lode: Ikea, where a box of 50 will cost about the same as a fancy pair from an upscale store. Don't worry about matching candlestick holders. But if you're improvising be cautious - you're trying to ignite passion, not the tablecloth.
Be jazzy. Select music that helps set the desired mood but doesn't distract from or overpower the witty repartee. To avoid untimely interruptions, pre-select your music for the entire evening. Choose your own favorites, or fill the CD carousel with these timeless classics and hit "shuffle."
1. Chet Baker - Let's Get Lost
2. John Coltrane - John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
3. Astor Piazzolla - Tango Zero Hour
4. Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto
5. Billie Holiday - The Original Authentic Recordings
Be bubbly. Nothing awakens the senses like champagne
There's a non-vintage California sparkler or French Champagne to fit the budget of every sentimental fool. Keep it well chilled. If you don't have an ice bucket, show a little unconventional flair by using an empty four-quart tin of canned tomatoes or even an empty gallon paint can. If you get no kick from Champagne on its own, concoct a Kir Royale cocktail by adding a splash of Cassis.
Be floral. Create a "scentsurround" effect, buy a bunch of tuberoses or lilies, divide it up and place one or two stems, in water, in various locations throughout the living area.
Be light-handed. Serve sensuous food, not sensational portions. Nothing shuts down a romantic evening faster than that bloated I-can't-move feeling.
Be blind (like love itself). After dinner, blindfold and feed your companion morsels of seductive delicacies, one bite at a time (e.g., peeled grapes, mango, kiwi, sorbets, chocolate truffles). Alternate temperature and texture and arrange in natural pairings. For example, serve a peeled slice of pear followed by a nugget of stilton cheese followed by a spoonful of port.
Be sweet and intoxicating. Cap off dessert with chocolate martinis. (2 1/2 oz. vodka + 1 oz. clear Creme de Cacao. Shake over ice and strain into two chilled martini glasses.) Garnish with a Hershey's kiss and deliver with one of your own.
Be noble. Send me the Polaroids.
Pan Seared Duck Breast with Black Currant Sauce
A little slicing, dicing and spontaneous tangoing, even with the limitations of a dysfunctional kitchen, rarely fails to set a romantic tone and provide some laughs. This simple but exotic meal can be made together from start to finish in about 20 minutes.
2 6-oz. boneless duck breasts. (They may come as one butterflied breast. If so, slice down the middle to separate.) Most grocery stores now carry duck. However, the best ducks are Moscovi ducks, available from specialty butchers.
1 small shallot, minced
2 T Cassis (a French liqueur made from black currants)
4 T black currant jam (unsweetened if possible) or black cherry, boysenberry or other similar preserves
1 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 t salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2 With the duck skin side up and using a sharp knife, score four 1/4 inch deep cuts across the skin at a 45 degree angle. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper over the meat side of each breast.
3 Heat a well-seasoned skillet or non-stick pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the breasts, skin side down, and cook four minutes or until skin is brown and crispy. Flip and cook for two more minutes.
4 Remove the pan from the heat (save the drippings) and transfer duck breasts, skin side up, to a cooking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake on the top rack of the oven for six minutes.
5 Carefully discard all but one tablespoon of duck drippings from the pan. Return the pan to medium heat and add the shallot. Stir occasionally for three minutes or until shallot begins to turn golden. Add the Cassis and stir with a wooden spoon to loosen up the browned bits left by the duck. Add the jam, vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, stirring occasionally for three minutes. Remove from the heat.
6 Remove the duck from the oven, and slice each breast at a 45 degree angle into 1/4 inch thick strips (properly cooked duck should resemble medium-rare steak). Arrange in a fan-like pattern on warmed plates and spoon the black currant sauce over the top.
Le Secret If you're unfamiliar with duck breasts, don't be put off by their unusual look. The fat-to-meat proportion reverse itself when the meat is cooked as much of the fat melts away and the meat expands.
Suggested Accompaniment Serve with sautéed greens and baked baby potatoes.
Wine A Santa Barbara pinot noir