Fruit Cakes and More; Healthy Gourmet; Duck, Duck, Duck

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Michel Nischan is the author of Taste Pure and Simple, published by Chronicle Books, and the culinary director for Song Airways.

Coriander Breast of Duck with Sweet Potato Sauce
Serves 4

Breast of Duck:

  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
  • 4 skinless, boneless duck breast halves (about 6 ozs each)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 tsp grapeseed oil
Sweet Potato Sauce
  • 3 1/2 cups sweet potato juice (garnered from a vegetable juicer)
  • 2 tablespoons sliced fresh ginger
  • 1 Thai chili, seeded and minced
  • Fresh lemon juice, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste
To make duck:
Crush the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle or grind in a mini grinder, leaving a little texture. Spread the crushed seeds on a plate.

Season breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Gently press the skinned side of each breast in the crushed coriander seeds to coat lightly. Sprinkle the parsley over the other side. Turn over again and drizzle 1 teaspoon of oil over the seeded side of each duck breast.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes. Cook the duck breasts, seeded side down, for about 3 minutes. Turn the duck over and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let the duck stand in the hot pan for 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Pour the sweet potato sauce into the same skillet and stir over medium heat, to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pass the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve. Carve the duck breasts crosswise into thin diagonal slice. Arrange on warmed plates and spoon the sauce around the duck. Serve immediately. To make sauce:
Let the sweet potato juice stand for at least 4 hours or up to 6 hours at room temperature. This will allow much of the potato starch in the juice to settle.

Pour the juice through a fine-mesh sieve into a wide, shallow pan, being careful to leave the settled starch behind. Place the juice over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, or until reduced to about 1 cup. During the first 5 or 10 minutes of cooking, additional potato starch will rise to the surface. Skim it off and discard. If using a relatively deep pan, this reduction could take up to 1 hour.

Remove from the heat and stir in the ginger and chili. Stir until the sauce tastes spicy enough. Strain immediately through a fine-mesh sieve. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

David Lebovitz is the author of Ripe for Dessert: 100 Outstanding Desserts with Fruit--Inside, Outside, Alongside, published by Harper Collins. Check out his website at

Pomegranate Granita
8 servings

  • 4 cups fresh unsweetened pomegranate juice (available at most health food stores or at the Farmers' Markets)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate for garnish
1. Mix the fresh pomegranate juice and sugar together in a mixing bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Taste, and add a bit more sugar if desired (The juice should still be tangy.)

2. Pour the mixture into a non-reactive 9" x 13" pan and place in the freezer. Check the mixture in 90 minutes. When the sides are partially frozen and there is a layer of ice formed on the top, use a fork and long strokes to scrape the partially frozen mixture from the top to the bottom of the pan. You will begin to create ice crystals. Return the pan to the freezer.

3. After 1 hour, check and repeat the scraping technique with a fork. Return the ice to the freezer. In another hour, repeat the scraping with a fork.

4. After the third scraping, all of the mixture should be crystallized. Serve with fruit or vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds.

Chocolate Cherry Fruitcake
Makes two 9" loaves

  • 1 1/2 cups dried cherries (or cranberries) 1 1/2 cups red candied cherries (or other dried fruit)
  • 1/4 cup + 6 Tablespoons rum or brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt (regular or low fat)
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips
  • 2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
Butter and flour two 9" x 5" loaf pans.

1. In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix together the dried cherries, candied cherries and 1/4 cup of the rum or brandy. Set aside for 1 hour.

2. Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. By hand, or with an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated (if using an electric mixer, stop and scrape the bowl once or twice).

3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add one-third of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture, and beat briefly. Add the buttermilk or yogurt and the remaining flour. Mix just until smooth.

4.Stir in the cherries (and any unabsorbed liquor) and the nuts.

5. Pour the batter in to pans and bake for 65-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

6. While the cakes are warm, pour 3 tablespoons of rum or brandy over each cake. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes, and then turn out on a wire rack.

If you're not going to serve the cakes within a few days, you can either freeze them, well wrapped in plastic wrap for 3-4 months, or brush them all over with additional liquor. Be generous! Wrap in plastic film and store in a cool, dry place.

Marsala-Poached Pears Stuffed with Ricotta, Chocolate, Almonds, and Cherries
4 servings

The Pears:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 cups water
  • 3/4 cup Marsala, dry or sweet
  • 3 strips of lemon zest, each 1/2 inch wide
  • 4 firm pears (such as Bosc or Winter Nellis)
The Filling:
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/3 cup dried sour cherries
  • 2 ozs bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup almonds, toasted
  • 2/3 cup ricotta cheese (part-skim or low-fat)
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon milk or cream
1. To poach the pears, bring the sugar, water, Marsala, and lemon zest to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. As the liquid is heating, peel the pears with a vegetable peeler and cut out a shallow cone-shaped, quarter-sized piece from the base of each pear (the blossom end.)

2. In a small pan, warm the dark rum and cherries. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside to plump.

3. Lower the heat under the Marsala poaching liquid. Add the pears, submerge them, and cover with a round of parchment paper cut the same diameter as the saucepan. Gently simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the size of the pears and their ripeness), turning them every so often so they cook evenly. They are done when the tip of a paring knife goes in easily. Remove the pears and stand them upright on a plate to cool. (They can also cool in the poaching liquid and be left to soak.)

4. Increase the heat under the Marsala poaching liquid and reduce it by two-thirds, to the consistency of maple syrup.

5. To make the filling, drain the plumped cherries in a sieve set over a bowl, pressing down to squeeze out most of the liquid. Reserve the liquid and coarsely chop the cherries.

6. Grate the chocolate on the large holes of a metal grater. Finely chop the almonds.

7. Mix together the chopped cherries and their reserved soaking liquid, grated chocolate, almonds, ricotta, and sugar. Add the milk or cream.

8. Dig through the base of each pear with a melon baller and cut out the core. (Or cut the pears in half and cut out the cores.) Hollow out the center of each pear a little more, being careful not to cut through the sides. With an iced-tea spoon, spoon the ricotta filling into the pears. (Depending on the size of the pears, you may have a small amount left over.) Refrigerate the pears until ready to serve.

9. Serve a whole pear per person, with a generous amount of the reduced poaching liquid ladled over it. (Or serve the halves topped with poaching liquid.)

Note: These pears can be poached several days in advance, then filled and refrigerated up to 8 hours ahead of serving.

Michelle Huneven is the author of the new novel Jamesland, published by Knopf. She is also a food writer for LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and other publications.

James Peterson spoke about his latest book, The Duck Cookbook, published by Stewart Tabori and Chang, and Essentials of Cooking, published by Artisan.