FINALE: Roast Duck and Pavlova

Well, it’s over. The Game of Thrones series finale has come and gone, and we’ve all emerged on the other side.

Last night was a roller coaster of emotions, and I think the best way to describe our lasting impression is “deflated.” Everyone left quietly, with little discussion. Were we processing? Were we sad that it’d ended? I’m not sure.

The whole episode was a rather subdued affair; where we normally are standing and shouting at the TV, lamenting the fates of our beloved characters, last night we sat quietly with wine glasses in hand. The only sounds were the light scrapings of forks against plates as we finished off silky smooth mountains of pavlova.

Before we settled down for the finale, we enjoyed a rather raucous meal, loudly swapping theories and stories and learning all about wine aeration from my dad. Our plates quickly filled with a much fancier feast than I’d ever prepared before, and we ate happily.

The FINAL menu for this wild MidWesteros Cooking Challenge included:

Roasted Duck Breast w/ a Red Wine Reduction

Duck-Fat Fried Gold Fingerling Potatoes

Baguettes (Store Bought)

Caesar Salad (Store Bought)

Triple Berry Pavlova

DUCK BREAST

INGREDIENTS NEEDED:

3lb Duck Breast

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

-For the Reduction-:

-1 cup Red Wine (I used Malbec)

-1 cup Chicken Stock

-Half Orange

-2 tbsp Honey

PRO TIP: Start your reduction as soon as you can because it takes FOREVER to properly reduce down.

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F.

2. Pat dry the duck breasts with a paper towel on both sides and lay on a cutting board, skin side up.

3. Using a VERY sharp knife, score the skin in a crosshatch diamond pattern. Do not cut into the meat.

My knife wasn’t quite sharp enough to do a clean score, but it worked.

4. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

5. In a cold and dry pan, one that’s oven safe and large enough to hold your breast meat, lay the duck skin-side down. Turn the heat into medium.

6. Render out the fat on medium heat for 10-12 minutes. The skin should turn deep golden brown and crispy.

Even using my largest cast iron, my pan was a little crowded and I struggled with getting an even heat and perfect crispy skin.

7. Flip the breasts over and sear the other side for one minute, then flip back to skin-side up. Put the whole pan into the hot oven.

8. Roast for 4 minutes for rare, or 6 minutes for medium.

9. Remove from the oven and rest on a plate for 10 minutes before slicing. DO NOT DRAIN FAT FROM THE PAN! You’re going to use the same pan + fat to fry your potatoes!

This was during the sear, and when I really noticed that I needed to rearrange my breasts to get more even coloring on some pieces.

REDUCTION:

1. Using a reamer, juice half an orange into a small sauce pan.

2. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and cook on medium heat until reduced.

3. Serve either on top or alongside the duck.

FRIED POTATOES

INGREDIENTS NEEDED:

2lb Gold Fingerling Potatoes

Leftover Duck Fat

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

PRO TIP: Start boiling your potatoes BEFORE you start your duck so you’re ready to fry the potatoes the very moment your duck leaves the pan to rest. Time management is something I struggle with every week and this week was no exception.

1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and let cool until you can handle them.

2. Using the palm of your hand or the bottom of a ramekin, gently smash the potatoes until the skin breaks and the potato flattens a little.

3. Fry in the fat left in the duck pan for 6-10 minutes until golden brown and CRISPY. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.

TRIPLE BERRY PAVLOVA

Full Stop: best dessert in the world. Holy mackerel, those Australians really took perfection to a new level with this dish.

INGREDIENTS NEEDED:

2lbs Strawberries, sliced and halved

1 pint Raspberries

6oz Blueberries

MERINGUE:

6 lg Egg Whites

1 1/2 cups Sugar

Pinch of Salt

WHIPPED CREAM:

3 cups Heavy Whipping Cream

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

TOOLS:

3 Pieces of Parchment Paper

8″ Round Cake Tin

Marker

PRO TIP: Use the cake tin as a guide and trace three 8″ circles onto the backside of the parchment paper. This keeps the meringue discs equally sized and gives peace of mind as you move forward to assembly. Also, please keep in mind that this dessert cannot be rushed. While it is an easy recipe, it IS time consuming and if you rush it you’ll ruin it. Allow yourself AT MINIMUM two hours of inactive bake time.

1. Preheat your oven to 275°F.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add your egg whites, sugar, and salt. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm (about 110°F).

Using this double boiler method, you’re able to control the heat so you don’t accidentally scramble your egg whites.

3. Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and whip on high for 6-10 minutes until stiff peaks form and the meringue is smooth and glossy.

4. Immediately transfer the meringue onto the prepared parchment paper, being careful to not deflate it. You can use a spatula and spread it into three equal circles, or fill a piping bag fitted with a large tip to make decorative edges. I used a piping bag for my edges and then took a spatula to smooth and spread the middles.

I stared at these babies in the oven for close to twenty minutes because I was so afraid of them burning. I’d never baked anything like this before! And I evidently need to clean my oven’s window.

5. Bake for 50-60 minutes until the outside is crisp and the middle is still soft and chewy. If you can absolutely avoid it, DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN OR BANG AROUND YOUR KITCHEN. Drops in temperature or hard knocks will cause your meringue to collapse.

6. When your meringue has finished baking, turn the oven off and leave the shells inside to dry for at least an hour. Crack the door open with a wooden spoon to allow heat to escape slowly.

My meringues got slightly overbaked and turned a light beige/pale brown. This didn’t affect the flavor at all, just made the texture a teeny bit chewier along the bottom.

7. When it’s time to assemble your pavlova, add all the whip cream ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on medium high until soft peaks form. Don’t over whip or you’ll risk making sweetened butter.

8. Carefully peel the meringue discs off their paper backs and choose the thickest disc as your bottom layer. Put a healthy dollop of whipped cream on top and spread it to the edges with a spatula. Arrange an even balance of mixed fruits across the cream and then add the second meringue disc. Repeat with the cream and fruit.

9. On top of the last meringue disc and cream layer, use the fruit more decoratively for nice presentation.

10. Serve giant mountain sized servings because this is like piles of sweet clouds and everyone will be begging for more.

THE FINAL SCORE

Duck: 4/5 Ravens – I think I mucked up my duck and it got a little rubbery because a few pieces didn’t render the fat properly. But there were some glorious tender pieces that we greedily devoured.

Potatoes: 5/5 Ravens – Best damn fried ‘taters I’ve ever had. Duck fat is my new BFF. I wish I’d had more fat so I could fry more potatoes. Unfortunately, I ran out of fat before I’d finished the whole pot of potatoes.

Pavlova: 10/5 Ravens – Literally the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I could eat an entire pavlova and not bat an eye. So good. So so so good.

All in all, one hell of a meal for one hell of a finale.

Look at those potatoes! Ugh. The best.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I can’t believe the adventure is over. And I’m not just talking about Game of Thrones. My MidWesteros Cooking Challenge is over, too. It’s been an incredible adventure, and I’ve learned so much along the way.

Not only did I expand my personal kitchen horizons and experiment with new foods and techniques, but I learned that I have TERRIBLE kitchen time management. I learned I need to add 20 minutes to every recipe’s estimated time to account for my slower, beginner’s pace.

I also learned that I am absolutely forever indebted to my parents, moreso than most children probably are to their parents. They were invaluable hands and eyes and tasters throughout this challenge, and I’m very grateful that they supported and applauded my culinary explorations. They never complained about the chaos, and were always quick to jump in and stir a sauce or carve a bird or even just set the places around the table. They kept me from total breakdown on multiple occasions.

Another heartfelt thanks to my watch party guests. They were forgiving when dinner took too long to manifest, happy to pile their plates with sometimes questionable looking food, and quick to let me know their opinions. It’s been a blast, gang. Can’t wait for our next weekly HBO tradition!

And thanks to you, reader. This would all be for naught without you. I love you.

And wine. I love wine. We were very well hydrated for the finale.

XOXO

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