Spiced Duck Breasts With Orange Sauce

(4 servings)

Looking for a change? Think duck.

Rather than roast the entire thing, just sear the breasts. They're elegant, quick-cooking and rich enough so that a mere spice rub or pan sauce is sufficient enhancement. The only trick is to lightly score the skin to allow the fat beneath to render during cooking.

Serve with rice and steamed green beans or blanched sugar snaps.

Adapted from a recipe in "The Exotic Fruit and Vegetable Handbook" by Oona van den Berg (Hamlyn, 2000).

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon brandy or Cointreau

2 whole cloves

About 10 thin slices seedless orange or kumquats (optional)

4 small boneless, skin-on duck breasts

About 2 tablespoons safflower or grapeseed oil

1/2 to 1 teaspoon five-spice powder

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the orange juice, honey, brandy and cloves to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and, if desired, add the orange or kumquat slices. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, pat the duck breasts dry. Using the tip of a knife, lightly score the skin, being careful to cut through the skin but not into the meat. Rub the skin lightly with about 1 tablespoon of the oil. Season both sides of the duck with the five-spice powder, salt and pepper to taste and rub to coat.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until hot but not smoking. Add the duck, skin-side down, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn the duck and cook to the desired degree of doneness, 5 to 7 minutes for medium-rare, depending on the size of the duck.

Transfer the duck to a carving board and set aside to rest for a few minutes. Thinly slice the duck, keeping each duck breast separate, and fan the meat onto individual plates. Spoon the sauce over the top.

Per 6-ounce serving (meat and skin): 452 calories, 30 gm protein, 15 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 136 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 166 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

-- Renee Schettler

The Rabbit Multiplies

One of the necessities of the good life is opening wine bottles, but occasionally it can be disastrous. Whether it's lack of muscle or lack of skill, many of us struggle to perform what should be at least a manageable feat. Simpler is usually better. But with some designs you have to pull so hard that the cork isn't all that comes flying out of the bottle.

An indication of the need for improvement is the number -- hundreds -- of patents that have been issued for corkscrews of myriad designs.

Thus have many been converted to the Metrokane Rabbit, left, which was introduced in 2000. You clamp it firmly and precisely on a bottle by means of its Rabbit "ears" and that centers the worm (the spiral that penetrates the cork). You pull up the lever, which drives the worm into the cork. Then you pull back down and up comes the cork. You lift it off the bottle, reverse the action, work the lever again and it spits the cork out. Done. More than 100 bottles later -- but who's counting? -- the action is still flowing smoothly on ours.

The real thing sells for $80 to $90 and is an award-winning marvel of form and function. A great gift.

But this year we began to see Rabbit-like devices all over the place with an astounding range of prices, beginning at $19.99. All are not created equal. Metrokane is attempting to rein in its imitators. But in the meantime, we advise you to look carefully at what you're buying. At the very least, forgo those with plastic gears. The one we found for about $34 at Brookstone, right, has metal innards and seems rather well made but is not an actual Rabbit. For sources, check the company's Web site: www.metrokane.com.

-- Ronalie C. Peterson

The Bubbles Stop Here

How can you keep the bubbles in your bubbly after popping the cork?

A very effective new product is Steel Cork, manufactured in Colorado by Saturn Design Group. Satisfyingly hefty and seemingly indestructible, the stopper's crank expands a silicon rubber o-ring within the neck of the bottle, achieving a seal that worked very well in our trials. The most common alternative is a spring-loaded stopper that clamps over the flange on the outside of a Champagne bottle. But since bottle flanges aren't uniform, clamp stoppers work on a few bottles, provide only a hair-trigger seal on some and don't work at all on others. Additionally, the crank mechanism on Steel Cork can relax its grip on the o-ring gradually, making it possible to release the air pressure within the bottle slowly rather than explosively.

Steel Cork ships with a replacement o-ring and a lifetime guarantee at a suggested price of $20 and is available at Sur la Table, Brookstone and some specialty and wine shops. To locate a retailer, call Saturn Design Group at 303-684-9496 or e-mail sales@steelcork.com.

-- Michael Franz

The Ginger People Branch Out

If you who thrill to the bracing, refreshing bite of fresh ginger root are short on time and patience when it comes to the peeling, mincing and grating, behold! Our favorite ginger people -- the Ginger People -- recently unveiled a line of practical "Pantry Essentials," including Grated Ginger ($1.99 for 6.7 ounces); Minced Ginger ($1.99 for 6.7 ounces), Stem Ginger in Syrup ($1.99 for 8.1 ounces), Natural Pickled Sushi Ginger ($1.99 for 6.7 ounces) and -- our favorite -- Candied Ginger Puree ($1.99 for 8.5 ounces).

Ginger People Pantry Essentials are available locally at many grocery, health and specialty stores. Also available by mail-order from the Ginger People (call 800-551-5284 Ext. 225 or see www.gingerpeople.com).

The Classy Pick Up

Ditch the dull, naked toothpicks. We prefer these exquisite seashell hors d'oeuvres picks anointed with a single, perfect pele pele seashell plucked from along the Pacific and Indian oceans. The picks make elegant spears for just about any New Year's nibble or cocktail garnish, tropical or not.

Seashell picks cost about $8 per pack of 50. We found ours at Proper Topper (1350 Connecticut Ave. NW; call 202-842-3055 and 3213 P St. NW; call 202-333-6200). Also available by mail-order from several purveyors; for sources, type "seashell hors d'oeuvres picks" into any Internet search engine.

Today's Tip

Clams and mussels (also known as bivalves) should be cooked as soon as possible after purchasing. Simmer the shellfish in liquid until they are fully opened, discarding any that do not open. (Unopened shells are an indication that the shellfish are unsafe to eat.)

To Do

Monday: Cheeses of Great Britain -- first in a cheese-tasting series sponsored by the American Institute of Wine and Food. $31 per individual tastings; $90 for the series. 6:30 p.m. Combalou Fromagerie and Cafe, 818 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. Call 410-244-0044.


JAN. 12: Champagne brunch at Chef Geoff's Downtown. Sponsored by TasteDC. $47 includes tax and tip. Noon - 2 p.m. 1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Call 202-333-5588 or see www.tastedc.com.

Schedule Change

Food will not appear on Wednesday, Dec. 25. We will resume publication on Wednesday, Jan. 1.