For as much time as I spend planning out meals, grocery shopping, prepping and cooking food, there are surprisingly few occasions when I get to have fun making a fancy meal. A meal made with no time pressure, no one complaining that they don’t like some ingredient or another, no hungry diners pressing for the meal to hurry up. So imagine my delight when it just-so-happened that my hubby and I found ourselves childfree for an evening, and we decided to make a date out of planning and cooking a fancy meal together.

This may not sound like the most glamorous of date-nights, but we were thrilled to have the luxury of time. Time to spend together, time to chat and plan a meal, time to peruse the market, time to prep and cook a decadent meal, and time to sit and enjoy the delicious fruits of our labors.

Next, the big question, what to cook? There wasn’t much that seemed “special” in the fridge, so our first stop was our favorite market to see what would inspire our meal. I couldn’t resist the plump, sweet fresh figs, and the hubby thought the night called out for duck legs. There was a delicious case of broccolini that has just arrived, and some delightful looking bunashimeji mushrooms. It was all coming together.

And so a menu was born. Inspired by figs and duck, we decided on; “easy” duck confit with fig and mint (the mint in our garden was going bonkers) salsa, arugula salad with kalamata olives, broccolini with shallots and bunashimeji mushrooms, and for dessert; figs with manouri cheese and chocolate (I have to be very careful with dairy and sugar, but a bite or two is worth the delight it brings).

The whole experience was a joy. From planning and shopping through devouring the decadent food. And the knowledge that it was all good food that was as healthy as it was delicious.

This is a rough game-plan of how to recreate this meal. Each of the elements is delightful by themselves or paired with other foods. If you feel like taking on this whole meal, it took me about 2 ½ hours from start to finish, with some nice breaks to enjoy a sip of wine (if that’s your thing) or nibble on the extra chocolate (I made sure to get more than was needed for the desert). And of course to sample everything as you go, “quality control”.

For the Duck
2-4 duck legs (leg & thigh still attached)
2 tsp Sea Salt (or your favorite good salt, I love Sol Gris)
1 tsp fresh ground Pepper

For Fig Salsa
1 cup diced Figs
½ cup fresh Mint
1 Lemon, zest & juice
¼ cup diced Shallot
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
4 Tbsp Walnut Oil
⅓ cup diced Kalamata Olives
½ Sea Salt
Salt & fresh ground Pepper to taste

For Broccolini & Mushrooms
1 bunch (1 lb?) Broccolini
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, (sliced or chopped)
½ cup sliced Shallots
1 package (3.5 oz) bunashimeji mushrooms
Sea Salt & fresh ground Pepper to taste

For Arugula Salad
4 cups fresh Arugula
1 cup finely sliced Fennel bulb
⅓ cup Kalamata Olives (chopped or sliced)
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed Lemon juice (or your favorite vinegar)
2 Tbsp Walnut Oil
Salt & fresh ground Pepper

The Duck legs are an inspired by this recipe from SimplyRecipies. (This method also works for chicken legs, but the oven time is only an hour.) Take your Duck legs out and let them come to room temp, this will take about 30 minutes. Use a small sharp knife to poke 15 or so small holes in the skin of each Duck Leg, be careful to only poke the skin, and not the meat. Sprinkle the Legs with Salt and Pepper. On your stove, heat your cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until good and hot. Now add the Legs, skin side down. Cook for 6 minutes. Turn your oven on to 325ºF. Flip the legs so they are skin side up, and put your skillet with the leg (skin side up) into your oven. They will take about 1 ½ to 2 hours. This is a very forgiving recipe, there is so much fat in the duck legs that the meat will stay moist if you happen to overcook them a little. Error on the side of more time rather than less, you want moist fall off the bone meat and crispy skin.

While your Duck Legs are doing their thing in the oven, start your Fig Salsa. Chop or dice your Figs, you’ll want 1 to 1 ½ cups total. Add to a bowl with your Mint – cut into fine ribbons, the Zest from your Lemon, and your chopped Kalamata Olives. In a separate dish, mix your diced Shallot with the juice from your lemon, your Vinegar, and ½ tsp Salt. While whisking those ingredients, slowly pour in your Oil. This is the method I use to emulsify the oil and vinegar/lemon juice as best as I can. Add some fresh Pepper, and if you feel it needs it, more salt. Pour this dressing into your bowl with your Fig mix. Mix well and let sit (I put a towel over the bowl and let it sit on my counter, if you’re more comfortable, put it in the fridge) while you finish the rest of your decadent dinner.

Next up is the Broccolini! Wash your Broccolini and leave it to drip dry. Prep your Garlic by slicing or chopping, your Shallot by slicing, and your Mushrooms by cutting off the very bottom and breaking them apart. When your skillet is hot, add your Oil, Garlic, and Shallots. Let this sauté for maybe a minute or two, you don’t want your garlic to get brown. Quickly add your Mushrooms and stir. This can sauté for a couple minutes to let your Mushrooms relax. Now add your Broccolini. Sauté, uncovered, until your Broccolini is al dente, wilted but not mushy, about 10 minutes. If your pan gets too dry, you can put a lid on it for a couple minutes, or deglaze with a bit of wine or water.

Next up, toss your Arugula Salad. This section is going to be a lot of free publicity for OXO products. Wash and dry (I love my salad spinner!) your Arugula. Slice your Fennel Bulb (I use a mandolin slicer with a glove to keep from slicing my hand.) Chop your Kalamata Olives. Put all this in a bowl, drizzle with your Lemon Juice and Oil, sprinkle on a little Salt and fresh ground Pepper. Toss together and taste to check if you like the amount of Salt & Pepper.

At this point, your Duck should be ready to take out of the oven. Take it out, be careful, your skillet is hot! And let it rest, on a separate plate for 5 minutes, or if you’re like me, lazy, let it rest in the skillet for 10 minutes. This is a great time to set the table, or sit back and enjoy a few sips of wine. Once your Duck has rested, you are ready to plate up and enjoy!

Now that your decadently delicious and nutritious meal has been enjoyed, it’s time for dessert!
1 very dark Chocolate Bar (I love L’Amourette)
6 – 10 Figs
2 – 4 oz Manouri Cheese
A few Mint leaves for garnish

Slice everything up and present, in a nice pretty way, on a plate. Start nibbling, and enjoy!