Duck is not typically a go-to, everyday food that people eat. In fact, most people don’t even think about duck as an option, except for the holidays. This all changed for me when I attended Duck University for food bloggers, sponsored by Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana. I was excited about this opportunity because I knew very little about duck, and had certainly never cooked it.
Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ – About to head in for class!
This experience was set up like a real university. The first stop was a tour of the feed mill, where we saw how they make duck feed from scratch. They take incredible care of what goes into the feed, including protein, vitamins and minerals so that the ducks can be healthy and strong. They go through rigorous testing to make sure that the feed is safe for the ducks.
Duck Feed – Full of vitamins and minerals
We then visited a duck farm where the ducks were raised. Biosecurity is a major initiative for food safety and disease prevention, so we were instructed to wear special suits and dip our feet into a foot bath before walking near the ducks.
Dressed in our Biosecurity suits
The conditions are clean, and the ducks have plenty of room to frolic about. Maple Leaf Farms partners with over 150 local farmers to raise their ducks, which is great for the communities. The last stop on the tour was the duck processing plant, where they say it is as clean as a hospital. It was reassuring to see the USDA inspectors right there on the line.
Afterwards, we had a classroom-style session.
Did you know….
– Duck Fat is a good fat – It compares favorably to olive oil in terms of the mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic, and the poly-unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acids
– There are various breeds of duck with different flavor profiles. Maple Leaf Farms raises the White Pekin duck, which is more mild and less gamey than some of the other duck varieties.
– Maple Leaf Farms is the #1 producer of duck in the U.S. with about a 75% market share, producing 13-15 Million ducks annually? (They are like Tyson Chicken, but for Duck)
– Duck is a red meat – It has a different muscle structure than chicken, and it is cooked more like steak vs. chicken. It’s not prone to salmonella, so it can be cooked to medium/medium rare for the best flavor and texture.
My favorite part of the evening was the 5-course duck dinner, where every course had duck, including the dessert (with Duck Bacon). I told chef Dale Miller that I could die right then and be happy, because the food was so creative and tasted AMAZING!
Appetizer: Duck Bolognese
Appetizer: Duck Mousse
Appetizer: Duck Tenderloin with Balsamic
Appetizer: Duck Meatballs
Seared Duck Carpaccio, Horseradish Aioli, Crispy Capers and Reggiano Parmesan Shards
Roasted Eggplant Tomato Bisque with Duck Confit and Frizzled Leeks
Salad with Smoked Duck, Compressed Watermelon, Heirloom Tomatoes
Grilled Duck Breast with “Ramp Charmoula”, Warm Tuscan Potato Salad, Roasted Sweet Corn Crema and Seasonal Vegetables
Gruyere Popover brushed with Duck Fat
Warm Peach and Blackberry Crisp with Almond Duck Bacon Streusel & Vanilla Gelato
Erica Williams and Chef Dale Miller
A lot of people have had bad experiences with duck in the past, saying that it has tasted oily or gamey, but I did not have this experience at all – the flavor is mild, and I did not have any oily aftertaste from anything I ate. It truly depends on the breed of duck, and how it is prepared.
Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton (from Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS) also gave a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast, which was much easier than I had originally thought. It really is as simple as scoring the breast, cooking it with the skin down, flipping it over, and cooking it to the desired temperature. It needs to be a little bit pink for the best dining experience. Sara joined us on our tours, and it was fun to hang out with her – she’s very smart and talented, and we were honored to have her accompany us.
Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton
Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.
In addition to this amazing experience, I was able to network with about 19 amazing food bloggers that were inspiring and a boatload of fun!
Now that you are a little bit more familiar with duck, I would highly encourage you to experiment with it. The easiest way is to try some of the pre-cooked products, like the appetizers (potstickers, spring rolls, quesadillas), or the roast half duck. Then you could move to cooking some of the other items on your own, like the duck breast, and if you are ready for the big leagues, you can roast a whole duck. If you can’t find the products in the store, you can always order online http://mapleleaffarms.com/shop and they will ship it on dry ice to your house, or you can ask the meat department manager to order it in for you.
I’m happy to say that I’m a proud graduate of Duck University, and I have a diploma to prove it!
Attending Duck University has broadened my horizons and I now consider duck to add to my current cooking routine – I hope you will too. Stay tuned for future posts with recipes and ideas.
To learn more about duck, cooking videos/tips, and Maple Leaf Farms, visit http://www.mapleleaffarms.com/consumer
I had the rare opportunity to be an Official Sprinkles Taste Tester at Sprinkles Cupcakes with about 20 other bloggers (shout out to Windy City Blogger Collective) and below are a few things I learned “backstage” that most people don’t know:
I’m an official Sprinkles Taste Tester! Dream come true!
1. The cupcakes are hand frosted with a spatula (not a piping bag), and there is a specific style of frosting the cupcakes so that they all look so elegant and delicious:
o Dollop a big hunk of frosting on the top. Smooth it flat with a spatula, then smooth it out on the sides.
o Create a sprinkles swirl on the top and add the signature candy piece, or dip the cupcake frosting-side down in a bowl of sprinkles.
I learned how to do it, but my cupcakes didn’t look like theirs – it takes a lot of practice to make cupcakes as perfectly beautiful as theirs. In fact, they have a “cupcake graveyard” for cupcakes that don’t make the cut. It’s all about quality control, folks! (My cupcake would have gone to the graveyard).
My attempt at decorating a cupcake sprinkles style…
Still tasted good…
2. They really do use quality ingredients. If you see a strawberry cupcake, they put real strawberries in them. This is why they taste so good. The chocolate that they use is high-quality stuff. Sprinkles doesn’t play…
High Quality Chocolate. Only the best!
3. Sprinkles now offers MINI CUPCAKES! It’s nice to have options. The frosting is piped on these because they are so small.
4. The Sprinkles Cupcakes bakers can frost about 35 cupcakes in about 6-8 minutes. Impressive!
5. There is a Sprinkles cupcake jingle that’s actually kind of hot. It has a rap verse in it & you have to listen. It’s a catchy tune, and you will probably find yourself randomly humming it – or you will sing it while you are eating one of their cupcakes…
6. Best of all, they have a birthday club! If you sign up, you will get a free cupcake on your birthday. Can’t beat that! I love getting free stuff on my birthday. http://www.ilovesprinkles.com/birthday/join-the-birthday-club
I’ve been a fan of Sprinkles after I had my first bite of their vanilla cupcake when they first opened the Chicago location. I always like to judge a good cupcake shop by the vanilla flavor – if they can make a good vanilla, everything else should taste amazing. My other favorites are the Strawberry and the Cinnamon & they are always introducing new seasonal flavors.
Sprinkles put the gourmet cupcake trend on the map and they continue to innovate with their cupcake ATM and amazing flavors. These are just a couple of reasons that there is always a line out the door that I will GLADLY stand in. If you’ve never been, check it out – you’ll be singing that jingle in no time!
This is just a little bit bigger than my KitchenAid mixer at home…
Cupcakes waiting to be frosted
Cupcake box with a special message for mom!
Keeping it real with actual Tequila in the margarita cupcakes
My new t-shirt that I will wear proudly
Our group of Taste Testers from Windy City Bloggers!
Photo Credit: Windy City Blogger Collective
@sprinklescupcakes – Instagram
@sprinkles – twitter
“What’s Good”, everyone?
As a special treat to Taste Bud Diaries blog followers, Turkey Chop is offering a coupon for 25% off your ENTIRE ORDER!
That’s right, folks. 25% Off! The food is great, and a coupon is EVEN BETTER!
Below is the image of the coupon. Print it out & present it when you get to the restaurant. (Or present on your phone).
Be sure to visit the website at http://www.turkeychop.com for the menu of all of the delicious options. Will you have a juicy and succulent turkey burger? The comforting and delicious turkey spaghetti? Or my personal favorite, the smoky and flavorful turkey tips?
Don’t forget to try the sides – the sautéed spinach (gotta get your veggies) macaroni and cheese, and sweet potatoes are all great choices. Don’t forget to get your peach cobbler for dessert!
Bring a friend, and tell them Taste Bud Diaries sent you!
**If you didn’t see my write-up and video review on Turkey Chop, check it out here:
3506 W. Chicago Ave.
Today’s “What’s Good” is about a new-ish restaurant called Turkey Chop. Turkey Chop is located in West Humboldt Park (3506 W. Chicago Ave.) and they cater to those looking for beef and pork alternatives. I was invited as a food blogger, and I had a chance to try a number of dishes, including the Turkey Chops, the Turkey Tips, Sautéed Spinach (which was prepared like greens), Sweet Potatoes, Dirty Rice, and Peach Cobbler for Dessert. (I’m surprised that I didn’t instantly fall asleep after eating all of this food!)
They really go all out with the Turkey Chops (like smothered pork chops) and the Turkey Tips, which were my absolute favorite. If you like rib tips, then you will love the turkey tips – they are grilled and they have an amazing smoky flavor, they are very well seasoned and are served with a tangy and delicious bbq sauce.
Turkey Chop also caters, so I can definitely see the turkey tips showing up on one of my party menus in the future. The prices are also very good – the turkey burgers were only $5 and they looked like they would definitely fill you up. The other thing that I loved is that they had cornbread, but it was prepared like a pancake. I’ve never had cornbread this way, and I really enjoyed it – vey innovative!
Check out my video review of Turkey Chop below:
…and that’s “What’s Good”!
Hot off the press – this is the official invitation for the Common Threads Cook-Off. Isn’t it beautiful? And don’t you want to come? Look at all of these amazing restaurants!
I’m happy to announce that tickets to the third annual Common Threads Cook-Off are now on sale! It is a fantastic event targeting Chicago’s young professional foodie elite, a fundraising competition of sorts showcasing the city’s finest food and mixology. Chefs create and serve their favorite cookout-themed dish either in a glass, on a bun, in a shell, or on a stick, and guests have the opportunity to try it all, vote on their favorites, and take part in the silent and live auctions.
As a Common Threads Associate Board member, my hope is that you’re inspired by Common Threads’ mission to educate underprivileged children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking. It has been such an important part my life and I would welcome the opportunity for you to see a little bit more of what we do.
The value for this event is amazing; the crowd is ideal, the cocktails are bottomless, and you’ll eat ’til your heart’s content courtesy of the most noteworthy restaurants in Chicago.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased at
Below is a video invite of what to expect:
Let me know if you plan on purchasing a ticket – I would love to have you!
Below is the link to my recap from last year’s event – Don’t miss it!