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Oregano is an old pal. Cinnamon? You know how to work it. So what’s a home cook to do when in need of a new flavor to get through the final days of winter? How about adding some dried juniper berries to the spice rack. Best known as the base flavor of gin, juniper berries -- which aren’t really a berry but rather the cleverly disguised cone of juniper bushes -- are also a flavorful must for pickling and for cooking with game or pork.

FOOD

 


EAT

Double Duck Breast with Baked Figs
from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, by David Tanis (Artisan, $35)

3 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
½ teaspoon allspice berries
½ teaspoon juniper berries
A few cloves
2 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, slivered
6 large Muscovy duck breasts, about 1 pound each
Baked Figs (recipe follows)
Aged balsamic vinegar
 

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1. Put the salt in a small bowl. Finely grind the peppercorns, allspice, juniper, cloves, and bay leaves in a mortar or spice mill. Mix the ground spices with the salt. Add the garlic.

2. Trim the duck breasts and lay them on a baking sheet or platter. Season each breast on both sides with the spice mixture, massaging the seasoning into the flesh with your fingers.

3. Now pair up the breasts, and make each pair into a sort of sandwich -- that is, stack one breast on top of the other, skin sides out. With butcher’s twine, tie the “sandwiches” together, to make three compact little roasts. Wrap and refrigerate for at least several hours, or overnight.

4. Place the breasts in a shallow roasting pan and let them come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pop the roasts into the oven and cook for 15 minutes. The duck will render a fair amount of fat. Carefully pour off the fat. Turn the roasts over and return to the oven for 15 minutes more or until nicely browned. An instant-read thermometer should register 125°F for a succulent, rosy medium-rare.

5. Remove the duck from the oven and pour off any accumulated fat. Let the roasts rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Remove the twine and cut the duck breasts crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices on a warmed platter and garnish with the baked figs. Drizzle a little aged balsamic vinegar over the duck and the figs. (Serves 12)

+Baked Figs

24 ripe figs
Thyme branches
Olive oil

1. With a sharp paring knife, cut the figs in half top to bottom, right through the stem, so their natural shape is preserved.

2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Scatter a few thyme branches in the bottom of a shallow earthenware dish (or two) just large enough to hold the figs. Place the figs cut side up in the dish. Spoon a few drops of olive oil over them.

3. Bake the figs for about 20 minutes, until they puff a little and look juicy. Serve the figs on the duck platter, warm or at room temperature.

SIP

Tired of the same old gin and tonic? Get your cocktail taste buds on the move with the Corpse Reviver Number 2, a gin-riffic recipe from Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan’s In the Land of Cocktails (HarperCollins, $20).

1 ounce Tanqueray gin
1 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce Lillet blanc
3 drops Herbsaint, Pernod, or Ricard
1 maraschino cherry without the stem

Fill a martini glass with ice to chill. In a cocktail shaker with ice combine the gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and Lillet, and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glass. Insert a plastic straw into the Herbsaint bottle and draw a small portion of the liqueur into the straw by placing your finger on the top of the straw. Withdraw your finger slowly and tap the straw three times to extract about nine small drips (or three large drops) into the drink.

Sink the cherry to the bottom of the glass and serve immediately.

SHOP

Buy the Berry
No juniper bush in your backyard? Worry not. The dried berries are readily available online. Two top spice sources to try are Penzeys Spices (800-741-7787, www.penzeys.com), where a four-ounce bag of juniper berries harvested in Albania goes for $3, and the Spice House (847-328-3711, www.thespicehouse.com), which offers a half-cup shaker jar of berry goodness for $4 .

DRINK

A Dry Soda Gin is always in, and Lu Brow, the bar chef at the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide in New Orleans, recommends Tanqueray for a gin that really highlights the flavor of the juniper berry. But, thanks to Dry Soda Co.’s new juniper berry flavor, there’s also a nonalcoholic way to sip the spice. Add a spritz of lime and enjoy. $19 for a 12-pack. www.drysoda.com