Even though I live in Southern California in Orange County, it is rare that I receive a box of fresh navel oranges hand picked right off the tree. I’ve been told Orange County got its name from the hundreds of orange groves it was once the home to. I’ve lived here 20 years and I’ve yet to see one orchard but maybe I’m not looking hard enough?! Last week, one of my clients in California, shipped me a whole crate of fresh oranges from her 120 year old family orchard in Washington State and I couldn’t have been more excited. (Thanks, Monica – Wicky Up Ranch,Woodlake, CA) It got me energized to head to the kitchen and start playing with recipes. It really has been soooo much fun! You just can’t imagine the difference between cutting into one of these beauties (juice flies everywhere) and one of the store bought oranges I usually buy. Hey, there is nothing wrong with Ralph’s oranges but these oranges were just so juicy and so flavorful. It made this whole recipe testing event so much more enjoyable.
I started off with something that I’ve been craving for a while now..my adult version of creamsicles, You remember those, don’t you? That frozen novelty treat you’d buy from the ice cream truck in the summer…vanilla ice cream bar in the center, orange sherbet on the outside. So good.
Well, I had a flashback to one summer out in the Hamptons making batches of these alcohol based frozen drinks called creamsicles and that was the first way I used my fresh navel oranges. I know, I know…it’s winter! But in California there is this fuzzy line between summer and winter…and it’s about 15 degrees. So when the craving hit and the oranges arrived, I went to work with my blender. For those of you in the midwest and on the east coast, don’t fret, I’ll revisit this on social media again this summer.
You wind up mixing ice cream, sorbet, fresh OJ, vodka and triple sec to make the absolute best frozen drink ever. It borders on a dessert and it is so good! Make sure you give that one a try. You won’t be disappointed.
I moved on to a side dish by pure accident. I wanted to make a Lemon, Orzo and Spinach side dish for some grilled chicken I was making and realized I had no lemons. Oranges sounded like they would work so I tried it. OMG this is a winner. I’ve already made it several times and it is delicious. The orange works so well and I think it is even better than the lemon.
I wound up trying to make a lighter version of Orange Chicken. When I was a kid (and all the way through high school too), Orange Chicken was the only Chinese take out dish I would eat. What’s not to like? Fried chicken rolled in a thick, sweet glaze…delicious. I just needed to find a way to make it lighter and dare I say, healthier? I got rid of the breading and deep frying and decided on a quick “stir fry” method of cooking chicken in just a little olive oil and one of my new favorite ingredients, Momofuku. (A crunchy chili and sesame oil.) I didn’t skimp on the sauce and used tons of the fresh squeezed orange juice and the zest too. The chicken was marinated and then stir fried with a really flavorful sauce. Cornstarch worked as the thickening agent and the orange flavor really stands out. Served with brown rice and steamed veggies, this was one delicious and healthy use of my oranges.
I wanted to be sure to get a cake in here somewhere so I decided on an Orange Olive Oil Cake. I used blood orange olive oil and a ton of fresh orange juice and zest to make one delicious and super moist cake. I glazed it with more orange juice in a basic sugar glaze. This was a keeper. I made several little cakes to give to neighbors (mostly to keep from eating it all myself) and they loved it. The blood orange oil worked so well with the juice…fabulous. At this point, I was kind of on a roll. I had a great cocktail, side dish, main dish and dessert all made from those oranges. Dare I tackle one of my all time favorite dishes? (I usually save it for special occasions.) I really wanted to see if these oranges would have as big an impact on the flavor as it had in all the other dishes. So, I went for it!
I tackled a duck. When I lived in NYC and was out to dinner, if I saw duck on the menu, that is what I ordered. I never see it anymore and that’s a shame. Duck A’lOrange…I loved the orange sauce, the wild rice pilaf that always seemed to be served with it and how elegant it appeared to be. I certainly never got duck at home and it would be years before I actually attempted to prepare it. Duck A’ lOrange is a classic dish but I honestly did not have the time to prepare it this month in a classic manner. So, I did the duck “my way”. Using a couple of tricks I’ve learned along the way on handling duck (remove a lot of the fat BEFORE cooking and air drying the duck for a couple of days), I got a super crispy duck with a fabulous orange sauce. This recipe still takes some planning ahead (You’ll want to let it air dry in the refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours uncovered) and does have a lot of steps BUT it is a show stopper; especially if you are looking for a holiday dish. One duck will typically only serve 2-4 max., so you may be making many on a family holiday. With that said, I typically save this for anniversaries, birthdays and Valentine’s Day Celebrations. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of using these oranges in one of my favs so I tripled up on the orange flavor using orange marmalade, orange flavored liqueur (Triple Sec) and fresh orange juice and zest.
I’ve heard people say “I hate Duck…it is too fatty” and “it is too much work” and while that can be true, I promise you this recipe removes a lot of the fat and most of the work. Read through it and see if you agree. Then, try it.
I’ve got these recipes all linked below. Take a look and see if they are calling to you. I’d love to hear from you if you try them…shoot me a photo on email, Facebook or Instagram.
As I go to post this, my next door neighbor just delivered a huge bag of lemons from his mother’s backyard. Unbelievable. It is back to the kitchen for me and hopefully lots of lemon inspired recipes are coming soon. If you like these recipes (and I hope you do) sign up for my newsletters and immediately get 25 FREE Healthier Recipes sent right to your mailbox. Enjoy.