Feast 41 – Bittersweet Symphony/Soup and Sandwich

February 28, 2010

The impetus of this meal is friendship. I do a lot of thinking about the past, the present, the future. I can’t help it, I tend to be overly analytical and introspective, pretty much all the time. Sometimes it drives me to distraction. This meal has been weighing on my mind and somehow the timing of its cathartic creation worked out perfectly. The story continues…

I met my very dear friend Cath in Japan, shortly before meeting my wife. We bonded extremely well and became very good friends fairly quickly. Cath and I were having dinner together the night I met my wife. She was there when I had my first “date” if you want to call a night with me DJing and everyone else drinking and dancing a “date”. These were very formative times and her friendship was and still is extremely important to me. we don’t talk often but each of us know that when we need the other, we can reach out and we’ll be there. That’s the soul of a long term friendship in my opinion, knowing that the other person will be there for you.

Kinda deep for a cooking blog I know but I am eventually getting to the point about food. These early days in Japan, I was not exactly a gourmet. I could get around a kitchen and had a knack for food so I still by default was the one who cooked when no one else cared to… while in Japan, there were circumstances that brought Cath to live with my wife and I for a few months. She became a part of the family, along with a seemingly endless rotating cast of friends who wandered through. We quite often would go out on the town together and drink the night away, wandering aimlessly or more often than not landing in a bar called The Globe, owned by our Welsh friend Neil. Good times.

Often, after the stumble home to our blue beacon of hope (a lamp with a blue bulb that was visible through our front window), I would make grilled cheese for everyone. If there is a more perfect post-partying food that is so quick to make, I’d like to see it… they were simple affairs on white bread, cheese and seasoned pepper, grilled and served. A very welcome comfort food that never fails to remind me of those wonderful early years…

And so, years later, in a more developed fashion, I have decided to make a grilled cheese, dedicate to Cath.

But the story doesn’t end there… Balance has been upset here in Korea. I find it ironic that my life here has altered so much coincidentally on the same weekend that I had planned on making a meal based in friendship. You see, my dear friend and co-conspirator on the Feasts, Eddie, has had a family emergency and was unexpectedly flown back to the states, never to return. I have grown so accustomed to cooking for two, bouncing the ideas off of him, judging his reactions and then more often than not, swinging out for a few beers and some games of pool after that I am at a loss on how to continue. My first thought is of course for the health and welfare of Eddie and his family. I am glad he has escaped this trap and thankful he is able to address the issues that are impacting his family instead of being stuck here while it all happens a world away. But at the same time, I can say that I will really miss his presence, his companionship and contributions to the feasts. I mean, I had to buy my own beer this week! What the hell is that all about! 🙂

Ok, enough of the rambling. True as it all is, it focuses more on the why of the meal than the how and the how is what the blog is for. This week, I had originally slated three courses as usual, a tarted up grilled cheese (Croque Monsieur), a Roasted Tomato Soup and a Spiced Carrot Salad. Follow the link for the spiced carrots, I chose not to go with them given the audience of one… it looks like a tasty enough dish but soup and sandwich is quite enough for me on my own this week.

Tomatoes Roasted for the soup

The Roasted Tomato Soup: I followed the recipe for this fairly closely but I did increase the garlic to 6 cloves and used about half of the chicken broth that was called for. I wanted the soup to be thicker, more of an almost chunky vegetable soup than the traditional view of an almost broth-like tomato soup. For a soup as tasty as this, it was extremely easy to make. I sliced my tomatoes in half, placing them in a large baking dish, cut side up. A few twists of salt and pepper and a spritz or so from my olive oil spray bottle, about 70 minutes in a 400 degree oven and that the most work you have to do. Towards the end of the broiling time, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pot and brown 6 chopped cloves of garlic. When the garlic starts to caramelize, add in dried rosemary and thyme, just over a tsp of each. Add to this a bit of crushed red pepper and your broiled tomatoes. Hit that with the immersion blender to get it nice and chunky and add in two cans of chicken broth. Cover and let it cook down for about 25 minutes. Serve hot sprinkled with fresh basil (unless you are in a crappy place where the store doesn’t stock fresh basil all the time in which case you make due with dried basil. No, I’m not bitter about it.)

Sandwich, pre-topping and broiler

The Croque Monsieur: Ok, it’s a grilled ham and cheese topped with bĂ©chamel and cheese then passed under a broiler for a few minutes. If all that is clear to you, stop reading and go make yourself one. Otherwise, melt a knob of butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, add in 2 tbsps of all purpose flour. Stir together and let the flour brown a bit over the heat. Add to this about 3/4 cup of milk, stirring well to combine. Add flour or milk base on if the sauce is too thin or thick for you. It will thicken a bit during the cooking so don’t get too heavy handed with the flour. Add a bit of nutmeg and, in my case, some salt and white pepper. The original recipe called for a bay leaf and that would be good as well but my personal tastes on this particular evening called out for a bĂ©chamel with white pepper. Who can explain the universe and it’s mysterious ways?

I take my half out of the middle!

Build a grilled cheese with thinly sliced sourdough bread and thin layers of gruyere and black forest ham. I did a layer of cheese, then ham, then cheese, then ham and finally cheese. I also ground some salt and pepper on the middle layer of the sandwich for good measure.

First Layers of ham and cheese

Thin layers and not too much inside the sandwich is the key to getting it heated all the way through before the outer surface of the bread is too “well done”. Brush with melted butter and grill in a hot pan until nicely browned on both sides. Transfer to a baking dish, top with bĂ©chamel and grated gruyere and broil for about 3 minutes until the cheese browns and starts to bubble. Serve immediately with the soup. You will need a knife and fork to eat this sandwich and it will be damned tasty.

Plated (and bowled), ready to eat

This meal turned out good, especially alongside the Sam Adams seasonal, Noble Pils which is a damned fine beer. I’ve tried a great number of beers in my time but this one was love at first sip. Try it as soon as you can and mourn the fact that it is only available for a limited time during the early spring. The key ingredient missing from this meal should be obvious. There is not a dish in this world that doesn’t improve in the company of good friends.

Good luck Eddie and keep cooking.


Feast 40 – Crock Pot Osso Buco

February 22, 2010

This meal was what cooking on a Sunday is all about. No one step was all that demanding, each part calling for about 15 – 20 minutes of concentrated effort with a few hours relaxation and slow cookery in between. I am basically in favor of this sort of thing, Sundays are meant for relaxation. With the end result being as good as this, it would be difficult to argue against it.

That being said, this week’s feast consisted of three courses as per my usual bias, Osso Buco with a mushroom sauce, modified to be slow cooked in a crock pot, Fried Polenta topped with a tomato-onion salsa and Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto. Nothing wrong at all with that from where I sit.

Beef Shanks seasoned for the cooking

The Osso Buco: This traditional dish made from veal shanks has been on my mind for quite some time. I had seen it prepared on cooking shows, read about it in cookbooks and magazines, practically dreamt about it…
of course, me being in korea with a limited grocery, I was unable to get veal shanks… beef shanks, beautiful cuts of meat, yes, veal no…
part of me wonders if this is yet another bowing to political correctness, the world veal being identified as an outmoded cruelty to animals, lumped in with fois gras and other tasty, tasty things of that nature. No matter, the last ten months has taught me to not linger, move onward, cook with what I get my hands on.

Onion and Celery browning

I started the meal around six and a half hours before planning to eat, quick 15 minute cooking interlude that consisted of sweating down a thinly sliced yellow onion and two thin sliced ribs of celery in a 50/50 olive oil and butter mixture. Once this starts to brown, transfer into your crock pot. Pat down your shanks and heavily salt and pepper. Place these on top of the onion mixture and turn the crock pot on high. Kick back and enjoy the next four hours of your life. At this point, four hours later, sweat down a mixture of oyster and white mushrooms, both thickly sliced in another pan with a 50/50 mixture of butter and olive oil. Generously salt and pepper and add a bit of dried thyme. Cook these down until the mushrooms start giving off their liquid. Add in 1/2 a cup of white wine (chardonnay in my case) and the juice of half a lemon. Cook this down til most of the liquid evaporates. Turn heat to low and let simmer.
About 15 minutes before time to serve, ladle out a few large spoonfuls of the onion/celery/beef broth reduction from the shanks in the crock pot. Hit this with your immersion blender to liquefy. Pour this into the mushroom mixture and increase the heat to medium to reduce a bit more. Plate the meat and spoon over some mushroom sauce. Serve and enjoy.

Fried Polenta: Reviews for this recipe pointed to it being a bit bland and anyone who knows me probably realizes that bland is not in my culinary vocabulary. Because of this, I substituted parmesan cheese for the edam that the original asked for and also added in three tablespoons of red pepper flakes with the dry ingredients. This definitely perked it up a bit. Also, the original recipe called for this to be topped with a bit of fresh parsley to serve, I upped the ante on that by making a quick tomato salsa with a chopped tomato, 1/2 a chopped red onion, 4 cloves of minced garlic, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and a generous twist of salt and pepper. Definitely nice. For the fritters themselves, around the time you start the mushroom sauce for the osso buco, bring two cups of milk to a boil. Stir in 1 1/2 cups corn meal, 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of sugar and a twist of salt or two.
Stir to combine well. I found the mixture to be a little thick so I ended up adding a bit of water to make it more manageable. Remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese. Spoon into a lightly oiled pan, making a layer about 1/2 an inch thick. Chill until completely cooled in the refrigerator. Slices the chilled polenta into small rectangles and fry in hot oil, about 5 minutes per side until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve with the aforementioned tomato salsa.

Grilled Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto: This is the simplest, tastiest, most wonderful way of enjoying asparagus. It’s also dead simple. About 15 minutes before you want to eat, trim off the woody ends of your fresh asparagus spears and toss them in a bit of olive oil.
Salt and pepper the spears and then wrap tightly with a slice of prosciutto per spear. Run it under the broiler for about 3 minutes per side until the ham starts to blister and turn brown. Serve immediately.

Meal plated and ready to eat

This was another meal that felt heavenly in its decadence. The rich savory mushroom sauce over the nicely tenderized beef shanks was a sure hit. The contrast of the hot and crispy polenta with the chilled tomato mixture made for a great eating experience. Words fail me when I even consider describing the beauty of the asparagus. Slightly sweet, salty and tasty. Everyone should try it. Now. Stop reading and go to the store, get what you need to make them. Now.

The meal was capped off with a passable bottle of bella sera merlot, not bad, very drinkable as evidenced by the empty bottle on my counter.

It’s hard to believe I have only 8 meals left in this project. It’s a relief, it seems like I have been doing this forever, not the 13 months since my first post. It is the highlight of my week, the planning, the preparation, the consumption. It will continue in some form or another, hopefully more developed into a family project with my favorite sous chef helping me with side dishes and other prep work.

Feast 39 – The Meal that almost wasn’t

February 16, 2010

Sometimes, it feels like forces are just aligning against me. this weekend has been one of the most challenging I have had since getting to korea and certainly put doubts on completion of my weekly feast. The misfortune started on Thursday. As per my usual, I was browsing around on the internet, trying to decide exactly what I was going to cook on Sunday. I usually get a rough idea on Thursday and then by Friday afternoon, make a final decision and do the shopping. Well, this particular Thursday, there was a bit of snow coming down. The roads had been declared as dangerous here on the base and an announcement was made that all vehicles would be restricted starting at noon. This was at 11:30. With the forecast calling for continuing snow, there was a very real possibility that the base would be shut down and the grocery store closed. With this in mind, I found it necessary to make a snap decision and quickly rush to the store to shop for the meal. This in itself wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, I do prefer to have a bit more premeditation but I had been browsing a recipe from the January issue of Bon Appetit for a spicy meatball sandwich that seemed to fit the bill.
I hadn’t came up with sides by this point, I figured I would work it out on the fly. So, rush to the store, rush through the aisles, buy the ingredients for the sandwiches, add in a few nice sized potatoes (you can do so many things with potatoes) and on a sudden whim, four large artichokes. I’ve never cooked a fresh artichoke, why not…

Well, panic was for nothing, the snow let up and nothing was closed at all. All that rush for nothing. However, as stated in my previous post, Saturday morning I had a catastrophic computer failure. Not a show stopper for cooking but I do use the internet for browsing recipes and eventually for making posts such as the one you are now reading.
Add another brick to my wall of frustration. Five or six panicked hours later, I am up and running with some semblance of normalcy. I’ve lost all my data, my itunes library, the last 8 weeks of feasts photos and a couple of very nice photos of my wife (wink wink nudge nudge, say no more)… but fine, on track for Sunday cookery as normal.

Sunday rolls around. I have a lazy morning, a nice breakfast, an extra cup of coffee. I like to relax on Sundays but I think that goes for just about everyone. So, around noon, what should happen? Oh, yes, the electricity goes out. And remains out for the next four hours or so.
This, above all, has put a damper on my cookery. Luckily, this being a holiday weekend, I fall back on cooking on Monday. Improvise, adapt, overcome. Instead I spend Sunday searching for the bottom of a few white Russians and more than a few cheap beers. Entirely too many more to be exact. So, Monday morning comes as it usually does after Sunday night and I find myself wondering if I can even bear the thought of food much less the preparation of a nice meal. Long story slightly less long, I found the fortitude to go on and despite these challenges, prepared a mostly decent meal.

Three courses, the aforementioned Meatball Sandwiches, Twice baked potatoes and oven roasted artichokes.

Meatballs in my slightly overcrowded pan

Spicy Meatball Sandwiches (more accurately Pork Meatball Banh Mi, linked here on epicurious. oddly enough, the one problem I had with
ingredients for this meal was the daikon root. Imagine that, an asian ingredient that I couldn’t get my hands on even though I am in asia.
There are a multitude of sources for them off base but see the previous comments re: snow and realize that I was not driving anywhere. Besides, there was beer to drink. Aside from that lapse which I filled by plussing up the carrot content, the only real modifications to the recipe as originally designed was an increase in the amount of chili sauce in both the mayo and the meatballs themselves. I did increase the garlic in the meatballs to 7 cloves but I think anyone who knows me probably already knew that. I do wish that I would have taken the time to bake my own baguettes for this as the bakery at the commissary here is passable at best. These weren’t bad but they weren’t great either.

Twice bakes potatoes

Twice baked potatoes: my wife called me out for cheating on this one.
It’s true, this is something I could make blindfolded as I have been making it pretty much my entire adult life. It was one of the mainstays of my early attempts at treating my wife right, twice baked potatoes, shark steak and steamed broccoli being a fairly routine example of my menus for her. Take two large-ish potatoes, prick them with a fork and bake at 375 for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, slice off the tops (which are great snacks with a twist of salt, pepper and a sprinkle of
cheese) and carefully scoop out the cooked potato, leaving the wall of the baked potato intact. Mix the cooked potato with 2 tbsp butter, salt, pepper, a bit of cheddar cheese and two strips of crumbled cooked bacon. Refill the potatoes and pop into a hot oven for about 15 minutes to get them nice and browned on top. Serve and enjoy.

Artichokes in the pan

Artichokes: my goodness, I am so thankful at this point that these come in cans and jars. This has got to be the most difficult ingredient I have ever worked with, waaaay too much work and effort for the payoff.
I sliced these in half, drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano and baked in a 375 degree oven for about an hour. The hearts did attain a nice flavorful texture but there is so much peeling back of layers and discarding of the woody outer leaves that I seriously don’t believe it was worth the effort. I am determined to learn more about these as the taste was amazing, there just has to be something I need to do differently. Expect artichokes to make another appearance soon, possibly in the form of Poached Eggs
on Artichoke Bottoms with White Truffle Cream and Mushrooms
. if that’s not decadence, I’m not sure what is.

Meal Plated and ready for consumption

I feel a pressure with the impending end of the project to ensure I give it my all, I’ve said this before but I really want to make sure sufficient planning and care is given to my endeavors. I believe I may begin planning on Wednesday to prevent the frantic efforts of last week.

Tragedy (for me)

February 13, 2010

computer crashed around 2am, lost my primary hard drive. all my music, photos of the last eight weeks of feasts, my vacation photos, gone… not terribly happy right not. bought a new drive and am working to get all my apps back installed and configured just so. i believe it is time to take a break from the computer and consume an uncertain amount of cheap beer.

Feast 38 – Pork Carnitas, Spicy Mashed Yams and Stewed Butternut Squash

February 9, 2010

This meal is entirely inspired by my son Ian. while home for the holidays, i was having a conversation with my wife about the tamales that i was making. two different kinds, chicken and pork, lists of ingredients. all of a sudden, my son just starts laughing uncontrollably. we look at him and ask what he is laughing about. he says “daddy, you said pork butt!” and starts laughing again. his first piece of juvenile humor, very quick start for just being three years old. now, every time i talk to him, he asks me to say pork butt (also in the interest of full disclosure, i am occasionally the one who brings it up). so, because of that, this week’s meal had to be centered around a pork butt roast.

in addition to being a damned tasty piece of meat, the pork butt or boston butt is relatively inexpensive. i like it slow cooked so it develops nicely and falls apart in the crock pot. very very tasty indeed.

this week we are making three dishes, pork carnitas made from the aforementioned pork butt, spicy mashed yams and a stewed butternut squash. my wife will be disappointed, lots of browns and brilliant oranges but no greens on the plate with the exception of the tomatillo salsa for the carnitas. across the board, every thing is a bit on the spicy side which appealed to me as well. i felt the need to purge myself from the inside and there is nothing like a blazing hot dish to sort you out proper. oh, and as an added bonus, i made homemade tortillas for the carnitas. simple, effective and tasty. would have been nice to have my tortilla press here but hey, limited facilities, blah blah blah.

Pork Stewing in the crockpot

the carnitas: I sourced the original recipe from epicurious, as one would expect if you have ever read my blog but honestly, a recipe really isn’t needed for this. Do you have a slow cooker? do you have a large chunk of meat? do you have spices? ok, we are in business. i modified proportions of ingredients to fit my tastes of course. start with a 2 pound pork butt roast and cut it into large cubes. drop the cubes and 2 quartered yellow onions into the slow cooker. season well with salt, pepper and dried oregano. cook until meat is tender and falling apart. i think my slow cooker may be inferior, the original recipe called for 6 hours, it took close to 10 until i was happy with the consistency. bottom line, cook it until its done! because of the fat content, you don’t need any cooking liquid over the meat as we did with the brisket a while back. this will cook nicely in it’s own juices and come out wonderfully flavored. the original recipe calls for the onions to be removed after cooking down the meat but i left them in, i like onions. serve out the meat with a slotted spoon to drain it on the way out. to serve, dice up a ripe avocado, some fresh cilantro and a nice healthy dollop of the tomatillo salsa detailed below. serve on freshly made corn tortillas.

Ingredients for Tomatillo Salsa

tomatillo salsa: again, i’ve made my share of salsas in the past so really didn’t need a recipe but here is a link to the original recipe. i modified this by adding 6 cloves of garlic, a bit of oregano and increasing the serrano peppers to 6. like i said, i like it a little on the spicy side. this was great with chips the day after as well. toss all your ingredients minus the cilantro in an oven-proof pan and roast in a 375 degree oven for about an hour. transfer the roasted ingredients into a large mouthed jar and stir in the cilantro. break out your handy dandy immersion blender and go to town. refrigerate until chilled.

Yams Fresh From the Oven

Spicy Mashed Yams: This recipe was intended as a puree but i backed off on the liquid ingredients to give it more of a mashed potato consistency. also, i soaked the dried peppers in hot water for thirty minutes before adding to the recipe. sourced from epicurious but modified along the way. here is how i made the dish. bake four large yams at 375 for a little over an hour. they should be soft and a bit mushy by that point. carefully remove them from your baking dish and peel them. the skins came right off for me but i think i may have earned an extra layer of calluses from the heat. be careful, these puppies are hot right out of the oven. set aside. in a large pot, boil the reconstituted dried peppers (Guajillo peppers in my case) in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. watch it closely, you don’t want to scorch the cream. once it comes to a boil, carefully transfer in the yams and 2 tbsp of butter. stir well and then hit it with the immersion blender to smooth it out. salt to taste and heat on medium low heat until ready to serve.

Stewed Butternut squash: ok, this is a recipe that i just had a concept for and kinda just went at it. i knew i wanted a squash dish this week and butternut seemed the way to go. first, take a butternut squash, peel it and deseed it. cut the usable flesh into large chunks. then, boil the squash in chicken broth for about 15 minutes or until it starts to soften. strain out the majority of the chicken broth and add in 6 diced jalapenos and 2 diced tomatoes. salt and pepper to taste. stir well and cook slowly until everything else is ready to serve.

the tortillas: there are plenty of recipes out there for tortillas, such a basic food, you would think there wouldn’t be much variation. well, the addition or non-addition of lard seems to be the biggest difference. i opted this time for a basic recipe, 2 cups of masa, 1 1/3 cups water and a sprinkle of salt. bring the dough together and knead until combined well. separate into small balls and form into flat circles, as flat as you can get them. using two plastic bags and a rolling pin was an okay method but i think i would definitely prefer to have a tortilla press to take the pain away. once the tortillas are formed, fry on a dry griddle for about a minute per side, turning twice. the tortillas should puff up after the first flip if you are on the right track. mine were passable but definitely not the best tortillas i have ever eaten. i made them extra large and the were quite suitable for holding carnita ingredients.

Meal Plated

alongside this fine meal, i made some quite decent michiladas. there is a korean beer called Black Beer Stout and although it is a far cry from a stout, it is passable as a black lager and as such, was a great starting point for a chilled glass with a salted rim, wedge of lime and sprinkling of tabasco.

another tasty meal down, 10 more to go. i feel the pressure to make sure i give these last meals my all, making sure that i get out all that i want to say. it’s strange to me, this project started with a limited shelf life but in the end i think i will miss the process of sharing my weekly exploits. i certainly won’t miss the reason i am doing it, being back with my family will probably make me forget all about it 🙂 i have been discussing a transformation into a long form project but i will have to see how that develops.

Feast 37 – Marinated Quail, Mushroom Ragout and Pasta with White Truffle Oil

February 1, 2010

If a man is considered guilty
4 what goes on in his mind
Then give me the electric chair
4 all my future crimes

The inspiration for this meal came in two halves. First, over the years in cookbooks, on cooking shows, magazines, you name it, people have spoke in hushed whispers about the allure of the truffle. I consider myself an omnivore, a person who wants to have about every culinary experience that I can realistically accomplish. So truffles have been at the forefront of my mind for a long time. For us mere humans who still require a 40+ hour a week job to scrape out a mortgage payment and all that, truffles present a unique problem. They are extremely expensive. Not just a little but extremely. I’m normally not one to balk at a price tag when it comes to using the right ingredient for the right dish but here is where I draw the line. According to Wikipedia’s truffle page, the largest amount ever paid for a white truffle was $330,000 for a 1.5 kilogram specimen. That’s more than my house! So, I have struck the balance of economy and desire for exploration, settling for an experience with white truffle oil. Considerably more affordable, I believe I paid around $27 for a small vial of the pungently delicious stuff. A word of caution however, apparently there are a great amount of oils marketed in the US that don’t even contain truffles, only a synthesized chemical that is found in truffles that approximates the flavor. Luckily, the bottle I obtained was an Italian import and was indeed made with real truffles.

Secondly, during my shopping for last week’s meal, I came across quail in the frozen section of my limited grocery store. This intrigued me, I like to stretch a little and make the occasional dish that you wouldn’t normally find on the average table. It’s not the most exotic ingredient but definitely gave a bit of impetus to the planning and execution of this week’s meal.

One of my favorite chef/authors is Nigella Lawson. In addition to being stunning, almost as attractive as my wife but nowhere near that league I will have you know, she writes in an informal tone that makes me feel as if I am sitting around the kitchen chatting. It’s comforting and more in line with how I view food. It should be a pleasant experience, friendly, inviting. Not a strict set of rules and formulas (although those have their place). Focus on the end result, the pleasure brought about by the planning, cooking and eating. I try not to think of the cleaning up after, that is not part of the pleasurable experience.

Nigella Lawson’s book, How to Eat is a staple part of my bookshelf, one that definitely had to make the trip over here with me. so, with my two key ingredients in mind, I turned to Nigella for inspiration and was not let down.

I guess it goes without saying that the recipes for today’s feast can be found in the aforementioned tome. Aside from modifying the quantities of some ingredients, I followed them fairly faithfully. I decided upon three dishes, Marinated, Flattened Quail, Mushroom Ragout and a simple pasta with a parmesan cream sauce finished with truffle oil.

Quail, well cooked in the pan

The quail: you would think that the main dish would be the most time consuming but honestly, this is one of the easiest dishes I have made. Make sure you include enough lead time for the marinating, six hours minimum but twelve or more optimally. Start by spatchcocking the quail, cutting off the wing tips and removing the backbones. I pushed them down on the cutting board afterwards to flatten and they made a very satisfying sound of bones crunching. Pat them dry and season well with salt and pepper, both sides. Mix a marinade of a tablespoon of olive oil, a bit of fresh rosemary, finely minced, 2 crumbled bay leaves and in my case, 4 cloves of garlic (the original called for a single clove). Rub the mixture on the quail and refrigerate for the 6 – 12 hours mentioned earlier. Take this time to play some video games, watch some tv, recover from the night before, what have you. You are off the hook until about 45 minutes before dinnertime. Fast forward in time to about 15 minutes before dinner. Using a heavy pan or cast iron skillet, cook the quail for about 5 minutes, skin side down, until they color and juices well up on the top side. Turn over and sear the bone side for a minute or so. Remove to a holding area, keeping them warm. Deglaze the with 2 tbsp of red wine and 1/2 cup of stock (beef, chicken, your choice, I used the leftover vegetable stock from the mushroom ragout), ensuring to scrape all the fond from the pan. Reduce down to a thick sauce and gently pour a bit on each quail to serve.

mushroom ragout through a cloud of steam

The mushroom ragout: this is meant to be a stew-like consistency but I wanted something a little thicker so I could plate it alongside the quail and pasta. So, I lowered the liquid quantities called for and was maybe a little generous with the flour during the thickening stage. The only thing that annoyed me about the recipe is the call to use two pans, given my limited stovetop space, it was problematic but I managed it somehow. It was well worth it as the flavors developed independently in the two pans and mixed into a great final medley. Excellent result in my opinion. Basically what you need to do is to cook down 1 minced yellow onion, 1 thinly sliced red onion, 2 thinly sliced stalks of celery and 6 cloves of garlic in an even mixture of butter and olive oil, 1 tbsp of each. I’m not going to bore you with the interaction of the olive oil changing the smoke point of the butter and giving you the flavor advantage and cooking flexibility. You are pretty smart, you already knew that, I’m sure. Salt and pepper the mixture and when the onions start to brown, add 1/2 cup of red wine and 1/4 cup of marsala cooking wine along with a bay leaf and a bit of fresh thyme. Reduce this over medium-low heat until the wine cooks away.

Meanwhile, in another pan, cook down a large amount of mixed mushrooms, i used a mixture of white mushrooms and morells, in a similar mixture of butter and olive oil. add a sprinkle of salt and a nice dose of cayenne. you can leave these to reduce down until the moisture dries up and the mushrooms color a bit. then add a bit of red wine and marsala to these as well. reduce until the wine is incorporated. add the onion mixture into the pan with the mushrooms and deglaze the onion cooking pan with a splash of red wine. add a bit of stock and a tablespoon of flour to thicken. pour the sauce over the mushroom-onion mixture and cook for a bit until you reach your desired consistency. as i said earlier, i wanted mine to be plate-able so i used less liquid and reduced more than you would if you were serving it over polenta or rice.

Pasta in the pot

The Pasta: easy-peasy. bring a large amount of salted water to a boil and cook a cup or two of spiral pasta until al dente. turn off the heat, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. drop in a large knob of butter, about a 1/4 cup of heavy cream and a light amount of grated parm. you don’t want to add too much cheese, however tempting, as it will get a bit gooey on you if you overindulge and miss the point. plate the pasta and pour a light trickle of white truffle oil over it to finish. serve immediately or sooner.

Meal plated and ready to eat

what can i say, this meal turned out fabulous. i am amazed at the flavor of the truffle oil, it was very eye opening. the mushroom dish had a great little kick from the cayenne and had a very nice blend of flavors. the quail were succulent and juicy, a bit of a pain to eat because of the meat to bone ratio but very satisfying in a primal carnivore sort of way. i will definitely make them again. all in all, a quite pleasant meal.