Just Let Me Freakin’ Eat You, You Stupid Quail! Porcini-Crusted Quail and White Mushroom Sauce

There were many new and, er, surprising things about my dinner last night. See, I’ve never cooked a whole turkey, I have no idea how to cut off a chicken’s neck, and my dinners don’t usually involve feathers. Ok, no dinner—in my entire life before last night—has ever involved feathers.

I bought freezer packed quail from the farmer’s market last Saturday, thinking that they would be all prepared—just requiring me to take out of the package and cook. Now, maybe if I were a seasoned cook, I would have been expecting the quail’s neck to be still on; I wouldn’t have gotten squimish about the amount of blood pouring out of the thing, and the feathers that were still sporadically stuck to the quail wouldn’t phase me. But, alas, I am not a seasoned cook, and this thing freaked me out.

I pretended not to care about the little baby bones of this poor animal. I screeched at Jim to look up on the internet what the hell I should do about the neck (nothing but cook it, it turns out), and when he laughed at me for looking faint, I argued that I was fine, I’d cook anything man, heck, I’ll start killin’ my meats if that’ll prove how tough I am. Yeah. Right on. Throughout these stout-hearted declarations, however, I was silently whispering my apologies to the quail.

I’d never have taken myself as someone to get persnickety over cooking an animal, and I did get over my guilt quick enough (puppetering my porcini encrusted quails to do the can-can), but the memory of this dinner will remain as quite an experience. Pulling off the few feathers that adhered to the quail was a brutal reminder of how animal, how alive, my dinner once was. And while I stand by my belief that being a herbiovore and eating meat that is humanely treated and slaughtered is the best diet a person can have, I think it would benefit us all to think a little more about our food and the life it had before entering our bellies. Something like that can really prompt you to opt for cage-free products.

There are so many benefits of eating animals that have been raised cage-free and happy. The animals are usually healthier (animals in close capacity tend to get sicker) and haven’t been stuffed with antibiotics. The meat is more tender, juicier. The flavor is earthier, closer to what real poultry or meat should taste like. Game birds are special treats too, with darker meat than most chickens and a deeper flavor. The only problem with quail though, is its so freakin’ hard to eat! It’s size (tiny) prohibits you from making ripping cuts with a knife lest want shredded quail for dinner. And, being poor and grumpy about it, Jim and I don’t have any high quality knives that could slice the bird up smoothly. The recipe turned out to be delicious, but after all the excitement in cooking the bird, which took me much longer than it would if I hadn’t freaked out, I was too hungry to happily spend my time eating carefully. I ended up taking a few bites and giving the rest to Jim. I’m not sure I’ll make this recipe using quail again, though with chicken thighs, it may become a staple dinner.

Porcini-Crusted Quail and White Mushroom Sauce

This recipe was adapted from Cooking Light, October 07. They used chicken breast halves. If you can’t find, or don’t want, quail, I would suggest substituting boneless chicken thighs.

Oven Temp 425º

  • 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 whole quail
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 2 minced shallots 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 cups sliced wild or cultivated mushrooms (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. Place porcini mushrooms in a spice or coffee grinder; process until finely ground. Spread out onto a baking sheet or plate.
  2. Sprinkle quail with salt and pepper. Dredge in porcini mixture. Fry quail in skillet with 1 tsp of oil for 2-3 minutes per side, then transfer to an oven-proof dish. Roast quail in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until legs are browned and quail is done.
  3. Heat remaining 1 tsp oil over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add 3 cups mushrooms; cook 5 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Stir in wine, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Add broth to pan; simmer until liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup (about 5 minutes). Stir in sour cream; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and parsley. Enjoy!

Changing of the Season Blues: Ratatouille

I’ve been sick for over a week. Sneezing, coughing, sniffling sick. And to top it off, I’m the midst of planning the first large fundraiser for my nonprofit, to be held on October 12th. Spending my days running around to the banquet hall, to the various art studios to pick out paintings for our silent auction, choosing menus (not as fun as I thought it would be), and dealing with so many people I can’t keep track of who’s who, I’m over tired, under hydrated and all in all bummed. The changing of the seasons hasn’t helped the situation (actually, I’m sure it caused it) since I don’t know whether I’ll be chilly or sweating when I chose the clothes to wear. I’m usually happy it’s fall, because that means butternut squash and pumpkin-spiced cake, but getting sick this year on the cusp of autumn dampened my spirits.

Then last night, to my horror, I saw that the tomatoes and peppers I found at the farmer’s market this weekend were beginning to mold. I had to act fast. I found some extra zucchini and a newly purchased eggplant in the fridge and ratatouille came to mind.

As it turns out, ratatouille was just what I needed to bump away the blues—it showcased the end of summer vegetables and warmed up my newly chilled bones. And, best of all, it’s a very healthy dish, full of that good antioxidant junk that makes you allll better.

Please don’t get turned off by ratatouille because of all the chopping you need to do. The recipe works in stages, so there’s no need to rush yourself chopping everything all at once. Good knife skills help the process, so knowing how to properly chop an onion or an eggplant makes a big difference. To cut an onion, first you slice both the root end and the top end, making it easy to stand the onion on your cutting board. Remove the skin and stand up your onion. Make vertical slices across the onion’s top, making sure not to slice completely through the onion (it should remain in its intact round shape.) Then, turn the onion 90º and make the another set of vertical slices across the onion—you’ll end up with a crosshatch pattern. Now, carefully stand the onion on its side (it will teeter) and, being careful of your fingers, slice the onion—nice diced pieces should fall from the onion onto the cutting board. This size is perfect for the ratatouille, but if you need smaller pieces, mince the diced pieces until you reach the desired size. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a snap.

Ratatouille

Time to completion: 90 minutes.

Equipment: Large dutch oven, chef’s knife, cutting board, saute pan.

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (if they are over ripe, cut off any rotting parts)
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
  • 1 green pepper (I used three smaller not-so-hot jalapeno peppers), cored, seeded, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • handful of fresh basil, dried oregano and fresh thyme
  • 1 large eggplant, diced into pieces a little larger than the onions and peppers
  • 3 medium zucchini, diced the same size as the eggplant
  • 7 Tbsp of olive oil, plus 3 Tbsp for each sauteing
  1. Cut the tomatoes in half, squeeze out the juice and seeds into a small bowl. Dice the tomatoes.
  2. Pour seeds and juice through a chinois into a large measuring cup. Press seeds with a spatula to get out all liquid. Add enough water into the measuring cup with tomato juice so that you have a total of 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp of liquid. Set aside.
  3. Heat 7 Tbsp olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add peppers and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the tomato juice and water mixture to the dutch oven along-with the garlic and herbs. Cover and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook for 30 minutes over a slow, low simmer.
  5. Place the chopped eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow for it to drain of its moisture for a while.
  6. Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add chopped zucchini. Saute about 5-10 minutes or until golden on all sides. Remove to a colander to drain. Season with salt, pepper, or any extra herbs you like and add to the dutch oven.
  7. Remove eggplant from the colander and pat dry with paper towels. Repeat the process of #6 with the eggplant.
  8. When everything is in the dutch oven, cook over a low simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes. Serve hot or room temp.

Saturdays are the Best Days: Farmer’s Market Pasta.

When you’re living with someone, it’s easy to forget how much you enjoy quiet nights at home. You spend so much time with one another during the week that when the weekend rolls around, you want out of the house, cold drinks, and conversation with strangers. You don’t realize that all that time during the week was the stressful, just-got-off-work type of time, harried and worn. You get fed up with rushed dinners, the messy house, curt conversations between tired partners, the prospect of another day of work, and you think going to a party will help all that.

Then it’s Saturday morning, you’re hungover and ghastly. You realize that the tiff you had with your partner, over whether margarita’s should be made with salt or sugar, was impudent, and telling him if you prefer salt, I simply just don’t know you at all, was down-right ridiculous. You cuddle up in the bed for a spoon, and before he has the time to realize he may still be mad, he’s cozy and has forgotten everything. That’s when you realize, undoubtedly, that nothing is better than snuggling up alone, together.

Of course, a good farmer’s market must follow.

The West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market is my favorite farmer’s market in Central Jersey. They have it all, almost. Farm-raised quail, poussin, grass-fed beef and lamb, heirloom pork and smoked bacon, fresh caught seafood, all the veggies you could ever (seasonally) need, fruits, plants, pies, kick-ass donuts and cider, and live entertainment—what more could you ask for? Well, farm-fresh chicken eggs, but I don’t want to nit-pick.

Jim, Champ, and I journeyed the 1.3 miles to the farmer’s market early Saturday morning, grumpy and sloth. At first sight, though, our spirits rose, and almost 2 hours and 100 bucks later, we were happy as hogs in mud.

Of our purchases, I knew I wanted to use the heirloom pork smoked bacon from Cherry Grove Farms for dinner. Heirloom pork is also known as “heritage pork” and is from genetically unmodified pigs who haven’t been selectively bred. They don’t have to commit to new standards set in the 1970’s to lean pork out, marketing to a population searching for leaner meats. Supermarket pork today is much leaner than pre-1970’s, but taste and texture has suffered from the change. If you want pork that doesn’t dry out and tastes, well, like pork, than heirloom is the way to go. Also, heirloom pork is raised humanely and the pigs are treated like living, feeling, in-need-of-fresh-air-and-exercise animals, instead of those poor things factory-farmed across America.

The bacon we purchased was smoked by the farm, and the taste was out-of-this-world—nothing even remotely close to “smoked” bacon in the supermarket. You could taste the wood-fire, the effort that went into it. We would’ve eaten the whole package by itself, but I forced myself to make a proper dinner. Having bought basketsful of red peppers and three gargantuan leeks, I found some pasta and creme fraiche in the fridge and decided on a carbonara-esque dish. It’s absolutely fabulous, roasting the red peppers matched the sweet, smoky flavor of the bacon, but if you’re feeling lazy, try sauteing the peppers fresh, or use the bottled stuff. Crème fraîche isn’t necessary, though it lends a richer taste than you get using only eggs and Parmesan cheese in a carbonara. Make enough for left-overs—it’s even better the next day.

Farmer’s Market Carbonara

  • 5 slabs smoked heirloom bacon (or the thickest cut you can find)
  • 1 large leek, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, roasted, skinned, and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 oz crème fraîche
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 1 pound linguine or fettucini pasta
  • generous grating of Parmesan cheese
  • knob of butter (about 1 Tbsp)
  1. Chop the bacon slabs into slices of 4 (about 2 inches long.) Fry in a skillet over low-med heat until crispy. Remove bacon onto paper towels, reserving about 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease.
  2. Roast the red pepper directly on the gas flame or cut in half and place halves on a baking sheet and broil until the skin is charred and black. Remove from heat, let pepper cool a little and then peel off the skins until a cool tap.
  3. Thoroughly wash leeks, place slices in a skillet over medium-high heat with a knob of butter. Cook until leeks start to become tender. Add roasted pepper slices and garlic, continue to sauté until tender and the flavors have begun to meld.
  4. Boil water in pasta pot. Cook pasta al denté. Drain.
  5. Add pasta back to the pasta pot. Place pot over medium heat. Pour in the reserved 1 Tbsp bacon grease, the vegetables, crème fraîche and grated Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine evenly.
  • Drop in egg. Stir or whisk briskly until the egg is just cooked but still very creamy. Remove from heat. Plate and devour. Give your loved ones a kiss.
  • Where Art Thou, Farro?

    Oh, Farro, Farro. Where art thou Farro?

    I have checked in Whole Foods. I have checked the markets. I have checked Amazon for god’s sake, Farro! (Okay, Okay, I found Farro on Amazon, but I simply refuse to pay that shipping cost.)

    Recently, I’ve been on a new grain kick, trying all those ambiguous and formerly “dis-gusting food sources. Barley, millet, quinoa, bulgar… grains, blasé to some, are new and exciting to me and I’m having quite a time cooking up new recipes and feeling rather healthy and nutritious. My white whale, however, is farro.

    I really want to try this grain. Firstly, I wanted to try the recipe for farro with green onion sauce in Heidi’s book, Super Natural Cooking. Secondly, (okay, this is really firstly, but I don’t want to seem like some kind of geek that lives and breathes ancient Roman history) farro was the “grain of the legions.” How cool is that? Thirdly, I simply want to try it, and once I get something in my head, it’s hard to forget about it, even if things become bleak.

    I can’t find farro at Whole Foods, and Whole Foods has everything. I’m hoping that there’s a bag somewhere, eluding me on some odd shelf. Princeton rocks at having the odd, hippy-healthy food items, so it’s not encouraging that I haven’t located farro yet, but I’ll keep plugging away (ordering from Amazon if I really, really have to.)

    In the meantime, I tackled Heidi’s recipe using pearl barley instead of farro. I tweaked the recipe to include some extra creme fraiche and took out the lemon and walnuts, creating a more savory-flavored dish. By all means, though, go to her site and try the real deal before mine—it’s delicious and fresh.

    Farro Barley with Asparagus and Green Onion Sauce

    adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

    • 5 cups beef stock
    • 2 cups barley, picked over and rinsed
    • 1 pound asparagus, snapped and cut into ¼ inch slices
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • 12 green onions, roughly chopped
    • Salt & Pepper to taste
    • 4 oz. creme fraiche
    • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • Chopped green onion
      1. Bring stock and barley to a simmer in a dutch oven, reduce heat, cover, and cook until barley is nearly ready (about 30 minutes), add asparagus and cook for another 5 or so minutes, or until asparagus is tender.
      2. Meanwhile, pour olive oil in small saucepan and add green onions. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until onions are tender. Remove from heat, placing onions in a bowl. If you have a hand blender, blend for a minute or two to mash up some (but not all) of the onions into a sauce, otherwise pulse a food processor.
      3. When barley/asparagus is ready, combine with onions. Add creme fraiche, salt, and pepper. Serve with a garnish of parm and green onions.

    MeMe! And Champ!

    First off, a picture of my pride and joy:

    And now for a Meme! Sarah from What Smells So Good? tagged me for a name-game Meme, one that sounds a lot easier than it really is:

    • Players, you must list one fact, word or tidbit that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your first or middle name.
    • When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own first or middle name game facts, word or tidbit.
    • At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
    • So if I’ve tagged YOU, please join in on the fun!

    I had a major brain-fart for a while, but I finally filled it all out. It’s (mostly) food related, because, well, the rest of my life is boring… here goes. Thanks, Sarah! 😀

    R: Robin Red-breast. This is a name a lot of kids used to call me when I was little—it drove me crazy, not to mention made me blush a deep shade of cerise. Now it’s kinda sexy.

    O: Oxtail. Or offal, beef cheek, lamb’s tongue. All of those weird animal parts that most people scruntch their noses at—if you don’t want to eat ’em, pass your plate to me! I looove them.

    B: Blackened Barbeque, it drives me mad—come on people, you are only supposed to put the BBQ sauce on at the end. That blackened crust on the outside of my chicken wing is not your specialty, it’s just burnt.

    I: In love. With my boyfriend, my dog, my cat, my food, my life right now. I couldn’t be happier.

    N: Nabokov, Vladimir. My all-time favorite author, though I’ve neglected him as of late. Maybe it’s time for my 8th reading of Lolita.

    And now, since I’m supposed to tag people (I only chose two because I’m shy like that, lol):

    Cook, Eat, Fret

    Kate in the Kitchen

    Rachel Ray is Not So Bad: Spanish Stew

    I’m generally a shy person, and as a novice cook in my first apartment’s kitchen, I would chide myself for mistakes made, not because the food I was cooking for my dinners alone wouldn’t taste right, but because I felt humilated (in front of who, I don’t know). It’s understandable (or am I just crazy?), since a lot of food publications and even some food shows assume that a person has some (even if it is a small) understanding of the cooking process before they try single-handly to make every recipe they can find in Gourmet or Bon Apetit. Until I realized that I would need to research and educate myself in cooking basics before diving in with the big-leaguers, I had many unhappy afternoons of wilted souffles and charred chicken. So, before long, I became obsessed with Rachael Ray. I watched 30 minute-meals practically everyday and bought many of her cookbooks. She provided easy and interesting recipes and, more importantly, none of that “gourmet” talk of roux or clafoutis, or really anything more complicated than a one (or two)-pot dinner. Rachael Ray nevered expects me to know even the basics of cooking before hitting her kitchen, which is why she spends the entire length of her show gabbing away. It’s gaurenteed she’ll tout the benefits of barbage bowls and healthy doses of EVOO each episode, becoming quite annoying, but we have to give her credit for never confusing the clumsy cook. That said, it takes a dedicated amateur cook only so long before they need to move on, and though I still consider myself a clumsy cook (with the scars to prove it), I had taken to scoffing at Rachael, her easy one-pot laughable dinners, while I slaved over recipes by Daniel Bolud and Thomas Keller, all of them involving hours of sweat and tears. I let my Rachael Ray cookbooks grow rather dusty on the bookshelf.

    And then I got real. No 9-5er in this world has the time to cook 5-star dinners every night. And instead of crying over my desire to quit my job and cook all day, I realized I could whip up fast, easy, and different recipes daily, without overextending myself (burning out on Tuesday and ordering take out for the rest of the week.) I blew the dust off my 30-minute meals cookbook and got to work. (And then had time for a movie, shower, and a drink before bed!)

    Yes, RR cookbooks do tend to use ingredients that most self-described gourmands shy away from—chicken cutlets, ground turkey—but any competent cook (maybe that can be my new name!) can substitute to their likings and standards (what snobs we are!)

    This recipe is adapted from Rachael Ray’s Big, Thick, & Hearty Thighs (I couldn’t bear to use that name!) and made use out of my basketful of farmer’s market onions! The end result was a lot like a stew, thus the new name. I added sausage and a lot of spices to fit my hard-to-please spice palate. Adjust the spices to your taste.

    Spanish Stew

    Time: 30 minutes!

    • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil (yes, EVOO)
    • 8 chicken thighs
    • ½ pound chorizo sausage
    • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
    • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 Tbs Fresh thyme leaves, chopped
    • small handful of brown rice, optional
    • 1/2 cup Dry white wine
    • 3 cups chicken stock
    • 3 medium to large red bliss potatoes, thinly sliced
    • 2 cup Fozen peas
    • 1 cup bottled roasted pepper, drained
    • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
    • 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp good paprika

    1. Preheat a large skillet or wide soup pot over med-high heat and add extra virgin olive oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet and brown on both sides for 3 minutes. Scoot thighs to the edges of the pan, making some space in the center of the skillet. Add the onions, chorizo, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes.

    2. Add the rice, wine, and chicken stock, turn the heat up to high, bring up to a simmer. Add the potatoes and stir everything together. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.

    3. Remove lid and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add peas, peppers, spices, and cook for 1 more minute to just heat the peas through.

    YUM-O! hahaha