13 February 2015

Freezer and Pantry Valentine: Part 3. The Pudding

Make an impressive three course meal for two on Valentine's Day using ingredients you already have. For the pudding, make hot and gooey apple-chocolate bread pudding. (I told you it was impressive.)

Opposites attract, so avoid arguing over fruit or chocolate and have both.  After all, it IS Valentine's.

Apple-Chocolate Bread Pudding for Two

a hunk of stale bread (french stick is good but anything will do), cut into chunks 
1 apple, peeled and chopped (or maybe some frozen berries, or perhaps a handful of raisins or other dried fruit) 
1 egg (non negotiable, sorry vegans)
1/2 cup milk (or cream, or mmmmm maybe chocolate milk.....) 
3 tbsp sugar, I used white, but use what you have, or honey or maple syrup.....
knob of butter, cut into small pieces
a handful of chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate or, I don't know, mini marshmallows...)

MAKE AHEADYou probably don't want to be running around like a crazy person feeling harassed and frustrated on Valentine's Day.  So get this ready before you pop your main in the oven, you could assemble it hours ahead, more time for the egginess to soak into the breadiness. Pop it the oven as soon as the quail comes out and impress your love with a heartwarming dessert.
Chances are good you've got all the ingredients already.  The
uneaten end of a loaf of bread, that apple which inexplicably
no one is eating, chocolate chips lost way in the back of the
freezer... eggs, milk butter, sugar.  Okay, maybe you don't
have the exact items, but you've got something that will work.

Your oven will be nicely preheated to 350F from cooking your quail.

Butter two individual ramekins.

Stuff the ramekins full with bread mixed with the apple, and chocolate - save a wee bit of the chocolate to sprinkle on the top.  Really jam it those ramekins.

Whisk together your egg, milk and sugar.  Slowly pour the egg mixture over the bread giving it time to soak in, you may want to encourage this by pressing the bread down a bit.  

Top with a few teensy bits of butter and reserved chocolate.

Place the ramekins on a shallow pan and bake uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.  Let cool a few minutes before serving, to avoid comically blowing on each other through the first half of the dessert course.


'bou likes fruity desserts and I don't believe something counts as dessert unless it contains chocolate, whipped cream or meringue.  With this pudding, I look like I'm being considerate of caribougrrl while giving myself a little chocolate valentine.

caribougrrl is always complaining (under the guise of teasing) about the British obsession with making dessert out of stale bread, but I think she's starting to get used to them.  And for godsakes, I put an APPLE in it.  

But don't kid yourself, the next time she's away I'm going to make this with chocolate milk and mini marshmallows.  Just don't tell her...

12 February 2015

Freezer and Pantry Valentine: Part 2. The Main

Make an impressive three course meal for two for Valentine's Day using ingredients you already have.  For the main, make individual coq au vin.  (I told you it was impressive.)

Go ahead and be dramatic.  Serve tiny whole quail cooked in a rich red wine sauce.  The best part: surprisingly easy and mouthwateringly delicious. 

Quail au Vin for Two

2 quail
2 slices of bacon, chopped (or use pancetta or lardons or back fat)
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced (or a small onion, or part of a larger onion)
1 bay leaf
2 stems of thyme
a glass or so of red wine* 

*Preferably a burgundy or pinot noir or similar (we used Nova Scotia's Jost Vineyards Leon Millot), or use whatever you opened recently and did not finish... ha ha ha, right, okay, buy a red wine you don't mind losing a glass from but that you like enough to serve on Valentine's day.  

MAKE AHEADYou probably don't want to be running around like a crazy person feeling harassed and frustrated on Valentine's Day.  So in the morning, make this recipe up to the point of placing the vegetable mixture and browned quail in their pots.  When you are ready to cook, all you have to do is take them out of the fridge, top up with wine and stick them in the oven.  Less time in the kitchen is more time to spend with your sweetheart.

Make sure the quails are well-cleaned; it's not uncommon to find a pin feather or two that require plucking.  Scrub with coarse salt and wipe off with a damp paper towel, leaving some of the salt for seasoning.

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Put bacon in a cold skillet and heat over medium.  Render the fat and cook the bacon to golden brown but not crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside.

Brown the quail in the bacon fat until golden on all sides.  Remove from  pan and set aside.
Put the mirepoix and bacon in the bottom of the dish, tuck the
whole quail in, top up with wine and it's ready to go.

Saute the carrot, celery, shallot and bay leaf in the remaining bacon fat (if there's not enough, add more from your jar of bacon fat... if for some insane reason you don't save bacon fat, use olive oil).  When the vegetables begin to soften, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine (use the more traditional brandy for deglazing, if you have some... we used ours up at New Year's and haven't replaced it yet).

Remove the bay leaf.  Mix the veg and bacon together and divide into two 1-cup lidded ovenproof pots or ramekins. Divide the thyme between dishes, using some under the quail and some on top.  Tuck a quail tightly into each pot and fill to almost full with red wine.  Cover with lids (or aluminium foil) and place on a baking tray in case of overflow.

Bake covered for 25 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for 15 minutes.  If they look dry (this is fairly unlikely, but check anyway), add a bit more wine.

Serve with a simple salad and some crusty bread.  Or just the salad.  Or whatever side you can make with what's on hand.

Quail au vin for a candlelit dinner... swoon....


Okay, okay.  You might not have quail lying around in your freezer.  Grouse or partridge will do if you have it (though you will only need one, quartered so it can be squished in the pot - so really, quail is best for visual impact).  Maybe you don't have neighbours who raise or hunt quail.  Maybe you missed the after Christmas sale of "fancy" poultry at your local grocer.  No worries.  You can buy 6 frozen quail** for $10-12, which sounds expensive but is 3 romantic dinners for two, or 6 self-validating and empowering meals for one.

**They need to thaw at least somewhat before separating, but since you will be thoroughly cooking quail eventually, go ahead and re-freeze the partially thawed quail.  Or, if you have your tea-smoker operating for cod, smoke the leftover quails before freezing (or refrigerating to use in the next few days).

This is not Julia's coq au vin, I know, but don't worry about it.  This is not about perfecting a classic french dish, it's about romance.  Don't underestimate the power of being a bit dramatic; serving a whole bird in a pot of rich wine sauce is pretty dramatic.  Also, most importantly, quail au vin is delicious.  Which is why you only make one per person; if you make more, you will eat too many and that will spoil your dessert.

8 February 2015

Freezer and Pantry Valentine: Part 1. The Appetizer

Make an impressive three course meal for two for Valentine's Day using ingredients you already have.  For the appetizer, smoke your own fish and make pickled berries.  (I told you it was impressive.)

Frozen fish, frozen berries and stale bread make a smoky and bright appetizer worthy serving to the love of your life.
Tea-smoked Cod Crostini

For the tea-smoked cod:

frozen cod*, thawed (as much or as little as you have**)

*Don't have cod?  Don't worry... use whatever other fish you have in the freezer. Allergic to fish? Tea-smoke a couple eggs (boiled for 6 minutes, peeled and cooled first), or pull something else out of the fridge or freezer.  You can tea-smoke just about anything, but consult the miracle of the internet for appropriate cooking times.

**As long as it fits on your smoking rack, see instructions below.  And bearing in mind this is for an appetizer for two, so you don't need very much... of course, any you don't use for Valentines day would be good on a sandwich or salad the next day.

Genmaicha tea comes with the rice already in it, but feel
free to substitute any leafy tea and raw or toasted rice.

4 tbsp genmaicha tea (or 2 tbsp loose leaf green tea + 2 tbsp uncooked rice)

1 tbsp demerara sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 star anise
1/2 tsp fennel
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1 twist of orange

For serving:

a couple slices of stale bread
quick-pickled red currants****

***Or olive oil or bacon grease or drippings...

****Any berry from your freezer will do, the tarter the better.

MAKE AHEAD: You probably don't want to be running around like a crazy person feeling harassed and frustrated on Valentine's Day.  So make the smoked cod and the quick-pickled currants the day before.  We did a one-quarter-ish recipe of the Pickle Girl's recipe (link above) for the currants... and used the excess brine and pickled some wild blackberries to eat with cheese.

You need a heavy dutch oven or casserole or other pot with a lid.  You also need a good bit of aluminium foil and a heatproof rack that fits inside your pot.  We used our cast iron dutch oven and an old metal trivet with a bent leg (caribougrrl finally wins the why-are-we-keeping-all-this-useless-stuff game!).

When you see wisps of smoke rising from the tea mixture,
it's time to put the fish on.

Line your pan with tin foil in two directions, leaving a lot of overhang on all sides (enough to wrap the lid in later). Mix the tea, sugars, and spices together.  Spread these across the bottom of your foil-lined pan, add the orange peel, and place the rack over top.  Heat the smoking ingredients over medium-high until wisps of smoke begin to rise.  Put the fish on the rack in a single layer, put the lid on the pot, and wrap the lid with the overhanging foil.
Seal up the pot with tin foil turning it into a stove top smoker.

Let the fish smoke***** for about 12 minutes per inch of thickness.  You can tell if it's cooked the same way you would if you were baking or grilling it: the fish will be firm and fat will be coagulated on the surface.  White fish is delicate so remove it from the pan to cool rather than allowing it to cool in the smokey pan.

*****Your house is going to smell a bit smoky, but fragrant smoke, like incense.  Go ahead and run your exhaust fan, but there's a lot less smoke than you think, especially if you've used enough foil.  If you're still worried about it, take the whole pot outside when you open it up.

To serve:

Cut your stale bread into serving sized pieces.  For bonus points, cut it into heart shapes.  Butter (or oil or grease) lightly and fry in a skillet to toast.

Top toasts with flakes of smoked fish and a few pickled berries.  The bright and salty berries are the perfect counterpoint to the rich, smokey fish.

The tea-smoked cod is done when it's firm and flaky, and the fat has coagulated on the surface.


So, you might glean from the all the notes, that the important thing is not following the instructions exactly so much as using what you already have on-hand and following the idea.  Save your money for one good ingredient for your main or for a really good bottle of wine or for flowers, or (let's be honest) for your heating bill.  The point is, you can probably make something fantastic with things you already have sitting in your freezer and your cupboards.

About the tea-smoking.  We bought Skye Gyngell's A Year in my Kitchen several years ago and have always been tempted by the tea-smoking technique but really intimidated by it too.  When I saw the step-by-step in Showfoodchef's post about tea-smoked salmon, it all suddenly made sense and seemed accessible enough to try.  As it turns out, not only is tea-smoking possible, but it's surprisingly easy and surprisingly tidy.  Give it a try, you'll be amazed by yourself.

Stay tuned for a miniature version of a classic main, perfect for candle lit dinner.