Sunday, September 30, 2012

How to Create a Celebratory-worthy Meal on a Whim

So for dinner tonight, James and I had a portobello and oyster mushroom duxelles stuffed quail, vegetable ragout and roasted rainbow carrots - sound fancy?  What if I told you you could create something comparable in under 45 minutes?  Our dinner was easily worthy of being served for a celebratory occasion (the Patriots won, that warrants a celebration, right?) but I firmly believe that good food should not only be reserved for special occasions.

So to begin recreating our meal, take your cast iron skillet and heat it for about 10 minutes on the stove top.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and put a large nonstick skillet on low heat to begin heating as well.  Finely dice 1/2 of a shallot and 1/4 of a sweet white onion and divide between the cast iron skillet and nonstick skillet.  Begin toasting the onions and shallots to get them a light brown color and just a shade under being burnt.  To the cast iron skillet, add 1 tablespoon of white truffle oil, 1/4 cup finely chopped bacon (I used wild boar bacon but any high quality bacon will work), one large portobello mushroom cap, two oyster mushrooms, a good pinch of herbs de provence, sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Mix well and cook down for about 3 minutes then transfer to a pie plate and place in the oven to finish.  In the same pie plate, place four, small peeled rainbow (or traditional) carrots.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add sea salt and pepper to taste.  Return the skillet to the burner.

Duxelles prior to going in the oven
Now in your nonstick skillet, add 1 finely diced red bell pepper, 2 roma tomatoes, 1/2  of a summer squash finely diced, 4 chopped asparagus spears, 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  The liquid from the tomatoes will act as a cooking base for the ragout and there's no need to add any oil.  Sauté until the vegetables are al dente and turn the burner down to a low simmer.  You can use any vegetables you like (or happen to have on hand at that point) - the only major component not to omit is the tomatoes (you could substitute canned diced tomatoes if you like).

Lightly dust both sides of your semi-boned quails with salt and pepper and in your hot cast iron skillet, place your quails skin-side down for 8-10 minutes to bring to a good sear.  Turn them over and cook 3-5 minutes on the other side to cook through.  Transfer the birds to the nonstick skillet with the ragout to keep them warm but as to not over cook them.  In the cast iron skillet, deglaze the pan with 1 cup chicken stock, 1/4 cup Cognac, 1/2 teaspoon corn starch, sea salt and pepper.  Allow the liquid to reduce for 3-5 minutes until it forms a thick glaze and strain through a mesh sieve to remove any bits leftover from cooking the quail.

You're now ready for plating.  Make a small pile of the mushroom duxelles on each plate and place the quail over the top.  Lay 2 carrots on each plate diagonally with a small pile of ragout on the opposite side.  Voila!  You have an incredible meal that took minimal preparation time, clocks in under 600 calories (including a fabulously paired glass of Cote du Rhone) and will easily impress your most critical dinner guests.

If quail isn't readily available, you can easily substitute chicken thighs.  In the world of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs get a bad rap.  Yes, they're dark meat and have a marginally higher fat content than white meat, but they also pack about 20 times the flavor.  You'll want to cook your thighs for about 12-15 minutes skin-side down and an additional 5-8 minutes on the opposite side to ensure they're fully cooked (or use a meat thermometer and temp them to 165 degrees).

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