26 July 2008

Quail Egg

People who know me know that whenever I go out for sushi, I like to order a quail egg or two, those delicious little raw ova jewels. This is not about that; this is about fowl and my Big Green Egg.

Tom was at Sam's one day and strolled past a freezer with dressed frozen ready-to-cook quail. Being the marketer's dream that he is, the impulse purchase was made and a box of 4 quail landed in our freezer.

The package has directions for a variety of preparations, including the oven, the skillet, and the grill. Since I'm all about The Big Green Egg, it was a no-brainer for me. I defrosted the defeathered fowl and fired up The Egg. The package directions explicitly stated NOT to add seasoning; I am skeptical of pre-seasoned stuff, but since this was my virgin quail experience, I figured I'd better go by the book.

I oiled the grill and put the butterflied birds to roost on the heat. And then it hit me -- How appropriate that the birds' final resting roost was back in The Egg!

Per the package directions, I Egged them for 15 minutes, turning once. I had already halved and seeded two acorn squash, and boiled them almost to doneness, 10-15 minutes. After the flock fled the Egg, I placed the squash halves on the hot grill, flesh-side up at first to finish the cooking, and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper. I turned them after about 5 minutes to get some nice grill marks on the flesh.

I plated the birds and squash (see picture), added a simple salad, and dinner was served. The quail was nearly perfect -- crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and easily disassembled with the hands, uncouth though it may seem. The package warning not to add seasoning proved to be good advice; the added flavor was evident, but not prevalent. The squash was smoky and tender, done just enough so that the skin was edible with a pleasant crunch. The crispy cold salad was the ideal finishing touch to a successful summer supper.

21 July 2008

Scrambled Gregs

We invited some friends over for brunch yesterday and I decided to prepare one of my morning favorites -- Greg's Benedict. I made Eggs Benedict for the first time a few years ago, having enjoyed it a couple of times at a neighbor's house. I wanted to make it unique somehow, so after scouring the pantry for something unique, I came out with wasabi. The wasabi adds a great Asian punch to an already flavorful sauce. Here is the recipe up with which I came... (Read on past the recipe for the rest of the story.)

Greg’s Benedict

6 large eggs
3 English muffins or biscuits, sliced in half
ham, bacon, Prosciutto, or Canadian bacon

Wasabi Hollandaise sauce:
6 egg yolks
3-4 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup melted butter
wasabi powder to taste (start with 1 teaspoon and kick it up from there according to taste)

Poach the eggs. Drain and set aside, preserving the hot water to reheat the eggs.

For the sauce, in the top of a double boiler combine the melted butter, citrus juice, and wasabi powder. Remove from heat until warm, and stir in the egg yolks one at a time, stirring constantly to prevent the yolks from becoming scrambled. Return to slow heat to thicken the sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Briefly submerge the poached eggs in the preserved water to reheat. Quickly dry on paper towels.
Stack the bread, pork, and poached eggs.
Top with Hollandaise.

And herein lies the scramble... You have to let the hot butter-lime-wasabi mixture cool substantially before adding the egg yolks, and then reheat the mixture slowly to thicken.

Live. Learn. Enjoy.

18 July 2008

Gypsy Picnic and How Not to Make Friends on the Grass

There is something beautiful about picnics -- being at one with nature, not having to worry if the main course is still hot, and not having to clear the table when you're done. Yesterday evening, some friends and I went to the Dallas Arboretum for a picnic at the most ineptly named outdoor summer concert series around -- "Cool Thursday". Everyone knows that in Dallas in July, there ain't NOTHIN' cool. But this is not about the weather. It's about food, friends, and fun.

The Arboretum is situated on the shore on Dallas' beautiful White Rock Lake. The natural amphitheater there slopes steeply from a historic mansion with a commanding view of the lake down to the nearly-water-front stage, with trees lining the perimeter on 3 sides. We arrived early to stake out a shady spot along the perimeter and set up shop a stone's throw from stage right. In tow were coolers brimming with a variety of home/hand-made cold (intentionally) soup, finger sandwiches, and potato salad (thank you, Paul!), along with the requisite store-bought fare of cheeses, crackers, fruits, and wines.

As we gobbled goodies, waiting for the sun to set and the concert to commence, other attendees arrived and we were soon surrounded by other patrons in our partial shade. And that's where the "how not to make friends on the grass" part comes in. I will offer this advice (and accompanying photo): If you're gonna park it on the pasture in front of somebody, don't park it in a lawn chair.

The featured band on this blazingly "cool" evening was The Texas Gypsies. The music was Texas swing with a ballad or two thrown in for variety. By the close of the second set, the "buffer zone" between the lawn and the stage was filled with kids and adults swingin' the night away. Cool indeed.

16 July 2008

Greg's Egg

I love my Big Green Egg.

A couple of years ago, my sisters and I had a big party at a lake house in north Georgia to celebrate our parents' 50th wedding anniversary. The owners of the house had one of those ubiquitous Weber kettle grills, and my sisters entrusted me with 30+ hamburgers to cook on it. Up to that point, my only grilling experience had been several years on our in-line gas grill in the back yard. The burgers were so good and the grilling experience was so great, I decided that I needed one of those charcoal-fired burger burners of my own.

I visited our "outdoor lifestyle" store (otherwise known as Jackson's here in Dallas) to choose my new Weber, but standing proudly next to the Weber kettles was a thing of beauty -- The Big Green Egg. I have known about the Egg for several years because a friend in Atlanta used to live very close to the Big Green Egg store there. But I had never touched one. It was love at first sight and touch, and I knew immediately that she was coming home with me. Unfortunately, I drive a MINI (which is also dark green), so I had to avail the services of our neighbor, who has a pick-up truck. We got the Egg home, and she has done nothing but delight us ever since.

The Egg has grilled and smoked turkeys, chickens, cows, pigs, lambs, fish, and veggies all to perfection. My only major mishap was my attempt to "bake" biscuits in her. I quickly learned that other implements are much better suited to creating flaky golden biscuits; the Egged batch of biscuits came out gummy and charred -- perfect grub for the garbage.

Check back soon for my quail Egg story, with a much happier ending than my biscuit bust...

15 July 2008

Danger Dinner!

Last Friday, we were trying to find a creative use for some left-over rotisserie chicken. We had invited a couple of friends over for dinner and told them that it was going to be a very casual affair. (That's a euphemistic way of lowering expectations.) We decided to throw together some quesadillas. We asked one of our guests to bring some of her famous borracho beans and pico de gallo, and another was bringing dessert.

Tom and I stopped by our favorite Mexican grocery, the Fiesta (in Dallas, we always prefix the name of any store with "the", like the Kroger, the Walgreens, etc.), to pick up as many salmonella-enhanced fresh vegetables as possible -- tomotoes, cilantro, jalapeños, and onions. (As of this writing, we have failed in our quest.)

The quesadillas were a gastronomic AND social hit. We hand-pulled the left-over chicken from the bones and warmed it over very low heat with a can of chopped green chilis to give it a little punch. While the chicken and chilis warmed, I sliced some yellow onions and sauteed them almost to carmelization.

Then we formed an assembly line down the galley we call our kitchen, everyone contributing one ingredient to one side of the 8-inch flour tortillas, being careful not to over-fill them. (Otherwise, it makes a big mess on the griddle when half the stuff falls out.) My assignment in the process was the griddle, so when they reached the end of the assembly line, I folded the tortillas in half and let the heat do its magic.

As goes the cliché, a good time was had by all.

MontiConcho Chicken Quesadillas

1 1/2 - 2 cups rotisserie chicken pulled off the bones
1 small can chopped green chilis (do not drain)
8 eight-inch flour tortillas
1 large yellow onion, sliced into rings
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 1/2 cups quesadilla cheese, shredded
pico de gallo
Mexican cream (or substitute sour cream or plain yogurt)

Warm chicken and chopped chilis (with liquid) in a small sauce pan. It just needs to be warm, not hot.
Sauté onion until very soft and almost carmelized.
On one half of each tortilla, spread chicken, onion, cilantro, and cheese. Sprinkle with jalapeno pieces to desired level of spiciness. Fold tortillas over and place on a medium-hot griddle. The objective is to melt the cheese so that everything inside sticks together and to give the outside of the tortillas a nice brown color. Turn once, flipping "across the fold" so that all the good stuff doesn't fall out. Depending on your heat, it will take about 2 minutes on each side.

Slice each in half, and garnish wedges with cream, pico de gallo, and more cilantro.

Left-overs store well in the refrigerator and reheat nicely in the microwave or on the griddle the next day.