Sunday, February 24, 2013

Back-to-Back Dinner and Brunch

Every once in a while, events crash into each other. I had booked a brunch with some old friends whom we rarely get to see anymore. We had a monthly brunch event happening for a while, but somewhere along the way, due to new babies and life in general, it had fallen off the radar. I'm hoping today's event will help to reboot the tradition. We had agreed on a date some weeks ago, and we were all really looking forward to spending some time together.

I had spent a week traveling, so was ready to get back into the kitchen after not being able to cook all that time. I was fantasizing about making a brunch of miniatures: mini-muffins, mini-quiches, mini-sausages, and so on. And then the events started to pile up.

In a parallel universe, my husband was trying to connect with an old friend of his, who also has a four-year-old. They at one point had talked about getting together for dinner. Hubbie got a text mid-week asking if we were still on for dinner on Saturday. My question: who's cooking? His answer: we're renovating our kitchen. So that would be me.

My miniature brunch plan went on the backburner in order to allow me to make two back-to-back meals for guests. It was doable; I just had to think carefully about how to simplify it.

Then the next event landed in my lap: my parents wanted to take me and the boys on a road trip to North Battleford to pick up a desk that my aunt wants to give me. When my dad asked, "Are you free Saturday?" I said, "Well, I'm making dinner for people that night." He said, "Oh, we'll be back in lots of time. It'll just take the morning to do it."

Uh-huh. Well, it's an hour-and-a-half each way, and we were leaving North Battleford at 2:30, rather than getting back to Saskatoon. Our guests arrived before we did, since we had asked them to come early for a playdate before dinner. The good news is, Hubby's friend is very patient, he brought an excellent bottle of wine, and he helped me carry the desk to my office.

The bad news is, we didn't eat til 6:30. Not the end of the world. But I did cause his son to have an allergic reaction. He's fine, but we learned an important lesson about whether chestnuts will cause an allergic reaction to people with nut allergies. Oops. (I didn't serve him chestnuts; they were part of the stuffing for my Christmas goose, and I used goose stock to make the pilaf for supper, and some goose meat and fat in the rillettes I made as an appetizer. But the trace amount was enough to cause a problem.)

I digress. Now that you have the background, I'll share my menus for the two meals. First, dinner for four adults and three kids; second, brunch for eight adults and six kids.

Once again, I am so grateful for the fantastic meat that lands in my freezer. I made full use of the wild game in both meals. The lesson here is that with the right freezer/pantry products, you can make a fabulous meal in no time at all.

Quick gourmet dinner:
Goose rillettes (inspired Hunter Angler Garden Cook), using frozen goose meat from Christmas, as well as duck broth and fat, and some Stonewall Kitchens fig and walnut butter, on brioche.

Spinach salad with pomegranate and feta, dressed with a simple vinaigrette using Rozendal vinegar (still my favourite)
Moose medallions with chokecherry brandy sauce (inspired by a recipe for bison medallions in Anita Stewart's Great Canadian Cuisine: The Contemporary Flavours of Canadian Pacific Hotels. This book appears to be out of print, but if you come across it, snap it up. There are some gorgeous recipes in it, and I've used several)
Quinoa pilaf (I made extra, so I could make savoury quinoa biscuits for the next day's brunch)
Roasted cauliflower
Chocolate pudding

I have eaten a lot of meat in my life, so I can say with authority that the moose tenderloin we ate last night was the most beautiful meat I have ever eaten. It was shockingly tender, beautifully flavoured, and just a tiny bit of sweetness from the simple chokecherry brandy sauce (I simply deglazed the pan with beef stock and homemade chokecherry brandy). And the Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon was an excellent match.

After our guests had gone home and our kids fell asleep, I did a bit of prep for the next day: I made elk sausage patties and put together the dry ingredients for the biscuits I was going to make the in the morning.

Brunch for Eight Adults and Six Rugrats ("Build your own" Breakfast Sandwiches)

Mixed berry smoothie (using frozen raspberries, strawberries and blueberries from last summer, a splash of cranberry/pomegranate juice, a dollop of yogurt and a tablespoon of chia seeds)
Fruit salad
Savoury quinoa biscuits (recipe posted earlier)
Elk sausage patties (half elk, half pork (1.5 lbs each), mixed with 1 t. crumbled sage, 1 T. kosher salt and 1 T. brown sugar)
Baked scrambled eggs, mixed with salted herbs, and cut into rounds (An experiment: I scrambled 16 eggs, mixed with herbs, and poured them into a buttered flat-bottomed roasting pan. I baked them at 350 for about 20 minutes, then cut them into rounds. The kids got the trimmings that were left over after cutting. It worked like a charm!)
"Fixins": cheddar cheese, sliced tomato, lettuce

Brunch came off without a hitch. The breakfast sandwiches will definitely be happening again.

I managed to take some time for a walk in the lovely weather this afternoon, before balancing our meat-heavy meals with a Sunday supper of Urad dal and millet with corn and coconut milk (from Mark Bittman Food Matters) These are not normally meant to go together, but I wanted to use Urad lentils, and I was in the mood for coconut. The combination was filling and comforting.

Stay tuned; I'll be posting my meal plan for this week (long time since I've done that) soon!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Leftover Series #3: Great Uses for Porridge and Pilaf

In keeping with my promise to make good use of all the food we have and avoid wasting, I have discovered wonderful uses for two of my least favourite leftovers: porridge, and pilaf. Cold porridge used to either get ignored on the stove until it was inedible, or packed into the fridge and left there until it was past its prime.
I have already published other posts about leftover porridge, and have made bread and cookies from it in the past. I have also been regularly making cooked oatmeal scones, thanks to this recipe. My husband often blends quinoa and large flake oats to make a filling and protein-rich breakfast. If there's even a cup leftover, I'll save it and turn it into equally filling and protein-rich scones.

That got me pondering another possibility: probably our biggest food waste issue is pilafs. I often make a whole-grain side dish of some sort, from barley, quinoa or some other grain, and there's always more than we can eat, and all of us are less than enthusiastic about seeing it a second time. It often sits until it's beyond using, and then I grind my teeth about waste as I scrape it into the compost.

But if you can make great scones out of leftover porridge, why couldn't you use the same basic recipe and make biscuits out of leftover pilaf? The answer is: YOU CAN!

Using the same recipe but adapting it for the savouriness of the pilaf, I pulled off some excellent biscuits—studded with onions, mushrooms, peppers and celery, which had all been cooked with the quinoa I used as the base—that lined up beautifully next to a slow-cooked lamb and beans recipe I served to guests on Saturday night. There will be many more batches of these little lovelies in my future, since there always seems to be pilaf around. And we will all enjoy them far more in their biscuit form (and they're freezable, too!)

Savoury cooked grain biscuits

2 T. butter
1 c. cold leftover pilaf (I used a quinoa and vegetable pilaf, but I will be experimenting with others)
2/3 c. milk
1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Melt butter and stir into pilaf along with milk. Mix dry ingredients together and stir into the grain mixture. Add cheddar cheese, if using. Batter should be stiff but quite sticky. Gather together and place on a well-floured surface. Pat into 3/4" thickness, and cut into squares, triangles or circles (or whatever shape you like). Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes.

One more waste prevention tactic in place...check!