Friday, February 15, 2013

A Gourmand's Valentine

So Thursday, for me, was all about the food. After all, as the saying goes, the way to someone’s heart is through the stomach, no?

Having spent the evening before Valentine’s Day baking a decadent dessert called Chocolate Blackout Cake from Chicago’s Tru chef Gail Gand, I prepared for a day of research at the Library of Congress by pulling on vintage black Cherokee leggings from Target and a wool tunic with a matching scarf by Macy’s Style & Co, that was in a box of gently worn clothing sent to me last summer by my best friend’s mother, Joyce, in Spokane. To celebrate the day, I donned vintage red boots that I bought at JCPenney back when I worked for the retailer in the 1970s, and finished my look with a vibrant red leather motorcycle jacket by Americana Leather, also a hand-me-down from Joyce, resplendent with antiqued brass snaps on epaulettes and a stand-up Nehru collar.

I headed out into brilliant sunshine on a relatively warm February day, despite an inch of new snow on the ground from the night before. When I responded to a gentleman’s greeting on the elevator at the Congressional Library by saying that I was still battling the vestiges of a stubborn head cold from the week before, the man replied that he couldn’t tell I was sick because I looked "so fabulous". Let me tell you that a comment such as that, especially on Valentine’s Day, does wonders for one’s sense of well-being!

At the grocery store on the way home from work, I picked up a quartet of quail breasts I had special-ordered from my butcher. These would be the main attraction in a fancy Valentine dinner I would be preparing later that evening.

Chopped bosc pears combine with red
wine, cream and other ingredients to
form a decadent broth 
Once home, I simmered cauliflower in almond milk for a savory puree spiced with the heat of a chipotle pepper. I made a rich broth from the quail carcasses which I infused with cream, onion, fennel, thyme and bosc pears, reducing the liquid over several hours from eight cups down to only one.

My signature salad features caramelized
onions, toasted hazelnuts and crumbled
bleu cheese
I toasted hazelnuts and then caramelized sliced onion rings to dress my signature salad, which I tossed with buttermilk bleu-cheese crumbles and my own hearty vinaigrette. Finally, I roasted the diminutive quail breasts, each weighing less than two ounces, for just over a minute, and nestled them onto a porridge of faro and bulgar steeped in that rich quail broth reduction.

Pureed cauliflower settles in beside quail
breasts on a bed of two-grain porridge
The recipes for my sensuous entrée and dessert were courtesy of February’s issue of Food & Wine magazine. The dishes combined to make a memorable Valentine meal, despite the fact that I substituted low-fat ingredients in the cake. So who was the lucky recipient of my lavish Valentine efforts? My lips are sealed…

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