Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday is the new Wednesday

Monday is the new Wednesday, pink is the new black, 50 is the new 30, and 30 is the new 20.

But all that is changing.

Mostly the part about my days off, and the nights on which I will be able to cook at home, instead of for the slavering hordes.

Tonight, Mike and I will feast on:
*Juliette cheese from the Salt Spring Island cheese company, out in B.C. I've written about them, and this cheese in particular, in the past. They do good work, and this is their finest example, in my humble opinion.
*Mango and avocado salad with a nuoc-cham dressing.
*Quail braised in red wine, with tomatoes and mushrooms, over polenta.
*Coffee ice cream (Store-bought. Can't be helped.) with homemade Dulce de Leche. Which is so good, I may not share any.

Quail are small, silly birds, in the pheasant family. The meat is quite tasty, but there's not lots of it. They aren't very expensive, either. I wanted the sauce to be very rich and mushroom-y to complement the meat, but I didn't have any dried mushrooms to create that depth of flavour. Pasta G is closed on Mondays, and the Asian Market was too far out of my way. So I substituted white truffle oil, drizzled on top.

I generally always braise the same way: brown the meat, deglaze the pan with wine, sweat a mirepoix, then bump up the total liquid volume with heated tomatoes and stock, and finally toss in some bay leaves and herbs. In this case, I browned mushrooms before I sweated the mirepoix (a mix of cremini and white button), I used more wine and no stock, and didn't use quite enough tomatoes. I think a little more would have thickened the sauce a bit.

Dulce de Leche is a miraculous thing, and quite frankly, the very best use of canned sweetened condensed milk, as far as I can tell. It is a milk caramel sauce or spread of Spanish origin, and it's common in Spanish, Portugese, Mexican, and Argentinian confectionary. You can peel the label off a can, poke a hole in the top, set it in a pot of water that comes nearly to the top, and simmer it for hours (like 4). The result is a light brown, sticky caramel that is so heavenly, you'll want to drizzle it on anything that stands still. Stove top dulce de leche-making, however, can be dangerous if you let the pot of water boil dry. You can, of course, make it from scratch, cooking sugar, milk and vanilla very slowly, for a VERY long time, stirring almost constantly, until the water evaporates out of the milk and the sugar caramelizes with the milk solids.

Here's an easier way:
Crank your oven to 425F. Scrape the contents of a can of sweetened, condensed milk into an oven-safe glass dish (like a pie plate, or loaf pan). Salt it with sea salt, or fleur de sel (this will emphasize the caramel flavour over the sheer sweetness). Cover the pie plate tightly with foil, then set it in a larger pan filled with enough hot water to come up 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pie dish.

Pop it in the oven for 75 minutes, topping up the water level as it boils off.

Be so careful taking it out of the oven- there is boiling water, steam, and boiling hot caramel, all of which hurt like the dickens if you slosh it on yourself. You could leave it to cool, but what I like to do is: fish out the pie plate, and carefully pry off the foil. There will be a pond of water on the top of the surface of the caramel. Carefully pour it off- the resulting dulce de leche is fairly solid, and won't slide out of the pan too easily. Vigorously whisk the caramel to break up the lumps, and to make it the best ever, whisk in 1 tablespoon or two of butter. Let cool, refrigerate.

Delicious, rich, smooth, complex flavours, all from a can of nasty old sweetened condensed milk!


  1. will try the leche. What's the dressing that goes with the salad? I've mixed mango and avocado before, but never put anything on it.

  2. Dressing is as follows: 1 clove garlic minced as fine as you can manage, 1 fresh thai chili minced (or a pinch dry chili flakes), 1 tbsp sugar, 4 tbsp lime juice, 4 tbsp fish sauce, 4 tbsp water, a pinch of salt, and 2 tsp rice vinegar. This is my best guess for Vietnamese nuoc cham. You could also add some shredded carrot or crushed roasted peanut.

  3. A shame about those funny little birds. Is there enough meat to make them worth the effort?