A Sustainable and Local Valentine’s Day Dinner

By Elizabeth Keyser

Braised Local Quail with wild raspberry wine sauce
Local Quail with Wild Raspberry Wine Sauce

When Analiese asked Michael and me to make a sustainable and local Valentine’s dinner to inspire the readers of the Fairfield Green Food Guide, I knew I wanted to use John Boy’s quail.  They’re plump, meaty and full of flavor.  John Ubaldo raises them on organic feed he grows himself on his farm in Cambridge, N.Y.  The quail pen is half in a field, half in the woods.  “They’re in their natural environment, ” he says, “They like to perch. They’re birds.”

He suggested I stuff his semi-boneless quail with sausage from his Berkshire pigs. Excellent idea.

THE MENU

  • John Boy’s Farm’s quail, stuffed with Berkshire pork sausage, mushrooms, and thyme. Served with red wine-wild raspberry sauce.
  • Herbed quinoa
  • Flash-seared shredded cabbage with caramelized onions
  • Raw beet and apple salad in apple-cider vinaigrette

Dessert:

  • Mint tea with Red Bee’s Honey
  • Chocolate almond torte with raspberry buttercream, black walnut syrup praline

THE TASTE

Stuffing the quail
Stuffing the quail

The  stuffed quail was delicious, rich and meaty enough that one quail left us satisfied, especially when drizzled with savory-sweet pan sauce made with wine and the wild raspberry jelly sauce.  Michael and I made the jelly last summer from wild raspberries picked from the brambled edges of our property.  The organic quinoa was light and fluffy.  Organic raw beet  and apple salad added vibrant color to the plate, as well as juicy freshness and sweet acidity.  Cabbage, available at many of the winter farmers’ markets, is  a good accompaniment to game, and when it is sliced super thin and cooked fast with caramelized onions, it acquires a nutty flavor.

STUFFING

Braising the quail
Basting the quail

I sautéed a  chopped onion till translucent, then added John Boy’s Berkshire pork sausage and sprinkled in some salt, pepper and dried thyme (grown in my garden).  While the sausage cooked, I soaked dried chanterelle mushrooms in warm water until they were soft, then finely  chopped their soft caps.  I strained the mushroom water to remove the grit, and then dunked some dried crusts of Michael’s organic flaxseed bread into the mushroom water to soften them. You may have read a previous post on this site about Michael’s bread,  “The Flaxette,” which he bakes daily at the Fairfield Bread Company.

Fresh seasoning for the quinoa
Fresh seasoning for the quinoa

There was more sausage than we’d need for the stuffing, so Michael put some of it away (we made sausage rolls the next day). He added mushrooms, bread, and an egg to the seasoned sausage mixture, then spooned it into the birds’ cavity.

QUAIL

Quail need about 10 minutes of cooking.  After seasoning them with salt and pepper, Michael browned the birds breast side up in a little canola oil in a cast iron skillet. He spooned the pan fat and juices over the breasts, then put the pan of quail in a 450 oven for 5 minutes.  He removed the pan, put it over medium heat, added several cloves of garlic and a couple tablespoons of butter, until the garlic browned. He spooned the melted garlic-infused butter over the quails’ breasts for a minute or two, then put it back in oven 450 for 5 minutes.  He basted the quail, and broiled them for two minutes to brown the skin.

The romantically set Valentine's Day Dinner table
The romantically set Valentine's Day Dinner table

He removed the quail  from the pan to let them rest, added minced shallot, sautéed it till translucent, then deglazed the pan  with a half cup of red wine. He reduced it until the juices were a thick glaze, added salt and pepper, and  two tablespoons of homemade wild-raspberry jelly.  When the jelly melted into the sauce, Michael took the pan off the heat and swirled in a tablespoon of cold butter.  Salty, sweet, earthy and rich, this sauce was delectable.

QUINOA

Meanwhile, I made quinoa.  To the warm, cooked quinoa, I added minced scallion, zested  lime, chopped parsley, and crumbled dried mint leaves (grown in our garden). I drizzled it with lime vinaigrette.

BEET SALAD

This was inspired by The Blood, my favorite juice at Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe, a new raw food restaurant and juice bar in downtown Fairfield.  If they can make juice out of raw beets and apple, why couldn’t I make a salad?

I grated a big red, sweet and juicy organic apple. Its name escapes me, but if you are buying your apple at a farmers’ market, ask for the juiciest and sweetest apple. I used the skin as well. Then I peeled and grated two organic beets.

I tossed the salad with Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar, a little olive oil and salt, pepper.

CABBAGE

A quick sear elevates the humble cabbage.  First, I sautéed a smashed garlic clove in olive oil, then I added julienned  onion, and slowly caramelized it over low heat .  I removed the garlic clove, then turned the heat high, threw in julienned cabbage and cooked it until just wilted.

STOCK and COMPOST

As I cooked, I had two containers in front of me, one for usable scraps – stems of parsley, thyme and dried mushroom  – for the stock bag we keep in the freezer. The other bowl was for the compost pile – onion and garlic skins, beet peels.

SUSTAINABLE ROMANCE

A woman wants to eat Valentine’s Day dinner in a romantic atmosphere.  And romance and sustainability are eminently compatible. I set the table with inherited things I love. There was Nana’s (my father’s grandmother) Victorian water glasses, Auntie Rie’s (my mother’s aunt) white linen table cloth and napkins, her pearl-handled Henckle knives, and silver candles sticks my mother bought at Elephants Trunk flea market.  Those objects connected me to a chain of women, no longer with us, who loved beautiful things, and beautiful moments.

Michael  and I sat down, raised our glasses, and toasted our good fortune in having cooked together for 11 years. We ate.  It was delicious!

Where to get the quail:

John Ubaldo also raises organic and pasture-raised chickens, ducks and Berkshire pigs on his farm in Cambridge, NY.  He makes great bacon and smoked meats. He sells his products at his farmers’ market in Pound Ridge, 9 Pheasant Rd. Saturdays from 11-4 p.m., but he comes to New Canaan every Wednesday morning to deliver to his customers. To order, send an email to  johnboysmarket@aol.com And look for his products to be available at The Farmer’s Table, a café and take-out place that will open by the end of March on Forest Street in New Canaan.

About the author and the cooks:

Elizabeth Keyser’s food pieces are published in Connecticut Magazine and The Fairfield County Weekly.  She has also been published in GQ, The New York Times, The New York Post, Edible Nutmeg, Yankee Brew News, and newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Michael Mordecai is a bread baker at Fairfield Bread Company.  He developed The Flaxette, featuring organic flax, which  is sold at:

Adam’s Bakery – 525 Tunxis Hill Cut-Off, Fairfield, CT

The Pantry – 1580 Post Road in Downtown Fairfield

Spic & Span Market – 329 Pequot Ave., Southport Center – Southport, CT

Garelick & Herbs – 1799 Post Road, Westport, CT

Harborview Market  – 218 Harborview Ave., Black Rock, Bridgeport, CT

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