The Frugal Foodie: Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac

Your significant other may leave you swooning, but your grocery bill doesn’t need to. Birch & Barley chef Kyle Bailey and pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac show us how to make a Valentine’s Day dinner for two for less than $20.

Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac's Valentine's Day dinner starts with a salt-baked pear-and-arugula salad.

Check out more photos of Bailey and MacIsaac making dinner in our slideshow.  

Related: Where to Shop for Chocoholics, Frugal Foodie Oyster Dinner With Jamie Leeds

Birch & Barley chef Kyle Bailey and pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac have done their advance work. After the married duo accepted our Frugal Foodie challenge to make Valentine’s Day dinner and dessert for two for less than $20, they priced out their grocery list the day before.

But as soon as Bailey realizes chicken bouillon counts as a pantry item, freeing up $3, he scratches his original plan. Studying the meat counter, he decides on two lamb’s necks.

With a main course in mind, we wander through the grocery store picking up the rest of the supplies. The two consult each other on cheeses, digging through a pile for the smallest package of blue cheese they can find. In the bulk aisle, they discuss what would go best with the coconut flan MacIsaac is making. Bailey makes a plea for brandied cherries, a personal favorite, even though they wouldn’t go with the dessert. Finally, they agree on dried bananas and cashews.

Back at my apartment, MacIsaac cleans the greens for him. Together, they pit the pears and prep the salad. I can’t help but think how often I tell my boyfriend to get out of my kitchen, so I ask the couple if they ever yell at each other in the restaurant. They laugh. Apparently that’s a yes.

The twosome, who met in a kitchen and got married shortly before moving from New York to take the helm at Birch & Barley, get back to work. He mixes ricotta, flour, and egg, then rolls out dough to make cavatelli. She whisks coconut milk, blends it with cream cheese, and caramelizes sugar for the flan. Bailey braises the lamb’s neck and uses the liquid as a sauce for the cavatelli.

In the end, we sit down to a blue-cheese-stuffed-pear salad, lamb-neck cavatelli, and coconut-milk flan. Kitchen scuffles or not, they certainly know how to whip up a terrific dinner for two. 

Recipes serve two.

Salt-Baked-Pear Salad With Arugula, Cranberries, and Pecans

For the salt-baked pear:

2 cups kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole pink peppercorns
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 Bosc pear

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the salt and spices. Pour it into a small oven-proof until it is half filled. Place the whole pear in the salt. Pour in remaining salt, fully submerging the pear.

Bake the pear in the salt for about 45 minutes, or until it’s soft. Let the pear cool in the salt. Remove it and brush off any excess salt. Set the pear aside.

For the salad:

2 handfuls arugula
Pinch salt
3 dashes extra-virgin olive oil
3 dashes sherry vinegar
3 dashes cider vinegar
20 dried cranberries
3 tablespoons pecan pieces
1 ounce soft, mild blue cheese such as Gorgonzola

Place the arugula in a bowl. Season with a pinch of salt and a few dashes of the oil and vinegars. Toss in the cranberries and pecans. Season to taste and divide between two plates.

Split the warm pear in half, and scoop out the core with a melon baller or spoon. Fill the pear’s cavity with the cheese. Serve immediately

Ricotta Cavatelli With Braised Lamb Neck and Pecorino

For the cavatelli:

8 ounces fresh ricotta
1 egg
Pinch salt and pepper
1½ cups flour

Mix the ricotta, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Pile the flour on a clean, dry surface, create a well in the middle, and pour in the liquid ingredients. Using a fork, slowly incorporate the flour from the inside walls of the well, working your way out. Once the dough begins to form, use your hands to incorporate the flour. You can add up to 2 tablespoons more flour if needed, depending on the consistency of the ricotta. Let the dough rest, covered in bowl, for 1 hour.

Roll the dough into logs with a diameter roughly the size of a penny. Cut the logs into ½-inch pieces and roll each piece off the back of a fork that has been dipped in flour (see Kyle Bailey demonstrate this in the video below). Place the pieces in a single layer on a flour-dusted tray. Freeze, wrapped, for up to 1 week.

For the lamb neck:

1 carrot
1½ celery stalks with leaves picked and reserved
1 medium Vidalia onion
2 cloves garlic
2 pounds lamb neck
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 beef bouillon cube, dissolved in 2 cups water
1½ ounces pecorino cheese, half grated, half shaved
Canola oil, for sautéeing
Olive oil, for sautéeing

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Peel the carrot, celery, and onion. Take half of each vegetable and cut into large pieces. Set the remainder of the vegetables aside. In a medium saucepan with high sides set over medium heat, caramelize the vegetables in canola oil and a pinch of salt. Crush the garlic cloves and add to vegetable mix. Once the mixture has browned, remove from the heat and reserve.

Add the lamb necks to the pan, and turn the heat up to high. Cook on all sides until browned. Remove and reserve.

Place the tomato paste in the same pan and return the heat to medium. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring.

Add the reserved vegetables to the tomato paste, followed by the wine, and simmer for 2 minutes. Return the lamb necks to the pan, then add the beef-bouillon liquid—add only enough liquid to cover the meat half way. Return to a simmer. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for 1½ to 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Remove and let cool.

Pick the meat from the bones, trying to keep as many large pieces as possible. Strain the liquid and reduce by ½ (or until thick) in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the picked meat back into the reduced liquid. The meat can be held in the liquid, covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days.

Cut the remaining half of each vegetable into a small dice. Season with salt and pepper and saute in olive oil until soft. You can make this up to 1 day ahead of time.

To assemble the pasta:

Heat the meat and braising liquid in a pot until it reaches a simmer. Add the sautéed vegetables.

In a medium pot, bring 3 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Add the cavatelli, either fresh or straight from the freezer, and cook on high heat for 30 seconds after they’ve floated to the top.

Strain the cavatelli and place in the sauté pan with the meat and sauce. Toss in the grated pecorino and divide between two bowls. Garnish with shaved pecorino and the reserved leaves from the celery stalks.

Coconut Flan

6 ounces coconut milk
3 tablespoons sugar plus a separate 1⁄3 cup (to be used for the caramel)
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks
2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk
Pinch salt
10 banana chips
10 toasted cashews

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Combine the coconut milk and 3 tablespoons sugar in a pot. Gently bring to a scald (just below simmer) over low heat.

Place the cream cheese in a blender, the pour the warm coconut milk on top of it. Let cool for 15 minutes to soften the cream cheese, then blend until smooth.

Add the eggs, egg yolk, and a pinch of salt to the blender and blend again until incorporated. Strain the liquid and chill.

Place the 1⁄3 cup of sugar in a small saucepot, scattering it in a thin layer. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, swirling, until an even light caramel color develops (this can happen very quickly). Divide the caramel between two 6- to 8-ounce ramekins.

Allow the caramel to set. Divide the coconut mixture between the ramekins (you may have a bit left over). Place the ramekins in a baking pan with high sides and fill half way with warm water. Cover with foil and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then carefully peel back the foil and jiggle the dish to see if the flan has set. Return to the oven, checking every 10 minutes or so. Depending on the oven, it should take about 30 to 45 minutes. Once the flan has set, remove the ramekins from the water and place in the refrigerator until cool, at least 2 hours.

To serve, run a knife or small offset spatula around each ramekin. Flip carefully onto a plate. If you wiggle it gently it should come right out. Garnish with the banana chips and toasted cashews. The flan can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

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