Cornish Game Hen
Friday, November 24, 2006, 09:14 PM - soups, comfort food, holidayYeah, it's turkey day, but for 2 people, turkey is a bit silly. We lucked out and found an 8 pound turkey a few years ago, but since then we've decided to make a culinary tour of fowl. This year it's cornish game hen. We made 3 of them; two were rock game hens, and one was a normal game hen. The normal one was better, but smaller. But it came in packs of one and the others came in packs of two, and we wanted three so there would be leftovers. Leftovers are a crucial part of thanksgiving, so you can't just do two itty bitty birds and call it a day. The hens didn't all fit in the roasting pan together, so we seasoned two one way and the third another way. For the sake of controlled experiment, the two rock cornish game hens were seasoned differently. In addition, we made mashed potatoes, acorn squash, broccoli, and gravy. We also served cranberry chutney , which we'd made the night before. Then we made stock from the carcasses in the evening.
Preparing the hens
Remove the hen from its packaging. Remove the giblets and set them aside, if there are any. They should be in the chest cavity if they're there. Sometimes in bigger birds I've seen them stuck in by the neck, but there's just no space in a small bird. Set the giblets aside to make stock later. Put them in a bag in the fridge or something. Wash the hen thoroughly. Only one of our birds had giblets. So sad.
Get a partner with clean hands. Have him shake seasoning onto your fingertips. Rub the inside of the bird (yes, the chest cavity) with salt. Get more salt and rub it on the outside of the bird. Repeat the process with pepper. We stuck a pat of butter between the breast of each bird and the skin that goes over the breast. It was a whim. I read about doing that when I was researching capons, and lots of things I'd read cautioned about roasting things that weren't fatty, and I was worried that a small bird might not have enough fat. I have no idea if it made any difference, but they were juicy and tasty in the end, so it couldn't have hurt. We did two hens with garlic and rosemary in addition to salt and pepper. Just use the same process with diced garlic and rosemary. We had extra garlic and rosemary prepped so we put it over the top of the birds after we'd trussed them up for roasting. We did another bird with orange. After salting and peppering it, we put two very thin slices of orange between the skin and the breast and some more in the cavity. We saved aside three more slices, trussed up the bird, squeezed the remaining juice from the orange over the bird, and put the three slices on top.
Put the bird chest side up on a plate. Fold the wings back so the tips are under the back. Tie them into place with some string. There's special kitchen string you can do that with. There should be some flaps of skin at the bottom of the bird by the drumsticks. You can wrap those around the outside of the drumsticks, bringing the drumsticks together, then stick a toothpick through the flaps of skin and use another length of string to secure that end. Stick the bird in the roasting pan. You're supposed to put them on roasting racks, but we don't have one. We use an upside down oven-safe plate. They didn't all fit in the same pan, so we did the garlic/rosemary ones in the roasting pan and the orange one in another pan.
I don't know how long we actually cooked ours. Maybe an hourish at 375 degrees? It's hard to say, since our stove doesn't maintain temperature properly. We tried to use a thermometer to make sure they were the appropriate temperature for cooked fowl, but that was a bad idea. They're really too small to use a meat thermometer in. We pulled them when we realized they were probably done and the thermometer must be lying. I think it was just too easy with such small birds to stick the thermometer through and take the temperature of the air in the cavity (too low) instead of managing to get it in the meat. But the juices were clear, the bones wiggled, and it was basically perfect.
Cut an acorn squash in half. Scrape out the seeds. Rinse the seeds, put them in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Coat them then lay them out flat on a cookie sheet. Stick them in the oven with the roasting birds for about 10 minutes. Pull them out and snack on them while things cook, because it will take a while and you'll be hungry.
Meanwhile, prep the squash. You should have two halves of squash, each with a hollowed out bit in the middle. Put them on their backs on a cookie sheet or oven safe plate. Pour a puddle of Unicum Next (which is pretty undrinkable, but turns out to be interesting to cook with) into each half. Season each half with cinnamon, coriander, and allspice. Stick in the oven with the birds. It will probably not be done until the birds are done, but you can stick it with a fork periodically and declare it done when the fork goes in easily.
Skin a bunch of potatoes (we did about six) and cube them. Throw them in a pot and fill it with enough water to submerge them by at least half an inch. Bring the pot to a boil, turn it down to a strong simmer, and let it go for 15 minutes or until the potatoes seem softish when stuck with a fork.
Pour off the water. Mash with a potato masher. Add a bunch of butter and milk and some salt. We used a few tablespoons of butter and several glugs of evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is richer, and you should always keep some around in case you have a milk emergency. Like you forgot to buy milk before making mashed potatoes.
It didn't look like there was going to be real gravy because the birds weren't giving off much by way of drippings. So we put a cup or so of water in a pan with a teaspoon or so of corn starch and added chicken bullion (a little more than was required for the volume of water). We thought there should be a spot of fat because you never actually manage to de-fat drippings completely when making gravy, so we replaced it with a dribble of olive oil. Heat the concoction until it thickens. We later added chicken drippings from the orange chicken; we didn't actually get drippings from the other two. The drippings improved the flavor immensely; before drippings it tasted sort of like salty butter (wacky), but afterwards it tasted very yummy and went well with the birds.
I just heckled for the broccoli; it's not my area of expertise. Someone added olive oil, whiskey, salt, and pepper to an oven-safe, lidded dish with florets of broccoli and half an onion (chopped into fairly large pieces. We stuck it in the oven with everything else and baked it for about 30 minutes. It was a little on the soft side, but very yummy.
Throw the carcasses into a stock pot with four large carrots, fiveish celery stalks, and a white onion. Fill until everything has water over it. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer for a few hours. Skim the fat off the top into a can or something so you can put it in the trash. Don't put animal fat down the sink or bad things will happen when it comes back down to room temperature and solidifies. Strain the defatted broth into containers for refrigerating and freezing. Any fat you don't manage to get off will congeal on the top of the container and can be more easily removed when you use the stock.
Beans and Rice
Monday, October 2, 2006, 12:38 PM - comfort foodI haven't felt much like cooking lately. No... I don't mind cooking. I haven't felt much like eating lately. I think I have some sort of dietary imbalance such that I crave beans. I went to the store the other day and bought a bunch of yummy food. I thought really long and hard about buying the spicy black bean dip. I almost bought it. But I didn't, because I didn't want junk food. I bought a bunch of non-junk-food. But none of it was beans. I was forced to go back to the store the next day because I couldn't handle the thought of eating anything besides black bean dip. The thought of eating anything else, yes, even chocolate goo, made me nauseous.
So I bought black bean dip and ate black bean dip. After that, I could stand the thought of eating all the nice yummy healthy stuff I bought at the store for a while. But then every once in a while, I just get the bean craving. I have to go to la posta and eat bean burritos pretty often or the bean craving will get me. I wonder just what is in beans that makes me crave them so.
I'm pretty sure it's the beans. So I have made beans and rice the last several times I've cooked. I used to make high falutin' rice, which took effort. But lately I've been averse to effort.
1/2 cup rice
1 can beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
several garlic cloves, minced
cumin, cayenne pepper, dried chili flakes, paprika, oregano, basil, salt, and black pepper to taste--
I probably used something on the order of a teaspoon. I tried to list these in the order of how much I might have put in, but I don't know the proportions. I got sick of grinding the black pepper because we have this dumb black pepper that was really cheap because it had huge peppercorns and they're really too big to play well with grinders
a glug of lemon and/or lime juice
a glug of rum (or other booze)
enough water to cover the concoction
Throw everything in a saucepan. Stir it up. The level of the water should be a few millimeters above the level of the other stuff. Heat on high with the lid off until it boils. It doesn't have to be a rolling boil, but it should be a ways past simmering. Put a lid on the pan, turn it to low, and set a timer for 20 minutes. Serve alone, or with cheese, or with veggies, or with cheese and veggies. I had some of it on top of a cup or so of broccoli last night, with some shredded mexican cheese mixture on top. I should be able to get 3 or 4 meals out of this.
I think if I'd had another can of beans in my cupboard, I would have used two cans of beans. The rice to bean ratio was a little high. But I'm not sure if this fixes my bean craving. I could do with a bean burrito right about now. I thought about buying some lunch on campus, but there aren't any good bean burritos on campus and I can't stomach the thought of anything else. I don't guess it's just the beans I'm craving. There's probably some important trace mineral in something commonly used to season beans. Because there's a Rubio's on campus and the thought of eating one of their bean burritos makes me queasy, which could be related to their failure to season their food.
Drop Biscuit Pancake Type Things
Sunday, July 16, 2006, 12:30 PM - comfort food, flatbread, breakfastThis morning we made drop biscuit pancake type things. Why drop biscuits? Um... too long since I'd gone to the grocery store and there were no other viable breakfast options. Why pancake type things? Because it's wicked hot and using the oven is unthinkable.
3/4 cup ground nuts--I used hazlenut meal. You can substitute flour if you don't want nuts for some reason.
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup milk
4 blocks very dark chocolate, shaved
3/4 cup diced cherries--I used frozen, but you could probably use dried. Or you could pit some fresh ones if you're particularly masochistic.
Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix them up. The dry ingredients would be nutmeal, flour, salt, baking powder.
Next, do whatever it is you do with butter to get it into the dry ingredients. If you have one of those sproingy pastry mixer things, you could probably use that to cut in the butter. If you own a food processor, you could probably throw the lot into there and pulse it until you have itty bitty bits of butter coated in the flour mixture. If you're me, you'll just have to use a fork to cut/squoosh/whatever the butter into the flour. Just to be experimental, I tried freezing the butter and dicing it with a knife, then throwing it into the dry ingredients. It worked pretty well but I don't know if it saved time over the fork method. Once you've done that, use your hands to work the butter into the flour a little better. If you're using white flour, be very careful here because they will be tough if you activate the gluten. It's a little safer with wheat flour, and the hazlenut is even safer. I bet if you're on a gluten-free diet, you can make pretty amazingly fluffy biscuits with your special flour.
Then throw in the cherries and get them well coated with flour. This keeps them from sticking together later. Then add the chocolate. Then add the milk and stir it up. You probably want to use a spoon for this instead of your hands, as it gets pretty messy otherwise. I use a soup spoon.
Take your lefse griddle and heat it to 450. If you don't have a lefse griddle, you'll have to use a frying pan and turn your stove to highish. If you're going to want coffee with this, which you will, you should heat the water before turning on your lefse griddle. Probably turn it on when you start prepping the other stuff. If you try to make hot water and run the lefse griddle at the same time, it will throw the circuit breaker. But you won't notice you've thrown it for a while because the griddle will still feel hot, but you'll wonder why nothing's cooking right.
Grease your lefse griddle with something. I use some variety of canned, sprayable, vegetable oil. With the soup spoon you mixed with, scoop up a mound of biscuit dough. Use another soup spoon to push it off onto the griddle. Pat the top down a bit with the back of the spoon. Repeat until the griddle is covered, leaving about an inch between biscuits. Let them cook for 5 minutes or so, then come back and flip them. Let them cook another 3 minutes or so, them remove to a cooling rack (or plate). Repeat the process until you're out of dough. It took me 2 griddles full to cook all the biscuits.
Eat with coffee.
Friday, January 20, 2006, 10:04 PM - comfort foodMy brother got me a cookbook for Christmas, which I've finally cracked open. It was sufficiently enthraling that I um... didn't cook dinner for a while, despite grandiose visions of making something amazingly cool. So when I realized it was 9pm and that dinner really needed to happen if it was going to happen, I settled on the old standby of spaghetti. Most people go to to much effort when they make spaghetti. This is the lazy way.
3 cloves of garlic, chopped. By the way, you can get it pre-chopped in a can. Usually this is hidden in the vegetable section of the grocery store. It's one of those things that's always in cans underneath the vegetable display that you never look at because it's below eye level and you don't believe there will be anything besides vegetables in the vegetable section.
A bunch of shakes of dried oregano. Probably about a teaspoon, but who knows.
A bunch of shakes of dried basil. About as much as oregano.
Some fennel. Maybe 1/3 of a teaspoon
3 crushed thai chillis. Why thai? Because they're amazingly easy to grow so I have a lifetime supply dried and hanging in my kitchen. I'll probably grow more because they're fun to grow, but I keep toying with the idea of growing something else. But it really doesn't matter what you use, just something to give it a bit of a kick.
3/4 onion, slivered
a bunch of grinds of black pepper
maybe half a teaspoon of salt?
1 can of chopped tomatoes
one serving of spaghetti. That's not 1 bag, but some portion. I think it's an eighth, but who knows
2 glugs of vermouth
Some olive oil. Lets guess 1 tablespoon.
Heat a saucepan. Add olive oil plus all of the spices. Cook it up a bit. I cooked it until some pepper/onion fumes wafted up in my face. You're trying to free up all the fat soluable flavors in the spices and get them into the olive oil. And you're trying to sweat the onions while you're at it.
Add 2 glugs of vermouth to the pan. I do this first because it's going to splatter. You would rather have vermouth splattering than tomato sauce. Trust me. Add the can of chopped tomatoes after it's done splattering. Now put a lid on and let it simmer for a while. This is to disolve all the alcohol soluble flavors as well and let things blend.
Break the noodles in half (or not; usually I don't but I got impatient) and drop them into the sauce. Most people go to the bother of boiling them in seperate pots. This is silly because your pasta just tastes like pasta, as opposed to pasta infused with flavourful sauce. And it means you have to wash another pot. The 2 pot method is for people with lots of time and dishwashers.
Let the noodles ook until they're done. Stir them periodically so they don't stick together. They're done when they're pliable instead of stiff when you pick them out of the pan with a fork. Or, at least, they're done enough. Let them go a while with the lid off to let most of the residual moisture evaporate. I left it a bit saucy, but not too saucy.
Add 2 eggs. Yes, you can add them directly to the pot. Beating eggs seperately is for people with dishwashers. Beat the eggs on top of the noodles then mix them in well. As the eggs cook, they'll give the sauce a frothy texture and a salmoney colour.
This made 1 dinner-sized serving plus one lunch-sized serving. It was really yummy.
Sunday, November 27, 2005, 10:09 AM - comfort food, flatbread, dessert, holidaySince there is a terrible dearth of 8 lb. turkeys (we did find one once), we made a capon for thanksgiving dinner. 'What is a capon?", you might ask. Here's an explanation of capon by analogy:
capon:chicken::kobe beef:regular beef
A capon is a rooster that has been neutered at a young age so as to not develop any of the stringy muscles that roosters tend to get. then they're babied (probably no where near as much as kobe, but they live better than most chickens), get a special diet, and even get to live longer than their regular chicken counterparts. They taste more like chicken than chicken.
green bean caserole
1. Go to the grocery store
2. buy a pumpkin pie
3. bring home & refrigerate until ready to eat
1. Leave your frozen capon in the fridge for a few days. This is supposed to defrost it, but it won't.
2. Clean your sink & fill it with cool water; add capon.
3. Check on it every 15 minutes, or so, to see if it's defrosted yet. You might help it along by working at the neck & giblet sack. Once the big chunk of frozen giblets is out, the rest of the bird will defrost faster. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch the raw bird & go off to do something else.
4. Put the neck & giblets in a freezer bag & throw them in the freezer.
5. When the bird has finally defrosted, drain the sink & clean the bird thoroughly, especially under the wings & inside the cavity. You need to do this even though you have magic powers that make your bird have already defrosted properly in the first place. This is to make sure there are fewer potentially nasty microbes floating around. On that note, once the bird is in the oven you'll want to clean the sink (and anything you might have splattered on) with bleach.
6. Stick the bird in the pan you're going to use. You ought to make sure it's not sitting straight in the pan. If you're high falutin' and/or into planning ahead, you probably have some sort of rack for this purpose. If you're a normal human being, you can just turn over a small stoneware plate (make sure it's oven safe) in the pan & balance your bird on top of it.
7. Spices! Rub the bird all over with spices. It helps to get an innocent victim to tip spices into your hands periodically while you handle the bird so you have both hands to maneuver with. You can use whatever you like. We used a greek seasoning blend. Then, for good measure, we put some rosemary & dried onion inside the cavity & rubbed them around. We didn't use very much, though, because we were almost out of both of them.
8. Truss the bird. I'm 99% sure I did it wrong because our bird was butchered differently than usual and there were flaps of skin with orientation different than I am used to; so really, it doesn't matter if you do it properly or not. Just do something--the point is to have it tied to be more like a single block than a largish blob with smallish chunks sticking out at various angles. This makes it cook better; otherwise the sticking-out bits (legs, wings) will get overcooked & dried out by the time the rest of the body is properly cooked. You can probably find diagrams on some other website. I'm not going to draw an ascii diagram because I'm meanspirited.
9. Stick the bird in a 325 degree oven and leave it for hours. Somewhere on the web, there is a table that will tell you how much time it will take per pound. Ours didn't take as long as it was supposed to (by about an hour) but our oven thermostat is psycho and there are good odds that we were cooking it at a higher temperature than we thought. Good thermostat or not, it will probably not take the time you're told it will take, so you have to rely on a meat thermometer.
Tha Man says you should leave it until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest bit of meat without touching the bone gets to 180 degrees. I actually meant to ignore Tha Man and pull it sooner, but those last few degrees went really fast & it actually went to 185ish. But that's ok because it's a capon, which is really fatty and juicy and the meat didn't dry out at all. This might have caused problems with a drier bird like a turkey. We started preparing the rest of the meal at about 160 degrees.
10. Let the bird sit 15-20 minutes before carving.
11. After the meal, get as much meat off the bones as you are willing to and declare it leftovers. Save the carcass for stock. If you're making stock soon, refrigerate it; otherwise freeze it.
green bean caserole
Buy french's fried onions & follow the recipe on the can. It involves canned beans, mushroom soup, salt, pepper, and (surprise, surprise) crazily processed onions. Now, you might think it's a good idea to just mix green beans & mushroom soup, but don't. You need the crazily processed onions or it just tastes nasty. I know people who make it this way. I always take a teensy bit to be polite, but yuck! This, on the otherhand, tastes heavenly. I suppose you could come up with something similarly good by adding a ton of onions to green beans and mushroom soup, but I'm afraid to risk it.
1. buy a box of instant mashed potatoes
2. follow the directions on the box.
You can pour everything out and stick the liquid ingredients on the stove and start it when the bird comes out. The bird needs to sit for 15-20 minutes before carving to let the juices properly distribute.
1. Transfer the bird to the carving plate and let it do it's sitting there
2. Since we did the bird in a really large dutch oven, it seemed an impractical place to make gravy. So we transfered the drippings to a smaller saucepan.
3. There was still some bits sticking to the dutch oven, so we deglazed that with something. It might have been whiskey; if it wasn't whiskey, it was vermouth. Then we added the results of the deglazing to the saucepan.
4. Scrape the fat off the top. You don't need to get all of it, but you should get most of it.
4. Put about a tablespoon of corn starch into a separate little bowl.
5. Spoon some drippings into the corn starch & stir it up until it's smooth. If it's too viscous, add more drippings.
6. Add mixture back into the saucepan & stir it in. If you don't do it this way, the corn starch won't disolve properly and you'll get unpleasant lumps.
7. Heat the drippings and stir them up until the corn starch cooks. You can tell it's cooked because the gravy is opaque when you start (because you've just added a tbs of white powder) and the corn starch will become translucent and the gravy will turn to the original dripping color when it's done. There's probably no need to season it because lots of the seasoning you put on the bird will have transferred itself to the drippings.
We used this cranberry chutney recipe. Make it in advance and chill it in the refrigerator or it won't have the right texture.
In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and spices. I'm going to just make up some values; they probably are completely different from what I actually used, but they'd probably work: 1 tbs (3 tsp) cinnimon, 1 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp corriander, 1 tsp all spice. Add maybe 1 tsp of baking soda. I eyeballed that too---at least one tsp; maybe two. Stir it up really well so that the brown sugar isn't lumpy. You ought to have something that looks beige. If it's not a pretty rich beige color, maybe you should add more cinnamon? Or just run with it.
Add a glug of lemon juice, 3 tbs of butter (melted), and half a cup of hot water. The butter is melted because I didn't think ahead to let it sit out and had to soften it. If you're the planning ahead type, you don't need to melt it. If you actually own baking powder, you can use that instead of soda/lemon juice. I have no idea if soda works without the lemon juice, but I thought some acid would help; powder comes with it's own acid.
Stir well and spread out on a floured baking sheet. Cook for 12ish minutes. It's done when gently pushing down the top in the middle results in dough springing back up instead of making a finger-shaped dent. Unfortunately, if it's not done yet, you can't try this test too many times without having a rather pock-marked gingerbread. Fortunately, we didn't have that problem.
Cut into pieces and serve with cranberry chutney. Yum.
I did think it was a little chewy. I think I'm going to use more butter next time; 3 tbs was arbitrarily decided upon based on what was left on the stick after the mashed potatoes & whatever else it was used for. I might also be more generous with the baking soda and lemon juice, but I don't know what that means since I didn't measure anything in the first place.