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.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005, 08:43 PM - holidayWe celebrated christmas* yesterday (pronounced christmas star). We were going to celebrate christmas' (pronounced christmas prime), but we thought christmas* sounded more festive. Why christmas* instead of plain ordinary christmas? Well, christmas was just at a damned inconvenient time. We thought about celebrating solstice instead, but we had to do laundry that day. What's my point? We made a festive christmas* dinner. Christmas is one of the few days in the year when I really feel the need for a big hunk of meat. Actually, the meat isn't so important, but the soup you make from the bone is, so you have to make the meat at some point, and usually this happens on Thanksgiving and Christmas. When they release a tofurkey with a real turkey carcass underneath, that will be the day. We want split pea soup, so we had a ham dinner for christmas*. We made Ham, carnival squash, cauliflour, and apple chutney.
Buy a ham. Don't just buy any ham, buy a ham with a bone in it. If it doesn't have a bone, you can't make split pea soup by boiling the bone with some veggies and split peas. WTF would be the point of that? Don't let Tha Man deprive you of the bone. Ours turned out to be a partially cooked city pork butt.
What does this mean? I didn't see city on our label, but I've discovered that there are 2 kinds of ham: dry/country and wet/city. There was a web site I came across that explained that dry/country ham was a pain in the ass. They didn't quite put it that way, but gosh, there were all these steps to make it properly moist and there were bags and oil and all sorts of paraphenalia. Lots of steps, too. I don't know if you can even buy dry ham in a grocery store anyway. In any case, our ham was a wet ham. It had a little bit of small print on the label explaining that a sizable percentage of its weight was water, just in case you were planning on suing them over paying for the moisture in the ham instead of just the meat. I think that's how you can tell you're getting the right thing.
Ours was partially cooked instead of completely cooked. It didn't look like we could get a bone and have it completely cooked. Ours wasn't a high falutin' spiral cut either. In any case, if it's completely cooked, you only have to cook it to be 140 degrees F. If it's partially cooked, you need to cook it so its internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F if you don't want to risk severe stomach badness, pain, parasites, or death. There will be a label on your ham explaining what the ham company thinks is an appropriate internal temperature for your ham. You should trust them more than you trust me. I could have made a typo. Ours said it would take 20 minutes a pound. Our elite math skills suggested that this would be about 2 and a half hours. It took more like 3-3 and a half hours. Make sure you have snacks.
We stuck our ham cut side down in a giahugeous pot on a little plate that was turned upside down. The plate was ovensafe stoneware. If you have some sort of roasting rack, that's probably what normal people would use, but a person can only have so much kitchen gear. We put about a cup of water into the bottom of the pan. We put it in a 325 degree oven for a really long time. We used a meat thermometer to tell when the ham got hot enough. While it was cooking, we stuck other stuff we needed to cook into the oven so everything would ideally get done at the same time.
Carnival Squash is some variety of winter squash. The label on the squash said it was festive, so we thought it would be appropriate for christmas*. None of the other winter squashes said they were festive on their labels. Why use a unfestive acorn squash or a drab butternut squash when carnival squashes are festive? There are nuances of difference that I'm sure the squash conneseur can tell you about. But this doesn't affect cooking; you can treat all winter squashes roughly the same way.
Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and clean them. Stick them on a cookie sheet. Smoosh them around in some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stick them in the oven (On the rack that doesn't have a ham on it, obviously) for 5 minutes. Pull them out and snack on them while you wait for the ham to take an hour longer than it was supposed to. I should note that not all winter squashes have the same seeds. We tried this with a butternut and its seeds were too tough and fibrous. But with every other variety I've tried, they've been really good.
Place the squash cut side down on something that can go in the oven. We used a dinner plate of the same pattern as the little plate underneath the ham. Stick the plate of squash in the oven. Come back in about an hour. Stick it with a fork. If it squashes, it's done. If it feels like a brick, stick it back in and check back in 10-15 minutes. Since squash always takes longer than its supposed to and ham always takes longer than its supposed to, they make a great pairing at any meal.
Remove the squash from its skin and stick it in a bowl. Your partner might find the skin so festive, and the ham so dilatory, that he will think the skin is a tasty treat. Yum. (I didn't try it, but he said it was good.) Add a tbs of butter, a bunch of cinnamon, nutmeg, corriander, and allspice to the squash. Squash it.
Remove the green cabbagey bits. Cut the stem off so nothing sticks down off of the head. Rinse the cauliflour. Put the cauliflour in an oven-save dish with a lid. Add some whiskey, water, salt, and pepper. Stick it in the oven for 20 minutes or so. If it doesn't fit on the shelf next to the squash, you've mismanaged the size of your cooking apparatus. When you think it's done, open the lid and stick it with a fork. If it's the softness prefer for cauliflour, it's done. If it's not, stick it back in for another 5 minutes. It is good if it's soft enough that people can cut off serving-sized clumps at the table with the serving spoon.
This is something you want to make the day before, or at least the morning before, the rest of the meal.
Dice up a bunch of granny smith apples. I used 5 apples. They have to be granny smith or it will be too sweet. It was already on the sweet side using granny smith. If you used red delicious or something, it would be yucko-sweet instead of slightly sweet with a nice zing to it. Chop 2 cups of walnuts.
Put 1 cup of white vinegar in a pot. Add 2 cups of brown sugar. You could use white sugar, but that would require having some around. Our resultant chutney was pretty brown, so if you're obsessed with aesthetics and prefer a lighter color, you might use white sugar here. Add a couple of tablespoons each of fennel, corriander, mustard seed, and cinnamon. You could add a teaspoon or so of nutmeg as well. Boil these and stir until the sugar disolves.
Add the apples and walnuts. Let them boil for a few minutes then squoosh them well with a potato masher. Serve chilled or at room temperature. This goes really well with ham. It also goes really well with gingerbread.
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.