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Uncrushable Laser Monkeys! (or, what I had for dinner)
Cornish Game Hen
Friday, November 24, 2006, 09:14 PM - soups, comfort food, holiday
Yeah, 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.

Seasoning
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.

Trussing
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.

Roasting
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.

Squash
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.

mashed potatoes
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.

Gravy
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.

broccoli
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.

Stock
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.


Egg Drop Soup
Thursday, November 2, 2006, 09:46 PM - soups
I'm really horribly sick. Eating makes me feel nauseous, but I'm very hungry all the time. Go figure. I tried bullion at first, just to have something vaguely like food to eat that wouldn't make me sick. Actually, it wasn't called bullion, it was called "chicken granules," which sounds absolutely frightening. That wasn't filling enough, so I made egg drop soup.

ingredients
chicken stock, bullion, or granules (if you must)---about 4 cups
fistful of chives, cut into very short pieces.
dried parsley
corn starch
sesame oil
eggs
cajun seasoning

process
Boil the liquid, add a few shakes of parsley, chopped up chives, a few drops of sesame oil, and a shake of cajun seasoning. I always put a bit of cajun seasoning in bullion because it gives it a bit of a kick. Plain bullion is incredibly bland. Take out a bit of liquid and put it in a seperate bowl with some corn starch. Maybe a teaspoon or so? of corn starch... maybe a tablespoon of liquid? Mix it up and add back to the liquid. This will thicken it without it being stringy. The corn starch won't disolve if you just throw it in.

Beat a few eggs thoroughly. Turn the stove down a hair so it's not at a rolling boil. Stir the liquid in a circle so that it has plenty of momentum, then pour in the egg slowly. If the liquid slows down too much before I run out of egg, I just start pouring in a circle to make up for it.

Eat.

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Beans and Rice
Monday, October 2, 2006, 12:38 PM - comfort food
I 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.

ingredients
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

process
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.

debriefing
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.

Sundry Fusion Dinners
Saturday, September 9, 2006, 12:21 PM - soups
Lately we've been experimenting quite a bit, but I haven't felt like actually writing down what we did. I ought to before I forget it all. So here are the last 3 dinners. The common thread is I think they can all be called fusion cuisine... although that might be a bit of a stretch. We have italian meets chinese, indian meets Mediterranean, and greek meets other Mediterranean. This probably suggests that we ought to buy more spices here. That's the problem of living in two locations... you think you have turmeric, but nope.

Summer Squash Won-ton Tortelini Soup

This was going to be just tortelini in squash sauce, but it didn't come out that way. First of all, we made tortelini out of won-ton wrappers, then there was a sufficient quantity of sauce that it was really more soup like. Since the tortelini was made from won-ton wrappers, it was really texturally more like won-ton soup.

Tortelini Ingredients
I won't remember the details, since we made a bunch of these ages ago then froze them. Here's what I remember:

Won-ton wrappers
fake meat--- we used the kind that comes in a tube. The unflavored "beef" variety, as opposed to the breakfast sausage flavored kind.
Spices are all to taste, since at this point I haven't the faintest idea how much I used, or if this is all I used, or if I thought I used something that I didn't. I know I used fennel, because we were going for an italian sausage flavor, and you have to have fennel. I'd bet salt and pepper were involved, because salt and pepper are always involved. Then I'd guess some combination of oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes. Probably some diced garlic, maybe some onion flakes, but who knows? I'm thinking we might have put in some diced calamata olives as well.

Tortellini Preparation
Fake meat can go horribly wrong texturally if not prepared properly. Fake met from a tube needs to be cooked up and browned or it's gooey. Cook up the spices for a few seconds in some olive oil, then add bits of fake meat and chop it up with the stirring device. You should end up with little nuggets of fake meat goodness. Set it aside in a bowl.

Get a little dish of water. Lay out a bunch of won-ton wrappers. Put about
1 tsp of the fake meat filling onto each wrapper. Moisten your fingers, then wet two adjacent edges. Fold it diagonally so the two dry edges meet the two wet edges. Seal the edges together, being careful to press out as much are as possible because otherwise they could explode. You'll have an something like an iscocoles triangle. Put your finger so that it lies along the triangle, perpendicular to the base. Pick up one base corner and fold it so it's on top of your finger. Moisten its top. Pick up the other base corner and bring it down on top of the other (you'll have the entire triangle wrapped around your finger) and pinch it closed. If you want, you can fold down the other angle somehow, but we didn't bother. You can cook these a number of ways, or just freeze them for later use, which is what we did.

Soup
Coarsely chop a summer squash. It can be zucchini, but we used a yellow squash. Throw it in the blender. Add a can of diced tomatoes. We used the kind that comes with garlic and onion in it. We also added a few cloves of diced garlic. And probably salt, pepper, and tobasco sauce. Blend everything together.

We boiled the frozen tortellini in water for about 4 minutes then drained them and added them back into the soup on the stove just long enough to heat the soup. If I were doing it again, I'd probably just heat the soup up and cook the tortellini in it. Serve in bowls.

Carrot Chutney-type-thing
We did this as a main dish because we had a bunch of carrots to use up. It was amazingly yummy, but it was really too intense. It would be much better served as a little side thing with something else as the main dish.

Ingredients
Tons of carrots, peeled and grated. I have no idea how much carrot we actually used. We used a full bag or carrots, which is whatever quantity grocery stores sell bagged carrots in, but they were ridiculously narrow. I think we had more peel than grated carrot at the end, although halfway through we started just grating the wide end of the carrot and leaving the narrow end as snack food.
Fennel
Mustard seed
Lemon Juice
Tabasco
Half a cup of chopped olives---we used some crazy gourmet olive blend from the coop, but calamata olives would do.
Garlic
Fake breakfast sausage patties

Directions
Cook up mustard seed and fennel in oil until the mustard seeds pop. Add everything else. Cook until cooked. Serve into bowls. Cook up a few fake sausage patties, add to bowls and serve. The sausage patties aren't actually part of the recipe, but they go well with it and we needed some protein in our meal. As I said before, this would go better as a side dish. But this is what happens when you put off going to the grocery store until you have nothing left but a bag of carrots and some fake sausage.


Falafel with spinach and yogurt
I've never actually cooked greek before. At least, not when I knew what I was doing, so I don't actually feel like I know what I'm doing. We made Falafel out of a box in the freezer section of the grocery store. It was another case of inadequate and inappropriate ingredients. We served it with spinach cooked with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. But we wanted a yogurt topping to go with it. But we had no cucumber, and no tahini, and no greek yogurt.

We used a full fat plain yogurt. There was probably a little more than a cup left in the container. As always, I didn't measure it. I wanted some chunkiness, so I added some dried onion flakes and a generous helping of sesame seeds. We had no parsley or celery, which is what I seem to recall putting in this sort of thing back in my vegan restaurant days. So I used basil, salt, pepper, and about a small glug of toasted sesame oil. It tasted shockingly like yogurt that should be served with greek food.

We fried up the falafel as per the directions on the box, and served the whole thing with matzos. At this point you should have guessed that we had no other bread products around that would have made sense to use.


Gluten Free Griddle Scones
Thursday, August 31, 2006, 03:09 PM - breakfast
My sister and her husband are visiting and she has celiac, which is a gluten allergy. It's not an allergy strictly speaking, but it means that if she eats anything containing wheat or some other grains in it, she gets horribly ill. If you're interested, you should probably go looking at some medical site instead of a cooking site for the gory details. She's actually incredibly sensitive, so she can't eat a lot of things that you might expect---canned beans, for instance--- because maybe someone got near something somewhere in the manufacturing process who might have eaten a sandwich for lunch and the whole canning factory was contaminated. Ouch.

Since we thought she might want to eat once in a while while she was hear, we bought some brown rice flower and some cornmeal that were certified gluten free. If you're cooking for company with celiac, this is very important. You shouldn't buy bulk because some people go and scoop out of the wheat flour bin, then scoop out of the corn meal bin, then the whole thing is contaminated. We bought some chocolate chips but didn't put them away in the chocolate chip container, because I strongly suspected we'd contaminated our container by making false pie (which involves chocolate chips, graham crackers, and amaretto). I'd bought canned beans for another meal, but um... I'll be having a decent amount of canned beans for a while because she told me we had to go buy bulk beans and wash them very carefully before soaking them because canned beans can't be trusted. It's best to find out how sensitive the person you're cooking for is before you go and buy a lot of stuff for their visit.

But back to the griddle scones. It's easiest to adapt recipes for breads that gluten will destroy. Buiscuits come to mind. People who make bad biscuits usually ruin them by over mixing, which activates the gluten. So no gluten equals better buiscuits. You can't go wrong.

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup salted butter
1 cup hazlenuts
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup maine blueberries
1 1/2 cup milk

Process

1. Measure the rice flour, cornmeal, and baking powder into a bowl. Stir it up.

2. Wait for people to wake up because in a 1 bedroom apartment with company on an air mattress without much wall between them and you, chopping stuff in the kitchen can make lots of noise. You migh start a pot of coffee.

3. Grate a cube of frozen, salted butter into the flour. If the grating process draws blood, don't worry. Even if your guests are vegetarians, they usually won't mind a little human blood. Everyone needs some iron in their diet. But do try not to hurt yourself. I'm a little dubious about this grating technique. Alton Brown recommends it. I bet he has a grater attachment on his food processor or some special grater with hand guards, because we've tried this twice and on both occasions someone (a different person on each occasion) grated their thumb knuckle, which doesn't seem to happen when you're not grating butter. You might just use a fork, even if it takes longer. You do want the butter to be pretty solid, as one of the things that makes biscuits fluffy is the melting of butter as the biscuits cook.

4. Chop hazlenuts. If I were in a city with the right stores, I'd use 3/4 cup of hazlenut flour instead, so chop it pretty fine. Add it to the bowl.

5. Chop chocolate chips. Why? Because we get the ghirardelli's 60% cocoa chocolate chips, and they are pretty large as chocolate chips go. Again, if we were in a city with the right stores, we'd have a bar with a higher percentage of cocoa mass and it would be very quick and easy to shave. Add these to the bowl also.

6. Add a cup of blueberries and stir.

7. Add 1 1/2 cup of milk. Stir.

8. Preheat a couple of large frying pans on the stove. They should be hot enough that water splattered on them dances around before vaporizing.

9. Spray with anti-stick spray where appropriate. We were running out because we never think to buy more so I just sprayed the non-nonstick pan; the nonstick pan turned out better even without spray.

10. Transfer the contents of a heaping tablespoon of batter into the pan. Pat it down with the back of a spoon until it's about 3/4 of an inch thick. Do this repeatedly until you have a bunch of them cooking in your pans.

11. Cook until they're cooked half of the way through. You can tell just by looking at it. The uncooked portion will remain moist; the cooked portion will dry up and stop bubbling. You can watch the matteness creep up the side of the scone. Flip it and give it about the same amount of time as you gave the first side. Transfer it to a plate.

12. Repeat process until they're all cooked.

Results
They were slightly lame. Usually we make them with sour cherries. Even though we used the wild maine blueberries instead of the really lame sweet blueberries, they didn't have enough kick. Next time we're going to use a combination of blueberries and cranberries. We also thought they needed more salt. Either I accidentally used unsalted butter, or it needs even more salt than that. Next time I'll add a teaspoon or so of salt.

We also thought all the chopping was a bit tiresome. We do have a blender, so next time we'll probably throw the cranberries, the hazlenuts, the chocolate chips, and the milk in a blender and blend it up nicely. That will give the batter an infusion of cranberry-chocolate-hazlenut goodness. Then we'll put in some blueberries to provide the fruity chunks scattered throughout.






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