Monthly Archives: December 2012

Merry and light.

Standard

Stuffed Cornish Game Hen My 70 year-old Aunt Stephanie joined us for the first Christmas dinner I ever cooked. Mom asked me to keep the menu light. While my youthful, iron-clad stomach couldn’t comprehend too rich a meal, I complied, serving Cornish Game Hen as the main course. Cracking open Cook’s Illustrated’s small, pink cookbook on holiday roasts, I prepared brined, balsamic-glazed hens that were moist and golden brown, filled with a wild rice stuffing.

Having cooked for fifteen on the 23rd, I was faced with a second, smaller Christmas dinner on the 25th. Without a recipe, I wandered bulk product in Whole Foods, picking up Israeli couscous, dried Turkish figs and apricots, and preserved lemons. It was a wonderful balance of sweet and tart, rich with couscous plumped with homemade stock. Drawing upon my stash from Spices, LTD – my spice hook up at North Market in Columbus, OH – their Aqua blend of candied lemon, dill and Sonoma sea salt brightened the flavors and added needed complexity.

Mom was happy, Aunt Stephanie would have been proud, and I hope Christopher Kimball would have been too.

Israeli Couscous stuffed Cornish Game Hen

Cornish Hens brine in only 2-3 hours, so you can start this dish the afternoon before your meal.

Ingredients:

Stuffed Cornish Game Hen with Aqua SaltFor hens:

  • 4 cornish game hens
  • 2-3 cups coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbs cold butter

For stuffing:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 4 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup diced, dried turkish figs
  • 1/4 cup diced, dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup diced preserved lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley
  • cayenne pepper
  • Aqua salt blend or coarse sea salt

Directions:

Brine Cornish Game Hens:

  • In a cooler or large pot, dissolve 2 cups salt in 2 gallons of water. Rinse hens thoroughly inside and out, under cold running water. Submerge in brine. As needed, add additional water and salt to cover. Add 6 cups of ice and set aside for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator or on the patio if you’re lucky enough to be spending the winter somewhere cold.

Make couscous stuffing:

  • While the hens brine, prepare the stuffing. Warm the oil over medium-low heat in a large sauté pan (use one that has a lid).
  • Add the onions and sauté until softened and translucent, 5-8 minutes. Add the turmeric, cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg, along with the dry couscous. Cook for five minutes until couscous is lightly toasted.
  • Add stock and turn heat to medium high. Bring the stock to a boil, cover and reduce to low. Let cook for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Transfer couscous to a microwave safe bowl. Stir in chopped fruit and parsley. Season to taste with a pinch of cayenne pepper, black pepper and Aqua salt blend or coarse sea salt.

Cook Cornish Game Hens:

  • Remove hens from brine, rinse inside and out with cold water, and pat dry. Prick skin all over with the tip of a paring knife.
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Whisk together balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Set aside.
  • Microwave stuffing until very hot. Fill the cavity with stuffing and secure the skin flap with trussing skewers and tie together the legs. You can secure the wings to the body with more string, but that seems like a lot of work and doesn’t make a huge difference with so small a bird.
  • Scatter onion, carrot, thyme and bay leaves in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place hens, breast side down and wings out, on top of a roasting rack set in the pan.
  • Roast 1: Roast hens, for 25 minutes, on a rack set in the middle of the oven.
  • Roast 2: Remove pan from oven, turn hens breast side up and legs out. Whisk vinegar and oil, and brush birds with the mix. Add two cups of stock to the bottom of the pan and return to the oven for 15 minutes.
  • Roast 3: Remove hens from oven and baste again with oil and vinegar mix. Return to oven a final time and roast until both stuffing and thigh register 165 on an instant read thermometer. Remove hens from oven and place on a serving platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Make pan sauce:

  • Meanwhile, place roasting pan on stove top and reduce pan juices to 3/4 cup. Strain juices into a small sauté pan and discard solids. Add white wine and any juices that have accumulated under the resting hens.
  • Reduce liquid to 3/4 cups, remove from heat and whisk in the cold butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve alongside hens.

All I want for Christmas.

Standard

IMG_2332Jason is upstairs wrapping Christmas presents for our exchange tomorrow. I am online shopping for his.

My husband is amazing – for so many reasons – but he has a particularly amazing ability to select perfect kitchen gifts. Our first year together I received 13 pieces of All-Clad (he’s a keeper). Two years later he bought me the set of caramel-colered, Revol, lion head bowls I had been lusting after (and I put a ring on it!). This year he asked, “do you want a gel mat?” (I would bear him children if I could).

Five rules to successful gifts for cooks

1. We’re not THAT creative: Snooping through our cupboards, you’d discover the bottle of pink Himalayan salt  you bought us two years ago. Cooks have each developed their own palette of ingredients and it takes inspiration to get us to stray. Next time you pick up a boxed set of infused vinegars, ask your local retailer for some suggestions. If they don’t have any, you may want to move on (to another store).

2. We don’t want to cook – right now: Cooks love cooking, but we’ve spent the last 75 days making everything from candied apples and Thanksgiving turkey to Christmas dinner and New Year’s brunch. A bottle of wine, artisanal cheeses or locally-cured charcuterie is just what we need right now.We’ll even open it up and let you taste some.

3. We’re hoarders: If you want to avoid that pained “thank you” delivered through clenched teeth, then please, no clever one-off contraptions or seasonal utensils. What am I going to do with that snowman spatula during the other eleven months of the year? Do I need really the amazing peeler, juicer or meat pounder you’ve discovered? Possibly. How do you know? Just ask!

4. The big stuff is big stuff: Screw wedding dresses and engagement rings, cooks have had their pans, knives and appliances picked out for years – and none of it is cheap! Before supporting the Food Network’s cookware branding efforts, make sure it will match our set. (Again, All-Clad Copper Core would be perfectly appropriate. Any piece, really. For any reason.  Ever.)

5. We cook with love: Every time I lift a pot with my lobster pot holder, I remember Sandy. Her mom gave me Sarah-Leah Chase’s Cold Weather Cooking book, one of my staples. I have a tea towel from Jess, a skillet from my Godmother Alex, and a single plate from my Mom’s wedding set. Every gift we receive from you will add another story and another memory to the daily act of preparing food. For that, we will be truly grateful.

What’s on my list?

I need a new salad spinner, I broke mine. I’m ready to learn more about cutting meat and need a couple more knives. I would like grapefruit spoons and a self-freezing ice cream maker. I want a Windsor pan for sauces, and I will always take a new cookbook.

What I need most of all, though, is time. I want to master Crème Pâtissièri and Pâte à Choux. I have stacks of cookbooks that deserve thorough reading. We’ve put out more dinner invites than there are days in the year, and sincerely meant each and every one of them. So set a date, bring a bottle, and let’s toast the new year together.

 

Denver Beer is a whole other story.

Standard
Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

“Good Lord! This recipe looks ugly.” You’ve said that before, and you’re about to say it again. This hors d’oeuvre has lots of ingredients, many steps and big, scary challenges like homemade mayonnaise. It’s time to channel Dr. Bob Nakosteen. Dr. Bob was my econ and stats professor during my MBA program. One day, he explained why we hate math.

“When we read a paragraph of prose,” said Dr. Bob, “it contains a certain amount of information. Our brains have gotten pretty comfortable with that ratio of text to info. Math, on the other hand,” he said, “contains a lot more info per character. In fact, a line of mathematical symbols could contain as much information as one or several paragraphs of prose. This is when your head explodes.”

The key is to take a deep breath, change the speed on the record, and break the problem down.

Recipes are the same. The purée mashes together peas and sautéed shallot, simmered in a little stock to add depth and liquid, and seasoned with mint. The vinegar balances the slightly cloying sweetness of peas.

Mayo is simply oil whisked into egg yolks, using mustard to hold it together and seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice and wasabi. We chill the seared steak in the freezer so it is firm enough to slice thinly. Then we put it all on toast.

That’s it. Two really short paragraphs that translate  all those steps and ingredients below. Sure, it’s four recipes in one (if you count toast), but you can do it. Plus, it looks and sounds really impressive, just like math, so you can tell your friends just how amazing you are. That, my friends, is worth a toast (with a Denver Beer – you’ll have to ask Dr. Bob about that too.).

*Shout out to the Isenberg School of Business at UMASS

Berbere beef crostini with wasabi mayonnaise and minted pea purée

Ingredients:

Minted pea purée

  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 1# bag frozen peas
  • 1 cup homemade chicken stock
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh mint
  • 1-2 tbs Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*

Wasabi mayonnaise

  • 2 egg yolks**
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1-2 tbs wasabi powder or wasabi paste

To assemble

  • 1# sirloin steaks, about 1-1.5″ thick
  • 1-2 tbs Berbere seasoning*
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 baguette cut in 1/4″ slices

*Sapore’s Champagne Mimosa vinegar is slightly sweet and mildly acidic. I would substitute a splash of sherry vinegar. Berbere is a complex spice blend unique to Ethiopian and Eritrean food. It’s got a lot of ingredients, but you can make a simple start with equal parts cumin, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cayenne and paprika. 

**The egg yolks in homemade mayonnaise are not cooked. There is some risk here, just like crossing the street or bungee jumping. Buy your eggs farm-fresh from someone you trust. If there are special health risks you are worried about, talk to your doctor or use store-bought mayo and mix in the wasabi powder.

Directions:

Make the pea puree:

  • Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add minced shallot and sauté until softened.
  • Add peas and cook 1-2 minutes.
  • Add stock and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Add mint. stir through and turn off heat.
  • Mash peas in a food mill or a mortar and pestle. You want a little texture to remain. Season to taste with vinegar, salt and pepper. The sweetness of the peas should be light, not cloying.

Make the wasabi mayonnaise

  • Whisk together egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and a pinch of salt, until yolks are thick and sticky, about 30-60 seconds.
  • Whisk in oil, a couple drops at a time, until mayonnaise starts to form. Add remaining oil in a thin stream until incorporated. Mayonnaise can feel quite thick.
  • Whisk in wasabi. Let rest in fridge. Before serving, season to taste with salt, pepper and additional lemon juice, if needed.

Season and sear the beef

  • Heat a heavy bottomed pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat.
  • Cut sirloin into 2″ wide strips. Pat dry and season with salt, pepper and Berbere. The Berbere will need to be a thick rub, because the flavor will only come from the outside of the thinly sliced steak.
  • Add 1 tbs vegetable oil to the pan. Heat to almost smoking and add the beef, searing on all sides for 1-2 minutes, until browned.
  • Remove beef to a plate, tent and let cool to room temp. Place in freezer until firm, but not frozen. Using a sharp knife, cut beef into the thin slices, 1/4″ or less.

Make crostini

  • Place baguette slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake at 400 degrees until lightly browned. Remove and let cool. (That was easy!)

Assemble

  • Check the seasoning on the pea puree and the wasabi mayonnaise. Add salt, pepper, wasabi, vinegar etc… as needed.
  • Spoon the mayonnaise into a ziplock bag or piping bag. Cut a tiny point off the corner of the bag.
  • Top each crostini with a tbs of pea purée. Place a slice of beef over the peas. Pipe a thin stream of mayonnaise over the beef.
  • Eat them all because they are so delicious. Make another batch for your guests. Or just bust out the Brie and crackers.