Thursday, November 26, 2009

Roasted Cornish Game Hen

With only two of us at Thanksgiving, cooking a turkey, or even just a turkey breast, seems like a waste of food. However, Cornish game hens are just the right size. We generally only eat half of the chicken, so splitting one between the two of us is just right.

Wine-brined Cornish Game Hen
2 Cornish Game Hens
375ml bottle of chardonnay
1/2 inch fresh ginger root peeled
5 cloves garlic
1/3 cup coarse kosher salt
~500 ml water

Peel both the ginger and garlic. Microplane both spices into a large non-reactive bowl or pan that is large enough to hold both game hens. I used a 5-quart stainless steel pan.

Add salt, wine, and 375 ml of water to pan. Heat while stirring until salt has dissolved and the scents of ginger and garlic begin to waft from the pan. Remove from heat and cool.

Wash game hens under running water, removing any giblets and excess fat on the flaps of skin at the body cavity. Once the brine is cooled, add the game hens. Add remaining water until game hens are covered. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Remove game hens from brine and rinse. Pat dry. Place flat on roasting rack in roaster. Roast in oven until internal temperature of the game hen reaches 180°F (82°C) or until desired doneness. This will take approximately an hour to an hour and a half.

This was my first attempt to brine a bird. I declare it a success -- the meat was tender and juicy, slightly sweetened by the wine and enhanced by the ginger and garlic. I had expected a slightly heavier spicing, but this was nice as the spices highlighted the natural flavor of the meat instead of overpowering it.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Fall brings with it squash. I love squash -- it's sweet and savory at the same time. And so much fun to cook! You can roast it, blanch it, fry it, etc.

It's also forgiving. You can add any spices you want to it and it generally turns out pretty good.

When roasting squash, you can roast it on its own, or take a little more time and stuff it. I prefer stuffing it. Some of my favorite stuffings include chicken/rice, wild rice/brown rice/wheat berries, and black beans/rice. Tonight's dinner was acorn squash stuffed with black beans and rice.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Black Beans and Rice
1 large acorn squash
2 15oz. cans black beans
1 cup brown basmati rice
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin (or 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds)
1 teaspoon tumeric
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water

Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).

Put rice, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn to a simmer and simmer until done.

Cut squash into halves. Scoop out seeds and discard. Poke surface several times with a fork.

Melt half the butter. Baste the cut surface and cavity of the acorn squash. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the salt on each half. Place halves cut side up in roasting pan and place in oven.

Heat skillet and toast whole spices (do not use butter). Once the spices become aromatic, remove from skillet and grind in mortar and pestle. Melt butter in same skillet and saute onions and garlic until onion has turned translucent.

Once the rice is done, add beans (including fluids in can), onions, garlic, and spices. Continue heating until beans are heated through. The rice and beans should still be a bit soupy so the rice doesn't overly dry out in the oven.

Pull squash out of oven and fill cavities with beans and rice mixture. Return to oven (cut side up) and continue roasting until squash is done (soft through).

The savoriness of the beans highlights the sweetness of the squash. This is a satisfying meal without meat, which is nice with Thanksgiving coming up this week.

Monday, November 16, 2009

No new recipe tonight

I've been kind of dragging over the last few days; the weather has turned colder and I don't do well chilled. I will try to post a recipe later this week, but I can't make any promises.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cabernet Sauvignon Pork Tenderloin

This week's experiment involved pork and red wine. Washington state is really fortunate to have six hundred (yes, that's right, six hundred) wineries across the state, most of them east of the Cascades. So I get to sample some really excellent wines.

Columbia Crest puts out several lines of wine: Columbia Crest, Columbia Crest Grand Estates, Columbia Crest Reserve, Two Vines, and Horse Heaven Hills (3H). My favorite so far is the Two Vines wines; I haven't sampled the 3H wines yet. Wine Enthusiast, if I recall correctly, has stated that Two Vines have given several wines in the line 90+ points and says they are undervalued. I agree.
Disclaimer: I am not being recompensed for my evaluation of this vineyard. I also may not be remembering the correct magazine; it may be Wine Spectator.

To get on with the experiment, I had gotten some lovely pork tenderloin last week at the grocery store (has a lovely butcher in house). Today I took off work after a weekend trip to rest and recover, but felt well enough to cook a nice dinner. While I was piddling around the kitchen, I had the inspiration to inject the pork with wine infused with cinnamon and clove. Yummy!

Cabernet Sauvignon Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
2 sticks cinnamon
8 or so cloves
1 to 2 cups of wine
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Put the salt in a small, heatproof bowl. Add a few drops of wine to the salt and mix. Add wine until the salt begins to turn purple (do not dissolve salt). Set salt aside to dry.

Break up cinnamon sticks into smallish pieces. Place remaining wine, cloves, and cinnamon in small saucepan or saucier. Simmer, do not boil, for 15 minutes to half an hour. Let cool.

Strain the spices from the wine. Inject the wine into the pork tenderloin from each end. After injecting the first end, stand tenderloin on uninjected end and gently massage until wine is absorbed. Then inject the other end.

Coat bottom of baking dish with oil. Smear wine salt onto the top and sides of the tenderloin. Let rest for an hour or so.

Place the soaked cinnamon and clove in the baking dish. Bake at 350°F (175°C) until tenderloin reaches 170°F (77°C). Let rest for at least 15 minutes.

Slice thinly and serve either hot or cold.

The pork tenderloin turned out quite moist, tender, and flavorful. The cinnamon and clove did not overwhelm the inherent sweetness and flavor of the meat, but rather enhanced it. I served it cold as I didn't know when my partner would be home from work (meeting ran over).

Some observations:
  • I could have used more cinnamon and clove without doing too much harm to the pork. I certainly would use more for beef.

  • I need to work on my injecting technique. The meat had dark bands through it -- either I didn't use enough wine, didn't massage enough, or didn't let it sit long enough before cooking. This will require more experimentation

  • I'm glad I didn't use a merlot or zinfandel with the pork. I think I would have overwhelmed the flavor of the meat. Next time I will consider using a lighter pinot noir just to see how well it would work.

Monday, November 2, 2009

More Shortbread Experiments

I continue to play with my shortbread. This last experiment was chocolate-flavoring.

Some time ago, I found a chocolate extract at a local grocery store. Chocolate extract isn't something many recipes call for, but I thought it might be interesting to substitute it for vanilla or mint in some recipes. I haven't done so (yet).

This week I was headed to a games night at a friends. We each provide a dish and I was planning shortbread. Well, another friend called for a ride and let me know she was planning to do shortbread cookies. Hmm, I needed something to make the shortbread rather different. Time to get out the chocolate extract!

Chocolate Shortbread Recipe
1 lb of unsalted butter
1-1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar (or caster’s sugar) – do not use granulated
4 cups of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt (optional – I often leave it out)
2 teaspoons chocolate extract
1/2 cup of chocolate chips

Cream together the sugar and butter until the butter is light and airy. Do not over-cream. Mix in the flour. I usually use a stand mixer, so I add it in ½ cup increments to keep my kitchen from being flour-coated.

Put in to 9-inch cake pans or a 13-inch baking dish. I used a 12" two-piece flan pan. Decorate the top with the chocolate chips - given the season, I decorated the top like a spiderweb. Bake at 325° for 25-30 minutes. The edges should just be beginning to turn brown.

The extract messed with the fluid balance a little bit. I think next time I will add about a 1/4 cup more flour to help offset it.

I should have baked it a little longer - the chocolate made the dough a little more brown from the outset. I pulled it about three minutes or so before it was as done as I liked. However, the dough was cooked and set, just a little more moist than preferred. The chocolate flavoring came through subtly, yet distinctly.

Overall, this was a success, but one that needs fine-tuning.