Foodie Joust~Champagne, Mushrooms, Orange

31 12 2009

The January 2010 (whether you pronounce it 2 thousand-ten, or twenty-ten) Foodie Joust has us ringing in the new year/decade with champagne, mushrooms and oranges as ingredients.  Although these ingredients sound easy to work with…it got a little tricky when I started trying to come up with a combination.  I had to laugh with one of the other reader-chef-participants…all she could think of were mushroom mimosas…I understood that intensely.  I’d considered candying mushrooms for a similar reason. My spouse told me that was a bit farther out of the box than he expected even me to go.

Although it took awhile, and a freezer malfunction caused me to change my meat of choice at the last possible minute, I finally came up with, and present to you now…

Orange Lacquered Game Hen and Orange Mushroom pilaf sauced with a Lacquered Champagne reduction.

First off, I was planning to do this with duck, over a 5 hour period.  And I may still, but there was a freezer problem, and game hen had to be used as a quick substitute.   I marinated the game hen for a few hours in a marinade I created just for this joust.

Marinade and basting sauce~

1/4 cup sake (preferably sparkling sake if you can find it)
3 Tb. soy sauce (I use light soy)
2 Tb. hoisin sauce
1 Tb. orange juice
2 Tb. orange marmalade
4  thick ginger coins, bruised
1 lg. garlic cloves, crushed
4 allspice berries, toasted
1/4 tsp. coriander seed, toasted
1 star anise (or equivalent pieces), toasted
1 Tb. mirin
2 Tb. rice wine vinegar
Season to taste adjusting as needed with soy and hoisin sauce.
Toasted sesame oil-garnish drops

Mix all wet ingredients, toasted spices until fragrant and add whole to marinade.  Allow to steep 1 hour, then adjust seasonings to taste.  Marinate desired meat at least 30 minutes, to several hours.  I marinated the game hens about 2 hours.  I roasted the game hen halves at 325° for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Start breast down, baste underside of bird well for first 30 minutes of cooking time.  Turn over and baste every 10 minutes to achieve lacquered appearance.  Meanwhile, prepare rice in rice cooker.  When you get to the final couple of bastings, drizzle a few drops of toasted sesame seed oil into the marinade.

1/2 oz.  wild mushrooms, rehydrated, with strained soaking liquid.
1 Tb. orange zest
1/4 cup marinade from game hen (it’s safe to use, it will be fully cooked)
Aromatics from marinade-ginger and garlic

Add the ingredients and use the marinade as part of your cooking liquid in a rice steamer.  Run the cycle.  Check for doneness.  I had to add more liquid and run it a little longer as the mushrooms took on more liquid than I anticipated.

Lacquered Champagne Reduction
When meat is done, remove to plate and keep warm.   Have a small pan ready to prepare sauce.   Deglaze cooking pan with some of the sparkling sake, or champagne.  I used champagne.  Some of the lacquer may have blackened in the roasting pan, take care not to dissolve that into your sauce.  Add remainder of marinade to saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce by at least half.  Mount sauce with 2-3 pats of butter and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.

Tasting Notes ~
“This is certainly different, and not in a bad way!” said my cohort in foodie shenanigans, also known as my beloved spouse.  He’s used to surprises coming out of the kitchen, and may draw the line at candied mushrooms, but he was quite pleased with this dish.  He just wasn’t sure what to expect as I explained what I wanted to do!  This didn’t come out at all sweet, and the orange was an underlying essence, not at all overwhelming. I garnished the plates with Satsuma mandarin segments for a little additional orange flavor and color.  I would make this again.  I think it would be wonderful done with duck.  Note to self…make sure we have plenty of mandarin pancakes first!


Tis the Season For…White Christmas Crunch!

22 12 2009

I ran across the original recipe about 10 years ago, but changed it as it became a house favorite.  This is quick to make, equally quick to clean up from, and there’s never any left over.  That’s a tough combination to beat!

White Christmas Crunch

3 cups Cheerios
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Corn Chex
1 can salted peanuts
1 med. bag M & M’s chocolate
1 med. bag M & M’s peanut butter
1-10 oz. bag mini pretzel twists
2 bags white chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. shortening NOT oil

Place all dry ingredients into a very large mixing bowl. Place white chocolate chips and shortening into a glass measuring cup and microwave at 30 second intervals until melted and smooth.   Stir the melted chocolate into the cereal mixture until well coated. Turn out onto 3 foil lined cookie sheets and allow to cool.  Break into pieces to serve.  Keep in air tight bags or containers.

Tasting Notes:
This has that sweet-salty-crunchy thing going for it.  People find it difficult to pinpoint what the ingredients are because of the peanut butter M &  M’s.   It vanishes wherever I take it.  I make it to take to work every Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

Tis The Season For…Tamales!

21 12 2009

Northern California agriculture gets tremendous support from farm laborers of Mexican heritage.  Migrant and not-so-migrant Mexican farm workers are people who hold fast to their religious and family traditions.  They celebrate Christmas for it’s purpose, the birth of Christ, and so  Christmas is time for celebration,  celebration means fiesta, and that means tamales!  In the weeks before Christmas, pork prices drop, and masa preparada is available in the markets.  Families get together for tamalitas, but I pretty much go it alone.

This year I came home with 15 pounds of pork blade roast.  I really got more than I needed. I’ll be freezing a bunch for tacos and quesadillas.  For 15 pounds of pork I pulled out my biggest kettle, and it barely fit!  I prefer to work with one big piece of meat, but this time we worked with hunks.  I had 3 roasts about 5# each, and cut them into manageable “hunks.” We’re just going to simmer this, so the kettle can be pretty full.  In with the meat…for every 5# add 1 tablespoon coriander seed and 1 tablespoon cumin seed.  I toast my seeds before I add them to the pot to help release the aroma and flavors.  I tossed in several large cloves of garlic, smashed, and 1 onion for each of the 3 roasts.  I added 1 dried ancho chile per roast, and 1 guajillo per roast to the simmering water, along with a small palm-full of Mexican Oregano.  I threw in a little salt, but not much at this point.  The pork needs to simmer a few hours until it’s tender, but not necessarily fall-apart tender yet.  When it’s fork-tender, remove it from the braising kettle (strain, skim fat and retain broth for later) and roast it at 200° until the surface caramelizes and the meat is now fall-apart tender. Shred with two forks.

It took a powerful lot of seasoning for this much meat.  I have no idea how much salt I added in the end, but I think it was in the neighborhood of 1/4 cup.  I added some now, some later, more after that… Just salt to taste, a little at a time.  We started with a very large can of diced green chiles.  I’m thinking it was in the neighborhood of 20 oz. or more.  I pureed an entire can of chipotles in adobo and added it very judiciously, worried that the heat would be overwhelming.  Ha. That’s a lot of meat.  For 5# of meat, you might want to add them one at a time.  I also added ladles of the cooking liquid to the pork for moisture. There was already an underlying teeny-tiny flavor of cumin, but not a lot, so I resorted to ground cumin…about a tablespoon and mixed it all well.  Still not quite the flavor I want.  At that point, I tossed everything into the fridge because I needed to do some research.  I wanted a good chile flavor, but I didn’t want a lot of heat.  It was time to get familiar with flavors and Scoville levels!

Bless the folks at Marx Foods!  They have a Scoville chart on their website, as well as a description of the chile’s flavor.  It was just what I was looking for!  A lot of recipes call for Ancho chiles or pasilla chiles, but I see so many others in the little Mexican market…what are they for?  I’ve particularly seen Guajillo chiles being used more and more in recipes…what are they?  It makes me wonder if we’re getting better about identifying the particular chiles that are really used, rather than the “catch-all” chile powder, which is a conglomeration of chiles, oregano and other things.  While I was researching I heard Bobby Flay over my shoulder talking about Cascabel chiles being very mild, but full of chile flavor.  Coincidence? You tell me!  So, it was off to the market for some more chiles and the remaining things we needed anyway…masa, lard and corn husks!

I used an entire bag of Cascabel chiles (1 oz.), and half a bag (1.5 oz. of 3 oz.) of Guajillo chiles, seeded and stems removed, then torn into strips and covered with boiling water and left to sit overnight with 1 tablespoon cumin seeds in the water. The next morning I sauteed 2 onions and a head of garlic and tossed them in the blender with the chiles.

I added just enough of the soaking liquid to blend the ingredients into a slurry, and poured that into the meat.  Finally!! The cascabels added a depth of flavor that was what I was looking for, and while there’s a bit of heat, it’s there, then gone. It doesn’t escalate. It slips quietly away.  There’s one thing you could do that I didn’t do…strain the chile sauce before you add it to the meat.  Some of those larger pieces of chile skin aren’t that much fun.  I missed that step.

Ok, that’s part 1 finished…now on to part 2…the masa!  But first…open the bag of corn husks and put them in a container full of hot water.  Turn them over now and then so they’re all wet.

The first thing you have to learn is that the bag of masa you buy in the store is NOT tamale ready!  I know that translates to Prepared Masa, and that’s what it means…prepared masa…not masa ready for tamales!  I’m blessed to possess one of the best Mexican cookbooks I’ve ever found: Adventures in Mexican Cooking, published by Ortho in the late 1970’s.  It can still be found, but be wary…I’ve seen times that the only version available was $75.  Wait a bit…a lower priced edition will come around.  It’s fabulous, but…come on…

The “recipe in Adventures” says (paraphrased), to 5# of masa preparada, add 1# lard whipped with as much liquid as it will absorb, then stir in the masa. That sounds easy enough.  And it is.  Cream the lard and whip it with your paddle or beaters.  Beat as much liquid (one recipe calls for water, another calls for broth, yet another calls for the liquid you used to soak the chiles) into the lard as it will take without leaving droplets on the surface.  Don’t worry if you realize you’ve already gone too far, it’s not going to matter.  Start working the masa into the lard and water mixture.  Little chunks at a time.  If you don’t have a heavy duty mixer, you may have to beat by hand the last half.  Just use a big bowl, and it will work out fine.  When you are done, you should have a really soft dough, almost the consistency of thick cake icing.

Spread on husks, add meat, fold, fill steamer and steam for 1 and 1/2 hours, or until masa pulls away from husks cleanly. Huh?  How did we get there from that pile of stuff?  Let me introduce you to my friend, the Masa Spreader.  It does make this go somewhat easier!  While all kinds of other things were going on in the background, we’ve had corn husks soaking in hot water.  It’s time to drain them and shake off the excess water.  Stand them on end and let the excess water drain off, but don’t let them dry out completely.  We want them to be pliable.

Spreading the masa onto the corn husks has traditionally been done with the back of a spoon, and that works great.  I saw these masa spreaders on line and decided there couldn’t be any easier way to do this…and I was right.  It takes just a few minutes to get the hang of it, and it’s much easier to manage than the spoon technique!  You scoop up a bit on the spreader, spread it onto the corn husk, then spread it across the husk.

Lift the husk away, and use the spreader to remove the excess material left on the work surface, and go again.  You can either make up several husks at a time, or spread, fill and fold as you go.  There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.  This is where team work comes in handy.  One person can spread, another fill, another fold and load the steamer.

To fill the tamale, spoon in 1 to  2 tablespoons of your meat mixture.  Some husks are more narrow and can only accommodate 1 tablespoon, others are nice and wide and can easily take 2 tablespoons.  Spread the meat in a line down the center of the masa as shown, so there’s some masa on all sides.  The masa is going to seal the meat mixture in on all sides.  Next fold the upper side down, and then the lower side up over the upper side and pinch the narrow and wide ends.

You’ll end up with a tamale in the raw that looks like this:

I’ve loaded my tamale steamer any number of ways.  I have to admit that I get a better fill and prettier tamales by laying down corn husks and then laying the tamales down in a cross hatch pattern – several front to back, then another layer side to side, followed by a layer of corn husks.  Last night I did them standing up and I had a lot of “slumping” – the tamale slid down inside the husk and collected at the bottom of the husk. Not pretty, however, still fully edible.

Here they are…all 43 – 5 of them!  That’s 38 left…  I confess…there were some that were sooooo ugly….  Ok, there were a couple that were that ugly, but the truth is after they’d steamed for 90 minutes, we were dying for tamales. I didn’t hesitate.  I plated up a few for us to dive right into.  We had to know if they were going to be ok, right??

Tasting Notes:
We love the smokiness the chipotles add to the pork!  The heat is just about perfect too.  It’s not too much.  It’s there, but it’s not overly there.  I’m not at all sorry I’ve got the better part of 15 # of meat mixed up this way.  I’ll do the other 5# of masa up as tamales, then freeze the remaining meat as pork filling for quesadillas, taquitos, or whatever.   It will be great to reheat it for any number of Mexican dishes.  Feliz Navidad!!

Do You Know Hungry Children?

19 12 2009

I love the food world…learning about new ingredients and ways to combine them…but once in awhile it occurs to me that there are some elements of “foodie-ism” are over the top and pure avarice.   I’m not saying there’s a problem with that, I’m just saying we need to remember to balance that with remembering those less fortunate, who simply can’t improve their situation much on their own.  Especially the children.

I was reading a foodie bulletin board and discovered a link to Share Our Strength which is an organization committed to addressing hungry American children.  There’s a thought! Is our government afraid to admit we have homeless and hungry children within our own country?

I read another food blogger’s story.  I could relate.  As a young wife and mother, I can remember looking into totally empty cupboards trying to figure out how to feed 2 adults and a baby.  I was 17, it was difficult to try to complete my high school requirements and be a wife and mother…but why did bread-winner seem to need to fall to me as well?  There were other lean times, none ever quite that bad again. It builds character and resiliency, also the ability to plan and hoard for emergency situations.  I always have 25# of beans and rice in storage.  I need to put flour in storage as well, but just haven’t gotten to that one yet.

So…do you know a hungry child?  Are you sure? Sometimes pretty houses and manicured lawns lie, and there are secrets inside that only the families know for sure.   Do you have children in your life?  Can you spare a dime?  Well, by today’s standard a dime…$10?  Go look…see what your money can do.  It will combine with mine.  Mine’s already there…  It’ll make you feel good.  *Ü*

Cooking Italy: Spinach Soup~

6 12 2009

I’m a little behind with my posting.  November was a busy month, and I didn’t get all my Cooking Italy cooking done on time, or in order.  That’s so me, though.   It worked out pretty well though.  After we’d celebrated Thanksgiving, we needed a little break from all the prep and work, and a night of soup and hot rolls sounded just perfect, so we had the remainder of our Thanksgiving Angel Bread with Marcella Hazan’s Spinach soup.  Not a half bad combination!  Especially when you take the Angel Bread and stuff it with nibbles of turkey…*grin*

We started by sweating down a large bunch of well cleaned spinach leaves.  I had a dilemma here…we were supposed to sweat the spinach down, remove it from the pan, remove as much moisture as we could, chop it and then saute it.  Why are we throwing out the extra liquid?  Does it taste bad?  Doesn’t it contain a lot of nutrients though?  I’m working on the answers to these questions.  The liquid wasn’t terribly tasty and it was exceedingly salty….so it did go down the drain.  That could be it in a nutshell.  The salt draws out the liquid, and there would be too much liquid if we didn’t?  Ok. You get the idea.  Follow the recipe, not the meandering mind of this cook.

Next, saute with some onion and butter…make sure everything is well coated in butter…mmmm….  Add just a grating of fresh nutmeg, and then the milk.  Let it simmer, and here we are….

Tasting Notes~
We liked the soup a great deal.  It had a great flavor and was perfect for a chilly Fall night.  I didn’t have a full pound of spinach though, and it needed the full amount.  I’d also have been happier if it had had a little substance…a little more body to it.  Next time, I think I’ll cook a little light roux and move it to a creamier consistency…not necessarily a full cream of spinach soup, but just a thicker base.

If you’d like to follow Spinach Tiger’s Cooking Italy, click on the link in the side-bar.  The schedule is easy, and the recipes are wonderful!

Holiday Cooking 101: Hooked on Brining~

6 12 2009

I’ve been roasting turkeys since I was 16 years old. Conservatively speaking, that’s 2 turkeys (Christmas and Thanksgiving) each year since I was 16 (most years in the past 7 years I’ve cooked not less than 3, so it all balances out!), my son is over 30 so that’s at least 60 turkeys that I’ve cooked.  And I’ve tested dozens of recipes and theories of how to achieve THE best turkey, bar none.  From brown paper bags, to roasting bags, from long and slow, to hot and quick, from right side up to upside down, from bare-skinned to covered in cheese-cloth basted in butter, butter, and more butter. I’ve done it all.

Four or five years ago I decided to try the one of two things I hadn’t done with a turkey yet…brining.  All I can say is oh my goodness…what was I thinking. Yum.  The first time around, I simply used salt and water.  A plain, unbiased, straight forward approach.  That was to change the way I prepared turkey forever.  It would also change the quantity of turkey I prepared. 1 bird was no longer enough.   2 were much more to our liking. We could eat one in no time flat. One would barely leave us any left-overs.  A year or two later, I let myself use a brine mix I found during our travels. It contained sugar, spices and dried fruit as well.  Interesting.  We liked it!  And so, we began to get adventurous!

This year our brine contains kosher salt, 1 cup to each gallon of water; 3/4 cup brown sugar to each gallon of water, or until I’m happy with the flavor; fresh thyme sprigs, fresh rosemary sprigs, cloves of garlic, lightly crushed; 2 whole bay leaves; 1 Tbsp. whole peppercorns and  1-1/2 Tbsp. “corning spices, ” lightly toasted in a skillet over medium heat until their aromas were released (I think mixed pickling spices would work just as well); 1 Tbsp. juniper berries; orange rind,  a couple cipollini onions and a whole tart apple wedged and added to the water.

Brining is really a lot easier than it seems.  It’s nothing more than soaking the meat in a salt water solution.   That’s no big deal.  It just requires some forethought.  A turkey needs about 24 hours to brine thoroughly.  There are brining kits with bags available out there.  I have special thoughts about those.  Always remember to support the turkey and the bag in another container.  Don’t trust the bag, as I did, to stand up to the weight of the brining solution AND the TURKEY….because it won’t.   You really do need to trust me on this.  There’s no sense in you having to mop your floor & make a whole new brine too… A “food grade” bucket is available at most health food stores, if you’re using a brining bag, there are cheap 5 gallon buckets with lids at Home Depot.  That’s usually what I use.

Getting ready to brine your turkey is pretty easy.  Scrub out the bucket and rinse it well. Set the turkey, wrapping and all into the bucket.    Put the turkey in the bucket and fill the bucket with cold water.   Remove the turkey from the bucket, dry it and return it to the refrigerator.  Measure the water left in the bucket and add 2 quarts for the cavity of the turkey.  That’s how much brining solution you’ll need to prepare.

Preparing the brine is a little tricky.  It’s basically 1 cup kosher salt to each gallon of water.  So, for 2 and 1/2  gallons, you need 2 and 1/2 cups salt.  The salt needs to be dissolved in the water, but you don’t necessarily need to heat all of the water.  The brine has to be cool to cold before it goes onto the turkey.  I heat as little water as I can and dissolve my salt in that, then my sugar, if I’m using sugar.   I add tap water if I need to for the sugar to dissolve.  It takes about 2 – 1/2 quarts of water to dissolve 3 cups of salt and up to 3 cups of sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool as long as you can, to room temperature is ideal.  If you have aromatics, such as a spice packet, put them in with the hot sugar-salt solution so they release their essential oils.   When this has cooled, mix with chilled water to measure 1 gallon, and pour into the bucket.  Remove the turkey from its wrappings; remove the giblets and the neck from the two cavities in the turkey, and if your turkey has a pop up timer, gently remove it from the turkey and throw it away.  We don’t want that. It’s set to trigger at 180º when the turkey is bone dry.  Toss it.  You won’t go to hell.  Honest.  Add the turkey to the bucket,  and fill with chilled water.  Submerge the turkey and secure the lid when the bucket is completely full, using an immense amount of care not to create a huge mess on the floor, but have the mop handy just in case, you know?

24 hours later, or thereabouts, Mr. Turkey Bird is ready to go for a tanning session.  You can rinse, or not, but do take the time to dry the skin, and drain the turkey thoroughly. He’s going to get to lay around a bit for his skin to dry to the touch a bit more than what it gets from the paper towel.  Then he gets a nice olive oil rub before he goes in.  Don’t put stuffing in a brined bird.  There’s more salt throughout the meat of the turkey, so it makes the dressing uncomfortably salty.  And…a brined, un-stuffed turkey will cook a lot faster than a stuffed turkey.  I like to start my turkey upside down so that the juices initially run to the breast.  I start the oven hot, and drop the temp after 30 minutes.  The bird has only a few tasty tidbits in the cavity…garlic, onion or leek, celery, rosemary, thyme and pepper to add a flavor punch to the pan drippings.

Here’s our big fella ready to jump in…

At 17.5 pounds,  we’re looking at 2 to 3 hours cooking time total for the turkey.  We start at 450º with the oven shelf dropped so the top of the turkey is at about the middle of the oven.  Roast it 30 minutes at 450º. then reduce the heat to 325º and roast 30 minutes longer.  Remove the turkey and turn breast up to finish cooking.  Baste with butter or broth as needed and desired.  When the bird reaches a temp of 150º (diseases that are carried by turkeys are killed at 140º) when temped in the side of the breast,

remove it from the oven, remove the turkey to a platter, wrap in foil and let rest.  The meat will continue to cook, and the temp will continue to climb.  Re-adjust your oven racks and do the rest while your turkey draws the juices back up inside, and get busy with that gravy! LOL!

Tasting Notes and Notes on Appearance~
I start my turkeys out breast down…this one was heavy and pushed all the way through the roasting rack to the bottom of the roasting pan…thus the dark areas on the breast, which is strictly darkened skin.  The meat was not adversely affected.  It was not burned black as it appears, but roasted crispy dark brown.  Turkeys prepared this way and pulled from the oven at these temps will be juicy. Yes, juicy. They can rest up to an hour, easily, if wrapped in foil and kept in a warm place (above 140º – to keep food borne pathogens from growing).  If you have leftovers, they will be worth eating.  No worries there.  No disguising them…the family will welcome leftover turkey, especially the breast.

Cooking Italy is Cooking Red to Remember

1 12 2009

Angela of Spinach Tiger is hostessing a cooking event in honor of World Aids Day. She’s calling it Cooking Red to Remember, and you can read her story here: Cooking Red to Remember.

As far as I know, I haven’t lost anyone to AIDS. As far as I know, I don’t know anyone who’s gone through the horror of this situation, with the exception of Angela. But…I was hanging around hospitals in the late 1980’s for my own reasons. While my mother’s sands of time were running out, there were many opportunities to see a number of young men whose sands were also running out, way too soon as well. The attitudes toward those young men bothered me then, and it still bothers me today. Without regard to anything else, people who are victims of AIDS are first and foremost, people. I was in a healing place, or at the very least, a place of empathy, yet even there, attitudes were sadly present.

So, for all of those who have lost battles to AIDS, and all the victims of AIDS…the patients, the family members, those who accept, and those who still deny…I cooked Red to Remember for you.  Cooking might be a stretch of the literal term, but we certainly have RED on the plate!   We have a melange of marinated vegetables…red peppers, red grape tomatoes, carrot slices, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, celery and artichoke hearts served with panko crusted Swai fillets, along with a red carnation.  To help us remember. Always.

Thanks Angela…