Sunday, February 26, 2006

Eating Chicken Little

Cornish game hens are, in fact, nothing more than little chickens. I just looked it up, and I'm rather disappointed. Somehow I'd hoped they were some sort of exotic game bird, supplied to the market by industrious shooting parties traipsing around Cornwall in red hunting coats. But it turns out that there's really no one here but us chickens after all.

As a matter of historical interest, these little chickens used to be littler chickens. As the Joy of Cooking tells us: "Just like the rest of us, rock Cornish hens seem to put on a little weight with each passing year."

Ginger-Glazed Cornish Game Hens

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse and pat dry:
2 Cornish game hens (1 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
Place the hens in a large roasting pan, with enough room for them to sit apart.

Combine in a small bowl:
2-3 generous Tablespoons honey
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon mirin, or sweet cooking rice wine (sherry works too)
2 Tablespoons candied ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Stir to combine. If the honey is stubborn and sticks to the bottom of the bowl, microwave for 10 seconds at a time until the honey is liquid and the ingredients are integrated.

Paint the hens with the glaze and pop them in the oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes to an hour. Baste every ten minutes or so. The hens are done when a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees. Since the hens are small, there seems to be little danger of overcooking the white meat, and they really are better when the meat is falling of the bones, so letting them get closer to 180 degrees wouldn't be terrible. When the hens are done, the skin will be deliciously brown and crackly.

Serving note: I stuffed the hens and served them with cucumber salad dressed with toasted sesame oil, peanut oil, ume plum wine vinegar and soy sauce.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Beaujolais lunch "at" Chateau des Ravatys: IMBB23

I can't begin to lay claim to the title oenophile. Until recently, I've never even had a bottle of wine in my own home that was good enough to "save for a special occasion." I do, however, have one bottle of wine saved from a special occasion. My college roommate was married last summer in the south of France. In an inspired choice, her gift to the coterie of bridesmaids was a bottle of Brouilly from the Chateau des Ravatys garden vineyard where the wedding took place. And what better place to find inspiration for French regional cooking than in a bottle?

In my research (read: googling), I found this menu online for a "Beaujolais lunch at Chateau des Ravatys," (for a hilariously bad English translation, go here). Another search found this recipe for a similar salad. Further googling revealed that a cheese option compatible with the wine was Epoisses. Alas, my favorite cheese shop, Cheesetique, sold their last one that morning. They helpfully suggested an alternative that was similar and fantastically delicious--an oozy Vacherin du Jura. Coincidentally, all proceeds from the Ravatys vineyard go to benefit the Institut Pasteur. And where was M. Pasteur (inventor of pasteurization) born? Jura.

So, my menu fully regionally synthesized, I began to cook.

Beaujolais Lunch
Salad with Lardons, Croutons, and Poached egg and Vacherin du Jura cheese

NOTE: As instructed, we let the cheese sit at room temperature all day, and when I cut off the top rind it was spoonably liquid and fragrant.

Start with the bacon:
Heat a large skillet, and cook until crisp over moderate heat:
6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

For the croutons:
Pour off and reserve most of the bacon fat for later use, leaving 1 Tablespoon in the skillet. Toss in:
2 handfuls of bread, cut into 1 inch dice (I used some day-old raisin nut bread that the folks at the cheese shop kindly handed me on my way out the door. The resulting croutons were delicious, but baguette would be more traditional.) Cook until bread is crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Put on a large pot of water to boil for the poached eggs. While the water boils, wash and tear into bite-sized pieces:
1 small head lettuce (I used soft Boston Butter lettuce, but frisee would be more authentic.)

For the dressing:
Pour the remaining bacon fat back into the skillet. If you don't have very much, add:
1 Tablespoon peanut oil (optional)

When the oil is warm, add and cook until soft (about 3 minutes):
1 large shallot, thinly sliced

Then add:
1 clove garlic, minced

Cook for one more minute, then season heavily with salt and pepper and whisk in:
2-3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

Arrange the greens on two plates. Sprinkle bacon on top. Add croutons. Pour still-warm dressing over the whole arrangement. Then get on with the eggs.

For the poached eggs:
I'd never poached an egg before, but it wasn't that hard. When the water boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and add:
1 Tablespoon white vinegar

Into teacups, mugs, or ramekins, gently crack:
4 large eggs

Slip the eggs into the simmering water, trying to keep them as compact as possible, and pray that the whites don't get too wispy and float away. After 4 minutes, fish each egg out with a slotted spoon, and deposit two on top of each salad.

Eat right away, so that the runny yolk of the egg oozes all over the salad when poked with a fork. Follow with thinly sliced, toasted raisin bread covered with runny, rich Vacerin du Jura. (Never ones to let bacon fat go to waste, we also dipped extra croutons into the cheese to finish it off.) Enjoy both with a lovely glass or two of 2003 Brouilly from Les Jardins des Ravatys.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

I Heart Cheese Sandwiches

Weekend breakfast must be speedy in the ToastPoint household. This is because we laze about in bed until we get so hungry that our internal organs start to cannibalize themselves. And what better foodstuff to postpone multiple organ failure than the cheese sandwich? Above, you can see a breakfast adaptation--I'm a great advocate of the jam and cheese combination. I used spolettini, sliced and toasted. I topped each half with one of those wax-covered miniature baby goudas, peeled and slivered to cover the bread. Melt the cheese under the broiler for a couple of minutes, then top with my latest jam obsession: Republic of Tea Cinnamon Plus Tea Jam.

For other cheese sandwich concepts, visit Something So Clever and One Hot Stove.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Deconstructed Haroset

More variation on the haroset theme. This time, I was going for something that wasn't too cloying, but still rich-tasting. Fancy dark amber honey is central here. I don't think honey squeezed from a plastic bear would have quite the same result--not that I don't have great affection for the honey bear--but try for something with a little extra oomph if you can. You don't need much in the way of spices, just enough to add an aromatic boost to the sweet, clean flavors of the apples and apricots, and additional warmth to the toasty pine nuts.

Deconstructed Haroset

Combine in a large bowl:
2 sweet, crisp red apples, diced (something like Pink Lady or Gala)
Spritz lemon juice to prevent apples from turning brown
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet until golden
2 teaspoons strong-tasting honey, or more to taste
Pinch allspice
Dash cinnamon
Smidge ground coriander

Mix well, and serve slightly chilled.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Horse Ovaries Before Dinner

When I was growing up, we always affectionately referred to pre-dinner nibbles as horse ovaries. Now, bear in mind that many members of the household were fluent (or at least competent) in French, so it can't have been that hors d'oeuvres was too hard to pronounce. I think my family just got a perverse pleasure out of the brief look of alarm that spread across our guests faces when one of the well-trained, but apparently unprompted, ToastFamily children sang out "Would anyone like some horse ovaries?" God knows I still enjoy it every time.

I present the ultimate, classic platter of horse ovaries, as served recently Chez ToastPoint:

Assemble on a wooden cheese board, or attractive plate:
1 wedge 60+ double cream Brie
Layered slivers of prosciutto riserva (I love Wegman's Italian Classics version, for $12.99 lb--it's dry, but not too salty, and very manageable as finger food)
Thinly sliced ciabatta bread or fresh baguette
Wasa light rye crisp bread

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Quick Paella and Peach Sangria: More February Food Club

February food club was the night that keeps on We were initially daunted by paella's reputation as a time-consuming and exacting regional dish. But our February hostess found a recipe for a quick and dirty version that was delicious with her creative peach sangria.

Quick Paella

Find your most enormous skillet. If you really don't have anything large enough, a pasta pot or dutch oven will do. Warm, over medium heat:
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Add, and saute until soft very:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium/large red bell pepper, diced

Stir in, and heat until cooked through:
1 pound chorizo sausage, casing taken off and crumbled
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces

Add and stir until well coated in oil:
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 cups long grain rice

Pour in and bring to a boil over medium-high heat:
3 1/2 cups fish or chicken broth
3/4 cup white wine (use the rest for peach sangria, see below)

Then add:
1 pound shrimp, peeled
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2-3/4 teaspoon saffron
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch black pepper

Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is soft and beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. Toss in:
1 dozen steamed mussels

Turn off heat and let sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Dole out steaming bowlfuls and wash it down with sangria.

Peach Sangria
(or: A classy use for Arbor Mist wine, at last)

The night before your party, combine and mix well:
1 magnum of Chardonnay
1 1/2 cups of Arbor Mist Peach Wine
3/4 cup of frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

2 pounds peaches, pitted and sliced
1 1/2 cups of seedless red grapes, halved
1 1/2 cups of seedless green grapes, halved

Very important note: The original recipe called for peach vodka and additional sugar, but how can you miss the chance to give your guests Arbor Mist with no guilt or irony?

Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to combine. Enjoy chilled.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Israeli Couscous with Lamb and Acorn Squash (plus bonus drink recipe!)

Query: Is Israel the Texas of the Middle East? Because their couscous is huge. Absolutely super-sized. Come to think of it, though, the similarity pretty much ends there.

Anyway, I bought it on a whim, and regular readers will not be surprised to hear that when the snow started in Washington this weekend, all I had in the house was a packet of ground lamb and acorn squash. And gin.

First, make your drink. I made this up, and I'm calling it a Mandarin Highball unless someone suggests something better. Very simple: Open a can of mandarin oranges. Pour their juice into an ice-filled cocktail shaker, along with a shot or two of gin and a splash of tonic. Shake well. Pour into a martini glass, and garnish with mandarin orange slices. Sip while endlessly stirring couscous:

Israeli Couscous with Lamb

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, warm over medium-high heat:
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Add and quickly brown:
1 pound ground lamb

Remove the lamb with a slotted spoon, preserving as much fat as possible. Set aside. Reduce heat, and (in the remaining fat) saute until very soft and starting to brown:
1 large onion, diced
2-3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of the knife

Turn the heat back to high and add:
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cook until spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes.

From here on, we're basically using the same procedure you'd use to make risotto. So, add:
1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous (also called super couscous, maftoul, or pearl couscous)

Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, to toast the couscous.

Have ready:
6-8 cups stock, white wine, or water (I used lamb stock, which is best. The Human Vacuum made it by boiling the hell out of some leftover bones from a leg of lamb)

Pour in 2 cups of the stock, and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the stock slowly (about a cup at a time), allowing all the liquid be almost completely absorbed each time. When you add the last cup of stock, put the browned lamb back into the pot, and add:
3/4 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
3/4 cup raisins, golden or regular

Right before you're ready to serve, stir in:
1 cup toasted pine nuts (just toast them in a dry pan on high heat for a few minutes)

Serve topped with acorn squash and mandarin oranges (below), and yogurt.

Acorn Squash with Mandarin Oranges

Before you start the couscous, cut a small acorn squash in half and remove the seeds. Place the squash, cut side down, in a pan with half an inch of water in the bottom. Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes. When the squash can be easily pierced with fork, remove it from the oven. Let it cool slightly, then scoop out the orange insides, discard the skin, and mash with 1-2 Tablespoons butter and a small can of mandarin orange segments (or, failing that, brown sugar). If you're feeling really adventurous, sear the mandarins in a hot skillet before adding them to the squash.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rosemary Ginger Shortbread with Chocolate Ganache: SHF#16

Even a pretty wacked out Ophelia managed to keep her spice cabinet in order. And how did she begin?: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember." Ginger makes a cameo appearance in Shakespeare, too, though not in Ophelia's dotty, dirty monologues. He called it race (from the Portuguese raices or root), and so helped create yet another modern word: racy.

Taste Everything Once is hosting Sugar High Friday this month, with the theme A Recipe for Love, enticing us to cook to (ahem) inspire our lovers. When creating a dessert designed to encourage a racy night to remember, rosemary and ginger are the obvious choices.

This dessert was certainly a labor of love. I decided to candy the ginger myself, which turned out to be a massive undertaking. After (four!) days of candying, there was another day of baking, followed by an overnight cooling and an early morning ganaching (get your mind out of the gutter--ganache is chocolate frosting, you dog).

The homemade candied ginger is good. It's hotter than storebought, which I like. And I'm storing it in its own syrup rather than rolling it in sugar, which I also prefer. But dear sweet Saint Valentine, making the stuff was an obscene amount of work! Unless you are insanely enterprising, or as dumb as I am, you'll probably want to skip the home candying and just buy a packet of candied ginger (or better, a jar of Canton ginger in syrup at an Asian grocery).

The shortbread and ganache, by contrast, are swimmingly easy and winningly delicious. These two little recipes are also quite versatile. Take out the ginger and rosemary, toss in a little vanilla and you have great plain shortbread. (Note: I used to be shortbreadphobic. The dicing of butter seemed scary. But melting is no problem in the age of the food processor, so get to it) Use the ganache for cupcakes, tortes, and cheesecake topping. I've even poured it over a Betty Crocker box cake, with great results. The ganache was an afterthought, because things just didn't seem Valentine-y enough without chocolate. Chocolate, of course, has long been honored as the raciest food of all.

Rosemary Ginger Shortbread

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, combine and pulse until well-blended and lump-free:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (a bit less if your ginger is heavily sugared)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, very finely minced

Finely chop and set aside:
1/2 cup candied ginger

Dice into small cubes:
2 sticks very cold butter (1/2 pound)

Quickly toss the ginger and butter on top of the flour mixture in the food processor, and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. I'm constitutionally unable to resist the temptation to pulse one time too many, at which point the whole thing congeals into a sticky, unmanageable ball of dough. It still tastes good, it's just a bit more a pain in the ass and the butter sometimes misbehaves. Learn from my mistakes: Exercise restraint with the food processor controls.

Dump the dough into a 9x9ish pan, and flatten it quickly with your fingers. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top begins to color slightly. Cool. Eat straight up, or cover with chocolate ganache.

Makes 12 big chunks, or 24 narrow bars.

Chocolate Ganache
Simplest. Recipe. Ever.

Combine in a small saucepan over low heat:
3/4 cup heavy cream
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
(optional) 1-2 Tablespoons ginger syrup (I had some sitting in the pan on the next burner, so I threw it in. Not sure if it made a difference against all that chocolate)

Warm slowly until chocolate melts, then use a handheld (or electric) whisk to combine. The result should be smooth and glossy, not grainy. If, like mine, your ganache takes on an alarming oily sheen and begins to separate, whisk more vigorously. When that fails, very quickly dump the contents of the pan into a blender and whir the hell out of it. Then pour it onto your shortbread fast, before it cools and sticks. Cool for at least 15 minutes. Serve refrigerator cold, or just below room temperature.

Four-Day Candied Ginger
(for the truly committed, or those who should be committed)

Day 1:
Start by peeling the ginger. I found that three mid-sized ginger roots made about 2 cups usable ginger. Peeling ginger is irritating, because each root covered with odd little nobs and protrusions. You have to make your own call about what's worth peeling, and what should just be cut off. Slice the naked ginger in 1/4 inch thick slivers.

Put the ginger in a heavy-bottomed pan, and cover generously with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender. The instructions said this would take 20 minutes, but mine took about an hour. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar, bring to boil while stirring, then remove from heat. Let rest at room temperature, covered, overnight.

Day 2:
Leaving the lid on, bring ginger back up to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Cut half of a lemon into slices, remove the seeds, and add it to the pan. The recipe I used said to add light corn syrup here, but I used 1/2 cup honey. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let stand covered overnight at room temperature.

Day 3:
Uncover, and bring the ginger to a boil yet again. Add 3/4 cup sugar. Stir and simmer for 30 minutes. Things will be getting pretty syrupy by now, and you should be stirring often. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand overnight at room temp. Begin to fret about what microbes might be colonizing your candied ginger.

Day 4:
In the fourth cooking, bring the mixture to a boil once more (kills germs, right?). When the ginger seems very tender and looks translucent, you're done. You can just decant the whole panful into a clean glass jar, syrup and all. Or fish the ginger out with a slotted spoon and spread it out on a rack (or wax paper) to dry. Save the syrup. When the ginger is dry, roll it in sugar to keep it from sticking to itself.

The original recipe notes: "This is either a single long-day or an intermittent four-day procedure. If you settle for one day, allow several hours between each of the four cookings." Pick your poison.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Nuts for Tapas: More February Food Club

Another, even quicker, even easier contribution to tapas night at food club: Seasoned almonds. The secret to making these nuts "tapas-y" is to use smoked paprika, or pimenton. But they're great with other spices, too.

Seasoned Almonds
(inspired by Nigella's Union Square Cafe's Bar Nuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine in a large bowl or tupperware:
2 cups almonds
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Salt to taste (if nuts are unsalted)

Stir or shake almonds to coat. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet covered in foil. Toast in the oven for 10 -15 minutes, shaking once, or until they smell toasted and are slightly browned.

Eat warm, if at all possible.

Tapas: February Food Club

What would you call these little tapas? What sobriquet could possible do justice to dates, stuffed with cheese, then wrapped in bacon? I pieced these together for February's Spanish/Tapas-themed food club. On my way over, I toyed with calling them Dates in A Pig Blanket, but that didn't seem terribly appealing. But when I got to food club, I was overjoyed to learn that these sweet and salty delicacies are known in some circles as Persians on Horseback. Perfect!

(Stay tuned for paella and more from food club!)

Persians on Horseback
(inspired by Jaleo's Dátiles con tocino como hace todo el mundo)

Have ready:
12 Medjool dates
2 ounces Manchego (or other hard, dryish cheese, I used smoked gouda)
1 lb. bacon

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Cut in each date in half and remove the pits. In each date half, place a small sliver (about half the size of the removed pit) of cheese:

(Apologies for the Georgia O'Keefe vibe, folks)

Press the edges of the date together to seal the cheese inside.

Wrap each halved, stuffed date in half a slice of bacon. (Note: This will seem like too much bacon, but use it all or your wrapping will come undone in the heat of the oven!).

Place the bacon-wrapped dates, seam side down, on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, then turn and bake for 2-3 minutes more. Keep an eye on these little guys—they go from deliciously crispy to blackened quickly. Let them cool for a few minutes (these tapas redefine "hot date"!), then serve warm.

Enjoy as part of a delicious tapas feast!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Construction In Progress

ToastPoint is getting a new look!

There may be some disruptions in service. Just imagine that ToastPoint is in the ladies room, powdering its virtual nose. I'll be ready soon, I promise.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"Homemade" Scones on a Snowy Morning

Things taste better when you make them from scratch. I believe that in theory--really I do. But I woke up this morning and it was snowing. I pulled on jeans and wandered into the kitchen of my mom's new house in the mountains. There was a note announcing the presence of hot coffee, weighted down by a little brown paper bag of scones mix*. Three quarters of a cup of water and 12 minutes later, I was sucking down steaming scones and coffee while looking out at the swirling snow. All thanks--as the Human Vacuum put it--to "an assist" from Sticky Fingers Bakery.

*In my defense, the Sticky Fingers people are pretty tetchy about the fact that their mixes only contain stuff you could actually have in your cabinet. Except, y'know, that I've never actually had black currants in my cabinet.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bourbon Pear Apple Sauce

Continuing in the week's unofficial theme of 80-proof cookery, I present a stolen recipe for applesauce spiked with booze.

The recipe should be credited entirely to my college roommate. An elegant woman of French extraction, she periodically imported flour from her native land ("American flour just isn't quite right") so that we could host authentic crepes parties in our off-campus apartment. She was the mastermind and the master chef, I was sous chef. And one of the primary responsibilities of the sous chef was the peeling and coring of pounds and pounds of apples for sauce. It seemed like an endless pile of fruit, but guests were always scraping the bottle of the bowl by the end of the evening. Make as much of this as you can bear to, you won't regret it.

The key--as is so often the case in French cooking--is judicious use of butter and a splash of alcohol. Each apple slice spends a minute or two caramelizing in the skillet before going into the oven to soften. For the tipple, the French Roommate used Calvados, and I recommend that highly. But if all you have around is good ol' American Jim Beam, well, he'll get the job done. I've also tweaked the recipe by adding pears, but it's equally delicious with apples alone.

Bourbon Pear Apple Sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Find a large pot with a lid, like a casserole or a dutch oven, and put it in the oven to warm.

Peel, core, and cut into 1/2 inch wedges:
8 sweet red apples (I used Pink Ladys, but Fujis or Galas would be excellent)
8 pears (I used Cornice)

Have ready:
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup bourbon, or Calvados (plus extra for sipping while cooking)
1 large orange, juiced (reserve zest for later)

Warm the largest skillet you own over medium-high heat. Melt a pat of butter into the skillet and add just enough fruit to fill the pan with one layer. Cook, undisturbed, until lightly browned (about 1-2 minutes), then flip to brown the other side. I find that the easiest way to do this is with two forks--that way you're not chasing buttery apples around the pan with a spoon. Repeat.

I added different flavored ingredients from the list above to each batch of fruit to amuse myself, but you can do this in any order or process you want, since it's all going to meld together in the oven anyway. So, in one batch I added few glugs of bourbon and let it cook down. In another, I sprinkled on nutmeg and let it toast a bit in the pan, clinging to the fruit. In another, I juiced the orange and watched it soak into the apple slices while the rest disappeared in a hiss of fragrant steam. You get the idea. There should be a little butter in each batch to prevent scorching.

When each batch is sufficiently brown and flavorful, slide them into the large pot waiting in the oven. When all the batches are done, add the orange zest and stir to combine. If you're concerned that your apples are too tart, at this stage you can add maple syrup, or brown sugar. If you're using pears, this shouldn't be necessary.

Bake for about an hour--less if you like chunky, more if you prefer homogeneously smooth.

I served the resulting sauce warm, spooned over gingerbread and topped with heavy cream. But it would be just as good taken straight up (so to speak), and it keeps well in the fridge.