Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Easter Dinner - Apricot Glazed Cornish Hens with Couscous Dried Fruit Stuffing
Easter Dinner - Apricot Glazed Cornish Hens with Couscous Dried Fruit Stuffing

I enjoy serving Cornish hens at dinner parties because they are easy to prepare and make such an elegant presentation, with each person getting their own tiny little hen. Last Easter I served Cornish Hens instead of the traditional ham because one guest did not eat pork. I prepared the hens in a special way (boneless!) that has made them my new favorite springtime main dish for special occasions.

For that occasion I boned the hens, removing all the bones but the drumsticks and wings, and then stuffed and reassembled them, sewing them up so they looked whole. They were so much nicer to eat at the table without all the bones. Although it took me about 10 minutes per hen, it wasn’t difficult because I followed the instructions and photos from a cookbook (details below). After roasting and basting with an apricot glaze, they looked beautiful. I only wish I had taken photos.

The Couscous with Dried Fruit is just perfect for stuffing Cornish hens. An interesting and exciting dish, loaded with apricots, golden raisins, toasted pine nuts, fennel and other goodies, it would make an appropriate side dish with almost any main course.

Boneless Apricot Glazed Stuffed Cornish Hens
6 servings

The boning instructions and photographs here are from Marlene Sorosky’s Year-Round Holiday Cookbook (now out of print). The boning process is actually much easier than it looks. After the first hen, the rest go quickly,

6 whole Cornish hens, about 1 ¼ pounds each
Coucous with Dried Fruit stuffing (recipe below)
Apricot Glaze (recipe below)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Remove giblets from cavities of hens and rinse inside and out with cold running water. Dry with paper towels.

Bone and stuff the hens following these instructions:

1. Cut down along each side of the backbone
Place hens breast side down on cutting board. Make a cut down each side of the center of the backbone.

2. Scrape meat away from bone toward sides of bird.
Scrape meat away from bone with the edge of a sharp knife. Continue to pull meat away from bone with fingers, working and pulling it away from bone on each side.
Cut joint at wing tips and legs, leaving wings and drumsticks attached to meat.

3. Scrape meat down from thigh bone

4. Pop out thigh bone at joint

5. Exposed bones after both sides have been cut loose.

6. Pull out breast bone.
Carefully cut flesh away from breast bone and pull out breast bone. Season exposed inside of hen with salt and pepper.

7. Stuff hens
Stuffing should be cold. Mound stuffing in the center of each hen. Fold each side of hen over stuffing, overlapping slightly. With hands, push bird into original shape. Skewer or truss closed. (I threaded a giant trussing needle with kitchen string and sewed up the back).

8. Complete
Tie legs together with string. Place a metal skewer through wings to hold them in place.

Refrigerate until 1 hour prior to roasting.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place hens on a large baking sheet with sides and brush with olive oil.

Bake for 30 minutes. Brush with Apricot Glaze. Bake for 15 minutes. Brush again with Apricot Glaze. Bake for 15 minutes or until hens are cooked, and the skin is golden and shiny. Pull out skewers and snip and remove kitchen string. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Couscous with Dried Fruit Stuffing
From The Fruit Cookbook by Nicole Routhier
Yield: 8 side dish servings

I usually make the recipe exactly as written. Last Easter, due to a guest who did not eat pork, I replaced the sausage with diced, sauteed mushrooms and it was just as good.

3/4 cup dried apricots, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup golden raisins
3 Tblsp dry sherry
3 cups chicken broth
4 Tblsp unsalted butter (1 stick)
2 cups uncooked couscous
1/2 lb hot Italian sausage meat (remove the casings)
2 small fennel bulbs or 3 ribs celery, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick (1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp dried thyme, crumbled
2 tsp dried sage, crumbled
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine the apricots, raisins and sherry in a small bowl. Cover andset aside.

2. Place the chicken broth and butter in a large saucepan and bring to aboil over high heat. Add the couscous in a stream, stirringconstantly. Quickly cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let the couscous sit while you prepare the rest of the stuffing.

3. Add the sausage to a large skillet over medium-high heat, and brown,breaking up the lumps with the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes.Add the fennel, onions, and garlic and cook until soft, about 3minutes. Add the dried fruits, thyme, and sage and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

4. Fluff the couscous with a fork to separate the grains. Add thesausage-fruit mixture to the couscous. Stir in the pine nuts and mixuntil all ingredient are will combined. Season to taste with salt andpepper.

Apricot Glaze
From The Loaves and Fishes Party Cookbook

¾ pound dried apricots
½ cup white vermouth
1/4 cup apricot jam
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tablespoon grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Peeking Behind Closed Doors - Roundup
Peeking Behind Closed Doors - Roundup

I’ve posted the roundup of the food blog event that asked, “what’s in your cupboards?” Check out the results here.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
A New Way with Fennel
A New Way with Fennel

I thought I knew all the potential ways to cook fennel. Tender braised fennel is always a favorite. Salads spiked with the crisp licorice zing of raw fennel are delightful. Fennel sautéed in sauces or raw in salsas is magical with fish. But I recently returned from Italy with an old family recipe which presents fennel in a new, unusual, and delicious way.

One of the most surprising things about this recipe is that it calls for regular vegetable oil or canola oil instead of olive oil. That shocked me because olive oil’s presence and influence were everywhere we traveled throughout Emilia-Romagna. From the hillsides covered with the silvery-green leaved olive trees, to the sauté pans of the commercial kitchens where we enjoyed cooking lessons, to the final garnish of a drizzle of olive oil on many of the dishes we were served in restaurants, it was apparent olive oil ruled this region. My encounter with a high-tech self-serve olive oil pump, suggestive of a gasoline pump, only confirmed that.

So of course I questioned why this typical Italian family recipe didn’t use olive oil. Raffaella said the rich flavor of the olive oil would overpower the delicate flavor of the cooked fennel in this dish. This is the way she makes it, this is the way her mother made it, and this is how her daughter makes it. I’m certainly not going to tinker with a family recipe that spans three generations of great Italian cooks!

This dish results in wedges of tender fennel baked in a crispy coating of bread crumbs flavored with fresh garlic and parsley. During the dual cooking process, the sharp anise flavor of the fennel is tempered to a mild sweetness, and the texture inside the coating of crunchy crumbs becomes almost potato-like.

Raffaella's Baked Breaded Fennel

2 large or 3 small Fennel bulbs
1 ½ cups plain dry fine breadcrumbs
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
½ cup vegetable, canola, or other mild-tasting oil

Wash the fennel bulbs in cold running water. Cut off the fennel stalks close to the bulb. Trim or peel any tough or bruised outer leaves. Do not slice off the bottom core, although if it is nasty, shave off a very thin slice.

Cut small fennel bulbs into quarters, through the core, and cut large ones into sixths. You want to end up with uniform wedges.

Place fennel wedges into a large pot of simmering salted water and cook until just tender, about 10 - 15 minutes. Drain well.

Mix together crumbs, parsley and garlic in a small bowl. Dip cooked fennel wedges in oil and then roll in crumbs. Place in a baking dish. May be prepared up to this point several hours in advance, sitting at room temperature.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until brown and crusted, about 30 – 40 minutes.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007
A Feast Fit for St. Patrick – Part 2
A Feast Fit for St. Patrick – Part 2

This is a continuation from last week’s post on my annual St Patrick’s Day dinner menu (link). Part one included recipes for Whole Wheat Beer Bread and Butter Braised Cabbage. Part two here covers my favorite recipes for Glazed Corned Beef and Irish Coffee.

Glazed Corn Beef

This is my never-varying corned beef preparation, although I do change the glaze from year to year. This is more of a detailed cooking methodology than a recipe, but it never fails to please even the most ardent corned beef haters. And it is perfect for entertaining because most of the work is done ahead

The original inspiration for this recipe came from an old Bon Appetit magazine many years ago and I have been enhancing and modifying it over time. This preparation method creates a meat that is almost like a fine ham. I have served this to many people who professed to hate corned beef and they always had second or third helpings.

You must begin preparing this a day in advance.

Remove the corned beef from its bag, rinse it well and then soak it for 8 hours or so in fresh cold water in the refrigerator. This removes the excess salt and also eliminates that chemical flavor sometimes found in some brands of corned beef.

To cook, place it in a large pot, cover with water and simmer gently for about 3 hours. Don't cut off the excess fat before cooking. That will keep it moist while cooking. I used to add bay leaves and peppercorns and such to the water but once I forgot and the meat tasted the same. It is very important that you don't allow it to boil hard, just a nice gentle simmer. While cooking, I partially cover the pot by tilting the lid and keep checking it to make sure it stays at a simmer.

After 3 hours, drain it, place it on a plate and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight. This precooking allows me to cook the meat in advance and since St Patrick’s Day usually falls on a weeknight I can still make a nice dinner after working all day. Also, after chilling I cut off all the fat, which is easier to do when it has hardened after refrigeration.

About two hours before dinner, take the corned beef out of the refrigerator, cut off all the fat, place it in a greased baking pan and allow it to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Just before baking I brush it with some kind of glaze or sauce. One time I used a glaze made from ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard with a pinch of ground cloves, all stirred together well and allowed sit for a while for the sugar to dissolve into a sauce. Another time I pureed orange marmalade and Dijon mustard and used that as a glaze. Anything goes, or even no glaze at all, if you prefer.

Bake it for about 45 minutes or until heated through. If the glaze contains sugar or other ingredient that has the potential to burn in the oven, I may cover the dish with foil for the first half of cooking. While baking, if the meat appears to be drying out or the glaze is beginning to caramelize too much, I may cover the dish with foil.

Slice thinly and serve.

Irish Coffee

Way back in the 60’s there was a humorous cookbook called “The I Hate to Cook Book” by Peg Bracken. This recipe is NOT from that book, but I cannot discuss this great hot beverage without recalling how the author referred to Irish Coffee as the triple whammy for those who hate to cook: dessert, coffee, and liqueur all in one glass!

To me, Irish coffee is a beverage of contrasts for all the senses. I love the way the hot coffee contrasts with the cool cream as you sip the coffee through the cream. The fragrances of the rich coffee and whiskey combine into a new synergistic aroma, while the strong flavor of the coffee is softened by the sweet brown sugar. That brown sugar, by the way, is the secret ingredient that makes this recipe better than all the others

In each coffee cup place 2 packed teaspoons of brown sugar. Add a shot of Irish whiskey. Pour in fresh hot coffee, not quite to the top of the cup rim and stir. Top with heavy cream that has been whipped softly.

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