Cornish hen braised in milk

sage, cinnamon, garlic and lemon

I had an earlier post about braising chicken in milk, when I tried the recipe using chicken pieces since that gave me something more like a single serving.  Flavor was great, but I thought that for something a bit scaled down, but more in keeping with the original recipe, I would try this with a Cornish  hen and see how that worked. One of the advantages of these little birds is that they are more in keeping with  Jamie Oliver’s recipe, rather than the chicken parts that I tried originally. This might be a way to keep with the spirit of the original recipe, but scale it down to something closer to single-serving size.  While this is a recipe that might do well on second runs, I really don’t want as much as whole chicken would make.

Well, the weather has turned to fall with blowing leaves, and chilly temperatures so this seems an excellent time to try this again…and my grocery shopping provided me with a lovely price on a pair of (frozen) Cornish hens–about 1 to 1-1/4 pounds each.

A Cornish hen–either male or female regardless of calling it a “hen”–is a special breed of chicken (in the USA sometimes also called a poussin, though that is really French for a very young, small chicken that is usually about a pound in weight).  Since my supermarket does not offer poussins, but does have the Cornish hen (which is a young, hybrid chicken–of Rock Cornish with some other breed–not over 2 pounds by USDA specifications) that’s what I’ll use; I was fortunate enough to find some hens that were just about a pound or a pound and a quarter each.

While browsing some of my favorite blogs, I found a discussion of Jamie Oliver’s recipe–where an oversight  of lid on instead of off for part of the time was compared to the bird braised in an open pot.  This made me think of the French chicken in a pot that I had cook recently–one of the things that was  impressive about that was how the flavors seemed to permeate the meat itself.  I decided to try this with the  lid on for part of the time just for that reason.  (I do have two Cornish hens–so maybe I need to do the same here–one each way!

One of the things I discovered when doing the chicken parts was that just because you are using 1 pound of chicken instead of 4 pounds, you might not want to just take a quarter of the seasoning ingredients–the flavor was good, but perhaps a bit on the wimpy side; so I have to find a way to optimize that when cutting the recipe to single-serving size.  I decided that this time, I will make up the seasonings and milk as if I were doing the large chicken (in the 2 cups of milk).  I thought I’d simmer the seasonings in the milk and taste to see what that was like, cool it and add what seemed appropriate for the size of my bird and my pot.

The petit brasier was a no go–too big around–so I used my 4-quart All-Clad pot as being the closest thing to a “small” dutch oven.  The whole stick of butter was obviously not necessary so I used just enough (about 2 tablespoons) with the olive oil (about 2 tablespoons as well) to brown the hen.  (One thing I did discover is that the skin on a Cornish hen is much more fragile and has much less fat under it than does a more mature chicken.)  Just the smell of the hen browning in the butter and the olive oil is fabulous!

browned bird on plate

There was not much fat in the cavity either so I returned about half of the butter/olive oil mixture to the pot with the chicken.  Giblets were mostly not included–just the neck, but I browned that and included it in the braising pot for  extra flavor.

So here’s my bird, browned, and ready to go back into the pot to braise with the seasoned milk.  (Next time I’m doing a Cornish hen or poussin, I think that I’ll try using just half the milk with half to three-quarters of seasonings even though these birds are only about a quarter the weight of the chicken called for in the original recipe.)

browned bird in the pot with milk and seasonings

After steeping the other seasonings in the warm milk, and then letting it cool a bit, I tasted it–very lemony and sage-y, but not much garlic or cinnamon yet; (that came out later in the braising process).  I divided the milk and the other seasonings in about half since that looked like about the right amount of liquid (the eyeball test!!).  It took about 1 cup of milk (and I added half the solids) so the rest went into the freezer for a repeat, or perhaps just to braise some chicken thighs or poach some breasts. ( I did put the cinnamon into the braising pot with this bird).

braised Cornish hen

Since it was a smaller bird and the braising liquid was already warm, I reduced the oven temperature to 325 ° F since I wanted enough braising time to let the flavors actually get into the meat (as it did in the French chicken in a pot).  I decided to go with lid-on for about 30 or 35 minutes and see how it looked then, and finish the braising with the lid off so that the liquids reduced more.

bird in pot after 30 minutes in the oven with lid off

lid off for about 30 minutes

After another 30 minutes in the oven with the lid off, the sauce has reduced some and it looks falling-off-the-bone tender.

Somewhere along the way, all those unlikely, highly individual, and potent seasonings have turned into a complex, earthy  taste and aroma.

I’m ready to eat!

Admittedly this does not look like it’s going to be a dish that lends itself to elegant presentation, but it’s certainly a keeper for comfort food.  Braised in a container that could go directly to the table it would make a nice casual presentation as the skin does brown more after the lid comes off.

•♦•«»•♦•

The  pot  that I used was just a bit deeper than I might have liked, but better too deep than too wide since that would need too much liquid to reduce by the time the hen was done.  Unfortunately, the bird was just a bit too tall to fit into my small chef’s pan–but this was close enough.  The sauce does look “curdled” but tastes wonderful!  Just the thing for a damp, drizzly, autumn or winter evening!

chocolate mug with sage-lemons IMG_4796The original recipe for a whole chicken would be great for causal company–this is definitely a keeper!   I had this with basmati rice, roasted baby carrots and baby zucchini.  Sautéed  spinach, or maybe broccoli raab would be good too.  I think that the slight bitterness of the broccoli raab would be a great contrast to the way that these seasonings meld into a very earthy background to the chicken.

A son goût!

Cilantro & coriander

Cilantro image Johnnyselectseeds.com

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

Cilantro and coriander (Coriandrum sativum) are the same plant–just different parts used at different times–cilantro (herb) and the seeds (coriander–the spice).  I think cilantro (the herb) may be a love-it-or-hate-it flavor.  I like it, and even make a cilantro soup (no kidding).  It’s readily available in most grocery stores, but that large bunch does not keep well once you’ve used that little bit you need for single-serving cooking.  It’s a must-have for salsa, with chili, and Mexican and Asian dishes.

One way to have a continuing supply of cilantro when you want it is to grow your own, but that has its own problems, too.  It likes rich soil, plenty of  even moisture, and sun. Coriander seeds germinate easily. It can be direct sown in the garden or in a container and the foliage cut as you need it. It does best in spring and fall when the weather is cooler (even though it is a tropical plant).  Having a supply all summer (during tomato season) is going to take a bit of effort.

The difficulty with growing cilantro is that it’s not like  perennial herbs or parsley (a biennial) that just lasts all summer. Cilantro is a very quick-growing annual–it’s going to bloom and go to seed (bolt) as soon as it gets hot, perhaps even before it can develop a good crop of foliage, which is what you really want.  If you cut off the flower/seed head you can have the foliage for a bit longer. You can try giving it some shade in the hottest part of the day and perhaps prolong it a bit.

You can do succession planting…a little every two or three weeks depending on how much you use in conjunction with the above suggestions.  If you really love the stuff, then successive planting may help you keep a supply.

There is a benefit of growing your own: you can allow it to go to seed and you have coriander. The seeds, when not dried have some of the flavor of  cilantro and some of the flavor of coriander–so it’s fun to try using them in different ways too.

Frankly, I don’t think that even succession plantings works well  in the hot, humid, North Carolina summers–the small plants can bolt even before there is enough foliage for a single serving of something, and certainly NOT enough for cilantro soup. (This is a potato-based soup that I’ve made hot, but I think I’d like to try it as a cold summer soup too, garnished with some chopped tomatoes….that’s the fun of cooking for one.)

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum)

Another possible solution to get the cilantro flavor is to grow a substitute for it, such as culantro (Eryngium foetidum) sometimes found under the names of saw-tooth herb, or Mexican coriander, among many other names as well.  It is a native of South America and Mexico.  This is an herb which is widely used in Caribbean cooking, and in India, and East Asia as well.  It has the flavor of cilantro–but is a perennial plant (grown as annual in many climates).  The disadvantage of this herb is that the leaves are tough–not at all soft like cilantro leaves.  An advantage is that it’s tolerant of hot, humid climate.  Purportedly, it is increasing in use in industrial herb production as its leaves hold flavor when dried much better than Coriandrum sativum.  I’m trying a pot of it on my deck this summer.  Last summer I tried to germinate seeds and it was a total flop.  I was fortunate enough to find a plant at Stone Brothers & Byrd here in Durham this year so I’m going to try it again.

Vietnamese cilantro (Polygonum odoratum)

There is a second alternative for cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) flavor is  Vietnamese coriander or Polygonum odoratum. I have not been fortunate enough to find this one locally this year–it’s another that I want to explore the possibility of growing for the farmers’ market.  This herb is frequently used in Vietnamese cooking.  It has some “cilantro” flavor so is a possibile substitute.  The big advantage here is that it’s easy to grow.  It likes afternoon shade or even dappled shade all day, but needs to be evenly moist.  It’s fast enough growing that you may need to divide or transplant to a larger pot several times a season.  If it becomes root bound it will quit producing leaves.  It is a tropical plant that will die back at freezing (32 ° F/ 0 ° C).  Not all bad, as it can be kept indoors over the winter in a bright spot.  I had this on the deck last summer and was very pleased with it.  I just did not have enough light to maintain it indoors during the winter.   Now I need to find another plant.

(This image is from Mountain Valley Growers.  For some additional discussion of these herbs you can go to their website.  I’ve ordered from this supplier before and been very pleased with the quality and condition of the plants when they’ve arrived.  They also have some great recipes on that site too. There’s a lot of information on herbs and their use at this website.)

All things considered, I expect that I’ll buy cilantro from the grocery store when I need large quantities for the soup, but for single-serving amounts, I’ll  keep trying succession planting, culantro leaves, and hope to find Vietnamese cilantro locally rather than have to special order it.  (The problem with ordering for herb suppliers is that there is frequently a minimum order which needs to be met…I really don’t need six new herbs on my deck now–but I’m certainly considering it because I’d really like to have this one again.)  I’ll be letting some cilantro go to seed to try more of the green seeds as seasoning, too.

One additional solution to help you through the hot weather is to make “pesto” (leaving out the cheese and nuts) from cilantro leaves and keep it covered with a thin film of oil.  That holds remarkably well in the refrigerator (just like pesto)–about a week.   I’ve not tried freezing this as you can pesto, but I have used a frozen product during the winter.

There frozen cilantro available in the  Dorot (a company in Israel) line of frozen, chopped herbs.  I’ve used their cilantro/coriander during the winter when I need small quantities for things like adding fresh cilantro flavor to chili con carne, and been very pleased with it.  If you go to the Website you can find a store near you that carries the products.  (Image from Dorot.)

Pot roast with brown gravy

You’ll notice that I said “gravy”–this is too much of a comfort food to use “sauce” because what you’re getting is plain, down-home gravy that needs bread or potatoes to complement it.

After I got my Christmas present (See The Petit Brasier) I had to give it an immediate test run.  What better to test than a favorite braised dish:  pot roast.  This was nothing fancy at all.  You’ll note that I’m not even saying it had a sauce–I really did mean good, old-fashioned, down-home, satisfying brown gravy, lots of onions, and good tender beef.

Even though I say I dislike leftovers, there are some exceptions and pot roast is one of the exceptions.  Sometimes I get the great big chuck roast and make a lot of it and put it in the freezer in single-serving packages, right with the chili, the stock, and some soups so that I can have an “instant” meal–the microwave is great for defrosting and individual portion.  I don’t always want to have to pack and freeze leftovers, so with the small braiser, and a cooperative butcher or meat department at the supermarket, I can make a small pot roast that’s good for two, or maybe three meals since there are some very easy ways to kind of spiff it up for the reruns.

This is really not a recipe–it’s a happening–quantities are approximate as the amount of oil you need will vary with the size of you pan, the amount of mushrooms and onions you are going to sauté–just use what you need.  (Improvise! Wing it!  Just do it–it will work.)

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pound piece of chuck roast
  • 4 or 5 small onions (or 3 medium to large ones) sliced moderately thinly
  • 2 teaspoons flour, plus flour for dredging the beef
  • about 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided as needed for  sautéing mushrooms and onions.
  • 8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced (more if you really like mushrooms)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups of water or stock
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • about 8-10 medium garlic cloves.

Preparation

  1. Pat the pot roast dry with paper towels and dredge in a flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Let it stand while you cook the onions and mushrooms.
  2. Slice the mushrooms and sauté in a little of the olive oil until they release their liquid and brown.  When brown and liquid has evaporated, remove to a bowl.
  3. Add a bit more olive oil, and sauté the sliced onions until they start to brown and caramelize.  When partly browned, remove to a bowl with the mushrooms.
  4. Add the additional olive oil, as needed, and brown the beef well on both sides. Put it to the side for final assembly.
  5. Take the rest of the olive oil, and the 2 teaspoons of flour, and brown the flour in the oil until it turns a nice golden brown and smells toasty.  Turn the heat down, add the stock or water to the browned flour.
  6. Add the sautéd onions and mushrooms, and return the browned roast to the pan, with the onion/mushroom mixture around the sides, sprinkle the garlic cloves over the top.
  7. Bring to a simmer on the stove top, cover and place in a 295-300 ° F oven and cook until fork tender–about 2-3 hours (unattended).  Check periodically to see if you need to add more liquid.  You need just enough to make nice thick gravy, and the onions are going to cook down to help thicken the gravy.

For that first meal, all you really need is a salad, maybe a baked potato….or some noodles.For the second serving, stir a tiny dollop of sour cream into the portion of brown gravy for this serving to add some tang and be a bit “stroganoff-ish”, add some steam-sautéd (See Cooking Vegetables Quickly) carrots, or spinach as a side.   What about the third?  As you reheat, add some tomato paste, or some tomato sauce to the last bit for a different taste.

It’s pure unadulterated comfort food.  Even if it’s not a single serving, it’s an appropriate quantity for small-time cooking, but it sure has big-time taste.  It’s great what having the right size pan does for cooking for one.

A son goût!

Making stock quickly.

Despite occasionally using the microwave to make stock or broth quickly or in hot weather, I’m a fan of the long, slow, stove-top or oven method so that I can luxuriate in the wonderful smells when it’s cold and/or rainy outside.  It’s such a comforting activity and, though it takes time, it does not require a lot of close attention.  However, there are times when I need stock or broth and I need it quickly.  I gave the basic recipe for chicken broth in an earlier post (See The Microwave in my Kitchen), but I want to show you it can be used for other stock, not chicken.

Cooking some chicken give enough good strong broth for a bowl or two of soup.  There are times when I need more than that because I’ve run out of what I had stashed in the freezer.  That’s likely to happen in the winter when I’m a real soup-hound.

I was happy to find a quick method that does produce good stock–using the microwave.  This might also be a reasonable solution for those of you who don’t have the chest freezer on the back porch or a good-size freezer with the fridge.

I own only one microwave cookbook:  Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet. She was a reluctant convert to the microwave–as well as a traditionally trained chef.  I read her introduction to the book while standing in the Regulator Bookshop; her initial reluctance to hop on the microwave bandwagon made me thing that this might be a different kind of microwave cookbook; I was right.  I still do not cook a lot of things in the microwave, but I have found some very useful things in this book.  I like the fact that she gives single-serving amounts for some of the recipes–as well as doubling some.

Getting bones for making stock is getting harder, with so much meat coming into the store already cut and boned,  but if you can find a butcher shop, it’s well worth exploring the possibility of having them save bones for you.  You should check your farmers’ market as you might be able to get “stewing” hens there, or if there is a vendor selling beef, they might have soup bones (necks, tails, etc.) and that is a real delight.  I’ve found “marrow bones” in the freezer case at the supermarket, but they were so clean that they really did not make good stock (the marrow was excellent spread on toast, though).  For chicken broth, you can always buy a whole bird, and take off the breast and leg/thigh meat and use the rest of the carcass for making broth.

I want to give you an adaptation of her stock/broth recipe (p.314):

Meat Broths

  • 2 pounds meat (chicken, duck, veal, beef marrow, or other beef or lamb bones cut into small pieces–maybe by the butcher)
  • 4 cups water
  1. Place the bones and water in a 2-quart microwave-safe container.  (Personally, I have a large 2-quart Pyrex measuring “cup” that I use for this; it has pouring spout and a handle which I like when working with this much liquid.)  Cook at 100% for 30 minutes, or 40 minutes for a broth that will jell.
  2. Remove from the microwave oven and let stand until it stops bubbling. Strain the broth through a fine sieve.  If you want it clear, you need to do the clarifying procedure, which I’m not including here.  You can find that in her book (p.314).
  3. Cool and refrigerate, tightly covered (See Storage Containers) if not using immediately. (Usually don’t store it–my reason for making it in the microwave was either that it was sweltering summer weather, or I needed it NOW!)

If you have “soup bones” that include lots of meat, as do the ones that I get at the Durham Farmers’ market, then you have a hearty meal that’s beyond just soup. The beef can taken off the bones and added to some of the broth with vegetables for a really hearty meal of serious comfort food.  That’s a bonus.

That’s it!  As is mentioned in another post, I have not  done a side-by-side taste test of the broth make the traditional (long, slow way) with that made this quick way,  I am pleased with the results of  this method.  I will freely admit to keeping canned broth and stock on my pantry shelf, but these are usually a last resort, or to be used when the broth will be a background flavor as in chili con carne–not when it up front really good soup like a winter favorite, beef-barley-mushroom soup.

If you want a “brown” broth, you can always roast the bones in the oven before putting them into the microwave to cook.  The recipe in the book gives lots of variations that are useful, including adjustments for more meat, adding vegetables, clarifying, and making fish broth as well.  If you’re a microwave user, you might find this a great book to have on your shelf, or you might want to check it out of the library and see what else is in it.  There is a large “dictionary” in which she lists lots of different ingredients and gives cooking times, or sometimes recommends not cooking that in the microwave.  I do refer to the dictionary frequently.  If you are a novice with the microwave (think it’s for popping popcorn, or heating water) she does a good review of the types and the shapes of containers that work best for cooking in the microwave and the information on cooking times is useful.

“Convenience” foods for cooking for one

Time frequently seems to be of the essence when cooking–for one or for many.  There are some things that I discovered that save me lots of time–and that means that I’m much more likely to cook a meal, rather than do carry-in, or reach for the peanut butter jar!

When you see “convenience” food, I dare say your first thought is processed, open-heat-and-eat food.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m thinking of things you prepare yourself with choice ingredients, and freeze, or otherwise “put by” for later uses that can shave time off of recipes.

How many recipes do you have that start with  a “flavor base” like  sofrito (Spanish), soffrito (Italian), mirepoix or mirepois (French)?    Lots, probably.  How many times have you passed on that recipe because you don’t have those, you did not want to spend the time mincing, dicing, or you pulled that bag of celery out of the crisper, and–yuck–it’s no longer fit to use!   Cooking for one, I find celery a particularly frustrating ingredient.  I like celery–but it always seems to go bad in the crisper.

Many flavor bases to start soups, stews, et cetera begin with carrots, celery, onion, diced or minced and sautéed  in olive oil (or maybe butter).  True it’s only a few minutes work to do this–if you have the ingredients.  My solution to this has been to take celery, carrots, onions, and use the food processor to chop a large batch of this useful mixture, sauté in a mild olive oil with just a touch of salt, and then pack it into small containers in lots of a couple tablespoons (or freeze in ice-cube trays and transfer to zipper-lock bag), and put it in the freezer so that when I need it, I have the basic prepared carrots, celery and onions, to which I can add garlic and herbs as needed for a particular recipe, and I’m off to a running start.

I do keep canned beans around as a “convenience” food, but I much prefer to cook my own dried legumes (pulses).  Since that is a time consuming thing, I have found a way to make those into “convenience” ingredients:  cook a large batch until almost fully cooked, and then freeze with some of the liquid in small quantities–a cup or so, whatever you would most likely use.  I’ve found that they hold well in the freezer, and can finish cooking quickly, so that you have the advantage of home-cooked quality, without the time investment.  I’ve done this with lentils (my favorites being the French LePuy) of all sorts.  True, lentils cook quickly and do not require soaking, but I can still save time with these.   I particularly like to do this “precook” with beans since that means that I can have lots of variety and have the convenience of canned, with specialty beans that are very tasty.

Grains can also be done this way too.  That left-over serving of rice that I’m sure I’m not going to use this week gets labeled, dated, and put into the freezer for a quick serving when I don’t want to take the time of cook rice from scratch.

Risotto is another favorite main dish for me–right in my category of comfort food with mac ‘n’ cheese, and tomato soup; I don’t find cooking it to be difficult–in fact it’s rather relaxing, but time consuming.  I’ve tried some of the “quick” recipes (see Risotto post) and have not been too dissatisfied with them, but I’ve also found that I can make a big batch of risotto to the point where it’s ready for the addition of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then freeze it is serving-size batches.   It will thaw quickly, and lets me have risotto fairly frequently.   It’s easy to add vegetables or seafood or other quick-cooking things as you finish this preparation.

Another “convenience” ingredient is homemade broth or stock.  While I will admit to keeping canned/boxed broth/stock on hand, I much prefer to have the real homemade thing, and that is not hard to do:  make a large batch on a cold rainy day when it’s good to be indoors; freeze it in small quantities for future use.   I’ve found a very quick way to make chicken broth too.  More about that later.

All these little conveniences can add up to much better small-time cooking with big-time flavor even when cooking just for one.

I love wine in a box!

I’m definitely an oenophile. I like wine with my meals, but sometimes I hesitate to open a bottle when I know that I’m going to have leftovers, or if I think that it’s a more expensive bottle than I want to have only for one.  I also like to cook with wine, but hate opening a bottle for just a glass and a splash in the sauce.  I think that wine in a box is one of the greatest that for those of us living alone.  It’s now possible to get good wine, inexpensively in a box.  Tuck a box of white in the fridge, and stash a box of red on the pantry shelf.  I can have the luxury of a glass of wine whenever I want, and a splash of white for cooking even when I’m drinking red.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have some exquisite bottles in my cellar.  They’re the ones to  have with a special meal, and possibly with friends.  But the “house” wine is now in a box.  It’s not cheap wine–just inexpensive and convenient.

There was one advantage of having “leftovers”–bits and pieces of bottles: those make great wine vinegar.  I have a glass container in the cabinet that get “fed” on those to keep the mother alive, so I have a constant supply of good wine vinegar.  It’s unfiltered, unpasteurized, potent, and much more complex in flavor that the stuff out of a bottle.  I’ve had the red wine going since I was given the mother over 10 years ago.  It’s simple to keep–the occasional splash of wine from the box, or occasionally, but a really inexpensive bottle and dump that in.

I recently decided that I wanted white wine vinegar, too.  So, took some of the mother from my red wine and put it into a bottle of white wine.  Not sure yet what is going to happen–now it’s still a bit pink as the mother was a very deep, dark red.  There will be future reports on the progress.

A new cookbook

A few weeks ago, I had a friend visiting (as a house guest) from California.  We were out and about doing some things that I don’t usually do: visited A Southern Season to browse for housewares and foods, and we visited The Regulator Bookshop. Both were having their summer sales.  As usual, I came home with things that I did not expect to buy.

One of my “finds” at the bookstore was The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones.  This is an admixture of philosophy of eating alone as well as some recipes, and, best of all, lots of tips for not having left-overs.  While some of the recipes are for things that cannot be bought in small quantities (like pork tenderloin) she provides recipes and suggestions about make several different dishes from the “left-overs” so that they really don’t taste like left-overs. While this does require some meal planning, the emphasis here is on flexibility and improvisation.  I was impressed that the recipes here were real meals for real enjoyment.  I think that this is a worthwhile addition to my cookbook library.