Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pheasant Stew with Spinach and Oranges

The fact that it's 25 degress above zero and I'm dancing a jig at how beautiful it is outside tells you how rough the weather has been around here lately. 

The past few weeks plunged North Dakota into an ice bath, with few moments of reprive to come up for air.  It's that below-zero cold where metallic notes hang in the icy air.  Where we find ourselves trotting from car door to home door, just to shave a couple seconds off the time exposed to the elements.  Where car engines groan and shudder when trying to start.  Where even a road trip on the heavily-traveled Interstate 94 means you double-check that your cell phone is fully charged and you have blankets and a good pair of snowboots in the trunk, since a stalled car in this weather is a dangerous thing indeed. 

But today, what a glorious day.  Kent got up on the roof to shovel some snow off (an overdue chore, since the neighbors have shoveled their roofs off at least twice by now).  And little Ben, who has been house-bound for weeks, finally got outside today today, a bundled little boy playing in the snow.  You never saw a happier kid.

Meanwhile, I did some shoveling myself and found little chores to do outside to enjoy the weather a bit more.  Then I went in, threw open the windows to bring in some of that brisk fresh air, and made this stew for Sunday dinner, steaming up the kitchen with its brothy, vinegary goodness. 

Pheasant Stew with Spinach and Oranges
Adapted from this recipe, which originally called for chicken thighs.  I had a couple frozen chicken backs from our family chicken farmer Auntie T that I threw in at the beginning of the recipe for extra flavor and pulled them out before serving.  If you've never made a recipe that involved boiling down vinegar, it's going to stink up your kitchen a bit, so open a window. 

8-12 pieces of pheasant (breasts and thighs)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbs. butter
1/2 lb. fresh pearl onions, peeled
6 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. smoked sweet paprika (pimentón)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
4 large navel oranges
6 oz. fresh spinach, stemmed (4 cups)
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint

Season the pheasant on both sides with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in an 8-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium heat. Cook meat until golden on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions, garlic, and paprika to the pot and cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium high and simmer until the vinegar is reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the broth. When the liquid comes to a boil, add the pheasant to the pot skin side up, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until pheasant is cooked through and tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the peel off the oranges. Working over a medium bowl to catch the juice, cut the segments free from the membranes. Squeeze any remaining juice from the membranes into the bowl.

When the pheasant is done, add the orange segments and juice, spinach, and mint to the pot, gently stirring them into the sauce. Serve immediately over mashed potatoes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dark Chocolate Brownies

I wanted brownies.  But you know, sometimes it's hard to find a good brownie recipe.

There was a banana brownie recipe in my latest issue of Fine Cooking that involved banana-infused cream for ganache.  Too much work. 

There was the recent article in Midwest Living on add-ins to turn box brownie and cake mix from drab to decadent.  But I was shooting for homemade this time around.

And there was the classic recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens red and white plaid cookbook.  But I dunno, I wanted something stepped up a little.

In the end, I decided on Joy.  Joy the Baker, that is.  And I'm so so glad I did.

Joy the Baker has such a bright, happy blog space - you just want to be her friend.  In fact, by reading her, you feel like you already are.  A crazy fun tattooed L.A. resident friend who I'm sure is much cooler than I could ever hope to be in real life, but in our virtual bloggie world, she's my buddy, even if she doesn't really know that.  But if we were real-life buddies, I bet she would teach me how to take pictures like this.  Then we'd eat cookies.  Under an orange tree.  Because California is like that.

But the brownies.  The dark chocolate brownies.  Sometimes I'm confused when you are instructed to purchase unsweetened chocolate, only to dump half a bag of sugar in the batter anyway, or use unsalted butter, only to add salt later.  But I'm not questioning it.  These babies are rich.  Be sure to have an extra jug of milk on hand to wash 'em down. 

Thanks Joy!

Dark Chocolate Brownies
From Joy the Baker - original recipe here.  Please line the pan with foil and butter it as instructed in the recipe - you'll be so glad you did when you don't even need to wash the pan, it's so spankin' clean.

8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan. Line the pan with foil and butter the foil. This will make brownie removal much easier.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

Place butter and chopped chocolate in a medium sized heat proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, being sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the boiling water. Stir until chocolate and butter are completely melted. Use pot holders to remove the bowl from over the boiling water. Lets mixture sit for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and espresso powder. Whisk until pale and thick. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk until completely incorporated. Add the flour mixture all at once and whisk to incorporate. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cream-Cheese-and-Ham-Wrapped Pickles

Last night I hosted the book club gals at my place.  The book up for discussion was Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, a book about, well, women in a book club who like to eat.  It was an easy, breezy read, chick-lit at its finest.  One character in the novel named Audrey is basically a PG-13 version of Sex and the City's Samantha - a sexaholic (who turns into a pastor at the end, but that's another discussion).  In the book, Audrey picks a book about sex for the book club to read and during the book club meeting sets out appetizers with a theme to match.

When I was planning my own book club menu, how could I resist?  I grabbed the nearest jar of baby pickles, smeared them with cream cheese, wrapped them in ham, and stuck a couple olives on the toothpick for good measure.  And yes, in case you were wondering, my husband helped.  "I don't know, do you think they're penis-y enough?" I asked.  He reassured me that yes, they were plenty penis-y. 

If you haven't had these li'l buggers, they're darn tasty.  Skip the toothpicks and olives and just make the cream-cheese-and-ham-wrapped pickles for your upcoming Super Bowl party.  If you don't tell anyone, you'll probably be the only one with a case of the giggles as everyone else is munching. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls

Want to be a Sunday morning hero?  Make these cinnamon rolls.  Seriously.  You'll never go back to rolls from a tube again. 

Ok, maybe you will still make rolls from the tube, since they are so darn convenient, but in my book, if you are going to eat a cinnamon roll, it'd better be amazing.  And I don't think anyone has bitten into a cinnamon roll baked from a tube and groaned in pleasure, "Oh my god, this is AMAZING." 

So if you want that reaction, make these cinnamon rolls.

My dear friend Jenny gave me the Pioneer Woman cookbook for Christmas 2009.  You know how bloggers sometimes say "Oh, reading that blog made me want to have a blog of my own!" or "That blogger inspired me so much."  Well, Pioneer Woman has had the opposite effect on me.  Every time I read her blog, I think 'Geez, why am I blogging again?'  Her blog is awesome - recipes, photos, funny, she's got it all.  Plus, she's pretty.  I mean, she's had four kids and is still smiling.  How many women can say that? 

Back to the cookbook, I've often flipped through it, noting to myself the recipes I'd like to try (migas, anyone?), but these cinnamon rolls are actually the very first recipe I've made from this cookbook.  And it's a keeper.

Here is the original Pioneer Woman post, with step-by-step photos.  Note that her original recipe makes SEVEN pie plates of cinnamon rolls.  I halved the recipe below to a more managable three plates plus a couple I baked individually in ramekins.

The Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls
Make three pie plates, or about 18-20 cinnamon rolls.  One for breakfast, one for nibbling or giveaway, and one for the freezer in my book. I made the dough the night before, then stored it in the fridge, taking it out the next morning and letting it sit on the counter for about 20 mins before rolling it out.  Worked like a charm. 

2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
1/2 cup Sugar
1 package Active Dry Yeast
4 cups (Plus 1/2 Cup Extra, Separated) All-purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon (heaping) Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon (scant) Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Salt

1 cup (yup, 2 whole sticks) butter, melted
1 cup sugar
Generous Sprinkling Of Cinnamon

1 lb. Powdered Sugar
1 teaspoon Maple Flavoring (I skipped this and just added a few Tablespoons maple syrup, reducing the milk a little)
1/4 cups Milk
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter
2 Tablespoons Brewed Coffee

Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. Scald the mixture (heat until just before the boiling point). Turn off heat and leave to cool 45 minutes to 1 hour. When the mixture is lukewarm to warm, but NOT hot, sprinkle yeast on top. Let this sit for a minute. Then add 4 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir mixture together. Cover and let rise for at least an hour.

After rising for at least an hour, add 1/2 cup more of flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir mixture together. (At this point, you could cover the dough and put it in the fridge until you need it – overnight or even a day or two, if necessary. Just keep your eye on it and if it starts to overflow out of the pan, just punch it down).

When ready to prepare rolls: Take half the dough and form a rough rectangle. Then roll the dough thin, maintaining a general rectangular shape. Drizzle 1/2 to 1 cup melted butter over the dough. Now sprinkle 1 cup of sugar over the butter followed by a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. Add as much additional butter and sugar as you dare. 

Now, starting at the opposite end, begin rolling the dough in a neat line toward you. Keep the roll relatively tight as you go. Next, pinch the seam of the roll to seal it.

Spread 1 tablespoon of melted butter in a seven inch round foil cake or pie pan. Then begin cutting the rolls approximately 1 inch thick and laying them in the buttered pans. Let the rolls rise for 20 to 30 minutes, then bake at 375 degrees until light golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes.  Note that the rolls are going to look like they are drowning when you first pull them from the oven with so much melty syrup in the bottom of the pie plate, but trust me, that's the good stuff. 

For the frosting, mix together all ingredients listed and stir well until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust as needed. Generously drizzle over the warm rolls.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Lesson in Roast Wild Goose

This goose was a year in the making.  Since Christmas 2009, to be exact, when I read a food article about roasting a Christmas goose.  I was charmed.  Visions of a happy Tiny Tim, crutch and all, popped in my head.  "A roasted goose?  Dear mother, aren't we the luckiest English family this holiday?  Now how about a spot 'o tea?"  And heck, I'm married to a hunter, after all.  I definitely had a goose resource there.

So I requested a goose.  A full plucked goose, not breasted out like my huntin' husband usually does, grinding the goose meat up to make jerky.  Nope, we're roasting it Tiny Tim style. 

Goose has a really strong flavor to it, and my past experiences with goose haven't been too kind to my palate.  Goose jerky is good, goose stir-fry is edible, but frying up an entire goose breast and eating it like a chicken breast is not advisable, at least not from my experience.  So when it came to roasting a whole goose, I knew I needed advice.  So I did what any modern cook would do: I asked for help on Facebook.  And fortunately, my buddy Al responded with a very good question:

Is it a domestic goose or a wild goose?

What?  There's that big of a difference?  In short, YES, there is a huge difference, and thank goodness he reminded me of this because otherwise I would've followed a cookbook recipe for roasted goose (which 99% of the time will be talking about a fatty domestic goose) and I would've been left wondering a) where's all that delectible rendered goose fat I'm supposed to get from this bird for making pommes frites later and b) why the heck did my bird turn out so dry and tough? 

You can get away with cooking a wild turkey similar to a domestic turkey, but wild and domestic geese are worlds apart, simply due to fat content.  Domestic geese have much more fat, thus can be cooked at higher temps and you'll have that extra fat leftover (which restaurants in Chicago use to make french fries and charge you $6 for the honor).  Wild geese are lean, so the name of the game is preserving moisture with low, slow cooking and bacon.  Lots of bacon.

I stuffed this goose, which I won't do next time.  I took a lot longer to cook (remember, I'm worried about cooking time since I don't want the bird to dry out) and the stuffing didn't really seem done, so I had to take it out of the bird anyway and put it in the oven in its own dish.  Plus, the stuffing turned a funny pinkish color from the juices of the goose, which is best classified as a beefy, red meat bird, not a white meat turkey. 

However, the bacon was a great suggestion (thanks Al) and in the end, it was not only edible, but I can say it was the first time I actually enjoyed eating goose. 

Ready for the goose challenge?  Here's a rough guideline from what we did (minus the stuffing). Just remember: low and slow, trying to preserve as much moisture as you can. 

Roast Wild Goose
Pluck a goose, leaving the skin intact.  Rinse thoroughly to clean.  Prep a roasting pan by filling the bottom of the pan with broth and/or water, about 3/4" deep.  Place rack over the liquid (the goose should not be touching the liquid).  Meanwhile, salt and pepper the goose, rubbing it into the skin.  Heat some butter/oil mixture or bacon grease in a large pan and sear the outside of the goose, rotating to sear each side.  This will a) crisp up the skin and b) lock in moisture.  Remove goose from searing pan, set on prepared roasting pan, and lay strips of bacon over the goose, covering the bird.  Roast in a 325 degree oven until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees (at least that's what we cook it to - I've seen recipes that say up to 185 degrees, which I think is way too high, but do as you see fit).  Remove from oven, let rest 5-10 minutes, then carve and serve.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Red Lobster Biscuits

Happy New Year!  How's that diet going for you thus far?  Yeah, I don't do diet resolutions either, other than my usual "Geez Beth, let's cut it down to three or four cookies a day" goal (still a work in progress). 

On New Years Eve, we had a happy house full with my brother-in-law's family staying over.  Kent and his brother decided they wanted crab legs.  So they went and purchased crab legs.  A lot of crab legs.  15 pounds of crab legs, actually.  Mind you, there were only four adults eating crab last night (the three kids enjoyed pasta with sausage while saying things like "That crab smells funny" and "When are we going to open presents?" since the evening served as a mini-Christmas between our two families).  So when I say we all woke up with a bit of a butter headache, well, eating your share of 15 pounds of crab will do that to you. 

No, we didn't finish it all.  There's some extra crab meat sitting in our fridge right now, primed for some excellent crab cakes later today. 

Crab is such an event, though.  It's exotic for us to have seafood of any kind.  And the flavor of crab is really accessible as far as seafood goes - sweet and mild, not fishy or slimy like some other creatures of the sea.  I have yet to master the crab leg shell crack, being able to crack it open and pull out the entire piece of crab intact, but you know what they say: practice makes perfect.  That means I need to be eating more crab in the very near future.  Twist my arm, ok. 

Red Lobster Biscuits
The great thing about making crab legs is that unlike turkey, no one is expecting many side dishes - the crab is the star.  However, your fingers are going to eventually need a break from all that cracking, which is prime biscuit time.  Be sure to time the baking so they are hot out of the oven right when the first round of crab comes out of the pot. 

2 cups Bisquick
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix Bisquick, milk and cheese until soft dough forms; beat vigorously for 30 seconds. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 min. or until golden brown. Mix butter, garlic powder and parsley; drizzle or brush over warm biscuits before removing from cookie sheet. Serve warm. Makes 10-12 biscuits.