From Food and Cooking

Mesquite-Smoked Cornish Game Hen

Following my successful foray into meat smoking with salmon, I decided to try some Cornish hen. Since the smoker I have doesn’t have anything near an accurate thermometer, I ordered the Maverick ET-73 Dual Probe remote model from Amazon, which made me feel a lot safer cooking poultry.

I brined the hens for a day in saltwater, cleaned them, and then rubbed them in dill. I tried to keep the smoker temp around 250 degrees, and it took the hens about 3 hours to come up to 160 degrees internally. Throughout I basted the birds with an apple barbeque sauce. For wood I used mesquite, because I haven’t gotten around to harvesting the nearest apple tree yet. Unfortunately, near the end with outside temps dropping and the charcoal starting to die, I wasn’t able to get the internal temp up to 165+, which is what I’d read was appropriate for Cornish hen. Sadly, I had to finish them in the oven for about 15 minutes to get them to the point where I felt they were ok to eat.

We ended up having the meat on sandwiches with olive oil mayo and onions. It was a bit dry because of the oven, but still pretty tasty.

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Chicken Soup with Mushrooms & Rice

Chicken Soup with Mushrooms & Rice

I recently discovered Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners, which make cleaning up after using our slow cooker 100% easier, so as a follow-up to the chili I made recently, I decided to make a few quarts of chicken soup. I started with a recipe from Epicurious for Chicken Rice Soup, and added a few extra ingredients. What I ended up with was something like this:

  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 large celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken
  • 2 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 1/3 cup packed fresh fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 quarts water
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh 8oz shiitake, portabella, and oyster mushroom mix from Hannaford

Preparation was not complicated. Everything except the cilantro gets chopped up and thrown in the slow cooker, then add enough water to cover the other ingredients. I put the slow cooker on high for 4 hours, and added the cilantro about 2 1/2 hours in. It’s worth noting the original recipe called for 3 teaspoons of salt, but I don’t see that being necessary. And if it’s not salty enough, people can always add their own.

Chicken Soup with Mushrooms & Rice

Beef Chili with Beans

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I made some chili in our Crock Pot this weekend that came out pretty tasty. Here’s the recipe I ended up using, a modified version of Beef Chili with Chipotle Chilies and Cilantro that adds beans and substitutes green chiles for the chipotles (I’m not a big fan of those):

  • 3 pounds lean ground beef
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 4 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 small can chopped green chiles
  • 3 1/2 cups (or more) water
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 14.5oz can of red beans
  • 1 14.5oz can of pinto beans
  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Additional chopped onion

Basically, you throw everything in the first list into the slow cooker and cook it on high for 4 hours. Top with additional onions, cheddar cheese, and/or sour cream as desired, and enjoy!

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Sausage, sage, and garlic fettucine

Last week I tried Epicurious’ recipe for Fettucine with Sausage, Sage, and Garlic. As a follow-up to the porcini mushroom pasta from the night before, it was a little bit dull, but it’s not a bad dish overall.

One thing I’ve never done before is de-skinning the sausage (removing the casing). I think this is something I’ll do now every time I make pasta with sausage, since it was a lot easier to cook evenly and eat than chunks of sausage with the skin still on them. A lot of the comments on the recipe at Epicurious mention that even the copious amount of garlic specified wasn’t enough to give the dish a seriously garlicky flavor, and I’d have to agree. As with the porcini sauce, the sharpness of the cheese is key to bringing out the flavor of the sausage and sage, so next time I’d use straight Parmesan instead of the rest of the blend left over from the night before.

I don’t think I’ll be trying this one again soon. It’s not bad, but there are plenty of other pasta recipes that I would want to try first.

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Vegetarian porcini mushroom fettucine

Last week, my wife mentioned that we haven’t tried any sort of pasta since I began my Epicurious.com-based cooking experiment. I added a couple of noodle recipes into the queue, and tonight made the Fettucine with Porcini Mushroom recipe.

It’s a nice and simple recipe with just a few ingredients, and it’s quite easy to prepare. I had a bit of trouble finding the shallots at my local Hannaford, but they were worth the hunt. They give the sauce a real ‘French onion soup’ kind of taste that makes salt unnecessary. The porcini mushrooms were definitely not cheap ($5.99 for a 1 oz package), but the flavor is excellent.

One thing about the recipe that was surprising is how important a nice, sharp Parmesan is to making the dish work. I used a shredded Italian cheese blend, but the mozzarella and other cheeses reduced the bite that it was clear the Parmesan was supposed to provide. It left the dish a little more bland than I would have liked, but with a good aged Parmesan, this would be absolutely delicious.

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A little old-school chicken and dumplings

For my latest dinner creation, I decided to try some traditional comfort food: chicken and dumplings. There’s really nothing as satisfying on a cold winter day (we’ve had several recently) as a bowl of hot chicken soup, filled with some nice chewy dumplings to thicken the mixture.

I picked the simplest of the many chicken and dumpling recipes on Epicurious. The neat thing about making this recipe is that I realized how quick it is to make–less than an hour from start to finish. Once I added the dumplings, the chicken-broth based stock thickened right up, and the end result was a stew-like consistency, and absolutely filling and delicious. Given that there’s 1 3/4 cups of heavy cream in the dumplings, this isn’t exactly health food, but it’s certainly simple and wholesome.

One note: when the recipe calls for a ‘wide pot’ it’s not kidding; the dumplings expand a lot during cooking, and they’ll get stuck together into a hideous mass if there’s not enough room for them to float around separate from their fellow dumplings.

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Z: The last letter in Manchester dining?

A couple of weekends ago, I was looking for a place to book for dinner in the Manchester, NH area. Since it was actually New Year’s Day, the selection of restaurants was somewhat limited, and I ended up booking a reservation at Z, a relatively new bistro on Elm Street. While Google has some decent reviews of the place, I really knew nothing about it, and I was quite pleasantly surprised at the overall high quality of the experience.

The menu at Z is a nice happy medium between overly simplistic and limited bistro menus and the ridiculously over-the-top tomes offered in Manchester’s stuffier high-end eateries. What’s really cool about the place is that some of the dishes that sound mediocre at best are actually surprisingly good. For example, we ordered some Asian Nachos for the table, curious about the taste but not overwhelmingly optimistic about how good they’d be. Despite our reservations, the nachos, which are billed as “crisp won tons, grilled chicken, jack cheese, sesame peanut sauce, wasabi sour cream, daikon sprouts,” actually worked as a tasty appetizer, not just as an item that was unique or intentionally different.

Since it was a holiday, the restaurant was out of Top Sirloin, which two of us had ordered. The server was glad to bring us the sides that were served with that dish, however, including the Yukon gold mashed potatoes, which were absolutely delicious. In fact, the food that was delivered to the table was so good that I’ll be planning a return trip, just to try the sirloin.

It’s worth a note about the ambiance: for a trendy and relatively swanky place, Z didn’t have overwhelming or annoying dance music blasting; instead, there was a jazz pianist playing live music throughout the evening, at a reasonable volume level. All in all, this is the kind of place that appeals to a wide demographic of diners, and everything from the lighting to the service was pleasant and made me want to go back. I feel lucky that the first couple of restaurants that I called for a reservation were closed, or I might never have found Z.

Sautéed Beef with White Wine and Rosemary

One of the neat features of epicurious.com is the ‘quick and easy’ section of the recipe list, which offers simple recipes that involve easy preparation and few ingredients. Today I tried the Sautéed Beef with White Wine and Rosemary recipe, which was certainly quick and easy to prepare. I served the beef over rice pilaf, and the recipe would’ve been great, except for the fact that, as written, it’s pretty incredibly salty. The next time I make this, I think I’ll use just a pinch of salt in both the dry rub and in the white wine sauce, rather than the much larger amount specified in the recipe. Between the garlic, the wine, and the rosemary, there’s plenty of flavor in this dish, so the excessive salt isn’t necessary.

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