Archive for category Dinner

Roast Hen with Paprika, Apricot, and Mustard

It’s been a long time since I’ve roasted a Cornish Hen. There area few reasons for this: other meat, even boneless breast-and-rib meat, tends to be a bit cheaper by weight, pan-searing and smoking are quicker than roasting, and boneless meat is a lot more convenient for cutting up bite-sized and adding to a pasta dish or stir fry.

Mostly though, I got bored. When I roast Cornish Hens (or any other bird except duck) I do the same three things over and over again. Roasted plain with mustard powder and salt. Roasted with Guinness (okay, I’ll never get sick of this, but I buy beer maybe 6-7 times a year, so it’s not gonna happen often). Roasted with lemon, garlic, and honey. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but none of it really jumps out anymore and if there is anything I hate in the kitchen it’s feeling like I’m just making the same darn thing every week.

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Too much time in a mass-producing kitchen only makes this worse. You try to get excited about cooking Cajun spiced fish after baking 1066 of them.

But I like roast chicken. It was just time to do it a bit differently. Good thing I had a copy of A Bird in the Oven hanging around. It’s one of those cookbooks I’ve had for a couple of years but inexplicably only ever use to make side dishes. This time I went looked at the chicken itself, ooh-ing at a few recipes and bookmarking others for possible dinner party use. I finally picked a recipe: roast chicken with saffron, ginger, and golden raisins.

Then, as usual, I changed pretty much everything.

I regret nothing. This is amazing.

I regret nothing. This is amazing.

Ingredients (serves 2)

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1 Cornish Hen

2 T butter at room temperature

6 dried apricots

1 T whole mustard

1 t mustard powder

1/4 t white pepper

1/2 t smoked paprika

1 t kosher salt

3/4 cup white wine

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the spine out of the hen and cut through the breastbone, cutting it in half. Dry the hen well (better yet, dry cure it for a day or two in the fridge). Chop the apricots into about 1/4″ dice.

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Combine the butter, diced apricots, and whole mustard in a small dish.

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Squish together with a spoon until well combined.

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Add the paprika and stir again.

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Using your fingers and/or the back of a spoon, spread the butter mixture underneath the skin of your hen. This will feel gross. Persevere. Place the hens cut-side-down in a cast iron skillet or other oven safe dish and sprinkle the skins with the salt, mustard powder, and white pepper.

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Roast 15 minutes at 400°F. Pop the skillet on the stove, reduce the heat to 350°F, and pour the wine over the chicken.

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Return to the oven to roast another 25-30 minutes at 350°F. If you like crispy skin (and who doesn’t?) crank it up to broil for about two minutes at the end.

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Let it rest just a couple of minutes to soak up a bit more of that wine before serving. Serve with spinach couscous and a plate of olives.

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The apricot-mustard combination is definitely going to come out to play in future recipes. These are two of my favorite things but I never would have thought that combining them would work so well.

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Beet Pot Pie

I think I was overexposed to certain things as a child. Things like ponies and precious little heart-shaped objects and anything pink.

I hate pink. Pink is for little girls and Valentine’s Day cards and Pepto Bismol commercials. It is very rarely allowed to invade my home.

Obviously there’s an exception clause for food. Raspberry tarts and curds, salmon poached in red wine, and anything made with beets can’t help but be pink. If the flavor is assertive enough, I’ll forgive my dinner for looking a bit girlish and twee.

This definitely makes the cut.

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Beets and goat cheese really should never be separated. Puree the two together, bake them in a crust, and you’ve got a delightfully filling vegetarian meal. It is also the most brightly colored pot pie you’ve ever seen.

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The filling and crust can just as easily be made in a 9″ tart or pie tin. I enjoy the deep dish ramekins, but mostly because they provide an excuse to dig in with a spoon.

Ingredients

For the crust:

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1 1/4 cups flour

1 t salt

1/4 t white pepper

1/4 t nutmeg

8 T (1 stick) cold butter

3 T ice water

For the filling:

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3 medium beets

4 oz goat cheese

1 egg

1/4 cup cream

1/4 t white pepper

1/4 t nutmeg

salt, to taste

Directions

First, roast the beets. Rub them with a little olive oil, wrap tightly in foil, and bake at 400°F for an hour or so.

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While those are roasting, make the crust. Combine flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor.

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Pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter in chunks.

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Pulse in 1-2 second bursts until the dough is the consistency of damp sand. Add the water and run the machine until the dough comes together.

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Sprinkle the counter lightly with flour and turn out the dough onto it.

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Roll it about 1/8″ thick in a vague rectangle shape (or round if using a pie/tart pan). Butter two 10-oz ramekins (or 4 6-oz ones, or a pie tin).

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One could line things neatly. Or, if one is not talented at doing things neatly, just flop the dough into the prepared bakeware, call the draping parts rustic, and have done with it.

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Put the ramekins in the refrigerator while you make the filling. The food processor is useful again here, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wash it. Put the roasted beets in the bowl.

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whirr

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This is not pink. It is a delightful deep red.

Add the goat cheese and process until uniform in color.

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Now it’s pink. Lament.

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Add cream, egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

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Give it another whirl to combine.

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Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes.

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Serve with green beans sautéed with dried cranberries. Just trust me. It’s a weird combination but oh so good.

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This is just as good as a hot dinner or a cold meal the next day. The filling is very soft. If you feel it would be improved by a bit of crunch, throw a handful of chopped walnuts on top or fold them into the filling before baking.

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Broiled Tilapia with Cajun Boiled Potatoes

Cajun food scares me.

I don’t know the first thing about Cajun cooking. It seems to involve a lot of shellfish and pots large enough to boil small children in their depths. People argue about whether to call the creepy-crawly things crawfish or crayfish or crawdads or mudbugs. They pronounce “boil” as “berl.” They insist that the only possible way to “berl” anything is with Zatarain’s Crab Boil, and they do not want to hear that I won’t be putting a single crawbeastie into the mix.

paddles

These are for stirring giant murky cauldrons of crawdads, apparently, though I suspect they’d do in a pinch to paddle a small canoe.

 

You can’t boil tilapia. I mean, you can try, but I’m betting it’ll fall apart. So the fish here gets broiled or smoked, and the potatoes get boiled–er, berled.

This hardly qualifies as a recipe. It’s insanely easy. Thank goodness for that.

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Ingredients (serves 2)

For the fish:

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2 tilapia fillets

1/4 t white pepper

1/4 t steak seasoning (essentially black pepper and garlic)

1 1/2 T hot paprika

salt to taste

2 T smoker chips (if smoking)

For the potatoes:

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8 small red potatoes

1 1/2 quarts water

1/3 cup Zatarain’s Crab Boil seasoning

2 t salt

Directions

For the fish:

Mix the white pepper, steak seasoning, paprika, and salt together. Rub the tilapia generously with the spice mixture. If using a stovetop smoker (which I highly recommend), add the wood chips underneath the drip tray and smoke on medium-high for about 15 minutes. If broiling, heat the oven and broil about 5 minutes per side.

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For the potatoes:

Add salt and seasoning to the water and bring it to a boil. It will be terrifying and murky. Add the potatoes. Boil 15 minutes or until fork-tender.

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Add a side of steamed vegetables and voilà, dinner.

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A word of warning–hot paprika isn’t all that hot, but this fish uses a lot of it. If you’re not a fan of spice, sweet paprika will do nicely in its place.

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Asparagus Tart

I’m a big fan of savory tarts. The broccoli cheddar tart is a winter favorite around here, and quiches filled with spices and greens crop up quite often as well. If I have a few scraps of cheese and a couple of different vegetables in the fridge, there’s a good chance they’ll be thrown together in a tart without any real recipe or planning.

All these things are delicious. Cheese, flaky crust, eggy filling; who could say no? But they aren’t exactly healthy. And that’s a shame, because there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.

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So I tried for healthier. No more all-butter crust: I went with whole wheat flour, olive oil, ricotta cheese, and loads of vegetables. It could be leaner, with low-fat ricotta and broth or low fat milk instead of cream, but I didn’t go there. Honestly I’ve never bought a low-fat cheese in my life and don’t intend to. This recipe is easy to modify. Don’t like asparagus? Try greens, mushrooms, carrot coins, squash, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

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Ingredients (serves 6-8)

For the crust:

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1 cup whole-wheat flour

1/2 t salt

1/2 t white pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

3 T ice water

For the filling:

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1/2 cup ricotta cheese

4 oz goat cheese

1 egg

1/4 cup cream

1 lb asparagus

about 1/2 t salt

parmesan, to taste

Directions

For the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil.

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Stir with a spoon until the mixture is uniform.

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Add the water and knead until the dough forms a ball.

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Press the dough into a buttered tart pan or pie tin. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.

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Boil the asparagus for 3-5 minutes while the crust is baking.

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When the crust is done, spread a layer of ricotta across the bottom of it.

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Crumble the goat cheese over the ricotta. Mix the egg and cream in a small bowl.

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Pour the egg and cream over the cheese, and top with the asparagus. Sprinkle the tart with salt.

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Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes.

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Serve immediately.

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This crust is different, very crumbly and complex. I didn’t expect to like it; ordinarily I don’t even keep whole wheat flour in the apartment, because the texture annoys me. The simplicity of it with the olive oil, and the soft, rich filling offset that enough to make me go back for seconds on this one.

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Mustard Milanese

The Smitten Kitchen cookbook arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. Really good cookbooks present a problem for me, because once I get them I get so excited about everything that I can’t just choose a recipe and make it. Instead I declare that I want a four-course meal of everything in the book and then realize that even I can’t juggle that many burners at once. So I waffle about which recipe to make until 10PM and then it’s too late for proper dinner so we have plain pasta.

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The SK cookbook is a really good cookbook. I try not to make too much fried food, but any recipe with mustard in it is completely irresistible to me, so out came the frying pan and oil. Then a week later, we made it again. It’s that good.

Ingredients (serves 2, adapted from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook)

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1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 lb)

1/3 cup flour

3/4 cup bread crumbs

1 egg white

2 T mustard

salt and white pepper to taste

vegetable oil for frying

Directions

Place the chicken breast between two layers of saran wrap.

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Fold a kitchen towel over the chicken.

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Hulk out. No, really, just lay into it with a rolling pin or other blunt object that isn’t likely to break. You want smashed chicken breast no more than 1/4 inch thick.

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Pour some oil into a frying pan and set it over medium-high heat. Mix the mustard, egg white, salt, and pepper in a dish and ready dishes for the flour and bread crumbs as well.

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Dredge in flour, then mustard mixture, then bread crumbs. Fry about 3 minutes on the first side.

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Fry another 2-3 minutes on the second side.

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Serve with a salad with an extra-tart vinaigrette.

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A bit of lemon juice at the end does improve this, but isn’t necessary if you always seem to be out of lemons. It also goes well with roasted artichokes and couscous.

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Not Fish and Chips

On the rare occasion that I ordered fish in Dallas, it was always at a pub, and it was always fish and chips. Everything is delicious deep-fried and served with fried potatoes, and since I was eating fish at most once or twice a year there, it really didn’t feel like an overindulgence to have fish in its most unhealthy form when I did decide to be in a fish mood.

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I should probably add that being in the mood for fish only ever happened in pubs (particularly one pub) for a reason. I have a psychological block against eating seafood when I am nowhere near the sea. I know the fish is safe, that it’s transported frozen and often quickly but I just can’t do it.

After four or five shots of whiskey, I can happily store all thoughts of seafood safety elsewhere. And after four or five shots of whiskey, any pretensions to a healthy dinner plan have long since scurried off leaving only a choice between a reuben sandwich (delightful, except that it always comes with too much dressing, and no amount of explaining the proper dressing/sandwich ratio or wheedling to leave it on the side will sway the bartender one whit) and a plate of fish and chips with a mild, earthy curry sauce to dip them in.

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Here, I am not afraid to eat the fish. Even the fish that originated in the Honduras and therefore, one can safely assume, has undergone just as much transport and freezing and potential issues as any trout sold in Texas. Like I said, it was a psychological block, not a sensible one. So here, we eat fish, often tilapia, often Honduran, about twice a week. Fish and chips are lovely for tipsy bar nights (of which I have enjoyed none since the move) but rubbish for reasonable weeknights on days when I want to feel a net benefit from my cardio routine. But fish and potato remains a sound and worthy combination, and crisp textures will win in any kitchen, any time. What is a cook to do?

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Luckily, I have a cast iron skillet. It turns out that crispy baked potato and fish are just as tasty as fried ones. Probably tastier, in fact, because enjoying them in my own dining room obviates the need to breathe in all that not-so-lovely bar smoke while eating.

Ingredients (serves 2)

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1/2 lb white fish fillets

1 largish baking potato

1-2 T olive oil

1 lemon

2 cloves garlic

1/2 t lemongrass

1/2 t salt

white pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 400°F. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in an 11-inch cast-iron skillet (or other large, heavy metal pan).

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Cut the potato into about 1/8 inch slices. You could use a mandoline. I hated my mandoline, so I gave it to a friend back in Dallas. A sharp knife does the job nicely.

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Arrange the slices in concentric rings in the skillet. Look how pretty!

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Brush the tops of the potatoes with just a touch of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, white pepper, and lemongrass.

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Bake for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender but not yet crisp or brown. Place the fish on top of the potatoes and return the skillet to the 400-degree oven for another 10 minutes.

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Serve with steamed asparagus or something else lovely and green.

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I always intend to zest the lemon over the fish just before baking, but it never seems to happen. Nevertheless, this is a mild, lemony, healthy way to enjoy fish.

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Spinach and Potato Quiche

The quiche is a dish that I always struggle with. Not because they’re difficult to make, but because I always want it to be something new and different and interesting. I’m happy to throw together a plain cheese quiche if I want to play with a good strong cheese, but since I have a bad habit of just snarfing down good strong cheeses with apple cider and maybe a few crackers, this is rarely an option.

Adding Indian spices and a great big heap of spinach, on the other hand, is always an option. As usual, I tailor the tart crust to the filling, so the dough is made with garam masala. Chile powder would be a nice addition as well.

Ingredients

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 t salt

2 t garam masala

8 T (1 stick) cold butter

3 T ice water

 

For the filling:

1 large potato

2 cloves garlic

about 4 cups spinach leaves

3 eggs

3/4 cup milk

6 oz mozzarella cheese

1 T garam masala

2 t turmeric

1 t salt

1 T dried chiles (pequins, or chopped other peppers, optional)

Directions

For the crust:

Combine the flour, salt, and garam masala in the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse the dry ingredients briefly to combine. Add the butter in chunks.

Process the butter and flour mixture until it looks like damp sand. Add the water bit by bit and process just until the dough comes together in a ball.

Chill the dough for 30 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the dough and press it  into a buttered tart pan.

Bake, lined with foil and pie weights, for 15 minutes. Set aside.

For the filling:

Chop the potato into bite-sized pieces and boil them for 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat a heavy skillet (I love cast iron) over medium heat and cook the garlic until it is aromatic and toasty.

Add the spinach and spices and cook 5-7 minutes.

You’ll know it’s ready when it has cooked down thoroughly.

Add the potatoes and toss to coat with spices and add just a touch of crispiness to the edges. Set aside to cool.

In a separate bowl, combine eggs and milk.

Whisk to combine, and stir in the cheese and salt.

Add the potato and spinach, and peppers if using.

Stir to combine.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes.

Serve immediately.

I know it’s not traditional to any cuisine. It’s fun and delicious. Mr. B slathers his with Sriracha and has cold leftovers for breakfast. I can’t stand a cold quiche (or pizza or anything else meant to be served hot) but apparently this is just a guy thing that I have to get used to.

In any case, this was a fantastic experiment. I’ll be making it again soon.

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