Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ginger Beer Can Chicken

Roasting a chicken is likely to be the last thing on anyone’s mind while we’re still trying to figure out what to do with all that leftover turkey, so my timing for this post could probably have been better.

Still, this is not about just any roasted chicken recipe. Beer can chicken is one of those culinary staples that most people who cook either have made or eventually will get around to making. Many recipes for beer can chicken are for the grille, some (including mine) are for the oven, but most are similar; you can probably tell from the photo that there just aren’t that many different ways to put a beer can up the back end of a chicken. (I did feel a little intrusive taking this photo, and kept thinking the chicken should really be holding a newspaper.)

Still, wanting to do something different with this fun and interesting cooking method, I made “Ginger Beer Can Chicken.”  Not ginger beer can chicken, mind you, but ginger beer can chicken. It uses the classic beer can chicken approach of baking a chicken with spice rub on its outside and a beverage can in its body cavity to provide a moist, flavorful inside, but replaces the beer with ginger beer and uses a spice rub combination that’s compatible with that.

Ginger beer, for anyone not familiar with it, is a soft drink that’s something like ginger ale but with a much stronger bite and more complex taste and color. (The original ginger beer was an alcoholic beverage, and if you look hard you can still find that, but the soft drink kind is by far the most common now.) Not every store carries it, but finding one that does is worth the effort. I found mine through an on-line search that indicated it’s available in my area at many 24-hour bodega type stores and at Trader Joe’s.

Some general notes before beginning:
  • I admit “ginger beer can chicken” is something of a misnomer, since ginger beer normally comes in a bottle. There are several reasons why I think putting the bottle inside the chicken would not be a good idea, so we’ll be pouring our ginger beer into an empty soda or beer can.
  • It’s possible to purchase a beer can chicken rack to hold both the can and the chicken in place during cooking. This is probably a good idea if you’re cooking it on a grille but, as you can see from the top photo, it’s not necessary for an oven recipe.
  • Be sure to handle the chicken using all the usual safe hygiene practices.
This is an easy and fun method for cooking a delicious, moist chicken. And it may even start some very entertaining dinner table conversations among your family or guests.

Begin by preheating  your oven to 400 degrees. (Be sure the oven rack is low enough to allow the chicken to stand on end while baking.) While the oven is preheating, rinse a four to five pound chicken, inside and out, with cold water, and dry using paper towels.

Prepare a spice rub by combining the following:  2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon dried sage, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, and 1 teaspoon dried parsley. Rub half of the spice rub under the skin onto the chicken breast meat, then rub the other half inside the chicken’s body cavity. Once that’s done, coat the skin of the chicken with olive oil.

Put 8 ounces of ginger beer into an empty 12 ounce soda can. Cover the outside of the soda can with foil and punch two or three extra holes in the top using a can opener. Insert the can into the cavity (as shown in the top photo) and place the chicken, standing up, in a pie pan (serving as a drip pan) on a baking sheet, using the drumsticks to support the chicken.

Bake the chicken for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 and bake until the internal temperature in the thigh meat is at least 180 degrees (about 90 minutes), basting every 20 minutes or so. After that, remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for about ten minutes.

After the chicken has rested, carefully extract and discard the soda can. While the logistics of removing a hot can from inside a hot, oiled chicken without tearing the chicken and/or spilling the can’s contents into the chicken are often the most challenging part of making any form of beer can chicken, I found a way to make it easy. All that’s required is to punch a small hole in the bottom of the soda can and let the contents drain out. Once the hot liquid is drained, the can becomes much easier to remove using tongs.

You can serve the chicken with cranberry sauce (as in the photo, a recipe I’m putting the finishing touches on and hope to post in the near future), with the pan juices after the fat has been removed using a gravy separator, with a gravy made from thickening the pan juices, or with any other topping you like with chicken.

Want a notebook-ready, cookbook-style copy of this recipe? No problem! Just let me know in a comment or an e-mail and I'll get it right out to you.

I hope to see you again next week. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Herbed Honey Cornbread with Cranberries

In some ways, fall and winter can be a tough time in the kitchen. Oranges are bad, peaches are non-existent, and anyone trying to sell those horrid cold-weather tomatoes should be stoned with them. Apples are plentiful in fall and winter but, let’s face it, folks, they’re plentiful in spring and summer too.  On the very bright side, fall and winter bring us two of the world’s most perfect foods: mallomars, and cranberries. And since mallomars aren't a very good recipe ingredient, we’re left to ponder, play with, and otherwise thoroughly enjoy the cranberry. I’ve found them to be a wonderful addition to a number of recipes, such as the one I'm happy to share today: Herbed Honey Cornbread with Cranberries.

In working with cranberries, I’m going to beg you to forget those dried, sweetened cranberries in favor of the fresh kind. While the dried ones have some good uses, including as an interesting alternative to raisins, they’re usually sweetened – which takes away the tasty tart quality that's a big part of the reason we use cranberries in the first place – and lose almost all of the nutrition that the fresh ones are famous for. If you like statistics, here's an interesting comparison of fresh vs. dried. To keep it fair, both columns are based on products sold by Ocean Spray. (The nutrition figures for dried are adjusted for the same serving size as the fresh.)

                                   Fresh               Dried
Serving Size                 55 g                 55 g
Calories                       30                    180
Total fat                       0                      0.7 g
Sodium                         0                      1.3 mg
Total carbohydrates     6 g                   49 g
Dietary Fiber                2 g                   4.8 g
Sugar                            2 g                   38 g
Protein                         0 g                   0.1 g
Vitamin C                    20%                 0 %
Iron                              2%                  0 %

Except for the higher level of fiber (which is to be expected since 55 g of dried cranberries has less water than 55 g of fresh), those fresh ones sure do seem to be a lot better for a body. I freeze six bags of the fresh ones at the start of the fall, and replace each bag as I use it up so that I’ll start the cranberry-less spring with six full bags.

Ok, enough with the statistics already. Back to the joys of a fresh, warm, well-made cornbread, one of life’s great pleasures. It’s a perfect accompaniment to turkey or any other poultry, Sunday morning breakfast, and any other time you just feel like enjoying a taste and texture that’s more comforting than anything this easy to make should ever be.  The honey, cranberries and sage combine to give the cornbread a real boost I think you’ll enjoy.

While preheating your oven to 400 degrees, combine your dry ingredients in a large bowl: 1 cup of yellow corn meal; 1 cup AP flour, sifted; 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon of dried sage.

In a separate bowl, combine your wet ingredients: 1/2 cup honey (heat the bottle in the microwave for a few seconds and it will pour more easily); ¼ cup canola oil (or other flavor-neutral oil); ¾ cup skim milk; and 2 egg-substitute eggs.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well until a batter forms, then add ½ cup of cranberries dusted with flour or, if you prefer, confectioner’s sugar. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8” x 8” x 2” baking pan and bake until the top is golden and a toothpick or skewer inserted halfway between the middle and the edge comes out clean (about 30 minutes).

Fresh, hot cornbread doesn’t get much easier than that!

If you’d like a cookbook-style version of this recipe, ready for insertion into your recipe notebook, just let me know in a comment or e-mail and I’ll get it right to you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And till next week, stay well, keep it about the food and always remember – especially this Thursday – to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shrimp Stuffing

Why Shrimp Stuffing?

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we’re reminded that stuffing is one of those rare foods that just about everyone likes in some form or other. And while that’s a good thing, there’s still a problem.

As much as we’ve all come to love stuffing as a side dish, we’ve traditionally limited its use to turkey, chicken, and other poultry dishes. If we’re feeling adventurous, we might serve it with pork. And all the while, the large, wonderful world of fish dishes is left asking why they’ve been forgotten in all of this, and wondering if they, too, will ever get to be included with this great, classic side dish.

They need wonder no more. Step aside, Chicken and Turkey. Take a rest, Pork. A new guest is about to be introduced at the Stuffing-as-a-Side-Dish Ball, and her name is Fish.

And why not? Just as we serve potatoes or rice with both fish and poultry, all a fish-friendly stuffing would require is a combination of flavors specifically designed to complement fish.  Here’s one I feel confident you’ll enjoy.

A couple of side notes:
  • This recipe attempts to strike a middle-ground in the age-old argument over whether stuffing should be dry or moist. You can vary the moisture either way by adjusting the amount of fish stock. 
  • In the photo above the stuffing is shown served as a side dish with Pollock poached in fish stock and green beans cooked in, well, I don’t know what they’re cooked in. My wife made them, along with the Pollock. My contributions to the plate pictured were the stuffing, the fish stock, and folding the paper napkin.
To make about 8 servings of stuffing:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Melt 6 tablespoons of butter substitute in a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup of chopped onions, 1 cup of chopped celery, and a spice mix consisting of 1 teaspoon of chopped oregano, 1 teaspoon of ground celery seed, 1 teaspoon of chopped thyme, ¼  teaspoon of  dried sage, 1 teaspoon of chopped marjoram, and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest . Add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for 5 minutes.

Add 1-1/2 cups of fish stock, ¼ cup dry white wine, and the juice of one lemon, and bring to a simmer.

In a large bowl, combine 1 egg-substitute egg and 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley. Add 14 slices of stale potato bread (about 8 cups) torn into bite size pieces, ¾ cup of chopped raw shrimp, and the vegetable-stock mixture. Toss to combine.

Transfer the mixture to a buttered baking dish and dot with more butter substitute. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes more.
So the next time you serve fish, surprise everyone by having this special stuffing on the side. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your family or guests.

If you want to make shrimp stuffing and would like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this or any other Kissing The Cook recipe, just let me know in a comment or an e-mail and it will be sent post haste!

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Big Fun on the (Jersey) Bayou

While “jambalaya” can refer to a Hank Williams song, or to a famous racehorse, today’s recipe offering has nothing to do with either country music or, thankfully, horse flesh. Instead, it's my version of the classic Louisiana dish whose origins date back to the 1700's. (This is according to the web site of the annual Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales, Louisiana.) If you haven’t yet been fortunate enough to become familiar with jambalaya, it’s a delicious mixture of meats (usually a fish and either poultry or red meat), combined with vegetables and heavily seasoned rice. Depending on what part of Louisiana the version you’re eating originated in, it may or may not include tomatoes.

The Catfish and Sausage Jambalaya recipe below varies from the most stringently traditional jambalayas in a number of ways. (I suppose this is to be expected when a Jersey guy cooks a dish so dear to southern hearts.) First, for the meats this version uses sausage, which is a little unusual but not unheard of, and catfish (rather than shrimp or oysters) which, as far as I know, is completely unheard of but that is easy to use and I feel works well. (If you can't get catfish, swai is an excellent substitute.) Next, the four parts – catfish, sausage, vegetables, and rice mixture – are cooked separately and combined at the end. (This is common among northerners making jambalaya, but, admittedly, is something no self-respecting Louisiana native would ever do.) Finally – and perhaps predictably to anyone who follows Kissing the Cook - the famed trinity of celery, onions and peppers is joined by mushrooms. (Feel free to leave the mushrooms out if you don't like them.)

One final note before we start: as with other recipes, my personal preference is to use a grille pan to cook the fish, sausage and vegetables, but any cooking method you’re comfortable with will do just as well.

To make 4 meal-size servings, begin by preparing the rice mixture as follows:

Into a medium saucepan, put 1 cup of uncooked brown rice; 1-1/2 teaspoons of butter substitute; 2 cups of low fat, low sodium chicken broth; a 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes; 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1 bay leaf; ½ teaspoon of dried oregano; ½ teaspoon of chopped thyme; 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt; ½ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper; and a pinch of cayenne pepper for mild spiciness. (Use ¼ teaspoon of cayenne for a more spicy taste.) Bring just to a boil, then simmer over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is fluffy. When the rice is done, add 1/2 tablespoon of dried parsley.

Most of the cooking of the meats and vegetables can be done while the rice is cooking.

Begin heating a grill pan, brush 1 to 1-1/4 pounds of catfish fillets on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine 1 cup of chopped onion, 1 chopped green bell pepper, 1 chopped red bell pepper, 2 chopped stalks of celery, 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms, and 2 chopped garlic cloves. Toss the vegetable mix with just enough oil to coat lightly.

Grill the fillets (about 4 minutes per side), and then ¾ pound of turkey-sausage meat (removed from the skin and divided into bite-size chunks). Finally, grill the vegetables until they're done and tender but still just a bit crisp.

Cut the catfish into bite-size pieces. Then combine the catfish and sausage with the vegetables and finished rice, and serve.

All you need now is a pick guitar and a filled fruit jar, and you're all set!

Want a notebook-ready, cookbook-style version of this recipe? Let me know in a comment or a note and I'll get it right out to you.

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)