Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009 Grilled Rum Butter Lime Shrimp and Sassy Sockeye Salmon

At GreenWood the Holiday Season begins with the Winter Solstice or Hanukkah and continues on past the New Year, but Christmas Eve is the fulcrum point of the season.  I usually cook a massive meal: appetizers and main courses accompanied by all manner of libations, and this year was no different.  We started with an appetizer of grilled shrimp marinated in a rum, butter, lime and pepper concoction, then moved on to baked sockeye salmon in a tangy sauce.  White jasmine rice and brussels sprouts complete the tableau, accented with various Christmas tunes and occasional fighting between overexcited children.

This meal involves a few stages of preperation but once it's all in motion everything comes together in under an hour; make sure you have your own libations handy, since you'll be doing a decent imitation of Squiddly-Diddly in just a few moments.  These portions will serve 4, with a hearty salad it will serve up to 6.

Mister C's Grilled Rum Butter Citrus Shrimp
2 pounds Large, Huge, Colossal or other Monster Shrimp, fresh
4oz Spiced Rum (I like good old Cap'n Morgan Silver)
4 Tbsp Melted Butter
1 Tbsp Cracked or Coarsely Ground Peppercorns
1 Tbsp Ground or Grated Ginger
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
Depending upon your preference you can leave the shells on the shrimp or peel and devein them, I left them in the shell this time because I'm lazy and it was Christmas Eve.  Mix the rum, butter, ginger and pepper and pour over the shrimp in a spill-proof container with a good lid (you'll be shaking it up to distribute the marinade), but don't add the lime juice just yet unless you want ceviche, and give a few good shakes to get the marinade on all the shrimp. I let the shrimp marinate in the mix for at least an hour at room temperature (hence the need for fresh shrimp), shaking or stirring every 15-20 minutes or so to make sure the concoction gets to all the shrimp. While the shrimp is marinating you can make the Sassy Sauce for the salmon:
Mister C's Sassy Sockeye Salmon
Filet of Sockeye Salmon (Wild-Caught, at least 3 lbs)
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Cup Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Chopped Scallions (mostly greens)
2 Tbsp Fresh Grated Ginger or Ginger Paste
2 Tbsp Fresh Chopped or Minced Garlic
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil (more if you like the sesame to be dominant)
4 Tbsp Honey
Place the salmon in an appropriately-sized baking dish then combine all the sauce ingredients in a medium mixing bowl or large (2+cup) measuring cup; I put the mix in the microwave for around 20 seconds to warm it up and make the honey a bit easier to blend. This makes about 12oz of sauce- I divide it by half, setting aside 6oz or so to add for the final stage.  Pour half of the sauce over the salmon, making sure to coat all of the fish, cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

While the salmon is marinating get your grill or broiler going, if grilling set the flame medium-high. I usually line the grill with foil for several reasons but mostly for ease of cleanup and to ensure more even cooking.  Time for the all-important cocktail to make the evening bright, you can be a big tot with your eyes all-aglow and find it easy to sleep tonight... go ahead and preheat your oven to 375F so you can segue from shrimp to salmon without a pause.  Now, some chefs with book-learning advise us to discard the shrimp marinade, but to me that's a waste of rum and butter so I keep it on hand to add to the grill while the shrimp is cooking- another reason I use foil when grilling the shimp! Place the shrimp on the grill, add the rest of the marinade and simmer/grill them about 2-3 minutes each side if they're peeled, add a minute if they're in the shell; it really doesn't take longer than 8 minutes in any case unless you wish to have very tough shrimp. The key is to grill them to medium at most so you can still taste the juices and marinade.  Take them off the grill and place into a bowl or covered dish to keep them warm while you're baking the salmon, drizzle the lime juice over them and give a stir. For an appetizer simply move them to a serving dish and introduce your dinner companions to your culinary creativity.

Pop the salmon in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 15-20 minutes- the aroma will drive you mad, and bring your dinner participants into the kitchen. Chase them away, for you are not finished.  When the salmon takes on that distinctive "flaky" look, add the remaining sauce to the fish and turn the oven to broil. Broil for no more than 5 minutes, to carmelize the honey and add that finishing touch to a grand and elegant piece of fish.  Take the salmon from the oven, capture the sauce for the rice and drizzling.  You are done but for the compliments.  I served this with jasmine rice, brussels sprouts and a good red wine. For dessert we enjoyed Ashley's Hot Buttered Rum, while the children had hot chocolate. Preare this for your next festive occasion and let your admirers know you got it from Cookin' With Mister C-

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Personal Chickens With Citrus Apricot Ginger Glaze - Baked Stuffed Cornish Hens

 Baked Stuffed Cornish Hens With Citrus Apricot Glaze - "Personal Chickens"

Before I get to the recipe for the birds, I'm going to stage the scene with a bit of reminiscence- 

As a professional musician and artist I've had the great fortune to meet and become friends with some of the most excellent people of our time.  Many are writers or authors or media personalities, others are captains of industry, some come from very privileged backgrounds which have allowed them to pursue artistic paths, others travel frequently to Cons or other conferences.  For reasons I still don't understand it seems the Universe (Jesus? Ganesha? Quanyin? Anyone? Anyone?) desires my path to cross theirs in what is usually a serendipitous manner, late in the evenings; I've learned to read the signs and pay attention.  Some of these fine folk have become very good friends over the years, and we share all the trappings that good friends bring.  My friend M is one of those life-sharing friends who I was foreordained to meet in just that fashion: Ashley used to babysit her children when she was a teenager, in the DC area- nearly twenty years before we met and married. M is a world traveler, a research biologist with the Smithsonian, and also happens to be a top-level travel agent with a thirst for Science Fiction and Celtic Music.  She was our liason for two of the three tours of Ireland the band led, but she was never a tour leader except when she absolutely needed to be so. She just wanted to hang out with a bunch of like-minded cool folks and had the ability and talent to make it happen.  I've traveled with her, on boats and planes six thousand miles from home, drank whisky in centuries-old pubs... she's a Good Friend. Added to all this is a lifelong friendship between M and Ashley, which predates my presence in either of their lives by two decades- the kindly mocking voice of Gandalf whispers in my ear "A chance meeting... if chance it was..." She's also a bit of an Erma Bombeck-type, the quintessential Mom and has a full complement of domestic anecdotes. I posted another Cornish Hen dish on Facebook, to which M replied when her son was younger he called them "personal chickens" because everyone got their own hen. I loved it, and told her I'd try to make a signature dish and work "Personal Chickens" into the name of the dish. Her son's name begins with a "C", this one's for you-

Mister C's Personal Chickens With Citrus Apricot Ginger Glaze
Prep Time: 30 Minutes  Total Time: 2 Hours    Serves: 4
We like to brine the birds to make sure they don't dry out when browned in the oven.  Use enough water to cover them completely, add at least a half cup of salt and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the water and stir it to mix then add the birds to soak for at least 2 hours.  Safety dictates you refrigerate while brining, however I rarely have that much space in my refrigerator... do as you will, I say.  You will need:

4 Fresh or thawed and rinsed Cornish Game Hens (at least 24oz each) 
Citrus Apricot Ginger Glaze
4oz Apricot Preserves (or 4oz Dried Apricots with 2oz water and 2oz warm honey to soak until soft) 
2oz Fresh Pineapple, Orange or Grapefruit
4 Tbsp Fresh Ginger or Ginger Paste (dry ginger is less potent if you want to tone it down)
1 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes (more or less to taste)
1 Tsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Blend all ingredients until smooth, then set aside for glazing the birds

 Fruit Nut Stuffing

Bread Stuffing with Fruit and Nuts
4 Cups Stale Bread, cut into small cubes (whole grain or multigrain is good because it's very firm)
1 Cup Chopped Celery
1 Cup Chopped Onion
2 Tbsp Butter (just enough to moisten the bread)
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Almonds or Pistachios
1/4 Cup Dried Apricots, finely chopped
1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries, finely chopped
2 Tbsp Olive Oil and Butter, combined equal parts (1 Tbsp each, warmed and mixed)
Before you start preparing the stuffing, preheat the oven to 350F.
In a large sautee pan or cast iron skillet heat the olive oil/butter mixture and add the onions and celery, sauteeing until just soft then remove it to a bowl. In the skillet add the remaining butter and bread chunks, moving the bread until it is moistened then stir until the bread is very slightly browned. Then add the onions, celery, nuts and fruit to the bread and stir on medium-low heat until it's thoroughly mixed, steamy and soft. Remove the stuffing from the heat and cover it to keep it moist.
Remove the birds from the brine mixture, discard the brine and fill the cavities with the stuffing- it's OK if it overflows a bit. Place the stuffed birds neck-to-neck in the baking dish: I've found that it assists in cooking the thicker ends of the birds if they're arranged that way.  Glaze the birds generously and place on the center rack of the oven for 30 minutes. If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know what to do next; for you newcomers, this is the part of Cookin' With Mister C where the refreshing cocktail or glass of wine becomes necessary.  After all, you've just whipped up the beginnings of a culinary whirlwind and now you have to recharge... you're not done yet, and from here you're going to be moving pretty fast.  After 30 minutes pull those birdies out and add another layer of glaze, making sure to touch up those spots where they touch the sides of the dish and each other. If you're using a baking dish you may wish to pull the juices out of the dish for gravy or other purposes, because the brining makes for a very moist bird. Put the birds back in the oven, glazing at 15-minute intervals over the next 45 minutes. Make sure to turn the pan as often as needed to assure they all brown evenly and pull the juices with a baster bulb when the dish starts to fill up.
After a total of 75 minutes or so the birds should be glazed golden and beginning to crisp on the wingtips.  Remove the birds fromn the oven and all them to rest for the next 10 minutes or so while you pull together your sides; this time I served a Caesar Salad and Sauteed White Button Mushrooms. Place a Personal Chicken on each plate and your family and guests will know you did all this Just For Them.
Enjoy, and if you like this recipe and Cookin' With Mister C, please send your friends and dearest enemies to Life at GreenWood!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Slow Cooker Garam Masala Pork

Garam Masala Pork - Embrace the Crockpot!
With Thanksgiving behind us we look now to anything not made with turkey, and here at GreenWood that's usually pork in some form.  As it's the Holiday Season with its attendant errands and general lack of time, I start preparing dinner sometime before breakfast so I can get on with jewelry work as the shop warms later in the day. A warm shop makes a difference in how I work the metals and cut the stones with which I make the pieces, most notably my hands work better when it's 70F or above.

We visit two or three households for Thanksgiving and of course we bring bulky veggies with us- so we always have surplus sweet potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables with not much space to store them. Over the weekend my local Kroger was running a special on pork butts so I picked up a couple with a plan for slow-cook masala, single-pot style with all the veggies and a simmering coconut broth.  Remember my last post, about the glories of the crockpot? It's my stove-on-the-counter when I need to make dinner by the dawn's early light, and today it's my buddy for sure. This recipe is easy to make for the half-awake, except for the part with the kitchen knife.... Assuming you make it through the vegetable-chopping relatively unscathed, it's a fifteen-minute setup and then you can go about your day.  If you use the quantity of vegetables called for in the recipe it will make a huge amount of broth, so spice it accordingly.  This is not a low-fat dish, so don't go back for seconds; it's actually better a day or three later because the broth infuses the vegetables and makes for a masala conversion experience at your cubicle or desk during lunchtime.  Here goes:

Mister C's Slow Cooker Garam Masala Pork

You'll need:
Boston Butt Pork Roast 3-5lb, bone-in
2 Large Sweet Potatoes, cut into 2" pieces
4 Carrots, chopped coarsely (about 1" or so)
4 Medium White or Red Potatoes, cut into 2" pieces
4 Celery Stalks, cut into big pieces
3 Scallions, chopped or sliced
4 Tbsp Garam Masala powder
8oz Coconut Milk
2 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Cracked Peppercorns

Put the all the vegetables into the crockpot, mix them up a bit, turn the crockpot on the 8 or 10-hour setting and let them sit in there without spices for a few ticks.  Meanwhile, take the Garam Masala and coconut milk and mix them together very well until it looks like spicy mustard.  Those specks in the mixture are little masala flavor bombs, and they do a bit of magic of their own while the roast is cooking. Take about two-thirds of the coconut masala mix and pour it onto the vegetables in the crockpot, then mix it in until they're completely coated. Then arrange the veggies artfully- make a "nest" for the roast to sit in- lay in the roast and smother it with the rest of the masala mixture. Sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper and you are done until time to serve it up.  I'll usually serve this with jasmine rice on the side to soak up the masala broth, or you can serve it with naan bread.  A hearty beer or red wine will complement this dish nicely, as will hot or iced tea.