Monday, February 24, 2014

Cranberry Custard Pie

The other day, I noticed that I had an extra frozen 9" pie shell in my freezer.   It was sitting on top of a giant bag of fresh-frozen cranberries.  At that moment, I was holding a 3lb pack of bacon to put in the freezer, and the freezer was full so... something had to go!  It was clearly time to make pie!

You Will Need:

  • A 9" deep dish pie shell (thawed on your counter-top for 15 minutes)
  • 1.5 Cups of fresh cranberries
  • Some Cardamom
  • Some Cinamon
  • An Egg
  • 1 Cup of Heavy Cream
  • 1.5 Tbsp Flour
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla
  • 2/3 Cup Sugar
This pie is tricky.  It's super easy to put together, but it will require some diligent attention while it's in the oven.  More on this, later...

First, pour your cranberries right into the pie shell.  Leave them on the counter somewhere to thaw, if you haven't thawed them out already.  The berries should thaw in an hour or so, and it's super important that they aren't cold or frozen before you bake them, so don't skip this step!

While the berries are thawing out in your pie shell, sprinkle them with a couple of generous spoonfuls of sugar, and then shake on a dusting of cinnamon and a dusting of cardamom.  Walk away and let the sugar start to work its magic on the berries.  You'll start to smell this magic in ten or 15 minutes.  While you wait, you can pre-heat your oven to 425, and use the Convection setting if you have one.

Toss an egg into a large bowl and beat it to death with a good whisk.  Beat it some more.  You want a nice bright yellow uniform egg to start your custard with.  Add the Vanilla and the sugar and beat, beat, beat until you have a nice, smooth consistency.  I probably could have used my KitchenAid mixer, but I wasn't in the mood to wash it, so... I grabbed the whisk.  Lightly sprinkle the flour on top and beat it some more.  The flour is here to help thicken the custard, don't forget it! 
Add the heavy cream, a dollup at a time, and mix it slowly with the egg batter.  Your goal is to dissolve all of the sugar and to come up with a smooth custard.  You'll know its ready when you scrape your whisk across the bottom of the bowl and you don't get any sugar residue sticking to the wires of your whisk.

When you're sure your berries have thawed out, pour your custard on top of them.  They'll float, and that's a good thing!  They'll bob right up to the top of the custard and float there, like it was a glorious cream-filled hot-tub or something.  This is exactly what you want! Put the pie onto a cookie sheet so you can move it around without slopping the custard over the edge.  Nobody likes that... Put the pie into your 425 degree oven, and  Close the door and immediately lower the heat to 350!  Set the timer for 45 minutes but don't leave your kitchen because now is when things get "tricky!"

Several things are going to happen to this pie during it's stint in the oven.  First of all, your custard will try, desperately, to set up and get firm.  Meanwhile, as your berries get hot, they'll "pop" and release their glorious cranberry juices into the custard, interfering with it's attempt to firm up.  It's like trying to work up some muscle at the gym, while some fool walks around selling girl-scout cookies... it's tough to reconcile!  In any event, it will eventually come together, you'll just have to watch it like a hawk.

After the 45 minutes are up, slide the rack out of the oven and give it a look.  If the cranberries haven't popped yet, slide it right back in and wait another ten minutes.  That's what they get for being lazy!  If they did pop, give the pie a quick jiggle and assess how "firm" the custard it.  It should jiggle a little in the middle but be fairly firm around the edges when you pull it out of the oven, and it should like the picture here to the right.  If it's still too loose, don't be afraid to put it right back in for another ten.  Show those berries who's the boss!  When it's finally firmly set, take it out and let it set and rest for at least an hour, or it will run when you cut into it.  Letting it rest in the refrigerator is even better.

This pie smelled terrific when it came out of the oven, I can't even tell you how good it was!  It's a mix of egg custard, cinnamon, cranberry, and notes of caramel and cardamon... Wow!  It is sweet and tart at the same time, and very smooth.  I highly recommend making two at a time whenever cranberries are on sale!

Sidenote: The original pictures for this recipe got destroyed.  My good friend Holly made this recipe and was kind enough to take/send new pictures (YAY, Holly)! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Simple Grilled Shrimp

Shrimp are so versatile and so easy to cook.  My favorite way to eat them is, of course, grilled!  Grilled shrimp carry a "bonus" with them in that they're even better the next day out of the refrigerator in an omelet or as a low-calorie pre-breakfast treat!

You will need:
  • A bunch of shrimp.  2-3lbs should do it.
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 large lime
  • 1 Tsp of yellow mustard
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine
  • A good handful of a dry rub that contains equal parts of salt, pepper, chili powder, and brown sugar

The first thing you'll need to do is to find some good shrimp.  For grilling, you'll need some big ones.  Shrimp are sized by a number that can be confusing, the number indicates how many of those particular shrimp it would take to make a pound.  The smaller the number, the larger the shrimp... so if you had some #4s, you'd have shrimp that were 1/4 pound each, and so on.  I like the 13s or bigger for grilling (also called "Colossal").  You can grill smaller ones, but it takes time and care to season, skewer, cook, and manage so many of the little buggars.  So, find some #10-13s and peel them so that all that remains are the tails (tails make great handles).

In a bowl, use a whisk to combine the oil and lime juice.  A touch of yellow mustard acts as an amazing catalyst to bring these two together into a lovely smooth vinaigrette.  Add the garlic.  Now, pour the mix over the shrimp in a larger bowl and mix to coat them.  Shake on your dry rub, and don't be shy!  I had just started shaking on the rub when I took this picture, you'll know you have "generous coverage" when you see it in your bowl...

Pour all of the rub-covered shrimps into a zip-top bag, remove as much of the air as you can, and stash them in the refrigerator while you get the grill going.  You can leave them in there overnight if you want, but no longer than 12 hours.  A minimum of 1 hour is great.

While your grill is pre-heating, you'll need to stash your adult beverage in a cool place.  Living in MN affords me a convenient snow-Koozy which I frequently take advantage of.

While your grill is pre-heating, you'll need to skewer your shrimp.  It pays to lube up your skewers first with a light coating of olive oil, just dab some into the palm of your hand and wipe the skewers through the oil.  This will make the removal of the shrimp a much easier task later! 

Shrimp cook extremely quickly, 5 minutes over a decent open flame (2-3 minutes per side) will render them done, tender, and very very tasty!  If you grill them longer than that, they'll shrink into little rubbery disks and nobody wants to eat those, even if they're trying to be polite about it.  So... what you want out of your grill is a nice hot open flame.  Lay the shrimp down and close the lid to build up some smoke.  Let the shrimp sit in the smoke for 90 seconds, then open the lid and watch them for another minute to make sure there are no flame ups.  Flip and repeat on the other side, and you're done!  Carry in the skewers and slide your shrimp-army into a presentable dish, garnish them with some chopped green onion, and serve immediately! 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Low Fat Frittata

With as much meat as I eat, I do need to watch my cholesterol.  For this reason, I'm usually having cold cereal or oatmeal for breakfast because most breakfast foods are not cholesterol friendly.  When I see things like Hollandaise Sauce or a nice Frittata on a brunch buffet, I have to walk the other way.  Any recipe that starts with "a dozen eggs" is a "no-no" for me.

Fortunately, Egg-Beaters makes an awesome egg substitute that makes an incredible omelet and as I recently discovered, an incredible Frittata as well!

You will need:
  • 1 Cup Egg Beaters
  • 1/2 Cup 2% or Whole Milk
  • 1/2 Yellow Onion (diced)
  • 2 Fresh Jalapeno Peppers(finely diced)
  • 4 Cloves Garlic (smashed and finely chopped)
  • 8oz of Leftover Ham or Chicken from the Smoker, coarsely chopped (because there's no such thing as "leftover bacon")
  • 1 Cup Grated Chedder Cheese
  • 4 Dollops of Riccotta Cheese (optional)
  • Loose Handful of Fresh Mushrooms (optional)
  • 10" Cast Iron Skillet (or oven safe pan)

Preheat the oven to 425.

Heat the skillet on the stove top (Med-Hi) and add a healthy blurb of Olive Oil.  Toss in your onions and jalapenos to saute until the onions are translucent.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Toss in the garlic, and then the meat.  Remember, your meat is already cooked and leftover from a different party, so it should already be seasoned.  While this mix heats up, combine your Egg-beaters and milk in a separate bowl and whisk it together.  When the saute is good and hot, pour on the egg mix.

Stir the egg mix in with the veggie saute and combine everything together, well.  Now, leave it alone!  Do not stir it anymore!  You want everything to settle down and form a nice uniform Frittata.  Be quick, because from the time you pour on the egg mix to the time you'll need to move the mix to the oven is only 2 or three minutes, tops.

Before the whole thing starts to set, now is the time to sprinkle on the cheese and mushrooms (if you have them).  Lightly press the cheese into the egg mix with a spatula to encourage it's integration into the dish.  If you have Ricotta cheese, add 4 generous dollops at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock.  When you see little bubbles form along the edges of the mix, you know the bottom is about to set, put the whole thing into the hot oven for about 15 minutes.

When you pull it out of the oven, give it a final dusting with a bit of fresh ground pepper, and let it set on the counter to rest for about 5 or 6 minutes.  Frittatas are served warm or at room temperature, so you won't need to worry about it getting "cold" if you're making a big brunch.  After it sets for a short while, you'll be able to slice it like a quiche or a pie.  The cast iron skillet doubles as a nice way to present the Fritatta!

Depending on how crazy you get with the cheese, this can be a cholesterol free offering for breakfast or Brunch!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bacon-Wrapped Cornish "Game-Day" Hens!

Quick Note, I apologize for my recent absence, I went to Hawaii for awhile because it's too damned cold to stay in MN for the entire Winter without a break!  I'm back now, and I'm ready to cook!

I'm excited about today's recipe because I've been thinking about it for a long time and I finally picked "Superbowl Sunday" to put it together.  I bring you, "Cornish Game Hens, Wrapped in a Lattice of Bacon," or, "Cornish Game-Day Hens!"

Come on, admit it.  You've walked past a bin of these cute little birds at the grocery store and you've thought, "Those look like fun, but I have no idea what to do with them."  I highly recommend that you get a few and keep them in your freezer for "emergencies."  They're cheap, they're delicious, they cook quickly, and they're impressive to present.  If you're dating a carnivore (and really, why wouldn't you be?), putting a plate together for your sweetheart that has an entire bird on it, cooked and ready for consumption, well; there's not a quicker way to win their heart.  Valentine's day is coming, so if you need to say, "I Love You" or "I'm kinda glad you're hanging around," or even if you have to say, "I'm sorry," this bird will go a long way toward making your feelings known.  So, get busy!

You Will Need:
  • Bacon.  Good, thick, lean bacon.  12 slices per hen.
  • Small "individual serving" cans of tomato juice or V8, empty (Drink up), 1 per hen
  • Olive Oil
  • Your favorite Dry Rub.  For this recipe, I like equal amounts of:
    • Homemade Chipotle Chili Powder
    • Brown Sugar
    • Kosher Salt
    • Black Pepper
    • Garlic Powder
  • Butcher's twine
  • 12oz of good beer (4oz for the recipe, and 8oz for personal use)
  • 2oz of Bourbon Whiskey (for personal use) 
First, you'll need to thaw the birds.  Just toss them in a sink of cold water for 4-6 hours.  They'll be ready and raring to go.  Cut them out of their packages, rinse them in cold water, dry them, then give them a quick rub-down with some good olive oil.  Set them aside.

Create a lattice of bacon.  The picture shows 7 slices going each way, but I have learned that 6 is more than adequate. Sprinkle on a generous helping of your dry rub.  Stand back and admire your work, it's not everyday that such a creative culinary concoction gets laid out in a kitchen!  Pour about a tablespoon of beer into one of the small cans, take a swig of your brewsky (out of the bottle) and give yourself a short nod of confidence... then grab one of the birds!

Place the bird, breast side up, on the edge of the lattice as shown.  Fortify yourself, and grab the edges of the lattice sheet, opposite the bird, and fold it over.  Tuck the edges in as best as you can.  Now, turn the small can so that the opening is "up" (you don't want to spill any beer) and slide it into the opening at the base of the bird.  Carefully, stand the bird up so that it sits on the can.  If you've ever made "Beer Can Chicken," this is exactly the same concept, on a smaller scale.

Once the bird is sitting upright, use your butcher's twine to cinch her up around the waist, and another strand to bring her bacon-skirt together around her knees.  You want a "Mermaid Fit" of the bacon dress around this little sweetie.  If you're confused about what a "Mermaid" style dress is, ask your spouse or ask someone to do a Google Image search on it.  Don't do it on your own computer, because you don't want to be caught with that frilly stuff in your browser cache!

Repeat this process for any and all of the other hens you may have purchased.  Stand them up on a stainless steel sheet, and tuck them into the corner of your grill.  If you're burning hardwood or charcoal for fuel (as you should), be sure the birds are sitting away from the fire.  If you have a propane grill, add another $20 to your savings account for a "Real Man's" grill and turn on the gas away from the birds.  Close the lid and make sure the temperature creeps up to about 375 degrees.  If you have other room on the grill, add some chicken wings or some Jalapeno Poppers.

Leave the birds on the heat at 375 for about 45 minutes.  Enjoy some Whiskey.  When the time is up, take their temperature at the breast with an instant-read thermometer.  You're looking for 160 degrees.  Be super careful here, because these hens will dry out QUICKLY, so don't let them get over 165.  160-165 degrees yields a perfectly done, tender, soft, super juicy bird!  170 degrees brings words like, "Dry" and/or "Hockey Puck" to your table and you don't want that.

When you pull the birds off of the grill, discard the cans (careful, they're hot) and use some shears to cut the twine, then cut the birds in half, straight up from the opening at the bottom, right through the breast bone.  Serve with a generous helping of the grilled bacon.  For me, this counts as a "finger food," but some people might want a fork.  The hen should pull apart quite easily and taste like a smaller, juicier, and more flavorful chicken.  Yum.  As always, if you enjoyed this recipe, please leave me a comment so I know I'm not alone out here!  :)