Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psycho Stuffed Birds


"She's as harmless as one of those stuffed birds." - Norman Bates

This month's challenge for the Creative Cooking Crew involves making something inspired by Halloween, whether it's a creepy dish, one that's orange-and-black, or even something inspired by a horror movie. Being the film school graduate that I am, I couldn't resist creating a dish based on a horror film.

Selecting a film was the first challenge, but I quickly decided it needed to be something by Hitchcock, one of my absolute favorite directors. Although Hitch has a large database of suspenseful cinema, there is one horror film that is truly the pinnacle of his outstanding career. In his vast catalog, the most famous (or infamous) film is also the perfect selection for this challenge: PSYCHO.

I'm obsessed with Psycho. Cinematically, it was a game-changer. Movie-goers were not allowed into theaters after the film had begun. This was the first time in history that there was a rule like this in place that all movie theaters actually enforced! Psycho was shocking, even down to its smallest details. Did you know that Psycho was the first American film to ever show a toilet being flushed?

If you haven't seen the movie, I don't want to ruin it. I will say that you if you are a fan of cinema, then you owe it to yourself to see Psycho.

Now, how does my dish tie in with the movie, you ask? Well, you may note the Norman Bates has a hobby of taxidermy. He stuffs things, namely birds. His parlor behind his office is filled with these creepy stuffed birds, acting as voyeurs (much as Norman does) perched within his personal space.

Norman Bates sitting in his parlor

There are also portraits of birds in Marion's hotel room. The importance of birds in Hitchcock's filmmaking continues three years after the release of Psycho with another revolutionary film from the Master of Suspense: The Birds. You see, I just couldn't resist.

Stuffed birds were the obvious choice here. I not only stuffed them (deliciously, I might add) but I also created a somewhat red-hued gravy using a mixture of red wine and chicken broth. I splattered it all over my serving platter to mimic the effect of blood splatter, because you know, that happens in the movie too (SPOILER ALERT). PS Hitch used chocolate syrup, so his splatter wasn't technically blood red either.

Homemade corn muffins are broken into pieces to create the base for the stuffing. Along with sauteed onion, celery, and garlic, and a mixture of herbs, the stuffing is bound with a bit of chicken broth. Simple, but delectable. It's sweet and savory with a bit of crunch from the celery. I actually stuffed this stuffing into the birds, but in my ideal world, I prefer "stuffing" served as "dressing," meaning, I like baking it on the side and not in the birds. For the sake of this Norman Bates-inspired dish, I stuffed 'em!

Head over to Foodalogue on October 28th for a full round-up of recipes!

Psycho Stuffed Birds aka Stuffed Cornish Hens with Red Wine Gravy
Serves 2 to 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 red or yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed, halved lengthwise and chopped
1 tablespoons minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups cubed/crumbled cornbread (about 1-inch pieces), preferably stale or lightly toasted in an oven to dry out (I used 4 homemade standard size corn muffins)
1/4 cup chicken broth or stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 Cornish hens
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
1 to 2 sprigs thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Start by making the stuffing. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the onion, celery, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and the mixture is fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a mixing bowl add the chunks of dry cornbread, onion mixture, chicken broth, and herbs. Mix to combine and adjust seasoning as needed.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a roasting pan with foil and place a roasting rack inside. Remove giblets from the hens and wash and dry them thoroughly, inside and out. Trim any excess fat and remove any remaining pinfeathers.

Pack the cavities of the hens with the cornbread stuffing. Any leftover stuffing that doesn't fit the hens can be baked separately in a ramekin.

Truss the hens, making sure to tie the legs together to help keep the stuffing intact. Rub the hens with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165 degrees F. Remove hens from the oven and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes, loosely covered with foil, before carving.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Whisk until smooth, and cook for a couple minutes. Slowly add the wine and broth, whisking constantly to keep the mixture smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to keep it at a simmer, add the thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Allow the gravy to simmer for about 5 minutes until thick and fragrant. Remove the thyme sprigs from the gravy and serve alongside the hens.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bouchon Bakery Corn Muffins


I'm a big fan of the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Although many of its recipes are time consuming and challenging, some of my favorites are actually the muffin recipes--simple but delicious. So far I've made three of the muffin recipes, and I've made them multiple times!

Previously, I've created the pumpkin muffins and the banana muffins, but I recently needed some cornbread for a stuffing recipe (stay tuned this Thursday) and decided to throw together these easy-to-make corn muffins. Not only were the freshly baked muffins perfect for breakfast, but I used four of them (the standard size) for my stuffing.

These are incredibly moist--just like all the other Bouchon Bakery muffins I've made--due to the fact that the batter is made at least a day in advance to give the flour (and in this case cornmeal also) time to really absorb some of the liquid and soften before baking, yielding very tender-crumbed muffins.

These muffins aren't too sweet, making them perfect for either savory or sweet applications (heck, I used them for stuffing!). You could easily add a little jalapeno and grated cheddar to the mix to make them even more savory, but they really are perfect just as they are. I love having extra little bites of corn in there too.

Stay tuned for a fun recipe this Thursday utilizing some of these corn muffins (it's inspired by a scary movie, and just in time for Halloween). This is an excellent go-to recipe for any lover of corn muffins! The Bouchon Bakery cookbook never fails to impress me, from the seemingly simple but exceptional muffins to its more complex recipe offerings.

Bouchon Bakery Corn Muffins
Makes 6 jumbo muffins or 1 dozen standard muffins
(Adapted from Bouchon Bakery)

201 g (1 1/4 cups + 3 tablespons) all-purpose flour
51 g (1/3 cup) fine cornmeal
12 g (2 1/2 teaspoons) baking powder
135 g (1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
7.2 g (2 1/2 teaspoons) kosher salt
168 g (2/3 cup) whole milk (I used buttermilk)
90 g (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) eggs
90 g (1/4 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons) canola oil
72 g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) frozen corn kernals

Place the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk. Sift in the cornmeal and baking powder. Rub any lumps of cornmeal left in the strainer to break them up and add to the bowl. Add the sugar and salt and mix on the lowest setting for about 15 seconds to combine. Add the milk and eggs and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, until just combined. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the oil, then increase the speed to medium-low and mix for about 30 seconds to combine. (I actually did this entire mixing process by hand in a mixing bowl with a whisk and it worked just fine).

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled there. Fold in the corn. Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 36 hours.

To bake the muffins: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line either a standard muffin pan with 12 muffin papers or line a jumbo muffin pan with 6 jumbo muffin papers. Spray the papers with nonstick spray.

Spoon the batter evenly into the papers (I used an ice cream scoop), stopping 1/2 inch from the top (135 g each for jumbo muffins and about half that for standard muffins).

Place the pan in the oven, lower the temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake for 35 to 38 minutes for jumbo muffins or 24 to 26 minutes for standard muffins, until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

The muffins are best the day they are baked, but they can be wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap or stored in a single layer in a covered container at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 week.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cranberry-Apple-Cinnamon Scones


Last year, I shared a recipe for delicious, seasonal Pumpkin-Pecan Scones with Maple Glaze. Today, I'm sharing another scone recipe that's perfect for fall! These Cranberry-Apple-Cinnamon scones combine the essence of apple pie with the bright, tart flavor of fresh cranberries--two very prominent ingredients this time of year. And then the intense cinnamon glaze really takes these fragrant scones over the edge.

These scones freeze beautifully. In fact, that's what I did. I cut them, froze them, and then baked them straight from the freezer. By freezing these scones, it actually prevents the apple from oxidizing, which is why they should be either baked immediately or frozen and then baked. You can always just bake off a few at a time, and cut down the glaze recipe to make just as much as you need for a portion of the recipe.

Also, these scones are best the day they are baked, otherwise the fruit starts to soften the scones rapidly, and even the glaze will soften even after it's already set. They are still delicious, but the texture won't be the same. When fresh out of the oven, they are the epitome of fall, lightly spiced with fresh sweet apple and tart cranberry, all wrapped up in a deliciously tender breakfast treat.

Cranberry-Apple-Cinnamon Scones
Makes 12 to 16 (depending on size)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), cold and cut into cubes
3/4 cup peeled, chopped apple (1/4-inch pieces--about 1/2 an apple)
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup buttermilk, heavy cream, or milk
1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. Add cold butter cubes to the flour mixture and work the butter into the flour mixture, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse pea or dime-size crumbs. Be careful not to overwork the mixture or the butter will soften too much and the resulting scones will not be flaky. Add the apples, and cranberries and toss well. Mix together the buttermilk and beaten egg and then add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined, kneading lightly (but don't overwork it).

Divide the dough in half and pat each portion into a 3/4-to-1-inch think circle. Don't overwork the dough, as you want the butter inside to stay as cold as possible until the scones head into the oven.

Use a bench/dough scraper or knife to cut 6 or 8 wedges (like a pizza) from each round. Flip each cut scone over and place upside down on the parchment lined baking sheet (the bottoms are flatter and will look prettier as the tops of the scones), spacing a couple inches apart. At this point, the scones can be refrigerated or even frozen and baked later. Frozen scones can be baked from a frozen state; just add a little extra baking time, as needed.

Lightly brush on top of the scones (but not the sides) with a little buttermilk. Bake scones for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden on top. Remove from the oven and allow the scones to cool on the pan while you prepare the glaze.

Stir together the confectioners' sugar, cinnamon, and milk until smooth. If the glaze is too thin, add a sprinkle more confectioners' sugar. Too thick, add a drizzle of milk. When scones are cool, drizzle the glaze over the tops. Allow the glaze to set briefly and then serve the scones at room temperature. These scones are best the day they are made, otherwise the moisture in the fruit with begin to soften the scones and glaze.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hoisin Baby Back Ribs


These are some of my favorite ribs. I've made them for guests on many occasions over the years and they have always met rave reviews. And I have a secret for you. They aren't even grilled! They are super easy to make year-round because you actually prepare them in the oven.

Broiling the ribs first gives the ribs some great color and texture. Then placing the ribs on a rack over a small pool of water in a roasting pan actually allows them to stay super moist during the slow cooking process. By the end of a couple hours, your ribs are practically falling off the bone (and if you overcook them, they will LITERALLY fall off the bone).

The cooking method is great, but there is more to these easy-to-make ribs that makes them so popular. The marinade/sauce is Asian influenced; the original recipe derives from Alan Wong's Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii by way of a McCall's Magazine article many many years ago (May 2000 to be exact). I've been making these ribs since then, and I will continue to do so for many more to come.

I've adapted these ribs a bit from the original. The sauce is almost identical, but I've simplified the cooking method a bit. The sauce is truly what makes these ribs shine. It includes a pretty long list of ingredients, but many of them can be found in any avid cook's pantry. You could easily use this sauce on grilled ribs too, but the results from this technique are just perfect for me.

For many years I have hesitated to share this recipe. It may not be an original, but I've made it my own. I'm finally ready to part with the secret, and here is that coveted recipe... You're welcome!

Hoisin Baby Back Ribs
Makes 3 racks
Adapted from Alan Wong's Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii

1 cup ketchup
3/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry or white wine
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup white sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons curry powder
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 racks baby back pork ribs, halved

Whisk together all the ingredients except for the ribs, salt, and pepper.  Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the sauce (a bit less than half) and refrigerate until needed. Place ribs in a large Tupperware or food storage bag and add the remaining sauce.  Cover and refrigerate the ribs overnight to marinate.

Preheat broiler.  In a roasting pan, place a roasting rack large enough to fit it.  Wipe off excess marinade, season ribs with salt and pepper, and place the ribs bone-side up on the rack and broil for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.  Flip over the ribs so the meat-side is up and broil another 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove the roasting pan from the oven and fill about 1/4 inch of water, enough to almost reach the bottom of the rack.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 2 hours, or until the meat between the ribs is fork-tender.  Remove the pan from the oven, remove the foil and brush with 3/4 cup of the reserved sauce (alternatively, you can make the ribs up to this point in advance, remove them to a sheet pan, and then brush on the sauce and return to the oven to re-heat and finish them off when you're ready to serve).  Return to the oven uncovered and bake for another 15 minutes.  Heat the remaining 3/4 cup sauce to serve alongside the ribs. Cut racks into individual ribs using a serrated knife, transfer to a platter, and serve with the warmed sauce.

*Note* The original recipe uses the same amount of marinade/sauce for 2 racks of ribs, but I think it's plenty for 3. If you want, you can easily cut down the recipe to 2 racks and use the same amount of sauce. You'll just have a more generous amount of marinade.


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