Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

DSCN4633Besides being a full time college administrator and a part-time blogger, I also help teach writing intensive classes in English Literature at Harvard, and this semester we are studying Darwin’s theory of evolution (in terms of the impact On the Origin of Species had on the 19th century novel).  Perhaps that fact, along with a small plate of sprouts I enjoyed at Michael Schlow’s new joint, The Sinclair, the other night, inspired this chicken/egg creation: a partially de-boned Cornish game hen served with roasted Brussels sprouts and tiny wee potatoes, topped with fried onions, bacon hollandaise sauce, and a poached egg.  This was NOT an easy dinner to prepare!  De-boning the hens still takes me a while, making hollandaise sauce while poaching eggs requires a Doctor Octopus-like physiology, and there were a lot of little component parts that had to be executed all at the same time in order to serve everything hot together.  But, dear reader, was it worth it!  My tender, juicy hen covered in the runny golden goodness of cousin yolks paired with the earthy herbaceousness of caramelized baby cabbages, white potatoes, and flash fried onions was the perfect offering for a chilly, windy, and wet late winter’s dinner.

DSCN4619

Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

2 game hens, breast and back bones removed
2 small whole sweet onions, peeled, trimmed, and boiled in water until tender
20-3o Brussels sprouts
10-20 tiny white potatoes
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
EVOO
flour, sea salt, cracked black pepper, white wine vinegar

DSCN4622I’ve presented de-boned game hens once before on this blog (check it out here), when I went into great detail about how to remove the back bones and breast bones of these little beasties – but today I didn’t have the time to take all the pictures.  There are some good tutorials on YouTube, too – which I refer to each time I go through this procedure.  I’m still not as efficient as it as I’d like (read: it takes me a long time, and I cuss like a sailor throughout the whole process), but the results have been wonderful each time.  By removing these portions of the skeleton, you are making these otherwise difficult to eat birdies a breeze!  The only bones left are in the legs and wings, but one can carve right through the body of the bird with a delicate knife to gather up rich, whole mouthfuls of succulent, juicy chicken.  However, once those bones are removed, you are left with a rather deflated critter, so I like to give it back some shape by stuffing something yummy and roundish back into the chest cavity.  In this case I did so with tiny sweet boiled onions, which I’d peeled and trimmed (leaving them whole by keeping just the butt of the bulb intact) and cooked until easily pierced with a fork.  Then I trussed up the birds with some twine so they’d maintain their shape.  After rubbing them down with salt and pepper, I set them aside until I was ready for them.

DSCN4624I neglected to add these important components of the meal to my set-up shot, so here’s a little something for you now.  I only need about a 1/2 cup of diced onion, and I fry the slices of bacon until crispy.  Oh, and when I said tiny potatoes, I meant TINY — these bad boys are about the circumference of my thumb, and no more than a knuckle long.  And I’ve got baby hands, people.

DSCN4625These I partially peel…

DSCN4623… and the sprouts I trim and halve, keeping the really small ones whole.

DSCN4628I’m able to spread both veggies out on the same baking sheet – which is good since they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook.  They’ve all been doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and the sprouts I lay cut-side down.

DSCN4629The trick to a meal this complex is having everything ready to go at the same time.  On my back right burner, I’ve got a water bath set up to double-boil my hollandaise sauce, which starts with a stick of butter melting in the small bowl resting on my tongs. On the right I have a large pot with several inches of water set to a simmer to poach my eggs.  The front burner has my largest fry-pan, a couple glugs of EVOO, and some more butter which I heated to a foaming mass before gently placing my birds within.  I meant to put them both breast side up at first, but their floppy, skeleton-less anatomy confused me, so one’s face up and the other is face down.  No harm done.

DSCN4630“The lost art of the arroser.”  I had the pleasure of discovering this term in print just when I needed to find it – since I engaged in said art when preparing tonight’s dinner.  This refers to the technique of spooning hot fat oven the up-side of a protein searing in a pan, so it can gently cook on both sides at the same time.  I’ve seen this on Iron Chef and other cooking shows, and I’ve mimicked it to great effect in the past, but I’ve never known what it was called.  Thanks, New York Times.  Anyway, given that it takes two hands – one to tilt the pan, the other to spoon the butteroil – I couldn’t take a good shot of me in action, but suffice to say that as my birds sizzled, I basted them continually with hot golden deliciousness for about 5 minutes of sear time before flipping them.

DSCN4631Damn they look good.  I do the same technique for the flip side of each bird before I get them both settled, breast side down (so they’re resting on their “elbows”, so to speak).  This is crunch time: it will take 25 minutes for the sprouts, potatoes, and chickens to roast off in a 350° oven.  The pan with the veggies goes on the bottom rack – which is closest to the heat source in my oven – and the chickens go in their pan onto the top shelf to finish baking through.  I now have 20 or so minutes to get everything else done before I need to plate.

DSCN4626First, I toss my onions in flour, salt, and pepper before…

DSCN4627… frying them in some oil until crispy and brown.

DSCN4632Now it’s egg time.  The trick to making both hollandaise sauce and poached eggs is to have everything ready in advance.  Water should be at a low simmer for both preparations; the back, smaller burner for the sauce, and the front larger burger for the eggs.  Given that I was under pressure to get everything out on time, I didn’t take pictures of each process, but for the hollandaise sauce you can check out this previous posting, which goes into great detail, and for the poached eggs I actually followed Kenji’s most recently posted procedure from Serious Eats.  The eggs only take about 4 minutes to poach, and the hollandaise takes about 10 minutes from start to finish.  After the 10 minutes prep it took to get everything ready, by the time my sauce and eggs are ready, it is just about on the minute I need to pull out my chicken and veg from the oven.

DSCN4634The roasted sprouts and potatoes form the bed for this little baby chicken, while the oozing yellow yolk and sauce act as its blanket, with a little scattering of fried onion bits for contrast.  After cutting the trussing strings, I am able to disengage a leg from the bird with the gentlest of tugs – which, of course, I do daintily with my pinky finger extended in polite form.  But once the succulent, tender, and steaming meat makes it to my tongue, all bets are off, and I throw down my silverware and just start sopping and supping with complete abandon.  The richness of the sauce and yolk are offset by the salty bacon and deeply caramelized sprouts, and the potatoes add just the right amount of starch to the plate.  This was a dinner that was lovely to look at, but even better to eat.

Roasted Chicken Breasts, Shiitake, Garnet Yams, Spinach, Truffle Cream

DSCN4481I have found myself in the uncanny position of having several blog postings in my queue, waiting to be written up to share with ya’ll.  It’s testament to me being on a major roll lately. I’ve been cooking up some awesome dinners for me and the husbandman these days, each one better — one way or another — than the last.  It’s not that I’ve been engaging in crazy techniques, or unusual ingredients, or delving into haute cuisine – it’s more about how elegantly and easily my meals have been coming out, and how delicious everything has been.  I humbly remind Clayton how lucky he is to have a permanent seat at my table, which he dutifully acknowledges with rote platitudes of praise.  What can I say?  He’s used to it.

Tonight’s dinner had to be posted before the others waiting in the wings for one main reason: it was inspired by a gift.  Thanks to my friend and colleague, T. T. (for his privacy’s sake, I’ll refer to him using the Victorian convention of initials only), who brought me a little something something from NYC’s Eataly after his sojourn there last weekend.  I had eyed this product on my last visit to Mario Batali/Lydia & Joe Bastinach’s haven for all things Italian and edible, but my natural parsimoniousness prevented me from plunking down the cash.  I regretted my miserly ways as soon as we were on the bus back home, so I’m glad T. gave me another chance to work with this stuff.  The rich truffle cream blanketed a juicy roasted chicken breast, served atop some mashed garnet yams, sauteed spinach, along with some nutty shiitake mushrooms.  A very easy meal to prepare, but with sublime impact!

DSCN4470

Roasted Chicken Breasts, Shiitake, Garnet Yams, Spinach, Truffle Cream

2 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
1.5lb garnet yams
6-8 large shiitake mushrooms
6oz baby spinach
2-3 tbs sliced scallions
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 3.5oz can of Urbani Cream and Truffles Sauce

DSCN4473Roasting the sweet potatoes is what took the longest amount of time for this meal, so I get them started about an hour before service to make sure they get nice and soft.  I don’t do anything to them but place them on a lined baking sheet before setting them in a 400° oven.  But before I did that, I channeled me some MacGyver by figuring out how to roast my shiitake mushrooms (and later my chicken breasts) on the same pan at the same time.  Y’see, the mushrooms needed to be doused in EVOO – but the potatoes didn’t.  Still, the spuds only took up 1/2 the pan, and loath as I am to dirty another dish, I decided to create a dam by folding a seam in the foil paper at the halfway mark.  Then I tossed the mushrooms in the oil before spilling everything into the damn pan (I know, it’s “dammed”, but I couldn’t resist). A little salt and pepper, and into the oven everything went.

DSCN4474After about 20 minutes, I flip the mushrooms, which I let roast for another 20 minutes.

DSCN4476In nice weather, when I ride my bike back and forth to work, I get to stop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for my groceries because they’re on my way.  But in the cold, icy, windy winter, I take the T home, and the only grocery store on my path is a local co-op which has slim pickin’s in their meat and poultry section.  I generally don’t freeze anything, so I’m bummed by the fact that they only sell boneless chicken breasts in packs of 5 or more; I never need more than two at a time.  In this case, though, I wanted chicken that still had the skin on, so buying a pair of split breasts was actually a good thing.  I removed the bones myself, but left the skin in place.  After dredging the boners in flour, I put them skin-side down into some hot oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.

DSCN4477After they’ve browned, I flip them to brown their undersides.  After about 3-4 minutes on this side…

DSCN4478… I remove my mushrooms from my jerry-rigged baking pan, and replace them with the chicken breasts.  These roast for about 20 more minutes (which, when done, will mean my potatoes will be perfectly roasted, having sweated it out in the oven for an hour.)

DSCN4480See?  I peel off their skins, chuck ‘em in a bowl, and mash ‘em up with a fork.  That’s it.

DSCN4479Two things hit me the moment I popped the top off the Urbani Cream and Truffles: 1) it looked just like cream of mushroom soup but 2) it’s aroma was an overpowering smack in the face of rich, deep, pungent umame.  So, in the looks department, it left much to be desired, but in the mushroom department?  Hot damn!  The instructions were simple: dump the contents in a saucepan and heat it up — no additions needed.  So dump I did – heat I did – and then…

DSCN4482A steaming truffle snuggie of cream and deliciousness envelops my crispy-outside-tender-inside chicken breast, which rests on a nest of simple sauteed spinach (which I forgot to take pictures of) and a mound of mashed golden yams.  The roasted shiitake mushrooms are firm and packed with earthy woodsiness, resonating with the truffle in the cream sauce, off-setting the rich sweet complexity of the mashed potatoes.  This is comfort food at it’s best.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Lolita’s Creamy Poached Chicken and Smoked Ham Hash

DSCN4382Although it’s relatively warm here in Cambridge right now (anything above 20° F in New England in January is remarkable, and it’s been in the 40’s this week!), tonight still demanded a soothingly warm meal.  I was poking around online the other day when I came across this listing of NYC’s 20 most iconic dishes on Eater.com; the 21 Club’s “Chicken Hash” jumped out at me almost immediately.  It sounded both super simple and supremely elegant, as well as certainly tasty, so I decided to give it a whirl at home.  I honestly can’t pay $37 a plate for dinner these days – it’s just not in the budget – and frankly unless the 21 Club adds gold nuggets to theirs I can’t imagine why they charge so much.  I spent less than $20 for us both, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!  After Lolitafying it somewhat with the addition of some chopped ham, some shallots and celery, and subbing the gruyere cheese with a blend of cheeses already in my fridge, Claytonious and I dove into this piping hot dish with enthusiastic gusto.  All it needed was a biscuit for sopping…

DSCN4366

Lolita’s Creamy Poached Chicken and Smoked Ham Hash

1 lb chicken breast
1 qt chicken or turkey stock
1/2 lb diced cooked smoked ham
2 celery sticks
1 shallot
1/2 cup flour
1 stick butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated cheese: a blend of fontina, monterey jack, and parmigiano reggiano
1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg
sea salt, cracked black pepper

I started by poaching my chicken breasts in the stock for about 20 minutes, or until they were fully cooked through.  I guess I could have taken a picture of this, but I thought I’d let my breasts bathe in privacy.  Once they were cooked, I removed them from the stock – reserving that for later – and let them cool before dicing the chicken into modest little cubes.

DSCN4367Although the recipe I found for the 21 Club’s dish didn’t call for these aromatics, I thought they couldn’t hurt, especially if I minced the celery and shallot very finely.  I rejected the idea of a true mirepoix by adding carrot as well, since I didn’t want the orange to color the sauce.

DSCN4370In my non-stick wok, I first melt all my butter before removing all but about a half tablespoon to sauté the veggies in.  I do this on low heat until they’ve just turned translucent.

DSCN4369The rest of the melted butter gets added to the flour in a small bowl, where I mix it together thoroughly to form a thick sludge.

DSCN4373I strain all the foam from my poaching liquid before adding it to the sauteed veggies and bringing it to a boil.  I drop 1 tablespoon of the butter/flour mixture to the bubbling brew at a time, whisking well between each addition.

DSCN4376By the time it’s all added, my sauce has thickened considerably, but I let this boil over low heat for about 5 minutes to make sure all the flour has cooked properly.

DSCN4377I goes my sherry.  I honestly didn’t measure this – I just sort of dribbled a little, then a little more, then a dash more.  Lolita has an innate sense of measurement.  If you don’t however, I venture to guess no more than 1/2 cup is all you need.  I whisked this in well.

DSCN4378I added my cream next, whisking that in, too.

DSCN4379Then I added my cheese and let it all melt and incorporate – about 3-4 minutes.

DSCN4380I seasoned with salt, pepper, and my grated nutmeg.  Once it’s all well blended, I remove my mornay sauce from the heat…

DSCN4381Before folding in my chicken and ham and mixing well.  I transfer the mixture to two monkey dishes before garnishing them with a little more cheese and tossing them under the broiler in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until the sauce bubbles and starts to brown at the edges.

740704_10200283901688974_1223779501_o

Talk about rich and satisfying!  The balance between the sweetness from the sherry, the silky tender chicken and unctuous ham, and the oozing stringy cheese was absolutely perfect, and with some freshly baked biscuits (yes, I got these out of a can — so sue me) to dip and dunk and slather up all that delicious sauce, this was a dish forged in heaven.  Or in Manhattan which, gastronomically speaking, is kind of a heaven on earth.  $20, about 30 minutes (sans the time to poach the chicken), and you, too, can experience nirvana.