Archive for March, 2012

Cornish game hens stuffed with spinach and goat cheese

I’ve been reading a lot about the diets and living conditions of conventionally raised poultry – birds that have no space to move, chickens whose breasts become so big (because they have been genetically engineered or – possibly even worse for the health of the consumer – given hormones to have this consumer-desired trait) that their legs give out, and poultry fed diets that include body parts and feces of other animals (in an effort for companies to reuse discarded parts of other slaughtered animals).  I also discovered that the label “free-range” on a bird bought in the grocery store does not usually mean what one might typically picture: a small family-owned farm with a few happy chickens scattered around the yard, eating grass and grubs to their hearts’ content.  Instead, this label is often applied to chickens who are kept indoors – once again in crowded conditions – and fed a diet of grain, but who have access to the outdoors, giving them the option to graze.  However, since these chickens were raised indoors and have never been taken outside, they typically do not venture out of their building.  So they are not really free-range, and paying the extra money for them is a rip-off.

I have been eating more local, free-range poultry, and it is quite delicious!  It turns out free-range birds are fed a diet of grain, just like conventionally raised birds, but it is supplemented by whatever delicious morsels they find while roaming.  I remember this is how the chickens were raised on my family’s farm in Poland too.  It turns out that chickens naturally eat grain, and they need it to meet their caloric and nutrient intake, but they also consume grasses and grubs.  So this kind of diet seems like the most natural way to feed poultry, and the free-range lifestyle ensures what I consider to be more ethical conditions.

Today I made cornish game hens for the first time – I had never eaten one before!  I created a dry rub using a variety of spices and stuffed them with a spinach-goat cheese mixture, inspired by the woman who sold me the game hens at the McAllen Farmers Market.  Below is the recipe.

Ingredients:

Rub:

Lemon pepper

Garlic powder

Dried basil

Poultry seasoning

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Stuffing:

1 large bag baby spinach (preferably organic)

3 oz. goat cheese (plain or herbed)

2 gloves garlic, minced

salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Other:

Olive oil (or butter)

Wine

Directions:

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.) Mix all of the spices for the rub.  Use the quantities and proportions desired.  (I used a total of about 1.5 tablespoons of rub for 2 game hens).  Set aside.

3.) Roughly chop the baby spinach.  Add a small amount of water and microwave it until wilted.

4.) Strain the spinach.  Sprinkle it with salt (to drain out the liquid from the spinach).  After a few minutes, rinse out the salt and squeeze out the water from the spinach.

5.) In a bowl, combine the spinach, goat cheese, and garlic.  Add salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

6.) Cut the hens’ skin from the thigh to the wing on both sides of the bird.  Rub olive oil over the bird.  Lift up the skin and rub the dry rub into the meat under the flaps.  Rub the skin of the bird with the rub as well.  (I like to cover the whole bird with the dry rub.)

7.) Stuff the cavity with the spinach-goat cheese mix.

8.) Bake until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (measured by sticking a meat thermometer into the thigh, never touching the bone).  During baking, baste with white wine every 20 minutes.

The meat of these free-range birds really is quite exquisite – they taste more “meaty” or “henny” than conventionally raised poultry.  They turned out tender, and basting them ensured the meat retained its moistness.  The stuffing was also quite tasty – goat cheese and spinach work really well together, and it provided a nice accompaniment to the meat.  And to top it off, I know I made a healthy and ethical decision by supporting a local farmer who raises free-range poultry 🙂

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Grapefruit-ginger Preserves

Mmm… grapefruit season.  I bought a large sack of grapefruit (I counted about 40 in all) for $5, but could only eat so much.  So I went about creating a grapefruit preserves recipe.  Although the ingredients are not organic, I bought the grapefruit because it is grown locally, and in-season food is always delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 10 grapefruit
  • 1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • sugar to taste

First, I peeled the tough grapefruit skin and divided the grapefruit into sections.  I then peeled the membrane so only the pulp remained.  I placed the pulp in a medium-sized pot and drained all the juice that had formed.  I then added the ginger and sugar, and set it on the stove the boil.  Once it boiled, I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 2 and a half hours (until most of the liquid had evaporated and it reached the consistency I wanted).  I then placed it in clean canning jars and boiled these in water for about 10 minutes, then removed them and let them cool.  Voila – grapefruit preserves!

I have used these preserves on top of toast and to flavor plain Greek yogurt.

A side note: During this process, I learned the difference between jelly, jam, marmalade, and preserves.  After searching far and wide online, it seems that the general consensus is as follows:

  • Jelly is made from fruit juice, to which pectin is added.
  • Jam is made from pureed fruit or fruit pieces.
  • Preserves are made from whole fruit without breaking the fruit up.
  • Marmalade uses the zest and the pulp of fruit.

Making Home-Made Butter

I was super-psyched to finally find raw milk!  It’s sold at the McAllen farmer’s market, and comes from hormone- and antibiotic-free cows that are grass-fed.

The downside?  Though it’s delicious, it’s way too thick and creamy for me to drink on a daily basis straight from a glass or in my cereal.  So I decided to do something with all that cream in it: make butter.

Of course I wasn’t going to go out and buy anything fancy to churn the butter, especially knowing that somehow my aunt has always churned butter by hand.  So I did some research online, and discovered different ways to make butter.  Here’s the process that worked for me.

1.) I poured the milk into large, wide containers (a pitcher and a large jar) and left it in the fridge overnight for the cream and milk to separate.

2.) The next morning, I scooped out the cream, which had formed a layer on the top, with a spoon and set it in a jar (the jar was about 1/3 full, which would give the cream enough room during the churning/shaking step).  I covered the jar and set it on the countertop for about 6 hours.

3.) After about 6 hours, the cream had a fermented odor.  I turned on an episode of Parks and Rec, sat down with my covered jar, and shook the cream as vigorously as I could for the duration of the episode (about 20 minutes).  By the end, I saw butter!

4.) There was also some liquid (I read that this is buttermilk) in the jar, so I strained the butter from the liquid (then drank the buttermilk).

5.) Next, I washed the butter (by simply running cold water over it).

6.) I then placed the butter in a bowl, squished it along the sides of the bowl, and drained out any remaining liquid from the bowl.

7.) Lastly, I added some salt (to taste) and placed my butter in a jar to be stored.

The verdict?  My butter has a more “milk-y” undertone/aroma than store-bought butters.  Pretty good for my first try; next time, I look forward to making an herb-flavored butter.