Thursday, December 22, 2011

Game Hen Alfredo, Or What To Do With All That Leftover F&*#ing Bird

Surprisingly enough my 5 year old nephew did not eat all his Cornish game hen. To be fair, the size ratio of him and a game hen is like me eating a 6 pound chicken. I still don't see what the problem is. Quitter. It may have also been the constant barrage of cookies, fudge, egg nog, cheese, and at one point Styrofoam packing peanuts (their parents have told them many times not to, yet they continue to trust their uncle) that left my nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Zangief the Dancing Bear, unable to pick their birds clean. All the adults had no problem, toxic packing peanuts not withstanding.

This still left me with a good deal more leftover hen than I planned to have. What to do, what to do? Hey, it's a bird, why not just substitute it for chicken in other recipes? Why not indeed. I could make a pot pie...wait I don't have the veggies. How about stir rice. Game hen a la kin-wait I don't have any mushrooms or 1/2 the other stuff I need to make that. Well, what do I have? Butter, heavy cream, and frozen peas. Great, I can make a Paula Dean style vegetable. Oh, wait, we have some pasta. Perfect.


1 box pasta (I used the Fit & Active whole grain thin spaghetti $0.99 per 13.5 oz. but you can use whatever you like)
16 oz. Heavy Cream ($1.89)
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened ($1.99 per 16.oz-4sticks)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic ($1.99 per 8 oz.)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese ($2.29 per 8 oz.)
8 oz. frozen sweet peas ( I don't know how much these are, but will update the price when I do)
7 oz. cooked Cornish game hen meat (about 1/2 a hen $2.69 per hen)
fresh cracked pepper to taste
salt to taste

First, prep the hen meat, as in pull it off the hen. At first I tried using a knife, but just pull it off with your hands.

Now wash your hands, or get hen grease everywhere. It's your kitchen. Use your greasy fingers to open the cream and pour it into a medium sized sauce pan that also has your greasy fingerprints all over it. Place over medium low heat. While the cream warms up fill a pot with water and put on high heat to boil. Add the butter to the cream and whisk to combine. Let the cream and melted butter simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the cheese and whisk to combine. Clean the hen grease off your whisk. I should mention that I didn't use the Aldi Parmesan cheese. I used fresh grated parmigiano reggiano. It's not my fault. I blame the media. We do have the Aldi cheese, and we use it. I just couldn't resist the fresh grated cheese while I had it. Stop judging me and add fresh cracked pepper to taste. Stir occasionally.

Once your water is boiling add your pasta. The pasta in the recipe will only take 5-7 minutes to cook. When it comes time to remove the pasta, find a way to retain the water you cooked the pasta in and use it to cook the frozen peas. I put a colander over another pot in the sink and poured the water and pasta into it. I then put the other pot back on to the burner and brought it to a boil again. Boil your peas for 3 minutes and the drain them. Add the peas and the hen meat to the sauce.

After a few minutes the meat will be reheated. Stir everything together in a big pot, or combine however you want. It's not like you listened to me when I told you to wash your hands.

We had this last night for dinner. We had it again for lunch. Megan is having it again right now for dinner. I think it is safe to say, we both like this way to use up our extra meat. We used hen, but you could use chicken, or whatever other poultry you have laying around. You could even cook up meat especially for this, but then the terrorists would win. I really didn't know how to wrap up this post, so there you go.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Orange Balsamic Cornish Game Hens

Every once in a while I am amazed by what can be found at Aldi. Since they market themselves as a discount bulk items shop, you would not expect to find the wide range of specialty items they offer. Things like lobster (both whole and tail), eiswein, and whole frozen duck come to mind. Just a note, I have tried each of these things and they rock. Imagine having a dinner for two with lobster risotto, a wine spectator rated wine,  and poached pears in a caramel sauce with whipped cream. Now imagine that the dinner costs less than $30.00. And you will have leftovers. Feel free to check yourself at this point as you may have just crapped your pants with delight.

Now that the mess is cleaned up and the laundry has been started, one of those specialty items available at Aldi is the Rock Cornish Game Hen. These have been available for some time. I do not believe they are huge sellers, but don't worry. They're frozen and don't expire for quite some time.

They were on special for Thanksgiving, but are back up to the price of $2.69 each; still, that's nothing. Well, actually it's $2.69, but that's still not much unless you pay for everything in pennies. I've bought these a few times now, and each time I have made the same recipe, and each time people have asked me to make it again.

My girlfriend and I split holidays with our families, so Christmas is usually spent with one family the week before and with the other on actual Christmas. We alternate the family each year. It's a lot like being single with divorced parents. One of whom doesn't love you as much. This year my family came up for the week before Christmas, and I had to make Christmas dinner. I was asked to make the game hens. 9 game hens. One for each of us. Great. Here's the recipe (only for 3 game hens, if you want more, do math).


3 hens, thawed, rinsed, and butterflied ($2.69 each)
salt to taste
pepper to taste (Aldi sells salt and pepper, but I don't know for how much)
1/2 cup defrosted orange juice concentrate ($1.09 per can)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (This is a specialty item and not always available $1.99 for 16.9 oz.)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  ($3.49 per 16.9 oz.)
2 teaspoons dried rosemary ($0.99)

Thaw, rinse, and butterfly the hens. These things take forever to thaw. I bought them on a Wednesday, put them in an old beer cooler with no ice or other coolant and they were still frozen in places by Friday. Do not expect to thaw them in the fridge overnight. You have been warned. Once you have thawed the little buggers and removed them from their plastic cocoons, rinse them and pat dry. You now have to butterfly them. Do this in an area away from other food and sanitize it when you are finished with everything. If you have never done this, it is a pretty easy process. The long and short of it is that you cut their spine out. I said it was easy, I said nothing about pretty. If you know how to butterfly a bird, skip to the cooking.

Start with your happy, thawed, raw little bird. He'll look like this:

First thing you'll have to do is position the hen so that all its friends can watch you butcher it. Next get some kitchen sheers and grab the butt end of the hen.You may notice a little tab, this is the end of the spine. Grab the tab and start cutting along one side of the spine.

Cut from the butt hole (heh) to where the head used to be. You will be cutting through the ribs next to the spine.

Next grab the leg and cut down the other side of the spine. At this point the other hens may try to turn away in disgust. Reposition them.

Now you have the spine, throw it away, or use it to make stock or something. I throw them away because I am wasteful.

Next flip the invertebrate hen over and press down on it with the palm of your hand. This is to further humiliate the now spineless hen and terrify the hen onlookers. There is some other practical reason to do this, but I can't be bothered to write it down now.

You now have a butterflied hen.

Salt and pepper the hens liberally. Now begin making the marinade. Yes, this is a marinade. If you are making this in the hope for a quick meal, you will be disappointed. Deal with it. Luckily they do not need to marinate overnight, they can, but they don't have to. I marinate them about 3 hours, but first I make the marinade.

Combine the oil, balsamic, rosemary and frozen orange juice concentrate in a bowl and stir to combine. Put the butterflied hens in a gallon sized freezer bag and add the marinade. When you close the bags, get as much of the air out as you can and try to get the marinade over as much of the hens as you can.

Put your birds in the fridge and do something that takes three hours. I suggest watching "The Towering Inferno" and then having a brief discussion as to why Paul Newman and Steve McQueen never followed it up with a buddy comedy called "The Architect and The Fire Chief" where they worked/lived together in a pizza parlor/loft.

When you are ready to start cooking your birds, preheat your oven to 425 and place the hens three each on baking sheet. Cover the hens with some of the marinade, reserving some for basting.

Pop the hens into the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Open the oven and bast the hens, reducing the heat to 375. In another 15 minutes baste again. Keep them in for another 15 minutes and you're done. If you notice the skin getting too brown at any time, you can put some loose foil over the hens. Set them aside to cool a bit.

There you have it. Plate, serve, eat.

I realize this is a long post with the recipe spread out over more surface area that you might like, so here's an abridged version:

O. B. C. G. H.

3 hens, thawed, rinsed, and butterflied
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1/2 cup defrosted orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp dried rosemary

Salt and pepper hens. Combine everything else into a bowl. Pour marinade over hens and refrigerate.Watch a Paul Newman movie. Preheat oven to 425. Put hens 3 to a baking sheet and cover with marinade. In 15 minutes take the heat down to 375 and baste. 15 minutes later baste. 15 minutes later done.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake

Notice: The consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may increase your risk of food borne illness such as salmonella. Now tell me that's not the best way to start off a recipe. Don't you want to make this and give it to children and enfeebled old people now? Yeah you do.

The reason I put the disclaimer in here is because this milkshake is best with frozen custard. I don't have any frozen custard. The best way to mimic frozen custard when all you have is ice cream: add an egg. This is true for milkshakes, do not have a bowl of ice cream with a raw egg on it and expect it to taste like custard. My brothers and I have put a raw egg in our milkshakes since we were kids. None of us have died from salmonella poisoning, but one of us is a network administrator. So that might be a concern.

If you have frozen vanilla custard for this recipe, go for it, otherwise you can use an egg, even though it might kill you.

9 large marshmallows ($0.99 per bag)
1 1/4 cups of vanilla ice cream ($2.69 per 56 oz.)
1 egg (optional $1.59 per 12)
1/4 cup of half and half ($1.79 per 32 oz.)
1/4 cup of heavy cream ($1.89 per 16 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract ($1.99 per 2 oz.)

The first thing you have to do is toast the marshmallows. If you have an electric oven you can turn on the broiler and place them on a cookie sheet on the highest rack for a minute or two. Watch them, they go from toasted to burnt in just a few seconds. If you have a gas range, you can skewer the marshmallows and toast them over the open flame. Again, be careful as marshmallows are very flammable.

Once your marshmallows are nicely toasted, add all the ingredients to the blender saving two marshmallows for garnish. If you like a thicker milkshake, more ice cream. If you like a thinner milkshake, more half and half. You may ask, "Why half and half and cream instead of milk?" Try it, and you will know the answer. It makes a much richer milkshake. It is not what we call healthy, but if you are making a toasted marshmallow milkshake, I assume it isn't to drink while you're on the treadmill. Throwing some heavy cream, or half and half, or both into to a milkshake is great, unless you are drinking these things every day. If you do drink these things every day, then my guess is that you only check internet recipes between heart attacks and foot amputations. Either way, enjoy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cinnamon Swirl Muffins

It's interesting that I start out this recipe/food blog with this, mainly because it's made from a box. I know what you're thinking. Sure there are plenty of people who make up breads and muffins from scratch. Those people have nothing better to do with their time,  don't run their own business, or their business is making muffins for a living. I'm busy, and I assume you are as well. If you are not busy, and just lazy, that's OK too.

Boxed mixes get a bad rap from people who are serious about cooking, but they are quick, easy and, with some tweaks, can be very good. I assume their bad reputation comes from the fact that serious bakers were at some point personally pantsed by Betty Crocker while at a grade school assembly. Some cuts run deep.

My mother (an excellent cook who has studied/taught cooking in several countries) makes her blueberry muffins from a boxed mix. The Barefoot Contessa has her own boxed mixes. Stop looking down your nose at at this post and judging me over the internet!

Inferiority complex aside, I do spice up boxed mixes in my own way to improve both taste and mouthfeel of the finished baked good. These muffins were made with the Baker's Corner Cinnamon Swirl Quick Bread mix. I often use cake and bread mixes when I make muffins. The trick to altering the recipes on the box is to substitute heavy cream for water and honey for the oil. This works on any boxed mix I have come up against (except maybe boxed potatoes). NOTE: adding honey will make whatever you bake brown faster and more deeply, so keep an eye on it. Now, the recipe.

One Box Baker's Corner Cinnamon Swirl Quick Bread ($1.49)
2 Eggs (12 eggs $1.59)
3/4 cup Heavy Cream ($1.89)
3 Tablespoons Honey (12 oz. $2.49)
Cooking Spray ($1.29)

Spray down the muffin tin and heat the oven to 350. Now the easy part. Follow the directions on the box. Substitute the cream for water and honey for oil and combine all the ingredients with the mix powder. Stir to combine. Then pour the batter into the muffin tin filling the cups 1/4 way, then use 1/2 the cinnamon packet to top the batter. Fill the muffin cups the with the rest of the batter and top with the remaining cinnamon. Now bake. As i said, the honey will cause quicker browning, so watch those puppies. The box said 45 minutes, mine were done in 38. I listed out the ingredients called for the cinnamon bread, but you could do this with banana bread, or blueberry muffins. When the muffins are done you can top them with the icing when they are cool if you like, but I didn't. Enjoy your muffins!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Toasted Cinnamon Almonds

Because nothing says the holidays like hot nuts in your mouth. Sorry. I couldn't resist.

There is a stand by where I work that sells toasted almonds in December. The smell is intoxicating. By intoxicating I mean that there is an actual anthropomorphic hand made out of roasted almond smell that not only drags me to the stand, but removes money from my wallet to give to its German nut toasting master. I should file a complaint. At $6.00 for an 8 oz. bag, I was thinking I could just make them myself cheaper and with my own anthropomorphic hand that will do my taxes. Maybe I should make these next month.

I wandered into a Walgreens to check on the price of almonds, and found that a 16 oz. bag cost over $8.00. No doubt cheaper than the German stand, but I knew I could do better at Aldi. Sure enough, a 12 oz. package was $3.99. That is a serious price difference. Here's the recipe.

1 teaspoon cold water
1 egg white (eggs 12 for $1.59)
1 12 oz. package natural almonds ($3.99)
1/2 cup white sugar (sack of sugar for $2.49)
1/4 teaspoon salt (don't know-I haven't bought salt in years)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon ($0.99 per canister)
Cooking Spray ($1.29)

 Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and spray a cookie sheet with the cooking spray. Combine the water and egg white in a bowl and whisk until frothy but not stiff. Pour in the nuts and stir until coated. Separately mix the sugar, cinnamon, and salt, then sprinkle over the almonds until coated. Spread the almonds evenly on the sprayed cookie sheet and put in the oven for 1 hour stirring the almonds every 15 minutes.

At the end you have your own toasted cinnamon almonds for about $3.00 for 8 oz. This recipe isn't only for almonds. It works with almost any nuts you have in your sack. Sorry. Last one, I promise. As a holiday treat everyone seems to love these, and they don't last more than a couple of days. I guess everyone just loves having my nuts in their mouth. Sorry, sorry. I'm just going to stop now.

Who are you, and what is Aldi?

I bet that's what you're wondering. Well, maybe you're just wondering, "What is Aldi?" and don't care about me at all. Knowing that Aldi is one of the best grocery stores out there is important. It is much more important than who I am. I should really change the order of the questions in the title of this post. I'm not going to, but I should. That's who I am.

OK, question one answered. Now let's move on to Aldi. You may have heard of Aldi, or seen their TV commercials, or you may have no idea what Aldi is, and came to this blog looking for pictures of cats doing something cute like trigonometry with the caption "I can has arcsin(sin θ) = θ?" Well, the magical internets is full of that nonsense, and we don't need any more of it here.

Aldi is an international chain of grocery stores. That in itself is nothing special, but Aldi is amazingly inexpensive and has good quality items. A few years ago I was shopping at a Jewel-Osco when one of the employees was exceedingly rude to my girlfriend and I. Despite my years of patronage to that store, I decided I needed to find a new grocery store.  I am cheap. I buy things on special, use coupons, etc. I, however, do not often buy store brands because I think they often lack the quality necessary to be considered food. I also love to cook. My girlfriend suggested we try Aldi, and I was very hesitant. All I knew about Aldi is that they were inexpensive, but didn't have the name brand products that I was used to buying. She got me to go to Aldi the first time and I haven't looked back.

While it's true that going to Aldi will net you a bag of Clancy's instead of a bag of Lays or Ruffles, the products available are not the store brands or generics you might be used to. The way Aldi operates is by getting exclusive contracts with providers, then selling their products under the various Aldi names (Baker's Corner, Clancy's, etc.). The quality presented by these products often matches or surpasses the name brand products at other stores. In recent months I have also noticed more brand names appearing on the shelves at Aldi. These are mostly snack items such as Pringles and M&M's.

There are a few things you should know about shopping at Aldi:

1. Bring a quarter. Their shopping carts use a quarter lock system, so you have to insert a quarter into the lock of the cart in order to take the cart out. you get your quarter back when you return the cart.

2. Aldi is not as pretty as most grocery stores. Instead of shelving displays, you have pallets of products. It may seem haphazrad at first, but I guarantee there is a layout to the store.

3. Do not expect to be able to compare four different kinds of slivered almonds. Aldi typically has one or two variations of products available. This is not to say that they don't have a wealth of available products, or that you will only be able to buy one type of chip. Potato. And you'll like it. They have about 5 versions of tortilla chips (rounds, triangles, restaurant style, whole wheat, etc.) but compared to how many different kinds of tortilla chips the average grocery store has, it's less. Currently you will only find a couple of Quick Breads available, but both are good quality at a low price.  Aldi carries about 1,500 products. That may sound like a lot, but the average grocery store carries over 20,000.

4. You may not be able to get everything on your list. If you are looking for grains of paradise and ouzo, look elsewhere. Aldi specializes in bulk grocery items that are the biggest sellers. Ketchup, milk, eggs, cheese, bread, and cereal are the types of things you will find at Aldi, but they do have a good number of specialty items that come and go. For instance right now they have $10.00 1 pound whole lobsters. I already have 2 in my freezer. They also have Cornish game hens for $1.99 each. They say you can do 95% of your shopping at Aldi and head elsewhere for the specialty goods. We do 99% of our shopping at Aldi, and only shop elsewhere if we need to grab something quick.

5. Bring your own bags. We forget every now and then, and bags are available for purchase at the checkout, but bringing your own is the way to go. You will also be bagging your own groceries.

6. You will likely have to wait in line at the checkout. Aldi only keeps one or two lanes open at a time, but since bagging isn't done at the checkout, the line moves quickly.

7. Aldi does not accept coupons, checks, or credit cards. They accept cash, debit cards, and EBT. This is one of the things that keep prices down. I have heard that Aldi is now accepting Discover card, but I don't know if that rumor is true. It costs money to print and distribute coupons as well as put a system in place to handle and update coupons. It also costs money for businesses to accept credit cards. Aldi doesn't spend this money, so you don't have to pay for it.

8. Be prepared to spend less. I was shocked the first time we went to Aldi and bought a cart of groceries near to overflowing for about $80.00.

I am aware that I didn't really answer question one. I'm just a guy. I like to cook and am an admitted foodie, although I truly think that term sounds like a cult where they mass marry stalks of celery. I mentioned before that I am very cheap. If I can find a way to skimp on price without skimping on quality, I will do it. That last part is important. I do not believe in skimping on quality. For instance, I refuse to shop at Ikea. Sure the furniture is quirky and inexpensive, but it is also mostly wood pulp, glue, and bits of Scandinavian orphans. I'm a solid wood or hardwood and veneer kind of guy. Admittedly though, I do have a credenza made from orphans.

I started this blog to share my love of both cooking and cheap groceries. I try to use all Aldi products in the recipes, but they can be made with food you got from anywhere, as long as it is the same food in the ingredients list. Don't try to make my Spanish omelet with dishwashing liquid and ice cream. The only thing you can make with those two ingredients is a horrible mistake.

Now, you've read the whole post, you're probably wondering where's that lolcat picture i promised you? The answer is I didn't promise you anything you entitled bastard. Don't look at me like that. This is my blog, you mistakenly came here uninvited looking for kitteh pics as though the interwebs weren't already absolutely polluted with them. It is a fact that lolcatz are about as appealing as Japanese scat porn and you will find neither of those things in this blog . . . fine.