Smoked Cornish Game Hens

I love the smell of smoke drifting through the neighborhood.  I especially like it when it emanates from my own backyard!  There is something about the change from summer to fall that makes me want to cook fowl outdoors.  Chicken, turkey, whatever.  This recipe combines bright citrus tones, savory spices and a gentle, smoky flavor. 

Ingredients:

2 Cornish game hens

Marinade for the hens (see below)

Marinade Ingredients:

3 cups olive oil

3 full heads of garlic, peeled and smashed

3 oranges

3 lemons

3 limes

1 cup orange juice

¼ cup rosemary, chopped

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup coarse black pepper

2 star anise pods

1 Thai cinnamon stick

Directions:

Zest the citrus fruit

Add the juice and zest from the fruit to a bowl.  Add the orange juice and oil to the bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the rosemary, salt, black pepper, anise and cinnamon. 

Add the ground seasonings to the bowl, along with the juice and zest.

finished marinade

Keep the rinds and pulp from the fruit to use as an aromatic.  In a large pot of water, add rinds and pulp.  Set heat to very low and add other aromatics, such as cinnamon sticks, star anise, sage, all spice berries…really, anything that strikes your fancy.

Put on stove, low heat…fill the house with the aroma!

Cut the hens in half, (remove back bones and split the bird in half with a large kitchen knife).

whole hen
Pretty side up!

Marinate the chicken for 12 hours, or overnight.  Turn the chicken occasionally, to allow the marinade to soak in.

Refrigerate overnight

I used oak for the smoking process.  Oak lends a nice smoky flavor without imparting a heavy flavor.  I didn’t bother measuring or monitoring the temperature of the coals or the smoker, or the birds.  I knew that I had used plenty of coals and that the birds would cook evenly, since they were split.  Smoking meat this way is not advised but,  I happened to be in a very confident mood that day and I turned everything over to fate. 

Directions for smoking the birds:

Start a batch of charcoal for a smoker.  Hot charcoals maintain even and steady heat for the smoker and they ignite the wood, used for the smoke.  Once the coals are hot (gray), add some pieces of oak.  Let the oak char for about 20 minutes.  Add some more oak and char for another 15 minutes.  Once the wood has turned into nice coals and the smoke has thinned a little, prepare the grill for smoking.

On a clean grill, add the hens, cut side down, with leg portions pointed toward the center of the grill.  Smoke the birds for 1 ½ hours.  I finished cooking in a 300° oven for 15 minutes, just to make sure that they were cooked all the way through.

Let the hens rest for a few minutes before separating into breasts, legs and wings.

Serve with pasta with fresh tomato sauce, garden salad and warm Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese Bread with pads of butter.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce:

Summer is gone but I still enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes from the garden.  That’s because I filled a 2 gallon storage bag with ripe tomatoes.  I didn’t wash the tomatoes before freezing them.  Whenever I want a tomato, I open the bag, pull one out, let it thaw at room temperature for about 15 minutes and then I rinse it under tap water.  The skin peels off right away and I’m left with a wonderful, fresh tomato.  For this recipe, I used two tomatoes.

Ingredients:

2 *fresh* tomatoes

1 lb penne rigate

1 anchovy (packed in oil)

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tsp olive oil

2 Tbs butter

½ tsp dried oregano leaves

½ tsp dried basil leaves

½ cup feta cheese

Directions:

Boil water in a large pot.  Add the penne rigate and cook to al dente.  Drain the water but do not rinse.  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.

While the pasta cooks…

Chop tomatoes into ½” pieces.  Set aside.

Crush anchovy and garlic together in a mortar and pestle.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, set to medium/low heat, add olive oil.  Add half of the tomatoes, garlic and anchovy. Cook down to a sauce (about 10 minutes). 

Add a cup of pasta water and cook down for another 5 minutes. 

Add the spices and butter.  Simmer for a few minutes and simmer for a few more minutes. 

Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat the pasta.

Turn out to a serving bowl and top with feta cheese.

Jalapeño and Cheddar Cheese Bread

My wife makes this bread and it doesn’t sit on the table very long!  Next time she makes it, I’ll pay better attention and share the recipe along with directions.  It’s always the highlight to any meal it accompanies!

Macaroni and Cheese with Crumbled Bacon

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I see mac and cheese like a good pair of blue jeans.  It goes with everything and any occasion.  Just as you can wear blue jeans with a worn out t-shirt, or a sweatshirt, or a pull-over sweater, or a crisply ironed shirt and tie, so goes mac and cheese. 

Mac and cheese rarely takes top billing, when it comes to planning a dinner but I guarantee that if it’s really good mac and cheese, you won’t have any leftovers.

True to my style, I prepare mac and cheese differently almost every time I make it.  I can’t tell you how many bad versions I’ve made but I can say I have made some good ones.  I have a tendency to let my free spirit roam and I start improvising, even when I have a perfectly good recipe in front of me.  I guess that’s what makes me, me.  If you want to make really good mac and cheese, follow the recipe by Kelsey Nixon, from the Food Network.  https://www.kelseynixon.com/mac-cheese/

Kelsey’s recipe is easy to follow and, as far as I’m concerned, flawless.  The secret is Muenster cheese.  Muenster cheese is perhaps the best melting cheese ever.  And, if you learn nothing else from that recipe, know that homemade mac and cheese starts with a béchamel (white sauce).  A béchamel is simply a roux with warm milk added to it.

I didn’t have Muenster on hand this time so I opted for Colby-Jack.  Both Colby-Jack and cheddar cheese melt well but if over-heated they can break down, and there goes the lovely cheese sauce. 

I should also note that I did not take photos throughout the cooking process.  I was hungry and I was in a hurry.  Such is the life of a working man.

1 Tbs kosher salt

2 cups elbow macaroni

3 strips cooked bacon

¼ cup butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups milk

1 tsp dry mustard (essential!)

1 Tbs hot sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese

8 ounces Colby-Jack cheese

In a 4 quart pot, boil water and add kosher salt.  Add pasta and cook until soft…just a bit beyond al dente.  Reserve 1/3 cup water from cooked pasta and set aside.  Strain the pasta and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, over medium/low heat add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, add the flour to make a roux.  Heat for just a minute or two. 

Heat the milk in the microwave, or stove top, to near boiling.  Slowly introduce 3 cups of the milk to the roux.  Turn the heat down (or off) while adding and mixing the milk.  Add the pasta water and dry mustard (and a little black pepper if you like).  Add the hot sauce and stir to combine.  Turn the heat up and bring the sauce to a boil.  Once the sauce begins to boil, turn the heat down.

Set the heat to low and slowly add the Colby-Jack and sharp cheddar cheese.  Gently stir with a spatula but do not over stir.  Low heat and minimal stirring helps reduce the possibility of the sauce breaking.  Add the other cup of warm milk and gently stir.  Add the pasta and stir to coat the pasta. 

Turn out to an oven proof serving bowl and place in a 350° oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and top with crumbled bacon

I served this with steamed broccoli, bite-sized fried chicken and crunchy, fried shrimp.