It’s one of those warm and cozy kind of days. Not outside. Outside, there’s snow on the hilltops and the sky looks dark and ominous as it does before a hailstorm. Inside, however, the kitchen smells like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies mixed with the pumpkin fragrance coming from my fall candle flickering on the countertop. My other half is glued to the television set offering his invaluable insight to the professional football coaches and refs about missed calls and poor play choices. I’m sure there’s a gift basket with his name on it en route as we speak. This truly is my favorite time of the year.
Yesterday I went to the grocery store for the third time this week. Even though I write a list before I go, by the time I get the bags home and set them on the counter I have to start a new list to include everything I forgot. Getting older isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Because I like to try new and different types of food, the checkers often comment on the items in my cart. Our markets, regulated by the demographics of the area, tend to lean heavier toward the basics and lighter on more exotic selections you might be more likely to find in Bay Area markets.
My quest on this last trip was fennel bulbs and a particular type of Mexican cheese, both which I found. Fennel, other than dried, is not something I have cooked with before. After looking through the fresh herbs and not finding it, I asked one of the men stocking the shelves where it was located. Naturally, he pointed directly behind me. I was totally floored. Seems I’d pictured it like garlic or shallots, but found it very large and looking somewhat like a Menorah. Really? The recipe I was given called for two bulbs. Feeling I was on top of this one, after I bought garlic for the first time and thinking a flower was a clove, I bought one large fennel. When I was ready to put together my dish, I realized that I had absolutely no clue what to do with the fennel. Hmmmmm. Consulting my other half, we circled the counter several times staring at this strange aberration resting atop it as though it was an alien lifeform, barely resisting the urge to say “we mean you no harm”. Finding a video on-line, naturally, I found it was quite simple to trim and learned something new. Always a plus at this age. Also one fennel equals one bulb. Who knew?
This got me to thinking about my early experiences with new foods. Escargot was introduced to my taste buds on a date in my late twenties. My taste buds formed an instant dislike to them. If it looks like a snail, tastes like a snail, and is presented in a snail shell, I say it is a snail, garlic butter or no garlic butter. It was our third date or so, and my date had chosen an upscale restaurant, very formal with waiters in dinner jackets, a beautiful view and a harpist in evening attire discretely playing in the corner. All I could think about was that I Love Lucy episode where they served her a plate of escargot in Paris and she used the tongs to pinch her nose. Good move, I’m thinkin. Not one to back down from trying something new, I plucked the first little bugger out of his buttery ooze and popped him in my mouth, trying not to simultaneously imagine him slowly slithering along my sidewalk after a good rain. Ugh. To my surprise it was not so much the taste, although I didn’t truly like that either, but the texture that bothered me. Kind of like trying to chew one of Gumby’s arms. The head waiter, watching my struggle from across the room approached the table and whispered in my ear. “I don’t like them either. Just dip the bread in the sauce and sneak the escargot under the garnish.” If I had anything to do with it, this guy was getting a great tip.
My cousin, an architect living in Alberta, Canada, has traveled extensively all over the world on business. He tells a story of being in China for a week to consult on the design of a huge hotel. On his first night there his hosts invited him to a group meal at a well-known restaurant. A delicacy in his honor was being served, hairy crabs. It seems, to the gourmand, it is the guts housed inside the shell that give this smaller crab variety the title “delicacy”. Being instructed on how to “suck the insides out”, and not wishing to offend, he somehow managed to down his crab offering many thanks to his hosts for providing him with such an expensive treat. So impressed were they by his enjoyment of the crab, they made sure that he got one at every meal for the next seven days of his stay. According to him it took several years before he could eat crab in any form after that.
There is probably little I wouldn’t try once, well, maybe there are some foods I’d have to pass on. I’m not a blood sausage girl, although my grandfather loved it. Haggus would not be my choice and, in truth, I’m not huge on organ meats, but that’s what makes us all different. Growing up in Nova Scotia, my grandmother, who was weaned on a farm, often served tongue sandwiches and I’ve eaten pig’s feet. Frogs legs danced in our skillet from time to time, and I’ve sampled many delicious varieties of wild game. Are they all my favorites,absolutely not, but, like I’ve always told my children, “how can you tell if the water’s cold if you don’t first stick your toe in it?”
Rock Cornish Game Hens in Orange Walnut Sauce
4 Rock Cornish game hens, halved lengthwise
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Curacoa or orange brandy
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 oz. orange juice concentrate
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges
1/2 cup finely chopped Pecans
Wash hens and thoroughly dry. Season thoroughly with salt and pepper. Mix flour with cayenne pepper. Dredge hens in flour.
Brown in butter and oil over med. heat in large skillet until thoroughly browned. Remove hens and set aside. Deglaze skillet with wine careful to scrape pan to get browned bits incorporated until wine comes to a boil.
Return hens to skillet and simmer covered for 30 mins. Remove hens once again to warm platter. Mix cornstarch with Curacoa and whisk into liquid in skillet.
Add frozen orange juice concentrate and cook until sauce is smooth and thickened. Add mandarin oranges and nuts. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serves 6.
1 small box of wild rice
1 stick of butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
Wash rice thoroughly. Cover rice in salted water in medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook for 20 mins. until rice is 1/2 cooked.
Meanwhile, saute onion, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic in butter. Add cooked rice and mix well. Add chicken broth and sherry. Simmer covered until rice is done.