St. Patricks Day – Corned Beef

This post was one I originally did for Foodwhirl back in 2010, but it’s still a yearly tradition for us, so I thought I’d share it here.

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Corned Beef and Cabbage (or how I got lucky)

Get your minds out of the gutter.

The very first meal I ever cooked for my husband when we first started dating was corned beef and cabbage. I figure it must have been lucky, because he eventually married me – right?

I wanted to impress him, so I didn’t just go out and buy one of those pink, sodium and nitrate/nitrite infused bits of brisket with the seasoning packet inside (although I have been known to use this method on occasion). No, I actually corned the sucker myself, over a period of about a week.

Now it’s become a bit of a tradition for us – every year I cook corned beef and cabbage with potatoes for St. Patty’s day. This year, I’m sharing that tradition with all of you. This is quite a process, so bear with me. I promise the end result is totally worth it.

Oh!  And be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 – wherein I drain the brine from the meat and add the cabbage!  It’s exciting stuff, and you won’t want to miss it.  I might even cook some potatoes…. And you certainly won’t want to miss Part 3 – corned beef hash.  This is the meal that just keeps on giving!

First, for the beef – it is admittedly difficult this time of year to find a brisket that is not already trimmed, brined and packaged. With a little effort, though, you can do it. You need about 3-4 pounds of meat for this recipe. I was able to find an 8-lb brisket for about $2/lb, so I bought the whole thing. I cut it in half and froze the second portion to be used at a later date for barbecue or something (there’s really no such thing as too much meat in my house).

About a week out, prepare the brine. This version was derived from a Sara Moulton recipe, back in her Cooking Live days.

Ingredients

* 4 quarts water
* 1 1/2 pounds kosher salt
* 1 pound dark brown sugar
* 2 bay leaves
* 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 10 juniper berries
* 10 crushed peppercorns
* 1 tablespoon baking soda
* 4 gallons boiling water
* 1 egg, in shell
* Salt, if needed
* Cold water to cover meat
* 1 (5 pound) beef brisket
* 5 cloves garlic

Bring first 8 ingredients to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes. Leave the brine to cool. Clean a plastic bucket and its lid with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 gallon boiling water. Rinse well and leave to drain dry.

To test the saltiness of the brine put egg, in shell in the cooled brine. If it doesn’t float, add enough salt until it does.

To draw off any excess blood and to help the brine penetrate, pierce the beef all over with a skewer and place meat in cold water for about 45 minutes. Remove the meat from water and place in crock or bucket. Pour the cooled brine over the brisket. Add garlic to the brine. Place a plate on top of the brisket to submerge. Place a lid or plastic wrap over container. Store in a refrigerator or dry place, at a temperature below 60 degrees. Salting time depends on the thickness of the meat. Allow 3 to 10 days for salting time for brisket.

This will sit in my fridge all week.  I’ll check it periodically, turning the meat to make sure that all sides get equal time in the brine.

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>Cranberry Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing

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A while back, I was doing some research to learn more about organizations that focus their efforts on childhood nutrition education and hunger relief.  I had recently become a featured publisher at Foodbuzz, and through that affiliation was led to the Share our Strength website.  After reading their mission statement and seeing the work that they were doing, I knew I wanted to help where I could. 
I started digging around on the Share our Strength website, and I stumbled across a page that listed bloggers that were helping the cause in various ways.  I randomly sent an email expressing interest to the address that was listed as the contact, never expecting to hear anything back. 
A while later, I received an email from a different person  at Share our Strength – evidently they’d had some turnover – asking if I’d be willing to chat by phone  in the near future to discuss ideas and learn more about ways to get involved.  A week or so later, I was chatting with Clay Dunn (half of the duo that write The Bitten Word ), and he was asking my opinion on things like social media marketing, twitter, and ways to get bloggers more involved.  I was flattered, and at the close of the conversation asked him to keep me posted if anything came up in the future that I could help with.  Fast forward a few months, and I got another email from Clay inviting me to join a conference call with him and three other bloggers to discuss a holiday progressive dinner idea that was being floated around.  
What resulted from that conversation, and various and sundry email chains following, was Share our Holiday Table – a collection of 70-plus bloggers coming together to share their favorite holiday recipes. All in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.  I hope you’ll choose to help them end childhood hunger in America by 2015.
 The idea behind this progressive dinner is that there are 7 courses, and each day a different course will be represented.  We’ve already done appetizers, drinks, salads and soups, and today we’re enjoying our entrees.  For a complete list of the bloggers that have already posted, along with everyone who’s posting today, you can scroll down to the bottom of this post.


I signed up to do a family-friendly entree.  The minute I put my name in that slot, I started fretting.  Family-friendly entree – what does that mean?

I’m not exactly known for making what are traditionally considered kid-friendly meals.  Our kids eat what we eat, so the notion of “family-friendly” for us might be completely different from what it is for someone else.
Even so, I figured I could come up with something.  Ultimately, I decided on cornish game hens.  Who doesn’t love a tiny chicken?  And kids love food that’s just their size.
Cranberry Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on size of hens
serves 4-6
Ingredients
4 small game hens
1 jar cranberry sauce
8 oz. wild rice
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup port
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced celery
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Begin by making the stuffing.
  2. Bring 2 cups chicken stock to a boil.  Add the wild rice and cook just until the grains start to burst
  3. Heat port in a microwave-safe dish in the microwave for about a minute.  Pour over dried cranberries and let steep, covered, to soften and absorb some of the port (if you think about it, you can do this overnight and the cranberries will become even more flavorful – don’t worry, the alcohol cooks out).
  4. Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the diced celery and saute until translucent.
  5. Add the cooked rice and the drained cranberries (reserve the soaking liquid – you’ll need it later).
  6. Add a little bit of the chicken stock from cooking the rice.  Stir everything together and cook until the chicken stock has evaporated.
  7. Set this mixture aside to cool (I stuck mine in the freezer for a bit while I prepared the hens).
  8. Preheat your oven to 350F
  9. Remove the hens from their packaging, remove any innards, and pat the skin dry.
  10. Place them in a baking dish.
  11. Spoon the cooled stuffing into the cavities
  12. Liberally salt and pepper the skin of the hens
  13. Bake in the center of your preheated oven
  14. For the glaze – empty your cranberry sauce into a sauce pan set over medium heat.  Add a bit of the port to thin it some.  Heat it just enough to loosen it up a bit, so you can brush it onto the hens.
  15. After the hens have been in the oven for 15 minutes, brush the cranberry glaze onto the surface of the hens.
  16. Repeat this every 15 minutes or so, until hens are done cooking.
  17. Remove hens from oven when internal temperature of stuffing reaches 180F on a probe thermometer.
The verdict in my house was that the hens were very moist and tender and the skin was flavorful.  My 5-year-old begrudgingly ate the wild rice stuffing, explaining that he thought the cranberries were “strange”.  My husband also admitted that he isn’t really a fan of wild rice.  I, on the other hand, thought that it was all quite good.  The rice that was fully encased in the cavity of the bird was very tender and moist (the stuff that was fully exposed to the heat of the oven got a bit dry and crispy, so you might consider covering it with foil or something to avoid that situation).  I served it over some brown risotto with mushrooms and peas (the contrast between the wild rice and the risotto was nice).
Here are the other participants and their courses:
December 6: Appetizers
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free


December 7:
Drinks
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free


December 8:
Salads
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free


December 9:
Soup
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free

December 10: Entrees
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free