Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chicken & Champagne

It was a damned hot summer here, and I grilled out like nobody's business.  I even ran out of propane, and a tank usually lasts me a year.  (Not going to debate the charcoal versus gas thing...yes, I prefer charcoal, but I also like to grill on the spur of the moment, which is hard to do if you are waiting for coals.)  I even grilled so much that I ended up getting a new grill, because the grates on the old one were wearing through.

R., a friend and former co-worker who now lives in Food Central of the Pacific Northwest (and we are jealous!), sent me a marinade recipe for chicken that he had at a cookout.  He said it was so good that his son forsook pork chops in favor of this chicken, which really piqued my interest--pork over chicken?  The heresy!!  He didn't provide a name for it, but I have dubbed it Sake Chicken, because it has sake in it...brilliant, am I not?

Most of us know sake as the drink they serve in sushi bars and, to my palate, may as well be called Asian always tastes very harsh to me.  It come hot, in cute little bottles with cute little cups, or cold in cedar boxes with salt on the rim.  And that's about the extent of the average person's knowledge of sake...and mine too, up until this post.

As it happens, the day I was out looking for ingredients to this marinade, I went to Earth Fare, our newest food market and total bane of my bank account.  While wandering through the amazingly well-stocked cheese and wine section, just past the olive bar of no return, there is a vendor offering sake tastings.  I am intrigued, of course, because who turns down a free drink?  I look at offerings, and the one that really sticks out is a bottle with a pale milky pinkish that sake or just the bottle?  No matter, it's pretty, so it must be good!

This sake is Snow Maiden sake, and it gets its name from a breed of koi, which are ornamental carp.  It is a nigorizake, or "cloudy" sake, which is why it appears milky in my little plastic cup.

The vendor starts babbling about how the garden variety sake you get in sushi bars is essentially crap...sounds like she thinks it's one step above paint thinner.  She starts waxing and waning about how to tell "good" sake, that you need to be able to tell the prefecture that it came from, the type of rice it was made from, heck, possibly the color of the master brewer's underwear.  I sort of tune her out, because I'm just here for the free drink, and I think that sake is sake, and it can't be all that different from the sushi bar house sake.  Yeah, you knew I was wrong about that, didn't you?  I was totally surprised by the Snow Maiden. 

It was smooth and creamy, a bit nutty, and not anything at all like the harsher sake that I've had in the past.  I'm acquiring a whole new respect for this stuff, and I might go so far as to actually order it at dinner or buy it for home consumption.  However, I am not using it as a marinade ingredient.  While the Snow Maiden is not horrifically expensive, I think the garden variety Gekkeikan will be just fine...and it might be quite possible to leave it out altogether, but you would need to add something for acidity, I think...maybe a flavored vinegar.  Or, I can lend you a cup, because you know I'm not drinking this stuff.

Sake Chicken

4 lbs of chicken (breasts, thighs, tenderloins--your preference; I used boneless skinless breasts, but I'm sure boneless or bone-in parts are fine)

1/2 cup soy sauce

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup ketchup (I am a firm believer in Heinz and only Heinz for my ketchup needs)

1/4 cup sake

1 Tbsp. sesame oil

1 inch or so ginger root (peeled and grated)

1-2 cloves garlic (grated)

1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped


(NOTE:  I made the recipe using the full amount of marinade and only 2 pounds of chicken.  I would suggest doubling the marinade if you use the full amount of makes a wonderful dipping sauce.)

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all the wet ingredients, including the sugar.  Use a Microplane grater to grate the peeled ginger into the marinade, and then use a garlic press to smash up the garlic and add it, or grate with the Microplane.  Thinly slice the green onions and add to the marinade.

Place the chicken parts in a zippered freezer bag and add the marinade.  Seal and marinate at least 2 hours, up to overnight.  Remove from the marinade, reserving the liquid, and grill until done.  Place the reserved marinade in a small sauce pan and heat until boiling.  Boil for at least 5 minutes to reduce and also make the marinade safe to use as a dipping sauce.  Serve sauce along side the chicken or pour over.

This is some mighty fine, lip-smacking chicken.  I made some rice and steamed a little broccoli to go with it, and it was a fabulous feast. 

I know I'm a little lax in my posting these days (yes, okay, VERY lax!), but honestly, I have not cooked ir eaten anything highly exciting lately...well, wait...there was the Great Pink Champagne Cake experiment.

I was scheduled to have lunch with a group of ladies that I used to work with, and one of them was just coming off of chemo (for the evil breast cancer), and it was also her birthday, so we decided to surprise her with a cake and cards.  So, I volunteered for dessert, because my friends are very good at encouraging me in my efforts (and probably because I can always bring a killer banana pudding if all else fails). Since it was her birthday and the whole Save the Ta-tas theme of pink, I thought I would like to do a Pink Champagne Cake.  Remember the rose-shaped Bundt pan?  From the time I opened that as a gift, I have wanted to do a Pink Champagne Cake.  I've read about them, and they just sound yummy.

So, off to the Internets I go to search out a recipe and maybe some tips and hints.  I found a recipe at GoodThings Catered blog, and it sounded good, and all the commenters were pretty rah-rah about it.  The only thing that is odd is the inclusion of powdered milk.  I hate reconstituted powder milk with a white-hot passion...we used to have it occasionally for lunch at my kindergarten, and I refused to drink it then, and I ain't agonna drink now.  So, any recipes to pass along to use the remainder of the box of powdered milk would be greatly appreciated.  (Yeah, I guess I could have used regular milk, but I wasn't quite sure why it called for powdered milk, and I am such a baking 'fraidy cat that I always make it by the book when making a cake for the first time.)  I make the cake in the Rose pan...after spraying it within an inch of its little Bundt life with some Baker's Joy.  No stickage!!   Whoo hoo!

While the cake cools, I find a recipe for a Champagne Glaze--it's hard to frost a Bundt, much less a rose-shaped Bundt, so I thought a glaze would be good.  It essentially was a simply syrup with champagne and butter.  How bad could that be?  Yeah, pretty bad.  It was like syrupy butter...the smell of the champagne was good, but the taste was almost non-existent.  I added more champagne, but it was just too buttery tasting.  I know, buttery is not usually bad, but in this case it was, because there was no balance.  The butter flavor overwhelmed the glaze.

I'm trying to figure out what to do with the cake, because it's just not what I had in mind when I started this project, and I decide to make another cake, but this time as a regular 2-layer cake.  I know I'm not the world's best baker, and I kind of suck at icing and decorating, but what did I have to lose?  If you slather enough buttercream icing on a cake, people will eat it it, no matter how lumpy it is.

While the second cake cooked, I surfed the web and checked Facebooks to see what my peeps were up to...probably not at home wrecking their kitchens on a Friday night, that's for sure.  I spy a link in someone's status to this post at  This is a pretty cute cake, and it seems like it should be pretty easy to do...then, I read the blog author used to be senior art director at Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Kids.  Crap.  Oh, well, in for a penny, in for a pound at this point.  It's midnight, and I gotta figure out something for that cake.

And, really, how hard can it be?  It's royal icing piped on wax paper and left to harden overnight.  Famous last words.  Royal icing is a bitch to work with, because that stuff will harden like cement in a matter of minutes.  So, I had to keep it covered while coloring it and piping it.  And, you know, anytime you use food coloring, especially late at night in semi-panic mode, things are going to get wild.  Hollywood, who has a very bad habit of sitting practically on my feet while I am in the kitchen, ended up with a bright pink top knot after I dripped icing on him when I tripped over him...the oven door was similarly coated in the same incident.

And, of course, it took me to the last set of dots to actually get the hang of it and feel good about my dot making. 

The next morning, I get up and stumble into the kitchen, which looked like Barbie exploded in it, not to mention that one of the poodles was still pink.  All in all, we were looking at a qualified success here...snort.  The dots looked pretty good; they held their shape and seemed to have dried okay.  I start peeling them up and poking them onto the cake, and it's working like a charm.  Those Martha Stewart folks really know their stuff.  A couple of the larger dots were a little too flexible and could have used a little more drying time...they cracked just a little, but this was actually turning into a bonafide success story.   Check it out; it looks pretty good for rank ol' amateur me. 

I went ahead and took the rose-shaped cake, too, and dusted it with a little powdered sugar.  I figure it you don't like icing, then you had an option.  I was bit underwhelmed by the actual eating of the cake...maybe I was just pink champagned-caked out, but it was not all that and a bag of fondant.  It tasted okay, but it wasn't fabyooolous by any means.  And, I don't know if it was me or the recipe...I'm willing to go with a little of both, just to save some face here, plus the dots are darned cute.

I will totally try the dot thing again, and I liked Inchmark's suggestion of how to successfully pipe letters for decorating as well.  I think shall work on mastering dots first, then maybe some punctuation, before I try an actual letter.  And, next time, I will give the dots more time to dry.  The leftover dots that dried for about 15 hours were perfect--easy to pick up, no cracking.

Oh, and the poodle is no longer pink.

1 comment:

LinC said...

Love the dots! That's a totally cute cake. You should have posted a picture of the rose cake. I'll bet it was pretty, even if it didn't taste all that marvelous.

I agree with you about powdered milk. My folks went on a low-fat kick when I was in high school and wanted us to drink powdered milk. Bleeh. But adding powdered milk to recipes adds protein and some structure. On Saturday, I made a WW carrot cake for sister's birthday, and that recipe called for powdered milk and just a little flour. Turned out very tasty.