At this waning of the calendar year, the "T" stands for Thanksgiving and our annual American ritual of feasting and giving thanks for bounty and blessings received.
Many of us remember when the three extra leaves to extend the dining room table were not enough. Matching dishes and glassware were less important than the number of available chairs.
With today's accelerated lifestyles however, the laden, holiday "groaning board" has, in many instances, given way to a set-for-two festively dressed kitchen or card table. Many pairs may not have family close with whom to share, but our comfort foods continue to be important, and we want to eat them at home.
Saluting Pilgrim origins and personal culinary hand-me-downs, accompany your "bird" with remembered favorites. You may want to eschew marshmallow-crested yams and prepare simple baked sweet or fluffy white mashed potatoes ... but yes, do serve cranberry sauce and Grandmom's stuffing in some guise - but start a few traditions of your own.
Upscale content with downscale size is what it's all about, and Cornish game hens score on both points. One plan suggests imaginative use of these smaller members of the poultry family, as in these recipes of celebrity chefs Todd English and Michael Roberts. Or you can use these same recipes and modus operandi for turkey parts: either breasts, legs with thighs, or both.
Pan-Fried Cornmeal and Cumin-Rubbed Cornish Game Hens
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
2 teaspoons chopped and peeled fresh ginger
1 large egg
1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
1/3 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
5 tablespoons.all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 14-ounce Cornish game hens, butterflied and backbone removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Place cilantro, scallions, and ginger in a shallow bowl; mix together. Lightly beat the egg in another shallow bowl. Combine cumin, cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper in a third shallow bowl.
Dip hens in cilantro mixture, then in the egg, then in the cornmeal mixture.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the hens one at a time, and saute until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Put hens in a large baking pan. Roast until they are deep brown and completely cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Adapted from 'The Olives Table', by Todd English and Sally Sampson, Simon & Schuster, New York 1997.
Game Hens with Roast Garlic and Candied Anise
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic head, separated into cloves, skin left intact
2 Cornish game hens, trussed
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 small bulb, about 8 ounces, anise (fennel), trimmed of feathery leaves
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup water
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil, add garlic and saute until the skins are a deep golden color. Add hens and brown on both sides. (If the garlic begins to turn black or burn, remove from skillet and reserve). Add chicken stock, lemon juice (and garlic if you removed it). Sprinkle hens with salt, bring to a boil, and place, uncovered, in the oven for 30 minutes, turning once.
Trim any discolored leaves from the anise bulb and slice into 1/4- inch cross sections. In a small skillet saute anise with sugar and water over medium heat. Simmer until liquid is evaporated and the anise looks glazed and shiny; mix in the tarragon. Reserve while hens cook.
Transfer skillet with the hens to the stove top, place over high heat, and reduce the liquid until it is a shiny, glaze-like sauce.
Arrange hens on heated serving platter. Garnish with the candied anise and scrape and spread the glaze/sauce and garlic over the top.
Adapted from 'Secret Ingredients', by Michael Roberts, Bantam Books, New York, 1988.
Cranberry-Red Pepper Relish
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
2 cups cranberries, picked through and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 jalapeno chile (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens to a jamlike consistency, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature. (Relish can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 weeks.) Yield: About 2 1/2 cups. May be served in yellow bell pepper halves.
From 'The Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry', Editors of Cook's Illustrated, Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York, 1999.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society