Thanksgiving for two

The holiday dinner can be festive even without the crowd.

Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/Newscom
Less can be more: Rock Cornish game hens are diminutive birds that are usually served one per person. They’re best marinated if grilled, or stuffed with an herb-rich dressing when roasted.

What are your memories of Thanksgiving as a little kid? Probably, if they're anything like mine, it was of Mother hauling a turkey the size of a Volkswagen Beetle to the dining room table, while Dad stood there wielding a threatening knife and fork that looked like some sinister relics from the Spanish Inquisition. My extended family, which was as large as any Cecil B. DeMille cast, would ooh and aah as Mother shyly blushed at the applause. "Oh, it was nothing, really."

Hidden behind a mountain of mashed potatoes, you'd raise your hand for a drumstick, more gravy, a little of Auntie's green bean casserole, and sink deep into your chair when those dreaded Brussels sprouts were passed around.

After dinner and a buffet table of endless desserts, the men, bloated as beached whales, would retire to the living room to watch football, while the women (as if they hadn't done enough), would dutifully clear the table, do the washing up, and wrap leftovers in aluminum foil for all the guests to take home.

In any case, it was always a big, chaotic event.

It's not always that way today. Families may be scattered, and kids may be off to college or living in their first apartments, and the grandparents might just be happy to stay put at Briny Breezes mobile home park in Florida.

If you're an empty nester, or just celebrating the holiday with your main squeeze at college this year, it may be time for a quiet hassle-free dinner for just the two of you.

Less may not be more, but it may make more sense.

Enter the Rock Cornish game hen.

A hybrid of the Cornish and White Rock hen, these diminutive birds are dressed out at no more than 2-1/2 pounds when brought to market at between four and six weeks old. Given the relatively small proportion of meat to bone, one bird is usually served per person.

These birds, however, are not the most flavorful chickens that ever crossed the road. The two best ways of cooking Cornish game hens are marinating if you're grilling them, or stuffing with an herb-rich dressing when roasting.

So if you want a holiday from the holiday, this menu is for you. It's not gourmet; it's the essence of simplicity. The pumpkin is from a can. The greens are simply sautéed in a bit of garlic-infused olive oil, and the game hens are just stuffed with herbs and onion.

So here's to a hassle-free, relaxing Thanksgiving.


1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine pumpkin, honey or maple syrup, and nutmeg.

Spoon pumpkin mixture into a small baking dish.

Brown walnuts or almonds in a small frying pan. Sprinkle toasted nuts on top of pumpkin. Bake mixture for 20 to 30 minutes, or until pumpkin is heated through. Serves 2.


3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bunch fresh collard greens

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil and garlic in a wok or large frying pan. As soon as garlic begins to brown, remove it and discard. Trim stems from collard greens, add to flavored olive oil, and toss until greens are wilted. Add salt and pepper before serving. Serves 2.


2 Rock Cornish game hens, defrosted if frozen

Salt and pepper

2 large sprigs rosemary

1 large onion, peeled and halved

2 bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Melted butter for basting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Rinse and dry game hens. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Divide ingredients and stuff hens with rosemary, onion halves, bay leaves, and garlic. Beginning at cavity, carefully make a pocket by separating the skin from the breast meat with your fingers. Spread Dijon mustard in the pocket. Roast on a rack in roasting pan, basting occasionally with melted butter.

After 1 hour, check for doneness. The birds are done when juices run clear when thighs are pierced with a fork, or they reach a temperature of 180 degrees F. For further browning, increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F. and roast for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let hens rest 10 minutes before carving. Serves 2.

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