Thanksgiving is twenty days away, the big feast holiday of the year. This is the time when families gather, memories are taken out and polished like the precious keepsakes that they are, and food is eaten in quantities and combinations most people wouldn't consider on any other day of the year. These are good times, but not everyone is in a position to partake. We have a rather large family that usually gathers at our house, and it's going to be great, as it always is, but you know me, always thinking of those less fortunate...
You may be a student far from home, unable for various reasons to make the trip home; or maybe you can only make one trip, and you want to save it for Christmas. Maybe you just started a new job in a distant city and can't get the time off. Whatever the reason, it's just you, maybe a new spouse, and a couple of friends, and you don't need a turkey the size of a Volkswagen beetle and a 55 gallon drum of dressing. What's a body to do? Well, if a body's smart, it will come right here to the Hideout where Mad Jack is waiting to enlighten you. I've put my head together with the other denizens of the Hideout (and believe me, the world isn't ready for that picture!), and come up with a small yet still festive menu that will enliven the smallest gathering.
This is a Cornish game hen. Cute little devil. Good with devilled eggs, too. It's a hybrid produced in Connecticut in the mid 1950s by crossing the small Cornish chicken with a variety of other small breeds. The result was an individual-serving chicken whose only function is to be eaten. Sorry, I'm not trying to be callus here. If I had to kill my own meat (especially something this cute), I'm pretty sure I'd be a vegetarian, but I don't, and I'm not, and I'll come to terms with that later.
Right now, the task at hand is to turn that little bird into this succulent treat for the palate, and as you might imagine, I've got a recipe for that! Now, I looked over a raft of Cornish hen recipes on Google, and what they all have in common is the level of fanciness attached to them. They're out there with rosemary, lemon glazes, Chinese vegetables, elaborate stuffings, things that would seem to make preparing four of these a far bigger chore than stuffing one turkey. I decided not to go that way. Decades ago, I stumbled upon a game hen recipe that is simple, easy to prepare, and doesn't use a lot of ingredients that will mask the flavor of the bird. Back in 1984 I began to collect my favorite recipes in a journal, and this was the second one I listed. It's still good.
Herbed Cornish Hens
3 Cornish Game Hens
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
1/4 lb Softened Butter or Margarine
1/4 cup Dry White Wine
2 tbls Thinly Sliced Green Onions
1 tsp Crumbled Leaf Tarragon
1 tsp Finely Chopped Parsley
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
Thaw hens. Preheat oven to 350'.
Split each hen in half lengthwise and place in single layer in a shallow baking dish with skin side down. Gently loosen skin from meat on each breast to form a pocket. Pour Chicken Broth over. Whip Butter in mixing bowl with fork until fluffy. Stir in Wine and other ingredients, mixing well. Place rounded tablespoon of Butter mixture in pocket of each breast. Turn hens skin side up and pour remaining mixture over.
Bake, covered with foil, in 350' oven for 45 minutes, basting with drippings every 15 minutes. After final basting, uncover and broil for 15 minutes.
A word about this recipe: It assumes everyone will eat half of a hen, which gives each diner a breast, back, wing, leg, and thigh. You know your guests. Look at these birds when you buy them, and if you think some of your guests can eat a whole one, buy accordingly. Just like turkeys, they're great cold, and you can make one sweet Hero from the leftovers the day after.
Okay, it isn't Thanksgiving without stuffing. Since this is a guideline for a small celebration, I recommend you buy a boxed one. It is Thanksgiving, so get the big brand name; don't want one of your guests finding a piece of doggie kibble in the Great Value stuffing, now do we? If part of the joy is making your own, game hens can be bought with giblets, and with 3 or more hens, you should have plenty.
Now, the vegetable. If you have a traditional family favorite, by all means, have at it. If you don't, and you want to do something a little fancier than just putting a can of corn in a bowl, my main squeeze Bonzo offers this:
Green Bean Casserole
2 - 3 cans of Green Beans (use frozen if that's your preference)
1 can of Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken soup
1 tbls Margarine
1/2 cup Milk
2 cans French's French Fried Onions
Preheat oven to 350'. Drain (or thaw) Green Beans and put into casserole dish. Mix Soup and Milk in saucepan. Add Margarine and heat until warm and well mixed. Layer French Fried Onions over Green Beans. Pour Soup mixture over ingredients in casserole and cover with foil.
Bake at 350' for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and serve. Serves 6.
Don't forget the traditional Holiday side dishes; cranberry sauce is a given; our family's always been big on the black olives. Devilled eggs always put in an appearance on our Thanksgiving table. All that's up to you.
And that brings us to desert. Some folks like specific desserts for Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pie comes to mind. I like mince myself. Of course, you can buy a pie ready made or frozen, and they're pretty palatable these days. If you have a traditional recipe you make, Thanksgiving is the time, but if you don't, if you want to bake, and would like to try something new, my awesome daughter, Nine, brings her specialty to the table:
Coriander Fruit Crumble
1 tsp Butter or Margarine
1.5 lb Cooking Apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
8 oz Fresh or Frozen Blackberries, (thawed and) washed
2 tbls Soft Brown Sugar
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Butter or Margarine
2 tsp Ground Coriander
Preheat oven to 350' (We're keeping this one-oven simple for you). Lightly grease 2 quart baking dish with the teaspoon of Butter. Put Apples and Blackberries in the baking dish and sprinkle with the Brown Sugar and Cinnamon. To make the crumble topping, put the Flour and Sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl. Cut the Butter into the mixture with a table knife. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the ground coriander. Sprinkle the crumble on top of the fruit and bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes. Remove and serve.
Nine has made this many times, and it changes a little with each incarnation. It can be made in a pie shell, which makes it a bit less messy. The apples don't have to be peeled, and it works equally well with Pink Lady, Gala, or Honeycrisp. Of course, they do have to be cored and sliced. For a sweeter flavor than the often-tart blackberries, use strawberries. She has also made it with dark sweet cherries, and the "Fruit Medley" sold in the frozen food section. It's all good. She usually serves it with Cool Whip. Vanilla ice cream, for a traditional ala mode has its attraction, and the flavor is rich enough to stand on its own. She has recently teased us with a vision of this pie made with strawberries alone, served with chocolate ice cream. We haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like something best shared by consenting adults.
So, there you have it, my Holiday gift to those of you who aren't in a position to have a big feast: A miniature big feast that will leave you just as stuffed and happy as those huge meals you used to have at home. Really, I'd like to see everyone surrounded by loved ones at this time of year, but that isn't the reality, so if this makes your Holiday a little brighter, it was our pleasure. Enjoy it to the hilt!
I'm going to tentatively schedule my next update for November 11th, Veterans Day. I will most likely not do another patriotic post. I covered that on Memorial Day and in my recent essay on Stolen Valor, and it's hard to write something on that subject without getting political, which I strongly wish to avoid. Most of you know that I am a decorated veteran who loves America, and we'll let it go at that. Worry not, gentle readers, I'll pull something out of my a... I mean, a carefully researched and technically hyper-accurate article of great social impact will appear in this space. Yeah, that's it. See you next Friday!