Cornish Game Hens with Roasted Apples and Shallots

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What is it about tiny food that makes it special? Roast chicken is always a good meal, but when you use tiny game hens it takes things to a whole new level. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’m going with it.

Rich and I had a date night last Friday and we planned a special dinner at home – Cornish game hens roasted with apples and shallots, a red rice and kamut medley and caramelized acorn squash.

I decided to butterfly the hens, so they would cook faster. I looked up how to do it and it sounded perfectly easy and straightforward. And it should have been.

I thought I knew which side was the chicken’s back. I was cutting along what I thought was the backbone, thinking the whole time, “This chicken sure has a lot of meat on its back. And it’s white like breast meat.” Oops.

I actually had to stand the little chickens up on their legs and visualize them walking around to figure out which side would be the back. I guess you could say I needed a little perspective. That sounds better than saying I am just clueless.

Perspective or no, our game hens turned out beautifully – tender, juicy meat topped with crispy skin. The apples and shallots lent their flavors to the meat and soaked up the juices at the same time. The picture doesn’t do it justice. We were in a hurry to eat, and didn’t take the time to do it right. Then we ate the subject.

Note: I figured on a hen for each of us, but we aren’t big meat eaters and ended up splitting one and saving the other. Plan accordingly – depending on your meat-eating habits.

Download or print the recipe here.

Cornish Games Hens with Roasted Apples and Shallots
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2-4, easy to double

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 apples
1 large shallot or small onion
2 Cornish game hens
¼ cup white wine or water
salt
pepper
paprika

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle a large baking dish with olive oil.

Core the apples, cut each into 8-12 wedges and scatter around the baking dish. Slice the shallot or onion into thin slices and scatter among the apples.

Remove the giblets from the cavity of the hens and discard or save for another use.

Working with one hen at a time, use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to cut along both sides of the backbone to remove it. Open the hen like a book, and place it skin side up on top of the apples and shallots. Repeat with the other hen.

Pour the white wine or water over the hens. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika.

Roast the hens, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the skin is browned and crispy and the legs move easily at the joints. If you pierce the flesh with a knife, the juices should run clear.

Let hens rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Date Night Flatbread Pizzas

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Rich and I had planned to go out to dinner last night and then maybe to a movie. Calvin has the day off from school today and had an overnight last night with my parents, so we were footloose and fancy free. Of course, when it came time to pick a restaurant, Rich and I were clueless. Even after running through a litany of old favorites and new possibilities, we ended up with a big, fat zero. The process of choosing was stressing us out, so we decided to stop trying to force it and make something at home instead.

Flatbread pizzas had caught my eye on several of the menus we perused. I do find that name kind of funny, and even redundant – what is a pizza, if not a flatbread, after all? But it is a recognizable thing on restaurant menus, so I’ll stick with the name, even if it offends my literal tendencies just a little bit.

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I mixed up our standby whole wheat pizza dough and let it rise while we concocted and gathered the rest of the ingredients. We had one shallot, which I decided to caramelize. It was as easy as pie to let it slowly transform to a lovely golden brown in the pan while we worked on the rest of dinner. I’m not sure why I have never caramelized shallots before, though if I had, we would have realized that a trip to the store for a few more would have been worth it. We both agreed we wanted at least twice as many shallots on our flatbreads.

In addition to the shallots, we used Jarlsberg, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little diced chicken breast from the freezer, fresh rosemary from my plant in the flowerbed, thinly sliced apple, garlic and olive oil.

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We made one flatbread with garlic, rosemary, chicken and mozzarella, one with rosemary, garlic and all the cheeses and two with apple, Jarlsberg and shallots. They were as good as some restaurant flatbread pizzas we have had. And we got to make them with exactly the toppings we wanted.

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Our evening was a little more low key than our original plans, but we weren’t complaining. We got a cozy evening together, cooking, eating and spending time doing exactly what we wanted – sounds like a perfect date night to me.

Fondue Friday

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There is a reason everyone who got married in the 60’s got a fondue pot for a wedding present – fondue is fun and relatively inexpensive entertainment – at least when you do it yourself. We figured out a few years ago that we like to have fondue more often than we can splurge on the restaurant version. Cheese fondue makes for a nice date night at home, or a fun family dinner when the cold winter winds are whistling past the windows and the same old dinner options seem ho hum. Sure, it’s a lot of cheese for one meal, but you aren’t going to do this very often, so celebrate the gooey cheesiness. And yes, there is wine in it. I figure that the kiddo gets about a quarter cup of wine, if that, in his serving.

For a while we had a fondue pot that used sterno cans to heat the pot. It was hit-or-miss at best – the sterno would either go out for lack of air, or it would burn merrily with that special sterno hiss and pop, getting the cheese too hot. I do have to say that the layer of browned cheese in the bottom was quite tasty, though. We never dared to try chocolate in it. Browned, toasty chocolate just isn’t the same as browned, toasty cheese.

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We finally got around to buying an electric fondue pot and wonder why we waited so long. The interior is nonstick, which is really nice for cleanup, and we can control the heat to the nth degree. No more sterno fumes or frustrated sessions with matches and dying flames. And sadly, no more browned cheese on the bottom. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

Cheese fondue has so few ingredients – they all need to be high quality. Make sure the wine is one you would actually drink, though you don’t have to go expensive to get good wine. And don’t even think of using American-style Swiss cheese in this. I get my Gruyere and Emmenthaler in the imported and specialty cheese section of my regular grocery store – no need for a trip to a specialty cheese store.

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Get (or make) good bread that has some flavor and isn’t Wonder Bread soft. I like to make Middle Eastern flatbread and use that. The small loaves have a lot of crust, which helps you keep your bread cubes on the fondue fork – less fishing for lost bread in the cheese. Make the whole thing a party and get the family, or some friends, together to make the bread that you are going to dip. The flatbread comes together in little more than an hour, which you can count as entertainment for your party or family night.

We also dip apples, and sometimes potatoes. You could branch out into blanched broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, if you like. When we do potatoes, I buy waxy red potatoes since they are firm enough to stand up to the whole dipping process. Mealy white potatoes fall apart when you try to spear them with the fork.

Chocolate fondue will have to wait for another time. For now, get the cheese, bake or buy the bread, and start dipping.

Download or print the recipe here. 

Cheese Fondue
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4 as a meal, 8 as an appetizer

If you don’t have a fondue pot, you can make this on the stove and serve it right out of the pot, or transfer to a crockpot set on high.

½ pound Jarlsburg, Emmenthaler or other strong Swiss cheese, shredded*
½ pound Gruyere cheese, shredded*
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
pinch nutmeg

*Don’t use Kraft, or other typical American-type Swiss cheese.

Dipping options:
1 medium loaf good quality French bread, cut into large cubes (or 2-4 loaves Middle Eastern flatbread)
2-3 apples, cut into large dice
1-2 large red potatoes, cooked and cut into large dice (see Note)

Note: For best results, boil potatoes whole and unpeeled until just tender when pierced with a fork. Cool slightly, then peel and dice. If you cook the potato too long and it won’t stay on the fondue forks, use a spoon to drizzle cheese over the potato pieces on individual plates.

In a bowl, toss cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. In a fondue pot (use the manufacturer’s recommendations for settings) or in a saucepan over medium heat, bring garlic, wine and lemon juice to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the wine. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, sprinkle top with ground nutmeg.

Serve at once with dipping options of choice.

Any leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated, though the fondue won’t be as smooth. I have used the leftover mixture in scrambled eggs and they were fabulous.

Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin and Apples

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You can’t get much easier than this for a weeknight meal. I think the hardest part is trimming the pork of the silver skin and fat. Once that is done, you have just a few minutes of browning and apple peeling and then the dish takes care of itself. Cook some rice and a vegetable or two and you have dinner in the bag – or rather, on the plate.

I first got the idea for this on the King Arthur Flour baking forum (check it out if you get a chance – interesting discussions on all things baking, and just about every other topic under the sun). I think the original discussion was on dinner ideas, and the combination of pork, apples and maple syrup sounded pretty good to me.

We like to use grade B maple syrup for this, with its strong, almost smoky flavor. Feel free to use grade A or pancake syrup if that’s all you have. Bear in mind that pancake syrup is sweeter than the real stuff, so you might want to use the smaller amount listed in the recipe.

The apples make this dish. Without them you just end up with maple flavored, nicely caramelized pork tenderloin. The apples are both sweet and tart with a hint of browned pork meatiness. We have doubled the original amount of apples and sometimes use up to four, depending on size. Obviously if you have huge apples you aren’t going to need as many.

Download or print recipe here.

Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin and Apple
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

I like to use firm, tart apples for this, like Pink Ladies or Granny Smiths, but use what you have on hand.

1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pork tenderloin, trimmed
2-4 firm apples, peeled, cored and diced
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup, grade B preferred

Preheat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add pork tenderloin and brown all sides, 3-4 minutes per side. Reduce heat to medium low and surround pork with apples. Drizzle maple syrup over everything. Cover and simmer over medium low heat for 20-30 minutes. Let meat rest 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving with apples and any pan juices. Leftovers reheat well.

Fried Apples

Over the last few weeks I have been longing for fall weather. I need long no more – today’s weather is all fall, though not brisk, sunny fall weather. It is dreary, damp and chilly – just the day for fried apples.

My parents made variations of fried apples when I was growing up. There was never a recipe, just a technique – apple slices cooked in a little butter, sometimes with white or brown sugar and cinnamon, and sometimes not. Depending on the apples, they were sometimes soft and saucy, other times browned and caramelized, with very little sauce.

My grandmother (Mom’s mother) made cinnamon fried apples for an accompaniment to Sunday dinner sometimes. I loved them because she made them with a handful of Red Hots to give them color and flavor. I was always amazed how red they got and how quickly those hard little candies melted into the mix.

I am skipping the fire engine red candy to bring you a recipe that you probably can make without a trip to the store. Apples with a touch of brown sugar, butter and cinnamon – the apples are the true star of the show here. If you go apple picking this fall, make sure you make some fried apples out of your bounty; preferably on the day you pick them. I don’t usually consider fruit a dessert, but if you make fried apples out of apples that were on the tree just hours before, they are good enough to (almost) push apple pie out of the way for a day.

Try these as topping for biscuits, toast or pancakes or as a side dish with dinner. I like them warm, but they are pretty good right out of the fridge, if you have any leftovers.

Fried Apples
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

Adjust amounts to suit your tastes, but be careful with the sugar – it is easy to add too much and make them too sweet.

4 medium apples, any variety
2 teaspoons butter
1-4 tablespoons water, if necessary
1-3 tablespoons brown sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Peel, core and quarter the apples. Slice each quarter into approximately ¼-inch slices. Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, 15-30 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low if the apples start to get too brown. Time will vary depending on the apple variety. If apples start to stick to the pan, add a tablespoon of water. If want a saucier consistency, or your apples aren’t juicy enough, add up to 4 tablespoons of water to the pan as you cook the apples.

Taste one piece and decide if you want to add a little brown sugar, a lot, or none. Add cinnamon, if desired. Cook, stirring constantly, about 5 more minutes. Serve hot, or at room temperature.

These reheat well in the microwave or in a pan on low heat. Add a little water if apples start to stick when reheating on the stovetop.

Download the recipe here.