Go big on Thanksgiving by thinking smaller
These straight-forward, seasonal Thanksgiving dishes — (from left) roasted grapes, Cornish hen, apple stuffing, green beans with bacon, mashed potato tower, cranberries, butternut batons and balsamic mushrooms — will make your dinner less stressful.
Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Apple Stuffing
Serves 4-8 (can be doubled)
Whether you are making a 20-pound turkey or 1-pound hen, always make your own bread cubes for holiday stuffing. Cut your favorite fresh bread into 1/2 inch cubes and allow the cubes to dry on racks on your kitchen counter overnight.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 celery stalk, minced
1/2 cup sweet onion, minced
1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
Leaves from 3 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup pepitas
3 cups of dried bread cubes
1/4-1/2 cup chicken broth
4 Cornish game hens, cleaned, rinsed and patted dry
Juice from 1 navel orange
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the celery, onion and apple until tender (about 15 minutes). Season with thyme leaves, salt and pepper and remove skillet from heat. Transfer vegetables to a mixing bowl and add the raisins, zest, pepitas, bread cubes, egg and enough broth to moisten as desired. Adjust seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Loosely stuff the hen cavity with the stuffing mixture and tie the legs together. Season the exterior of the hens with salt and pepper and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the orange juice, honey and pepper flakes. Increase the oven temperature to 425 and brush the glaze over the hens. Continue roasting until hens are golden brown, cooked through and stuffing registers 165 degrees (about 30 minutes). Take care this sweet and spicy glaze does not burn; tent the birds with foil to prevent burning if needed.
Updated: November 15, 2012 7:44AM
Everything about Thanksgiving is big; extended tables to fit more family, gargantuan birds that are roasted and served next to vats of mashed potatoes and gallons of gravy.
Thanksgiving hosts know counter space will be at a premium on the big day and every single platter and serving bowl within reach will get used. Preparing an oven schedule to ensure your feast finishes in a timely fashion practically requires a degree in strategic planning. The sheer size of the holiday can overwhelm even the most confident of cooks, but putting Thanksgiving dinner in perspective is as simple as thinking a little smaller.
Cooking a turkey that weighs less than 12 pounds will invariably yield a lackluster result so rather than cook to excess for a smaller group, take control over portion size and bring a sense of elegance back to your holiday table. Cornish game hens and an array of straight-forward, seasonal side dishes allows artful cooks to capture the bold variety of Thanksgiving flavors in a more diminutive display. And hey, who doesn’t want to eat their own teeny-tiny turkey?
Each of these six stress-free Thanksgiving side dishes will have a welcome place at you family table. When served together, they offer a balance of sweet, salty and acidic flavors that round out any holiday menu perfectly. Additionally they offer a lovely visual balance to keep a micro-Thanksgiving presentation in perspective, but would be equally delicious served alongside a big beautiful bird!
Cut red grapes into small clusters (can be done 1 day ahead) and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the grapes at 400 degrees until hot and slightly caramelized, but not collapsed (about 20 minutes). Serve warm.
Peel and cut a butternut squash into 2-inch by 1/2-inch batons (can be done 1 day ahead; refrigerate until ready to cook). Season the squash liberally with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Heat olive oil in a skillet until nearly smoking. Sear the batons on one side until golden brown. Turn the squash and add 1/2 cup water to the pan. Cover the pan, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until squash is tender.
Green Beans with Bacon:
Cook 1/4 cup diced sweet onion with two strips of chopped bacon in a skillet until crisp. Meanwhile cook 1 pound of trimmed green beans or haricot vert in boiling salted water until crisp tender (about 3 minutes). Drain and toss with the bacon, onion and drippings. Season with salt and pepper.
Cranberries with Rosemary:
Combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup fruity red wine, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary and 1 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and add 1 pound fresh cranberries. Cook and stir until berries burst. Cool and refrigerate until ready to serve. Berries can be prepared 1 week in advance.
Mashed Potato Towers:
Bake 1 small oblong russet potato per person plus 2-3 extra at 400 degrees for 70 minutes or until soft. Cut a sliver off one end of each potato so it can stand on its end. Cut the top off each potato and use a small spoon to scoop out the potato (take care to keep the skin intact). Mash the potatoes in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add butter, fresh chives and milk and whip until smooth. Adjust seasoning and allow to cool. Transfer mashed potatoes to a Ziploc bag. Snip the tip of the bag and pipe the potatoes back into the prepared skins. Refrigerate until ready to use (can be done 1 day ahead; refrigerate until needed). Reheat filled potatoes in a warm oven.
Halve 1 pound of Cremini mushrooms. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet and sear the mushrooms (cut side down first) in batches until deep golden brown. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and toss with minced Italian parsley and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Mushrooms can be served warm or at room temperature.