Yesterday I cooked Thanksgiving for a small gathering of family and friends. Thanksgiving in Canada is held on the second Monday of October. Thanksgiving in Canada celebrates the harvest and being thankful for the bounty and to have a seat with family and friends – say farewell to Summer simply enjoy a dinner with family and friends. Life’s good!
Thanksgiving doesn’t change much: there’s the turkey, mashed potatoes, a soup, stuffing, roasted vegetables and dessert. I try to keep most of our traditional menu but I also like to break the monotony of the same old-same old Thanksgiving dinner: out was the whole roast turkey and in came Cornish hens. Out was homemade loaf of bread and in with cheddar-chive biscuits. Soup was out of the question as Toronto lucked-out on some Indian Summer and yesterday temperature reached 26C – not a soup kinda’ day. Dessert was brought in by a dinner guest and like every year…dessert can be anything as long as the ingredients are autumn-like.
Next up were these light, airy and very flavourful Cheddar and Chive biscuits, courtesy of Mike at Mike’s Table. You need some aged cheddar and lots of chives to make these biscuits a success. These were real easy to make and everyone at the table love them!
The main course was up: roasted Cornish Hens stuffed with goat’s cheese and figs. Since I didn’t roast a turkey I thought I could at least brine the hens. Result? Moist, succulent little birds that were wonderfully flavoured by the marinade of wine, garlic, herbs and citrus. I didn’t tell my guests their main was stuffed. It was a surprise. My sister-in-law cut into the hen and tasted the filling…”OH MY GOD THERE’S GOAT CHEESE IN THE STUFFING”!!! I think every dinner should have a surprise in one of the courses. This time it was the goat cheese and fig stuffing.
You can’t have a Thanksgiving Dinner without cranberry sauce.
I also love a traditional stuffing: I take the meat out the casings from Italian sausage and brown them with giblets, onion, celery, sage and stale bread and mix them up with stock and cream and throw it in the oven until golden. Now it smells like Thanksgiving!
All that’s left is to serve dessert: one of dinner guests brought a Pumpkin cheesecake with a Bourbon-Caramel-Walnut Sauce, many thanks to Paula of Dragons’ Kitchen. The perfect end to a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. I was speechless.
4 Cornish hens (thawed overnight in frozen)
fresh ground pepper
coarse sea salt
1 cup salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground fennel seeds
1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp. ground pepper
1 goat cheese
10 dried figs, roughly chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Pre-heated 400F oven
- One day ahead, rinse your hens well and place them in plastic container large enough to hold them. Fill the container with enough water to cover the birds them remove them set aside for a moment. Now add 1 cup of salt and stir until the salt has melted. Now place the hens back in the brine and cover and place in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, rinse your hens well and pat-dry. Place them in a container along with all the marinade ingredients (oil, wine, garlic, paprika, fennel, lemon juice and zest, thyme leaves and fresh ground pepper. Toss the hens well in the marinade and place in the fridge for for 3 hours. Remove from the fridge and allow about 30 minutes to return to room temperature. In the meantime, add the goat cheese in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add the remaining stuffing ingredients into the bowl and mix well and taste/adjust seasoning.
- Spoon the filling into the cavity of each hen then tie-up your birds with butcher’s twine. Pre-heat your oven to 400F. Place the birds on your roasting pan (raised on a rack) and pour the reserved marinade over them. Season the hens with salt and pepper and cut up one carrot, one medium onion and about 1 cup of chopped fennel bulb and place on the rack around the hens) and add about 2 cups hot water into the pan. Stick a spring of rosemary in between the leg and breast and roast your Cornish hens for approx. 60 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 180F (check to see if you need to add more water).
- Remove the hens from the rack, cover with foil and reserve. Pour the liquid in the pan into a gravy separator (discard veggies) and place a medium saucepan on your stove-top – medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp. of butter and when it melts, add a heaping Tbsp. of flour and stir in with a wooden spoon. Now add your hot pan juices gradually into the pot while stirring. Taste and adjust seasoning and when it’s thickened to your liking – take off the heat and reserve until dinner is served.
- By now your Cornish hens have rested – snip the butcher’s twine and place on a platter with roast vegetables and serve. I like red with this dish, try a Pavlou Estate Syrah-Xinomavro P62.
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