It may be an irreverent proposal, but we contend that even Thanksgiving dinner can be purchased in the express lane of the supermarket. It would be nice, its being a holiday, if you'd make a stop by the liquor store, too, to pick up a bottle of white wine, or at the very least, a little sherry.
While this won't be the groaning board you find at Grandmother's house, it's a nice little dinner nonetheless. In fact, it's been designed for those who prefer dinner to be an intimate meal rather than a mass feeding. Best of all, you can spend most of your day at the zoo (it's open on Thanksgiving) and not begin dinner until the last minute.
Whatever the occasion, a dinner of cornish game hens always makes it seem a little more festive because the meal appears in a neat little package. The birds also maintain the heavy poultry theme that is so popular at this holiday. If the cook feels tradition-bound, then a tasty thick gravy can be stirred up using the drippings. There is a high proportion of skin to flesh, however, making this a relatively rich piece of poultry so that gravy is superfluous.
For many, Thanksgiving means turkey stuffing, so the cornish hens will get similar treatment. The following recipe is not only delicious, it requires no skill and takes little time to make.
Broccoli sprinkled with parmesan cheese rounds out the main course. But you still have room for two more items. Finish the marketbasket with an onion and a can of beef broth which, given time to simmer together, make a fair onion soup. Since life in the express lane is somewhat limiting, let your guest bring the pumpkin pie.
If you manage to pick up the sherry, each portion of soup will benefit from the addition of perhaps 1/2 teaspoon or so; overcome the temptation to be heavy-handed. This soup does not get the final gratin with cheese and bread because it is served as a first course. There's more food to come, and the traditional garnish would spoil the appetite for the generous meal to follow. If you think about it, save a few of the green tops from the scallions used for stuffing. Chop these and sprinkle them over the soup right before serving.
As always, it is assumed every kitchen is equipped with flour, sugar, butter, salt and pepper. Freshly ground pepper always adds a kick that pre-ground pepper just doesn't have. In the case of "Express Lane" meals, this unique flavor is especially important because other embellishments are limited.
Express lane list: cornish hens, tarragon, bread, scallions, broccoli, parmesan cheese, beef broth, onion.
THANKSGIVING HENS (2 servings) 2 cornish hens 2 tablespoons melted butter 1 teaspoon tarragon Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Remove the giblets from the cavities of the hens. If the giblets are preferred for the stuffing, set them (with the exception of the livers) to simmer while you prepare the hens. Place hens on a rack over a baking dish. Combine butter and tarragon and brush the hens with the mixture. Bake the hens in a 400-degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally. Fill cavities with bread stuffing the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. Chop the hearts and gizzards and add to bread stuffing below, if desired.
EASY BREAD STUFFING (2 servings) 4 cups fresh bread cubes 1/4 cup butter 1/2 cup chopped scallions 3/4 teaspoon dried tarragon Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cut enough bread (whole-wheat is fine) in 1/2-inch cubes to make 4 cups (very loosely packed). Melt butter in a large skillet. Cut and discard the roots from the scallions. Slice the scallions, including any green that isn't wilted. Add them to the butter along with tarragon, and cook over medium heat until transparent. Add the bread, salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Turn the heat to high and toss the bread rapidly and constantly until it gets toasty. Remove from heat and set aside. Before the hens have finished baking, use this mixture to stuff their cavities.
BROCCOLI WITH CHEESE (2 servings) 1 head fresh broccoli 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Trim and clean the broccoli, using about half of the florets (with some stem attached) from one head to serve two people. Heat about 1/2 inch of water in a saucepan, add the florets, cover and steam gently until barely tender. Drain off any liquid and toss with cheese, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
QUICK ONION SOUP (2 or more servings) 1 medium white onion 1 tablespoon butter 10-ounce can beef broth Sherry, if desired
Peel and slice the onion. Melt butter in a saucepan and add onion slices. Cook very gently over low heat until the onion is wilted and quite brown. Add broth and an equal amount of water. Allow the soup to simmer about 30 minutes to develop flavor, adding 1/2 to 1 cup more water toward the end of cooking. Before serving, stir in a tablespoon of sherry, if desired.