Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Personal Chickens With Citrus Apricot Ginger Glaze - Baked Stuffed Cornish Hens

 Baked Stuffed Cornish Hens With Citrus Apricot Glaze - "Personal Chickens"

Before I get to the recipe for the birds, I'm going to stage the scene with a bit of reminiscence- 

As a professional musician and artist I've had the great fortune to meet and become friends with some of the most excellent people of our time.  Many are writers or authors or media personalities, others are captains of industry, some come from very privileged backgrounds which have allowed them to pursue artistic paths, others travel frequently to Cons or other conferences.  For reasons I still don't understand it seems the Universe (Jesus? Ganesha? Quanyin? Anyone? Anyone?) desires my path to cross theirs in what is usually a serendipitous manner, late in the evenings; I've learned to read the signs and pay attention.  Some of these fine folk have become very good friends over the years, and we share all the trappings that good friends bring.  My friend M is one of those life-sharing friends who I was foreordained to meet in just that fashion: Ashley used to babysit her children when she was a teenager, in the DC area- nearly twenty years before we met and married. M is a world traveler, a research biologist with the Smithsonian, and also happens to be a top-level travel agent with a thirst for Science Fiction and Celtic Music.  She was our liason for two of the three tours of Ireland the band led, but she was never a tour leader except when she absolutely needed to be so. She just wanted to hang out with a bunch of like-minded cool folks and had the ability and talent to make it happen.  I've traveled with her, on boats and planes six thousand miles from home, drank whisky in centuries-old pubs... she's a Good Friend. Added to all this is a lifelong friendship between M and Ashley, which predates my presence in either of their lives by two decades- the kindly mocking voice of Gandalf whispers in my ear "A chance meeting... if chance it was..." She's also a bit of an Erma Bombeck-type, the quintessential Mom and has a full complement of domestic anecdotes. I posted another Cornish Hen dish on Facebook, to which M replied when her son was younger he called them "personal chickens" because everyone got their own hen. I loved it, and told her I'd try to make a signature dish and work "Personal Chickens" into the name of the dish. Her son's name begins with a "C", this one's for you-

Mister C's Personal Chickens With Citrus Apricot Ginger Glaze
Prep Time: 30 Minutes  Total Time: 2 Hours    Serves: 4
We like to brine the birds to make sure they don't dry out when browned in the oven.  Use enough water to cover them completely, add at least a half cup of salt and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the water and stir it to mix then add the birds to soak for at least 2 hours.  Safety dictates you refrigerate while brining, however I rarely have that much space in my refrigerator... do as you will, I say.  You will need:

4 Fresh or thawed and rinsed Cornish Game Hens (at least 24oz each) 
Citrus Apricot Ginger Glaze
4oz Apricot Preserves (or 4oz Dried Apricots with 2oz water and 2oz warm honey to soak until soft) 
2oz Fresh Pineapple, Orange or Grapefruit
4 Tbsp Fresh Ginger or Ginger Paste (dry ginger is less potent if you want to tone it down)
1 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes (more or less to taste)
1 Tsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Blend all ingredients until smooth, then set aside for glazing the birds

 Fruit Nut Stuffing

Bread Stuffing with Fruit and Nuts
4 Cups Stale Bread, cut into small cubes (whole grain or multigrain is good because it's very firm)
1 Cup Chopped Celery
1 Cup Chopped Onion
2 Tbsp Butter (just enough to moisten the bread)
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Almonds or Pistachios
1/4 Cup Dried Apricots, finely chopped
1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries, finely chopped
2 Tbsp Olive Oil and Butter, combined equal parts (1 Tbsp each, warmed and mixed)
Before you start preparing the stuffing, preheat the oven to 350F.
In a large sautee pan or cast iron skillet heat the olive oil/butter mixture and add the onions and celery, sauteeing until just soft then remove it to a bowl. In the skillet add the remaining butter and bread chunks, moving the bread until it is moistened then stir until the bread is very slightly browned. Then add the onions, celery, nuts and fruit to the bread and stir on medium-low heat until it's thoroughly mixed, steamy and soft. Remove the stuffing from the heat and cover it to keep it moist.
Remove the birds from the brine mixture, discard the brine and fill the cavities with the stuffing- it's OK if it overflows a bit. Place the stuffed birds neck-to-neck in the baking dish: I've found that it assists in cooking the thicker ends of the birds if they're arranged that way.  Glaze the birds generously and place on the center rack of the oven for 30 minutes. If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know what to do next; for you newcomers, this is the part of Cookin' With Mister C where the refreshing cocktail or glass of wine becomes necessary.  After all, you've just whipped up the beginnings of a culinary whirlwind and now you have to recharge... you're not done yet, and from here you're going to be moving pretty fast.  After 30 minutes pull those birdies out and add another layer of glaze, making sure to touch up those spots where they touch the sides of the dish and each other. If you're using a baking dish you may wish to pull the juices out of the dish for gravy or other purposes, because the brining makes for a very moist bird. Put the birds back in the oven, glazing at 15-minute intervals over the next 45 minutes. Make sure to turn the pan as often as needed to assure they all brown evenly and pull the juices with a baster bulb when the dish starts to fill up.
After a total of 75 minutes or so the birds should be glazed golden and beginning to crisp on the wingtips.  Remove the birds fromn the oven and all them to rest for the next 10 minutes or so while you pull together your sides; this time I served a Caesar Salad and Sauteed White Button Mushrooms. Place a Personal Chicken on each plate and your family and guests will know you did all this Just For Them.
Enjoy, and if you like this recipe and Cookin' With Mister C, please send your friends and dearest enemies to Life at GreenWood!

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