28 October 2013

Hazelnut & Brown Sugar Roasted Hens w/ Butternut, Grape & Sage Stuffing

After the spending an abundance of summer days in front of the barbecue, there is nothing that the hubs and I enjoy quite like a roast bird.  Not only does it make an excellent and super fancy-shmancy dinner, but the oven also helps heat the house.  Cooking absolutely has its perks.  Warm home, delicious dinner...that's a win-win combo.

Scene:  The dairy section of a our market.  Enter the Mrs. stage left, clasping a butternut squash to her heart with light in her eyes.  Enter the hubs, stage right, with two cornish game hens and a finger pointed at the $7 price tag.  They grasp hands, smile at one another and skip off down the baking isle into the sunset.  Curtain.  Applause.  (Encore?)

Ok, that may be romanticized a bit, but the basic idea is fact.  I wanted squash, he wanted hens and behold, dinner was born.  My hubs has a knack for poultry and came up with a fantastic rub for these cute little individual-sized birds - ground hazelnuts and brown sugar.  The nuts toasted up to glorious perfection while the brown sugar added a touch of sweetness for a uniquely delicious twist.  Never before have I had a bird with skin so incredibly crisp, with literally double the crunch thanks to the ground nuts.  Point hubs.

Now my squash and I had quite a bit of fun.  I love it either oven or pan roasted, especially when paired with chicken.  I also like a little fruit in my stuffing, and the grapes added nice moisture and flavor along side the squash, fresh sage and even more chopped hazelnuts.  The stuffing was enough for a small duck or chicken and we baked the leftovers on the side.  It was both delicious on its own and baked inside the bird.  To match the sweetness of the skin, a little brown sugar would be an excellent addition to the stuffing but the hubs and I found the grapes added enough sweetness for our taste.  

Little hens are show pieces.  If you want to impress someone on a date, this is absolutely one they will never forget.  Just imagine your date showing up to a home filled with delicious roasted scents and nothing for you to do but wait for the timer to ring.  Wine, anyone?  However, you might want to avoid this on the first date...unless you're lucky enough to find someone who finds eating with your fingers and chewing on bones attractive....  

...like this little love right here.  Sorry pups, no hen for you!  But she did get lots of drippings and a little breast meat in her kibble, more than enough to make her scarf dinner down faster than a speeding chug.  (Not just a pug, but a chihuahua too..huzzah!)

The hubs prepared the birds a few hours before dinner and I mixed the stuffing as the oven pre-heated.  Once they had been popped in to roast, all that was left to do was throw together a quick side salad and crack a bottle of white wine.  Voila, uber romantic dinner that may or may not have been eaten in sweats.  No judgement!  

Hazelnut & Brown Sugar Roasted Hens (2 hens)
  • 2 cornish game hens
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (we used herb infused, but any would do)
  • 1/3 c ground hazelnuts
  • 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
Wash and dry the hens inside and out.  Drizzle with the olive oil and rub into the skin.  In a small bowl, mix together the hazelnuts, brown sugar, pepper, salt and garlic powder.  Generously cover both birds with the hazelnut mixture, being sure to penetrate all crevices and the bottom of the bird.  Transfer to a pie dish, cover with plastic wrap and store for up to 8 hours in the refrigerator.  

When ready to cook, remove the birds from the refrigerator and pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Stuff the bird with stuffing (or 1/4 onion, 1/2 celery stalk & 1/2 carrot) tying the legs together to help everything stay inside.  Place the birds on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake* for 50-60 minutes, until an internal thermometer reads 165 degrees.  Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Butternut, Grape & Sage Stuffing (serves 2)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 c freshly chopped sage (about 8 leaves)
  • 1 c cubed butternut squash
  • 2 tbs onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
  • pinch each salt & pepper
  • 1/2 c grapes, halved
  • 3/4 c stale whole wheat bread cubes 
  • 1/4 c reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar (optional)

Place a medium non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the olive oil and swirl to coat.  Add the sage and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the squash and toss in the oil to coat.  Spread into a single layer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once, until browned.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper.  Continue to cook for 8-10 minutes, until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.  Remove from the heat and transfer to a small bowl.

Add the cubed bread and broth to the squash and toss together with a spoon.  Stuff into the hens prior to roasting or bake uncovered in a greased baking pan for the last 30 minutes of roasting time with the birds.  

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