Friday, January 4, 2013

Cornish Game Hen and Tips for a Dinner Party on a Dime

Dinner Parties don't have to mean days of planning, piles (... and piles... and piles) of dishes, or ingredients that break the budget!

These days, over-the-top is so overdone.  And simple and cost-effective can be just as elegant as a grand affair, leaving guests remembering the flavor of it all, in food, friends, fun and conversation.

Now, that sounds like a party!

... and so was this.

Mustard Thyme Roasted Cornish Game Hens with
Champagne Vinegar, Maple Syrup Sauce Shots
Salt-Roasted Potatoes
Rainbow Swiss Chard

(recipes below- and believe me, they are soooo simple.)

But first, here are 5 tips to make your next Dinner Party a hit

1. Remember the French.  They use simple flavors and real food. 

I won a cooking competition a few years back, and I'll never forget that one of the judging chefs came up to me afterwards and said they almost didn't make me a finalist because they thought my dish was too simple.  A good reminder, even to a professional, that simple flavors can often be the most special, like this Cornish Game Hen Dinner. Oh, and all six chefs voted for my dish to win!

2. If a guest asks what they can bring, by all means, let them!

Yes, I'm kind of a control freak.  And in the past, I'd opt for guests to "bring their favorite wine" rather then let them in on my coveted dinner plan.  But what I've realized (as I've come to my senses in my wise old age) is that additions from guests add to the specialness of the meal.  It not only gives them an opportunity to share one of their favorite dishes with pride, but also adds so much more interest to the evening- in eating, sharing recipes, and stories... well, and less dishes.

3. Make the meal fun.

I love adding a fun twist to the meal, something unexpected- like a childhood favorite of milkshakes made for dessert with pink and white striped straws, or panna cotta in martini glasses, or like I did above, by putting the sauce in individual shot glasses for each guest to be able to pour on.
4. Choose bright garnishes to spruce up the plate.

Dabbling in food photography, I've realized just how much bright colors are not only visually appealing, but also help get you drooling!  A sprig of rosemary, some lemon zest, sauces drizzled on the plate.  Not only do these look great, but having them on hand has actually helped me incorporate even more fresh foods into my recipes!

And don't forget flowers.  I often think how pretty each guest's plate looked with a beautiful impatience flower on it (next to the banana bread, or peach kuchen... or whatever) at the Bed & Breakfasts I worked at early on.  Completely memorable, and it always got a smile (and so inexpensive... just make sure and rinse flowers or leaves off well!)

Herbs, flowers and fruits are an inexpensive way to add a huge bang for your buck.

5. Add in some do-aheads or ready to eat foods.

Dessert is a great one for a do-ahead.  Cheesecakes, panna cottas, pies, apple dumplings (yum- those just popped in my head... Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo, I miss you!)  And don't forget to check out the olive bar at your local grocer.  And you can't go wrong with a lovely cheese platter (yes, cheese CAN break the bank, but if you're smart, you'll look for the markdown options.  I can often find cheeses that are about to go out of date at 75% savings... now that simply makes sense.)

And now for the recipes...

Mustard Thyme Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Champagne Vinegar Maple Syrup Sauce

2 Cornish Game Hens (Make sure and buy ahead as they are often frozen and will need a day of so to defrost in the refrigerator on a plate)
1/2 cup dijon mustard
1 Tblsp. fresh thyme, just the leaves.  (Slide your fingers up the "stalk" to get them off.) 
Sea or Kosher salt & pepper

1/2 c. chicken broth
2 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tsp. champagne vinegar
3 tsp. maple syrup
Olive oil
Sea or Kosher salt and Pepper
(note: the above is for 2 servings, adjust ingredients as needed for more)

For the hens, preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place hens in a roasting pan drizzles with a bit of oil, breasts down.  Rub the hen with a  bit of olive oil.  In a small bowl mix up dijon mustard and thyme, and season with salt and pepper.  Rub over the whole chicken in a nice thin coating (don't just glop it on, or it won't brown as nicely, and look kind of chunky.)  Place in oven uncovered and roast for about 1 hour, or until juices run clear.  (note: I dab on a bit of olive oil after cooked to add a bit of moisture and shine)

While hens are cooking, make the sauce. In a medium skillet, add broth, mustard, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and then simmer for about 8 min. or until thickened.

Salt-Roasted Potatoes

I got this idea from Melissa d'Arabbian, and honesty was a bit scared to try it- but I'm so glad I did.  It's SO simple, and delicious.  Just take whatever potatoes you'd like (I used red medium sized) and place in a dish in one layer.  I used a 9" square glass pan (no grease), but if you are making more, you can use a 9x13. 

Pour over kosher or sea salt just to cover and roast in a 375 degree oven for an hour or until crispy but soft in the middle.  You might need more time with larger potatoes, but I recommend going for baby or medium sized.  Once done, brush off as much or as little salt as you'd like and serve for a perfectly seasoned potato.  All you need to add is butter, sour cream, or whatever else you'd like.

A very impressive addition to your Dinner Party table.  And it's fun... almost looks like snow after it's cooked.

Rainbow Swiss Chard

Another simple recipe- just chop the leaves and stalks into bite sized pieces.  Sauté quickly to keep color, in a medium skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Add in any other seasoning you'd like such as chopped garlic or shallots, but I just kept it simple and just added salt, pepper and bit of red pepper flakes for a tiny bit of heat. 

Don't like Swiss Chard?  Substitute another vegetable roasted, like asparagus or Brussels.  But don't discount the Chard all together.  For just under $3 it can be used as a beautiful garnish instead... pink, red, orange, now we're talking some table color!

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