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Seriously Simple: Choose Cornish hens for a small holiday gathering

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Guests will love the switch to Cornish hens from holiday turkey.

This is a holiday stand-by favorite. If you are having a small group for holiday entertaining, consider serving these Cornish hens. The hens are very manageable, and no carving is required. Simply ask your butcher to halve the hens for you.

This recipe is quick to prepare, and guests will love the switch-up from holiday turkey. Slightly sweet, dried cranberries and dried apricots add an appealing note to the savory marinade. Dried cranberries are high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties which is a bonus.

Marinating the hens ahead of time gives you plenty of time to get the rest of the meal arranged. These hens cook so much faster than a larger bird, and they are attractive served on a plate or a platter. If I am serving them family style, I like to overlap the hen halves on a large platter, garnish with parsley, and serve. I count a half of a hen per person and one hen for a large eater.

Make sure to pour over the dried fruit wine sauce for a juicy result. Serve a simple vegetable rice alongside for a satisfying meal. To drink? Try a pinot noir or a Beaujolais nouveau for a complementary flavor. For dessert, I’d go with chocolate mousse, chocolate cake or even a hot fudge sundae with crushed peppermint candy for garnish.

Savory Cornish Hens with White Wine and Dried Fruit

Serves 4 to 6

For the marinade:

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons sherry

1/4 cup olive oil

2 shallots, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the hens:

3 Cornish hens, about 1 1/2 pounds each, halved

1 bunch Italian parsley

2 tablespoons chopped dried apricots

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup white wine

1. In a small mixing bowl combine the marinade ingredients and mix to combine. Place the hen halves in a zip-lock bag and pour in the marinade. Make sure the marinade is evenly distributed.

2. Seal the bag and refrigerate for 2 to 8 hours. Move the marinade around every few hours to evenly coat the hens.

3. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Remove the hens from the marinade and place them in a heavy roasting pan, breast side up. Pour over the remaining marinade. Roast the hens about 40 to 45 minutes, basting with the pan juices every 15 minutes, until the hens are golden brown.

4. Place the hens on a serving platter and cover with foil.

5. Add the apricots, cranberries and wine to the hens’ juices and place on top of the stove on medium-high heat. Reduce the juices for about 3 minutes or until the cranberries are softened. Taste for seasoning. Spoon over the hens, garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Advance preparation: This may be made through Step 1 up to 8 hours ahead, sealed and refrigerated.

(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at

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Native American chefs engage the holiday on their own terms -- making it about ingredients and foodways indigenous to North America, not the typical fare on our tables today. Learn more about the complicated food history of Thanksgiving.

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