The crisp morning air and first frost behind us makes me smile a little and mourn a little. The fresh harvest vegetables will vanish for a season, yet comfort food will again reign complicity in its stead. The refreshing white wines are exchanged for bold new faces from some of my favorite regions such as Chilcauga, Rioja, Loire, and Jumilla.
This change of seasons puts me in the mood for some familiar faces as well as some newcomers to my repertoire. I have cooked and eaten more chicken than I can remember due to my mother's instilled love of the bird. My grandmother and great grandmother stuck to red meats and pork more, probably because my great grandfather was a dairy farmer and relied greatly on bovine sustenance for nourishment. He would be awfully proud to know that bacon, whole milk, and buttermilk have become forces in the cooking scene today. During the Great Depression, he raised pigs to sell for five cents a pound if I remember correctly. When he sold one of his pigs that weighed in at two hundred pounds, he would take in an incredible ten dollars. When I think of him, his stories just start pouring into my mind.
So, to get back to dinner and the micro-thanksgiving we had, I substituted a Cornish game hen for a turkey, included one starch/vegetable of roasted turnips and sweet potatoes, and one side. Having never worked with wheat berries, I took an ill-advised risk in only soaking them for only seven hours. Sometimes, being over eager gets the best of me. The taste of the warm wheat berry salad was excellent...aside from the slightly chewy texture. The fresh root vegetables still had dirt clinging to their skins as if to display a cloak straight from the ground. For the first time cooking a Cornish game hen, which is not much different than a small chicken, it is on my list to do again very soon. Moist, succulent meat that had just enough skin to crisp over with a jacket of olive oil and crushed sage. Fall is upon us and embracing it with open arms or a roasted game hen and root vegetables will not be regretted.
Sage Roasted Game Hen and Root Vegetables
1 (1-1/2 #) Cornish Game Hen
2 medium to large white turnips peeled and cut in 1/4 inch cubes
3 smallish sweet potatoes or yams peeled and cut in 1/4 inch cubes
1 medium Spanish Onion diced
5 T. crushed Albanian Sage divided
5 fresh sage leaves julienned
4 garlic cloves crushed
1/4 C. apple cider vinegar
1/2 of a lemon
salt and black pepper
The night before the bird is going to be cooked place it in a large bowl of water until just submerged then add vinegar and five tablespoons salt. Cover and chill in refrigerator until one hour prior to cooking. When hen has been removed from brine bath pat dry and coat with olive oil, a generous portion of salt and black pepper, and two tablespoons of crushed sage. Insert fresh sage and garlic into the hens cavity and tress the legs.
Steam turnips and sweet potatoes for about 8 minutes before adding to bottom of roasting pan. Coat generously with olive oil, salt and black pepper, and remaining crushed sage. Squeeze juice from the halved lemon over vegetables.
Set roasting rack in pan and place hen on rack and roast for approximately one hour and ten minutes or until chicken registers 165 degrees.
Warm Wheat Berry Salad
1 1/2 C. wheat berries
5 C. water
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1/3 C. halved grape tomatoes
1/4 C. toasted pecans coarsely diced
Soak 1 1/2 C Wheat berries overnight and rinse again before cooking. Bring water to a boil in pot and add wheat berries. Check occasionally to ensure water has not evaporated. Cook 1 hour or until berries begin to split open. Remove from pan and toss wheat berries with pecans, tomatoes and vinegar.