Have a Happy, Healthy Christmas
It’s that time of year when we get overwhelmed. Not with cooking and cleaning duties, mind you—but with wacky suggestions for getting the bird to the holiday table.
I’ve got one friend who’s heartbroken every year because I refuse to make her turducken-on-steroids recipe: a quail inside a game hen inside a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. It’s hard to even know where to start with what’s wrong with that—but there is definitely something unappealing about trying to shove four birds into one turkey. Really, there’s no need for all this nonsense. Roasting birds is one of the kitchen’s easiest and most simple pleasures. Maybe that’s why a turkey is customary for the holidays: the mere sight of a golden, juicy bird is enough to put anybody in a celebratory mood. Plus, succulent and tender birds are exquisitely easy to prepare.
We all know chicken and turkey are low in saturated fat but Cornish game hens are too. Their flavor is like ultra-rich chicken, thanks to the way the roasting bones permeate the meat with their taste. As for slaving away in the kitchen all day, the bigger the bird, the longer the time in the oven. So if you’re up for an all-afternoon cooking event, go for the turkey, but when you have an hour to get a festive meal on the table, smaller quail or a Cornish hen is a better option.
Game Hens with Brussels Sprouts & Chestnuts
Serves 8 (unless you have teenage boys)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 4 Cornish game hens, 1-11⁄2 pounds each
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large red onion, peeled and cut through the root end into 8 wedges
- 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half if large (about 6 cups)
- 16 ounces jarred roasted chestnuts, (21⁄2 cups; see Shopping Tip)
- 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
- Remove giblets (if included) from game hens and trim any excess skin. Loosen the skin over the breast and thigh meat and rub half the thyme mixture under the skin. Tie legs together with kitchen string.
- Heat butter and oil in a large roasting pan set over 2 burners on medium heat. Add the game hens and brown on all sides, turning occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Add onion to the pan, transfer to the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts and roast for 20 minutes. Stir chestnuts and the remaining thyme mixture into the pan. Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh registers 165°F, 10 to 15 minutes more.
- Transfer the game hens to a large cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Place the roasting pan over 2 burners on medium heat. Toss the vegetables with vinegar and bring to a simmer, gently stirring and scraping up any browned bits. Remove the string from the game hens, turn breast-side down and slice in half lengthwise using a large heavy knife, cutting straight through to the breast side. Serve the game hens with the vegetables.
Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Roasting sweet potatoes is even easier than boiling and mashing them. Maple syrup glaze transforms this ultra-simple dish into something sublime.
- 2 1⁄2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 11⁄2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
- 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
- Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir, and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.
- Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.
No Crust Pumpkin Pie
This crustless pumpkin pie recipe is crazy. You could actually eat the entire 8 servings of pie and still, consume less fat and fewer calories than if you ate just one slice of many traditional pies! Not that I’d recommend eating an entire pie in one serving…and not that I haven’t done it… but I think that was many years ago after a holiday breakup. BUT this crust-less pumpkin pie, with its rich and almost custard-like texture, is so good you might want to do just that. I know what I’m making for Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And Easter. And Canada Day… Ok, maybe that’s going a little too far. After all, there are so many different pies out there just waiting to be baked.
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1⁄2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1⁄3 cup flour (Almost any will work, including all-purpose gluten-free, but NOT coconut flour)
- 1⁄3 cup xylitol or brown sugar
- Pinch uncut stevia OR 2 extra tbsp brown sugar
- 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
- 3⁄4 cup plus 2 tbsp milk of choice
- 2 tbsp oil, or omit and increase milk to 1 cup
- 1 tablespoon ground flax OR cornstarch
- 2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 400ºF, and grease a 10-inch round pan.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine first 7 ingredients, and stir very well.
- In a separate bowl, combine all liquid ingredients with the flax or cornstarch, and whisk.
- Pour wet into dry, stir to combine, then pour into the pan and bake 35 minutes. (It’ll still be gooey after baking, but that’s ok.)
- Allow to cool completely before transferring uncovered to the fridge to “set” for at least 6 hours before trying to slice.
So there you have it, a time saving, healthier, but still delicious Christmas dinner that will help you keep off those extra holiday pounds while giving you the ability to actually enjoy your family and friends instead of getting half snapped on wine as you drape yourself over the stove for eight hours. Now that’s what I call a holiday win.