Rock Cornish Game Hens

March 28, 2015 – There’s nothing rocky, Cornish or gamey about Rock Cornish Game hens.  There’s nothing exotic about them.  In fact, the Rock Cornish Game hen on your plate might not even be a hen.  Suppliers pay no attention to the bird’s sex.  They’re all called hens.  Embarassing for the guy birds.  But what’s a hen to do?

Like so many of the foods we love the Rock Cornish Game hen came into existence out of disaster.  One of those “What do we do now?” moments.

The story starts, as many food stories do, in rural France, the birthplace of Alphonsine Therese Davalis, known as “Te” to her family and friends.  At the young age of 15 she moved to Paris where she found work in a milliner’s store and a cheese shop.

There she met Jacque Makowsky, a prominent printer.  Makowsky had been a printer for Nicholas II, the last Tsar of the Russians.  He had fled to Paris to escape the Bolshevik Revolution.

Jacque and Te were married in 1933.  By 1940 they were on the run again.  This time fleeing Paris after France fell to the Nazis.  Fortunately for them, for us, for food lovers everywhere, they wound up in the United States.  Specifically in New York City.  There Jacque resumed his printer’s trade until he retired in 1946.

Like many urban dwellers retirement allowed them to pursue a new dream.  They moved to Connecticut where they operated a farm they named Idle Wild Farm.  They raised Guinea hens for upscale New York restaurants.

In 1949 disaster struck.  A fire destroyed much of their farm including the entire flock of Guinea hens.  Another “What do we do now?” moment for Jacque and Te.

Luckily Te had been reading about various breeds of chickens.  She suggested that they try cross-breeding a Cornish Game chicken, noted for its short legs and plump, round breast, with a White Plymouth Rock chicken.  She thought the result would be a small bird with succulent meat that they could market after about four weeks of growth rather than the standard seven weeks.

She had no idea how successful her plan would be.  She had thought it would be a way to keep the farm while they restored their flock of Guineas.  Instead the upscale restaurants who were their customers, including the prestigious 21 Club, loved the new birds.  By the mid ’50s the Makowsky’s were receiving orders for 3,000 Rock Cornish Game hens per day.

At first it was a bird enjoyed only by the upper classes in fancy restaurants.  The musician and comedian Victor Borge was an early supporter of the Makowskys.  He was the one who made the general public aware of the Rock Cornish Game hen.  By the late 1950s the small birds were showing up in home kitchens throughout the country.

The recipe that follows is nothing new.  It’s been published in dozens of cookbooks and featured on scores of cooking shows.  Most everyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen has used it.  It’s just a really good way to cook a Rock Cornish Game hen.  Or a chicken.

There’s nothing sacred about the spices listed here.  Use your favorites.  Just be sure they’re fresh rather than dried.

Rock Cornish Game Hens with Fresh Herbs

2 Rock Cornish Games hens                                                                                               Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste                                                                              1/2 stick butter                                                                                                                 1/3 cup chopped parsley                                                                                                    3 tablespoons snipped chives                                                            1 tablespoon chopped rosemary                                                                                        1 tablespoon chopped thyme                                                                                            1 tablespoon chopped sage                                                                                         Olive oil                                                                                                                       Dried sage

Bring the butter to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 450.

Mix the butter, parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme and sage until it is a paste.  If you make the paste in a food processor be sure to use the pulse feature.  You don’t want a liquid.  You want a paste.

Using your fingers, carefully separate the skin from the breast of each bird.  Spread some of the herb butter between the skin and breast of the birds.  Stuff the cavity of the bird with any left over sprigs of fresh herbs.

Rub olive oil all over the birds.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle dried sage over each bird.

Place them into a roasting pan.  Cook at 450 for about 20 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 350 and continue to cook for about 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced.

Bon Temps!


Cypress Inn

March 6, 2015 – It was 1929.  I had just checked into the beautiful Cypress Inn in Carmel By the Sea.  The off white stucco in my room was as soothing and inviting as it was throughout the magnificent boutique hotel.  Through the louvered French doors I could gaze out into the pocket courtyard that I  shared with a handful of other rooms.  As day faded to evening tiny white lights came on illuminating all the trees, bushes and ironwork in our little courtyard and all through the hotel.

OK.  It wasn’t 1929.  It was Friday.  The hotel was built in 1929.  And 86 years later it’s still a striking building.  A splendid feat of architecture.

My room was cozy and comfortable.  I wished that it was colder so I could have enjoyed the fireplace more.  An alcove set into the wall was just big enough to hold a small couch.  It was covered with a pet blanket, which in turn was covered mostly by Molly, my ten year old King Charles Cavalier who still thinks she’s a puppy.

To say the Cypress Inn is pet friendly is an understatement.  Most of the other guests had their canine buddies with them.  But then Doris Day, who vies with Betty White as the movie star most dedicated to the welfare of animals, is co-owner of the hotel.  Now 90 years old, Doris is still active with the Doris Day Animal Foundation. The hotel pampers puppies.  Molly assumes that’s as it should be. After all, she is a princess.

The singer and actress who was once America’s Sweetheart in Hollywood is everywhere in the hotel.  If you call the front desk and are placed on hold you listen to Secret Love or Sentimental Journey or Que Sara Sara.  All bring back memories of those wonderfully fun movies from the ’50s and early ’60s.

The walls are covered with old movie posters.  Doris Day with Sinatra.  With Cagney.  With Cary Grant.  And most importantly with her pal, Rock Hudson.  Doris Day movies play sans sound on televisions in Terry’s Lounge and other places in the hotel.  It made me smile to see the fresh faced beauty of the beloved actress most everywhere I looked.

The great room near the front desk looks more like someone’s living room than it does a hotel lobby.  The living room of someone with impeccable taste.  A baby grand piano sits near the stone, European-inspired fireplace.  Comfortable couches and chairs are scattered through the room.  In the evening there is often entertainment.  The night I was there a tenor was singing “For the First Time” in operatic style.  And most of the laps in his audience were adorned with a canine friend.

I had traveled to Carmel to have dinner with an old Alaska friend of mine, Charlie Willis, and his wife, Robin.  They were in Carmel for a few days as one stop on a multiple destination vacation.

Molly’s sitter, Darlene, showed up around 5:00 and Molly did her “I want to get to know you” happy dance so I knew my princess was in good hands.  I decided to go to Terry’s Lounge for a cocktail while I awaited Charlie and Robin’s arrival.

Terry’s Lounge and Restaurant are named for Doris Day’s late son, Terry Melcher, who had his own successful career in music, producing such groups as the Beach Boys.  Pictures of Terry and his mother are scattered through the room.  Pictures in which mother and son seem happy together.

At the bar,  I decided on a Cheyla’s Swag. Cheyla’s Swag is named for the bar manager’s Burmese Mountain Dog.  A delectable combination of Four Roses Bourbon, lime, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram and Fee Brothers’ whiskey barreled-aged bitters.  Garnished with a maraschino cherry.  A real maraschino cherry.  Not one of those red-dyed overly sweet things too often seen in bars.  A real maraschino cherry.  Dark in color; sweet in taste.

St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram is a rum-based liqueur.  Cheyla’s Swag is not only delectable; it’s potent.

Charlie and Robin arrived and we moved to our table.  Amid the small talk we studied the dinner menu. I wanted the fried baby artichokes for a starter.  Charlie and Robin opted for calamari.  The artichokes came with an appetizing aioli for dipping the tasty morsels.  Very enjoyable.  The calamari came seasoned with cumin, a most palatable presentation.

I had already discussed the local sand dabs with the bartender. A sand dab is a small version of a halibut or a flounder.  They’re caught locally in the water off  Carmel’s beach.  I thought them worth a try for an entree.  Charlie agreed.  Robin asked for chicken piccata.

The sand dabs were exquisite. The small, thin filets were lightly breaded and sautéed for what could have been no more than seconds.  Crisp on the outside; inside soft and pleasurable.  Perfect timing by the chef.  The filets rested in a shallow pool of pleasant tarragon cream sauce and were accompanied by nicely browned fingerling potatoes and three spears of asparagus.

For desert, I wanted to try the chocolate lava cake; Charlie and Robin chose crème brulee.  Both arrived at table appearing more as pieces of art than mere food.  Molten chocolate poured out of the small mound of cake when I cut into it, such a distinctive and memorable taste, perfectly matched with a spoonful of vanilla bean ice cream.

After dinner Charlie and Robin wanted to meet Molly so they accompanied me back to my little courtyard.  We found Mollie curled up on her pet blanket, Darlene sitting comfortably beside her.  Once again Molly did her “I’m happy to meet you” dance.  The princess was pleased.

I didn’t want to leave the next day.  I really didn’t want to leave.  The Cypress Inn is so cozy, so comfortable, so welcoming.  It’s easy to fantasize just moving in.  The staff makes the fantasy tempting.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had better service at a hotel anywhere.  It seemed as though anytime we requested anything at all the answer was always, “Yes, of course.”

Will I return?  Well, yes, of course.  Maybe when it’s cooler.  There’s this fireplace…