Fussiness and Game Hens

This is a column about people with food aversions (not allergies or sensitivities) and how a hostess can navigate these waters.

You can be assured that you are over the hill, round the bend and galloping headlong toward the promised land when you are shocked to notice a full-grown adult guest at table assiduously picking through their dinner with concentrated determination to remove any particle of mushroom or olive or whatever else they may have taken a dislike to when they were three.

We all know that food allergies, aversions and fetishes are replicating themselves at an astonishing rate, particularly with the young, so a responsible host or hostess will conscientiously express concern, only to be reassured that their finicky guest simply dislikes whatever it is. There is no embarrassment on their part. In fact, they seem rather proud of their uniqueness.

We tend to blame parents who have obviously quit the etiquette battlefield prematurely, but, if we’re honest, we all probably harbor a niggling fear of being confronted with something unfamiliar and/or unappealing when constrained to be a polite guest.

Mother told the story of being invited to dinner at her first employer's home when she was but a pup and on her brand new employed adult best behavior.  Her employer loved to entertain her young employees.  On that first visit, Mother was served a dish of quite rare chopped chicken livers with prunes. Mother, who had an aversion to organ meats at the best of times, managed, with Herculean effort, to dispatch this repulsive dish.  (Her mother obviously won the etiquette wars).  Mother was so relieved to have succeeded in her efforts, that, when asked by her employer whether she had enjoyed it, was effusive in her praise.  The next time she and a few colleagues were invited to dine, that good woman prepared the same dish, "...because Mabel had enjoyed it so much the last time".   And every time thereafter.  By then it was far too late to set her hostess straight.

So, through the years, when Mother was threatening us six ways to Sunday to politely accept anything we were served, she also advised not get too carried away with our praise unless there was at least a modicum of sincerity involved. Wise words indeed. 

Through subsequent years of matrimonial bliss, I came to understand, "Very nice, though not one of my favorites" was my husband's polite way of saying that he would not be heartbroken never to see that again.  His mother obviously provided him with a handy means of staying within the lines of etiquette while averting future unwanted repetitions.  

Any savvy host or hostess understands these subtle codes without having to watch guests extricate unwanted bits of their dinner with surgical precision.  She tries to accommodate preferences for beef well done (serve chicken) or a lack of fondness for fish (serve chicken) because it is her goal to please her guests, not run them through a version of culinary hell.

A safe bet:

If you've never tried Rock Cornish Game Hens, I strongly advise you to do so.

Game hens  look elegant and are wonderfully forgiving and grand to do ahead and keep warm, allowing time to get yourself gussied up before guests arrive.  Serve with a nice veg, mashed potatoes and lovely gravy. (A dry, white wine added to the sauce is nice, but not essential). Or serve with a nice wild rice dish.  Throw in some mushrooms. What the heck. Let 'em pick them out if they've a mind to!

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Rub hens with a nice olive oil. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Place 1 lemon wedge and 1 sprig rosemary if you have such things handy, into the cavity of each hen. Arrange in a large, heavy roasting pan, or whatever pan you use for such things, and add garlic cloves around hens if you like garlic. Roast in preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together some white wine and/or chicken broth, and 2 tablespoons of that nice olive oil; pour over hens. Continue roasting about 25 minutes longer, or until hens are golden brown and juices run clear. Baste with pan juices every 10 minutes.

Transfer hens to a  warm platter, pouring any cavity juices into the roasting pan and discarding the lemons & Rosemary if used. Tent hens with aluminum foil to keep warm. Transfer pan juices and garlic cloves, if used, to a medium saucepan and boil until liquids reduce to a sauce consistency, about 6 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cut hens in half lengthwise and arrange on plates. (You can do this before the tenting step if it suits your schedule and mood). Spoon sauce and garlic around hens. Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs, and lemon slices if you have all that, serve.  If your crowd is older, or if your hens are large, half a hen is a comfortable serving. Your call.

Original recipe with modifications, www.allrecipes.com but Google about for a recipe. You really can't go wrong.