By Carolyne

As many of our readers know, I keep a large jar of fresh, not dried, black (blue) mission figs, either Spanish or Italian, in my refrigerator at all times soaking in brandy. (I did try but have not had good luck with the figs from Mexico, so I would not recommend using them.)

If you follow my style, you will have marinated juicy figs and macerated ones that have been longer in the jar. Long ago I discovered that marinating in Asbach Uralt cognac produces a wonderful congealed jus as the figs and cognac marry.

So here is a wonderful stuffing, baked in a separate dish and spooned into the hen cavity after the hens are roasted. I know. That sounds a little odd, but the result is wonderful.

You can prepare the stuffing ahead of time. (You can even freeze larger quantities, packaged in full cups so you can choose how much you need; thaw overnight in the fridge the day before using.)

In the oven on a sheet pan, toast a pulled apart loaf of stale bread, or chop into large chunks a loaf of black-olive bread or a couple of baguettes that you have left on the counter overnight to dry. Ideally you will fill six cups with bread or double the recipe if you are roasting many hens. If there is any leftover stuffing, refrigerate it covered and serve it the next day, perhaps just a breakfast plate (or served hot in an oval au gratin dish) of stuffing with a couple of poached eggs and hollandaise.

Finely chop a couple of split, long celery stalks and mince a few leaves. Add a cup of coarsely chopped Spanish onion and a half teaspoon of your refrigerated homemade oven-roasted golden garlic purée.

Sauté the mix in sizzling butter just briefly. You don’t want the celery and onions mushy, but to retain a little crunch. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a little thyme, a tiny bit of nutmeg and just a pinch of sage.

Let cool. Fold in a generous cup of chopped cognac marinated black mission figs, coarse or fine (but not the macerated ones) and a half cup of the congealed cognac figgy jus. Add a cup of coarsely crushed shelled beautiful green pistachios. Mix the toasted bread into the sauté pan.

Lightly butter a glass loaf baking dish.  Gently pack the stuffing into the dish. Bake in a 325 F (350 F if using a metal dish) preheated oven for about 45 minutes, covered in foil, shiny side in. Remove foil and continue to bake for about another 10 minutes. Let rest on the counter for a half hour. Then spoon the stuffing into the still very hot roasted hen cavities just before serving.

In the last 10 minutes of roasting the Rock Cornish hens, baste with my kumquat marmalade. Or use a high-quality bitter orange store-bought marmalade. Add a tablespoon of the cognac figgy jus to the marmalade to make it easier to paint on the hens.

I’ve noted previously that I prefer to roast the hens standing up, and yes they are touching one another, in a preheated oven 400 F; after 15 minutes reduce heat to 350 F. Paint the hot hens with butter at this point, and continue to roast for another half hour, or until juices run clear. Puncture the leg crease to check doneness. Timing will depend on the size of the hens. Make sure to choose ones of nearly equal size. I buy frozen hens and keep a stock in the freezer. Remove the packaging. Thaw in the refrigerator 24 to 48 hours before roasting.

It’s important to choose a right size roasting pan, dependent upon the number of hens you are serving. I’ve done as many as 26 standing medium-size hens, using a large turkey roasting pan or double tinfoil pan, nearly the size of the oven. The kind I would roast a 20 to 23-pound turkey in each Christmas. Allow one whole hen per serving. They are roasted uncovered but cover in foil shiny side in for the first 15 minutes on high heat.

As a special treat, prepare Yorkshire puddings (one or two for each serving) oven roasted in very hot sizzling butter, deflate and fill the hole first with a little well-drained, hot, fresh regular wilted spinach, buttered and topped with just a little extra pistachio stuffing. Deglaze the roasting pan with just a little brandy. You could light it to burn off the alcohol, or if you are experienced, you could just tilt the pan.

Drizzle a little pan dripping deglaze, perhaps a teaspoon (there won’t be much drippings) over top of each filled Yorkshire pudding, and just a spritz of extra figgy jus.


You could substitute prunes soaked in cognac overnight. Or just choose to use chopped Medjool dates. They are very naturally sweet.

A perfect side dish is buttered, sugared fresh carrots, oven-roasted halved acorn squash, with butter and maple syrup, and/or pan-roasted Brussels sprouts. A creamed Belgian endive is also a great side; any of the above with my special whipped mashed potatoes.

You could offer a serving dish of cranberry sauce, just to be festive. Want something a little different? Chop a macerated black mission fig and add it and a little figgy jus to the cranberry sauce and add a few homemade candied walnuts from your pantry jar.

I like to serve the hens in a place setting of their own in a just right size hot au gratin oval ovenproof dish, placed on an oversize plate with space where people can serve themselves however many sides they want to add, family style from covered vegetable bowls or hot water heated chafing dishes.

In the kitchen, heat the oversized dinner plates and position the stuffed hens. Deliver the plated hens to the table and place each hot plate onto a large charger on a tablecloth or placemat, to keep a distance between your table and the hot dinner plates.

It’s perhaps a little different Christmas Eve or Christmas Day special feast. It seems like a lot of work. It’s time-consuming but not difficult. And so worth it.

Just a note: If you feel a must-have need for a salad, my Caesar salad is a nice balance of flavours. And further, if a dessert is absolutely necessary, make it a light cranberry or fig panna cotta that could be made a day before and dressed at the table, or a figgy zabaglione in a martini glass topped with a brandy marinated fig and a drizzle of the cognac figgy jus, or just offer a slice of my Asbach Stolllen that you made months before. You could even go overboard and drizzle each slice with your favourite plum pudding sauce.

A centrepiece or multiples made of snipped single flowers from a poinsettia plant add a little festive colour to the table. Careful with having live rosemary trees in the house, although they are sold in the festive season. The fragrance can be wonderful or can be overpowering, as are hyacinths brought indoors. Consider that some people have allergies. It’s generally safe to use potted herb plants; maybe cover the pot in shiny foil gift wrap and add a candy cane or two.

© From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks | Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience

The working title for Carolyne’s Gourmet Recipes cookbook is From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks. This kitchen-friendly doyenne has been honoured and referred to as the grande dame of executive real estate in her market area during her 35-year career. She taught gourmet cooking in the mid-70s and wrote a weekly newspaper cooking column, long before gourmet was popular as it is today. Her ebook, Gourmet Cooking - at Home with Carolyne is available here for $5.99 US. Email Carolyne.


  1. Perhaps there are other readers who might have the same question…

    A colleague just inquired:
    Saying she had never eaten Rock Cornish Hen, she wanted to know “does it taste like chicken?”
    Answer is: yes, it mostly tastes like chicken but a little milder, I could say almost sweeter than chicken. And, no, it doesn’t taste gamey at all. It’s not at all like pigeon or other such birds. Not like quail, either.

    Just think of it as a little young chicken. Definitely don’t overcook, and the meat could be eaten with just a fork.

    Here’s what google says:

    “Cornish hen tastes like chicken because it is still a chicken variety, only smaller. Since Cornish hens are younger than chickens, they can be tender when cooked. However, they have a less assertive flavor as compared to chickens.” AND: “Because it is not actually a game bird, the Cornish hen’s flavour is not gamey at all but more of a delicate “chicken lite.”

    If you have never tried Rock Cornish hens, you will find them a delightful treat. Choose ones that are plump. Buy frozen and you will be pleased to have them on hand. Thaw overnight in the fridge. It’s always a personal thing: I rinse with cold water and pat dry.

    Some people don’t believe in rinsing poultry. I have always rinsed – just because. But like with all poultry, wash your hands with soap, and the taps and counters, too. Best to be safe. Speaking of safe, NEVER give poultry bones to your dog, or cat either for that matter. Just don’t.

    © “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks”
    Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience

  2. JUST BECAUSE … Because it’s Christmas. Perhaps print this recipe add-on column and roll the paper and tie with a red and or green curled ribbon and pack with a gift to give to a friend or even share by email, maybe even to your own client newsletter list, also serving to introduce someone, agents or a member of the public, to REM, who might not be aware of our coast to coast Canadian Real Estate magazine newspaper.

    *** Holiday “Turkey Balls” instead of oven-roasted whole turkey, perhaps. ***

    In the spirit of the season, a different kind of turkey-bird for the holidays, or for any time, this is a perfect way to enjoy the flavour of the seasonal bird in a little different, very easy to prepare way.

    With many families experiencing loved ones not able to get home for the holidays, or sometimes teens away at school, and no longer any need for roasting a big turkey at home, this recipe provides the turkey “taste of the season” in a miniature fashion for those dining alone or with a mate or for just enjoying with a couple of friends. You could even make this and send it off to college kids.

    Maybe make some version of this and deliver to a shut-in during the holidays, or to someone in a nursing home or even in hospital if allowed, or perhaps deliver to a new immigrant family living nearby who might never have eaten turkey-bird, to enjoy in the privacy of their own surroundings, whether or not they celebrate our holidays yet. Perhaps pack up in a large seasonal garland bag, a few toss-away dollar-store serving pieces or economical glass pieces, utensils, napkins, and a few festive seasonal table toppers. It’s not an expensive addition, and will make a long-lasting impression.

    My Prior Recipe for Bitterballen as Turkey Balls
    (amended to suit, using original REM recipe as the base…)

    ALTERNATE: Replace the veal and pork with fresh, never frozen, ground turkey, white, dark, or a mixture of each. Ask your meat and poultry counter to grind the turkey fresh, and take a look at what exactly he’s grinding, ideally under your watch.

    Mince frozen or fresh, barely cooked cranberries that you’ve sautéed in just enough sizzling butter to coat the pan, and maybe add a drizzle of maple syrup or medium sugar syrup, and add the chopped sautéed cranberries to the other ingredients. You might choose to finely chop a couple of cognac marinated black mission figs and add to the cranberries and a tiny bit of congealed figgy brandy jus instead.

    Stir in a quarter cup of homemade chopped candied walnuts from your pantry jar, and maybe even mince a bit of candied citrus rind from your pantry citrus sugar jar.

    OR: Just add a little finely chopped brandy marinated black mission figs directly to the ground turkey mix.

    When ready to serve, perhaps drizzle with my figgy cream sauce.

    Although a terrific hors d’ouvres, these deep-fried (I prefer Mazola Corn Oil for all my deep-frying) breaded turkey balls are also wonderful as an entree, accompanied by my special whipped, mashed potatoes, butter-browned Brussels sprouts with homemade crispy full-fat regular old-fashioned bacon pieces (the reduced-fat, reduced-salt bacon has a distinct chemical taste I find, so after trying various brands I went back to the original), and sugar-buttered carrots. Or even with halved, baked, acorn squash, served in the green half shell, drizzled with butter and a bit of maple syrup just during last ten minutes of roasting, or add a sprinkle of brown sugar. Squash loves lots of fresh ground pepper and just a little salt.

    Or if you are feeling a little nostalgic, perhaps gently pack the ground turkey mix, whichever one you choose to make, into a loaf pan. Cover with foil (always shiny side in ‘cause the shiny side deflects the heat) until last ten minutes of roasting. Top with a smear of Dijon during the last ten minutes, in a preheated 350 F oven, placed on centre rack.

    Remember to drop your oven temperature 25 degrees if you are using a glass baking loaf pan. Roasting likely will take about 45 minutes on middle oven rack. Tent and rest for 10 minutes when finished. Of course the mix is not breaded on its exterior, so you might choose to treat the turkey loaf mix, instead, as individuals, roasted in a large size muffin tin tray.

    === (An aside:)
    Just an interesting comment from Michelle Obama: Barack asked for Dijon mustard when he was eating in a very ordinary restaurant on tour pre his election to the US Presidency, while they were travelling cross-country. The people thought his “gourmet” request for Dijon mustard made him appear as thinking he was someone special when he thought no such thing. My, oh my! What a life! And later, in her book, the former First Lady made note that in the White House, the presidential family pays for its own food; they are presented with itemized grocery store bills the staff has accumulated when doing the actual food shopping, including being required to pay for toilet paper. What’s to say other than: “Amazing!” This is how people are treated who dedicate their personal lives to the world of politics.

    Of course here, we take Dijon mustard for granted, and many of us ordinary people use it regularly. Different strokes for different folks :) Back when I first started writing my weekly “Gourmet Cooking with Carolyne” newspaper columns, and teaching for the board of education as well as private classes, back in the mid 1970’s, so many things we have available in ordinary grocery stores now, were certainly not available back then. I am not a chef, but rather a food writer and original recipe developer, and taught what I learned on an asked for basis. Requests came as a result of the newspaper columns. I still get requests asking if I have created yet my very own certain recipes (just had a request from a young woman who recently had moved here from Brazil. She had learned to cook her local foods under the watchful eye of her grandmother, but was curious about learning new ways to cook, here).

    Now most large-scale grocery stores have special aisles dedicated to imported foods from all over the world, making items like Dijon mustard always available. We now truly live in a multicultural society, reflected in food items in particular, and many specialty stores make the lesser volume items available as specialty items, but not difficult to find. And, of course for those who shop on line, many unusual items are available with next day delivery.

    My personal beef: buying fresh herbs is an ongoing problem. Certain items, even so grown in greenhouse environments are not always readily available. Fresh, potted, tarragon being a particular point of reference frustration (and seafood loves tarragon). Stores only stock what people en masse, buy, largely due to lack of shelf space that is in high demand for other items. Herbs don’t keep well, although if you wrap them in moist white paper towel and keep in the crisper, they do stay fresh for a few days. But when they dry, simply store them in a glass-covered labeled jar. My bucket list dream is to have one of the new type herb-growing refrigerators that look a little like a small wine fridge. Built initially on a larger scale for restaurant use, and now available in home-size. But being a new and specialty product, they are still price-prohibitive.

    Any leftover turkey loaf, sliced, makes a wonderful sandwich on your favourite bread, grilled. Particularly good on my homemade, buttered, grilled, dill bread. You could even top a crostini with a slice, maybe on a bed of my Caramelized onions. Smear the turkey loaf slice with my special tomato butter or offer my “Spectacular Barbecue Serving Sauce” recipe (so much better than ketchup; one reader made it and said she’d never eat ketchup again). And to think I first made it so as not to toss away a leftover half tomato.

    A really fun way to serve the deep-fried breaded turkey balls is to stuff a freshly baked Yorkshire pudding, roasted in sizzling butter using a frozen coin from one of my compound butters logs in each hot muffin pan pocket (heat the pan in the oven first, and follow my Yorkshire Pudding recipe); let the puff relax and deflate, then position the turkey ball, which ever way you chose to prepare it. (If you choose to fill a Yorkshire Pudding using a shellfish breaded deep-fried ball, use a sizzling seafood compound butter to oven-roast the Yorkshire Puddings for a completely different presentation.)

    You could even serve three regular size breaded deep-fried turkey balls (or shellfish balls) on a skewer with a roasted Brussels Sprout in-between and or a couple of large cranberries, for just a little different serving idea. A great walk-about hors d’ouvres.

    And drizzle using any of my wonderful sauces. ENJOY!

    AND: “Here’s another Turkey Ball serving idea… ”

    Make the balls about a small one-cup size. Of course they will take longer to cook, breaded, deep-fried in the hot oil (or you could use three smaller ones instead).

    Put the turkey ball(s) into a martini glass. Using a large open-star tip nozzle in a piping bag (or snip off a small corner of a plastic sandwich bag), pipe my special whipped, mashed potatoes around the edge of the top of the martini glass, a double round, letting the turkey ball(s) peek through. Drizzle with just a little hot clarified butter. Sprinkle the whipped, mashed potatoes with sweet paprika to add a little colour, or dot with a few whole cranberries, interspersed with pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives. If you have a little herb rosemary tree for the season, pluck off a little branch and position at an angle in the martini glass, or just lay the rosemary twig on the napkin at the edge of the martini glass base. You could place the turkey ball on a small bed (perhaps a teaspoon) of my black mission fig stuffing (baked separately; see separate recipe).

    Maybe place a skewer across the top of the martini glass, with three pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives and a whole cranberry between each. If you made the figgy turkey balls, insert a piece of marinated black mission fig in-between.

    A mouth-watering presentation that’s pretty and so easily assembled, and everything can be made ahead of time, earlier in the day and reheated in the oven just before assembling in each martini glass.

    Place each stemmed martini glass on an hors d’ouvres napkin on a see-through glass plate, on a round placemat, and if you have available, serve with a seafood fork or a salad fork, sitting crosswise alongside the glass stem, along with a soup spoon so you don’t miss a drop of this dish that will appeal to everyone.

    A side serving of my Caesar Salad is a nice accompaniment.

    If you are using this serving idea as part of a large multiple entree special dinner, on some occasion you might like to substitute instead, my breaded deep-fried shellfish seafood balls recipe, and make this martini glass presentation into a wonderful hors d’ouvres course, serving as the turkey entrée course maybe my turkey roll, (see my old REM gourmet column that was so well-received years ago):


    Original REM basic “Bitterballen” column copy from many years ago… (below)

    Bitterballen (veal croquettes)
    Traditionally served at New Year’s or Christmas, these delightful “meatballs” will have all your guests coming back for seconds and thirds. They are good year-round, not just for special occasions.
    The bitterballen are deep-fried and served piping hot with hot mustard; keep them warm in the oven until serving time or make them ahead and reheat in 300 F oven for about half an hour prior to serving. The name is misleading, because there is nothing bitter about them. The name comes from the occasions on which they are served, when “bitters” are frequently offered along with drinks, particularly gin. This is traditionally a Dutch treat, but the following is my own creation and we serve it all year round to family and friends who drop in.
    Bitterballen freeze well, so you can always have some on hand. They will keep for several days in the coldest part of the fridge, although they will not keep indefinitely because of the cream content. So you really don’t think much of veal? Kind of blah and tasteless, you say? Your husband wouldn’t eat veal, so no sense even trying this recipe? Well, if you insist. Funny, I’m sure he’d be back for seconds at my house.
    1 lb. ground veal
    ¼ lb. ground pork
    salt, pepper, Italian seasoning
    garlic salt
    1 egg, beaten
    ¾ c course breadcrumbs, brown or cracked wheat
    chopped parsley
    2 tbsp. cream
    seasoned breadcrumbs
    beaten eggs
    oil or lard for deep-frying
    Mix all ingredients in large mixing bowl and form 1-inch balls (rather large). Cover with oiled waxed paper if you aren’t going to deep-fry them straight away. Roll balls in beaten egg and then in seasoned breadcrumbs. Deep-fry. Test oil with cube of dry bread. Bread should deep-fry to a beautiful golden colour on both sides in about 60 seconds; or with thermometer, oil should reach 375 F, not hotter or it will smoke. I always deep-fry using corn oil.
    You should always use a deep cast-iron pot or a heavy baked-enamel pot for deep-frying, if you don’t have a deep-fryer. Never try to deep-fry in an aluminum pot and do not have liquid fat deeper than half way up the side of the pot. Bitterballen will cook in about 3-4 minutes on each side. Makes about 30. (Plan on 4-6 per person because they’ll be back for seconds.)
    Compliments of:
    © “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks”
    Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience

  3. Note for our REM readers who follow my regular “Recipes for REALTORS(r)” column: just a reminder to watch REM for only two more gourmet recipe columns before year-end.

    Editor Jim has on hold, an extra treat for between Christmas and New Year, perhaps to add to your holiday year-end entertaining, or if you live alone, make either as a dish for one; fully size-adjustable.

    You won’t want to miss my “help sell your house” recipe: “My Ultimate Shrimp in Garlic Cognac Cream.”

    And perhaps an unusual dish, simple but magical: “Polenta Meille Feuille.” Meille Feuille means millions of layers and is often reserved for puff pastry dessert recipes.

    Yes. There’s no puff pastry involved in this super easy very special yummy presentation, and no, it’s not dessert. Make room for this one for sure; read and shop ahead or check your pantry.

    If you are tired of turkey, this will be a welcome respite. If you are entertaining overnight guests this Polenta Meille Feuille could be the beginning of an annual memory maker. Simply delicious!

    © “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks”
    Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience

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