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A Festive Dinner with Spicy Overtones

by Lou Seibert Pappas

Game hens imbued with five spice and a tabouleh adorned with grapes make an appealing entree for a seasonal dinner. Augment the menu with a basil-scented golden squash soup, al dente green beans, and a shepherd's salad. Pears in red wine make a pleasing finale. Accompany with a favorite Merlot, such as a Justin San Luis Obispo County, a Franciscan Napa Valley Oakville Estate 1993, or a Markham Merlot Napa Valley 1993, or try a Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Carneros Pinot Noir.

Mushroom Hazelnut Píte
makes about 1 1/3 cups

3 tablespoons hazelnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms or button mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
2 tablespoons each sour cream and yogurt
Italian parsley sprigs or chive blossoms for garnish
Sesame crackers or lavosh

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spread nuts in a shallow pan and bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly toasted. Rub between paper towels to remove skins. Let cool and finely chop. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the shallots and saute 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and lemon juice and cook until soft. With a slotted spoon transfer to a bowl and mix in the tarragon, salt and pepper. Cook down any remaining pan juices until reduced to a glaze and spoon over. Add the nuts, parsley, sour cream, and yogurt. Using a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process until nearly smooth. Spoon into a serving container, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer for flavors to blend. Garnish with parsley sprigs or chive blossoms. Serve with crackers.

Golden Squash Soup with Basil
makes 4 to 6 servings

6 small yellow summer squash, thickly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
Yogurt and basil sprigs for garnish

In a large saucepot simmer the squash, onion, and garlic in chicken stock with cumin and salt and pepper, to taste, cooking until tender, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in a blender. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with yogurt and basil sprigs.

Five Spice Game Hen
makes 4 servings

2 Rock Cornish game hens, about 1 pound 6 ounces each
Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
1 teaspoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 lime, cut in wedges
Arugula or watercress sprigs for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Wash game hens and pat dry. Rub with pepper and five spice and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Mix together the soy, sherry, ginger, garlic, and oil and brush this baste over the birds. Continue roasting 45 minutes longer or until the drumstick moves easily. Cut game hens in half and place on a bed of arugula or watercress; garnish each half with a lime wedge.

Lemon Grass Tabbouleh with Grapes
makes 4 servings

1 cup cracked wheat
1 1/2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup cilantro sprigs
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon minced lemon grass or 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1 cup seedless grapes
Cilantro for garnish

Place the cracked wheat in a bowl and pour over the water. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature. In a blender container place the cilantro, garlic, pistachios, lemon grass, olive oil and lime juice and puree until finely minced. Add to the cracked wheat and mix lightly with a fork to separate the grains. Spoon the tabouleh into mounds on plates. Garnish with grapes and cilantro.

Italian Green Beans with Tarragon
makes 4 servings

1 pound Italian green beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

Trim ends from the green beans and cut in 1 1/2 inch lengths. Steam or cook the beans in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 5 minutes or until al dente, drain. Toss with oil, salt and pepper, and tarragon.

Shepherd's Salad
makes 4 servings

1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
1 medium cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 green onions with tops, chopped
12 black olives
2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley, basil, and mint
Vinaigrette: follows

Place the vegetables in a salad bowl with olives and herbs. Pour over the dressing and mix lightly.

Mix together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.

Pears in Red Wine
makes 4 servings

4 firm Bartlett, Anjou, or Bosc pears
6 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon, broken
4 thin slices lemon
1 1/4 cups dry red wine
3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the cores from the blossom end of the pears and slice off a little of the bottom evenly, so that pears stand upright, leaving the stems in place and the peels intact. Combine in a saucepot, the cloves, cinnamon, lemon slices, wine, and sugar; bring to a boil. Arrange the fruit in an oven-proof casserole, stem up, and pour over the wine sauce. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and continue baking 20 to 25 minutes longer, basting occasionally, or until the fruit is tender. Serve hot or cold.

Lou Seibert Pappas is a former food editor of the Palo Alto Times Tribune and a home economist with Sunset Magazine. She currently writes food, home, and travel-related articles for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of more than 30 books.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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