by Phoenix Trent
With the cold Hudson Valley winters come joyful days of skiing on the mountain, tip-to-toe warming hot beverages, and of course the endless cornucopia of gastronomy that this Valley has to offer. Long known as a favorite of New York City’s most renowned French chefs, the area is teeming with a delectable European culinary influence combined with local fresh ingredients that simply cannot be beaten. The Hudson Valley is in essence a small piece of epicurean heaven.
In my cozy kitchen deep in the woods of Accord, I embark on a mission to use this wonderful bounty of local ingredients. On the menu is a slow-baked butternut squash stuffed with spicy sausage and raisins and a Fleisher’s Cornish hen infused with cognac and rosemary—two dishes that are sure to warm the family up and stick to their ribs.
Cornish hen is a wonderfully delicate and juicy bird, perfect for an icy cold night. The skin (high in fat) crisps to a striking golden brown without the use of butter, creating a savory and rich flavor. Available at Fleisher’s Butcher Shop in Kingston, they have a vast supply of this beautiful piece of poultry, and they are more than glad to provide you with an impeccably cleaned and trimmed protein to star in your meal of choice. Start by stuffing the hen with fresh, finely chopped apples. The juice from the apples circulates throughout the bird during cooking, bringing the juicy factor to a whole new level. Next combine: 1 tablespoon cognac, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch of finely ground rosemary in a mixing bowl. Sparingly brush the mixture over the bird and sprinkle on a pinch of kosher salt and a few cranks of cracked pepper.
The Hudson Valley supplies an abundance of fresh herbs throughout the warm months, but it is quite possible to grow your own fresh herbs throughout the winter. Adding an accent of homegrown rosemary will add a touch of personalization to your dish. After all, who doesn’t love the earthy and slightly strong bite of rosemary? It’s a classic flavor that can often bring that extra kick of life to a dish.
After the hen is properly dressed, bake in the oven at 350˚ in a medium baking pan for about an hour and a half or until the skin obtains a brilliantly golden brown color.
For me, nothing compares to the slightly nutty and rich flavor of the butternut squash available in the winter. Extremely resilient to colder weather, much of the squash family is able to be stored throughout winter. Although many farmers’ markets and stands are closed as a result of the frigid weather, lucky for us, a few have taken the stands indoors for the winter. Also, local supermarkets have begun to purchase their produce from local farmers, allowing continued indulgence in fresh local meats, vegetables, and dairy. Although these items may have a higher price tag, you will find that they are well worth the coinage.
Begin by splitting the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds from the cavity, and set them aside on a greased baking sheet while preparing the stuffing (bake the seeds with salt when you get a chance). Next remove the sausage from casings and sauté on medium with dried oregano and mint until thoroughly browned. Cube a fresh country loaf (I recommend the Alternative Baker in Rosendale or Bread Alone in Woodstock) into relatively small chunks. Combine with sausage in a sauté pan and add half a cup of heavy cream, preferably from a local dairy farming collective. Blend together on low heat until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle in a handful of dried raisins and, voila. Now that you have a wonderfully vibrant stuffing to accent the slightly sweet and nutty squash, fill the cavities, lightly brush with butter, and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in the oven on 350˚ until the squash flesh is fork tender.
Sitting down at my table with friends and family, we enjoy this meal together in front of the toasty wood stove. We laugh, we cry, and everything in between. There is something about good food that truly brings about honesty, something that allows people to be themselves. Maybe it’s because simple food is so intrinsically truthful. Not adulterated by the problems and issues of the modern day life; eating really good food brings life back to the basics. We are satisfying our need for nutrition, but is that really all? Good food brings happiness, and lucky for us, brilliantly fresh ingredients are available to us year round. I guess we can all look forward to a lot more food-induced happiness.