One good recipe: Sauerkraut for good luck

For years, I made a grand New Year's Day platter of choucroute garni for good luck. Riffing off a much-loved version of James Beard's favorite recipe, I braised a loin of pork, assorted wursts and sausages, salt pork and an the occasional pig knuckle atop a bed of sauerkraut enhanced with wine, juniper berries, apples and onions. Mashed potatoes, brown mustard, dark bread with sweet butter and dry white wine completed the buffet. A chocolate yule log added to the caloric damage.

This year, it's just me and my husband for the holiday, and I want to serve my good-luck dish with fewer calories and less work.

Where to find inspiration for such a recipe? Surely, I thought, the kraut-loving good cooks of Germany would know. Yes, there is a dish called Huhnchen auf Sauerkraut (Cornish Hens with Sauerkraut) in a 1993 edition of "The New German Cookbook" by Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz. Traditional sauerkraut marries with small birds, and while pork plays a cameo role in the form of bacon drippings and ham, it still counts for good luck!

For dessert, I'll serve Cranberry-stuffed Apples Baked in Mulled Wine.

Cornish Hens with Sauerkraut (Huhnchen auf Sauerkraut)

The chickens of choice in Germany, particularly in the Black Forest, are tiny. The closest we can get in this country are Cornish hens. Find them both fresh or frozen at Whole Foods Market and Market District stores. This recipe makes plenty of meaty pan drippings to spoon over mashed potatoes, the traditional accompaniment.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 pound fresh sauerkraut

5 juniper berries, or ¼ cup gin

1/4 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup Riesling or other dry white German wine (not too tart)

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

2 Rock Cornish hens (about 1¼ pounds each), halved

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

8 small fresh thyme sprigs

1 cup rich beef broth (preferably homemade, but I use Progresso brand)

4 thin slices Black Forest ham or boiled ham

Melt the butter in a heavy 12-inch skillet over moderate heat. Add the onions and saute about 5 minutes until limp and touched with brown, stirring often. Mix in the sauerkraut, juniper berries (or gin), cream and wine. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down very low, cover, and simmer 1 hour, stirring often and adding a little water if the mixture threatens to cook dry.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the bacon drippings in a second heavy 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Place the hens skin side down in the drippings and brown 4 minutes, then turn and brown the flip sides 1 to 2 minutes.

Sprinkle the undersides of the hens with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Arrange the hens skin side up in an ungreased 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan, placing them so they don't touch one another or the sides of he pan. Sprinkle with remaining salt and another 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Tuck 2 thyme sprigs underneath each hen, pour the skillet drippings evenly over all, and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes, basting with 1/2 cup of the broth at halftime. Drape a slice of ham over each hen, baste with the remaining broth, and roast, uncovered, for 10 minutes longer.

Turn the ham, baste the ham and birds well with the pan drippings and roast 10 minutes longer. Baste once again with pan drippings.

Bed the sauerkraut on a heated large, deep platter and arrange the hens on top, discarding the thyme sprigs. Once again, turn the ham slices so they curl nicely around the hens. Spoon 2 tablespoons pan drippings over each hen and serve. Pour the remaining drippings into a small sauce boat and pass separately. Makes 4 servings.

-- "The New German Cookbook" by Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz (Harper-Collins, 1993)

Cranberry-Stuffed Apples Baked in Mulled Wine

This dessert takes care of itself with very little attention, but with a big flavor payoff. You probably have a little leftover cranberry sauce in the fridge. Unlike many cooking apples, Yellow Delicious keep their shape when baked.

4 large Golden Delicious or Rome Beauty apples, about 2 pounds, tops cut off and cored to within 1/4 inch of the bottom

4 tablespoons, about, whole cranberry sauce

1 cup dry red wine

4 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits.

4 tablespoons sugar

Optional Topping

Heavy cream, whipped and flavored with sugar and a little vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole and set aside. Fill the center of each apple with cranberry sauce, mounding it just a bit on top. Stand the apples in the prepared casserole, arranging them so they don't touch the casserole sides or one another.

Pour the red wine evenly over the apples, then drop the cloves, pieces of cinnamon and butter into the dish, distributing them evenly. Finally, sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over each apple.

Bake the apples, uncovered, for 50 to 60 minutes, until tender, basting with the casserole liquid every 10 minutes or so. Serve hot or warm, spooning a little of the casserole liquid over each apple and adding, of course, a dollop of topping. Makes 4 servings.

-- "The New German Cookbook" by Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz (Harper-Collins, 1993)


Marlene Parrish:


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