Christmas Dinner for Two: Vanilla-Maple Glazed Cornish Hens, Spiced Yams, and Braised Red Cabbage with Cherries

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I absolutely love everything about this time of year…the festivities, the family time, the food.  I’ve noticed that when it comes to holiday feasts, it doesn’t matter whether you’re making a banquet for a group of twenty friends or an intimate meal to enjoy with your love; the truly magical thing is getting to share a beautiful meal with someone special.  A dear friend of mine recently asked me to put together a Christmas dinner for two; I happily agreed (developing recipes and menus is pretty much my all-time favorite thing to do!) and Cornish hen immediately came to mind.  Specifically, I thought of Cornish hen with a maple glaze, since I think it’s a fantastic combination. 

When I was coming up with the rest of the menu, I had a few different side dishes in mind to serve with the hen, and I wasn’t sure which to make.  I decided to go to the grocery store for a little inspiration (when all else fails, right, lol?).  I headed straight to the produce department, and just like I knew it would, inspiration struck.  I decided on two sides:  braised red cabbage with cherries, and some form of spiced yams. 

After that I wanted to wander peruse the store a bit just to see if anything else would catch my eye.  I was glad I did because I came across a mulled Scandinavian holiday beverage called Glögg.  It’s typically a blend of red wine, sugar, orange peel, and warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom.  I found a non-alcoholic version made with fruit juices instead of wine…probably not as traditional, but I was thrilled that Mike and I would be able to drink it with the meal I was testing. 

The store-bought Glögg was good but a touch sweet for me; next time I’ll definitely mull my own, maybe with grape juice and apple cider.

When I got home, out of curiosity I decided to google Scandinavian holiday feasts just to see what Glögg is usually served with.  According to Wikipedia, a traditional Christmas Eve meal in Denmark consists of roast pork, goose, or duck (Cornish hen will do, right?), potatoes (yams are close enough for me!), and red cabbage (how does braised red cabbage with cherries sound?).  Talk about meant to be.  And this is how my version of a Scandinavian Christmas feast for two came to be.  S., I hope you and your hubby enjoy it!  Merry Christmas, darling!

Christmas Dinner for Two:  Vanilla-Maple Glazed Cornish Hens, Spiced Yams, and Braised Red Cabbage with Cherries

(Yield:  2 servings)

Vanilla-Maple Glaze:

1/4 c water

2 TB pure maple syrup

2 TB balsamic vinegar

1/2 TB tamari sauce

1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 2 pieces

1 spring fresh thyme

2 whole cloves (or a pinch of ground cloves)

3 whole peppercorns (or a generous pinch of ground pepper)

Spiced Yams:

1 medium (about 1 lb) yam, washed and cubed

1 1/2 TB canola oil

1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika

Pinch each salt and pepper

Braised Red Cabbage with Cherries:

1 TB canola oil

1/4 medium head of cabbage (about 3/4 lb to 1 lb), chopped (about 3-4 c chopped)

2 TB water

2 TB apple cider vinegar

1 TB pure maple syrup

3 TB dried cherries

Salt and pepper

Cornish Hens:

Vanilla-Maple Glaze (recipe above)

2 small (under 1 1/2 lb) or 1 large (1 3/4 lb or more) Cornish hens

1 TB apple cider vinegar

1 TB sugar

1 TB salt

2 TB canola oil

Salt and pepper

Vanilla-Maple Glaze:  Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan; bring up to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer gently until thickened and reduced by about half, stirring occasionally.  Strain glaze through a fine mesh sieve (discarding solids) and set aside for now.

Cornish Hens:  The night before you want to cook the Cornish Hens, soak them in a brine.  In a large bowl, combine 1 TB apple cider vinegar, 1 TB sugar, 1 TB salt, and 1 c water and stir to dissolve sugar and salt.  Add the hens, then add enough cold water to cover them.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.  Preheat oven to 400F; rinse the hens and pat them dry.  Oil a small roasting pan with 1 TB canola oil, then rub the remaining 1 TB canola oil onto the hens; sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast about 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of your hen), brushing the glaze on the hens after 15 minutes.  The hens are done when the juices run clear when the meat is pricked in the thigh.  (If you have an instant-read thermometer, it should read 165-170F when pricked in the thigh; the temperature will rise another 5-10 degrees while resting.)  When they’re fully cooked, take the hens out of the oven and let them rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

Spiced Yams:  Preheat oven to 400F.  In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.  Transfer to a baking sheet, spread in a single layer, and roast 30-40 minutes, until tender (giving the potatoes a toss with a metal spatula once halfway through cooking).

Braised Red Cabbage with Cherries:  While the yams and hens roast, make the cabbage.  In a medium pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the cabbage, water, vinegar, maple syrup, cherries, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper; cook over medium-high heat until the cabbage starts to soften (about 5 minutes), then turn the heat down to low, cover the pot, and cook until tender (about 30 minutes), stirring every 5-10 minutes. 

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  1. says

    What a gorgeous plateful, Faith! I roast yams often…they are so sweet. And balanced by your lovely braised cabbage dish! So pretty and so tasty! I have a marvelous braised cabbage recipe, but love the idea of the cherries. Will try it next time I make the dish.

  2. says

    That’s so nice of you to plan a menu for your friend. I love how your menu came together, it really was meant to be! I personally LOVE braised red cabbage but haven’t made it since culinary school. I suddenly have a craving :)

  3. says

    What a beautiful feast you came up with, Faith! Your hen is roasted perfectly, the yams and braised red cabbage go together so well in texture and colour. Thank you for introducing me to Glogg. I never even knew such a drink existed until now. Must give it a try some time! I love to wander…err…persue the grocery store too. So much so that hubby has to call me so we can reunite…teehee. It’s not my fault he can’t keep up, right? ;-). Fantastic dish! Hope you have a gorgeous weekend with your love.

  4. says

    I have never made a Cornish hen before… maybe when our house guest leaves next month, and we have some alone time together again, I will make Matthew and I something like this. The cabbage also looks fantastic.

  5. says

    I have to admit that my favourite bird is goose but it is way beyond my pocket!! Cornish hen is second on my list so I would certainly enjoy this meal. Diane

  6. says

    Such a glorious feast! I love your combination of the cherries and the cabbage! Grocery store inspirational browsing is so much fun… :-) I adore the holidays too – reading the enthusiasm in your words lifted my spirits! :-)

  7. says

    I love this time of year too, Faith! I couldn’t agree with you that getting to share a beautiful meal with your beloved ones is the most important for holiday seasons! This is a feast and perfect for 2; well it’s perfect for diner party too. We all can have our own hen! Love the side dishes you decided to go with. Sweet potatoes are my favorite among root produce. I’m not familiar with Scandinavian food but good to know, thank you!

  8. Janice says

    The cornish hens with vanilla maple glaze look so beautiful. Actually, the whole plate makes you want to pick up a fork and get started. I work with Better Recipes and am focusing right now on Christmas Dinners. I’m going to try the glazed cornish hens. More more dinner recipes, such as Throw It in a Bag Rosemary Turkey or Baked Onions with Sour Cream raisin Sauce, check these out Christmas Dinner Recipes

  9. says

    I’ve always wanted to try braised cabbage – it always seemed like a lot of work though! Thank you for breaking the recipe down for someone like me. :)

    Have a fabulous weekend Faith!

  10. says

    This is a beautiful well composed plate for a holiday feast. I thought of Scandinavian Christmas when I saw your red cabbage because htat is exactly what I remember having for the holidays. Thanks for sharing:)

  11. says

    Beautiful meal… now, take off the gloves, and let me at ‘er! I can never find small cornish hens from the markets, here… They are huge. I wish they wouldn’t grow them so large – but the larger they are, the more money they sell for, I guess… This was such a popular dish in the ’70’s… not this recipe, but cornish hens. I have always thought they were incredibly elegant for a nice meal…and this is a very lovely meal! Great idea and lovely recipes. I like the cherries in the braised cabbage, too.

  12. says

    Oh yes, Cornish hen sounded wonderful & your choices of vegetable accompaniments work so well… very festive colours. Nice choice of wine I’d say…, all up a big thumbs up from me. ;)

  13. says

    I love reading about your thought process through all of this. It gives me a little insight into your inner workings and how you come up with the fantastic combinations that you do! This meal sounds divine. I would happily indulge in each of its components!

  14. says

    What a wonderful dinner. I love the combination of spices you have used and two great side dishes. I agree; every thing just seems more special around this time of year:)

  15. says

    Whenever I want to impress…I turn to Cornish hens. They are such a joy to work with, and they always look and taste great. I’m sure this glaze does wonders! Now I wish that it was just Ryan and I for Christmas so I could make this meal! I will just have to do it sometime in January! Thank you for sharing with me. I hope you have a blessed Sunday!

  16. says

    This is a gorgeous dinner for two Faith! And so delicious sounding! I love how you migrated to the glogg – and how it fit in perfectly with what you cooked – it was fate.

  17. says

    That looks wonderful, Faith, and the glogg looks good, too! I’ve never had the non-alcoholic kind, but the other stuff is definitely something to be respectful of; it can take you by surprise!

  18. Lazaro says


    Lovely meal. The cornish hen looks cooked to perfection. Smart vanilla maple glaze. Fantastic job with the braised red cabbage as well.

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