By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Once again, the Fishman Family Compound here in rural California hosted a bunch of Fishman cousins. It all began on April 29, when two cousins arrived, one from Detroit, one from Tel Aviv. Several days later, three more arrived, one from Savannah and two from Los Angeles. We are first cousins, the offspring of four Fishman brothers, and their spouses. This was a sprawling 12-day event, folks coming and going at different times.
Being a compound, we were able to accommodate everyone easily, comfortably spread out over four houses. We gathered for family meals hosted by a different sister as the pre-arranged schedule deemed. My sisters and I just love hosting! We were in our glory.
Prior to the guests arriving, as usual, we met several times to draw up a calendar of events and meals. This eases the stress so there will be no surprises and we can all shop for food and prepare accordingly.
My cousin Jane, a popular newspaper columnist, author and contributor to The Insider, passed away last October. We are missing her at this year’s reunion. She did marry well because Carmela, her wife, is a wonderful Italian cook as well as a wonderful person. My cousin Sheila, a retired pediatrician, also married well to Michael who grew up in his family’s potato business. He, too, is a great cook.
A few weeks before our reunion, I invited Carmela and Michael to think about cooking a feast for the cousins at my house when it was my turn. We emailed back and forth to come up with a menu. On Saturday morning, we went to the local farmers’ market to gather fresh produce for dinner. We split up, going our own ways, to procure what each of us needed for our specific dishes.
On Saturday afternoon, we went into motion. Fortunately, my kitchen is laid out well enough to accommodate multiple chefs. There’s no “Too many cooks spoil the broth” in this house! The more, the merrier. Kitchen prep camaraderie is like no other. Everyone was working shoulder to shoulder, focused on their own project, while chatting about other things. This is one reason why I really enjoyed owning a professional kitchen. The interchange of ideas, telling stories, and discussing food is what it’s all about.
Carmela was on her pasta path. She brought homemade pesto from Savannah, in addition to a special pasta and Parmesan Reggiano. Michael, on the other hand, had intended to bring Cornish hens from Los Angeles. I convinced him it would be easier to buy them here in the Bay area so he wouldn’t have to worry about refrigeration on the drive up. Alas, there wasn’t a hen to be found.
Michael had to make do with whole chickens. He spatchcocked them (removed the backbone, allowing them to be completely opened and flattened; also called “butterflying”) and then roasted the chickens with onions, garlic, lemon, and rosemary.
I gathered my supplies at the farmers’ market. I made broccolini with garlicky almonds and panko crumbs as featured in my asparagus column from April 24. I roasted a batch of rainbow carrots with honey and cumin, I whipped together a salad with arugula, watermelon radishes, and fennel as the base. I topped it with fresh oranges, beets, feta, and home-cured olives.
And let’s not forget dessert: chocolate pecan pie (Carmela brought huge, beautiful pecans from Georgia) and a blackberry tart (recipe coming out here in June!)
My cousins are beginning to think that we cook and eat like this at the Fishman Family Compound all the time. It’s not too far from the truth!
On a different evening, my Israeli cousin, Beth, made a traditional Persian dinner. Her late husband was a great influence on her cooking repertoire. She made iconic Persian rice with crispy browned potatoes and cardamon, and Gondi served in chicken broth. Gondi is a ground beef-and-chicken meatball held together with chickpea flour.
Today’s recipe is an interpretation of cousin Michael’s spatchcocked Cornish Hens. I watched him carefully and have written down the instructions for Insider readers. Feel free to add the fresh herbs or vegetables of your choice. A salsa or chutney would be a nice accompaniment.
Tell us here at The Insider who is coming to dinner at your house. What are you going to cook? Or maybe you’ll get lucky and a guest will cook for you!
Spatchcocked Cornish Hens
Yield: 6-8 servings
6 1 lb. Cornish hens
12 cloves peeled garlic, sliced in halves
1 lg. sprig fresh rosemary
1 lg. onion, sliced thin
1 lg. lemon, sliced thin
melted butter or olive oil
1 tsp. coarse salt
3/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground chili powder
Spatchcock the hens: Using kitchen shears, cut the hens down the backs and splay them open, cut side up. Arrange on a large tray or roasting pan. Season generously with coarse salt and pepper. Scatter the garlic cloves on the meat. Remove the rosemary leaves from the stems and distribute them evenly. Cover; refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 400°. Before roasting, scatter the onions and lemons on a clean baking tray. Place the hens, skin side up on the onions. Brush the skins with melted butter or olive oil. Season with the salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and chili powder.
Roast hens for 25 minutes. The skin should be brown and the internal temperature of the breast at 160°. Cut the hens in half before serving.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.