Since I'd never performed any Act of Chef with roasting a bird before, I decided to keep the hen part as simple as possible and do a basic herb rub. However, I determined that the blue oyster mushrooms I picked up were going to go into a stuffing. I have also never made a stuffing from scratch, but I figured it couldn't be that hard. It's just bread and stuff and sticking that in an oven, right? Right!

(Note: if I ever want to make a stuffing from scratch again, smack me and tell me to buy a box of StoveTop.)

I went to the nearby Whole Foods and started cruising for materials. I found a loaf of rosemary bread that I figured would work brilliantly for the base, as well as some dried porcinis and morels to go with the blue oysters. I snagged some celery and some fresh thyme and rosemary. I don't even like celery in stuff usually, but my grandma's stuffing always had celery in it so I figured this probably should too. I had small spanish onions already at home, but grabbed some scallions as well. I like scallions. In a stroke of luck, I found that Whole Foods has cornish game hens in its meat department, so I bought Roasty a little friend. My sister christened it Flatty van der Free-Range. I wanted to add "de la GMO" onto the end but my sister declared I could not mix nationalities. However, we now had enough game hen for four people, which pleased me tremendously.

Stuffing materials ended up being like this:

1 loaf rosemary bread
1/2 lb blue oyster mushrooms, rough chop
1 oz. dried porcinis, reconstituted and rough chop
1 oz. dried morels, reconstituted and rough chop
4 scallions, chopped
1 spanish onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
dried unsweetened cherries, reconstituted
~1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
~1 tbl fresh thyme, chopped
~1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped (I like rosemary)
black pepper to taste
olive oil
veggie stock (chicken stock works too, I just like to keep things vegetarian for my veggiefriends if I can)

Since I only have 1 oven (it's ghetto but it's gas and surprisingly accurate on temperatures) I had to calculate out this dinner to be able to bake a stuffing (Project Porcini) and roast game hens (Project Salmonella) all by dinnertime. I decided to start with the stuffing first and finish that, so I wouldn't have to worry about stuffing prep while I was completely wazzing out about game hens. I decided to start early. Project Porcini started at 2:30 in the afternoon.

I used to work in a bakery and the loaf of rosemary was calling to me. I love using a bread knife. I'm like a professional bread knife ninja. Swack swack swack! The crust fell off in thin crusty shingles and the bread's delicious innards lay exposed and ready. Some people cut their bread into cubes when they're doing things like stuffing or bread pudding. I prefer ripping; I feel it's a more natural process and the results look more "homemade." YMMV. I aimed for about 1x1" chunks and mixed a little olive oil into the ripped bread before I spread it out on a baking sheet and toasted it at 375 for about 15 mins. You don't need to soak the bread in olive oil; just a little (maybe like 2-3 tbl) mixed around to get it golden and crusty and yum. It's not bruschetta, it's stuffing. I used my hands to get it mixed. You could be a pansy and use a brush if you want. Once the bread is toasted, cover it and set it aside. You don't really need to cover it, I just had to because otherwise I'd be sneaking pieces off of it to munch on.

I was thinking of cheating with the herbs since I had the dried versions already at home, but once I had chopped the fresh ones up and smelled how good that was, I was glad I made the call to use fresh. It really does make a difference. While I was chopping the stuff that needs to be chopped, I boiled some water (about 2 1/2 cups) in a teakettle and dumped the dried porcinis and morels in a saucepot and put the dried cherries in a bowl. Once the water was ready, I poured about 2 cups worth over the shrooms (I think 1 cup for 1 oz. dried is a good rule of thumb) and the rest over the cherries to reconstitute them. Let those sit for about 15-20 minutes, then drained the delicious mushroom juice from the mushrooms and added about a half a cup of heated veggie stock to it. I didn't save the cherry-water. That stuff was kinda grody. Rough chopped all of the shrooms and set them aside.

If I thought smelling the morels and porcinis while they were reconstituting was good, smelling them while I was sauteeing them with the blue oysters, onions, scallions, and celery was unbelievable. I wanted to eat the entire wok-full of stuff. The fact that it was sitting in about a stick's worth of butter (8 tbl for those keeping score at home) too probably didn't help. Okay I lie. It wasn't butter. I use Smart Balance's Omega-3 Light buttery spread for my butter needs. It's vegan and I have yet to find a recipe that calls for butter where this little gem doesn't more than adequately perform. I also put a spray's worth of Bragg Liquid Aminos in the sautee pan, which I use now in place of salt for a lot of recipes.

While I was in the act of sauteeing, my boyfriend walks into the kitchen. I dimly remember that he said he would be home around 5, and I was suprised he was home so early. He surveyed the kitchen (which by now looked like a culinary version of Bombs Over Baghdad) and said "is dinner ready soon?" I informed him that no, dinner would not be ready soon as the stuffing hasn't even been finalized and put in the oven yet, and it needs about an hour to bake, and then I still have to roast the hens after that, which will be another hour. He looked nonplussed.

"But it's 5:15."


"Yeah, really." He paused. "How long have you been at this?"

Where the fuck did the time go? Did I drop into some black hole of stuffing preparation where I was just wildly inefficient and not making the best possible use of space and time? Did I get kidnapped by aliens for an hour between the mushroom reconstituting and the bread toasting? I still don't know why that took so long, but I now know that I will NOT be making a stuffing from scratch unless I'm in a place with more than one oven. I finished sauteeing and dumped the butter-onion-mushroom-celery results into a large bowl with the cherries, thyme, rosemary, parsley and bread, poured the mushroom stock over it, mixed it up, added some black pepper, hucked the result into a greased 9x5 baking pan, covered it with foil, and shoved it into the oven at 375 for 30 minutes. Whew.

After all that, Project Salmonella was refreshingly easy. I have a very nice pair of kitchen shears that I used to split the birds (spines are really cool looking). I cleaned each half with some lemon juice and patted them dry, then made a rub mixture of olive oil, chopped garlic, sage, rosemary, black pepper, and oregano and gave Roasty and Flatty a good massage (tried to get the rub between the skin and the muscle whenever I could), then placed them cut-side down in a casserole dish and poured a little white wine over them. I still had to wait on the damn stuffing, which after 30 mins were up, I took out and removed the foil and put it back in for another 30 mins at 350 to make the top of the stuffing kinda brown and crusty.

I decided to take this opportunity to set aside the roasting pan and completely disinfect the kitchen. I'm a little paranoid about cooking with raw poultry. I then took a shower, because I needed either that or a stiff drink and we weren't going down to the wine bar until after dinner. Once the stuffing came out for the last time, I bumped the oven temp back up to 375 and put the roasting pan in for an hour and cleaned the kitchen again. Fortunately, thanks to my delightfully accurate oven, the birds were perfect after exactly 1 hour. I think I would have freaked out had they been overcooked at this point. I think I would have freaked out had anything been overcooked at this point.

The end result of all this work being dinner didn't get done until 8, but it was declared delicious by all parties involved. Stuffing is a total PAIN IN MY ASS. I do not know why stuffing takes as long as it does. It's like some sort of Time Vortex or Space Rift opens up while you make a stuffing and sucks you away for 2 and a half hours. Roasting, on the other hand, is surprisingly easy and I now feel like I've moved one more step up in my plan for Total Kitchen Domination.

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