‘The Happiest Plates On Earth’: Cornish Game Hens with Popcorn Grits- Inspired by ‘Dumbo’

For my second attempt at creating a dish inspired by a specific Disney film, we chose very carefully.  By that, I mean I opened my idea notebook and my husband randomly pointed to one.  So Dumbo it is then!

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Let’s get right to it then!


This dish ended up being so much fun thematically and tasted awesome.  It’s got several steps, but I think they’re all worth it!

Note: I’m going to be playing around with the way recipes are written out.  I haven’t decided if I prefer to do a write up at the top of the page or after the recipe.  This time, since there’s so many components to this dish, I will be giving explanations for how they fit into the film and how the flavors work together after individual recipe.

Kamikaze-Pickled Vegetables

1 cup vodka
1 cup triple sec
1 cup water
3 limes, zested and juiced
3 tablespoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 Anaheim chili pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced

In saucepan on stove, combine vodka, triple sec, water, salt, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Stir together and then put on medium heat. While mixture is heating up, place peppers, onion, garlic, zest and lime juice in glass bowl. Once liquid begins to boil, turn off heat. Pour over vegetables. Cover bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight.

**To represent the drunken clowns and the pink elephants, I knew I wanted to do something with liquor.  I thought incorporating a kamikaze cocktail would be a clever way of doing it.  Firstly, because it is so citrus-based, which is very much in keeping with the flavor profile of this plate, but also because of kamikazes being known for flying.**




Sweet and Spicy Pan Roasted Peanuts

1/2 cup shelled peanuts, blanched and salted
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chili powder

In medium saute pan over medium heat, combine all ingredients except peanuts. Whisk until everything is incorporated. Allow mixture to begin to bubble and then add peanuts, completely coating them in the honey mixture. Cook peanuts for approximately 2 minutes or until they start to carmelize. Be careful not to burn them. When the peanuts get sticky, remove from pan and move to plate. Cool completely before moving them to an airtight container until you’re ready to use them.


**This one isn’t as cerebral as the last one.  Peanuts are eaten at the circus and Dumbo shoots them out of his trunk. The sweetness and heat really help the flavors balance out, in addition to adding a nice crunch. **

Kale Salad
2 cups fresh kale, finely chopped
10-12 grape tomatoes, halved
2 ears fresh corn, shaved off cob
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
Salt and Pepper To Taste
Toss all ingredients together and season appropriately. Set aside.

**This dish is very flavorful, but needed just a little extra touch at the end when I started plating.  I used some kale and tomatoes to add texture and acid and then added the corn to mimic the grits in a fresh way.  I made a quick olive oil dressing with the citrus elements and salt and pepper and then added in some cheese because cheese makes everything amazeballs.**


Mojo Cornish Game Hens

2 lemons, seeded
2 oranges, seeded
2 limes, seeded
1/4 vidalia onion
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
2 tablespoons fresh mint
1/4 c fresh cilantro
2 cups vegetable oil + 1/4 cup
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 Cornish game hens, thawed

Start by placing the cornish game hens on a cutting board and splitting them through the breastbone and then the backbone, butterflying them open. Rinse them inside and out and move them to a large bowl or plastic container.

Combine all remaining ingredients in a high-powered blender and pulse until everything is liquified. Pour marinade over hens. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Remove hens from marinade and wipe off excess marinade. Place in greased baking pan. Brush with additional vegetable oil and then liberally salt skin. Place in oven and roast until skin is browned and crispy. Keep hens warm until ready to serve.

**So the reasoning behind this was a couple things.  I knew I wanted to do poultry of some kind to represent flying, the magic feather and even the crows.  I chose to do a mojo marinade because after doing my research, Dumbo takes place in Florida, a state that is known for its Cuban cuisine.  The bright citrus flavors married with the game hen beautifully. 

Popcorn Grits (adapted from David Chang’s recipe)

2 cups popping corn
2 cups chicken broth
4 quarts water
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup fresh shredded white cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper To Taste

Pop your kernels in an air popper and set aside. Bring chicken broth to simmer in saucepan. In small stockpot on separate burner, heat water to boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Working in 2 batches, drop popped corn into hot water. Popcorn will shrink dramatically. Use a mesh strainer basket or china cap to remove water from popcorn, draining water into new pot or bowl. Put water back on burner and repeat process, adding wet popcorn to the strainer basket (the extra weight will help remove water). Once all popcorn is cooked down, place popcorn in food processor bowl and blend until you have a paste. Move popcorn back into strainer and place strainer over saute pan and begin to stir with wooden spoon or stiff rubber spatula. The objective here is to get the popcorn worked through the strainer, so you’re left with smooth popcorn puree in your pan and the leftover old maids and hulls in the basket. You should have about 4 cups of popcorn grits after this process.

Begin cooking your corn again, adding the heated chicken broth to the corn. Then stir in heavy cream. Whisk over medium heat until they start bubbling rapidly. Add in butter little by little, whisking while you work (ha!) and then the white cheddar. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. I added quite a bit of black pepper when I made it and it gave a nice heat to the grits. Keep grits warm until ready to serve.

**Popcorn is major circus fare.  Grits are a staple in southern cooking. I just put them together and was thrilled to find other people had thought of this so I could piggyback off of their work.  This was my first time trying this technique, but I thought it worked fairly well.**

I hope you try this, because it was quite tasty!



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  1. Oh my, the plating and photography are beautiful. It looks delicious. And I LOVE the title of the posts, “happiest plates on earth” so clever!


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