Thighs ‘n Veggies

I can make a mean mess in the kitchen and somehow end up using every pot and pan within reach. That’s why one-dish dinners are appreciated around here, especially by my husband who normally takes on the task of washing whatever I dirty.

Most of my one-dish dinners are kind of a spinoff of a Jamie Oliver recipe. They’re simple, rustic (my favorite kind of presentation), and feature lemon. And yes, I know lemon isn’t locally sourced around here, but I balance it out (hopefully) by buying from a local store, not one of the chains. Trust me, if lemons could grow around here, we would have an entire backyard.

Roast dishes should never be limited to the fall/winter because they are a great way to utilize seasonal veggies. Of course, a more summery version is going to include tomatoes, squash, onions, etc. In the fall/winter, root vegetables can easily replace the ingredients used here.

To top the dish off, I went with gremolata (because I just can’t serve something without a green in it). It’s a simple condiment, traditionally accompanying ossobuco and made with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. I subbed in basil and added olive oil and some salt, just because I think recipes are made to be adapted (and I kinda hate parsley). At any rate, gremolata adds a nice “pop” of bright flavors and could easily be used on fish, steak, etc. Since herbs are so abundant during the summer, it’s easy to locally source leafy ones (or, even better, to grow some at home with minimal space needed).

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Summer Vegetables (serves: 2, with some veggies leftover)
Note: It takes some time, but you may want to pick out the lemons before serving so no one accidentally takes a big bite. Especially if you use yellow squash. Trust me. It’s hard to spy the difference when you’re hungry.

1 lb. chicken thighs
1 lemon, thinly sliced (If you make gremolata, just use the lemon you zested.)
2-3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 c. assortment of seasonal vegetables (carrots, onions, yellow squash, etc.)
1 Tbsp. duck fat (or olive oil)
Salt
Pepper

Put the duck fat (or olive oil) in a large glass casserole dish. Place the dish in the oven while heating the oven to 400 degrees (this warms the fat and helps prevent sticking). When the oven has heated, add to your dish the chicken thighs, lemon, garlic, and vegetables and toss to coat with the fat/oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring the vegetables halfway through. The chicken should get brown and golden on top. (Alternately, if you want brown, crispy thigh skin all over, sear the chicken while the veggies roast the first 20 minutes. Then, add the chicken for the remaining roasting time.)

Serve over a bed of rice (we went with a wild rice medley) and top with the gremolata (below).

Gremolata
Note: The traditional parsley could be used here instead of basil.

Zest of 1 lemon
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 c. basil, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt

Mix the lemon zest, garlic, and basil. Add the olive oil and season with salt.

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Twisting Classics: Julia Child’s Roast Chicken with Grilled Grits Cakes and Peaches

For lovers of all things food, whether professionals or home cooks, Julia Child (who would be celebrating her 100th birthday next month) is one of those models of excellence. To me, she’s simply a class act and represented all I wanted to become: a chef who came into her own at a not-so-tender age, confident, striking, bold enough to get on TV and suggest that if you drop a chicken just pick it up and move along (if the guests aren’t in the kitchen, they won’t see your mistakes). She also inspired some of my favorite “Cosby Show” scenes during which Cliff Huxtable would mimic her unique timbre.

I envied, and still do, Julia’s life as a cook, and I still look to that classic French cookbook for guidance (even reading the section about how to properly handle a knife worked wonders).

By now, that cookbook automatically falls open to one section: roast chicken. It’s a butter-spattered page, one well used. I think it was Anthony Bourdain (or maybe I just like attributing most culinary wisdom to him because he’s just as equally inspiring as Julia: everyone needs a little devil on their shoulder dropping the f-bomb once in a while in the kitchen) who once said that all home cooks should learn to roast chicken. And for good reason. When done right, it’s just simple perfection (although I admit my love of roast duck now exceeds my love of roast chicken). It’s versatile in that leftovers can be used for myriad purposes (sandwiches, soups, etc.). And really, it’s not a difficult meal to master. For the sake of full disclosure, yes, my roasting has resulted in quite a few dry chickens in the past, but that’s because I would always doubt myself. The trick here is one I follow when making anything involving yeast: just go into it sure of yourself. Be confident, be cocky. Success will happen, and the reward is slices of juicy chicken dripping with fat and oil, all surrounded by a perfectly salted, crispy skin. What more could you want?

Now, I’ve tried other roasted chicken methods. There are tons out there. But none–none–beat the Julia Child method. Yes, it requires extensive time at the stove (we’re talking more than an hour), but it’s a small sacrifice to pay. And yes, maybe this recipe is more suited to cooler, fall-like temperatures, but screw it. I want chicken, I fix chicken. The recipe involves flipping, basting, and (ugh) math. But don’t freak out. Just grab a pen and paper and write all the necessary times down in advance, using it as a checklist. (I’m sorry, I majored in communications, my brain is just automatically geared to hate numbers.) It beats the hell out of getting 30 minutes into the process and forgetting if you have another
10 minutes, or are you supposed to flip after this? Shit, I should have taken notes. So just, you know, take notes from the start.

I’ve labeled this entry “twisting classics” because the original recipe uses butter and oil with only salt sprinkled and butter smeared in the chicken cavity. (Yep, if you’re squeamish just reading the term “chicken cavity,” you’re not going to last long in this process because it involves the use of a whole chicken, not those sanitized chicken breasts. Just get over it and be thankful you didn’t have to cut the chicken’s neck and de-feather it.)

I’m not sure if what I’ve done here would make dear Julia roll over in her grave, but I did it anyway. I used cilantro-lime butter and stuffed the cavity with a cut lemon. I also added fresh, whole jalapenos during the roasting process in lieu of the traditional carrots (and to supplement an onion). I’m sorry Julia, I am, but if you tried the final result, you couldn’t possibly be upset with me. This was make-you-wanna-slap-your-mama-it’s-so-good chicken. (And I don’t know why you’d want to slap your mom if something is good, but there you have it.)

Technically, I can’t reprint the recipe because I don’t have permission from the publisher, and I didn’t adapt the recipe enough to really claim such. So, you know–go buy the cookbook. You’ll get your money’s worth with the roast chicken recipe alone, trust me. But don’t be afraid to change it up, as I’ve done. Add a lemon or even an orange or quartered apple in the chicken cavity (after salting and smearing with butter, of course). Try out a flavored butter (the cilantro-lime version can be made by smashing fresh cilantro
and lime zest into softened butter). Add veggies other than onions and carrots. Try out the jalapenos if you like some heat or toss in red peppers for a milder bite. But, above all, do not overcook your bird. If you’re at all hesitant, things will go wrong. Follow the cooking
times prescribed in the cookbook, bearing in mind that, as I’ve found, a chicken that has been purchased from a local farm (e.g., not stuffed to the gills with antibiotics) cooks faster than its less fortunate grocery store kin. (Yes, even if the fresh chicken has been previously frozen.) I used about a three-pound bird I purchased from a local farm (Weathertop Farm), so I opted for a 1:10 total roasting time. Eagle-eyed readers will note my “cheat sheet” says 1:20, but I backtracked because it’s always easier to stuff the
bird back in the oven to undergo some additional roasting than it is to recover
from a dried-out chicken.

Now, I can include my recipe for grilled peaches and grits cakes topped with feta, roasted onions, and honey. I’ve become fond of grilled fruits, especially peaches, which pair well here with the roasted onions and the creaminess of the grits. Remember my catfish n’ corn from the previous night? I made enough grits so that I could have some leftover for this meal. A simple way to use up leftover grits, as I’ve done here, is to pour them into a glass baking dish (I used an 8×8 dish), press the grits down into the pan to mold to its shape, then pop in the fridge to chill and set overnight. The next day, just slice and grill. They’re great topped savory or sweet, for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner.

Grilled Peaches and Grits Cakes with Feta and Honey (serves: 2)

Olive oil

2 ripe peaches, peeled

4-5 slices of grits cakes (see above method)

Roasted onions (these were roasted with the chicken, but you could easily roast whole onions for about 40-50 minutes in a 400-degree oven)

Fresh feta (I prefer locally made, but whatever you have available)

Honey

Over medium high, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your grill pan. Add the grits cakes on one side of the pan, the peaches on the other. Drizzle both with more olive oil. Grill about 8 minutes per side, or until grill marks form. Plate the grits cakes, top with the roasted onions and peaches, crumble over some feta cheese, and drizzle over some olive oil.