Posts tagged: winter recipes
April 27, 2008

Sunday Dinner: Provençal Roast Chicken

The Sunday meal, taken together, is a time-honored tradition I’m especially fond of. Growing up we sat around the Irish wake table in chinoiserie-papered dining room for a multi-course meal at the punctuating holidays. Our ritual on a ordinary Sunday evening was a drive downtown to a nondescript Mexican restaurant across the street from a toweringly fancy hotel. I remember gold foil-wrapped pats of soft butter spread on hot corn tortillas that were pulled out of plastic containers like rabbits out of a hat and the ketchup my dad ordered for the kids to dip their chips in. Sunday nights can be achingly sad — the work week looms, the fun is over, and somehow, it seems the sun sets earlier than any other night of the week. But in the Mexican restaurant where old-fashioned vaquero music played on the juke box, traditional striped blankets hung on the wall, and each meal ended with the ceremonial choosing of a Dum-Dum from the bowl at the cash register, we were happy, and the week seemed held at bay for awhile longer.

Later, when I was in Italy for a few months during college, my board did not include Sunday dinner. This was especially inconvenient given that Sundays saw the rattling metal grates firmly shut over the front doors of cafes and trattorias, barring the way to wild boar sausage and cannellini bean soup. At the breakfast table that first Sunday, over the strong coffee that made me happier than any other part of the morning spread, my host mother invited my roommate and I for dinner that afternoon. She made it clear that the meal was not one we had paid for (ahem), but that she would be happy to have us join her family. Their table, a long wooden farmhouse table with a fruit bowl at one end, was in the kitchen. During that meal, the 2 o’clock sunshine would slant through the window and we ate homemade pasta excitedly, its one appearance for the week. For me, aching with a loneliness for what (or rather, who) I’d left behind in Minnesota, Sunday dinner at that table with the sealed pockets of ravioli and a surrogate family was heaven.

Soon after I came back from Florence, my dear friend hosted a Sunday dinner of her own. I sat on the green bar stool at the high ledge in her kitchen alternately sipping coffee and wine as she made a great Caesar salad and two fat roast chickens. She fed eight of us that day, and we crowded around a table pulled out into the middle of her living room floor. I remember being happy then, too, and also, feeling at home.

If I had more pals in this neighborhood I love so much, I’d like to think I’d be cooking up Sunday dinner with them to stave off the Sunday blues. Then again, maybe there’s a bit of Field of Dreams at play here: if I cook, will they come? Because there is no better day than Sunday, especially when you do not have a couple hundred pages of Hawthorne to read, or are not walking around a foreign city, addicted to your own melancholy, or are not still heartbreakingly young, completely at the whims of the adults in your life, to sit down with some people you happen to like, even just a bit, and toast one last time to the weekend.

Provençal Roast Chicken
Serves 4, adapted from Gourmet March 2008

1 1/2 pound tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 large onion, cut into wedges, leaving root ends intact
1/2 cup drained brine-cured black olives, pitted if desired
5 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence, divided
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pound), washed and patted dry

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the tomatoes, onion, olives, garlic, fennel, and 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence with the olive oil. Push to one side of roasting pan. Nestle the chicken in next to the vegetables and season with the remaining teaspoon herbes de Provence, as well as plenty of salt and pepper. Roast in oven until the juices from the chicken run clear with no traces of pink, about 1 1/2 hours. Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes. Serve chicken with vegetables, pan juices, and some crusty bread to soak up every bit of juice.

November 1, 2007

Farmhouse Cooking in the Outer-Boroughs

lamb

Somewhere between “throw-a-frozen-pizza-in-the-oven” and “something-fancy” is the perfect weeknight meal. It should involve one pot, preferably, and it never hurts if it’s comprised entirely of pantry staples. And sometimes, through some kind of magic, you turn the page in one of your most beloved cookbooks to find something that doesn’t sound too hard or too time consuming and doesn’t have an ingredients list as long as your arm. In fact, it sounds elegant. It was there all along, and it sounds like what you’d like to have for dinner on a Thursday.

In case I haven’t told you this about me, I think of myself as descended from farmer stock. My mother grew up on one of the oldest dairy farms in New England. This means not only that I am genetically unfit for cubicle work, but that literary descriptions of wide-open spaces appeal to me for a reason. Clean air, gardens, farmhouse kitchens — they’re in my bones.

I found The Farmhouse Cookbook one rainy day in one of my favorite creaky used bookshops. Susan Hermann Loomis wrote this cookbook after two years of driving around the U.S. visiting farms and peeking over the shoulder of farmhouse cooks. The recipes are from the cooks I most respect; not fancy pants chefs but cooks, serving good, honest food, three times a day to people who have worked hard and are hungry. To me, a woman who can barely eke out two home-cooked dinners a week, this is damn near a feat of grace.

I have a semi-permanent house guest right now. Though we can’t offer him even a modicum of privacy in our little one bedroom apartment, I want him to feel welcomed. I want him to feel a sense of, dare I say it?, abundance living with us for these weeks, despite the fact he is cramped onto an uncomfortable futon with a thin, scratchy blanket. I can bring him a beer when he looks tired, and let him keep the game on through dinner, but my biggest gesture, the best gesture I can make to say to someone is, here, I took some time and threw some things together. I hope you like it.

lamb

Lamb and Lentils
adapted from The Farmhouse Cookbook

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound boneless lamb cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 cups water
1 cup lentils
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
10 peppercorns
4 springs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
4 large fresh sage leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
2 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and cook lamb until brown on all sides, about 3-4 minutes a side. Stir in the water, lentils, onion, garlic, salt, peppercorns, and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, cooking until the lentils are tender but still slightly firm to the bite. Lentils can vary widely in cooking times depending on their age, so this could take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Add lemon juice, zest, carrots cabbage, and cook until the cabbage is wilted and the carrots are tender, about 15 minutes. Dinner is served, and only one pot to clean.

February 4, 2007

Big Game Chili and Cornbread

chili and cornbread

I really don’t care much for football, but since I caught 20 minutes of a game a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been craving chili and cornbread. It must be Pavlovian or something. This meal is hearty and wholesome in a nice country way, and it’ll have non-game fans smiling. Then again, I ate this while watching Antonia’s Line, so what do I know?

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March 6, 2006

Guest Cook: Gregor’s Chicken Pot Pie

The only thing better than cooking for your friends is having your friends cook for you. And better still are those kinds of dinners when you show up – not with the hors d’oeuvres neatly arranged while cocktails are shaking things up in the kitchen – but when the cook is just clicking into action. The kitchen is my favorite room to hang out in, but it’s especially nice to lean against your friend’s windowsill drinking a beer while something is simmering on the stove. It’s all the comfort of being at home without the dysfunction of your family!
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