My Pandemic Diary, Entry #47
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
The calendar says it’s early May but the evidence of the day says it’s winter. It’s a bit of a shock to be woken by the combination of cold winds howling through an open window and the radiator pipes clanging from the heat having been again turned on. Our building is a pre-war and the old pipes make what to me are comforting noises, but still, at 4:00 am it’s enough to wake you up.
Today may be a sunny, blue-sky day but you can almost hear how cold it is. Given how surrealistic things already are, it’s oddly not so weird to abruptly have to wrap in sweaters and heavy socks in May. I’m almost adjusted to not being surprised by anything right now.
I’m feeling much better today than yesterday. More like my regular self. I do need to mention that after publishing yesterday’s diary in which I wrote about my crying when I couldn’t keep a bandana securely on my face, I received offers from friends, family and strangers to send us masks. I was so deeply touched by the outreach and the caring. I don’t have low expectations of people and still I was very surprised and moved. One of my core beliefs in life is that if you expect little you will not be disappointed but aim high and much will follow. So should gratitude.
It reminds me of an expression I learned early in my business career which advised, “Aim for the stars and you’ll hit the moon. Aim for the moon and you’ll hit Trenton.” Apologies to Trenton.
Back to today. It’s Saturday and it’s the weekend. No walk today because of the cold wind. We’re not timid about the weather but if you’re aiming for a workout kind of walk, being miserable will get in the way. We’ll walk tomorrow. Instead, today we’re doing housework and our usual tasks and calls, plus some work on our ongoing computer issues. I’ll hold off on saying more about that until we see what works. Or not.
Cooking and Groceries
Last night’s dinner was more adventuresome than I had planned it to be. I started out expecting to just roast chicken thighs and make a salad but I decided to do something a bit more fun to make and interesting to eat. I turned to Diana Henry’s From the Oven to the Table cookbook and her chapter entitled “My Favorite Ingredient: Chicken Thighs Forever” that has 10 recipes, each with thighs on the bone as its main focus.
I chose Chicken with Lemon, Capers & Thyme because I had all the ingredients on hand: waxy potatoes, onions (she called for yellow, I had red), garlic, thyme, lemons, capers, and the chicken. The method for cooking is one that she uses in all 10 recipes – create a base of flavor, place the thighs on top, and roast uncovered at high heat. So if you like the technique, you could adapt it to flavors that you have and prefer to use. For example, Diana Henry has another version in which she makes the chicken thighs with miso, sweet potatoes and scallions. I've not made it yet but I think it sounds delicious.
For this dish I used a round cast iron pan. This is what my pan looks like, although mine came with a cover. I bought it several years ago as a year-end sale gift to myself and because it’s by Staub it was a splurge, even on sale. But I use it so constantly its per-use cost is very low (I like using a per-use measure for the cost/value of a lot of things – cookware, white shirts, shoes, lipsticks).
Back to the chicken. This recipe makes a delicious one-pot meal and it comes together quickly because you don’t pre-cook anything and you don't even peel the garlic (have you ever noticed how having to peel and mince garlic can add eons to making something?). All the ingredients, except the capers, cook all at once with no flipping or stirring or turning the pan. Plus there are layers of flavor that add to but don't overwhelm the chicken. While the thighs roasted, I cooked haricots verts in boiling water, drained and held them aside and then browned a packaged of shelf-stable gnocchi in olive oil with minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes, covered, for about 5 minutes and then tossed that with the beans.
By the way, the chicken cooks for 40 minutes in a hot oven so if you had something else you wanted to bake at the same time, like stuffed peppers or baked rice or a vegetable tien, you could do that.
Here’s the chicken recipe with complete acknowledgement to Diana Henry.
Chicken with Lemon, Capers & Thyme
- About 1 pound waxy potatoes (red bliss or Yukon Gold are both good), scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large or 2 medium onions (I like red but you can use yellow), cut into crescent moon-shaped wedges
- 1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
- 10 thyme springs (in a pinch you could use dried thyme, about 1 teaspoon)
- 2 lemons (wash them first)
- 3 T extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 4 to 6 bone-in chicken thighs, excess skin trimmed
- 3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Put the potatoes into a shallow casserole dish about 12-inches across or a roasting pan in which all the vegetables can lie in a single layer. Add the onions, garlic cloves, and thyme. Finely grate the zest of 1 lemon over this and squeeze over everything the juice of half of that zested lemon. Cut the other lemon into thin slices, removing any seeds.
Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon slices and using your clean hands, toss everything gently so to mix it up.
Place the chicken thighs on top, skin side up, and brush them with the remaining olive oil. Season them with salt and pepper. Make sure none of the lemon slices are sticking out because they can burn quickly. Instead tuck them under the chicken.
Roast in the oven for 30 minutes (uncovered). Then retrieve some of the lemon slices and put them on top of the chicken so that they can turn golden during the remaining cooking. Scatter the capers over everything and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.
It’s Saturday so I hope you do something special to remind yourself that it’s the weekend so that when Monday comes around, every day won’t feel the same. Maybe popcorn and a movie that will make you laugh. That’s what we have planned for tonight.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.