Sunday, February 21, 2010

You Can Take it With You

(photo from stock.xchng)

I don't know about your kids but mine gets a week off in February called "ski week".  I never had ski week growing up.  We had one day off for President's Day followed by a return to school and some project with cherry pie filling to honor George Washington.  These days the masses head to the mountains and for the first time we went along.  We shared a rental with some friends and being about 20 minutes from the closest grocery store, we brought all our food with us.  Seemed a little crazy, packing coolers full of milk, eggs, and yogurt but it was so worth it.  We split the meals between us and everyone pitched in with prep, dishes, and the short order breakfast line we swore wouldn't happen each morning.

When preparing food to take with you, weather it's to the mountains, a summer cabin, or a friend's house, there are a few things to keep in mind.  First off, it's great to pick dishes that you can't overcook-think about things that stay nice and juicy when you reheat them like soups, stews, and chili.  Second, do as much prep ahead of time but if some last minute cooking will make for a better dish, plan for that too.  This means dishes like homemade mac and cheese or Mexican enchiladas should get their final cooking just before you eat them.  The enchiladas we had needed a 20-30 minute oven trip and they were perfect.  If you cook mac and cheese ahead then reheat it for your dinner later it gets way too dry-prep it all then bake it later.  Third, one pot meals are best.  When you only have to make a salad and/or veggie to go with dinner it leaves you a lot more time to drink wine, play hearts, or beat the kids in foosball.

All those rules aside, I prepared two dinners from beginning to end, hoping I'd get the nights when we were home early.  I lucked out once and the other night we just ate late.  Sometimes nothing beats the smell of something braising in the oven for a few hours so I couldn't resist.  I went for Meyer Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs and a Milk Braised Pork Loin.  Having no meat thermometer, my pork loin overcooked (ok, maybe it was being mid-Scrabble with a great glass of wine in hand that distracted me).  The chicken, however, came out great.  This is a recipe I found years ago in, I think, the New York Times and I've been making it from memory ever since.  If Meyer Lemons aren't available I'd recommend using half oranges and half lemons, but regular lemons will work in a pinch.  This is no-fuss at its best-the oven does all your work for you, leaving you time to enjoy your own game of Scrabble.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  It's easily doubled for a crowd too.

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs with Meyer Lemons (adapted from, I think, Amanda Hesser in The New York Times)
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, excess fat removed
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 heads garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
2-3 medium Meyer Lemons, cut into eight chunks (skin on)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Choose a large oven-proof saute pan that will fit all the thighs comfortably (it's okay if they're a bit snug).  Place the thighs in the pan and add a generous pinch each of salt and pepper, tossing them around to be sure each piece of chicken is well coated.  Add the garlic cloves, lemon pieces, rosemary, thyme, wine, and olive oil and toss again, making sure all the chicken pieces are skin side up.  Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid (or foil) and place in the oven.  Cook until the chicken is very tender, about two hours.  You don't need to stir or check on it until the time is just about up.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and remove the lid from the pan.  Cook until the chicken pieces are nicely browned, 20-30 minutes more.  

Transfer the chicken pieces to a large platter and pour all the juices, lemon chunks, and garlic pieces over the top.  Serve family style with a big salad and crusty bread for those roasted garlic pieces.

Happy Cooking.

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