Roasted Chicken & Potatoes

It was two years ago, this month, that we launched this little blog.  A crazy idea that in hindsight maybe we didn’t think through all that well. For starters, I am certainly not a proficient writer. I change tenses in the middle of a story, my sentences run on… and on, I am definitely sure there are too many split infinitives, and my spelling could really use some work. I can’t tell you how many times I have to go back and check to see that “they’re”, “there”, and “their” are all spelled correctly and used in the proper way (nor how many times I miss correcting them), and I won’t mention the same problem I have with “you’re” and “your” (and don’t get me started on two, to, and too). My worst problem when I write however is my overuse of the comma. I add way more commas to a sentence than are actually necessary.  I always have. I come from the William Shatner school of commas, which means that, there are commas in the oddest places, trying to make you pause, at random, and seemingly, unnecessary, areas in a sentence, for what appears to be, no, particular, reason.  I have used and not used the oxford comma equally and I am a huge fan of the ellipsis, you know… for those ever-important pauses where a regular comma just won’t do. 

At some point in my sophomore year of high school (maybe it was my junior year - I can’t remember) , I had written a short story for my English class, and I guess my teacher must have found some merit in my comma usage because from that story, I was selected as a finalist in a competition I had not even known I was entering.  A letter, handed to me by that same teacher in class, notified me of my selection and instructed me to report to the cafeteria on a particular day where a very select group of kids were to assemble for the final leg of this writing competition.  Other than that, there was very little information, or if there was I couldn’t be bothered to read it.  I got the important stuff, when… where… that’s all I really needed.  Truth be told I was a little surprised I was picked… I mean I really had no confidence in my writing skills. When the day arrived I got to skip my regularly scheduled third period class and instead reported to the cafeteria, where there were a bunch of kids assembled at the tables, which had been rearranged to form long rows with chairs facing the front of the room.  We were told we had one hour to write an essay on some topic that I can’t possibly remember now, and that the winners of the competition would get some fun prizes, and the top three kids would get a very small college scholarship as well.  

I don’t remember a lot about that day. I remember staring out of the large glass windows of the cafeteria for what seemed like an eternity, trying to come up with something to write and I remember seeing a few kids (who were seriously late for third period) racing through the area on their way to class looking back at me, probably wondering what was happening. I don’t know what I wrote, I don’t even remember putting the pencil to the paper, but apparently I scrawled something and I handed in a complete story at the end of the hour.  After some time passed I received a letter in the mail congratulating me on being selected and notifying me that I had won second place! In addition to the very small college scholarship there would also be an award ceremony and dinner, for my parents and I, at a local restaurant, along with the first, third and honorable mention winners.  On the night of the dinner I dressed up in the only suit I had, a brown, thick corduroy and put on my nicest pair of shoes. The night would be pretty special, as it would also be the first time that both my parents would actually attend something I took part in, since elementary school choir.  I don’t remember how we got to the restaurant but I am pretty sure I arrived separately from my parents and when I did meet up with them it became clear that my father had started “celebrating” early, perhaps with a beer or three… and he was more than a little loopy as we took our seats. 

Dinner would be the standard fare, a salad followed by a chicken and potatoes plate with over-steamed vegetables, and a dessert.  It should have been simple but somehow the kitchen got backed-up and there was a particularly long wait between the salad and the main course, during which time they continued to serve wine and other alcoholic beverages to the parents.  By the time dinner came my dad was so drunk that he was starting to make a bit of a scene, and my mother was doing her best to try and keep him quiet, with very little luck. As the desserts were being served they started the program and called up one of the honorable mention kids to the podium, the moderator asked the kid to introduce the guests he came with and to say a few words.  There were maybe half a dozen or more honorable mentions in attendance and each one progressed exactly the same way, walk up, introduce your guests and say a few words. Each kid in turn would get to the podium and say something like I am here with my parents Mr. and Mrs. Whatever-Our-Name-Is and then say a few words about their story.

It was just after the last kid stood up and accepted his honorable mention certificate there was a short break in the program. It was at that time that my mother gave me “THE LOOK”, stood up, took my father by his arm and told him it was over. He (loudly) claimed it couldn’t be over and even told the people behind us that I didn’t get my award. My mother kept pulling him up by the arm, telling him something like tonight was just the dinner and that the awards for the winners would be another night, or that I already got my award and he just forgot, or some other story to get him up and out.  By this time the alcohol was really in effect and as he stood, grasping the table for balance, the chair he was using tipped over backwards, and I had to lean on the other end of the table to keep it from completely tipping over as well, though the glasses and plates noisily crashed together despite my efforts. As my dad left (dragged by my mother) through the front door you could still hear him proclaiming, to anyone that he thought cared, that I was getting an award, and my mother trying to keep him quiet by telling him that everyone already knew that, and to keep moving. The room suddenly seemed quiet to me as the doors closed behind them and I can remember thinking that my mother had just saved us all from further embarrassment.  I tried as hard as I could to make myself small and invisible. If I was quiet, maybe everyone would think that those two people that had just left were inadvertently sitting at my table, or maybe they might think the whole thing never happened… that the whole fiasco was just a dream.

The program resumed and after the third place winner introduced her parents, gave her acceptance speech and sat back down the moderator talked a little bit about my story and announced my name as the second place winner.  I was called up to the podium and she said “Congratulations James, Please introduce your parents to everyone”.  If I had thought the room was quiet after they left, now it was like a morgue. There was no sound at all, not even the obligatory cough from somewhere in the back.  Dead silence. Introduce your parents? What? Did she not see the two crazy people leaving, did she not hear the commotion they made… and why did she say introduce your … parents, why, when every other kid was told to introduce their guests, why did she ask me to introduce my parents?  I stood there stunned; I looked up at the ceiling so as to avoid eye contact with anybody in the room then simply stated into the microphone, “My parents… … had to leave…  I would like to thank you all for this award” and I left to retake my seat.  There was no applause after my speech, mainly because the shortness of it caught everyone off guard, until I got back to my table and then there was a polite, albeit subdued smattering as the MC carried on with the program as quickly as she could. You can imagine I was the talk of the English class the next day though. After that… I didn’t write as much… but when I did (and even now as I do), two things remain the same… I often still stare out the windows for long periods of time trying to think of what to write… and, I still love my commas!  

Besides my writing skills being a little dull, I don’t even consider myself a particularly accomplished cook. I have overcooked more steaks than I care to admit, steamed more vegetables to complete mush than I want to mention, and burned more things in the oven than I ever want to think about. So do we regret starting this blog? Well… … … not yet anyway.  These last two years, while we have focused primarily on the foods David and I really enjoy (and eat on a regular basis) it has also given us an opportunity to look at new recipes and new techniques that perhaps we would not have tried before. It has also encouraged us to find recipes that have similar taste profiles and cooking methods to what we are accustomed to. Take for example this simple one sheet pan method of cooking chicken and potatoes. Instead of serving them as is (like we would normally have done) simply adding them to a bed of arugula lettuce, topping with a garlicky yogurt sauce, and some dill and lemon, brings the dish to a whole different level.  We found this recipe on the NYT Cooking site not too long ago and I have to admit, that the two of us ate nearly all four servings the night we made it. It had such a great flavor and since I really like garlic I had added quite a bit of it to the yogurt (and I was very generous when spooning it over the chicken). Suffice it to say I had heartburn that night that I will not forget for a very long time. And while that is certainly not the best thing about food, the fact that we can learn from our past experiences, makes the next time we eat the same dish a whole different (and consequently better) experience. 

Before we jump into it, a few notes…  When getting your chicken, you want to get about 8 pieces (four thighs and four drumsticks) that weigh about 1½ to 2 pounds altogether. Avoid those extremely large chicken pieces that look like they actually might be from small turkeys. If the pieces are too big, they will take longer to cook and by the time they are done the potatoes will be overdone and the leeks will be burned. For the yogurt sauce - be sure to buy regular yogurt, not Greek yogurt in this case, and trust me when I say just one clove of garlic will be enough to add flavor to it.  When grating the garlic - try to get it into as much of a paste as you can, you really don’t want to bite into a chunk of raw garlic. The original recipe called for only two ounces of arugula, but I thought it really needed more so my version calls for 5 ounces, but basically you can use as much or as little as you wish. As for equipment, you’ll need a large rimmed baking sheet to roast everything on and a few mixing bowls for this meal. 

Now let’s cook…

Ingredients:

  • 1½ - 2 pounds chicken (4 thighs and 4 drumsticks)

  • 2 pounds small Yukon Gold potatoes, halved and cut into ½ thick slices

  • 2½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus a few pinches to taste

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons sriracha hot sauce (or other thick hot sauce, such as harissa)

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

  • 4½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (more as needed)

  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, washed well, thinly sliced

  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest (from about ½ of a lemon)

  • ½ cup plain yogurt (not Greek style)

  • 1 garlic clove, grated into a paste on a microplane or the small holes of a box grater.

  • 5 ounces baby arugula

  • Fresh dill (to taste), chopped

  • Juice of 1 lemon (or to taste) or 1 lemon cut into 4 wedges

Directions:

Put the chicken and the potatoes into a large bowl, then sprinkle in the salt and pepper and toss everything to coat evenly.

In a small bowl combine the sriracha, the cumin, and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil (saving the remaining olive oil for later) and pour the mixture over the chicken and potatoes, again tossing to coat all the pieces well.

Let the chicken and potatoes sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

While the chicken marinates

Preheat the oven, with the rack in the center position, to 425°F.

While the oven heats, combine the leeks, the lemon zest, a pinch of salt, and the remaining 1½ tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sized bowl. Set this aside until ready to proceed.

In another small bowl combine the yogurt and the grated garlic paste, then season the mix to taste with salt and pepper. Set this aside for now, as well.

When the oven is ready:

Place the chicken and potatoes onto a large rimmed baking sheet and arrange them so that they are in a single even layer.  I found that if I put the potatoes on one side and the chicken on the other that when we have to toss the potatoes a little in the next step, it is a bit easier. 

Put the pan in the oven and roast for 15 minutes – Set the timer!

At the 15 minute mark, toss the potatoes lightly (and if you like you can rearrange the chicken pieces at this point so they are mixed together with the potatoes, keeping everything in a single layer though) then scatter the leek mixture evenly on top of everything.

Continue to roast until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through which will take about 25 to 30 minutes more.  Everything will be getting golden brown and slightly crispy.  If you find your chicken is not cooked through before the potatoes and leeks are starting to crisp, remove the pan from the oven, transfer everything but the chicken to a large bowl and cover to keep warm.  Place the chicken back into the oven until done.

To serve this dish:

Divide the arugula between your plates, place chicken, potatoes, and leeks on top of arugula, drizzle with a little olive oil, dollop with yogurt sauce, sprinkle with a little dill and drizzle with lemon juice to taste. Alternately you can have lemon wedges on the side and allow each person to squeeze as much or as little as they like. 

 

That’s it, easy as can be and yet it turns out not to be just another roast chicken and potatoes dish.  

Riley completely bored - waiting for food!