by Joan Saunders –
When you invite people over, where do they always end up? Of course they congregate in the kitchen; sometimes they also end up in my way, but I try to be a gracious host.
I often make vaguely veiled hints (as I’m generally not subtle at all) like: “Why don’t you head into the living room?” Or, “I’ve got an 18 pound turkey here that’s going to end up on the floor if you don’t move over.”
But I appreciate the warmth of a kitchen: the smells, the energy, the vibe that emanates from a space that’s used and loved. And, contrary to my rare moments of panic when preparing food for friends and family, I enjoy having people hovering around, taste testing and asking questions about what’s happening and what they could do to help.
My mom probably won’t offer to assist again when she comes to visit as recently I had her sitting for eons at the kitchen counter grating pounds of carrots. Nothing was said at the time but it was clear that she didn’t like our grater when I unwrapped a new one on my birthday. Point taken.
But our kitchen is the generally floury and sometimes vaguely sticky centre of our home. And in January, now that all the glitter and glitz has been stored away and the big holiday meals have been consumed, it’s fun to explore what’s available locally and hunker down on a cold evening to enjoy hearty, simple, flavourful home cooking.
What’s in season on the Island? Apples, kale, carrots, leeks, onions and parsnips, to name just a few, are at our Farmer’s Markets.
My new go-to dessert is an Apple Galette (at right). It sounds much fancier than it is (and I do appreciate recipes that make me sound like I know what I’m doing).
A galette is a rustic tart. It can be made with any type of fruit but we had in our front garden what was supposed to be a dwarf apple tree. This year it evolved into a great mutant beast packed full of fruit. The branches were loaded down with apples and so I had to deal with them. Thus, the galette. Many galettes, actually … and chutney and applesauce and muffins.
My other current go-to is a Sheet Pan Meal. I didn’t even know what they were when I spied the first recipe but now I’m a convert. Marinate some chicken in smoky paprika and garlic, cut up some fresh veggies and fling them onto a foil-lined pan, toss the veggies in olive oil and herbs, add the chicken and throw it in the oven. It all sounds a bit violent, but it works. Beautifully.
A friend of mine who’s much younger (yes, a self-described millennial) says that when she does cook, this is how it’s done.
So this month it’s back to the basics. Some chicken, some veggies from the farm stand, a simple apple dessert and we’re good to go. But please, let me just ask that you try to keep out of the way when I’m hauling things out of the oven.
Smoky Sheet Pan Chicken and Veggies
(from Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman)
2 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks
(can easily halve or double recipe)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
1½ tsp salt
Combine all ingredients, add chicken to coat and marinate while you prepare veggies (or leave in fridge up to one day).
Cut up about three pounds of veggies into about ¾-inch chunks. I used a head of cauliflower, one small head of broccoli, a few potatoes and a red onion, but you can add whatever is in season and what you’d prefer. Add, if you like, ⅔ cup pitted green olives.
Heat the oven to 400° and line your 13 x 18 inch sheet pan with foil. Coat pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. Spread the veggies on the pan then use your hands to toss them with 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp thyme and some salt and pepper.
Add the chicken in the spaces between the veggies. Cook for 30 minutes, flip veggies around a bit to ensure they’re cooking evenly, and then cook for 15 more minutes (until all is cooked through).
To finish, cut a few juliennes of red bell pepper and put in a bowl with 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, ½ tsp salt and a pinch of sugar. When the chicken and veggies are cooked, top with the pepper slices and if desired, 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley.