52 Dinners - Week 1: Roast Chicken as Dazzling First Impression

52 Dinners - Week 1: Roast Chicken as Dazzling First Impression

Our good friend Justin came to dinner last night, along with his two dogs, Titus and Wolcott, and his charming new companion, Andrew

If you're interested in old home restoration, 19th century farming practices or handwoven textiles, Justin is your guy. It was just the four of us, so we ate at the small dining table in our living room.

It was Andrew's first time to dinner in our home, so I kept things very casual by simply roasting a chicken.
It's in my nature to try to make a dazzling first impression by going all out with an over-the-top multi-course extravaganza. It's fun for me. But I've learned that formal and semiformal dining can be intimidating for a lot of folks, so I try not to go overboard when hosting new friends.

 

Bailey and I were both raised by pastor's wives who entertained regularly. We were the kids who sat drinking coffee with the adults while the other children went and played. Plus, we've both spent several years working in the restaurant world, so it all comes quite naturally. That said, I understand that there's a time and a place for fancy.
And Tuesday night living room dinner is neither the time nor the place.

Even so, it's easy enough to dress up an easy breezy chicken dinner by using fun china. My in-laws picked up this beautiful octagonal set for me at a thrift store last year. Settings for eight plus all of the additional serving pieces for $10.
And call me old fashioned, but I'm a sucker for napkin rings. I was about to pick the old wax off of the candlesticks, but then I noticed that it matched the Trader Joe's ranunculus on the table. So it stayed. Surely no one else noticed, but I enjoyed it.

We started with a nice little salad of arugula, pear, pomegranate, chevre, and pistachio, dressed with a zippy lemon champagne vinaigrette. I was originally planning on creating just one post per dinner party, with a slideshow of photos and not much commentary. But apparently I have lots to say, so I'll wait and share photos of dinner and dessert tomorrow, along with my roast chicken recipe.

You may already have a tried and true roast chicken recipe in your pocket. But if you don’t, let’s chat!

 

I think I’ve tried most methods out there, and Ina Garten’s is the clear winner. (I once heard her referred to as The Undisputed Roast Chicken Queen. Maybe if I work hard enough I can someday claim that title). An online search for ‘Ina’s Perfect Roast Chicken’ will tell you *almost* all you need to know. Here’s my version of her version:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425°
  2. Salt and pepper that sucker inside and out. I don’t rinse it beforehand.
  3. Shove a couple garlic cloves, a halved lemon, and some fresh herbs into the cavity. You’ll be tempted to skip the lemon but don’t.
  4. My addition: take about half a pound of cold butter and cut into rectangular chunks. Slide the butter underneath the breast skin.
  5. Tie the legs together.
  6. Brush the whole thing with melted butter or olive oil (I use bacon fat). Then salt and pepper again.
  7. Fill a cast iron with your veggies. Toss them with olive oil, s&p. I used Brussels, potatoes, carrot, fennel, and onion.
  8. Plop the bird on top, breast up, and place the pan on the lower rack of the oven for about 75-90 minutes, or until thigh meat registers at about 160°, legs jiggle, and/or juices run clear. No flipping, tenting, or temperature adjusting required. Set it and forget it. Well, don’t forget about it.
  9. Remove the chicken from pan, wrap in foil and rest for a while. I give it at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, broil the vegetables for a few moments it you’re so inclined.
  10. Cut and plate chicken, drizzle with the hot chicken juice from the veggie pan. Done.

A note on vegetables. I used to fret that my chicken and vegetables would be done at different times, so I’d roast them separately. But I got over that. By keeping them as pretty big chunkers and placing them under the bird, they’ll be perfect. If they do end up a little overcooked and mushy, nbd. Just broil them. Soft on the inside, crisp outside, soaked in chicken juice and butter.


Bon appétit!

For dessert, I served sweet potato ice cream with maple and pecans, in my late grandmother Doris’s crystal compotes. Made with milk from Sweet Rowan Farmstead and maple from Heartwood Farm.

 

The recipe is from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, one of my absolute favorite cookbooks. It calls for puréed sweet potatoes in lieu of cream. In addition to the cinnamon in the recipe, I added ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and freshly ground black pepper

Small countertop ice cream machines are actually quite affordable, and a whole lot of fun. I recommend it

I really enjoy serving ice cream and sorbet for dessert. Fresh homemade ice cream is a special treat that few folks get to enjoy, at least not regularly. Plus, flavor combinations are pretty much limitless. And it can all be prepared ahead of time! (Actually, it must be).

Most of all, it gives me an opportunity to use Doris’s crystal.

Week one, all done! Until next time, friends!

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