"I also feel in my heart of hearts that a picnic is an excuse to buy an enormous bag of potato chips and eat lots and lots of them." – Laurie Colwin
A few weeks ago, I read this article and it has been floating in the back of my brain ever since. In essence, it calls out the fact even though magazines, restaurants, and food blogs paint a picture of “trends” in food, no one is actually cooking like this at home. It’s as though our consumption of media about food is divorced from what we actually cook, and want to cook, at home. Instead, we gravitate toward the comfort foods, the recipes with too much cheese and that use cream of anything soup.
Honestly, I can’t believe that anyone is surprised by this. How many people actually have the cutesy designer homes portrayed in décor magazines? How many people actually have the perfect life they’ve so carefully curated on social media accounts? It’s about putting forth an ideal, not necessarily a reality of how we live. And yes, this process is problematic, but why would food somehow be excluded? What we eat gets policed just as severely as how we look or how we spend our free time. But at home you get to do what you want and sometimes that means eating a can of Pringles with hummus for dinner or making tacos with the seasoning packet.
I think I am particularly floored because I have been reading a lot of Laurie Colwin’s old works and she is unashamed about cooking what works for you. She strives toward health, toward whole foods, but is not hard on herself for useful shortcuts and recognizes that following a huge list of “musts” is unrealistic in any context, especially in the kitchen. Of course some of her work is dated now and reflects trends from the time, but on the whole, she is cooking for herself and her family, not anyone else. I respect her for that. She writes as though to her best friend who already knows and lovingly accepts her quirks. Because of this, I walk away from her writing feeling as though I am her best friend. It’s quite a delightful tactic.
And so yes, I am still working on taking prettier photos; on making my writing more engaging and succinct. But I hope it all comes across as unquestionably authentic and not rife with exaggeration. Let’s stop pretending to be something we’re not, okay?
Lemon-Braised Chicken with Chickpeas and Fennel
Lightly Adapted from Cook’s Country
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
4 or 5 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 large fennel bulb, cut into ½ slices through the core
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 1 ½ T lemon juice
1 t. ground coriander
½ t. red pepper flakes
½ c. dry white wine (I prefer Sauvignon Blanc)
¾ brine cured Manzanilla olives, pitted and halved
¾ c. chicken stock
1 T. honey
2 T. chopped parsley
1 baguette, sliced diagonally
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle position. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.
Mash ½ cup of the chickpeas in a small bowl until a rough paste. Mix in the chicken broth, olives, lemon juice, and honey. Set aside.
In a large oven-proof skillet, heat 1 T. olive oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken thighs skin-side down and cook until both sides are well brown and skin is crisp, 10 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside.
Discard all but 2 T. of chicken fat in the pan. Add fennel, season with salt, and cover. Cook until the first side is well browned, 3-5 minutes. Flip and brown other side. Add garlic, lemon zest, coriander, and red pepper flake and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Pour in wine scraping up any brown bits and cook until nearly evaporated.
Pour in the mashed chickpea mixture and the additional whole chickpeas. Bring the mixture to a simmer and nestle in the chicken thighs, keeping the skin above the liquid. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until chicken thighs reach 185 degrees.
While the chicken bakes, drizzle your baguette slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan or heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and cook baguette slices until well browned. Set aside.
Sprinkle parsley over the chicken and serve with baguette slices for dipping.