Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dinner for two

Yesterday was a Monday, and a particularly odious example of the genre at that. I shuffled up from the subway in a mood as grey as the February sky and dialed D. on the phone to discuss dinner. It was one of those days where neither of us were feeling particularly inspired, so I defaulted to one of my always-good-in-a-pinch recipes.

It’s a good one for bad moods. What hard heart can resist the smell of roasting chicken and garlic, the brightness of citrus and fennel? One whisky sour and a half hour of bustling in the kitchen later, my mood was substantially improved.

But it didn’t hit me until we sat down to eat that the whole process of cooking, as much as I enjoy it, is but part of the story. When you share a meal that you have made with someone, you are really sharing a part of yourself. That can be scary, but it’s also an intimate and wonderful thing.

And as I looked across the table at D, I realized how privileged I am to be able to share this little passion with someone who understands, encourages and appreciates it.

Forget the cards and flowers. If you love someone, cook them dinner.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fennel & Lemon (adapted from The Kitchn)

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 medium fennel bulb
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine
1 lemon
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
A wedged of preserved lemon rind, chopped (optional)

Heat the oven to 425°F.

In a pan on the stovetop, toast the almonds until light brown; set aside.

Place the chicken thighs in a large bowl. Trim the stalks and fronds off the fennel bulbs, core, and slice thinly. Mince about 1 tablespoon of fennel fronds and add fronds and sliced fennel to the bowl with the chicken.

Add the garlic, olive oil and white wine to the bowl. Zest and juice the lemon, and add to the bowl with the pepper flakes. Add the salt and a generous amount of black pepper and toss.

Spread the chicken and fennel in a shallow roasting pan or baking dish, arranging the fennel around the outside and placing the chicken pieces closely together in the center. Pour any remaining juices in the bowl over the chicken.

Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of about 165°F, and the fennel is tender and beginning to brown around the edges. Take the pan out of the oven, and cover with foil. Let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes.

While chicken rests, make some couscous by adding 1 cup boiling water to 1 cup couscous in a bowl. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes or until water is absorbed and couscous is no longer crunchy, then fluff with a fork before serving.

Serve chicken and fennel over couscous and garnish with almonds, chopped parsley and preserved lemon.

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