Some of you may know that my husband Craig is a director. Last week he went back to work, directing four episodes of our friend Ryan O’Connell’s Emmy-nominated Netflix show Special. The protocols on set are intense, as they should be during Covid. Craig gets tested almost every morning, he wears an N95 mask all day, and when he gets home after a thirteen hour day he’s super tired because of all the extra rigamarole Covid’s causing.
That’s where I enter the picture. I remember one of the first cookbooks that I ever bought was Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess and, even though I have my own work to do during the day (I have a few projects in the works!), at night I’ve blossomed as a true domestic diva. Here are the five dinners that I made last week each night that Craig came home from work. They certainly made our week better, maybe they’ll help with yours.
If I teach you anything, anything at all, during our time together let it be how to turn one meal into three. Case in point: this chicken dinner I made on Wednesday night, which turned into Thursday’s lunch, and then turned into Thursday night’s pasta. How did I get all of that out of one little bird? Allow me to astound you!
Grilling in the summer is difficult when you don’t have a grill. We had a communal one in our fourplex’s backyard, but I haven’t seen it in a while. Maybe I just don’t want to see it. I don’t really love our backyard, though I love our apartment in general; the backyard’s just not a place I want to spend much time. That’s my big realization about grilling: grilling is only fun if you like the environment in which you’re grilling.
So until we have a house with a pool surrounded by citrus trees and male models, I’m staying inside and using my broiler. It’s funny to me how many people don’t know about their broilers. When I interviewed the amazing Kate Berlant on Instagram Live, she said she didn’t even know if her oven had one. People! Your broiler can be your best friend in the kitchen. Let me tell you why.
Here’s the thing: now that I’m making recipes printable, I feel a new responsibility. I used to just write little essays about how I added a pinch of this and a drop of that and I’m realizing now how useless that was: the people want printable recipes! And I get that because when I first started cooking, I followed recipes to the letter. You want to replicate the image you see in the picture and you want to know exactly how it’s done.
So let me explain the dinner you see before you: I had chicken breasts. I had corn, peppers, onions, scallions, and lots of other vegetables from a recent (terrifying) trip to the grocery store. A few weeks ago, I made an incredible corn dish involving bacon and all of the same vegetables (see here on Instagram). Knowing I had skin-on chicken breasts, I thought: what if I sear the chicken breasts and then cook the corn in the same skillet, working up the brown bits for that same meaty effect?
Yesterday I went food shopping with my friend Diana. We went to Lassen’s and the produce looked fine, not great, so I grabbed two cauliflowers (cauliflower?) even though it’s the height of summer and I should be buying corn and tomatoes. Then we went across the street to the butcher (McCall’s) and despite the vast array of meat and fish options — short ribs, head-on shrimp — I chose two skin-on chicken breasts because I was just feeling very basic yesterday.
Sometimes, though, the most basic, bland, white ingredients (chicken breasts and cauliflower!) can be canvasses for the creative mind. To quote George Seurat in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George: “White / a blank chicken breast or cauliflower / the challenge? Bring order to the whole.”
As far as arrivals to one of my dinner parties go, last night was maybe the most dramatic of all time. I was making a chicken and sausage dish from Nancy Silverton’s under-appreciated cookbook Mozza at Home (I seriously consider it one of the best cookbooks to come out in recent years) and I’d cranked the oven up to 450, despite the fact that some of the liquid had spilled on to the oven floor. Well! That liquid sent PLUMES of smoke out of the oven, so much so that two things happened: all four smoke alarms in our apartment started going off; and the air became noxious with the scents of vinegar and burning. Which is exactly when our guests arrived.
A year or two ago, I got rid of my roasting pan. Not because I’m anti-roasting pan, or because I needed the space, but because I realized that my roasting pan had a non-stick surface and that I’d been scratching it up with a metal spatula over the years and that there was a teensy, tiny chance I’d been exposing myself and my loved ones to carcinogens whenever I roasted a chicken and that we’re all going to die and it’s all my fault.
So these days, when I roast a chicken, I rely on my largest cast iron skillet. Frankly, I think it works better. And I riff on the beloved Thomas Keller roast chicken recipe, the one I’ve been making for the past eight years, combining assorted root vegetables and potatoes and garlic in the bottom of the pan with a splash of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper, and then topping it with a chicken that I stuff with thyme and garlic, also rub with vegetable oil, before sprinkling with lots of salt and pepper. Only, I’ve been much bolder with a certain ingredient to really make my roast chicken shine. Can you guess what it is?
Scared you, didn’t I? Well I didn’t mean to. It’s funny how many people read my last post and assumed I was ending my blog. That’s not what I said! I just said that my blog was no longer my primary source of income; in many ways, it’s a liberating state of affairs. It means that if I post on here (as I’m doing now) it’s because I have something I’m really eager to share with the world, not just something to fill up space on the internet (like that time I told you that my cake stand is really a punch bowl; though, weirdly, that post really caught on). In any case: chicken under a brick. Have you tried it? If not, why not? I bet I can guess: you’re afraid. I was afraid too. Then, this past Tuesday, I tried it and–I mean this seriously–I don’t think I’ll ever make chicken any other way again.