Sunday, October 3, 2010


"Every once in a while, my mother follows one of my recipes.  Actually, follows is too exacting a word for what goes on. Let's just say, every once in a while, my mother decides to cook something of mine she's seen in the New York Times." 
                               --Melissa Clark, author of IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE

These opening sentences of a recipe for My Mother's Garlic and Thyme-Roasted Chicken Parts with Mustard Croutons convinced me that I had to make this wonderful dish.  It's from Melissa Clark's very readable new cookbook, IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE: 150 Recipes & Stories About the Food You Love (Hyperion; $27.50; ISBN: 978-1-4013-2376-9) and it's a spin off of her original recipe (included here) for Garlic and Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons. Clark's mother called her daughter to tell her that she made the recipe and "It was terrific." Knowing her mother constantly changes her recipes, Clark's skepticism, turned to admiration as she grilled her mother about the way she prepared it.  Her mother stuck reasonably to her daughter's version, substituting a cut-up chicken for a whole one.  But it was her mother's use of mustard on the bread that grabbed Clark's attention.  "Mustard!  It was a brilliant idea," she writes.  "Mustard would add a slight spicy jolt to the croutons, and probably help flavor the chicken pieces as well.  I couldn't wait to try it.  Plus, chicken parts cook faster than a whole bid, and there would be less of a chance for the bread to burn."  My mother is an excellent cook, but she's never followed a recipe I've given her, almost always telling me with competitive glee her version is an improvement on the original!  In Clark's mother's case, the result was a wonderful chicken dish that is now part of my regular line-up.  I immediately sent to a bunch of friends and it's the kind of story that makes Melissa Clark one of the most popular food writers at The New York Times.  

Her A Good Appetite column in The New York Times' Wednesday food pages is always the highlight of my week.  Clark's exploration of how she creates meals, what inspires her, and the way she handles the daily challenges and joys of cooking food from a home cook's perspective, is always a pleasure to read.  Her breezy, conversational tone puts me in mind of Laurie Colwin's remarkable food columns which appeared in Gourmet in the 80s and early 90s (and became beloved books--Home Cooking and More Home Cooking).  Clark delivers unfussy food with robust flavors while reminding us that eating at home is fun, nurturing and not at all difficult. 

My Mother's Garlic and Thyme-Roasted Chicken Parts with Mustard Croutons

For a young woman, Clark has written a lot of cookbooks, 29 in all.  Her inspiration comes from an amazingly wide source of friends (Karen's Chorizo Corn Dog Bites is a deliciously down-market guilty pleasure, and makes me want to sit down and swap kitchen lore with them both), a technique (deep-frying), her family (aside from her mother's contributions, there's Almost Aunt Sandy's Sweet-and-Sour Salmon), and her carnivorous proclivities (she is a self-professed "bone picker" and provides the tasty recipes to prove it).  Michele Scicolone introduced me to roasted cauliflower nearly twenty years ago in her book The Antipasto Table.  I now consider it one of my favorite vegetables.  Clark's Roasted Spiced Cauliflower with Almonds, seems right up my alley, which I want to try for today's Sunday supper.  Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Anchovy Bread Crumbs amply demonstrates that eggs don't always need bacon.   I avoided the "Better Fried" chapter, fearing for my soaring cholesterol, but eventually Clark's siren-ability to make me turn the page brought me back to this forbidden section.  O-M-G!:  Panfried Cheese with Anchovy-Date Salad, those naughty Chorizo  Corn Dog Bites, Spicy, Crispy Chickpeas, Deep-Fried Bourbon Peach Pies, and Gingery Doughnut Fingers have weakened my resolve (intellectually I know that taking cholesterol medication is not a license to eat whatever I like, but in this case, I may have to make an exception). For cocktail lovers, Clark's restoration of rye whiskey to the original Rye Manhattan atones for all those sweet Manhattans made with bourbon.  She even provides a recipe for homemade Maraschino Cherries

IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE is this season's great cookbook read, as well as a collection of 150 wonderfully easy, and totally delicious recipes.  Melissa Clark artfully combines her kitchen and story chops into one delightful cookbook staple that should have no problem earning its stain marks as you compulsively cook your way through it! 


Time:  1 hour and 10 minutes
Serves 4

Country bread, ciabatta, or other study bread, preferably stale and sliced 1/2 inch thick.  

Mustard, as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher slat, more as needed
1 4 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, rinsed and patted dry
1 head garlic, separated into cloves 
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
1/2 bunch thyme sprigs

1. Preheat oven to 424 degrees.  Lay the bread slices in the bottom of a heavy-duty roasting pan in one layer. Brush with mustard, drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper and place the pieces on the bread, arranging the white meat in the center and the dark meat and wings around the sides. Scatter the garlic cloves, bay leaf, and thyme over the chicken and drizzle everything with more oil (take care to drizzle the garlic cloves).

3. Roast the chicken until it's lightly browned and the thigh juices run clear when pricked with a knife, about 50 minutes. If you like, you can crisp the skin by running the pan under the broiler for a minute, though you might want to rescue the garlic cloves before you do so they don't burn (if you don't plan to eat them, it doesn't matter so much).  Serve the chicken with pieces of bread from the pan.  

NOTE:  I started checking the chicken at 40 minutes.  But it did cook the full 50 minutes. 

NOTE:  You must use a heavy-bottomed roasting pan. No aluminum--you'll just end up burning the bread.

from IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE by Melissa Clark (Hyperion)

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