I’m in a “new things” phase.
I maintain a solid love/hate relationship with my home. It's a small home set up much like a railroad apartment, with a long hallway through which all people must walk to get anywhere, that acts like a magnet for Doberman hair and other detritus.
Summer is really my home’s ideal season. The vegetable garden, the size of which is unheard of here in Inner Portland, overflows with a mature asparagus bed, raspberries the size of small babies and a blueberry bush that comes ripe, without fail, every July 4th. We dine on the patio around a firepit my dog loves to dig in, a waterfall that leaks incessantly and a grill I wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China. Perennial flowers bloom in perfect succession around the exterior. In summer, my home is the home everyone wants to be at.
Then comes winter.
The cold doesn’t seep into my living room so much as breeze through, unimpeded by insulation. My dining room stretches at the seams to accommodate friends on holidays, and in the morning, I can see my breath in my bedroom.
So this summer, I decided to cozify my living room. My couches were in a sorry state of disrepair, but I’d been waiting for my Doberman Clementine to stop being insane before I replaced them. Eventually, I just embraced the crazy and decided it was time anyways. I dreamed of a chaise I could write and work from, with these yoga ball pillows.
For two months, I suffered through the same ridiculousness everyone does, of carpenters and painters who insulated and repaired. We learned a lot. For instance, Clementine really does not like hats of any kind, but particularly the baseball caps the workmen were keen to wear. We learned that there is little a dog can destroy at Home Depot, and that everything takes three times longer and three times as much money as you expect. We learned that Clementine really liked chilling out in the bathroom and that it is REALLY funny when someone opens the door to the bathroom and finds a Doberman who would love nothing better than to give your ears a very extensive and thorough cleaning on the other side.
But then, finally, there was a day when a light appeared. I stopped sleeping in the guestroom. I rolled out rugs onto the new tile which did not pop and crack as I walked across it. Then with little drama, they placed a very large blue velveteen couch on top of those rugs. And a friend cut down my coffee and sidetable so they fit. Clementine adjusted to a new reality of couch verboten-ism.
This winter, as I prop my feet on my chaise, exactly as I thought I would, next to my lovely fake fireplace keeping my room temperature at a very tolerable 68, I have fallen in love with my home again. Which is why I’m enjoying having people over and in it, rather than running out each night to one of the gazillions of places in Portland perfect for a rainy night.
No one has created a dinner more suited for this weather than a roasted chicken, and I will spend my life proselytizing the ease of roasting a chicken to the doubters.
And lord knows roasted chicken needs little to make it great, but if you’re willing to step out on this branch with me, I think you’ll be grandly rewarded.
Last week I got to thinking about pomegranate and chilis, about blackberries and fennel and mint and lime. I must be a flavor savant, because upon hearing the above list, my best friend insisted i was crazyballs. But it just worked out (a theory supported by guests, not just my own craziness). More importantly, its a simple way to really impress your dinner guests.
Ancho and Lime Rubbed Roast Chicken with Pomegranate-Blackberry Sauce and Fennel-Mint Gremolata (spicy, sweet, cool)
1 roasting chicken*
1 tbsp powdered ancho red pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp chopped garlic (or garlic powder)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 fennel bulb
1 large handful of mint
1 bottle of pomegranate juice
Place the chicken on a roasting rack or in a large pan, on a tin foil coil. Pat it dry with paper towels. Use a grater on the first lime and throw the ancho, salt, pepper, garlic, lime zest and olive oil on the chicken and then rub it all over the inside and out. If you are able to tie the chicken up (called trussing, but don’t stress about it, you just want to tie the chicken so it's as compact as possible), do so. If not, no worries, no one is going to die over it.
The chicken should now go into an oven preheated to 425. Set your timer for 15 minutes.
On your stovetop, pour half the pomegranate juice into a saucepan. Squeeze both halves of a lime in. Throw in half the blackberries. Bring it to a boil (high), then put it on simmer, uncovered (that’s medium-low) and walk away.
Cut off the top of the fennel bulb. Those are the stalks, and you just want the actual bulb. Slice it in half, and take the core out. It's tough, so you want to get rid of it. Chop the fennel into large pieces and throw it into the Cuisinart. Take the mint off the stems and throw it in. Take a grater and grate in the green part of the skin from the last lime. Now squeeze in the juice of that lime and 1 tsp of salt. Pulse the Cuisinart; you don’t want to make juice here, just roughly chop it together. Drizzle in 1 tsp of olive oil and taste it, in case it needs more salt. If you don’t have a Cuisinart, you can chop these by hand.
Around now, the oven timer should be going off. So turn the oven down to 375 and wait for your thermometer to tell you that your chicken registers 165 in the breast.
When it does (about 45 min-1 hour), let it sit for 10 minutes and then cut the breasts off, the thighs and the drumsticks and place on a plate.
Toss the rest of the blackberries into the sauce and serve the sauce on the side.
Place the gremolata in a bowl and also serve on the side. Or, if you’d prefer to plate it, place some of the sauce on the plate, plate the chicken slices on top of it, and top with a bit of the gremolata.
I served this with mashed potatoes, but any carb is going to be fine here.
The spiciness of the chicken is perfectly matched by the sweetness of the sauce. The coolness of the gremolata is a great foil and really refreshing.
Eventually, I suppose I’ll grow tired of finding new corners of my new couch to settle into with a blanket and Kindle, and I almost killed a houseguest last week who dared to eat a can of Pringles on it. At some point I’m sure I’ll stop vacuuming the rugs every day, although I doubt I can teach Clementine to wipe her feet as she comes in through the doggie door. And eventually, my mind will turn back to Thanksgiving and the traditional recipes that have followed me, rather than these new bright flavors and colors I’m craving.
But for now, I’m just enjoying these new things.