Thursday, August 18, 2011

Creative Inspiration and Chicken Marbella

I bought the book Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, because I heard him reading from it on the radio. As he introduced me to Patty and Walter Berglund -- the stars of this sweeping novel -- he supplied a list of the habits and possessions that helped to make them who they are. Of Patty, he said:

"Behind her you could see the baby-encumbered preparations for a morning of baby-encumbered errands; ahead of her, an afternoon of public radio, The Silver Palate Cookbook, cloth diapers, drywall compound, and latex paint; and then Goodnight Moon, then zinfandel. She was already fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street." 

In just a few lines Franzen captured so much of my 1980s childhood: the colorful picture books, the toddling baby brother in droopy cloth diapers, the drone of NPR while mom cooked and I waited for Dad to arrive home from work.

The Silver Palate Cookbook was on our kitchen shelf, but I'm not sure I cracked the cover until I was an adult. That's when my boss, Maria, arrived at work one day with a slightly-battered copy she'd found at a garage sale.

"Do you have this?" she asked.

When I told her I didn't, she reached for a pen and began skimming the pages. She made notes and starred what she considered to be the best recipes. "Kate's favorite" she put by the chocolate-peanut butter balls. "The best!" next to a tiered lemon cake. And alongside a recipe for Chicken Marbella, "Delicious and perfect for a crowd."

I love my notated version of The Silver Palate but I've only made a few things. Most recipes are more suitable for grand entertaining than everyday eating. There's a chocolate layer cake with crushed hazelnut and ganache, and mousses of every color and flavor.

But Chicken Marbella is just what Maria promised -- a recipe that's perfect for entertaining and ideal for eating at home.

I made it on a Saturday afternoon and took it later that night to dinner with friends who just had a baby. The next evening I served it to an out-of-town guest. I intended to stick the rest of the leftovers in the freezer but instead they became another dinner and a lunch... or two.

It's sophisticated. It's homey. It's delicious. I'm going to make it again and again. And it has me thinking about cookbooks and recipes. Instead of searching the web and printing something new, I'm vowing to dig into the cookbooks I own.

We're encouraged to be so of-the-moment, so aware of trends and news. But it's worth it to look back a little bit. Those favored cookbooks on my shelf? They are there because they are time-tested and dependable. I reach for them when I am busy and tired. I curl up with them on the weekend while I dream about what to make for dinner.

They are there, they are beautiful, and they are filled with good ideas and meals to make. It's yet another reminder that creative inspiration is always within reach.

Chicken Marbella -- From The Silver Palate Cookbook

4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered (I used the equivalent weight in thighs)
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1/2 cup brown sugar (The original recipe calls for 1 cup -- too much sweetness for me)
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight. [Note: I had no time for marinating and essentially prepped this recipe and put it straight into the oven. It turned out fine.]

Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.

With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter. If chicken has been covered and refrigerated, allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juices over chicken.

Serves 10-12


Megan Taylor said...

The more food you blog about, the more that I want. Marbella seems like a delicious dream. Would love to partake!!! xoxo

Anne Zimmerman said...

Come over, soon!

Sunday Taylor said...

I have eaten this at a friend's home and it was delicious, but I have never made it. I have the Silver Palate cookbook and will make this dish now. I also love the old cookbooks and find that so many of the newer books are really just recycling the old recipes with a bit of a twist. I guess that's normal and makes sense, there are only so many recipes! I just looked at an old cookbook put out by "Gourmet" at a friend's house. It was at least 20 years old and it was so good. I wish I hadn't given it away.

amelia said...

awww, that just endeared J. Franz a bit more to me.

alsoo, thanks so much for the mention above. very very sweet.

and now I've found your blog!!