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