"Meal planning this week. Any suggestions?" I check my texts messages. It's my sister.
"How about starting off with a big roast chicken. Then you can have leftover chicken for lunches or a big caesar salad for dinner." I say. We're having roast chicken for dinner that night ourselves so it wasn't a stretch for me to come up with this.
"So many good ideas! Good call on the chicken. Can you just meal plan for me every week? You're good at it." She said.
I am good at this, I thought. I love meal planning. Sunday night looking at the fridge to see what we have. I start with the veggie drawer. If it's the first week of CSA it's all about using up as many veggies as we can in one meal. If it's the second week we are down to the stragglers. Those things I haven't figured out what to do with yet. Turnips anyone? Then on to the pantry, for bulk items, and the freezer for any meat we might have. It's a puzzle for me, a dance if i'm being really elegant. A mix up of cuisines and flavors, new and old favorites, loved by a toddler and I-could-care-less-if-you-eat-this-because-more-for-me.
But I also scoffed a bit at this remark. Because while I am perfecting the art of a good weekly menu, my sister is readying herself for an adventure I could never have the courage to do. The weekend was big for her. She just celebrated a whole year of motherhood. And to top that off, she is headed the next day for dental school. Boom shakalaka. So while I could be proud of my menu making skills, I got nothing to what Emily is about to do. Raising a kid is no joke, people, but becoming a doctor? Hmm...I'm feeling a little small right about now.
But we all have our purpose in life, right? Some of us are doers, some are observers, some are learners, some are teachers. And the beauty of life is we can all fit pieces into the puzzle and make it work. We look at what we got in our pantry, in our home, in our village, we figure out what we need from whom and what we can create ourselves, and we get to it.
Have you missed this blog? We have. But you see, we're still cooking and we're still leaning on one another. Hey Sis, try dental school, I said. Hey Sis, try writing, she said. So we will. It may look different here. But we aren't giving up. We'll keep it simple. Because cooking and eating and sharing should be simple.
Like this roast chicken. Have you ever roasted a chicken? If you are scared, don't be. I know, I know, they have perfectly cooked rotisserie chickens sitting all packaged up for you in the deli section of every grocery store. Heck, you can even drive through and pick one up. And believe me, sometimes that's ok too. But how about trying something new? Maybe on a Sunday when you are getting yourself ready for the week, whatever that looks like, graduate school, big presentation at work, daily grind of drop off and pick. Grab some butter (should we change our blog name to something about butter? We do like it here.) some potatoes, lemons, fresh herbs and a chicken. Throw it together and into the oven. You can have dinner on the table in a couple hours. And if you are doing one, why not do two? There's a quick add on to salad, a simple taco night, or if it's cool and crisp where you are now, this amazing and comforting soup.
Don't be intimidated. Try something new. We will be.
Hey sis, try this...
Lemon Butter Roast Chicken and Potatoes and Soup
1 4-pound whole chicken, rinsed and thoroughly dried
1 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
2 fennel bulbs, quartered (optional, replace with potatoes if omitted)
flakey coarse sea salt
1 3/4 pounds small to medium potatoes (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter), cut lengthwise into quarters
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 good-sized bunch parsley, stems trimmed to 1 inch (1 1/2 packed cups)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with the rack in the middle.
Slip a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, then loosen the skin from the breasts and thighs.
Put the basil and butter in a bowl. Finely zest the lemons into the bowl and add the garlic and mix together.
Using your hands, gently push the mixture into the spaces you created between the chicken skin and meat, being careful not to tear the skin.
Season the chicken all over, using 2 to 3 teaspoons coarse salt and generous pepper, then tie the legs together with kitchen string.
In a large bowl, toss your pick of potatoes and fennel (if using) with oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a generous grind of pepper to coat well. Cut a lemon into quarters and set aside.
Put a roasting pan (not nonstick) or baking dish in the oven to heat for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and immediately put the potatoes and any oil left in the bowl into the pan, keeping them in as much of a single layer as possible, and pushed to the edges of the pan to make room for the chicken (it’s fine if the bird sits on some of the potatoes); put the chicken into the pan, breast-side up.
Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken breast-side down.
Continue to roast for another 20 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the bird breast-side up again.
Sprinkle the parsley over the potatoes, then stir the parsley and potatoes to coat with the pan drippings. Squeeze 3 pieces of the cut lemon over the chicken, and put the squeezed rinds into the roasting pan. Continue to roast until the juices of the chicken run clear when the thigh is pierced with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes more.
Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest in the pan for 20 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board and carve. Spoon the pan juices over the chicken and serve with the potatoes and roasted lemons.
Lemon Butter Roast Chicken and Potato Soup
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 3/4 cups water
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 cups shredded chicken from roast chicken
Roast lemons, potatoes, and pan juices roast chicken
Coarsely chopped fresh dill, for garnish
2 large eggs
Bring rice, water, lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir once, reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer until rice is cooked and water evaporates, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork.
Bring stock to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice, chicken, lemons, potatoes, and pan juices, and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper.
Divide soup among 4 to 6 bowls, and season with lemon juice and dill.
For a thicker, richer broth that's more in the style of avgolemono soup, simply whisk together two large egg yolks and the juice of one lemon. Stir the mixture into the soup just before serving. I highly recommend this. A simple step yet so much flavor.