Let’s Cook One Last Summer Hurrah - No. 145
Grill some perfect chicken, collaborate on spectacular sides & move right into fall, shall we?
WHEN WE HAVE PEOPLE OVER, I gravitate to recipes that can be thrown together easily, cleaned up in a snap, and generate leftovers for lunch the next day.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy elaborate productions—that birthday trout my husband poached in vermouth and fennel was divine. And every so often for work or for pleasure, I build a multi-story cake where you make the filling one day, the cake the next, and then frost with that fluffy white icing that has never, ever taken just seven minutes to make.
In this lead up to Labor Day, I gave a thought to how much time we put into cooking and baking. I’ve been doing a lot of the latter working on this new baking book and just spent 48 hours watching salt-rising bread do its thing. But those kind of complicated recipes zap me. When I’m off the clock, if I see an ingredient list get too long, I have the attention span of my granddaughter.
What my friend Susan Puckett, who wrote about never repeating a recipe last week, didn’t tell you was that she once had a boyfriend who would take out a ruler—seriously!—if he was thinking about trying a new recipe. If the ingredient list was longer than an inch, he’d pass.
I know that feeling.
I, too, am drawn to the recipes with the fewest ingredients. Like grilled chicken that marinates in an easy olive oil and lemon juice mixture or, in a pinch, a bottle of Paul Newman’s Caesar salad dressing.
You place boneless chicken breasts or pork tenderloins for grilling in a zipper-lock bag and pour in the salad dressing and marinate in the fridge overnight. I’ve done this with flank steaks, too, and Wishbone Italian is especially good with beef for some reason.
A bit like the woman in the shoe with all the children, I’ve made dinner every night, and I’ve written books to help other people do the same. You would think I’d be done with cooking by now, but I’m not. I just love being in the kitchen.
Cooking has never felt like work to me
I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, even if there were family members circling like hungry dogs waiting for those magic words, ‘’Supper’s ready.’’
My kitchen smells good. There’s something always in the oven. And it’s filled with my favorite cookbooks and the copper pans I bought in Paris way back when. They sit at the top of an old kitchen cupboard we moved from a dining nook and painted blue when we were renovating this old house. Stacks of black cast iron skillets, each seasoned and cooked in religiously, rest on a sentimental cherry cupboard that once held my parents’ wedding china and crystal that they collected piece by piece.
In the middle of the kitchen is an old English pub table my husband bought when he was in grad school in Atlanta. Around it are my mother’s dining room chairs, and I’m sitting in one of them right now.
I say all this because my childhood kitchen wasn’t so tranquil. It had avocado green appliances, a Formica counter with stools and a wall telephone with a cord as long as a Transatlantic cable. The phone was constantly in use, and you would have thought there was espionage going on with so many calls coming in. Most of them were fielded by my mother who cooked at the stove on the other side of the room and talked to her sister Louise at the same time. If you needed to get to the refrigerator while she and Louise were having one of their chinwags you either crawled under or jumped over the phone cord.
In what was the worst floor plan imaginable, our kitchen was at the top of the steps coming from the basement, so all groceries and deliveries landed on that counter. Dogs came inside this way, too, and they’d wander into the cooking zone until my mother would yell to my father, ‘’Bill, come get these dogs out of the kitchen!’’ And yet, that cramped, congested space was where I learned to bake, so I have warm memories about how many of us could squeeze into it and cook.
‘’Collaborative’’ is a word I’ve been using a bit lately as it pertains to this newsletter on Substack. I wrote a piece recently for the Substack community of writers on how I write for other writers’ newsletters and they are guests on mine and how I believe this is a good way to build an audience. You can read it here if you like.
Collaborating is also a good way to build a meal.
Especially this Labor Day weekend, or any long weekend. It’s called potluck in America, and I’d love to know how those of you reading this newsletter elsewhere collaborate on a holiday weekend meal in your hometowns.
To me, the best part of potluck is getting to taste other people’s cooking! And to absolutely share the load. But Labor Day, a holiday created to honor the efforts of those who have labored in our country, in my mind is far less interesting foodwise than Memorial Day or July 4. It signals the end of vacation. Back to school and reality.
And yet, when you think about it, Labor Day is a beautiful bon voyage to corn salad or peach cobbler while at the same time a tease to fall with a green salad topped with early apples and walnuts or an upside-down cake with those gorgeous blue-black plums.
So today, I share ideas to lighten your load the next time you have people over. I offer an easy main dish recipe as well as some suggestions for sides.
Side dishes should speak to the season. They should be bright and fun and are like that shocking pink muumuu or loud tropical shirt you don to make a statement. I’m thrilled when someone walks in my door with one of them.
Speaking of attention, on Thursday for paid subscribers, I’ll give attention to Dolly’s cake mix and what I really thought about it. You would think Dolly Parton would have collaborated with the Cake Mix Doctor on that cake, right?
Also this Thursday, the monthly cookbook giveaway returns! A new copy of the lovely book called Peach, by Amanda Greene and published by The Bitter Southerner will be given away to a lucky paid subscriber.
So farewell to summer, don’t labor too long in the kitchen, and have a great week!
- xo, Anne
What’s your favorite potluck offering? What’s your main that anchors the side dishes? Do you like to collaborate in the kitchen or go it alone? Let’s talk about it!
You Make the Main, They Bring the Sides
If you love pork tenderloin, pull out a bottle of Paul Newman Caesar dressing (the vinaigrette one) and a Ziploc bag. Place two tenderloins in the bag and pour in the bottle of dressing, seal and chill. Best if you allow two days. Then grill. You will love the combinations of flavors, and this is even better if you cook over charcoal. Plus, it’s delish with boneless chicken breasts, bashed out a bit before marinating.
Or roast a pork shoulder in cider if it’s raining this weekend. Here is how I make this easy braised dinner, adapted from my friend Nancy Vienneau’s excellent book, Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook. So good with potato salad! Rub a 6-pound pork shoulder with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves. Brown in oil in a large Dutch oven, turn heat to low and add 2 sliced pears, a sliced onion, minced garlic, and 1 1/2 cups apple cider. Cover and simmer 3 hours. Turn and simmer another 2 hours. You can also do this in a low oven, about 250 degree F.
And for favorite sides to tote to a Labor Day cookout?
Straight from the Between the Layers archives are these picks:
Grilled Chicken for Your Crowd
You can easily double this recipe and cook two chickens at once. Place each chicken in its own bag and divide the marinade evenly between the bags. To save time, omit the from-scratch marinade and pour in a bottle of Paul Newman Caesar vinaigrette salad dressing or your favorite bottled vinaigrette.
Makes 6 servings
1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) chicken
2 lemons, halved
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pat the chicken very dry with paper towels. Place the chicken breast side-down on a cutting board and, using a sharp knife or poultry shears, cut down both sides of the backbone. Discard the bone, or freeze it to make stock later.
Flip the chicken so that it is breast side-up and press down on the breastbone with your hands until the bone cracks and the chicken has slightly flattened. Place the chicken in a large zipper-lock bag or in a glass casserole dish.
Squeeze the lemon juice into a medium bowl. Stir in the rosemary, thyme, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until the mixture thickens and pulls together. Pour the marinade over the chicken in the bag. Zip the bag to secure it, and massage the chicken to coat it well with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to overnight.
When you are ready to grill, set up a grill for indirect cooking: Heat a gas grill to medium-high on one side of the grill and low heat on the other. If using charcoal, place the coals on one side of the grill, light the charcoal, and let it cook down to medium-high. Clean the grates of the grill with a wire brush. The grill should register 325 degrees when covered.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and place skin-side up on the indirect or lower-heat side of the grill. Cover and cook until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Now, cook the chicken on the direct side of the grill to crisp up and brown: Distribute the coals under the chicken as needed. Place the chicken skin-side down over direct or higher-heat side of the grill, and cook until well-browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for at least 20 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve with your favorite sauce.