When I think of home, I think of a place that always smelled like vanilla or apple candles, with every window in the house thrown open to let crisp air and sunlight stream into every room. There was always at least one dog always underfoot, and classic rock records always played through the speakers of the stereo
we my mom bought for my dad as either a birthday or Father’s Day gift. At night, Law and Order reruns were almost always on the TV (unless it was 7 o’clock, in which case, Jeopardy always, always won out, despite my dad’s increasing annoyance with Alex Trebek. Can Anderswoon Cooper just replace him already?), and on the weeknights where we weren’t treating ourselves to Chinese takeout, my mom was usually responsible for preparing something delicious, and she always delivered.
When I reached my 20s, I learned the secret to my mom’s delicious weeknight meals: The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet. It was dog-eared and missing its cover, a well-worn weapon in my mom’s culinary arsenal. She lent it to me briefly before getting sick of my book-hogging tendencies and buying me my own copy, and I returned it with about two dozen Post its marking recipes I wanted to make.
The best part of this collection of recipes (besides Franey’s tendency to cook just about everything with lots of butter, white wine and fresh garlic) is that they’re all totally doable on a weeknight. Like, you know, after dragging yourself out of bed, driving to work, mainlining coffee all day, walking the dog, making the bed, doing last night’s dishes, etc. etc. etc. If you’re my mom circa 1996, throw a couple of argumentative kids and after-school activities in the mix, and really, frozen fish sticks start to look like a really, really good idea.
But my mom had some sort of superpower or something, and rather than chucking a box of Easy Mac at our heads and storming off to drink wine and watch Jeopardy WITHOUT her 10-year-old complaining that her 7-year-old won’t stop making fart noises AGAIN, she shuffled us off to our rooms to finish our homework, or whisked us into the backyard to throw baseballs at the side of the house, and turned to one of Franey’s foolproof dinners – side dishes included – which could be on the table within an hour – which is something I seriously need to work on.
One of my go-to recipes from Franey’s book is chicken scarpariello – translated literally, shoemaker-style chicken. What makes this chicken dish even remotely shoemaker-esque baffles me and just about everyone else, but it is a simple dish, using just a few basic ingredients to kick a basic dinner into delicious territory. Hey, maybe that’s where it comes from! The shoemaker has to cobble up some serious steel-toed boots in order to kick…you know what? No, I’m not even going to finish that one because it was just terrible.
This recipe is tweaked, of course, not just in the spirit of
being difficult marching to the beat of my own drum, damnit, but I usually don’t have whole chickens on hand, opting to buy either breasts or thighs/thigh-leg parts, because that’s really all we want to eat in our apartment. I also didn’t have any white wine in the fridge (sob), I did have a bottle of dry sherry in my cabinet. With these two small changes, the dish certainly didn’t lack for anything. Try it for yourself tonight! Throw in some cooked orzo in the pot to soak up the extra sauce, and if you saute some leafy greens in the same buttery, garlicky treatment you’re giving your chicken, you probably won’t be disappointed.
Chicken scarpariello (adapted from The 60 Minute Gourmet, serves 2 with leftovers)
2-3 large chicken breasts, pounded down and cut into cubes
flour, for dredging
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup dry sherry
2-3 cloves garlic, mashed and minced
cooked orzo (optional)
After pounding and cubing your chicken, place your flour in a bowl and add the chicken, dredging it completely. Move your chicken to a clean plate and season with salt and pepper.
Heat your oil in a skillet and add your chicken in batches, to avoid overcrowding. Toss them around a bit, to make sure it cooks evenly and all sides get nice and browned – this should take about 10 minutes. Continue doing so with the rest of your chicken, adding more oil to the pan when necessary.
Once all your chicken is cooked, pour the fat out of the skillet, then add your butter and melt it. Add your garlic and saute until fragrant and soft – be careful not to burn it! Burned garlic is bitter garlic, and no one wants to bite down on that. Add your sherry to the pan and cook over high heat, until your liquid reduces, then add your chicken back to the pan and stir to coat. Squeeze in your lemon juice, then add in your cooked orzo (if you’re serving orzo) and make sure everything is coated in that delicious, sherry sauce.