Back in November and especially December I was really glad that our lives were a little busy with holiday parties and dinners with our families because I really did not feel like cooking dinner. I could not figure out what my problem was, but I felt uninspired every time I sat down to write a menu out for the week and every time I looked in my pantry and every time I went to the grocery store. Everything we ate seemed boring and all the new stuff I have on my ever-growing list to make seemed too intimidating or too much trouble or too full of ingredients I didn’t really feel troubled to buy.
I stretched the leftovers of meals like baked penne with chicken and baked rigatone with meatballs into as many meals as I could muster, not because I love them (which I do), but because I really didn’t feel like getting in the kitchen. It was a bad and dark place to be when you write a food blog.
After Christmas we took off with Gerrit’s family to Arizona for about a week (which I wrote more about here). We had a great time there. We went to see the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam and we shopped in Sedona and Gerrit gambled just a bit in Vegas. And every chance I got, on the airplane and in the car and in bed after a long day of sightseeing, I was reading Dinner: A Love Story, which I got for Christmas and which I figured was small enough to pack in our carry on despite being a cookbook. (Thanks to Gerrit for lugging it around.)
I read this book straight through, like a novel, and every chance I set it down I probably repeated the same three sentences to Gerrit about how good it is. It is full of stories about dinner, written by Jenny Rosenstarch who has a blog by the same name and who has been writing down everything she’s eaten for dinner for the past 10 plus years. It’s about her and her husband learning to cook as newlyweds and about trying to get dinner on the table with two toddlers running around and about trying to feed her family all one meal when her children are being picky. It is funny and lighthearted and always forgiving (it’s okay to buy frozen pizza sometimes!)
And through the past few months of feeling uninspired dinner-wise and unmotivated and lazy and bored with some of the things we’ve been eating, this book has helped to me to remember what I’ve always believed (but fail to remember): that dinner is it. Dinner is the time when families sit down, and share and unwind and focus on food done well. Dinner is the time when Gerrit and I can sit without being distracted, when we can turn off the television (even though sometimes we don’t) and stop the chores and set aside any work that needs to be done and just be us for thirty minutes or so. If we do it right, our whole days can drive towards those dinners, the kind where we lose track of time savoring our conversation and our food.
Dinner: A Love Story reminded me that the kitchen is always a place to grow and that new recipes are always out there waiting to become new favorites. And it’s already given me a new delicious way to bake chicken: glazed with a mixture of apricot jam and mustard with some thyme.
I think my mom used to do something like this pretty regularly. I remember asking her, perhaps in college, for the recipe to whatever chicken it was she made that weekend. And when she told me she had just put apricot preserves or something of the sort on top, I said that no, that must not be what I’m talking about. But now I think it was.
We rely on baked chicken thighs for dinner on a regular basis. I make them with herbs and cook them in barbecue sauce or in teriyaki. Those are my three specialties for baked chicken that required little to no babysitting. But now here’s another, with a tangy and sweet skin. I think this might start making regular appearances at our dinner table (especially since I now have half a jar of apricot jam and nothing else to use it for.)
Happy cooking. I can’t wait to make dinner again tonight.
Apricot-Mustard Baked Chicken
from Dinner: A Love Story
6 to 8 chicken thighs and/or drumsticks (skin-on, bone-in), rinsed and patted dry
3/4 cup apricot jam
1 tablespoon grainy mustard*
1/4 cup water
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or a pinch of dry thyme)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place chicken in a baking dish and season both sides with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. While the chicken is baking, in a small saucepan whisk together the apricot jam, mustard, water, and thyme along with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes.
4. Take the chicken out of the oven and pour the apricot mixture over the chicken. Return to oven and continue to cook for 15 to 20 more minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. For the last 3 minutes, turn the broiler on so that the chicken skin gets crispy. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
*I used dijon, because that’s what I had in my fridge, and it worked fine.