Yesterday started off in an ordinary way, but by the time I went to bed the word that came to mind was more like extraordinary!
The plan was for my family to meet some of our friends at the Blair Winery in Pennsylvania (www.blairvineyards.com) for a fun late afternoon get together. Our constant companion Tom was familiar with the place (claiming to be the first their first customer in fact) and had arranged the whole thing. Our party of eleven strong, included Tom’s daughter Bridget who had been visiting for a few fleeting weeks and was going back to China the next morning. It felt a little like we were celebrating meeting her and mourning her departure all on the same evening. The owner of the vineyard Richard Blair treating us to a tasting of 9 of his wines. How could I not like a person who makes wine for a living? Listening to him talking about grapes and growing seasons and conditions and the various nuances of his craft could have lulled me into thinking that his life was the most idyllic in the whole world. Afterall, he gets to grow grapes, turn it into wine and then talk about it. I am quite aware that it is not that simple and there is nothing secure about the undertaking, but, I also work for myself and as scary as it is sometimes, I am grateful that I get to do something that I love everyday and I’m pretty sure that Mr. Blair feels the same way.
The tasting room sat on a hill overlooking the rolling countryside. It was a hot day but from the spacious porch where we sat there was a fresh breeze blowing and we felt like the ocean could have been over the horizon. We tasted wines and then voted on which bottle to buy for the table. Kids and dogs ran free while we chatted away and enjoyed each other’s company. Richard was very gracious and listened to our wine questions, queries and comments like he was hearing them for the first time. We left armed with wine and headed back to my house for dinner.
I had 11 hungry guests all fired up and enthused about dinner. I wanted it to be great but I also wanted to hang out and not spend too much time in the kitchen. I knew chicken was on the menu and my garden was packed with lush herbs. I decided to infuse the whole meal with herbs galore and add the cherries I spotted sitting in a bowl on the counter to give everything an exotic note, something that would tell people they were special to me.
I loved this dinner. It was familiar but, my garden herbs stole the show. Everything from the rosemary infused onions to the cherries cooked in thyme were a hit. The wine we brought from the vineyard paired perfectly and I felt like I was practicing the art of living very locally, from eating food gathered from outside the door to drinking wine produced a few miles away. It was a good feeling.
You will need: 10-12 trimmed chicken thighs (skin on, bone-in), 8-10 good-sized sausage links, 1 head garlic, cloves separated, 2 leafy inner celery ribs, chopped, 10 small white onions, 1 1/2 cups mixed fresh herbs, roughly chopped (flat-leaf parsley, thyme sprigs, winter savory, oregano), 10 small rosemary sprigs, 1 1/2 cups cherries, left whole, 2 thyme sprigs, 1 tbs honey, 4 tbs unsalted butter, 1 cup white wine, 1 cup water, 1 big bunch mustard greens, 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, coarse sea-salt (I used Maldon Salt), freshly ground black pepper.
Preheat oven 425*
If you are serving with rice (like I did – always the easiest thing to make for a crowd), put it on top cook now and keep warm. If using a rice cooker use 5 cups of raw rice. if cooking on the stove-top use 3 1/2 cups raw rice to start and cook according to instructions. I used an aged basmati rice which has a lovely nuttiness and texture.
1 – Assemble everything in the following order: Scatter celery in bottom of big saute pan or roasting pan, next the herbs and garlic. Take the butter and cut into 10 slices. Trim the thighs of any excess skin and using your finger force a slice of butter and some herbs under the skin. and lay on top of herb mixture. Tuck the sausages in between thighs (everything should be snug with little over-lapping).
2 – Take the onions and slice not quite all the way through. Force a little opening with your finger and stuff it with a piece of rosemary. Place the onions in and around the meat, tucking a little under meat if you have to.
3 – Pour the liquids over the meat. Season everything with a little sea salt and several grinds of pepper. Drizzle 2 tbs of extra virgin oil over everything and place in oven. Time for 35 minutes.
4 – While chicken is in oven wash and dry cherries and place on a double square of foil. Add 3 or three thyme sprigs and a sprinkle of salt. Close into a pouch-like shape.
5 – Take Chicken from oven and turn sausages. Place cherry pouch onto top of everything and return to oven for a further 35 to 40 minutes (chicken will be well-browned).
Take out of oven and put meat on a platter (to make serving easier) and cover with foil for 5 minutes. Open cherry packet and drizzle 1 tbs of honey over them and stir a little to coat.
To serve: Place some rice on each warmed plate along with a piece of chicken and sausage. Top chicken with a little of the cooked greens, add an onion and 2 or 3 cherries and spoon everything with some pan juices.