Saturday, October 17, 2015

On the Road Again
What’s cooking? Cumin Chicken with Squash, Fennel, and Grapes

Fall launches our great annual North-to-South migration. Friends who’ve escaped the Texas summer to Nantucket, the Jersey shore, Wisconsin lakes, or Colorado bounce back to our neighborhood in Austin, even though afternoon temperatures there still climb into the 90s.

Until this trip, it’s always been a 2-day drive for us. But I seem incapable of... let’s just say getting my shit together. HE – that would be my hubby – has what appears to be nothing to do but pack two small bags and get in the car. I, on the other hand, have three suitcases, two hanging bags, several bags of recipes and magazines I haven’t quite gotten through, my laptop, a box of spices/sauces I’ve collected over the summer, and – you guessed it – a cooler full of food. Apples and sugar snap peas and other snacky items for the road, along with the stuff I couldn’t stand to leave at the farmers’ market and figure we’ll eat in Texas (turnips, turnip greens, acorn squash, a small bunch of sorrel, and a big bunch of carrots).

In addition to the packing, I stayed up too late chopping up 5 pounds of beefsteak tomatoes and mixing a double batch of arugula pesto; the tomatoes and pesto went into the freezer for our Christmas visit. Both of those are great ways to preserve the fall goodies for winter. But all that activity means staying up too late, so I’m groggy and grumpy before we even get into the car. Not a nice way to start a 27-hour drive with your mate. One day I’ll get saner – just not this year.

Kitchen Goddess note: If you, too, are mourning the last of the field-ripened tomatoes, there’s a way to hang onto them without going through the whole canning thing. Wash them, chop them into cubes ½-¾-inch size, and load them into zip-lock freezer bags. Squeeze out the extra air and lay the bags flat until they freeze, after which you can stack them every which way. Great for use in sauces in the middle of winter.

We’re listening to WNYC as we drive this morning. Through the miracles of streaming radio technology, a bluetooth conversation between my phone and my car, and the magic of radio in the first place, we’re getting Brian Lehrer as he talks with the journalist and photographer Brandon Stanton. Stanton recently spent time in Eastern Europe interviewing refugees fleeing Syria, asking them about why they left. The stories of violence and trauma paint a wrenching picture of people forced by circumstances over which they have no control to abandon their homes and friends and families. They packed a single set of clothes and left everything else they had to look for a life that would be safer. Listening to the voices, I feel spoiled and frivolous in my “need” to cart a car-full of stuff back and forth, and suddenly grateful even to have a place I can call home.

One of the blessings of an upcoming departure is that I focus on menus that take very little work. This year, I discovered a marvelous recipe for chicken and vegetables that can be cooked all at once and on two large sheet pans. (If you cut the recipe in half, it’ll only take one sheet pan!) Yes, you’ll dirty a large bowl with the veggies, and a small bowl with the spice mixture, and certainly a cutting board; but that’s not bad for a full dinner. So even the clean-up is brief. My younger son showed up for the meal, and both he and Grumpy pronounced it a success.
Aleppo Pepper

The Kitchen Goddess loved the sweet-hot spice mixture here – especially with the smokiness of the Aleppo pepper, which gave the dish a vaguely North African flavor. After all, Aleppo pepper is grown mostly in Syria and Turkey. The mint adds to that sensation. Simple but exotic.

Cumin Chicken with Squash, Fennel, and Grapes

Adapted from Epicurious, August 2015

Serves 4.

2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
2 acorn squash (about 1¼-1½ pounds), halved, seeded, and sliced into ½-inch half-moons
2 medium fennel bulbs (about ¾ pound), cut in half lengthwise, sliced into ½-inch wedges with core intact
1 pound seedless red grapes (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 4 pounds)
½ cup fresh mint leaves, ribboned or torn

Special equipment: Two half-sheet rimmed baking pans (18" x 13")

Preheat oven to 425º. Position one oven rack in the upper third of the oven and another in the lower third.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cumin, salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Mix well.

In a large mixing bowl, use your hands to toss the squash, fennel, and grapes with the oil and half the spice mixture. Turn the mixture out onto the sheet pans, and spread it in a single layer, evenly divided between the two pans.

Place the chicken pieces in the same bowl and sprinkle the rest of the spice mixture on them, rubbing it into the skin. Arrange the chicken skin-side up on top of the veggies, and roast 30-35 minutes, until the skin is browned. Rotate the two pans halfway through the roasting time. (If you prefer less guesswork, use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the internal temperature on the chicken registers 165º.)

Serve immediately, garnished with torn or ribboned mint.


  1. This was delicious!! And EASY. What a terrific combination of spicy and sweet flavors - and the best way to enjoy acorn squash we've found yet. We will be making this again....soon. Thanks Lee.
    Dave and Judy

    1. Thanks, you two! Hadn't thought of it as a good gluten-free dish. So glad you liked it!