Monday, April 12, 2010

A Sunday Night Dinner Party

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting several of my friends for a dinner party. Spring has sprung, everything is in bloom, and I can't help feeling a little extra optimism this time of year. Maybe that is part of why I thought cooking for 12, when I have hardly ever even cooked for 4, would be an easy and relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon, which also happens to be my only day off this week. I have to say, though, for all the stress earlier in the day, and all the repetitive tasks (like trimming fat from 20 chicken thighs, and peeling 60 cloves of garlic) by the end of the night it felt worth it. It is wonderful to share good food with good company, and last night that is just what I got to do.

The menu for the night:

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic
Rosemary roasted new potatoes
mixed greens with edamame, almonds and herb vinaigrette
Roasted asparagus with balasamico
fresh locally made bread

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic is a recipe that has become almost impossible to avoid in the last few years. Many cook books, food blogs, cooking magazines and cooking TV shows have featured a variation of this recipe. Though this is a fairly traditional french style dish, its moment in the spotlight seems to have started in 2004 when Ina Garten, the ingenious Barefoot Contessa, featured a version of this recipe. I decided, after running into the phrase "40 cloves of garlic" in so many places, that it was time for me to try this recipe. I looked at several variations, and worked out a combination of ingredients that would be easy and inexpensive for me to acquire, without loosing some of the culinary appeal, as (in my opinion) some overly simplified versions of this recipe seem to.

The truth really is, in my mother's words "you can't go wrong with chicken cooked in white wine, garlic and fresh herbs." this is indispensable advice to me, really. And so far I have found it to be nothing but true. I used a Pino Grigio, abundant fresh rosemary and thyme, a couple bay leaves, chicken stock, bone-in chicken thighs, and of course, garlic. After trimming the fat from the thighs, I browned them in olive oil, and then browned the peeled garlic cloves (I suggest crushing at least half of them to help release the flavor), rosemary and thyme in the same. After those steps, all the ingredients went into a slow cooker (OK, 2 slow cookers) and they simmered away all day until the chicken was tender, and the garlic mild and sweet.

Simple Slow Cooker Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic:
I doubled the quantities below, and used two slow cookers to serve 12 people.
10 chicken thighs- seared on the stove in olive oil
40-50 cloves of garlic, peeled and half of them crushed, also seared in oil
fresh thyme and rosemary
1 cup of dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
salt and  fresh ground pepper to taste
2 bay leaves

After searing the chicken and garlic, simply add all the ingredients to your slow cooker, and allow to cook on low at least 6 hours.

The remaining liquid from the pot can be thickened with flour in a sauce pan (and a little cream if dairy is not a concern) and a few of the garlic cloves crushed and added to this for a simple gravy.

The simple but fresh sides worked very well with this. New potatoes with fresh rosemary make for such a distinct spring time flavor, and the bright green edamame and herb vinaigrette mixed with baby greens was simple, fresh and lively. The night had its bumps: from dropping one of our dessert tarts face down on the floor, to the not one but 2 dishes that broke. But I really think everyone who was present enjoyed themselves, I know I did.

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