United we dine: Familiar ingredients bridge geographic and cultural divides at community meals
(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)
In my family, food is central to just about every celebration. It’s a big part of comforting and consoling one another, too.
But I know that we’re not unique in our food traditions. Down the street, around the corner and throughout the world, families make merry, mourn and meet around the table.
In the current climate of focusing on what differs between us, let’s ring the dinner bell and applaud what we have in common.
It seems entirely natural to feel gratitude when presented with a homemade meal. It’s one of the reasons people show up with casseroles in times of crisis – the gift of food demonstrates love and promotes recognition of our blessings.Then, where gratitude is present, compassion and understanding are actively available for every heart to embrace.
I’m going to invite to dinner people in our lives we might not ordinarily eat with. Then, over a meal, I hope to encourage conversation about our commonalities. We can discuss the hopes we have for our families, discover movie preferences we share, learn about first jobs and biggest achievements and determine whether we’re partial to the same ice cream flavors.
Following are recipes that I’ll serve at the meal. My dream is that a movement of sorts occurs around our local kitchens and dining rooms. If you have folks over, please share your menu by writing to the Town Crier or posting a comment at losaltosonline.com/food-stories.
COOKING IN COMMON
I have a go-to menu for guests – roasted chicken and potatoes with an in-season vegetable on the side and crepes for dessert. It’s fairly uncomplicated and satisfying to most palates. Cupboards everywhere are commonly stocked with the things in my recipes. A version of the pancake is cooked throughout the world. And what culture doesn’t embrace – even exalt – potatoes in this day and age?
Being of Irish descent, I have an utterly romantic opinion of potatoes. I can recall my dad eating boiled ones directly from the pot. I have memorized the precise taste of the potato pancakes my grandfather made – though I’ve yet to re-create them correctly. And thanks to my mom’s expertise in the kitchen, I know with absolute certainty that there is such a thing as a right way to roast a potato.
• 1 4-5 pound organic whole chicken
• 1 lemon
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 fresh rosemary sprig
• 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
• Freshly cracked black pepper
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
Zest lemon and set aside. Peel and mince garlic cloves. Remove rosemary leaves from stem and chop roughly.
Combine zest, garlic and rosemary, then add salt and pepper and chop finely.
Put chicken in casserole dish or roasting pan. Using your hands, gently loosen skin around breast and legs of chicken. Rub salt under skin, placing any remaining salt into cavity of chicken. Quarter lemon and place inside cavity. Cover chicken and pop in refrigerator to marinate at least 1 hour, but ideally overnight.
Approximately 30 minutes before you plan to cook chicken, remove dish from refrigerator and preheat oven to 425 F.
Rub olive oil over outside of chicken and bake 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce temperature to 375 F and continue to cook for approximately 50-60 minutes. It may take less or more time depending on weight of your bird. Confirm doneness by checking that internal temperature is 165 F.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
ROASTED RED POTATOES
• 3 pounds medium-to-large red-skinned potatoes, peeled and halved
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (plus more for boiling water)
• Dash paprika
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
Preheat oven to 450 F. Fill large pot with cold water and add generous pinch of salt. Place potato halves in pot, cover and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce temperature to medium and allow to cook 7 minutes. Drain potatoes, then return them to pot, shake vigorously and place back on burner set to low heat to allow potatoes to dry.
Scatter potatoes in casserole dish. Drizzle evenly with salt, paprika and olive oil, tossing to combine. Arrange potatoes in pan, cut side down. Add garlic cloves and butter and bake 35 minutes.
NOTE: cooking the potatoes in the same oven as the chicken works too. Just pop the potatoes into the oven when there is 40 minutes left on the bird. Then whack the temperature up to 450F to finish off the potatoes while the chicken is resting.