I glance at my phone to see that little red circle alerting me of a new text message. At the right moment, that can be the nicest sight. It says "headed home" and I'm happy. I'm in the kitchen, standing in socked feet at the stove. The twinkling strands of white lights, strung above the mantel, are glowing and Van Morrison sings warm love on the speakers. I've already made dinner, and I just need to reheat it.
We're having roast chicken thighs, golden and crusted with mustard and nestled in wide bowls of crunchy potatoes and softened onions. He pours a glass of red wine. I sit down and revel in the small but intense pleasure of physical closeness.
After dinner, I clean up the kitchen and turn off the lights (this always makes me feel sad for a brief moment!). I brush my teeth, change into a nightgown of impossibly thin, silky-feeling cotton. Navy blue and covered in a print of tiny white stars, it makes me feel very Doris Day in Pillow Talk.
Oh, you have not seen Pillow Talk? Well, cancel your evening plans tomorrow and get to it. While you're at it, rent Please Don't Eat the Daisies and Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris and State Fair and Swing Time and probably also Singing in the Rain, too. Now you will have experienced all my favorites growing up. We didn't watch television, but my three sisters and I would often get to watch a movie on Friday night. One or two of us would go to the Blockbuster in the next town over (I live on a farm so by "next town" I mean the closest possible place that had retail shops and this was 15 solid minutes away) with my dad and select a movie.
I can remember the pebbled, royal blue plastic of those Blockbuster covers, and what a thrill it was to hold one of them in my lap on the car ride home. The music of the movies my dad would pick out (South Pacific! Sound of Music! Gigi!) and how he'd sing along in his deep tenor voice as the four of us snuggled under a blanket.
Night time at home was the greatest, and it still is. We ate dinner together every night: bowls of steaming twisty fusilli pasta laced with melted cheese and peas and bits of crisp bacon, homemade pizza with crunchy golden crusts, spread thickly with my mom's homemade tomato sauce that darkened and got thick on the edges where the cheese and peppers didn't reach, or sometimes a deep casserole dish of pulled poached chicken in a creamy, ranch-spiced sauce topped with crunchy potato chips and cheddar cheese (yes, it's as good as it sounds).
I like making nights in New York feel special, and worthy of looking forward to, just as they do with my sisters and parents. I like spending time choosing something interesting for dinner, and spending time cooking. I like making dessert too, and making sure we have wine. I like having music playing in the background, and being clean and rosy-cheeked from a hot shower.
Sometimes, given the busyness of life, that means planning ahead and cooking earlier in the day. And happily, this particular recipe (which is genius in so many ways) benefits from reheating. When you first cook it in the oven, it comes out a bit too saucy for my liking. Reheating it on the stovetop concentrates down the remaining liquid, both intensifying the flavor and adding a crispiness to the potatoes.
There's something especially comforting about this dinner. It checks the standard boxes that you're probably looking for in a weeknight dinner: minimal prep, maximum flavor, comforting, easy to make ahead, adaptable for any palate. But it's more than that. It's smart and a bit of a revelation!
The recipe comes from Alexandra Stafford, a food writer who is a mother of 4 which is evident in her recipes--they're easy but flavorful and they just make sense. I jokingly told her today not to be alarmed if I cooked my way through the full recipe archive on her site and she very nicely did not tell me I was being a bit of a stalker.
Here's what's so smart about this recipe: Everything is thrown into one big skillet and then you roast it in the oven for 40 minutes. That's it! No pre-cooking. No browning the meat. But the real trick to it is that you rub the chicken thighs with mayonnaise, which makes them fantastically crispy and golden and buttery-tasting. SO GOOD. So easy. And it requires no marinating time!
For this recipe, you'll use a mix of mayonnaise and grainy Dijon mustard on the chicken. I'm already imagining all the possibilities; next up, I think I'll try an Asian twist using mayonnaise and miso paste.
If you want the potatoes to be extra crispy, it will help to spread them out more and cook this recipe on parchment-lined sheet pan instead of in a skillet or sauté pan. If you go that route, skip the water and just drizzle everything with olive oil.
Mustardy Chicken Thighs with Potatoes, Onions + Tarragon
Adapted from Alexandra Cooks
1 pound baby potatoes (or fingerlings)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh tarragon
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
If your potatoes are larger, halve or quarter them. Add the potatoes, onion, olive oil, and water to a large skillet. Season liberally with salt and pepper and mix.
In a small bowl, coat the chicken thighs evenly with the mayonnaise and mustard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add the coated chicken thighs to the pan with potatoes (snuggle them in there!).
Transfer pan to the oven (don't cover it) and cook for about 40-50 minutes. The chicken should be golden and crisp. I like to stir the potatoes every 15 minutes or so in order to roast them on all sides.
Remove from the oven. If there is some liquid in the bottom of the pan, cook it over medium heat on the stovetop until the "sauce" thickens a bit.
If you're planning to serve immediately, sprinkle with the tarragon. If you're waiting til later, hold off on the herbs. Before serving, heat the pan over medium heat on the stovetop until warm, then add the herbs and serve.