Overtime, cooking for yourself teaches you a few lessons –some of mine include a reminder that I have not gotten over my inexplicable fear of ranch dressing and doubling the temperature on your oven does not cut cooking time in half– with time (and maybe a few singed eyebrows), the lessons end up sinking in and you become one hell of a cook. The beauty is when your meal is a success, it winds up as a facebook picture status update or a highlight in casual conversation, and when a dinner attempt fails (and some of them do –shhh), no one ever finds out! With no one to impress there is no pressure to make it work. That all changes, however, when a hope-to-be special someone suggests I “cook something special for the first date.”
So much for pressure-free cooking! On one hand, dinner had to outshine any regular night because, frankly, I’m trying to win someone over. On the other, it needed to be simple enough I could get it right no matter how excited (err–nervous) I got, and resilient enough to survive if I forgot about it while trying to find the right shirt to wear. As confident as I was with my abilities I chose to forgo attempts involving outlandish techniques or complex ingredients. Rather, I went with a two part approach combing a simple, fail-safe dish and pairing it with a second equally simple, but unexpected element to really turn it into something special.
When I say simple, it can’t get any more so than chicken thighs roasted with fresh thyme, coarse sea salt, and ground black pepper. The familiar flavor is as savory and delicious as it is comforting, and has a way of reminding yu of all the times you’ve had it before. This by itself wouldn’t be a letdown by any means, but to really transform into something unforgettable it needs a partner. Chances are the first thing you think to pair it with isn’t cherries, but it’s just what this bird is asking for. When using something simple as the “wow” factor, it’s best to use something that’s unexpected. While the combination of fresh summer cherries and balsamic vinegar doesn’t sound very nice on the ears, it works magic on the palette. The sweetness of the cherries add a fruity high note to the chicken and sneaking in a little fresh thyme as it reduces make it wonderfully cohesive.
When you finally sit down and take the first bite, feel free not to mention how easy it was (that can stay our little secret), just enjoy the flavors and the company. If you’re as lucky as I was, that first date will turn into a second…and third. Buon Appetito.
Roast Chicken with Balsamic Cherry Compote – Serves 4 to 5 hungry people
**all the measurements are estimated because I generally never measure anything
For the chicken:
8-10 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme (Have a little extra for the compote.)
1-2 tsp each coarse sea salt and ground black pepper
For the cherries:
1 pound or so of fresh summer cherries (I know it’s kind of late and they may be impossible to find, so I also tried the recipe with canned cherries and it was delightful. If you can find fresh, go for it.)
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (It was suggested to me after to try a specialty black cherry balsamic. I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds good.)
A couple pinches of leftover thyme
1). Preheat your oven to 400.
2). Rub the chicken with olive oil and pat on the mix of dry ingredients. Get dirty, have fun and use your hands (you can always taste the difference when you put some love into it). Toss it in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the juices are clear.
3). You have about 20-25 minutes to hang out, so measure the rest of your ingredients then go pick out your shirt and fix your hair.
4). As the chicken finishes, toss the cherries into a pan and sauté over mediu-high heat until the juices release.
5). Add the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar and stir until dissolved. Continue to stir occasionally until the sauce reduces slightly and add a few pinches of fresh thyme.
6). Plate the chicken and sides, then generously drizzle with the cherry-thyme sauce.
7). Plan for your second date.
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Click HERE for the printable recipe.
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