I was in Seattle for my mom’s birthday last week, and I decided to surprise her with a meal at home with the family. My brother helped me by firing up the grill to make steaks, my sister was in charge of buying cake, and I set to work on four dishes: tomato-basil bruschetta, Swiss chard in garlic oil, roasted potatoes, and a garam masala chicken.
These are staple dishes in my kitchen that come together with ease — just the sort of food you should be planning to cook when the pressure is on and your guests discerning. I have to say that of all the people I cook for, I always feel most nervous when doing so for my family. The bruschetta and the potatoes were a hit, but I got mixed reviews on the greens. (We were raised as a meat-and-rice family, so much so that my mom thinks vegetarians can eat chicken.)
The glazed bird impressed, and the home-cooked meal ended up serving as a great backdrop to a wonderful evening with my family.
The chicken: The star of the show was marinated based on a Bobby Flay recipe that B and I discovered a while back. You smother the chicken in garam masala (that spice blend we used on popcorn not too long ago) and glaze it as it bakes with a tamarind-maple sauce. The original recipe, which calls for cornish hens, is available here. Follow most of the steps, but plan on giving the bird almost an hour to cook thoroughly. Check for doneness by slicing into the inner portion of the thigh and making sure the juices run clear. Make sure you let it rest for 15 minutes before making any more cuts and serving.
Swiss chard in garlic oil: This is based on a recipe from Heidi Swanson, and she explains it better than I ever could. So here it is. I skipped the peppers and cheese.
The greens just need a few minutes to cook. You want them to wilt down slightly but still have their bite and vibrant color. And note that 1 bunch will cook down to a two-person portion, so you want to buy plenty if you’re making a meal for six (as I was).
Roasted potatoes: Wash 2 lb. red and baby Yukon Gold potatoes and let them dry completely on a towel. Slice in half, toss with 2 tbsp. olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. About 45 minutes before your chicken is done, place the potatoes on a baking sheet and stick them on the top rack of your oven. If cooking independently, just preheat to 400 degrees and pop them in. The potatoes should be golden brown when they come out, and that’s when you add salt to taste. Waiting to add salt allows the potatoes to crisp up.
Bruschetta: This is a simple and refreshing appetizer or snack. Start by preheating your broiler.
Then slice 4 roma tomatoes into cubes and place in a medium bowl. Squeeze some of the tomato juice out into the sink as you slice to prevent sogginess. Stack 8 basil leaves and roll them up, slicing to create what Rachael Ray likes to call “basil confetti.” You do this not just for the visual effect but to avoid bruising the basil and having it go black on you. Add that to the bowl, too, and throw in 1 tbsp. reduced balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss and let the tomatoes soak in this marinade as you prep the bread.
Slice 1 loaf of french bread into 1/4″-thick slices. Lay them out on a baking sheet and use a basting brush to cover one side of the slices with extra virgin olive oil. Slice 1 garlic clove in half and rub it on each of the slices. Bake for 5 minutes, or until the top of the bread starts to brown.
Scoop 1 tbsp. of the tomato-basil mixture on each bread slice and serve. This appetizer was a hit, and I had to make seconds to make sure my mom got some when she came home for the big surprise!