We are big fans of Melissa Clark's New York Times column, A Good Appetite. Every week she brings a friendly, yet authoritative voice to some piece of kitchen inspiration — an addictive bite of granola, a grand phyllo tart, a pot of beans — and runs it through her kitchen and the blender of her own imagination. The result is always some recipe we want to make immediately.
Clark brings that imagination and warmth to this book, a collection of stories and recipes similar to her column. There is some overlap; a recipe for olive oil granola, for instance, is familiar. But most of the pieces are new or expanded, and it is wonderful to have these recipes collected in one place.
Personally, I feel that this book combines the best of a cookbook and a more literary collection of essays. There are warm, short pieces on Clark's life with her parents, friends, husband, and daughter that would make great rainy-day reading. But when you end up hungry at the end, there is a recipe at the end to carry you into the kitchen.
I could quibble with some of the editorial choices (not Clark's!) — there are no photos in the book, and all the recipe titles, including those printed in the table of contents, are in all caps, making them very difficult to scan. But these are small issues, compared with the wealth of delicious, inviting recipes in this book.
Recipes like a potato and onion tortilla with allioli (such a great recipe for this time of year!), a coconut hot cocoa that is a lactose-intolerant chocolate-lover's dream, garlicky steamed mussels, and red lentil soup with lemon. There is baked Camembert — so lovely for parties — and homemade Cheddar crisps. There is a whole chapter, in fact, of "Things with Cheese." There is also a chapter of holiday food, a chapter of sandwiches, and an entire collection of pies.
Yes, this is a book of comfort food, but only the most sophisticated sort. I was drawn to this baked dish of chicken thighs, since this is one of my favorite succulent, inexpensive cuts of meat. I wanted another go-to chicken dish, and since my tomato vines were recently stripped of their last green tomatoes I decided to try one of Clark's variations on a dish of roasted chicken thighs with green peaches. Green tomatoes, ginger, and basil? Oh yes, I had a last handful of basil from the garden, too. What a perfect dish for late fall.
And how was it? Well, I made it at lunchtime, and in my hurry to get it in the oven, I didn't even cut up the chicken as Clark specifies. I just chopped the ingredients, banged it all together, and slid it in to roast. This took maybe 5 minutes. Tops. 20 minutes later I had sizzling, juicy chicken in a savory, herbed broth of chicken juices and tart tomatoes, fragrant with ginger and garlic. My husband and I sopped it up, silently, with wedges of good bread. It was delicious, satisfying, and oh-so-quick.
So give this recipe a try, and certainly pick up this book to read while you're eating! It's hardback, so you can prop it up with one hand, and eat with the other. And you'll just want to go straight back into the kitchen when you're done.
• Find the book: In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love by Melissa Clark. Published by Hyperion (September 2010). $18.15 at Amazon.
• Visit Melissa Clark's blog: Melissa Clark
• See our tour of Melissa's kitchen: Kitchen Tour: Melissa Clark's Revamped Kitchen
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Green Tomatoes, Basil, and Ginger
Time: 30 minutes
Yet another variation on my chicken thighs with green peaches, this one uses that other underripe fruit usually available at the farmers' market: green tomatoes. When roasted, they get juicy and sweet, and exude a fragrant, herby liquid that is less sweet than the peaches, but earthy and robust. And when you can't get green tomatoes, this recipe works with those pasty-colored, underripe supermarket tomatoes, too. Though the flavor is slightly less complex, it's still a tasty meal served over polenta.
1 large green tomato (about 1/2 pound)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch strips
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry (fino) sherry
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch-long piece fresh gingerroot, grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread or rice, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Core the tomato and halve it lengthwise; slice 1/2 inch thick.
2. In a 9x13-inch pan, toss all the ingredients except 1 tablespoon basil. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and the tomato is softened, about 20 minutes. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon basil. The sauce will be thin, so serve with crusty bread for sopping or over rice.
Related: Recipe: 30-Minute Coq au Vin
(Images: Faith Durand; book cover and recipe reprinted courtesy of Hyperion)