A friend of mine decided she was going to walk outside every day, no matter what the weather was like, as a way to beat the winter blues. I was so inspired by his idea that I decided to try it too.
I have an additional motive: our Labrador pup turns out to be a mischievous little bugger and the only hope he doesn’t completely destroy the house and yard seems to be long walks in the orchard.
This simple commitment is twofold. Yes, the dog seriously needs a good walk every day, but I have found that a walk, no matter how very cold, windy or snowy it is, does wonders for my mind.
The first two times I walked as fast as I could, trying to make it some form of exercise, looking at my watch to check how far and how far I had gone. But after a few days I started slowing down and looking around. I began to pay attention to the remnants of red apples clinging to the snow-covered trees, the hawk circling above my head, and the magnificent moon slowly rising in the dark sky. The walk becomes less and less for the dog and more and more for me. It’s quiet and so peaceful and I feel a bit magical as I move between the sleeping trees.
Around the time my fingers feel so frozen they start to tingle and burn, my loop through the orchard brings me back to my house. The lights are on inside and I can see the children doing their homework, slumped on sofas. One tosses a Nerf basketball in the air, catching it again and again, another has his nose in a book, and the youngest is hunched over a pad of paper, furiously writing something. The house invites me to return. The dog and I are tired and hungry. It’s time to cook dinner.
Dinner is a simple yet deeply satisfying meal of braised chicken and leeks. Adapted from a great recipe from Julia Turshen’s “Small Victories” cookbook, this meal is the cozy winter meal you need to add to your rotation. I’ll be the first to admit: it’s not the best recipe you’ll ever make. But that’s okay, because the flavors make up for its lack of beauty.
The secret to this recipe is simply a little patience. The chicken is seared on each side until browned and crispy. It takes 6-8 minutes per side and you don’t want to rush. Golden skin retains moisture and creates flavor. Once the chicken is seared and crisp, briefly remove the meat and add the leeks, carrots and potatoes to the pan before putting the chicken back and covering with a little chicken broth. The meat and vegetables braise in the liquid until you have a casserole of tender vegetables and rich, delicious chicken. All you need with this meal is a crusty loaf of bread to mop up the delicious broth.
4 pounds skin-on chicken breasts and thighs (preferably 2 each)
2 large leeks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pound small cream potatoes
2 crushed garlic cloves
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 1/2 cups low sodium organic chicken broth
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil in the pan over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper on both sides. Place the chicken in the pan and do not touch for 6-8 minutes. You know the chicken is ready to flip when it gives easily. If the skin sticks to the bottom of the pan, it’s not ready.
Use this time to dice the leeks and soak them in a bowl of cold water. Leeks can be quite dirty and sandy, so additional soaking is necessary. Transfer the leeks to a colander and run cold water before setting aside. Rinse, peel and cut the carrots into 1 1/2 inch pieces and set aside. Rinse the potatoes with the cream.
Return the chicken and flip the pieces over so both sides of the meat sear. Again, be patient and let the chicken get a nice crispy skin, another 6-8 minutes. When ready, use tongs to remove the chicken from the pan and place it on a plate. Lower the heat to high and add the butter and leeks to the pan. Stir well, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, carrots and potatoes to the pan and sprinkle the vegetables with a good pinch of salt and pepper, cook for about 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
Return the chicken to the pot among the vegetables and add the chicken broth. Bring the liquid to a light boil before covering the pan with a lid, leaving a small vent. Cook for about 30 minutes, gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the vegetables are tender (the potatoes should be fork tender if they’re not nearly falling apart) and the chicken is done at an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Serve straight from the pan with a loaf of crusty bread to soak up the wonderful juices.
This dish could easily turn into the most beautiful chicken soup. Skip the creamed potatoes and add two 32-ounce cans of chicken broth to this recipe along with 10 ounces of egg noodles and a big sprinkle of dried parsley. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces when done cooking. Return it to the soup and serve immediately.