Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes

Once upon a time, before the days of factory farming and $5 rotisserie birds from Costco, chicken was considered a special meal. After years of treating this ubiquitous meat as a boring, must-offer dish, chefs now exalt the whole roasted chicken—buying special breeds and bathing the birds with luxe ingredients, like foie gras. Even without the expensive embellishments, a lovingly raised, thoughtfully cooked chicken is truly one of the best tasting things you can ever eat.

This Valentine’s Day (or any time you want to celebrate something), I’d like to propose you roast one of these birds. It’s true: To buy a best-quality pastured bird that was free to roam and scratch and eat a natural diet of bugs and more is expensive. But the $20 you’ll spend on one of these birds will seem like a deal compared to the price of other Valentine’s Day favorites, including rack of lamb, steak, and lobster. Not only will you likely have leftovers (handy when Valentine’s Day is mid-week), but there’s something so cozy about sharing a single bird and eating it partially with your hands. And did I mention? Roast chicken pairs beautifully with Champagne. And it’s one of the more sustainable meats you can eat.

One of my favorite ways to roast a bird involves salting it at least 24 hours in advance to season the meat down to the bone and to create golden, potato-chip-crisp skin. I rarely think far enough ahead to do this, and well, now that it’s Valentine’s Day, we don’t have enough time.

If I don’t salt the bird ahead, I’ve now discovered my second favorite method, and really, it rivals the first. While paging through Mindy Fox’s excellent book, The Perfectly Roasted Chicken, I found her Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes. In this recipe, she employs a few simple techniques to take a classic butter-roasted bird with potatoes to the next level. First, she adds lots of herbs, garlic, and scallions to the butter; it’s more than you think you should add. Second, she preheats the pan, so the potatoes and chicken start cooking right away. Third, she flips the chicken twice during roasting to help the bird cook evenly and to keep the breast juicy. Finally, she squeezes lemons over the chicken during the last 20 minutes of roasting, which helps brown the skin and add a fresh, lemony tang to the juices. The result is the roast chicken of my fantasies, complete with a luscious pan sauce and potatoes that make me feel bad for vegetarians. (Forget bacon. Potatoes coated in chicken drippings would be my “cheat” if I ever decided to give up meat.)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Ok, you got me. This bibimbap made with quinoa is not traditional. But it's good!

Ok, you got me. This bibimbap made with quinoa is not traditional. But it’s so good!

Until last week, I lived in New York City for eleven years. That’s long enough, according to many people, to have called myself a New Yorker. As any New Yorker knows, the city is one of stark dichotomies. It’s exhilarating but maddening; convenient but difficult; overwhelmingly wealthy but shockingly poor. Ever since having my daughter a few years ago, New York has felt harder and harsher and not just because of the school situation.

So when my husband and I realized we no longer needed to be in the city every day for our jobs, we started to look around for an easier place to dwell. We eventually settled on a small, walking-friendly town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, that’s near family and friends but close enough to NYC to commute as needed. (And get an occasional Russ & Daughters fix.)

I will miss so many aspects of living in New York, including the incredible public transportation, the wild diversity, and the buzz I felt every time I stepped into the street. (Not to mention, the food!) But the thing I will pine for most, my friends, is the 24-hour bodega.

For those who don’t know, one meaning for the Spanish word la bodega is grocery store and it’s the term of choice in NYC for the corner store. (Here is more about the history.) It is not like a Wawa—a beloved Philadelphia area convenience store—and don’t even think of comparing them to 7-Elevens. Would a 7-Eleven deliver coffee and an egg sandwich to you when you’re hungover on Saturday morning? Or chicken soup when you’re sick? Not a chance.

Like the city itself, bodegas are masters at the use of vertical space. You can often find batteries, duct tape, and packets of Advil hanging so high that they’re only reachable with one of those handy arm-extending grippers. Groceries and cleaning products line the shelves and refrigerated cases, and the inventory often goes way beyond the basics. The yogurt selection, for example, rivals that at any suburban grocery store. Because bodegas are independently owned, they’re perfect launching pads for new products—in fact, coconut water started its massive rise in popularity in New York City bodegas.

At most bodegas, you’ll find dry goods, fresh produce and flowers (that last no longer than three days, mind you), as well as deli sandwiches and other prepared foods. Most fun, however, is that each shop reflects its microcosm and owner’s background. For example, when I lived in Washington Heights, a largely Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood, I could find limes sold 10 for $1 as well as dried chiles, Caribbean vegetables, and various kinds of pig parts.

I most recently moved from a pocket of Bed Stuy that is home to Caribbean immigrants; African and Middle Eastern immigrants; African-American families who have been there for generations; and yuppies and hipsters from everywhere. The local bodega stocked yucca and plantains, halvah candy, and a wide variety of Bob’s Red Mill grains, nut milks and alt sugars. Because the owners are Muslim, they do not sell pork products or beer.

While I never did all of my grocery shopping at the bodega, I loved that, in a pinch, I could make a full meal from ingredients sold there. And I’m not talking a Roy Choi-style gas station taco but a dish that’s actually buy modafinil online with no prescription healthy.

In honor of bodegas, I created this bibimbap (a Korean-style rice bowl) using only ingredients I could buy across the street. I wrote the recipe to be flexible (so flexible, in fact, that I used quinoa instead of rice as a base). You can use whatever grain you fancy, whatever vegetables look fresh, and whatever proteins are available to you.

And before you think I’m a weirdo for my bodega obsession, know I’m not the only one: Elizabeth Moss confessed she couldn’t wait to return to New York after months in Australia because why? The bodegas.

I made bibimbap with these ingredients from the bodega.

Yep, all of these ingredients came from the bodega.

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