It wasn't that long ago that every night was girls' night. My single lady friends and I would get dolled up and hit a hot spot for cocktails, great food and fun conversation. If we stayed home on a Friday night, it was a party. Wine flowed, music played and guests came in waves. Chefs and artists mingled with politicians and executives in the 1968 converted hardware store in Inman Park that I called home. A glass garage door connected the open living room/dining room/kitchen area to a deck, making it a great entertaining space.
But we grow up a little and the simple pleasure of great company far outweighs the highs and lows of a party girl life. These days, Jeff and I rarely go out, and staying in means enjoying a simple home-cooked meal before curling up in front of the TV. The next "wave" of fun comes at around 10 p.m. when tomorrow's NY Times crossword puzzle goes live. These days, the quiet repose of living with Jeff is so much better than a party.
Tonight is girls' night. Jeff's out of town, and I'm cooking for my bestie, Myka. Gorgeous, brilliant and super stylish, Myka's tall with cappuccino colored skin and an incredible coif of honey-colored curls that cascade around her light eyes. Even with her height, a night out meant that she was wearing stilettos, which always turned heads. She sold her business this week, and that is cause to celebrate. But we're exhausted. So our celebration will be a subdued affair - I'm braising chicken and serving it over grits.
Myka's leaving the baby at home, making me "sitter worthy," a high honor in anyone's book. It's going to be an early night - we're aiming for a 6:30 p.m. dinner. But as is the case with most harried moms, she'll roll in at 7:30 p.m., which is fine. I sweat a lot of details throughout the week and a late dinner guest on a Friday night can feel like a gift. I get the rare opportunity to be alone in my house. Tonight, I used the time wisely: listening to Barry White Radio on Pandora, I installed a bamboo organizer in our kitchen junk drawer (cut to a silent prayer of gratitude for The Container Store). There's no dolling up. Unless clean workout pants counts for dolling. And the only waves will come in the form of laughter and yawns. Instead of teetering in stilettos I find myself teetering on a step ladder to reach for the Shabbat crystal candle sticks -- a gift from my mother-in-law.
The process of chopping, searing, deglazing and then simmering braised chicken is both relaxing and therapeutic. This morning, I took a quart of stock out of the freezer, and set it in the kitchen sink to thaw. I washed and dried the chicken breasts - dark meat is preferable for a braise because it can withstand the prolonged cooking time but I opted for white mean tonight - and brined it in a slather of kosher salt, leaving it uncovered in the fridge. I'm braising with leeks, mushrooms and Swiss chard. I prep all of this in advance and clean as I go, taking care to chop everything to a uniform size so it all cooks evenly.
Just a couple of years ago, Myka and I were celebrating her 40th on a girls' yoga beach weekend in Tulum, Mexico. There were five of us, and, since then, two got married and two had babies. And they warn you not to drink the water in Mexico... With each passing year we're a bit wiser, more seasoned and enriched for all that comes with it. In Myka's case, baby made three. And for me, Jeff and the kids coming into my life, made five.
By the time the next day's NY Times crossword puzzle went live, Myka was home and texting me a video of her baby dancing. With a pouf of curls and doe-like eyes, he dances like he's two guys in a horse suit with his arms flapping one way and his back end doing this little thrusting move that eventually lands him plopped on the ground with a gentle thud. The kid's got some moves - and I'll take this "new normal" dance party any day.
4 Bone-in chicken thighs or a mix or breasts and thighs
1 1/2 C kosher salt
1 Q chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 leek, chopped
1 C mushrooms chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard
Grits (follow Scott Peacock's recipe - it's online and it's fool proof)
Clean and wash the chicken and pat it dry. Place chicken on a stack of paper towels and rub vigorously with kosher salt. Place in fridge, uncovered for up to a day. Remove and bring to room temp. Wipe off the salt and season with pepper. Bring a cast iron or ceramic pot to high heat and add olive oil. Place chicken skin side down and sear until golden brown. Remove the chicken. Turn heat to medium and add leeks. Sautee for a five minutes and add mushrooms. Sautee for five more minutes and place the chicken back in the pot, skin side up. Pour in the wine and chicken stock until it reaches the side of the chicken while keeping the golden brown skin high and dry. The aim is to have a crisp top with juicy well cooked meat. Turn the heat down to low and place the lid on loosely so that there's a bit of breathing room. Let simmer for about 45 minutes. About 10 minutes before you're ready to serve, toss in the Swiss Chard and cover. Serve the chicken over a dollop of grits and spoon the sauce over that.