A few months ago I came upon this video of Ira Glass talking about storytelling. It’s really about all artists, across crafts and mediums, and what gives someone the potential to be a good artist. Ira says it’s all about being born with a certain level of taste. The problem is, you have to put in a tremendous amount of work in order to get your work to the same level as your taste. Which means for years, you’re toiling away aware of your own mediocrity.
My cookbook still sits front and center on my bookshelf. And I often flip through it to remember what ingredients I used in a particular recipe. But I can’t read it without cringing. It’s not that I’m not proud of what I created. It’s that taste thing.
I was so young and inexperienced at the time – 23 to be exact, with zero professional experience in the food world. The recipes are good, but they’re not as good as anything I’ve created since. And my eyes go right to the flaws. Why would I tell someone to use only half a can of tomatoes? Aren’t five different condiments for this sauce a little unnecessary? And where’s the cook time on those sweet potatoes?! The list goes on.
So needless to say, Ira’s description of looking back on his own early work resonated with me. But I also found it encouraging. Who wants to plateau? I love knowing that the more I pour myself into recipe developing, the better my instructions get. And that every year I move away from 23 means the more time I spend writing on important things, like health and finding your should/must, and the less time I spend musing on that time I cooked breakfast burritos for my 30 drunk friends.
But it’s also compelled me to start updating some of my old favorites from the book, like this baked chicken recipe that graces its cover. I’ve made this dish too many times to count, swapping in various dried fruits, red wine instead of white, and adding other ingredients from the antipasti bar, like caper berries. In addition to being delicious and versatile, it’s also one of those recipes in the book where I look at the ingredient list and think “I would write this very differently today.” So here we are.
Taste level aside, I’m also a very different cook than I was when In the Small Kitchen came out three years ago. I was diagnosed gluten intolerant a week before it hit stands, which means I can’t even eat half the recipes in it. There are other ingredients I rarely cook with anymore, like white sugar. I’ve omitted it from this baked chicken recipe altogether (though it does help get the tops get nice and golden brown).
I’m sure 5 years from now I’ll look back at this new version of my baked chicken recipe and have similar feelings of WTF. But that’s the beauty of the web. You can keep iterating and improving and updating. If something is really cringe worthy (like this nasty picture of short ribs), you can delete it off the face of the virtual earth. But I try not to do that. I love having these reminders of where I started and how far I’ve come. After all, it’s usually the cringe worthy things in our lives that make the best stories, whenever you’re ready to tell them.
Baked Chicken with Tomatoes, Capers, and Dates
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes halved
- 2 large shallots quartered
- ¼ pound pitted Kalamata or Nicoise olives
- ¼ pound caper berries or 2 tablespoons regular capers
- ½ cup pitted dried dates halved
- 4 sprigs fresh oregano optional
- ¼ cup dry white wine
In a re-sealable plastic bag, combine the garlic, mustard, vinegar, oil, salt and chicken. Press out the air and seal tightly. Swish the chicken around until it’s fully coated in the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Arrange the tomatoes, shallots, olives, capers, and dates in a large casserole or baking dish (9 x 13 or comparable). Nestle the chicken in the vegetables, scraping as much of the marinade as possible into the baking dish. Tuck the oregano sprigs, if using, between the chicken thighs. Pour the wine over the vegetables and chicken.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until the chicken is tender, browned on top, and the vegetables are caramelized.