chickenandsquashpuree

September 11, 2013 has been a beautiful day here in Nashville. Tim and I woke up early to grind popcorn kernels and make skillet cornbread. The cornbread was a dud, but Tim made a berry smoothie that wasn’t. Then, we drove through blue skies and bright sun to our car dealership, twenty minutes south, where a serviceman checked us in to get our air-conditioning fixed and asked the time: It was 9:11 AM on the nose.

dinner

Twelve years ago this morning, I was standing in a Wisconsin hotel, curling my hair, when my mom shouted from the TV in the main room, “Come look at this!” and I didn’t say anything, and we called my dad in Illinois, and he was crying. Today, I walked away from a serviceman and into a Tennessee car dealership lounge, where Tim and I would listen to someone making popcorn and watch a 10-month-old baby boy named John crawl around the room.

My mom and I were at that Port Washington hotel because I was scheduled for traffic court on September 11, for driving 24 miles over the speed limit a few months before. I remember telling the judge that day that I was sorry. “I don’t want to ever speed again,” I said to her when it was my turn. Everyone was talking about the planes and the towers, and there I was apologizing for something that was no one’s fault but my own. After court, we tried shopping, but our hearts weren’t in it. I wanted to drive back to school before dark. So my mom drove back to Naperville, and I drove back to college, and, when I got there, I returned to TVs all over campus, broadcasting live coverage of what was going on.

Today, Tim and I drove away from the car dealership and to the grocery store to pick up chicken; I had a dinner idea I told him I wanted to try. In the broad, bright Tennessee daylight, we cruised back up I-65 and then over to our house. We roasted spaghetti squash and tomatoes and chicken, and we boiled potatoes to combine with squash in a puree. We ate dinner by candlelight, the days shorter and the sun gone by before seven o’clock these days. And I exclaimed, over and over again out loud to Tim and Nathan, two men I’d never even met twelve years ago, about how much I liked the dinner tonight and how special it felt.

chickendinner

It occurs to me as I sit down on my bed tonight, fresh from this dinner, trying to write this post, how many people aren’t alive to be able to read it today. There are the ones killed by tragedy on this day twelve years ago, and there are the ones killed on other days by other things since then, from a Boston bombing to a Middle Eastern bombing to cancer to depression to kidney failure to old age. Even as I’ve been writing these thoughts, a mosquito has been bothering me, and I just, almost mindlessly, killed it between my hands and took it to the bathroom trashcan. Death is all around us. Life ends. We all know this, but there are a million ways to pretend it away—and in the pretending away, we miss something true. We are not promised tomorrow. Who of us knows when his or her life will end? Days like today, remembering and reflecting, it’s easy to see. We are finite. Our lives are short. And then, it’s easy to give thanks for the sheer blessing of living, of driving to the car dealership, of eating roast chicken in your dining room, of coming here to write about it in a blog post.




Roast Chicken on Tomatoes + Potato Spaghetti Squash Puree
Serves two to three

Up next on the I-don’t-like-spaghetti-squash-on-its-own train is this marvelous puree, which I swear when you eat it you’ll have no idea it’s spaghetti squash. It would be a great side dish with any number of entrees, but we especially liked it mixed with roasted tomatoes and topped by roast chicken. This chicken, by the way, is sort of a standby recipe, right up there on the top five things we make for company. I told Tim and Nathan tonight it’s one of those recipes that’s hard to mess up—I love recipes that are hard to mess up.

Ingredients:
for the spaghetti squash:
2 small to medium spaghetti squash, halved, seeds scraped out (should make about 2 cups of packed, roasted spaghetti squash flesh)
a little coconut oil, rubbed over flesh

for the potatoes:
2 medium to large potatoes, skins on, chopped into large chunks for faster cooking
Enough water to cover potatoes
A dash of salt

for the roast chicken:
2 bone-in chicken breasts, about 1 1/2 pounds
12 super-thin slices of lemon, from probably just under one lemon
12 leaves of fresh basil
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, chopped
Generous shakes of salt

for tomatoes:
1/2 pound roma tomatoes, sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Generous shakes of salt

for the puree:
4 tablespoons vegan basil walnut pesto (or other pesto), separated
2 tablespoons creme fraiche (or sour cream perhaps?), separated
1/4 cup milk
Salt, to taste

OPTIONAL: chopped fresh herbs, to garnish

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375F. Rub the cut side of the squash with coconut oil. Place the squash, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet or dish and slide into preheated oven. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, until a fork easily pierces the flesh. Set aside and let cool.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil over high heat and add a dash of salt. Place the potato chunks inside and reduce heat to medium. Let cook until potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Drain water and set aside.

for the chicken:
Place the two chicken breasts in a small or medium baking dish, and stuff lemon slices, basil leaves and garlic under the skin and in any crevices where you can. After doing this, rub chicken with butter and sprinkle remaining butter pieces all over the chicken and in the pan. Salt generously all over the top. Place in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping chicken once and basting as you like. Chicken is done when the skin is crisp and golden. The meat will be fully cooked but still juicy thanks to the butter and lemons.

for the tomatoes:
Use the tablespoon of coconut oil to grease a rimmed baking sheet or dish and arrange tomato pieces in a single layer. Salt all over the top and slide into the oven. The tomatoes can bake for around a half hour, until wilty and caramelized. They may bake alongside the chicken’s second half of bake time.

prepare the puree:
Fork out the spaghetti squash strands from the roasted squash, and pile them into a bowl or dish. Then, place two cups of packed squash strands in a Vitamix or food processor or super strong blender, and combine with a tablespoon of pesto and a tablespoon of creme fraiche. Once fully smooth, scoop out to a medium-sized bowl.

Place the boiled, softened potatoes in the same Vitamix or food processor and combine with 1/4 cup milk, 3 tablespoons pesto and a tablespoon creme fraiche. Scoop this pureed mixture into the squash bowl and stir it together. Salt to taste.

To serve:
Scoop a generous helping of squash potato puree onto each plate. Add a few roasted tomatoes. Top with chicken breast or, if splitting meal among three, some roasted chicken, sliced off the bone. Garnish with herbs if you like (optional).

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Sarah

    I still remember exactly where I was when I learned. I was in my 7th grade science class. I didn’t even know what the trade towers were back then. I remember watching the TVs at school and at home. Today I made homemade pizza and spent the evening in the kitchen making veggie broth and a pumpkin cake.

  2. Kathryn

    How true that both life and death are all around us, all the time As I watched the events of 9/11 unfold from here, I remember thinking that life would never be the same again. And although it wasn’t really, life did just go on. I felt the same way a few years later after the 7/7 attacks here in London (especially given the contrast of the shock and fear and despair of the day of the attacks with the jubilation of the previous day when it was announced that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games). And yes, that knowledge that life can end at any moment – whether by accident or design – should inspire us to celebrate the blessings of life, like a delicious plate of food.

  3. Christine Devlin

    That event had such an impact on us as Americans that it will be a flashbulb memory in our generation forever. I have trouble believing it has been 12 years since it still feels so fresh in my mind.

    This dish looks amazing by the way. I think I’ll try it with a whole chicken. I could just cut it up though…but I’m lazy (and I love leftovers!).

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Me too, Christine. And thank you — Great idea to try it with a whole chicken! And bonus – save all the bones and pan drippings to simmer for six hours, adding water as it reduces, to have a wonderfully rich, homemade bone broth to use as the base of soup!

  4. alexandra @ sweet betweens [blog]

    this recipe has made me realize how I can get into quite a rut sometimes when it comes to food. I have never ever thought to purée spaghetti squash! I don’t think I’ve ever even taken the time to think that maybe, just maybe, I don’t *have* to always eat spaghetti squash with the flesh scraped out with a fork, dressed with butter or marinara to mimic spaghetti.

    I actually have one on my counter that I received from a friends CSA that we’re mooching off of this week. I think I’ve given it the stink eye, even, because I just didn’t want to eat the darn squash the same way as always.

    Then this comes around. And I have a freshly purchased bag of potatoes lying right next to the squash, like they were just waiting for you + Tim to come up with this brilliant recipe.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us – and continuing to be so raw and open and honest with the world.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh my goodness, YES. I feel exactly the same way about spaghetti squash. I actually tried Googling spaghetti squash puree recipes yesterday, but all that came up was baby food, which is super unfortunate because pureed spaghetti squash works great with potatoes and you would never know it’s squash! hope you like it as much as we did!

  5. felicia | Dish by Dish

    hey, I’m not american, but when the tragedy happened I was at my house back in Singapore, it was night time, and i was studying for an upcoming test. My aunt had called me parents, urging them to switch on our TV, and i came running to my parent’s room, and through the small TV screen (long before the days of plasmas and LCDs), we watched in horror and strange unbelief as two tall towers crashed down. I didn’t even know where New York was situated. And now, 911 is a day etched in everyone’s memory.

    There are events that change the world, that change the way we’ve always looked at or felt about things, and this was one of those. I’m sorry the US had to go through such a horrific tragedy, and my heart is with all those hurting, who hurt, and will still hurt because of it.

  6. Genevieve

    I love everything you wrote about life and death. It’s a very solemn thought, but it’s also a great reminder of why we do what we love with the people we love everyday. Thanks for sharing!

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