Ideal picnic food
This is kid-tested, dad-approved food: roasted green beans as addictive as french fries, roasted vegetables for phyllo pizzas and salad toppings, and a smoky, velvety tandoori chicken all cooking at once, plus that corn, with leftovers for breakfast corn fritters.
I know that in summer I’m supposed to grill those vegetables. Good flavor, doesn’t heat up the kitchen. I, though, vastly prefer to grill in spring and fall, and even winter. Grilling may not heat the kitchen, but it sure cooks the chef. Opening the lid to a blast of heat when it’s 95 degrees and the mosquitoes gnaw at my legs just doesn’t feel like the living is easy.
So we bite the air-conditioning bullet and crank the oven to 450. In exchange, I try hard to make the best use of all my hot air, and fill the racks full of sheet pans, making supper supplies for the week.
Knowing when to stop when I’m at the market can be the hardest part. There’s always some new variety of squash, some funky-colored eggplant or pepper, some just-pulled potatoes that I surely need to test, for professional reasons, of course. The good news is that those roasted vegetables can reappear night after night, and while you may be eating the same four veggies each time, the tasting possibilities seem endless.
The Carrboro market inspires my roasting beyond vegetables. From the Nu Horizons Farm stand, I pick up chicken legs for Fake Tandoori Chicken, adapted from a recipe by the late Laurie Colwin. This incredible rub of yogurt, paprika and chili powder transports chicken far from its usual boring self. I substitute smoked paprika, delicious in its own right, but even better when it hints at the grilling I ought to be doing.
Cook’s notes: The original recipe for this chicken called for one cut-up chicken. With the exception of post-Thanksgiving sandwiches, though, I don’t care for white meat, so I call for whole chicken legs instead. As long as you go for eight pieces of meat, your proportions will be fine. You can shift the proportions of chili powder to paprika if you want it spicier, but I opt for more smoked paprika than heat for a more interesting flavor and to keep it kid-friendly. The chicken is crispy if you’ve left the skin on, crunchy if not; I never can decide which I prefer. It’s great hot, lukewarm, and cold — ideal picnic food. Leftovers make great filling for quesadillas. If I’m roasting the chicken at the same time as other vegetables, I keep the oven at 400 degrees for the chicken — the vegetables just take longer to roast.
Fake Tandoori Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed (optional)
4 whole chicken legs
In the morning (or 8 hours before you plan to cook the chicken), stir together in a small bowl the yogurt, chili powder, both paprikas and garlic. Paint the chicken legs all over with the paste, and keep them, covered, all day in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken on a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet (I use a cooling rack from my baking; you can skip the rack, but you may need to pour off the juices halfway through the cooking time). Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until the chicken is the color of teak.