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Chicken thighs have become my COVID one-dish star protein. The fatty richness of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs will flavour everything around them as they cook. As the fat renders, not only does the flavour seep through everything around the chicken, but the skin crisps up in the process, adding a crispy texture in contrast to the natural succulence of the meat. They also offer remarkable value and, if you are like me, I need to stretch every cent spent at the grocery store.
When cooking at home, I’m also a huge fan of one-pot wonder dishes. You know, the ones that deliver everything you need to feel like you have fed the family a nutritious, complete meal, but don’t fill the sink with pots and pans. My tool of choice is often a cast-iron pan. A cast iron pan is a natural conductor of heat and a sturdy choice for stovetop and oven cooking.
As far as the accompanying beverages, I like them homey. Think fresh, juicy and comfortable. Chardonnays wrapped in a comforting oaky blanket; succulent reds full of sun-kissed fruit flavours that shout, "savour me now!" Let’s be honest, what I am really seeking is the cheap and cheerful wines that deliver honest value whether they come from a bottle or a box.
Inside the box thinking
So, what does a glass bottle and cork contribute to flavour? Nothing. Long-held stereotypes of fine wine coming from a specified container are fading. Canned wines are here to stay, but if you want to save a few pennies and truly do your part for the planet, wine in a bag or bag in a box is the answer. Qualitatively there has been more invention on the liquid side place in cans, but, in challenging economic times, even I will pour my wine from a spigot and the overall carbon impact of boxed wine is comparably lower than other containers. With cost savings as much as three to four dollars per litre, pennies saved sometimes outweighs nuances of flavour.
Lindeman’s Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon (NSLC, 3 L, $39.99)*
It took a few moments to get into this wine, bu, after a little time in my glass, I gave up on my classic "Cab" expectations and was appreciative of its simpler fruit flavour, smooth entry and exit, and uncomplicated nature. Spending less than $40 for three litres didn’t hurt either, and it makes a good match with the succulent texture of roast chicken thighs.
Vivo Reserva Cabernet (NSLC, 4 L, $49.49) Vivo Robusto Cabernet (PEILCC, 4 L, $49.98)*
The "Reserva" tag in the case of Vivo means a touch of oak character compared to its entry -evel version. To be honest, both the entry and Reserva levels offer superlative value. While, like the Lindemans, they aren’t quite going down with the steak Cabernet-style, big red wine lovers enjoy, there is a touch more Cab character to this wine. Consider this your steak stir-fry wine.
* Lindeman’s Bin 45 ($14.99) is available in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island exclusively in 750 ml bottles (NLC, $14,.99, PEILCC, $14.49). Vivo Reserva Cabernet is available in Newfoundland in 750 ml, bottle ($15.99).
Baked chicken thighs and grapes
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tbsp dried
2 small onions, skin removed, quarter
4 cloves garlic
3/4 lb mini potatoes, halved
1/2 lb red grapes, divided into small clusters
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 F. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place in bowl along with shallots, garlic, potatoes and rosemary. Toss to combine. Slide in a cast-iron pan. Add clusters of grapes. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Serve warm.
Easy Chicken Pot Pie
2 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless chicken thighs, chopped
2 tbsp seasoned flour (salt, pepper)
1 onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, diced
2 cups mushrooms, diced*
1 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 cups cream*
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 tsp water
Directions: Preheat oven to 375 F. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Toss with flour. Place olive oil in a cast-iron pan. Add chicken and sauté until chicken is just browned. Add the onion, celery and carrots and continue to sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add peas, cream and tarragon. Bring to boil. Reduce until desired consistency. Meanwhile, roll out puff pastry to ½-inch wider than circumference of the pan. Grease ridge of pan with butter. Lay pastry over top. Make an egg wash by combining egg and water. Brush over top. Make a couple small slits to let steam out. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until crust in brown.
*When time is of the essence substitute the mushrooms and cream for, you guessed it, cream of mushroom soup.
Mark DeWolf is a connoisseur of all things food and drink. He's a creative director with SaltWire and local fare is his specialty. You can subscribe to his Follow a Foodie newsletter here.