Last week, Jenny went away for three days to work on her book. I don’t know if anyone else out there finds this to be true, but we have this theory about parenting being easier — not better, mind you, just easier — when the spouse is away. The chain of command is clearer. Movements are more efficient. Decisions are more decisive. With no safety net, I feel like we tend to be a little better about being doers, about making the bed in the morning and mustering the energy to move that dirty juice glass the three feet from the sink into the dishwasher, about not standing around in the kitchen, checking email again and being generally suspended in that maddening state of inertia that sets in when you’re trying to decide what to do and who’s going to go upstairs and get the sweater down from Abby’s closet and who’s going to make sure Phoebe’s teeth are brushed properly, since the dentist put a watch on one of her molars last time we were there and, wait, did we pack any snacks yet?
So I had a big weekend planned. We would be a perpetual motion machine! Saturday morning, we went hiking up at Bear Mountain. We had lunch — burgers with jalapenos and sharp local cheddar, a black-and-white milkshake, and hand-cut fries — at the outrageously tasty Woody’s All-Natural in Cornwall, New York, which, if you live within 100 miles of the place, I implore you to try, for real. We made nine jars of pickles. We played home run derby on the patio. And when it came to dinner, I saw this as an opportunity to do something different and fun, to branch out with a hanger steak or a rack of ribs or one of those silvery whole branzinos I’d been eyeing at the fish market. The best part was, after a death march of a winter, we could even cook outside. The weather was just beginning to turn — a cruel tease, as it turns out — and the grill was on the patio, cleared of snow, practically begging to be fired up. Afterwards, we’d call Jenny and surprise her with our enterprising dinner adventures. There’s nothing she likes more than when we go and expand the family repertoire.
It was late afternoon when we finally got around to planning the menu. I quick-polled the kids to see what they were up for.
What is it about chicken? I mean, I have nothing against the stuff, I enjoy it most of the time and God knows, we cook it enough, but sometimes I worry that these kids, if left to their own scary devices, would eat nothing but. After trying and failing to tempt them with other (better!)* options, I folded up my tent and agreed, but on one condition: we try it a new way. I bailed, for the night, on my dream of grilling. Instead, I summoned the prefab glory days of the 1970s, and went with an updated, non-toxic version of Shake ‘n Bake. It took no time to prepare, the kids had fun shaking, and we made it with all fresh stuff, and went heavy on the herbs. And the sandwiches the next day — on toasted buns, with mustard — were ridiculous. — Andy
*Seriously, why don’t they trust me?
Shake ‘n Bake Chicken
Besides the fact that this meal rings the nostalgia bell, there’s another huge advantage: It takes ten minutes and there’s no clean-up whatsoever.
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp oregano
2 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne
Generous amounts of salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound chicken drumsticks
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
Olive oil, about 1/4 cup
Preheat oven to 400°F. Put breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, thyme, cayenne, paprika, salt, and pepper into a Ziploc freezer bag and set aside. (A word about the salt and pepper: don’t skimp.) Empty chicken parts into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (See note above about not skimping.) Toss with olive oil, until each piece is nicely coated. Using tongs, take chicken, three of four pieces at a time, and drop into the Ziploc bag,. Seal and shake until chicken is covered in breadcrumb mixture. Remove, shaking off excess, and arrange on foil-lined baking sheet, until all chicken parts are ready for roasting. Cook, turning once, for 40 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Thighs may cook faster, depending on thickness.