No one could roast a chicken like my mother. No one.
It was beautifully browned on the outside, moist on the inside, and had just the right amount of seasonings.
Ask for her recipe?
"Oh, Sandra, I don't know ... I just use a little onion and garlic powder, pepper and salt ... poultry needs lots of salt. Then just put it in the oven," she would say, her voice rising at the end, as if to say, 'Come on, it's so simple, there's nothing to it!' "
But there was a lot more to it, I would learn over the years.
She cooked by touch and taste and smell. A shake of this, a pinch of that -- instincts developed over 60 years and thousands of recipes. I was inspired by her good taste and high standards.
So, on the occasions that I could serve my mother a dish that would get her nod of approval and her request for my recipe ... it was a thrill.
That thrill came years ago one Easter over a beautiful platter of chicken Veronique. The golden-brown roasted chicken, surrounded by grapes and a creamy piquant sauce, was an instant hit.
The recipe I have included is an adaptation of the original, and it is bursting with the flavors of spring.
Because the chicken is roasted breast down, it absorbs the cooking juices and stays moist and flavorful. The fresh lemon and tarragon infuse the meat with amazing flavor. The grapes add the perfect sweetness and balance to the lemon.
And the juicy sauce? You won't want to waste a drop.
I chose a simple rice pilaf to complement the chicken. (A pilaf is simply rice or another grain that is first browned in oil, then cooked in a flavored broth. It's a tasty change from plain boiled rice.)
This recipe calls for long-grain basmati rice. If you have never used basmati, this would be a perfect time to try it.
Basmati, white or brown, is a type of long-grain rice noted for its beautiful fragrance and delicate flavor. Because it puffs up lengthwise during cooking, it is a good choice for foods with sauces.
I also like asparagus with this meal. For me, asparagus is the vegetable that represents spring in all its glory.
Choose young, pencil-thin asparagus with firm, crisp stalks and bright green heads. (Soft stalks and traces of yellow are signs of age.)
The recipe is a simple saute with shallots, which taste like onion and garlic, only better.
Spring is the season for beginnings. Celebrate it with family over a wonderful meal.
Sandra Pinckney, a former host of "Food Finds" on the Food Network, is now a contributor to "Daily Cafe" on Retirement Living TV, a Comcast Network channel for baby boomers.
Easy Sauteed Asparagus
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds thin asparagus, trimmed, peeled, tops cut into 3-inch-long pieces, stalks cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
3 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy, large skillet over high heat. Add asparagus and saute until tender, about 3 minutes.
Add shallot and lemon peel. Saute 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Per serving: 64 calories, 3 grams protein, 4 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 5 grams carbohydrate, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 16 milligrams sodium
Simple Rice Pilaf
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 thinly sliced shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups basmati-style long-grain rice
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
parsley (dried or fresh)
Melt the butter with the shallot in a medium pan over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper. Add rice and stir until coated with the butter.
Increase the heat to medium-high and let the rice cook until toasted (light brown), stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Stir in the broth and parsley (about 1/2 teaspoon).
Bring to a simmer over low heat, cover and cook until all the broth has been absorbed by the rice and the rice is tender (about 15 to 18 minutes).
Fluff rice with a fork and serve.
Note: You can add cooked peas, fresh chopped scallions, raisins or even sliced almonds for variety.
Per serving: 319 calories, 8 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 56 grams carbohydrate, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 519 milligrams sodium
(Nutritional information does not include peas, scallions, raisins or almonds.)
ROAST CHICKEN WITH GRAPES
1 roasting chicken, 4 to 5 pounds
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 large bunch of green seedless grapes, washed and drained
2 medium onions, cut into eight wedges
3 lemons, sliced
a few sprigs of fresh tarragon or rosemary
1 cup of white wine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and pat dry the chicken, then rub the inside with olive oil and sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper.
Put about a cup of the grapes, a few onion wedges, some lemon slices and 2-3 tarragon or rosemary sprigs into the cavity. Rub olive oil over the outside of the chicken.
Line a roasting pan with the remaining onion wedges and a few lemon slices. Place the chicken in a roasting rack, breast side down, on top of the onions and lemon slices.
Sprinkle the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place sprigs of herbs and some slices of lemon between the wings and the body of the chicken.
Arrange remaining grapes, lemon slices and herbs around the sides of the chicken. Add the cup of wine.
Roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound. Baste with juices several times during cooking.
Chicken is done when the juices run clear when a knife tip is inserted into both the breast and thigh, or when a thermometer inserted in thigh reads 180-185 degrees.
Serve with rice, and include the cooked grapes and cooking juices.
Per servings: 462 calories, 38 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 119 milligrams cholesterol, 117 milligrams sodium