A Comfortable Meal: Cookbook Reimagines Some Childhood Favorites

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
When I was growing up in the South, Sunday lunch was a major event for our family, a meal we had either at a favored restaurant or at my grandmother’s house next door.

My father had declared Sunday a day when my mother couldn’t go into the kitchen, so it was sort of a holiday for all of us, a great break for her and a chance to share a meal as a family that someone else prepared.

Our usual Sunday restaurant haunt was The Colonnade in Atlanta. It’s been around since 1927 and still gets four out of five stars on Yelp today. The restaurant is most noted for its crispy fried chicken, my favorite and a choice I always made along with mashed potatoes, stewed squash and head-lettuce salad (now called the wedge) with Thousand Island dressing.

The food was excellent paired with the chocolate milk that I invariably spilled on the sharply pressed white tablecloth and quickly sopped up with the starched white napkin, hoping no one would notice.

When my parents wanted a break from my brothers and I on Sundays, they’d send us over to my grandmother’s house, who without fail prepared my second favorite meal, orange marinated oven-baked chicken, allegedly a healthy alternative to The Colonnade.

The recipe, which I suspect came from the back of a cereal box, called for a marinade of one-half can of frozen orange juice concentrate, a cup of canned condensed milk, a teaspoon of Lowry’s Seasoned Salt and an egg, beaten together.

She used bone-in chicken thighs because they were cheap and provided the right portions for her normally solitary meals, and she soaked them in the orange marinade in the refrigerator for at least an hour before rolling the chicken pieces in the secret ingredient — crushed corn flakes — and putting them in the oven. The result was chicken that was moist, full of citrus flavor and very crispy.

I thought about my grandmother’s meals recently when I ran across a much-improved version of the recipe for the citrus chicken in Elizabeth Kurtz’ new cookbook, Celebrate: Fo od Family Shabbos.

Kurtz, an author, cook and cooking instructor, maintains the food website, gourmetkoshercooking.com. Proceeds from the book will go to support Emunah of America, a nonprofit women’s organization that provides social services and educational programs for children, families and seniors in Israel. Emunah worked in partnership with Kurtz on the book and is the publisher.

The book is a celebration of the traditional Jewish Friday night meal that kicks off the Sabbath, a gathering with friends and family that’s “all about love,” Kurtz writes in the introduction.

“I do many things for my family, but no carpool, camp application or help with a complicated homework assignment brings anywhere near the smile that a delicious meal — especially on Shabbos or Yon Tov — brings. Absolutely nothing.”

It’s a beautiful book filled with color photographs that illustrate most of the 200 recipes. I tried out a couple of dishes in addition to the Citrus-Marinated Chicken, and found them to be accessible, tasty and easy to follow.

These recipes, adapted from the book, provide a bright entree with the taste of summer for the dark winter, and a side dish that might come in handy during the holiday season:

Citrus-Marinated Chicken

“Citrus can bring almost any dish to life, and the same is true here. The combination of orange and lemon zest with tarragon make this grilled chicken dish extraordinary,” Kurtz says in the book.

Serves 8

2 teaspoons orange zest

1/4 cup fresh or bottled orange juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, pounded thin

Combine orange zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, tarragon, and garlic in a shallow dish and whisk well. Coat chicken in marinade; cover and refrigerate at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Heat a grill pan or grill to medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade, shaking off any excess liquid. Place chicken in pan and cook until cooked through and lightly browned .

Serve warm or at room temperature, accompanied by Citrus Aioli.

The chicken tastes best when marinated a minimum of 2 hours and preferably overnight.

Citrus-marinated chicken can be prepared a day ahead of time. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature or rewarm, covered, in a warming drawer or a 300 degrees oven.

Tip: Grill an orange or lemon half, then squeeze the juices over the finished chicken for added flavor.

Acorn Squash Stuffed With Jeweled Israeli Couscous

Larger than traditional couscous, Israeli couscous cooks and tastes more like a small pasta.

“I love the presentation of this dish, which uses squash halves as natural serving vessels for the colorful couscous,” Kurtz writes. “It has bursts of color from the dried fruit, parsley, and acorn squash and extra bursts of flavor from the garlic and orange zest. After you zest the orange, be sure to use the fresh juice in the recipe for its bright, clean flavor.”

Serves 8


4 acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds each), halved lengthwise and seeds removed

3 tablespoons canola oil

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 (8.8-ounce) packages Israeli couscous

2 3 /4 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons orange zest

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup diced dried apricots (optional)

1/4 cup craisins (optional)

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place acorn squash, cut-side up, on two baking sheets. Brush the flesh of the squash with canola oil, sprinkle with brown sugar and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until just fork tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Heat a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, cook onion until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook an additional 4 minutes.

Pour in couscous and stir for 2 minutes, until it begins to smell toasty and nutty. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 8 minutes, or until liquid is fully absorbed. Add orange zest, orange juice, apricots, craisins, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook an additional minute for the orange juice to absorb. Add pine nuts.

To serve, spoon couscous into squash halves. Rewarm in oven if necessary.

Warren Johnston can be reached at warren.nelson.johnston@gmail.com.