When I was teaching myself to cook in my first college apartment, there were tears on more than one occasion. I have vivid memories of crying, “Dinner’s RUINED!” after an unfortunate experiment with green bean stroganoff (read: curdled yogurt) out of my Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook (my first cookbook purchase, now slightly tattered but still on my bookshelves).
|This would really be starting from scratch…way too much work!|
How to Bake Chicken Breasts
- Defrost chicken breasts ahead of time. Don’t try to do it in the microwave…trust me. You can take them out a day or two ahead of time and defrost them in the fridge.
- Move oven rack to middle of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. This can take about 20 minutes.
- Pat chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Place in pan or on rimmed baking sheet, “pretty side” up. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and seasoning of choice if desired (I often use granulated garlic, a Cajun spice blend or Herbes de Provence).
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes (boneless) or 35-40 minutes (bone-in). The exact cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken breasts and your oven. Always treat cooking times as guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. I often set a kitchen timer for 5-15 minutes before I expect something to be done (depending on total estimated cooking time), check it, and put it back in the oven if it needs more time.
- So how to you know when your chicken breasts are done? If you have a working meat thermometer, insert it into the center of the thickest part of the breast. It’s done when it reaches 160 degrees F. I only ever seem to have working candy thermometers, so instead I take a small, sharp knife and cut into the thick part of the breast. If the juices run clear, and the interior of the flesh doesn’t look pink it’s done.
- Let sit out of the oven for about five minutes before serving or cutting them up.
How to Roast Vegetables
- Adjust oven rack to one of the middle positions. Preheat oven to anywhere between 350 and 450 degrees F. A hotter oven means a shorter roasting time. The flexibility in roasting temperatures comes in handy if you’re also using the oven to cook something that need a more precise temperature.
- Prepare vegetables. I chunk up thicker veggies like squash, large carrots, cauliflower, whole broccoli heads, potatoes, onions, and peppers, but I leave veggies like asparagus and broccolette (broccoli rabe) whole, just trimming the ends. Try to make the pieces fairly uniform in size, so they are all done at the same time.
- Put veggies in large bowl and toss with olive oil. Sometimes it’s easier to use your hands than a spoon. If you really don’t want to get a bowl dirty, you can put the veggies in their pan, drizzle with oil, then use your hands to move the veg around to get them coated.
- One way or another, put the veggies in a baking dish or a rimmed baking sheet, then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
- Roast for 10-15 minutes (depending on oven temperature), then remove pan, toss/turn over veggies with a spatula, and return to oven. They’ll take another 10-15 minutes, depending. Just keep an eye on them. How done you want them is pretty much personal preference.
How to Make a Vinaigrette (and Shun Store-Bought Salad Dressing)
- Gather a jar with a tight-fitting lid, a tablespoon measure, extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar of choice, salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard if you want to make your vinaigrette French-style.
- Measure 6 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons vinegar into the jar. Add a pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper. Stir in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard if you like. The guideline here is a 3-to-1 ratio of oil to acid (vinegar). You can make as much or as little as you need.
- Shake the jar vigorously to mix (see why you need a tight-fitting lid?). The dressing will separate as it sits, because it’s all real ingredients, no emulsifiers. Just shake it up whenever you’re ready to use it.
- If I make enough to only last a few days, I usually leave the jar on the counter at room temperature. If it will last longer than that, I store it in the fridge, then take it out to let it “unchill” a bit before I use it. The olive oil won’t harden at fridge temp, but it will be less fluid, making it hard to mix it up.