Spring with Kiko {Chicken a l’Orange + Patatas a lo Pobre}

“Hi little guy. Are you walking your mistress?” asked our friendly neighbour who was raking leaves and preparing his garden for the summer season ahead. Kiko and I were walking by, with the little guy rather dragging me down the hill behind him. (By the way being called mistress was fairly enchanting especially since I’ve been reading the Outlander series, whose story takes place in the 18th century.)

Kiko is my parent’s mini schnauzer. He’s a very affable little thing, although quite prone to being fearful of people. On the other hand, he loves other dogs. Being rather small doesn’t stop him from wanting to greet, sniff and play with all the hounds we encounter on our walks, no matter how large they are. And while he’s generally fun and loving, he is also stubborn. When he digs in his hind legs, there’s no budging him until he gets what he wants, which in most cases is just a stop for him to bury his nose in the ground and mark his territory. Marking his territory takes place what seems like every two seconds though.

One would think our walks are bonding; and maybe on some level they are, as he does look forward to going out and shows his enthusiasm by putting on a jumping performance, which seems to be a characteristic trait of mini schnauzers. He can jump very high for a dog that stands only about a foot off the ground. In fact, he can jump about two times his height. It’s really quite impressive, and may I add amusing to watch.

We take different routes almost every day, with me deciding the way… most of the time. If there’s a big bad monster (aka rubbish bin) lurking on our side of the road, Kiko makes a beeline for the other side, and consequently pulls me with him. Our walks are peaceful and invigorating. While he sniffs, stops, pulls and jovially prances ahead of me, I get to admire the pretty summer cottages (some are actually mansions), attractive gardens, eclectic architecture and the stunning water-views of where we are temporarily living.

Spring is definitely here, although the wind is still chilling, especially along the shore, and my hands feel like icicles on many days, by the time we arrive home. Daffodils are popping up everywhere even along the marsh where they have not been planted. I’m guessing it’s the result of birds dropping their seeds (or the winds blowing them over), just like the number of mussels and clams in their shells that we encounter scattered and broken along the path around the lagoon. The seagulls must be carrying them and dropping them on the ground.

The tulips are slightly more recalcitrant to come out yet, with only a few resilient ones actually in bloom. The magnolias are budding with the promise of their pink and white delicate blossoms coming soon. And the forsythia bushes are alive again with their bright yellow flowers. Everywhere one turns, there are signs of new life. I’m in awe of Spring; and I think I’ve never admired this season as much as I am doing this year.

I haven’t stopped to reflect why this is so, although my mind does a lot of wandering, soul searching, and de-stressing while we enjoy the outdoors. I sometimes think about food too. And how I want to develop the blog and bring a more enriching experience to my readers.

But since mom died, becoming enthusiastic about almost anything is terribly hard and finding motivation to cook has been full of obstacles and excuses. Fortunately for my father and me, I cannot fathom eating processed or junk foods. Therefore, I force myself to prepare healthy meals, even if rather rushed and haphazardly.

Making something quick, easy and effortlessly has become an obsession on most days. As Kiko and I were wandering around the other day, the bright sun and pretty flowers everywhere inspired me to make something that would echo this feeling of life, and I settled on chicken a l’orange (what says sunshine more than an orange?). In my native Spain, orange trees are now just starting to blossom, and the sweet fragrance of azahar will be permeating the streets with the intoxicating aroma. Having grown up on a farm with an orange orchard, we were lucky to have a number of varieties, affording us the benefit of having oranges almost all year round. Here in the US and almost everywhere now, oranges are available year round thanks to more tropical climates in such places like Florida.

To accompany the chicken, I made a traditional (and super easy) potato side dish, which my father loves and my mother used to make. Patatas a lo Pobre is something you’ll find in most family restaurants or ventas (roadside restaurants with home-cooked meals) in Spain. It’s an inexpensive dish, which requires only three or four ingredients and is very easy and quick to make. The traditionalists add green peppers, but as I don’t like this vegetable too much (or rather it doesn’t agree with me), I only use potatoes and onions, and sometimes garlic. And of course, olive oil. I also like to brown the potatoes a bit, which makes parts of them crunchy, adding to the texture of the dish.

Chicken a l’Orange

Ingredients, for 3 or 4

6 organic chicken legs
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large leek, rinsed and sliced (discard the green parts)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup freshly squeesed orange juice
1 1/2 cups chicken or beef stock, extra if needed
sea salt and pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C)*. Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with freshly ground sea salt and pepper on both sides. Lightly dust chicken on both sides with cumin powder. Place the chicken legs in an ovenproof dish and drizzle some olive oil over all of them. Bake for about 40 minutes or until chicken is done, turning a few times, so the chicken browns on both sides. (This temperature works for my oven. You may need to adjust for yours.)

In the meantime, squeese the oranges and set the juice aside. In a deep saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and carrots and poach, stirring frequently about 10 minutes. Add the leek, garlic, coriander seeds and continue to poach, stirring frequently, another 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender to an inserted fork. Reduce heat to low and add the orange juice and stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, pour into a food processor (you may have to do this in two batches) and purée. Return to the pot and simmer. If the sauce is too thick, add more stock. Keep warm while the chicken finishes baking.

You can insert the chicken pieces into the sauce if desired or pour the sauce over the chicken once it is plated. Serve with patatas a lo pobre.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredients, for 2

3 large/4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
coarse sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

In a deep and wide saucepan, pour the olive oil and add the potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (I used about three or four turns of the grinder, but a couple of pinches will also do). Over medium-low heat, allow to cook slowly, turning occasionally with a spatula, making sure you don’t break the potatoes in the process. I allow the potatoes to brown a bit before turning. Browning the potatoes is the trick to this dish, creating a combination of both crunchy and soft textures. Once they are tender, they are ready to be served. Sprinkle with fresh parsley on the plate.

*****

Muslos de Pollo a la Naranja

Ingredientes, para 3 o 4

6 muslos de pollo
1 cebolla grande, pelada y picada
2 zanahorias grandes, peladas y cortadas a rodajas
1 puerro grande, quitándole lo verde, se enjuaga bien y se corta a rodajas finas
2 dientes de ajo, en laminas
80ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
comino en polvo
1 cucharadita (de te) de semillas de cilantro, machacadas
250ml de zumo de naranja, recién exprimido
350ml de caldo de pollo
sal marina y pimienta fresca a gusto
perejil

Método

Precalentamos el horno a 200C. Enjugamos los muslos y los secamos con toallitas de papel. Salpimentamos por ambos lados y también espolvoreamos con comino en polvo por ambos lados. Ponemos los muslos en una fuente para el horno y le echamos un chorreón de aceite por encima. Horneamos unos 40 minutos o hasta que la carne este hecha, dandole la vuelta unas cuantas veces, para que se doren los muslos por ambos lados.

Mientras se hace el pollo, exprimimos varias naranjas hasta obtener 250ml de zumo. En una olla sobre fuego medio-lento, calentamos el aceite de oliva. Añadimos las cebollas y las zanahorias y pochamos durante unos 10 minutos, removiendo frecuentemente. A continuación agregamos el puerro, los ajos, las semillas de cilantro y seguimos pochando unos 10 o 15 minutos adicionales hasta que las verduras estén tiernas cuando se pinchan con un tenedor. Reducimos el fuego a lento y echamos el zumo de naranja y el caldo de pollo. Removemos bien y dejamos cocer unos 10 minutos, sin que llegue a la ebullición. Retiramos del fuego y dejamos enfriar. Echamos todo en la batidora y lo hacemos puré. También se puede hacer con la mini-pimer. Lo vertimos otra vez a la olla y lo ponemos a fuego muy suave para mantenerlo caliente mientras se termina de hacer el pollo.

Cuando los muslos estén hechos, se pueden poner dentro de la salsa de naranja o se le puede echar la salsa por encima una vez en el plato. Se pueden servir con patatas a lo pobre u otra guarnición a gusto.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredientes, para 2 

3 patatas grandes o 4 medianas, peladas y cortadas a rodajas finas
1 cebolla grande, pelada y cortada a rodajas
sal marina gorda
120ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
perejil fresco, picado

Método

En una sartén amplia y onda sobre fuego suave a mediano, echamos el aceite de oliva, las patatas y la cebolla. Le echamos un poco de sal a gusto. Dejamos que se vayan haciendo las patatas poco a poco, dándoles la vuelta con cuidado para que no se rompan. El truco de estas patatas esta en que queden entre fritas y cocidas, ligeramente doradas (o mas si os gusta) y que su textura sea que se deshagan en la boca. Se sirven con perejil picado.