Past Thanksgiving tradition shaped who I am as a culinary connoisseur today

Chicken MarbellaMany moons ago when I was a single girl in my late 20s, I started this tradition of gathering a handful of my closest friends the Sunday before Thanksgiving each year for dinner. The first kernel of inspiration for a single tiny detail would give birth to a décor daydream I’d live inside each year for months. It could have been a scrap of fabric from Jo-Ann’s that I’d fashion into a makeshift tablecloth, or a handful of $1 votive candle holders purchased at the Dollar Tree.

Invitations were stamped and sent in the form of a handwritten missive through the U.S. mail. One year, it was in the form of a poem I wrote, which was printed on scroll-like paper, burnt around the edges. Another year, I delicately penned the invite on the back of a handful of dried leaves soaked in autumn.

I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. And so each year I’d lug in an eight-foot folding table and chairs borrowed from my office, and sandwich it all between the couch and the TV in the living room. Setting the table was a hallowed experience. I’d weave candles, pumpkins and gourds through clipped holly branches running down the center of the table. A potpourri of vintage plates and bowls were placed lovingly at each place setting, which was marked with a handmade place card with a note of thanks scrawled on the back.

426410_10151271653210911_881065216_nMy friends would pour in with rosy cheeks and laughter, bundled up and carrying salads, side dishes, bread and wine. We’d all take our seats, and I would read a short piece that so perfectly described the very occasion. By the last line, I’d be choking back tears of gratitude for all of these beautiful people around me. Then we would lift a glass. A toast or prayer of thanksgiving.

I was too young and intimidated to cook a turkey back then, plus I knew that everyone would be on a tryptophan high in just a few days. Instead, I had found this dish that sounded simple, elegant, and delicious called Chicken Marbella. With ingredients like oregano, olives, capers, prunes, garlic, white wine and brown sugar, it was an instant hit. It is the easiest and quickest dish to make, the biggest effort is chopping the garlic. Also, you prepare most of the dish the night before and let it marinate overnight. Before you bake, there are just a couple simple steps to complete. The recipe below can be easily doubled or tripled. You can also tweak the amount of prunes, olives, and capers to your liking (I always add a little more). I’ve made it several times for small and large groups of dinner guests and I’ve found that it’s all really adaptable and easy to adjust to what looks good for you.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had one of these dinners in years now, but I do love to throw dinner parties. And I love to cook and bake. When I think about it, I can trace my love for all those things to this past tradition and to this dish. And for that, I give thanks.

Chicken Marbella

Chicken Marbella

Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts (about 2 lbs)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice
3 bay leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, garlic, oregano, olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a large, shallow baking pan and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, basting frequently with pan juices. (Bake until the chicken yields clear yellow, rather than pink, juice.)
  5. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices. Serve with the remaining juices.

Sarah HughesSarah Hughes

Oddly enough, Sarah and I have never met in person. In fact, we stumbled upon each other on Instagram based entirely on our mutual love of good food and because we both follow her food blogger cousin, Oh Ladycakes. We soon discovered we have look-alike kitties, live in the same town, went to the same school, have the same degree and share a few friends in common. What a small world. When Sarah’s not eating, baking or playing with her cats, she works in business development/marketing for an environmental consulting firm. Follow her on Instagram @foiledsarahjane.