Feb. 16, 2013 at 9:24 AM ET
I find it hard to believe I've known Randy for nearly two decades. We first met in Paris, which is a lovely way for a friendship to begin, n'est-ce pas? For some reason, I feel like we started chatting while waiting for the RER B Metro train to arrive and whisk us away from our dorm in the 14th into the throes of Paris. I immediately thought she was far cooler than me, which I'm pretty sure had to do with her amazing dreads.
At the time, she was Randy Gellman, and we were both college seniors, spending a semester in Paris with Boston University's Paris internship program. We became fast friends and had a blast exploring the city and places far beyond. We also discovered our own version of one pot cooking during that semester, which we still laugh about, and which has forever colored my thoughts on honey mustard chicken.
Randy and I lived in the Fondation des Etats-Unis - essentially the American House in a cluster of dorms known as Cité Universitaire - along with a few other girls from our program. Five of us became a tight-knit group early on, and we'd often make dinner together. Being college students, we didn't have much money, and we certainly didn't want to waste it on an extensive array of kitchen gadgets we'd be leaving behind at the end of the semester. So, we used one pot on most nights. One pot to whip up a number of dishes, but the menu that sticks out in my mind is honey mustard chicken with rice and green beans. Not terrible, but we ate it a lot. And it got very old, trust me. Especially when trying to cut up raw chicken with a dull knife and get everything done in time to go out at night. Priorities!
Fast forward a few years, and I could't resist buying Randy just one pot for her wedding shower, along with Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," inscribed with a note about, you guessed it, one pot cooking.
We have shared more than a love of cooking over the years. After college we both ended up in San Francisco, where we also met our husbands. We shared holidays in California - including Thanksgiving (my favorite!). We were bridesmaids for each other, and without realizing it, became old friends. The kind of friends who need no explanation, who always seem to know just when to call, and who have more dirt on you than you'll ever admit. The ones who know your parents and siblings, and who have been there for every major life event since the age of 21: jobs, apartments, boyfriends, heartbreak, weddings, mortgages, death, babies.
Randy has also become my expert in many areas, though I'm not sure I've ever told her. She's the expert partly because she got married, started a family and moved to the 'burbs first, so she was the guinea pig, and partly because she's the type of person who will never judge you for any question asked, never has an answer that is patronizing or overly insistent, and because I trust her.
I don't like asking for things, especially advice. I prefer to figure things out on my own but I trust her judgement, I trust her instincts, and I like the way she does things. She's also never steered me wrong, whether it was recommending cookware for our wedding registry, cookbooks for baby food or the best place online to buy a rug. Somehow, she just knows where to go, and always seems to be one step ahead.
When Randy suggested I register for the Romertopf clay baker when we got married, I thought, why not? OK, actually my first thought was, "Where am I putting all of this stuff?!" Eight years later I'm glad I listened. Clay pot cooking is easy, healthy and, yes, contained to one pot. No, I have never used it for a recipe involving honey mustard. Chicken, fish, you name it, it all goes in the pot in a matter of minutes and comes out moist, delicious and healthy. It's quick and easy enough for a weeknight dinner. In just about an hour - most of that time not spent in the kitchen - there's an amazing meal on the table and your house smells fantastic. In fact, it smells like a home.
As we were putting together these comfort cooking segments, I knew I had to include a Romertopf roaster recipe inspired by Randy, and not just because of that ridiculously rewarding alliteration. Roasted chicken is, in many ways, as comforting as mac and cheese. But roasted chicken that comes from the heart of a friend is so much more. It's a shared history, it's a love of things that matter. It's a meal that means something. And a reminder each time I take out the pot that I have a friend to thank for this, and for so much more.
Randy's Roasted Chicken with Leeks and Apples
Soak lid and body of clay baker in water for 15 minutes.
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry well, coating thoroughly in kosher salt and pepper. Be sure to get salt under the skin and all over the chicken.
Stuff onion, garlic cloves, and lemon in the cavity of the chicken.
Put 2-4 leeks on bottom of roaster, add a few sprigs of rosemary, apples and olive oil. Lay chicken on top of leeks and apples.
Cover and put pot in a COLD oven. Turn oven on to 500 degrees F and cook for an hour.
Let sit in roaster, covered for about 10 minutes before serving.
If you have too many leeks and apples to close the roaster tightly, stick the extras on a sheet pan and roast separately with a healthy dose of olive oil and kosher salt.
Roasted Chicken with Country Vegetables
Soak lid and body of clay pot for 15 minutes.
Rinse chicken and pat dry, liberally salt and pepper both sides.
Add potatoes, carrots, onion, leek and garlic to bottom of pot. Drizzle a healthy tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat well. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and drizzle a tiny bit more oil on top. Add fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme.
Layer chicken on top of vegetables and herbs, add more fresh herbs and drizzle with remaining olive oil. If using wine or stock, pour slowly and evenly around pot.
Cover, put in COLD oven. Turn oven on to 500 degrees F and cook for 40 minutes. Let pot rest for a good 10 minutes after you take it out of the oven.