Keith Law might do cooking on a different level than I do, but I can do good food that reasonable people can do. If you don't think you can cook, you're wrong. If you're reading this, you can already read and that's half the battle. The other half is being able to taste. Do a little bit more Yogi-math and there's a small bit of fresh, local ingredients, knowing what you like, and being able to improvise.
Here's a very simple recipe that looks a lot harder than it is. We'll call it baked chicken with apples, but feel free to come up with some French or other fancy sounding name if you're really wanting to impress your significant other.
To start with get GOOD CHICKEN. I buy mine at The Goose, a local market here in Indianapolis. Find a place like this with people you know and trust. They only use local produce, which is important because it's fresher and better for the environment to boot. I hate breaking down chicken, so I'll buy boneless, skinless chicken when possible.
Lay out the chicken in a baking pan (8x8 works) and line it with aluminum foil. Put a little salt and pepper on them. One tip -- don't go from the fridge to the oven. Let the meat come out and come up in temp a little bit. Keep it covered, but you're going to cook it well anyway, so don't freak about germs. Preheat the oven to 375.
Chop up three good sized apples. Size doesn't matter here and you can peel the apple if you wish, though I leave the skin on for a bit more crispy texture. I'm using Pink Lady apples. They're very sweet and crisp, which gives them good bite if you're eating them and they'll stand up to baking without turning into mush.
Place the apples over the chicken. There's no style points here, just make sure there's some air so the heat can circulate. Once those are in place, sprinkle some cinnamon over the top. Don't use too much - cinnamon is a stronger taste than most people realize and very tough to cover with something else. It's possible to add more later.
Here's what it should look like:
The oven should be up to speed by now, so pop it in there and set the timer for 20 minutes. Go read Baseball Prospectus and try to make some sense of the new "blood spatter" charts on the PECOTA cards. About the time your brain starts to cramp, you'll be ready for the final step. Everyone should have some maple syrup on hand, for whatever reason, so grab that and pour a bit lightly over the top of the apples. Not much, just some. There's already sugar in the apples that will seep out, so don't pour like you're soaking the french toast at the IHOP. Put it back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes.
You'll have to take it out at the 15 minute (35 total) mark and check the chicken. Move the apples aside and use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. What's the temp you're looking for? Poultry is safely cooked at 180. If you don't have a thermometer, cut into the chicken and make sure you see no pink at the thickest portion and the juices run clear. Then go get yourself a meat thermometer. Seriously, you'll need it once we get the grill out anyway.
The apples should be crinkling slightly at this stage. What you don't want to see is the apples breaking up. If one breaks, it's not bad, but get it out of there when you can. It will bake unevenly and tend to go mushy very quick. At 35 minutes, I checked mine and the chicken was at 160. Check the pan by tilting it. You should see some clear juices run to the corner, but they shouldn't be too syrupy. Pop it back in .... tick tick .. check and when done, get it out and get your plate ready.
Simple works well here. Chicken and apples on one side, then drizzle a little syrup on the other. It looks good and helps the taste if you want a bit more sweet. Add in a salad and you're golden. See? Not so hard.