Food memories, to me, are better than looking at photographs or reading old diaries. Smelling or tasting a food that is associated with a missed loved one can hit me like a ton of bricks, and can bring me back to a time and place that was long ago, reminding me of a favorite person.
This Orange Glazed Chicken is one of those nostalgic foods which creates fond memories of my grandfather. He always requested this dish for his birthday dinner, along with a spectacular orange layer cake with cream cheese frosting, and my mother, his daughter-in-law, always obliged.
My mother’s orange chicken is phenomenal…and can perfume the entire house with citrus-y, honey smells that will waft up to your nose and give you goosebumps because you know just how good it’s going to be. I think I have made it only twice in my twenty or so years on my own, even though it’s one of my favorites, and the reason being is two fold: 1) I can never, ever make it as good as Mom does and 2) Although helping me to conjure up fond memories of my grandfather, it makes me a bit melancholy since he has been gone for many years.
My grandfather was a prisoner of war in WWII where he courageously fought the Nazis as a tail gunner. I have a journal that he kept with poems, stories and long “Thank You” notes written to him for being the optimist of his battalion; the one who would keep the men going and convince them that there was going to be an end to the awful war, and they would someday get to see the ones they loved and go home.
As a kid, I would hear his war stories and feel proud, but I never fully understood the depths of his heroism and selflessness until reading the journals, newspaper articles and, frankly, getting old enough to appreciate how monumental it is that some people are willing to give their lives for others.
To me, he was just an amazing grandpa, who would pick us up every Friday to take us out for some fun, make us milk shakes to slurp at night and omelets in the morning sung to his own silly song. He and my grandmother would act as if we were the best things that ever happened to them, and that’s just hard to beat as a child or an adult for that matter.
I think, as I am planning to make the Orange Chicken tonight, is there anyone in my life who feels like they are the best thing that ever happened to me? I hope so. I really hope so because there are so many people who I just couldn’t do without and are, without a doubt, the best things that ever happened to me.
Sometimes, I guess, we just have to slow down, even though it’s nearly impossible at life’s breakneck speed, and make sure we are filling our loved ones’ days with special little things which they can create life-long memories with.
Above all, I want to make sure that I cook and bake family favorites often so when my kids are at a college apartment far away, or a newlywed cooking in their own kitchen for the first time, they can whip up a batch of a good old favorite like this Orange Glazed Chicken, and hopefully, it will instantly remind them of me and make them feel like I am right there.
Orange Glazed Baked Chicken
Serves 4-6 people, depending on whether it’s adults and kids or big and small eaters!
2 packs (8 pieces total) of chicken with skin, bone-in (either one pack of drum sticks and one pack of thighs, etc.)
Liquid to dip chicken pieces in:
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. buttermilk (optional)
2/3 c. plain bread crumbs
3 T. grated orange zest (no white pith or your chicken will be BITTER—consider yourself warned)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 T. fresh parsley minced or 1/2 t. dried parsley flakes
1/4 c. of melted butter
1/4 c. of honey
3 T. orange juice
For the Chicken: preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray coat two glass rectangular dishes. You can just rinse your chicken and pat dry with paper towels, OR my mother taught me to soak my chicken in tepid water with kosher salt(about 1/4 c.) for a few minutes in a very large bowl filled 2/3 full with the water. Pat dry with paper towels. Lightly salt and pepper your chicken. After handling your chicken, wash your hands. I make sure to either let my kids handle the spices for me while I have “chicken hands” or wash my hands EVERY time I have touched the raw chicken. This is imperative so you are not spreading raw chicken bacteria onto the outside of your spice jars, etc.
Grate your orange zest and mix together with bread crumbs and seasoning in a pie pan. In a bowl large enough for one piece of dipped chicken, mix together your orange juice and buttermilk. Now dredge one piece of chicken in the orange juice and buttermilk mixture and then coat amply in the crumby mixture and place in the prepared glass dish. Repeat until you are done coating all eight pieces.
Place the baking dishes in the top rack and middle rack of your oven (the top rack should be at the second highest position of the oven, not the first). The bottom dish will cook a little faster. You will bake the chicken like this for about 20 minutes and then you can put on your glaze.
To make the glaze, simply melt the butter in the microwave and then stir it together in a small bowl with the honey and orange juice. Using a pastry brush, or simply a large spoon, drip the glaze over the chicken pieces using all of the glaze for all eight pieces. Cook another 25 minutes for a total cooking time of about 45 minutes. Check your thickest piece for doneness and then remove all the pieces if they are ok. Chicken, obviously, should not be pink, however dark meat can tend to have just the slightest pinkish hue and it’s fine (very slight, ok?).