Here’s To Good Health and a Long Life!

“What’s your secret?” It’s the question most often asked of people who’ve reached a ridiculously old age, and we all avidly read the answer when such stories appear in the media: “Mr. X, 127, credits his long life to regular tots of rum and a daily pack of smokes.” In fact, I heard recently of one 101-year-old, still living alone, who never misses fixing herself a fried bacon-and-egg breakfast.

I can sense all the dieticians rolling their eyes but perhaps our centenarian has it right. A recent study published in the Public Health Nutrition, a peer-reviewed academic journal from Cambridge University in the UK, links frequent cooking to longer life.

For 10 years, researchers studied the cooking habits of a group of elderly (65 years and older) Taiwanese. Those found to be cooking the most, lived the longest. While other factors contributed (the frequent cooks tended to be non-drinking, non-smoking women who took public transit, walked or cycled), they also enjoyed a better, more nutritious diet than others in the study, with diets high in fibre and vitamin C and low in cholesterol.

Sounds to me like it’s time to start lobbying even louder for the return of school home ec classes.

Meanwhile, here’s one of my favourite spring suppers for those nights when I can’t bring myself to make much effort.

ROAST CHICKEN THIGHS WITH POTATOES AND ASPARAGUS

Marinate the chicken if you have time, but don’t if you don’t; it will still taste good. I like the flavour of herbes de Provence but use whatever herbs you have in your cupboard—thyme, tarragon, rosemary or oregano are all fine. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs, if you wish (it just peels off), although I tend to leave it on. This dish really doesn’t need much in the way of accompaniment but, if your guests are famished, fresh baguette doesn’t go amiss, or you could follow it with a green salad.

6 bone-in chicken thighs

8 cloves garlic

3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil

2 tbsp (30 mL) good-quality balsamic vinegar

1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) dried herbes de Provence

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 lb (750 g) mini potatoes (about 36)

1 lb (500 g) asparagus

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C), if you’re not planning to marinate the chicken for long. With sharp kitchen scissors, trim any excess fat and skin from the chicken thighs. Peel and mince 2 cloves garlic. In a shallow dish, toss the chicken thighs with the minced garlic, 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil, the vinegar, 1 tsp (5 mL) herbs and salt and pepper to taste. If you have time, marinate the chicken for up to 15 minutes at room temperature or cover and put in the fridge for as long as 24 hours.

In a shallow roasting pan, toss the potatoes and the remaining whole, unpeeled garlic cloves with 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil, the remaining herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Nestle the chicken thighs in among the potatoes, drizzling it with any juices from the dish.

Roast, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring the potatoes once or twice, until a meat thermometer inserted into the largest chicken thigh (and not touching the bone) registers 175°F (79°C) and the potatoes are almost tender.

While this chicken thighs are roasting, snap the asparagus where each stalk breaks naturally. On a plate, toss the asparagus with the remaining oil and salt and pepper to taste. Scatter the asparagus over the chicken and potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for 5 to 8 minutes or until the asparagus is tender-crisp.

Divide among warm dinner plates, making sure everyone gets a clove of garlic to squeeze out and enjoy with the chicken and potatoes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

© Julia Aitken 2012

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