Dear Judith . . . Easiest Meal I Know

Dear Judith,

I have never been much of a cook. I can make cold cereal, salad, and a few other easy things, but that’s about it. I’d love to be able to cook for my family on a regular basis, but I’m intimidated at the thought of cooking a meal from scratch. What’s a good meal for a beginner’s beginner? Please be very specific. Oh, and what shall I do with my toddler while I’m cooking? FYI, I have three kids, including my toddler.

That’s the thing about kids: they get hungry every day. First of all, congratulations on taking the first step to learning your way around a kitchen. As you’ll find out, cooking is easy. It’s planning meals, juggling preferences, and making everything come out healthy that’s tricky. As you no doubt know, taking “baby steps” is a good approach to attaining your goal. In this case, it means trying one recipe at a time, with plenty of time in between. Once you’ve made one, you can always go back and put it on your regular rotation of meals. As you build more and more new recipes into your experience you will eventually have enough to fill most every night.

Since you say you do not know your way around a kitchen, I’ve chosen a meal that requires very little technique. In other words, it really is as easy as following the directions. My love for chicken is no secret and BBQ chicken drumsticks (legs) with sweet potatoes is a favorite in my house and is extremely easy to make. The leftovers are great for kids’ lunch boxes.

Count on about 2-3 drumsticks per adult, 1-2 per child, and part of one for the baby. I like to buy chicken legs in bulk at Costco: you get a great price per pound, and the legs are packaged five to a pouch, so you can use just what you need and freeze the rest. If your family likes this meal, you can make it again next month with your frozen stash.

If you’re using frozen chicken, defrost it first by putting it in the fridge the night before and check it a few hours before cooking to make sure it’s thawed out. FYI, you can use chicken thighs instead of drumsticks if you want. Because you have a toddler, I recommend trying this on a weekend, when there’s another adult at home so you don’t have to worry about your toddler.

Here’s what you need for this meal, assuming a family of four plus a toddler:
10-15 thawed chicken legs or 2-3 Costco pouches
BBQ sauce of your choice. I like Sweet Baby Ray’s, but you can use any kind you like.
2 large or 3 medium sweet potatoes
Baking pan or cookie sheet large enough to fit all drumsticks
Aluminum foil (optional but recommended as it can get very sticky)
A spoon
An oven
A timer
Tongs or a spatula

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350F and let it warm up while you do the rest of the prep. This is called pre-heating.
  2. Line baking pan or cookie sheet with foil, making sure the entire bottom is covered.
  3. Remove (not frozen) drumsticks from pouch and place on foil, leaving a little space between the pieces.
  4. Squeeze a dollop of BBQ sauce, about the size of a quarter, on each drumstick. Use the spoon to spread sauce to cover the entire surface of the drumstick. 
  5. Place sweet potatoes on the same pan as the drumsticks if there’s room. If not, place them on a different pan.
  6. Put chicken and sweet potatoes in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.
  7. When the timer rings, pull out chicken and use the tongs, a spatula or a fork to turn each drumstick so the part that was touching the pan faces up. 
  8. Repeat step 4, adding sauce to the meat that was previously not sauced.
  9. Put chicken back in the oven and set the timer for another 30 minutes.
  10. When timer rings the chicken is done. If you want to you can use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature (should be 170 or higher), but 60 minutes in a hot oven should be plenty of time to cook thoroughly.
  11. Squeeze the potatoes to make sure they are done — if they squeeze easily they are. If they feel firm, poke a small hole in the skin of each potato and finish them up in the microwave. About five minutes should do it.

You can serve the sweet potatoes as they are (baked potato style), or you can go a little further and serve them mashed potato style:

  1. Make a slit in the skin.
  2. Use a spoon to scoop out the orange flesh and place in a bowl. It should come out easily. If it doesn’t, it needs ore cooking time.
  3. Mash the sweet potato flesh with a spoon or fork. Add a few sprinkles of salt and about a Tablespoon of butter. 
  4. Mix until butter melts. Serve.

If you’re planning for dinner at 6pm, pull the chicken out at 4:45. It will take a few minutes to arrange the pieces and sauce everything, and a few more to turn them after 30 minutes. You may also need a few extra minutes to finish off the sweet potatoes in the microwave and scoop the flesh.

Happy cooking!

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