Mastering the Weeknight Dinner Party

By Grace Parisi, Food & Wine

Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and PeasIf my house is clean and I have a teeny bit of extra time, I actually enjoy throwing midweek dinner parties. The key is having a game plan. For a starter, my warm goat-cheese spread with hot-pepper jelly is nearly as simple as setting out a cheese plate. While it bakes, I put the finishing touches on a quick main course combining meat and vegetables, like vinegar-braised chicken with peas (pictured). For dessert, store-bought shortbread dipped into melted chocolate gives the illusion of effort without looking like I'm showing off. My last strategy is to keep my wine out of sight, so that if the guests bring a bottle, we're not tempted to drink theirs plus mine. It is, after all, a weeknight, and the work day ahead looms large.

Slideshow: Fast Weeknight Dinners

Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas

8 whole chicken legs
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
One 10-ounce package frozen baby peas, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup crème fraîche

1. Preheat the oven to 425° and position a rack in the upper third. Turn the chicken legs skin side down on a work surface and cut halfway through the joint. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.
2. In each of 2 large nonstick skillets, heat half of the butter and oil. Add the chicken, skin side up, and cook over high heat until browned, 5 minutes. Turn and cook the chicken for 1 minute. Pile all of the chicken into one skillet.
3. In the other skillet, cook the leeks over high heat until just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the broth and vinegar and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a medium roasting pan.
4. Set the chicken on the leeks, skin side up; roast for about 25 minutes, until it is cooked through. Turn on the broiler and broil for about 2 minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp. Transfer the chicken to a platter.
5. Place the roasting pan over a burner and boil over high heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the peas, herbs and crème fraîche and simmer until the sauce is hot and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

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