Finding Inspiration For The Dinner Table

This festive springtime table setting was inspired by a set of teal cotton napkins. Paired with woven blue towels, sky blue glass chargers embellished with a white swirl, scalloped-edged salad plates, and Chinese bread-and-butter plates, this simple but impressive table setting features depth, texture, and the beauty of brilliant color. (Photo: Christy Rost)

Some of my favorite dishes begin without the benefit of a recipe.

Instead, I spot a single ingredient in the market, and before I know it, my mind is playing with spices, herbs, and complementary ingredients that when combined, will create a medley of flavors to tantalize the taste buds, while the dish dazzles the eye.

By the time I’ve left the market, I can almost picture in my mind the finished dish, and I can hardly wait to get into the kitchen to transform this idea into an enjoyable taste experience.

This approach to cooking is similar to my approach to creating a tablescape.

When I set a table for a gathering, I usually begin with inspiration from a single item. It might be a color, the pattern in a dinner plate, the texture of a placemat, the shimmer in a length of cloth, the hue of a candle, or what’s happening in nature outside my windows.

Using this inspiration as the foundation for my design, I begin to pull items from my cupboards to create a one-of-a-kind table setting that’s a feast for the senses. Tablecloths, placemats, chargers, dinnerware, glassware, colorful napkins, the shine of metallics, and blossoms and herbs gathered from our gardens – each is like a flavorful ingredient in a recipe, that when combined, leaves a lasting visual impression.

This month’s thrifty recipe began with a simple package of chicken legs. I had no menu in mind, but I knew there was a bag of potatoes in my pantry, and that these two humble ingredients could be the foundation of a flavorful, farmhouse-style roasted dinner. Best of all, this would be a one-dish meal that would take less than 30 minutes of preparation and no more than an hour in the oven. I paired the chicken with quartered potatoes, carrots, onions, sweet bell peppers, a generous helping of fresh garlic, and herbs; then sprinkled it with a seasoning mixture. One hour later, dinner-for-a-crowd was ready. What a perfect dinnertime solution for a chilly, early-spring evening!

For more from Christy Rost, a cookbook author and public television chef, visit

Farmhouse Chicken with Roasted Garden Vegetables

• 4 1/2 pounds chicken legs, about 12
• 2 1/2 pounds russet or gold potatoes, rinsed, peeled, and quartered
• 3 large carrots, rinsed, peeled, and chopped
• 1 sweet onion, peeled ,and chopped
• 1 large yellow sweet bell pepper, rinsed, seeded, and chopped
• 4 large cloves garlic, peeled, and coarsely chopped
• 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
• 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
• 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
• 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper medley
• 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange chicken legs around the perimeter of a large roasting pan. In the center of the pan, combine the potatoes, carrots, onion, and bell pepper. Sprinkle the vegetables with chopped garlic, sage, and rosemary.

In a small bowl, stir together kosher salt, seasoned salt, coriander, black pepper, and pepper medley. Sprinkle the mixture over the chicken and vegetables, and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast, uncovered, 50 to 60 minutes or until the chicken is done, the vegetables begin to brown, and are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. An instant-read meat thermometer should reach 165 degrees when inserted into the center of the meat, but not next to the bone.

Yield: 5 to 6 servings

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