Fear takes flight in this dramatic battle between mealtime and the forces of evil. The gripping saga offers a triumph for cooks everywhere who are forced to face the nightly interrogation: "What's for dinner?"

The classic tale of terror for our century (or any century, for that matter) may well be the cook without a dinner plan.

Many of those cooks reach for the predictable backup: a roast chicken from the supermarket or a freezer stocked with individually quick frozen chicken breasts, otherwise known in the trade as IQF. These are backups because they work.

Until they don't, that is, when too many meals have been based on them.

To alleviate your dinner drama and provide options good enough for company, we offer recipes that go far beyond the predictable sauté. This also offers a nod to the first issue of Taste, on Oct. 1, 1969, which, for the same reason, featured chicken recipes, including cacciatore, skewers and à la king.

Think of these as something to crow about.

Chicken and Cremini Mushroom Sheet-Pan

Serves 4.

Note: If you can't find ground fennel seed, grind your own by processing a generous 1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds in a spice grinder until fine and powdery. Don't remove the stems from the mushrooms. Simply trim off the ends, which tend to be discolored. From Milk Street: The New Rules," by Christopher Kimball.

• 1 tbsp. ground fennel seeds

• 1 tbsp. granulated garlic

• Kosher salt and ground black pepper

• 1 1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, trimmed, kept whole

• 2 roasted red peppers, kept whole (from a jar)

• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 tbsp. firmly packed light or dark brown sugar

• 1 tbsp. dried oregano

• 3 lb. bone-in, skin-on chicken parts, trimmed and patted dry

• 10 medium garlic cloves, peeled

• 2 tsp. unseasoned rice vinegar

• 4 green onions, thinly sliced, divided


Heat oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the middle position. In small bowl, stir together the fennel, granulated garlic and 2 teaspoons salt.

In medium bowl, toss mushrooms and red peppers with 1 tablespoon of the spice mixture and the oil; set aside. Into the remaining spice mixture, stir the brown sugar, oregano, 1 tablespoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper.

On a rimmed baking sheet, evenly season both sides of the chicken parts with the spice mixture. Place the garlic cloves in the center of the baking sheet, then arrange the chicken parts, skin up, around the garlic; this prevents the garlic from scorching during roasting. Place roasted peppers around the chicken, then scatter the mushrooms in an even layer over them.

Roast until thickest part of the breast (if using) reaches about 160 degrees and the thickest part of the largest thigh/leg (if using) reaches about 175 degrees, 30 to 40 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer chicken and mushrooms to a platter and transfer the roasted peppers to a cutting board; leave the garlic on the baking sheet. Carefully pour 1/4 cup water onto the baking sheet, then use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Pour the liquid, along with the garlic cloves, into a medium bowl. Roughly chop the roasted peppers and add to the bowl, then use a fork or potato masher to mash the mixture until almost smooth. Stir in the vinegar and half the green onions, then spoon the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the remaining green onions.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories580Fat30 g

Sodium2,690 mgCarbohydrates21 g

Saturated fat7 gAdded sugars3 g

Protein57 gCholesterol190 mg

Dietary fiber3 g

Exchanges per serving: 2 vegetable, ½ carb, 7 ½ medium-fat protein.

One-Pot Chicken With Dates and Caramelized Lemon

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Whether for company or a family meal, this takes a bit more time to prepare, but much of it is in the oven. From "Nothing Fancy," by Alison Roman.

• 3 1/2- to 4-lb. chicken, or 3 lb. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or legs

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided

• 1 lemon, cut into thick slices crosswise, seeds removed

• 2 shallots, halved lengthwise

• 4 to 6 fresh medjool dates, pitted

• 4 sprigs fresh thyme or oregano, plus more for serving

• 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or 2 tsp. ground Urfa chile

• Flaky sea salt


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large (at least 8-quart) Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Place the chicken in the pot breast-side up, and using tongs or your hands (be careful!), press lightly to make sure the skin comes into even contact with the pot bottom. This is your chance to brown the legs and render that excess fat. It's rarely offered in whole-chicken recipes, so take advantage. (If using parts, just sear the chicken skin side down.)

Cook, without moving, until the chicken is nice and browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the lemon slices and shallot, maneuvering the chicken however you need so that the slices come into contact with the bottom of the pot. Let everything sizzle in the chicken fat until lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes.

Add the dates, thyme and 1 cup water. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with the red pepper flakes or chile. Place the lid on and put the Dutch oven in the oven and roast until the dates are plump, the lemon is jammy, and the chicken is almost but not totally cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes (it will look mostly cooked through and a little anemic from getting covered with the lid).

Remove lid and drizzle chicken with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and continue to cook until liquid has reduced by half and top of chicken is a glistening golden-brown, another 20 to 30 minutes.

Let chicken rest in Dutch oven for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board and carve. Serve with shallot, lemons and dates, with some more thyme and flaky sea salt sprinkled over.

Make ahead: This can be made a few hours ahead, then kept in Dutch oven at room temperature. To reheat it, pop it back in oven without a lid for 10 to 15 minutes or so.

Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:

Calories385Fat25 gSodium100 mg

Carbohydrates8 gSaturated fat6 gAdded sugars0 g

Protein32 gCholesterol100 mgDietary fiber1 g

Exchanges per serving: ½ fruit, 4 ½ medium-fat protein, ½ fat.

Sticky Chicken Thighs With Ginger and Garlic

Serves 6.

Note: This is intended to be cooked in a cast-iron skillet, though other ovenproof skillets would do. From "Skillet Love," by Anne Byrn.

• 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

• 1/2 c. honey

• 1/2 c. reduced-sodium soy sauce

• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

• 3 tbsp. grated fresh ginger

• Steamed white rice, for serving

• Green onion slivers, for garnish


Trim the chicken thighs of excess fat, and put them in a medium glass bowl or zip-top bag.

In small bowl, whisk together the honey and soy sauce. Fold in the garlic and ginger. Pour the marinade mixture over the chicken thighs and turn to coat. Cover the bowl or seal the bag and let the chicken marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pour chicken and marinade into a 12-inch skillet. Tuck edges of chicken under to form rounded thighs that dome in the center. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the skillet and turn the chicken, basting with the pan juices. Return to the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove skillet from oven and place over medium-low heat on the stovetop. Let chicken and marinade simmer, turning chicken every 2 or 3 minutes until the marinade thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. The chicken will have turned a mahogany color, and the juices will be syrupy and sticky. Serve with rice and garnish with slivers of green onion.

Nutrition information per serving:


Fat7 g

Sodium890 mgCarbohydrates27 g

Saturated fat2 g

Added sugars23 g

Protein34 g

Cholesterol145 mg

Dietary fiber1 g

Lemony Spaghetti With Parmesan Popcorn Chicken

Serves 4.

Note: Panko breadcrumbs are lighter and bigger than the tradition crumb, which could be substituted. From "Food52 Dynamite Chicken," by Tyler Kord.

• 1 1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs

• 1 1/2 oz. Parmesan, finely grated, plus more for serving, divided

• 1 tsp. dried oregano

• 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

• 1/2 tsp. ground coriander

• 3 tsp. kosher salt, divided

• 2 eggs

• 3 tbsp. cornstarch

• 1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1/2-in. chunks

• 1 1/2 c. vegetable oil, for frying

• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 8 garlic cloves, smashed

• 1 c. chicken stock

• 1 tbsp. lemon zest, plus 1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

• 1 lb. spaghetti

• 1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, torn

• Red pepper flakes, for serving


In mixing bowl, combine panko, two-thirds of the Parmesan, the oregano, garlic powder, coriander and 1 teaspoon salt.

In separate bowl, combine eggs and cornstarch and whisk thoroughly. Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt, add it to the bowl with the egg mixture and toss, coating it well. Pull out a small handful of the chicken and drain any excess dredging liquid. Toss drained chicken in panko mixture, breading it well. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remainder.

Bring stockpot of water to a boil over high heat to cook pasta.

In 2-quart saucepan, heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Fry chicken in four batches, for 3 to 5 minutes each, until it's not at all pink on the inside and has a golden-brown crust. Carefully remove chicken with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

In large sauté pan with high sides, add olive oil and garlic, and cook over medium heat until garlic is very brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add stock, lemon zest, butter and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer.

Cook spaghetti in pot of boiling water for two-thirds of the instructed time. Drain it, reserving 2 cups pasta cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the sauté pan. Increase heat to high and boil until pasta is fully cooked. You want about 1 cup liquid in the pan. If you need more, add the reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Add lemon juice and remaining Parmesan and mix well. Top each serving of spaghetti with a handful of chicken nuggets, some basil, more Parmesan and red pepper flakes.

More recipes at startribune.com/taste.