Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lemon and Garlic Chicken Bake

Lemon and Garlic Chicken Bake
In keeping with the Italian theme (I have a couple others up my sleeve still too), I thought I would share this version of my chicken baked in foil recipe.  Since my son loves everything lemon, and enjoyed the orange and fennel chicken I cooked a few days prior, I decided to try this. It seems like there are lemon chicken recipes popping up all over social media as well, so I know it is a popular combination, and I remember a delicious version my mom made as a kid, so I was hoping to recreate that flavor.  If you slice the lemon thin enough, the pieces become so tender you can eat them whole like I did, and the garlic just soaks up the lemon juice (and oils) as well.  I served this dish over mung beans (a Dr. Oz favorite), cooked with bell peppers, capers and sun dried tomatoes.  It was like a flavor explosion in my mouth, and one of my favorite dinners I have had in awhile.  So grab some lemons and go!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Buon Appetito!

One week ago today I was in Sorrento, Italy, celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary with the love of my life.  It was the vacation of a lifetime, a dream of ours since we first got married and couldn't afford a honeymoon.  Not a moment went by during our trip when we didn't acknowledge and appreciate how incredibly lucky we were to be able to visit such an amazing country, experience their culture, and do it all while knowing that our children where being lovingly taken care of by my parents.  It was an unforgettable experience, and although I had already been to Italy three times (my husband had not, and the last time I went was in 2003), I had never gone with someone I loved, and had the freedom to see, taste and experience so much.

As expected, the most striking thing about Italy, along with the incredible ancient architecture, is the food. I don't know if it is something in the water, the soil or the air, but everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, tastes so much better.  It's honestly on a different level than anything I could ever imagine cooking myself or ordering in a fancy restaurant on this side of the Atlantic.  From the indescribable bread, the creamy and pungent cheeses, to the cured meats (which I actually did try this time), everything is better.  The pasta is perfect, usually freshly made and perfectly al dente, the wine tastes like magic, and if you have never tried Italian canned tuna in extra virgin olive oil you have never lived (in my humble opinion).  Even their ice cream (gelato) is beyond comparison and having been in Sorrento, my love affair with lemons (and Lemoncello) was thoroughly satisfied.

Luckily for my husband and I we did a tremendous amount of walking during our eight day visit so we kept working up an appetite for another meal, and I was able to try a lot more foods than I have ever before.  I ate mussels for the first time (not bad), a whole fish (which was thankfully "cleaned" for me shortly after it was served), enjoyed numerous desserts, more bread than I usually eat in a year, and only one not so great experience when I ordered "pesce fritto" and literally was served a plate of about 20 small, whole, fried fish, which my husband and I aptly named "the plate of death." It was hard to look at, but my husband lovingly took my plate, put it out of view and worked through it well enough to provide me with a decent meal.  Now if that isn't love, I don't know what is.

To be sure, we had a few extravagant meals, most notably for our anniversary night dinner, where the plates where small and artistically decorated with such offerings as grilled octopus, gluten free arugula (which they comically translate to "rocket") risotto, roasted quail (another first!), and more desserts and Prosecco than my husband and I could even finish.  But the most memorable meals, to be honest, were the simplest. Dishes I have made myself, and love, but something about being in Italy made them so much better. A few of these almost brought tears to my eyes after the first bite.  It was literally like tasting a bit of heaven.  Here are a sampling of my favorites:

Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce*
From a winery on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius.
The volcanic ash soil in which they grow the grapes for the wine and the tomatoes
for the sauce is so rich in nutrients that they are literally some of the best in the world.
This is not your "grandma's spaghetti" unless
she too lives on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius ;)

Cacio e Pepe (a traditional Roman dish)
simply "cheese and pepper", made with fresh pasta, a little pasta
cooking water, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese and freshly ground
black pepper... often served in a bowl made of Parmesan cheese

Gnocchi with Tuna
Fresh gnocchi, fresh cherry tomatoes, tuna canned in olive oil, capers, basil
and more extra virgin olive oil. (I literally licked this plate clean, with bread of course!)

I am sure that eating it on a beach with my feet in volcanic ash sand made it taste even better. 

Vegetable and Cheese plates, with bread
a "light snack" while touring Rome

Pizza with Vegetables
in Sorrento Italy, one hour from Naples
(where I guess the pizza is even better!)

* I have to thank one person in particular for this meal, and for a very personal, informative, amazing tour to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii while I was visiting Sorrento.... he runs a private tour company that is worth every penny.  If you are ever in the Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi region you need to book at least one day with Rosato tours.

Orange and Fennel Chicken Bake

Orange and Fennel Chicken Bake
After returning from Sorrento Italy, this meal seems appropriate to share. Amongst all the rows of lemon trees, which the region is famous for, there is always a spattering of orange trees and the few oranges we did try while there, definitely rivaled the best that Florida might have to offer. In addition to oranges, it seemed as if fennel was a local specialty since every vegetable plate we ordered had fennel on it and they even make a liquor out of fennel, which unfortunately I never got around to trying.  Needless to say, when I came home and was going through old recipe drafts that I haven't yet posted, this combination of ingredients caught my eye.  It was the first chicken foil packet I ever attempted, and the inspiration for a lot of other varieties to follow because it came out so well.  The chicken is moist and tender, and the oranges and fennel cook down and become a delicious sauce that is perfect to drizzle over rice, couscous, or pasta (al dente, of course!)