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Discriminating Taste Buds & Chicken Vesuvio

January 12, 2010

Cooking is usually an enjoyable and creative release for me, especially when I get to cook for other people. There is something so comforting and satisfying about putting together a meal to share with family or friends. And I love being able to provide some of that enjoyment through the dishes that I make. However, there is the rare occasion when cooking become a stress-inducing, hair-pulling event. This tends to be the case for me when we have one good friend in particular over for dinner.

He is the ultimate foodie. He has a spacious kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances. He snags reservations at all of the hottest restaurants in our area. And he has no problem sharing his discriminating opinion about food with whoever cares to listen. Typically, I greatly enjoy food bantering with him, but when it comes to cooking for him, I freak out. I fret for days about what I will make, wanting to marry the perfect blend of flavors in each dish with each course flowing seamlessly into the next. Basically, I want to be the best “restaurant” he’s ever eaten at, the best cook he knows. Silly? Yes. Prideful? Yes. Ridiculous? Absolutely.

The last time our friend came to dinner, I decided to try a new Giada de Laurentiis recipe from her cookbook Giada’s Family Dinners. After all, her recipes are usually no-fail-favorites with my friends and family. The description stated “When this dish is simmering, the steam that rises from the pot looks like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Sicily.” I was mesmerized. And sold on making this beautiful dish for our friend, certain that he would love it. To boil the evening down, the chicken vesuvio didn’t turn out to be the eruptive hit I had hoped–for any of us. It was pretty good, but not the most amazing dish to ever come out of my tiny kitchen. Our guest said it was very good, but neither he nor Will reached for seconds. Hmmm…

My conclusion: I over-thought the meal. I tried to do something new and exciting instead of sticking with something tried-and-true that my resident taste-tester (Will) had stamped his seal of approval and request for more on. Aside from that, the recipe calls for dried thyme but it overwhelmed the entire dish (I’m not a huge fan of dried thyme anyway), so when I make this again, I will use fresh thyme instead. The other thing I might do differently next time is substitute steak for the chicken (I realize that this would then no longer be called “Chicken” Vesuvio), since the flavor of artichokes and red-potatoes compliments beef better than chicken.

I sincerely hope I haven’t scared you away from trying this dish. It is a very good dish, but in order to better appeal to the taste buds in our house, I myself will alter this recipe a bit to hopefully produce a more enjoyable dish for my family. And, hopefully, I have now learned my lesson to be less concerned with impressing my guests and instead focus more on creating a warm, enjoyable time of fellowship (while serving a good meal).

Chicken Vesuvio

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons olive oil

2 chicken breast halves on the bone with skin, halved crosswise

4 chicken thighs

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 lbs. small red-skinned potatoes, halved

6 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup chicken broth

1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions:

Preheat the over to 450 degrees. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pot over high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Working batches, cook the chicken until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl. Add the potatoes to the same pot and cook until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the broth, oregano, and thyme. Return the chicken to the pot, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Arrange the chicken and potatoes on a platter. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Add the artichoke hearts to the sauce in the pot, then cover and simmer over high heat, stirring often, until the artichokes are tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter. Pour the sauce over the chicken and potatoes. Serve and enjoy!

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