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I learned something recently. It turns out wine and dine, then dash isn’t such a great first date strategy, after all. Go figger. Single poor guys can’t afford to take a girl to the latest trendy place and blow a couple of hundred bucks on two bite plates of something or other unrecognizable served with a spoonful of foam. Foam is the cocaine of the 21st century. Spending big bux on mostly air is definitely a sign that you’re making too much money. But I digress.
Poor guys need love, too, and luckily enough, there’s an alternative to dropping a week’s pay, and, as an aphrodisiac, it actually works better. Invite her to your place for dinner.
What’s that, you say? Your messy little hovel isn’t exactly suitable as a love shack? Even better. Offer to cook her dinner at her place. Girls love guys who can cook and doing it at her place gives her a measure of control that, in the end, makes it more likely you’ll end up in her bed, which is much nicer than your raggedy futon on the floor surrounded by your dirty clothes.
So what are you going to make? Chicken piccata is a classic, and better yet, it’s pretty easy. Our menu is going to be a nice antipasto, a classic Italian starter, with chicken piccata and a nice salad. This menu pairs perfectly with a good, inexpensive white wine. Here’s the how…
Antipasto translates as “before the meal.” This classic Italian starter can be done fancy, but you can also make a lovely antipasto on the cheap. Basically, an antipasto is a plate of cured meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables.
Salami and prosciutto are the most common meats, pecorino and provolone the most common cheeses. For veggies, pepperoncini is a must. I suggest artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and a variety of olives, but you can use pretty much any pickled veggie. Cauliflower and carrots are nice, and help to make a colorful plate. Fresh cherry or grape tomatoes are a nice touch, as is adding some small balls of mozzarella. Almost all of these veggies are inexpensive and better yet, come in jars. Easy. Use what you like and what your budget allows.
Arrange everything on one plate. Don’t just throw it all on there. Arrange it. For an extra fancy-schmancy presentation, lay down a bed of kale leaves or red leaf lettuce and arrange your antipasto on top. This can all be done in advance. Just before serving, drizzle your creation with some of the seasoned olive oil mix and serve with a good, crusty bread or breadsticks. Use the rest of the olive oil mix as a dipping sauce for your bread.
Seasoned Olive Oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp Garlic powder, granulated
1 tsp Red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning mix
Salt and pepper to taste
You know: salad stuff. Jesus. Come on.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts ($2)
6 mushrooms, preferably porcini (optional) ($1)
A couple of lemons (75 cents)
1/2 cup chicken stock (or boullion) (75 cents)
Olive oil (50 cents)
Butter (optional) (25 cents)
All purpose flour (10 cents)
Parsley, preferably Italian (50 cents)
Salt and pepper (less than 1 cent)
First, pound the chicken breasts flat. Put the breasts, one at a time, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. For pounding, there are fancy pounding tools, but I like to use a simple rubber mallet, about 5 bucks at your local hardware store. In a pinch, you can use the bottom of a beer bottle. Gently pound the breasts out to about one third of an inch. Season both sides of the breasts with salt and pepper. Put about 1/3 cup of flour into a sturdy plastic bag. Add the breasts and shake until well coated. Set the coated breasts on a rack to allow the coating to take.
Next, slice the mushrooms. A classic piccata does not include mushrooms, but they add depth and flavor, and besides, it shows how creative you are.
In a large pot, start the water boiling for your pasta. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high. Add a tablespoon or two of butter – enough to cover the bottom of the skillet. Add floured chicken breasts and cook until browned on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
Next, juice the lemons, add the juice to the broth (or buillon) and pour into the hot pan. Scrape up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. This is called deglazing, and it adds all sorts of flavor.
As the pan is deglazing, add the pasta to your boiling water. It’ll take 10 minutes or so to cook, which is about the same amount of time it will take to finish the chicken.
Now, return the chicken to the pan, along with the sliced mushrooms and capers. You don’t have to buy the big, fancy capers. The “non pareil” capers, about a buck a jar, work just fine. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the pasta is done. The browned flour, lemon juice and broth will combine to make a lovely sauce all by itself.
Drain the pasta and toss with just enough olive oil to stop it from sticking together. Make a “nest” of pasta by sticking a large fork in and twirling it gently until you have a nice round ball of pasta. Put the nests on two plates, then place the chicken breasts on top of the pasta nest. Give the sauce a final stir. If it’s too thin, let it cook down for a couple of minutes. If it’s too thick, add some more broth until you reach the desired consistency. The sauce should be rich and thick, but not gloppy. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts. That’s it. You’re done. Serve.
The total cost of the main dish is less than 6 frog pelts for two. Since you got off so cheap on the meal, you can afford to blow $10 on a decent bottle of wine. Your best bet is to go for a light white, like a Pinot Grigio. For dessert, fruit and cheese is always nice, but if things go well, you can have dessert for breakfast.