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Inventing dinner - a journey

I think I'm aiming to cook something that will look a little like this for dinner tonight, but then again maybe not. There are alternatives. There are also criteria. (By the way this particular dish is from Feedfeed and is called Sunshine chicken traybake.)

We are all familiar with raiding the fridge to create a meal, and some of my criteria fall into this category. In this instance, I had taken some chicken out of the freezer, - two drumsticks and two thigh fillets. We hadn't had chicken for a while. Criterion number one. Number two - peppers - I have some that should be used - or mushrooms - them too. And when I think about it there is some cabbage. But I'm not in the mood for cabbage. Peppers and mushrooms are not necessarily good matches though, so it may be one or the other, unless I can find inspiration somewhere for how to get them to blend in a tasty way. Then there are the couple of very tired and diminished mandarins which are too good to throw away but not good enough to eat. So far so good and not so very unusual either. I started to think along Middle-Eastern lines. Maybe with some carrots thrown in for good measure.

But then came a curve ball from my husband. On the recommendation of a friend he discovered that Aldi had some interesting sounding Italian rosé which was very cheap ($6.99 - amazing for a wine for which I found several very complimentary reviews). So of course we had to head off to the shops for our daily 'adventure' as David put it. It's hardly an adventure to go to your local Aldi is it? Many would mock - indeed so do I really. Pathetic even that somebody's life should be so ordinary that it is an adventure to buy a cheap bottle of rosé at your local supermarket. But then again it shows a good attitude to life if you can regard a local supermarket shop as an adventure. We don't all have the opportunity for adventure in the accepted sense. Indeed at the moment hardly anyone in Australia has that opportunity. Maybe that's one of the reasons we can cope with all of our current restrictions. Adventure in the everyday - yes you can find it. Nigella has a rather lovely phrase about cooking which sort of says the same thing:

"Adding poetry to the everyday prose of life."

But I'm rambling. We are of course drinking the rose for dinner. It's Italian, so it now has to be an Italian dinner. Well that's what David suggested anyway. Moreover the wine seems to be from Venice - well surely not Venice itself but maybe the Veneto, and so it has to be from the Veneto.

So I set off on my journey of discovery, which I have to say is still evolving.

I began 'researching' rather than just imagining in my head, by checking out my Italian recipe books for chicken recipes from the Veneto which might include peppers and/or mushrooms. First stumbling block. The Venetians don't seem to be much into chicken. It's all risotto, polenta, fish and vegetables there. And not really peppers in the way of vegetables either. Maybe mushrooms. So I broadened my net to Italy in general and focussed in on the peppers and mushrooms. And, surprisingly, not much there either.

On the mushroom front Jamie had Foragers chicken which features porcini (have some of them) and chestnut mushrooms (don't have them - mine are just ordinary button ones - but that's OK) and crème fraiche - I actually have some. I also don't have pancetta, although I do have ham, or Gavi di Gavi white wine. Maybe the rosé would be OK. So you can see I'm already straying somewhat from the original idea, but that's OK too. There is no recipe online but there is a page of Instagram posts which is quite interesting because of the variety in appearance of the finished results. Lots of them said it didn't look that great (and yes even the professional photographer in Jamie Cooks Italy hasn't really made it look wow! It's one of those brown dishes that are notoriously difficult to make look good.). All the Instagram people though said it was delicious and smelt divine, though somebody said "it wrecked the kitchen cooking it". Why, indeed how, I wonder. You automatically start to imagine all sorts of disasters.

Flicking through Jamie I got sidetracked a bit by a rather scrumptious looking dish called Chicken skewers. However, reluctantly I have to concede that the only criteria that this fits is chicken and Italian, which leaves out a whole lot of other stuff, and I shall still have peppers and mushrooms going off in the fridge, not to mention the mandarins. So one for another day I think.

So I resorted to the net and found Nigella had Italian roast chicken with peppers and olives, which takes care of the peppers and the chicken but nothing else. (see below) There's not even any wine of any kind, so the

rosé cannot be thrown into the mix. Not that I am really intending to cook with the rosé. That's for drinking. It looks good though doesn't it? Also for another day, although a somewhat generic kind of dish that I make every now and then.

Before I leave Italy though a bit more about that wine. It comes in at the beginning of my search because of the whole Italy bit, but it actually wasn't until almost the end of my journeying that I thought to have a closer look at the bottle to find out more.

Well I now wonder whether, in fact it comes from Piedmont and not the Veneto. Here it is sitting on my kitchen bench. It clearly says 'delle Venizie' on the front, which now that I think of it actually means 'of the Venetians', which I suppose could mean either made by Venetians, not necessarily in Venice or the Veneto, or somehow in the style of Venice. Well Venice is sort of associated with rosé, pink anyway with the Bellini drink isn't it? When you look at the small print on the back though it says it is bottled in Milan by F.M.S.L S.p.A who are presumable a large wine merchant, and that it is 'nelle cantine di Cossano Belbo' (from the vineyards of Cossano Belbo). I am assuming that Villa Elsa is one of the vineyards involved. I found various other wines with the same Villa Elsa name, but nothing anywhere about a vineyard of that name, and they certainly don't have a website of their own. Cossano Belbo wines seem to have a DOC though and it does look rather lovely. In Piedmont though, not Veneto.

But let's return to the quest for dinner.

My last attempt at an Italian dish was finding something called Tangerine garlic chicken from an American foodie blog called Savoring Italy whose author, a lady called Lora, says "It thrills me to share my immense passion for Italy and its incredible food in stories and recipes". So bound to be an Italian dish I thought. But not really. I mean it has things like soy sauce and teriyaki sauce in it, besides tangerines but no peppers or mushrooms. And definitely not Italian. I mean I'm sure the Italians cook other cuisines from their own when at home, but this is not an Italian dish.

It is more Asian. And when I first searched the net having input, chicken peppers and mandarins almost all the recipes I found were Asian stir fry dishes. Indeed many were called Black pepper chicken stir fry, so this must be an actual dish. Delicious I'm sure, but since I have been tasked with Italian for today I thought I should probably ignore this direction.

Actually all those Asian dishes coming up made me think that by inputting mandarin Google had gone for the language not the fruit. Which made me try tangerine instead, whilst wondering to myself whether they are the same as mandarins anyway. Well yes and no in case you wondered.

"All tangerines are mandarins, but not all mandarins are tangerines. ... Tangerines are smaller and sweeter than an orange yet larger than a mandarin and with a skin that's darker in color." Jann Seal - Leaf

In essence mandarins are a large group of citrus fruits, of which tangerines, and various types of mandarins are some.

By now I was beginning to return to my original concept of Middle-Eastern/North African - after all they often include oranges and peppers in one dish don't they? And I found Tangerine chicken tagine from The Taste of Home website. No peppers, or mushrooms though and it was oranges not mandarins. Honey enters the equation though - as it does in some of the Asian offerings. And honey could be an interesting additional flavour. Ditto for paprika.

I continued my searching and found various Ok but not totally inspiring options - very much like what I would cook myself really, so I checked out a couple of the professionals and The Guardian and found that Nigel Slater had something called Chicken with peppers mint and lemon, which actually sounded more tempting than it looked which is rather the opposite of the usual. It also included peppers, but no mandarins. Preserved lemon though, so maybe the almost gone mandarins would be an appropriate substitute.

We are actually here back to a traybake like the picture at the very top of the page. So I seem to have come full circle and I still have not made up my mind. An invented traybake or braise that includes my chicken, mandarins and peppers, and has an Italian flavour somehow - maybe some balsamic vinegar, tomatoes and oregano? I don't have any basil. Although an adapted Jamie mushroom version is also very tempting. Decisions, decisions.

"The first and most important ingredient you’ll need for preparing an Improvised Emergency Hurricane Feast is imagination!, which will enable you to imagine how the various random things in your pantry might combine to form a delicious meal" Albert Buneko - Foodspin

For 'Emergency Hurricane Feast' substitute Friday night dinner on a cold and rainy day. And I guess that's what I've been doing. Rambling too. It's been an interesting journey and I learnt a couple of things along the way about Italian wine and the difference between mandarins and tangerines. And look I don't usually 'research' my thrown together dinners so lengthily. I mostly just get things out of the fridge and throw them in a pan, but I had a blog to write, and the Italian wild card, inspired me to write this.

As it pours with rain out there, somehow the mushrooms seem more tempting. But I still haven't really made up my mind. I'll probably just do it and make it up as I go along.


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