I worked at Carrabba’s Italian Grill for almost two years, and while I cannot say working for tips in a corporate restaurant was the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had, I can say I learned a lot about Italian cuisine. The menu ranged from spaghetti and eggplant parmasean, to veal marsala, mussels and multiple chicken dishes. The food was phenomenal and the smell of the restaurant was absolutely amazing! If you can ignore the elevator music and the cheezy French lesson blaring from the speakers in the bathroom, the dining experience is incredibly enjoyable. I can still hear that ridiculous recording now. ” You’re riding the bus from Florence to Italy, admiring the hills of Tuscany…” It concluded with, “You still look like a teenager.” Honestly, how often does the phrase, “You still look like a teenager” leave your mouth? Is it really necessary to know how to say it in French? That still makes me laugh.
Oh well. It didn’t change how great the food was. The fresh herbs they served with warm Italian bread and olive oil at the start of every meal was one of the main reasons customers returned time and time again. People loved explaining this to me as I greeted their table. I loved wasting my time pretending I cared. Being required to tell every table about the nine fresh herbs, chopped daily by cooks who hated every minute of it, became incredibly redundant. I did however, pick up quite a few recipes during my time there.
Chicken Bryan was my favorite by a long shot. I managed to create my own version at home this week. The chicken is topped with Caprino (goat) cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and a lemon butter sauce. It literally melts in your mouth! While I didn’t chop up nine different fresh herbs for dipping sauce, I did make a roasted garlic and boursin cheese appetizer. My first step was to roast the garlic. The preparation is easy, but the cooking time is over an hour. I drizzled olive oil over two whole garlic heads, sprinkled S&P on top, wrapped them in tin foil, and threw them in the oven for about 70 minutes at 400 degrees. The smell of garlic filled my apartment and lingered there for the next two days. I can’t even imagine all that garlic that will be seeping out of my pours this week. Vampires beware.
I used store bought focaccia bread, which is a great alternative to garlic bread. It’s packed with lots of herbs and lots of flavor. The Boursin cheese is similar to cream cheese, but it’s mixed with herbs, garlic and butter. After spreading the cheese over the bread, I repeated the process with the garlic. Once garlic has been roasted, it softens so it is easy to add to sauces or use as a spread.
For the main course, I grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts on the Foreman. During the last minute or so of cooking, I placed 1-inch thick slices of Caprino cheese on top of each one to melt. Caprino is a creamy, soft Italian cheese that is sold in cylinder-shaped packages, so just one stroke of your knife cuts perfectly shaped circles for topping chicken, crackers or pasta. In a skillet, I combined sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, minced garlic, onion powder, lemon juice, S&P and butter. The recipe said to use dry white wine as well, however I only drink red wine, and my rule of thumb has always been: If I don’t drink it, I don’t cook with it. What would be the fun in buying wine I wasn’t going to drink? Besides, Oberon is back on the shelves, so that was what was coming home with me that night. Once the the sauce was sauteed and began thickening slightly, I removed it from the heat, drizzled it over the chicken and served it immediately. Although not identical to the Carrabba’s recipe, it was mighty tasty.
I have definitely improved my culinary skills over the last couple months, but I still have a long way to go. I have stopped watching the Food Network as often because their nightly program line up has lost my interest for the most part. I enjoy learning new ways to cook and am still fascinated by the skills and creativity of the chefs who host the daytime shows. However, I can only take so many hours of food network challenges and cake decorating before I am bored out of my mind. So when I do have a free moment during the day, I still channel surf looking for Bobby or Giada, but when I can’t find them, it’s back to CNN for me.
My new approach is going to be trial and error. If it doesn’t come out exactly as I planned, so what? I will learn what not to do next time, and maybe, just maybe, create something amazing in the process. After all, this was how I discovered the secret to great spaghetti sauce is sugar, pumpkin pie is not the same without ginger, and adding cereal to a fruit and yogurt parfait is fantastic!
This is not the end of my great culinary challenge. This is only the beginning.