Melissa Elsmo

Champagne, oysters, foie gras and chocolate are all well- known aphrodisiacs that have undeniably romantic qualities, but in my experience, foods of love are intensely personal. Romance can come to life over a bowl full of tomato soup just as easily as it could over a box of chocolates if circumstances are right.

When I first met my husband and we began dating, I had three jobs and very little money to show for it. My oppressively tight budget impacted every aspect of my life. In fact, to avoid starvation, I’d coax my younger brother into stealing canned soup from my parents’ house and he would deliver whatever he could get his hands on to my tiny apartment in secret. Sure, I needed the food, but I just didn’t have the heart to tell my mom and dad I was having trouble making ends meet. I had to heat my stolen soup in my college dorm room microwave because I couldn’t afford to turn the gas on in my apartment; if just one bill had come in the mail I would have been in the red. Rather than risk a financial implosion, I opted instead to rely on a microwave, toaster, and crock pot to get me through my monthly meals.

Creative cooking hadn’t become a part of my life just yet and I relied heavily on the 1975 edition of Rival Crock Pot Cooking to get me through most of my early dates with my husband. While I avoided dishes like “Bologna-‘Baga Bake” and “Swiss Crab Casserole” for obvious reasons, I became a fast a loyal fan of the “Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken” on page 72. I prized the simple recipe for its short ingredient list and the homey aroma that permeated my apartment while it cooked.

Unfortunately, the 12 hour cooking time would leave that lemon chicken hanging onto its bones for dear life, but my man and I didn’t mind one bit. We would drink the cheapest bottle of off season Beaujolais Nouveau money could buy and laugh as we dunked day old bread into the lemony broth in the crock pot. We fell deeply in love over plates of that stringy chicken.

To this day lemon chicken in any form is our food of love and the Rival Crock Pot cookbook I used to romance my husband is proudly housed in the china cabinet in our dining room.

It is always opened to page 72.

Love inspired Lemon Chicken Piccata for Two

This retro inspired lemon chicken comes together so quickly that it is easy to stay focused on the romance of Valentine’s Day. I like to serve this timeless meal with whole grain angel hair pasta and a quick sauté of zucchini, mushrooms and grape tomatoes to bring some color to the plate.

Ingredients:

  • 2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • ½ Cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of white pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • ½ Cup of low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ Cup of white wine
  • 3 Tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons of capers, drained
  • ¼ Cup of chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 Lemon wedges for serving

Directions:

Place the chicken on a clean work surface. Butterfly each chicken breast by holding the knife parallel to the cutting board and slicing down the length of the chicken. Nearly cut through to the other side, but leave a “hinge intact; open the breast like a book. Cover each open breast with plastic wrap and pound with a mallet, rolling pin or heavy bottomed saucepan until they are ½” thick. Cut each breast in half lengthwise to yield four pieces of chicken.

Combine the flour, salt and white pepper in a small shallow dish. Dredge the chicken in the flour and coat well on both sides. Heat the butter and the olive oil over high heat in a skillet large enough to hold the four pieces of chicken. When the foaming subsides, shake the excess flour off the chicken and add it to the skillet. Cook until golden brown (about 2 minutes) on one side. Flip the chicken and brown on the second side until golden (about 2 minutes). Remove the chicken to a plate and reserve. Gradually add chicken broth and the wine to the pan while whisking constantly. Take care to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan to bring big flavor to the dish. Add the lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and return the chicken to the pan. Simmer the chicken in the sauce until tender and cooked through (about 5 minutes per side).

Place 2 portions of chicken on each of two warmed dinner plates. Whisk the capers and parsley into the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with lemon wedges, vegetables, and pasta if desired.

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