Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tie Me in Knots. Bacon Knots. Ooh baby baby ooh. [Rhonda]


Degree of difficulty: beginner
Time: 10 minutes prep for 1 lb of bacon, cook time 18 minutes
Serves: snack for 1 - 2 college boys, or 6 as an appetizer

Sometimes things get a little naughty, especially when bacon's in the house. But these are, quite simply, awesome. And super easy to whip up. Warning: you'll be at the prep station a while if you're doing these for a party, for two reasons. One, they are delicious and go fast...guests will scarf them. Two, with---ahem!---shrinkage while cooking, they become one-bite-wonders. So put on some Usher and go to it.

(Version One)
1 lb bacon
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like things hot)
Cooking spray

(Version Two)
1 lb bacon
1/2 cup honey or pure maple syrup or mixture of both (I mixed and it was great)
Freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cover a cookie sheet with foil, lightly spritz with cooking spray. Cut the bacon in half to make shorter pieces--or leave it long for a full-on effect. Loop it once to make a knot, dip in brown sugar/cayenne mixture (both sides) for version one, or for version two, place directly on the cookie sheet, then baste with honey and sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper. Be generous. Cook for 18 minutes on top rack, check at about the 15-minute mark just in case your oven's running hot.

I've done a half and half tray here. Personal favorite? The cayenne and brown sugar. Looks prettier and tastes incredible.

Suggested soundtrack: Usher's "Scream"
Scream by Usher on Grooveshark

Carrot Soup [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 10 minutes prep, 40 minutes cook time
Serves: 6

For those get healthy, eat light days, serve this without the creme fraiche. (Or just a smidge...) This soup goes year-round but feels nice when barely heated and served with a crisp green salad and small hunk of fresh-baked bread on a scorching summer's eve.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and diced
1 - 2 ribs celery, diced
6 cups (or less, depending on how thick you want the soup) chicken stock, homemade if possible, canned is OK too
Salt and pepper to taste, a sprinkle of cayenne for heat
1 bay leaf
Creme fraiche for garnish (and amazing flavor!)
Parsley, minced for garnish

Put olive oil in soup pot, add onion and garlic and saute for 5 to 10 minutes. Add carrots and celery, stir, then add stock, bay leaf if using, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. When done, remove bay leaf, add salt, pepper and cayenne, and puree in batches.

Serve warm with a dollop of creme fraiche (oh, those French!) and a sprinkle of minced parsley.

Happy Birthday, Mom! June 21....84 years young!

Suggested soundtrack: Claude Debussy's "Claire de Lune"
Claire De Lune by Claude Debussy on Grooveshark

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Cream Rigatoni [Zack]

America has fallen in love with the chicken breast.  This is a strange phenomenon because most other cultures value the dark meat more, as it has more flavor.  It’s most likely because Americans have been conditioned to be afraid of having any fat in their diets, and the thighs have more fat than the breasts.  (Paradoxically, they drink a coca cola with their processed grilled chicken breast sandwich, but that’s another story).  It seems like a bad trade-off because the breasts are much more difficult to cook than the thighs, they are less flavorful, and almost always come out more dry.  

Admittedly, I had been conditioned by America to love chicken breasts. In college, my roommate Anchi (who grew up with Taiwanese cooking) and I would always argue about which part of the chicken is best. I was stubborn and never brought home chicken thighs to cook.  One day, we ended up grilling the thighs and I was amazed at how much easier they were to cook.  As an older and wiser man, I have humbly changed sides and rarely buy the breasts. 

So after all of that ranting about buying chicken thighs, why am I providing a recipe for breasts?  Well, occasionally when we do see organic chicken breasts in the supermarket, they end up making it in the shopping bag.  If cooked correctly, they make a great meal.  You can amp up the flavor by using spices, herbs, or sauces.  Or in this case, you can stuff the chicken breasts with a few vibrant ingredients.

I added a nice mushroom cream sauce rigatoni recipe on the side for the meal.  The Italian flavors of the pasta go well with the prosciutto and ricotta in the chicken breast.


Start your sliced pancetta in a cold pan with ½ tsp of olive oil.  Turn the pan on medium-low heat and cook the pancetta until it’s crispy. 

While your pancetta is cooking, get a big pot of water boiling for your pasta.  Prepare the rest of your mise en place by grating the cheese for the pasta, washing and slicing the mushrooms, dicing onions, chopping rosemary, and washing the spinach.

For your pasta sauce, soften your onions in a large pan over medium heat, with 1T of olive oil.  This should take about 6 minutes.  Add the rosemary and mushrooms next.

Cook for another 3 or 4 minutes and take off the heat until you are ready to finish your sauce.  

Chop your shallot and dice your garlic.  Combine the ricotta, chopped shallot, and diced garlic into in a bowl.  Crack some black pepper into there and stir.

Next, slice chicken so it opens like a book (leaving one side in-tact).  Add a dollop of the ricotta mixture, the pancetta, basil, and then close it up with tooth pics.  I used 2 tooth pics per breast.  Salt and pepper the outside of the breast.  Make sure to warn your guest about the tooth pics before serving.  Or else you will have a sticky situation (get it?!?!)

Pre-heat your oven to 350F / 175C.  Get a pan going on medium heat and add 1T of olive oil.  Add the 2 breasts to the pan and cook slowly for about 3 minutes per side.  You want to brown both sides. Pop that sucker into the oven for about 8 minutes until it's finished.

Put your pasta sauce pan back on the medium heat.  Get your rigatoni into your boiling water and cook according to the package directions (mine took 8 minutes).

Add the chicken stock cubes (thanks Sven) or un-reduced stock to your pasta sauce pan.  Add in your 1T of truffle oil as well.  Your house should smell great at this point.  

The heavy cream is next, and then give it a good stir.

Let the sauce thicken for a few minutes before adding your spinach leaves.  The spinach goes in last for about 3 minutes so it doesn't overcook.  

Strain your pasta and pull the chicken out of the oven.  Add the noodles to the sauce and top with the grated cheese.  Serve with one or two of the extra slices of the pancetta if you didn't use it all :)


2 chicken breasts (organic if you can)
8 slices panchetta, browned
1/2 cup ricotta
1 minced shallot
cracked black pepper
1 small garlic clove
handful of basil leaves

1 tsp truffle oil
12 shitake mushrooms
6 brown button mushrooms
1 medium onion, diced
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
2 cups of fresh spinach
5 cubes reduced chicken stock or 1/3 cup un-reduced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese (or parm reggiano)

3/4 lb large rigatoni noodles

keepin it funky with:  Jazzanova - Believer (Funkhaus Sessions)
Believer (Jazzanova Vocal Rmx) by Randolph on Grooveshark

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sun Dried Tomato and Basil Pesto [Zack]

For me, the coolest thing about cooking is the ability to break outside of normal conventions.

If you took a poll on home cooks, I’d wager that 99% of people would be able to list a few of the normal ingredients to “pesto”.  You’d hear: basil, pine nuts, cheese, olive oil, and garlic.  A few people would deviate and put their own spin on the traditional recipe by adding walnuts or pecorino or shallots.

But pesto just means “paste” in Italian. Culture and restaurants have led us to believe that it’s a requirement to use the normal ingredients.   You can make pesto out of anything you like: parsley, cilantro, carrots, etc.  One of my favorite cooking shows (River Cottage with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtsall) even had a stinging nettle pesto!

Don’t be bound by fancy French words or implied meanings.  The nice thing about cooking is that people can’t tell you that you are doing something incorrectly as long as it tastes good.

Here I decided to add some sun-dried tomatoes to the normal pesto routine for a different spin.  This is a simple deviation, but feel free to go nuts! (pun intended)


Turn on your kitchen tap and let the water get hot.  Fill up a glass and place the sun-dried tomatoes in the water while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Place a dry pan (with no oil in it) over medium heat and toast your pine nuts.  They burn quickly, so keep them moving about once per minute in the pan.  It should take about 5 for them to turn nicely brown and smell like nutty popcorn.  Take them off the heat.

Drain your tomatoes and put them into the food processor with the garlic cloves.  Let it run until it turns into a paste.  Add your pine nuts and process as well.  Then add the basil, olive oil, and cheese.

Serve over pasta, on rounds of toasted bread, on top of grilled chicken, in sandwiches, or anything else you can think of!

10 sun-dried tomatoes
1 large handful basil (as large as you can grab with one hand)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
freshly cracked black pepper
3 cloves garlic

Creativity Options:
  • cilantro pesto with quesa fresca (on fajitas)
  • basil with walnuts and blue cheese
  • spinach pesto
  • kale and walnut
  • chive/leek pesto
Rock it funky:  D'angelo - Soul Mate by Funkadelic

Monday, June 4, 2012

Quick Rosemary Garlic Chicken Marinade [Zack]

Matt serves as the inspiration to this marinade.  He's done variations of this multiple times for our grilling sessions.  He had lived in Italy for a short time and described walking out of the front door of a farmhouse and grabbing handfuls of rosemary to cook with.  With such an abundant supply of fresh herbs, Italians have a great source of inspiration for simple and flavorful cooking.

When I don't know what I want to do with a cut of meat, this my default recipe.  This marinade works best on the grill, but I had great results right out of the frying pan.

You can use this marinade on almost anything:  a rib-eye steak, pork tenderloin, lamb chops, turkey breast, chicken breast, shrimp, lobster tails, etc......


Strip the leaves off of the rosemary stems and chop.  Slice the garlic cloves and the shallot and add them to a zip-lock bag or a tupperware container.  Pour in the olive oil, and add the pepper flakes and cracked black pepper.  Mix.

Remove any undesirable or fatty parts by trimming the chicken thighs.  Add the thighs to the the bag, add the salt, and toss everything together to ensure even coating.

Let this marinate for a minimum of 2 hours, or up to one day.

Fire up your grill to medium heat or heat up your pan to medium heat.  Cook for about 10 minutes, 5 on each side (depending on thickness).

4 chicken thighs
1/8 cup olive oil
2 rosemary sprigs, chopped
2 cloves sliced garlic
1/2 shallot sliced
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes (to taste)
cracked black pepper
1tsp sea salt

Creativity options:
Add 1T dijon mustard
Substitute any hearty herbs for the rosemary (thyme, tarragon, cilantro, etc)
Makes a great sandwich
Put over a nice creamy pasta dish

Song:  Robin Thicke - Love after war