Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chicken Ragu with Cheesy Polenta


I recently purchased the special edition of Gourmet magazine (The Italian Kitchen). I like to go through new food magazines and bookmark recipes that I would like to try out. As I was paging my way through this particular magazine, I found myself marking almost every single page. I will be featuring several of the recipes over the next month or so, or you can order the book for yourself  here. 

I got home from work later than anticipated, so I went with one of the faster recipes for my first foray into the Gourmet Italian yummy-ness. It's officially called Quick Chicken Ragu and they suggest you serve it with polenta. I chose to make my polenta cheesy because- well, what isn't improved by adding "cheesy" to the beginning??

Well, let's get started, shall we?
Quick Chicken Ragu with Cheesy Polenta
2 tbsp EVOO
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 c diced pancetta
1 tbsp finely chopped sage
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 c light dry red wine (I used a Pinot Noir)
1 14 or 15 oz can diced tomatoes in juice, drained (I used the ones with basil and garlic added)
Sea salt & black pepper
2 c chicken stock
3/4 c of some milk product (heavy cream is probably the most tasty, but I used skim milk and it was still really good)
3/4 c polenta (corn grits)
1//4 c grated parm
chopped mozz to taste (I'll talk about this in a bit)

Ok, toss all the ingredients into a pot and cross your fingers......
I'm just kidding.

- Heat the oil and butter in a 12 inch skillet (mine was about 2 inches deep and was perfect for this.) Get it good and hot (but not smoking) and toss in the pancetta. This is the one part of the recipe that allows you to get it good and crisp, so let it cook for a couple of minutes. 

- Add sage and rosemary and cook for 30 sec

- add chicken and cook until it's no longer pink on the outside. The recipe said 2-3 mins, it took me about 4-5.

Add onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft- about 5-7 minutes.


Add wine and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced (about 10 minutes). During this time, start the polenta. 

So here is the thing about polenta. There are 5 bijillion opinions about what to use if the container doesn't actually say "polenta." After some internet research, I determined that "corn grits" are the closest to what is packaged as polenta. Corn grits are coarser ground- corn meal is typically much finer and won't have the same texture.  (see a recipe I will probably post tonight or tomorrow for blueberry corncakes- using corn meal.) Keep in mind I live in a small midwestern town and if you live in an actual city with actual markets that carry these kinds of things, you probably won't have to worry about this (as yours will just be labeled "polenta".) 
The recipe suggested that I not use instant polenta, so I bought "corn grits" that do not claim to be instant. I put  the chicken stock (I used the same condensed stock I used in this recipe) and skim milk in a slope-sided pan and brought it to a rolling boil. I reduced the heat to a simmer and whisked in the polenta. At this point, it is supposed to simmer for 30 minutes and slowly thicken. MY polenta, however, thickened immediately (like instant cream of wheat.) So I either have a magic stove or managed to buy instant polenta. I actually had to add a little extra milk to thin it out a bit because it tightened up so fast. I shut off the heat and put the lid on while I finished the ragu recipe..

Add the tomatoes, sea salt, and pepper to the chicken mixture. Let it simmer and thicken for about 10 minutes- I took this opportunity to slice some bread, pour some wine, and get the plates ready. 

I then grated a buuuunch of fresh parm and chopped some fresh mozzarella and tossed it into the warm polenta. It was very tasty. However, it also became a bit of a stringy, gooey mess :) The main problem was dishing it up (wish I had  thought to take a pic here.) So as long as you don't mind the ooey gooey fantastic stretchiness of melty cheese in your polenta, go nuts with the mozzarella!! 

So after wrestling with the polenta and getting most of it into the bowl, I topped it with the ragu mixture- then tossed a little extra parm on top, just for fun. It was verrrrry hearty and filling. I would suggest a side salad, but I'm not sure you would end up eating it. We used some crusty bread to soak up some of the extra sauce and even that was a bit too much :) 

Overall,  a fantastic recipe and I can't wait to try the others from Gourmet.

Quick caprese pasta night

Ok, I am a huuuuge fan of anything that combines basil, mozzarella, and tomato. You toss a little EVOO and S&P and I'm thrilled. You add balsamic and.... well, let's not go there.

I needed a quick and easy meal for last night based on what we had in the house because neither of us had the time or energy to hit the grocery store at dinner time. I found: leftover chicken thighs from the other night's ragu, fresh basil and sage from the same, somewhat stale french bread, fresh mozz and parm, lovely tomatoes on the vine, and angel hair pasta. Here's what happened:

(Chicken not pictured..... oops)
This is such a simple recipe that is still filled with tons of flavor- and relatively light and healthy.

Pasta caprese with chicken and breadcrumbs:

(This recipe was perfect for 2- adjust accordingly)
Stale french bread- I used about 1/4 loaf for a yield of 1 1/2 c of breadcrumbs
Handful of angel hair pasta
2 medium on-the-vine tomatoes
 Approx 5-6 large basil leaves(to taste) , roughly chopped
Approx 4 small sage leaves, chopped fine
1 large or 2 medium cloves of garlic, chopped
About 1/2 c EVOO
Fresh mozz to taste, chopped (I used about 2 oz.)
Fresh parm to taste, grated

Chicken of any sort (I had 4 small boneless, skinless thighs)
Marinade of choice
     - I used good seasons italian dressing made with
red wine vinegar

I started by getting  the chicken going- I put the thighs in a baggie and put about 2 tbsp of the italian dressing in with them. If you have never had it before, Good Seasons is the stuff that comes in packets in the dressing aisle. I make it with red wine vinegar and don't add water (I just sub extra red wine vinegar instead.) I love love love this dressing when I don't have time to make my own. It is also great for pasta salads...

While they marinated, I started making the breadcrumbs. I have read quite a few articles lately extolling the virtues of  the breadcrumb as a textural tool in pasta dishes, so I figured, "what the heck."

I ripped the leftover bread into chunks and fed them to my food processor. I processed them until the whole thing was nothing but a pile of crumbs:

I spread them out and tossed them in the oven at 350 deg F and...promptly forgot about them. I think they were probably in there for about 10-15 minutes before I caught a whiff of toasted bread and took them out. Fortunately, they were the perfect shade of golden brown and had a great crunch. At this point, you could toss them with a little EVOO and season them at will with whatever gets you all excited. I opted to leave  them as-is. I wanted the dish to be simple and the only herbs to be those in the pasta.

Back to the chicken- I only had time to let them marinade for about 30 mins. I took them back out and tossed them into my awesome non-stick searing pan with a little EVOO. I had them at a relatively high heat and seared them on both sides. I then tossed them in to the oven at 350 to finish them off. It took about 12 minutes- by the time I was done with the pasta (below), they were perfectly cooked and ready to go.

Moving on to said pasta- I brought a pot of generously salted water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, I chopped the tomatoes, basil, sage, mozz, and garlic. All but the garlic went into a bowl and hung out for a few minutes. Once the water boiled and the pasta was in, I put the garlic in a small saute pan and poured the olive oil on top with the burned on medium heat. I cooked the garlic in the olive oil until it was just slightly fried/toasted. Don't let it get too brown! Otherwise, you will have bitter garlic.

Nobody likes a bitter garlic...

Now here is where the magic happens- take the pan with the garlic and hot oil and pour it right on top of the tomato mixture in the bowl. You should hear a very satisfying sizzling noise as you do this.

By this time, your pasta should be done- using tongs, take it straight from the pot and toss it in the bowl with the tomato/oil mixture. You can also toss in a little of the pasta water if it is too tight. Grate some fresh parm on top and mix it all together. At this point, you will also want to add S&P to taste.

Plating: Dish up half of the pasta in each bowl (with plenty of tomatoes, herbs, and cheese). Scatter a generous handful of breadcrumbs on top. Slice chicken into strips and place on top of the pasta.
And Voila! A super easy Mediterranean-style dish that is yummy, filling, and comforting...

Monday, April 11, 2011


This blog will mainly be a pictorial of the event that was... dun dun DUN...BACONFEST!

We went in at 12:30, with empty stomachs and full of high hopes and expectations. We were not disappointed. We emerged 2 hours later, with bellies full of bacon and a camera full of memories. We were also in desperate need of massive amounts of water and a nap. Needless to say, not much else got accomplished that day. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Baconus Maximus, a Festival of all things porky and bacony:

The massive line when we arrived. These were ticket-holders only- Once inside, one of the chefs told me they expected 900 participants

My favorite T-shirt in line. It tickled me. Although, even if  the vegans were successful in their quest, I doubt I would go over to the other side...
The Menu. Alllll of these things were there. We thought about devising a strategy, but we just started at one end and worked our way around
The other half...


Inside- one lane of tables and eaters.

Our first yummy

Not a very good picture- they get better
We didn't get a pic of some things- for example, the amazing bacon, grit, and cheddar waffle....mmmm

But we did get a lot- this is from Terzo Piano: sweet empanada with cinnamon bacon and a strawberry and almond salsa verde. It was a fantastic combination of salty and sweet and hot and cold w the hot out of the fryer empanada and cool, crunchy salsa. A good way to start.

Another good start was this really interesting rum from Zacapa that had been infused with bitters, cacao, and, oh yes- bacon. Surprisingly tasty.

Stanley's Kitchen and Tap decided to be brave and make quail eggs a la minute- for 900 people. As we entered, it appeared they were questioning their decision.
Or had never seen an episode of Top Chef.

Some of the eggs appeared overcooked, but mine was actually quite tasty. It was served with grits, pork belly, and a bacon broth. All in all, it was a lovely offering.

 Blue 13 had this lovely refreshing treat- Honeydew melon salad with a bacon vinaigrette, frozen honeydew ball, and honeydew gelee. Not particularly bacon-y, but a very welcome palate cleanser and a pleasant Springtime treat.

Ok, this was just cool: Bacon-stuffed bacon, maple egg jam, and whipped pancakes.

I still have mixed feelings about the 'pancakes'- in that they were not pancake-y enough for me. I was really hoping it would taste like I was eating pancakes in pure whipped form...but I was disappointed.  Maybe I didn't get enough maple egg jam on my portion. But big points for creativity and the bacon-stuffed bacon was delicious.

This one was so-so. From Small Bar, these were a braised bacon brioche with salted maple butter and crispy egg yolk. The egg yolk was powdery and really didn't bring any flavor to the dish and I did not get any maple flavor. Overall the dish was sadly disappointing...

I am not a fan of sauerkrat, but the bf could not say enough good things about the pastrami cured pork  belly reuben from one sixtyblue. He was smitten.


Bacon. Wrapped. Cheese-stuffed. Hot dogs.

Are you kidding me?? Toss on some salsa fresca and a lime aoili and that was one tasty dog. Old Town Social came to Baconfest prepared to make people drool.

From Lillie's Q- pork belly and grit hash, smoked gulf shrimp, and a bacon vinegar sauced. The hash was a-ma-zing, and the shrimp was well-cooked- which I imagine has to be difficult in this type of setting.


Ok, this one was a great idea that, when it came to execution, only made it halfway there...

Longman & Eagle made a bacon rillette lollipop with maple bacon cotton candy. They served it with a shot of whiskey. I took the whiskey with a bite of the cotton candy and it was outstanding. I then attempted the meatpop. It was just as unappetizing as it sounds. It had the texture of a raw sausage patty- mushy and salty and cold. I would totally nosh on a full-sized cone of bacon cotton candy. But if you come near me with another meatpop... well, I won't be held responsible for my actions.

This was a chocolate martini rimmed with candied bacon suspended in chocolate. The bacon rim was awesome. The drink inside- not so much. After munching on the rim of the glass for a bit, I let this one go...

Be free, martini... be freeeeeeeeee.

The Bacon Ice Cream Bar
This section deserves its own heading- most pics below will not be labeled, as they are self-explanatory. This was put on by Cafe Des Architectes- called Ziggy Piggy: The Bacon Sundae Bar. That's right. A Bacon Sundae bar. The ice cream itself was a smoky ice cream and the toppings were all amazing. I particularly enjoyed the bacon gummy bears and the white chocolate coated lardons....

bacon chocolate sauce
Bacon chocolate
Other bacon sauces including pineapple bacon and a bacon-scotch

Just Bacon

My final product


This was one of our favorite dishes: from Chizakaya Japanese Pub, Grilled bacon nigiri with house made kimchi, sushi rice, and smoky bacon ikura. Everyone around us was raving. It was so creative and so incredibly tasty- I can say nothing but warm, fuzzy, happy things about this dish.

Black Dog Gelato brought out a banana and bacon foster- tasty, but rather unimaginative and forgettable in comparison to all of the other tastings...

The bf was a big fan of these, but they weren't my fave- from Veerasway, a chocolate covered crispy cardamom pork with cashews and rain chutney. I am a big fan of salty/sweet, but the spice combination just didn't do it for me- it killed all of the other flavors. As I said, the bf disagreed, so it was clearly not a total failure :)

From the Bedford- bacon meatballs, English pea mash, pickled mushrooms, blue cheese, and bacon fat bearnaise. I am not a blue cheese fan- I know, it's crazy. I will eat pretty much any kind of cheese and be thrilled about it, just not the blue. I loved all of the other elements, though- the mash and bernaise were excellent.

Everyone was raving about the slab bacon at Naha as we were wandering about so we headed on over- They slow roasted giant chunks of bacon with rhubarb and sorghum. Yum and yum.

The people were not wrong. It was sweet and tender and juicy- all in all, a very tasty piece of meat. If I was not already turning into bacon-stuffed bacon, I probably would have had more.

This was the Elvis sandwich presented by the Gemini Bistro- peanut butter, fried, banana, and bacon, all served on griddled banana bread. Sadly, by the time we got there an hour and a half into the extravaganza, the banana bread was hard and dry. Not even the extra maple syrup could soften it enough to make it edible...

I actually did not try the burger here, but the bourbon bacon ice cream float made me verrrrry happy. From Park Grill, it was a maple bourbon ice cream with candied bacon jimmies. Totally something I will be making at home...

This was something interesting and unexpected amidst all of the rich dishes at Baconfest. From the Red Canary, it was bacon cured Steelhead trout on top of bacon and a bacon and mushroom salad. It was refreshing- I really liked the cold trout and bacon and mushroom salad. The flavors went together really well and were a nice contrast to all of the other super-rich dishes I had already stuffed into my mouth.

Photo Op!!!!!
This is me with Stephanie Izard, Season 4 Top Chef winner and fan favorite! The bf doesn't watch Top Chef and could not understand why I suddenly had to have my picture taken with some stranger. But once I explained, he understood and smiled and nodded as I raved about how exciting that was and how tiny she is in real life....
Seriously, she's adorable.

Random shot of slabs of bacon.
Sooooo much bacon...

THIS. This was my favorite thing at the entire fest. My stomach was already on overload by the time we reached it and I ate the whole thing and half of the bf's. This was from Nana Organic- it was a candy bar made with a house smoked bacon cake, Koval whiskey, maple syrup, caramel, and chocolate.    It was the perfect combination of salty and sweet, soft and crunchy, gooey and...well, whatever pairs with gooey. It was awesomeness topped with deliciousness topped with scrumptiousness. And then smothered in tastiness.

It was the perfect way to end a bacon-filled day. And remember the line of people standing and waiting to get in? This is what they looked like afterwards: 

They had the right idea. As it was, getting in the car and driving home was too much work after leaving Baconfest. We made it to the car, but then we put the top down and sat there. For a good 20-30 minutes. We considered staying in the city and having dinner, but who were we kidding? We didn't eat again until almost 4:00 the next day. But man, we drank a LOT of water....