Chicken Sausage & Squash Rigatoni

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I don’t usually cook with sausage. In fact, I can only think of one other time I wrote about using this ingredient. But tonight, when I was racking my brain trying to come up with something to eat for dinner, I had a flash to a delicious meal I enjoyed recently at Flour + Water in San Francisco with Maris and Jessi, specifically my favorite dish of the evening: homemade penne pasta with rabbit sausage.

Tonight’s dinner wasn’t nearly as fancy (I did work today, after all), but it was good and very filling with the slightly kicky sausage and sweet Delicata squash. The dish consisted of rigatoni, Italian chicken sausage, winter squash, spinach, lots of garlic, and a little bit of saffron.

I know what you must be thinking: Saffron? What?

I actually bought a small bag of this pricey spice a while ago but completely forgot about it until I returned home from BlogHer Food with a tiny container of it in one of the gift bags.

Saffron is the most expensive spice by price and adds a yellowish/orangish hue to whatever dish it’s used. I can’t really describe the flavor other than call it a bit floral, but know that a little goes a long way. The most well-known uses are in Risotto Milanese and Paella Valenciana. In today’s pasta dish, the saffron flavor is subtle but nicely accents the other strong flavors. You can omit the saffron if you’d like, but it’s a nice way to use it if you happen to have it on hand.

Here’s the recipe for Chicken Sausage & Squash Rigatoni:

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Chick Chick Bulgur

Chick Chick Bulgur

Chick Chick Bulgur

This is a great, nutritious meal that makes enough to feed a family or for a single person like me to enjoy throughout the week. The Chick Chick Bulgur, or bulgur with chicken, chickpeas and red peppers, was inspired by a recipe for North African chickpea and bulgur soup.

Instead of a soup, I decided to prepare the ingredients as a casserole. The most significant addition was adding chicken (the original recipe was vegetarian) for more protein. I like using boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they have better flavor and don’t dry out as easily as chicken breasts, which is important in an oven-baked casserole. Plus, chicken thighs are usually cheaper than chicken breasts; combine that with better flavor and it’s a win-win.

If you’re not familiar with bulgur, now is the time to try it. Bulgur is a whole grain loaded with fiber and protein, and is a great substitute for rice.

If you’re trying to eat healthy or simply want a filling dish, this is it. Try it, you’ll like it!

Here’s the recipe:

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Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken

Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken

Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken

The pomegranate juice used in the recipe below was kindly sent to me by POM Wonderful. The value of the product received was less than $20 and was a one-time occurrence with the company.

As a chef, one of my favorite things to do is experiment with a new ingredient or use a familiar ingredient in a new way. This was the case with pomegranate juice. Of course I’d tried it before, although always in a drink format (and usually with alcohol), and have used pomegranate molasses in cooking and fresh pomegranates to top salads or desserts, but I’d never tried cooking with pomegranate juice.

So when the people at POM Wonderful offered to send me a few bottles to try, I jumped at the opportunity and looked at it is as a way to experiment. Of course, by the time the juice arrived I was too busy with holiday hoopla to pay it much attention, so there it’s been, sitting in my fridge for weeks just waiting to be opened. And tonight, finally, I used it.

Despite the delay in actually using the juice, the recipe has been brewing in my mind for a while. I’ve always enjoyed chicken marinated in aged balsamic vinegar (and yes, it has to be a high-quality, aged balsamic) with fresh rosemary and thought adding pomegranate juice to the mix just sounded right and would offer a seasonal, festive touch to my standard dish.

The combination worked wonderfully. The pomegranate juice remained the dominant flavor in the marinade but was complimented perfectly by the slightly sweet balsamic vinegar. A touch of Dijon mustard, garlic and rosemary finished off the marinade, resulting in an ever-so-slightly fruity and tangy oven-roasted chicken.

To round out the meal, I served the chicken with simple cauliflower (using garlic, fresh rosemary and lemon juice) and sauteed spinach. It was healthy, easy and delicious, making the meal an across the board winner.

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Spinach, Cannellini Beans & Chicken Thighs in White Wine Sauce

Spinach, Cannellini Beans & Chicken Thighs in White Wine Sauce

Spinach, Cannellini Beans & Chicken Thighs in White Wine Sauce

I’m happy to announce my bout with foodblock seems to be letting up a bit. Granted, it’s not as severe as swine flu or something like that, but it has been a bit debilitating for me this past week. Luckily, I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Again, I turned to Twitter to help conceptualize the ingredients I wanted to work with. I was almost there on my own but needed to verbalize it, which is why I’m grateful for social media sites like Twitter: they give communicative and sometimes indecisive people like myself an audience to bounce ideas off of.

Chicken thighs02 Chicken thighs01 Chicken thighs03

Chicken thighs04 Chicken thighs05 Chicken thighs06

Even better, the final dish turned out wonderfully. Basically, I made a one-pot meal of braised chicken thighs with caramelized onions, a lot of garlic, spinach and cannellini beans in a white wine sauce. It was easy, inexpensive and healthy, loaded with protein, fiber and all sorts of good nutrients.

Here’s the recipe:

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Crispy Roast Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes

Crispy Roasted Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes

Crispy Roast Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes

After years of cooking professionally, I recently became puzzled by one of the most basic cooking techniques: how to roast a chicken. I’ve always used what I considered the “traditional” method: seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and fat (olive oil or butter) and roasted at a moderate temperature of 350F.

Sliced fingerling potatoes

Sliced fingerling potatoes

But suddenly it seems like every famous chef/restaurant has a signature technique that is “so much better than your mother’s roast chicken.” There’s the Zuni Cafe roast chicken, the Chez Panisse roast chicken, the River Cottage roast chicken, and so many more. Just Google “roast chicken” and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of recipes for this incredibly simple dish.

The version that caught my eye was the Thomas Keller method. I first read about it on LTH Forum where everyone who had made it raved about it. I just had to try this one for myself.

Seasoned trussed chicken

Seasoned trussed chicken

Keller, the much acclaimed chef of The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, calls for roasting a dry chicken (wash it and then pat dry with paper towels) seasoned with salt and pepper at a high temperature of 450F. The result is an incredibly flavorful and juicy chicken with crispy skin. And the best part is that this method is very low-maintenance – there’s no basting or even a reason to open the oven door, and you don’t even have to make a jus or a pan sauce!

Roasted potatoes tossed with herbs

Roasted potatoes with ramp greens

To make dinner even more simple, I decided to roast some sliced fingerling potatoes along with the chicken. Wow! These were the most amazing potatoes I’d ever eaten. Flavored by the chicken and a bit of salt, the potatoes were incredibly rich with a crisp bite that somehow seemed to melt in my mouth.

This meal turned into a true one-pot wonder in my cast-iron pan (and by now you should know how much I love using my cast-iron pan for rustic dishes), but you can easily use a roasting pan instead.

Crispy roasted chicken breast with fingerling potatoes

Crispy roast chicken breast and fingerling potatoes

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