Fridge "Mystery Box" #2

The past few weeks of September have been a whirlwind of sorts, and I have been eating out more often than cooking in my kitchen. Last week I made a trip to Trader Joes and stocked up on a bunch of chicken, pork tenderloin, bacon, pancetta, spinach, garlic, cream, "basic staples", but I didn't get around to using them. So it was about time last night that I did a once-over on my fridge to create a "Mystery Box" of ingredients for dinner.

From my fridge and cupboard, I pulled organic-free range chicken breasts, a leftover bag of sun dried tomatoes, diced pancetta, baby spinach, heavy cream, garlic, panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, a leftover half a lemon, and chicken stock. I had some fusilli pasta and figured that would be a nice starch for the meal. So, I thus concocted:

Panko-Parmesan Crusted Chicken Paillards - Spinach and Sun Dried Tomato Cream Sauce with Pancetta - Fusilli Pasta

Best part? Aside from boiling the pasta, this is a one-pot dish. And, yes for anyone who REALLY follows this web site, my last mystery box also had chicken, and I made it into paillards; it's not that I am a freak about chicken or cooking it the same way, rather take that this technique is THAT easy and simple to follow and is always a great way to change up a simple chicken breast.

First, I started with my pancetta. As always, even with bacon, I start the pork in a cold, non-stick pan to slowly render out the delicious fat from the pork belly. I had about 1/4C total left over in my fridge. Cook the pancetta over medium heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove pancetta from pan and reserve (caution: you will be tempted, as I am [and Brett was] to eat all of the pancetta bits before adding them back to the dish. Please try to restrain yourself b/c it REALLY adds depth to the final dish.)

Rendering out the pancetta:

Once it's cooked, reserve it (and don't touch!)

Rendered pork fat. Will add flavor to the chicken and the spinach sauce:

While I cooked the pancetta, I trimmed up my chicken breasts and sliced them in half horizontally. I have a sharp boning knife that I keep around, but you can do this with any sharp knife (though I would suggest not using a serrated knife). I like to do this because the chicken cooks up faster. Technically, the use of the word "paillard" means to pound out the protein until it is really thin, but I opted not to whip out the plastic wrap and mallet this evening.

Slicing the chicken horizontally:

Of course you end up with four "halves", but I ended up using three for the dinner:

Next, I put together my "breading" station: about 1/2 C AP flour, one egg with a little water whisked together, and equal parts parmesan cheese and panko bread crumbs.

1/2 and 1/2 panko and parmesan:

Dredge chicken in flour, pat off, dredge through egg mixture, then dip in parmesan/panko mix.

Reheat pan with pancetta drippings and add some olive oil to coat bottom of pan; make sure pan is very hot to create good crust with panko (heat on medium high).

Flip chicken after about 6-7 minutes when browned; be careful not to burn the panko.

Cook chicken about another 6 minutes and remove from pan; rest on paper towels while finishing rest of sauce.

I prefer to slice my garlic rather than mincing it so anyone enjoying the meal can taste the essence of garlic but can pick out the slivers if they don't want to eat them.

Drain off some of the fat from cooking the chicken and add the garlic, cooking over medium heat, until fragrant and slightly browned.

I then add about 1/3 C of chicken broth to the pan to deglaze the browned bits; reduce the liquid until almost dry and then add the spinach to saute; season with salt and pepper.

Once the spinach is completely wilted, add the sun dried tomatoes. Toss together.

Add about 1 C heavy cream and bring to a boil; reduce to sauce consistency and then season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon to brighten all of the flavors.

Oh, and don't fotget to add that pancetta back in!


Not the best lighting, but it was a delicious concoction using ingredients that were on hand an ready to be used. The panko crust on the chicken was light, and the parmesan was cut with the acid from the lemon juice and sun dried tomatoes. And who can pass up spinach and cream (as I am a huge fan of creamed spinach...) WITH THE ADDITION of pancetta? The pasta was the perfect balance of a basic starch to the blending of flavors from the sauce and chicken. The whole thing took about 30 minutes, tops, and left us both extremely satisfied.

Oh, and of course I had some wine - if you can get your hands on some Sullivan Vineyards Red Ink, you have the makings for a perfect meal.

Farmers Market Feast

Going to any Farmers Market is one of my favorite pastimes, right up there with cooking and drinking wine. I am very lucky to live in San Francisco and have the opportunity to walk to the famous Saturday Farmers Market at the Ferry Building EVERY Saturday. I try to go as often as I can. You will find me leisurely strolling among the tourists, locals, and executive chefs checking out all of the season's finest produce, meats, cheeses, herbs, nuts, plants...ah it is like heaven.

One recent Saturday started with a lot of rain, thunder and lightning in the Bay area, but it didn't stop me from going to one of my culinary "hang outs". While the weather impeded the tourists and some locals from visiting the market, it enticed Brett and I to step outside, get a good walk in over to the Ferry Building.

It was great to see the Market through a visitor's eyes, especially with the curtain of tourists missing from the halls of the Ferry building and close to 100 or so white-tented stands lining the front and back of the building. Starting with coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee (always worth it), we strolled each and every inch of the market, checking out all of the seasonal produce grown locally. You could smell the fresh tomatoes in the air mixed with the wafting scent of peaches and other amazing stone fruit (and, as Brett noticed, there were a lot of figs). Because of the lack of crowds, we could actually talk to the farmers about their offerings and taste a sample of their hard work.

We walked through the market stalls, taking our leisurely time, checking out each purveyor and talking about what we wanted to get for a Farmers Market dinner. Brett was impressed with all of the sustainable and organic meats, and when we walked by the tent occupied by The Fatted Calf, we immediately spotted what we were going to dine on. The nice girl representing the company pulled out a vacuum-sealed pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin that had been marinated in white wine, rosemary, and mustard; not to mention that the pork was horomone-free and organically raised. Dinner=done.

We then made our way back to Dirty Girl Produce to pick out some small, cherry tomatoes that you literally could smell just by standing next to the produce boxes. We rounded out our purchases with some baby romaine for a salad, chanterelle mushrooms (because they are my favorite), and a couple cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery accompanied by a sour baguette from Acme Bread. We had the makings for a truly organic, sustainable meal to satisfy our souls.

While we got our dinner together and organized, we noshed on our cheese and bread selections: sour baguette from Acme and Truffle Tremor plus a wedge of Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery. It was so fantastic to see the excitement through Brett's eyes about our selections as he literally devoured the Truffle Tremor with the baguette (not to mention that Acme is now his favorite bread bakery, let alone that we went out and bought a loaf everyday after that Saturday, and, with every bite, Brett happily shared, "Oh. My. God. This LITERALLY is the best bread I have ever had.)

As we enjoyed our "first course", I got the oven ready for the pork tenderloin. I pre-heated a roasting pan in the oven at 400*F. While waiting for the oven to heat up, I let our pork come to room temperature. I bent down and took a giant whiff of the amazing scents coming from the pork; the fragrant rosemary, the pique mustard, and the subtle overtones of chardonnay married beautifully with the salt-and-peppery notes coming from the pancetta that surrounded the pork. My mouth was literally watering as I put the tenderloin into my pan to bake.

(This pork is pretty easy to make at home. Mix together about 1/2 C wine, 2 tbsp dijon mustard, and 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. Mix together and brush on pork to coat evenly. Wrap the pork tenderloin with thin slices of pancetta; the mustard mixture will help to adhere the pancetta. Can be made 1 day ahead to "marry" flavors together.)

After about 20 minutes (145*F registered on thermometer), THIS is what pork heaven looked like:

Perfectly cooked - slightly pink and not dried out.

Now, backing up, while the pork was cooking, we washed our baby romaine and amazingly fragrant baby tomatoes for a simple salad. Most people know that I have a strong dislike of raw tomatoes year round due to what I think is their true lack of flavor and mealy texture, except for this time of year when heirloom tomatoes are in season. All I can say is I could not stop eating these red jewels, and we almost didn't have enough for the salad. I had some Caesar dressing in my fridge, so we dressed our produce very lightly with the dressing to let all of the flavors shine through.

Chanterelle mushrooms are perhaps one of my favorite things, so I had to pick some up, even if it was a random addition to our dinner. After the pork was finished, I took the drippings from the pan and heated them in a skillet. I then added some sliced chanterelle mushrooms to soak up that pork goodness while balancing with the meatiness of the mushrooms.

Our Farmers Market meal had finally come together. Each element of our dinner was bright and delicious in its own way, and it felt great to eat knowing that all of our ingredients were local, sustainable, horomone/pesticide-free, and organic. Brett even made a comment that he felt "better" eating this way, and I have to 100% agree, not only for my conscience, but for my health as well.

Bacon "Candy"?

Ok, last post before International Bacon Day (which happens to be tomorrow) about...BACON. My Mom actually said to me, "Lesley, can you start writing about something other than bacon again?" Ok, Party Party, I promise this is the last entry...for a while.

I feel that in the last two years we have been inundated with ideas for crazy bacon creations/ideas. Bacon ice cream, bacon-infused vodka, bacon explosion, bacon jerky, bacon doughnuts, bacon cupcakes, bacon-infused mayonnaise, bacon salt, bacon-flavored coffee, chocolate covered bacon, bacon brownies, bacon whiskey, and ultimately, the "bacone"(

You name it, someone created it. And I have tried plenty of them.

And I am NOT complaining.

But, I am kind of overwhelmed. I want to try, create, make all of the above items, and then more. But, at the same time, my arteries would not be happy, nor would my doctor.

But, sitting in my apartment yesterday, dreaming of the ultimate Bloody Mary made with bacon-infused vodka garnished with some bacon salt around the rim (I mean, really, people, WHO being a bacon fan would not enjoy THAT!), I remembered that I did have some bacon in my fridge (shocker), and decided to try to make...candied bacon.

Yes, odd, I know. I figured if I set myself out to conquer the crazy bacon fad food and drink items out there I might start out simply. I have read many recipes and reviews over the years about candied bacon using different techniques, sugars, bacon, spices, etc. But, I had never tried to actually make it.

So, after researching recipes and ingredients, I came upon the following recipe and ingredients:

(Can you tell I am a fan of Trader Joes products?)


5-6 slices of bacon (preferably thick-cut, I used Applewood smoked uncured bacon from TJ's)
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional; but it adds a nice, subtle kick)

* Preheat oven to 350F
* Mix together brown sugar and cayenne

* Press one side of the bacon into the brown sugar-cayenne mixture, and then place sugar-side up on a cookie sheet

* And then pop the cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes, rotate the pan, and cook
for another 8-10 minutes.

* Using tongs, immediately remove bacon strips and place them on parchment paper (or foil) to cool, or a cooling rack (paper towels will stick to the bacon, DO NOT USE!)

Yes, the baking sheet got a little messy with the brown sugar cooking, but all you have to do it immediately put it under hot water in your sink and let it soak. Or, you could try cooking the bacon on a parchment or foil lined cooking sheet for easier clean up.

For me, the bacon was delicious, and I would tell EVERYONE to try this recipe as a change from the norm.Pair it with a savory omelet or quiche on a Sunday morning, or pair it simply with some whipped scrambled eggs, toast, and fresh fruit.

Honestly, I cannot even tell you how amazing my kitchen smelled during this whole process. And, when my sister, Meag, asked what the bacon tasted like, all I could relate to her was it tasted like a slice of bacon dragged though maple syrup with a slight kick from the cayenne. She started to drool.

But, I must say, I could only handle one slice because of the sweetness (I don't have a sweet tooth). My "bacon candy" creation was sublimely full of texture, salt, sugar, and that hint of cayenne that really cut the sweet as needed. I immediately was transported back to a memory of my sister and I at Gretchen's Restaurant in the Sun Valley Lodge before going skiing at the age of around six and eight: Meaghan had discovered that bacon with maple syrup was incredible; I, on the other hand, didn't care for the combination.

But, I have a new appreciation for a bacon creation.

Last entry on bacon for a while, yet I hope all of you cook some bacon tomorrow. Enjoy. Eat. Love. Live.

We Call it Bacon, You Call it Pancetta

Bacon or pancetta…depending on what part of the world, what specific country, whatever you call it, it’s still pork belly. And I love both of them.

As I have mentioned, International Bacon Day is this Saturday, so I have been sampling my fare share of bacon/pancetta-related dishes dining out with my family.

Some friends have asked me what exactly is the difference between pancetta and bacon, since they are pretty much the same thing. Both bacon and pancetta are pork belly that has been salt/brine cured with or without additional spices for about a week. Bacon differs from pancetta because it is then smoked. Most pancetta is rolled and then dried for about 3 months, giving it that circular shape.

My sister, Meag, and I were reminiscing last night about our European trip we took a few years back, and started talking about the different “bacon” that we had in different countries. While in England, Scotland, and Ireland, we had “bacon” but it was totally different than what we enjoy here in the States. It was a lot meatier, more like Canadian bacon, and comes from the loin in the back of the pig. And, as Meag knows, I FELL IN LOVE WITH IT. I remember our English, Scottish, and Irish breakfasts vividly, and always saved the “bacon” for last to enjoy every morsel.

This is a photo of a typical Irish breakfast while we were in Waterford, Ireland. You can see the bacon is totally different than that we have here in the states - looks more like ham!

When we were in Cork, Ireland, visiting friends, we made it to the local supermarket, and I remember looking for American bacon, but couldn’t find any. My friend looked at me and said, “oh pancetta? You want to get some streaky bacon?” This was totally foreign to me that the Irish refer to the bacon we eat here state-side as either pancetta or “streaky bacon”. They were enamored with my obsession over their “rashers” and I was taken aback by their desire for our smoked, pork belly bacon.

When my sister and I made it to Italy, I was even more shocked. We stayed in bed and breakfasts throughout our whole trip and enjoyed our fair share of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, cereal, fruit, etc. Pretty standard fare. But our first breakfast in Florence, Italy, we went upstairs to the roof top dining area of the Best Western we stayed at, took one tired look at the buffet spread to see what we wanted, and I saw…pancetta?? I had never thought of cooking the round, circular slices up as if they were American bacon and eating them for breakfast; I always sliced up pancetta or cubed it for a garnish to a soup, salad, etc. or rendered it off as a building block for a sauce. Needless to say, I piled up a rather large serving of the pancetta (kinda wiped out the buffet…) and devoured every slice like a true carnivore.

I was reminded of this pancetta experience this past Sunday night at my family’s “second home” when it comes to restaurants: Sapori Ristorante. It is an Italian restaurant in Newport Beach that has been open 20 years, and I think we have been dining patrons for all 20 years. I probably have had every dish, from antipasti, salads, pastas, pizzas, and enough Salmon alla Griglia and Chicken Piccata to feed a small army. But, there is always one dish I religiously order: Penne Vodka Otero - Chef's Signature dish. It is so simple yet so satisfying - a tomato and cream sauce with pancetta, a little vodka, and chopped tarragon. And I always add chicken and top it off with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Not the greatest pic, but I figured I should take one for the sake of talking about it.

But, even though it is so simple, the subtleness of the pancetta does shine through. It is a well-balanced sauce, pairing the fat of the touch of cream against the acidity of the tomato sauce, and the tarragon heightens the fresh flavors. You can't really "taste" the vodka, but it is a bright sauce in both flavor and color - perhaps the vodka helps with the brightness of the flavor, or the cook in the back tipped his cocktail over while making it. Either way, the pork addition just rounds out everything - if I was keeping score, that would be one point for Team Pork Fat Rules.

Re-create: if I were doing this at home (recipe for one, or two...), I would first:
  • Bring water to a boil in sauce pot; make sure to add salt (and plenty of it); add about 2 C dried penne pasta to water and cook to package directions.
  • Render (cold pan method - [Kate listens...]) about 2 tbsb cubes of pancetta or bacon (or more at your desire) until cooked; drain on paper towels.
  • Then add 1/2 a chopped shallot to the pan, saute, and de-glaze with 2-3 tbsp of vodka (remove from heat when doing this - alcohol will "flambe"!). Reduce vodka to dry.
  • Add 1 C tomato sauce (store bought or homemade), 1/4 C cream, and cook on high for about 2 minutes, stirring to incorporate. Add in 2 tsp chopped tarragon (or less) and cooked bacon/pancetta to sauce; season with salt and pepper.
  • Drain pasta and add to sauce; fold sauce with pasta to incorporate.
  • Plate; top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
A simple approach to a very tasty pasta dish. There must be a reason that this has been on the menu at Sapori for all 20 years it has been around. I would say that the addition of pancetta to the sauce is the key.

Bacon, pancetta - whatever you call it, both are similar and great ingredients to cook with.