Buffa-nero Chicken Nuggets with Lemon-Lime Gorgonzola Dipping Sauce

I have this running joke that I’m a hot sauce addict.

Thank God for science, because we can prove that eating the capsaicin in chili peppers results in the release of endorphins, giving hot sauce an addictive quality. So I guess it isn’t so much a joke as an actual fact.

But I’m living in the right time and place. Because nowadays, there’s more hot sauces to choose from than we know what to do with. I love discovering new brands in the grocery store, because each one has their own flavor profile and affinity to certain foods that I can tease out over time.

More often than not, I’ve found that hot sauces tend to fall into one of these buckets.

  • Cayenne Pepper-Based Hot Sauces
  • Green Hot Sauces (Jalapeno, Serrano, Poblano)
  • Very Hot Hot Sauces (Ghost Pepper, Scotch Bonnet, Habanero)
  • Smoky Hot Sauces (Chipotle)
  • Buffalo Wing Hot Sauces
  • Authentic Asian Hot Sauces
  • Authentic Mexican Hot Sauces

At any given time, you will find somewhere between fifteen and twenty hot sauce bottles on the door of my fridge.  There is a systematic approach to this madness. Some of the hot sauces are sparingly reserved for select foods – while others can go on just about anything.

Here’s a look into the best food & hot sauce combinations I’ve pinpointed in over a quarter lifetime of trial and error. Most are pretty obvious, but some are unexpectedly perfect when you take that bite. And because some of the hot sauces I’d like to call out by name are hard to come by – i.e. bought at an airport in Mexico, I’m just including the easy-to-find varieties you can buy almost anywhere.

  • Tabasco (Original) – Runny Eggs, Burritos, Raw Seafood, Potato Salad, Clam Chowder
  • Tabasco (Chipotle) – Steak, Chicken, Mixed Kebabs, Ribs, Rice Bowls, Roasted Nuts
  • Tabasco (Jalapeno) – Beans, Lentils, Bruschetta, Guacamole
  • Tabasco (Scorpion) – Ceviche, Honey-Mustard Sauce, Hearty Seafood, Tamales, Polenta, Onion Dip, Scotch Eggs
  • Crystal – Macaroni & Cheese, Fried Chicken, Hashbrowns, Sausages, Biscuits, Pot Pies, Gratins, Grits
  • Texas Pete’s (Original) – Mashed Potatoes, Pot Roast, Jambalaya
  • Cholula (Original) – Scrambled Eggs, French Fries, Grilled & Roasted Vegetables, BLTs, Tomato Soup
  • Cholula (Green Pepper) – Lamb, Hot Dogs, Cheeseburgers, Corn Salad, Avocados
  • Cholula (Chili Garlic) – Fried Rice, Chili, Roasted Chicken, In Salad Dressings, Hummus, Popcorn, Chicken Tenders
  • Sriracha – Salads, Soups, Pizza, Sushi, Hard Boiled Eggs, Slaws, Mixed into Ranch Dressing, Mixed into Ketchup
  • Tapatio – Mixed into Pico de Gallo, Enchiladas, Tacos
  • Valentina – Cocktails, Mixed into Queso, Refried Beans, Breakfast Burritos
  • Frank’s RedHot (Wings Sauce) – Buffalo Chicken Dip, Cobb Salad, Chicken-Fried Steak, Pasta Salad

What are some of your must-have combinations? Any hot sauces you swear by? If it’s as good as you say it is, I guess you’re giving me the go ahead to buy just one more bottle. Right?

I N G R E D I E N T S

Makes approximately 40 nuggets.

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
  • 2 cups habanero hot sauce of your choosing
  • 1 habanero, minced
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 4 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons pepper
  • 24 oz. vegetable or canola oil

F o r  t h e  L e m o n – L i m e  G o r g o n z o l a  D i p p i n g  S a u c e

  • 1 / 2 cup sour cream
  • 1 lemon, juiced & zested
  • 1 lime, juiced & zested
  • 4 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Pinch of sugar

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Put the chicken cubes in the buttermilk and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Combine the dredge ingredients – the flour, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a large shallow bowl. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter, and combine it with the hot sauce and minced habanero. Set aside.
  4. Combine the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl, and allow to sit in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  5. To dredge the nuggets, remove the chicken from the buttermilk, roll in the flour, put back in the buttermilk and coat, and then roll in the flour a second time. Repeat for all chicken cubes, placing them in one layer on a large clean plate.
  6. In the meantime, heat the oil on medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure there is about an inch of oil in the skillet, adding more if needed. Heat until you can feel the heat rising off the oil. To test if the oil is ready, put a pinch of flour into the hot oil and see if it begins to bubble and sizzle. If it’s too hot or too cool, adjust the heat.
  7. Once the oil is ready, place the nuggets in the oil with tongs, being sure not to crowd the meat. When you see the chicken is golden brown on the underside, flip the chicken to the other side to finish frying. Remove the cooked chicken and place on a paper towel-lined plate.
  8. Once all the chicken nuggets are cooked, toss them in a large bowl with the hot sauce mixture until all nuggets are completely coated with the sauce.
  9. Serve immediately alongside the dipping sauce.

Chinese Dumpling Ravioli with Soy-Cream Pan Sauce

Whoever first called them dumplings is a visionary – because the name dumpling sounds exactly like what they are. A cute little pasta package with filling. Adorable.

Dumplings are the broad term used to describe any dough-filled pocket that can be prepared in many ways – fried, steamed, stewed, fire-grilled – you name it.

Ones that come to mind are empanadas, tortellini or ravioli, pierogis and mandu. An understandably universal culinary concept, every culture has their own version of a protein or vegetable filled dough pocket.

I worship the filling inside Chinese takeout meat dumplings – always have. When it came time to put in requests for our family’s go-to takeout order, you could always count on me ordering wonton soup and dumplings.

This graduated to include crab rangoon, an upgrade to hot and sour soup in place of wonton soup, and some extra, extra hot General Tso’s chicken. “And don’t forget one of those mini containers of spicy mustard!”, I’d annoyingly yell to my parents mid-order.

When I imagined this dish, I knew I wanted to try a meat-filled dumpling. But what about the sauce?

I couldn’t recall every having a soy sauce-flavored cream sauce before. I doubted there was any way it wouldn’t go great with the ravioli, and I was right. Soy sauce is inherently buttery flavor-wise, as is the cream and actual butter that serves as the base of the sauce.

It was extremely good. Just like the no dairy with seafood rule, I can’t think of many dairy-heavy dishes in American-style Chinese takeout. But low and behold – it works incredibly well here.

The most daunting task will be rolling out the pasta, without a pasta maker. Which if you are in the same boat as me, is what you’ll have to do here.

It all turned out OK. The world didn’t end. And of course, rolling it out by hand contributed to a rustic appearance and heartier bite of the homemade pasta. I’m cutting myself some slack here as should you – I’ve only ever made homemade pasta in a cooking class, but do make gnocchi relatively frequently at home.

The Asian condiments used in the pan sauce are the same as those used to flavor the ground pork and mushrooms in the filling, so the dish tastes relatively uniform throughout. I toyed with the idea of adding parmesan cheese or ricotta to the filling, but ended up leaving it out. I bet it would have been even more delicious with a little dollop of cheese folded in. If you do, let me know how it tastes!

I know I’ll be making this dish again, because my boyfriend was cooing as he was eating it. However, by the time that rolls around, I hope I will have purchased a pasta maker attachment to make this pasta rolling task a bit easier. 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

F o r  t h e  P a s t a  D o u g h

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Flour, as needed
  • Water, as needed

F o r  t h e  F i l l i n g

  • 1 / 4 lb. ground pork
  • 1 scallion stalk, sliced
  • 4 large button mushrooms, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon mirin
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon hot sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

F o r  t h e  S o y – C r e a m  P a n  S a u c e

  • 1 / 2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hot sesame oil, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 scallion stalk, sliced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Prepare the pasta dough. Sift and combine the flour and salt. Pour onto a hard, cold surface, creating a well in the center. Crack the three eggs in the middle of the flour pile, and fold using your hands until combined. Once in a dough ball, knead 10 times until the consistency is silky. If the dough is too hard and not elastic, add some water. If it is too sticky, add some flour. Place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow it to rest.
  2. Heat the teaspoon of olive oil in a small skillet, and add all the filling ingredients. Sautee until the pork is completely cooked through, and the mushrooms are browned. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. Once the dough has had a chance to rest, remove it from the fridge and begin rolling out with a floured rolling pin on a floured surface. Continue to roll out until the dough is less than 1 / 8 inch thick.
  4. Using a ramekin or other small circular dish, create imprints on the dough, and cut out 20 circles, enough for 10 ravioli total.
  5. Place 1 to 1 1 / 2 teaspoon of the filling on one side of each ravioli dough halve, and pinch the sides together moving in a circular fashion until all the raviolis are enclosed with the filling. Set aside.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a separate large and shallow skillet, melt the butter, then add the rest of the soy-cream pan sauce ingredients. Let the sauce come to a low boil and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat.
  7. Add the ravioli to the pot, and cook for 5 – 7 minutes until the pasta is tender. Remove the ravioli from the pasta with a slotted spoon and put it directly into the pan sauce.
  8. Plate the ravioli, garnishing with extra scallions and hot sesame oil.
  9. Final step – enjoy this way too much. 😉

Smoky Jalapeno Cheddar Soup

Another rainy day, another bowl of bubbling hot spicy soup. There’s not much else to do when it’s pouring out, and who doesn’t love an excuse to stay at home and cook all day?

I bought too many jalapenos and wanted to find a way to make them the centerpiece of a soup. So here we are – with jalapeno two ways – fresh and smoked.

Smoked jalapenos, if you’re not already familiar, are called chipotle peppers. You can find them canned in their sauce in any grocery store.

Chipotle, as it so happens, is also the namesake of my favorite fast food restaurant. As in, “If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you eat?” – my answer would be Chipotle.  No really – I ate Chipotle 4 to 5 days a week in high school for two years.

The flavor of chipotle is smoky, incredibly hot, and very addictive. I keep bags of it frozen in my freezer. Throw it in anything Tex-Mex – it’s like the Tex-Mex equivalent of barbecue sauce, incredibly versatile.

Your start to this soup is a roux, much like any chowder. It creates a thicker, stewy feel to the soup. I bet chicken and beans would be great in here as well if you wanted to bulk it up a bit, but I’m happiest when I get the full flavor of the cheese and the spices.

What’s your favorite go-to rainy day soup?

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 2 / 3 quart whole milk
  • 1 1 / 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 / 2 small onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 canned chipotle pepper, minced (from the can)
  • 2 tablespoons chipotle pepper sauce (from the can)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Once melted, add the flour, stirring for a couple minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Add the milk, whisking until there’s no visible clumps of flour. Continue to cook on medium heat until it thickens and the mixture coats a spoon.
  2. Add the onion, jalapenos, garlic, chipotle peppers, chipotle pepper sauce, salt and pepper. Cook on simmer for 15 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender and the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the cheese, and stir until completely incorporated. Serve, garnishing with additional jalapeno slices and a drizzle of extra chipotle pepper sauce, if desired.

Spicy Dill Pickle Potato Salad

Good old, classic American potato salad doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

It’s gotten a bad rap for being bland, unexciting and outdated. But I think it belongs right at the top of the list with the other star members of the comfort food group.

With potatoes and mayonnaise acting as ingredients number one and two in this dish, potato salad lends itself to flavor-boosting ingredients.

I’ve seen variations like bacon-ranch potato salad, green goddess potato salad, cobb potato salad, and tons of other ingenious recipes on Pinterest. This gives me hope that potato salad has officially made a comeback and is here to stay.

This spicy and pickle-infested variation of potato salad checks two important boxes for me: spice and brine.

I always find ways to sneak pickled vegetables, capers, olives or cured salty fish into dishes that lack a “salt & vinegar” vibe. Does anyone else do this?

Quick-pickled red onion and habanero peppers, along with a hefty amount of spicy dill pickles, juice included, do a good job of cutting through gloopiness and high fat content of the mayonnaise dressing. I also used Peewee potatoes, which are ultra-velvety and the perfect size for biting into.

Once it’s all had a chance to meld together in the fridge, you can’t go wrong with the combination of the mayonnaise tang, zippy pickles with their garlicky juice, and a flaming hot pickled habanero bite. If these potatoes were potato chips, they would be McClure’s Pickles Spicy Pickle Kettle Potato Chips.

I didn’t go homestyle with this recipe, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a place in my heart for the usual stuff. It’s instinctual food that serves a purpose. Like when you mechanically grab that pre-made container in the grocery store on your way to the cash register.

Sometimes, you just need the predictability that potato salad provides. 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 4.

  • 2 lbs. Peewee potatoes, cut in half, or 2 lbs. Yukon Gold if you can’t find Peewee potatoes, cut in small cubes
  • 6 spears McClure’s Spicy Pickles, small diced, plus 4 tablespoons juice
  • 1 habanero, minced
  • 1 / 4 red onion, small diced
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 / 2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 / 2 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Pinch of sugar

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Heat the vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small saucepan until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour into a bowl. Add the diced onion and minced habanero and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Cut the Peewee potatoes in half. Bring a large pot to boil, adding a tablespoon of salt. Add the potatoes, and boil for 15 minutes or so, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Strain the potatoes and cover with a clean dish towel to steam while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. In a large bowl, add the mayonnaise, sour cream, 5 spears’ worth of diced pickles, pickle juice, 3 tablespoons dill, and pinches of salt, pepper and sugar. Add the potatoes and combine. Once 30 minutes have passed, add the pickled peppers, discarding the brining liquid.
  4. Once all the ingredients have been thoroughly combined, taste for seasonings, garnish with the fresh dill & pickles, and let sit in fridge for as long as possible so the sauce has a chance to seep into the potatoes.
  5. Serve chilled.

Red Hot Pasta Carbonara Nests

Real Italian pasta aficionados would shudder at what I’m about to do – add buffalo-style hot sauce to pasta. It’s sacrilege. But I’m doing it anyway.

I pour the stuff on 99.98% of my food. Sriracha, a close cousin, claims to be a good accompaniment to salads, pizza, eggs and pasta among other things, according to the label on the bottle. But I would hedge bets they’re referring to soba noodles, or ramen.

Caution to the wind, I gave this a whirl, and it knocked my socks off.

So what elements are a must for a buffalo-style wing experience? In my mind, there’s the obligatory Frank’s Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce or Tabasco Buffalo Style Hot Sauce (pro-tip – always mix 2 parts hot sauce to 1 part melted butter), blue cheese crumbles, ranch or blue cheese dressing, and celery or carrots.

Not all of these ingredients are going to make the cut into this dish. Carrots in a Pasta Carbonara? No thanks.

But the uber-American buffalo-style flavor will shine through.

To that end, here is an Italian-American Frankenstein of a dish I concocted to share with you all. Cheese. Spice. Butter. Carbs. Garlic. Rendered pork fat. All topped with a runny egg yolk. What else could you ever want in a meal?

I genuinely hope you spice lovers like myself give this a try when the mood hits you just right.

And a quick disclaimer to add here – you may not be able to button your pants the next day.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 3 to 4, depending on appetites.

  • 1 lb. bucatini, or another long pasta
  • 1 / 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 4 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 3 large eggs, whisked, plus additional egg yolks for each nest
  • 8 tablespoons Frank’s Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce or Tabasco Buffalo Style Hot Sauce
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 5 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • 4 oz. Parmigiana-Reggiano, shredded
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons celery leaves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed*
  • 2 tablespoons spiced chili oil**
  • 2 / 3 cup reserved cooking liquid from the pasta
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

*The easiest way to crush peppercorns if you don’t have a mortar & pestle is to put the peppercorns in a sealed Ziploc bag and smash with a meat mallet or rolling pin.

**I made my own chili oil in a cinch. Just heat 1 / 2 cup olive oil with 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1 habanero pepper, minced. Let the spices simmer in the olive oil over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes,  let cool, and place in a glass mason jar. Will last for several weeks at room temperature and can be used in any dish in place of olive oil to add a spicy kick.

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. Slice the whole chicken breast in half lengthwise. Brush with 1 tablespoon of the chili oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken in the oven for 30 minutes and set aside, covering with foil to retain juices while you prepare the rest of the dish. After 10 minutes or so, when it’s cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand (or 2 forks) into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Whisk the 3 eggs in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Carefully separate as many eggs as needed so that each pasta nest has a yolk. Set the yolks aside.
  5. Melt the butter in the microwave for 20 seconds or so, and mix with the hot sauce. Set aside.
  6. Heavily salt a pot of boiling water and cook the pasta al dente. Be sure to reserve cooking liquid before straining.
  7. In the meantime, while the pasta is cooking, brown the pancetta in a large shallow pan in 1 tablespoon of chili oil. Once crispy, add the garlic, and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring often to make sure the garlic does not burn.
  8. On very low heat, add the chicken, hot sauce, the two cheeses and crushed black peppercorns.
  9. Ideally, you will now pour the pasta right from the colander into the pan with the chicken, cheeses, peppercorns, pancetta and garlic. Toss to combine.
  10. Once the chicken is heated through, off the heat, add the whisked eggs. Add some of the reserved cooking liquid to achieve a saucier consistency.
  11. With tongs, shape the pasta into a nest shape in large shallow bowls. Place an egg yolk in the center of each nest, and garnish with a sprinkling of minced fresh celery leaves and crumbled Gorgonzola.

Deconstructed Salmon Ceviche with Mango & Avocado-Lime Crema

Salmon not only tastes great, but I hear it’s good for you too. Not that I care about the good for you part.

Raw fish – raw food in general – must feel so satisfying because you’re eating visceral protein in its most primal form.

In spite of my debilitating motion sickness while I’m on any small sea vessel, I’d spend a summer fishing every day in a heartbeat given the opportunity.

As a self-identified part-time resident of southwest Florida, our family has taken some deep sea fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico.

A few years back on a rickety, 20-foot fishing boat, we reeled in what Captain Vince estimated to be a two to three hundred pound “goliath grouper.” It took 45 minutes to bring it up, and four of us had to take turns reeling it in using your average, run-of-the-mill fishing rod.

I still don’t understand how that pole didn’t snap in half.

When it emerged, it was like pulling a prehistoric whale out of the water. It was covered in barnacles and its eyes were the size of golf balls. It was staring right at us. I knew it was a fish, but it had the gaze of a human who’d been through hell and back.

When you catch a fish that size, and I assume that uncommon, you always cut the line and let them go.  It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

I love raw salmon, and smoked salmon, so I included both in this “ceviche.” I wanted to make this more of a meal as opposed to a bite-sized amuse-bouche, which is typically the serving size I get when ordering at restaurants here in D.C. I’m always left wanting more of it.

Avocados are the perfect counterpoint to salmon, according to everyone. And I agree. I was in Oahu when this recipe sprung into my head, thus the added mango component. Pineapple would’ve been more Hawaiian-y, I know.

Adding sweet to my savory is usually against my religion, but mango just felt right here.

And if you have a round mold, which I didn’t have, these ingredients would present gorgeously stacked over one another.

Now go forth, and eat your seafood the way it’s meant to be eaten – raw!

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 1.

  • 6 oz. smoked salmon
  • 6 oz. wild salmon filet, sliced thin
  • 1 mango, sliced thin
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced thin
  • 2 avocados (ripe, but firm – you will only need 1 and 1 / 2 avocado for this recipe, so snack on the other half!)
  • 2 limes, 1 zested & juiced
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 stalk scallions, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

O p t i o n a l

To go along with the fish, make a super-simple dipping sauce for added flavor – simply mix 3 parts soy sauce to 1 part sesame oil, adding a teaspoon or so of finely minced scallions.

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Cut 1 avocado in half, carefully removing the core with a knife. Remove the outer peel, and slice the meat 1 / 4 to 1 / 2 inch thin. Drizzle the slices with lime juice to prevent browning & set aside.
  2. With a knife, cut the smoked salmon into 2 – 3 inch diameter circles. You could use a ramekin as well for a more uniform size.
  3. Slice the wild salmon filet thinly longways. If you put the salmon in the freezer for 10 minutes, it will make it easier to slice. Once sliced, cut the fresh salmon in a similar circular shape & size to the smoked salmon.
  4. Peel a mango, slicing the meat of the fruit from the tough core. With the pieces you have, cut them in a similar shape to the fish.
  5. Slice one jalapeno thinly, and mince the scallion.
  6. In the meantime, put the sour cream, juice and zest of one lime, half of the avocado, salt and pepper in a blender until finely pureed.
  7. To serve, spread a dollop of the avocado crema across the plate, arrange the avocados and then the smoked and fresh salmon. Top with sliced jalapenos and sprinkle with minced scallions.
  8. Serve alongside the optional soy dipping sauce & lime wedges for extra oomph.