NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - American chef Aaron McCargo is hoping that bold versions of American comfort food will appeal to new fans.
The 37-year-old New Jersey native won his own show, "Big Daddy's House", on the Food Network in a grueling television competition last year. The second season, which started in January, features his twists on familiar fares like hamburgers and Buffalo chicken wings.
He spoke to Reuters about his passion for bold flavors and how to stretch the food budget.
Q: What is the biggest difference between the dishes you make in the new season and the first season?
A: "I'm offering a lot more suggestions if you want to go either the high-end of cooking or the low-end of cooking. I'm also teaching people that they can bring kids into the kitchen and what to have the kids do once they are in the kitchen."
Q: Times are tough. Can families still afford to liven up their meals?
A: "No one really wants to spend money on groceries. I want to prove them wrong because you want to treat yourself every now and then. My whole outlook is to show how you can treat yourself to that one great dish if you decide to break the bank, whether it's a salad or an entree."
Q: What is the best tip to stretch the food budget?
A: "Buy something universal. For example, pork butt which is a very inexpensive cut of meat. You can have it with potatoes and carrots one night. Maybe you can shred it up the next night and make quesadilla. On the third night, you may want to make tacos or sloppy joe. There are a lot of marketable items in the supermarket you can bring into the house and use that one cut of meat and make four to five dishes out of it. I also suggest people make portions and freeze them so you don't waste them by leaving them in the refrigerator.
Q: What do cook for yourself and your family at home?
A: "I call myself a freak of nature in the kitchen. I just keep it really simple at home - like a one-pot meal with pasta, Italian sausage and fresh vegetable. The dishes you see on my show are ones I still make at home."
Inside Out Burger (Serves 4)
6 slices bacon, cut into bite-size pieces
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 pounds ground chuck
1 large shallot, diced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
4 sesame seed buns
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
1. Place the bacon in a large saute pan and cook until crispy, about five minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve one tablespoon of the bacon fat in the pan. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until caramelized, about five minutes. Set the mushrooms aside to cool in a bowl.
2. In a large bowl, combine the beef, shallot, black pepper, salt, and Worcestershire. Separate the mixture into four equal portions. Divide each portion into two separate patties.
3. Combine the cheese into the cooled mushroom and bacon mixture. Take one patty and top with two ounces of the filling. Place another patty on top and pinch around the edges to make sure that the filling is totally covered. Make the rest of the patties the same way.
4. Over medium-high heat, heat a large skillet with grapeseed oil. Once hot, add the burgers and cook for two minutes per side. Place the pan into the oven and cook for four to six more minutes for medium burgers.
5. Remove from the oven and serve on sesame seed buns.
Reporting by Richard Leong