Sunday, January 24, 2010

Artist's Cookbook: Spicy Spinach Peanut Crostini with Rocky Reason

I first met Rocky Reason in Chicago as she was studying film. I immediately feel in love with her lack of logic. Most people seemed confined by that five letter word, Rocky Reason had none of that. Recently I had the chance to catch up with the budding hip hop artist to see what she was cooking up. When Rocky Reason made film she went by a different name so I began the interview by asking her, why the moniker Rocky Reason and why rap music:
That depends on whether you’re talking about the name “Rocky Reason” or the rapper, Rocky Reason. My other pseudonym is Rocky Wood, and when I first had an inkling to become an emcee (way before I ever became one), I named myself how I name my stuffed animals and other inanimate objects- instantaneously, without any premeditation. It just sounded right. It is a common misconception that I think myself to be governed by logic—in fact, I am a very unreasonable person!

My “rap career”, so to speak, began about two years ago, while romantically involved with a rapper. He had recently bought ProTools, and began making beats. Eager to be part of the fun, I tried my hand at making a beat on Reason, and recorded a hook to go along with it. I left it for him to listen to, while I was out of the house (embarrassed), and when I came back home, he had already recorded verses to it, and so was the birth of the song “Head Up High”. It was well received by everyone who heard it, which encouraged me to continue. We ended up making a whole album like that- I made a beat and recorded the hook, and I would hand it off to him to lay down the verses. We were called THE WHOODS (Rocky Wood and Robin Hood, Robbin Rich) and the album came out in 2008, entitled “39."
During the making of our second album, we split up. I had tried rapping once to one of my beats a year earlier, but no one really seemed that excited by it, so I stopped. After we broke up, the yearning to rap remained, and now I didn’t have anyone around to give me negative feedback, so I just went with it! That was the birth of Rocky Reason, the rapper.

After THE WHOODS split Rocky Reason began her solo career. Last September she released her first solo LP Shhh...It's a secret (download here) via SlangCorp. SlangCorp is a group of hip-hop artists in New Jersey who work and perform together. Rocky Reason shared a stage with them while performing with THE WHOODS. Since she has gone solo she has colloborated with SlangCorp members Shape, Larry Hobson and Pistol. How does Rocky Reason plan to follow up her productive 2009 year? By releasing another album of course. Part Dark Matter, Rocky Reason's sophomore album, is slated for release later this year. I asked Rocky Reason to tell us about Part Dark Matter:
It’s a little dark, so I’ve been told. It’s about death and sex, is what I say. I lost two good friends last year, so it deals with feelings of loss and emptiness and the futility of life. There’s a sequel to “Alien Baby” on there, so that should be exciting for Alien Baby fans. I am hoping that I got all my anger out in this one, and that my next one will be very light-hearted and fun. Booty-shakin’.
To read the entire interview with Rocky Reason, click here. Since this is also a food blog, I ended my discussion with a question about what Rocky Reason is cooking (in the more conventional use of the word). Turns out, it's a soup with an appetizer:

Rocky Reason's Spicy Spinach-Peanut Crostini
(printable version)

-1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
-1 Tbs. olive oil, plus 1/4 C. olive oil
-1 clove garlic, finely minced
-2 Tbs. peanut butter
-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
-1 baguette, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
-1 large clove garlic, halved
-1 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts

1. Cook the spinach according to package directions. Drain well, squeezing out all of the water.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the spinach, peanut butter, red-pepper flakes, and salt to taste, blending the peanut butter into the spinach.

3. Preheat the oven to 400F. Pour the 1/4 cup olive oil into a shallow bowl and dip each slice of bread in it to coat one side. Place the bread oiled side up on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. When the bread is toasted, remove it from the oven and rub the oiled side with the cut sides of the halved garlif clove.

4. Top each piece of bread with a small amount of the spinach topping. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and serve hot.

Rocky Reason's Pumpkin-Peanut Soup (with Peanut Butter Croutons)
(printable version)

For the Soup:
-1 Tbs. olive oil
-1 large yellow onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
-1 small hot chile, seeded and minced (optional)
-1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
-1 can (16 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
-4 C vegetable stock
-1/4 tsp dried thyme
-salt and freshly ground black pepper
-3/4 C creamy peanut butter

For the Croutons:
-2 TBS. of creamy peanut butter
-2 TBS. olive oil
-4 slices firm white bread

1. To make the soup. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and chile, if using. Cover and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomatoes, pumpkin, stock, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

3. Stir in the peanut butter, then puree the mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth, or use an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot. Simmer the soup 10 to 15 minutes longer. Taste to adjust the seasonings.

4. To make the croutons. Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly oil a 10x15-inch baking pan and set aside.

5. In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter and oil, and blend until smooth.

6. Place a sheet of wax paper on a cutting board. Brush both sides of the bread slices with the peanut butter mixture and place on the wax paper. Cut each slice of bread lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips, then cut the slices crosswise to form the croutons.

7. Separate the croutons and transfer them to the prepared pan. Bake until browned, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Cool completely before using to garnish the soup. Store in an airtight container.

*Note: A fresh pumpkin or orange-fleshed winter squash may be used instead of the canned pumpkin if desired. To do so, peel and seed the pumpkin or squash and cut it into 1/2 inch chunks. Add to the pot with the onion and proceed with the recipe.

Winter Summary from Rocky Wood on Vimeo.

Parting words from Rocky Reason:

"I'd like to thank Mr. Branson for making me feel like a rockstar with this interview. I'd also like to thank him for starring in my first film ever, 10 years ago now, entitled "Sock Puppet Friend" which I actually won an award for. I also want to remind him that he still has a pending contract to be the voice of "brother" in my future animated film, "Underground Balloon World". Even though I haven't seen you face-to-face in nearly a decade, it's comforting to know that you're still an important part of my life. My best to you, Tender."
Look for more "What's cooking" entries to come your way over the next few months. Also, stay tuned for a new playlist coming next week.