Monday, June 30, 2008

Chicken LaBamba

This one was made with the boyfriend in mind. Chicken LaBamba is a Mexican casserole that is cheesy, creamy and can definitely be classified as comfort food. My mom used to make this for us when we were little and when I had an intense craving for it a few weeks ago, she reminded me which cookbook to look in. Luckily, I had an old copy of hers on hand. There is some disagreement as to how it got in my possession. It may have been permanently "borrowed" without permission though my recollection is that there were two copies laying around and I ended up with one. Either way, I love having her hand me down cookbooks because she has a tendency to take notes on the recipe directly on the page. It's not only sentimental, but provides a great road map for me on where to take the recipe.

Her notes recommended skipping the special topping and using chips instead. I followed her suggestion and sprinkled my chips with some shredded cheese and salsa as well.

Chicken LaBamba
Adapted from California Sizzles
1 cup light sour cream
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 t cumin
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 t chile powder
1/2 t salt
1 can cream of chicken soup
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
4 oz diced green chiles (I used mild, go for hot if you like more spice)
2 cups diced chicken
1 cup shredded jack cheese, divided
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups broken tortilla chips (I used blue corn)
1/2 cup salsa plus more for serving

Preheat oven to 350*
Combine sour cream and next nine ingredients and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine chicken with 1/2 cup of jack cheese and all of the cheddar. Spread half of the spinach mixture in a greased casserole, top with half of the chicken mixture and repeat layers. Top with broken tortilla chips and sprinkle with remaining half cup of jack cheese and salsa. Bake for 40 minutes and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cucumber, Corn and Onion Salad

Sometimes the simplest of things are the best. A simple salad is exactly what was needed for a BBQ with friends and my neighbor. My neighbor had come home with a ton of cucumbers so we chopped that up, added corn and sweet onion and finally dressed it with a simple vinaigrette. We almost had to make a second batch:

Cucumber, Corn and Onion Salad
1 cucumber, cut into wedges
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn
3/4 cup sliced Vidalia onion (using sweet Vidalias is key here)
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T dijon mustard
salt to taste

Combine cucumber, corn and onion and set aside. Put vinegar and a sprinkling of salt in a separate bowl and drizzle olive oil in while whisking the mixture together. Add mustard and whisk together to emulsify the dressing. Pour vinaigrette over salad and enjoy!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Malted Chocolate Cupcakes

These cupcakes are so yummy, but be prepared for a serious sugar high after consuming even just one of these. I came up with these after seeing a malted chocolate cake in a magazine. The first time I made them I put malted milk powder in the batter as well as the frosting and it was too much. Ever since, I've settled on chocolate cupcakes with malted chocolate frosting. I use Martha's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes from her Baking Handbook. The recipe I created for Malted Chocolate Frosting is what makes these stand apart.

Malted Chocolate Frosting
1/2 Pound Butted (softened)
2 - 3 T Water
1 1/2 Pounds Powdered Sugar
1 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Malted Milk Powder (I use Horlicks)

Add butter and 2 T water to mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and turn on to medium low. Sift powdered sugar, cocoa and malted milk powder together and add to the bowl in four small additions. Add additional 1 T water if needed to loosen frosting.

Martha Stewart's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 t baking soda
1 1/4 t baking powder
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup + 2 T vegetable oil
2 t vanilla bean paste
1 1/4 cups warm water

Preheat oven to 350*
Sift together first six ingredients in mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Add remaining ingredients and mix until well blended. This batter always seems runny to me, but it works out perfectly. It's easiest to get it into the cupcake pan if you pour the batter into a large measuring cup first. Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 full and bake for 25 minutes. Be sure to cool completely before frosting and topping with malt balls.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Zucchini Banana Bread

When you have a zucchini plant that's going crazy like mine is, there's only one thing to do. Make bread! Even more than zucchini bread, I love zucchini banana bread. Adding banana to baked goods works best when the banana has gone black and it's well past the point you would want to eat it on its own.

Zucchini Banana Bread
1 1/4 cup Flour (divided)
1 t Baking Powder
1 t Baking Soda
1 t Salt
2 t Cinnamon
1 t Nutmeg
1/3 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
1 Egg
1 Medium or 2 Small Zucchini
1 Smashed Overripe Banana

Preheat Oven to 350*

Shred zucchini by hand or using grating disc of a Cuisinart. Toss shredded zucchini with 1/2 cup flour and set aside. Combine 3/4 cup flour with next 9 ingredients and mix together. Stir in Zucchini and smashed banana. Spray loaf pan with cooking spray and pour in batter. Bake for 45 minutes and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lemon and Mint Ravioli Filling

The options for ravioli fillings are pretty much endless. It's one of the benefits of making your own ravioli at home. I'm going to serve mine with lamb ragu so I'm opting for a pretty simple filling with some mint to play off the classic lamb and mint combination. Here's my filling:

4 oz Goat Cheese
4 oz Marscapone
Zest from 1 large or 1 1/2 medium lemons
2-3 T Chopped Mint
Salt to taste

Mix together all ingredients, add salt to taste and set aside until ready to use.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lamb Ragu

I needed to find something to do with the lamb I had leftover from grinding meat for my lamb burgers last week. I had about 3/4 of a pound left and decided to turn it into a ragu to go with some ravioli I was making. I'm a fan of the traditional Bolognese Ragu, which is a meat sauce that has very little tomato to it. Here's how mine ended up:

Lamb Ragu
3/4 Pound Ground Lamb
1 Bay Leaf
2 T Olive Oil
4 Cloves Garlic
2 Cups Mirepoix (1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped carrot, 1/2 cup chopped celery)
3 Cups Lamb Stock
2 T Tomato Paste
Parmesan Rind (optional)

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan (enameled cast iron works great for this). Add smashed garlic (a la Julia) and bay leaf to the pan and stir just until the garlic begins to develop some color. Add the lamb and saute until well browned.

Add mirepoix to the pan and continue to cook until the mirepoix begins to soften (about five minutes). Add one cup of stock to the pan and scrape up any brown bits, then add the additional two cups along with the tomato paste and bring to a very gentle simmer.

Cover and let her go for 3- 4 hours. I happened to have a parmesan rind in the fridge so I threw that in there to help develop flavor, but it's not necessary. When the meat reaches that magical fork-tender place, uncover and allow the stock to reduce down to desired consistency. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pasta School

The freshness of homemade ravioli and the ability to control all of the fillings makes taking the time to make your own, absolutely worth it. And if you have a few kitchen appliances, the work is actually pretty easy. Today I used a pretty common ratio of 1 cup semolina flour, 2 eggs and a splash of olive oil to pull the pasta together. Just add all ingredients to a Cuisinart fitted with the dough blade and let her rip.

When the dough forms a ball and starts to clean off the sides of the bowl, the dough is ready. Divide dough into two pieces and flatten into a rectangular disc shape. Wrap the discs in saran wrap and let sit for at least thirty minutes.

After the dough has rested, feed it through a pasta maker at the widest setting. Fold the dough into thirds, as shown, and feed it through again short end first. Repeat folding and feeding it through on the widest setting 4 - 6 times. At this point, I like to cut the piece of dough in half so that the length is more manageable as you stretch it through the machine.

Starting on the widest setting, feed the dough through the pasta machine once at each setting, stopping at the second to last setting. When you're making ravioli, it's better to stop here so that you don't end up with a dough that will tear when filled.

There are many ways to shape ravioli, but I prefer an easy method that produces a rustic looking ravioli. Simply lay the dough out on your work surface and place small mounds of filling (the recipe I'm using can be found here) about one to one and half inches apart.

Brush a little water or egg wash around the bottom of the pasta sheet and each side of the individual filling mounds and fold the pasta over the filling.

Seal the raviolis by pressing first around the filling and then out to the edges to make sure there are no air bubbles trapped inside.

Use a knife to cut each ravioli and transfer to a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal to rest while you repeat the process with the remaining pieces of dough.

Fresh pasta cooks a lot faster than dry so these guys will only need about 3 - 4 minutes in boiling water. I try to put them in and take them out pretty gingerly to avoid breakage and remember - don't crowd the pot. It's better to cook in two sessions if you need more room.

These raviolis are good as is or maybe with just a sprinkling of parmesan, but I'm going to serve mine with a lamb ragu.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The First Tomatoes of Summer

They're here! The first tomatoes of summer. It reminds me of the Polar Express and the first gift of Christmas, but this is way better. Santa has nothing on Mother Nature this time of year. There were only three and they're small, but oh so good. They're the same ones I posted a picture of last weekend, from the Sprite plant. It's a determinate variety so I should be overwhelmed with the little guys soon enough.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Mmmmmm...Tzatziki! I love this stuff. Any reason to eat garlic, raw garlic for that matter is good enough for me, but the creaminess of the yogurt and the way everything just comes together makes it one of my favorite condiments. Some people like to blend the cucumber up with a food processor so the cucumber is really mixed in with the yogurt. Others like a very thinly sliced cucumber for texture throughout. I say, why not both?

1 Cucumber
Juice from Half a Lemon
2 Garlic Cloves
1 1/2 Cups Greek Style Yogurt
1 T Chopped Dill

Cut cucumber in half and peel and seed one half. Cut the same half into chunks and add to a food processor with garlic. Process until only very fine pieces remain. Remove S shaped blade and fit with the small slicing blade. Take the remaining half of the cucumber and cut it into quarters lengthwise. You should end up with four cucumber spears. Feed those through the slicing blade (you could also do this with a knife, just make sure you cut it paper thin).

Remove mixture to a bowl and add lemon juice, dill and yogurt. Salt to taste. Let mellow in the fridge for as long as you can - mine usually only makes it an hour before I dive in, but overnight is best. That's when the flavors really come together. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lamb Burger

There is something about warm weather that makes me crave lamb. I traveled to Greece one summer and survived on lamb gyros and greek salad for a week (by choice) and ever since I love to have any kind of grilled lamb when it's warm outside. I'm thinking a lamb burger with homemade tzatziki on some naan bread. Now, I know I am mixing ethnic dining experiences here, but I prefer the taste of warm naan bread over pita any day of the week.

I wasn't able to track down ground lamb at the store which really just gives me an excuse to pull out the old meat grinding attachment that the boyfriend bought me. The way to a man's heart may be through food, but he knows that the way to mine is through kitchen appliances.

If you haven't ground your own meat before, there isn't too much to it. I was only able to find lamb leg steaks, so I removed as much silver skin as I could find (that shiny membrane on the outer layer of meat that gets tough when cooked and can jam up a meat grinder if too much gets pushed through) and then cut the meat into chunks. Grinding works best with really cold meat so I put the lamb in the freezer for about 10 - 15 minutes and then fed it through the grinder. Voila - ground lamb.

A little bit of seasoning and some time in my trusty grill pan and I'm on my way to lamb burger deliciousness. The only thing you can even think about serving with the burger is tzatziki. I prefer to make my own (recipe in a coming post), but store bought works well too.

Lamb Burger for One
6 oz Ground Lamb
1/2 T Cumin
Naan Bread
Tzatziki (store bought or recipe found here)
2 -3 Leaves Lettuce
6 Sliced Cherry Tomatoes

Mix cumin and salt into ground lamb and shape into patty. Set grill pan over medium heat and grill patty 2 - 3 minutes per side depending on how well done you want it. Heat naan bread according to package instructions and drizzle with tzatziki. Place lettuce and burger over naan and finish with more tzatziki and sliced cherry tomatoes. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In The Garden

It's a beautiful day out and the perfect opportunity to catch up on some much overdue work in the garden. My garden is made up entirely of edibles. I've tried to plant flowers in the past and they always die. If it's not going to be eaten, it generally gets neglected and has very little chance of survival in my backyard.

Every year it's a challenge to figure out how I'm going to support the tomato plants. I picked up this bamboo tepee at a local tomato festival and I am definitely going to be back for more next year. It provides enough room for the plant to grow, but enough support to keep the vines from splitting away from the base.

My absolute favorite part of having a backyard garden is the taste of homegrown tomatoes. It's a very exciting time of year, when I start to see the first green ones come in, followed by what seems like an eternity for the first ones to turn red and then before you know it, the garden is covered in little red globes of deliciousness. I found the first cherry tomatoes turning red today. These are from a variety called Sprite.

After sharing a few things with my neighbor, my take for the day is some sunburst squash, zucchini, radishes, sugar snap peas and a cucumber.

Whenever I spend a day in the garden, I can't wait to get inside and make something with the fresh produce. I didn't want to turn on my oven as it had been a pretty hot day so I decided on a no-cook salad of squash and zucchini ribbons.

Salad of Squash & Zucchini Ribbons
1 T Olive Oil
3 T White Balsamic Vinegar
3 Small Zucchini
3 Squash
2 T Chopped Dill
Salt to taste

Peel off ribbons from squash and zucchini with a vegetable peeler. Drizzle with one tablespoon of vinegar to prevent any discoloration. Make dressing by whisking together oil and remaining vinegar and adding salt to taste. Mix dressing into ribbons and sprinkle chopped dill over the top. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I came across what I thought was broccolini at my local produce shop, but when I picked it up, saw that it was a mix between asparagus and broccoli called asparation. Always a sucker for the latest thing, I purchased it, not sure of how I would use it (as is often the case when confronted by new and/or yummy things at the store that were never on my list to begin with). When I got home and did my research I learned that in fact, asparation is just a brand name for broccolini. Fooled by the marketers yet again. Undeterred by my discovery, I set out to make something quick and hopefully healthy for dinner as the boyfriend is not over tonight.

After a quick glance around the cupboards, I decide on whole wheat pasta, with a quick tomato sauce. With the recent salmonella scare, I'm using whole-canned tomatoes. Rather than chopping them ahead of time, I prefer to add them whole and break them up with a wooden spoon as they start to break down. In my book, balsamic was created to go with tomatoes so I add a few splashes to get the flavor going. Once the sauce has sufficiently broken down and come together, I throw in the chopped asparation (aka broccolini) for a quick heat-through. Next time I might add a little roasted chicken breast to bulk it up a bit, but for tonight, this is perfect.

Whole Wheat Pasta & Quick Tomato Sauce
2 T Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves
16 oz Canned Whole Tomatoes
4 T Balsamic (or to taste)
1 cup Rough Chopped Broccolini
1/4 Package Whole Wheat Pasta

Cook pasta according to package directions. Heat olive oil over low heat and add minced garlic. Let simmer just until fragrant. Add balsamic and whole tomatoes with their juices. Raise heat to medium and let simmer 10 - 15 minutes, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes every few minutes. Just before you're ready to drain the pasta, add the broccolini to the mix to heat through. This also is where you can add some salt to the sauce, but when using canned tomatoes, I find that it is plenty salty already. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Stir in tomato sauce and enjoy.