Author Archives for A Capitol Contessa

About A Capitol Contessa

A woman who loves parties - both political and full of friends. I hope to inspire people to cook, entertain and have fun by sharing tips, tricks and mistakes along the way!

Chicken Riggies

If you have ever been to Upstate New York you likely to be familiar with Chicken Riggies.  This is one of those great regional American recipes that seems to have evolved over time and become ubiquitous.  Every time I go to visit family I try to get my hands on this Italian American dish that is simultaneously sweet, spicy, creamy and satisfying.  Since today is my dear Aunt Janice’s birthday I thought it would be fitting to take a stab at my own version of this Upstate classic in her honor.  She has been one of my best cheerleaders during this blog and even got me my very own A Capitol Contessa apron!

This isn’t a light dish but those folks in Syracuse and Rochester deserve some hearty comfort food given the winters they have to endure.  I have searched and searched for lots of different versions – just like most American dishes people take the base recipe and make it their own.  Rachel Ray (Upstate New York girl) has done a version on her show that I have tried but it didn’t quite do it justice.  Some sleuthing found that the addition of sherry really adds a subtle sweetness that is great with the hot peppers and cream.  I also tossed in some spicy arugula at the very end to add some green (that cancels out the cream right?) and add another layer of flavor.  Happy birthday Auntie Jan – sending lots and lots of love your way.

Oh and apologies for not posting on Wednesday – I was traveling internationally for work and didn’t quite get my act together.  It was my first missed post which I think is pretty good but I promise I won’t make a habit out of it!

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Chicken Riggies

  • 1 pound of chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 bell pepper (or approximately 10 mini bell peppers), sliced
  • 8 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or less if you don’t want it as spicy)
  • 6 to 8 hot pickled peppers (like pepadews), sliced
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 pound rigatoni (riggies!)
  • a couple handfuls of arugula
  • grated parmesan

Heat the largest skillet you have over medium high heat and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 5 minutes or so until the pieces are browned and just about cooked through.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and add more oil if you need it.  Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper.  Sauté until the onions and peppers soften and they take on a little color, about 5 minutes.  Add the pickled peppers and cook for 1 minute.

Use the sherry to deglaze the pan and cook down for another minute or until most of the sherry has cooked off.  Carefully add the crushed tomatoes (try not to splatter yourself) and chicken, then stir everything together until combined.  Meanwhile boil water and cook the rigatoni in salted water until tender, about 7 minutes.  While the pasta is cooking let the sauce cook down over a low simmer.  Add the cream to the sauce, stirring it in until everything is nice and pink.  Drain the pasta and stir it all together (if your pan isn’t big enough just pour the sauce over the rigatoni in a larger bowl).

Stir in the arugula so it wilts into the dish and serve with parmesan.

Basil Pesto

The classic.  So good all you basically need is a spoon.  It is summer in a sauce, especially since it’s no cook!  I realized I had posted different pesto variations but never the classic basil.  I have tried lots of different versions over the years and finally worked out my own that borrows from all the rest.  Most pestos will only use pine nuts but I like a mix and by happy accident tried it with pecans once (out of walnuts) and really liked the flavor.  A little lemon zest is also nice here to really amp up the lemony flavor of basil.  This is my base recipe – it doesn’t contain any cheese so it’s perfect to freeze or for vegans.  I like to freeze the pesto in ice-cube trays or mini muffin pans (silicone is the easiest to get them out) and then just defrost and let my imagination run wild.  If I want to stay true to the classic I just fold in grated parmesan but often I skip the parm and mix in goat cheese which really mellows out the garlic and makes a wonderfully creamy sauce.  Make a whole bunch with the rest of your summer basil and freeze it so you can have a little bit of summer this winter.

Basil Pesto

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons pecans (or walnuts)
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 5 cups basil leaves
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • optional add ins – goat cheese, parmesan, butter, ricotta, yogurt, a spoon…

In a food processor add the pine nuts, walnuts and garlic cloves.  Process until chopped together.  Add the basil, lemon zest, and salt and pepper.  Process again for a couple of seconds and then with the food processor running pour in the olive oil until it comes together as a pesto.  This can now be served on its own or mixed with cheese, kept for several days in the fridge under a layer of olive oil or frozen for several months.

Strawberry Margarita

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How else to celebrate the first Fiesta Friday of August then with a delicious summery margarita?!?  This strawberry marg is nothing like those gross syrupy things that churn round and round in Island Oasis machines.  This is a drink that packs a punch, tempered by sweet fresh strawberry puree.  The inspiration was Patrick buying 2 pounds (pounds!) of strawberries right before we left for Chicago.  Try as I might, I wasn’t able to put down all those strawberries so I decided to make a strawberry puree and freeze it in hopes of using it later.  When we returned I thawed the puree and it tasted just as fresh and juicy as when I made it.  The puree is just strawberries and a little bit of sugar thrown into the food processor until smooth.  I added a 1/3 cup of sugar for 2 pounds but really it depends on how sweet your strawberries are to start with.  Add just enough sugar to encourage the strawberries to give up some of their juice and whir away.  It should last in your fridge for a couple of days.  If you don’t finish it all then freeze in a large container if you have a lot of margaritas in mind or several smaller ones so you can pull out the puree whenever you need a summery boost.  This puree would also be terrific over ice cream, swirled in yogurt, or on pancakes or waffles.  Definitely make some before the season is over.

Strawberry Margarita 

  • 2 ounces strawberry puree
  • 3 ounces silver tequila
  • 1 1/2 ounces triple sec or Cointreau
  • 2 ounces lime juice

Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice.  Shake until cold and then strain into a cold glass with a salt rim if desired.

Note:  To make the strawberry puree, just process hulled strawberries with a little bit of sugar in the food processor until smooth.  No need to strain out the seeds.  1 pound of strawberries should make about 16 ounces of puree, good for 8 margaritas.

Chicken and Rice Summer Salad

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Sometimes I can really over romanticize meals and entertaining.  I blame it on years of Martha Stewart magazine spreads of perfectly coordinated but yet spontaneous gatherings.  Then Pinterest came along and just about ruined me.  The never-ending stream of precious parties (thrown by actual event planners I might add) makes me ache to be that pulled together and cool.  Picnics in particular have a certain allure – everyone gathered around a giant blanket eating individually portioned food, drinking champagne and always an adorable dog or kid thrown into the mix.  So every summer I am desperate to create a picnic but usually it’s deemed too hot or too buggy (why is no one in those magazine spreads shown dousing themselves in Off??).  Last year I finally got my chance with a fall trip to a Virgina vineyard – I made a lovely spread for Patrick and our friends Dave and Ashley, right down to the monogrammed bags.  People at the vineyard kept asking at what gourmet shop we had bought such awesome  lunches – I was beyond proud of myself.

Just a couple of weeks ago opportunity struck again – we were staying in our friend’s house on the Eastern Shore and didn’t feel like shleping a ton of food up with us to cook.  They have a great picnic table by the water so I created a greek themed picnic dinner complete with this Chicken and Rice Summer Salad.  I wanted everything to be served room temp and easy so I rounded out the menu with olives, pepadew peppers, the greek caprese salad I posted in the Caprese Twists post, store-bought hummus and pita.  The salad really was the star with carmelized shallots, tender zucchini and the punchy dressing.  This salad is perfect for picnics or for bringing into work for lunch, as it gets better with a little time.  I was nervous to dress it too soon so I packed the dressing separately and dressed it before eating but we had leftovers the next day and they were delicious so if you want to go ahead and dress it by all means.  Hope you all can squeeze in some more picnics before the end of the summer!

Chicken and Rice Summer Salad 

  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini or 1 large, grated
  • 2 chopped fresno chilis (or 1 jalapeno seeded), chopped
  • 2 cups of cooked white or brown rice
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts (poached or from a rotisserie chicken), shredded
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
  • the juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and cook for approximately 5 minutes until nicely browned and carmelized.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reduce the heat to medium.  Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper – add more olive oil if needed.  Grating zucchini is a “grate” trick – it makes them really quick cooking and easy to incorporate into pasta sauces, salads like this one, or soups.

Cook for 5 minutes more until the zucchini are no longer raw, have softened and most of the liquid has cooked off.  In a small bowl whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, dijon mustard, garlic and honey together with salt and pepper.  In a larger bowl combine the shallots, zucchini, rice, chicken, and fresnos.  If you are serving right away toss with the dressing.  If it seems a little dry you can drizzle it with a bit more olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  If you are making it ahead you can keep the dressing separate and store for up to 3 days in the fridge, then toss before serving.

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Aji Amarillo Sauce

I hope you all enjoyed the rundown of Ocopa, a terrific Peruvian place here in DC.  This place is right in my neighborhood but if you are not so lucky I thought I would follow it up with a Peruvian recipe of my own.  One of the things Peru is most known for, at least here in the US, is their terrific rotisserie chicken that they serve with super flavorful dipping sauces.  There are a bunch of to-go chicken spots in the DC metro area and each has their own recipie for their aji amarillo sauce (translates into yellow chili pepper sauce) that is carefully guarded and never given out, even to super nice food bloggers.  Google didn’t really help me much, as many of the recipes I found on there either relied too heavily on the pepper paste or had too much mayo.  After a lot of tries I think this comes pretty close to what I was looking for but will leave it to all of you to judge.  Yes, you do have to go out and buy aji amarillo paste to make this.  However, it’s incredibly good and lasts forever in the fridge.  You can find it at a lot of supermarkets these days in the latin foods section, but if not there are lots of brands online.  My favorite brand is Doña Isabel and they sell it on LaTienda.com, a super dangerous website with lots and lots of yummy things.  They even provide a bunch of recipes so you know what to do with that left over paste.  Mental note – I must get to their brick and mortar store in Williamsburg, VA.  Traditionally as I said this sauce would be served with a rotisserie chicken that had been marinated in Peruvian spices.  Since I don’t have my own rotisserie I  either just go out and buy one and serve the sauce alongside, or grill up some chicken.  I like this Food and Wine marinade that approximates the flavors nicely.  Last time I served this sauce, Patrick wanted tacos (I know I know) so we did a Peruvian Mexican hybrid and used the sauce as a salsa with the grilled chicken, some flour tortillas and grilled veggies.  I used yellow peppers, and served the quinoa salad on the side with yellow corn – yellow taco night. Delicious.

Aji Amarillo Sauce

  • 2 green onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons aji amarillo paste
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup light mayo
  • 1/4 cup cilantro

Combine everything in the food processor and puree until smooth.  Season with salt and pour into a bowl.  This will last for a week in the fridge.

Corn Risotto

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To me cooking is like therapy – I can stop thinking about everything else in the world and just focus on turning raw ingredients into great food.  I like the ritual of cooking classics and I like the fun and excitement of cooking new things.  Of course the result itself can often serve as its own sort of remedy, especially comfort food.  Risotto is one of my favorite therapeutic meals because the method is so soothing and the meal itself is creamy and soft and lovely.  I have been toying with the idea of making a corn risotto for a while so when we were on the Eastern Shore of Maryland a couple of weeks ago I made sure to pick up some super fresh ears from a farm stand.  The sweetness of the corn is such a good match with the creaminess of the risotto.  Here I made my own corn broth using the cobs of the corn going into the risotto.  I think this really bumps up the corn flavor but it also adds about 40 minutes to the process.  You could either make the broth the day before and just store the kernels in the fridge or skip that step all together and use chicken or veggie stock you have on hand.

One common misconception about risotto is that there is actual cream in it – there isn’t.  Ok maybe some recipes include it, and I am SURE it wouldn’t be bad, but it’s just not needed.  The special aborio rice used in risotto is really starchy so as you slowly cook it with stock the starch is released and creates its own creaminess.  Whether you are making corn risotto or another kind there are certain rules of the road that you should follow to ensure the right texture.  Once you have learned the basics risotto can really become a vehicle for any ingredient you would like.

Corn Risotto 

  • 2 ears of corn – kernels cut off and cobs reserved
  • 1 onion, unpeeled cut in quarters
  • 2 carrots, unpeeled cut in half
  • 1 celery rib, cut in pieces
  • 1/2 a bunch of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 6 cups of chicken or veggie stock if not making the corn stock
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 cup aborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • chives

If you are making the corn stock put the corn cobs (kernels removed) in a large pot with the onion, carrots, celery, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, salt and peppercorns.  Cover with 6 cups of water and then bring to a boil.  Cover and then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes.  When its done strain the liquid into a smaller saucepan, removing all the solids.  Warm the stock over low heat.  If you are not making the corn stock at this point add the chicken or veggie stock to a small saucepan and warm over low heat.  In a high sided skillet melt the butter over medium heat, then add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil and increase the heat to medium to medium high and add the corn kernels.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.  The sugars in the corn will start to caramelize and crust up the bottom of the pan which is fine, just don’t let the corn burn (if you need to turn down the heat).

Add the rice and stir it around until all the grains are coated in the oil and butter.  Reduce the heat to medium low again.  Splash in the wine and use your spoon to stir the rice as well as deglaze the bottom of the pan.  Once almost all of the wine has cooked off you can start ladeling in the stock.  Add 1 ladelful at a time, stirring near constantly.  Once the rice starts looking dry add in another ladelful.

After about 25 minutes I start checking the doneness of the rice but usually it will take closer to 30 or 35 minutes to cook.  Once the rice is done (it’s tender with just a little bit of bite to it) take it off the heat and stir in the parmesan.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.  Top with chopped chives and serve immediately.

Short Rib Tacos

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Yea I know, what won’t this woman put in a taco??  Pretty much nothing but honestly these are incredible, not just because of the flavor but how easy they are.  Time consuming sure but the “hands on” time is almost zero.  I got the methodology from Cooks Illustrated – if you have never picked up their magazine it’s definitely worth a try.  They basically do all the work for you by testing and retesting different ingredients, proportions and cooking methods in a super methodical, almost scientific way.  I can find sometimes the flavors a bit lacking, but the techniques they share are always spot on and flavor is easy to enhance with some tweaks.  This method is just genius because it cuts out the two most annoying things about slow cooking – browning and chopping.  Browning meat is incredibly important to flavor, as the heat carmelizes the sugars in the meat and really develops them.  By lifting the short ribs out of the liquid it’s braising in on onion slices these folks have discovered a way to get the browned meat without having to spend the time cooking each side before adding it to the pot with the aromatics.  Also by pureeing the sauce you lose the need to chop any of the veggies, meaning all you have to do is slice an onion and then everything else is just tossed in the pot.  I did this in a dutch oven but you could easily convert this to a slow cooker (especially in the summer not to heat up the house).  I included both so you can do either.  This recipe makes a ton so perfect for your next taco party.  It can be frozen for up to 6 months so if you don’t eat it right away divide the rest into smaller portions and then you can have pulled short rib tacos on a week night and blow everyone away.

Short Rib Tacos 

  • 1 ½ cups beer (I used Negro Modelo)
  • ½ cup cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • 6 ancho chiles, stemmed and torn into 1 inch pieces (I leave the seeds in but you can take them out for less heat)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (dried)
  • ½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1-2 large onions, sliced ½ inch thick slices
  • 3 pounds boneless short ribs

Take the short ribs out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you are going to cook.  Pat them dry with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees (if using the dutch oven).  Then dump in the beer, vinegar, anchos, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, clove and cinnamon in a large dutch oven (or slow cooker).  Season with salt and pepper again and then nestle in the onion rounds so they form a layer on the bottom of the pot (or slow cooker) that will keep the short ribs from touching the bottom.

Depending on the size of your onion it will probably only take one but have a second on hand just in case.  Place the short ribs on top and cover.  Place in the oven and cook for 3 hours (if using a slow cooker cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours).  The meat, even without browning, should have a nice crust on it.

Take out the meat and put it in a bowl.  Pull out the bay leaves and then blend the onions and the liquid in a blender or food processor.  The original said to trash the onions but why throw away flavor??  At this point you could probably just use the sauce but I like to get as much fat out of it as possible.  Easiest way to do this if you have time it to place it in the fridge or freezer until the fat creates a solid layer on top that you can scrape off (that will take a couple of hours).  If not just let sit until the fat rises to the top and skim it off.

Shred the meat with 2 forks or your fingers and stir it into the sauce.  It can be served right away, or stored in the fridge for a couple of days and the freezer for a couple of months.

ACC Travels: Frederick, MD

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A new feature for the blog – city guides!  I often get questions from friends on where to eat and shop when travelling so I figured I would share those tips with the masses.  For the first ACC Travels we are sticking close to home in Frederick, MD.  This quaint historic town is about a an hour and 15 minute drive from downtown DC, making it the perfect day trip.  I have been to Frederick probably a dozen or so times over the years but this most recent trip was definitely the most fun.  Tons of new restaurants and hip stores have opened up so even if you have been before it’s definitely worth a follow-up trip.  The impetus for this visit was a Frederick Keys game, the town’s minor league baseball team.  Usually a minor league game wouldn’t be that big a draw since we have the Nationals playing right in our hood but the after game entertainment was too hard to resist – monkeys riding dogs, herding goats.  Yea you heard that right.  So Patrick and I immediately bought tickets to the game (a cool $12 for the best seats available) and even booked a hotel room nearby so we could get the full experience.  Below are some of my favorite stops in Frederick and pictures from our trip – where is your favorite day trip stop??

VOLT restaurant – 228 North Market Street

wpid-20150620_131850.jpgIf you have heard of Frederick, MD and are not a civil war geek then odds are it’s because of VOLT.  This small town was put on the map when hip DC foodies began making the trek up 270 to eat Top Chef alum Bryan Voltaggio’s innovative food.  It had been a couple of years since I had eaten at VOLT but its food and impeccable service were just as good as remembered.  For day trippers there is an even bigger draw – a three course lunch menu for $35 that doesn’t disappoint.  The restaurant itself is housed in an incredible old building where Chef Votaggio was careful to keep its original charm while also incorporating really modern touches.  One thing that immediately sets VOLT apart from other high-end restaurants is the service.  Unfussy but still formal, these folks make you feel right at ease the minute you sit down.  Patrick and I started with 2 awesome drinks from their summer tiki drink menu.  We then tucked into a nice leisurely 2 hour lunch that ended with terrific french press coffee and two mini coffee cakes to take home with us.  Some highlights from the meal:

Softshell crab omlette

Softshell crab omelette

Hombolt Fog Cheese Plate with Kumquat

Hombolt Fog Cheese Plate with Kumquat

The Wine Kitchen on the Creek – 50 Carol Creek Way

This is a great spot to stop and grab a wine flight and/or some small plates.  A carefully curated wine list includes some really fun bottles.  They have preselected flights like “Pinot Envy” or “Whites of Fancy” or you can mix and match your own.

All the bartenders are really knowledgeable and can also whip up some pretty mean craft cocktails.  Even better?  They have daily happy hour specials at the bar, even on the weekends.  Its right along the creek (hence the name) which is a beautiful place to stroll along and feed the ducks.  The Wine Kitchen takes advantage of its location with a small outdoor seating area.

Black Hog BBQ – 118 South Market Street

wpid-20150620_201814.jpgThis place is the real deal.  Honestly, they could have been serving tires covered in BBQ sauce and Patrick and I would have been happy as the baseball game got totally rained out and we had to walk a mile back to town.  By the time we arrived at Black Hog we were totally drenched and starving (pro tip – BBQ joints are the best place to go after a rainstorm as each table comes with its own paper towels!).  However, we got super lucky because it not only provided shelter from the storm but also some of the best BBQ I have ever had.  Yes do the ribs and please the mac and cheese.  We also had the chopped pork and chicken which were delicious.  It’s a pretty casual place and be ready to wait as its very popular with the locals.  Luckily they serve local brews and there is a nice patio space outside while you are waiting for your ribs.

relish DECOR – 38 East Patrick Street

This store is absolutely adorable.  They carry a nice mix of hispter type kitchen goods (mason jars abound) but also some really nice classic pieces.  They carry Laguiole, a really well crafted French cutlery company,  flatware and knives in every color possible.  I already have an everyday set in black but was tempted to buy other colors.  They have an online shop if you cannot make it out to Frederick but it’s definitely one of those stores that’s better in person so you can pick up and see everything first hand – also the staff is incredibly helpful and accommodating.  How cute is this wall display of tureen tops?

Viniferous – 227 North Market Street

This wine shop has a little bit of everything so it’s a great place to browse.  Don’t have a heart attack when you pick up a seemingly innocuous bottle to discover that its $575 – they carry lots of great bottles in the $15-30 range.  In the back room they also have a small but decent selection of craft beer and a pretty extensive selection of magnum bottles.  They even had a magnum of my green wine!!!  Magnums are a great way to impress your guests and also means you don’t have to get up and grab another bottle in the middle of dinner.  They do free tastings on the weekends and have case discounts.

Emporium Antiques – 112 East Patrick Street

Give yourself plenty of time to cruise around this enormous shop.  Antique stores are pretty ubiquitous in these old towns but this place is one of the best in the region.  Clocking in at 55,000 square feet it has anything you might be looking for or just the right thing that you never knew you needed.  In particular there are great pieces of silver, medium size furniture and glassware for sale here.  It’s really fun to mix and match older antique pieces with new modern stuff on your table and this place is inexpensive enough that you can buy a set of glasses or plates for a minimum investment.  I came home with 2 small silver footed bowls to add to a set, a great silver shell bowl and darling anchor napkins.

Flying Dog Brewery – 4607 Wedgewood Boulevard 

Unfortunately the day we were in town the brewery was closed to tours for a special event so we didn’t get to visit.  However, this is some of the best beer made on the east coast so I am pretty confident that the tour and tasting is worth it.  They do tours Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and have the tasting room is open on the same days plus Sunday.  The tours are free and you can make your reservation online – if you go this summer definitely try Dead Rise make with Old Bay.  Doesn’t get more Maryland than that.

Smores Bars

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or this!

I don’t do camping.  I am what you call a city girl – too many trees and fresh air I say.  One previous misguided attempt at camping was derailed by a leaf falling on the tent which sent me running.  So I was a little late in the game on the whole smores thing. but I am catching up quickly.  I mean who wouldn’t like gooey melted marshmallow partnered with luscious chocolate and that snap of graham cracker??  Thanks to the proliferation of fire pits one doesn’t need to venture into the forest to enjoy a good smore.  I like to enjoy them on our back patio with a nice glass of red wine.

But what if it’s too hot or buggy out?  What if the thought of your children holding sticks over open fire makes you nervous (or your husband for that matter)?  Then these bars are for you.  My BFF and I thought about wpid-20150524_195514.jpgways to make these even easier by using brownie mix and fluff or marshmallows – I am proud to say she even experimented with it herself (Kar – share in the comments section!).  However, the base recipe is actually pretty easy, especially if you have a stand mixer.  Meringue can take some getting used to if you havent made it before but hopefully the pictures help  Just be careful to not set your broiler to high like it did – 5 more seconds and the whole thing would have been up in flames!  Also make sure to have some milk on hand, as these bars are super rich.  They can sit for a couple of days too so make them today and enjoy tomorrow.  Best way to test a new recipe?  Find a willing taste tester – as you can see these were a hit with the younger crowd.  Since its a holiday I am going to take a break from the menu calendar but never fear the shopping list and menu suggestions will be back next friday.  Happy 4th everyone!

Smores Bars 

  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs (almost an entire box – the rest are perfect for snacking)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch-square baking pan with foil, allowing 2 inches of overhang on the sides.  This is an awesome way of baking things, especially sticky things, as you can just pull the whole thing out using the tabs and not have to worry about the sad odd-shaped brownie.

In a medium bowl, using a fork, mix the crumbs, butter, sugar and salt until everything is combined. Press the crumbs evenly into 
the bottom of the prepared pan.  Dont worry if it’s not perfectly even, just make sure the crumbs cover the entire bottom.

Bake for 8 minutes and then take it out and let cool completely but leave the oven on.   Create a double boiler – that is a fancy way of saying placing a bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Fill the pot with water but not so much it touches the bottom of the bowl.  This is the best way to melt chocolate – it can scorch pretty easily so you want to use indirect heat.

Put the butter and the chocolate in the bowl and melt them together over medium heat, for about 5 minutes.  It will go much faster if you chop the butter and the chocolate into small pieces and stir it a lot.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Then whisk in the eggs until smooth, then stir in the flour until just incorporated. Pour the batter over the crust and use your spoon to even it out. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the edges look fully baked. Turn off the oven and let the bars cool, meanwhile preheat your broiler to medium or the lower setting.  Recreate the double boiler with a clean bowl and add the egg whites and sugar.  Whisk them together until the sugar has dissolved, a couple of minutes.

A good way of figuring out if the sugar is dissolved is to dip your fingers into the mixture and rub them together.  If you can still feel the grit of the sugar, keep it on the heat.  Once the sugar has dissolved transfer the mixture to your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and then start beating the mixture.  Start slowly and then increase the speed to medium for a couple of minutes until the mixture starts to firm up (almost like whipped cream).  Continue to beat at a high-speed until super glossy and pretty, about 6 or 7 minutes.  It should be able to form “stiff peaks” meaning when you pull the beater out of the mixture and turn it upside down the egg whites should be able to stand on their own.  Mound the meringue on top of the bars and smooth with a spatula (it doesnt need to be perfect, in fact the more texture the better the browning).  Put it in the broiler for 1 minute.  Check and see if it’s got enough color for you – do not walk away or these will burn!  Take it out of the broiler and let cool.  Use the tabs to pull out the bars and then cut and serve (it’s a little messy to cut so use a really sharp knife).  If serving later put them in an airtight container.

Spicy Lamb Burgers

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For those of you that live in D.C. you all remember the epic snow storm of 2012, lovingly known as Snowmageddon.  As a Boston girl I poo pooed the weather reports for weeks as I had seen the chicken little sky is falling routine time and time again in Washington only to end up with an inch of slush.  I was wrong.  It was an epic storm that will shape the lives of Washingtonians for decades (for those Bostonian readers this is ala the Blizzard of ’76).  Patrick and I hadn’t been dating long, so it was a tough proposition to be snowed in with someone for two weeks – especially after a couple of days when he realized we had run out of food!  Thankfully many Capitol Hill restaurants remained open through the whole ordeal, sending plows to their employee’s houses just so they could make it in, and welcoming snow-covered customers who piled wet mittens and scarfs on their floors.  Our savior was Cava Mezze on Barracks Row.  Now a local chain, back then it was a pretty small family run operation with several standout dishes.  Their happy hour deal on spicy lamb sliders and greek wine was all that stood between us and starvation (and probably a quick break up!).  Years later it is still my favorite thing on their menu and whenever I eat one I am taken back the memories of that crazy winter.

There are lots of lamb burger recipes out there so I played around with a bunch until I found something pretty close to the version at Cava’s.  Previously I used chopped fresh chili peppers to give it some heat but then realized foolishly that since one of their staple dishes is fresh harrissa paste served with pita, that the spice in the burger was likely coming from that same hot chili pepper paste mixed in with the ground lamb.  There are lots of recipes for harissa online but I usually buy mine in tubes or small cans at mediterranean markets.  Also Whole Foods started carrying Cava’s version which is outstanding.  If you cannot find it, any kind of pepper paste would work or a chopped jalapeno would work in a pinch.

Also I found that my other attempts using egg and other binders left a burger that resulted in a big mess on the grill.  These patties hold together much better though fair warning, lamb is a “softer” meat so can lead to less than instagram worthy burgers.  One tip is to form the burgers and then let them chill for at least an hour in the fridge before grilling them  This helps them hold together better.  Also a good trick for burgers with mix ins like this one – if you aren’t going to eat all 4 right away still go ahead and make the whole recipe.  Once you have formed the burgers take the patties you are not going to use and put them on a plate or baking sheet.  Place in the freezer for 2 hours – the patty will harden and then you can throw it into a freezer bag for up to 6 months.  When you want to make the burgers again just defrost over night on a plate and you will have a premixed, preformed burger all ready for the grill.  I serve mine on toasted english muffins, a terrific vessel for all burgers, along with my yogurt sauce, arugula and red onion.  These burgers would be great for a family BBQ, a nice alternative to the standard fare, or as we often do for a quick weeknight dinner paired with a large greek salad.  These would be a great addition to your 4th of July menu (as will Friday’s recipe).

Spicy Lamb Burgers 

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion – 1/2 chopped and 1/2 sliced to top the burgers
  • 3 cloves of garlic – 2 minced for the burgers and 1 minced for the yogurt sauce
  • 5 tablespoons chopped mint, divided – 2 tablespoons for the burgers and 3 for the yogurt sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons harissa (more if you like it spicier)
  • 5 to 6 ounces non-fat greek yogurt
  • 4 english muffins or hamburger buns
  • arugula or lettuce for topping

In a small pan heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook the chopped onion and 2 minced cloves of garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.  Let the mixture cool.  In a large bowl add lamb, chopped mint, the cooled onion and garlic mixture, harissa paste and salt and pepper.  Mix with your hands until just combined (don’t over work the meat or it will become tough).  Divide the meat into 4 and form patties.  If you have time chill for 1 hour in the fridge to make a firmer patty.

Heat grill on high and grill for 8-10 minutes.  Meanwhile mix the remaining garlic clove with the remaining 3 tablespoons of chopped mint, yogurt and salt and pepper to make the yogurt sauce.  Toast the english muffins while you let the burgers rest.

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