recipes

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.

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.

Swiss Chard Pasta

Pasta and cream – oh you are so yummy but oh so bad for me.  Honestly any kind of carb covered in any kind of cheesy or creamy sauce is something I can get on board with, but know I should limit.  So what if you add a ton of dark leafy greens and lean white meat chicken to the mix?  Still not healthy?  Ok fine maybe not healthy but this one pan meal is super satisfying, delicious and not nearly as bad for you as it tastes.  A scant 1/2 cup of cream for 4 servings means only 2 tablespoons of cream per person, which is the smae amount you probably sloshed into your morning coffee anyway.  My mom passed this one down to me (though I have taken some creative liberties) and I loved it from the first time she made it for me.  If you have never cooked with swiss chard before it’s that beautiful green you may have seen at the market with the vibrant red or multi colored stalks.  Most recipes will tell you to just use the leafy parts and cut out the tougher stems but I love their flavor and the bite they give to this pasta.  If you want to mellow them even more you can add the stems first and then the leaves later so you cook them down more.  The red from the chard stems also turns the onions pink which is just fabulous in and of its self.

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The key to chard or really any green is making sure its nice and clean.  Grit can easily find its way into greens and the last thing you want to do is chew down on sand when you are eating.  Prewashed and bagged greens help with this but for all other greens I really like a salad spinner.  It’s an easy way to get them clean and can double as a storage vessel for greens in the fridge.  When you come home from the store just wash the greens, run them through the spinner (I have and really like this one) and then keep in the fridge, they will last a lot longer and be ready to use when you want them.  For this and most recipes where you want to wilt down greens I also like to leave just a little water still clinging to the leaves – this will help create some steam in the pan and move along the wilting process.  This is a really fast dinner, made more substantial by the addition of chicken but it could easily fill vegetarian folks up without.  And the smell of the onions cooking in butter…mmmmm so good.

Swiss Chard Pasta 

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large bunch of swiss chard, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 8 ounces penne or other short cut pasta
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 to 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, chopped or shredded into bite size pieces (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a skillet.  While butter is melting also bring a pot of water to boil for pasta and cook the pasta while making the sauce.  When the butter is melted add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Start adding the swiss chard in handfuls, tossing with tongs if necessary to wilt the greens and get them all to fit.

Season with salt and pepper.  Cook the chard down until wilted, about 5 minutes, then throw in the white wine and allow it to all cook out, about 2 to 3 minutes.

When the pasta is ready toss it in the pan along with the red pepper flakes, the nutmeg and cream (and chicken if including it).  Toss the pasta and sauce together and let cook together for a couple of minutes more allowing the cream to coat the pasta and the flavors to meld.

Chicken Enchiladas

I know I have mentioned our Fiesta Friday tradition.  I am not sure exactly when it got started but it did come about pretty organically.  I realized I was doing tacos and margaritas on Fridays a lot because it seemed like such a great way to cap off the week.  Of course then I made the mistake of naming it and making it a thing so DSC04503that my husband, friends and colleagues were asking me every Friday what was on the menu for Fiesta Friday.  The pressure was on and while I like the idea of a fiesta to unwind after a long week, cooking a full meal can also be daunting after a week of work.  I knew enchiladas would be the answer to this problem.  Somewhat time-consuming to make but they freeze great and can be cooked right from the freezer so basically all you have to do when you get home on Friday is turn on the oven and pour the margs.  I got the cooking method for this one from Cooking Light magazine but the rest is a creation of my own.  Cooking Light often has great ideas on how to freeze things or do them in advance but I find a lot of their recipes almost too dumbed down.  That’s why its good to scavenge inspiration from a variety of sources – meals eaten in restaurants, magazines, friend’s cooking etc.  This recipe is a chameleon –  make it with shredded pork instead of chicken, tomatillo sauce instead of enchilada sauce, swap the corn for beans – you get it.  I made my own enchilada sauce but guess what?  Totally not worth it – turns out this is one of those times that the store-bought is just as good, if not better.  I would budget 2 enchiladas per person but if you were super hungry then someone could easily polish off 3.

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Chicken Enchiladas 

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 5 chipoltes in adobo, chopped
  • 4 ounce can chopped green chilis
  • 14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups corn kernels (frozen is fine)
  • 4 scallions
  • chicken from 1 chicken breast, shredded (I used rotisserie chicken or you could roast 1 skin on bone in breast)
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups enchilada sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded jack or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (do this even if you are freezing them as you need to par bake before freezing).  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the chipotles, green chilis, tomatoes and corn.  Turn up the heat to medium high and cook for approximately 8 minutes until everything has combined and some of the liquid from the chilis and tomatoes has cooked off.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in the chicken and scallions.  Remove from the heat.

Spray the pan or pans with cooking spray and put the enchilada sauce in a shallow bowl.  Microwave the tortillas for 20 seconds (do 6 at a time so they stay warm).  Microwaving the tortillas makes them more pliable and easier to stuff.  Spread several tablespoons of enchilada sauce on the bottom of the pan/pans to cover with a thin layer.  Dip a tortilla into the enchilada sauce and shake off the excess.

This is a messy job so just get into it.  Stuff the tortilla with several tablespoons of the chicken mix and fold over the two sides.  If you have over stuffed the tortilla theends won’t meet, so then just scoop out a little and keep moving.

Put into the pan with the seam side on the bottom.  Keep going with the rest of the tortillas – if you are making two pans, 6 tortillas will fit in each.  Don’t worry if you have to squish them in to fit, it’s actually better if they are tightly in the pan.

Microwave the second batch of tortillas and repeat until there are no more tortillas or stuffing.  Spoon over any remaining enchilada sauce and then cover with cheese.  If eating now: bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  If freezing: bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Once room temperature, tightly cover with foil and freeze.  Then to reheat bake it straight from the freezer at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.  I baked one to eat immediately and one to freeze which was perfect.

Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Lasagna

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I have already mentioned that I am a reformed ricotta lover, previously eschewing it in any form until I had good ricotta.  Maybe that is why I also was never a big lasagna fan as so often it was stuffed with a ton of bland crumbly ricotta.  Also I think back in the 80’s lasagna was just plain boring – always the same fillings, always meat sauce with ricotta and rubbery noodles, always overcooked and heavy.  I have come a long way since then, as has lasagna.  Now you see more and more veggie options, using bechamel sauce, different cheeses, less pasta and more fillings.  There are several recipes I like, some heavier than others but for the summer a lighter flavor profile seems appropriate.  The best thing about lasagna is that you can make several in advance and freeze them.  I will admit that putting them together can be sort of tedious but then just make a whole bunch at a time so you have a quick dinner any night of the week.  There are two schools of thought on freezing lasagna – to pre bake or not – and I fall in the not category.  Assemble the lasagna, cover it with saran wrap and foil and then when you want to bake it off just leave it in the fridge over night and bake the next day.  I find if you bake then freeze then bake again it can really dry out but try it for yourself and see what you like better.  This recipe would make one large lasagna for about 8 people, or 2 smaller ones for 4 each.  I like to serve it with an arugula salad tossed with a lemony dressing to add some sharp notes but it would also be great with sautéed escarole or a caesar.

Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Lasagna 

  • 2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (either homemade or a good quality like Rao’s)
  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese (either homemade or good quality)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 8 sheets of no boil pasta
  • 16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

If baking right away preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl mix the ricotta, goat cheese, egg, basil and prosciutto together then season with salt and pepper.  Put a 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the large pan or distribute equally among the 2 smaller pans, using the spoon to spread out the sauce.

Then add 4 sheets of the no boil pasta on top (4 laid in the bottom of the large pan or 2 in each small pan).  Then add half of the mozzarella on top of the pasta.

Next you add half of the ricotta mixture – don’t worry if your layers of sauce or cheese don’t cover the whole surface, once these get in the oven everything pretty much melts together.  As you can see I just sort of dabbed  the mixture on.

Then comes another 1/3 of the sauce, 4 sheets of pasta, the remainder of the mozzarella and the remainder of the ricotta mixture.  Finish it all off with the rest of the sauce and then top with the grated parmesan cheese.

If you are going to freeze them cover with a layer of saran wrap (tomato sauce plus tin foil makes for a bad reaction and the saran adds an extra layer of protection from freezer burn anyway) then a layer of tin foil.  They should freeze well for 6 months – take it out of the freezer the night before you want to bake it and let it defrost in the fridge.  You could also just assemble these and leave them in the fridge for a couple of days (3 max) and then bake.  Once you are ready to bake put the lasagna in a 400 degree oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes, maybe 40 if it’s coming from the fridge.  It should be brown and bubbly on the top.  Let cool for 5 minutes or so before cutting into slices.

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