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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Baked Chicken Fingers

+ spicy honey mustard:

Well friends, it is that time. Five months after its conception, SPUDS is still going and going stronger every day! With that in mind, July is going to mark the "level 2" phase of our kitchen journey together.

Level 2? The recipes we have explored so far have been fairly simple, requiring very basic skills like chopping, boiling and pan frying. The ingredients have been equally simple, revolving around basics like eggs, potatoes and chicken. These "Baked Chicken Fingers" will be the first step towards more complex flavors, more interesting recipes and ingredients (still keeping our wallets in mind), the many uses of left-overs and classic college staples like fried rice and pizza. We're going to be packing more protein than your star line-backer and building a stash of take-out and delivery replacements that will save you time and money!

But I digress. I'm just that excited! These fingers are courtesy of Jamie Oliver and his cookbook "Food Revolution". I found the recipe for "Crunchy Garlic Fingers" online at Oprah.com one lazy afternoon. Immediately it reminded me of a particular college friend who amazed us with her ability to eat at least 6-7 double breaded, homemade chicken fingers at a sitting. Did I mention she's the tiniest little thing too!? She's now a graduate student studying half a world away from real American chicken fingers but that doesn't mean the rest of us can't enjoy them in her much lamented absence!

I was intrigued with this recipe because it had directions for baking the fingers as well as pan frying them. Did I also mention it had lemon zest in it? The lemon and garlic combined brought a lot of flavor to the coating and paired very nicely with the honey mustard. But, if you are really watching your weight just a spritz of lemon juice or a little spicy mustard would have been glorious too. One chicken breast was sufficient for two people but if you plan on feeding a small army, or at least 1 growing college boy, double the recipe or, as Jamie suggests, bread the chicken breasts whole and then slice after baking. This will require only one batch of breading. The honey mustard recipe is from allrecipes.com and makes about a 3/4 cup. I happened to be using a horseradish mustard, because I like it hot, but plain yellow mustard works beautifully and just who doesn't have a bottle of that stuff in the fridge?

Notes on Ingredients: Mustard keeps for ages in the fridge. I prefer spicy or Dijon because they have a little something extra but even plain yellow mustard can be used in a pinch. Both garlic and honey keep well at room temperature and do double duty in hundreds of recipes (everything from dressings to sauces to main dishes). Try to keep both on hand for fast, simple flavor boosters. And remember, buy your chicken when it is on sale and freeze it in individual servings. Just think ahead when you get ready to defrost it. Placing it in a bowl of warm, never hot, water for a few minutes is an easy way to speed up the process. Just be sure to pat the chicken dry before breading.

Shopping List:

Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup mayo
2 tablespoons plain mustard
1 tablespoon Dijon or spicy mustard (mix in a dash or two of hot sauce if you don't have this)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the chicken.
3. For best results, cover and chill overnight.

1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 lemon
6 saltine crackers or 1/2 cup dry cereal (such as corn flakes or rice crispies)
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
salt and fresh pepper
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 large egg
1 large skinless, boneless chicken breast

1. Preheat to 450.
2. Peel the garlic and zest the lemon.
3. Crumble the crackers (or cereal) in a large bowl or in a food processor. Add the garlic, butter, salt and pepper and lemon zest and combine thoroughly. If you don't have a food processor use your fingers or a fork to combine the butter and cracker mixture until it is combine and in fine crumbles.
4. Put flour on a second plate. Crack the egg into a bowl or plate and beat with a fork.
5. Cut each breast into strips, about an 1 inch thick.
7. Dip the chicken into the flour mixture to help the egg and crackers coat the breast. Then, dip the breasts into the egg mixture and then crumbs. Coat thoroughly, pressing crumbs to help them stick.
8. Place the chicken on a sheet pan and bake for 12-13 minutes or until cooked thoroughly. If unsure if the chicken is done, sacrifice on finger and cut it in half. If the meat is opaque and the juices are clear then the chicken is done.
9. Serve warm with honey mustard or your preferred dipping sauce.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tools: Simple Frostings

Cake and cupcake part I:

This cake was my first foray into the world of dormitory cake design. In fact, I remember making it my sophomore year of college, my last year on campus, in a dorm where the kitchen remained locked most of the year. It was the only cake of its kind, painstakingly baked in the basement (3 floors below) and decorated on the small vanity shelf of my still smaller dorm room.

Of course, as a sophomore you have the time catch the bus to your local value center, piddle around the isles looking for inspiration only to settle on a devils food cake mix, two cans of frosting and a jar of the prettiest sprinkles you can find. And when the "oohing" and "awwing" and the singing of "Happy Birthday" are finished you can sink your teeth into the cake without a care in the world for preservatives or, most importantly, less than complex flavors. Not so these days.

I remembered all of this while babysitting last night. The Easy Bake oven had been brought out of the closet and a generous box of frostings, sprinkles and "mixes" had been poured onto the counter with nothing to protect them from tiny hands with scissors. As I carefully monitored the delicate browning of the "yellow cake" I took the liberty to indulge in a nostalgic craving for a spoonful of the tub of vanilla frosting smiling dumbly on the counter. It was so smooth and so perfectly "vanilla" scented that I almost told myself it was real frosting. Good grief, how wrong was I?! It could not have been any less appetizing if it tried. Well, unless it had something really hideous hiding in it like a bit of blue cheese.

Remember friends, it is o.k. to feel betrayed, disappointed and even angry when you discover just how lousy canned frosting really is. I'm not saying I haven't made a cake mix every once in a while in a fit of impatience. Cake mixes are dependable and pretty fool proof and sometimes fool proof is just what we need. But, when you don't have the time to whip up a scratch cake batter the easiest way to gussy up a mix is by making home made frosting! And the king of easy home made frosting is, in fact, cream cheese.

Sure, cream cheese is a classic on red velvet or carrot cakes but it is also scrumptious on strawberry or even devils food. You can fold all kinds of yummies into it like sprinkles or cooled, toasted nuts or any number of crumbled candies. You can even smooth it on some cakes warm for a really gooey, sinful finish. It is the perfect consistency for piping pretty swirls or being smoothed on with an off-set spatula. Oh, you don't have one? Well, luckily, they are widely available at most large grocery stores or even in the cake station at your local craft store. They make all the difference when icing large cakes or even, that most delicate of delicacies, prettily trussing up a cupcake. At about $3 you'll be awfully glad you got one. It is probably the second most important tool in cake decorating. The first tool is, of course, the perfect simple frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(by Virginia Hospitality, 1975)

3 ounces cream cheese (never fat free)
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 - 2 cups sifted confectioners sugar, if the frosting appears too stiff use less powdered sugar

1. Beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth and fluffy with an electric mixer.
2. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating at medium speed until fluffy.
3. Spread onto cooled cake or store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Allow to come to room temperature before using if chilled.

A second simple and versatile frosting is what I am calling a "cocoa" frosting, meaning it is made with cocoa powder and not melted chocolate. I used this on the "Two Brown Cow" cupcakes but did not use a mixer and only a scant 1/3 cup milk to make the frosting appear more granular, and therefore, more like dirt. This frosting is really simple to make and would be the perfect base for dirt cakes studded with Oreo crumbles and gummy worms or any time you are looking for something with more texture. For this frosting I used the Hershey's Special Dark Dutched Cocoa. Of course, dutch process or not dutch process really doesn't mean a lot to most of us but it can make a difference in some recipes. Stay tuned for next months riveting post "A brief history of chocolate and cocoa in the kitchen".

Cocoa Frosting

1 stick melted butter
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

1. Melt butter and then whisk in the cocoa. Mix until there are no longer any lumps and all the cocoa is moistened.
2. Alternate adding the powdered sugar and milk, mixing with an electric mixer between additions.
3. Stir in vanilla. If the consistency is still a little too thick add another tablespoonful of milk until it is a spreadable consistency, mixing between additions. Refrigerate or use immediately. If chilled allow to come to room temperature before using.

... Now if we just had a really easy recipe for say... chocolate cupcakes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Egg Salad Sandwiches

Garden Variety Delicious:

There are very few things that are more humble and down to earth than creamy egg salad sandwiched between slices of toasty bread and crisp cool sheets of lettuce. Of course, this is the nostalgic memory of egg salad not the spongy, stick-to-your-teeth white bread and mayonnaise heavy reality you find in the refrigerated section of your nearest d-hall. But let's not dwell on the negative here, egg salad can still be your friend!

A really good egg salad has three elements. One, perfectly cooked boiled eggs. Eggs that are boiled to death make for grainy, tasteless egg salad. Two, a friendly but not obsessive ratio of mayonnaise "mixture" to egg. Shying away from the traditional "mayo only" base is a great idea. Sour cream, for example, partners perfectly with eggs and mayonnaise to create an even tastier, tangier base. Three, accompaniments that brighten the flavor and lighten the overall "heaviness" of your run of the mill commercial kitchen spread are vital. A recipe I found at Epicurious.com from "Bon Appetit Magazine" (2006) fit the bill quite nicely. I loved the smooth tang a little sour cream imparted when mixed with the mayonnaise. Initially, lemon zest seemed a strange here but it really does impart something special. (You already know how I feel about lemons). The addition of fresh peas, or frozen in a pinch, ads a subtle sweetness that is contrasted beautifully by the cheeky zip of Dijon mustard. The peas were inspired by another recipe I saw in passing that chalked the "salad" full of veggies. But, who doesn't like peas? With a little extra chopping "Sour Cream, Lemon and Herb Deviled Eggs" become the perfect summer sandwich spread ready for picnics, easy suppers or just a little TLC. I mean, whose Mom didn't make them egg salad sandwiches for field trips or car rides to summer camp?

Notes: Condiments like mayonnaise and mustard keep splendidly in the fridge which means you don't have to resupply very often. Before being opened these items can be stored in the pantry so stock up when there is a sale and save money later. Remember, use any older eggs first when making boiled eggs. They will be easier to peel than fresh eggs. If your roommate's six pack is taking up too much space lemons can always be left at room temperature before being used. If a picnic is in your future sandwich the egg salad with pieces of lettuce and then your bread of choice. This will keep the bread from getting soggy. Wrap tightly with sandwich wrap and be sure to keep in a cooler or refrigerated lunch box before enjoying.

Shopping List:
1/2 dozen eggs
1 lemon
sour cream
fresh (frozen) peas

Serves 2 generous sandwiches

3 eggs, boiled and shelled
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon spicy mustard (Dijon or whole grain would be great)
1/4 cup fresh or frozen peas (defrosted and drained)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover the eggs with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, covered.
2. Let the eggs boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the eggs sit, still covered, for 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water until the eggs are no longer warm. Peel, discarding shells.
3. Mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest and mustard in a bowl.
4. Cut the eggs lengthwise, scooping out the yolks into the bowl with the mayonnaise mixture. Reserve the whites.
5. Using a fork break up the yolks and mix evenly into the mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Dice the egg whites and mix into the yolk mixture along with the peas. Stir to combine.
7. Serve on toasted bread with lettuce and tomato if desired.
Updated from original 6/25

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vote today for SPUDS!

SPUDS loves cupcakes!

Vote today (and once every day until June 27th) for SPUDS: Easy Party Cupcakes @ Thoughtfully Simple.
There are some really fantastic entries in the "Most Creative Cupcake" competition but be sure to support SPUDS, the self-proclaimed dark horse, RIGHT NOW! Our adorable cupcakes don't have to cost an arm and a leg and you won't need any fancy tools to make them. "Two Brown Cows" and "Nest Eggs" are easy and charming cakes that anyone can make and enjoy.

Keep an eye on the blog for basic chocolate cupcakes + cocoa frosting later this week!

To Vote:
1. Click

Thanks you ALL for your support,
-The Fajita Bandita

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Low Fat Blueberry Muffins

Father's Day:

Whenever Father's Day came around as a child blueberries were always the order of the day. Blueberry pancakes were the go to staple along with t-shirts coated in fabric paint. But, as I got older the edibles I made became more complex and increasingly more heavily coated in butter cream or chocolate glaze. This year, the second year I've been home for Father's Day since college, the family is on a health binge. This doesn't happen very often and I am so excited about it that I don't have the heart to make something smothered in chocolate. These muffins were so quick and easy to make I whipped up a test batch in a little under an hour before work this morning. But, if you aren't a morning person try toasting the pecans and mixing up the dry ingredients the night before. Then, in the morning, all you have to do is grease the tins and add the wet ingredients to the dry and bake. These muffins also freeze beautifully for up to two weeks! Store in an airtight container, wrapped individually in plastic wrap first, and either thaw at room temperature or microwave for 30 seconds at half power.

I found this recipe in "Cook Healthy Cook Quick"(1994), a cookbook given to us years ago by a neighbor. Although they looked delightful and puffed up beautifully (even the mini muffins) they were just this side of bland. But at only 150 calories and 5 grams of fat a muffin I didn't want to do anything to endanger the "good behavior" these muffins encouraged. Adding a 1/4 a cup of toasted, chopped pecans to the batter does wonders to add flavor without a lot of fat. Doubling up on the amount of zest also helps brighten the flavor of the muffins. But, if it is a special occasion, say Father's Day, dust the top of the un-baked muffins with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon.

Did I mention that blueberries were scrumptious and are just coming into season? Seasonable fruit means student friendly prices tags. Blueberries are also an excellent source of antioxidants and the perfect companion to almost any breakfast. These low fat blueberry muffins are the perfect use for fresh berries and make a guilt-free mid morning or afternoon snack. Makes 1 dozen.

Grocery List:
Non-fat buttermilk

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup fresh blueberries (or frozen defrosted and drained)

3/4 cup non-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
zest of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Grease muffin tins with cooking spray or butter.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and allspice into a bowl. Stir in the toasted pecans and blueberries to coat.
3. Make a well in the dry ingredients.
4. Combine the buttermilk and remaining ingredients in a large cup or small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just until moist. Do not over mix! It is okay if the batter is lumpy.
5. Using an ice cream scoop spoon the batter into the greased muffin cups until 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden. Cool slightly and remove from the pans.

Spoon the batter into the greased mini-muffin tins until almost full. Top with cinnamon sugar mixture if using it and bake for 15 minutes at 375 or until golden. They are adorable!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tips: Eggs

"Yes, that is a huevo!"

Free pack of gum to the first person who can name the movie that quote is from... going... going... oh.

The "Birdcage" with Robbin Williams, Nathan Lane and a very "whate-malan" Frank Azaria is absolutely my most favorite movie. Coincidentally, the best scene for me is the dinner party were Armand dumps ladles of "sweet and sour peasant soup" haphazardly onto the table. The uncomfortable way the hard boiled eggs look back at the equally uncomfortable guests is truly epic. Nothing could be more sinister, more informal and uncalled for than a hard boiled egg in a sea of seafood chowder. How priceless! How undeniably inedible the egg becomes drowning in a bowl of hot, sour tomato soup. Genius.

Joking aside, the egg is a priceless part of your kitchen! Sure it is the indispensable center piece of breakfasts and brunches world wide but an egg can go well beyond a slice of toast. Eggs are essential to making fruit curds, custards, brushing pies and sealing pastries, omelets, meringues and crepes. Some of the simplest methods of cooking are boiling, scrambling and frying. At only 72 calories and with essential "good" fats and protein eggs are the perfect easy meal that every student can afford.

How to boil eggs - If you just bought a carton of fresh eggs and are having trouble using up your previous carton just boil them. Sources conclude that older eggs peel more easily when boiled than fresh eggs. Use boiled eggs on a salad, sliced and served warm with butter for a quick breakfast or deviled at your next barbecue.

  1. Place the eggs in the bottom of a saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Boil, covered for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.
  3. Immediately fill the pot with cold water. When the water is warm dump it and refill the pot with cold water. Repeat until the eggs are room temperature (2 or 3 times).
  4. Eggs should be refrigerated after being brought to room temperature.
How to scramble eggs - Scrambled eggs are one of the fastest, most fool proof ways to enjoy eggs in a pinch. Adding cheese ensures the scramble has a creamy consistency and adds extra flavor. For mix-ins try black beans, diced onion, peppers, crumbled bacon or sausage, green onions or even some hash browned potatoes. Serves 1

  1. Break two eggs into a small bowl, discarding the shells.
  2. Heat a frying pan over medium low heat, adding a tablespoon of butter to ensure the eggs don't stick.
  3. Break the eggs up with a fork, mixing until the white and yolk are combined. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. When the butter is melted and bubbly add the eggs to the preheated pan. Add two slices of cheese to the eggs, torn into pieces.
  5. Cook the eggs, stirring occasionally 2-3 minutes or until the egg is set and no longer runny. Scrambled eggs should always be cooked thoroughly.

How to fry eggs: Over easy eggs are perfect for dipping with toast or bacon. My grandfather always ate his eggs over easy and cut up the cooked egg with slices of bacon, resulting in a sauced and delicious mess of a breakfast. Over easy eggs are also a perfect way to top sandwiches, like the Sandwich Mixto con Huevo, or enjoyed on an English muffin with some ham, lettuce and tomato for a quick breakfast sandwich. Serves 1

  1. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. A hot pan is essential to keeping the eggs from sticking.
  2. Keeping the egg close to the surface of the pan break one (or two) eggs into the skillet. Be gentle, keeping the egg close to the pan protects the yolks from being broken. Discard shells.
  3. Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Using a spatula slowly edge the spatula under the perimeter of the egg white to loosen any edges that may be sticking. Then, slide the spatula under the egg completly and flip, tilting the pan slightly to help protect the yolk from breaking.
  4. Cook for another minute to minute and a half or until the yolk is cooked to the desired consistency. The white should be totally opaque and no longer runny. Serve immediately. *If you like a firm yolk flip the egg again so that the yolk is on top and cook another minute.
    **If you break the yolk no biggie, just cook a little longer and enjoy.


  1. When buying eggs at the grocery store always open the container and check for cracked eggs or eggs with uneven shells or spots.
  2. Always check the fresh date before buying eggs and refrigerate immediately. During the hot summer months buying a refrigerated grocery bag (available at most stores) will ensure your eggs stay cool on the ride home which will prolong freshness.
  3. Break eggs into a small bowl before adding to a recipe. This ensure you don't accidentaly get a piece of shell into your sauce or batter.
  4. Tempering eggs is very important when adding eggs to a hot liquid (like in the Basic Sweet Cake). Add a few spoonfuls of the warm liquid to the eggs and whisk vigorously. Repeat. Then, add the eggs to the warm batter or sauce. Without this step you are likely to end up with scrambled eggs.
  5. Eggs always taste better with seasoning so be sure to season well with salt and pepper. Other good spices and seasonings include chili flakes, curry, lemon zest or chives.
  6. The squiggle. For any of you who have seen me cook I always remove what my mother calls "the squiggle" from my eggs before using them. When you crack an egg there may be one or two white squiggly things attached to the yolk. Using a fork, remove these before scrambling or adding to a cake batter. This is, of course, totally optional but I did see a chef at a hibachi grill remove the squiggles before making fried rice once. Needless to say, he got an A+ from this diner.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Twice Baked Potatoes

On the half shell:

I found this recipe hiding in the archives of a copy of "America's Cook Book" from 1974. I enjoy browsing through the recipes and giggling to myself at the black and white photographs of wedges of Roquefort cheese and jelly rolls filled with cream and fruit. There is something precious about a sponge cake or, dare I say it, a Jello mold that I can't quite explain. I mean, what is so special about carrots, sliced beets and orange Jello covered in a sour cream sauce? Inexplicably, I have a hidden love of basic homey things that were once chic and worthy of Bridge nosh or the Jones' coming over for supper. I accept it willingly. Have you ever seen a Jello mold? They are so cute and so equally alien and gelatinous you can't not love them! Conveniently, these "vintage" recipes often circulate around a simple list of basic pantry ready ingredients without all the frills and thrills of modern dishes. Which is perfect because sometimes all we want is a quick and easy meal without the thrills and extra price tags.

Most recipes I came across, like "Italian Pickled Beef Wedges" or "Hot Tuna Sauce", were a little too far out for me. But, there were many more that were simple wholesome meals like "Baked Potatoes on the Half Shell". When my parents and I decided to have burgers on the grill tonight in a vain attempt to keep the house cool in spite of the heat my idea of making oven fries was kindly shot down. Instead I settled down and found these twice baked potatoes, humorously called "on the half shell" instead of twice baked. Cooking them in the microwave first meant the oven could stay off and the taters were done in about 4 minutes. A little pepper jack cheese spiced up the original recipe which was vague and general. Topped with a spoonful of sour cream the potatoes were scrumptious.

Adding some steamed broccoli and a few slices of crisped bacon would transform these potatoes into a light meal or a deluxe side dish that would be perfect with a steak, burger or grilled chicken.

Makes 4

2 potatoes, I prefer red skinned potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onions
1/4 cup milk, warmed
1/3 cup pepper jack cheese (or cheddar if you prefer)
1 tablespoon sour cream, plus more to serve

1. Wash and dry the potatoes. Cut off any major blemishes or eyes. Do not peel.
2. Microwave the potatoes using the "potato" setting or 4-4 1/2 minutes until fork tender. Be sure to poke holes in the potato with a fork or a sharp knife before microwaving.
3. Let the potatoes cool before handling.
4. In a separate bowl add the onions, sour cream, butter, cheese (reserving 2 tablespoons), garlic salt and pepper.
5. When the potatoes have cooled slightly cut in half length wise. Gently spoon out most of the insides, leaving a layer of potato around the sides to hold the shape. Add the potato to the bowl with butter and seasonings.
6. Mix the potato and seasonings with a fork, adding the heated milk a little at a time until the potatoes are smooth but not runny. You may not need the whole 1/4 cup.
7. Preheat the broiler on your oven to low. Spoon the potato mixture back into the shells, filling evenly. Sprinkle with the reserved cheese and place under the broiler.
8. Broil 2-3 minutes until the cheese is melted and the potatoes are gently browned. Remove from the broiler and serve warm with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of green onions or chives.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

6 minute Fruit Empanadas

(cream cheese + berries) > omelet

Previously this week I started a dreadfully boring post about omelets because I said I would talk about eggs this month. But this recipe came about so suddenly that I don't think I would be able to make it through a boring post about omelets (sorry Omelet). It is probably because I love fruit more than eggs, especially summer fruit like strawberries. So, I made a test batch of "Strawberry Salsa" with cinnamon sugar tortilla chips to enjoy at work instead and pushed omelets back to some unidentifiable day this month. The salsa was okay, lacking any real zip or complexity, but the chips were AMAZING. Buttering up a tortilla and sprinkling it generously with cinnamon sugar before subjecting it to a blazing hot boiler means one thing: awesome. The moment I tasted one of those coy little triangles I knew they could be so much more than mere chips.

In high school my Spanish teacher, whose Cuban parents were the proud owners of a local hot spot for pork, plantains and everything fried, would make us empanadas with guava and cream cheese. I loved the hot, oozy bubbles of cream cheese and sweet guava that oozed out of the buttery, fried shell after the first bite. Sadly though, I'm not Cuban and the idea of frying homemade dough in six inches of boiling hot oil makes me nervous. Luckily, I'm not alone. A brief Internet search and a endearing article later I was in business (the empanada business that is). If you are looking for a healthy option just use a wheat tortilla, low-fat cream cheese and a little margarine in place of the ingredients below. These "pasteles" take mere minutes to make and would be really scrumptious for breakfast. After one taste you won't ever go to your 8am hungry again!

So say hello to caramelized, buttery tortilla shells sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and filled with bubbly cream cheese and jammy berries. The one catch is that the seal on the tortilla will not be water proof so beware of hot, delicious berry juices that drip out.

Serves 2

2 six inch flour tortillas
2 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup diced strawberries
2 ounces cream cheese, softened slightly
2 tablespoons raisins, roughly
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Cut up the strawberries and place in a bowl with the orange juice, zest. Sprinkle with a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon sugar if the berries are tart.
2. Place the raisins in a small heat proof bowl with enough boiling water to cover them. Let soak until they are plump. Then, drain and add the raisins to the strawberry mixture.
3. Preheat your broiler to high.
5. Brush one side of a tortilla with the melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Flip (so that un buttered side is face up) and place a slice of cream cheese on one half of the tortilla.
6. Add 2 tablespoons of the fruit mixture on top of the cream cheese. Using your finger, smooth some butter along the perimeter of the tortilla to act as a glue.
7. Fold the second half over to cover the fruit and cheese, pressing down to seal. Press firmly with a fork to keep the emapanda closed. Place on a baking sheet and repeat with remaining tortillas.
8. Place the tortillas on the second rack from the top beneath the broiler. Broil for 1-2 minutes, keeping a close eye on them (it is best not to step away). When the tortilla is puffy and the sugar is caramelized flip and broil for another 2 minutes until both sides are crispy.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tzatziki + Simple Chicken

Not to be confused with chicken tetrazzini:

That's right, chicken! I'm surprised too. I might have been dissuaded by the can of black beans in the pantry if there hadn't been a specific request for tzatziki sauce which, obviously, goes well with chicken (or lamb). So here we are embarking on only our second or third chicken recipe. I have to tell you though, a chicken sauced with tzatziki is the perfect place to take a stand in the name of poultry.

Some research has shown that cucumbers, although humble veggies, can really make an impact. I first read about salting and draining cukes as a way of concentrating the flavor in a recipe for "Icy Cucumber Salad" in a cookbook by Kathleen Daelemans. Chopping the cucumber, salting it and then letting it rest in a colander for 5-10 minutes concentrates the flavor beautifully. Paired with creamy Greek yogurt and a few spoonfuls of sour cream and you've got the perfect stage to debut summer cukes.

This recipe was inspired by "Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2009" but now with more kick! Greek style yogurt is really delicious and has a splendid whipped texture. But, that doesn't mean I like to spoon a lot of it over my oatmeal in the morning. Buying a small 6 ounce container is affordable, ranging on average from $1 to $1.50, and leaves just enough left over to drizzle with honey or stir into some curried tuna salad. Curried tuna salad? Oh, maybe later this week.

If you didn't figure it out already I would give a lot of money for a really splendid gyro with falafel and tzatziki. Some recipes call for mint but I don't think you need it here. The best tzatziki I have ever had had distinctive bite thanks in part to fresh garlic and diced red onion with nary a hint of fresh mint. Sure I had dragon breath all the way home but it was totally worth it. This sauce is awesome but a little less fiery. I just enjoyed it over chicken and a big, crispy fresh salad. But the tzatziki is versatile enough to enjoy with just pita chips/wedges as an appetizer. For about $10 you can have a really fabulous chicken with tzatziki dinner fit for any big, fat Greek wedding.

Note: the sauce shouldn't be made more than an hour or so in advance. It will begin to get watery the longer it sits.

Ingredients: Tzatziki
3/4 cup cucumber, peeled (if you prefer) and cut into small cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 ounces plain Greek style yogurt
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon, or to taste, cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped and smashed
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2-3 stalks green onion, green part only and sliced

For the chicken:
2 chicken breasts, skinless boneless
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of half a lemon

1. Wash the cucumber. If you prefer peeled veggies use a potato peeler to remove the dark green skin. Cut it into rings, stacking them one on top of the other and then cut into small cubes.
2. Place the cucumber in a small colander on a plate and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, tossing to coat. Fill a bag with ice cubes and water and place on top of the colander for 5-10 minutes. This will allow some of the water to drain out of the cucumbers.
3. Meanwhile, peel and smash the garlic. Dice finely then press, using the side of the knife, with a little salt. This will soften it and allow it to be more like a paste.
4. In a bowl stir the yogurt, pepper, cayenne, garlic and lemon juice. Cut the white end (about 2 inches) off the green onions, storing remaining onions in a paper towel in the fridge, and slice finely. Add the green onion and sour cream.
5. Toss the cucumber into the yogurt mixture and stir. Can be refrigerated an hour before ready to use.
6. For the chicken, remove any extra fat or skin. Cut into bite sized pieces of equal size. Season with salt and pepper and the juice of half a lemon.
7. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Toss in the chicken and cook, without turning, about 4 minutes depending on the size of your pieces. Turn and continue cooking until opaque and juices run clear.
8. Serve the chicken over a bed of lettuce with and an extra squeeze of lemon. Drizzle with tzatziki or serve on the side with pita.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Banana Caramel

Spoon me up Scottie:

I really don't think it could be any more oppressive than it was outside today. Let me add that it is incredibly difficult to be comfortable in 90 degree weather when you work in a chocolate shop. The thermometer might have said "70" but it felt more like I had been marooned in the Arctic. Another round of thunderstorms temporarily dulled the throbbing heat but by the end of the day I was too tired to be inspired.

The two bananas speckling on the counter can certainly feel my pain. In this weather, even with that blessed air conditioning, they went from green to perfect to starting to spot in no less than 36 hours. While lamenting the fact that they were now "unsuitable" for cereal duty I remembered a recipe for a delightful, stove top sauce. It isn't a true caramel but it has some of the same ingredients and flavors (ie. brown sugar and butter). That said it isn't a true Bananas Foster either seeing as how liquor is expensive (you can put your lighters away) and optional. If you've got some on hand why not stir it in at the end, eh? Try adding a tablespoon once you have removed the sauce from the heat, stirring gently to not break up the banana. If not, with just a little toasted coconut this stuff is liquid gold.

I like it in crepes, covering a wedge of crisp white Angle Food, over pancakes or waffles, maybe drizzled on that yummy Sweet Cake. But today, after a cool shower and fresh pjs, I can't imagine anything better than a waffle cone filled with vanilla ice cream and a barely warm gooey spoonful of Banana Caramel sauce. Unluckily, the only ice cream in our freezer is a lonely 100 calorie ice cream sandwich (that's karma for you). If tomorrow is anything like today the first thing I'm doing after work is scooping up a quart of frozen yogurt and one very happy disposition. *Crosses fingers*

Note: adding a little lemon juice helps keep the bananas from turning brown but this sauce is best made just before using.

2 bananas
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3-4 tablespoons coconut, toasted
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, 1 teaspoon orange juice

1. Toast the coconut in a dry saucepan over medium heat, tossing occasionally. Remove to a separate bowl when it is lightly browned and fragrant.
2. Peel the bananas and slice 1/2" thick. Sprinkle with the lemon juice.
3. Melt the butter in the same saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon and orange zest stirring until the sauce is combined and bubbly. Add the orange juice and stir until smooth and combined. The sugar should be totally dissolved by this point.
4. Add the bananas to the saucepan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, coating gently with the sauce.
5. If you prefer a thicker sauce remove the bananas and continue to cook until the brown sugar mixture has thickened, stirring often. Replace the bananas at the last minute and toss gently.
6. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the vanilla. Spoon over the victim of choice (ie a stack of pancakes or a bowl of vanilla ice cream) and top with the toasted coconut.

Updates: As of 6/4 this recipe has been updated to include 1 teaspoon orange juice and 1/2 a teaspoon orange zest. Really guys, you need it. The vanilla has been reduced to 1/4 teaspoon.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

PB & G Hummus

Price check:

I am not very good at using computers. If the scarcity of my recipe photos didn't give it away I guess I shouldn't point it out. But, it isn't always my fault. The 10 year old PC I sent to the scrap yard after disabling the video driver was pretty innocent I'll admit. Although, if you could see the laptop I'm typing on right now you know might take my side. "Out-dated" doesn't even begin to describe it. I would be inclined to think I'm just being greedy asking for lightning fast Internet, limitless space for photos, recipes and pages of links if all of that wasn't standard on models these days. Luckily, not everything has to be brand new to exceed expectations. Take my Mom's food processor for example.

Oscar (the food processor in question) has been pureeing bananas and chopping nuts for at least two decades. I distinctly remember being afraid of the loud whizzing sound as a child and the way pureed bananas tasted and smelled. And while I still have to climb on a chair to pull it down from the cabinet Oscar is the same zippy, well-loved food processor I knew growing up. What a relief! My favorite job for my powerhouse of pureeing: hummus. It could have something to do with the fact that it combines two of my favorite things... ie garbanzo beans (chick peas) and lemon. It might be because I always ordered it at a favorite campus haunt with a pot of Golden Monkey tea and a platter of pita and cucumber. Regardless, it costs even less to make at home and is a fail proof appetizer or snack!

The catch is most good hummus recipes call for tahini. Depending on how extensive your local grocery's International section is you can find tahini in many local markets. The price tag varies as much as the size of the jar or the price. Both are usually excessive. So, I had to ask myself if there was a less expensive replacement. I immediately thought of the 2 pound jar of peanut butter that used to reside in our apartment pantry. Unsurprisingly, Alton Brown beat me to it. Below is a variation on Alton's recipe that is a little spicier than the original. Using peanut butter instead of tahini imparts a friendly, toasty aroma. And while you won't find a noticeable difference in the PB version your wallet certainly will!

If you like the freshness of olive oil drizzle some generously on the top of the hummus just before serving. Go the extra mile and get a bunch of fresh parsley. Store in paper towels in a zip lock and use generously in salads or as a garnish for savory dishes.

1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained (4-5 tablespoons liquid reserved)
3 cloves garlic
2-3 peanut butter, smooth is best
1/2 - 1 lemon, juice and zest
1 handful parsley
1/3 cup olive oil, scant
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or hot sauce)
1/4 teaspoon cumin, optional

1. Drain the garbanzo beans into a small bowl.
2. Smash the garlic cloves on the counter and remove the skins. Put in the food processor with a little salt and chop.
3. Add the beans and 3 tablespoons of reserved liquid. Add the juice and zest of half a lemon. Puree.
4. Taste for seasonings. If the texture is too grainy add the remaining liquid and the rest of the juice (taste frequently if you don't like hummus too sour or too spicy) until you find the desired consistency. Add the peanut butter, parsley, cayenne and cumin if using it. Puree again.
5. Add the olive oil slowly and puree until the hummus is smooth and roughly the consistency of mayonnaise. Top with remaining zest and a drizzle olive oil. Serve with veggies and/or pita chips.