Friday, July 23, 2010

Baked Zucchini "Fries"

From what I understand, a common problem with CSA subscriptions and/or growing a home garden is that zucchini comes in quicker than you can eat it. Sure enough, we got a batch of golden zucchini in our second week of Plow to Porch, but since so many of the blogs I follow are also CSA subscribers, I had already starred a few zucchini recipes. I knew I would make zucchini fries the first time we had a delivery. I love bread crumbs in all varieties, but I think panko is the way to go with this recipe, as it gives the zucchini that extra crunch that makes this dish reminiscent of french fries (they definitely don't taste like fries, though!). This did take a while to make, and since my usual veggie side dishes don't involve much prep work, that was the only negative. But this was a fun, tasty recipe and I know I will make these again (and I already have, actually!).

Baked Zucchini Fries (from Le Petit Pierogi)
1 zucchini, cut into sticks
2 eggs
splash of milk (about 2 tbsp)
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs (I'm going to grind mine in the Magic Bullet next time for a finer consistency)
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
pepper (I added some cayenne as well)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and line a large baking dish with foil and spray with non stick spray.Set up a breading station. On one plate, add flour. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and milk together with a fork. On another plate add panko and cheese and mix together. Season zucchini sticks with salt, pepper and cayenne.One by one, dredge zucchini sticks in flour, then dip in egg mixture, then press into panko until completely coated. Place on baking sheet side by side, until all zucchini sticks are breaded.Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown - flip after 10 minutes and serve hot.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ribs that my Husband Will Eat

My husband used to make fun of me all the time for my picky eating habits. I admit, when he first met me 13 years ago, I was pretty funny about food. I would rule out entire huge cuisine groups as foods I didn't like ("I don't like Mexican food" & "I don't like Chinese food" were a couple of his favorites, especially when he found out I hadn't had any Chinese food before). Obviously, that isn't a problem anymore. I daresay I am MUCH more adventurous that my husband when it comes to food. One of his quirks is that he doesn't much enjoy eating anything that involves bones. Chicken must be boneless. Pork Chops - boneless. And much to my chagrin (yay, Twilight readers!), he does not like ribs at all. Not only do the bones bother him, he is also not a fan of traditional barbeque sauce. But hooray! I finally found boneless country style ribs at the store right around the 4th of July and knew I was all set to research a sauce recipe that would not be sickeningly sweet so that my husband and I could enjoy ribs over the 4th weekend. I decided to go with Scott's Savory Barbeque Sauce on Allrecipes because I pretty much had all the ingredients and it also looked like the sauce was not too sugary and so would work pretty well with my planned slow cooker method of cooking. These turned out really good, and while they weren't true ribs in the traditional sense, I was happy to satisfy a bit of my rib cravings with a recipe I could cook at home and my husband could eat. These were definitely healthier than what I would have gotten at the local barbeque place, so that's a definite added bonus!

Scott's Savory Barbeque Sauce (from Allrecipes, but scaled WAY down!)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
5 oz ketchup
1 Tbs Paprika
1/4 pound dark brown sugar
1 Tbs Salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbs Worchestershire Sauce
2 Tbs lemon juice
Mix all well, store up to one month in fridge, or pour over 1.5 lbs boneless country style rib meat in slow cooker. Cook on low 8-9 hours.

Homemade Pesto with Roasted Tomatoes

I have mentioned in a past post that I have been trying to plan meals that involve "cleaner" eating. A major part of that has been signing up for Plow to Porch, a fantastic local organic fruit & vegetable delivery service here in Santa Barbara. I have a very good friend that taught me that eating locally is actually, in general, better/more helpful for the environment than eating organic. I live in Santa Barbara. It doesn't get much easier to eat locally than here. We have a ton of Farmer's Markets (including one that is about a block and a half from home, twice a week), and there are a lot of local farmers growing great things. I even went to high school with twins who were growing up on one of the bigger local farms. So why do I need a special service to eat locally? I hate making decisions! I needed someone else to tell me what looks good week to week and then I could plan my meals from there. I have been so happy with the service so far. It is similar to a CSA (community supported agriculture), but without the season long commitment, and with delivery to boot!

My first box arrived a few weeks ago, and I decided to immediately cook up this homemade pesto with Roasted Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes and Green Garlic. I roasted the tomatoes & garlic in a 400 degree oven until they were just starting to get color. Meanwhile, I placed a large bunch of basil, a 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts into my Magic Bullet and blended the heck out of it all. When the garlic and tomatoes were done, I added the whole head of green garlic cloves into the pesto as well (green garlic is much more mellow than regular, especially roasted) and blended that up. There was not very much pesto sauce, maybe a couple Tablespoons, and I was worried there wouldn't be enough when I added it to my pasta & chicken. That problem was solved when I poured the tomatoes and their sweet juices into the mix. The juices thinned out the sauce a little (and added so much sweetness!). This was a delicious meal, although the husband thought I used too many tomatoes. Funny, because I could have doubled them and still wouldn't have had enough for me, they were so delicious and sweet! I'm so excited for the fruits & vegetables we get to enjoy with Plow to Porch!

Pesto with Roasted Tomatoes & Green Garlic (my recipe)
1 large bunch basil
1/4 cup + 2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes (mine were rainbow heirloom)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 head green garlic
12 oz boneless chicken breast, cubed
1/2 lb short cut whole wheat pasta (like bowties or rotini)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta according to directions. In 9" x 13" roasting pan, mix tomatoes, salt & pepper and 2 tsp olive oil. Cut the top off green garlic head and toss into roasting pan. Roast until juices are flowing and tomatoes and garlic are just starting to carmelize, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, blend basil, walnuts, parmigiano cheese & olive oil in food processor, blender or Magic Bullet until very smooth. Add cooled garlic, separated into cloves and blend well. Cook cubed chicken breast in nonstick skillet until cooked through. Add chicken, pesto, tomatoes and tomato juices into drained pasta and combine well. Serve immediately or allow to cool and serve as a cold pasta salad.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Scallops and Asparagus with Sake

Yay, another scallops dish! I had a pretty crummy day on the day I made this (I bruised my knee so bad I could barely walk, simply because I'm a clutz!), and scallops make everything better! I found this recipe in one of my weight watchers recipe books that I hadn't even really looked at since buying it (bad me). This came out so well, it really surprised me. Lots of crisp veggies, the scallops kept their color nicely, and the sauce complemented it all very nicely without overpowering the dish or making it too sweet, like some Asian sauces can. I've also been trying lately to cook more clean (ie: cutting out processed foods, keeping the ingredients simple) and this recipe fit into that plan quite well. I will definitely make this one again, and might try it with chicken next time.

Scallops and Asparagus with Sake (from Weight Watchers "Take Out Tonight" cookbook)
2 tsp canola oil
1 lb sea scallops, muscle removed
2 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound asparagus, cut diagonally into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
2 Tbs sake
1 Tbs reduced sodium soy sauce (I used Tamari)
1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
4 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally (I omitted)
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Swirl in 1 tsp oil. Add scallops. Cook, turning, until golden brown and just opaque in the center, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Return the pan to the heat. Swirl in remaining oil, then add ginger & garlic. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about a minute. Add asparagus, peppers and carrot. Cook, stirring until veggies are crisp tender, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the sake, soy and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Cook over high heat, stirring, until flavors are blended. Return scallops to pan, stir in scallions. Cook until just heated through. Serve immediately with rice.

Birthday Dinner at Opal

One of my favorite things about birthdays is that we always go out to a really nice dinner to celebrate. We never go out for Valentine's Day anymore, and we rarely go out at all now that I've been cooking so much at home, so it is a great treat to go out to a nice dinner. Dinner for my birthday this year was at Opal, a restaurant that I can't believe we hadn't been to before. Opal classifies themselves as California Cuisine, but maybe I'm just too much of a California girl, because I would just classify it as simply good food. I think of Californian Cuisine as usually foo-foo fancy dishes with far too little food on a plate. Opal has some really inventive dishes, but without too many unique ingredients, so you aren't confused about what you are ordering, and the portions are normal sized. They also have lots of fun cocktails. My husband got his usual martini, but I got a blood orange margarita (ironically, the same cocktail I got at my last birthday dinner!):

You might be able to see just past my husband that we were sitting at a table right next to the window, which allowed both of us to people watch on busy State Street during our meal. It was really interesting to see so many walkers, bikers, etc. in the early evening of a beautiful summer day. On to our entrees. I got the halibut special, as I pretty much knew I would, if halibut was available. This one had an Asian crust (sesame and furikake, I think) Mango Salsa, and mango sauce over jasmine rice (which soaked up the sauce quite nicely):
The husband debated among several dishes before deciding on the Chile Rubbed Filet Mignon. I pushed him towards this one because even though a was having halibut, which I love, I was hoping for a few bites of steak, too! His filet was perfectly cooked (we asked for it between medium and medium well, which is perfect for him, I should remind him to do that more often) and the rich flavor of the chile rub was great. I also really liked the relleno that came alongside, but that was no surprise, since I love all things relleno!

When we finished up, we knew we were going to need to get dessert, since it was a birthday celebration after all, and most of the desserts on the menu looked right up our alley. I was worried about which option my husband was going to try to steer me towards, since he has the stronger sweet tooth, but was pleasantly surprised when we both picked the same thing: A chocolate mousse cake special, for two!
This was very good, and very rich, of course. We probably only got through about half of this! The service throughout was very good. In addition to really working with us to get our steak prepared properly, they also reserved us a great table and then, for the most part, left us alone and didn't bother us, just kept our water glasses full and made themselves available if we needed them. I liked my birthday meal so much that I chose Opal for my team's reward lunch for work the next week with our office director. I got a bay scallop salad at that meal that was also fantastic. I think Opal will definitely be a recurring attraction for R&R in the future (watch out, J+K, we're going to have to take you here!).

Chicken Gyros

This recipe is another one that is very popular in the blogging world. I had hesitated because we don't have much experience with Greek food, but the homemade Tzatziki Sauce really intrigued me, so I had to try it. I also tried making homemade pita, but that kinda failed miserably:
Looks appetizing, doesn't it? I don't think I adjusted the dough enough for our very foggy, wet weather that we have in Santa Barbara at this time of year. It definitely didn't puff up the way it should, and it was really sticky, so I'm going to have to give it another go some other time. I just ran to the store and picked up some store bought pitas. The rest of this recipe was good. The tzatziki sauce was very tasty and fresh, and I could see why a lot of Greek cuisine revolves around this tasty concoction. The final pita product was good, too, but it didn't quite live up to the big hype it has been getting in my blog world. Perhaps I was just jaded by my pita baking failure. I will probably try this again and hopefully it will wow me more next time.

Chicken Gyros with Tzatziki (from Elly Says Opa)
1.25 lbs. chicken pieces
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping Tbsp. plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/2 batch of tzatziki
sliced tomatoes
sliced onions (I omitted)
4 (pocketless) pitas (I used pockets, because I was desperate and couldn't find anything else!)
Whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, yogurt, and oregano in a bowl. Add the chicken and rub the marinade in. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour.
Heat a grill pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides, and then broil until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before slicing into strips. Meanwhile, heat your pitas. Top the pita with the chicken, tzatziki, tomatoes, onions.

Chicken Fajitas

It always really surprises me when I hear people refer to restaurant fajitas as a good diet food. Sure, when you are at Chili's, there is often not many other choices, so getting fajitas and just eating the chicken & veggies is probably a better option than the boneless buffalo wings or the ribs. I just usually find that restaurant fajitas (I'm talking chain restaurants, here) are dripping in oil, and they usually use such poor quality meat that you HAVE to glob on the guacamole & sour cream in order to get some flavor. I have wanted to make fajitas at home for a while now, but our home grill options have been limited in the past (no outdoor area for grilling at this apartment, and most grill pans kinda suck). Ever since we got our new cast iron grill pan for Christmas, I knew I could finally make fajitas at home. Cast Iron is the only way a home grill pan will get hot enough to really work for fajitas. Now that I had the good pan, I tried to decide on a good flavoring. The packets at the regular grocery store all sounded pretty gross to me (so much salt and artificial flavoring!), but someone on the nest cooking board mentioned that Whole Foods carries a delicious, salt-free blend from The Spice Hunter for Fajita Seasoning. I picked up the bottle and - HOW REFRESHING! - I recognized every ingredient! I trust The Spice Hunter because I already use their Seafood Blend for most of our homecooked fish. They are also practically local, based in San Luis Obispo, which is nice. I liberally coated this on the chicken, grilled it up, then grilled the peppers and onion until they were nicely charred. I served this with homemade guacamole and just a little bit of sour cream. Even my husband liked these, and he is not a restaurant fajita fan at all (for the reasons above, plus his hatred of onions). It was a great, natural tasting meal.
Chicken Fajitas (my own recipe, but it isn't much of a recipe!)
3/4 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
The Spice Hunter Fajita Seasoning
2 bell peppers, cut into strips
1 small onion, cut into strips
Sour Cream
6 flour tortillas
Heat grill pan over medium high heat. Season chicken strips liberally with fajita seasoning. Grill until cooked through, about 2 -3 minutes per side. Remove to serving bowl. Add pepper & onion strips to grill. Grill, turning frequently, until just soft and starting to show some grill marks/color (do this in batches if needed). Add to serving bowl. Toss all ingredients well, then scoop into tortillas and serve with guacamole and sour cream, if desired.

Balsamic-Garlic Flank Steak

Balsamic vinegar. Yum. I've been kind of obsessed with recipes that use it ever since our trip to Hawaii where my fish at Cuatro was served with a swirl of reduced balsamic and a swirl of cream sauce. It is just such a great combination of sweet, savory and sour. I've also been keeping an eye out for good flank steak recipes, since grilled sliced flank steak is such a great protein with a light summer meal. So this recipe from Mary Ellen's blog was perfect for me. It imparted just enough balsamic flavor to have an impact on the steak without overpowering the steak itself. I grilled this on our indoor cast iron grill pan and I have to say, I grilled it to perfection. Perfect done-ness for both of us and great grill marks! Unfortunately, my husband is not so much of a balsamic fan, so I will have to make this for myself on nights he isn't eating with me. He liked it okay, didn't love it like I did. Oh well!

Balsamic-Garlic Grilled Flank Steak
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 tsp thyme leaves (I used parsley, which I have a ton of, from my planter)
One 2 1/2 lb flank steak (Mine was a little less than a pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a blender/food processor (or Magic Bullet!), blend the vinegar, oil, garlic, and thyme until smooth. Place the steak in a large glass or ceramic dish; pour the marinade over the steak and let it stand for 5 minutes (mine stood for about 10-15 minutes). Season the steak with salt and pepper and grill over moderately high heat, turning once, until medium, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice it across the grain to serve.

Margarita Cupcakes!

I have wanted to make these cupcakes from the moment I saw them. They were really popular in the blogging world about a year ago, but I think the moment I saw them on Annie's Eats (seriously one of the best blogs ever), I knew I was destined to make them someday. I decided to go with the easier cake mix version on Confections of a Foodie Bride since I'm pretty new to baking and I knew the audience I was baking for wouldn't really mind. I made these for my office summer barbeque, which took place at my boss' house on a gorgeous day. Of course, my office is so darn health conscious that for my party of 13 people, we went through exactly 13 cupcakes. So the leftovers went to the bike shop, where 4 guys took care of the remaining 11 cupcakes. I made the frosting on these very limey, and that was what everyone kept talking about. Even with following Annie's advice and basting each cupcake with a little extra tequila (and I was using Patron Silver, nothing but the best for my people!), there still wasn't much alcohol flavor, but with the extra lime frosting, there was still a great punch to the cupcakes. This is a great treat for any backyard barbeque, just make sure its a grown up party if you are painting the tops with the tequila. Even though you can't really taste the liquor, I'd say there is enough uncooked tequila in them to be un-kosher for the little ones!

Margarita Cupcakes
9 oz Margarita mix
3 oz tequila
3/4 oz Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur)
White cake mix (No-pudding mix works best)
3 egg whites
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp lime zest (I omitted, oops!)
1 recipe Lime Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)
Mix together the margarita mix, tequila, and Grand Marnier in a large glass or spouted bowl. You will use 1 1/4 cup of this in the cupcake mix. Put the remainder in the fridge to chill and then consume how you see fit (there won't be much left!). In a stand mixer, add the cake mix, egg whites, vegetable oil, lime zest, and 1 1/4 cup of the margarita mixture. Mix on low for about 30 seconds and then increase to medium speed for two minutes (the batter will still be a bit lumpy).Spoon the batter into a prepared muffin pan (fill the cups somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 full) and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick registers “done” in the center cupcake. Remove the pan from the oven and cool 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes and cool completely on a baking rack. When cooled, brush each cupcake with a little more tequila.
Lime Buttercream Frosting
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1/8 tsp salt
3 Tbsp lime juice
green food color (optional)
Add the butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, food coloring, and lime juice to the stand mixer and mix on low using the paddle attachment until combined. Turn the speed to med-high until the icing is fluffy. Add the icing to a pastry bag or use a spatula/knife to frost the cupcakes.
Note: Use additional lime juice or water to thin the frosting, if necessary.

Chicken Riggies

This is a dish I had never heard of until I had entered the food blogging world. Apparently, Chicken Riggies is a pasta/chicken/peppers dish that originated in upstate New York, which is pretty much as far away from Santa Barbara as you can get in this country, so no wonder I haven't heard of it! After learning of its existence from Elizabeth's Cooking Experiments, I search around on Allrecipes a bit to see some of the other variations that exist. Apparently, it is a very personalized dish, and many households have their own take on the specifics. I decided I would stick pretty closely to the version on Elizabeth's blog, but that I would roast the peppers first to mellow out some of the heat (I'm afraid of raw peppers sometimes) and to deepen the flavor. Of course, because of the roasting, the flavors were a little too mild for my liking, so next time I make this, I will probably double the peppers and I probably won't roast the red pepper for a little texture contrast. I will probably also remove the heavy cream, because although it was delicious as always, I don't think it added enough to the picture to really make up for the calorie bomb that heavy cream always is.

Chicken Riggies
1 lb rigatoni (I used whole wheat penne)
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 shallots, diced
2 chicken breast halves, cubed
salt and pepper to taste
1 red bell pepper, roasted & chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, roasted & diced
1 Poblano pepper, roasted & chopped
1 (28 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained slightly
3 TBSP dry sherry
3/4 - 1 cup heavy cream
Cook pasta to al dente. Drain & set aside.Melt butter & heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots and saute until almost soft, then add peppers and chicken, season with salt and pepper. Saute for 8-10 minutes, or until chicken is almost cooked through.Reduce heat to low and add tomato sauce and sherry and simmer about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and simmer for 10 minutes more. Toss all with hot, cooked pasta and serve.

Veggie and Sausage Stuffed Shells

I love stuffed shells. They are a little bit labor intensive, but they are one of my favorite "American-Italian" meals. My problem is that my husband does not like traditional stuffed shells (although Mexican Stuffed Shells are among his favorite meals). He has found them too heavy and doesn't like the thick ricotta taste. While reading my "Cook Yourself Thin" cookbook, I saw a recipe for stuffed shells that bulked up the flavor by using zucchini. By the time I had decided to finally make stuffed shells with this technique, I had lost this cookbook, so I just decided to wing it by adding an appropriate amount of shredded zucchini and spinach to the usual ricotta mixture. I used about half of the normal ricotta with these adjustments, but I also added some crumbled cooked turkey sausage to the mix to add another boost of flavor. These were really good, and definitely kept that creamy taste and texture that I love, while remaining light and not as cheesy for my husband. I would probably even be okay with making them without the sausage for a vegetarian meal, but I'm not sure if my husband would agree. I'm planning on using zucchini a lot more this summer, since it is so good when it is in season, and it is easy to add to pastas for a little healthy vegetable kick! The funny thing is that when I finally found my cookbook, I had actually stuck to the recipe pretty closely, even though it had been months since I had looked at it. Good photographic recipe memory, I guess!

Stuffed Shells with Veggies and Sausage (inspired by Cook Yourself Thin)
1 box jumbo shells
1/2 lb turkey sausage, casings removed
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 zucchini, shredded
1 bag baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 egg
1 cup skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 jar pasta sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese
Cook pasta to package directions, drain. Heat oil in large saute pan. Cook sausage & garlic over medium high until no longer pink. Remove to large bowl with slotted spoon to cool, leaving juices in pan. Add zucchini and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain very well, pressing out as much water as possible. Add to sausage in bowl and let cool. Add ricotta, egg, parmesan and nutmeg and stir well to combine. Pour about 1/2 cup of sauce into 13" x 9" pan. Stuff cooked shells with 2 Tbs filling and place in pan. Top with remaining sauce. Cover and bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and top with mozzarella. Bake for 5 minutes more or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes

I came to the realization that I haven't done nearly enough baking to justify the purchase of my new Kitchenaid mixer. I wanted to make pretty cupcakes. Not just yummy cake with some frosting slathered on, but some that looked beautiful, too. After researching a bit online, I realized that pretty cupcakes come from frosting with a pastry bag and a large tip, usually a star tip. I knew that my first pretty cupcake attempt would have to be double chocolate cupcakes, because I knew even if they came out awful, the husband would still eat them because he loves chocolate cake so much. I found both the cake recipe and the frosting recipe on the Hershey's website. I had heard really good things about the perfectly chocolate cake recipe, and it didn't disappoint. The only change I made was to use about half of dutch process style cocoa and half regular Hershey's cocoa in each recipe. This made the cake really rich and chocolatey, but didn't use up ALL my hard to find dutch process cocoa. I will say though, dutch process cocoa is totally worth it. Just looking at the two versions, you can definitely tell which is which! These turned out so good! The cake batter is way runnier than I would have thought, but it still turned out great. I think my decorating skills were pretty good, too, although I think I will need to make just a little extra frosting next time, since you tend to run out faster when piping instead of traditional frosting. The best part about the frosting is that, while it still isn't exactly good for you, I felt so much better knowing exactly what was going into it. No trans fats when you use straight up butter! I brought most of these to the bike shop and they were devoured in 24 hours, but my favorite was bringing one to the little guy I mentor. His response when I asked him how he liked his cupcake was simply: "I love you!" I've already made him another batch for his birthday!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting (From Hershey's)
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
3. CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 24 cupcakes.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Chicken Kabobs

We live really close to our area's biggest shopping center, and there is a great Hawaiian/surfer themed restaurant there (Kahuna Grill) that serves Kabobs with teriyaki marinade. The beef kabobs are very yummy, but they are pretty expensive. I decided that this summer, I would try making kabobs at home, and this is the result. I have heard lots of places that although kabobs served at restaurants have a plethora of veggies and protein all together on one stick, home chefs are better served by splitting up the bounty into segregated skewers. This ensures that the items that need to cook longer (chicken especially) are able to get all the heat attention they deserve without burning the more delicate ingredients (tomatoes and, if I had used them, mushrooms). I used about a 1/2 bottle of italian dressing mixed with two extra cloves of garlic and about a Tablespoon of lemon juice. I marinaded about 3/4 lbs of boneless skinless chicken breast for about an hour in this mixture, then skewered it along with a little onion, bell pepper, and lots of grape tomatoes. The chicken turned out delicious. I wasn't as happy with the onion & pepper results, probably because I was using an indoor grill. Tomatoes, as usual when heated, were great. This will be a dish I try again, but I will probably try for a more Asian style marinade next time. It does make a beautiful colorful dish, though!