goat cheese-stuffed mini peppers

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I’ve been lucky to have a lot of opportunities for tapas lately. It started, I believe, last year when Dave and I met my brother for a weekend in Los Angeles, and we shared an exceptional tapas meal. Since then, my brother is tapas-crazy.

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On our family’s recent trip to the beach, we collaborated to serve nine different tapas to eleven people (in a house with no dishwasher). Two weeks later, Dave and I had the opportunity to go tailgating in the parking lot of an opera house before seeing Carmen; tapas was the obvious choice again. Less than a week after that, a friend hosted a potluck dinner, and the theme she chose was tapas.

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These are among some of my favorite of the options at each dinner, with nods also going to gazpacho and anything with bread (obviously). There are so many bread-based snack options that I love offering something different, especially something with vegetables. But the vegetables are filled with cheese, so they can hold their own on a table filled with garlicky shrimp and things-on-bread. With this recipe in my pocket, I’m ready for many more tapas dinners.

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Goat Cheese-Stuffed Mini Peppers

Makes 24 appetizers

I don’t take the seeds or veins out of these when I make them. It hasn’t been a problem.

24 miniature sweet peppers
8 ounces soft goat cheese
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch salt
Pinch black pepper

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a 1 to 2-inch slit down the side of each pepper. Arrange the peppers in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, cut-side up. Roasted until softened and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, mix the goat cheese, scallions, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a wide tip or a zip-top bag with a corner cut off. (I tried spooning the filling into the peppers once, and it didn’t work at all. Piping is definitely the way to go.)

3. Squeeze the goat cheese mixture into each pepper, widening the cut in the pepper if necessary. Serve at room temperature (can be made 2 days in advance).

meatball-stuffed zucchini

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I joke about not being good at gardening, but the truth is, it’s no joke. I am not good at it. Every year, at least half of what I plant is a failure. This year, in fact, in one raised bed, it’s exactly half, with two tomato plants and one pepper plant doing quite well, and two tomato plants and one pepper plant not doing much of anything at all.

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This year, I’m having more success with my zucchini plant than ever before. (Keeping with the theme, the beans in the same bed aren’t producing at all.) Maybe the disgusting and destructive squash bugs will move in eventually, but so far, so good. I get about three zucchinis each week, which has been just right for making old favorites like these enchiladas and this pasta, while also providing an opportunity to try a new favorite.

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This has become my go-to zucchini recipe this summer. I like it as a first course, maybe with a pasta dish served afterward, but it would work well as a main dish too. If things keep going well with my zucchini plant – and in my garden, that’s not a guarantee – I might just make this once a week until the season is over.

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Meatball-Stuffed Zucchini (adapted from Dominica Cooks and Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 4-6 first course servings or 2 main course servings

I’ve used ground lamb for these (which is what the pictures show) because we love it, and I’ve used ground venison because someone gave us a bunch that we need to use up.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped with scissors in the can
salt
1 slice white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
¼ cup buttermilk or 3 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
pinch ground black pepper
½ pound ground beef or lamb
2 large or 3 small zucchini or summer squash, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out and discarded

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the oil and 1 clove of garlic to an 8-by-8-inch (or equivalent size) baking dish; transfer to the oven until the garlic is sizzling, 5-8 minutes. Stir the tomatoes and a pinch of salt into the oil; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the bread and buttermilk or yogurt and milk; set aside for 10 minutes for the bread to soften. Stir in the cheese, parsley, egg yolk, remaining garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper. Using your hands, evenly mix in the ground meat.

3. Divide the meat mixture evenly between the halved and cored zucchini. Arrange the stuffed zucchini in the baking dish. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the zucchini is softened and the meat is cooked through, 30-40 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. To serve, spoon the tomato sauce over the zucchini and top with parmesan cheese.

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quinoa puttanesca

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Based on whether it leaves a bunch of half-used ingredients leftover, this may not be the best single-person dinner, but it’s one of my favorite meals for when Dave is out of town anyway. For years, Dave didn’t like anchovies or olives, so those were the things I ate when he traveled. He’s come around to both, but the tradition has stuck, and this has become a treat for myself while he’s gone.

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It’s very similar to the pasta version, but I like to think quinoa is a little healthier than pasta. Certainly, quinoa has a stronger, earthier flavor, which required adjustments in the other ingredients. More briny olives, more salty capers, and more bitter parsley were all necessary to stand out next to the quinoa.

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Even if it doesn’t fulfill my no-leftover-bits-of-ingredients rule for single-person dinners, it meets the rest of my criteria – easy, healthy, minimal dishes. Fortunately, I like it so much that I’m willing to make it twice in one week while Dave travels, which is the perfect way to use up the half cans of tomatoes and tuna leftover from one serving. That puts this back on the list of great meals for cooking for one.

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Quinoa Puttanesca (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Spaghetti Puttanesca)

4 servings

I use the higher amount of anchovies, because I love them, but I understand that not everyone shares that opinion. The tuna is not at all traditional in puttanesca, but it increases the protein of this one-pot dish.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6-8 anchovies, minced
8 ounces (1⅓ cups) quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, coarsely diced in the can with scissors
2 (5-ounce) cans solid white tuna in water, drained and flaked into bite-sized pieces (optional)
¼ cup capers, drained
1 cup kalamata olives, finely chopped
¼ cup minced parsley

In the medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, and anchovies until sizzling and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the quinoa, tomatoes with their juice, and tuna (if using). Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture simmers, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir once, then replace the cover, remove the pot from the heat, and let set for another 15 minutes. Stir in the capers, olives, and parsley; serve immediately.

blackberry cake with raspberry filling

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I require a weekend for my birthday. Not a week, certainly not a month, just two days and one evening to do as many as my favorite things as possible and as few of my least favorite things. So wine and a new novel are in; laundry is most definitely out.

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Baking and eating my birthday cake is in, but I was really on top of things this year and did all the steps I don’t like so much beforehand. That includes digging around in the messy, nearly unreachable cabinet for pans, lining the pans, and pureeing and straining the fruit. All that was left to do on my actual birthday was add things to the mixer and nibble on frosting while assembling the cake.

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I’d originally made this cake for a friend’s bridal shower, but there were two issues: 1) I only got one piece, and 2) I didn’t save any for Dave. He’s pretty adamant about not being a dessert guy and even less so a cake guy, but our friends had such good things to say about the cake after the party that he was sorry he missed it.

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So choosing this year’s birthday cake wasn’t a hard decision. Making the cake wasn’t hard either, since I’d left only my favorite parts of baking for my birthday itself. I made a small cake, but I had just enough to last for my entire birthday weekend. Cake everyday is definitely on the list for an awesome birthday.

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Blackberry Cake with Raspberry Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting (cake adapted from Cook’s Illustrated White Cake recipe; filling is just barely adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Raspberry Coulis)

The bride’s wedding colors are Tiffany blue and red, so I originally made a blackberry cake hoping that it would turn out blue, like Elly’s, with raspberry filling as the red. I ended up with a purple cake with pink filling, but no one complained. However, you could mix this up with other berries – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries can be used in both the cake and the filling. Fresh or frozen and thawed berries can be used.

I made a three-layer cake for my birthday, and a four-layer cake for the shower, which I preferred. I love the raspberry filling, so an extra layer of it is very welcome.

For heavy decorations like the roses, increase the frosting recipe by 50% (using 12 tablespoons butter, 12 ounces cream cheese, and 6 cups powdered sugar).

Cake:
¾ cup pureed and strained blackberries (from 8 ounces of blackberries)
⅓ cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ (9 ounces) cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
4 egg whites, at room temperature

Raspberry Filling:
6 ounces fresh raspberries (or thawed if frozen)
2½ to 3½ tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch table salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
pinch salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar

1. For the cake: Heat the oven to 350F. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray (or grease and flour the pans). Line with parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.

2. Using a blender, puree the blackberries. Transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl; use a spoon or rubber spatula to press the liquid through the strainer, discarding the seeds. Measure ¾ cup of puree. Stir the milk and vanilla extract into the blackberry puree. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.

3. Place the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the blackberry mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the blackberry puree, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on medium-low speed for 15 seconds longer.

4. Divide the cake between the prepared pans. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Invert and turn out onto wire racks and peel off the paper liners. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least one hour.

5. For the filling: In a medium saucepan, bring the raspberries, 1 teaspoon water, 2½ tablespoons sugar, and salt to bare simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally; cook until the sugar is dissolved and the berries are heated through, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the mixture to the blender; puree until smooth, about 20 seconds. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl, pressing and stirring the puree with a rubber spatula to extract as much seedless puree as possible. (there’s no need to wash either the blender or the strainer between the blackberries and the raspberries.) Stir in the lemon juice and additional sugar, if desired. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour. Stir to recombine before serving. Can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 4 days.

6. For the frosting: Place the butter, cream cheese, and salt in the (clean) bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium speed until smooth. Switch to the whisk attachment; on low speed, gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until it’s just incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

7. To assemble: To make the cakes easier to handle, wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or up to overnight. Working with one cake at a time, unwrap it and use a serrated bread knife to cut the cakes horizontally in half. If you’re using a cake board, put a small spoonful of frosting in the center of it to glue the cake to the board; if you’re not using a cake board, line the perimeter of your serving dish with strips of wax paper, then put a small spoonful of frosting in the center of the serving dish. Center a layer of cake over the frosting, cut side down. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting over the cake layer. Spoon 3 tablespoons of raspberry filling over the frosting, spreading it to within about an inch of the edge. Center another cake layer over the filling, cut side-down. Repeat the layering of frosting, filling, and cake twice more. Spread a thin layer of frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake to seal in crumbs. If the layers slide around while you’re spreading the frosting, push wooden skewers from the top to the bottom of the cake in three places to secure the layers. Chill the cake, uncovered, for 30 minutes to 2 hours to set the frosting. Remove the skewers if necessary, then spread the remaining cream cheese frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake, decorating as desired. Either transfer the cake on the cake board to a serving platter, or carefully remove the strips of wax paper to leave a clean serving platter around the sides of the cake.

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cocoa nib peanut butter bites

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You can call these Peanut Butter Bites if you want, but for me, they will forever be known as Hippie Cookies. Sweetened with dates? Fat from all-natural peanut butter? Cocoa nibs, of all things?! I kept hearing people talk about cocoa nibs, so I bought some, and it turns out that they’re not even good. They’re like chocolate, but mean. There’s no sugar in them at all, just bitterness, like that time when you were a kid and accidentally ate your mom’s unsweetened baking chocolate.

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Still, the cocoa nibs are perfect in these cookies, because it turns out that you don’t need processed sugar to make a very sweet snack; dates are plenty sweet on their own. The bitter cocoa nibs are actually the perfect balance.

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I just loved these cookies so much, and not just because I filed them under “snack” instead of “dessert” and therefore enjoyed them without guilt. They’re shockingly good, or maybe it’s just shocking to someone used to adding refined sugar and butter to everything sweet. Who knew hippie cookies would be so delicious?

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Cocoa Nib Peanut Butter Bites (adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

Because these aren’t baked, feel free to taste and add – more salt, more cinnamon, more cocoa nibs – to your taste, as well as more peanut butter to bring the mixture together, if necessary.  The amount of salt you add will also depend on whether you use salted or unsalted peanut butter.  You could also add dark chocolate instead of cocoa nibs, although the cocoa nibs balanced the sweet dates really well.

1 cup almonds
¼-½ teaspoon table salt
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup cocoa nibs

In the bowl of a food processor, process the nuts and salt until evenly ground; do not, however, process long enough to make almond butter. Add the dates, vanilla, and cinnamon, and process until the dates are minced and evenly dispersed. Add the peanut butter and pulse to combine, then repeat with the cocoa nibs. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls, then flatten gently to about ⅓-inch thick. Cookies can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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pan-seared halibut in white wine sauce with green beans and tomato-scallion relish

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I have found the perfect single-person dinner. Not because it’s easy, although that’s nice. Not because it only uses one pan to cook, although I’m not complaining about less dishes to wash. Not because it tastes good, because of course it tastes good or why would I be talking about it?

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No, the key for bachelor(ette) meals is that they don’t leave you with half a can of tomatoes or beans, or half a cucumber or pepper, or the vast majority of a roast leftover. If you’re cooking for one, this recipe uses one fish filet, one tomato, one scallion, and a handful of green beans.

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Because I have been cooking for one a lot lately, while Dave travels for work, I’ve been making this dish often. The original recipe instructs that the green beans be steamed in a separate pot, but that seemed like a lot of hassle and dishes just for me, so I saute them quickly in a skillet, then add just a bit of water to cook them through. Any remnant green bean bits are scraped up with a glug of wine. I like to transfer the green beans to a pasta bowl and cover them with a big plate while the fish cooks in the same skillet. The fish gets laid over the green beans, the pan is deglazed with wine again, then a simple relish is heated briefly in the pan before it’s time to eat.

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I don’t know if fish served over green beans (although you could put yours on the side if that’s more your thing) sounds weird. The relish really brings everything together, since it’s so bright and flavorful, mixing perfectly with both the beans and the fish. It’s an easy, healthy, one-pan, delicious meal that won’t leave you with a bunch of half-used ingredients, and one of my newest favorites.

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Pan-Seared Halibut in White Wine Sauce with Haricots Verts and Tomato-Scallion Relish (adapted from Alfred Portale’s The Twelve Seasons Cookbook via epicurious)

4 servings

Regular green beans work just as well as haricots verts in this recipe. I’ve also successfully made it with both halibut and mahi-mahi. The pictures show mahi-mahi.

It’s easy to adapt for one person; just divide all of the ingredients by four and use a small skillet.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 ounces haricots verts or green beans
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup water
6 tablespoons white wine, divided
4 halibut or mahi-mahi fillets, each approximately 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
4 small roma tomatoes, diced fine

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the beans, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are spotty brown, 4 minutes. Add the water, cover, and cook until the beans are bright green and still crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the cover, increase the heat to high, and cook until the water evaporates, 30 to 60 seconds. Divide the beans between four plates or shallow bowls. Add 2 tablespoons of wine to the pan, swirling it around and scraping the pan with a rubber spatula to dissolve any stickiness on the bottom of the skillet. Transfer to liquid to the dishes with the green beans; cover set aside.

2. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Cook the fish for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the fish, reduce the heat to medium, and cook about 4 minutes longer, until the fish is opaque in the center and browned on both sides. Put the fish over the green beans in the bowl; cover again.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons wine and the lemon juice to the pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits with a rubber spatula. Stir in the butter. Add the scallions, capers, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, and pour over the fish in the bowls. Serve immediately.

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blueberry pie

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The two weeks a year when blueberries are reasonably priced are almost a tease. Blink and you miss it! Down here in the desert, some years it doesn’t happen at all (or maybe I blinked). They went on sale recently, and I loaded up my cart. I didn’t know what I was going to make for dessert that weekend, but I knew it would have lots of blueberries in it.

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Pie. Pie is so classic, and like I recently said, I don’t get many opportunities to make it. While pies aren’t the easiest desserts to make, at least blueberries don’t require any tedious prep like most other fruits – that is, unless you choose a high-maintenance Cook’s Illustrated recipe for blueberry pie.

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I did, because I hate soupy pies enough to pre-cook the filling and peel and grate an apple into the mix. And clean out the coffee grinder to powder the tapioca when the grinder I keep in the kitchen for non-coffee things broke. All the cleaning, dough-rolling, pre-cooking, and apple-shredding was worth it when I was rewarded with a flaky crust over a juicy but not soupy filling of my favorite summer fruit.

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Blueberry Pie (pretty much straight from Cook’s Illustrated, except for I don’t use their crust)

CI notes: This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1¼ cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons.

dough for double-crust pie (I always make this one)
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) (see note)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
¾ cup sugar (5¼ ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground (see note)
pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 ½ cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

2. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

3. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about ⅛ inch thick. Using 1¼-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1½ inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least ½-inch overhang on each side.

4. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving ½-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

5. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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crab towers with gazpacho and avocado salsas

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I once made twenty of these in one night. I also made twenty tiny caramelized onion gruyere tarts, six baguettes, three types of sorbet, and smoked popcorn with bacon. (Not totally true: The baguettes and sorbet were made in advance, just served that night. Thank god.) My friend made Thai chicken slaw, twenty tiny shepherd’s pies, braised venison over mashed potatoes, and chocolate pudding cake. Each dish had its own wine paired with it. It was an epic party. (And the next day was an epic hangover.)

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It was, as you can probably imagine, a lot of work. Building twenty tiny stacks of three different mixtures actually went pretty fast; no, the truly tedious part is creating teeny tiny squares of vegetables. But making your food into confetti is so pretty, sometimes it’s worth it.

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And it isn’t all about looks. It’s about combining my favorite foods into one elegant salad – avocadoes and crab and gazpacho, neatly layered and colorful. And if you aren’t making twenty of them, as well as twenty each of several other small dishes, the mincing isn’t too bad.  You might not have an epic party in that case, but you’ll still have a dish worthy of one.

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Crab Towers with Avocado and Gazpacho Salsas (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home)

Even when I’m making these for just a few people at home, I use Dixie cups with the bottoms cut off for the molds. You can make the gazpacho salsa a day in advance.

Makes 8

Gazpacho salsa:
1 cup grape tomatoes, minced
½ yellow pepper, minced
1 Persian or ½ regular cucumber, minced
1 small shallot, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil

Crab salad:
1 pound crabmeat, shredded
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Avocado salsa:
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, shallot, salt, pepper, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. In a separate medium bowl, combine the crab, vinegar, and mayonnaise. In a small bowl, combine the avocado, salt, and lemon juice, mashing very lightly so the mixture holds together.

2. Divide the avocado mixture between eight 2-inch molds. Divide the crab salad between the molds on top of the avocados, pressing lightly again. Top with the gazpacho salsa. Serve immediately.

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margarita cupcakes

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I haven’t really been drinking margaritas lately, since we’ve moved from daiquiris into experiments with all sorts of tiki drinks, but eating them is another thing. I hosted a taco bar party recently, where I supplied corn tortillas and beef barbacoa and everyone else brought sides or toppings. I thought about serving margaritas, but I wasn’t excited about squeezing a hundred limes; sangria for a crowd is a whole lot easier.

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But a taco party without margaritas in any form just isn’t right, so we’d have them for dessert instead. This is a white cupcake flavored with lime zest, then brushed very liberally with a mixture of tequila and orange liqueur. The buttercream, light and airy swiss meringue, is flavored with more lime juice and more tequila.

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I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to get the flavor of liquor in the batter to come across after a dessert is baked (bourbon pound cake seems to be an exception), so I don’t even attempt that here, just brushing – and then brushing some more, and then more – the baked cakes with liquor. The cupcakes aren’t so strong that you’ll gag on the fumes, but they do have a hint of bite to them, just like the best margaritas. And I had way more fun making cupcakes and frosting than I would have had squeezing lime after lime after lime.

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Margarita Cupcakes (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake from Baking: From my Home to Yours)

Makes 24 cupcakes

It seems like a lot of liquor to brush into the cupcakes, but trust me that you will use it all, and the cupcakes won’t be soggy.

Cupcakes:
3¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons (13.5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
6 large egg whites
2¼ cups (15.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
12 tablespoons (1½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lime juice
6 tablespoons tequila
3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Buttercream:
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons tequila

1. For the cupcakes: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

2. Put the sugar and lime zest in a mixer bowl mix with paddle attachment until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the lime juice, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

3. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them ⅔ to ¾ of the way. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-24 minutes, rotating the pans once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly. Transfer the pans to wire racks; cool about 5 minutes, them remove the cupcakes. Cool cupcakes completely on a rack before frosting.

4. Combine the tequila and orange liqueur in a small dish. Using a toothpick or skewer, poke about 10 holes in the top of each cupcake, almost to the base. Brush with the alcohol mixture. Keep brushing the cupcakes until all the alcohol has been used.

5. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a metal mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees and the sugar has dissolved. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more. Stir in the lime juice and tequila; mix just until incorporated. Use a wide star tip to pipe frosting onto the cupcakes, garnishing with tiny lime wedges and lime zest.

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black bean burgers

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I actually don’t have any need for a black bean burger. Because Dave and I eat either vegetarian or fish during the week, I’m always ready for some meat by the weekend. And I don’t eat much bread on weekdays either (other than my daily bagel at work – best part of the workday!), so I wouldn’t pair vegetarian burgers with buns. But on top of slaw, now that works.

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This recipe doesn’t have (much of) my other issue with most vegetarian burgers, which is that they’re usually bound with large amounts of breadcrumbs or other grains, so you’re, in essence, putting carbs on a bun. This mix does have some bread crumbs, but it’s also bulked up with extra protein from cheese and nuts. They’re not there for your health though – they provide a nice variation in texture, so the burgers aren’t uniform, and they’re certainly not mushy, thanks to some time the beans spend in the oven getting dehydrated.

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The mix itself was so good that I couldn’t stop eating it. Formed into patties and browned, it was that much better. What isn’t better with crisp, caramelized sides? I’m sure they’re great on a bun with your favorite burger toppings, but I loved them on a simple lime-cilantro slaw. I have finally found a place for black bean burgers in my life, and I have found the black bean burger to take that place.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Black Bean Burgers
(rewritten but hardly adapted from The Food Lab)

Makes 8 to 12 burgers (the patties in the pictures are each one-tenth of the recipe)

If your cashews aren’t toasted already, put them in the oven before the beans. Don’t do what I did and combine the two on one baking sheet; they’re treated separately in the food processor.

The recipe makes a lot. I formed the mixture into patties and froze most of them. They defrost and cook up perfectly.

According to the original recipe, you can grill these as well as pan-fry them, but I didn’t try it. You’d want to brush the sides with oil before grilling.

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large poblano pepper, finely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 teaspoon sauce
¾ cup toasted cashews
½ cup finely crumbled feta or cotija cheese
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the black beans evenly on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until the edges are splitting, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, poblano, and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just beginning to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the chipotle chile and sauce. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

3. In a food process, pulse the cashews until the largest pieces are about ¼-inch. Transfer to the bowl with the vegetables. Transfer the dried black beans and cheese to the food processor and pulse until the largest pieces are about ¼-inch. Transfer to the bowl with the cashews. Add the bread crumbs, mayonnaise, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper to the mixing bowl. Stir until evenly combined.

4. Form the mixture into patties ¾-inch thick. You can make them any size you want; I made about ten patties from this recipe, and they were each about 4 inches in diameter.

5. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add half of the patties and cook, without moving, until crisp and browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip the patties and continue cooking until the second side is browned, another 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining patties.

Lime-Cilantro Slaw

½ cabbage, sliced thinly
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup Greek yogurt
4 green onions (or half of a small red onion), minced
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large or 2 small carrots, shredded
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients.

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