kale salad with garlic vinaigrette

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I made this for the first time a couple months ago, and I made the salmon salad for the first time just a couple weeks ago. If I had gotten around to telling you about this one before I told you about the other, I would have labeled this as my new favorite salad (although this other one is close, but that’s not fair because it has goat cheese in it). Now the Mediterranean salmon salad has stolen that title, but this kale salad is certainly my favorite side salad.

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I’m rarely a fan of side salads. Usually I think of them as nothing more than a distraction from what I really want, which is the carbs and sauce they often accompany.  I eat them, because vegetables are important, but I don’t get much enjoyment from them.

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Maybe if the average side salad involved generous amounts of garlic and parmesan cheese, I’d feel more generouos toward it.  Crunchy pine nuts don’t hurt either.  All of those strong flavors need something hearty to stand up to them, and kale is the answer.  I like to spend a few minutes massaging the dressing into the kale to soften the raw leaves.  I have to admit, I still usually serve this before the main course, and not alongside it, but it holds its own compared to the best of carbs and sauce.

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One year ago: Slow-Cooker Spinach Mushroom Lasagna
Two years ago: Tacos al Pastor
Three years ago: Dried Fruit Compote
Four years ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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Kale Salad with Garlic Vinaigrette (adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

4 servings

The amount of oil you add is somewhat a matter of personal taste. The amount listed will result in a balanced vinaigrette. However, I can’t stomach the thought of 2 tablespoons of oil per serving in a salad and I don’t mind tart dressings, so I use substantially less, just a couple of tablespoons total.

4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch ground black pepper
2 bunches kale, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
parmesan, shaved (for garnish)

1. Add the garlic, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper to a bowl and whisk to combine. Let stand at least 15 minutes, or, for a stronger garlic flavor, cover and refrigerate the mixture overnight. Just before serving, slowly pour in the olive oil while whisking constantly. Stir in the grated parmesan.

2. Transfer the kale to a large bowl. Add about half of the dressing and toss to combine. Using your hands, massage the dressing into the kale by lightly squeezing and tossing the kale until it softens and begins to wilt. Taste, adding more dressing if necessary. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and shaved parmesan; serve.

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mediterranean salmon salad

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This salad ended up being something really special, one of those that I raved about all through dinner. But I can’t pinpoint exactly what made it stand out so much. I like all the ingredients, quite a bit actually, but I could say the same for a lot of salads that I like but don’t gush over like I did this one.

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It might have been the wild sockeye salmon my store has been stocking, or the fancy block of feta. You can rarely go wrong with artichoke hearts and quinoa. I was worried the bite of raw onion would be distracting, but it blended in perfectly, and the occasional briny kalamata olive was a treat (for me; not so much for Dave the olive-hater). I think I have a new favorite salad.

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One year ago: Peaches and Cream Scones
Two years ago: Mint Brownies
Three years ago: Crockpot Chicken Broth
Four years ago: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

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Mediterranean Salmon Salad (adapted from Weekly Bite via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

Dressing:
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Salad:
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
salt
24 ounces (1½ pounds) salmon filet
oil
8 cups spring mix, lightly packed
½ cup kalamata olives, halved
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 (14-ounce) can marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta

1. In a small bowl, whisk all of the dressing ingredients together.

2. Bring 1 1/4 water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, and cover; cook for 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and let set, still covered, for another 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the dressing, using a fork to fluff the quinoa and evenly distribute the dressing.

3. Adjust an oven rack to the top position, about 3 inches from the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Transfer the salmon to the foil-lined pan; season with salt and either spray or brush with a light layer of oil. Broil until the salmon is lightly browned and opaque in the center, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes, then use two spoons to flake the salmon flesh into bite-sized pieces, leaving the skin stuck to the foil. Toss the flaked salmon with 1 tablespoon of dressing.

4. Add the lettuce to a large bowl; pour the remaining dressing over it and toss to evenly distribute. Mix in the quinoa, salmon, olives, onion, artichokes, and feta. Serve immediately.

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summer chopped salad with feta

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I wore out coleslaw. It was too convenient and easy and good and healthy, so I made it whenever we had pulled pork or burgers or barbecue. And that was fine for a while, for over a year, in fact, but now I’ve had enough. I needed something new to catch my fancy.

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I found it. This is my new favorite side salad for a number of reasons. For one thing, it passes the no-lettuce test; delicate lettuce-based salads seem so out of place next to a hearty burger. It goes without saying that a side salad should be healthy and easy, and this one is.

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And maybe most importantly, it’s adaptable. I’ve been making coleslaw nearly the exact same way for well over a year, but this salad can be made with different vegetables, different types of citrus juice, and different seasonings to match the meal you’re serving it with. The original recipe used lime juice and cumin for a southwestern vibe, but I wanted something more Mediterranean, so I went with lemon juice this time.  It went perfectly with spareribs.  Coleslaw has been relegated from my favorite summer side to just my favorite pulled pork topping.

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One year ago: Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Muffins
Two years ago: Tarte Noire
Three years ago: Seafood Lasagna
Four years ago: Salmon Clubs with Avocado Butter

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Summer Chopped Salad with Feta (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 8 as a side dish

I steamed the green beans for about 1 minute, then did not blanch them (dip them into ice water to stop the cooking). If you do plan to blanch your beans, cook them for another minute or two. My beans looks olive green instead of bright green in the photos because I took these pictures the day after I made the salad, and the citrus juice had darkened the beans.

16 ounces green beans, lightly cooked, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
2 cups (7 ounces) radishes, halved and thinly sliced
1 hothouse or 3 English cucumbers (5 ounces total), halved lengthwise and sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta
¾ cup toasted sunflower seeds, salted or unsalted
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix everything except the olive oil.  Add the oil and more salt to taste.

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migas

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I’ve been raving about migas since the first time I made them, several months ago. They’re such a perfect breakfast for me that I’ve had them almost every weekend since. Somewhere along the way, after I talked my brother into making them, he pointed out that they’re basically just scrambled eggs.

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Which is true, and in a way, sums up what it is I love about them – their simplicity. Scrambled eggs is not a complicated breakfast, so that must mean that migas are also not a complicated breakfast. And beyond that, it’s healthy and filling and flexible.

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The recipe I’ve given here is one of my favorite ways to make it, and the simplest way I like it. First, I bake lightly oiled corn tortillas until browned. I tried frying them once, but since baking results in crisp tortillas every bit as good as those that are fried, but is healthier, I’m sticking with that. However, it’s not uncommon that I’ll use the crumbs at the bottom of the tortilla chip bag either, when they’re too small to dip in salsa but there’s too many to throw away.

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The other ingredients I consider crucial to migas are chiles and cheese. I use roasted and peeled Hatch green chiles, but any chile you like would be fine. I suspect that while beans are a common side, adding them to the migas themselves isn’t traditional, but the sweetness they add to the dish is too good to skip.

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In addition to these standards, I’ve also added chorizo (shown here), spaghetti squash, and random unlabeled spicy tomato stuff I found in the freezer (probably meant for this dish, but who can be sure). It’s not a dish that requires precision or even consistency. Every single time I’ve made it, it’s been different, but it always been delicious – and easy.

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One year ago: Greek Yogurt Dill Dip
Two years ago: Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
Three years ago: White Cake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Danish Braids (for the Daring Bakers)

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Migas (adapted from Homesick Texan)

4 servings

When I add chorizo, I brown it before adding the cooking the onion, replacing the oil with the fat rendered from the sausage. When I’ve added pre-cooked leftover squash, I add it with the beans and tortillas.  I often add the salsa with the beans too, although the texture of the finished isn’t as firm as when it’s added as a garnish.

8 corn tortillas
8 eggs
salt
4 ounces chopped green chiles
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 (15-ounce) can black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 ounces (½ cup) shredded cheddar, Monterey jack, or pepper jack
salsa
cilantro

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange an oven-safe cooling rack on a baking sheet. Light spray both sides of the tortillas with nonstick spray; lay them in a single layer on the cooling rack and bake, flipping once, for 12-16 minutes, until browned and crisp. Break into bite-sizes pieces.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, ¼ teaspoon salt, and green chiles with a whisk until large bubbles start to form around the edges of the bowl.

3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt; sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, 5-8 minutes. Pour in the egg mixture and cook without stirring for about a minute, then drag a spatula through the eggs a few times to lightly stir them. Let the eggs set for approximately 30 seconds, then stir again. Add the tortilla pieces, beans, and cheese. Cook and stir the eggs until set. Serve immediately, topping each portion with salsa and cilantro.

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lemon ricotta cookies

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Due to the knee injury that’s kept me from working out at my normal intensity for four months (and counting), I mostly gave up baking for a while. Most of the baking I’ve done recently has been to use up the surplus of organic lemons I keep ending up with as a result of buying them in bags in the Big City. I hoard them until the week before I plan to head back to the Big City, and then I figure that I’d better get rid of them so I can justify buying more.

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I’m not sure my coworkers have noticed the prevalence of lemon treats I’ve brought in to share. It started with the pound cake, and then, weeks later (a departure from the once a week or so I used to bring stuff in), there were these cookies. Next week, it’ll be lemon cream tartelettes.

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I don’t think anyone has minded, considering that several people came by to tell me that these might be the best thing I’ve shared yet. (Questionable.) More tiny glazed cake than cookie, I definitely understand the popularity. But now that I’m almost back to my normal workouts, my coworkers better brace themselves for something besides lemon – by which I mean chocolate, of course.

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One year ago: Basic Coleslaw
Two years ago: Quinoa Tabbouleh
Three years ago: Croissants
Four years ago: Ricotta Spinach and Tofu Ravioli

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Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze (slightly adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis via Apple a Day)

Cookies:
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Glaze:
1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

2. Place the sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the sugar looks slightly moist. Add the butter and continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the ricotta and lemon juice, then continue mixing on medium speed for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined.

3. Spoon the dough (about 1 tablespoon for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 8-11 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 15 minutes.

4. For the glaze: Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about ½ teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours before serving.

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shrimp ricotta ravioli

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The day I made these was a Saturday with weather too unpleasant to spend time outside, so it was the perfect time to blast chick music and hang out in the kitchen. My dinner plans were fairly ambitious – crab cakes, roasted asparagus, goat cheese scallion muffins, and for dessert, pizzelles with ricotta filling. While I was already in the kitchen, I went ahead and prepared some things for later in the week, like bagel pre-doughs, burger patties, and hard-boiled eggs. And I thought, if I have extra energy and time, I’ll make shrimp ravioli.

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The problem is that the shrimp ravioli would be our first course of the night, so I’d have to make it before dinner – before I stood the chance of running out of energy and time. And making ricotta, pasta, seafood broth, shrimp filling, seafood cream sauce, and ravioli is exactly the sort of ambitious project with the potential for wearing me out.

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In the end, I did manage to get everything made, and what’s even more impressive is that I managed to have fun the entire time. But, all told, I spent about six hours in the kitchen that day. It was glorious. And exhausting.

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Everything I made turned out really well, but if I had to choose a favorite, I think it would be these ravioli. Even more than the muffins and the crab cakes and the pizzelle, although that’s a tough choice. (Asparagus is not my favorite vegetable; it never stood a chance.) The crab cakes and muffins are probably a better value for your time, but who cares about time when you’re stuck inside on a Saturday?

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One year ago: Quinoa with Salmon, Feta, and Dill
Two years ago: Cheddar Shortbread
Three years ago: Tiramisu Cake
Four years ago: Peanut Butter Torte

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Shrimp Ravioli in Shellfish Cream Sauce

6-8 first-course servings

I really liked the seafood sauce I made, but I only used a bare amount of it, because I didn’t want to overpower the filling.

1 tablespoon butter
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 shallot, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 garlic clove, minced
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup white wine
1 cup clam juice
8 ounces shrimp, shells on
8 ounces ricot
1 egg
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
2 tablespoons minced parsley
½ cup heavy cream
1 recipe of fresh pasta, rolled to the second-to-last setting

1. For the seafood broth: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter just until the foaming subsides. Add the carrot and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots start to brown around the edges. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook and stir until fragrant, about a minute. Increase the heat to medium-high, and add the white wine, clam juice, and the shrimp with their shells. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Remove the shrimp when they curl and turn pink, after about 3 minutes. Peel the shrimp and return the shells to the broth. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain the broth, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids.

2. For the filling: Transfer the cooked shrimp to a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until minced. Combine the shrimp with the ricotta, egg, parmesan, and parsley.

3. For the ravioli: Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 3 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, wet the pasta along the edges and in between the rounds of filling. If the pasta sheet is at least 4 inches wide, fold it lengthwise over the filling. If the pasta sheet is too thin to fold lengthwise, lay a second pasta sheet over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza roller to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Transfer the formed ravioli to a dry dish towel until ready to cook (there’s no need to cover it). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Cook the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water.

5. For the sauce: Combine the heavy cream and strained seafood broth in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until thickened, 6-10 minutes. Gently toss the sauce with the drained ravioli; serve immediately.

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goat cheese scallion muffins

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Goat cheese scallion muffins don’t sound very similar to garlic cheddar biscuits, and yet when Dave said these reminded him of Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuits, I agreed. They have some things in common – there’s cheese and aromatics in both, but goat cheese and cheddar are very different beasts. Besides, who would think that a muffin and a biscuit would have such similar textures?

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It’s probably because I mixed the batter like I would a biscuit, by cutting the goat cheese into the dry ingredients before stirring in the liquids. The original recipe might have been more muffin-like, with a layer of goat cheese baked between dollops of dough, but I wanted bits of goat cheese spread evenly throughout the muffin. I also used buttermilk instead of milk, counting on the former’s sour tang to add the “zing” that many reviewers complained was missing from muffins made with the original recipe.

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I must have done something right, because these had plenty of flavor; the goat cheese stood out nicely. It’s hard to say if they live up to the legacy of Red Lobster’s deservedly popular biscuits, but as irresistible as those are, they have one thing those don’t – goat cheese. And plenty of zing.

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One year ago: Double/Triple Chocolate Cookies
Two years ago: Orange Oatmeal Currant Cookies
Three years ago: Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
Four years ago: Strawberry Cheesecake

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Goat Cheese Scallion Muffins (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Makes 12 muffins

1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
4 scallions, minced
1 egg
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk
4 ounces goat cheese

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the bottoms of a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray or line with paper liners. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, baking soda, and scallions. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, butter, and buttermilk.

2. Using a pastry blender, cut the goat cheese into the flour mixture until the largest cheese pieces are about pea-sized. Add the liquid ingredients; use a rubber spatula to stir until just combined.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 18-22 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then use a thin-bladed knife to remove the muffins from the pan. Serve warm.

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pizza with lamb meatballs, caramelized onions, and parsley

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The disadvantage of only working every other Friday is that the longer 5-day weeks seem like an eternity. When will it end? How can it be only Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday? I have to wake up to an alarm again? Torture! It’s not that I don’t like my job, it’s just that I like the weekends so much more.

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I get by by keeping my eye on the prize, and by “prize”, I mean when I come home from work on Friday afternoon, grab my book and a beer, and go sit in the backyard. I plan the rest of my week so that Friday after work is a No Chore Zone. The groceries should be shopped for, the dishwasher should be emptied, the house should not be a pigsty. I don’t want any detours between putting down my work bag and heading out to the backyard to read in the sun.

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An hour or two later, refreshed, I’ll come in to make dinner. These long weeks always call for pizza on Friday. If I lived somewhere with a good takeout option, I would welcome that, but instead, I make my own, which has the added advantage of whole wheat crust and skim milk cheese (I think it melts better anyway). Not to mention – when was the last time you saw lamb meatballs on a pizza menu?

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This pizza, one of the best I’ve made recently, is a perfect example of my pizza formula, with savory lamb, sweet onions, bitter parsley, and the traditional acidic tomato sauce and salty cheese. It’s more work than your average pizza, what with the onions needing to be cooked and, most tediously, the tiny meatballs, but it’s worth the extra effort, even on a Friday night after a long workweek – provided that I get my beer and book in the backyard first.

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One year ago: Marbled Loaf Cake
Two years ago: Corned Beef Hash
Three years ago: Roasted Baby Artichokes
Four years ago: Rice and Beans

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Pizza with Lamb Meatballs, Caramelized Onions, and Parsley (inspired by Bon Appétit)

Serves 6

I tried this with both fresh mozzarella and the firmer type, and while they were equally tasty, the firmer cheese did a better job of gluing the meatballs to the pizza. Lamb meatballs that roll onto the floor to get coated in cat hair are sad.

12 ounces ground lamb
1 egg
salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 pounds pizza dough (⅔ of this recipe), fully risen
1 (14-ounce) can whole or diced tomatoes packed in juice (not puree), drained
8 ounces (2 cup) shredded mozzarella
1 ounce (½ cup) grated parmesan
¼ cup minced parsley

1. Use your hands to evenly combine the lamb, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Form the mixture into balls about ½-inch in diameter. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs and cook until well browned on a couple sides, about 4 minutes, turning about once a minute with a spatula. Wipe out the skillet.

2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering; stir in the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions just begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 15 minutes longer.

3. Meanwhile, place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Divide the dough in half; shape each portion into a ball. Let the balls of dough relax for 10 to 30 minutes.

4. Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor 10-12 times, until they’re pureed. Transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl and let them drain, stirring occasionally, for at least 10 minutes. Discard the liquid in the bowl, transfer the tomatoes from the strainer to the now-empty bowl, and stir in a pinch of pepper and ⅛ teaspoon of salt.

5. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

6. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the peel, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Spread half of the sauce over the dough, then top with half of the mozzarella, meatballs, onions, and parmesan. Transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the bottom of the crust is spotty brown. Remove the pizza from the oven, sprinkle half of the parsley over it, and let it cool on cooling rack for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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gougeres

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My list of 2012 goals isn’t going too well. I’m keeping up, for the most part (although it has not escaped my attention that the date on this April entry is May 1st), but I haven’t had great successes with all of the recipes. January started off strong, with the lettuce wraps and black bean brownies – which I even made far enough before the deadline that I could try them again with some changes. I was also happy with the ranch dressing.

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But then things started going downhill. The fancy rice krispy treats fell victim to my refusal to go back to the store for a missing ingredient; the mozzarella got skipped entirely while I search for the right type of milk; the dolmades tasted good but mostly fell apart; and the gougères? I suppose they had the opposite problem. They look just fine – puffy and golden – but they were sadly lacking in cheese flavor.

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And so, I’m writing this down so I don’t forget: Stop buying the Gruyere sold in this little town. I did this once before and didn’t learn my lesson then. It has the fancy label, but it tastes like wax.

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So maybe this wasn’t my greatest cooking success, although at least it wasn’t a huge fail – they look nice, after all. And as an added bonus, I realized that I’ve already made a recipe that, while it didn’t hold the title of gougères, is nearly the same thing made with cheddar and green onions. I guess I could have checked this one off the list of goals years ago! Maybe this list isn’t going so badly after all.

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One year ago: Fig-Glazed Burgers with Onion Jam
Two years ago: Home Corned Beef
Three years ago: Chocolate Cream Tart
Four years ago: Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

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Gougères (reworded slightly from David Lebovitz)

Makes 24-30

I was paranoid about my eggs cooking in the hot saucepan before they could be incorporated into the dough, so I transferred the flour mixture to another bowl before adding the eggs.

½ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
¼ teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
½ cup (2.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
¾ cup (about 3 ounces) grated gruyere, or another hard cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking constantly. The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. Add most of the grated cheese, reserving some for topping; stir until well-mixed.

4. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato. (You can also divide the dough into mounds using two spoons.) Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese.

5. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375 degrees; bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until the gougeres are golden brown. Serve warm.

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tiramisu

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I got confused when my coworker told me, while studiously avoiding eye contact, that the only thing they needed to figure out for another coworker’s rehearsal dinner was the dessert. I started trying to evaluate our previous history of eye contact. Was the lack of eye contact normal between us, or was that a hint? I was willing to help her out, but I was going to feel awfully silly if I jumped in to bake for thirty people I’d never met if it wasn’t necessary.

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Well, I did volunteer, of course, because it was an opportunity to make desserts without eating them all myself! The dinner had an Italian theme, with big pans of lasagna, loaves of garlic bread, and pots of Italian wedding soup, so tiramisu was a natural choice. It didn’t hurt that I’d made this recipe once, years ago, and had wanted a reason to make it again ever since.

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It’s the perfect balance of sweet and bitter and tinged with alcohol. The ladyfingers soak up just enough of the coffee and rum to turn soft and cakey, but not enough to get mushy. The creamy mascarpone layer is like a rich custard filling between layers of cake. The cocoa and grated chocolate (optional, but I added it) provide a welcome hint of chocolate, but it doesn’t dominate.

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I made a double batch for the party (and was lucky enough to have a friend come over to dip and arrange nearly a hundred ladyfingers in the pan) and kept a tiny taster serving for myself. It was a smart move, because there wasn’t one bit leftover from the rehearsal dinner. Savoring my tiramisu at home that night, I didn’t regret volunteering to bake this dessert one bit.

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One year ago: Lemon Ricotta Strawberry Muffins
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Tiramisù (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Cook’s Illustrated’s notes: Brandy and even whiskey can stand in for the dark rum. Cook’s Illustrated prefers a tiramisù with a pronounced rum flavor; for a less potent rum flavor, halve the amount of rum added to the coffee mixture in step 1. Do not allow the mascarpone to warm to room temperature before using it; it has a tendency to break if allowed to do so. Be certain to use hard, not soft ladyfingers.

2½ cups strong black coffee, room temperature
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder
9 tablespoons dark rum
6 large egg yolks
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1½ pounds mascarpone cheese
¾ cup heavy cream (cold)
14 ounces ladyfingers (42 to 60, depending on size)
3½ tablespoons cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
¼ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, grated (optional)

1. Stir coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons of the rum in a wide bowl or baking dish until the espresso dissolves; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the yolks at low speed until just combined. Add the sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1½ to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape the bowl. Add the mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

3. In the now-empty mixer bowl (there’s no need to clean the bowl), beat the cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set the mascarpone mixture aside.

4. Working with one at a time, drop half of the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture; the entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange the soaked cookies in a single layer in the baking dish, breaking or trimming the ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into the dish.

5. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers; use a rubber spatula to spread the mixture to the sides and into the corners of the dish and smooth the surface. Place 2 tablespoons of the cocoa in a fine-mesh strainer and dust the cocoa over the mascarpone.

6. Repeat the dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread the remaining mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers and dust with the remaining 1½ tablespoons cocoa. Wipe the edges of the dish with a dry paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. Sprinkle with the grated chocolate, if using; cut into pieces and serve chilled.

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