grapefruit margaritas

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If 2010 was the year of the vodka gimlet, 2011 was dedicated to margaritas. It started with these, and then when grapefruits went out of season, we tried strawberry margaritas, pineapple margaritas, classic lime margaritas, and, most recently, cranberry margaritas. I love them all, but nothing holds a candle to the grapefruit version.

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It’s perfectly balanced – not too sweet, not too sour, not too strong. The light grapefruit mellows any harshness from the lime and alcohol, and the result is perfectly refreshing. As an added bonus, one grapefruit yields enough juice for four drinks – which is just the right amount to split between two people.

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One year ago: Feta and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Two years ago: Apple Muffins
Three years ago: Twice Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Four years ago: Maple Walnut Cupcakes

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Grapefruit Margaritas (adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Technically 4 servings, but you’ll be sad if you only get one

Of the many grapefruits I have juiced for margaritas, one grapefruit has always resulted in 4 shots of juice. Two limes will usually give two shots of juice, but not always, so it’s best to buy a third just in case.

As with all things, alcohol quality matters. I’ve used Cointreau, Gran Marnier, Gran Gala, Controy (which can only be purchased in Mexico), and Patron Citronge in these, all with good results. I’ve never used a bargain triple sec. For tequila, I tend to buy whatever is on sale in the $20-25 range.

2 shots lime juice
4 shots grapefruit juice
3 shots orange liqueur
3 shots tequila

In a pitcher or 4-cup measuring cup, mix all of the ingredients. Pour over crushed ice in individual glasses; serve immediately.

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ricotta

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Here are some things you need to know about making ricotta at home:

1) It really is as easy as they say. The process involves nothing more than heating milk and salt, stirring in lemon juice or vinegar, and straining the mixture.

2) It requires a lot of milk for a relatively small amount of cheese – you’ll start with about four times more volume of milk than you’ll end up with of cheese.

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right after adding the acids

3) About that milk – you can use the regular ol’ stuff from the grocery store, ultrapasteurization and all. That’s all I have access to, and I’ve made some nice ricotta with it.

4) If you’re feeling decadent, you can substitute some of the milk with cream. I started out using about seven times more milk than cream, but in the pictures you see here, I was almost out of cream and used about twenty times more milk than cream. I like this batch just as much as the others.

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right before straining

5) You can use either regular white vinegar or lemon juice. I read here that using all lemon juice gives the cheese a lemony flavor and vinegar is more neutral. However, I was worried about my cheese tasting like vinegar, which would be gross, so I always use a mixture of the two.

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after 5 minutes of straining with no cheesecloth or paper towel liner

6) The pH of the acid you add to curdle the milk matters. That’s one reason vinegar is more dependable than lemon juice; the acidity of lemons varies. It also means you can’t substitute other vinegars, because they might not be as acidic as white vinegar. I learned this the hard way when I realized I was out of regular vinegar and tried to use white wine vinegar instead; the milk didn’t form many curds.

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after 15 minutes of straining with no cheesecloth or paper towel liner

7) You don’t need cheesecloth. The first two times I made this cheese, I strained the mixture in my fine-mesh strainer. Worried that I was losing too much of good stuff, I tried using a double layer of paper towels, but it was draining too slowly and I got impatient and went back to just the strainer. That being said, I really am trying to remember to buy cheesecloth.

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after 15 minutes of straining with no liner, stirred

8 ) You’ll feel wasteful throwing all that whey down the drain, but the bit of internet research I did indicated that it isn’t good for bread dough, because the acid breaks the gluten molecules, weakening the dough’s structure.

9) It isn’t technically ricotta, which is made from the whey leftover from making other cheeses. (The word ricotta, in Italian, means re-cooked.) When I first heard this, I wondered why anyone would call it ricotta, since it isn’t made the same way. Then I made it myself and realized that it looks and tastes just like real ricotta.

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after 2 hours of straining with no liner

10) Homemade ricotta is better than the stabilizer-filled tubs you’ll find in most grocery stores. However, if you do happen to have access to real fresh ricotta, it’s probably cheaper to buy that rather than using half a gallon of milk to make 2 cups of cheese. As for which is better, the last time I bought fresh ricotta from an Italian market was a couple years ago, too long to remember the details of how good it was. I know it was really good, but I know this is really good too.

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finally bought cheesecloth; after 1 hour of straining with double layer of cheesecloth; smoother, creamier cheese

One year ago: Beef Short Ribs Braised in Tomato Sauce
Two years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Three years ago: Chopped Salad
Four years ago: Country Crust Bread

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Ricotta (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Serious Eats)

Makes about 1 cup

You can adjust the amount of cream down (to 4 cups milk and no cream) or up (to 3 cups milk and 1 cup cream), depending on how rich you want the ricotta to be.

3½ cups whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the milk, cream, and salt to 190 degrees. Remove the pot from the heat, add the vinegar and lemon juice, stir once, and set aside for 5 minutes.

2. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a single layer of paper towels. Pour the curdled milk mixture into the strainer. Set aside for about an hour. It will get thicker the longer it sits to drain.

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rice noodle salad with peanut dressing

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I was going through a protein rut recently, where I seemed to be cooking with beans more weeknights than not. We try not to eat meat on weekdays, we take hard-boiled eggs to work everyday as snacks, and cheese has too much fat. So what does that leave me? I’d completely forgotten about soy.

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Think of tofu as a sponge that soaks up flavor. True, on its own, it tastes like water and has a jello-like squishiness, but when you sauté it and soak it in sauce, it’s hardly discernible from chicken, except cheaper and easier to work with. Plus, it won’t dry out like boneless skinless chicken breasts.

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This sauce has plenty of flavor for the tofu to absorb. Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, all mixed into creamy peanut butter, make for one heck of a combination. There are plenty of vegetables to provide brightness and crunch.  This was so good we had it two weeks in a row – alternating with dinners involving beans, of course.

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One year ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Two years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Three years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Red Peppers

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Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing (adapted from Cate’s World Kitchen)

My noodles stuck together in one big clump, so I chopped them up after cooking. I know that’s against standard noodle procedure, but in the end, it worked perfectly.

Serves 4-6

Having made this a bunch more times, I’ve found that it’s even better with the juice of a lime squeezed into the sauce.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound tofu
salt
8 ounces rice noodles (linguine shape)
½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
¼ cup warm water
chili garlic sauce to taste (optional)
1 medium cucumber, sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 green onions (green parts only), sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the tofu lengthwise into ½-inch thick slabs; pat dry on a dishtowel. Transfer the tofu to the oil and cook, without moving, for 4-6 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Flip the tofu and brown the second side. Remove the tofu from the skillet and cut into bite-sized cubes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and the rice noodles; cook until tender. (Check the package instructions for exact cooking times.) Drain and rinse the pasta.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, water, and chili garlic sauce until smooth. Fold the tofu into the sauce, then add the remaining ingredients, reserving some of the green onions and cilantro for a garnish.

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banh mi

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For me, taste will trump authenticity every time. Spaghetti and meatballs is more Italian-American than Italian, most of my favorite sushi rolls didn’t originate in Japan, and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches include a whole mess of ingredients that aren’t available to me. I don’t want to miss out on any of these foods just because they don’t closely resemble the versions in their original countries.

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I’m not saying that I have no interest in more authentic versions of banh mi. I’m just saying that a sandwich made of grilled meat, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and spicy tangy sauce is too good to wait around for daikon radish to show up at my grocery store, because it never will. Regular radishes will have to stand in for the daikon radish. And I’m sure pâté is a particularly luscious addition, but still not one that’s worth the trouble of searching southern New Mexico for it.

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Besides, the mixture of storebought mayo, sriracha, and fish sauce is good enough to make any sandwich tempting. One with tangy pickled vegetables and tender grilled pork, all piled on an airy baguette, has become one of my favorite sandwiches ever. It may be a far cry from its origins, but it’s too good to care.

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One year ago: Cheesecake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Twice-Baked Potato Cups
Three years ago: Banana and Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

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Vietnamese-Style Grilled Pork Sandwiches (from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

I used a mixture of Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, heavy on the yogurt, instead of just mayonnaise in the sauce.

Sliced cucumbers are a nice addition, and as you can see, the carrots and radishes work just fine if they’re thinly sliced instead of julienned. (I haven’t figured out how to julienne things on my mandoline.)

Serves 4

½ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sriracha
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 (6-inch) piece daikon radish, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
1 (24-inch) baguette, cut into 4 pieces and split partially open lengthwise
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Combine vinegar and sugar in microwave-safe bowl. Heat until sugar has dissolved, about 90 seconds. Add 1 tablespoon sriracha, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, daikon, and carrot to bowl and toss to combine. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, remaining 1 tablespoon sriracha, and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce together in second bowl.

3. Rub pork with five-spice powder. Grill over hot fire until browned on all sides and pork registers 145 degrees, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes. Grill bread until lightly toasted, about 1 minute.

4. Slice pork crosswise into thin slices. Drain vegetables. Spread mayonnaise on inner sides of bread halves. Arrange slices of pork on bread and top with vegetables and cilantro. Serve.

greek yogurt dill dip

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I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record – “OMG OMG Greek yogurt is soooo awesome!!!” It’s just that I’m finding so many places where the similarities between Greek yogurt and sour cream give me opportunities to enjoy some of my favorite used-to-be-indulgent foods. Creamy white dips are my newest revelations.

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Most white dips are nothing more than dressed up mayonnaise and sour cream; in other words, they are a bowl of fat. But even though Greek yogurt is the same thickness and color as sour cream and it tastes tart like sour cream, per ounce, it has one-third of the calories, one-tenth of the fat, and three times the protein of sour cream.

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And it isn’t just the sour cream you’re replacing. I love mayonnaise, but I’ve found that its flavor stands out even when there’s seven times more yogurt in a mixture than mayonnaise. That means that now I can mix up a creamy white dip as an afternoon snack to serve with whole grain bread, instead of saving it for a special occasional splurge. I suspect this dill dip, a childhood favorite of mine, it just the start of experimenting with used-to-be-fat-laden dips.

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One year ago: Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
Two years ago: Mushroom Salad
Three years ago: Kung Pau Shrimp

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Greek Yogurt Dill Dip (I got this recipe from my mom, but I’m guessing it’s originally a Spice Islands recipe)

Serves 6 to 8

Beau Monde seasoning is a Spice Islands spice mix. I keep some around just for this dip, but it can be hard to find. Fortunately, it looks like you can make up your own.

My dip in the pictures is a little soupier than it should be because not only did I grate the onion instead of mince, but I doubled the amount of it.

Feel free to use whatever fat level of Greek yogurt you like best. I always use 2% Greek yogurt.

1¾ cups Greek yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup fresh minced dill (or 1 tablespoon dried dill leaves)
1 tablespoon Beau Monde seasoning
3 tablespoons minced onion
1 loaf seedless rye bread, unsliced

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the yogurt, mayonnaise, dill, Beaumonde seasoning, and onion. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or up to two days.

2. Tear bite-size pieces from the center of the loaf of bread until the cavity is large enough to hold the dip. Spoon the dip into the hole; serve on a large platter with the torn bread pieces.

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summer berry pie

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Dave enjoys and then forgets the vast majority of what I give him to eat. And how not to? I make so many different things that even I’m surprised sometimes when I scan through old unused pictures (two types of cucumber salad? orange-glazed tofu? raspberry muffins? The pictures prove I made these things, but I don’t remember any of it).

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But once in a while, I make something that stands out to Dave enough to not only remember it, but request it again and again, even years later. I hadn’t made this pie in two years, but once berries start to come into season, Dave starts asking about it.

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Often, fresh fruit pies are associated with the gel-shellacked versions you get in buffet lines. This pie replaces that gel with the barest coating of fruit jelly, which gives the fruit a beautiful shine without adding any flavorless goo. Instead, a layer of fruit puree holds the filling together while intensifying the bright berry flavor. With ripe sweet berries and a dollop of freshly whipped cream, it’s no wonder this dessert is so memorable.

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One year ago: Triple Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Two years ago: Strawberries and Cream Pie
Three years ago: Croque Madame

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Summer Berry Pie (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8 to 10

Currant jelly is smooth and bright red, so very attractive in this pie. However, I didn’t want to buy it because I don’t use it for anything else. I used raspberry jam, which I probably should have strained but didn’t.

Crust:
5 ounces graham crackers, broken into rough pieces (9-11 full crackers)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and warm

Filling:
2 cups (about 9 ounces) fresh raspberries
2 cups (about 11 ounces) fresh blackberries
2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh blueberries
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons red currant jelly

Whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, process the graham crackers until evenly fine, about 30 seconds. You should have one cup of crumbs. Add the sugar; pulse to combine. Continue to pulse while adding the warm melted butter in a steady stream; pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie plate; use the bottom of a ramekin or measuring cup to press the crumbs evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 15 to 18 minutes; transfer to wire rack and cool completely while making the filling.

2. FOR THE FILLING: Combine the berries in a large colander and gently rinse; spread the berries on towel-lined rimmed baking sheet and gently pat dry with additional towels.

3. In a food processor, puree 2½ cups of the mixed berries until smooth and fully pureed, about 1 minute. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer into small nonreactive saucepan, scraping and pressing on seeds to extract as much puree as possible (you should have 1¼ to 1½ cups). Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl to combine, then whisk the mixture into the puree. Bring the puree to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon; when the mixture reaches a boil and is thickened to consistency of pudding, remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool slightly.

4. While the puree is cooling, place the remaining berries in a medium bowl. Heat the jelly in a second small saucepan over low heat until fully melted; drizzle the melted jelly over the berries and gently toss them together until the berries are glazed. Pour the slightly cooled puree into the cooled pie shell and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Distribute the glazed berries evenly over the puree and gently press into the surface. Loosely cover pie with plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled and the puree has set, about 3 hours (or up to 1 day).

5. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Add the cream, sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until the cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 seconds for soft peaks or about 30 seconds for stiff peaks. If necessary, finish beating by hand to adjust the consistency.

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creamy taco mac

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I rarely miss eating meat on weekdays. I was never big on “meat and three” types of meals, so vegetarian food suits me just fine. Besides, it’s usually easy to replace meat with a substitute, and by substitute, I don’t mean fake meat (“smeat”, as my friend calls it). I mean beans, especially black beans.

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Making this recipe vegetarian was no problem, but I was also determined to make it all in the same pot. I’ve made Cooks Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna many times, in which the pasta is cooked right in the simmering sauce, so I adapted the same cooking method for taco mac. The different ratios of pasta to tomatoes complicated finding the right ratio of liquid to pasta, but after a few tries, I landed on the right amount.

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What really gave me fits was how to make the sauce creamy in a healthy way – and if this was going to be a weeknight dish, it needed to be healthy. First, I tried Cara’s method of stirring in pureed cottage cheese. This worked fine, but I knew I was too lazy to puree cottage cheese for such a simple meal. Both unpureed cottage cheese and ricotta cheese looked curdled and barf-like. In the end, the answer, like it so often is, was Greek yogurt. It perfectly mimics the sour cream called for in the original recipe but with dramatically less fat and more protein.

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Finally then, this fills all my qualifications as a great weeknight dish. It’s vegetarian, it’s healthy, it’s nutritionally balanced – all that and the only dishes you need to dirty are a cutting board, knife, and the cooking pot. With meals as good as this, it’s no wonder I don’t crave meat on weekdays.

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One year ago: Pasta with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Sauce
Three years ago: Pigs in a Blanket

Update: I changed the recipe to use ½ more water. Two cups might be enough, but it cuts it close. If your sauce is too liquidy at the end, it’s simple to simmer it down for a few minutes.

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Creamy Taco Mac
(adapted from Delish via Annie’s Eats and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna recipe)

6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 red pepper, chopped small
Table salt
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon ground chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
16 ounces dry pasta
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2½ cups water
1 (30-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (7-ounce) container Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 avocado, diced (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the pasta, diced tomatoes with juices, water, and beans. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, stir about half of the simmering pasta mixture into the yogurt. Stir this tempered yogurt into the pasta. Cover and simmer over low heat until heated, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and avocado, if using. Serve.

chicken gyros

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Elly’s chicken gyros are so very popular for good reason – it’s a simple recipe with exceptional results. I, of course, can’t keep anything simple. After I made Elly’s recipe a few times, I noticed how similar it is to chicken fajitas – marinated chicken wrapped in flat bread with vegetables. My favorite chicken fajita recipe has a few tricks up its sleeve that I love, so I started incorporating those into Elly’s chicken gyro recipe.

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My favorite trick is saving a portion of the marinade (before mixing it with raw meat, of course) to stir into the cooked and shredded chicken, reviving any flavors that might be lost during cooking. Another portion of the marinade is stirred into the vegetables, brightening their flavor while the vinegar tames the onion’s bite. I also insist on taking advantage of everyone’s favorite cooking method – fire. I love grilling the chicken and then toasting the pita over the remaining coals.

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I’m fairly certain that traditionally, gyros aren’t topped with red peppers and feta, and the first few times I made this recipe, I served those on the side as part of Mediterranean Pepper Salad. But each time, more and more of the salad made its way onto the gyro, and eventually I stopped keeping them separate at all. With the vegetables right on top of the marinated grilled chicken and toasted flatbread, topped with tart white sauce, these were even more similar to chicken fajitas, except – dare I say – even better.

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One year ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart’s recipe)
Two years ago: Rhubarb Scones
Three years ago: Pita (cook these right on the grill instead of baking!)

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Chicken Gyros (adapted from Elly Says Opa and from Cooks Illustrated’s Chicken Fajita recipe)

Greek yogurt is often sold in 7-ounce containers. If you don’t have extra plain yogurt around to use in the marinade, using 2 tablespoons of the Greek yogurt meant for the tzatziki recipe in your marinade won’t hurt your tzatziki at all.

Chicken:
¼ cup juice from 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
table salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1½ pounds), trimmed of fat, tenderloins removed, pounded to ½-inch thickness

Tzatziki:
½ cucumber, unpeeled, shredded
½ teaspoon kosher salt
7 ounces Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ tablespoon minced fresh dill (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
½ red onion, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 large red bell pepper, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
½ cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 tomato, chopped medium, or 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup feta, crumbled
4-6 (6-inch) pocketless pitas

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl; set aside. Add the yogurt and another teaspoon salt to the remaining marinade. Place the chicken in the marinade; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, using a large chimney starter, ignite 6 quarts of charcoal briquettes and burn until the coals are fully ignited, about 20 minutes. Empty the coals into the grill, spreading them in a single layer; place an additional 20 unlit coals over the lit coals on one side of grill to create a two-level fire. Position the grill grate over the coals and heat the grate for 5 minutes; scrape clean with a grill brush. (For a gas grill, light all burners and turn to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes; scrape the grill grate clean with a grill brush. Leave one burner on high heat while turning the remaining burner(s) down to medium.)

3. For the tzatziki: Place the cucumber in a strainer set over a medium bowl and add the salt. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to drain. Transfer the cucumber to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Combine the drained cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, and pepper.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved marinade to a bowl; add the sliced onion to the marinade. Set aside to lightly pickle while you prepare the remaining toppings. Mix all of the vegetables and feta into the bowl with the onion.

5. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place it smooth side down on the hotter side of the grill; discard the remaining marinade. Cook the chicken until it’s well browned, 4 to 5 minutes; using tongs, flip the chicken and continue grilling until it’s no longer pink when cut into with a paring knife or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers about 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; cover to keep warm.

6. Working in 2 or 3 batches, place the pitas in a single layer on the cooler side of the now-empty grill and cook until warm and lightly browned, about 20 seconds per side (do not grill too long or the pitas will become brittle). As the pitas are done, wrap them in a kitchen towel or a large sheet of foil.

7. Slice the chicken into ¼-inch strips and toss with the remaining tablespoon of reserved marinade in another bowl; arrange the chicken and vegetables on a large platter and serve with the warmed pitas.

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basic coleslaw

Once upon a time, I thought I didn’t like coleslaw. A Cooks Illustrated recipe turned me around, but over time, I found aspects of it that I didn’t love. One is that is really does take about 4 hours of salting the cabbage for it to draw out enough water to avoid a watery dressing. Then you have to rinse the salt off so your slaw isn’t too salty, and then you have to dry the cabbage, because wasn’t the whole point of salting to remove water?

The dressing of that recipe is based on buttermilk, which is a great lowfat option, but is too thin to coat the cabbage strands well. Many slaw dressings are nothing more than flavored mayonnaise, and while I do love mayonnaise, I don’t like to spend so much of my calorie budget on salad. The dressing for my old favorite recipe also requires sour cream, which I never have.

The answer, like I’m finding it is to so many things, is Greek yogurt. It’s everything you want in a slaw dressing – thick, creamy and tangy. Oh, and full of protein instead of just fat. I like to use the same flavorings used in the Cooks Illustrated recipe – cider vinegar, parsley, minced onion, a wee bit of sugar. I also like to mix a spoonful of mayonnaise into the yogurt. It’s amazing how even a small proportion of mayonnaise can make the whole mixture taste like it’s full of the fattening stuff.

With a thicker dressing, it isn’t as necessary to draw water out of the cabbage. If I have time, I still often sprinkle the shredded cabbage with salt and set it aside, but I use only as much salt as I need to include in the salad anyway – so no tedious rinsing and drying is required. Without needing to plan four hours in advance, I can mix up a quick coleslaw while Dave heats the grill for brats. I’m not going to say that I like the coleslaw more than the sausage – but it’s close, and it’s a heck of a lot healthier too.

One year ago: Grilled Artichokes
Two years ago: Basic Lentil Soup
Three years ago: Snickery Squares

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Basic Coleslaw (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

You can see that I now take a very laid back approach to preparing slaw. This is what happens when I start making things for lunch on Saturday; I can’t be bothered with details when it’s 85 degrees and sunny out. Sometimes I combine the first few ingredients earlier in the morning and set them aside until later to lightly pickle to cabbage and onion, but sometimes I make the slaw start to finish right before serving. Either way works great.

Feel free to use any fat level of Greek yogurt.

½ cabbage, sliced thin
¼ cup minced red onion
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 carrot, shredded
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 (7-ounce container) plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

In a large bowl, stir together the cabbage, onion, salt, vinegar, and sugar. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.

quinoa with salmon, feta, and dill

I imagine that most people have a set of ten, twenty, or maybe even thirty dinners that they regularly make. Some people might try a new recipe every couple of weeks. But for the most part, I suspect that dinner on any given night is something familiar.

Then there are a class of people who have so many recipes they want to try that they know there simply aren’t enough nights in the week, month, year, life. Every time an old favorite is made is an opportunity lost to try something new. Not that I don’t have a rotation; it’s just that meals are considered on the rotation if they’re made only once or twice a year. Something in heavy rotation might be made six or seven times per year.

This was a surprise addition to my rotation. If I didn’t think we’d like it, I wouldn’t have made it, but I didn’t know we’d like it as much as we did. Dave compared it sushi bowls, with the grain base, fish, and cucumbers, but the lemon, dill, and feta take it in a different direction.

Of course, it takes more than good flavor to be added to my rotation – dishes have to be healthy, which means no refined carbs, limited oil and butter, and plenty of protein and vegetables. Recipes also have to be easy if there’s any hope of me making them often, and the limited amount of ingredient prep required here can be accomplished while the quinoa cooks. Not only have I made this three times in the last year, I’ve made it twice in the last month – heavy rotation indeed.

One year ago: Shrimp Burgers
Two years ago: Roasted Baby Artichokes
Three years ago: Double (or Triple) Chocolate Cookies

Printer Friendly Recipe
Quinoa with Salmon, Feta, and Dill (adapted from Apple a Day)

Serves 6

You can use also fresh salmon and cook it either on the stove or in the oven. Kelsey has directions for stovetop cooking. If you use fresh salmon instead of smoked, increase the salt in the quinoa cooking water to ½ teaspoon.

While you can serve this immediately after mixing, it will be better if you give the flavors some time to meld, even just 15 minutes. This is particularly true if you’re using salty smoked salmon.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 lemon, juice and zest
8 ounces smoked salmon, chopped small
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced ¼-inch thick
½ cup feta cheese, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced

1. Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer; rinse until the water no longer foams. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the quinoa, salt, and the zest of the lemon. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the heat off; let the quinoa set, still covered, for another 5 minutes. Drain off any unabsorbed water.

2. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the quinoa, then mix in the salmon and remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight.

Oh yeah, I used red quinoa!  Regular quinoa will work every bit as well though.