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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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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spicy mexican beans and rice

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It’s been a long road since I shared something vaguely similar to this recipe, well over six years ago. At the time, I said that I had a goal to make more crockpot recipes. Since then, I have made exactly three crockpot recipes worth sharing, and one of those I’ve never made again. In general, I’m more into low-and-slow oven cooking than crockpotting. Heck, I recently even made “crockpot” pulled “pork” (it was venison; still delicious) in the oven.

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The long road of not-crockpotting has led me to adapt my old favorite crockpot recipe for the stove. The way the original recipe is written, with bone-in chicken thighs, the crockpot is a good choice. However, I always make this as an easy, healthy, vegetarian weeknight meal, leaving the chicken out. Why spend 10 hours, the whole day when I’m away for work, slow-cooking canned beans with some seasonings?

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So instead of adapting stovetop or oven recipes for the crockpot like most people do, I’ve adapted a crockpot recipe for the stove. I replaced the chicken soup mix with aromatics and spices, the chicken with a greater variety of beans, and the fresh tomatoes with canned tomatoes (in season year round!). It really isn’t any harder than the crockpot recipe was, and it tastes just as good.  With this new crockpot-less recipe, it might be time to retire my crockpot entirely.  Surely I can think of another fun new kitchen tool that I don’t really need to take up that cabinet space, right?

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Spicy Mexican Beans and Rice

8 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 large or 2 small to medium onions, diced
salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup green chile, roasted, peeled, and diced
2 chipotle chiles, minced
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
juice from 1 lime
6 cups cooked rice from 2 cups uncooked rice
cilantro, minced
optional toppings: queso fresco or cheddar cheese, diced avocado, Greek yogurt or sour cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the green chile, chipotle chiles, beans, tomatoes, and broth; cover, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and lightly simmer until the flavors are blended, at least 20 minutes or up to an hour if you aren’t in a hurry. If the mixture is too liquidy, remove the cover, increase the heat to medium, and simmer until the desired thickness is reached. Taste and add salt if necessary. Stir in the lime juice. Serve over rice, topped with cilantro and other toppings as desired.

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swiss chard mushroom sausage lasagna

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I have this weird thing with lasagna, in that I love it, and I love making it, but I have a hard time bringing myself to repeat recipes. I’m always searching for the next new lasagna recipe, but the truth is, my favorite lasagnas involve tomatoes and cheese and probably bechamel and something that tastes meaty (which could be mushrooms and not meat). And there’s only so many ways to combine those ingredients and still call it in a new recipe.

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This one, however, I did make twice, because the first time wasn’t quite right. I was thinking that because I enjoy both bechamel and ricotta in lasagna, that I would enjoy having them both there. It turns out, though, that it was overkill, so I nixed the ricotta. Also, the original recipe didn’t include tomatoes or sausage, but they both mix in so well with béchamel and cheese and greens that I couldn’t resist adding them.

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I can’t call this my favorite lasagna. With my compulsion to keep trying new recipes, I can’t claim any favorite. But this is certainly worth adding to the list of great recipes. It’s almost like a classic lasagna with some extra vegetables, and those vegetables fit in perfectly with the cheese and tomatoes and meat. It’s so good I might even make it again someday. But in the meantime, tell me: what’s your favorite lasagna recipe?

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Swiss Chard Mushroom Sausage Lasagna (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe.  You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

Béchamel sauce:
3 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ large onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 bay leaf
pinch nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan cheese

Swiss chard and mushroom layer:
8 ounces Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ large onion, diced
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
salt
4 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 pound Swiss chard, center rib and stem cut from each leaf
pepper

Lasagna:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces (1 cup) provolone, shredded
4 ounces (1 cup) mozzarella, shredded
2 ounces (1 cup) finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. For the béchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the onion and the garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk. Add the bay leaf, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When the mixture simmers, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the nutmeg and salt, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the parmesan. Cover and set aside.

2. For the swiss chard and mushroom layer: Heat the oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion; sauté until the onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid and then brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes; simmer until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Mix in the chard; cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir the sausage back into the sauce; season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread ¾ cup of the sauce over the noodles. Top with one-third of the sausage-mushroom mixture and one-fourth of the cheeses.  Repeat the layers twice more. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and cheeses.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

4. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the lasagna is bubbling around the edges and golden on top, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with parsley and serve.

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beef barbacoa

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I am going through a taco phase, and it might have started out with these. Well, mostly I just really like tacos, because who doesn’t, but things have ramped up in recent weeks. We’ve had all sorts of tasty fillings recently, but it’s hard to beat barbacoa.

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Barbacoa has so many satisfying flavors – it’s a little sweet, a little sour with a squeeze of lime juice, plenty meaty of course. It definitely has a spicy kick. It’s coated in a rich layer of sauce that delivers loads of flavor, with nothing left behind in the pot.

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It only gets better with toppings. Avocado is arguably my favorite part of most tacos (not these; the barbacoa wins by a mile), and queso fresco is the perfect salty fresh compliment to the rich meat. Those two and a wedge of lime are my only requirements, but pickled onions and a smattering of cilantro are nice too.

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This isn’t a hard recipe, although it’s far from fast. The long ingredient list looks worse than it is. There’s a lot of spices, chiles, and condiments, but nothing other than an onion and some garlic require a cutting board. Not even the beef needs to be sliced or cut into cubes. What I thought was going to be a significant project took me about half an hour.

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Of course, you don’t actually get to eat until almost 5 hours layer, after the beef has become tender and rich and the broth has been reduced down to a sauce. It’s getting warm out and you might not want to leave your oven on for four hours while the beef cooks, but the result is worth some air-conditioning. Plus, it reheats great, maybe even better than it was the first day. I have to admit that I haven’t really been in a taco phase, just a barbacoa phase. I’ve got one more batch stored in the freezer, and I can’t wait.

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One year ago: California Roll Burgers
Two years ago: Basic Coleslaw
Three years ago: Quinoa Tabbouleh
Four years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Five years ago: Ricotta Spinach and Tofu Ravioli

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Beef Barbacoa
(very slightly adapted from The Food Lab on Serious Eats)

About 6 servings

I think the crockpot is a definite possibility here, but it’ll take you a lot longer to reduce the liquid to a sauce after the cooking time.  You’ll still need to brown the oxtails and onions beforehand, because that adds tons of flavor.  That’s an easy tradeoff to save 4 hours of oven use when the weather’s warm!

If you can’t find these exact types of chiles, any combination of mild, fruity and bright-tasting chiles will do, such as guajillo or Colorado.  I used a New Mexico, an ancho, and an arbol chile.  I couldn’t find oxtails either, so I used beef ribs.

1 whole dried New Mexico, costeño, or choricero chili, seeds and stem removed
1 whole chile ancho or pasilla, seeds and stem removed
1 whole chile negro, seeds and stem removed
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
1 pound oxtails
1 small onion, diced
6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 chipotle chiles packed in adobo, chopped, with 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 whole chuck roast (about 4 pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 whole bay leaves
Kosher salt
Warm corn tortillas, avocados, queso fresco, pickled onions, cilantro, salsa, limes, and other condiments for serving

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Place the dried chiles in the bottom of a large Dutch oven and heat over high heat. Cook, turning the chiles with tongs occasionally, until fragrant and toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a small saucepan and cover with 2 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until chiles are completely tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the now-empty Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Cook the oxtails until they’re well-browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove the oxtails and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium.

3. Add the remaining two tablespoons oil and heat along with the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until deep brown and just starting to burn, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, cloves, and oregano, and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chipotle chiles, vinegar, and remaining chicken broth. Scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, simmer until reduced by about half, then transfer the entire contents to the jar of a blender.

4. Add the soaked chiles and their liquid to the blender along with the fish sauce. Start the blender on low (be careful of blowups!) and slowly increase the speed to high. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.

5. Place the beef roast in the Dutch oven. Add the browned oxtails, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, the bay leaves, and the sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place the lid on the pot, slightly cracked, then transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the beef occasionally, until completely tender and a cake tester or metal skewer inserted into the meat shows little to no resistance, about 4 hours. Discard the bay leaves and oxtails (meat from oxtails can be eaten if desired). Transfer the chuck to a large plate. Return the Dutch oven to the stovetop, and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1½ cups, about 5 minutes.

6. Beef can be shredded and served immediately or transferred to a sealed container along with the liquid and refrigerate up to five days. When ready to serve, shred into large chunks with your fingers or two forks. Return the beef to a pot along with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook, gently stirring and folding until the beef is hot, tender, and coated in sauce. Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately, piling the beef into warm corn tortillas with onions, queso fresco, avocados, cilantro, salsa, limes, or other condiments as desired.

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rosemary gruyere and sea salt crisps

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Pretty much every year, I get it into my head that I want to make a big Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner. Geography doesn’t allow me to host the holiday for either my family or my in-laws, so I usually end up doing it on a random weekend in December. This time I had to wait until January. (My “insane amount of time spent in the kitchen” project for December was the Star Wars cookies, and there wasn’t time for another big project.)

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I had some friends over, and they brought the stuffing, but the rest was up to me. I spent almost one full day of a 3-day weekend preparing as much as I could ahead of time and the greater part of the next day cooking, then entertaining. It was glorious.

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I served these, along with glazed pecans and butternut squash phyllo cigars, as a snack before dinner (insurance against dinner being late – which, miracle of miracles, it wasn’t!). They’re a great recipe for a big meal like this, because almost all of the work can be done in advance – far in advance – and you still get to serve perfectly fresh crackers. I mixed, rolled, cut, docked, and froze the dough the weekend beforehand. The day of my dinner, all that was left to do was transfer the crackers to a baking sheet, spritz with water, and top with salt.  And beyond their convenience, their eminent snackability make these little grown-up Cheez-Its perfect for before a feast.

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One year ago: Chickpea and Rosemary Soup
Two years ago: Curry Coconut Chickpea Soup
Three years ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Four years ago: Crispy Baked Chicken Strips
Five years ago: Caramel Flan

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Rosemary Gruyere and Sea Salt Crisps (from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Gruyere cheese
4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary (from about 1 sprig)
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, processing continuously until the mixture resembles coarse, craggy crumbs, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large sheet of plastic wrap, gather it together into a ball, and flatten it into a thick square. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 15-20 minutes.

2. On a floured work surface, roll the dough to about ⅛-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Dock each cracker with a skewer, then brush with water and sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer the crackers to a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned.

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barbecue cowboy beans

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I feel like I should wait and do a comparison post with this recipe, because I have a friend who makes some seriously good cowboy beans. Hers are full of meat with a dominant sweet flavor. They’re always one of my favorite dishes on the potluck table.

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For my own version though, I wanted something lighter to serve as a side dish to barbecued ribs. When you’re spending hours cooking big slabs of meat, you don’t really need ground beef in your side dish. A few slices of bacon provide plenty of meaty depth, combined with sweet-bitter molasses and a slew of acidic ingredients like ketchup and beer.

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To be honest, I’m not sure what makes a pot of beans “cowboy” instead of just “baked.” A lot of recipes contain ground meat, but not all of them. This is the only one with spicy chiles. But honestly, I don’t much care. What matters most is that these are perfect along barbecued meat, and if I want a chile-less, meatier version, I can have that too.

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One year ago: Grilled Pita Breads
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Bagels
Three years ago: Amaretto Cheesecake
Four years ago: Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

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Barbecue Cowboy Beans (adapted from Something Edible)

Serves 6

If you don’t want to buy two kinds of beans, feel free to choose one or the other.

I didn’t use the liquid smoke because I didn’t have any, so I can’t attest to how it affects the beans. I doubt adding smoky flavor would be a bad thing though.

6 ounces (about 1 cup) dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
2 ounces (about ⅓ cup) dry kidney beans
salt
6 slices (about 6 ounces) bacon, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice ground
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup beer
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chiles
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the beans and 1 teaspoon salt in a 5-quart Dutch oven; add enough water to cover the beans by 1½ inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 75 minutes, until the beans are tender. Drain the beans. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

2. Add the bacon to the now-empty Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until fat begins to render, 3-4 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice, coriander, black pepper, and mustard; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beer and scrape the bottom of the pot to release the browned bits. Add the tomatoes and chiles with their juice, the ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, liquid smoke (if using), and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

3. Cover and transfer the beans to the oven. Bake for 4 hours. Serve.

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coffee gelato

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I knew before going to Italy last fall that gelato was A Thing there, but because ice cream isn’t A Thing with me, I figured I would try some to say I did and that would be that. It turns out, though, that I vastly misjudged my penchant for gelato. By the end of the trip, in my obsessive travel journal, in which I recorded everything we did (“sat in the square some more” sums up most of my memories from Siena) and every meal we ate, I was adding notes on what flavor of gelato I ate each day.

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I miss a lot of things about that trip to Italy; daily gelato is just one of many, in addition to cappuccino every morning, wine at lunch and dinner, and a couple breathtaking sites per day. Daily gelato isn’t a good idea in real life anyway, but I wondered if I could even replicate it at home. What, exactly, is the difference between Italian gelato and American ice cream?

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It turns out that gelato has less air churned into it, which means that it can be made with less fat and still feel creamy. It also means that it’s easy to make something similar at home, simply by churning it in your ice cream mixer for less time. I can’t say it was as good as what we had in Italy, but then, I might feel differently if I had eaten it while sitting in the square some more.

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One year ago: Summer Berry Pie
Two years ago: Triple Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Three years ago: Mushroom Salad
Four years ago: Mixed Berry Cobbler

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Coffee Gelato (adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop)

Makes about 1 pint

I accidentally used twice this amount (so ½ cup) of coffee beans. It seemed to work, and I didn’t think the coffee flavor was overpowering, but I’m sure ¼ cup will get the job done just fine too.

2 cups whole milk
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
¼ cup coffee beans, coarsely ground
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out
pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream, divided
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk, sugar, coffee beans, vanilla pod and seeds, salt, and ½ cup cream until steaming but not boiling. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and steep for 1 hour at room temperature.

2. Fill a large bowl one-third full of ice water. Set a medium bowl in the larger bowl and set a fine-mesh strainer in the medium bowl.

3. Reheat the milk mixture over medium heat until steaming. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks. When the milk it hot, very slowly pour it into the yolks, whisking constantly. Once about half the milk is mixed into the yolks, pour the egg mixture into the remaining milk in the pot. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5-6 minutes.

4. Pour the custard through the fine-mesh strainer into the medium bowl set over ice. Add the remaining ½ cup heavy cream and the vanilla. Let the custard cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

5. Freeze the ice cream custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once frozen to the consistency of a thick custard (not as thick as the soft serve consistency you’d look for in American ice cream), transfer the ice cream to a chilled bowl and freeze until firm.

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sausage and spinach stuffed shells

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When I was a kid and cooked dinner for my family once or twice a week, stuffed shells from a freezer bag topped with jarred spaghetti sauce was one of my staples. It took 5 minutes to arrange the shells in a baking dish and dump the sauce over them, and another five minutes to make a salad from iceberg lettuce and mealy out-of-season tomatoes. My mom hated when I made this meal, but not as much as she hated the prospect of cooking dinner for a family of five every day after work. Who can blame her – for wanting a break and for not enjoying my pre-teen culinary prowess?

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These shells took longer to prepare than my standby meal as a kid, but at least by adding spinach to the filling and making my own (less-processed) tomato sauce, I figured I could skip the bland side salad. But I wasn’t just trying to add fiber to my meal, I wanted more flavor than the shells of my youth, which were stuffed with nothing but plain ricotta cheese.

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First, Italian sausage contributes more than just savory meatiness, but a range of spices. Spinach would provide earthiness (plus I had a bunch to use up). The ricotta would be richer and smoother – and, okay, fine, you can use regular store-bought ricotta too, if you haven’t become spoiled by the homemade stuff like others of us. The tomato sauce on top would be fresher and sweetened just slightly with nothing but lightly caramelized onions.

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This is a far cry from those pasta shells I made as a kid. For old time’s sake, though, I still ate them the same way I did back then, trimming off one corner of each shell for the first bite, then the next corner, then dividing the remaining square of pasta and filling into four equal bites. The biggest difference is that this filling is packed full of flavor – plus it took me almost an hour to make dinner instead of ten minutes.

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One year ago: Bourbon Bread Pudding for Tuesdays with Dorie
Two years ago: Toasted Vegetable Subs
Three years ago: Floating Islands for Tuesdays with Dorie
Four years ago: Comparison of 4 Vanilla Frosting recipes

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Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Serves 6

You probably won’t use the whole box of shells, but a lot of them might be broken or could rip after being boiled, so it’s nice to have some extra.

Feel free to use whatever your favorite tomato sauce is. I’ve provided the recipe I used  below, which is a simple sauce I like for serving over rich pastas with a lot of their own flavors, like these shells.

1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells
salt
16 ounces Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 ounces spinach leaves, washed, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta (or 2 cups homemade ricotta)
8 ounces (2 cups) provolone, shredded
1 ounce (½ cup) parmesan, grated
2 eggs
Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe below, or 4 cups of your own sauce)

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot with at least 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta shells; cook according to the package instructions. When the pasta is tender, use a large slotted spoon to transfer the shells to a dish towel.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the sausage, breaking up large pieces, until it is no longer pink and has rendered some fat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is browned and the onion is softened. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the spinach leaves, letting the residual heat wilt the leaves. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl; stir in the ricotta, provolone, parmesan, and eggs.

4. Lightly coat the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with tomato sauce. Fill each shell with 3 to 4 tablespoons of filling. Transfer the filled shells to the baking dish. After all of the shells are filled, evenly distribute the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

5. Bake for 20 minutes; remove the foil and bake for about 10 minutes longer, until bubbling around the edges. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

Chop the tomatoes right in the can using kitchen shears. You can use diced tomatoes instead, but they won’t break down as the sauce simmers.

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ small onion or 1 large shallot, diced fine
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red or white wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, undrained, chopped
1 tablespoon minced basil and/or parsley

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, scraping up any browned residue on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the basil or parsley.

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pasta with tiny meatball sauce

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I haven’t been this excited about a cookbook in a while. This is the type of cookbook that makes me eager to get into the kitchen, particularly because I want to make every recipe in the book. I thought I would start with one of the most involved recipes, one of those “choose your own adventure” recipes that has you page flipping to find all the different components.

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The first is fresh pasta, which I’ve made before, but the recipe in the book differed from my usual with the inclusion of semolina, salt, nutmeg, and, most significantly, oil. Once the pasta was cooked and sauced, I didn’t notice the extra flavorings, but the oil seemed to make rolling easier. I also made a new shape that required less rolling and cooked up pleasantly toothsome.

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The second part is the sauce, which is a slow-cooked meat sauce, but with a twist. Instead of simmering the sauce with ground meat, or with beef meant to be shredded and added back to the sauce, the meat is kept in this sauce through hours of simmering, and then is removed. And not added back in. The meat is not part of the sauce, it’s just there to infuse it with flavor. It’s like you’re making tomato broth.

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The last part, then, is the tiny meatballs. It’s a simple mixture, no bread for tenderizing, just meat, seasoning, and an egg to bind it. The recipe instructs you to form the meatballs “just larger than a chickpea”, but I’m not insane and would prefer to stay that way, so my tiny meatballs were about twice that size, and still plenty tiny for me. Twelve ounces of meat turned into 72 tiny meatballs.

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I loved the tiny meatballs. I can see myself making them again sometime, even though I do not love forming tiny meatballs. I’ve also started to add a dribble of olive oil into my pasta dough, although I skip the semolina, nutmeg, and salt for simplicity’s sake.

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While I enjoyed everything about the sauce – the flavor, the plateful of tomatoey meat we ate as an appetizer, the fun of braising – I’ll make it differently in the future. The original recipe calls for three types of meat, and it’s impractical for most home cooks to buy small portions of a variety of meats. Instead, I’ll just stick to our favorite – lamb – and I’ll use a bony cut like blade chops, because I suspect the bone will add even more flavor to the sauce than the meat did.

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Obviously making a slow-braised sauce, homemade pasta, and forming 72 tiny meatballs is not an insignificant amount of effort. But it was the most fun I’ve had in the kitchen in months, with the added bonus that I learned some new tricks. I can’t wait to choose another recipe from my favorite new cookbook and do it again.

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One year ago: Curry Coconut Chickpea Soup
Two years ago: Baked Ziti
Three years ago: Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
Four years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

Printer Friendly Recipe
Maccheroni alla Chitarra with Ragù all’Abruzzese and Palottine, aka Pasta with Tiny Meatball Sauce (completely rewritten but hardly changed from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

Serves 8

I went ahead and bought three different types of meat for this, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Pick your favorite and buy just that one cut.

I don’t usually cook with veal, so I used 8 ounces ground beef plus 4 ounces ground pork plus ⅛ teaspoon gelatin, dissolved in the egg, in the meatballs instead.

Ragù:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces boneless beef chuck roast, cut into four equal pieces
6 ounces boneless pork shoulder, cut into three equal pieces
6 ounces boneless lamb shoulder cut into three equal pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely diced

Pasta:
4 cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons semolina flour
1 teaspoon table salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Meatballs:
12 ounces ground veal
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil for cooking

1. For the ragù: If you have a food mill, press the tomatoes through the disk with the smallest holes, discarding the solids. If you don’t have a food mill, puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.

2. Generously season the meat with salt and black pepper. In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the meat and cook, without moving, until deeply browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Rotate the meat and brown on the second side. Transfer the meat to a plate.

3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens but does not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Add the meat back to the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender and the sauce is thickened. Remove the meat before using the sauce; reserve for another use (or just eat it right then, because it’s delicious).

4. For the pasta: Place the flours, salt, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs and oil; process until the mixture clumps together in large crumbs. Form a small portion of dough into a ball; if it’s too dry to stick together, add up to 2 tablespoons more oil; if it’s sticky, add up to ½ cup more flour. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it aside for 30 minutes to rest.

5. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Work with one at a time, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Flatten the dough and pass it through a pasta roller on the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, and roll it through the widest setting again. Repeat the rolling and folding 3-4 more times, until the dough is smooth. Flour the dough (with semolina flour if you have it) as much as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinnest setting and roll the dough through twice, then repeat on the third-thinnest setting. Thin the dough to the fourth-narrowest setting on your pasta roller. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough. Pass each strip of dough through the thin cutters on the pasta roller to form long noodles that are approximately square in cross section.

6. For the meatballs: Use your hands to evenly combine the veal, salt, nutmeg, and egg. Form the mixture into balls about ½-inch in diameter.

7. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, and cook until well browned a couple sides, about 4 minutes, turning about once a minute with a spatula. Transfer to the pot with the ragù; keep warm.

8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

9. Return the drained pasta to the pot; toss with about two-thirds of the sauce and meatballs, adding some of the reserved cooking water if the sauce is too thick. Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl (or individual bowls) and spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes to pass.

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berry chocolate ice cream

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I’m not a big ice cream lover. When I saw how rich and thick and chocolately this custard was right before being churned into ice cream, I was tempted to leave it just like that. The only thing that stopped me was knowing I wouldn’t be able to resist something so like chocolate mousse.

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So I poured it into the ice cream maker. After a few minutes, I tested a spoonful to see how it would taste when it was partially frozen. And then I tested more and more spoonfuls, until it became clear that any claims I might want to make about not loving ice cream are wishful thinking.

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pre-frozen, like smooth rich chocolate pudding

Laurie chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. Other than adding a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors and using the boysenberry preserves I had in my fridge instead of buying blueberry preserves, I followed the recipe exactly.  I’m glad I did, because Dorie is right about how well the dark chocolate and bright berries compliment each other.

One year ago: Oreo Cheesecake Cookies
Two years ago: English Muffins
Three years ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins

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