brussels sprouts and kale salad with pecorino and almonds

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I never would have served my dad kale six months ago. For his whole life, he’s been a classic meat and potatoes guy, heavy on the meat. He’d put vegetables on his plate every night, and he’d always eat them – all two forkfuls that he’d served himself.

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He made a sudden switch last fall in an attempt to lower his cholesterol and blood pressure. (It worked, by the way.)  However, he didn’t just start eating more vegetables and less meat. He didn’t become a pescatarian, or even a vegetarian. No, he went all the way from meat and potatoes to vegan – vegan with no fat, not even from avocados.

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He’s loosened up the rules quite a bit since then, although I get the idea that rice and beans still play a big role in his diet. So when my parents visited, I took a chance and served my new favorite salad, almost a slaw of thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and Tuscan kale. It’s bright from lemon juice, but the pecorino provides a bit of richness. I love the crunch of the almonds. It’s a strange world, although not a bad one, where I am comfortable feeding my dad kale but not the Italian sausage dish that was the main course of this meal.

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Brussels Sprouts Kale Salad with Pecorino (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

6 to 8 servings

Slicing the Brussels Sprouts isn’t as tedious as it sounds; it’ll probably take you ten minutes. However, the slicing blade on a food processor should do the trick too.

1 teaspoon plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
¼ teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
16 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and sliced thin
2 bunches Tuscan kale (about 8 ounces total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated Pecorino

1. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the almonds and toast, stirring constantly, until browned and fragrant, 2-4 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate; set aside.

2. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice, mustard, shallots, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the remaining olive oil.

3. Combine the Brussels sprouts, kale, dressing, almonds, and pecorino. Serve immediately or cover and chill for up to 8 hours.

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roasted cauliflower soup with feta

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While spinach with feta hasn’t quite reached the level of “Oh my god, if I eat this one more time, I’ll go crazy”, it’s certainly a far cry from the “wow, I can’t believe how delicious something as simple as the combination of spinach and feta is.” (Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, check it out – feta is creamy and salty and briny, so it covers all of the bases that a good salad dressing does.) After I eat a banana with peanut butter about halfway through my workday afternoons, when the only snacks I have left are spinach with feta and vegetables with hummus, I think to myself, “well, that’s it, the rest of the afternoon’s snacks are just to be endured and not enjoyed.”

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I don’t always, or even often, for that matter, want to spend part of my weekend making snacks for the week, but it’s occasionally worth it for some variety. This soup covers the same basic nutritional bases as spinach with feta would – vegetables and dairy protein. Surely raw spinach has more fiber and nutrients than roasted and boiled cauliflower, but let’s not overthink things.

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The important thing is that I actually look forward to eating this every day, instead of wavering between disinterest and dread. And not just because it isn’t the same thing I’ve eaten everyday for the last three years – it’s a great soup. The pureed cauliflower makes it seem rich and creamy, while the feta and squeeze of lemon juice brighten up the flavors. Having something to look forward to when you’re six hours into a nine-hour workday is worth a bit of extra cooking on the weekend.

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Feta (adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1 to 2-inch florets
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
3½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 sprigs thyme
2 ounces feta
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons parsley, minced

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. When the oven is hot, remove the baking sheet, add one tablespoon of olive oil plus a generous sprinkling of salt, then the cauliflower. Spray the top of the cauliflower with cooking spray. Roast, stirring twice, for 20-25 minutes, until a couple sides of each floret are deeply browned.

2. In a 5-quart pot, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and the onion is translucent, 6-8 minutes. Add the roasted cauliflower, broth, and thyme. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender or in batches with a stand-up blender.

3. Stir the feta, lemon juice, and parsley into the soup. Taste for seasoning, adjusting as necessary, and serve immediately. (Can also be made several days in advance.)

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korean pork medallions with asian slaw

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Can you believe we actually ate this in the middle of December? What were we thinking?! We could have been eating roast beef! mashed potatoes! macaroni and cheese! ‘Tis the season (well, ’twas the season) for rich and delicious food!

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This vegetably starchless meal is clearly made for January. It’s actually exactly what I’m craving. Even though I don’t think I’m eating significantly more healthfully lately than I normally do, I’m more bored with healthy foods right now. Maybe it’s an instinctual reaction to winter, although considering that it was almost 70 degrees here last weekend, probably not.

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This meal, although pretty healthy, is also sweet and salty and meaty and therefore comforting. It definitely doesn’t make you feel like you’re choking down health food to make up for December’s transgressions. Sure, there’s a salad involved, but it’s topped with deeply browned meat. It really is a great meal any time of year.

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Spicy Korean Pork Medallions with Asian Slaw (hardly adapted from Fine Cooking)

Serves 4 to 6

1 large or 2 small pork tenderloins (about 1¼ pounds)
⅓ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 pound napa cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
2 medium carrots, grated (about 1 cup)
4 scallions (both white and green parts), trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
kosher salt

1. Trim the pork of any silverskin and excess fat, and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick medallions.

2. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the garlic, ginger, ½ tablespoon of the sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons of the chile sauce. Toss ½ cup of this mixture with the pork medallions in a large bowl; reserve the remaining mixture to use as a sauce. Let the pork sit at room temperature for 25 minutes or refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, in another large bowl, toss the cabbage and the carrot with half of the scallions, 1 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, ½ tablespoon sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon chile sauce. Let sit for 15 minutes, toss again, and transfer to a large serving platter.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a 12-inch, heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Remove the pork from the marinade, shaking off the excess, and transfer the pork to a clean plate. Discard the marinade. Add half of the pork medallions to the skillet, spacing them evenly. Cook them without touching until well browned, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until the pork is just cooked through (slice into a piece to check), about 2 more minutes. Set the pork on top of the slaw. Pour out the oil and wipe the pan with paper towels (if the drippings on the bottom of the pan look like they may burn, wash the pan). Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil, and cook the remaining medallions in the same manner. Top the slaw with the remaining pork, and pour the reserved soy-ginger sauce over the medallions. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining scallions.

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grilled potato salad with watercress

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Dave’s birthday, 2 weeks after Christmas, is at a sort of inconvenient time of year. My dad’s is January 2nd, and even that is better – in my family, the holidays are just one day longer than they are for everyone else. But a week later, you’ve had all the cookies and wine and cheese (or whatever your splurges happen to be) you want, but you haven’t had more than a few days to detox from the decadence. And yet, it’s time for banana cream pie.

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I got Dave a cute little cast iron saucepan for the grill, so I had to plan a meal that would allow him to use it. He also got a new grill for Christmas, so I specifically planned a meal that would use both of our grills – barbecue pork ribs, grilled potato salad, grilled broccoli. And then the weather sucked, although we pushed through and grilled the ribs and potatoes still, but I roasted the broccoli.

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It wasn’t the most indulgent meal ever, but extra vegetables are always welcome this time of year, so I chose the potato salad that actually looked like a salad. It’s not a traditional potato salad coated in mayonnaise, but I didn’t feel like we lost out for the healthier option. This was crisp and fresh, healthy enough for January, but still with satisfying browned potatoes and creamy cheese. It was just light enough to justify a big piece of banana cream pie for dessert.

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Grilled Potato Salad with Watercress (from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

I’ve reduced both the potatoes (because I was trying to be healthier) and the blue cheese (because it can be too intense) from the original recipe, but I’m sure the original amounts are great too.

¼ cup sherry wine vinegar
1 large shallot, chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil, plus more for grilling potatoes
6 medium red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled (about 1½ pounds)
2 bunches watercress, stems trimmed
3 green onions, chopped
¼-½ cup crumbled blue cheese

1. Combine vinegar, shallot, and mustard in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in ½ cup oil. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 16 minutes. Drain; cool completely. Cut potatoes into ¼- to ½-inch-thick rounds. Brush or spray rounds on both sides with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Grill potatoes until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Dice the potatoes into ½-inch cubes.

4. In a large serving bowl, mix the watercress, scallions, and most of the vinaigrette. Add the potatoes and the remaining dressing, and gently mix to coat. Top with the blue cheese; serve immediately.

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kale salad with currants, pine nuts, and parmesan

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So, it turns out that I really like kale. It isn’t at all something I eat just because it’s dark green and probably really good for me. I like the flavor, earthy and vegetal together. I like the texture, how cooked kale is still chewy, unlike spinach which almost immediately turns to mush, and how raw kale doesn’t get soggy. And I like the convenience – it stays fresh for a while in the fridge and you can make salads with it days ahead of time, and they get better instead of worse.

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I made this for a pizza party I hosted. The party started right after work, plus I had to deal with the pizza dough, so making salad right beforehand wasn’t an option. I took a risk and served kale; I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but I assumed there were enough friendly flavors in this salad to please most palates.

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The salad might not have been as popular as the Nutella banana pizza or mascarpone-stuffed strawberries, but people seemed to like it.  There were leftovers, but that was okay, because even several days after I’d made the salad, it was still crisp and delicious. Plus it meant more kale for me – and I really like kale.

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Kale Salad with Pine Nuts, Currants, and Parmesan (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dried currants
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 bunches Tuscan (lacinato) kale (about 1 pound), center ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
Parmesan cheese shavings

1. Place the vinegar and currants in a small pot; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then remove from the heat. Let soak 15-30 minutes, while you prepare the other ingredients; drain, reserving vinegar.

2. Whisk vinegar leftover from soaking the currants, the rice vinegar, honey, oil, and salt in large bowl. Add the kale, currants, and pine nuts; toss to coat. Let marinate 20 minutes at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate overnight. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cheese shavings over salad and serve.

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tomato soup with chicken meatballs and pasta

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I have been loyal to the first homemade tomato soup recipe I ever made. It was ten years ago, when I was just starting to up my cooking game. I’ve seen so many tomato soup recipes since then, but I’ve never felt any temptation to stray. My favorite recipe was comfortingly familiar, and I always knew that I’d be disappointed about any other recipe.

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Apparently, adding meatballs to tomato soup puts it in a different category, so I’m willing to try it, even though there are more similarities than differences between the two recipes. The flavor base of my old favorite is shallots, which are cooked in butter with tomato paste until the mixture is dark and caramelized. Canned tomatoes are roasted until they’re dry and lightly browned before being stirred into aromatics along with the canning juice and chicken broth.

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Replace the butter with olive oil and the shallots with a combination of onions, carrots, and celery, cook them a bit less, skip the tomato paste and add the tomatoes without roasting them, and you’ve got this new soup. The flavor is lighter, but I enjoyed it nearly as much and might actually prefer it once in a while.

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The meatballs, of course, are a fun addition, and together with the pasta, put this almost in the spaghettio’s category. I’d say it’s different enough not to compare to my standard recipe, but I just compared them. And that’s okay, because they’re both so great.

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Tomato Soup with Pasta and Meatballs (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2011)

4 servings

My meatballs ended up looking more like chicken-flavored pesto than pesto-flavored chicken, which might be because my homemade pesto has less oil (and therefore more basil per volume) than store-bought versions. Still, I’ve increased the chicken slightly. The soup could use more meatballs anyway.

I’ve probably made this slightly less healthy by increasing the pasta, but the original amount (4 ounces) was just a tease.

I usually cook with canned whole tomatoes instead of diced, because they break down more. I just chop them by sticking a pair of kitchen shears in the can and snipping away.

Meatballs:
8 ounces ground dark chicken (or a mix of dark and light meat)
3 tablespoons pesto
3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
⅛ teaspoon salt

Soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large celery rib, diced
Salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2½ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes, chopped
6 ounces uncooked small pasta, such as ditalini or alphabet noodles

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chicken, pesto, bread crumbs, and salt. Mix thoroughly, then form into approximately forty ½-inch balls. Chill until needed.

2. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, then uncover and cook until the mixture is dry, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or transfer it in batches to a stand-up blender to puree, then return the soup to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and add the meatballs and pasta. Cook, stirring frequently, until the noodles are tender and the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve.

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antipasti salad

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It took me a few tries to get the office potluck right. In the meantime, I learned that goat cheese is a bad idea; the old cowboys think it sounds gross and won’t try it. Dips and spreads don’t work well because you have to dish both the spread and the item to be spread onto and guess at the ratio. Grabbable snacks are fine, but not necessary, because people aren’t hovering and grazing; they just fill a plate and find a seat at the crowded table in the conference room.

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Food in crockpots is always popular, but anything that requires a bowl is too much work for people; you need one hand for your plate and the other to scoop more food onto that plate, so a bowl overloads you. That still leaves a lot of good food though – meatballs, beans, pastas. I considered bringing macaroni and cheese in the crockpot, but after a look at the potluck’s sign-up sheet, decided that more carbs was probably unnecessary.

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So then I started thinking that something more on the healthier side would be nice. A green salad doesn’t work though; I’m okay with my foods touching, but not grape jelly-chile meatball sauce and lettuce. Instead, I combined all of my favorite antipasti ingredients into one bowl, mixed it up, and let it sit overnight. In that time, the brine from the olives, seasoning in the salami, and herbs in the artichoke marinade seeped into the chickpeas and milky mozzarella.

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I couldn’t stop eating it when I made it. At the potluck, it didn’t get overshadowed by tasty choices like chile relleno casserole, green chile corn pudding, and green chile stew (green chile is how we do potlucks in New Mexico).  I don’t know if the picky old cowboys tried it, but several other people gave me compliments. My favorite was the leftovers though – I didn’t have to share and there were no distractions from the salad itself.

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Antipasti Salad

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 (6.27 ounce) jars marinated quartered artichoke hearts, preferably grilled, drained but not rinsed
1 cup kalamata olives, halved
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
4 ounces sliced salami or mini pepperoni
½ small red onion, sliced thin
2 ounces parmesan, diced small
¼ cup minced parsley
¼ cup pepperoncini, sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet; place the garlic on the baking sheet. Bake until the tomatoes are slightly shriveled and the garlic is soft, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

2. In a large serving bowl, mix the tomatoes and all of the remaining ingredients. Squeeze the garlic into the mixture; stir. Marinate at least 1 hour or cover and refrigerate for up to three days. Serve at room temperature.

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lemon lamb meatballs

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It’s only been the last year or so that meatballs as appetizers have been on my radar, but I’m glad they are. It seems like there’s always at least one meatball option at the many appetizer-themed potlucks around the holidays, and it doesn’t matter how easy the recipe is, they’re one of the most popular options on the table. Mix up a few ingredients in the crockpot, find some toothpicks, and you’ve got yourself a great appetizer that stays warm for hours – and one that doesn’t involve cheese or carbs, which is a miracle!

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I didn’t need the flexibility of a crockpot since I was entertaining at home, so I went with a baked option. Simple and sauceless is best for lamb anyway, so the flavor of the meat itself comes through.  The garlic, thyme, and lemon are just enhancements to what I really want to taste, which is the lamb.

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I served the meatballs, along with stuffed mushrooms, before a meal of salad and lasagna finished off with a tart. Again, the carbless starter was a great choice, not just because of the pasta, but because we started out the evening with three loaves of rustic breads; that’s right, a comparison post is forthcoming. In the meantime, here’s a great addition to my new favorite category of appetizers.

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Lemon Lamb Meatballs (slightly adapted from Primal Palate)

Makes 36 meatballs

1 pound ground lamb
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 lemon, unpeeled, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Using your hands, mix the lamb, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and lemon zest until thoroughly combined. Form the mixture into 36 1-inch balls. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, arranging the lemon slices around and in between the meatballs.

3. Bake until lightly browned and no pink is evident after cutting into a meatball, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

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salted brown butter rice crispy treats

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Dave and I threw a couple Friday afternoon happy hour parties a while ago. The idea was that they would be really casual – just come over, hang out a bit, and then go on with your weekend. Dave joked that he was kicking everyone out after two hours.

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It worked out perfectly. Everyone we invited showed up and they really did leave after two hours, so we had the kitchen cleaned and were sitting down to relax with the last of the sangria by 8pm. I don’t know what everyone else did afterward, but…well, our friends are in their 30s and 40s, probably nothing exciting.

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We planned the first get-together on Thursday and it was happening Friday right after work, so this didn’t leave me much prep time. Everything I made was simple – bread with cheeses, salami, and sun-dried tomato jam, olives and marinated artichokes, popcorn with truffle salt, cayenne-spiced brittled peanuts, and these rice crispy treats. Thursday after work, Dave pretty much followed after me and cleaned up as I cooked.

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We came home from work on Friday, spent fifteen minutes setting out food and sangria, two hours chatting and eating with our friends, then fifteen minutes cleaning while congratulating ourselves on a party well thrown. People kept telling me that these were the best rice krispy treats they’d ever had, and I managed not to tell them that while a big pinch of salt and nutty browned butter helps, the real secret is almost three times the butter as the traditional recipe. A clean kitchen by 8pm and not telling your guests how much butter is in the food? That’s entertaining success.

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Salted Browned Butter Rice Crispy Treats (adapted from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (wrapper reserved)
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 (10-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
6 cups puffed-rice cereal (about half of a 12-ounce box)

1. Butter (or coat with nonstick spray) a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, cook the butter until it melts, then turns brown and smells nutty, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat; stir in the salt, then the marshmallows, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the cereal.

3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Use the reserved butter wrapper to press the mixture into the pan. Cool completely. When cool, invert the mixture onto a cutting board and cut into 24 squares. Serve.

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mulled wine cranberry sauce

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This, finally, is the cranberry sauce I’ve been looking for – the one that is worth making not just because making cranberry sauce is fun, but because this is better than anything you could buy. And it’s no more effort than any other cranberry sauce; the only difference between this and the most basic recipe is that wine is used to simmer the cranberries instead of water, and there are a handful of warm winter spices thrown in.

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With so much wine, you might think that the sauce ends up tasting like wine, but that isn’t the case. It tastes like something much more than the in-your-face tart and sweet of regular cranberry sauce, but it isn’t particularly boozy. It’s just deeper, more complex, with a little buzz on your tongue.

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Unfortunately, with half a bottle of wine stirred into one bag of cranberries, there’s no chance of claiming that all the alcohol cooks off, so this isn’t the best cranberry sauce for kids. That’s why my friend offered to bring a can of jellied cranberry sauce for her kids when I invited them over for a big turkey feast.

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When she forgot, we figured what the heck, what harm could a few tablespoons of winey cranberries do? Not much at all, it turns out, as her son took one spoonful of sauce, noted that there was wine in it, and pushed it aside in favor of the stuffing. So maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely my new favorite.

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(turkey cranberry green chile sandwich on a crescent roll)

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Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

I pressed the sauce through a food mill right after simmering, because I like my cranberry sauce smooth.

zest from 1 orange
1½ cups red wine
½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed brown sugar
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces fresh cranberries

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the berries burst and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; chill until cold. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

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