chipotle shrimp

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One of the disadvantages-that-isn’t of living in New Mexico is that, with year-round access to a freezer full of Hatch green chiles, pretty much every other chile gets neglected. In the first three years after we moved here, I didn’t cook with poblanos, serranos, anaheims, or even chipotle chiles.  Hatch green (and, not as often, red) chile was the focus.

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This year we spent four hours peeling, seeding, chopping, and freezing Hatch green chiles only to realize afterward that this batch was a dud, with no flavor at all.  It’s unfortunate, but our pizzas, burgers, and beans have all been disappointing since we’ve started rationing out last year’s far superior chiles.  We’re impatient for next year’s harvest, but we’ve got five months to go.

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The upside is a resurgence of alternate chiles in our kitchen. Last week I made some smoky guacamole with roasted red peppers and poblanos, and chipotles are no longer languishing in the back of the freezer, forgotten. This recipe is a significant contribution to the disappearing chipotles, because any dish that takes twenty minutes to deliver a healthy bowl of spicy sauce and shellfish is going to be a favorite. Next year, it’ll be even better, when I use chipotles together with Hatch chiles, but for now, chipotles are all I’ve got.

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One year ago: Tomato and Four Cheese Lasagne
Two years ago: Shrimp Canapés a la Suede
Three years ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Four years ago: Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Five years ago: Raspberry Bars

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Chipotle Shrimp (adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Pink Parsley)

Serves 4 as a main course

1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes in juice
2-3 canned chipotles en adobo
1 tablespoon chipotle canning sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
salt
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup rice, cooked (about 3 cups cooked rice)
about ¼ cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro

1. Process the tomatoes, chipotle chiles, chipotle sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt in the blender until pureed.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato mixture and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

3. Add the shrimp to the pan, and cook, stirring constantly, until the shrimp are pink and curled up, about 6 minutes. Serve over rice with cilantro.

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green pig macarons (green tea macarons with vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream)

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These might have come out okay in the end, but it was looking bleak at first – and in the middle, and even a bit toward the end. I might have been overly confident when I agreed to make shaped macarons, with just one previous attempt at the notoriously finicky cookie. To make matters worse, the inspiration blog entry was written in Hebrew.

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I’m not the first person to make shaped macarons, but most people are using the traditional method for macarons, the one I used last year, in which egg whites are beaten with granulated sugar until stiff peaks form, then almond meal and powdered sugar are folded into the mixture. It’s fussy – the egg whites need to be aged overnight, just the right amount of folding is necessary to deflate the meringue just so, and the piped batter needs to sit at room temperature for an hour before baking. Annie promised to have a simpler, more dependable method, and I wanted to try it.

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In this method, half of the egg whites are mixed into the almond meal and powdered sugar; the other half are whipped into a meringue with hot sugar syrup, then folded into the pasty almond meal mixture. The cookies are piped and baked immediately.

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It sounded simple enough, but things started going wrong early on. First I ran out of almond meal, which I discovered after I’d measured out egg whites, sugar, and water to the gram. I had some slivered (not blanched; they still had skins) almonds in the pantry, so I ground those up and mixed them into the batter. One obstacle was overcome.

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My next mistake was adding too much of the meringue mixture to the almond meal mixture. You’re only supposed to add as much of the meringue mixture for “thick ribbons to batter to run off the spatula”, but that required all of the meringue for me, and at that point, the batter was too loose, and the cookies spread when I piped them.

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My next problem – there was always a next problem on this particular day – was trying to get the nose and ears on top of the main body of the cookie. Eventually I found that the best method seemed to be baking the plain macarons for the specified time, then piping the nose and ears on the firm surface of the cookie and rebaking them for a few minutes until the smaller portions set. The cookies seemed no worse for the extra time in the oven.

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It’s a good thing that the Angry Birds pigs aren’t pristine shapes even in their original format on the game, because my cookies were anything but round, with ears of indeterminate size and shape. Sometimes the ears blended right into the rest of the cookie; sometimes the noses caved in. And by this point, my kitchen was covered in macaron batter, which, by the way, turns into concrete when it dries, and my bread dough was overrising while seemingly infinite batches of macarons hogged the oven.

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The piggie faces, thankfully, were mostly saved by the addition of nostrils and pupils. Eyebrowns drawn on with a edible marker didn’t hurt either. And I think it speaks volumes about the dependability of this recipe that with all my foibles, the macarons rose enough to somewhat form those elusive foamy feet. (Not that my troubles were completely over.) But while they might not be as pristine as I had intended, the 6-year-old birthday boy didn’t seem to mind. I’m going to call this kitchen battle conquered, though it wasn’t easy.

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One year ago: Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Two years ago: Fettuccini Alfredo
Three years ago: Toasted Vegetable Subs
Four years ago: Red Velvet Cake (comparison of 5 recipes)
Five years ago: Vanilla Frosting (comparison of 4 recipes)

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Green Pig Macarons (Green Tea Macarons with Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream) (adapted from Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 24 sandwich cookies

The very small amounts of almond meal, powdered sugar, and egg whites are for the white eyes. If you’re just making regular green tea macarons, you can skip that.

Where I went wrong with the batter was adding too much meringue. Once I got to the point where I had thick ribbons of batter, it was definitely too much meringue and the batter was too loose, spreading on the baking sheet. All I can recommend to correct this, until I gain more experience with macaron-making, is that you watch for VERY thick ribbons of batter falling off the spatula.

Green tea cookies:
212 grams almond meal, plus 16 grams
212 grams powdered sugar, plus 16 grams
1½ teaspoons matcha powder
82 and 90 grams egg whites, plus 6 grams (about 6 eggs total)
236 grams granulated sugar, plus ¼ teaspoon
158 grams water

Vanilla bean buttercream:
2 egg whites
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
seeds from ½ vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit one pastry bag with a ½-inch round tip and two with ¼-inch round tips (for the white eyes and the green ears and nose).

2. In a large bowl, combine the 212 grams almond meal, 212 grams powdered sugar, and matcha powder. Whisk together to blend and break up any clumps. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in 82 grams of the egg whites. Blend the egg whites into the dry ingredients until evenly mixed. The mixture will be thick and paste-like. For the white eyes, in a small bowl, mix together the 16 grams of powdered sugar, 16 grams of almond meal, and 6 grams of egg whites.

3. Combine 236 grams granulated sugar and the water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the temperature is around 210 degrees, combine the 90 gram portion of egg whites with ¼ teaspoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Begin whipping on medium-low speed. Continue whipping the whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. If soft peaks are achieved before the syrup reaches the target temperature, reduce the speed to low to keep the whites moving.

4. Once the syrup reaches 248 degrees, immediately remove it from the heat. Increase the mixer speed to medium and pour the syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the meringue until stiff, glossy peaks form.

5. Add one third of the meringue mixture to the bowl with the almond mixture with the matcha. Fold in gently until the mixture is smooth. A bit at a time, gently fold in the remaining meringue until the batter is smooth and runs in thick ribbons off of the spatula. You may not need all of the meringue, so add it gradually. Repeat the process with the white batter.

6. Add most of the green batter to the pastry bag with the ½-inch tip. Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet about ½-inch above the surface of the pan. Steadily pipe rounds about 1¼- to 1½-inches in diameter. The batter may create small peaks immediately after piping, but if it is the correct texture these will smooth themselves away after a minute or two. If the batter is too stiff, the peaks will remain and the tops of the shells may not be totally smooth. If the batter is too thin, the rounds will spread further.

7. For the ears: Transfer some green batter to a piping bag with a ¼-inch tip. Pipe small ears adjacent to the larger circles of batter.

8. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until the tops are smooth and set and “feet” have formed around the bottom.

9. Transfer the white batter to a piping bag with an ⅛-inch tip. Remove the baked cookies from the oven and immediately pipe on a green nose in the middle of the circle and 2 white eyes to the side of the nose. Return the cookies to the oven for 3-4 minutes, until the nose and eyes are set. Add noses and eyes only to every other batch; the backs of the sandwiches will just need ears.

10. Transfer the baking sheet with the cookies to a cooling rack; cool 5 minutes, then peel the cookies away from the parchment and transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat as needed with the remaining batter, replacing the parchment paper with each batch, bringing the oven temperature back up to 350 degrees before baking each sheet.

11. For the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

12. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add the vanilla seeds and extract; mix until incorporated.

13. To assemble: Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies. Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

Thirteen steps, and I forgot to tell you how to make the project-saving eyes and nostrils. Powdered sugar + milk + food coloring, stirred until smooth and dripped off the end of a toothpick.  Tedious, but it got the job done.

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cinnamon macarons with apple buttercream

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Macarons have been all the rage recently, and yet, I’ve had no real desire to make them myself. This, even though they’re known to be finicky, and I do love making my life unnecessarily complicated. But while I do love a challenge, I don’t particularly love meringue cookies.

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This is probably because I’ve never gotten them quite right, as they always seem to be chewy in the center instead of crisp the whole way through. Maybe the precise directions included with many macaron recipes could help me avoid this pitfall. If not, at least they’d be filled with swiss meringue buttercream.

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One of the hallmarks of good macarons is the foamy feet around the bottom edge, which show that your macarons rose up in the oven instead of spreading out. When I started to see those feet form, I made Dave come over to look through the oven window with me and give me a high-five. I was also happy with the smooth tops of the cookies, and it goes without saying that I was happy with the apple buttercream, which was noticeably and pleasantly appley.

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The only problem? A chewy center. I guess practice makes perfect. Fortunately, I think it’s safe to say that meringues are good enough to make again.

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One year ago: Butternut Squash Risotto
Two years ago: Pomegranate Glazed Salmon
Three years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Four years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Cinnamon Macarons with Apple Buttercream (adapted from Tartelette)

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies

For a lot of meringue-making tips, read Tartelette’s article.

Meringues:
110 grams blanched almonds or almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
100 grams egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), aged overnight
25 grams sugar
Pinch salt

Apple buttercream:
4 egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup apple butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, process the almonds and powdered sugar until the nuts are finely ground. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed (high speed if using a stand mixer) until soft peaks form. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the nut mixture into the egg mixture. After about 50 folds, the batter should be evenly mixed, with no streaks of egg white.

2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Spray the lined sheets lightly with cooking spray. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a wide (about ½-inch) round tip. Pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared pans, leaving about an inch between rounds. Gently rap the baking sheet against the counter to pop any large bubbles. Set the piped dough aside for 1 hour.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are lightly browned around the bottom edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack; cool for about 5 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer the cookies from the pan to the wire rack. Cool completely before filling.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

5. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add apple butter and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

6. Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies.  Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

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black bean-roasted zucchini-goat cheese enchiladas

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I had a tough week last week. One day I woke up to little ants crawling all over the kitchen. One afternoon I went to the dentist feeling smug about how often I’ve been flossing and left with an appointment to get three cavities filled. One morning I noticed blisters on my waist that were suspiciously familiar – because they’re exactly like the case of shingles* I had just a few weeks ago. The list goes on from there.

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I also learned that I definitely do not have time to make enchiladas on a weeknight, even if the sauce is made in advance. Mixing the filling, heating tortillas, rolling and baking is too much to fit in on top of the daily dose of exercise, laundry, and spraying the kitchen with Raid.

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I guess if all’s well that ends well, you could say I had a great week. After a series of challenging days, nothing could have been more relieving than a night spent sipping wine with friends – even if it’s for a wine appreciation class, we’re all furiously scribbling notes, and technically we’re not supposed to be swallowing the wine. And when I got home from class, a delicious dinner was ready, because I’d skipped a workout the day before to fill and roll and all Dave had to do was transfer the enchiladas to the oven while I was out drinking wine. Maybe last week wasn’t so bad after all.

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(*Getting shingles isn’t fun, but I’m extremely lucky that I only get mild cases.)

One year ago: Fried Eggs with Garlic Yogurt Sauce
Two years ago: Steak Sandwiches
Three years ago: Pumpkin Cupcakes (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Pain Ordinaire

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Black Bean-Roasted Zucchini-Goat Cheese Enchiladas (filling adapted from Sprouted Kitchen; sauce from America’s Test Kitchen’s Healthy Family Cookbook via Prevention RD)

I roasted the zucchini on a baking sheet immediately after dicing them, but because zucchini is so wet, I think they would benefit from being sprinkled with about a teaspoon of salt, then allowed to drain for half an hour or so before roasting. If you have one, spinning them dry in a salad spinner would also help them pick up more roasted brown color in the oven. On the other hand, the enchiladas were delicious without this extra step.

Serves 4

Enchiladas:
3 large zucchini, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
5 ounces goat cheese, divided
12 corn tortillas

Sauce:
1 teaspoon canola oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons chili powder
½ tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup water
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
black pepper, to taste

For serving:
2 avocados, diced
½ cup minced cilantro
lime wedges

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, combine the zucchini, onion, oil, lemon zest, and salt. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is softened and maybe slightly browned, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the black beans and 4 ounces of goat cheese. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

2. While the zucchini roasts, heat 1 teaspoon of canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and slightly browned around the edges, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water and tomato sauce. Increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Maintain a low simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. To soften the tortillas, brush or spray them with a light layer of oil. Arrange 6 tortillas in a single layer on a baking sheet; transfer to the oven and cook for about 3 minutes; flip the tortillas and continue baking for 2 more minutes, until the tortillas are pliable. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

4. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Divide the filling evenly between the tortillas. Roll the tortillas over the filling, arranging the filled tortillas seam-side down in the baking dish. Cover the rolled tortillas with the remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1 ounce of goat cheese over the top of the sauce. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the enchiladas are evenly heated. Let set for 5 minutes before serving with chopped avocado, cilantro, and lime.

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mediterranean chopped salad

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I made this salad for the first time the very day that I posted about how I hate making salads because it always takes so dang long. (And indeed, tonight I made a salad for dinner that included no less than 16 ingredients.) This salad, however, breaks the pattern.

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It helps that the chickpeas can be dumped out of a can. Sometimes I buy pre-crumbled feta, and that’s one less ingredient that needs chopped. While I don’t love seeding and chopping olives, my handy dandy cherry pitter (that has never been used on cherries) speeds up that process.

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There are still a good handful of ingredients that must be prepped, to be sure, but it is among the quicker dinner salad recipes I make. And it’s such a great combination; chickpeas, olives, feta, and cucumbers are a classic, to be sure, but for good reason. For as good as this tastes and as quick as is to make, it’s one of the best salad values for your time. And that makes it my new favorite.

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One year ago: Cook’s Illustrated’s Ultimate Banana Bread
Two years ago: Cheesecake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Risotto with Swiss Chard
Four years ago: Gazpacho

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Mediterranean Chopped Salad (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 4 as a main dish

I have never added the parsley; nothing against it, I just didn’t notice it in the ingredient list. Also, I like my salads on the vinegary side, so I usually cut the olive oil short.

1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice (about 1¼ cups)
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered (about 1½ cups)
Table salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
½ small minced red onion (about ¼ cup)
½ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 romaine heart, cut into ½ inch pieces (about 3 cups)
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
Ground black pepper

1. Combine cucumber, tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt in colander set over bowl and let stand 15 minutes.

2. Whisk oil, vinegar, and garlic together in large bowl. Add drained cucumber and tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, onion, and parsley; toss and let stand at room temperature to blend flavors, 5 minutes.

3. Add romaine and feta; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

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pepper-crusted salmon with wasabi dipping sauce

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This is one of the best new meals I’ve made recently. The salmon was perfectly browned on top but still juicy in the middle. The Old Bay and lemon were interesting matches with the wasabi and ginger, but it definitely worked. The watercress and avocado salad I served the salmon with was the perfect bright balance to the umami-rich fish and soy sauce dip. The meal had a few of my favorite sushi components, with the fish, wasabi, and avocado, but it went a different direction with the salad and Old Bay.

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It was an unusually light weekend dinner for us. Usually those tend to include a lot more carbs and red meat. It isn’t rare that they also require a serious investment of time in the kitchen, and this recipe differs from that routine as well.

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In fact, there is absolutely no reason this wouldn’t fit right in with our weekday routine of healthy and quick meals. And that’s good news, because there are more weeknights than weekends, and that means more opportunities to make this dish.

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One year ago: Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
Two years ago: Beer-Marinated Flank Steak
Three years ago: Zucchini Bread
Four years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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Pepper-Crusted Salmon with Wasabi-Lemon Dipping Sauce (adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue! via epicurious and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Glazed Salmon recipe)

Serves 4

I served this with Avocado and Watercress Salad (without the apple), and it was absolutely perfect.

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup soy sauce
1 scallion, white and green parts, minced

For the salmon:
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
4 (8-ounce) salmon fillets
coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the wasabi powder and water until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes to enhance the wasabi flavors, then add the remaining sauce ingredients.

2. In a small bowl, combine the Old Bay, salt, sugar, and cornstarch. Rub into the flesh (not the skin) of the salmon. Season with a generous layer of coarsely ground black pepper, pressing the pepper into the salmon.

3. Heat the oil in a nonstick 12-inch oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer the salmon to the pan, flesh-side down. Cook without moving for 1 minute, then flip and cook for another minute. Transfer the skillet to the oven; cook 8-10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the salmon reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Serve immediately.

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grilled shrimp and tomatillo enchilada casserole

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I made this at the end of one of those days that felt like I’d spent entirely too much time in the kitchen creating messes and then cleaning them up. The last thing I wanted was yet another project that would lead to yet another load of dishes. I needed to simplify.

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And so I did. As long as I was already grilling the tomatillos for the sauce, I went ahead and grilled…everything. The shrimp and onions that were intended to be sautéed on the stove, the tortillas that would have needed steaming (or frying) to roll. And forget rolling – I gave up on rolling tortillas for enchiladas years ago when I got lazy. Now I just create layers of filling and tortillas, like a chile-filled corny lasagna.

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I don’t know if it was despite the shortcuts or because of them, but this is one of the favorite meals I’ve made lately. I was surprised that no single ingredient stood out – the dish didn’t taste particularly shrimpy or oniony or cheesy. I thought for a second that this meant I should have added more shrimp (or onions or cheese), but then I realized that it would be hard to improve on what I had. Especially considering that it hardly dirtied more dishes than the baking pan.

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One year ago: Sweet Corn Hash
Two years ago: Penne alla Vodka
Three years ago: Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella
Four years ago: Country Egg Scramble

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Grilled Shrimp and Tomatillo Enchilada Casserole (adapted from Bon Appétit via Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Serves 6

I used 2 ounces of roasted, peeled, and seeded Hatch green chiles in place of the jalapeno.

You could probably skip the scallions if you didn’t want to buy them.

½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chile powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
20 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 onion, cut into 1-inch cubes
18 corn tortillas
12 ounces (about 8) tomatillos, husks removed
1 jalapeno
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 scallions
½ lime
¼ cup cilantro leaves
salt
12 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick spray. Prepare a grill with a medium-hot side and a cooler side.

2. In a large bowl, combine the cumin, chile powder, and olive oil. Add the shrimp; toss to coat. Thread the shrimp onto skewers. Thread the cubed onions onto skewers. Spray or lightly brush the onions and the tortillas with oil.

3. Grill the skewered onions over the cooler side of the grill until slightly softened and browned on the edges, about 10 minutes. Carefully place the garlic over the cooler side of the grill; heat until softened, about 4 minutes. (If the grill grates are too wide to hold the garlic cloves, skewer them with the onions.) Grill the tortillas over the hotter side of the grill until they begin to brown, about 30 seconds per side. Grill the shrimp on the hotter side until they begin to brown, 1-2 minutes per side. Grill the jalapeno over the hotter side of the grill until it’s blistered and mostly blackened, about 5 minutes, rotating occasionally; when cool enough to handle, remove the stem and seeds. Grill the lime, cut-side down, over the hotter side of the grill until it begins to brown, 2-3 minutes. Grill the scallions, with the white sides over the hotter side of the grill and the green sides over the cool side, until lightly browned, about 1 minute.

4. Remove the shrimp and onions from the skewers and transfer to the bowl of a food processor; process until coarsely chopped; transfer to a bowl. Add the tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic, scallions, juice from the lime, cilantro, and ½ teaspoon salt to the food processor; process until smooth.

5. Spread a thin layer of the tomatillo sauce over the bottom of the prepared pan. Distribute 6 tortillas evenly over the sauce. Top with one-third of the remaining sauce, then half of the shrimp mixture and one-third of the cheese. Repeat the layering of tortillas, sauce, shrimp, and cheese. Distribute the remaining tortillas over the cheese, then the remaining sauce and remaining cheese.

6. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese is browned and the casserole is bubbling around the edges, 30-40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

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quinoa black bean burrito bowls

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I know there’s nothing groundbreaking about this combination. Topping black beans and starch with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese is always going to be good. Still, it’s worth talking about, just because it’s such a tasty meal, not to mention it has all of my other favorite dinner characteristics – it’s healthy, easy, and flexible.

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When I made this, I prepared the quinoa and black bean mixture over the weekend. The next night, when I knew I’d be getting home late, all I had to do was heat up the base and chop the toppings. Not that the first step takes long on its own, as it’s just sauteing onions with garlic and spices, adding liquid and quinoa to simmer, and stirring in black beans. But it’s nice to have meals that aren’t any worse for being made ahead and reheated.

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I’ve put these same toppings in tortillas with meat and beans, as well as over rice instead of quinoa, and it never fails to turn into a meal I love. Adding the fresh vegetables provides a bright, fresh contrast to the warm spicy beans and carbs. Classic flavors, combined in a slightly new way – it isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s one of my favorite new weeknight meals anyway.

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One year ago: Chocolate Friands
Two years ago: Baked French Toast
Three years ago: Potato Tomato Tart
Four years ago: Banana Nutella Crepes

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Quinoa Black Bean Burrito Bowls (adapted from Shiksa in the Kitchen via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

I also added about 4 ounces of Hatch green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced, when I stirred in the lime juice.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
¼ teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
juice of ½ lime
toppings – shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, cilantro, cheddar cheese or queso fresco, diced avocado, salsa, sour cream or Greek yogurt, black olives

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just browned at the edges, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water, quinoa, and black beans; bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes; without removing the lid, let the quinoa sit off the heat for an additional 10 minutes, until tender. Remove the lid, add the lime juice, and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Serve with your desired toppings.

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chocolate oreo blackberry cake

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I know there are bakers out there who are sad when their birthday rolls around and none of their friends offer to bake them a cake, because their friends are all used to the baker making the cakes. Or maybe their friends don’t feel like their cake could ever live up to one of the baker’s cakes. But even if the baker is the one known for their delicious and beautiful birthday cakes, a birthday cake is more than dessert, it’s a gift, so I understand why people are disappointed when no one makes them one.

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But I am not one of those bakers. Without family or a large group of friends nearby, my opportunities to make dramatic layer cakes are few and far between. My birthday is one of those rare chances, and I soak it up for all its worth. For me, letting me bake my own cake is the gift.

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This year, I did have someone to share that cake with, when my family celebrated my birthday on vacation last week on the beach in Mexico. Vacation baking holds its own challenges, but I can adapt. I did as much as possible at home – mixing up the dry ingredients, measuring and crushing the oreos, and making and freezing the buttercream. The cake itself is an easy one to mix up, no mixer required, but the swiss meringue buttercream needed to be re-whipped after defrosting to restore its smooth and airy texture. My original intention was to smooth the buttercream over the top and sides of the cake and coat the cake with a glossy and dramatic chocolate glaze, but with the scalloped edges of the disposable pans I baked the cakes in, that seemed like a messy prospect. Fortunately, I love the look of an open-sided cake like this.

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With eight people to share it with, this cake went fast! It probably doesn’t hurt that chocolate and berries are such a great flavor combination, not to mention that everyone loves moist cake and fluffy frosting. And the best part is that, since my family celebrated early and this cake was gone by my actual birthday, I get to make another cake just for me!

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One year ago: Pesto
Two years ago: Banana Peanut Butter Muffins
Three years ago: Lemon Meringue Cake
Four years ago: Black (and Pink) and White Chocolate Cake

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Chocolate Oreo Blackberry Cake (cake adapted from Dessert for Breakfast; buttercream adapted from Martha Stewart)

Makes one three-layer 8-inch cake

Note that the 8 ounces of blackberries is before straining. You should end up with about ¾ cup (which is 6 ounces both by weight and volume) of puree.

Cake:
2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 cup hot coffee

Buttercream:
8 ounces (by weight; about 1¼ cups) blackberries, pureed and strained
3 egg whites
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
pinch salt
18 tablespoons (2¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For assembly:
18 Oreos, coarsely chopped or crumbled

1. For the cake: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8-inch round pans.

2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking powder, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, oil, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until evenly distributed. Pour in the coffee and mix until smooth.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the sides of the cakes from the pans, then invert the cakes onto the wire rack and remove the pans. Cool completely before frosting.

4. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bowl from heat and attach it to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the strained blackberry puree, mixing just until incorporated. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

5. To assemble the cake: If necessary, trim the top of each layer to make a flat, even surface. Transfer one layer to a cake plate or large platter. Spread one-third of the buttercream over the cake, then distribute one-third of the crushed cookies evenly over the buttercream. Repeat the layering of cake, buttercream, and oreos twice more. Serve immediately or loosely cover for up to 8 hours.

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paella

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I will always associate paella with the group of friends I hung out with in graduate school. We all enjoyed good food and good drinks, so whenever we got together, everyone would bring food and wine to share. One of my friends was from Spain, and he made paella at several of these get-togethers. Of course, it was fully authentic, cooked in a paella pan set on a tripod over an open flame. The smoked paprika, saffron, roasted red peppers, and rice came directly from Spain, picked up on his latest trip home to visit his parents. Sitting around the fire in my friends’ backyard, drinking good wine and eating paella is one of my most vivid food memories.

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I knew that cooking paella in a Dutch oven on the grill wouldn’t be the same, but I was hoping for just a twinge of that taste, that memory. That’s why I insisted on cooking it outside on the grill instead of using the much easier option of the stove and oven. Maybe it would pick up a hint of smokiness from the coals, but it was more than just the flavor I was after, it was that feeling.

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I got some of each. With the cast iron Dutch oven, the one Dave and I have taken camping for the last ten years, heated over coals on the grill, I got some of the fun of cooking outdoors. Dave sat outside with me with a glass of wine and let me babble on about different rice dishes in cultures around the world.

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The food was good, but I need some paella practice before it’ll be up to the standards of what I remember. The biggest mistake I made was preventing the formation of a soccarat, a layer of crusty bits on the bottom of the pan, which is one of the best parts of paella. Letting rice stick to the bottom of the pan goes against years of rice-cooking training, and I ended up adding too much liquid, making a wetter, saucier paella. I also think I’ll leave out the tomatoes next time. They were included in a number of the paella recipes I looked at, but it’s not a flavor I associate with paella.

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Overall, it was a successful meal, in that I had fun making it and it tasted good. But next time, I’ll use the lessons I learned, like not stirring the rice and leaving out the tomato, and my paella will be that much better. However, I doubt it’ll ever taste as good as one cooked over a fire in a paella pan while enjoying the company of good friends.

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One year ago: Bruschetta with Chickpea Puree
Two years ago: Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad
Three years ago: Casatiello
Four years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

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Paella (adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Alton Brown, the New York Times, Leite’s Culinaria, and About.com)

Most of my problems came from not following this method, adding more liquid and stirring more often because I was worried about the rice cooking unevenly. However, it should be noted that the recipe given here has not been perfected.

The recipe specifically refers to charcoal grilling methods, but I think it could be easily adapted to a gas grill.

4 cups water
8 ounces shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
1 onion, half sliced, half diced
2 garlic cloves, 1 sliced, 2 minced
1 small bay leaf
1 large thyme sprig
salt and pepper
1 pounds chicken legs and/or thighs, bone-in, skin-on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron
1 cup short-grain rice, preferably Bomba
7 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons white wine
½ cup peas

1. In a medium-size pot over medium-high heat, bring the water, shrimp shells, sliced onion, sliced garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprig and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the saucepan, cover, and keep warm over low heat.

2. Combine the shrimp with 2 teaspoons olive oil, the minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of teaspoon salt. Mix well to coat with seasonings and let marinate at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Light about 2 quarts of charcoal briquettes; once the briquettes are lightly covered with gray ash, spread them over the bottom grate of the grill, then top with another 2 quarts of unlit coals.

4. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven directly over the coals. Add the shrimp and cook, without moving, until browned and pink on one side, 30 seconds to a minute. Flip the shrimp to brown the second side. Transfer to a plate.

5. Season the chicken generously with salt and ground black pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the hot skillet (or Dutch oven). Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook with moving until the bottom is deeply browned, 3-4 minutes. Turn each piece of chicken to brown the other side. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. (Because the chicken is mostly raw and the shrimp is cooked and will only be briefly reheated, don’t put them on the same plate.)

6. Add the diced onion, red pepper, and a pinch of salt to the skillet; sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Add the saffron and remaining ¼ teaspoon paprika and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about a minute.

7. Add the rice, stirring well to coat with the onion mixture. Add the tomatoes, wine, half of the hot shrimp broth, ½ teaspoon salt, and the browned chicken. Bring to a brisk simmer, stirring once. Simmer, uncovered, until most of the broth has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.

8. Add the remaining broth and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and arrange the peas and shrimp over the surface of the rice in one layer. Cover the pan with a clean dish cloth. Let the rice rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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