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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kale salad with garlic vinaigrette

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

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

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

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

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

4 servings

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

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

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

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

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mediterranean salmon salad

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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bacon mushroom breakfast skillet

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I’m pretty sure there was a time, not even that long ago, when I would make complicated breakfasts every weekend morning. (Well, every weekend morning that I wasn’t baking scones straight from the freezer.) I vaguely remember asking myself, while surrounded by dirty dishes, why I did this to myself. But the next weekend I’d be back in the same place, always unable to resist a shiny new recipe.

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Probably I’ll swing around to that phase again, but for now, I’m loving simple breakfasts – things that only briefly keep me away from drinking coffee while mindlessly surfing the internet. Even these quick meals are a lot more complicated than the yogurt and frozen berries I spend five minutes blending together every morning before work, so they’re still a treat.

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In this case, it’s a simple matter of cooking bacon and mushrooms, topping them with eggs (poached, fried, your choice; I chose fried because it’s easier), mixing in some spinach just until it softens, and if you want to get fancy, you can add a slice of toast.  I love the earthiness of the mushrooms and spinach combined with bacon, and getting in a serving of vegetables for breakfast is a great way to start the day.  But what makes me the happiest is that I get all that in well under half an hour, so I can get on with the rest of my weekend, whether than means working out, relaxing in the backyard, or spending all day messing up the kitchen with other projects.

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One year ago: Thai Grilled Beef Salad
Two years ago: Basic Pancakes
Three years ago: Brioche
Four years ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

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Bacon Mushroom Breakfast Skillet (adapted from Tyler Florence Family Meal via Joy the Baker)

I did not wilt the spinach for the pictures, but I should have.

Serves 4

4 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
2 cup (8 ounces) cremini or button mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
1 cup oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
6 to 8 eggs
salt
ground black pepper
2 cups spinach leaves

1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.

2. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet.  Add the mushrooms, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown, 8-10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat about 1 tablespoon of bacon fat to a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the eggs (I crack them into small dishes first), season with salt and pepper, cover the pan, and cook until the whites are set and the yolks are soft (or however you like your eggs), about 5-7 minutes.

4. When the eggs are ready, add the spinach and the cooked bacon to the mushrooms. Cook, stirring constantly, until the bacon is warm and the spinach just wilts, about a minute.  Serve, with the eggs, immediately.

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summer chopped salad with feta

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

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

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

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

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Summer Chopped Salad with Feta (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 8 as a side dish

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

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

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

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migas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Migas (adapted from Homesick Texan)

4 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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barbecued spareribs

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Last year’s barbecued pulled pork went so well that I assumed slow-cooking other meats on the grill would be just as easy, but ribs has proved me wrong. I tried baby backs first, mostly because they’re more famous, but also because they’re what I remember eating as a kid. Since they’re smaller than spareribs, I assumed they’d cook faster, and that didn’t hurt either.

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A week after the baby back ribs spent 2 hours on the grill becoming jerky, I bought spareribs and, comparing Cooks Illustrated’s recipes for the two ribs, saw that they recommend nearly the same cooking time for the two very different types of ribs. Leaner, smaller baby backs supposedly need 2 hours on the grill with 4½ quarts of briquettes plus a second wave of fresh coals halfway through, while larger, fattier spareribs spend 2-3 hours on the grill with only 2½ quarts of charcoal and no refresher. That doesn’t sound right.

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It certainly didn’t work right, as the poor baby backs were desiccated at the end of their two hours. The spareribs, however, fared much better, juicy and smoky and tender, just like ribs should be. In fact, this method – less charcoal, basically – worked so well that I want to try the same thing with baby back ribs now – although I won’t cook the smaller ribs as long as I did the larger ones, which seems like it should be obvious.

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One year ago: Sour Cream Chocolate Cake Cookies
Two years ago: Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cake
Three years ago: Coconut Roasted-Pineapple Dacquoise
Four years ago: Kung Pao Shrimp

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Barbecued Spareribs (from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

Serves 4 (according to CI, but this would serve at least 6 people with my appetite)

At the end of about 2 hours, the coals were completely extinguished. Fortunately, the meat seemed cooked and tender by then. I didn’t bother with barbecue sauce; the dry rub contributes plenty of flavor.

Dry rub:
3 tablespoons paprika
1½ tablespoons chili powder
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
1½ tablespoons salt
2¼ teaspoons dried oregano
2¼ teaspoons sugar
2¼ teaspoons ground black pepper
2¼ teaspoons ground white pepper
¾-1½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 full racks spareribs (about 6 pounds total)
2 (3-inch) wood chunks or 2 cups wood chips
2 cups barbecue sauce (optional)

1. Rub both sides of the rib with the dry rub and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. (For stronger flavor, wrap the rubbed ribs in a double layer of plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)

2. Soak the wood chunks in cold water to cover for 1 hour and drain, or place the wood chips on an 18-inch square of aluminum foil, seal to make a packet, and use a fork to create about 6 holes to allow smoke to escape.

3. Meanwhile, light a large chimney starter filled a bit less than halfway with charcoal briquettes (about 2½ quarts, or 40 coals) and allow to burn until covered with a thin layer of gray ash. Empty the coals into one side of the grill, piling them up in a mound 2 or 3 briquettes high. Keep the bottom vents completely open. Place the wood chunks or the packet with the chips on top of the charcoal. Put the cooking grate in place, open the grill lid vents completely, and cover, turning the lid so that the vents are opposite the wood chunks or chips to draw smoke through the grill. Let the grate heat for 5 minutes and clean it with a wire brush.

4. Position the ribs over the cool part of the grill. Barbecue, turning the ribs every 30 minutes, until the meat starts to pull away from the bones and has a rosy glow on the exterior, 2 to 3 hours. (The initial temperature inside the grill will be about 350 degrees; it will drop to 250 degrees after 2 hours.)

5. Remove the ribs from the grill and wrap each slab completely in aluminum foil. Put the foil-wrapped slabs in a brown paper bag and crimp the top of the bag to seal tightly. Allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

6. Unwrap the ribs and brush with the barbecue sauce, if desired. Cut the ribs between the bones and serve immediately.

barbecued ribs 8

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.

coffee gelato 1

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?

coffee gelato 3

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.

coffee gelato 5

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
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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