lentil marinara

lentil marinara 5

When my coworker came back to work after spending weeks in the hospital (and in my small town, that means a hospital over two hours away from home) with his sick newborn baby, I figured they could use a home-cooked meal. I thought tomato soup, homemade bread, and some nice cheese to make grilled sandwiches would be the perfect comfort food. Unfortunately, it would require a trip to the store and a couple free hours to cook, and when I saw how exhausted my friend was, I figured getting something to him soon was more important than getting the perfect meal to him.

lentil marinara 1

So I made extras of what I was having for dinner that night. Spaghetti is warm and familiar, so fits the comfort food bill, and who doesn’t like the pasta and tomato sauce combination? The lentils, though, might seem strange to some people.

It makes perfect sense to me, because lentils are a great protein source, and while I can’t claim that they taste like beef, there is something meaty-like about them. Besides, what’s more comforting than knowing that your dinner is not only delicious, it’s healthy?

lentil marinara 2

And now I have another friend who needs comfort food after the death of her father on Thanksgiving day. Unfortunately, I can’t just bring her my leftovers, because she lives a thousand miles away. I don’t think virtual comfort food is quite the same, but at least she’ll know I’m thinking about her and her family and wishing them the best during a difficult time.

lentil marinara 3

One year ago: Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pine Nuts
Two years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Three years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Lentil Marinara (adapted from Branny Boils Over)

6-8 servings

I simmered this for 30-45 minutes, but, if you have the time, I suspect that a longer simmering time while covered would really help the lentils absorb the tomato flavor.

I like canned whole tomatoes for sauce because they break down better, but if you don’t mind larger tomato chunks in your sauce, diced tomatoes will work fine. I chop canned whole tomatoes by sticking kitchen shears into the can and snipping away.

Update 4/23/12 – I’ve made this a couple more times, and I’ve decided that it’s probably too heavy on the lentils.  Using up a whole bag at once is nice, but 8 ounces of lentils for 2 cans of tomatoes will make a tastier sauce.

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ cup white or red wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 (1-pound) bag brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the wine, scraping any browned residue on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender and the sauce is thickened.

lentil marinara 4

barbecued pulled pork

The best part of barbecuing a whole pork shoulder on the grill is that you are forced to spend all day outside tending the grill. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday. We started the grill before breakfast, then spent the rest of the day in the backyard.  First we drank coffee, then some water because you have to to survive, even on weekends, and then it was time for afternoon margaritas, and then we capped it off with beer, because what else are you going to drink with pulled pork?

The truth is that while you do need to keep a constant-ish eye on the grill, you don’t need to spend much time actually doing anything with it. Once the pork is cooking, it takes just a couple of seconds every hour or so to add a handful of fresh coals. A thermometer is key to monitor the temperature, although a cheap oven thermometer – which is what I used – will work just fine.  And if you do find the temperature varying widely, it won’t ruin your pork; just let it slowly come down to the right temperature range or add more coals to bring it up and continue cooking. Cooking a whole pork shoulder on the grill is a simple and forgiving process, even if it does take a long time.

I know the question everyone is asking: Is it really better than crockpot pulled pork? Well, of course it is. Crockpot pulled pork, especially using the same spice rub, is incredible – flavorful, tender, and easy easy easy. Barbecued pulled pork isn’t as moist and as a result, its flavor seems more concentrated. It’s still easy to pull, but it has more chew than crockpot pulled pork, which can get mushy if you’re not careful. The biggest difference were the outside bits of the roast, which were deeply browned and crisp. (This is not the same thing as the blackened top in the photo below, which is a thick layer of fat that I discarded.) Dave and I filled up on those while I was still shredding the roast. But the best part of making pulled pork on the grill as opposed to in the crockpot is that while one method frees you up to do chores and run errands all day, the other keeps you in the backyard with a book and a beer.

One year ago: Home Corned Beef and Corned Beef Hash
Two years ago: Orange Oatmeal Currant Cookies
Three years ago: Hash Browns with Sauteed Vegetables and Poached Eggs

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Barbecued Pulled Pork (spice rub from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves a lot

The least messy way I’ve found to add the spices to the meat is to line a rimmed baking sheet with a large piece of plastic wrap. Set the pork on the plastic wrap; add the spice rub, rotating the meat to rub all sides. Wrap the plastic wrap around the meat, then wrap another layer of plastic around in the opposite direction.

I use all of the spice rub on one roast, but if you think it’ll be too much, save half for another use. It’ll keep in the pantry for months.

Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork shoulder

1. Combine all of the ingredients in the spice rub. At least one day, and up to three days, before cooking the pork, rub the spice rub onto all sides of the pork (see note). Wrap the pork in a double layer of plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to three days.

2. About 10 hours before you plan to serve the pork, remove it from the refrigerator; let it set at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile, soak 4 wood chunks (or 4 cups of wood chips) in water for an hour.

3. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to grill, light about 30 charcoal briquettes (half a chimney starter). Once the coals are covered with a layer of ash, dump them into a pile on one side of the grill, then top with ¼ of the wood chunks or chips. Open the bottom vents completely. Place the meat, fat side up, on a double layer of aluminum foil with the edges folded up or in a 9×13-inch disposable aluminum baking pan. Place the meat on the side of the grill opposite the coals. Put the lid on the grill with the vents opposite the coals; adjust vents to be ¾ open.

4. Use a grill or oven thermometer to monitor the temperature of the grill, which should remain between 200 and 250 degrees. Add fresh coals, about 8 every hour, when the temperature drops. Add more wood chips an hour after you start cooking, then again at the 2- and 3-hour mark. (Don’t worry if the top of the meat blackens; you’ll discard that layer of fat anyway.)

5. After about 5 hours, when the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165 degrees, wrap it completely in foil. Continue cooking until the internal temperature of the pork is 195 degrees, another 2-3 hours.

6. Remove the pork from the grill and let it set at room temperature, covered, for one hour.

7. Place the pork on a large rimmed baking sheet. Remove and discard the thick layer of fat. Use your fingers or forks to shred the remaining meat. Serve.

pasta e fagioli

Living in southern New Mexico, I’m out of touch with all of the weather systems the rest of the country gets. The weather here is always the same – sunny, dry, cold at night and warm in the afternoon (hot at night and hotter in the afternoon in the summer), windy in the spring. So even though I know most of you are burned out on cold and snow, I’m very excited right now that we’ve gotten a taste of real winter here.

And, even better, a snow day. A snow day! Not that it takes much snow to get a snow day here, but that’s even better – a snow day with no shoveling to do!

The first time I made this soup was years ago, and it was just as cold that day. I remember that Dave and I went to a political rally in Ithaca, and afterward, we were talking while I made the soup, and I got distracted and added the pepper flakes twice. Sadly, that ruined the soup. It was almost inedibly spicy; so much for the careful balance of flavors I was hoping for.

The soup is a whole lot better when you make it correctly. Just a bit spicy, all mixed in with tomatoes and vegetables and beans. A warm hearty bowl of soup is the perfect way to cap off a snow day.

One year ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Two years ago: Tofu Croutons
Three years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

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Pasta e Fagioli (from Cooks Illustrated)

I added 2 cups less water than the recipe calls for. I’m sure the original recipe is fine too; I was just in the mood for something thicker. If you do this, make sure you decrease the salt to ½ teaspoon.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 celery rib, chopped fine
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, minced to paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 5 inches by 2 inches
2 (15½-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3½ cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
2½ cups water
salt
8 ounces small pasta
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
ground black pepper
2 ounces (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of the pan. Add the cheese rind and beans; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer to blend the flavors, 10 minutes.

2. Add chicken the broth, water and 1 teaspoon salt; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (refer to package instructions to better estimate pasta cooking time).

3. Discard the cheese rind. Off the heat, stir in 3 tablespoons of the parsley; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of the remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing the grated parmesan separately.

curry coconut chickpea soup

When my parents brought home a half-grown boxer puppy, I asked them why they got such an ugly dog. With her squashed face, beady eyes, and unproportional torso, she was a far cry from the beautiful German shepherd I’d grown up with. Then we took her out to the backyard to run around and within minutes, I was exclaiming that she was the cutest thing ever! She raced back and forth, eagerly stopping by our sides for head pats. She had no tail to speak of, so instead wagged her entire butt back and forth. What a great dog (except for the drool and the farts). She certainly taught me an important lesson about how it’s what’s inside that really counts.

This soup might look oddly curdled to you, with random chunks of red floating on top. But I know that the mottled look is from sweet rich coconut milk, and the soup is full of healthy tomatoes and red peppers. I know that quinoa adds a bit of crunch to the soup, and chickpeas offer something to chew on.

We gave the boxer puppy an ultra-feminine name, Belle, to counteract some of her less feminine traits. And maybe that’s why this soup has such a descriptive name. Without all of those flavorful ingredients right in the title, how would you have any idea what’s in that suspicious orange-tinted broth? Your first impression might not reflect how good it really is.


(photo taken by my friend Ramie Pierce)

One year ago: Baked Ziti
Two years ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Three years ago: Maple Walnut Cupcakes

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Coconut Curry Chickpea Soup (adapted from epicurious via Cook, Pray, Love)

Serves 4

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped tomatoes, seeded and peeled, fresh or canned
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, curry powder, and garam masala; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, and black pepper; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

2. Stir in the coconut milk; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Garnish with the herbs; serve over rice, couscous, or quinoa, if desired.

I’m submitting this entry to Branny’s Charity Souper Bowl, in which she will donate a dollar to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for each post submitted.

beef short ribs braised in tomato sauce

When my sister visits with her young kids, I like to make a dish on the first night that’s particularly kid-friendly. While they aren’t picky eaters, they love pizza and spaghetti and hot dogs as much as any other kid. But if I’m cooking, the food has to be Bridget-friendly too. In other words, it has to be fun to cook.

I’ve wanted to perfect a recipe like this for a long time. I had in mind something that wasn’t just tomato sauce with meat added. I wanted the meat to shine, and I wanted the sauce itself to taste distinctly meaty.

To get the intensity I was hoping for, I pulled out every umami trick I know. Beef, obviously, and all the tomatoes don’t hurt. Dried porcini mushrooms, tomato paste (added with the aromatics and browned slightly), and pancetta added layers of meaty flavor.

This is my favorite type of recipe to make. Ingredients are added incrementally, food gets browned and delicious, and all the while, I get to stir and inhale the aroma, stir and inhale. It gets better after the sauce has simmered for hours, and then it becomes stir and taste, stir and taste. Even better is enjoying the meal with pasta, freshly baked bread, salad, a bottle of red wine, and two rambunctious kids and their parents.

One year ago: Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Two years ago: Chopped Salad
Three years ago: Banana Cream Pie

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Beef Short Ribs Braised in Tomato Sauce

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 (3-4 pounds total) beef short ribs
salt
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup wine (red or white, just something that isn’t too sweet or oaky)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice

1. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any dirt clinging to them. Cover them with ½ cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Use a fork to lift the mushrooms from the liquid; mince the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.

2. Season the beef ribs with salt. Meanwhile, in a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pot is tilted. Add the beef ribs and cook, for 2-3 minutes per side, until richly browned on all sides. Remove the ribs from the pot. Lower the heat to medium and add the pancetta to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to the plate with the short ribs. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot. Add the onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned on the edges, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, mushrooms, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine; scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, beef ribs, pancetta, mushroom soaking liquid (being careful to leave any dirt behind) and 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. After 2 hours, remove the cover, increase the heat to medium-low, and simmer for another hour, until the beef is tender.

3. Transfer the ribs to a plate; shred the meat. Meanwhile, if the sauce is too thin, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. Stir the meat back into the sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary, and serve over pasta or polenta.

gingerbread cake

I’m very aware when putting up Christmas decorations that they’re going to need to be taken back down soon enough. I keep my decorations minimal. A 2-foot tree I bought in college, one string of lights, some pretty candles. When we get back from visiting our families a week after Christmas and start dreading the return to work on Monday, it’ll only take a few minutes to pack up the holidays until next year. I won’t make treats for that.

But I did make treats for decorating. It hardly seems worth it, since it took us longer to dig the box of Christmas stuff out of the garage than it did to spread the cheer around the living room, but everything is more fun with food. Gingerbread is the perfect accompaniment to Pandora’s Holiday Jazz station and the ceramic trees my Grandma gave me ten years ago.

I’ve never had a bad gingerbread, but this one – dense and spicy and moist – is just perfect for December. Maybe I will make another batch when we put the decorations away…

One year ago: Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream
Two years ago: Candied Orange Peel

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Gingerbread (from Claudia Fleming via Smitten Kitchen)

Please note that this cake is better if made a day in advance. After removing it from the pan, let it cool completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap.

Cooks Illustrated recently published a recipe for gingerbread that’s very similar to this, except they stir the batter a bit more to give it more structure, to avoid the sinking that’s evident in the photo above.

1 cup oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout
1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup (7 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
confectioners sugar for dusting
lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter a bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

2. Bring the stout and molasses to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda; cool to room temperature.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together the eggs and sugars in a separate bowl. Whisk the oil, then the molasses into the egg mixture. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture; whisk until combined.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and rap the pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

5. Serve cake, dusted with confectioners sugar, with whipped cream, if desired.

R.I.P. This cake stand, which I broke 30 seconds after taking these pictures.

beef in barolo

I seem to be going through a phase. I was trying to choose what recipe to post about next, but everything I have to choose from seems so similar to Bolognese – Italian sauces based either on beef, tomatoes, or both. Maybe it’s because Dave and I are talking about visiting Italy next year, or maybe it’s because Italian beefy and/or tomatoey recipes are so perfect for winter (or what passes for winter in southeastern New Mexico).

Although, if you cook the beef in Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Barolo, can you still call it an Italian recipe? I don’t imagine that I will ever cook with Barolo, and I certainly don’t recommend that you do either. Barolo is expensive. You’ll rarely find it for less than $50 per bottle and certainly never under $20. Don’t dump $40 worth of wine into your stew, please. And have you ever had Yellowtail’s cab? It’s perfectly drinkable, and at $5 per bottle, it’s a far more practical cooking wine.

Yes, this pot roast is cooked with 2 whole bottles of wine. It’s intensely winey – obviously. In fact, the first night we had this for dinner, I was a little taken aback. The meat is purple and the flavor is so…winey. However, the leftovers the next night were perfectly balanced, so I suspect I didn’t cook it long enough initially, especially considering that the meat wasn’t quite as tender as I like my pot roast.

But that also means that this is one of those meals that is even better when it’s made in advance. It seems to me, then, that this is the perfect meal for guests – it’s convenient and delicious, but the wine makes it fancy. Even if it isn’t fancy wine.

One year ago: English Muffins
Two years ago: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Brasato al Barolo – Beef Braised in Barolo (adapted from Emeril)

6 servings

Oops, I just saw that the recipe calls for 1½ bottles of wine, not the 1½ liters, or two bottles, that I thought when I made this. So yours might not be quite as winey as mine. And now you have half a bottle to sip on while you wait for the beef to cook!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (3-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ bottles (4½ cups) Barolo, or other dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pot and cook, turning every 2-3 minutes, to brown on all sides. Remove from the pan. To the fat in the pan, add the pancetta and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt; cook until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the beef to the pan and add the wine, 2 cups of the stock, rosemary, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover tightly and transfer the pot to oven.

3. Cook, turning the roast every 30 minutes, until fully tender and a meat fork slips in and out of meat very easily (3½-4 hours). Remove the meat from the pan and tent with foil to keep warm.

4. Remove the rosemary, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick, and place the pot over high heat. Cook until the sauce is reduced to a consistency thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

5. Thinly slice the beef across the grain into ¼-inch thick slices. Serve the beef ladled with the sauce. Garnish with parsley and serve.

shredded beef tacos

The first few months when I moved out of my parents’ house and across the country were exciting and lonely and intense. I was lucky that I made some great friends right away. I remember the first time someone invited me over for dinner. I’d asked what he and his wife were serving, and I thought he said pea stew. I went, but I was so relieved when it was actually beef stew.

That meal turned into a weekly dinner tradition that lasted for as long as we all lived near each other. We took turns cooking and rarely made the same thing twice, but there was one favorite meal that was requested more than any other – tacos. My friend’s taco filling and accompaniments were good, but the real treat was the shells – freshly fried, still hot, and, frankly, a little greasy. I had never had home-fried taco shells before, and it was a revelation.

These days, tacos are still one of my favorite meals, but I can’t enjoy them as much without those fried shells. Even better is when they’re stuffed with this shredded beef. It’s marinated in vinegar, lime juice, and spices, then baked for hours until it falls into shreds. I’m thankful for those friends not just for helping me feel comfortable on my own, but for teaching me about the perfection of fried corn tortillas. Nothing else would be good enough accompany this intensely flavorful filling.

One year ago: Sandwich Rolls
Two years ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

Shredded Beef Tacos (slightly adapted from Use Real Butter who slightly adapted it from The Border Cookbook)

Jen discusses the cut of beef that is preferred for this recipe. Her recommended eye of chuck was not available, so I chose chuck steak. I have no complaints. Plus I didn’t need to slice it before marinating, which was a nice bonus.

You could always go with the classic cheddar-sour cream-lettuce combination for toppings, but I really love the queso fresco-avocado-salsa direction that Jen recommends.

6 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ tsps chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1½ pounds chuck steak
1 cup vegetable oil
24 corn tortillas
toppings: lettuce, queso fresco, salsa, guacamole, etc.

1. In a gallon-size zip-top bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt, spices and garlic. Add the meat and squish the bag around to make sure the meat is fully coated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Dump the contents of the bag into a baking dish just large enough to fit the meat in a single layer. Cover the pan with foil; bake until the meat is tender enough to shred easily, about 2 hours. Use two forks to pull the meat into shreds. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

3. Heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Slide a tortilla into the oil; use tongs to fold the tortilla in half and hold it partially open. Flip after about 1 minute. Fry for an additional minute, until the tortilla is slightly crisp. Continue with the remaining tortillas, storing the fried tortillas in the warm oven. Serve with shredded meat and desired toppings.

red kidney bean curry

When my schedule picks up, I tend to fall into a weeknight dinner rut. I think we ate pasta with chopped tomatoes and fresh mozzarella ten times during the month or so of peak tomato season. Fish tacos are in no short supply around here year-round. Red beans and rice, salmon pesto pasta, braised white beans, jalapeno-baked fish

Surely there must be new recipes for me to try that fit my tough weeknight standards – quick, light, fully balanced, vegetarian or seafood-based. And yes! This is perfect. Plus I love my one other Indian curry standard and knew there must be similar-but-different dishes out there to try.

It’s such a basic recipe – sauté aromatics and spices, add beans and other flavorings, simmer, serve over starch. It makes me wonder how many other cuisines I could do this with. I suspect I’ll be trying a few, because you can never have enough quick healthy balanced vegetarian meal ideas.

One year ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Two years ago: Mulled Cider

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Red Kidney Bean Curry
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

This recipe has another trait I love – it takes well to freezing. Make a large batch, freeze in portions, and your next meal is that much easier!

The first time I made this, it seemed a little bland so I’ve increased the spices and added garam masala. I love garam masala. I’ve also changed the tomatoes around to something that makes more sense to me.

I know Deb’s looks like soup and mine looks like a paste. My only explanation is that this batch was frozen and defrosted, and I was too busy catching up on The Office episodes to see that it needed more liquid.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons garam masala
1½ teaspoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 3 cups cooked beans)
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown at the edges, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, tomato paste and spices; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the beans, and the salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, taste for seasoning, and serve over rice or with naan.

classic burritos

This is not my most gourmet meal. It’s mostly fancy Taco Bell. It kind of looks like dog food. It’s delicious and easy and kinda healthy. I like it.

It’s at least fancier than we made it when I was a kid. Back then, we (usually my brother) browned some ground beef, dumped in a packet of burrito seasoning and some water, and stirred in a can of refried beans. Then we glopped it on tortillas with fixin’s and were happy.

Then my brother started getting creative. He would add green chile to the mix or use shredded chicken instead of ground beef. I don’t like change. I just want my fancy Taco Bell.

What I have changed is to get rid of the sodium and preservative-filled spice packet and the pasty canned refried beans for some good stuff – browned onions, fresh garlic, spices that I already have anyway, and pinto beans I mush up myself. Plus I use ground turkey instead of ground beef, because it tastes the same once it’s mixed in with everything else, and it’s a little healthier. Same goes for Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Sure, it’s just a regular old burrito, and it costs 79 cents at a fast food chain. But if you make it yourself, you can use high quality ingredients – lettuce that is actually crisp, cheese that has flavor, spices that are fresh – and it isn’t much harder than going through the drive-thru.

One year ago: Bran Muffins
Two years ago: Spinach Artichoke and Red Pepper Strata

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Classic Burritos

4-6 servings

The filling also reheats really well, so I usually make enough for more than one meal and have an easy leftover night a few days later.

These are my favorite fillings for these very basic burritos. Obviously you can go wild here with whatever you like – salsa, hot sauce, green chile, guacamole…

Filling:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 pound ground turkey (or other ground meat of your choice)
1 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup water

Toppings:
flour tortillas
green leaf lettuce, sliced
tomatoes, diced
cheddar cheese, shredded
black olives, chopped
sour cream (or Greek yogurt)

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the spices and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the meat and salt and cook, stirring occasionally to break up large chunks, until no longer pink. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the beans to it; use a potato masher to break up the beans slightly. Stir in the water and simmer over medium heat until the liquid mostly evaporates. Serve the filling with toppings of your choice.