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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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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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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fish tacos

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For a while there, I made fish tacos more than any other meal. That might only be once a month or so, but for this household, once a month is considered heavy rotation. Unsurprisingly, with that much iteration, the original recipe has gone through some modifications.

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In fact, I now have two versions that I alternate between, an easy weeknight version cooked on the stove, plus a smokier grilled option using a firmer fish. The indoor recipe is similar to the original, except now I like to combine all of the toppings – cabbage, red onion, yogurt-based cilantro-lime sauce – into one slaw before building the tacos, which distributes the flavors better along with taming the onion’s bite and weighing down the cabbage – so you can fit more of it into each taco. The other important tweak is a squeeze of lime juice after the fish cooks, which refreshes the flavor of the marinade.

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When I have more time, I’ll (have Dave) heat the grill, and we’ll cook the fish outside. I like thin tilapia filets for cooking on the stovetop, but something firmer, like halibut, is required for the grill. And if the grill is already hot, I’m definitely going toast the tortillas on there, and I might consider grilling the onions as well.

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Sadly, I don’t make fish tacos as often anymore, because I realized that the tilapia available in my town isn’t sustainably produced. Halibut, my favorite variety for grilling, isn’t sold at all here, so I only get to make that when I buy it in the Big City.  But, catfish is readily available here, and it seems like it would make excellent tacos.  I’ll have to test that out with one – or both – of my new and improved fish taco recipes.

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And if you run out of fish, this recipe works great with shrimp too!

One year ago: Lemon Bars (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Cream Cheese Spritz
Three years ago: Strawberry Lemon Sorbet
Four years ago: Snickery Squares

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(Grilled or Pan-Seared) Fish Tacos with Cilantro Lime Slaw

Serves 4

Marinade:
¼ cup lime juice (from 3-4 limes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
¼ cup minced cilantro, stems and leaves
6 (4 to 5-ounce) tilapia filets if pan-searing; 4 (6-ounce) halibut filets if grilling

Slaw:
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
½ small red onion, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon table salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ cup Greek yogurt (or a mixture of yogurt and mayonnaise)
¼ cup minced cilantro
½ cabbage, cut into quarters, cored, and sliced thin

For the tacos:
1 tablespoon olive oil (if pan-searing)
1 tablespoon lime juice
8 (5-inch) flour tortillas
other possible toppings: green chile, avocados, cheese, salsa

1. In a medium bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients, including the fish. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the slaw by combining the 2 tablespoons lime juice, red onion, ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper, and yogurt in a large bowl. Add the ¼ cup cilantro and cabbage, folding to evenly coat.

3. To pan-sear the fish: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook, without moving, until browned, about 3 minutes. Flip the fish and continue to cook until evenly flaky, an additional 2-3 minutes. To grill the fish: Heat a grill to medium-high. Oil the grill grate; grill the fish for about 8 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.

4. Using two spoons, shred the fish into bite-size pieces. Pour the remaining lime juice over the fish; toss to combine.  Build the tacos by layering fish, slaw, and desired toppings on tortillas.

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lentil tacos

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While I loved these tacos, the real news here is that I’ve figured out how to soften corn tortillas without requiring a lot of fat or a lot of effort. I’m not saying they’re as good as fried tortillas, but in a healthy pinch, they’ll more than do. They still have the corny flavor I love and hold a generous scoop of gloppy filling, so I’m very pleased.

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I’ve started replacing flour tortillas with corn tortillas, at least for healthy weekday meals, saving the refined flour and partially hydrogenated fat-containing flour tortillas for weekend splurges. (And no, I do not want to make my own tortillas. Even I have limits, especially when the tortillas I can buy in New Mexico taste so good, partially hydrogenated fat notwithstanding.) Not only are they healthier, but they taste better. But I struggled for years with corn tortillas’ tendency to crack when folded, unless they were (deliciously) saturated with oil.

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I’d tried heating them on the grill, but they cracked as soon as they started to cool. I tried wrapping them in foil and heating them in the oven, but that didn’t solve the problem. I tried wrapping them in a damp cloth in a warm oven, which was an improvement, as the tortillas on the top and bottom of the stack were moist enough to fold without cracking, but those in the middle still broke.

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The trick, I’ve found, is to lay a damp dishtowel on a baking sheet, spread the tortillas over it in a single layer, then top with a second damp cloth. Heat the whole configuration in a warm oven while you make your filling. Then take the tortillas out of the oven, remove the top cloth, dollop on your chili-spiced lentils and some traditional-for-good-reason toppings, and dinner is easy, healthy, and delicious.

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One year ago: Brown Rice
Two years ago: Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula
Three years ago: Anadama Bread
Four years ago: Marshmallows

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Lentil Tacos (adapted from epicurious via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
2½ cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
10 taco-sized corn tortillas
toppings: cheese, avocado, salsa, tomato, lettuce

1. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and spices; cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the lentils, salt, and broth; cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Uncover; simmer for 6-8 minutes, until mixture is thickened. Using a potato masher or wooden spoon, break up some of the lentils. Stir in the cilantro.

2. While the lentils cook, heat the oven to 275 degrees. Arrange a dampened dishtowel on a baking sheet. Spread the tortillas over the towel in a single layer (some overlap is expected), then top with a second dampened dishtowel. Heat in the oven for 10 minutes, until the tortillas are warm and soft.

3. Divide the filling and toppings evenly among the tortillas. Serve immediately.

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ultimate seven-layer dip

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Seven layer dip has become a holiday tradition in my family, and most of the work is usually assigned to a son-in-law. The rest of us have long-since fallen into a routine; my mom makes the turkey, my sister makes mashed potatoes, my brother makes stuffing, my dad is coerced into making the green bean casserole. For a long time, my mom asked my sister’s husband to make seven layer dip, but recently, that job has often gone to Dave.

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With a can of refried beans, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, and guacamole, it’s an irresistible treat best saved for holidays. When I saw Cook’s Illustrated’s version, I thought I might be able to lighten it up. This recipe uses canned black beans, pureed with seasonings, for the bean layer. The sour cream could easily be replaced with lower fat Greek yogurt. Chopped salsa-like vegetables added freshness.

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It creates a number of extra steps that result in this recipe being considerably more effort than Dave would be willing to exert – I think. Because it also resulted in a dip that Dave and I both raved about as we ate. Dave, vegetable lover that he is, loves the lighter, fresher taste. For me, the biggest difference was that every bite wasn’t full of guilt. That’s worth some extra effort.

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One year ago: Strawberry Daiquiri Ice Cream
Two years ago: Chicken Fajitas
Three years ago: Black Bean Squash Burritos
Four years ago: Lemon Cream Tart

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Ultimate Seven-Layer Dip (from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

Serves 8 to 10

CI note: This recipe is usually served in a clear dish so you can see the layers. For a crowd, double the recipe and serve in a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. If you don’t have time to make fresh guacamole as called for, simply mash 3 avocados with 3 tablespoons lime juice and ½ teaspoon salt.

This is exactly the original recipe. I made just a few small changes: Greek yogurt for the sour cream, cheddar for the pepper Jack, and I made a simple guacamole as described in Cook’s Illustrated’s note, above.

4 large tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
6 scallions, 2 minced and 4 with green parts sliced thin (white parts discarded)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus 2 teaspoons, from 2 limes
¼ teaspoon salt
1 can black beans (16-ounces), drained but not rinsed
2 cloves minced garlic
¾ teaspoon chili powder
1½ cups sour cream
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded pepper Jack cheese
3 cups chunky guacamole
Tortilla chips for serving

1. Combine the tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, minced scallions, and 2 tablespoons lime juice in a medium bowl. Stir in ⅛ teaspoon salt and let stand until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 30 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl and discard the liquid.

2. Pulse the black beans, garlic, remaining lime juice, chili powder, and remaining salt in the food processor until it resembles a chunky paste. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the food processor. Pulse the sour cream and 2½ cups (10 ounces) of the cheese until smooth. Transfer to a separate bowl.

3. Spread the bean mixture evenly over the bottom of an 8-inch square glass baking dish or 1-quart glass bowl. Spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the bean layer, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Spread the guacamole over the cheese and top with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with the sliced scallions and serve with tortilla chips. (The dip can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Let the dip stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.)

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black bean quinoa salad with tomatillo salsa

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A few weeks ago, I was skiing, and I was having fun, but I felt stale. I felt like I was doing the same things I always do when I ski, back and forth across the slope, not too fast, just nice and comfortable. After a morning of this, I was getting impatient with myself – why are you so timid, I asked myself? Go faster, mix it up, challenge yourself, get out of that comfort zone. So I did, and I fell, and I twisted my knees, had to sit in the lodge and read a book the next day while my friends skied, and I couldn’t run or progress in my weightlifting routine for three weeks (and counting*).

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My weeknight dinner routine has felt stale lately too. So many grain salads, so many beans. It seems like I always use quinoa the same way, in some sort of salad. And how many different ways can I possibly combine black beans, chiles, and avocadoes?

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On the other hand, maybe I’m in this rut because it works – it’s healthy, it’s fast, and it’s good. Sometimes it’s better to stick with what works. Quinoa salads work. Black beans and cilantro works. And avocado works on everything. This was one of the best meals I’ve made lately. Mixing it up is overrated.

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*Eventually, I decided that if resting wasn’t helping my knees heal, I might as well run. (Impeccable logic, right?) A couple runs in, my knees feel better than they have in weeks. Crossing my fingers to start weightlifting again this weekend!

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One year ago: Chocolate Frosting (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Dorie Greenspan’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three years ago: Devil’s Food White Out Cake
Four years ago: Cream Cheese Brownies

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Black Bean Quinoa Salad with Tomatillo Salsa (adapted slightly from Cate’s World Kitchen)

Serves 3-4

I substituted about 4 ounces of roasted peeled Hatch green chiles for one of the jalapenos.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
salt
4 tomatillos, papery skins removed
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 jalapenos, stemmed and seeded
¾ cup cilantro, divided
juice of 1 lime
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, diced

1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 1 cup water, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the quinoa to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the broiler. Broil the tomatillos and garlic until the tomatillos are browned, 5-8 minutes. Peel the garlic; transfer it to a blender with the tomatillos, ½ teaspoon salt, jalapenos, and ½ cup cilantro. Puree.

3. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir in the lime juice. Once the quinoa cools to slightly warmer than room temperature, add the beans, tomatoes, avocado, remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and salsa. Serve.

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grapefruit margaritas

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If 2010 was the year of the vodka gimlet, 2011 was dedicated to margaritas. It started with these, and then when grapefruits went out of season, we tried strawberry margaritas, pineapple margaritas, classic lime margaritas, and, most recently, cranberry margaritas. I love them all, but nothing holds a candle to the grapefruit version.

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It’s perfectly balanced – not too sweet, not too sour, not too strong. The light grapefruit mellows any harshness from the lime and alcohol, and the result is perfectly refreshing. As an added bonus, one grapefruit yields enough juice for four drinks – which is just the right amount to split between two people.

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One year ago: Feta and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Two years ago: Apple Muffins
Three years ago: Twice Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Four years ago: Maple Walnut Cupcakes

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Grapefruit Margaritas (adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Technically 4 servings, but you’ll be sad if you only get one

Of the many grapefruits I have juiced for margaritas, one grapefruit has always resulted in 4 shots of juice. Two limes will usually give two shots of juice, but not always, so it’s best to buy a third just in case.

As with all things, alcohol quality matters. I’ve used Cointreau, Gran Marnier, Gran Gala, Controy (which can only be purchased in Mexico), and Patron Citronge in these, all with good results. I’ve never used a bargain triple sec. For tequila, I tend to buy whatever is on sale in the $20-25 range.

2 shots lime juice
4 shots grapefruit juice
3 shots orange liqueur
3 shots tequila

In a pitcher or 4-cup measuring cup, mix all of the ingredients. Pour over crushed ice in individual glasses; serve immediately.

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dulce de leche cupcakes

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This was not my first attempt at dulce de leche cupcakes. My first attempt resulted in cupcakes that rose out of their wells, spread over the top of the pan, and baked into one solid mass. And they tasted like pancakes.

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They weren’t even really dulce de leche cupcakes. They were brown sugar cupcakes with cream cheese dulce de leche frosting. I’m sure that combination is wonderful, but it wasn’t what I wanted, which was cake that was flavored with dulce de leche. Also cake that didn’t explode in the oven.

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This is the cake that I wanted. It’s based on a yellow cake recipe (similar to Martha Stewart’s, which did well in this comparison), with dulce de leche replacing a portion of the milk. I had my doubts that the caramel flavor would be evident after baking, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

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And then there’s the buttercream, which might be the best thing I’ve eaten in weeks. It’s so smooth and creamy, and so dulce de leche-y. With a drizzle of pure dulce de leche on top, these cupcakes were perfect, and a very far cry from my first attempt.

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One year ago: Beer-Marinated Flank Steak
Two years ago: Zucchini Bread
Three years ago: Crawfish (or Shrimp), Roasted Tomato, and Farmer’s Cheese Pizza

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Dulce de Leche Cupcakes (adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

I made these twice; the first time, they seemed dry, so I replaced a portion of the butter with canola oil and increased the buttermilk.

1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ cups (6 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1⅓ cup (9.33 ounces) granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup dulce de leche
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk, room temperature
Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue buttercream, recipe below

1. Adjust an oven rack to the idle position; heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin wells with paper cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and baking soda.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer running, gradually add the dulce de leche; beat another minute, until thoroughly incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix in the oil and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition just until incorporated.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Remove the cupcakes from the pan after 5 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue Buttercream

4 egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup dulce de leche
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. 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.

2. 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 dulce de leche and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

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creamy taco mac

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I rarely miss eating meat on weekdays. I was never big on “meat and three” types of meals, so vegetarian food suits me just fine. Besides, it’s usually easy to replace meat with a substitute, and by substitute, I don’t mean fake meat (“smeat”, as my friend calls it). I mean beans, especially black beans.

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Making this recipe vegetarian was no problem, but I was also determined to make it all in the same pot. I’ve made Cooks Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna many times, in which the pasta is cooked right in the simmering sauce, so I adapted the same cooking method for taco mac. The different ratios of pasta to tomatoes complicated finding the right ratio of liquid to pasta, but after a few tries, I landed on the right amount.

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What really gave me fits was how to make the sauce creamy in a healthy way – and if this was going to be a weeknight dish, it needed to be healthy. First, I tried Cara’s method of stirring in pureed cottage cheese. This worked fine, but I knew I was too lazy to puree cottage cheese for such a simple meal. Both unpureed cottage cheese and ricotta cheese looked curdled and barf-like. In the end, the answer, like it so often is, was Greek yogurt. It perfectly mimics the sour cream called for in the original recipe but with dramatically less fat and more protein.

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Finally then, this fills all my qualifications as a great weeknight dish. It’s vegetarian, it’s healthy, it’s nutritionally balanced – all that and the only dishes you need to dirty are a cutting board, knife, and the cooking pot. With meals as good as this, it’s no wonder I don’t crave meat on weekdays.

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One year ago: Pasta with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Sauce
Three years ago: Pigs in a Blanket

Update: I changed the recipe to use ½ more water. Two cups might be enough, but it cuts it close. If your sauce is too liquidy at the end, it’s simple to simmer it down for a few minutes.

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Creamy Taco Mac
(adapted from Delish via Annie’s Eats and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna recipe)

6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 red pepper, chopped small
Table salt
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon ground chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
16 ounces dry pasta
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2½ cups water
1 (30-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (7-ounce) container Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 avocado, diced (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the pasta, diced tomatoes with juices, water, and beans. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, stir about half of the simmering pasta mixture into the yogurt. Stir this tempered yogurt into the pasta. Cover and simmer over low heat until heated, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and avocado, if using. Serve.