meatier meatloaf

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The first time I made meatloaf, Dave swore up and down that he didn’t like meatloaf – and then, of course, he was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. The second time I made it (years later), he was still pretty sure he didn’t like meatloaf, but then, of course, enjoyed it. This time when I asked him beforehand whether he liked meatloaf, he said he wasn’t sure. We’re making progress.

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I understand that the idea of meatloaf can be unappetizing. “Meat” and “loaf” are words that shouldn’t necessarily be used together unless you’re getting out a loaf of bread to make sandwiches. But, really, meatloaf is little more than seasoned ground meat, with some sort of starch added to help the mixture hold on to moisture while it cooks.

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Generally, adding bread (or oatmeal, etc.) to meat, while improving the texture, will dilute the flavor. In this case, meaty flavor is added back in with nearly every trick in the book – mushrooms, soy sauce, tomato paste.  The result is a sliceable loaf of meat that tastes plenty beefy without being tough.  Hopefully the third time is a charm, and Dave will remember how good this was next time I make meatloaf.

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One year ago: Lentil Marinara
Two years ago: Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pine Nuts
Three years ago: Brioche Raisin Snails
Four years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Meatier Meatloaf (from Cooks Illustrated)

I only made a half recipe.

There’s no salt in this recipe, and I think it would be better with about ½ teaspoon (for a whole recipe).

Meatloaf:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped fine
6 ounces white mushrooms sliced and trimmed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons plus ½ cup chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
½ slice hearty white bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon peppers
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound ground pork
1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef

Glaze:
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon ground coriander

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Fold heavy-duty aluminum foil to form 9 by 5 inch rectangle. Center foil on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Poke holes in foil with skewer (about ½ inch apart). Spray foil with vegetable oil spray.

2. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until browned, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low; add 3 tablespoons broth and garlic; cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large bowl to cool.

3. Whisk eggs, remaining ½ cup broth, and soy sauce together in bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over egg mixture and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.

4. Pulse bread in food processor until finely ground, 5 to 10 pulses. Add gelatin mixture, cooled mushroom mixture, parsley, mustard, pepper, and thyme to bread crumbs and pulse until mushrooms are finely ground, about 10 pulses, scraping down bowl as needed. Transfer bread-crumb mixture to large bowl. Add pork and beef and mix with hands to thoroughly combine.

5. Transfer meat mixture to foil rectangle and shape into 9 by 5-inch loaf using wet hands. Bake meatloaf until it registers 155 to 160 degrees, 75 to 90 minutes. Remove from oven and turn on broiler.

6. While meatloaf cooks, bring all the ingredients for the glaze to simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

7. Spread half of glaze evenly over cooked meatloaf; place under broiler and cook until glaze bubbles and begins to brown at edges, about 2 minutes. Remove meatloaf from oven and spread evenly with remaining glaze; return to broiler and cook until glaze is again bubbling and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes longer. Let meatloaf cool for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

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pizza with ricotta, caramelized onions, and prosciutto

ricotta prosciutto pizza 5

My pizza making goes in phases. I’ll go through long stretches where, every other Friday, I’m arranging turkey pepperoni over green chile-spiked tomato sauce. If I want to get fancy, I’ll add sliced mushrooms.

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And then that will turn around, and each pizza for months will be different from last. Rarely do these varied pizzas have tomato sauce and mozzarella; it seems that if I’m choosing anything resembling a traditional pizza, it’s going to be topped with that pepperoni and green chile. In fact, of the last few pizzas I’ve made, this is the only one that even uses predominately Italian ingredients.

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But those ingredients make it a safe bet, because you can never go wrong with creamy fresh ricotta, salty prosciutto, and sweet onions. The original recipe made the onions into a marmalade with sugar and balsamic vinegar, but I think caramelized onions are plenty sweet on their own. I chose to add the prosciutto after removing the pizza from the oven, instead of before baking, because I find the baked prosciutto turns into little more than crisp bits of salt. Letting the heat of the pizza soften the bite-sized pieces of ham leaves their meaty flavor. Altogether, it makes for a worthy departure from pepperoni and green chile.

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One year ago: Turkey Ricotta Meatloaf
Two years ago: Red Kidney Bean Curry
Three years ago: Brown Rice with Black Beans
Four years ago: Mulled Cider

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Pizza with Ricotta, Caramelized Onions, and Prosciutto (adapted from The New York Times via Smitten Kitchen)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
salt
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
2 ounces prosciutto, cut or torn into approximately 1-inch pieces
1 cup ricotta cheese (made from 4 cups milk, if homemade)
1 pound pizza dough, fully risen and at room temperature (⅓ of this recipe)

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering; stir in the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions just begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the crushed red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 15 minutes longer.

3. Meanwhile, shape the dough into a ball. Set it aside for 10 to 30 minutes, loosely covered, to allow the gluten to relax.

4. Working on a lightly floured surface or a damp cloth, flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots. Transfer the round of dough to a large square of parchment paper; slide the parchment with the dough onto a pizza peel.

5. Spread the ricotta evenly over the dough, then evenly disperse the onions over the ricotta. Slide the pizza with the parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is browned around the edges. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack without the parchment. Top with the prosciutto. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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barbecue cowboy beans

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I feel like I should wait and do a comparison post with this recipe, because I have a friend who makes some seriously good cowboy beans. Hers are full of meat with a dominant sweet flavor. They’re always one of my favorite dishes on the potluck table.

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For my own version though, I wanted something lighter to serve as a side dish to barbecued ribs. When you’re spending hours cooking big slabs of meat, you don’t really need ground beef in your side dish. A few slices of bacon provide plenty of meaty depth, combined with sweet-bitter molasses and a slew of acidic ingredients like ketchup and beer.

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To be honest, I’m not sure what makes a pot of beans “cowboy” instead of just “baked.” A lot of recipes contain ground meat, but not all of them. This is the only one with spicy chiles. But honestly, I don’t much care. What matters most is that these are perfect along barbecued meat, and if I want a chile-less, meatier version, I can have that too.

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One year ago: Grilled Pita Breads
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Bagels
Three years ago: Amaretto Cheesecake
Four years ago: Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

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Barbecue Cowboy Beans (adapted from Something Edible)

Serves 6

If you don’t want to buy two kinds of beans, feel free to choose one or the other.

I didn’t use the liquid smoke because I didn’t have any, so I can’t attest to how it affects the beans. I doubt adding smoky flavor would be a bad thing though.

6 ounces (about 1 cup) dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
2 ounces (about ⅓ cup) dry kidney beans
salt
6 slices (about 6 ounces) bacon, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice ground
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup beer
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chiles
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the beans and 1 teaspoon salt in a 5-quart Dutch oven; add enough water to cover the beans by 1½ inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 75 minutes, until the beans are tender. Drain the beans. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

2. Add the bacon to the now-empty Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until fat begins to render, 3-4 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice, coriander, black pepper, and mustard; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beer and scrape the bottom of the pot to release the browned bits. Add the tomatoes and chiles with their juice, the ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, liquid smoke (if using), and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

3. Cover and transfer the beans to the oven. Bake for 4 hours. Serve.

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mushroom prosciutto lasagna

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So much lies in a name. If you offer me mushroom lasagna, I’ll gladly take a square of earthy dairy-rich pasta. But if you instead are giving away mushroom prosciutto lasagna, I’ll snatch it out of your hand. Roasted portobello prosciutto lasagna? Even better, and I don’t even love portobellos – but something about that more precise label makes it sound even more appetizing.

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That’s how I ended up making a lasagna recipe that isn’t, once you get down to it, all that original. It’s sautéed mushrooms with béchamel, swiss cheese, and pasta, which certainly sounds delicious but, except for possibly the Gruyère, is a fairly standard lasagna filling. The prosciutto, however, is a key factor, because I love that salty, meaty, spiced ham.

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Of course, it was good. How could it not be, with such a track record? It’s not just a name either – roasting the mushrooms (I used cremini instead of portobellos) concentrates their flavor, and the prosciutto adds a great dimension to a lasagna that could have easily ended up bland or overly earthy without it. This lasagna certainly lived up to its enticing title.

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One year ago: Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins
Two years ago: Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs
Three years ago: Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas, and Leeks
Four years ago: Summer Rolls

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Roasted Cremini and Prosciutto Lasagna (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

Serves 6

While I sautéed the prosciutto with some shallots, I think you could save a dish and roast them with the mushrooms instead.

To boil and rinse the pasta, follow the instructions in step 4 of this recipe.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
Salt
Ground black pepper
6 ounces prosciutto, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 large shallots, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces (about 2 cups) Gruyère cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounces) grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the oil, mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Roast, stirring twice, until browned, 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven; set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

2. In a small skillet over medium heat, sauté the prosciutto, stirring occasionally, until fat begins to render, 4-5 minutes. Add two of the shallots and the herbs; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the remaining shallots, the garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots are softened and translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk. Add the bay leaf, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the nutmeg and ½ teaspoon salt, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup parmesan.

4. Spread ½ cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread 1 cup of the sauce over the noodles. Top with half of the mushrooms, then half of the prosciutto mixture and half of the Gruyère cheese. Cover with another layer of noodles, then repeat the layering of 1 cup sauce, the remaining mushrooms, and the remaining Gruyère. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining sauce and the remaining ¼ cup parmesan.

5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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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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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.

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shrimp and crab avocado salad

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It never fails that I plan lettuce-based salads for dinner on nights when I want something light and quick, forgetting, every time, that the time-consuming part of cooking isn’t waiting for onions to sauté or sauces to simmer, it’s preparing your ingredients. And the process of making salad is almost entirely chopping. And if you’re like me and you like your main dish salads with a lot of components, the time it takes to prepare each one can really add up.

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This salad required slicing shrimp in half lengthwise (I’m not sure why I bothered with this and I don’t recommend that you do), dicing avocado, picking crab out of its shell, and mixing up the dressing. And then cooking bacon at the last minute because I forgot about it earlier (I don’t recommend you do this either). It doesn’t sound like much when I say it that way, but it sure felt like a lot after an early morning run, a full workday, and a big grocery shopping trip.

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You must already know that it was worth the effort or I wouldn’t tell you about it. Truly, I loved this salad and will certainly make it again – but only when I have plenty of time, or at least energy, to spare.

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One year ago: Creamy Taco Mac
Two years ago: Pasta with Goat Cheese and Asparagus
Three years ago: Honey Peach Ice Cream
Four years ago: Croque Madame

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Shrimp and Crab Avocado Salad (adapted from Maggiano’s)

Serves 2

Dressing:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
½ teaspoon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salad:
2 slices bacon
½ pound cooked, peeled shrimp
1 cooked king crab leg, shelled
1 avocado, peeled and diced
4 cups lettuce (about 8 ounces), torn into bite-size pieces

1. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, whisking continuously. Taste the dressing by dipping a bite-size piece of lettuce into it, then add more oil to taste, if desired.

2. In a small skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove from the pan and break into small pieces.

3. Combine the shrimp, crab, and avocado in a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the dressing; toss to coat. Transfer the lettuce to a separate large bowl (or in individual serving bowls); mix with the remaining dressing. Top the lettuce with the shrimp mixture and distribute the bacon over the salad. Serve immediately.

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pizza with prosciutto, goat cheese, and roasted tomatoes

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I wrote out a formula for pizza. And I realize that for some people, that takes the fun out of developing recipes, but I’m a scientist, so what do you expect from me? And here’s what I decided:

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Many of my favorite foods have a balance of the five basic flavors – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami, and then I’m going to add heat or spice to this as well. A traditional pizza incorporates most of these; tomato sauce is acidic and rich in umani, the crust is often just a bit sweet, the cheese is salty, and a sprinkling of red chile flakes adds heat. Beyond the flavors, I like pizza best when there’s some sort of sauce (like tomato sauce, obviously), a glue (this would be the mozzarella in a traditional pizza), and toppings.

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For this pizza, I started with goat cheese, because I hadn’t had it in a while and I love it. Goat cheese is tart, or sour, so that takes care of that flavor, but unlike many other cheeses, it doesn’t make a very good glue, so it would be incorporated as either the sauce or a topping. I wanted something sweet, and caramelized onions would be great, but slow-roasted tomatoes could work as well. Tomatoes have umami, but I thought meaty prosciutto would also go particularly well with the goat cheese. And I liked prosciutto better with tomatoes than onions. Prosciutto is salty, as was the dusting of parmesan I couldn’t resist sprinkling on top.

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That gave me a bunch of toppings, and I could make the goat cheese into a sauce, but I still needed glue. I decided to stick to good ol’ mozzarella. You can never go wrong with putting mozzarella on pizza. And I still felt like the pizza might be missing something, especially something with light, fresh flavors, so I mixed pesto into the goat cheese, which also made it into a more spreadable sauce-like consistency. Red pepper flakes, common on pizza, added spicy heat.

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And then after all my pizza math, I realized that I had hardly varied from traditional pizza, with tomatoes, mozzarella, and cured meat. All I did was change the order of layering – that, and develop an infallible formula for an infinite number of future pizza recipes. I’ll call that a success on all counts.

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One year ago: Protein Waffles
Two years ago: Cherry Tomato Salad
Three years ago: Coconut Butter Thins
Four years ago: Perfect Party Cake

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Pizza with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, and Roasted Tomatoes

Makes one 12-inch pizza, serving about 3 people

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
salt
cooking spray
1 pound pizza dough (⅓ of this recipe)
2 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons pesto
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup (½ ounce) freshly grated parmesan
2 ounces prosciutto, sliced

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Adjust another rack to the middle oven position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Arrange the tomatoes, cut-side up, on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt and spray with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes, until shriveled.  Remove the tomatoes from the oven, set aside, and increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees.

2. Shape the dough into a ball. Set it aside for 10 to 30 minutes, loosely covered, to allow the gluten to relax. In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese, pesto, and red pepper flakes.

3. Working on a lightly floured surface or a damp cloth, flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots. Transfer the round of dough to a large square of parchment paper; slide onto a pizza peel.

4. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the dough, then evenly disperse the mozzarella, tomatoes, and parmesan over the goat cheese. Slide the pizza with the parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is browned around the edges. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack without the parchment. Top with the prosciutto. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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parmesan bacon shortbread

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There’s a fine art to choosing a dish to bring to a potluck. If people are milling around, there’s a definite advantage to a handheld, plate-optional snack. On the other hand, if it’s mostly sit-down, dips and spreads don’t work well because people have to guess at the right ratio of dip to dipper to scoop onto their plate, not to mention the issue of whether to put the dip next to the dippers, taking up valuable plate space, or on top, risking getting dip on your fingers while you try to eat the dippers.

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Last year, I brought goat cheese, sundried tomato, pesto terrine with a thinly sliced baguette to the company potluck. It did not go over well. For one thing, it’s a dip and the potluck turned out to be a sit-down kind of deal. For another, a few of my coworkers were unfamiliar with and unwilling to try goat cheese. (Their loss!)

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This year I went to the other end of the spectrum and chose easily grabbable finger food. I included bacon to guarantee there would be no complaints about scary new ingredients. It seems to have worked; these got a lot more love than last year’s goat cheese spread. And no wonder, with so many salty rich ingredients encased in a tender cookie. I can’t think of many situations in which these little treats wouldn’t work perfectly.

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One year ago: Roasted Tomato Soup
Two years ago: Orange Berry Muffins
Three years ago: Thumbprints for Us Big Guys
Four years ago: Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Pound Cake

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Bacon Parmesan Shortbread (adapted from The New York Times via Use Real Butter)

Makes about 18 cookies (more if you cut them thinner)

I used pancetta instead of bacon, which complimented the parmesan nicely.

The original recipe titles these crackers and shows a picture of thin and flaky squares. These must have been rolled paper thin before baking. However, the recipe instructs the dough to be rolled out (or cut, the way I did it) ½-inch thick. I compromised and went with ¼-inch thick, which gave a texture more like shortbread than crackers. I’m sure they’re good both ways, but if you do roll them thinner, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup cream or half-and-half, more as needed
4 ounces (about 4 slices) bacon, cooked and crumbled

1. Put the flour, salt, cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about ¼ cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit; continue to add liquid a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds together but is not sticky. Add the bacon and pulse a few times to incorporate.

2. Transfer the dough to a large square of parchment or wax paper. Shape the dough into a long rectangle with a 1-inch square cross-section. Wrap tightly in the paper and freeze for at least 3 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

4. Slice the dough ¼-inch thick, arranging the cookies ½-inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days.

bacon parmesan crackers 3

sausage and spinach stuffed shells

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When I was a kid and cooked dinner for my family once or twice a week, stuffed shells from a freezer bag topped with jarred spaghetti sauce was one of my staples. It took 5 minutes to arrange the shells in a baking dish and dump the sauce over them, and another five minutes to make a salad from iceberg lettuce and mealy out-of-season tomatoes. My mom hated when I made this meal, but not as much as she hated the prospect of cooking dinner for a family of five every day after work. Who can blame her – for wanting a break and for not enjoying my pre-teen culinary prowess?

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These shells took longer to prepare than my standby meal as a kid, but at least by adding spinach to the filling and making my own (less-processed) tomato sauce, I figured I could skip the bland side salad. But I wasn’t just trying to add fiber to my meal, I wanted more flavor than the shells of my youth, which were stuffed with nothing but plain ricotta cheese.

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First, Italian sausage contributes more than just savory meatiness, but a range of spices. Spinach would provide earthiness (plus I had a bunch to use up). The ricotta would be richer and smoother – and, okay, fine, you can use regular store-bought ricotta too, if you haven’t become spoiled by the homemade stuff like others of us. The tomato sauce on top would be fresher and sweetened just slightly with nothing but lightly caramelized onions.

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This is a far cry from those pasta shells I made as a kid. For old time’s sake, though, I still ate them the same way I did back then, trimming off one corner of each shell for the first bite, then the next corner, then dividing the remaining square of pasta and filling into four equal bites. The biggest difference is that this filling is packed full of flavor – plus it took me almost an hour to make dinner instead of ten minutes.

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One year ago: Bourbon Bread Pudding for Tuesdays with Dorie
Two years ago: Toasted Vegetable Subs
Three years ago: Floating Islands for Tuesdays with Dorie
Four years ago: Comparison of 4 Vanilla Frosting recipes

Printer Friendly Recipe
Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Serves 6

You probably won’t use the whole box of shells, but a lot of them might be broken or could rip after being boiled, so it’s nice to have some extra.

Feel free to use whatever your favorite tomato sauce is. I’ve provided the recipe I used  below, which is a simple sauce I like for serving over rich pastas with a lot of their own flavors, like these shells.

1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells
salt
16 ounces Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 ounces spinach leaves, washed, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta (or 2 cups homemade ricotta)
8 ounces (2 cups) provolone, shredded
1 ounce (½ cup) parmesan, grated
2 eggs
Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe below, or 4 cups of your own sauce)

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot with at least 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta shells; cook according to the package instructions. When the pasta is tender, use a large slotted spoon to transfer the shells to a dish towel.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the sausage, breaking up large pieces, until it is no longer pink and has rendered some fat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is browned and the onion is softened. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the spinach leaves, letting the residual heat wilt the leaves. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl; stir in the ricotta, provolone, parmesan, and eggs.

4. Lightly coat the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with tomato sauce. Fill each shell with 3 to 4 tablespoons of filling. Transfer the filled shells to the baking dish. After all of the shells are filled, evenly distribute the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

5. Bake for 20 minutes; remove the foil and bake for about 10 minutes longer, until bubbling around the edges. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

Chop the tomatoes right in the can using kitchen shears. You can use diced tomatoes instead, but they won’t break down as the sauce simmers.

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ small onion or 1 large shallot, diced fine
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red or white wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, undrained, chopped
1 tablespoon minced basil and/or parsley

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and 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. Add the wine, scraping up any browned residue on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the basil or parsley.

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