salad with pancetta, peperoncini, and parmesan

peperoncini pancetta salad 3

My favorite way to spend a Saturday night is cooking. It’s the only night of the week I feel like dinner can be a project; I’m busy being busy on weeknights, and I’m busy being lazy Friday and Sunday. So when I finally get the chance to cook a lot of food, I have a habit of cooking too much food.

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One strategy I use to eat as much as possible without stuffing myself silly is to eat in courses, with time between each to allow for some digestion. Another is to serve food that’s fairly light, so I don’t get filled up by just a few bites.

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This salad has become my go-to light salad course. It doesn’t hurt that it’s easy, plus the combination of ingredients is just perfect – briny peppers, salty meat, and parmesan to make it seem hearty and filling when it really isn’t. I’ve served it to pretty much everyone who’s come over for dinner in the last few months. I’ve also served at least four other courses each time, because there’s no better way for me to spend a Saturday night.

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Salad with Pancetta, Peperoncini, and Parmesan

Serves 4 to 6

Before adding garlic to dressings, I always toast it, with the peel on, in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the peel is black where it hits the pan.  It tames the harsh bite of raw garlic.

Dressing:
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salad:
2 romaine hearts, washed and chopped
8 peperocini, stems removed, chopped fine
6 ounces pancetta, cooked and crumbled
½ cup (1 ounce) shredded parmesan

1. For the dressing: Mix everything.

2. For the salad: Mix everything; toss with dressing.

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mediterranean chopped salad

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

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

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

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

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Mediterranean Chopped Salad (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 4 as a main dish

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

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

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

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

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

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pepper-crusted salmon with wasabi dipping sauce

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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kale salad with garlic vinaigrette

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

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

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

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

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

4 servings

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

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

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

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

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mediterranean salmon salad

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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summer chopped salad with feta

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

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

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

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

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Summer Chopped Salad with Feta (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 8 as a side dish

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

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

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

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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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poached salmon pasta salad

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It’s a recipe that doesn’t require butter and flour! These have been few and far between around this joint lately (and an unscheduled break didn’t help matters), or at least it would seem that way if your only window into my kitchen was through this blog. We’ve actually been eating dinners that are just as healthy as always (in other words, very healthy on the weekdays, decidedly less so on weekends), but while I was going through my excessive baking phase for a few weeks, I stuck to meals that were familiar and easy, so cooking dinner would minimize the time I had to spend apart from butter and sugar.

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Now that I’ve settled down and slowly stepped away from the mixer, I’m more willing to try new recipes after work. This one was a nice way to get out of the salmon rut I’ve been in. I know I can’t go wrong with pasta and a yogurt-based sauce. This one also has several other ingredients I love, like capers, mustard, and red onion. Since there was no cooking fat in the recipe, I indulged a bit and stirred in some mayonnaise to the sauce in addition to the Greek yogurt.

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I keep trying to serve things in romaine leaves, and it keeps turning out to be a mess. But there are worse things than tangy bites of salmon and pasta falling out of their lettuce cups. There’s no butter or sugar and I didn’t get to use the mixer, but it’ll do.

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One year ago: Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers
Two years ago: Soft Chocolate and Berry Tart
Three years ago: Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones
Four years ago: Sushi Rolls

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Poached Salmon Pasta Salad (adapted from An Edible Mosaic via Prevention RD and from Cooks Illustrated’s Poached Salmon recipe)

Serves 6

2 lemons, 1 sliced ¼-inch thick, 1 juiced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, stems reserved
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup water
4 (8-ounce) salmon fillets, about 1½ inches at the thickest part
Salt
12 ounces dry pasta
½ red onion, minced
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons mustard
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer across the bottom of a 12-inch skillet. Scatter the parsley stems and minced shallots evenly over the lemon slices; add the water and wine. Place the salmon fillets in the skillet, skin side down on top of the lemon slices; set the pan over high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the sides of the salmon are opaque but the center of the thickest part is still translucent, 11 to 16 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully transfer the salmon to a cutting board. When cooled, remove the skin and cut the salmon into bite-sized chunks.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to rolling boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta; cook according to the package instructions. Drain.

3. Combine 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, the mustard, parsley leaves, capers, yogurt, and mayonnaise in a large bowl. Fold in the pasta and salmon. Serve immediately or chill for several hours.

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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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lentil salad with squash and goat cheese

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The Great Cookie Craze that is December perplexes me. I understand that with various holiday-related celebrations, there are more opportunities for feasts and drinks than at other times of the year, but the cookie mania goes beyond parties. People send dozens of treats out to families and friends, most of whom are making their own dozens of cookies. The number of cookies in the world exponentially increases for a month.

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The tide turns in January, which, without any significant celebration of its own, becomes the Undo the Holidays month. Poor January, but really, it isn’t such a bad thing. After all, healthy food tastes good too, particularly healthy food that includes goat cheese.

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Tart goat cheese mixed with sweet winter squash is becoming one of my favorite flavor combinations, and kale, with its bitter notes, and lentils, with its meatiness, make it even better. Or, if kale isn’t your thing, arugula adds some freshness to the plate. Nothing about this salad feels like punishment for the past month’s excesses.  But have a cookie afterward anyway; December shouldn’t get to have all the fun.

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One year ago: Nutty Chocolately Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost Candy Bars
Three years ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Four years ago: Pissaladiere

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Lentil Salad with Squash and Goat Cheese (adapted from Bon Appétit via Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 4

The original recipe calls for arugula, which I used the first time I made this. (Actually, the pictures seem to indicate I used mixed greens.) The second time, I used kale, which I like even more. I wrote the directions for kale into the recipe; if you use arugula instead, simply add it to the salad at the end. You can also use a smaller pot to cook the lentils if you’re not adding the kale.

¾ cup green lentils
salt
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes, seeds reserved
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste

1. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the spices, and ½ teaspoon salt; toss to coat. Roast the squash for 25 minutes, turning once. In a small bowl, mix the cleaned squash seeds with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Add the seeds to the baking sheet with the squash and continue to roast until the squash is tender and the seeds are browned.

2. Combine the lentils, ½ teaspoon salt, and 3 cups of water in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, 18-20 minutes. Add the kale to the pot during the last 2-3 minutes of simmering. (The kale will overwhelm the size of the pot at first but will quickly wilt.)

3. Combine the lentils, squash, kale, goat cheese, and vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, and extra vinegar, if desired. Serve.

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