cranberry sauce with port and dried figs

port cranberries 3

Have you ever looked at the ingredients of canned jellied cranberries? They’re exactly the same as homemade cranberry sauce: cranberries, sugar, water. The first time I made homemade cranberry sauce, I eagerly took my first bite and then…huh. It tastes exactly like the canned kind. Don’t bother making cranberry sauce from scratch if it’s because you’re expecting it to taste better than it is from the can.

port cranberries 4

But there are other reasons to make it from scratch. The first is that it’s fun. Raw cranberries are neat, pucker-inducing and hard and dry. Then when you cook them, they pop. It only takes 15 minutes and can be done up to a week in advance, so why not spend a few minutes playing with your food?

The other reason is that you can play around with flavors, personalizing the sauce. Orange is the most common addition and after doing that for several years, I was ready for more experimentation. Sweet port wine and balsamic vinegar seemed like they would complement the tart cranberries perfectly.

port cranberries 1

Even with all of the extra flavors in this – port, balsamic vinegar, figs, rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon – it didn’t taste so different from the stuff in the can. It had a warmer tone to it, and I liked the crunch of the fig seeds. But everyone would have been just fine with the canned stuff too. And that’s okay, because the few minutes I spent making this cranberry sauce were well spent just for the fun of it.

port cranberries 2

Two years ago: African Pineapple Peanut Stew
Three years ago: Pumpkin Goat Cheese Ravioli

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Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

At first, I served this as you see it here, but for the leftovers, I put the sauce through a food mill to separate the skins, and I much prefer the smoother version.

1½ cups ruby Port
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed brown sugar
8 dried black Mission figs, stemmed, chopped
1 6-inch-long sprig fresh rosemary
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar

Combine the port, vinegar, brown sugar, figs, rosemary, cinnamon, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Discard the rosemary and cinnamon. Mix in the cranberries and granulated sugar. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is slightly reduced and the berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a bowl; chill until cold. (Cranberry sauce can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

roasted root vegetable stuffing

root vegetable stuffing 6

When I was creating my Thanksgiving menu last year, it occurred to me that most of the traditional Thanksgiving courses are based on carbs – stuffing, potatoes, rolls. The only traditional non-carb sides are the green bean casserole that nobody likes and the sugar-laden cranberries. I have nothing against carbs, and I know all about splurging for a holiday, but I actually like vegetables. Plus, if you include lower calorie food in the menu, you can eat more before filling up!

root vegetable stuffing 1

I would go so far as to almost call this healthy, although it depends on the cornbread you use. It’s mostly vegetables – vegetables whose natural sugars are intensified through roasting. The sweet earthy root vegetables meld perfectly with similarly flavored cornbread.

root vegetable stuffing 2

Beyond the parsnips and rutabaga, it’s a typical dressing recipe with eggs and broth binding the ingredients together before the mixture is baked until it’s crisp on top (but maybe not dry and burned like mine). The result is a dressing that’s almost too good to be topped with white wine gravy.

root vegetable stuffing 4

Two years ago: Glazed Lemon Cookies
Three years ago: Wheatmeal Shortbread Cookies

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Cornbread Dressing with Roasted Root Vegetables (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Serves 6

6 ounces shallots, peeled, halved if small, quartered if large
8 ounces carrots, sliced ¼-inch thick on the diagonal
8 ounces parsnips, sliced ¼-inch thick on diagonal
8 ounces rutabaga, cut into ½-inch cubes
salt and pepper
olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
2 cups ½-inch cubes of cornbread
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup low-salt chicken broth (or Golden Turkey Stock)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the shallots, carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper and drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat. Roast for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and browned around the edges. Add the garlic during last 15 minutes. Set the roasted garlic aside; transfer the other vegetables to a large bowl.

2. Spread the cornbread cubes over the now-empty baking sheet. Bake until dry, 10-15 minutes, stirring about halfway through the cooking time.

3. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray. Mince the garlic; add it to the vegetables along with the herbs and cornbread cubes. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the broth and butter; pour the egg mixture over the vegetable mixture and gently fold to combine.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Cover the pan with foil; bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned and crisp, about 15 minutes longer.

root vegetable stuffing 5

carrot avocado salad

carrot avocado salad 3

The problem with just about every recipe that contains avocado is that there isn’t enough avocado. The only exception I can think of is guacamole, because it’s almost entirely avocado. My favorite way to eat avocado is on toast with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

carrot avocado salad 2

My usual way of eating it, however, is as an accent in which there’s just enough avocado so that most bites have a tiny portion. And all the bites without avocado are just sad.  And all the bites that do have avocado need more of it.

carrot avocado salad 1

And that is what I love about this salad – avocado is the main event, or at least it shares equal billing with the sweet caramelized carrots. It might sound like an unusual combination, but it works. The radishes add a nice touch as well, crisp and spicy. I’m pretty sure the only way I could like this salad more would be if I left out the carrots, pepper, cumin, olive oil, and radishes. And maybe added in some toast.

carrot avocado salad 4

One year ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Two years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Three years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

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Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I prefer to use a regular olive oil to roast the carrots and extra virgin olive oil in the dressing.

1 pound carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into two-inch segments
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 radishes, chopped small
1 avocado, pitted and sliced

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss the carrots with ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, cumin, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and browned.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon olive oil. In a medium serving bowl, combine the carrots, avocado and radishes. Drizzle the vegetables with the dressing, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

carrot avocado salad 5

basic coleslaw

Once upon a time, I thought I didn’t like coleslaw. A Cooks Illustrated recipe turned me around, but over time, I found aspects of it that I didn’t love. One is that is really does take about 4 hours of salting the cabbage for it to draw out enough water to avoid a watery dressing. Then you have to rinse the salt off so your slaw isn’t too salty, and then you have to dry the cabbage, because wasn’t the whole point of salting to remove water?

The dressing of that recipe is based on buttermilk, which is a great lowfat option, but is too thin to coat the cabbage strands well. Many slaw dressings are nothing more than flavored mayonnaise, and while I do love mayonnaise, I don’t like to spend so much of my calorie budget on salad. The dressing for my old favorite recipe also requires sour cream, which I never have.

The answer, like I’m finding it is to so many things, is Greek yogurt. It’s everything you want in a slaw dressing – thick, creamy and tangy. Oh, and full of protein instead of just fat. I like to use the same flavorings used in the Cooks Illustrated recipe – cider vinegar, parsley, minced onion, a wee bit of sugar. I also like to mix a spoonful of mayonnaise into the yogurt. It’s amazing how even a small proportion of mayonnaise can make the whole mixture taste like it’s full of the fattening stuff.

With a thicker dressing, it isn’t as necessary to draw water out of the cabbage. If I have time, I still often sprinkle the shredded cabbage with salt and set it aside, but I use only as much salt as I need to include in the salad anyway – so no tedious rinsing and drying is required. Without needing to plan four hours in advance, I can mix up a quick coleslaw while Dave heats the grill for brats. I’m not going to say that I like the coleslaw more than the sausage – but it’s close, and it’s a heck of a lot healthier too.

One year ago: Grilled Artichokes
Two years ago: Basic Lentil Soup
Three years ago: Snickery Squares

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Basic Coleslaw (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

You can see that I now take a very laid back approach to preparing slaw. This is what happens when I start making things for lunch on Saturday; I can’t be bothered with details when it’s 85 degrees and sunny out. Sometimes I combine the first few ingredients earlier in the morning and set them aside until later to lightly pickle to cabbage and onion, but sometimes I make the slaw start to finish right before serving. Either way works great.

Feel free to use any fat level of Greek yogurt.

½ cabbage, sliced thin
¼ cup minced red onion
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 carrot, shredded
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 (7-ounce container) plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

In a large bowl, stir together the cabbage, onion, salt, vinegar, and sugar. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.

brown rice

I thought I’d already nailed my favorite brown rice recipe, but over time, I found myself not using it. There were two issues I was having.  One was that it takes an hour and a half, and I don’t have that kind of foresight on an average weeknight.  The other problem is that it starts on the stovetop and is transferred to the oven, which sounds simple enough, but I could never remember the cooking times and didn’t want to check a recipe for a basic side dish.  I have too much else to do and think about; rice can’t be complicated.

In the comments of that baked brown rice post, I was pointed toward a recipe for rice cooked like pasta. Also, Stacy recommended basmati brown rice over other varieties, claiming that it’s more fragrant and flavorful. Because the nutty scent of white rice is one of my favorite aspects of it, I was eager to try any trick to get that experience with brown rice.

This worked. The basmati rice smells sweet and nutty while it boils, exactly how white rice smells while it steams. And the best part is that it’s so simple to make that even I can get it done on an average weeknight.  That means we’ve pretty much eliminated another refined grain from our diets, with very little compromise in terms of effort or flavor.

One year ago: Chicken Fajitas
Two years ago: Anadama Bread
Three years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Brown Rice
(adapted from Saveur via Pinch My Salt)

This recipe can be scaled up or down as much as you want.

8 cups water
1 cup rice, rinsed
2 teaspoons salt

Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and salt; reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Drain the rice in a strainer and return it to the pot, off the heat. Cover tightly and let set for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; serve.

(This is Red Beans and Rice.)

fettuccine alfredo

I am healthy. I am not perfect. But I am thin. I am fit. And I’m tired of holding myself up to an impossible standard.

I eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than anyone I know. I exercise regularly. I don’t drink alcohol on weekdays. My lifestyle now is healthier than has it ever been.

And yet it is not enough. Not enough to feel confident in a bathing suit, not enough to lose this bit of pudge around my belly, maybe not enough to balance my slowing metabolism.

I’ve spent most of my life convinced I should exercise harder or more intensely, I should eat as healthy on weekends as I do on weekdays, I shouldn’t eat until I’m overfull. I should be perfect, or at least perfecter than I am now.

It will never happen. It isn’t worth it to me. I won’t give up baking or the batter-eating that accompanies it, I won’t give up sharing a bottle of champagne with Dave on Sunday afternoons, I won’t give up the too many hobbies that keep me from longer workouts, I won’t give up eating sushi rolls until I nearly burst, I won’t give up pasta, I won’t give up butter, I won’t give up cream.

Instead, I will give up bikinis. I will give up pants that don’t quite fit. I will give up guilt. I will not eat differently than I do now, but I will stop believing I should.

I am healthy. I am thin. I am fit. And I can eat pasta coated in cream and still be all of those things. I will never give up pasta and cream, but I will give up feeling bad about myself for eating it.

One year ago: Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
Two years ago: Crispy Bagel Roll
Three years ago: Fish Tacos

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Fettuccine Alfredo
(from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

6 appetizer servings

I’ve reproduced Cooks Illustrated’s recipe exactly below. But, in step 1, I found I needed to heat the cream-butter mixture over higher heat (medium-low to medium) for the cream to simmer.

To heat the bowls, either put them in a warm oven for a few minutes or ladle some of the hot pasta water into the bowls; leave the water in the bowl while you mix the pasta and sauce.

1⅔ cups heavy cream, preferably not ultrapasteurized
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt
1 recipe fresh egg pasta, cut into fettuccine (below)
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1. Bring 4 quarters water to a rolling boil in a large pot.

2. Combine 1⅓ cups of the cream and the butter in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta. Heat over low heat until the butter is melted and the cream comes to a bare simmer. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until almost al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauté pan. Add the remaining ⅓ cup cream, the parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and the nutmeg. Cook over very low heat until the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the fettuccine immediately in heated pasta bowls.

Fresh Egg Pasta (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

You can mix this in the food processor, but for me, it’s easier to mix two ingredients by hand than it is to wash the food processor (even in the dishwasher).

You can also use store-bought pasta dough instead of making your own. You’ll need a pound for the amount of sauce in the alfredo recipe.

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 eggs

1. Measure out the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Use a fork to break up the eggs slightly. Use a rubber spatula to mix the eggs into the flour until the dough is smooth. If it’s sticky, knead in more flour. If it’s too dry to mix in all the flour, knead in water ½ teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together.

2. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Spread dry kitchen towels under the pasta roller and over the counter. Set the pasta machine at its widest opening. Working with one portion of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, roll the dough through the pasta roller. Fold it in thirds like a letter and roll it through the wide setting again. Repeat four more times, adding flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the machine.

red pepper risotto

This was one of the first recipes I ever made from the Food Network. Back before I had cable, I’d heard of a lot of the chefs, but I hadn’t seen any of their shows myself. Once when I was traveling, the hotel had cable, and I was transfixed.

I still remember the first shows I saw. Alton Brown, making tomato sauce; Rachael Ray, making crab salad served on endive leaves; and Emeril, making bagna cauda, red pepper risotto, beef in Barolo, and chocolate chestnut mousse. As soon as I got home, I invited a group of friends over for dinner and made the entire menu from Emeril’s episode. I even wrote reviews on the site later, the only I’ve ever written.

It was the first risotto I’d ever made and is still my go-to risotto recipe. It’s actually a very standard risotto – sweat onions, toast Arborio, evaporate wine, gradually add broth, stir in parmesan. I’ve tried other methods, but this one is my favorite. It’s perfectly adaptable too – I’ve added peas and leafy greens, but I still think the peppers are the best addition, especially if the risotto is being used to soak up delicious beef in Barolo juices.

One year ago: Steak au Poivre
Two years ago: Sausage Apple Hash

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Risotto with Sweet Peppers (adapted slightly from Emeril)

6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ medium red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1½ medium yellow bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons butter
½ onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1½ cups arborio or carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh cracked white pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through but still slightly crunchy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. In a large heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until opaque, 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring until the rice nearly completely absorbs all the liquid, about 1 minute.

4. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the thyme. Add 1½ cups of the hot stock, and cook, stirring frequently. Cook the risotto, adding more stock 1 cup at a time as it is absorbed, about 20 minutes total cooking time. Stir in the green onions and cooked bell peppers after 15 minutes cooking time. Season the risotto with 1 teaspoon of salt and white pepper. The rice should be slightly al dente.

5. Remove from the heat. Discard the thyme sprigs. Add the cheese, and stir well to mix. Adjust the seasoning, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

sauteed cabbage with hot sauce

I don’t know what convinced me to save this recipe. It’s just cabbage. I didn’t even know what sambal oelek was. Molly certainly doesn’t give it the most raving recommendation.

I’m so glad I did though, because I got to see this line again: “…sometimes, when I sit very still and let my mind go to the places where it goes when I don’t stop it, I miss those days so much.” I want to read that over and over. I have read it over and over.

What days am I missing so much?  Does it even matter?  I can think of a few in particular, but there are so many times that I wouldn’t mind going back to visit.  Maybe someday I’ll look back on today and miss it so much.

Fortunately, the cabbage is worth making not just because it accompanies a beautiful blog entry, but because of its flavor and ease. A few simple ingredients provide a salty spicy savory mix to what starts as a rather bland vegetable. Sometimes I miss this cabbage so much.  But then I just go make some more.

One year ago: Applesauce Snack Cake (Don’t let fall pass you by without making this!)
Two years ago: Green Chile Rellenos

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Spicy Sautéed Cabbage (adapted from Orangette)

All of the ingredient amounts in this simple recipe will vary depending on your taste and the size of your cabbage.

½ head green cabbage, quartered, cored, and sliced into ¼-inch-thick ribbons
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1-3 teaspoons sambal oelek
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Heat a 12-inch not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the cabbage, oil, and salt. Add the cabbage mixture to the hot skillet and cook without stirring for 1 minute. Stir in the hot sauce and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is browned and wilted. Stir in the soy sauce; taste for seasoning, adding additional salt or soy sauce if necessary; serve.

taco pasta salad

My inclination to overthink was very clearly exhibited with this recipe. I’ve heard approximately eight thousand raving reviews of this pasta salad. And still, I doubted. Salsa mixed with pasta? Cheddar cheese in pasta salad? I wasn’t convinced.

I asked Cara for advice. Really? Salsa? She said she never thinks twice about it, because this dish is always a hit. Shredded yellow cheese? Yes, she said. Stop asking questions and just go make it, she probably wanted to say.

I started slowly, adding only a third of the salsa called for, thinking I’d just mix in extra fresh tomatoes and some red onions and a jalapeno separately if I didn’t like the salsa. And then I realized – yes, salsa mixed with pasta. And I stirred in the rest of the salsa.

Right after those two ingredients were mixed is when I started nibbling. And then I added black beans… cilantro… avocado… tomatoes… cheese… corn… dressing… and I just kept nibbling and nibbling as I went. And the salad just kept getting better and better.  Forget instincts. I should just trust the recipe.

One year ago: Risotto with Swiss Chard
Two years ago: Gazpacho

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Taco Pasta Salad (adapted slightly from Cara’s Cravings)

Serves 8-12

Apparently there’s no wagon wheel pasta in my little town. Bowties worked just fine.

I toasted the spices before mixing them into the dressing. Just heat a small not-nonstick pan over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the spices and stir them around just until they start to smoke, no longer than a minute.

1 pound wagon wheel pasta
salt
1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn
1½ cups salsa
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese
3-4 tablespoons lime juice
1 large (or 2 small) avocado, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to the package directions. Drain; stir the frozen corn into the pasta to cool the pasta and defrost the corn. Stir the salsa into the pasta and corn, then add the beans, tomatoes, cilantro, and cheese.

2. Squeeze the lime juice into a small bowl and add the avocado; stir to coat the avocado. Remove the avocado from the lime juice and stir it into the pasta mixture. Add the spices, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt to the lime juice, then slowly whisk in the oil. Stir the dressing into the salad. Serve immediately or chill for up to 1 day (longer if you don’t add the avocado).

grilled corn salad

It’s green chile season! My sister recently told me that, for her, fall in New Mexico means green chiles roasting, the state fair, and the Balloon Fiesta. Fall isn’t so bad out here, even without rolling hills of trees that turn brown, red, pink, maroon, orange, yellow. I will miss the crisp air, pumpkins, apples, and chill days of fall on the East coast, but when I was out there, I missed green chile. So I win either way.

The only problem is that I tend to get into a hoarding pattern with my annual green chile supply. I buy them every fall when they come into season, roast them, and freeze them to last until the following September. And then, aside from the occasional huevos rancheros, I mostly ignore them, because what if I run out? This is a mindset I’m determined to get out of. Not only is that not the kind of life I want to lead, but, as Jen warns, they seem to get hotter as they’re frozen for longer periods.

This corn salad doesn’t even call for green chile, but I had some leftover from the previous day’s burgers, so I went ahead and added them. They’ve been in the freezer for about a year, and maybe that’s why the dish ended up so, um, kind of painful to eat, actually. The heat was somewhat dulled by the dairy in the recipe, and once I smooshed the corn into a tortilla with some flank steak, it was downright edible. Not that the corn even needed extra flavor, what with having been grilled and mixed with chili powder, cilantro, lime juice and salty cotija. But I need to use up some of these chiles in my freezer to make room for the new crop!

One year ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Two years ago: Sausage and Red Pepper Hash

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Grilled Corn Salad (from Bobby Flay via Savory Spicy Sweet)

I used a not-nonstick skillet on the stove instead of a cast iron pan on the grill, and I substituted greek yogurt for the crème fraiche. And I added an ounce or two of very spicy diced Hatch green chiles, plus some diced red pepper and red onion.

8 ears fresh corn, silks removed, husk on, soaked in cold water 30 minutes
canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup creme fraiche
2 limes, juiced and 1 zested
1 tablespoons ancho chili powder
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup grated cotija cheese

1. Heat grill to high. Grill corn until charred on all sides, 10 or so minutes. Take off the grill and remove the kernels with a sharp knife. While you are cutting the corn, put a cast iron skillet on the grill to heat.

2. Add the corn and the remaining ingredients to the hot pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until creamy and heated through. Serve.