roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with bacon-porter dressing

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Vegetables, cooked right, are delicious, a fact all-too-often forgotten as they’re relegated to an afterthought. It’s fortunate that roasting vegetables has become popular, because those can be an afterthought and still be tasty with just salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, but what could happen if we put the same effort into a vegetable dish as we did the main dish? What could happen is that Brussels sprouts will be the most popular dish at your party.

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A friend and I threw a beer tasting party last month, with amber ale cheddar soup, stout-braised beef topped with potatoes, scotch ale creme brulee, and these vegetables. This was the dish that got the most compliments and recipe requests. (Although I need to ask my friend for the creme brulee recipe, because that had a really interesting and delicious bitter edge to the sweet custard.)

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Brussels sprouts and squash are roasted, which is always a good start, but then the ante is upped with a dressing made from bacon renderings, minced shallot, malty beer, mustard, and apple cider vinegar. I wasn’t sure about the pairing of Brussels sprouts and squash, but the earthy and sweet combination ended up being great, and it was all tied together with the sweet-tart dressing. I admit, it isn’t quite as easy as just throwing vegetables in the oven with salt and olive oil to roast, but every once in a while, don’t vegetables deserve to be the star?

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Bacon-Porter Dressing (adapted from Beer Bitty via Craft Beer)

8 servings

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 ounces porter or brown ale
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven; heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, squash, oil, cayenne, nutmeg, and thyme. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are browned and tender, about 20 minutes, stirring twice.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; when cool, coarsely chop or crumble. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet. Add the shallot and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and maybe a little browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the beer and vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, mustard, sage, salt and pepper. Pour the beer mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine. Top with the bacon and nuts; serve.

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spanish chickpea and spinach stew

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I wasn’t big on life-changing, be-a-better-person resolutions this year, but I did get inspired for a lot of projects. There’s the cookbook goal; a list of house projects; an effort to post on my blog’s Facebook page more often; and a desire to take more pictures. To hold myself accountable (and give myself a satisfying box to check when I complete something), I’m tracking everything.

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My goal is to put effort into photography almost every day. It was easy the first few days, when we were traveling, but I was at a loss the first day back at work, when I don’t do much other than sit in my office all day, make dinner, and fold laundry. But of course I love food pictures, and dinner was right there, so I figured I might as well see if I could get a decent shot without much effort.

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In this case, not only were the shots decent (maybe from all that practice I’ve been getting taking random dinner pictures!), but the meal itself was fantastic. I’m a sucker for tomato-based soups, but with all the other good stuff in there, I didn’t even feel the need to dip a grilled cheese sandwich into the bowl. It’s lucky that I’d snapped a few quick pictures before we ate, because there were no leftovers – not that making it again soon would have been a hardship.

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Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew
(rewritten but not significantly changed from Serious Eats)

I was worried that the spinach would turn to mush after 40 minutes of simmering, but even the baby spinach I used was okay. A heartier spinach would likely be even better.

For the tomatoes, I transferred half of the tomatoes from the can to a small bowl and used scissors to chop them. I used an immersion blender to puree the remaining tomatoes and ginger in the tomato can.

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 1-inch knob ginger, peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for serving)
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sweet or hot smoked paprika
12 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), undrained
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (optional)

1. Blend half the tomatoes, all the liquid from the can, and the ginger until smooth. Coarsely chop the remaining tomatoes.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onion, garlic, and paprika, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato-ginger puree; stir to combine. Gradually add the spinach, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes, garbanzo beans (with their liquid), bay leaves, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the sherry vinegar. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately, drizzling with extra virgin olive oil.

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pan-seared shrimp with tomatoes and avocado

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I hate to be a cliche, but it’s January and I’d like to eat a little healthier for a while. That is, a little healthier than normal, and a whole lot healthier than I did over the holidays. I have no regrets; it was a delicious holiday break, full of cookies, holiday meals, restaurants, and fun new beers. But I’m happy to be back to eating the occasional green thing now.

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A book with Light and Healthy in the title was the obvious choice for choosing cookbook recipes in early January. It’s simply shrimp, cooked in just a bit of oil, then topped with barely softened vegetables. A bit of brown rice helps soak up any extra sauce.

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As much as I crave healthy foods when I’m eating feasts every night, sometimes when I’m trying to get back into eating lots of vegetables, I find myself missing sugar and fried food and cheese and all those delicious treats. Light, vegetably dishes like as good as this one help ease the transition – especially since each serving has plenty of fatty, buttery, creamy avocado.

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Pan-Seared Shrimp with Tomatoes and Avocado
(from America’s Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2011)

Serves 4

I used cherry tomatoes since they tend to be better in the winter than bigger varieties. I also substituted about ¼ cup minced roasted and peeled Hatch green chile for the chipotle.

1 pound tomatoes (2 to 3), cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
6 scallions, white and green parts separated and sliced thin
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
salt and pepper
1½ pounds extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
⅛ teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoon canola oil
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
lime wedges

1. Combine the tomatoes, scallion whites, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, chipotle, and ¼ teaspoon salt in bowl.

2. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and season with the sugar, salt, and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of the shrimp and cook until curled and lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

3. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and shrimp; transfer to the bowl.

4. Return the skillet to high heat, add the tomato mixture, and cook until the tomatoes soften slightly, about 1 minute. Off the heat, return the shrimp to the skillet and toss to coat. Transfer the shrimp and tomatoes to a platter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with the scallion greens and avocado. Serve with lime wedges.

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soba bowls with tea-poached salmon and roasted broccoli

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I’ve lost count, but I think this is the fourth year in a row I’ve made it a goal to use my cookbooks more often. I love them so much, but on the other hand, the recipes online are available even when I’m not home, plus they all have reviews. But, again: I can’t justify buying new cookbooks unless I use the ones I have, and I can’t seem to stop buying new ones whether I use them or not.

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So I made a list, and everyone knows if you have a list, you have a plan. The goal is two recipes per week from cookbooks, and at least two recipes from each cookbook by the end of the year.

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Another advantage of finally opening up my cookbooks, instead of searching through epicurious yet again, is that I’m finding new ideas. Salmon poached in green tea? How interesting. Soba noodles, which I usually keep around but rarely think to use. Roasted broccoli combined with poached salmon and boiled noodles (which does seem a little inefficient, but it’s too good to care), all combined under a sauce of tahini, soy sauce, and grated ginger. My cookbook goal is off to a delicious start, which is hopefully just the encouragement I need to keep it going.

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Soba Bowls with Tea-Poached Salmon and Roasted Broccoli
(rewritten but barely changed from Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4

I used about 6.5 ounces soba instead of 9.5, and it seemed like a fine amount.

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons agave nectar
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 bunch or 2 small crowns broccoli, chopped into approximately 1-inch florets
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of sea salt
3 green tea bags
1 tablespoon peppercorns
½ cup mirin or dry white wine
1¼ pound salmon fillet
1 (9.5-ounce) package soba noodles
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup white or black sesame seeds

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sesame oil, tahini, agave nectar, lime juice and zest, soy sauce, and ginger. Set aside.

3. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven. Spread the olive oil on the sheet, then add the broccoli and a pinch of salt, tossing to coat the broccoli with oil. Roast until the broccoli is tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes, stirring once.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

5. In a medium skillet, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer. Add the tea bags and peppercorns, cover, reduce to the heat to low, and let steep for 3 minutes. Discard the tea bags and add the mirin to the skillet. Place the salmon in the liquid, skin-side down. Cover and cook over low heat until the salmon flakes and is no longer translucent in the middle, 8-10 minutes.

6. Cook the noodles in the boiling water according to the package instructions, 4-5 minutes. Drain and briefly rinse.

7. Remove the skin from the salmon and transfer the meat to a large bowl, breaking it into large chunks. Add the broccoli, noodles, dressing, green onions, and half the cilantro to the bowl; toss to combine. Top with the remaining cilantro and sesame seeds; serve.

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creamy brussels sprouts and mushroom lasagna

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After making a few lasagnas that all started to look the same, I needed new ideas. Here’s one, cooked in homemade broth with meatballs between the layers of pasta, that breaks the mold. 19 steps! 125 miniscule meatballs! I’ve been excited about that recipe since the moment I saw it, almost a year and a half ago, but even with my obsessive weekend cooking habits, I haven’t found time to make it.

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This one isn’t quite that original, but I had never put brussels sprouts, one of my favorite vegetables, in lasagna before. I can’t remember adding heavy cream to lasagna either, instead depending on the bechamel and cheese to add rich creaminess.

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I did reduce the cream by half, and I still found it plenty decadent. The mushrooms dominated the flavor, but not in the overly earthy way of some pure mushroom lasagnas. It definitely hit the spot, even without meat or tomatoes, some of my standard lasagna crutches. But I still want a completely free weekend that I can spend making homemade broth and (125!) tiny meatballs to layer with fresh pasta.

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Creamy Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Lasagna (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

8-10 servings

Stirring the creamed mushrooms and the creamed brussels sprouts together does not result in an attractive mixture. However, it won’t make a difference in the final lasagna, and it simplifies the layering.

As the picture above shows, I divided the ingredients between a loaf pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. I baked one immediately and put the other in the freezer for an easy and indulgent meal a few weeks later.

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe. You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

I’ve increased the brussels sprouts and decreased the mushrooms slightly, because even though I didn’t have enough mushrooms when I made this, they were the dominant flavor. I love brussels sprouts and want to taste them.

Mushrooms:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped in a food processor in 4 batches
2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup white wine or sherry
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Brussels sprouts:
2 tablespoons canola oil
24 ounces Brussels sprouts, shredded on the grated disk in a food processor
salt and pepper
½ cup heavy cream

Bechamel:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
salt and pepper

To assemble:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. For the mushrooms: Heat the butter in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid they give off has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown, about 12 minutes. When the mushrooms are browned, add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until the mixture is reduced to a loose paste, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl; wipe out the skillet.

2. For the brussels sprouts: In the same skillet, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until well-charred on most sides, about 10 minutes. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until reduced to a loose sauce-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms; stir them together.

3. For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale brown and nutty, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and 12 ounces mozzarella. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. To assemble: Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread one-sixth of the cheese sauce on the bottom of a 9-by13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Top with one-fourth of mushroom/sprouts mixture, another one-sixth of the cheese sauce, and a sprinkle of grated mozzarella. Repeat the pasta, sprouts, and sauce layering three more times. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and mozzarella.

5. Transfer to oven and bake until heated through and top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

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arugula salad with prosciutto, figs, walnuts, and parmesan

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This is my salad of the season. It seems like there’s always one, something I make every time we have a big meal (i.e., every Saturday night). This one was so good we had it for Sunday lunch too.

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Maybe I should start making soup as a first course instead of salad, especially this time of year, but this salad seems appropriate for winter. It has deep, rich flavors from the prosciutto, figs, and walnuts, so it doesn’t taste bright and light like a lot of summer salads do.

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And yet, even piled with crisp prosciutto and slivers of parmesan, it’s still a salad, still mostly vegetables. That makes it a great accompaniment to rich winter braises and casseroles. If this is my salad of the season, I’m glad it’s still early in the season.

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Arugula Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Walnuts, and Parmesan (from Cook’s Illustrated)

4-6 servings

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
1 tablespoon raspberry jam or honey
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup dried figs, stems removed, fruit chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1 small shallot, very finely minced (about 1 tablespoon)
Table salt and ground black pepper
5 ounces lightly packed stemmed arugula (about 8 cups)
½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin strips with vegetable peeler

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; add prosciutto and fry until crisp, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined plate and set aside to cool.

2. Whisk jam and vinegar in medium microwave-safe bowl; stir in figs. Cover with plastic wrap, cut several steam vents in plastic, and microwave on high until figs are plump, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons oil, shallot, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper; toss to combine. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Toss arugula and vinaigrette in large bowl; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide salad among individual plates; top each with portion of prosciutto, walnuts, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

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pumpkin apple pizza

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As a general rule, I’m not a big fan of adding fruit to savory foods – but the more I try to define that rule, the more exceptions I find to it. I like the occasional salad with dried currants, figs on pizza, bacon-wrapped dates, cranberry sauce on my turkey sandwiches. I won’t be adding fruit to every salsa I make, but clearly I’m not completely grossed out by sweet/savory combinations.

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Still, I strongly considered leaving the apples off of this pizza. I don’t even love apples and pumpkin together in desserts, much less for dinner. But Kenji indicated that the apples would blend in, enhancing the pumpkin more than calling attention to themselves, so I compromised and kept the apples, but reduced them by half.

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I don’t agree that the apples blended in; for me, they were the strongest flavor. But, surprisingly for this supposed sweet+savory hater, it was a flavor that I liked. Pumpkin on its own is more earthy than sugary, and that combined with salty pancetta and three types of cheese made sweet cubes of apple a nice contrast. I have yet another exception to my no-fruit-in-dinner rule, but I still don’t think I’ll be adding pineapple to my guacamole anytime soon.

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Pumpkin Apple Pizza (rewritten and slightly changed from The Food Lab)

Makes 4 generous servings

I made half the recipe but cooked the entire pumpkin and apple, using the leftovers and more cheese to top crostini the next day.

You can leave the pancetta out (using 1 tablespoon butter to cook the apples and wedge of pumpkin), but I really like the combination of cured pork with winter squash.

1 pound homemade or store-bought pizza dough
1 small sugar pumpkin, quartered, seeds and pulp discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch grated nutmeg
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 crisp baking apple, such as Golden Delicious, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves, plus ¼ cup roughly torn leaves, divided
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded gruyère cheese
6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 ounces (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place three of the four pumpkin wedges in a medium oven-safe skillet. Spray or rub with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes, until the pumpkin flesh is very tender. Scrape the flesh from the skins; transfer to a medium mixing bowl and mix in the maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

2. Place a pizza stone on a rack about 3 inches below the broiler and heat the oven as high as it goes. Shape the dough into 2 balls; cover and set aside for 10 to 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax so the dough will be easier to stretch.

3. Peel and dice the remaining wedge of pumpkin. Heat the same skillet used to roast the pumpkin over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until its fat has rendered and it begins to brown (it will finish browning while the pizza bakes); transfer to a plate. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the diced pumpkin and apple to the rendered pancetta fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons minced sage. Set aside.

3. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and 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.

4. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the paper, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Spread the roasted pumpkin mixture over the dough, leaving the outer ½-inch of dough uncovered. Top with half of the gruyere and half of the mozzarella, then half the pancetta, half the diced pumpkin and apples, and half of the remaining sage leaves. Top with half the parmesan. Transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone.

5. Immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on (to high, if yours has settings). Bake the pizza for about 4-6 minutes, until the bottom is spotty browned and the cheese is bubbling. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack; sprinkle with half the scallions. Cool about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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vietnamese shrimp quinoa salad

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Does anyone else think shrimp can have an off-putting texture sometimes? It’s not just when it’s overcooked and chewy; even cooked correctly, there can be an unevenly textured graininess that I don’t like. The smaller the shrimp, the less that texture is an issue. On the other hand, the smaller the shrimp, the more shrimp you have to peel.

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However, I love the flavor. Sweet and briny, it’s so good in a huge variety of dishes. This is one of my recent favorites. The vegetables are crunchy and fresh, but the shrimp and quinoa keep it satisfying.

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I’ve found a trick that seems to solve my texture issues with shrimp, although it’s an extra tedious step on top of the already tedious peeling. After cooking, I cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. As an added bonus, it makes them closer to bite-sized for me, so I can get a forkful with all the goodies – shrimp and quinoa and vegetables and herbs. This one simple trick makes me love shrimp – both the flavor and the texture.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Vietnamese Shrimp and Quinoa Salad (adapted from Serious Eats)

You can save some time by cooking the quinoa in water instead of the cooking liquid from the shrimp, starting to cook the quinoa around the same time as the shrimp.

Shrimp:
1 pound shrimp, unpeeled
2 cups water
5 cilantro sprigs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 lime

Salad:
½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 red pepper, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, quartered lengthwise, and sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
2 scallions, sliced thin
¼ cup cilantro, minced

Dressing:
¼ cup lime juice from 2 limes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. For the shrimp: In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the shrimp, water, cilantro sprigs, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Juice the lime into the saucepan, then add the lime peels to the saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the shrimp turn pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the shrimp, reserving ¾ cup of the shrimp broth. Rinse the saucepan.

2. For the salad: Add the shrimp broth and quinoa to the rinsed saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the broth boils. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let set, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, red peppers, cucumber, carrot, scallions, and cilantro. Peel the cooled shrimp and add it to the bowl.

4. For the dressing: Mix everything. Pour over the salad and stir to combine. Serve immediately, or cover and chill for up to four hours.

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kale caesar salad

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Dave and I have a friend who we affectionately refer to as Crazy Running Guy. He’s training for a marathon right now, which means he’s running upwards of 80 miles per week. He ran the Boston marathon several years ago (thankfully not the year of the bombing) and was deeply disappointed by his time of 2 hours and 40 minutes.

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It’s not unusual for us to invite him over for dinner on Saturday, and he and Dave will hang out at the bar in the kitchen while I cook…and cook…and cook some more. We’ll eat tiny servings of five or even seven different courses. Sometimes I have some prep done ahead of time and get to relax a bit, but other times, I spend almost the whole evening on my feet, except when I’m eating. I’m enjoying myself, and no one else seems disturbed that I’m cooking more than socializing.

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He isn’t much into cooking, but in a strange way, I feel like he gets me. He’s our Crazy Running Friend; I’m his Crazy Cooking Friend. Which, when you think about it, is a good match, right? Fortunately, he isn’t picky and eats almost anything I throw at him. He didn’t seem fazed at all by kale caesar salad. He didn’t get any wine though, due to a tough run planned for the next day. No wine? I definitely prefer being crazy about cooking instead of running.

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Kale Caesar Salad (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

4 to 6 servings

As always, I substituted Greek yogurt for a portion of the mayonnaise.

1 pound (about 2 bunches) Tuscan, tough stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 4 quarts loosely packed leaves)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
5 ounces hearty bread, roughly torn into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup mayonnaise
6 anchovy filets, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1½ ounces (about ¾ cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 small white onion or 2 shallots, finely sliced

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the kale and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Use your hands to knead the oil into the kale until the kale is dark green and slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

2. Transfer the bread, 1 tablespoon oil, and salt and pepper to taste to a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until the largest pieces of bread are about the size of a chickpea. Remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven. Add the remaining one tablespoon of oil to the pan, using a spatula to spread it evenly. Transfer the bread pieces to the pan. Bake until toasted, about 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through the baking time. Let cool slightly.

3. Add the mayonnaise, garlic, anchovies, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and parmesan to the empty food processor bowl. Process until smooth.

4. Add the onions, dressing, and half the bread pieces to the kale; stir to combine. Serve immediately, topping each serving with the remaining croutons.

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summer vegetable gratin

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Can I talk about my garden some more? I’m sorry, I’m just really excited about it. I’m finding that I get nearly the same enjoyment from my vegetable garden as I do from cooking lately. I can’t stop myself from wandering between the beds, just looking at the plants; looking for new fruit growing, checking on whether anything is ripening, plucking weeds, crushing stinkbugs.

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I’m so proud that I grew half of the vegetables in this dish. Despite my hit or miss success with gardening, the tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, and basil in this dish all came from the backyard (or the basil would have if I’d remembered to use it).

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It’s one of those dishes that toes the line between being healthy and feeling indulgent. I brought it to a comfort food-themed potluck where I knew there would be a lot of (really delicious) cheesy baked pasta, hoping that a second helping of vegetable gratin would keep me from a third helping of macaroni and cheese. It didn’t work – I had both a second helping of gratin and a third helping of mac and cheese – but at least only my healthy-ish gratin leftovers came home with me. My favorite part of gardening is the part that involves eating, and this combination of summer vegetables and herbs is exactly why that is.

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Summer Vegetable Gratin (from Cook’s Illustrated)

6-8 servings

I didn’t use this much oil. I sprayed the pan with cooking spray instead of using a tablespoon of oil, and then I used less with the garlic, maybe just 1 tablespoon instead of three.

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 pound summer squash (yellow), ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons table salt
1½ pounds ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced ¼-inch thick
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin pole to pole (about 3 cups)
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 medium shallots, minced (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a 13- by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil; set aside.

2. Toss the zucchini and summer squash slices with 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; transfer to a colander set over a bowl. Let stand until the zucchini and squash release at least 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 45 minutes. Arrange the slices on a triple layer of paper towels; cover with another triple layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.

3. Place the tomato slices in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle evenly with ½ teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Place a second double layer of paper towels on top of the tomatoes and press firmly to dry the tomatoes.

4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and dark golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set the onions aside.

5. Combine the garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, remaining ½ teaspoon pepper, and thyme in a small bowl. In a large bowl, toss the zucchini and summer squash in half of the oil mixture, then arrange in the greased baking dish. Arrange the caramelized onions in an even layer over the squash. Slightly overlap the tomato slices in a single layer on top of the onions. Spoon the remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over the tomatoes. Bake until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes are starting to brown on the edges, 40 to 45 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, process the bread in a food processor until finely ground, about 10 seconds. (You should have about 1 cup crumbs.) Combine the bread crumbs, remaining tablespoon oil, Parmesan, and shallots in a medium bowl. Remove the baking dish from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evenly on top of the tomatoes. Bake the gratin until bubbling and the cheese is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

summer vegetable gratin 8