dolmades

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Someone please tell me to stop making recipes that involve individually filling and shaping portions after a full workday! Last week it was these dolmades, this week it was tortellini. (Tortellini, it turns out, are a lot more time-consuming to make than ravioli. A lot.) Evenings after work are not a good time to take on ambitious cooking projects.

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It didn’t help that this venture started out with a jar full of grape leaves stuffed so tightly they wouldn’t come out. All I could think of to do was rip out the middle leaves in a messy clump to loosen up the remainder, which wasn’t very satisfying. Then I discovered that grape leaves are not a shape that lends itself to easy rolling. And finally, at the end of it all, I realized that the early step of boiling the grape leaves before filling them was more important than I had counted on when I cut it short in my rush to get dinner on the table.

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And then I learned that it doesn’t matter how smoothly the dolmades come together, because the combination of grape leaves, rice, and a lemony sauce will always be a hit. Even if the grape leaves mostly unroll. And they’re just a little tough. Even if dinner is nearly an hour late. Or maybe they tasted so good because dinner was an hour late?

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One year ago: Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies
Two years ago: Chockablock Cookies
Three years ago: Brownies (comparison of 4 recipes)
Four years ago: Cheesecake Pops (Daring Bakers)

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Dolmades (adapted from Elly Says Opa and Emeril Live)

Makes about 36

1 (8-ounce) jar grape leaves, or 36 medium-sized fresh leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup long-grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup currants (or raisins)
⅔ cup broth + additional for cooking dolmades
1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Avgolemono sauce (recipe follows)

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer. Remove the grape leaves from the jar and drop them in batches of 4 or 5 into the hot water. Leave them in the simmering water for 4-5 minutes, then spread them flat on a towel-lined work surface. Cut the stem from each grape leaf, as needed.

2. In a large skillet over medium- high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and pine nuts and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the rice, salt, currants, broth, and the juice of half the lemon. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the parsley.

3. To assemble the dolmades, place 1 grape leaf on the work surface, dull side (or underside) of the leaf up. Place 1 to 2 teaspoons of rice filling near the stem end of the leaf. Fold the stem (bottom) end up over the filling, fold the sides toward the filling in the center, then roll up the leaf into a small cylindrical package, being careful not to fold too tightly, as the rice will expand during cooking.

4. Place the dolmades in a large Dutch oven or wide sauté pan, seam side down. Add the juice from the remaining lemon half, plus enough broth to just cover the dolmades. Rest a heavy plate or baking dish directly on top of the dolmades. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Serve with avgolemeno sauce.

Avgolemono Sauce (adapted from Elly Says Opa)

2 eggs
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)
liquid from cooking dolmades

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the lemon juice until combined. Slowly drizzle the hot dolmades cooking liquid into the egg/lemon mixture, whisking continuously to avoid scrambling the eggs.

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lentil tacos

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

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

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

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

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

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Lentil Tacos (adapted from epicurious via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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ginger fried rice

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Telling someone you’re having fried rice for dinner – not with dinner, but for dinner – doesn’t sound very impressive. Someone asked me if I was adding a bunch of stuff to it, and I had to think about it before I realized that no…not really. It’s really just aromatics stirred into rice, topped with an egg and some soy sauce.

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But it did seem to me that serving the egg fried and on top of the rice, instead of scrambled into the rice, made this more worthy of being a stand-alone dish. Plus, I added one leek per person, which seemed like a fair enough vegetable serving; not generous, perhaps, but adequate considering what else we’d eaten that day. With that, it has all the components many of my favorite weeknight dishes do – a whole grain, a vegetable, some protein.

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It certainly tasted like it was worthy of having the dinner plate to itself. I thought the rice would be bland, without any sauce stirred into it, but a heavy dose of garlic and ginger, not to mention the grassy onionness of the leeks added plenty of flavor. The drips of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil offer hits of strong seasonings, especially once carried into the rice with the unctuous yolk. This won’t be the last time I have to tell someone I’m having something as simple as fried rice for dinner, so I’d better get used to it.

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One year ago: Green Pea Ravioli in Lemon Broth
Two years ago: Brown Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Four years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Ginger Fried Rice (adapted from Mark Bittman via Smitten Kitchen)

I used 4 leeks, but since leeks are usually sold in bunches of three, I wrote the recipe for just three leeks.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon canola or peanut oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
salt
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced ⅛-inch thick
4 cups day-old cooked rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)
4 (or more) large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 green onion, sliced

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; add the garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add another 1 tablespoon oil and the rice; cook until evenly heated, 3-4 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs into separate small cups. Add the eggs to the pan, season evenly with salt, and cover the pan. Cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still soft, 6-8 minutes.

3. Divide the rice between serving plates. Top with the fried eggs and a drizzle of both soy sauce and sesame oil. Garnish with green onions; serve immediately.

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ultimate seven-layer dip

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 8 to 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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tomato and four cheese lasagne

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Lasagna recipes are like chocolate chip cookie recipes for me – I already have several that I love, but I can’t resist a new one. I have no loyalties about béchamel versus ricotta, meaty versus vegetarian, seafood or chicken. I love them all, and I’m a sucker for a new version.

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A recent article in Fine Cooking, which prompted me to subscribe to the magazine, showcased three recipes – the braised beef and porcini one Josie posted, a butternut squash and goat cheese lasagna I can’t wait to make, and this classic tomato and cheese lasagna. Boring, maybe, but I can never get enough of the basic combination of pasta, cheese, and tomatoes.

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I always like to make my own lasagna noodles, because I’m all about creating more work for myself. (Also it’s fun.) But this time I went a step further and made my own ricotta. Combined with a lightly spiced tomato sauce and three other favorite Italian cheeses, this lasagna is in the running for my favorite – if I could ever choose a favorite lasagna.

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One year ago: Shrimp Canapes a la Suede
Two years ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Three years ago: Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Four years ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

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Four Cheese and Tomato Lasagne (slightly adapted from Fine Cooking)

8 servings

To chop the tomatoes, just stick kitchen shears in the can and snip away. Canned tomatoes that are already diced won’t break down into the sauce like whole tomatoes will.

If you make your own ricotta, you’ll need to start with 8 cups of milk (and/or cream).

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

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, chopped (see note)
kosher salt
6 large basil leaves, torn by hand into ½-inch pieces
2 cups (15 ounces) whole-milk ricotta
2½ cups (10 ounces) grated fresh mozzarella
2 cups (8 ounces) grated fontina
1¾ cups (3.5 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1½ recipes fresh pasta, boiled and rinsed (see note)

1.Heat the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a 4- to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Discard the garlic. Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons salt; simmer gently, uncovered, adjusting the heat as needed, until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 45 minutes. Stir in the basil; season to taste with salt if necessary.

2.Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Set aside 1¼ cups of the sauce and mix the remaining sauce with the ricotta in a medium bowl. Mix the mozzarella, fontina, and 1 cup (2 ounces) of the Parmigiano in another medium bowl.

3. Spread ½ cup of the reserved tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread 1½ cups of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle 1 rounded cup of the grated cheese evenly over the ricotta. Add another layer of noodles, and repeat the layers as instructed above, to make a total of 4 ricotta-and-cheese layers and 5 pasta layers. Spread the remaining ¾ cup plain sauce evenly over the top noodle layer. Sprinkle with the remaining ¾ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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

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ranch dressing

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I’ve made ranch dressing a few times before but hadn’t found the perfect recipe. One was too chunky; minced vegetables like red peppers don’t cling to dippers. Another time, I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but it just wasn’t right. But now I’ve got it.

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Combining Greek yogurt and mayonnaise creates a rich creamy base with the balance of the yogurt’s tart flavors and mayo’s sweeter notes. On their own, that would be a little thick for salad dressing, so buttermilk loosens the consistency. Lemon juice brightens and mustard deepens.

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You don’t need a wide variety of herbs, but the ones you choose are key. The absolute essential one is chives, which gives the mixture onion flavor without raw onion’s sharp bite. Parsley fills in the bitter edge, and those are the only two that are necessary for a simple, but still great, ranch dressing. I had some dill around and added just a sprinkle, but even that was too much, because the dill tends to dominate.

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It seems like something as ubiquitous as ranch dressing should be more complicated. There’s nothing much here beyond a creamy base, a few flavor tweaks, and a handful of herbs. But it’s another recipe I’ve been wanting to perfect that has been checked off the list.

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One year ago: Braised White Bean with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Potatoes
Two years ago: Roasted Garlic Balsamic White Bean Dip
Three years ago: Caramel Crunch Bars
Four years ago: Challah

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Ranch Dressing

Makes about 1½ cups

To toast the garlic, heat a small unoiled not-nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the unpeeled garlic. When the peel blackens, turn the clove over and toast a second side. This takes the bite out of the raw garlic, which can be overpowering in dressings.

If you want your dressing to be smoother, put it through the blender (or take an immersion blender to it).

½ cup Greek yogurt
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, toasted
¼ cup minced fresh chives
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
⅛ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper

Whisk everything together. If you can make it a couple hours in advance, the flavors will have a chance to meld a little.

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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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marinated roasted tofu

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I cannot eat another hard-boiled egg. For a long time, it seemed like the perfect snack to bring to work – portable, easy, packed full of protein and nutrients. And, most importantly, I loved hard-boiled eggs. The creamy yolk balances the watery white, and I would try to get just the right ratio of each in every bite.

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A year and a half later, they’ve lost their charm. I considered switching to a new snack before it reached this point, but I couldn’t figure out what would have similar nutrient characteristics. I already eat plenty of beans, nuts, and dairy, so I needed a new protein source.

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Soy is a comparable replacement, nutrition-wise, for eggs, but digging into a cube of spongy tofu wasn’t appetizing. But tofu is perfect for marinating, because it soaks up whatever flavor you add. Then you can roast it to concentrate the flavors of the marinade and firm up the texture.

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I’ve eaten this tofu every afternoon at work for three weeks, and so far it’s one of my favorite daily snacks. (Still doesn’t hold a candle to my morning bagel, of course.) I’m sure I’ll go back to hard-boiled eggs eventually; maybe in another year and a half, when I get tired of tofu?

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One year ago: Pasta e Fagioli
Two years ago: Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
Three years ago: World Piece Cookies
Four years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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Marinated Roasted Tofu (adapted from Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics)

Serves 4

I like these plain as a snack, but they also make a good sandwich filling.

The pictures might be confusing – the first couple times I made these, I sliced the tofu into slabs and then cut the slabs into thirds.  Later, I got annoyed with arranging so many little tofu bites (I always make a double batch) on the cooling rack, so I kept the tofu as larger slices and cut them in half after baking.

1 pound firm tofu, drained
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sriracha (optional)

1. On a dishtowel, slice the tofu crosswise into eight slabs approximately ½-inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer; cover with a second dish towel and pat dry.

2. Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients in an 8-inch square container or baking dish. Add the tofu to the marinade in the dish; stir gently and set aside for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate, covered, overnight.

3. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange an oven-safe cooling rack on a baking sheet. Transfer the marinated tofu slices to the cooling rack. Roast until dry and browned at the edges, 25 to 30 minutes. (If you don’t have an oven-safe cooling rack, bake the tofu in a baking dish in a single layer.) The roasted tofu can be refrigerated for at least 5 days.

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chickpea and rosemary soup

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I confess that this soup came out through a series of blunders. I had originally planned to make African coconut curry soup, with the belief that it was a new recipe and I could submit it to Branny’s SouperBowl charity fundraiser for ASPCA. It turns out though, that it’s the exact same recipe I submitted last year. Whoops.

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I started jotting down what I had in mind instead, a tomato broth with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and rosemary, reminiscent of this braised white bean recipe. It also included the chickpeas I’d bought for the curry soup and pasta, which I’d been craving. But then that soup starting sounding familiar too.

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Apparently I wouldn’t be striking bold new soup ground. But that’s okay. I didn’t want something new, I wanted something warm and comforting and easy, easier than my favorite pasta e fagioli recipe. This simple chickpea and pasta soup, infused with piney rosemary, hit the spot perfectly – maybe even better than the originally planned curry soup would have.  I have no regrets for all my blunders that led me to this soup.

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Participation in Branny’s fundraiser requires that the blog post be dedicated to a pet. I dedicate mine to my cat, Daisy, who is also warm and comforting and easy, at least when she isn’t puking on the carpet.

daisy

One year ago: Almond Biscotti
Two years ago: Banana Cream Pie
Three years ago: Crispy Baked Chicken Strips
Four years ago: Fish Tacos

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Rosemary Chickpea Soup

Serves 4 to 6

I used 8 ounces of pasta. It seemed like a lot, but I didn’t mind. Still, if you’d like less pasta, 4 ounces (or anywhere in between) would work well.

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
½ teaspoon salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Parmesan rind, if you have one
4-8 ounces small pasta, such as ditalini or macaroni

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Once the oil starts to sizzle, stir for about 1 minute, then add the tomatoes with their juices, the chickpeas, broth, salt, rosemary, and parmesan rind (if using). Increase the heat to medium-high; once the liquid comes to a lively simmer, add the pasta, return the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the pasta is tender. Remove the rosemary sprigs, adjust the salt if necessary, and 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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