mediterranean chopped salad

mediterranean chopped salad 4

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

mediterranean chopped salad 1

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

mediterranean chopped salad 3

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

mediterranean chopped salad 5

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
Mediterranean Chopped Salad (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 4 as a main dish

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

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

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

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

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

mediterranean chopped salad 6

tomato mozzarella tart with basil crust

tomato basil tart 5

I planted tomatoes in my garden this year with high hopes and low expectations. Last year I lost all of my precious tomato plants to fusarium wilt, and even though I didn’t do anything to rid the soil of the fungus, I couldn’t resist planting a few tomato plants this year too. They started strong but succumbed to the disease before setting fruit. At that point, I settled in for a tomato-less summer.

tomato basil tart 1

Instead, I’ve had what’s nearly been a landmark year! After describing my tomato woes to a coworker, she started bringing me some tomatoes from her garden. At first it was a trickle, just enough so I could make each of my favorite tomato dishes once. She also bought me a handful of zebra tomatoes while traveling. And then I bought myself a pound or so of tomatoes from our town’s little farmer’s market. And then the bonanza from my coworker – nearly ten pounds of beefsteak, romas, and cherries. This was enough to make all of my favorites again, plus try some new recipes.

tomato basil tart 2

This was first on my list. It has all the ingredients of pizza, but rearranged and with a whole lot of butter added. How can that be bad?

tomato basil tart 3

The basil crust is fragrant, tender but sturdy enough to hold up the toppings. The mozzarella holds the toppings on. And the real star is those thin but deeply flavorful slices of tomatoes. There is nothing I like more than a landmark year for tomatoes. But next year, I’m determined to successfully plant my own – but maybe I’ll still take some off my coworker’s hands.

tomato basil tart 4

One year ago: Fresh Pasta
Two years ago: Pappa al Pomodoro
Three years ago: 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Four years ago: Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

Printer Friendly Recipe
Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Basil Crust (adapted from Jack Bishop’s The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook via Ezra Pound Cake; crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Sweet Tart Dough)

I used fresh mozzarella (as seen on Annie’s Eats) both times I made this, but when I removed the tart from the oven, I noticed a puddle of liquid skimming across the baked cheese. Once cooked, I don’t think fresh mozzarella seems so different from the firmer type, which isn’t as moist and won’t release liquid onto the surface of the tart, so in the future, I’ll use regular mozzarella instead of fresh. (Fortunately, the crust didn’t seem to get soggy from the extra liquid.)

The original crust recipe was for a flaky pie type of crust, which used ice water. It shrunk when I baked it, plus I wanted something sturdier, so I adapted a traditional tart crust to include basil. This is a tart after all!

Crust:
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled
1¾ cups (8.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten

Tart:
8 ounces mozzarella, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
salt
black pepper
parmesan
3-4 basil leaves, slivered

1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the basil and garlic until finely chopped. Add the flour, cornstarch, and salt; pulse to combine. Add the butter; process in 1-second pulses until the largest pieces of butter are the size of peas. Add about half the egg, pulse, then add the remaining egg. Process continuously until the dough forms clumps and curds. The sound of the food processor will change when it gets to this point.

2. Evenly press the dough onto the sides and bottom of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Spray a 12-inch square of aluminum foil with cooking spray and press it, sprayed-side down, onto the tart crust. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tart crust from the freezer and spread pie weights over the bottom. Transfer the tart pan to a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes, until the crust is just starting to brown. Remove from the oven, maintaining the oven temperature.

4. Line the crust evenly with slices of mozzarella, overlapping if necesary. Top the mozzarella with slices of tomatoes (do not overlap the tomatoes). Season with salt and pepper. Grate a generous layer of parmesan cheese over the tomatoes.

5. Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is brown and the cheese is melted and just starting to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack. Evenly distribute the slivered basil over the top of the tart. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

tomato basil tart 6

quinoa black bean burrito bowls

quinoa burrito bowls 5

I know there’s nothing groundbreaking about this combination. Topping black beans and starch with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese is always going to be good. Still, it’s worth talking about, just because it’s such a tasty meal, not to mention it has all of my other favorite dinner characteristics – it’s healthy, easy, and flexible.

quinoa burrito bowls 1

When I made this, I prepared the quinoa and black bean mixture over the weekend. The next night, when I knew I’d be getting home late, all I had to do was heat up the base and chop the toppings. Not that the first step takes long on its own, as it’s just sauteing onions with garlic and spices, adding liquid and quinoa to simmer, and stirring in black beans. But it’s nice to have meals that aren’t any worse for being made ahead and reheated.

quinoa burrito bowls 2

I’ve put these same toppings in tortillas with meat and beans, as well as over rice instead of quinoa, and it never fails to turn into a meal I love. Adding the fresh vegetables provides a bright, fresh contrast to the warm spicy beans and carbs. Classic flavors, combined in a slightly new way – it isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s one of my favorite new weeknight meals anyway.

quinoa burrito bowls 3

One year ago: Chocolate Friands
Two years ago: Baked French Toast
Three years ago: Potato Tomato Tart
Four years ago: Banana Nutella Crepes

Printer Friendly Recipe
Quinoa Black Bean Burrito Bowls (adapted from Shiksa in the Kitchen via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

I also added about 4 ounces of Hatch green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced, when I stirred in the lime juice.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
¼ teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
juice of ½ lime
toppings – shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, cilantro, cheddar cheese or queso fresco, diced avocado, salsa, sour cream or Greek yogurt, black olives

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just browned at the edges, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water, quinoa, and black beans; bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes; without removing the lid, let the quinoa sit off the heat for an additional 10 minutes, until tender. Remove the lid, add the lime juice, and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Serve with your desired toppings.

quinoa burrito bowls 4

summer chopped salad with feta

summer chopped salad with feta 7

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

summer chopped salad with feta 1

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

summer chopped salad with feta 3

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

summer chopped salad with feta 6

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
Summer Chopped Salad with Feta (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 8 as a side dish

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

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

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

summer chopped salad with feta 8

migas

migas 9

I’ve been raving about migas since the first time I made them, several months ago. They’re such a perfect breakfast for me that I’ve had them almost every weekend since. Somewhere along the way, after I talked my brother into making them, he pointed out that they’re basically just scrambled eggs.

migas 1

Which is true, and in a way, sums up what it is I love about them – their simplicity. Scrambled eggs is not a complicated breakfast, so that must mean that migas are also not a complicated breakfast. And beyond that, it’s healthy and filling and flexible.

migas 3

The recipe I’ve given here is one of my favorite ways to make it, and the simplest way I like it. First, I bake lightly oiled corn tortillas until browned. I tried frying them once, but since baking results in crisp tortillas every bit as good as those that are fried, but is healthier, I’m sticking with that. However, it’s not uncommon that I’ll use the crumbs at the bottom of the tortilla chip bag either, when they’re too small to dip in salsa but there’s too many to throw away.

migas 5

The other ingredients I consider crucial to migas are chiles and cheese. I use roasted and peeled Hatch green chiles, but any chile you like would be fine. I suspect that while beans are a common side, adding them to the migas themselves isn’t traditional, but the sweetness they add to the dish is too good to skip.

migas 2

In addition to these standards, I’ve also added chorizo (shown here), spaghetti squash, and random unlabeled spicy tomato stuff I found in the freezer (probably meant for this dish, but who can be sure). It’s not a dish that requires precision or even consistency. Every single time I’ve made it, it’s been different, but it always been delicious – and easy.

migas 6

One year ago: Greek Yogurt Dill Dip
Two years ago: Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
Three years ago: White Cake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Danish Braids (for the Daring Bakers)

Printer Friendly Format
Migas (adapted from Homesick Texan)

4 servings

When I add chorizo, I brown it before adding the cooking the onion, replacing the oil with the fat rendered from the sausage. When I’ve added pre-cooked leftover squash, I add it with the beans and tortillas.  I often add the salsa with the beans too, although the texture of the finished isn’t as firm as when it’s added as a garnish.

8 corn tortillas
8 eggs
salt
4 ounces chopped green chiles
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 (15-ounce) can black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 ounces (½ cup) shredded cheddar, Monterey jack, or pepper jack
salsa
cilantro

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange an oven-safe cooling rack on a baking sheet. Light spray both sides of the tortillas with nonstick spray; lay them in a single layer on the cooling rack and bake, flipping once, for 12-16 minutes, until browned and crisp. Break into bite-sizes pieces.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, ¼ teaspoon salt, and green chiles with a whisk until large bubbles start to form around the edges of the bowl.

3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt; sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, 5-8 minutes. Pour in the egg mixture and cook without stirring for about a minute, then drag a spatula through the eggs a few times to lightly stir them. Let the eggs set for approximately 30 seconds, then stir again. Add the tortilla pieces, beans, and cheese. Cook and stir the eggs until set. Serve immediately, topping each portion with salsa and cilantro.

migas 7

dolmades

dolmades 10

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.

dolmades 2

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.

dolmades 3

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?

dolmades 4

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)

Printer Friendly Recipe
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.

dolmades 9

lentil tacos

lentil tacos 5

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.

lentil tacos 4

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.

lentil tacos 2

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.

lentil tacos 3

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.

lentil tacos 7

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
Lentil Tacos (adapted from epicurious via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

With such a soft filling, these tacos really need a topping with some crunch.  I think very thinly sliced cabbage would be perfect, but lettuce would work well too. In a pinch, I’ve used coarsely chopped mung bean sprouts, and that wasn’t bad at all.

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
2 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.

lentil tacos 6

ginger fried rice

ginger fried rice 8

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.

ginger fried rice 3

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.

ginger fried rice 5

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.

ginger fried rice 9

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
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.

ginger fried rice 7

ultimate seven-layer dip

seven layer dip 4

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.

seven layer dip 1

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.

seven layer dip 2

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.

seven layer dip 5

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
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.)

seven layer dip 6

tomato and four cheese lasagne

four cheese lasagna 5

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.

four cheese lasagna 1

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.

four cheese lasagna 3

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.

four cheese lasagna 4

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
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.

four cheese lasagna 6